My Child Struggles: How Much to Share?

With a new school year around the corner, most parents can’t wait for the return to structure and routine – from which kids benefit. But parents also have anxiety. How will my child transition to a new teacher and classroom full of unfamiliar students?

Change ahead

Smooth? A little bumpy? Meltdown before lunch? Suspended the first day?

I’ve seen each with my six kids.

If raising a child with special needs – or still supporting a young adult at home, parents and caregivers know from first-hand experience. Transitions can make or break the opportunity at hand – be it school, non-school activities, lessons or jobs.

So how much information should we parents or caregivers share?

Just enough. You don’t want to be perceived as a helicopter parent.

One fact is key. Most professionals don’t have oodles of time to read page upon page of information that may not be relevant to their interaction with your child. At the same time, they don’t have your same level of investment. And they haven’t accrued your level of knowledge nor your practicality.

Face it. We parents are the experts. Living day-to-day with a child teaches a lot. A PhD is life.

A five-page article may have enthralled you, but it won’t have the same effect on others. Same goes for books or lengthy videos.

You as the parent or caregiver are the best source of information.

You have valuable insight – that is only available through you. No one else.

After interacting with dozens of teachers and group instructors over the past 20 – and sharing my children’s wide variety of strengths and challenges, I eventually mastered a successful approach.

The one-pager.

Be brief and clear – keeping your initial thoughts to one typed page. Make every word count. Use bullet points and a font no smaller than 12.

Be specific – describing the manifestations of your child’s disability in layman’s terms. The needs of two students with the same diagnosis can be drastically different.  Quoting a couple of lines from an article is A-OK to reinforce your point.

Be personal – citing positive examples from your child’s past and their relation to a successful transition. Not an endless list but the ones that immediately paint a picture. And save the negative ones for later should problems surface.

Be balanced – listing both his/her strengths and challenges. Without question, all individuals have strengths that can minimize the effects of their challenges. A balanced list also gives you credibility, rather than raising suspicion.

Be logical – allowing your knowledge to flow. Here’s a possible outline for the one-pager.

  • Introduce your child and show a human face.
  • State the disability and its effect on your child.
  • List strengths and an equal number of challenges. If possible, show ways that the strengths can offset the challenges.
  • Give positive examples, approaches or interventions that have worked in the past.
  • Offer to be resource now and in the future.
  • Share your contact information – the quickest way to reach you during a crisis.

The one-pager allows you to direct the message. Most importantly, the professional notices your child’s needs.

FYI. Executive functioning deficits can have a huge impact on transitions. To read more about executive functioning, open this link.

Why not just use a document provided by a disability organization or professional? Bottom line, it is not specific to your child. Use it as a guide in crafting your own document.

What about relying on school records? Don’t assume that information from your child’s Individual Education Program (IEP) will be adequately shared with general education teachers. And if content is shared, it might be simply a “cut and paste” accommodations page for a number of students – with comments easily taken out of context. Frankly, most IEPs are not the best way to quickly understand the ins and outs of transitioning a student.

Your one-pager is.

Word puzzle

That’s why parents and caregivers must fulfill the responsibility themselves. Invest the time to do the one-pager right – thus avoiding misinterpretation. If not a good writer, start a draft and then ask someone for help. Proofread and share with a trusted friend for readability. In other words, write a compelling short story – not a book. Empower the professional to take action.

Delivering the one-page document in person is advised – even if the day before school begins. A three-minute face-to-face chat can set the stage for further dialogue. Emailing is less effective but is better than nothing – with an invitation to meet in person at a later date.

With the one-pager complete, continue to refine the document. Update as appropriate. Modify for other activities.

And be wary of individuals who quickly state – before reading anything you provide, I know all about that diagnosis. My uncle has the same issues. I like to first see what my students can do on their own.

They are setting up your child to fail. With their assumptions. With their ignorance. With their arrogance.

Stand your ground and diplomatically ask them to read your document. I appreciate your knowledge. This one-pager relates the issues that will most affect my child’s behavior and performance in your classroom. Let’s create a win-win situation together.

The goal is simple – a smooth transition that brings early success. And that success will breed more success.

Start writing your one-pager today.  DCP

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Craig Peterson publishes EACH Child every Tuesday. To subscribe, open this link and “Like” the page. EACH Child is Special: Working Smarter Not Harder to Raise Every ONE

To follow Craig’s journey in raising his six children with special needs, click here. Adopting Faith: A Father’s Unconditional Love

To follow my son Andrew’s inspiring story, “Like” his special Facebook page Andrew Peterson Athlete and Advocate

To watch Andrew’s amazing ESPN 14-minute documentary, click here. Andrew Peterson Born To Run

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