The Hidden Joys of Parenting Children with Special Needs

On the surface, special needs children might seem uncontrollable, disruptive and/or demanding, depending on the level and type of their disability or disorder.

On the surface, raising a special needs child seems like one long continuous struggle. Tantrums, mood swings, defiance and the demands of physical care might seem to be, and in some cases can be, the norms.

On the surface, special needs parents can seem exasperated, frustrated and without hope. Too often they lack the support and understanding they need and deserve. The rewards of raising a special needs child might seem few and obscure.

However, many of us might be surprised to learn that parenting a special needs child is not always be as it appears to be. We simply do not see beneath the surface. Some never get a chance to. Some choose not to.

But often, the story beneath the surface can be far different than what we’re used to seeing.

Parenting Children with Special Needs

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The Ups and Downs

Raising a special needs child is filled with as many peaks and valleys as raising any child. Are the valleys lower? The peaks higher? For the most part yes, and yes.

With special needs children, there are times when the simplest of achievements can make those peaks seem Everest-sized. For the special needs parent, something as simple as a tied shoelace, a read-aloud passage or a base hit might make all the difference in the world. In extreme cases, even an uttered word, such as that from an autistic child who never speaks, can bring euphoria.

When it comes to special needs, each milestone is magnified, each accomplishment accentuated.

God Gives Special Children to Special People

Sometimes the joy of parenting a special needs child can come in the most unexpected ways.

In September 2013, a North Carolina mother brought her family to dinner at a local restaurant. While there, her 8-year-old son, a special needs child, began yelling and pounding the table.

The outburst undoubtedly disrupted and upset other customers in the restaurant. However, the waitress delivered a note to the mother of this special needs boy following this upsetting display.

The writer of the note had not only paid the family’s bill, but delivered the message: “God only gives special children to special people.”

Finding those who understand what they are going through is surely another, and possibly rarer, “hidden joy” of raising a special needs child. All too often, such parents are met with negative comments and attitudes.

But to find validation from strangers that they are indeed doing the best they can could be a high point for parents often bereft of such support.

Making the Climb

Parenting Children with Special Needs

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Parenting a special needs child might often make those parents realize the simple pleasures in life. Taking the time to relax, to pursue a hobby or even enjoy quiet moments can be the true hidden joys for those on this journey, simply because they appreciate these times more than the rest of us.

Parenting a special needs child is difficult and intimidating and draining. And the joys and even the rewards can sometimes be hard to come by.

Climbing Mt. Everest is difficult and intimidating and draining as well. But the joy of standing atop the highest peak in the world? That feeling of accomplishment and elation?

The Case for Developing a Student-Specific Curriculum for Special Education

Curriculum for Special Education

Cases are built on facts, and if we’re going to build a case for student-specific curriculum for special education, we’re going to have to refer to a few facts:

  • Each child is an individual
  • Every child has a different learning style
  • Special needs children have “learning differences” that do not impede their ability to think or to be taught

Keeping those points in mind, can schools develop student-specific curriculum for special needs students?

With over 6.5 million students with disabilities being served by schools across the United States, it might seem an impossible task.

But is it?

Different Processes

Curriculum for Special Education

While conventional methods are effective for most of the student population in any given school, one cannot ignore or argue that learning and physical disabilities prevent some children from receiving and processing information in the same way as their non-special needs peers.

The National Dissemination Center for Children with Disabilities (NICHCY) states, “Children with learning disabilities…usually have average or above average intelligence. Their brains just process information differently.”

Even among others with the same disabilities, special needs children are not likely to learn in the same way. One reason for this is that there are different levels of disability. Students can be mildly, moderately or severely disabled.

Another reason is that everyone’s learning style is different.  How material is presented may be effective for one child and not another. This is true for all students, disabled or not, but certainly can be exacerbated in the presence of some behavioral or learning disorders.

The Individual Education Plan

The mission of the U.S. Department of Education includes “assuring access to equal educational opportunity for every individual.”

With that in mind, one need not work hard to build an argument for student-specific curricula when it comes to special education. They need only to point to the Individual Education Plan (IEP), with an emphasis on “individual”.

The National Center for Learning Disabilities calls IEPs the “cornerstone of quality education” for disabled students. The Center states:”Parents, teachers, other school staff and often the student must come together to look closely at the student’s unique needs.”

According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, an IEP is beneficial because, among other reasons, it is specific to the child.

Being Accommodating

One might imagine that a student-specific curriculum would entail making major changes, but this is not so. For the most part, it simply takes making some minor adjustments to accommodate the student.

This can be as easy as moving the child’s seat or allowing more time to take a quiz or test.

Other ways in which students can be accommodated include:

  • Altering material presentation, such as adding visuals or providing larger text
  • Allowing the use of equipment such as tape recorders or speech-recognition software
  • Changing test sites or schedules
  • Providing breaks, as in many cases students can be easily distracted or have difficulty staying focused

A Benefit to All

A  student-specific curriculum may not only benefit a special needs child but students in general classrooms as well.

Curriculum for Special Education

For instance, a student-specific curriculum can be most effective for those children with behavioral issues. Modifying projects or material presentations in a way that emphasizes an individual child’s strengths or interests can produce more effective results.

Studies have shown that by assessing the interests of a child who displays disruptive behavior and presenting material in a way that draws on those interests will often result in a reduction in the unwanted behavior. This of course can have a positive effect on general education students, as the potential for distracting behavior is lessened or completely removed.

And anything that can impact the learning environment in a positive way, that benefits all students, is a win-win proposition.

Case rested.

The Best Resources for Special Education Teachers

Many teachers across the United States subscribe to the old proverb: “It takes a village to raise a child.” They feel that they alone cannot ensure the academic success of any one child. This takes the concentrated effort of educators, parents, administrators, politicians and community leaders. And it may take just a slightly larger village to meet the needs of those in special education.

With federal programs, Individual Development Plans (IEPs) and integrative practices at schools throughout the country, special education students do have a wealth of support and resources designed to help them achieve in the academic environment.

But to where do special education teachers turn when they need information to help them improve their strategies, better understand a specific learning disorder or special education laws, or provide more effective learning opportunities for their students?

World Wide Resources

As one might expect, teachers can go to the Internet to find the resources providing the tools needed to do their job to the best of their abilities. Some websites are fully or partially devoted to providing special education teachers with links to applications, interactive games and other tools and suggestions to help them better perform their challenging vocation.

The Best Resources for Special Education Teachers

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Here are a few of the more well-known sites that are either devoted solely to special education or contain sections addressing special education topics:

  • Do2Learn: a comprehensive special education site that offers everything from free songs and games to overviews of disabilities and behavior management plans.
  • National Association of Special Education Teachers : a national association providing links to audio lectures and presentations on topics ranging from stress and classroom management to intervention and assessment methods, online professional development courses, relevant publications and more. Some materials are accessible only to members.
  • Teachers Helping Teachers: written by teachers, this site provides a section devoted to special education. This page contains articles covering effective games for special needs students as well as articles addressing such topics as modification strategies, classroom management tips and even techniques for keeping paperwork organized.
  • Learning Disabilities Online : offers an Educators section with articles about learning strategies, technology and methods for teaching specific content as well as an online store selling video series and other products which teachers can use as supplements to their instructional materials.
  • Special Education Resources for General Educators (SERGE): contains a link to the model standards of licensing general and special education teachers as well as links to regional and national organizations supporting and providing information about specific disabilities.

Gaining More Insight

Though not geared specifically to special education teachers, this group would find the following resources helpful.

For more information about specific disorders, teachers can turn to the following organizations, among others:

  • Autism Society of America
  • National Attention Deficit Disorder Association
  • American Association on Mental Retardation
  • National Down Syndrome Society
  • International Dyslexia Society
The Best Resources for Special Education Teachers

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For legal information regarding special education, teachers can find details about the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) through the U.S. Department of Education. Information about special education laws can also be found on individual state education agency and department websites.

Not Enough?

Some feel  that there are too few resources for teachers who arguably need all the support they can get. It might appear so, but the resources that are available seem to be thoroughly informative and easily accessible.

Perhaps, though, all the extensive resources in the world can’t replace what special education teachers need most: parental involvement, administrative dedication and political support.

These could be the most valuable resources in the village.


An In-Depth Look at Special Education Terminology

Do you know what the word ‘mainstreaming’ refers to when used within an educational environment? Do you know what the letters IDEA, LRE or IEP stand for? Can you fully define Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)?

If you do not have a career in special education, you may not know the answers to these questions.

As in most any area, such as medicine, law or engineering, special education has its own terms and phrases. Teachers, psychologists, school administrators and educational policymakers need to be familiar with special education terminology if they are to effectively communicate with parents, the community and other professionals.

An In-Depth Look at Special Education Terminology

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Coming to Terms with Special Education Language

Teachers and school administrators are not the only professionals who use and need  to be familiar with special education language. Special education terminology is found within educational, legal and psychological contexts.

Some terms refer to special education laws, some to specific disabilities and still others to practices and procedures in educational institutions. Some are general terms with which anyone would be familiar, such as “learning disability”, “cognitive development” or “behavioral disorder”.

Others are fairly specific to the special education field. Following are a few terms and their meanings:

  • Inclusion: the placement of special needs students in classes with the general student population
  • Mainstreaming: integrating special needs children into general classrooms for only some but not all classes
  • Early intervention: providing special needs services to young children, typically aged three and under, who display signs of developmental disabilities
  • Individualized Education Plan (IEP): a written plan developed by committee (teachers, administrators, therapists and parents) outlining how a special needs student’s learning goals and objectives will be met
  • Designated Instruction Services (DIS): special needs services provided outside the scope of the regular classroom; these would include but not be limited to speech or physical therapy, behavioral training, assistance with medical devices or nursing services

Spelling It Out

Special education terminology is filled with letters and acronyms, many which would be unfamiliar to those not involved in this field.

IEP and DIS have already been identified and defined. Here are a few more unique to special education:

  • IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act)
  • IEE (Independent Educational Evaluation)
  • LRE (Least Restrictive Environment)
  • DAPE (Developmental Adaptive Physical Education)
  • TEACHH (Treatment and Education of Autistic and Communication Handicapped Children)

These do not include the letters that represent medical conditions and disorders, such as ADD/ADHD (attention deficit disorder/attention deficit hyperactivity disorder), PDDs (pervasive development disorders, such as Asperger’s syndrome) and ODD (oppositional defiant disorder), to name a few.

Terms of Endearment

What might be the most powerful terminology in special education are words we are all familiar with and that are not applicable only to this field.

An In-Depth Look at Special Education Terminology

Words like patience, understanding, tolerance, dedication, support and acceptance go a long way when working with or for special needs children. These words are just as important, if not more so, than all the terms and acronyms associated with this field.

For special education programs and policies to work, they need strong-willed, compassionate and determined individuals who not only know the laws and terminology, but have the desire to see that every special needs child receives the education he or she deserves. These children need supportive parents and a supportive community, patient teachers and dedicated lawmakers, not to mention the understanding and acceptance of their peers.

Those are terms we can all agree to.