By Deborah Leigh Norman

September is the time of year to purchase supplies, pack the backpack for the first time, and take first day photos—back to school. Parents often send their children off to school with a mix of emotions—we’re happy for them to begin a new adventure but anxious for how the day, and the year ahead, will go. When the child arrives home after that first day, there are so many questions to ask:

How do you like your teacher?

Who is in your class?

What did you do in art?

What did you have for lunch and how was it?

Who did you play with at recess?

What was your favorite part of the day?

How was the bus ride?

Do you need any other supplies?

I want to ask all of those questions, too, but I can’t. There are some parents, like me, who have a child with a disability and a significant speech delay or a child who is non-verbal, and our children can’t answer these questions or give us any details. I wish that every teacher, administrator, school psychologist, occupational therapist, and staff member who has children would try not to ask their children any questions when they come home from that first day of school.

Not a single question.

Every time you want to ask something, bite your lip—and don’t say anything. How long would you be able to wait? Half an hour? Two hours? Through dinner conversation? At tuck-in? The next morning? I also have a typical child, and I know I could not wait that long to ask him about his first day, and it’s not that I don’t want these parents to enjoy that first day excitement with their children. What I want is for them to try to walk a few minutes in my shoes, but more importantly, I want them to imagine what it would be like for their children to be unable to share things with them.

Imagine what it’s like for my child.

Teachers, you are my child’s voice in many ways, and whatever details you tell me in his daily chart are the parts of his day I get to share with him. I appreciate the hard work you put in each day (and night), but remember… if you don’t tell me, I don’t know, and then he doesn’t get to share his excitement, needs, happiness, or frustrations with me.

The start of the school year is a new beginning. As we take these first steps, I hope we can all remember the value of communication. I hope that all members of the IEP team will take a moment to walk in someone else’s shoes.

Photo Credit: Fe Ilya/Flickr

dln-smallDeborah Leigh Norman grew up in Delaware and later moved to Virginia, Louisiana, and now Indiana. She is enjoying the journey of living in different regions of our country as well as the journey of her heart becoming a mother and then the mother of a child with a disability. Deborah Leigh has a B.A. and M.P.A. from the University of Delaware. Come share your journey with her at