A Special Education Professional’s Responsibility

As an aspiring special education teacher, I am starting to learn about family dynamics that can change as a result of having a child with special needs. It is hard to imagine the feeling parents must have when they are told that their child may face challenges or certain limitations as they grow up. Through my courses and experiences working with families who have children with special needs, I have learned to understand the high value that must be placed on having a strong and trusting relationship with the family and especially with the parents of the child with a disability.

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

In my future profession, I want to be able to create and implement appropriate plans based on the child’s needs while also listening to what the parents’ goals are for their child. Gallagher’s article, Rethinking Denial, opened my eyes to the unfortunate misperception professionals have that parents are in denial about what their child will be able to accomplish (2002). As a future professional, I want to have an open mind to the many abilities all children have rather than limiting a child based on a particular label a doctor has given them.

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary, denial is “…a statement saying that something is not true or real” (2015). Accepting and adapting to changing family dynamics as a result of a child who has a disability can be very challenging to anyone. Through my experiences both working in homes of children with disabilities and also working at a summer camp for children with special needs, I have seen parents who have adapted well to their child’s needs while also seeing the more combative side where parents do not agree with the professional’s point of view.

Gallagher’s article looks at Harry’s research that discusses how professionals might suggest family members are in denial if they do not agree with the particular diagnosis or plan that is set in place to help the child based on his or her presumed needs (1997). From seeing this first hand, I have learned the importance of being sensitive to parents’ feelings and desires for their child’s future. A disability should not limit the parents’ or the professional’s mindset on how successful the child can be.

Gallagher had five excellent suggestions to help professionals successfully support the child, parents, and family:

  • Support parents’ hopes and dreams for their child.
  • Suspend judgment of families and their behavior.
  • Be patient. People need time to find their own personal way through unexpected events.
  • View this time as an opportunity to strengthen trust.
  • Educate other professionals and family members to think about denial. (Gallagher, 2002)

The part of the research that resonated with me most was how to rethink denial. Rather than seeing parents who are battling with a professional’s ideas and viewpoints as not accepting their child’s abilities, it is better to view parents as coming from a place of hope and wanting their child to accomplish as much as possible (2002). From this research, I have developed a personal goal to listen to every parent and family member that I work with, and most importantly ensure that the child’s needs are being met in the most efficient and effective way possible.


Denial. (n.d.). Retrieved January 27, 2015, from http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/denial
Gallagher, P., Fialka, J., Rhodes, C., & Arceneaux, C. (2002). Working with families: Rethinking denial. Young Exceptional Children, 5(2), 11-17.
Harry, B. (1997). Leaning forward or bending over backwards: Cultural reciprocity in working with families. Journal of Early Intervention, 21. 62-72.

The NCFR Family

In November, I attended the annual National Council on Family Relations conference in Baltimore, Maryland. Being my first time at a research based conference, I truly did not know what to expect. At first, I attended because research that I conducted on White/Non-Hispanic, first generation college students was accepted for a poster session. This was a huge accomplishment for me as it was the first time I had completed research as an undergraduate student. As I learned more about the conference, I felt like it was a duty of mine to attend sessions because I am an NCFR member and also the president of a student affiliate of this prestigious organization.

Upon my arrival in Baltimore, I was shocked to see that almost the entire faculty from my department (Family and Child Studies) was there. Many of them have been loyal attendees of this conference for almost twenty years! I instantly realized that this event is more than solely about research. It is about being able to connect to a distant “family” that everyone sees once a year. Immediately I knew that I wanted to be a part of this family.

Alyssa Willis and mentor Dr. Pearl Stewart at the NCFR conference

Overall, I can say my experience in Baltimore was truly life changing. I felt inspired by the amount of research conducted by professionals I had the opportunity to meet. Also, there were many student and new professional sessions that were specifically created to mentor others like me who are new to the family sciences field. This was an excellent opportunity to learn from others and also share ideas, especially about topics related to my organization.

While there were few undergraduates at the conference, I felt lucky to be able to be one of those select few. It gave me the opportunity to realize that I can conduct research and help make a positive change in the world. I became both confident and passionate that after my undergraduate work I want to pursue work towards my doctorate. Furthermore, I made contacts and relationships with other family professionals that can give me guidance through my journey. Most importantly, I became a part of the NCFR family.

My poster “Attitude Changes Among White/Non Hispanic First Generation College Students”

Optimal Aging Through Fitness

I have recently spent time researching the value of fitness throughout one’s older years. It has become apparent that exercise is essential to living a healthier and happier life. Exercise has been found to be the most effective way to delay and also prevent the negative effects that are expected with aging while also positively impacting one’s health (Reuter, 2012). While there is no way to entirely beat death, it is important to know how to live in a manner that will reduce the risk of injury and also live comfortably. Every year after the age of fifty, there is a decline in muscle mass by 1-2% (Castillo-Garzon, Ruiz, Ortega, & Gutierrez, 2006). Preventing this decline is important to safety. Having strong muscle tone is another way to prevent dying as it lowers the risk of falling (Reuter, 2012). Clearly, maintaining muscle tone is a key factor to living both a stronger and safer life.


An easy way to maintain strong muscle mass and exercising at an older age is to be involved with sports.  Unfortunately, many middle-age adults give up sports and leisure activities because of a demanding job or other family obligations (Castillo-Garzon, Ruiz, Ortega, & Gutierrez, 2006).  Trying to still find time for leisure activities and hobbies directly correlates to physical capabilities as people age. This is imperative to note as we continue to develop, grow, and ultimately age as well. Physical activity is also directly correlated to the health of the brain.  Elderly people who exercise have lower chances of being diagnosed with dementia (2006).  These findings are able to have a huge impact on aging generations by educating everyone to help make a positive change. In a recent study, it was found that exercise was linked to having more White Matter in temporal regions of the brain that are more likely to be affected by age-related changes (Burzynska, Kramer, Knecht, Olson, Gothe, Wong, et al. 2014).  Increasing physical activity is excellent for all ages, but must not diminish in the elder years.


All research strongly recommended increasing daily physical activity. This included aerobic exercises like walking. Dynamic exercise that mimics every day activities was also suggested to improve physical well-being. Staying active is a common theme found in media with the growing amounts of people who suffer from obesity. Exercise however, should never stop once at a healthy weight or when one gets older. Physical activity completed on a daily basis can ensure a healthy, happy, and long life.

I now know I plan to stay active as a senior citizen, do you?

View my Prezi on this topic at:

Professionalism as an Undergraduate


By Alyssa Willis

Although college is definitely a time to make new friends and explore a new level of independence, I believe it is also a time to seriously consider what type of career path you wish to take. This period of time gives students the opportunity to develop the skills that are required as a future professional. Currently as an undergraduate, I have seen the value that professionalism has in my success both at school and the potential it has for my future. In my freshman and sophomore year, my professionalism started with the appropriate form of email communication with professors, including a detailed subject along with a respectful greeting and salutation. When asking someone for help, especially someone in an authority role such as a professor, it is imperative to thank him or her for any assistance given. These little gestures went a long way for me. Also, being fully present in class by participating and putting the smart phone away lets your professor know that you are giving one hundred percent attention and effort.

I definitely feel that these small but important actions helped me tremendously. A particular professor that I had my freshman year approached me at the end of the semester to discuss starting up and representing an organization on campus that would also be associated with a nationally recognized organization. Montclair Student Council on Family Relations, MSCFR, has been one of my greatest accomplishments as an undergraduate.


Professors, board members, and myself after the Student Government Association declared MSCFR a Class IV student organization at MSU.

The opportunity to pursue my passion of giving back and working with families in need has given me the opportunity to motivate other undergraduates and to continue expanding my skills in professionalism. I continue to write thoughtful emails but I have also broadened my horizons by hosting my own meetings and talking to other highly respected professionals in the field.

Professionalism consists of a wide array of abilities and skills. As someone who is excited to join the “working world,” I believe I have been utilizing my time as an undergraduate to the best of my abilities by going outside of my comfort zone and learning that being professional is an essential and extremely beneficial part of my college career.