10 THINGS YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT RAISING A DIFFERENTLY WIRED CHILD
7: HOW TO NAVIGATE SCHOOL Transcript
I know that one of the biggest questions people on this parenting journey have is: What should I do about school? And just a heads up, this video is a little longer than the others in this series. Because I have a few things to say about it.
If your child is not in school yet, you might be wondering how you should go about finding the right school for your child. If your child is already attending a school, you might be unsure about how much information to share with the school about diagnoses you might have for your child, especially if you’ve just received new information.
Navigating school is undoubtedly one of the trickiest parts about raising a neurodivergent child because most schools, especially traditional public schools, aren’t set up or designed to support differently wired kids in a way that works really well. And I know that what inclusion and support looks like in schools varies by country, and so depending on where you live, your experience may be very different from someone else’s who is watching this video.
With that said, if you are in a public school in the United States, or you plan to send your child to public school, the good news is that there are safeguards in place that are theoretically designed to ensure your child has the accommodations and supports they need to be successful in school. In actuality, it often doesn’t quite work out that way, for a variety of reasons. And it can be challenging to advocate for and get the types of accommodations that we know our kids would benefit from. Many schools are under-resourced, and in large classrooms, which tends to be the case in many public schools, it can be very difficult for teachers to implement every aspect of a child’s 504 plan or IEP. But again, if your child is in the public school system here in the US, there is a path for helping our kids in school, though it can be a lengthy and frustrating process. And I know different countries offer different types of support for neurodevelopmental differences and it will look different depending on where you live.
If your child is in a private school setting, or if you intend to go that route with your child, you may be wondering whether or not you should disclose information you have about your child’s neurodivergence. I hear from a lot of parents who are concerned that their kids either won’t be admitted to a private school, or that they will be asked to leave a private school, if they are transparent and open about the diagnoses they have for their kids. And I completely understand that conflict over whether or not to share. It can feel very vulnerable. And many parents are concerned that if they share too much information, their child will be perceived differently by the teachers in the school, that they’re essentially sending them to school with a target on their back. I understand that, and honestly, that can actually be true. It’s a valid concern.
But, if we have information that we know would support our child in having a successful school experience, we owe it to our kids and to the school to give them the best chance of success. The truth is, if a school is unwilling to respect and support a child’s neurodivergence, then that school will be a safe environment for our child. Not sharing pertinent information could set up our kids for getting in trouble, for being labeled as disruptive, to struggle academically, to feel frustrated and confused, and so on.
So I advocate sharing enough information about our child to provide context for behavior that may be misunderstood, situations that can be especially challenging, and strategies for re-regulating after difficult moments. We don’t have to use labels if that doesn’t feel right, or give schools a binder or handbook on our child. But giving them a heads up about areas where our child may need extra support, challenges they’re facing, or skills they’re still working on, can be incredibly helpful. And it’s something teachers appreciate as well.
So I have a lot more to say about navigating schools, but for now I’m just going to wrap up with this: I know that sometimes parent-teacher relationships can be complicated at best and combative at worst, but try to assume the best intention for the educators who are working with our kids. We want to try to design a positive alliance with our kids’ teachers so that together we can help our child have a good school year.
And I just have one more thing to say about school, and that is this. Because navigating the education system is invariably one of the most challenging parts of this parenting journey, it’s important that we work to be flexible in the way we think about their educational path. Many differently wired kids attend multiple schools over the course of their education. Many parents find themselves unexpectedly homeschooling for some period of time. Sometimes the perfect school ends up being a disaster. Sometimes the neighborhood public school ends up working out perfectly, at least for now. So knowing this, I encourage you to be curious and open minded about your child’s educational path, and that with every school year, you take the time to reevaluate and consider whether or not this is still the right school for your child. And it’s not, explore ways to make a change or advocate within the school to make it a more positive experience for your child.
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