Entering an inclusion classroom can feel stressful. You may be wondering how to communicate with your child’s peers and their parents about your child’s needs. Here are five (or six) actionable steps you can take to communicate effectively with your child’s class.
STEP 1: ACKNOWLEDGE YOUR FEARS
When my son entered kindergarten, I felt nervous. I wondered: How will his first day go? Will he separate well from me? Will he like his teacher? Will he be accepted? Will he have meltdowns? Will he feel excluded?
Each of these questions was rooted in fear of the unknown. This feeling is normal, especially when you have a special needs child. Identify your fears, then take the next steps to conquer them.
STEP 2: HAVE EMPATHY
Have empathy for yourself as you process your fears. Then, extend that kindness and empathy to others around you. Focus on the commonalities between you, rather than what sets you apart, and create an open dialog that focuses on mutual support.
STEP 3: COMMUNICATE TO LISTEN
Communication involves more than speaking. In order to communicate your child’s needs to fellow parents and peers effectively, you first must be a good listener. Pause to think about their concerns. Acknowledge their questions and listen when they speak. Stephen Covey astutely said: “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” Listen with the intent to understand and, in turn, fellow parents will be more likely to listen and understand your child’s needs in an open and collaborative way.
STEP 4: SHARE YOUR CHILD’S GIFTS
Be positive. Share your child’s gifts, either in person or in an open letter to their classmates and their parents. Be kind, open, and approachable in your letter. Invite parents and students to ask you questions. If you have concerns, express them, but keep them focused and don’t let fear steer the conversation.
STEP 5: PROVIDE INFORMATION AND RESOURCES
If parents would like to learn more about your child’s unique challenges, have a few resources, children’s books, or articles on hand to share. Keep the list brief, informative, and upbeat.
Here is a great resource from Care.com on teaching children about their peers with special needs.
STEP 6: ADVOCATE AS NEEDED
If you have exhausted these steps and still feel unheard, advocate for your child. While I believe more flies can be caught with honey, there are certainly exceptions to the rule. If this is the case, communicate directly with your child’s teacher and take further action as you see necessary.