By Dennis McGeehan, republished from the Catholic Writers’ Guild blog.
In comparison, the arrival of your first child is a seismic shift. A newborn will demand all your attention, cause you to lose sleep, force you to quit fun activities, possibly require a change in your employment status, and require you to schedule trips to the doctor, shop for diapers, take extra time to secure them in their car seat, pack the diaper bag, and generally complicate every part of your life.
As the child grows older, school, homework, and extracurricular activities enter the picture. For most parents, it becomes a matter of helping the child move along a smooth continuum of expectations. For parents of special-needs children, the road is much different.
For “normal” children, most are able to start at the same place and proceed from there. It could be learning their alphabet, their numbers, or how to write their name. To be sure, there is a variance in each child’s individual skill level, but compared with the special-needs population, the difference is small.
For the learning-challenged child, the differences can be measured in light-years, depending on both the innate ability of the child and the effort the parents have made in teaching the child beforehand. The difference caused by the level of impairment and prior training before entering formal education needs to be addressed by the parents. The reality of most public special education programs is that there is a shortage of staff and also a lack of resources to meet all the needs of all the students. Of significant impact is any behavioral involvement that is present. One student who exhibits severe behavioral outbursts can require the attention of all staff present, leaving the other students to hang in limbo.
Often overwhelmed by the needs of their students, the teachers and staff do their best to cope. Beyond meeting each student’s need, the staff must also satisfy the bureaucracy, and that is where the battle lines are often drawn.
Each student is required by law to have an Individual Support Plan (I.S.P). This will clearly state what needs will be worked on in the coming year and what progress the student will make during the next year, and the bureaucracy demands progress.
Demanding guaranteed progress puts the staff in a difficult position. If for any reason stated goals are not met, an explanation is required. Continued failure to meet goals can jeopardize jobs and funding. One solution to this problem is to ensure goals are written so that progress can be claimed. That becomes a problem when the stated goal requires the student to do a task they currently can do or the level of improvement is essentially meaningless.
To be sure, for some students, the smallest of progress is a huge achievement and worth celebrating. But other students deserve a chance to reach further; indeed, for them, it would be a good thing if their reach exceeded their grasp.
As for the I.S.P., parents must be ready to question the suggestions made by the experts. If a suggestion is made to teach the child a skill that the parent knows they currently can do, the suggestion must be challenged. Do not let their education trump your experience. Additionally, parents should be ready to recommend training in entirely new areas. Think long-term and practical studies that could translate into job opportunities. Most public education programs begin to talk about transitioning (read leaving) from high school in the ninth or tenth grade, but skills that have real-world value can be taught earlier.
How many chefs first learned to cook or bake when they were small children helping in the kitchen? The school will not be prepared for such suggestions and will hesitate to embrace them, but according to the law, they are required to provide the training.
The ultimate danger to your child is that their schooling ends up being a babysitting service for twelve or sixteen years.
What is right for your child is not an easy question to answer. What is right for the other twenty or more students is exponentially harder for the staff to determine and provide. Only by being an advocate for your child will they have a chance to receive the most appropriate education for them.
Being firm in your resolve is vital. Some public education programs are so overwhelmed that they move at the speed of the slowest child. That child deserves love and help, but so does yours. It is a fine line you will have to walk; be polite and persistent at times and at others go full-bore protective parent.
PRAY FOR WISDOM!
Copyright© Dennis McGeehan