Dear School Staff, I Know You Think I'm a B*tch!

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My son and daughter are a few years apart but currently in the same school building. My son generally flies under the radar, and my daughter, well, she’s going to make sure you know who she is. Recently I realized many people didn’t know my kids are siblings. They were also surprised I was my son’s mother.

You see, with my son I’ve never had to be “that mom.” The mom who calls the school all the time (you can hear the secretary roll her eyes over the phone), the mom who’s dreaded at IEP meetings, the mom who asks questions and expects to see data and proof that support the answers people give.  With my daughter, I’m that mom. I am, in their eyes, a b*tch.

I said it!

I mean, I know the school personnel are thinking it, but let’s take the pressure off and put it out there.

Dear School, I know you think I’m a b*tch and a pain in the a$$. 

You didn’t know I even existed when you had my neurotypical son as a student, did you? But, I’ve been there all along!

I think many of us who have to fight for our children feel this way. We feel anxious because our reputation proceeds us. The teachers each year are warned, “Ugh, watch out for her!”

I must wonder if these same school personnel ever give pause to figure out why I and other special needs parents are perceived this way. I wonder if they realize it comes from years of having to beg for everything our child has in school. I wonder if they realize when I walk into an IEP meeting, that I walk in with 11 years of baggage and fighting behind me.

Each year I try to start fresh. I give everyone the benefit of the doubt. I have hope that they will fall in love with my daughter, and although she will cause them extra work, they’ll see she’s worth it. I trust them to do their jobs.

But it seems every year (with an exception of one or two), no one wants to do their job, no one wants to put in the extra effort – teachers want to follow what they see as important for my child instead of what’s in her IEP.

This leaves me to explain, to educate, to ask questions and to advocate, and for some reason when parents do this, they’re considered a pain in the a$$.

As an educator, I make these parents — parents like myself — the ones who have been hurt and burned, a top priority. I spend that extra time, I try to help restore trust, I offer data before they have to come looking for it. I send home notes after each work session. I don’t hesitate to hug them and to tell them to call me. I tell them I would fight hard too if it was my child. I understand.

When we receive a child into our lives through a school program, we really receive so much more. We recieve their past, present and future. We receive their family and community. We’re only one facet in a huge picture of the larger scheme of life. This is our chance as educators to be difference makers, to reach trust through transparency and communication. To build real relationships by opening up our hearts and to know and understand that we too would not hesitate to fight hard for our children…

even if it means being labeled the b*tch.

This post originally appeared on Successful Exceptional Education.

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19 Songs to Cheer Up Anyone Having a Tough Day

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When you’re having a tough day, sometimes all it takes to turn that frown upside down is a great song — or 19 great songs.

We at The Mighty want to keep all our readers moving and grooving, so we asked what songs help to cheer up you and your loved ones on particularly rough days.

These were your answers. (There’s a Spotify playlist you can follow at the bottom.)

1. “Happy” by Pharrell Williams

2. “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley

3. “Cecilia” by Simon and Garfunkel

4. “Here Comes The Sun” by The Beatles 

5. “See You Again” by Carrie Underwood

6. “Stand By Me” by Ben E King

7. “Dance With Me” by Orleans

8. “Shake It Off” by Taylor Swift

9. “The Weight” by The Band

10. “My Girl” by The Temptations

11. “It’s Time” by Imagine Dragons

12. “Hey Ho” by The Lumineers

13. “Banana Pancakes” by Jack Johnson

14. “Brave” by Sara Bareilles

15. “Shop Around” by The Miracles

16. “Hey Brother” by Avicii

17. “Happy Together” by The Turtles

18. “Beautiful Day” by U2

19. “Uptown Funk” by Mark Ronson ft. Bruno Mars

Check out The Mighty’s Cheer Up Mix on Spotify.

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I Have a Question for the Person Evaluating My Child With Special Needs

When I was in school, I used to love me some multiple choice. I mean, how easy can it get? The answer was in the question! So much faster than working out my own answer.

Now, though, I hate multiple choice tests. Actually, “hate” is not the right word; I loathe them — with the fire of a thousand suns. I think I feel this way for the same reason I used to love them: the answer is in the question, and it isn’t necessary to go any deeper to fashion a more meaningful or complete response.

I’m not in school anymore, but still I take these tests at least once a year, sometimes more often. The tests are evaluations to see whether my 5-year-old daughter, Tess, qualifies for things like extra support or state funding. They’re always aloud, and the questions look like this:

Can the child find hidden objects?

Does the child respond to her own name?

Will the child brush her teeth after meals?

This week I took one of these tests with one of Tess’s service providers, someone I’ll call Betty. She knew Tess, having met her several times, but during the test it didn’t feel like she did. Some examples of our Q&A:

Betty: Can Tess proceed with caution in a dangerous area, like a busy road? (a) always (b) sometimes (c) rarely or (d) never

Me: Tess can’t walk, so she’s either in someone’s arms or her stroller. She’s never on her own anywhere near a busy road.

Betty: Soooo sometimes?

Betty: Does Tess argue with peers, at school or in her neighborhood? (a) always (b) sometimes (c) rarely or (d) never

Me: She’s almost entirely nonverbal, and she only recently started to notice her peers, let alone interact with them.

Betty:  Does Tess become anxious when we change our plans at the last minute? (a) always (b) sometimes (c) rarely or (d) never

Me: How would we know?

My least favorite question was this one:

Does she have (a) lots of friends, (b) a few friends or (c) no friends?

Really, Betty? Can you grasp, for a second, the chasm of difference between (b) and (c)? Do you know what that looks like for Tess and what it feels like for me to have to answer (c)?

I know it’s (c) for Tess. I do. I’ve known for a while. But it’s something else to say it out loud. This is what it means, Betty: Tess’s playdate calendar for this month is completely empty. Next month is the same.   

Betty, I get it. I know why your eval is multiple choice. It’s not your fault. You’re doing your job, and you don’t have time to do a full-on interview or an eight-hour observation of Tess at home and at school. You do it because (a), (b) and (c) streamline the process in a big way.

It doesn’t have to be like this, though. There’s a new dawn. Other providers evaluate Tess, setting goals and such, but they do it in ways that celebrate what she can do. Can. Do. They ask me to look at her community and talk about the people she knows, and I tell them how much she enjoys pulling on my friend, Elliot’s beard. They want to know ways to keep her safe and happy, just like you do, but they ask me her favorite songs, like James Brown’s “Get on the Good Foot,” and I explain how much she likes to dance, especially the part when you dip her. 

Have you considered, Betty, that it might be truly uncool of you to reduce Tess’s entire life to this onslaught of questions, this relentless accounting of what she cannot do and how she is leagues behind almost everyone else her age? Can you envision how a parent might not be thrilled to talk about their kid using your how-was-our-service format? Has anyone in your organization noticed that for about the last half of the test, parents develop a 1,000-yard stare and begin to numbly answer “sometimes” for every question?

 Betty, have you thought — I mean really thought — about the fact that Tess is a person?   

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My Child Is Not an Honors Student, and That's OK

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And it’s OK. Seriously, it’s OK.

Maybe your child is an honors student. That’s OK, too.

Not that you needed me to tell you that.

The Iowa Test of Basic Skills is coming. Let me tell you, these things cause me anxiety.

Last year when my children came home with their Iowa Assessments, they were both concerned that their “bold, black lines” didn’t go into the 90th percentile, like many of their friends’ did. Commence questioning.

“I guess I’m not very smart.” “I’m sorry I’m not good enough, Mom.” “I wonder what questions I missed.” “See, I told you I wasn’t very good at math, here is the proof.”

I wanted to scream. I wanted to rip those ridiculous pieces of paper into a million, zillion pieces. I wanted to yell, “These bold lines do not show your worth or value as a human.” Instead, I went to the storage cave in our basement. I found my own test scores from the mid-1980’s (yes… my mom saved these along with my report cards and “Nikki can cut a straight line” awards).

I felt like I was in a time warp. As I looked at my own bold, black lines, the feelings came rushing back, the tears formed. I was reminded of my own feelings of “unworth.” Yuck. Turns out these tests showed I wasn’t very smart. Not at all.

My children didn’t understand – how could their mother, now a college professor, have only scored in the 40th, 60th and 80th percentiles? This was the perfect time to talk about the connection that exists between intelligence and worth.

I shared with them that I’m not (nor was I ever) good at taking tests. I overthink everything. I told them I flunked my driver’s test. Laugh, because it’s funny. On the test was a picture of a stop sign. The question was, “What do you do when you see this sign?” My children said, “You stop.” I told them I got the question wrong – commence hysterical laughter. Then I said to them, “I didn’t answer ‘stop.’ I answered ‘slow down.’ Because I could be two blocks away from the stop sign. I could see it half a mile away. I’m not going to stop when I see it. I’ll stop when I arrive to the foot of the sign.”

My children said I should take the driver’s test people to court because the test was wrong and I was right. I think they really just wanted another scoop of ice cream… which they received upon their compliments.

Let me underscore this posting with the fact that I don’t have a better answer, and I know the purpose of testing. I get it, I really do. I’m a teacher – and tomorrow I’ll write a post from a teacher’s point of view. We need standards. We must evaluate our students to understand what they do and do not know. For some occupations and curricular areas, testing makes perfect sense. This is more of a call for balance, a call for recognizing fireflies as much as we recognize academic superstars.

What are fireflies? A blog post last year from HandsFreeMama moved me in several ways. The post is about children who shine from within, not children who shine on a piece of paper. I felt a strong connection to this post because I was that child – and I’m raising those children. My question is, is there a way we can recognize “soft skills” in the same way we recognize quantifiable skills?

It’s imperative — and especially for children like my son, Tucker.

So, what changed in me? How did I finally feel good enough? I went to college. When I went to college I realized that my personal qualities excelled. I will be forever grateful to those professors who taught me I was good enough.

So, tell your fireflies to shine. Shine from within. Shine in the process. Teach your children that their worth is not a bold, black line. It’s not dictated by a bubble test. The test that really matters? The one from Galatians: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” There may not be a test to measure these things, but they’re the most important.

That is what I told my children. Your worth is not in this bold, black line. Sure, your math shows 47 percent. You know what’s at 100 percent? Your generosity in your willingness to give to charities, your giving school supplies to children who need them, your ability to share how you’re feeling, your kindness in helping a friend, your willingness to experience new things, your worth is in life — not a quantifiable mark on a piece of paper.

 They may not be honor students, but they’re students who are full of honor.

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Why I Don't Like How We Use the Term Special 'Needs'

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I’m a special educator, and for the last 20 years I’ve been living in Karachi, Pakistan, where I serve the special needs community. It’s a profession I chose, and I’m fortunate to live in a place where my work is greatly appreciated. Although it’s challenging, the part I find most difficult is that I’m constantly being put on a pedestal. It’s common practice that people here will come up to me and say how lucky the children are to have me or how lucky the families of special children are that I chose to live in this country. The more I hear it, the more it makes me feel uncomfortable.

I started to tell myself it’s only because I’m doing this work in this part of the world. But then during my recent visits back home, I realized that even in the U.S., people responded the exact same way to my work. This got me thinking, and I came to the conclusion that over the years, we’ve used various terms to refer to children and adults with disabilities, and now we seem to have universally settled into using the term special “needs” due to its broad and self-explanatory nature.

But I have a problem with that term. I’ll tell you why.

I think the word “needs” refers to someone who is lacking, weak and in “need” or wanting. A “special needs” parent is also put in this category because they’re always searching for professionals, doctors, therapists and educators. Then these “givers” — the people who can fulfill the needs of the child — are ultimately put these on a higher pedestal.

I, on the other hand, believe there is no one stronger, braver and more courageous than these families. We — myself included, professional or not — are the ones who need to spend time with these children, their parents and their families. We need to slow down, pause, struggle, pray, fail a few times so we can truly appreciate what life is all about.

Patience, unconditional love, hope, gratitude, supporting and believing in each other.

All families with special children are living testimonies of these virtues. If anyone, really, has needs, it’s us.

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Special Needs Dads, This Is Why We Appreciate You

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“These articles are really nice and true,” my husband said to me one evening as he clicked a link to yet another blog post about how strong and awesome special needs moms are. “But what about the dads?”

What about the dads?

A quick Google search shows several blog posts written about special needs dads — the same several posted again and again on different sites — contrary to the hundreds about special needs moms.

So, dads. About you.

We notice you, we love you and we appreciate you so very much.

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Just like us moms, you’ve cried at diagnoses, you’ve been to doctor’s appointments and you’ve paced, sick with worry, in surgery waiting rooms.

Maybe you can’t always be there physically – though you so desperately wish you could be – but you ask questions after each therapy appointment, you call the pharmacy to get refills on prescriptions your child needs, and you read over every school report.

You support your family in the best way you know how. You work hard at your job to earn raises to cover the copays, medications and specialized equipment. You stay up late researching conditions and diseases and delays and side effects on your computer. You learn how to work the medical technology that is keeping your child alive, and you get up at all hours of the night to monitor pumps, machines, temperatures, numbers and levels.

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You stay. You might not think this is commendable – of course you stay, right? – but I’ve seen it so much. Fear and stress and and grief and anger cause so many fathers of special needs babies to leave. You stay and you selflessly put your family’s needs before your own.

You do anything you can to make your child feel more comfortable, safer and more loved. You push wheelchairs for miles, you carry heavy children who aren’t able to walk, you read or sing for hours if it makes your child rest comfortably. And you carry the burden of wondering how you will continue to be strong if and when you have to bury your baby, who is your heart and your life.

You’ve heard other dads brag about their child being in the 98th percentile for height and weight – a future college football player, no doubt – while you watch doctors write “failure to thrive” on your son’s chart. You’ve listened to your friends joke about meeting their daughter’s teenage dates with a shotgun by their side, while you silently pray you will get to see your daughter attend her prom.

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Maybe you don’t talk about it as much or show it as emotionally, but you feel it as deeply as mothers do. You try to grapple with the picture of your family developing much differently than you originally envisioned. You feel helpless, wanting to do everything in your power to protect your children from pain. And you love and lead fiercely, wrapping your strong arms around your baby so gently and carefully.

I want you to know, dads, that you are noticed, you are loved and you are whole-heartedly appreciated for all that you do for your family. We sometimes forget to thank you or don’t often enough acknowledge your extremely crucial role to our family. But we appreciate you more than you’ll ever know.

And a very-deserved thank you to my own incredible husband, Evan.

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This post originally appeared on Blessed by Brenna.

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