To Whom it May Concern, I am the parent of a special needs child.  I was overwhelmed, confused, heart broken and struggling to unravel the complexities before me. Please do not pass judgement of me without knowing why I did not attend the school PTA breakfasts or community picnics.  Please take a few minutes to understand why I did not take you up on your offer to have lunch or grab a cup of coffee.  Although we see each other in the supermarket or at school functions, I don’t think you really ever knew me, actually, I can guarantee that you did not know me because just as my child was different, so was I.

I was in survival mode to keep my family in tact and to give my child the best quality of life possible. I was presented with parental decisions that have torn me apart and kept me up more nights than I can possibly remember. I had spent most days of the week at therapy and doctors appointments and most nights up researching treatments and medication options. I was forced into isolation at times due to the stigma and misconceptions that are epidemic in our society. I become proficient at prioritizing my life and learning to let the little things go, to look at others with compassion instead of tabloid material and to turn a blind eye to the stares or ignorant comments.

I did the best I could. I survived. I have now become strong, I have become educated and I have become a fierce advocate for parents of special needs children.

The growth did not come without much pain and many tears but it came. So I ask you, please…. reachinghands The next time you see a parent struggling with a raging child, a child terrified to go into school, a child making odd movements or sounds, a child that seems to be in a world of their own… .Be kind.  Give a smile of recognition for what that parent is going through.  Ask if there is anything you can do to help, give them a pat on the hand or offer for them to go ahead of you on line.

The next time you have a birthday party for your child remember that their child has a hard time with a lot of sensory issues and social situations.  Please send their child that invitation and know that more times than not they will not be able to attend but appreciate being included.  Understand that in order for their child to go to the party they may need to stay for a little while and please make them feel welcome.  When they let you know that their child cannot make the party consider inviting that child for a one on one playdate or an outing at the park.

The next time you are grading papers please understand that their child struggles, a paper returned with red circles and comments only hurts a child’s self esteem and causes school anxiety. Please understand that when they see the school come up on their caller ID a parents heart sinks, remember to tell them about all the gains their children are making as well as their deficits.  Take a minute before that call and know that they appreciate all you do and want  a collaborative  relationship in their child’s education.

The next time you are in the teachers lounge, please do not discuss their child.  Please do not make negative comments about their parenting or their child’s behavior, it gets back to them and it gets back to other parents in our community.

Elementary Pupils And Teacher Eating Lunch

The next time you pass the cafeteria and see their child sitting alone please consider inviting that child to eat lunch in your classroom and be your helper that period.  Consider working with  guidance counselor to set up a lunch buddy group in a different area.

The next time they are at the CSE meeting planning their chid’s IEP know that they are educated, informed and confident knowing special education law.  Know that they have found the courage to stand up to conformity and will explore every option to give their child the differentiated educated that will show their gifts and not just their disabilities.  Understand that educating a child with special needs is one of the most difficult tasks a parent can face,  know that the last thing they want is an adversarial relationship.  Please show them the same respect they show you.

The next time you are creating an educational plan please take into consideration that their child may have specific interests or obsessions.  Foster those interests, instead of taking away that art class for a resource class consider adding an art class instead. Think outside the box, these parents do.

The next time you see that child in a wheelchair unable to speak or control their movements, don’t stare, don’t look away, say hello.  Do not assume that because this child is nonverbal that they are not intelligent or do not understand the awkwardness that you feel.  Take a moment out of your day to show kindness, support a parent enduring incredible pain and just give them a smile.

The next time your child comes home telling you how Johnny or Susie is so weird, take the time to teach about differences.  Take the time to talk  about compassion, acceptance and special needs. Please remember that your child learns from you.  Be a role model, mirror respect and discourage gossip.

The next time you hear a comment about how out of style these kids are, educate about tactile sensitivities and the fact that these kids cannot tolerate many textures and fits.  Imagine what it would feel like to have sandpaper in your stilettos or tight elastic holding on your tie.

The next time you see an out of control child do not assume it is bad parenting.  Understand that many of these disorders have an organic basis, are biological and are real illnesses. When you hear the word mental illness, take out the “mental” and remember  “illness”. Know that it is this generation that can stomp the stigma and create a world of acceptance.

The next time other parents are talking about “Those Kids” be our heroes, stand up for us.

The next time you see a special needs child know they are not just special in their needs but in their brilliance as well.

Take the time to meet our children.  Take the time to know us.

Wishing you strength and calm

Marianne Russo

Thank you for the incredible response to this writing. Over 500,000 reads and shares. Please feel free to share with my copyright requirement and author credit.

7 Responses to Dear School Personnel, Community Members and Neighbors

  1. Julie - central Ohio.

    Thank you! Beautifully written

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful letter!! My daughter entered 7th grade this past year. Hormones raged as well as learning problems. I saw a beautiful, confident young lady fall apart with anxiety and school phobia. Her self esteem was ripped to shreds and as you said my heart sunk when the school called (and it was constant). Few people tried to help her. It was all about red marks on papers and negative comments. We live in a highly competitive school district and they were concerned with numbers and report cards, not the fact that my daughter and family was in severe pain. tk you for publishing this and educating others. These children need help. I am a speech pathologist so I had some knowledge but not enough. I am so thankful for my friends who helped me become more educated.

    • Tara

      I feel like you were speaking of my daughter though she made it through to freshman year without her issues surfacing. We are now entering Senior year and things are a little better but only because I have fought my tush off to make it that way. Keep your chin up!

  3. Barbara

    Thank you for a very well said piece. Many years ago, I was gifted with a special needs stepdaughter. Due to her parents’ having joint custody and her mother moving out of state, she came to live with her father (my husband) and my 3 children. Through her, my children and I learned tolerance, patience, and how very special not only she was but how very special all children are. Yes, there were times when we all struggled and cried and felt like we weren’t able to cope. There were times when my children felt my special needs child got too much attention. But they all are grown now. And we made it through much stronger and better people. My special needs daughter has moved out of state and back to live with her mother and is doing quite well. My 3 other children are very sensitive to special needs children and adults and parents and grandparents. Special needs children are indeed a blessing. I always remember something my own mother told me – Never judge a book by its cover.

  4. Allison

    This is a wonderful letter. Rings true for me. We have two beautiful children who are gifts to me, but whom others treat as though they are God’s joke to humanity. I am reminded of peoples’ ignorance and small mindedness everywhere – at church, school, in the store, at family gatherings, in social situations with “friends.” Of course those people are not reading blogs on Coffee Klatch. I wish they were.

  5. Joyce

    It feels good to read this because it makes me feel that I’m not alone. It makes me feel bad to read this because it hits so close to home. As I read, unkind faces and voices from my life flashed into my mind. If only some of those people could read this……people who have criticized…..people who have judged….people who have thought “if that were MY child…” Every kind word, expression and smile that I experience when I am in the community with my very large, very loud, very sensitive Autistic son means so much. Bless the compassionate souls and may this produce more of them.

  6. Very well written letter and very inspiring at the same time! Thank you! I found it necessary for people to share and help each other when we require one. Sometimes people need to be reminded all over again about this.

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