Special Education in the U.S. got an exciting boost last week when the Federal Government granted almost $13 million in funds to train more special educators through undergraduate and graduate programs. The government recognizes that there will be shortages in the Special Ed field, and the U.S. Secretary of Education, Arne Duncan said, "We must ensure that students with disabilities receive a world-class education and that their teachers are equipped to help them be successful."
As a parent to a non-verbal child with autism, I'm thrilled to hear this news. Ever since my son Liam got his diagnosis—and now that he's left his inclusive preschool—I've been thinking about the next steps for his education. I believe in the value of public education—and Liam's worked with some very kind, caring, well-trained teachers and therapists—but I worry a lot about the overall preparedness of Special Ed staff for working with non-verbal, more challenging children, like my son can be.
There are some cringe-worthy, painful-to-hear stories out there about traumas children like my son have suffered while in a classroom setting. I read these stories, my stomach in a knot, and think: But don't these teachers have training? Don't they know they're dealing with human beings—with children—and not just a diagnosis and a set of problem behaviors? More commonly, there are lots of amazing teachers with good intentions who simply aren't equipped to handle the special needs some children in their classroom may have. They deserve the training to help them excel even more at their jobs.
Liam's been lucky enough to work with some truly warm, knowledgable, loving teachers and staff. But the fact is, ALL children with special needs deserve a quality education and teachers and staff who know how to help them learn.
And so, when I hear news like the government's willingness to fund teachers' training programs, I applaud. I hope that by the time my son's in high school, all of the staff he works with are trained in the different ways his brain—and the brains' of children like him— work. I hope that new models of learning are more accepted. I hope that every child with special needs—no matter where he or she goes to school, how much money he or she has, or how severe his or her disability is—has access to a quality education with well-trained, proficient teachers who can bring out the best in them.
Jamie Pacton is on the road this week, taking her kids on a cross-country move, a modern day Oregon Trail. She still drinks loads of coffee, dreams of sailing, and enjoys each day with her husband and two sons, Liam and Eliot. Find her at www.jamiepacton.com, Facebook (Jamie Pacton), and Twitter @jamiepacton
Image of children in class via Shutterstock