Saturday, May 28, 2011

This One's for the Schools

Often when I hear about parents’ experiences navigating the special education maze on behalf of their children there is a distinct ‘us vs. them’ sentiment. It seems, in these accounts, that the schools are either too quick to label a child or too slow to initiate the complicated process of accommodating special needs. In either case, the relationship created is adversarial, rather than mutually supportive. While I have had one frustrating experience along these lines, I am grateful that, in general, this hasn’t been the norm for me.

In fact, this past Monday I left a meeting with the special ed team at my daughter’s school wanting to sing. Honestly! We spent more than half an hour discussing her evaluation results and planning her IEP and several things were abundantly clear. One, these people were professionals. They knew what they were talking about not just from a theoretical standpoint, but from direct experience with children. Two, these people cared. My daughter was not a series of labels or diagnoses to them, but a complete person with great potential. Three, these people had taken the time to really get to know my daughter. They all had anecdotes about her, observations of her humor and her intelligence. They like her. They truly want her to be successful.

The one thing that struck me as odd was the reaction when I said that reading the evaluation had been “hard.” I mean, there were no surprises whatsoever in the testing results, but it’s still a little sad to read in black and white that your child is having difficulties; is not, in fact “neurotypical.” The school psychologist looked… could it have been… worried? He rushed to ask me whether there had been enough positive information in the report. Had I felt my daughter had been accurately represented? Did I see indications of where they had pointed to her strengths?

“Oh, of course!” I quickly reassured him. “The report was full of positives! It wasn’t that at all. I was just having a ‘mom moment.’”

There was palpable relief in the room. “Of course,” someone said. “You’re allowed to have those.” Nervous laughter.

I thought: these poor people! Could it be they were so used to being confronted by parents, criticized for the system’s inefficiencies, even blamed for children’s poor outcomes, that they felt they had to treat me with such kid gloves? What a pain in the butt for them! Who has time for that crap?

That’s when I decided to write this blog entry. Yes, my job is to advocate for my children’s best interests and I will go to any length to do so. But this is a team effort, and these professionals, whose expertise and services are being offered to me at no cost, by the way, are critical parts of my kids’ long-term educational success! Maybe I’ve just been lucky, but at both FAIR Downtown, where my daughter is a student, and Eden Lake Elementary, where my son is a student, I have felt supported and affirmed by the special ed department, teachers and administrators. And I firmly believe that they have my kids’ backs every bit as much as I do.

So for those public school professionals who so completely rock: I salute you!


  1. Having been on the school side of these discussions (as a student teacher), yes, many parents do exactly as you write: criticize, confront, blame. Not all parents, of course - but many. And yet, many teachers (not all, of course, but many) have a genuine interest in seeing EVERY child succeed - even the "difficult", "problematic", "special" ones. So nice to see that a parent sees this, too. :)

  2. Stef-- I've gotten lots of wonderful feedback from educators on this one, and from a parent who had to fight for services back in the 70's and paved the way for moms like me. Glad to know this resonates with people :)

  3. Well, as one of those professionals, I am just now getting to the reading of your post. The kids have been out for two weeks and I am still organizing my room. Thanks for this post. I know you wrote it for several reasons. I feel as maybe it was a retirement present to me. It was very difficult to retire this year. This job is my love. I put everything into the team effort. Unfortunately, you are correct, so many parents think it is an us team not a we team. It genuinely takes the enitre team working extremely hard to make the special education system work. You know your children best. We know how the work and behave at school. Many times those are two completely different pictures. We need to see and understand both to make a good plan.

  4. Thanks, Marci! And congrats on your retirement. I'm sure it's quite a transition!