Real Stories By Teachers – Words Matter

Real Stories By Teachers - Words Matter

I work in a large urban school district where classes are big, and budgets are small.

Each spring, hundreds (maybe thousands, even) of Early Intervention (EI) students register for Kindergarten.

So, for me, this time of year means one thing and one thing only: Early Intervention (EI) intake.

As a former Early Intervention (EI) teacher, I love this time of year. I enjoy spending time with the little ones and seeing all the potential their future holds.

Some of my colleagues, on the other hand, have different opinions on the matter. Because of the lack of funding, we—the school-based special education team—are inundated with;

  • Evaluations
  • Assessments
  • Paperwork
  • Meetings

Often, because of the sheer quantity of students enrolling, I end up working with students at different schools and with new/ unfamiliar psychologists and therapists.

Words Matter

The other day, I sat in on an incoming student’s evaluation meeting.

The psychologist was someone I did not know, but he seemed kind enough. He was friendly and warm when we arrived, smiling and introducing himself to everyone.

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He reviewed his assessments and observations and explained the results. As it turned out, the student was going to receive services under the classification of intellectual disability.

The parents seemed to agree with the results, and they were supportive of special education services. All was going well.

But then, as the psychologist was getting ready to wrap up the meeting, he turned to the parents and said something I wasn’t expecting: “I just want to make sure you understand… Intellectual disability is the politically correct way to say retarded.”

My heart broke as the room transformed from one of support and hope to one of disappointment, anger, and panic. The student’s parents began asking questions like, “Where will my son have to go?” and “Can he still go to school?” The meeting finished in a whirlwind of confusion and fear.

As I reflect on this experience, I am saddened not only by the lack of sympathy and respect shown by my colleague but also by the stigma associated with certain disabilities and how one little word can change everything. So in an effort to stand up to stigma, I’ll share my best advice for responding to an unexpected label:

Love your child.

Your son or daughter is the same person they were before they were given this label. These words on a piece of paper aren’t going to change your child. They aren’t going to change the way he laughs or cries or kisses you goodnight.

These words on a piece of paper will allow your child to access the services they need in order to be successful, and that should be that.

Be an advocate for your child.

Nobody knows your child better than you—You know what they need better than anyone (despite what their teacher may tell you).

Learn about disabilities—the more you know, the more you can help yourself and your child. Be confident in yourself as a member of your child’s educational team. Ask questions when you don’t understand and speak up when you don’t agree.

Now I don’t have any children with disabilities (or any children for that matter) to personally back this advice, but I am a firm believer in the power of positive relationships and the impact of parent involvement.

You will make all the difference in how your child’s label affects their future.

Have you experienced anything similar? Please comment below.


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Erin Fay

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