I have been writing this post in my head now for the better part of this last year, starting with Jerry's first day of school.
School days, ahh the rituals. Whether you homeschool of send your kids to school outside your home everyday, there are annual rituals that mark going back to school. Lesson plans are made, curriculum and backpacks bought. Figuring out co-op schedules and extracurriculars, school supply shopping, open houses to meet teachers. It's a frenzy that is both exciting for the anticipation of what the new year holds for your child and a little bittersweet too, as it marks another rite of passage, another year and grade older.
For most parents, back to school routines are just that by now, routine. You've been there and done that enough times now that it's really no big deal. You drop them off on their first day with hugs to quell those first day jitters and encouragement for what lies ahead.
Then there are parents of special needs kids. "Did I remember to pack the only food he will eat? I can't forget to give them a supply of his lunch time medication and a prescription so they will give it to him. Does he have his iPad? I wonder who his teacher will be this year and if she has a background in behavior therapy. I hope that one boy who he fed off of last year behaviorally isn't in his class this year...for the teacher's sake. Did I put enough independent activities in his classroom box so the teacher can keep him busy while she is helping other students? I wonder what life skills they will be teaching this year. Did I pack his toilet wipes in case the aide needs to help him wipe? Did I pack an extra pair of clothes for his locker in case he has another accident? Does he have socks to keep at school for the sensory gym? I wonder who his aide will be this year? Did I remember to send his token boards back in and behavior reinforcements for them to use to motivate him? I wonder what days he will be pulled out of class for speech therapy and did I remember to give them his latest evaluation from All Children's? Did I pack him snack cart money so he has something to work for? What are their PCM procedures this year (professional crisis management)? And the list goes on! It's crazy and that's just MY list! Other parents may worry about does their child's school have cool down rooms where kids can be kept safe during meltdowns and how do they prevent and deal with "runners?"
Special needs kids are, well, special. And special needs classrooms, schools, and teachers need to be special too. And here is where my experience gets more personal. Because we had such a different school year this year than we did the previous one, I have a unique perspective that I pray other special needs parents will never have to gain.
Both this year and last, Jerry attended schools designed to educate and meet the needs of special needs students. The similarities stop there. Let me elaborate. I will use the name of Jerry's current school in this post, the Impact Academy, because they are wonderful and I am proud that he goes there. Out of the modicum of respect I have for the unanimity of his previous school, I'll call them "Mace," which just so happens to rhyme with their actual name and has as many letters. Oops.
Jerry's last day of school at Impact for this year was today. In the photo above, you will see a picture he came home with, as well as a thank you card from his teacher. A thank you card. Any of you who personally know of Jeremiah's behavior struggles this past year know that, if anything, we should be writing thank you cards...to the teacher, aides, administrators, janitors, therapists, and ABA's. We are forever indebted to them for their patience and unconditional love with Jerry this year. And yet Ms. Jessica, in her thank you card to us, used words like "blessed" and "amazing" when speaking of her opportunity to teach Jerry. On the picture that had all of his classmates' and friends' fingerprints, she described Jerry as incredible, smart, funny, caring, and loving.
In the end, the totals were 73 gold days, 31 silver, and 48 bronze (being days that physical aggression was routine). He was Student of the Day 7 times and finished strong as May's Student of the Month. There were never any tears of not wanting to return as we had witnessed the previous year and I think some ground was thankfully regained when it came to Jerry's self-confidence and esteem.
And that, is special education at its finest.
I am a Christian. I am a wife. I am a mom. I am an author. In that order.