An Open Letter to Fellow Professionals

Dear Colleagues who work with special needs children,

I value the work we all do, the reports we write, and the teams we serve on.

But in all honesty, we can do better.  We need to think more about the impact our words have on parents.  It is a rare IEP in which a parent is not injured or offended by a remark from a well-meaning therapist or teacher. What we need is increased awareness.

In the words of a parent, from an email I received recently:

“Many professionals need to stop and think from a parent’s perspective: Just how SCARED a parent of a special needs child is, sitting across the table from them. I can’t tell you how many times I want to break into tears at IEP meetings… You are sitting there talking about things your child can’t do. It’s just heartbreaking.”

As professionals, here are a few things we can do now:

  1. In each session, or meeting, make a positive comment about the child, the parent, or preferably both!  Look for strengths; the weaknesses are already well documented. Your words have power.
  2. Avoid making predictions about the child’s progress too far into the future, predictions are difficult to make at best, and can backfire and cause parent stress.
  3. Support a joyful interaction between parent and child (or yourself and the child, if the parent is not there) in each session or each day. It may be a belly laugh or a quiet heartfelt moment; joyful interactions are pure “nutrition” for parents and kids with special needs.
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