Thursday, January 8, 2009

Special Ed.

I have mentioned that I was a Special Ed. teacher in a former life. I've been out of the field for over 10 years now, but in it from the other side (the parenting side) for a few years now.  The other day we had an evaluation meeting for Tommy, and I was struck once again at the huge advantage I have with my background.

We received his reports over vacation, and even with my background knowledge, I had to read through all the testing and summaries several times to make sense of it. Fitz, who is a teacher, but not a sped teacher, looked through the thick stack of papers, and quickly passed them back to me, asking for a summary.  I read through all the test scores, the complicated terminology, and wondered how the average parent does this. But having been on the other side of the IEP table, I know... they sometimes don't or can't do it. It was my biggest gripe when I worked in public schools.

I understand that behind all of it, we all have one goal in common... to help each child learn and progress to the best of their ability. But I also know how that goal can be complicated when you get into all the laws and stipulations of special education. And really, in this day and age, the biggest complication is money. There is only so much money in the budget, only so many services that can be provided. Schools are constantly struggling with this battle... how do we provide all the services that kids need, while dealing with an ever shrinking budget.

As a parent, those money issues are not on our shoulders. It's our job to fight for what our kids need. But unfortunately, many parents go into this battle unarmed.  3 years ago, I went into this battle for Charlie. I knew how the laws worked, I knew what he needed, and I went into our meeting determined to get just that. Now that Tommy is in kindergarten, I found myself fighting the same battle. I wasn't sure how it would go, but at the end of the meeting, it was agreed that he would get the help we were looking for.

I know without a doubt though, that had I not understood those reports, had I not been able to question the results of his testing and read the fine print of those summaries, he would still be floundering as just one student in a class of 17. I am happy we won the battle, but it makes the reality so clear to me. How many kids are floundering? How many parents walk away from those meeting defeated, knowing their child needs help, but not knowing how to negotiate the system and get that help?

The "no child left behind" act is good in theory, but theory is as far as it goes. I could rant and rave in a whole 'nother post about standardized testing, but that's for another day. The reality is that kids are all individuals, with individual needs. And no matter how much we try to create a 'universal system' to help each child achieve their best... there are those kids who will fall through the cracks. And who will reach out to them? Who will be their voice? More importantly, who will help their parents be their voice?

I should be happy that Tommy is getting help, and I am. But I am also feeling guilty, knowing how many other kids need that same help and won't be getting it.


Kathy said...

Yes! I have been on both sides too. The parenting side is more frustrating!!!! I know what my asperger's child needs and he's not getting it. I know what my adhd/cocaine child needs and have been in there fighting and am told she can't get the help until she is actually failing. Doesn't matter than I have tons of documentation, doctors reports, psy report. ERG!!!

Yay for the progress you've made!!!!

Chapter Two Manmi said...

I so agree! I don't have the professional background to help me and I also feel very badly for non-English speaking parents of ESL/ELL students (for one).
My husband, also a teacher, is very frustrated by the good-in-theory but bad-in-practice Left Behind act.
It is so hard to get services that kids need without fighting and it's also so difficult for teachers and schools to deliver what is needed.
I'm glad you shared and know what it's like to be frustrated even in the light of progress.