Let me start with an admission. As a parent of a child with autism, I hold very strong convictions and opinions when it comes to raising and educating my children. Anyone who has worked with me and/or my son, will attest to that fact. At times, I have been strong-willed, determined and persistent. Indeed, I knew my son best. I knew a lot about autism in general and his autism specifically. I had made it my mission to learn – and to keep learning.
But, two decades in the ‘trenches’ as a mom and a teacher of students with autism has taught me that expertise can really get in the way of serving a child’s needs. I have met my share of professionals whom I disagreed with because they did not take the time to truly know my child. I am quite sure that many parents would agree with me. What I am about to say may seem harsh. But, I strongly believe it needs to be said.
Parents as experts can be just as dangerous as professional experts. Certain attitudes and actions, on the part of parents and caregivers, will obstruct a child’s progress.
I told you it was harsh.
Parents and/or caregivers who bring a wealth of information about their child and a strong conviction to advocate for their child are to be applauded, IF, they also bring along a genuine intent to listen to differing perspectives and a willingness to change their mind. Our way may not be the only way.
Sometimes, as I sit in meetings (as a Special Education Teacher) and I listen to fellow parents, the urge to scream is agonizing. It doesn’t happen often, but when it does, it physically pains me. What could cause me, a strong advocate myself, to feel this way?
Parents who refuse to listen. Parents who tune out and disagree with anyone who attempts to share information that does not match what the parent wants to hear. Sadly, people who are genuinely seeking the best for a student can be ‘shut out’ and their expertise rejected simply on the basis that the parent ‘knows’ what is best.
The Leave it to Beaver folks would be heartbroken, but, mother doesn’t always know best. Neither does father. Sometimes, our deep love and concern for our child can leave us with blinders on; it can prevent us from hearing genuinely novel approaches, wise insights and worthwhile avenues to pursue. Ironically, it is often when we accuse others of refusing to listen that we ourselves need to do some honest self -reflection on our own listening skills.
Once we truly hear what others have shared, then we have the information and we need to take the time to reflect on it. This may mean that we need to leave the meeting and think. As long as we stay open to the fact that we do not have all the answers our children will benefit from our advocacy.
Consider the perspective of professionals working with you: How willing would you be to go above and beyond in service for a person who shuts down your knowledge and insight? Some of the information and circumstances that I had opposed ended up being lifelines for our son. I was strong willed but always listening and ready to compromise. Hindsight is twenty twenty.
Parent experts can get in the way of progress.
Wishing you an open mind, a listening ear and a discerning heart on the journey,