When educators and parents join forces to demystify special needs at school, children are equipped to be more inclusive, empathetic, and compassionate.

I am grateful to my colleagues who taught me how to demystify special needs at school. A special education teacher in our building and the guidance counselor wanted to mainstream a child with developmental delays into my third classroom for subjects like handwriting and music. I was game, but unsure of how to start.

“Tell your students what’s going on,” the special education teacher advised. “Help them get to know Kendra. I’ll talk to her parents after school about how much you can say.”

After the phone call, she reported back. “Her parents are willing to talk to your class and answer their questions. They said kids will make up their own answers if they aren’t given any information. And that’s not good.”

Kendra’s parents spent a half hour telling my students about Kendra’s diagnosis and answering the children’s questions. They wanted to know about her favorite things, how to talk and play with her, and what to do when she behaved in ways they didn’t understand. The foundation laid that day made my students more caring and friendly toward Kendra, a valuable lesson for all of them.

I learned a valuable lesson about how to demystify special needs at school that day, too. I used what I learned repeatedly during my teaching career to clear up misconceptions children had about their classmates with special needs–from juvenile diabetes to developmental delays, from cerebral palsy to autism and more. The suggestions below can help you do the same.

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