Working in Schools

Parental Reactions to ESE

One of the hardest things for a parent to hear is that there is something wrong with their child. Parents want to protect their children from illness, injury, and monsters under the bed. Because of this many parents may feel that their child needs protection when a school informs them that their child may have, or does have, a learning disability or delay.

Often a parent will have no idea that their child is falling a bit behind the learning or developmental curve. Teachers are trained to know the age appropriate learning and developmental norms and to notice if a child is falling behind in any area. When this happens, the teacher is supposed to consult the guidance counselor or ESE (exceptional student education) coordinator and discuss bringing parents in to talk about testing. A classroom teacher is never supposed to broach the subject with a parent directly for many reasons, one of which is the volatile nature of parental reactions.


Concern is the best possible reaction from a parent. It shows that he or she wants what is best for their child regardless of what that may mean. A parent who is concerned but not upset is typically one who will want testing and services that will benefit the child and who will not be resistant to intervention. Ideally, this will also translate into a parent who will become even more engaged in helping the child overcome any difficulties at home.


Sometimes a testing suggestion comes after a lengthy period of the child struggling in school either socially or academically. A parent may hear the request for ESE evaluation as a diagnosis that their child is always going to be “trouble,” and the parent may become defeated and give up on the child. This is bad for both parent and child, as it can make a potential diagnosis feel like a condemnation rather than an opportunity to overcome.


Disbelief is perhaps the most common reaction from parents. Many parents believe that their child is gifted or, at the very least, within educational norms. They react by suggesting the problem is with incompetent teachers, overcrowded schools, a child that isn’t being challenged, or a full social calendar. Parents will often try to shift the problem away from the child because it is easier to believe the difficulty is external.

No matter how a parent reacts, it is the job of the education team to help make learning as accessible as possible for all children. If a parent refuses testing and assistance for a student, there is nothing a school can do to force the parent into taking action. Focus on educating parents on the realities of learning disabilities and delays and the benefits of intervention and hope solid information will lead to help for the child.

In your experience, how do parents typically react to the news that their child might have a learning disability?

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