By Emily Coleman

Children who are visually impaired are rare. Because they can appear so different, parents sometimes have to help the schools and that community “own” their child. Parents can show everybody that their child is part of the school, just like all of the other kids. Here are six ways to build ownership and increased inclusion.

  1. Join the parent/teacher organization. As a parent of a child with special needs, you may feel like you are already heavily involved with the school. Between IEP meetings, therapy consults, and simple observations, you might be at school all the time. However, you’re not with the parents of all the other kids, and therefore, they see you on the outside of their school community. You need to get to know those parents so they see you as just any other parent…with any other kid. Not as the parent with the blind child.

  2. Volunteer in the general education classroom. Does your child’s classroom teacher need parent volunteers to help with reading, assist with a craft, or help out at a holiday party? If they do, put your name on that list! The more your child’s peers see you in the classroom, the more they will see you like all the other parents. That builds trust and leads them to being comfortable asking questions. It also gives you time to find out what kids might be a good influence/friend for your own son/daughter.

  3. Attend sporting events, school concerts, etc. If most of the kids in your child’s school go to the football game on Friday night, get your child there, too. It doesn’t have to be every Friday, but it’s important to get involved. If your child can cheer on the home team with all the other kids, they will fit in and so will you. By “owning” your local sports and activities, you become a bigger part of your school and your community.

  4. Be appreciative. If you hear that a teacher did something great for or with your child who is blind, make sure to acknowledge it. Send them a card or even a simple email to say “thanks.” You can even just share your appreciation in the hallway when visiting school. If the adults know that you’re paying attention to them, they will start paying attention to your kid.

  5. Live up to teacher expectations. If the school expects parents to read with their child every night and sign off on a sheet, be sure you do that with your child. Regardless of a student’s reading abilities, they can always listen to a story. If your school requires parents to send snacks, but your kid can’t eat what’s in the classroom typically, send something they can eat. By acting like all the other parents, you’ll be treated like one, too. Again, you are leveling the playing field for your own child.

  6. Call it like you see it. If you feel like someone at the school doesn’t treat your child like a general education student first, be sure to say something. Children who are blind are above all else, simply kids. Regardless of their unique needs, they still belong in school, and they still are a part of the school community.

School “ownership” of children with special needs is important because they need to be accepted to get a good education. If a school community doesn’t choose to “own” a child, they aren’t going to “own” their growth or achievements either. You can help them understand that your child is like all the other children. All you have to do is act like every other parent…except with twice the effort and half the sleep, which is simply part of being the parent of a special needs child.