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Challenge: Back to School

A Survival Kit for Special Needs Parents Entering the School Years

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As the new school year starts and I watch my three kids enter grades 12, 8 and 6, I can’t help but think of all of the moms and dads with children who have just started kindergarten. The kids all are amazing, but some don’t fit the typical mold.

Perhaps your child has dyslexia, like our first son has, or they struggle with ADHD, like our youngest son does. You know in your heart of hearts that your child can do anything they set their mind to, but you are worried that their teacher won’t see their potential or challenge them.

Or maybe you have a child with significant special needs, as our daughter has, and you are terrified that they are not in the right program or that their teacher will only see their diagnosis and not the whole, amazing, person that 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 survival 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 that we have 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, or 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 just can’t. I have 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 that 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 being able to talk 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 good friends using this method.

A sense of humor and an ability to not take oneself too seriously — I have been known to introduce myself to a new teacher by saying, “you might want to put me on speed dial for this one” or tell a teacher that the, “apple doesn’t fall from the tree,” when I have gotten 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 our 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.

This piece was previously published on Kathy's site, My Dishwasher's Possessed!

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