When my eldest son entered middle school, he really struggled with schoolwork. Through testing, we learned that he had a learning disability. I knew I needed to find ways to support his academic efforts.

After getting past my emotions — anger, disappointment, frustration, and sadness — I began to think of ways I could work in partnership with the school to make sure he would receive the help and services he needed. Being adversarial only seemed to build barriers, so I learned to communicate with the school without becoming defensive or confrontational. I took time to organize my thoughts, collected reports and other documents, and formed a plan of action. I made sure to stick to the facts and not let my emotions take charge.

I asked what I could do at home to support what the teachers were trying to accomplish. I realized it was better to present myself as an ally, rather than a “troublemaker.” I found out that teachers and schools often feel all of the responsibilty for educating kids, so I presented myself as a member of the team. We all needed each other.

I became involved at school to get insight into what was happening there. I made sure that what I said and how I acted let everyone know I was interested not only in my son’s education but also in contributing time and energy to helping teachers and other kids, too.

I participated in a group of parents, teachers, and administrators who looked at special education issues together and developed a broader picture of the issues. As a result, I found out that my interpretation of special education rights wasn’t always accurate. The whole experience gave me a new perspective about schools and professionals. In learning how to communicate with educators, I met some wonderful people who cared about kids and worked hard on their behalf.

While helping my son, I learned my own lessons, too — to have patience, perseverance, and stamina and to monitor my words, tone, and emotions. Along the way, I developed more self-confidence and a feeling of competency. My experiences left a lasting impression on my life and guided me to an exciting new career in the field of learning disabilities.

© 2008 GreatSchools Inc. All Rights Reserved. Originally created by Schwab Learning, formerly a program of the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation

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