Offering Assistance to Parents & Educators

for 30 Years

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A SECOND LOOK AT SPECIAL EDUCATION:
HELICOPTER SPECIAL EDUCATION PARENTS
OR
HELICOPTER SCHOOL SYSTEMS

A colleague recently posted an article about helicopter parents on a Facebook group seeking opinions about how special edcuation parents felt about being considered as helicopter parents. I responded to that and thought it would be worth writing about in a bit more detail than in one of those tiny Facebook blocks of space. So here goes…

What is a helicopter parent? In spite of my telling my graduate students not to dare reference WIKIPEDIA as a source, I’m doing that now. (Shhhhhhhhhhhhhh, don’t tell them I am doing this).

The metaphor appeared as early as 1969 in …[a]…book … by Dr. Haim Ginott, which mentions a teen who complains: “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter…”

Foster Cline and Jim Fay coined “helicopter parent” in 1990 [and] American college administrators began using it in the early 2000s as the Millennial Generation began reaching college age. Their baby-boomer and Generation X parents in turn earned notoriety for practices such as calling their children each morning to wake them up for class and complaining to their professors about grades the children had received…

So in short, it references parents who are overly protective and involved in their children’s lives and, in our world, we are speaking specifically about those parental activities related to their children’s education. The range of those behaviors is—as you can guess—enormous, ranging from picking out the right clothes the night before to editing their children’s homework. The result of helicoptering parents is a child who remains dependent on others to make decisions for them–decisions they could make themselves IF they had been given the opportunity to learn and learn to fail in order to learn to succeed.  And that leads to poor self-esteem and social skills and more.

But parents of children with disabilities are actually forced into that role of helicoptering.  I say this because they are the educational caretakers of their children’s IEPs. They have to learn the parental rights and the laws and to monitor their children’s IEP progress. And they do that for, sometimes, more than 18 years. No other parent has those added responsibilities as parents of children with disabilities do.

And, because of that, I got to thinking that the educational system is responsible for forcing that role on parents and one that is also given to school systems. Whatever a parent has to do, the school is supposed to do as well and more.  And together they, plus the law, might just be the “perfect storm” for a helicoptering system.  Let me explain, but be prepared because this might just feel like a bad helicopter ride for some, so hold on.

We spend a great deal of time building programs that are to address our children’s individual needs–making them as unique as are our children. But here is where we go wrong and, by we, I mean all of us. We make sure that they are provided learning tasks but ones that are not too difficult but just right. Hummm….just right. Ah! And here is where it goes astray and where we become a helicoptering system.

We not only provide accommodations, we OVER accommodate. We provide them–need it or not. We included them in the IEP just in case saying, “Oh, well, she MIGHT need it and this way she is covered.” And then, “How about extra time? Why not?”  But, we don’t teach the children what to do with the extra time, they just have it.

We can do the same with assistive technology and provide it before the child needs it…again, “just in case.”  The child becomes dependent on the AT well before attempting to acquire the skill. And what happens? The opportunity to learn that skill is lost.  But it gets worse.

As we plan for the transition years—exiting high school for college, trade school, or work—we never actually prepare our kids for that exiting. And after they do, they suddenly find themselves without the accommodations of extra time at the work place, or no one to copy the lecture notes, or even wake them up to go to school or work. They depart the overly protective world of school without knowing how to manage time, their schedule and workload, and find they have the same period of time in which to complete a work task as everyone else. Or, they find that excuses are not accepted for illegible work. They are responsible for making sure it is readable, neatly organized and shows their best work the first time. We do NOT prepare them to realize that their parents can no longer advocate for them, that they are actually legally considered as adults and will be treated as such.

It abruptly becomes their responsibility to speak up on their own behalf. Independently, they need to take advantage of services of the university Offices of Disabilities. They have to explain to their boss needed accommodations. But even more so, they need to know what accommodations are allowable to request both on the job and at school. It is now their responsibility and no one else’s to do.

So give thought to the accommodations and modifications we seek for our children, always keeping in mind the ultimate goal of having our children being as independent as possible–and that means reliant on themselves, not helicoptering parents or school systems–once they have exited public schools.

Consider phasing out of the educational bumper guards we have carefully and lovingly built around our young adults during their high school years.

And, while IDEA is designed to provide services for educational progress, it is up to parents and educators to also prepare the children to become self-reliant and resilient in their life long careers as adults.

Thoughts? Post them below. I’d really like to know what you are thinking.

Comments

  • Tina Rueckert Kane

    There are varying degrees of disability. It bothers me that you make the assumption that many parents are “over-accommodating” their kids. My kids have 12+ diagnoses and do not get the quality accommodations, just the easy ones. Often they are in place “just in case” because districts play games with assistance. Also, if we wanted to add an accommodation it would require another two hour meeting that could NOT be scheduled in a timely manner. I feel you are targeting your article toward people whose kids do not have extremely challenging cognitive, physical or emotional disabilities.

    • Vaughn Lauer

      Tina, i posted to you elsewhere, but will restate here. My comments were not directed to any one group, but to the aggregated of parents, schools and IDEA. No one or group or factor was singled out.

  • Vivian Janik

    I guess timing is everything it’s funny that I read this right after our lengthy IEP meeting. Where as our team came up with some great insights and important observations to figure out what piece is missing that our son needs to move forward and become more self reliant If I was not a “helicopter parent” these insights and observations may not have been recognized. Yes, I strongly agree that these children need to be able to become more self-reliant It is our job to teach them the skills and nurtured them through adolescence then they will soar.

    • Vaughn Lauer

      Vivian, it is the last point that truly prompted this article. I think you captured the essence of the blog quite well.

  • Kari Hofmann

    EXACTLY what I’ve been thinking. Our OT finally broke down and said “I’ve only had two classes in AT. You know this better than I do. You can rattle off names of programs that I’ve never even heard of. We agreed to implement my daughter as a paper free kid a few weeks ago. It’s been a fight with our “tech scared” teachers like you wouldn’t believe. One of our “tech friendly” teachers just said that he will need to move my daughter to the back of the room because the laptop is distracting to others. Preferred seating is in her IEP. They have worksheets that look like they are decades old and copied and copied and copied. I emailed her case worker asking when the school will their curriculum will meet ADA standards.

    • Vaughn Lauer

      That is sad, but I am pleased to see you made progress. I won’t ask what state or district you are in, but few districts do not have at least one AT specialist. I assume the OT did not mean courses, but, still, it sounded like you are bringing the school system into a new territory. IDEA brough AT into the regulations back in 1990….geesh!