Back-to-school presents unique challenges for parents of special needs children

VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – It can be a struggle for kids and parents alike to return to the back-to-school groove, and that’s especially the case when those students have special needs.

Tracy Humphreys, founder and chair of the BCEdAccess Society, says while every new school year has the potential to be a good one, parents like her have to contend with a long list of uncertainties.

“It can be very stressful… some of them have suffered trauma in the past through their school experiences, and so even just convincing them that they will go back to school can be really, really challenging,” she says.

“Parents want to know when school starts for their kids, will it be the same day as for all the other kids? What will the schedule be? Does their child get to attend full days with all the other students? Will they be able to get into the building and move around independently?”

Humphreys herself has three children with special needs, two of whom are school-aged. However, the kind of past trauma she describes has prevented her kids from attending public school.

Her organization offers a support network for parents of special needs children, and tracks individual cases where students have been excluded from school activities because of their disabilities.

“Will we be believed? Will we be listened to? Will we still have a job at the end of the year after being called many, many times to pick up our children? These are the fears,” she says.

Despite the landmark 2016 Supreme Court of Canada ruling over class sizes and supports for special needs children in B.C. and the teacher hiring blitz that followed, Humphreys says too often, education assistants are stretched too thin and have not been properly trained.

“We have uncertified teachers teaching around the province, we have resource teachers with no special education background, we have EAs with widely different education and skills depending on where they took their training because the programs are of different lengths and have different subject matters and there’s no specific standards,” she says.

Despite those challenges, BCEdAccess Society has a list of things parents of special needs children can do to prepare for the first day of school.

They include developing a relationship with your child’s teachers and education assistants early-on, walking through your child’s school routine step-by-step, and simply maintaining a positive attitude about school.

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