The phrase “Elephant in the Room” has been a part of the English language for a very long time; I’m sure as adults we’ve all used it in conversation at one time or another. Wikipedia defines it as “is an English metaphorical idiom for an obvious truth that is either being ignored or going unaddressed.” The two words that I think stand out the most in the definition are “ignored” and “unaddressed.” Let’s now apply this definition to children with disabilities; the “Elephant in the Room” in many schools or households is a child with a disability. There are many reasons why a child’s disability may be ignored or not addressed.
Let’s start with the school environment; schools are overcrowded and underfunded. Class sizes have increased over the past few years, so teachers are overwhelmed trying to educate all types of children without a lot of support from their school district. Special Education funding has taken a huge hit; as a result, many students are struggling in school because they may have not been properly identified as a child who requires special education services; basically, they have become the “Elephant in the Room.” However, when a school does not identify a student in need of special education services, they are violating the “Child Find” mandate included in the “Individuals with Disabilities Act (IDEA).” It states that schools are obligated to identify a child who may need special education services; school districts are required to identify, locate and evaluate all children with disabilities, even if the school is not providing special education services to the child. It’s important for parents to be aware of “Child Find” because I’ve noticed that some educators are not. Once again, this is another example of why parents need to educate themselves on the components of IDEA in order to advocate for their child.
The next scenario is the family unit; sometimes we can be in denial. I’ve received many phone calls from parents who told me that they knew their son or daughter was struggling in elementary school but they thought their child “would out grow it.” I’ve also heard parents state that they didn’t want to draw attention to their child’s struggles because they didn’t want them in a Special Day Class. For these examples, I’m going to use the phrase the “Elephant in the House.” Let’s face it parents, just because we do not talk about our child’s disability does not mean it doesn’t exist…..you cannot hide a child’s disability forever. It will eventually rear its ugly head and when it does; your child may be several years behind academically. Children will never outgrow a disability; they must be educated in the environment that suits their specific needs, which leads me to subject of Special Day Classes.
For some reason, many parents believe that if your child is identified as a student requiring special education services, they are automatically moved into a Special Day Class; that is not true. As a matter of fact, IDEA states that schools are required to provide a free appropriate public education (FAPE) in the Least Restrictive Environment (LRE) which is appropriate to meet the student's unique needs. A student who has a disability should have the opportunity to be educated with non-disabled peers, to the greatest extent possible; which means in many cases, students should and will have access to the general education curriculum and be in the same classes as non-disabled peers as long as they are being educated. Obviously, if the student is not being educated in the general education classroom, they may need additional aids or supports in this setting or they might require a more restrictive placement.
I saved the most difficult scenario for last, this is a classic case of students who are struggling in school but are afraid or too embarrassed to ask for help. This usually happens during the middle or high school years. Maybe your child did well in elementary school and managed to slide through middle school; here comes high school and they are no longer able to compensate or mask their difficulties. I think this situation is the most difficult because teenagers are very good at keeping secrets, which can be frustrating for parents. So frustrating in fact; that many parents might give up because their child is not open to asking or receiving help in school. When students begin to fail in school, that can affect them emotional; behavioral problems are not uncommon in students who are struggling in school. Parents need to do their best to keep tabs on their child’s homework, grades or changes in behavior. I know it’s difficult because we all remember when we were their age…….parents are the enemy! To make matters worse, teenagers spend a lot of time on Social Media looking for acceptance or avoidance.
Communication is the key…..let them know it is ok to ask for help. Don’t forget parents “it takes a village to raise a child.” If you need help with your child, don’t be afraid to ask; because asking for help doesn’t mean you’re weak, just wise.