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Ask a Question: Teachers and Families

This question was posted to the "Ask a Question" page:
I currently have a bachelor's degree in Special Education. I am working on getting my Master's in Applied Behavior Analysis. I am working on a Family Perspectives Assignment. I would love to get our input on what children and family needs are not met and what I can do as a future teacher. I have read some of your posts and feel that your [insight] would be very valuable. Specifically, I am looking for what teachers and educators can do to help families as a whole.
There is no single answer to this question. Every set of families is different, depending on where you teach, the grade level(s), school district policies, and much more. Helping families in urban Minneapolis, Pittsburgh, or Detroit is not going to be like teaching in a "Super Zip" suburb dotted with McMansions.

I live in a rural area with above-average median incomes and respected school districts. There are two autism specialists nearby and at least two private K-12 schools with autism programs. Parents in this area have different expectations of a classroom teacher than what is needed in the urban or poor rural settings.

The less financially secure families and schools are, the more likely it is teachers will be expected to be everything imaginable for students and their families. In struggling areas, the special ed teachers and classroom aides are educators, physical therapists, behavioral experts, and family counselors. It can be overwhelming when you are "the expert" in the lives of students.

The first thing I would do as a teacher is find out what resources are available so when parents ask (or when you need to mention the services) you have a handy list. Start with the basic services: city and county disability offices, medical specialists, testing centers that can provide evaluations, and so forth. You will compile a small directory of names and numbers. (I did this using the address book on my laptop, which syncs to my phone.)

Next, learn about the families so you can anticipate their needs and expectations. Are you in a well-off suburb or a struggling area? Are the parents likely to be educated professionals, trades people, or something else? And remember — having a degree simply means those parents might be more familiar with and comfortable talking to experts. It does not make people inherently wiser or better. Sadly, I've watched too many teachers and autism experts "talk down" to parents. Never forget that parents are experts when it comes to their own children.

Finally, make sure you have whatever resources you can get at your school site. Principals, nurses, psychologists, and others should know you and be ready to help you with any issues that might occur. The more confidence you have in the people around you, the more you can focus on teaching and helping students.

Sadly, school districts, counties, and states are cutting supports during this economic downturn. As a result, the gaps in services are increasing. The best you can do is know where to locate additional help when you need it.


  1. I, too, am working on this same assignment. I see that one of my fellow classmates had the same idea that I did.

    As you stated, "There is no single answer to this question. Every set of families is different, depending on where you teach, the grade level(s), school district policies, and much more." This is exactly my thinking on this. However, our task is to identify three trends that families are dealing with.

    Your response was very helpful in identifying several several issues that I have found in other blog postings. Even though I was not the one to ask the question, I truly appreciate your efforts to respond.


  2. The challenges vary by state and community, with some states cutting services while others are adding autism interventions to mandatory insurance coverage. So much depends on where you live that the trends can be in opposite directions in two different cities. I've read about schools adding autism specialists, while I know districts in California cutting special education faculty and staff.

    If there is one trend it is that there are no trends nationally. I've known parents to move from one state to another for better services. Some families simply move within a region to find a better school. At least there are places that are meeting the challenges — or trying to meet them.


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