Those of us working in special education know the following scenario all too well: parents and advocates on one side of a table, various school professionals on the other, and a child’s fate in the balance. The parents want extra, expensive services. They have consulted the experts and have been assured that with this support their child will thrive. The teacher and psychologist are equally sure that the parents are wrong. They surmise that the child needs more time to play and relax, and the extra services they seek are not only unwarranted, but also harmful. The parents know what they know because they have been promised the world by their team. The psychologist knows she is right because she was with the child through three whole hours of testing. Everyone knows where he or she stands and lawyers will be called in to settle the case.
Where do these battles come from? How has it all gone awry? Could it be that we, myself included, have become too entrenched in our own ideas – have our egos become too large and too demanding of attention?
Anyone who chooses to work in special education will tell you the initial motives were pure. Perhaps you experienced a spiritual connection to a special child that was difficult to put into words, but extremely powerful. You knew that working with these children was your calling. Fast-forward a decade and the passion may still be there, but there are also some battle wounds. Parents seem unreasonable in their demands, and the administration has forgotten the classroom experience. The promise of mainstreaming is romantic but, without support, it is impossible to implement. There are easy, pat answers from researchers and consultants.
Sometimes these answers are viable, sometimes not. When there are setbacks there is plenty of guilt and shame to pass around to all of the people involved in a child’s life - the teachers and therapists who didn’t fix him, the administrators who didn’t care, and the parents who advocated for the wrong path.
Maybe we should all admit we are scared? Parents come to the table terrified about their child’s future. They have been promised the world, not by snake oil salesmen, but by well meaning researchers and experts. Parents are inundated with information, information that is sometimes contradictory. What are parents to do? They generally choose sides and hope that the school agrees. If not, there are lots of lawyers and experts willing to take their money. While we recognize fear in parents, are we willing to see fear in ourselves? Do we acknowledge that we sometimes feel like imposters, and perhaps our egos are there to masque our own insecurities?
Imagine a world where it is acceptable to admit that we are not always sure how to help a child, and we may need to try different approaches. Maybe we could start by being open to all possibilities, including the possibility of being wrong, while we stay present to the wonder that a child is, right here, right now. If we get quiet can we start to learn what is in our hearts and perhaps let this be our guide? Our hearts may reveal that we may have steered a parent wrong, and yes, we may even have to admit this.
This scenario may seem daunting, and may make us feel vulnerable, but is it also human and freeing. Rumi, the 13th century Persian poet, wrote, “Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and right doing there is a field. I will meet you there.” When I can quiet my ego, I realize that the peace I seek is always there. It just requires slowing down and listening to my breath. Let us stay open to all possibilities, support each other doing the work we were meant to do, while we listen to the whispers of our hearts.
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