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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Indigenous parents of students with special needs in education : the lived experience Nelson, Melanie


Parents of students with special needs may experience stressors in association with their interaction with the education system. Meetings with multiple professionals can be intimidating, the process of assessment can be confusing, terminology used may be unfamiliar, and realizing their child is having challenges may be upsetting. Following the designation, navigation of special education services can also be challenging. Parents of Indigenous children may experience additional stressors. There is an incompatibility between traditional Indigenous cultural values and mainstream education, constructs that exist in special education may not exist in the same way in Indigenous culture, and some parents believe assessment is attempted assimilation. In addition, many parents have previous involvement with residential schools. Students who attended experienced loss of language and culture, and many also experienced abuse. These factors may impact how Indigenous parents perceive the current education system. In the present study, the experiences of seven Indigenous parents of students with special needs in education were explored. The aim was to better understand the experience of Indigenous parents regarding the processes that lead to their child’s designation and their navigation of special education services. Semi-structured interviews were conducted with parents from the Lower Mainland of British Columbia. Six broad themes emerged following data analysis using Interpretative Phenomenological Analysis. Findings indicate some commonalities between Indigenous and non-Indigenous parent experiences. The use of special education terminology may be upsetting, feelings of guilt and intimidation may arise when interacting with educators, learning how to navigate the system can be time consuming, and parents may experience stress as a result of their child being bullied. In addition, findings identified which are specific to Indigenous parents and supported by previous studies include: significant parent involvement in their child’s education, the importance of relationships with educators, the inclusivity of Indigenous communities, possible cultural discontinuity between the home and school, the construct of special needs not existing or existing in a different way in traditional culture or language, and the possible impact having a family member who attended residential school may have on the current view of schools for children and their parents.

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