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.

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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.