In Their Own Words – Perspectives in View: Back to School, Tug of War

Image of a family standing on grass and playing tug of war.

An emotional time.

One of the most exciting things you will experience as a parent of a child with special needs is them going back to school. You are excited for all of the things they will learn.  Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, etc. For some you are excited to see them getting therapies that your child desperately needs. Therapies that insurance never seems to pay enough for. You are excited about the possibility of your child making friends and having new experiences.

One of the most terrifying things you will experience as a parent of a child with special needs is them going back to school.  Especially if your child is non-verbal and/or lacks the ability to communicate with you the things that are going on around them. You will worry.  You will worry about the progress that they will make. (Is it enough?) You will worry that they are being treated well. You are worried that the kids will ignore them, or worse, bully them. You will question every decision that you make in an IEP meeting. (Was it the right one?) Worry becomes your old pal.

My son was diagnosed early in his life so we had the benefit of TEIS. My biggest fear transitioning from TEIS to the public school system was that I was not going to be there.  I am his mother after all, who is going to take care of him? I was putting him in a school with complete strangers. Strangers that I had only met once and I was expected to drop him off at the door of this huge building and just walk away. No questions asked.  I was so nervous and scared the week before he started that I barely ate or slept.  The big day came. Another milestone is his life.  I drove him to school. My sweet little boy. I drove him there, got him out of his car seat and walked him to the door.  I was waiting for the meltdown. Holding my breath that we would at least make it into the building and……nothing.  My son, (who didn’t like change at the time) looked at me, then at his teacher, and said “Bye”. No hug, no high five! He just walked off. Hand in hand with his new teacher. I swear he even skipped a little.

Now, I am so grateful to all of the teachers and therapists that he had in the TEIS system. Teachers that worked hard with him. Teaching him to talk, and mainly teaching him how to deal with change.  He handled it like a true champ.  I was so proud of him. I was also a little mad that he wouldn’t even give me a hug goodbye! I guess, he was preparing me for the teenage years. Image of a family of 3, one mother, father and son. All are wearing blue and standing in front of trees with their hands on a wooden fence.

As he got older, letting him go to school became a lot easier, the worry was still there. It was just more manageable.  Did I have to advocate for everything he needed in his IEP meetings? Absolutely, but it was so worth it to have the wonderful young man I have today. My husband and I and both extremely proud of all that he has accomplished.  We are also extremely grateful to all of his teachers and therapists that helped him along his journey.

My advice to parents, both young and old. Know your rights. This will help reduce your worry.  Many organizations in our great state will help you learn exactly what you need to know in state and federal laws. Contact them.  You will be able to better advocate for your child if you know them. It has helped us so very much.

Another thing I would recommend to parents to help reduce your worry is, volunteer at your school.  If you don’t work, volunteer to do things during the day while the kids are there.  Talk to your schools PTA and see what they need help with. If you do work and cannot be there during the day, still volunteer to help out. Chaperone field trips, if possible, help out with field days, volunteer for after school programs, etc. This will let you get to know the teachers and administrators better. You can build a rapport with them that will help during IEP meetings.

Image of a mom and dad holding a rope and their son is standing on the other side of the rope with his hands raised by his waist.


Take pride in watching your child master tasks that they once struggled to complete. Celebrate every accomplishment. No matter how small the world thinks that accomplishment is.

Available Resources for parent trainings on special education laws:

Autism Resource of the Mid-South

Autism Tennessee

Autism Society of East Tennessee

STEP (Support and Training for Expectational Parents)

Volunteer Advocacy Project

Yellow background image with a creative line framing the text on the image. Text "In Their Own Words Perspectives in View Back to School, Tug of War by Tara L. Mohundro, President, Autism Resources MidSouth. A dark blue ink splatter is at the bottom right of the image and an photo of Tara Mohundro is on top of the splatter.

Tara Mohundro is the mother of three boys ages 32, 30 17. She is a United States Bowling Congress Certified Youth Bowling Coach and coaches with her youngest son’s league. Her youngest son happens to have autism. Her hobbies include playing golf with her husband, camping, photography, gardening, and reading, among other pursuits.

Mrs. Mohundro is a founding member of Autism Resources of the Mid-South (formerly known as Autism Society of the Mid-South), which provides “Support, Advocacy, and Education for all affected by Autism” in West TN and the Mid-South since 2008.

Mrs. Mohundro currently serves on Governor Lee’s Autism Council where she chairs the Health Care Committee. She is also a board member of the Tennessee Disability Coalition.