Friday, October 16, 2009

Special Needs Label Draws Common Misconceptions

It is difficult enough to discover that your child may have special needs, but it becomes even tougher when friends, family, and other parents seem not to understand. As you struggle to accept what is going on with your child, you must also work to change many common misconceptions.

It is easy to feel defensive when someone suggests that your child may need help, yet, early intervention is vital. “I wasn’t going to ignore it,” points out the mother of a five year old diagnosed with Pervasive Developmental Disorder– Not Otherwise Specified (PPD-NOS) by a developmental pediatrician. “If he had any kind of need, I was going to get him help for it. That’s the job of a parent.”

Oftentimes it is a child’s teacher who first notices that a student may require extra support. According to Richard Selznick, PhD, Psychologist and Director of the Cooper Learning Center at Cooper University Hospital in Voorhees, NJ, and author of the book The Shut Down Learner: Helping your Academically Discouraged Child, “The teacher is the front line, seeing the child on a day to day basis, so those concerns need to be listened to. It’s not something parents should be overly sensitive about. Appreciate the fact that the teacher is highlighting some of the concerns.”

Once you accept the possibility that a problem may exist, as parents you need to fight hard to get the best services for your child. That shouldn’t be an adversarial situation, though many parents feel that it is a constant struggle. Some parents have a built-in mistrust about the process, and worry that their child will be labeled throughout his academic career, and that might put him at a disadvantage.

“I don’t think the schools are out to do anything wrong,” says Dr. Selznick. “The Child Study Team has their model of assessing. By classifying the child, they’re saying the child has a disability and parents have to remember that. I would encourage parents not to take it lightly.”

One mother shared a story that points out a common misconception about families with a special needs child, which is the idea that they are too rigid with eating, bedtime, and other rituals. When a doctor suggested that her son stay away from foods containing food dyes, they worked hard to follow that advice. When the child visited the dentist, his mother brought along her own lollipop that didn’t have food dye as opposed to giving him the sugar free lollipop that the dentist offered. The hygienist was disturbed by the fact that she was going to give him a sugar lollipop that was going to stick in his teeth. She couldn’t understand why they would choose the one without food dye.

Dr. Selznick also urges parents to trust their own instincts if they feel their child may need extra help. There are services available and early intervention is vital.

For more on this story, read the next issue of South Jersey Mom Magazine.


  1. It is very helpful for the parents!
    Expert Advice

  2. This was a great post! So true and so needs to be read by all parents!!! Dr. Selznick spoke last year at the annual "SpEAC" Conference in Moorestown, NJ. I was blown away by what he said and was very thankful that I heard him speak and my kids are still young enough to benefit from me hearing him!!! Thank you Preschool Blog!!!!!