Drivers of special-need students are often taken on an emotional roller coaster with the parents of the students they transport. “There were days when I would go home so upset because I didn't know what I'd done wrong,” says Jean Rocker, a former special-needs driver and current special-needs transportation coordinator for Durham School Services in Concord, Calif.
Rocker says we must train our drivers not to take parental anger, sadness and other emotions personally, as these emotions are part of a parent’s natural grief cycle. The following are five main stages of grief through which a parent of a child with special needs typically passes and some strategies for dealing with parents in those stages. Stages do not always occur in sequence and may overlap each other or reoccur.
1. Denial — disbelief
2. Despair — mourning, grief, sorrow, disappointment, self-pity and fear
3. Guilt — self-blame, shame and martyrdom
4. Frustration — anger, resentment, rejection or feigned joy
5. Acceptance — adjustment and objectivity
Rocker advises the following steps for working successfully with parents of special-needs students:
• When talking to an angry parent, speak slowly and calmly.
• Watch your body language (e.g., hands on hips, eye-rolling). Don’t send signals that escalate parental frustration.
• When you talk to a parent about her child, make sure to use the child’s name.