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Author: Steph Murray, Contributor for The Mighty.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard horror stories from other parents about how untrained, uncaring or uninterested a school was for their kids with disabilities. I’ve heard it equally in regard to public and private schools. There are a lot of different factors that go into each story, but the ones that really bothered me were the tales of woe from public school systems near our area. Mainly because we got lucky, and we have a great one. So I know it’s possible for a public school to be totally great for their kids. As we know, though, bad news usually travels the fastest and the farthest.
The complaints I heard recently at a disabilities conference were from people who lived all over, and they ranged in scale. People had to pull their kids out of one school or another because their kids were refused services, or their teachers were terrible, or their administrators were terrible. While funding certainly helps tremendously, it’s not the entire reason a public school is great. Some of these same people told terrible stories about districts much like the one I live in. Districts that, quite frankly, shocked me to hear that it was difficult to get services for their kids, because I’ve seen their public finances, and they aren’t hurting for the funding they need for these services. There are also the stories of teachers or psychologists who don’t listen to the parents. They don’t believe the parents when they try to tell them their concerns about their kids.
Or there are the tales of complete apathy about a student’s existence in the school. Where kids are ignored and not helped in the way they should be helped.
I don’t know what it’s like where you live, but around here, and from what I’ve heard, the tales of school system failures for disabilities are much more prevalent than the successful ones. So I decided to share my son’s school story to shine a positive light on what public education can do for our kids.
Here’s a short list I compiled of certain attributes I believe contribute to the awesomeness of the school that both of my kids on the autism spectrum attend.
1. Active Listeners: Administrators and teachers who don’t just hear what you are saying in regard to concerns about your kids, but actually listen. They then make suggestions and put the suggestions that you agree to, and/or your own ideas that they agree to into action. Real, every day action. It doesn’t matter how silly a request may seem — if it helps your kid and it’s doable, they do it.
2. Positive Attitudes: An open, positive attitude toward any challenge presented allows for more possibilities of success. Plain and simple.
3. Communication: This could go hand and hand with listening, but communication between the school and parents throughout the day is paramount! If my kid does something he doesn’t normally do through the day, good or bad, I hear about it before the next school day. Either in text, in person or I read about it at home that day on his communication log. On rare occasion little things slip through until a few days later, because they’re human, but usually I hear about everything as it happens.
4. Attentiveness: This goes beyond listening and communicating. This is when you walk in to your school and it’s like the TV show “Cheers” — everyone knows you and your kids’ names. The day time custodian knows how my oldest kid likes to eat certain foods at lunch because he pays attention to the goings on around him as he’s cleaning up after the kids. Can little things go unnoticed sometimes? I’m sure. However, the overall secure feeling I get when I think about my kids being in school is something I cannot put a price on. Knowing they are being watched and legitimately cared for while in school getting an education is one of the best gifts I’ve ever received as a parent, other than my kids themselves.