Navigating Special Education Services: Author Q&A With Kathryn Fishman-Weaver
Navigating Special Education Services: Author Q&A With Kathryn Fishman-Weaver
PUBLISHED: Thursday, October 31, 2019 by Andilynn Feddeler

Advocating for a child who learns differently can sometimes feel like an isolating and daunting task. This book reminds families that they are not alone. When Your Child Learns Differently is an accessible and encouraging guide that helps families navigate special education services from the inside out. Learn more about the book in this interview with the author, Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Ph.D.

Q: Where did the idea for this book originate?

A: It could be that it started in that sunny classroom where I first learned how to be a teacher. Or maybe it was when I was visiting a family member in the children’s hospital. Seeds for this book were certainly planted when I sat in my first Individualized Education Program (IEP) meeting, not as a teacher, but as a parent. Although all of these were catalysts for the book, this project really was born from a social media post written by my friend Ann. 

A couple years ago, Ann posted on Facebook that she and her husband were just starting to navigate special education services with their son. She was feeling a range of complicated emotions including worry and isolation. Her post was honest, smart, courageous, and ultimately, a call for help. I reached out. 

We talked about advocacy, social stories, and feelings. After our conversation, I searched for the right book to send her. I wanted something that was practical and encouraging. I wanted something that affirmed how great her child is and also that reminded her that she is not alone. When I couldn’t find the friendly book that had all of these elements, I decided to write my own.

Q: What does it mean to have both love and high expectations for children?

A: Love and high expectations is a perspective shift in how we understand both children and disability. This concept helped us through the adoption process with our son. In particular, it showed us the incredible power of hope and love to help children heal and grow.  

In the book I write, “When we listen to children who learn differently, we all benefit from seeing the world, ideas, and relationships in ways we could have never imagined.” 

Throughout the chapters is a strong commitment to strengths-based approaches, language, and decisions. When we use love and high expectations, we notice children’s gifts and talents, we listen to their ideas and preferences, and we leverage the things that are working well. We spend time exploring what lights them up. Love and high expectations means that with the right support, we believe that almost anything is possible. 


Q: What advice would you give to families that are just beginning to navigate special education services?

A: Remember that all of the feelings you are experiencing are valid. Remember that you are the most important advocates in your child’s life. 

Seek community. Look for family support, advocacy, and social groups. 

Let go of the pressure to have all the answers. Raising a child who learns differently is a nonlinear and complicated journey. Keep focusing on strengths. Raising children is about the long game. In the whirlwind and chaos of the moment, it’s hard to see how far you and your child have come. Remind yourself to zoom out. 

There are a lot of things I wish I had known. Let me rephrase that: There are a lot of things I am glad I know now, and I am thrilled to be able to share those with you through this book. Please pick up a copy—in it, you’ll find that I am sending you hope, strength, guidance, and friendship. 


Q: What do you hope readers take away from your work?

A: Readers will leave with practical strategies, policy information, and special education jargon. This information is important cultural capital in your advocacy journey. However, the heart of this book is greater than charts, terms, and procedural safeguards. 

The heart of the book is about giving readers honesty, friendship, and encouragement. I hope readers walk away more willing to ask for help and more confident to advocate for their child. 

Maybe the best takeaway can be summed up with a quote from the end of the book: “Take a few minutes today to look at your beautiful, imperfect, idiosyncratic family. Really look. You can acknowledge that, yes, this journey is difficult and also that there is nothing more important. If you only remember one thing when you close this book, remember that love is the most important force in raising children (and parents, too).”



Kathryn Fishman-Weaver, Ph.D., serves as the Director of Academic Affairs for Mizzou K–12. As the principal of the global middle and high school programs, she works with students and teachers around the world. Dr. Fishman-Weaver writes and presents frequently on student support, teacher leadership, and gender and education. She loves the written word, a good nap, and impromptu family dance parties in her kitchen.