As the new school year has begun, the need for advocating and championing our children is reinvigorated.
This year our son entered kindergarten. As I filled out the paperwork, there were so many things that I could answer (where he went to preschool, what he loves, what scares him, his birthdate) but there were also so many things that I could not answer (first words, first steps, family history). This always gives me a sense of sadness and brings up all the “what if’s”. I know that this does me no good, but I also know that it is important to mourn what could have been in order to come to a realization of what is.
As I turned in a neuropsychologist’s report with the other stack of papers, I realized I was asking the school to look at my child differently. Yes, to treat him differently. Yes, I was inviting them in to see the “yuck” of my child. Yes, I was admitting that my child is not like the other children. Yes, I was admitting that I, his parent, would not be enough for my child. Yes, I was admitting that I, too, would need help. No, I was not asking them to allow poor behaviors. No, I was not suggesting they tolerate laziness, but I was asking them to understand where he has come from, what has happened in his life, and to help him achieve his best.
The school called, and we scheduled an Admission, Review, and Dismissal (ARD) meeting. As a former teacher I have sat in many meetings just like this one. I have had the opportunity to listen to parents’ hearts and hear their dreams for their children. I have had the privilege of sharing what their child is doing well and how he or she is growing and meeting and sometimes exceeding goals. I also have had the difficult burden of explaining to parents the goals we set for their child might not be achievable. Now, it was my turn to sit and share my desires for my child and to hear from the team if they thought he would benefit from their services. As we walked through his neuropsychological results, I would be lying if I didn’t say my heart hurt for my son. My heart was sad to think the reasons he had some of these issues were due to trauma in the womb. But, I was also reminded God created this little man. God already knew what he had to overcome. It was my job to cheer and spur my child on to become the young man who would honor and please Him.
In the meeting we did decide that he would, in fact, benefit from having an Individual Education Plan (IEP) . This is the plan that will help my son succeed in school. This plan, no doubt, will be changed many times in his life, but it is this IEP that will equip him to conquer the world. Will his goals be the same as other kids his age? Probably not, but that’s okay. Will his goals be those that lead him towards a high paying job? Probably not, but that’s okay. His goals will be… his.
As you and I enter into the schools, it is OUR job to advocate for our children. It is OUR job to be their voice. It is OUR job to nudge and maybe gently shove others into seeing the child that is before them. It is OUR job to respect and come alongside educators in order to ensure our children get what they need. It will be heartbreaking. It will be challenging. It will be worth it. Hang in there. Our children are different, not less.
What are some things you, as a parent, can do…
- Educate yourself on the rights of your child if special services are necessary.
- Be realistic about your child’s behaviors- who they are at home and who they are in public? How and when do these behaviors overlap?
- Trust that the school wants what is best for your child. Remember, the more information that you provide, the more successful your child can be at school.
- Be present at school and at home. This reinforces that school is important.
- Include therapists in the dialogue. They have an outsider’s view.
- Include every person that’s in your circle of education– the entire school village.
- Record every success big and small.