As the new school year begins and I watch my youngest kids enter grades 9 and 7 and my oldest start his first year in college, I can’t help but think of all of the moms and dads with children entering kindergarten. My heart goes out to you if you’re the parent of child who doesn’t fit the “typical” mold.
Perhaps your kid has dyslexia, like our oldest, or they struggle with ADHD, like our youngest. You know in your heart of hearts that they can do anything they set their mind to, but you’re worried their teacher won’t see their potential or challenge them.
Maybe you have a child with significant special needs, like our daughter, and you’re terrified that they’re not in the right program or that their teacher will only see their diagnosis and not the whole, amazing, person you know and love.
We parents of “quirky” kids do our best to look relaxed and happy as we walk our little ones to the school bus, but we are wrecks inside.
If only there was a handy tool kit, made up and ready to go, that we older, more experienced parents could give our younger counterparts as they make their way through the school system. We could hand it to them with a smile and a hug as we rush off to an emergency CSE (Committee on Special Education) meeting to get our kids into a extra resource period.
These are the kits we made up on our own and that have seen us through our share of broken hearts when our kid wasn’t invited to a party, somebody called them weird, or they encountered a teacher who wouldn’t let them read a certain book because it wasn’t on their “mandated” reading level.
I would include the following:
A shield for the heart — This is a must have, and you can’t skip on the quality here. This is what will let you put your sweet baby on the bus and not crumble like a cookie if you see that somebody doesn’t want to sit next to her. It will also let you hide your own fear so that when your son goes off to his second attempt to take the test he needs to pass so he can graduate high school, you portray a look of confidence as to not make him more nervous than he already is.
A large dose of humility — You know your child best. But sometimes a professional will see things that moms or dads can’t. I’ve helped myself and my kids more than a few times by listening to somebody express their opinion and knowledge, even when I at first did not agree. Humility also helps when your kid does something you were told they would never do. Nobody likes to hear “I told you so” sung to the tune of “I Did it My Way.” But nobody says you can’t do this in the privacy of your own car.
A support system of parents who are experiencing the same thing — When your child is going through a tough time, or you aren’t sure whether a particular class is the right fit for your kid, there is nothing like talking to a parent who has already been there. You can find these parents in your child’s class or in your school district’s Special Education Parent Teacher Association (SEPTA). If you’re in a pinch, just look for another parent with a panicked look on her face. I have met some really good friends using this method.
A sense of humor and the ability to not take oneself too seriously — I’ve been known to introduce myself to a new teacher by saying, “You might want to put me on speed dial for this one” or telling a teacher that the “apple doesn’t fall from the tree,” when I got lost going to a classroom for a parent teacher conference. Yes, I know my children’s issues can be serious, but I would be a really miserable person if I didn’t laugh sometimes over just how crazy life can be.
Faith — Whether or not you’re religious, I have found that having faith in at least myself and in my children has seen us through some very hard times. I truly believe that all three of my children have a lot to offer this world, and I will do everything in my power to help them be the best versions of themselves. We have also been so fortunate to meet so many teachers, therapists, and professionals that have helped us along the way.
Looking for more info on how to get ready for the new school year as a special needs parent? Check out my piece on Seleni, where I interviewed parents and professionals on the things that you can do to help manage the stress a new school year can bring for parents of a child with special needs.
Author’s note: This piece was previously published on the Dishwasher, 9/4/16, under the title, A Survival Guide for the Special Needs Parent. It had been edited from the original.