How do you talk about someone’s experience with a disability without pretending you own their story?
I am extremely conscious of this dilemma. The personal story belongs to the person who lives it. This is my experience as a parent.
At one time my children attended public school in a district which prided itself on promoting its high-achieving students, exceptional staff and loving, caring community.
I believed it. And when it stopped acting as a partner in creating growth and learning opportunities for my child, it became my adversary.
First grade: “You need to read more with _____.” “He isn’t grasping phonics like the rest of the class.” Those words, dear reader, should have been the indicator to any teacher that there was something behind the problem.
An extremely intelligent, kind, young person with a font of knowledge who struggles with reading … who ever heard of such a thing? I privately had his vision and hearing tested. Everything was fine.
We read more. We read the little paper books they gave us, but my child wasn’t keeping up with his class.
I was assured that his second grade teacher was a wiz at working with students who were lagging in reading skills. All the children with reading issues were in her class. And then she became too sick to teach.
The substitute followed the curriculum and my son got punished for making moaning noises in class, usually when open reading was happening. He spent nearly every reading period of second grade standing on the wall, ridiculed by his classmates. He was sent to the principal’s office for lashing out with “I will kill you!” when someone teased him.
By the end of second grade I had a child who was fully withdrawn from classmates and hated school.
Over the summer I decided to have him evaluated. I knew he was smart, creative, thoughtful and very interested in books, he carried them everywhere but he didn’t “read” them, he “read the pictures" and the graphs and memorized the content when I read them to him. He knew books by heart.
I was reassured when I received the report and saw dyslexia and the recommendations from the doctor. He needed an IEP or a 5o4 and support in the classroom. Before his third grade started I met with the school psychologist and his teacher. And was met with incredible resistance.
I was shown his test reports. He did ‘well enough without accommodations’ and it was their opinion that he did not need the school to provide him with any.
Him being a C student was good enough for them.
I protested that the present teacher seemed willing to work with his struggles but what would happen the next year and the year after that? The consistency of teaching and understanding how my son learns was paramount. I didn’t want him to experience the stress he had the past few years because a new teacher wasn’t aware of wouldn’t take into account his disability.
That was when the special education teacher and administrator showed me “the little book” that goes with my child from year to year and is given to his new teacher before the new school year starts. It contains notes on behavior, what worked and didn’t work, learning style, etc.
It is a little book of pre-conceived notions about what this student is capable of.
I realized two things then: that my son would never be allowed to be more than what they saw him as, a struggling student who did ‘well enough’ and that this school system really didn’t care about doing right by him and following the law.
By the end of the summer I moved to a different school district. Before school started I had met with the director of special education and laid out what my son’s disability was and what he needed to be successful in the classroom.
He was given a 504, and then we started working on the slow development of him understanding how to be the best student he can be in a world where you are measured through the one thing he struggles with: reading.
Does this story sound familiar? If you and your child have experienced similar challenges with school, I can help you smooth path upward toward their dreams. Book a free confidential 1:1 consultation today.