Parental Concerns about Students with Cognitive Impairments

Instructor: Bethany Calderwood

Bethany has taught special education in grades PK-5 and has a master's degree in special education.

As a special education teacher, your role includes working with parents in order to meet students' academic needs. In this lesson, we'll review some common concerns held by parents of students with cognitive impairments and ways to respond to those concerns.

Students with Cognitive Impairments

The umbrella of cognitive impairments covers a range of specific diagnoses and abilities, and if you teach special education, you're likely to encounter some students who have cognitive impairments. While some of these students have relatively mild impairments and others more severe needs, all are most likely functioning below their same-age peers and require special education services to access the general education curriculum.

As you work with the parents of your cognitively impaired students to meet their educational needs, you'll learn that parents can experience a range of concerns regarding their children's well being. These concerns tend to shift over time and are affected by a wide variety of factors, including the age of a student.

At all times, you should be prepared to listen to parental concerns and consider how to most effectively respond. Let's look at some common concerns parents of students with cognitive impairments might have and how you can address those concerns.

Academic Concerns

School is a place for learning, and parents of students with cognitive impairments may have concerns about how and what their children will learn at school. This is especially true if parents know that their children struggle with learning.

Access to the Curriculum

The two main concerns parents often have about curricular access are:

  1. Their child will be lost and confused, forced to participate in a curriculum that they cannot handle.
  2. Their child will be left out and marginalized, missing out on important curriculum because of his/her disability.

As students with more severe impairments age, this concern grows as parents observe the achievement gap widening between their children and peers.

When speaking with parents, be prepared to discuss the ways in which you address the general curriculum while meeting the needs of all students. This will vary to some extent, depending on the level of need of the students you teach. Examples include teaching entry points, or prerequisite skills needed to master a new subject, or teaching access skills, which are communication and motor skills that allow students to participate in the curriculum.

Statewide Assessments

Statewide assessments can cause stress for parents of all students. For parents of students with cognitive impairments, that stress is compounded because they know that their students have significant challenges that make those tests that much harder.

Whether your students have been provided with testing accommodations or alternate assessments, provide parents with information about the situation so they'll know exactly what to expect.

Post-Secondary Considerations

Parents of students with cognitive impairments have significant concerns regarding their children's lives after high school. Parents may be concerned about their child's ability to meet graduation requirements, enter college, live independently, or pursue a vocation.

Federal law requires that transition planning begin before the age of 16; it can begin earlier if an individualized education program (IEP) team feels it is appropriate. Share this information with parents, and make sure they're actively involved in the transition planning process, and connect them with relevant community organizations and resources.

Social Concerns

When you think about educational concerns, social issues might not be your first thought. But parents of children with cognitive impairments are accustomed to keeping close tabs on all areas of their children's lives; the educational aspect of school cannot be separated from the social experience.

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