Saturday, September 24, 2011

As a Mom of a Special Needs Child

Sometimes, our son seems like an invisible special needs student. People have an idea in their minds about what someone with special needs looks like and acts like. They think that to be special needs, you might talk differently, walk in an unusual way or that your thinking is not all that abstract. And yes, that can be true. The person in front of you with special needs might look and act just they way you expect. But sometimes, people have needs and disabilities and you might not be able to see them.

I'm a high school teacher and I work with reluctant readers and writers, students for whom learning doesn't always come easily. I don't think of them as disabled but that is the label they have: learning disabled. I am working on a master's degree in special education. Our son is a big reason for my vocation. I have learned so much  about my students from raising him and I have learned so much about our son from my beautiful students.  On Friday, my heart literally hurt when I overheard a colleague talk about "the kids with the IEPs" and how they expect everything handed to them. "We're just enabling them." Hey - I want to say - that's my son you are talking about. That is someone's lovely blessing. Instead, I keep my distance from teachers like that.
Our son, L. is a classified student. Sometimes, it's even hard for me to remember why that is. With a vocabulary and social skills well beyond many of his peers, he is amazing to talk to. What you won't see are the years of speech therapy that now allow him to articulate those thoughts. You might observe a boy who can't keep his nose out of novels, who read 20 books for pleasure this summer. What you won't see are the years of one-on-one reading intervention, one hour every school day and the hour I spent reading to him for years, every single night at bedtime. He won't show you his struggles; he'll sparkle you with his wit and sweetness and sass.

And his physical abilities astound me; he walked at nine months and was throwing and catching a ball well before he turned one years old. Now he is his travel soccer team's goal keeper. Thanks to dyslexia and other learning disabilities, he has a great 3-D understanding of things. He sees where the ball will go several passes before it gets to him. Finally, our son thinks and articulates lots of very abstract thoughts about science and math and theology and history; his IQ is well, I don't want to start bragging but it's way above "gifted."

Despite all these gifts, he struggles in school. Last night, I checked the online grading system for his seventh-grade classes. He's failing three of the five. As a parent, it would be easy, I am sorry to say, to feel angry, to think "Get your act together, kid. Do the classwork and get that homework in. Do the corrections and turn them in."

But what might look easy on the outside, is a big obstacle for our son. He's confusing the days of the week. I mean "yesterday" and "tomorrow." The school operates on a four-day rotating schedule, which means math homework assigned for the next class might not really be due for two more days. So by the time he completes it, he's lost it, or can't find it in the binder.

We are  doing all we can think of to support him. Either my husband or I check his homework agenda every night. But that means he has to bring the agenda to school AND write things down IN the right day and understand when work is due. I check each of his binders every night to make sure everything is in the right place. But that means he has to know what he is supposed to have in there.

Early this morning, he sat in my bed with me and sobbed. Great big tears for this soon-to-be teenaged boy with broad shoulders and a bit of acne. He feels school is an impossibility for him. His best buddies are the kind of kids who win academic awards, and are always on the high honor roll. He's never been there. There is too much to track; too many different teachers with too many expectations and schedules and procedures. He's overwhelmed.

I hugged him, and let him go downstairs to watch TV, something he's allowed to do on Saturdays but which I was thinking of withholding because of his miserable academic performance this week. (Oh - and he was also home sick Friday with a sore throat and fatigue) 

Then I sent an email to his caseworker and his wonderful English teacher, who have his back, asking for a phone consultation as soon as possible to figure out ways to help our son. Can we get a copy of the next week's rotating schedule on Friday? Can we figure out an alternative binder system that works for him?

And then I pray. Pray our boy keeps his exuberance, doesn't start hating school and that he remembers, always, that God created him in His image and that he is perfect and loved by his parents and by his Creator.  Just the way he is. Please pray for him and for all children who struggle with school.

"There are children in the morning. They are leaning out for love and they will lean that way forever."

 -Leonard Cohen


  1. Allison, I hear you loud and clear, and live in the same situation.

  2. And your children are WONDERFUL, Jean. Blessings.

  3. Allison - watching your child struggle is so difficult. You and your son are in my prayers!

  4. I walk parts of that path too.

  5. I also work with disabled students, but more severe disabilities. My son who is now 28 suffered through school. He had gifted verbal scores, but a severe math disability. School was not kind to him. Although he was well behaved,and liked by his classmates, teachers were not always kind to him--even in a Christian school. So sad. School can be a gift to a child or an absolutely miserable experience and it ALL depends on the teacher and their attitude.

  6. V: As a special ed teacher, I can tell you sometimes there are regular ed teachers who don't want to bother accomodating the needs of their disabled students. It angers me. Why should all children's needs not be met?