He was so eager to put his new Ninja Turtle lunch box into his book bag that I couldn’t help but smile at his excitement for the first day of school.
With shoes on and pictures taken, he was soon running down the sidewalk towards the school; he wanted to be the first kid in line.
I smiled at his exuberance, but I’d be lying if I said that my tears were of a happy nature. Because this little boy, whom I love with all my heart, was about to start first grade in the special education program.
Plagued by epileptic seizures that have stolen some of his basic cognitive skills, kindergarten was rough last year. Even with a support plan in place, he had trouble sitting still, and his lack of impulse control made him loud. He wanted to hug everyone and help them with what they were doing … all the time. And in a class of quiet children trying to learn, my son was the definition of a bull in a china shop.
It was so rough, that on the 8th day of kindergarten last year, his teacher walked him out to me. She placed his hand in mine, looked into my eyes, and speaking over the top of his little 5-year-old-head, said, “I hate having your son in my class.”
Suddenly all the fears that every parent has — the ones where we worry that our child won’t be accepted, or that the teacher won’t love them the way we do — all came true.
I cried every night and every morning for the entire school year. Modifications were made, an aide was placed by his side, and transitions were made to move him to a classroom more conducive to his learning style.
But I will never forget hearing someone tell me that they hate my child — just like the many parents of special education students who will never forget the moment they first see their child struggling to fit in. You never forget watching your child try to make friends with a kid who doesn’t want to be friends with them. You never forget being shunned by other parents, who don’t want to be friends with you because they don’t understand why your child is so different.
Everything becomes so complicated when you have a complicated child.
We look at our children and we see everything that makes them wonderful. We see all the hard work and long nights that have gone into them. Then, just like other parents, after we’ve spent years preparing our kids to be ready for the world, we have to let them go and pray that the world is ready for them. Unfortunately for special needs parents, we sometimes learn that the world isn’t ready.
We send our kids off to school, and then we are forced to sit back, and see them through the eyes of the people who don’t understand them the way we do.
Will my child be accepted? Will I be accepted?
We watch them become outsiders, while we become outsiders ourselves. Because unlike the parents that strike up a conversation while their kids form friendships on the playground, or get to know each other at a class birthday party, it’s harder for special education parents to find each other when our child is left out of invitations. And instead of the PTA, our school involvement revolves around lonely, yet time-consuming IEP meetings, and daily intervention plans.
Our kids are different, and therefore, so are we.
We are so scared to fail them, that we become warriors who raise fighters. If we want our children to find their place in this world, then we are going to have to teach them to create one that may not have been there before — a place where they can shine for who they are.
And despite what it feels like — what I sometimes feel like — I know I’m not alone. I know there are other special education parents out there, who, like me, are probably scared, overwhelmed, and busy fighting a battle they never saw coming.
So this year, while I’m teaching my child to find his place, I also plan on trying to find mine. Maybe, I’ll also find you.
We’ve got this, and even if it doesn’t always feel like it, special education parents have each other. So, just in case no one has told you yet, I hope your child has an amazing first day at school, followed by many more to come. I hope they smile, get smiled at, and that everyone sees them the way that you do.
And above all, no matter what happens, I’d like to remind you that your child is lucky to have you, because not all kids get a warrior parent. Sometimes you have to be in special education to get to a place where warrior parents are bred.