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Ten Key Tips for Working with Special Needs Families
Remember - children with special needs are PEOPLE FIRST! Try not to define them or their families by disability. Use people's names.
Avoid use of limiting labels and outdated terminology. Words are mighty powerful - be careful how you choose them and how you use them. Would what you are saying or doing be good enough for your own child/family? Be sensitive to the fact that you are talking about someone's child/sibling/grandchild, etc.
Highlight the strengths of a child or family before addressing the challenges at hand. Focus on the needs and potential of the child. Look beyond disability to focus on individual ability. It can make a difference in how you view and interact with that child, and on how you problem solve.
Check for personal biases regarding individuals with special needs and work hard to change them. Avoid judging families, especially when you lack accurate, balanced information. Work instead to better understand and respect the needs of diverse families in an increasingly global society. The only person we have the right to judge is ourselves. Through your own actions, model necessary change.
Recognize the importance of open, honest and respectful communication between professionals and families and model it accordingly. Work hard to become a more skilled listener. Avoid using emotional, condescending language like ‘false hope' and ‘dealing with reality.'
Include parents in important decisions regarding their children whenever possible. Teamwork is vital to the success of children with special needs. Work hard to promote and model dynamic partnerships between professionals and families; share your ideas with your peers. Remember the important role/needs of siblings in the family unit.
Adhere to the laws protecting the rights of individuals with special needs, including the right to privacy. Avoid water-cooler talk that is not productive, positive or factual. Don't open yourself up to possible libel or slander.
Model leadership designed to help all children and families succeed, no matter how small the gain. Ask yourself what you have to learn from a particularly challenging situation.
Advocate for needed change within your own profession. Uphold the highest professional standards and be proactive, not reactive in your daily actions. Do your profession proud. Recognize that one person - YOU - can make a difference in a child's life. Do that honor justice.
Never lose your sense of humor! Humor is a terrific stress release and a great coping tool.
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