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Debra I Schafer
Debra I. Schafer (L) with Susan Rocco

Parents of special needs children require help in the workplace, too

Susan Rocco 

October 27, 2015


Editor’s note: Susan Rocco is the founder, producer and host of Women to Watch, a live radio program and weekly podcast with a mission to inspire and encourage more women to pursue leadership roles worldwide. Every Monday, Rocco hosts a conversation with a different woman in business. In this column, she offers her main takeaways.


My guest this week, Debra Schafer, CEO and Founder of Education Navigation, has an absolute passion for the work that she does. Having a son with a learning difference inspired her move from the corporate world to advocacy for both the children and parents who are faced with a similar situation.


She helps parents navigate the complicated world of special education, often working with schools to make sure special needs children will have opportunities for inclusion and to advance. In the workplace, Schafer conducts programs for employees and managers to manage the work/life balance of parents of special needs children. She has helped companies create retention programs that allow working parents to tend to their children without being penalized. It's necessary to reach out to both the classroom and the corner office on this matter. Here are some of my takeaways.


Fight for the change you believe in: Employees who have children with Autism Spectrum Disorders, ADD/ADHD, learning disabilities and other “hidden differences” are struggling on a daily basis to meet their work demands while also addressing the needs of their children. Because Debra experienced this struggle first hand, she decided to do something about it.


Stand up for yourself: Debra learned from an early age that she would have to advocate for herself in life. As a Jewish family living in a rural area with only two other Jewish families, she and her brother were bullied for being different. “It was difficult,” she said. "We learned to be resilient and to speak up for ourselves. I’ve carried that experience with me in life, and to this day, speak up when I’m faced with a challenge. For me, that challenge was to create a functional work/life integration for parents, and to fight for companies to implement policies that support these working parents."


Stand up for others: Debra takes a systemic approach, which combines both the needs of parents to advocate and ensure the educational success of their special needs children, and also their needs as working professionals. Ensuring that companies are tuned in to these needs, and being able to offer flexibility to their employees, is critical in today’s world where so many families face a constant struggle to “get it all done.”

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