Information about special needs and disabilities seems to be everywhere so why do we sometimes feel that our children are the first children with "special needs" their school has ever encountered?
One big issue in Ireland at least is the lack of training teachers receive about special educational needs and disabilities. There is no mandatory training for teachers in the area of special education.
Another reasonable explanation is the number of special needs that exist - ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Autism etc. I don't think you can reasonably expect a teacher to have a thorough understanding of each disability. People, including teachers, may have difficulty accepting and supporting children who have "hidden" disabilities. So what can we as parents do to help our children's teachers understand and accept disabilities?
We need to work with our schools to promote acceptance, awareness and inclusion of children with special needs and disabilities. This work should be planned carefully as you want to maintain a good working relationship with your child's school. (See Developing A Good Relationship with Your Special Needs Child's School.) If your child's school has a parent's association you could ask them to get involved also.
Here's some ideas to try
Network with other parents who have children with special needs and/or disabilities in your school to present a united front and for assistance promoting inclusion.
Provide the school with resources teachers can use to learn about different disabilities - these resources should talk about strengths and not just deficits. For example, a child with Asperger's may have poor social skills but have a great memory. Make sure all of the teachers in the school get a copy of the list of resources you are providing.
Consider putting together a special booklet with a section on each different disability-this would probably be more effective. Include references to websites or books that teachers can go to for information on a specific disability. Add information about the benefits of including children with special needs and disabilities in mainstream education. Make sure each teacher gets a copy of the booklet.
Provide the school with resources (books, videos, handouts, pamphlets) the teachers can use to educate their students on inclusion. Make a list of these resources and distribute the list to every teacher.
Ask the school principal to make sure teachers talk openly about disabilities.
Make sure students with disabilities aren't clustered together in the mainstream classroom - spread them out.
Talk to the school principal about having a Celebrate Differences Day to promote inclusion. Some things to do on the day:
- Different classes or students could be asked to give short presentations on different special education needs
- Students could write stories about a character with a special educational need
- Ask students to read and report on books in which the main character has a special educational need/disability
- Invite speakers from local associations to come in to address the whole school or just have coffee with staff and discuss differences and answer questions
- A difference day doesn't just have to be about children with special needs or disabilities, you could include different nationalities, languages etc.
Publicize the work being done to promote inclusion in your child's school - this helps promote inclusion to a larger audience!
Talk to the school about setting up a Circle of Friends (http://www.autism.org.uk/16877) or other peer support network for children with special needs and/or disabilities.
If your child's school isn't receptive to doing a school wide event, start with your own child's classroom and work your way from there.