Special needs is a “label” that’s hard to navigate. Children were all created to be unique, yet they have to fit into a box that society has designed as the standard. If they step one foot outside of the box, they’re considered “different” in all the wrong ways. In response, a group of people surrounds them with a diagnosis and therapy options to “fix their problems.” Although as moms we should be grateful for solutions, it’s easy to feel lonely watching our children be misunderstood.
For those of you mamas who may be tackling special needs alongside your children, I wanted to encourage you on your journey.
My daughter didn’t become a part of our family until she was almost two. Before her adoption was complete, she heard more than one language — not including English. It took her a long time to comprehend a new language in addition to getting to know her new family. Because it is difficult for kids to jump past more than one milestone at a time, she was focused on learning a language and falling further behind in her gross motor development. Without getting too deep into her story, these delays got her approved for an in-home therapy program as well as entrance into a special needs preschool through the local public school system.
I was thankful for the additional resources and support we found through these programs, but I was not expecting all the emotions that would come with watching my child be misunderstood and set apart in a not so great way.
All children with special needs are given an Individualized Educational Plan (IEP) when they enter the public school system. An IEP is “a plan or program developed to ensure that a child who has a disability identified under the law and is attending an elementary or secondary educational institution receives specialized instruction and related services.”
The plan includes a detailed outline of the student’s needs as well as a step-by-step process towards a solution. I was caught off guard the very first time I sat in on an IEP meeting. The teachers and therapists handed me a thick packet of statistics, graphs, and checklists that I didn’t understand while they surrounded me with concerned and pitied looks on their faces. They then began to tell me everything my daughter wasn’t able to do and all the ways she was different compared to other children her age.
“As you can see, an average child can do (blank), and your child scored below average with little progress since.”
“She just doesn’t seem to be able to understand (blank) no matter how hard we try.”
Phrases like this cut me like a knife. My daughter’s memory is incredible, her compassion is inspiring, and her joy is contagious. What about these things? I knew for a fact she was doing great behaviorally and socially as I watched her interact with her peers and adults; I saw how advanced she was in many other areas. But none of that was mentioned. Instead, I walked out of that meeting feeling like I failed my daughter as a parent and that the world was going to hold her up to these high standards while ignoring her strengths.
Not all special education systems are this way. In fact, my closest friend is a special needs teacher. She is incredible as are many others. I am the kind of mom who supports teachers and requires my children to respect them in a way that says: “If you’re in trouble at school, you’re in trouble at home.” But I also know that some of us aren’t as fortunate to have a great experience with special needs programs. And the following quote may be exactly what YOU need to hear stated before your next IEP meeting:
“Before we begin this IEP meeting, I just want to take a moment to tell you how amazing your child is. We’re going to talk a lot today about all of the things your child can’t do, but I need you to know that he is so much more than the sum of his deficits. Your child has his own personality with unique strengths and interests that make him such an awesome little guy. If we had more time, I would love to sit down with you over coffee and chat about all the precious moments that I have shared with him. But today is for helping him. So yes, we are going to focus on what he can’t do, but that is only to make sure that he has exactly the right services to reach his full potential and shine through as the amazing person that you and I know him to be! Are you ready to tack this with me?” –Unknown
My daughter’s teachers and therapists did not present her IEP in this way. And after two years of emotional meetings and watching my daughter struggle, we have changed schools. Since then, she has transformed into a different child. She is receiving love and praise, and her teacher wants her to be the best she can be rather than pushing her to meet a standard. She is happy and thriving.
Maybe you’re watching your child struggle, and you don’t feel like you have the right support in place. Save the quote above and read it to yourself before a difficult IEP meeting. And if your child is in a school that doesn’t seem to acknowledge her capabilities, find a support system that does. There are MANY out there ready to love and accept your child for exactly who he/she is!
Children don’t need to be folded and squished into a box. They just need people to step outside of it with them to see their unique point of view.