Once upon a time, a very long time ago in what seems like another lifetime, I was a Special Education teacher. No, this is not a fairy tale. I really was - a long time ago- before kids. My specialty area was working with students who were Deaf/Hard of Hearing.
In my short career span (I took a long time to finish college since the Army kept us on the move), I interpreted one year, I worked with children who were Deaf/Hard of Hearing, and I worked with students who had Learning Disabilities. In any of these positions, I had to interact with the families a lot.
I had the opportunity to work with some great families. Some of these families were so amazing in the support of their children that I used to think, "If I ever had a child with special needs, I want to be like this family."
Here I am. We do have a child who has special needs, so my husband and I have tried to copy some of those traits.
*Disabilities do not define the child!
S's CP is very much a part of his life; however, we know that he is a teenage boy, first and foremost. CP is not an adjective that describes him. It is a medical condition that he has.
*Stand your ground!
I applaud the mom who stood up for her beliefs in an IEP meeting even when the majority of the team felt she was wrong and tried telling her that. She stuck to what she wanted and never caved. Way to go mom! [Side note: I knew this mom outside of school. She was a very quiet woman who didn't like conflict. Yet, she stood her ground.]
We have had to sit in IEP meetings and go against what the rest of the team thought would be good based upon their experiences with our son. I maybe don't have as much teaching experience as you do, but my husband and I have a lot more "parenting S" experience than the team does. It's a matter of knowing when to stand your ground for the good of the child.
*Acknowledge my child's abilities.
I applaud the parents who wanted the school to acknowledge what their child could do rather than focusing only on what she struggled with academically. This family knew that their child could be successful if she had an individual aide. The school's response to this request was to offer "special" transportation when this family was clearly within walking distance of the school. This mom dug her heels in and told them no. The parents were successful and received the support they wanted for their child.
We have always stressed S's abilities. We have told the schools/teams what tools he needs to be successful. I don't believe we have ever told a team he can't do something. We also had a school system (CA) offer to provide "special" transportation. We asked how the other kids in the neighborhood went to school. We were told that they walked. Guess what? S will walk (or ride in his wheelchair) too.
This same mom mentioned will always stick in my mind. She became extremely passionate during one particular meeting. I remember her husband gently placing his hand on her hand and telling her it would be okay. She told him it wouldn't. She came and talked to me after the meeting, and I told her I understood where she was coming from.
Fast forward approximately 6 years, that same scenario was playing out between my husband and me in a meeting where we were listening to the most ridiculous psychologist report being read to us. Okay, I was not so calm and I knew it. I grabbed my husband's knee, so he knew that I was incapable of speaking calmly and nicely. I did ask one question. After the meeting, I asked him if I had been "rude" (I may have used another word.). He told me, "No. But it was very clear how you were feeling."
*Provide information to the team.
Thank you to the family who brought information that was requested to meetings to help the team (including the parents) make good decisions for this child. They provided input on how things were going at home. They listened to concerns we had at school. We all worked together for the good of the child. I remember celebrating so many "successes" with this family because they had worked so hard with their child and for their child.
We have always tried to provide the team with any information that we felt would be helpful to them and their understanding of S and what he needed to be successful. By doing that, we were helping S.
*Hand carry records when PCSing!
As a teacher working with military families, it was great when the families hand carried records (IEPs) or any additional information that would give us a glimpse of this child until we were able to get to know him/her and receive records from the previous school. The families who notified us ahead of time made it much easier for us to make sure we were ready to provide necessary support right away.
As an Army family, we always hand carried all information about S to our next duty station. We called the schools ahead of time - two of the three school systems responded appropriately by asking questions about S. We have multiple 3 ring binders filled with information on S. We affectionately call these books "The Great Big Book of S."
Families who have shown their appreciation can make a teacher's day (it can be a kind word, a note, etc.). Most teachers really want what is best for your child.
We always made sure to show our thanks to everyone who worked with S. There were a lot of people who made sure he was receiving an education. It truly has taken a village to educate him! Even though he has been homeschooled for six years and starting our seventh year, we have not taken this journey alone. S also knows the importance of showing thanks to those who work with him and help him become a successful person. A kind word or note are free, but they can change someone's day!
I had some great experiences as a teacher, and we have had some great experiences working with teams while sitting on the parent side of the table. These experiences have been beneficial to us whether dealing with schools, therapists, or doctors.
I will be on the couch with chocolate as I sit here reflecting upon the wonderful people who have crossed my path to help me and my husband become strong advocates for S.
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