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Believe in My Child with Special Needs!

Believe in My Child with Special Needs!

Helping Children Achieve Their Potential in School
Author: Mary A. Falvey Ph.D.

ISBN: 978-1-55766-702-1
Pages: 160
Copyright: 2005
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Size:  5.5 x 8.3
Stock Number:  67021
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Every parent is filled with dreams, fears, hopes, and questions when preparing a child for school—and when that child has a disability, this exciting time can seem overwhelming. This upbeat, reassuring handbook is an invaluable resource to share with parents of a school-age child with a disability. It demystifies complicated issues, encourages parents to celebrate abilities and recognize possibilities, and tells parents everything they need to know to be successful advocates throughout their child's education.

Drawing on her own experiences as a parent of a child with a disability and as an educator, Mary Falvey helps parents

  • understand their child's legal rights
  • pursue an inclusive education for their child, from preschool to high school and beyond
  • collaborate respectfully with educators on their child's IEP
  • promote their child's access to the general curriculum and encourage educators to use appropriate modifications and assessment strategies
  • support their child as he or she develops friendships
  • develop transition plans to help their child achieve their goals after high school

Candid and positive, this easy-to-read guidebook will be a trusted companion for parents—and a helpful source of insight for professionals seeking the parent perspective.

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Review by: Paul Wehman, Virginia Commonwealth University

"There is a distinct shortage of hands-on, practical books for parents, advocates, and general educators. . . . This is the first book that I am aware of that focuses directly on what parents and advocates need to know. I highly recommend this guidebook, which I expect will become a leading reference in the field."

Review: Preemie Magazine

"<i>Believe in My Child with Special Needs!</i> by Mary A. Falvey should be on the essential reading list of any parent of a child whose abilities fall anywhere outside what might be considered 'normal'."

Review: Parenting Special Needs

"When it comes to inclusion, Falvey is a true believer, convinced that children with disabilities can and must learn with [peers without disabilities]. She makes a compelling case, and it's gratifying to read a book that's so relentlessly upbeat about our children's abilities. If your district has made a true commitment to inclusion, this will be an invaluable resource. If not, it may just break your heart."

Review: Book News, Inc.

"In this up-beat handbook for parents of a school-age child with a disability, Falvey (special education, California State University) shows readers how to advocate for their child's education, drawing on her own experiences as an educator and as a parent of a child with a disability. She explains the child's legal rights, and gives practical advice on pursuing an inclusive education for the child, from preschool to high school and beyond. While written for parents, the book is also for professionals seeking the parent perspective."


  1. Celebrating Abilities
  2. Federal Laws and Court Rulings
  3. Age-Related Services and Supports
  4. Friendship Development
  5. Assessment and Curriculum Modifications
  6. Problem Solving and Collaboration
  7. Transition to Adult Life


People with disabilities have had to endure a long history of rejection and forced segregation within society. As a parent or teacher of a child with disabilities, you know that despite litigation and legislation intended to eliminate such rejection and discrimination, large numbers of people with disabilities continue to live segregated, isolated, and lonely lives.

Even with the law, the attitudes of many in society have not changed: children with disabilities are still excluded from typical day care and preschool settings; many restaurants, stores, and theaters remain inaccessible; and many doctors and hospitals do not provide sign language interpreters to people who need them. The list is endless. (Snow, 2000, p. 43)

Many doctors still do not talk about a child's disability with the proper care or tact. When parents are told by their doctor that their child has a disability, the information is often framed as bad news. Of course, parents want factual information to explain their child's behavior, appearance, and development, but the information provided by physicians is usually from an impairment perspective (e.g., what is "wrong with the child," what he or she will never be able to do). This information, although useful for obtaining services for the child and family, can also disrupt parent–child relationships and strip parents of their dreams and hopes for their child. Figure 1, an essay written by a parent of a child with Down syndrome, offers insight into the initial reactions that parents have when their child is diagnosed with a disability.

Sometimes when children are diagnosed with a disability, parents become desperate to find the cure or the right treatment. In their quest, they often forget that their child is just a child and that the disability is only one aspect of the child. Nothing is wrong with searching for ways to help children with disabilities learn and achieve more and live enriched lives, but this search must be balanced with love and acceptance of individuals with disabilities for who they are and who they are to become.

An unintended message of rejection can be sent to children when parents keep searching for ways to improve the child — and to eliminate his or her disabilities. Teachers can also create such unintended messages with their attitude toward their students with disabilities. A teacher might say, "If only she were like Max, the other student with Down syndrome I had in my fifth-grade classroom. He was able to sit and do his work, unlike Marianne." Such comparisons are not only unfair but also potentially devastating to children's sense of self. Everyone is an individual, and the pace of learning varies across children, regardless of whether they have a disability.

"The perception that some children are typical and others who have disabilities need to be repaired in some way is still a concomitant of a society that values uniformity rather than diversity" (Kunc, 2001, p. 89). Prejudice and discrimination against people because of their race, religion, age, gender, and other characteristics is not an inherent problem within the individual being rejected but rather a problem in the attitude of the accusers. In other words, people with disabilities do not need to change; people's perceptions of and attitudes toward them need to change. Such changes in attitude toward people with disabilities will not come as a result of legislation, litigation, or even government paving the way but rather through daily contacts and interactions with people with disabilities and their families. As a result, parents and teachers carry an enormous responsibility to model respectful interactions that allow children with disabilities to be who they are and to achieve their greatest potential.

During my first year as a special education teacher, I had a 3–year–old girl named Shannon in my class who could light up even the most cynical person. When she smiled, her whole body would smile. At the age of 3, she weighed 12 pounds, and we all rejoiced when she ate and kept her food down. About 7 months into the school year, I offered to take care of Shannon and her younger brother for a weekend. As a single person without children, that weekend was a very valuable experience for me. I gained respect for the work that parents do in raising a child, let alone two children. When Shannon's parents returned from the weekend, I shared with them some things Shannon had done that I had never seen her do at school. Her parents, both very loving and caring, replied with disinterest. I was shocked and asked them why they changed the subject when I discussed Shannon's developmental gains.

Her mother's eyes filled with tears as she shared an experience she had when Shannon was 2 years old. Shannon's mother was participating in a mothers' support group led by a psychologist. All of the mothers in the group had children with disabilities. One week, the psychologist instructed the mothers to go home and create a list of dreams they had for their children. Shannon's mother invited her parents and her in-laws for a Sunday dinner. At the end of dinner, she told her family that she wanted their input in completing her assignment for the mothers' support group. Everyone contributed to the list of dreams they had for Shannon and her future.

Using her calligraphy skills, Shannon's mother wrote the dreams on fine parchment paper, which she brought to the mothers' support group meeting. When it was her turn, she proudly unfolded the parchment paper and read their family's dreams for Shannon. When she finished, the psychologist said that she was not being realistic about Shannon's disabilities because most of the dreams she had on the list could not come true. Since then, Shannon's mother has been afraid to dream anything for her daughter for fear that another professional will take those dreams away from her, too.

Professionals, no matter how well meaning and knowledgeable they may be about a disability, cannot predict what a child might achieve or do in the future. In fact, when professionals interrupt or deny parents from having dreams for their children's future, they do them an enormous disservice. Children achieve when those around them believe they can, and the negative attitudes of professionals should never influence parents' perceptions, hopes, and dreams for their children. The self-fulfilling prophecy — when people believe in and act on what others think of and have said about them — influences development more than specific therapies or interventions.

When parents believe in their child's ability, that child often rises to meet their expectations. On the contrary, when parents do not believe in their child's ability, that child often fails to achieve his or her potential. Teachers also can play a significant role in their students' progression by believing or not believing in their abilities and facilitating their potential. When teachers have low expectations for their students, they limit their potential.

When I was a junior in high school, I took an aptitude test measuring my skills and interests to help guide my future. After I took the test, I met with my guidance counselor to review the results and to create my future path. She told me that my future path included becoming a park ranger, which disappointed me a great deal because I had wanted to become a special education teacher. When I shared with her the dream that I had for myself, she told me that it would require that I go to college and that I was not college material. I was devastated, and it took me several years to build up my confidence to go on to a 4–year college and complete my master's and doctoral degrees. Luckily, I had a family and circle of friends who believed in me and encouraged me to pursue my dreams.

The information that teachers and parents provide their children can liberate and create opportunities, but it can also crush dreams and hopes. Disability labels have been used over the years to limit children's potential rather than to assist in the determination of what children need to be successful. Table 1 shows how to look at disabilities and impairments with a strength-based perspective.

If you want your child to be successful in achieving his or her dreams and potential, then you must respect your child's individuality and humanity. Constantly referring to your child in relationship to his or her disability will disregard who your child is as an individual. So many parents look to the professional, often the teacher, as a model of how to interact and relate to their child. When teachers have accepting and positive relationships with their students, parents will follow the teachers' examples. In addition, when parents have accepting and positive relationships with their children, teachers will follow the parents' examples.

Instead of saying, "This is my autistic student," teachers should say, "This is Angela, one of my seventh graders. Angela has autism and, therefore, has some unique learning needs." Using person-first language acknowledges children's humanity and focuses on relationships with them rather than on their disabilities. Language can be a powerful way to build up children's confidence in themselves. Table 2 provides examples of person-first language.

What teachers and parents say to and about children with disabilities will make a significant difference in their present and future opportunities. Following is a list of actions that offer positive futures for children with disabilities.

  1. Believe in children's capacities.

  2. Assume children with disabilities are competent.

  3. Highlight children's strengths, gifts, and talents.

  4. Accept children with disabilities for who they are as people.

  5. Interact with children with disabilities in chronological, age-appropriate ways.

  6. Give children with disabilities a voice (i.e., a means to communicate).

  7. Do not compare children with disabilities with their brothers, sisters, or classmates.

  8. Use person-first language when describing children with disabilities.

Excerpted from Chapter 1 of Believe in My Child with Special Needs!, by Mary A. Falvey, Ph.D.

Copyright©2005 by Paul H. Brookes Publishing Co. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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