Dear Parent of a High School Special Education Student

 By: Heather Desmond O’Neill

Special Education Students

Dear Parent of a High School Special Education Student,

I applaud you.

I know you have fought for what you believe is best for your child.

I know this road has not been easy.

I congratulate you on making it this far.

But it’s time to start letting go of the reigns.

You and I are not doing any favors for your child if we shelter and protect them from every possible disappointment, stressor, missed assignment or bad grade.

Instead of asking “What can you do for my child?” you should be asking “How can we assist my child in becoming more independent?”

There are a few things that would assist your child in being more independent, because let’s face it, as much as you love them, you don’t want them living in your basement until they are 45.

  1. Students need to know what their disability is.  “Disability” is not a “bad” word.  Use it.  People try to sugar coat things for young people, but the word disability is what they are going to need to use to access services in college and in an adult setting.  Use the term often.  Get comfortable with it.  Have your student be comfortable with it.
  2. Students need to know what works for them in the classroom.  In K-12 education, there is a team of adults who plan what the student needs, hopefully with the student’s input.  Once that student enters college, it is up to them to ask for what they need in the classroom.  A student should know what works, and what doesn’t work, for them to be successful.
  3. Students should be able to tell people what they need to be successful.  If a student needs extra time for a test, they need to be able to communicate that on their own to their professor.  As much as you want to talk to their college professors, you don’t get that luxury.  Professors typically don’t talk with parents and are not required to do so.
  4. Students need to be able to manage their time.  Homework is assigned in college and no one is there to check and make sure you have set aside time to complete it.  In addition to homework, there are clubs, sports, organizations, usually some sort of working experience, and don’t forget about the social time.  College isn’t just about academics; students are also learning how to transition to being an adult.  Learning how to handle themselves in social situations is an extremely important part of college.

I find that students today are being coddled and shielded from the very things that will enable them to become productive members of our society.  We need to work together to ease our students into the “real world.”

Parents, you must be exhausted.

You have fought so hard to help your child and you’ve done a great job.

Let the school do its job and assist you in giving your child better self-advocacy skills, better self-awareness and make that move toward adulthood.

I know it’s not easy.  Together we can do this.


A Special Education Teacher who wants to produce independent adults

2 thoughts on “Dear Parent of a High School Special Education Student

  1. This post is SO true and relevant. As a college professor, I see students ill-prepared to advocate for themselves and with expectations that there will always be “another chance” to get it right, when, in actuality, there won’t be : this is COLLEGE folks! And when parents want to tell us why their child needs extra anything, we aren’t being obstructionists, we are following Federal rules about communication, and our professional objectives which are to prepare students to be capable members of the adult world. Thanks Heather, it needed to be said-and heard. Prof P

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