Backpack? Check. Pencil? Check. IEP?

By Cory Hanson

Happy boys jumping for joy on a rocky shore

Back to school deals are in full swing as we all prepare to send our kids off to get ready for their future. For some, this will be the first (take pictures!), for others the last, and for educators, like me, this is another opportunity to inspire and nurture young minds with untapped potential. While many of us are excited about the school year kicking off (I know I’m ready for my daughter to get back to her normal routines & to see all my kids from last year), some of us are still recovering from last school year’s challenges and overwhelming feelings of guilt, isolation, and frustration.

I remember struggling when my daughter was going through her terrible twos stage (and tragic threes and frustrating fours and…) when a friend whose daughter was a few years older than mine told me that parenting never gets easier, you just discover new challenges to overcome.  Her message has stuck with me and led me to work tremendously hard at getting better at getting better, as a parent, partner, teacher, and person.

There are many articles and videos out there breaking down the secrets to parenting with just 5 quick tips, selling the idea of a magic elixir to all our problems. But the truth is, there is no cheat code to raising independent, confident children. It just takes a lot of dedication, commitment, and experimentation on your part. Just like in my classroom, there is no one size fits all approach that works. I’ve experienced many successes in casting my net out and catching kids who had previously struggled in school, but the heartbreaking truth is, there are always a few that get away. My failures as a teacher motivate me to work even harder for the next kid, for your kid. Hopefully, some of what I share today, and over the course of this series, can provide a little inspiration and most importantly, a little relief in knowing that you are not alone.

You’ve seen kids who turn into class clowns, have tantrums in class, start causing trouble, or those who refuse to read or speak in front of the class. Kids who find themselves struggling to meet the standards, who feel inadequate, and who haven’t experienced success often turn to these coping mechanisms as a way to protect themselves from feeling like a failure. I’m by no means an expert on the various conditions that affect our children, however, in my time in the classroom, workforce, and community, I’ve worked closely with many kids and adults with special needs.


“These students are tasked to run the same marathon as their peers with shoes that don’t fit…”


The number of kids with special needs who are learning to survive in an outdated educational system is growing: from 2011/12 to 2015/16, the number of students served under IDEA increased from 6.4 million to 6.7 million*.  These students are tasked to run the same marathon as their peers with shoes that don’t fit, with an arm tied behind their back, with a 10 minute time delay. These kids are more likely to struggle in class, experience bouts of self-doubt and lack of self-confidence, and yet are expected to find success in a system that wasn’t designed for this century, let alone for the unique, personal challenges facing each of our children today.

So, how do we help level the playing field and help our kids, all kids, find success and happiness in their lives?


“You cannot just rely on the schools to take care of it.”


It Really Does Take A Village

Parents, I know you’re trying your best and doing what you can to help your child succeed. This isn’t about feeling inadequate or guilty, this is about realizing there is a need to seek out guidance from the community, local & online, and from those who have walked a few steps in your shoes.

You cannot just rely on the schools to take care of it . Even with the greatest teachers, support staff, and IEP plans, at this time, the needs of our children are not able to be met with the detail and attention they should be. Schools are trying to serve the needs of each unique child with access to limited resources and funding while dealing with the politics at the district and state levels. In order to provide our children with the support they need as we prepare them for life, it takes a village –  BUT, it is up to you to lead the charge to ensure your child is taken care of. That is our goal with this article and of NHU, to spur conversation and create connections. We all have limitations and different starting points and perhaps, different end points, but we can really make meaningful progress if we share experiences and utilize the resources around us.

Stay tuned for our next article in this series on building a foundation for independence at home. In the meantime, start building that village (or tribe, or whatever you want to call it) with these resources and ideas:

  • Join Online Parent Groups – Put those social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) to work for you. While not all groups are created equal and you will always find judgmental parents where ever you go, I promise, you WILL find someone like you, and that is priceless.
  • Think Local – Tap into the resources in your state or local community. There are so many resources to help parents of children with special needs. Here in Wisconsin, there are several helpful resources including WI FACETS and WSPEI
  • Connect with Your Local Parent Center via the Center for Parent Information and Resources

Have other ideas? Please leave them in the comments below.

Please see Part Two and Part Three of this series.


The author is a father, Milwaukee Public School graduate, and educator within the public school system. He is an advocate of Tech in the Classroom and finding innovative ways to reach today’s youth.


*Children and Youth With Disabilities – Indicator April (2018)

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