Rose Colored Glasses

It may seem like parents of children with special needs see things differently.

By Pat Linkhorn, author of Off the Fence

Parents of children with special needs don't look through rose colored glasses, but it must seem like we do.

I spent some time with a school official the other day. We carpooled on a trip to Columbus. This person is a principal at the MR/DD school both my children attended and I have a tremendous amount of respect for her. She has been there for me as I've advocated for my children to be in the public school system and her understanding of laws has been invaluable. But as we rode to Columbus, she made an interesting comment, which caused me to really sit back and analyze both our reactions to the meeting we attended on the rules revision.

She said, "The longer I'm in this field, the more I realize that these kids are more like typical kids."

"Big deal, " I thought, "I've known that for a long time." The comment stayed there at the back of my mind though, like many things I hear. I felt there was some big insight here that I should understand and I think I have begun to understand, to a degree.

Most parents see our children as children first, instinctively. It's a basic fact for us. They have personalities, likes and dislikes, fears and loves, as do all children. Their disabilities become secondary, once we accept and go on with our lives and begin to build new dreams. When we advocate for them, we expect the professionals to feel as we do about what is possible for them to accomplish. It may seem to them as if we're looking through rose colored glasses because most of them, even the ones who are so helpful, see them through other eyes.

First of all, they see numbers and labels. The system forces them too. Unit funding, minimum and maximum class size, teacher qualification and aides are just a few of the things they have to consider. Unless a professional has a child of their own who has a disability, they can never really relate to what we see. They haven't invested the time, nor the energy that we have. Their futures aren't intertwined in the lives of these children. They cannot afford to be as emotionally involved as we are. They are not able to live the drama that we have.

Parents don't look through rose colored glasses, but it must seem like we do. All professionals aren't against us, but neither are they completely with us. Is there any way we can even out the picture? It might help if we told a few stories and asked some open ended questions when we're dealing with professionals. Ask what they see for our children and remember that they have been taught to think as they do. Don't be upset when their views are different. Work on trying to make them see the same picture we see and don't expect them to understand instantly. Attitudes are difficult, and sometimes impossible to change, but good results speak for themselves.

Pat Linkhorn is a professional advocate for families with children who have special needs. She is the author of Off the Fence : Disability Advocacy. She is also experienced parent and has two girls with special needs - autism and blindness due to prematurity. Visit her website.