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The Grieving Process

The issue:
Schools understand that parents are at different stages in terms of their understanding and acceptance of a child's disability and their ability or willingness to work cooperatively with the school.

The solution:
Simply stated, parents of children with special needs have to be given the time to "tell their story." Unless schools provide periodic opportunities for parents to let teachers and other professionals know something about what it's really like to have "a kid like this," teachers won't get a picture of the whole child. Parents will find it easier to engage with and trust teachers who can understand the impact of a child with disabilities on their family.

Parents of children with special needs undergo stages of adjustment during which they actually grieve the loss of their "ideal" child. Sensitive teachers understand this phenomenon and strive to assess the level of a family's adjustment to the handicapping condition (for example, whether parents are in denial or angry or have come to accept the reality of the condition).

Teachers and other professionals in responsive schools reach out to families by visiting their homes or by setting up informal "chats" at neutral locations like a local coffee shop. This gives them the opportunity to really hear the family story. When teachers do this, parents consistently report a greater degree of closeness and understanding with them -- and children benefit.

Hint: If your child's teachers don't take the initiative to set up such meetings, you may need to make the arrangements -- the result is well worth the effort.

Return to Building Bridges Between Home and School

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