An Interdisciplinary Course to Prepare School Professionals to Collaborate with Families of Exceptional Children

By Lam, Sarah Kit-Yee | Multicultural Education, Winter 2005 | Go to article overview

An Interdisciplinary Course to Prepare School Professionals to Collaborate with Families of Exceptional Children


Lam, Sarah Kit-Yee, Multicultural Education


To help children succeed in schools, professionals must work with the family system since "the family is the child's first teacher" (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2001, p. 48) and the benefits of involving families in educating children are evident in research findings (California State Board of Education, 1994; Henderson & Berla, 1994). School professionals include teachers, school social workers, school psychologists, school counselors, and school nurses.

When professionals collaborate with families, they must understand and align their approaches with the world view of families from different cultures (Brown, Pryzwansky, & Schulte, 2001). In essence family involvement is an event of multicultural engagement. Therefore, training opportunities for future professionals to develop school-family-community partnerships will also enhance the development of their multicultural competence (Holcomb-McCoy, 2004).

Among different types of families that professionals encounter in schools, families of exceptional children have unique experiences that impose an additional dimension of difference. Exceptional children would qualify for special education or related services if they meet one or more of the following criteria: autism, emotional disturbance, hearing impairment, specific learning disability, mental retardation, orthopedic impairment, speech/language impairment, traumatic brain injury, visual impairment, or some other health impairment which adversely affects educational performance (IDEA Amendments of 1997).

Working with families of exceptional children is pertinent to help them succeed. Encouragement and support from the family contribute to reducing the gaps in college access and completion among students with disabilities (U.S. Department of Education, 2002). In collaboration, families are "equal and full partners with educators and school systems" and this relationship "will benefit the student and the entire school system" (Turnbull & Turnbull, 2001, p.13).

To be effective in collaboration, professionals must know how to engage families of diverse backgrounds. Unfortunately, effective models to train future school professionals in working with families of exceptional children are lacking. National accrediting agencies provide "minimal guidelines for disability training for school counselors" (Milsom & Akos, 2003, p.87). State requirements for education programs to train future teachers and school professionals in the area of family involvement barely emerged in the past few years (California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 1998; California Commission on Teacher Credentialing, 2001).

Involving parents and contributing to a multidisciplinary team are two crucial areas of professionals' roles in assisting children with disabilities (ASCA, 1999; ASCA, 2000). In view of practical limitations of programs to provide specialized training to prepare professionals to work with families of exceptional children (Korinek & Prillaman, 1992), and the reality that professionals must collaborate with one another to address children's specific conditions (Conoley & Conoley, 1991; Strother & Barlow, 1985), the use of an inter-disciplinary course to address specific topics and competencies related to serving special needs becomes a viable option (Milsom, 2002).

The Interdisciplinary Course Used in This Study

Background

As a professor in a counselor education program, I was assigned to teach students in Pupil Personnel Services (PPS) programs taking a course entitled, "Counseling Parents with Exceptional Children." At the same time, Deanna Schilling, another professor from the special education program of the same department was charged to instruct student teachers in special education taking a course entitled, "Home/School/Community Collaboration: Policy, Research, and Practice." Both were three-semester-unit courses and were offered at the same time and on the same day during the semester. …

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