In the spring, before her "transition IEP" (for kindergarten) I toured the classroom the district was recommending for her for this year and suffice it to say we walked out of there and knew we had to figure something else out, and that we'd likely need a special education attorney. My exact words: “over my dead body will Sammie B be in that classroom.” It was not a place where learning was happening. During our (very very short tour), one child was running madly around the room while an aide chased, one child was trying to stab himself with scissors while an aide tried to keep him from doing so. It was mayhem. When I asked the teacher if she'd ever had a kid with a physical disability like CP, she said she hadn't. Nor did she seem particularly excited about the prospect. She seemed put out. Annoyed. No thank you.
Other than that classroom (the "oh hell no" classroom as I started calling it), the only other option the district gave us was to put Sammie B in a mainstream kindergarten class with 25 - 30 kids, and one teacher. We knew that wasn't right either, particularly since Sammie B meets the kindergarten cutoff by only 6 days, and would be the youngest in her class.
I lost sleep. Trying to figure out where she would thrive. Trying, as I often do, to "figure her out" so we could find the place and environment where she would thrive. I called school after school, mostly to learn that the campuses weren't accessible. The private schools in our area that are focused on special needs cater to a (largely) autism population, and we knew that wasn't necessarily the right fit. Most other private schools (particularly religious ones) are in old buildings with stairs. A little Lutheran school near us sounded PERFECT on the phone. They said they only had one step up, but they could put a ramp up (!), and they'd love to have her (!). Then I drove by. And the entire playground was mulch. No way could I sent my child to a school where she can't play on the playground. So, defeated, I sat in my car in the Lutheran school parking lot, and I cried.
But we suited up (Sammie in a her "fancy white dress") and we headed to meet the teachers.
|Mia is the cutest photobomber EVER. She rarely lets us take a picture of just her.|
That meeting was everything I needed it to be to quiet my panic. Sammie played while B and I sat with the teachers for an hour and a half and just talked. I told them about Sammie. Her journey, her challenges, her quirks, her gifts, her talents. They asked me what our goals for her were, and I explained everything about last year and how we knew something was holding her back because she was a different child at school than at home, and I said, “so our goals for this year are (1) confidence and (2) friends. the rest is just icing on the cake.” It was a beautiful conversation, there were tears (not just mine). They asked what she was interested in, and listened. One of them said she'd go home and drag out some old princess costumes in her garage to add to the pretend play area for Sammie. They listened. Really, really listened. Not just to what Sam can or can't do, but to who she is and what she has to offer. I walked away knowing this was the perfect place for Sammie.
Crazy, funny, silly, magical Sammie.
Here’s the thing. We find ourselves on this special needs journey without warning and we feel lost, at least in the beginning. And we trust the experts because, well, we know or feel that we know nothing. We need them to guide us. We expect the PTs and OTs and STs to tell us what we need to do. But somewhere along the way, we learn that WE are the experts in our kid, and that no amount of expertise or training can replace what (at least for us) we’ve found Sammie really needs. . . an environment of community, empathy, and love.
|Snazzy First Day of School Outfit|
Sammie B taking participation to a whole new level. (She told me, "my friends will laugh when they see me and say 'oh look!'") She’s officially talked and shared more in two weeks at her new school than in the two years at the old school. Her love for learning has taken off (again).
Here's to this new year.
(And to a little girl that turns five tomorrow . . . . something MY heart isn't quite ready for.)
[After typing this out, hitting post, re-reading it (twice) and thinking about it a lot, I feel the need to say . . . I don't mean to be so hard on Sammie's teacher last year. It just wasn't a good fit. It wasn't. The curriculum was static, the class chaotic, and, legally, what the district offered, was not a fair and appropriate education for Sammie in the least restrictive environment. It just wasn't. Sammie wasn't thriving, Sammie wasn't fully accessing the curriculum, and the teacher didn't seem to have the ability to make that happen. We didn't even fully understand it. We didn't even fully understand what was missing until now, when we can see what could be. The difference. It hurts me that we have to be such trailblazers along this path, but I'm astounded that educators (even those in special education) seem so perplexed by a child like Sammie. Why are we blazing trails? The teacher may not deserve all my harshness, but to be sure, the district does. What they offered was inadequate. And the IEP team, that pretended to be so very vested in my daughter, changed their tunes so very, very quickly when we didn't agree with their recommendation. It wasn't a team decision. It was crap. We got a bunch of company (district) lines [like (after acknowledging that Sammie seemed to shut down when the bigger behavior problems from other kids were occurring, "but don't you think any preschool class would be chaotic? Don't you think she'd be overwhelmed in any class?" (imagine that in the most condescending, "you're just a mom, we're the experts!" voice you can imagine], and although they'd acknowledged their feelings about how the "oh hell no" class wasn't appropriate for Sammie verbally in the IEP, the second we indicated we were not going to sign that IEP, everyone acted like a bunch of assholes and wouldn't "own" any of their comments during what we thought was a "team" meeting. A crappy, disappointing, and upsetting situation. One that left a horrible taste in my mouth as Sammie wrapped up the rest of that school year (May and June) in that classroom. In any event, the proof is in the pudding. She's thriving.]