You'll find hundreds of files on cleft lip, cleft palate here on

This one is about: Educating the Educators

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by Kelly Ahl Anderson

As parents of children who face on-going problems related to clefts, there are certain things we might do to help ease tensions as our children enter school each year. First, we must deal with the child's own self concept. If your child has a prominent scar or requires further surgery, chances are that other kids will notice. In the  loving environment of home, TALK to your child. Discuss the possibility that the other kids may ask why he has a scar, or may want to know what a cleft is. Teach him how to answer questions simply - "I have a scar because I had a cleft when I was born." Teach him to explain what a cleft is. "My lip didn't grow together when I was growing in my mommy's tummy. The doctor is fixing it with operations."

Parents also should TALK to the teachers. Make time to talk to each teacher your child will encounter. When my daughter was born with a unilateral cleft lip and palate, I called all of my friends to spread the good news of her birth. Most of my friends were peers from college, so they too were mostly teachers with graduate degrees. Only one of them knew what a cleft was.

Make arrangements to meet with the teacher before school starts, and explain your child's experiences to her. Fill her in on problems you foresee, or on plans for surgery later that year. An informed teacher can make all the difference in the world if a situation arises that is uncomfortable for your child.

Always inform the teacher if your child has any specific problems. For example, if your child has experienced hearing loss, there are things a good teacher would be willing to do to help. A hearing impaired child, however slight the impairments, should be seated in the front of the classroom or near the area where the teacher does most of her teaching. The teacher may also use a lot of visual aids. Work with the teacher to help provide your child with a positive learning environment.

If you do not have time to actually meet with the teachers, call them or send a note and a copy of this essay or other cleft-related literature (WS Note: parents may use copies of any essays found in this program, or any articles found in WIDE SMILES Magazine for the purpose of charting information with persons who may be in contact with their child, as suggested here.) The more informed the teacher is, the more likely she will handle uncomfortable situations in a way that benefits your child. Some parents I have met have gone even further than informing the teacher. One mother I know actually went with her child on the first day of school and talked to the class. I was worried that this might bring unwanted attention to her child, but it actually proved to be very effective. She brought in pictures from birth to show the class after a question and answer session. She assures me that the fourth graders asked very intelligent questions and listened with curiosity to the answers. As a result, the kids are informed and have never teased or taunted her son. In fact, when he had surgery later in the year, they were very supportive and even protective of him. Of course, every situation is unique and you should do only what you and your child feel  comfortable doing.

The most important thing about having a cleft child enter a new school is that he be comfortable with himself. YOU know your child better than anyone else. YOU decide what is best for your child. But don't ignore the fact that there may be a few problems. YOU choose the best method of dealing with them. Use the techniques mentioned in this essay, or come up with your own ideas to make school a positive experience for your child. Your child will be a happier student for it.

-------------------------------------Kelly Ahl Anderson holds a Bachelors Degree in Education and currently teaches at Sylvan Learning Center. She is the mother of a cleft-affected child. She is also the Education Consultant for WIDE SMILES Magazine.

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