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”

What to look for in a college

Alyssa Willis, Kappa Omicron Nu Student Blogger

Preface: Undergraduate student colleagues, we are in a unique position to mentor and recruit promising high school students into our fields. I invite you to join me in innovating and leading this endeavor to advance the long-term strength of human sciences.

This is a message to seniors in high school. As a senior you have reached a point in life of both excitement and anxiety. Finally, you are the old and experienced student that seems to know everything about the school. The world is in your hands as you are about to end one legacy and begin to enter the new realm of the college world. But which college are you going to choose? How do you decide where to go when there are so many excellent options?

Obviously, there are significant factors such as reputation in your chosen area, location, tuition cost, campus aesthetics, and of course success rate in finding relevant future employment after obtaining a degree. But even with those criteria, there is likely a short list of potential institutions that warrant closer investigation. So what becomes an important but not necessarily obvious element to consider?

Recently, I attended two of my college’s Open House events that are designed to make high school seniors want to come to our school. The Open House included a campus tour and seminars by key faculty from departments of interest to answer everyone’s questions. At the event, I was asked to speak on behalf of the Family and Child Studies department to talk about my personal experiences as a student and try to help both high school students and their parents understand why Montclair State University is a great choice.

After first listening to the adviser of my department talk about what Family and Child Studies has to offer, I picked up on one of his main points as the reason I have continued to thrive at college. This would be passion. When first choosing a major, you have to decide if what you are studying is something you can be passionate about for the majority of your life. I have always been passionate about teaching and working with families. However, as a student I found that it is even more important to see how passionate my professors are about their jobs and what they are teaching. My professors have continuously been examples and mentors for me. If they were not passionate about their work, I believe it would resonate with the classroom environment and negatively affect my experience as a student.

At the Open House, I was able to tell parents and students about my current involvement and accomplishments as an undergraduate. Reflecting back on this experience, I realized that my accomplishments relied heavily on the support, recognition, and motivation my professors have and continue to give to me. Although as a senior in high school it is almost impossible to meet the professors you will be learning from in the next few years, there is still the opportunity to meet with advisers and other faculty from the desired department. That is the key time to see how passionate faculty members are about what they do. I absolutely believe that a large part of college is about self-motivation. However, faculty can play a large influence on the enjoyment that can be had in the classroom. After my experiences with Open House events, I realize that there are many key factors to look for when choosing a college, and I strongly believe passion should be the most important factor of all.