It’s August 31st and most schools open in a week. What can I say to you to help the getting ready that is different from other websites or bloggers. What can I say to help you prepare and yet not scare you? Last night, I Googled “special education websites” and read through about 20 of them I’d not looked at before. They’re all pretty much the same. All politically correct. Perhaps what is different for me and this blog is that I have a perspective literally not shared or experienced by anyone else- and have never been politically correct. I’m old now, 72, and still work six day weeks with children and families. I started special education advocacy in 1976 and have seen and lived through every fad, reauthorization, organization and issue that exists. At least 50,000 children have passed my way. At some point, every major player in special education has been involved in some way with my work. I’ve seldom been paid and almost always viewed as an outcast- someone to avoid, just like a parent who may disagree with school staff. I know what it feels like not to fit in. And, of course, there is the nonlawyer piece. There appears to be nobody left who knows what that actually meant- litigating full cases with briefs, argument, and all the rest on an equal footing with lawyers. Young lawyers make fun of me openly, a recent one saying, “She called herself a nonlawyer. What bullshit!” The denial of the past carries over into almost every area now. We live in a time when the line between fact and fiction is often indistinguishable.
What is heralded as something new usually isn’t in the multiple websites that email disability news and events. So what is new? First, you need to understand that at this point in history both science and fact are things to be manipulated, distorted, or denied by policy makers. That is new for our time. (The world is flat. Of course it is. Evolution isn’t true. Of course not!) Things that are new: the infusion of computers and technology throughout every phase of education; the consideration of applying and merging neuroscience with special education (finally!!); the deterioration of quality testing; emphasis on English Language Learners (ELL) and their needs; the abandonment of special education by the federal government to a degree never seen before. What can you make out of these things in an economy that can no longer afford anything special? First, do not be fooled by those who sell the same lectures, books, workshops, and materials about the IEP and your legal rights. This worked 5-10 years ago. It doesn’t work now. Special education experts need to make money and gain customers. It is a business, how they make a living. It is important information but unenforceable without litigation. Understand the basics about special education. A terrific new publication about the IEP (Individualized Education Program (IEP): Summary, Process and Practical Tips) is on Autism Speaks Family Services website and a free down load. Mind you. I would never, never have said this in years past. But I still attend IEP meetings and work with families and see the changes, hostility and regression in the special education process everywhere. You are not imagining this, it’s true. Genuine heroes are some special educators who are working against incredible odds to do what they can. One recently told me he was putting off having his own children because he worked 18 hours a day for the children on his case load. And he meant it.
How do you get ready for your special needs child to go to school? Here are some suggestions:
This will not be an easy year for any of us who are not rich- that means 99% of us. Things may get worse before they get better but nobody can make you lose hope except yourself. David Brooks wrote a recent column called “The Rugged Altruists”. He told stories about virtues that make things better when all around us is crumbling. His first was courage, taking chances by taking on new experiences and challenges. We must all have courage as we face the new school year. We must welcome all of the new experiences, good and bad, and accept the challenges of educating and raising a child with a disability, the challenge to get the education our child requires in order to become independent. The second virtue was deference, “the willingness to listen and learn from the moral and intellectual storehouses of the people you are trying to help.” We must be willing to listen to our children. We must listen to the things they find just and unjust, to the things they value, the things they fear, the things they want to be. Brooks’ most essential value was thankfulness, “the ability to keep serving even when there is no evident reward- no fame, no admiration, no gratitude.” As parents, educators, clinicians, people in all walks of life, we must be thankful for the possibilities that life brings us with our special children. The evident reward is their growth, improvement, happiness, and growing independence. We do not receive any token of recognition for this work, but are grateful to God for the journey.