When a child starts school, several anxieties can arise – not just for the student but for the parents sending them there.
Concerns over whether their child will fit in, make friends and progress academically are just a few questions that can keep parents up at night.
However, for parents whose children have a disability, these anxieties can be compounded. After all, while many teachers struggle at the best of times, very few are prepared and equipped to cater for children with complex learning needs.
David Roy, lecturer in education at the University of Newcastle, and David Armstrong, a senior lecturer in special and inclusive education at RMIT University, recently shared their advice to these parents.
“Parents should be aware a teacher might be concerned about how accepting a child with a disability might negatively affect the academic progress of other children in their class, risking complaint from other parents,” Roy and Armstrong wrote in The Conversation
However, they note that while research suggests these worries are persistent, they are also typically unfounded.
“The first thing to do is figure out whether your local school can meet your child’s specific needs. This will involve a discussion meeting, usually with the principal as well as the local support officer,” Roy and Armstrong wrote.
“In all communication try not to be emotive, but polite and assertive. Keep records of all communication. Where possible, use email.”
Roy and Armstrong said that if parents have a meeting or telephone conversation, they should take a record of the key points and send it to the participants asking for their clarification that it’s an accurate record.
Mainstream is best when possible
Roy and Armstrong said schooling in the mainstream classroom is considered the “first and best option” when possible in Australia for students with a disability.
“One myth which needs to be disposed of immediately is that there is a special, unique method for teaching children with disabilities. This is not the case. Successful teaching for children with disabilities is simply very high-quality teaching,” they wrote.
“Some key features of this excellent practice are: it’s clear and has a predictable structure, motivates the child calling on their interests, and is regularly reviewed against clear objectives to ensure it is effective.”
Parents should do their own research
For parents, doing your own research about the features of the disability that affects your child can help you better relay their needs to teachers, doctors and therapists, say Roy and Armstrong.
“Many parent-led, not-for-profit disability organisations in Australia, the UK and US have excellent public resources to develop your knowledge. For instance, there are great resources for autism, dyslexia and other specific learning difficulties,” they wrote.
“The complexity of the three-way parent-school-child relationship raises the chance of confusion, misunderstanding or communication breakdown.”
If left unchecked, say Roy and Armstrong, this can damage the relationship and negatively affect a student’s life in school.
“All parties need to listen to each other and put the child’s needs first – not the workplace or budget,” they wrote.
Roy and Armstrong said that while there is no universally agreed-upon model of what a good parent-school-child relationship looks like, research offers practical suggestions for parents and teachers:
- communication must be three-way between parents, the student and teacher if there is to be a shared responsibility for supporting the child’s learning;
- parents, the student and the teacher must feel confident they can be honest and open about their views on where each has strengths and weakness;
- parents, the student and teacher must feel their views are valid, will be listened to and, if agreed on, acted upon in good faith.