• Natalie Hawkins

Setting Boundaries and Hard Decisions in Special Education

I made the difficult decision to terminate services with a student today.

It’s so easy to feel like you failed when you terminate services. I tried everything I possibly could- I ignored behaviors, tried to talk to the student, gave not too many and not too few choices, offered a token system, worked with the classroom teacher and BCBA during and outside of sessions, planned diligently, didn’t plan at all, used a multitude of techniques, technology, and rewards to engage the student, and……….nothing.

An important question I am asking myself is how did I deem this student eligible for music therapy?

This student was in music therapy prior. I watched videos of the student in sessions and wow, she was ENGAGED. I utilized the exact same interventions and variations of the interventions in my sessions with them and they showed little or no engagement.

What was I doing wrong?...

I went through the formal assessment process, as per the SEMTAP (Special Education Music Therapy Assessment Process), and she was eligible: motivated by music, showing therapeutic and educational progress in musical settings more than non-musical settings, and showing great enthusiasm for music therapy.

Something happened between the beginning of the formal assessment process (mid-September) and when services began. This is so important for providers to remember- sometimes we do everything we possibly can to engage a student, and sometimes they don’t bite. Children (especially those in special education/experiencing trauma) will show no affect or attention seeking behaviors even when presented with a preferred task sometimes.

This often has nothing to do with us. Maybe the student didn’t get sleep the night before, or they are experiencing active trauma at home, or they just don’t want to do anything that day. We can’t take it personally, no matter how much it pains us to know what we can offer and the relationship we could build.

It’s so hard to set boundaries in special education-we are nurturers, we persevere, we are resilient, we love these children as our own.

For me, the deciding factor to terminate is that the student, based on executive functioning skills and behaviors, is choosing to not participate. We offered everything we possibly could, and it simply was not therapeutic for the student anymore.

Providers- something I am experiencing today is “provider guilt”, I’ll call it. Have you ever felt like this? Have you felt like you failed as a provider?

If so, share your experience, and let’s be here for each other and know that we’ve done the best we can!

When we are faced with a hard decision with a student, we can still choose to be kind to ourselves, know we’ve given it our all, and continue to diligently provide for the students who benefit from our services.

Sending you resilience this week,


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