Dear IEP Team: Please Handle Him with Care.
We are finally “restarting” the new school year after the 1000-year flood. The knot in my stomach grows tighter. You see this year you will be blessed by a variety of students and my kiddo is one of them. Students from various backgrounds will walk or roll through your door with an anxious face and an excited heart. These children have exceptional needs and an Individualized Education Plan (IEP).
Many parents worry over sending their child to school, however my worry is a bit different. My precious child that I am placing into your hands for eight hours has a communication deficit and cannot tell me what his day consisted of. He cannot excitedly tell me about what art project he made, the name of his new friend, or what he ate for lunch. So here it is: the cause of all my fear and anxieties, the reason I worry. He cannot come home and tell me how he sat in his wet diaper for five hours, that the hall monitor yelled at him for holding onto the freshly painted wall for balance, or how the kid next to him at lunch calls him retarded.
My child is nonverbal which means he’s vulnerable and cannot tell me if he was mistreated at the place that is supposed to be a safe haven for children, his school. And this kills me.
This is why I need you.
I need you to be my eyes, my ears, my hands, my feet, and mostly my heart. I need you to care for my child with different abilities as if he were your own. Most importantly, I need you to handle him with care.
When starting your morning routine and my guy is out of sorts and anxious, I hope you’ll have the patience to attend to his needs if only for a moment to calm him down.
When you are standing on recess duty and watching the students play, I hope you will notice if another child attempts to bully mine. And I hope you’ll do something about it.
When teaching a new concept to your class and my guy is sitting in the back seemingly not paying attention, I hope you’ll bring him closer to you, include him in your lesson, and realize the potential that is within him.
When putting him in his stander for physical therapy and he begins fussing, I hope you’ll be his cheerleader while reminding him that he can do it rather than stopping his therapy session.
When on a field trip to the zoo and you notice that he is not being included because the grounds are not handicap accessible, I hope you’ll be creative and find a way that he can enjoy the experience with his peers.
When diligently working with him on his speech and it seems as if your work with him is pointless, I hope you’ll push that thought aside and know that he is there listening, remembering, and wishing he could muster out that sound you’ve been working on.
When writing your substitute plans the day before your absence, I hope you’ll explain my child’s specialties and all that makes him who he is so your sub can be mindful of what makes him unique.
When teaching your student’s about the importance of kindness and loving everyone, I hope you’ll be the shining example that they can look up to and remember forever because of your actions with my boy and all the other students with disabilities.
When feeling his extra tight hug around your waist at the end of a long day, I hope you’ll bend down and accept his hug with loving arms just as I would do.
When you feel like you are ready to throw in the towel because he is on the floor screaming and stimming for the fourth time today, I hope you’ll be reminded that you are right where you need to be. I pray you take a deep breath and find the reason why he’s upset rather than sending him to the principal’s office.
When you hand him over to the Special Education bus driver and you tell him goodbye for the day, I hope that you’ll have checked his diaper beforehand and he won’t have to sit in his waste for the hour and a half ride home.
When you are venting to your spouse about your student’s parents and how they give a new meaning to the term helicopter parent, I hope you’ll try to imagine what it feels like to walk in my shoes and understand why I fly so close to the ground. Unexpected, emergency landings have been needed more often than not in the course of his little life.
As much I would like to think that all educators and therapists are Chris Ulmer clones (www.specialbooksbyspecialkids.org), reality smacks me in the face with another headline about a Special Education student being abused or neglected by his or her teacher.
But I want you to know that I have faith in you. I have faith that you will be honest and forthcoming with how his day went. I have faith that you and I will make a great team which will ultimately allow my concerns to fly out the window. I have faith that my child will teach you just as many things as you will teach him.
Having no voice means needing it from another; I hope you’ll be his voice this year in those long, cinder blocked hallways – fighting for his education, his well-being, and his worth despite his challenges and misconceptions.
While he’s just another student on your roll, he’s my whole world…