5 Professionals Who Often Misunderstand Special Needs.

Author of 5 books, podcaster, parent trainer, husband and father.

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In 2004 our lives, and parenting, changed forever when we realized we were parenting a child with special needs. To say it's been a journey is an understatement. Part of the challenge has come from our encounter with professionals who fail to understand, or know how to handle, the special needs our children have.

Honestly, the list is too long to recount. In 11 years of parenting children with special needs, namely Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD) and Reactive Attachment Disorder (RAD), we’ve lost track of the amount of times we’ve sat in an office, a conference room, or our own home and looked into the blank stare of a therapist, police officer or teacher. Nor can we even begin to list the negative, off-handed, demeaning, or accusatory statements we’ve received.

Unfortunately, this happens all the time when you’re raising children who deal with disorders like FASD or RAD. Granted, we’ve also encountered many professional people who get it, get our children, have a heart to help, and that is refreshing. They tend to be the exception, however, and not the rule.

From our 14-year parenting journey here are 5 professionals, we’ve personally encountered, who often misunderstand special needs:

  1. Police Officers. We have encountered this on more than one occasion. Because our oldest son suffers from FASD we’ve dealt with severe behavior and even violence from him in the past. The police have had to get involved on more than one occasion. For years we dealt with a string of officers who just didn’t understand FASD or the related diagnosis  ARND (Alcohol-Related-Neurodevelopmental-Disorder) and their reaction was evidence. One officer gave him fist bumps and made him “promise to stop hurting his mom and siblings.” Another accused my wife of not being able to handle him and proceeded to sit my son on the hood of his cruiser and place stickers on his shirt. It wasn’t until last year when we finally encountered an officer who understood what our son suffered from and what we were going through. Unfortunately most of our nation’s law enforcement agencies have not spent adequate time nor resources on training officers to understand these needs.
  2. Therapists. We have seen vast misunderstanding with numerous therapists over the years. In 2012 My wife and I had hopes that a new therapist would help our son because the last 2 had missed the mark entirely. However, it was clear that she also didn’t get it. Instead of trying to understand where he was coming from or what was going on with his brain, she began to ask him questions like, “Do you feel safe in your home?” (He looked at my wife with a confused look when she asked this), “Do you miss your mom and dad? Is that why you’re acting like this?” (It had been 8 years since he came to live with us and almost 5 since his adoption was final). Much like police officers, therapists are not educated on common special needs that adoptive and foster parents deal with on a regular basis.
  3. Teachers. For years we dealt with teachers who did a disservice to our child by failing to communicate with us on what was really going on in the classroom, and some of the issues they were dealing with. One afternoon, my wife received a phone call from our son’s resource teacher who bluntly told my wife, “Make sure you feed him everyday!” Kristin nearly dropped the phone. We’ve also had teachers who failed to understand the ins and outs of FASD and their reaction to our son showed. In recent years, we have been blessed to have teachers who took the time to learn about FASD and how it manifests itself in the classroom.
  4. Pastors. I can point fingers at this profession because I was in this profession for nearly 2 decades and I saw major misunderstandings of many special needs, not just FASD or RAD. Churches are just ill-equipped to handle them. It became my goal, toward the end of my career as a church worker, to enlighten and educate. Ministry training doesn’t include preparation to minister to families raising children with special needs, although it’s extremely common in today’s church, especially larger congregations.
  5. Doctors. We lost count of how many doctors looked at us oddly, or disagreed with us, when we shared that our son was drug and alcohol exposed before birth and it was causing severe behavioral issues. They disagreed that this had caused brain damage, and often blamed us for bad parenting. Frustrating, as you can imagine. Many doctors, even today, still tell women it’s okay to consume alcohol in moderation while pregnant. As far as we’re concerned, this is Russian Roulette with a child’s life.

Okay, inhale and exhale slowly. We’re pretty certain you’re feeling hopeless as you read through this list because you’ve encountered a misunderstanding professional a time or two. The biggest question we receive when we talk about this subject, or write about it, is “How?” How do we change this? How do we help a doctor, pastor, teacher or therapist understand our child’s special need?

Great question! The answer is found in three areas: educate, communicate and resource. When we discovered, years ago, that one of my son’s teachers had been giving in to his claims that we weren’t feeding him at home, we printed material off from the internet, that exhaustively explained the effects of ARND, FASD and malnutrition, and shared it with her. We took every opportunity to meet with principals, aids, and special-ed teachers, to educate them in a polite and respectful way, on what his special need really was. We’ve shared books and documentaries, even movies and podcasts with therapists and counselors as well.

Two of the best resources we know of, especially when it comes to RAD and ARND, are the book, The Connected Child, by Karyn Purvis, and the recently released documentary, Moment To Moment, directed by Gabe Chasnoff. Out of all the resources in the land, we believe these two are the best. They hit the target. (Click on either title to purchase!)

Remember- education, communication, and exhaustive resourcing are your best allies when dealing with professionals who misunderstand the special need your child has. This includes all special needs, not just FASD or RAD. One more thing- stay calm and composed when you are communicating with them, even if it seems your words are falling on deaf ears. If you go in to an IEP meeting, or conference, guns blazing, you will not be heard. Trust us. Instead of understanding the special need your child has, they’ll start to believe you’re the one with a special need!

Are you raising a child with special needs? Have you encountered a misunderstanding professional? Share your story with us!


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Mike and Kristin Berry are the Co-Founders of The Honestly Adoption Company and have been parents for nearly two decades. They are the authors of six books, and the host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.

Sarah Gray

Sarah Gray is the executive assistant to Mike and Kristin Berry. And she is the best in the land. In addition to providing a warm and friendly response to the many emails our company receives on a weekly basis, she also manages Mike and Kristin’s speaking and meeting schedules, and makes sure that team events go off without a hitch.

Nicole Goerges

Nicole Goerges is a Content Contributor & Special Consultant for The Honestly Adoption Company. She works with Mike and Kristin as a recurring co-host for the Honestly Adoption Podcast, and co-host of Kitchen Table Talks, exclusive video content for Oasis Community, along with Kristin. She is a fellow adoptive mom, and former foster parent.

Matt McCarrick

Matt McCarrick is the Content Production Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. If you’ve loved listening to our podcast, or enjoyed any of the videos trainings we’ve published, you have Matt to thank. He oversees all of our content production, from video edits, to making sure the tags are correct on YouTube, to uploading new videos to Oasis, to hitting publish on a podcast episode, he’s a content wonder!

Karen Anderson

Karen Anderson is the Community Engagement Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends the bulk of her time interacting with, and helping, people through our various social media channels, as well as providing support for Oasis Community members through chat support or Zoom calls. In the same spirit as Beaver, Karen is also passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and supported. Karen is also an FASD trainer and travels often, equipping and encouraging parents.

Beaver Trumble

Beaver Trumble is the Customer Care Specialist for The Honestly Adoption Company. Chances are, if you have been in need of technical support, or forgotten your password to one of our courses, you have interacted with Beaver. He is an absolute pro at customer care. In fact, he single-handedly revolutionized our customer care department last year. Beaver is passionate about connecting with parents and making them feel loved and encouraged.

Kristin Berry

Kristin Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Content Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. She spends most of her time researching and connecting with guests for our podcast, as well as direction, designing and publishing a lot of the content for our social media channels, blog and podcast. She loves to connect with fellow parents around the world, and share the message of hope with them.

Mike Berry

Mike Berry is the co-founder of, and Chief Marketing Specialist for, The Honestly Adoption Company. He spends the bulk of his time and energy designing and building many of the resources you see within our company, as well as social media and email campaigns. His goal is to use media as a means to encourage and equip parents around the world. He is also the co-host of The Honestly Adoption Podcast.