I remember the first time someone said “special education” in relation to my son. He was young, but the suggestion was relevant. It was I who wasn’t prepared to hear it.
Lucas had been getting physical therapy for a while. It was his first in-home service. In the grand scheme of the ones offered, it was the easiest to understand. This bouncy-baby boy was a little bowl of mush. Like a Ziplock bag full of Jell-O, my one-year-old couldn’t balance his own weight or support many of his own muscles. They called it “low tone”. It made sense. I figured I’d talk to him about it when he started talking.
Bu that didn’t happen and, as time went on, we introduced speech into the equation. Speech, like PT, wasn’t welcome news, but easily absorbed in the big picture sense. As a baby, he’s not talking yet, but that could just be a time thing. Let’s get him help and find out. When he talks soon, we can credit it to speech. Speech and physical therapy. Slight speedbumps. Nothing major. We’re good.
Oh and O.T. too. Occupational therapy focuses on things like pinching Cheerios and turning knobs. It seemed so similar to physical therapy. that it was another either one to tack onto the list. Speech, O.T., P.T., E.T., AT&T. Whatever. Let’s rock.
Then came special education. That was the one that stung like a sucker punch. It wasn’t a recommendation in my mind, but an accusation or pessimistic verdict. My boy was tiny. He wasn’t in need of special education. That was what I told myself.
Autism, as I have long acknowledged, was something that I worried about from a place of ignorance. I knew very little about the depth of the spectrum and my fears were largely based on hearsay.
Special Education – that one I knew a bit more about. We all do, right? It was the class down the hallway for students with special needs. They went to our school, but we didn’t do activities or events with them. I remember being afraid of them as a child sometimes, simply because of all the tall tales told around the playground. Everything I knew about them, I knew from afar.
The old “kids can be cruel” line applies to how many of my classmates (and society as a whole) regarded “special education”. I remember the jokes and, even as I grew up, the television mockery. From popular shows and movies, the “Special Ed” humor flies free.
Keep in mind, I’m not looking to stop anyone from saying what they say. Everyone gets a little offended now and then. I’m pointing this out because I was aware of the cruelty that can be shown to a child in Special Education. I didn’t want my son, who I was still on the fence with a diagnosis, labeled as something prematurely or treated poorly by awful people. My fear was that one day, he’d wake up speaking in sentences and say, “Yo. Why did you tell everyone I can’t talk?!”
So, when the idea of having special education services brought into the home was introduced, I wasn’t ready and didn’t want to hear it.
There was a feeling of guilt, as if I did something wrong, and I didn’t want to tell anyone. This was surely a speedbump in my boy’s journey. If people know, then they’ll always know and when he grows up to be the President of the United States or Microsoft or something, they’ll use it against him. Seriously. That was my thought process.
Despite all of that, almost immediately, I agreed to special education services.
I agreed because he needed them. I knew it. I always knew it. I’m not even talking about the “deep down in the pit of my stomach” way either. I knew it on the surface. I could see what was happening before me, no matter how tightly I closed my eyes.
Ignoring what I saw to be true was a conscious effort because, as we moved forward in his journey, I was always able to admit to things when I needed to. For friends and family, his best foot was always put forward. For checklists and year-end reports, the honesty was on full display.
Was this the scenario I wanted for my son when I first brought him into the world? No. Then again, if I could have planned out his life, I would have given him superpowers and a bullet proof body. We don’t get to choose someone’s path, even if we bring them into the world. The only thing we can do is help them learn to walk it.
This special education teacher, in our home every week, was helping me do that. My son needed her services, and I knew it.
As he grew, Lucas has been in many special education classes. It’s allowed me to go to class parties and events where other children, both unique and like him, are all around. The memories I had of special education as a child are no match for the reality you can see when it is no longer from afar. Lucas has a lot of wonderful people around him. He has not only changed how I see special needs children because he is one and I love him. He has also helped me to see other special needs children in a whole new light.
If he couldn’t walk, I’d get him a wheelchair. I wouldn’t stand in the way of it because I wish he didn’t need one. I would do it because he’s my son and that’s what I do when he needs something. Few parents reading this wouldn’t do the same.
In the end, uncertainty, worry, anguish, and confusion are all part of the special education process. So, do them. When you finish doing them or, while you’re doing them, don’t forget to agree to get your child any assistance you can. If they qualify, sign up and get your little one any help there is.
My only regret is that there isn’t some sort of Superhero Bulletproof Therapy. If there was, I would have agreed to that too.
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