Thursday night we had the end of school year picnic for the Dancing Queen's special ed preschool or whatever it is called. I was put in my place for calling it special ed preschool. There is a 5 year old, who used to attend day care two houses down from us. He always liked to play with TRex, so when his mom saw us, she asked me if I worked at the school. I said no, DQ attends the special ed preschool. The woman turned to me and tersely stated it is not a special ed preschool, but the early education center. I immediately apologized and said "DQ just transitioned from early intervention in March, so I am getting used to the lingo." I was mortified at how angry this woman got with me. She literally turned on me. After my apology, she grabbed her son and walked away from me.
I've been thinking about the encounter a lot. I looked it up. The school is the early education center, but the program DQ is in is the early childhood special education program, so I was mostly correct. I'm sure the problem words were "special education" and not "preschool", so I offended a stranger because I properly named that my child is in a special ed program. Apparently, the woman doesn't like the thought of her son going to a special ed preschool because he is there simply because he is missing a limb (or at least I assume that is the reason--maybe he needs other help as well). The little boy and TRex played like crazy, doing everything and climbing everything so well that the missing limb only became apparent if they stopped for a moment's rest, which was not often.
I have to assume that the woman was upset because the term "special ed" usually carries the connotation of learning disabled. I will admit that until DQ was born, even though I know special ed programs offered help in everything from PT and OT to speech and learning disabilities, the majority of people I knew in the program had learning disabilities. But I don't think that is bad. I'm happy there are programs to help. I try never to judge a person's intelligence based upon whether they have a learning disability. Being learning disabled just means that the person thinks and learns differently than the average person. (I would think less of their intelligence if they had such a problem and refused to address it or more properly, I'd think less of their parents' intelligence if the problem was being ignored.)
That short encounter on Thursday night made it obvious that the woman has her own biases against special education, which is a shame really. Likely, her son will need services through all of school. Will she let her bias show through to him and judge him? I hope not.
For my purposes though, that encounter has taught me that it is not too early to teach my children who they are and why they are getting services if they are getting services (TRex doesn't need any services, but you never know what the future holds). It is my responsibility to teach DQ and TRex to deal with people who don't understand. Today, when the kids at our primary preschool ask why DQ is taking the school bus to her 'nother school, TRex, DQ, and I tell them that the teachers there are helping DQ get stronger, so she can play better. We've told DQ and TRex that DQ needs help because spending so much time in the hospital, laying down and sick, has left her muscles not as strong, so the therapists help. I think that is a good start for preschoolers, but as the kids age, the questions will be more sophisticated and better answers will be needed.
Odds are that DQ will have a learning disability because of the 22q deletion in the future. That means we will have to be proactive in helping her address what others may say about the special ed classes. My job is to help her not be tore down by people who don't understand by giving her tools to know her place in this world. If she is secure, then hopefully, she will be prepared when faced with people who do not understand and handle it better than I did Thursday night.
Instead of apologizing and doubting myself, I wish I would have said "My daughter is in the special education program and has been since she was 6 months old. She needs help with fine and gross motor skills because she has spent over 6 months out of her 3 years in the hospital, battling the effects of 3 devastating illnesses. We are so happy to have these early special ed programs because they have helped her gain strength and confidence that we could not provide for her ourselves. We are grateful for the help provided by the schools."
Hindsight is 20/20, but now I'm prepared too. DQ has improved so much with the help of special education services. I am truly grateful, especially as I sit here tonight, watching her pretend it is her birthday. She is signing happy birthday to me, but when she turned 3 two and a half months ago, she couldn't put up the three fingers to show her age, but today because of her special help, she can do it.