Category Archives: Special Needs

A Crucial Conversation


“Coming together is a beginning. Keeping together is progress. Working together is success.” – Henry Ford

Kenny was a quiet, happy two-and-a-half-year-old-boy who loved music, and liked to spend most of his time playing on the floor. He could often be found driving cars on the carpet, or lying on a pillow, gazing up at his classmates’ creations that hung from the ceiling. His classmates would play near him throughout the day, and would occasionally try to include him in their play, but Kenny never met their gaze and would always keep to himself.

As months passed, and Kenny celebrated his third birthday with no change in his demeanor, my co-teachers and I began to have conversations about his social/emotional development. We weren’t doctors and were in no way qualified to make a diagnosis, but according to our knowledge of child development, Kenny was exhibiting behaviors that led us to believe he may have been experiencing some developmental delays.

We came to the conclusion that we should have a discussion with his parents about what we were observing in the classroom. Parent/teacher conferences were coming up in a few weeks, but we didn’t want to wait that long. Besides, we knew the conversation we were going to have would be a sensitive one, and we wanted to take the time necessary to adequately address everyone’s questions (instead of the 20 minutes we were alotted at a typical conference).

I called Kenny’s mom at naptime and scheduled a meeting with her for the next day. It was her suggestion that we meet so soon. I could hear the anxiety in her voice over the phone.

Prior to our meeting, my co-teachers and I pulled out Kenny’s portfolio and reviewed all of the observations we had been making on him over the course of the year. We were nervous about how to have this conversation with Kenny’s mom, so we practiced what we wanted to say. In all honesty, as young teachers in the first few years of our careers, we were all secretly hoping that the anecdotal notes, photos and work samples we had collected would lead Kenny’s mom down a path of realization on her own, without us having to find the right words.

The next day, when Kenny’s mom arrived in the classroom, she was on the verge of tears. It was obvious to all of us that she was dreading this meeting. My two co-teachers, Kenny’s mom, and I sat down to talk in a private room. We began by talking about the things Kenny loved to do at school, how much he loved listening to us sing “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” We talked about all the pieces of documentation we had collected as Kenny’s mom sat and quietly listened.

“What does all this mean? What are you trying to tell me?” she hesitantly asked, as we came to the last item in Kenny’s portfolio. “Well,” I said, “the social skills a three-year-old usually displays are listed here” (at which point I showed her our school’s child assessment tool). Before I had the chance to even finish my thought, Kenny’s mom blurted out “And Kenny isn’t doing those things, is he?!” Her face turned beet red and she began to cry.

We tried to comfort her as best we could, and then we all took a little break – a few minutes to process what was going on. When we sat back down, Kenny’s mom was silent. “Okay,” I said, “now that we’ve laid all of this out on the table, would you like to talk about what we can do to support Kenny?” The look on her face told me that this was not what she was expecting me to say. “You mean he can still stay in his classroom?” she asked in surprise. “Yes, he can,” I replied. “Now let’s talk about how to help Kenny get what he needs.” Together, Kenny’s mom, my co-teachers and I came up with the first step of our plan – for Kenny’s mom to take Kenny, and the information we had discussed, to the pediatrician.

We all wanted Kenny to be successful in our classroom, and for the remainder of his time in our care, we worked together to do just that. Kenny’s mom kept us apprised of what was happening with him outside of the classroom, and brought us information from the medical professionals she was in contact with. We kept her informed of how things were progressing for Kenny at school. At the end of the school year, she gave my co-teachers and I each a warm hug – “Thank you for helping me help my son,” she said.

When Respite is Needed

A month ago, 4C released the news that it had formed a partnership with the U.S. Air Force to help military families with special needs children who are in need of respite care.

For several years, I was an Early Intervention Specialist working with infants and toddlers with special needs. My “home base” was a children’s hospital where I provided services to inpatient children and families.  I often observed these parents working on their weekly family schedules. I was amazed at the amount of coordination, skill and stress involved in managing this puzzle. Just for the child I was working with, there were often multiple doctors and therapists to meet. Add into the mix, sibling school, sport and meeting schedules as well as parent work or school commitments. That didn’t include grocery shopping, cleaning, dinner or just enjoying each other’s company!

While many families struggle with balancing the demands of family life and all parents need a break once in a while, it is a more elaborate balancing act for families of children with special needs. This can create stress for each member of the family. Not only is having enough time and energy an issue, but it is often difficult finding someone to provide care for the child with special needs. In many situations, this means that the family misses activities or one parent stays home, splitting the family up. I encountered this during my work with hospitalized infants and toddlers. Having quality support helps everyone in the family, including the other children, by reducing the stress level and sustaining the relationships within the family.

Please keep this in mind when working with your families. Take some time to ask how they are doing and how the whole family is doing. Understand that parents of special needs children may not be able to make every event or program that you have. Try to help find other ways for them to be involved at your center. While not all the families will qualify for the Air Force respite care program, there are other resources in the community that offer respite care for families of children with special needs. Become a resource for your parents! Find out about other services that are offered in your area and check with your county Board of Developmental Disabilities for information for families. The Board of DD will be able to help coordinate services and they are a wealth of information for families and teachers.

–Nicole May