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Parents know their children best

A year and a half ago, my husband and I sat with a group of educational “professionals,” discussing the downward spiral of our eight-year-old son.

A year and a half ago, my husband and I sat with a group of educational “professionals,” discussing the downward spiral of our eight-year-old son. A child with disabilities, he began an early intervention program when he was two years old. Now, at Grade 2, he was halfway through his sixth year of school and for the first time he absolutely hated it. His reading and spelling had regressed, his mathematics skills were failing and his focus and attention were non-existent.

“He has always been a happy, generous boy who tries to please, and who loves being a part of the social network around him,” we said. “How could this change so radically within a few months? Now he comes home in tears. He doesn’t want to go to school, insisting, ‘Mom, I’m not smart! I can’t do this work! My brain is broken!’”

As the meeting progressed, things started becoming clear. “It is actually a good thing that your son is seeing this,” said the school psychologist. “The sooner he realizes that he is not going to succeed like his peers, or be as smart then he can accept and live within his limitations.”

To say we were in shock would be an understatement. All our other children have been taught to reach for the stars, to dream, to figure out ways to overcome their obstacles. I have never heard them told to simply compare themselves to their peers and accept their limitations. Do children with disabilities not deserve the same encouragement?

Unfortunately, the individuals around the table were unable to move beyond their perception of our son’s limitations. As a result, two weeks later we decided to move him to a new school. Today he is reading at grade level, has seen fantastic improvement in independence, focus and is on a far better academic and social track. It’s been a full year and he loves his school.

Every family wants the best for its children. If you are the parent of a child with disabilities, you are no different. You want your children to succeed within the parameters of their skills and talents and you endeavour to secure the resources for them to do so. But no matter how well you equip and challenge your child to succeed and to overcome the impossible societal images before them, someone will try to thwart or undermine your authority. You will have to advocate on your child’s behalf. And that is no easy road.

You will face someone with power who underestimates or overestimates your child’s potential and you must, for your child’s sake, be wise, strong and even angry to get the support they need. Children with disabilities need to be both challenged and assisted while they are young, to gain the personal tools to achieve and reach their potential.

No one can better advocate for a child with disabilities than the child’s parents. No one knows them like you do. Sometimes though when parents speak up they are viewed with suspicion as if they are trying to scam the system. They are told that they need to “settle” for what can come to them and they should not get their hopes up. Balderdash! People might say they are your advocate, but if they are also handing out the funding, they’re just gatekeepers. Gatekeepers invariably shut people out who need assistance.

If you know some parents of children with disabilities, let them know you admire their tenacity. They are heroes, and their children, as with all, are well worth fighting for.

For more of Dee-Ann Schwanke’s thoughts on this and other subjects, visit