It’s so wonderful that we are all connected on social media. We can find like minded people. We can find people in similar situations. We can ask for advice or support. Parenting a child with disabilities can feel very isolating, so social media is truly a gift to many.
I often see parents asking for advice about everything from supplements to schools to therapies to relationships. And while this is a great opportunity to get feedback, it’s important that we remember that other people’s opinions are just that…an opinion.
I encourage parents to listen to experiences from others. These are valuable things to consider. But, they shouldn’t be the final say.
I was considering a day program and a mom contacted me to share her experience with this particular program. It was not a good one. When I posted about the program a second time, she fired back and asked me why I’d even consider it, after all, she had shared her dreadful experience. She had and I took that into account and thought long and hard about whether I even wanted to meet with the organization. But, I moved forward for two reasons.
- Our children are all unique. They have different needs, different likes and different dislikes. What may not be a good fit for one person may be a good fit for another. With the push for community integration, some adult day programs are in the community all day, every day…that is not the program for my child. He would hate this. But for some, that’s exactly what their child would want. My son enjoys a nice mix, a home base mixed with outings. Some parents are thrilled with this. So for the mom who is angry that the program only took her adult child into the community once per week, I get it, that is not the program for her. But, it doesn’t mean it’s a bad program. It just means it’s different and not a good fit. Some parents are angry when their children attend a therapeutic day school because that means little to no inclusion with general education peers. Same thing…a therapeutic day school was not a good fit for their family, but it’s just fine for many.
- Sometimes bad things happen and we learn from them. Sometimes children get hurt or communication is poor or someone does something inappropriate. These situations aren’t okay, but, to me, it’s really what the organization does after the fact to ensure the situation doesn’t happen again. So, let’s say for example a teacher does something inappropriate. Does that mean the whole organization should be shut down? No. Take a look at what happened after the incident. Was the teacher immediately removed? Was she terminated? Did the school take action to ensure that children were safe? Did they develop new policy to ensure teachers are of a higher caliber? If so, although trust may be weak, this is a situation of one person making a very bad decision, not a failing organization. Let’s look at another example. What if your 4 year old, with autism, ran away from the playground and couldn’t be found for 20 minutes? My first question is how did a 4 year old get away from the staff member? I can assure you that an administrator would be asking the same. Obviously a child running away is a problem. No one will argue that. So, what went wrong? If this happened I’d be pretty angry. However, if the school came forward with a plan or a change in policy to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, I’d have to give them credit for making things better and tightening up their program.
Nothing great is ever just created. All organizations go through transformations. All organizations make mistakes. It’s how they handle the mistakes that are key. Here’s what I recommend you do when someone shares a negative experience.
- Ask for more details. Are you only getting part of the story? Evaluate the WHOLE story, not just the pieces someone wants to share.
- Put the experience in your memory bank. Don’t dismiss, but keep it there in case you begin to see some red flags.
- Pose a question to the organization to see if they learned from a situation. For our eloping example…you can simply ask: How will you ensure all children are accounted for? What is the staff:student ratio when children are outside? What are the expectations of staff when they are monitoring students on the playground?
- Think about your own child’s needs. Would this perceived negative experience have the same impact on your child?
Take other’s opinions as valuable, but certainly not law. Do your own research. Make your own phone calls. Tour places for yourself.
You know your child better than anyone else. You be the judge after taking in all of the information. Go with your gut. Remember, no one’s opinion is as valuable as the person who loves and cares for your child the most…YOU.