The Value of Coming Together As a Village When There Are Special Needs
Updated: Apr 11
By Karen Kaplan, MS
A preschool teacher posted that, on occasion, a student would bring another classmate's jacket home. The post requested ideas to help teachers and aides identify the coats as parents refused to put their child's names inside their jackets. WOW! REALLY?
Why couldn't the parents say, "Sure, whatever helps."
As a classroom teacher of students with autism many years ago, I prioritized getting to know each family. It was important to me to see that they were in my corner, their child's corner. I knew that I could only succeed in helping their individual if they were in my corner, too. I knew that if their child would expand their skills and come to school ready to learn, communicate and engage, I would need the family and school to be a team. So, here is how I worked to get the YES response:
I invited and encouraged parents to visit the classroom and learn techniques.
I sent home meaningful notes at least once a week, highlighting positives.
I listened and learned about the family's challenges.
I identified outside resources for them to connect with.
I held parent meetings, yes on my time, to connect my families with one another to share resources and support.
As the years went on, I created a series of informational seminars for them to learn strategies and understand the unique learning styles from professionals.
I took the time to learn their priorities before the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting was held.
I tried to make sure they understood the assessments completed on their individual.
I put myself in their shoes (sleepless nights, loss, isolation, confusion, financial stress, lack of knowledge, and sometimes a sense of hopelessness).
I worked with them to develop meaningful goals addressing communication skills, hygiene skills, independent living skills, motor planning skills, functional academics, pre-vocation, and social skills.
Then I asked parents to implement them all in the home as well. I heard them say, yes, show us, we will try; yes, help us try. Helping a child with a special need, a learning difference, or neurodiversity takes a Village approach. The word NO only puts up roadblocks.
Everyone needs to find their YES. Yes, here is what I can do. Yes, I will try. Yes, teach me. Yes, but I will need help. Yes, I want to help; how? Yes, help me to understand. Yes, I understand your needs and your challenges. Yes, let us do it together.
The more knowledge and understanding that is shared, the wiser the yes. The more each member of the Village accepts the other's fears, anxieties, challenges, and hopes, the more meaningful and profound the yes.
So, identify what your needs are for a YES and move forward as a VILLAGE.
Karen Kaplan, MS, is a native San Franciscan. She completed her bachelor's and master's degrees at Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona, in Speech Pathology and Audiology. She minored in Special Education and obtained her Speech Therapist and Special Education credentials in California. Karen worked as a speech therapist for both public schools and private schools for 20 years before opening her own residential and education program for students with autism spectrum disorders. She worked in credential programs at Sacramento State University as well as UC Davis and spent 20 additional years directing private schools for those with autism and similar learning challenges. Karan founded a small non-profit, Offerings, which travels globally helping other cultures understand those with developmental challenges. For seven years, she founded and facilitated an autism lecture series and resource fair in Northern California. Karen still facilitates an Autism Awesomeness event yearly, showcasing the strengths and talents of those who live on the spectrum. She is currently consulting, helping families, schools, and centers for children, teens, and adults. She has published articles to help bring ideas and strategies to families and professionals, providing hope. Karen authored Reach Me Teach Me in the early 70s and went on to publish her second book, On the Yellow Brick Road Finding Hope for Autism, in 2017. Her third book, Typing to Heaven and Back, is not about autism but about having important conversations with those we love. Be sure to connect with Karen—she is always ready to listen and think of the possibilities.