Establishing a Vision: Navigating the Waters of Special Education in a World Teeming with Contradiction, Limitation, and Disparate Agendas

The vision

In the world of high finance, corporate mergers, and strategic business plans, the key to a successful venture starts with establishing a clear roadmap or vision, so all members work toward the same objective. Conversely, failing to establish a vision leads to splintered projects that lack focus, waste human and monetary resources, and often end in failure.

The same can be said for trying to navigate the many, varied programs available to children with special educational needs. According to Gabriel and Farmer, “Without a vision, your school lacks direction. As the ancient Roman philosopher Seneca observed, ‘If a man knows not what harbor he seeks, any wind is the right wind.’ If you don’t have a common, agreed-on destination, then everyone is left to his or her own devices to imagine one—a scenario that results in unharnessed and unfocused efforts, with everyone believing that what he or she is doing is right. A common understanding of the destination allows all stakeholders to align their improvement efforts. And the best part of planning for this journey is that it doesn’t cost anything to decide where you want to go.”[i]

For parents, navigating these choppy waters can be difficult at best, as they struggle to comprehend the many, varied recommendations of service personnel, friends, family, and school- or district-level administrators. Quite often, the journey takes on a feeling of “us versus them,” instead of “all for one” on behalf of the child.

For educators, all too often the waters can be just as unsettled, as they seek to meet the needs of each family and child.

Food for thought

To form a clear vision for the future of a child with special educational needs, there are some helpful thoughts to consider, whether you’re a parent, and educator, or a service provider.

If you’re a parent, do you have a clear vision of your child as an adult? If so, how will you get from here to there? What is your roadmap?

If you are an educator or a related service provider for children with special educational needs, do you seek to understand and visualize each parent or student’s vision for life in an adult world? Are your goals, supports, and services based upon supporting this vision? Does your school have a vision? What is your role as a professional within the school’s vision? Where do you fit?

And this is where the VISION comes in

Imagine a world where each child’s educational team works in harmony and unison as it tirelessly pushes ahead toward a unified goal. This world can become a reality, and it can serve as the cornerstone upon which a successful transition into the adult world is built.

How can you make that happen? Here are five critical steps:

  1. Establish a vision for your child as an adult. Ask yourself:
    • Where will your child live?
    • What might your child enjoy as a vocation and/or for leisure?
    • What will your child’s support system be?
    • What community partnerships or linkages will your child need to have a fulfilling life?


  1. Share the vision with the educational support team.
    • Do your child’s teacher and/or related service personnel share the same vision?
    • If not, how can the different visions be aligned?


  1. Align the shared vision with the overarching vision and mission of the school.
    • Does the vision of the school support the needs of all students?
    • How does the shared vision for the child align with the overall vision of the school?
    • How do the members of the support team (i.e. teacher, speech therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) define their role within the vision?


  1. Continually check for plumb.
    • During each and every educational team meeting, seek to ensure that all goals and educational plans provide building blocks that scaffold toward the shared vision of the child in an adult world.


  1. Modify, Modify, Modify.
    • Revisit the vision often, and realign, should circumstances change.
    • Be open to accepting and integrating new challenges that make the original vision difficult to attain.
    • Be brave enough to recognize when the original vision falls short and that the child is capable of achieving much more than the original vision had incorporated.

In the end, when the vision of the family, child, and school personnel are aligned, unified, and achievement driven, harmonious achievement of educational goals is not only possible, it is highly probable.




Gabriel, J., & Farmer, P. (2009). How to help your school thrive: Without breaking the bank. (p. 46). Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development.