It might take a village to raise a child, but it takes a nation to raise a child with special needs. Once the nation gets involved and laws are enacted, complications always arise. This is why it is so important for BOTH parents to be fully involved in their child’s special education needs. As a parent of a special needs child and an Advocate I attend many IEP meetings, workshops, seminars and conferences. The majority of attendees at these functions are women. It always amazes me when I attend an IEP meeting and Mom is alone. Even worse when I ask Dad, “what is your child’s eligibility in their IEP” and he answers, “I’ll have to ask my wife”. For those Dads that attend IEP meetings, know what’s in their child’s IEP and help with therapies, I applaud you. For those Dads that think this is their spouse’s responsibility because you work fulltime, you are wrong. How do I know, because I was once you.
When my son couldn’t eat solid foods and he had to go to eating therapy at 11 months I left this responsibility to my wife. Teaching him to eat took three to four hours a day and mealtimes were a nightmare. This process almost took my wife’s sanity and put tremendous strain on our marriage. I had two choices at this point, 1) step up and handle my responsibilities, or 2) lose my wife and worse yet let down my son. I chose option 1, and I have become heavily involved in all aspects of my son’s special education needs.
Sending your spouse alone to an IEP meeting is like sending them to buy a house or a car all alone. Imagine telling your wife, go find our new home, negotiate the price, sign all the legal documents, move us in and I don’t want to be involved. You would never do that, but yet the IEP is also a legally binding document that has tremendous monetary value and repercussions. The monetary value of the IEP could be from a few thousand a year to tens of thousands a year depending on the services, placement, accommodations and assistive technology outlined in the document. The repercussions could be your child never reaching their full potential, whatever that is meant to be.
Look at it in football terms, your wife might be the quarterback, but without blockers she is going to get crushed. If she gets crushed, your child, the wide receiver will never have a chance to move the ball up the field and cross the goal line. Crossing the goal line might be making sure your child can eat, walk, talk, read or any other number of things but without both parents involvement it is much more difficult. So my challenge to all of the fathers of special needs children is to get more involved, help prepare for the IEP meetings, attend the IEP meetings and help with therapies.
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