We recently attended the New York State Council for Exceptional Children’s Annual Conference in Tarrytown, New York. As a mom of three children with learning differences, I walked away feeling inspired, grateful, and with a broadened personal and professional toolkit.
Many of the educators and vendors who were at the conference have personal backstories that drove them to this profession. It is these stories that allow them to relate to the children they support, without forgetting the lost parents who often need as much assistance. The goal for all involved is to get students to their personal 100%. It may be very different from the 100% of that student’s neighbor, friend, or sibling, yet just as meaningful.
While every child’s situation differs, there are some commonalities that, I believe, hold true across the board for helping our students with learning differences reach their full potential.
1. Pay Attention to the Issues. While there is no magic potion or formula that holds all the answers, it is important as both a parent and teacher to remain educated on the issues impacting your children. There is so much to be learned from the experiences of experts. These experts may include parents, teachers, caregivers, paraprofessionals, or medical professionals, who have been involved in the care of someone with similar symptoms, diagnoses or behaviors as your children. Though, it is up to you to cull through the advice of these experts to find what you believe may work best for your situation.
2. It Takes a Village. It’s important that the team of individuals supporting your children remain in close communication and as aligned as possible. A simple note to a teacher stating that “Suzy may have a rough day because she can’t find her favorite stuffed animal,” may allow the teacher of a third grader with behavioral problems, to spot and address the anxiety that is sure to arise during the day.
3. Prioritize Self Care. In caring for any child with learning differences, it is important to take time for self-care. These children often require you to find patience when your patience-tank is on empty. To be able to do that, you need to ensure that you are nourished, both physically as well as emotionally. Find a hobby, take a walk, or even spend five extra minutes in the bathroom when you need that short escape. Nobody will blame you and, in fact, your children will thank you.
4. Celebrate Non-Grade Victories. Getting your child to their 100% is important. However, success is not measured in grades alone. It is measured in happiness, smiles, showing respect and commanding respect, having a strong work ethic, getting along with others, and having a positive attitude. And, do not forget to celebrate little successes along the way. It helps your children but will also help you to bask in their accomplishments, as well as your own role in the process.
5. Ask for Help. That goes for a classroom educator who needs feedback from a peer as to how to handle a particularly difficult situation. It also applies to a parent who is bobbing and weaving through a new challenge and needs a sympathetic ear. We can all use the assistance of others from time to time.
While this article does not do justice to the complexities involved in supporting our exceptional children, I am hopeful that it provides a glimpse into some tips as to how to support yourself and your children through the process. It is a journey, an incredibly difficult one at that. But, witnessing, let alone participating in, even the smallest achievements of these children, can be among the most rewarding experiences of your life.