Sunday, June 5, 2011

Special Ed

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.


  1. I think that the biggest problem is that some parents are afraid of labels. When The Fruit Loop went into the PPCD (preschool program for children with disabilities) program in our school district at age 3, I was asked during the ARD if his being labeled as autistic bothered me. I said no, I didn't really care what he was labeled as long as he got the services that he needed. I wish more parents had this attitude, rather than worrying what others are going to think about their children being labeled as autistic or learning disabled or whatever.

  2. You are so right! Sounds like this women has not accepted/come to terms with her childs special needs. I, like you, am grateful that such programs exist for our kids, regardless of the name :)

  3. Oh boy...I have lived this as well. My step-daughter has learning problems and her mom refuses to address the problems at all. She will not accept any help and believes it will not help her at all. She will not even accept that her daughter has a learning disability. The school has tried on several occasions to work with her, but nope...she doesn't want any of it. It is really sad to see her struggling with reading and spelling and to see her grades continually fall...all because her mom feels there is a stigma attached to kids with a learning disability.

    I am so glad we have early intervention for Hope. She will probably always have a need for additional help...she and my husband share a chromosome deletion and most everyone with it fall somewhere on the Autism spectrum (including my husband, but it wasn't the 'popular' diagnosis back then). Hope will always have restrictions with gym glasses and her gross motor skills and speech are behind...and may always be.

    I think you are wonderful for doing the best for DQ...she will thank you for it. It is always best to be proactive with any child. I wish there weren't a stigma with learning disabilities, but in my is people like her that keep the stigma going.

  4. Parents are so scared of labels and also so scared to give up their vision of the "perfect" child. I have worked in the day care field as an administrator for the past 9 years and am always stunned by the parents who refuse to even have their children evaluated when they are not hitting developmental milestones.
    On the plus side our schools have had so many wonderful relationships with the Early Intervention Specialists who come to work with the children in our schools.
    And you are so right children are so open to all things. They don't need big fancy explanations and frankly don't really care why a child leaves on a special bus for 'nother school except for the fact that it means they won't be able to play with their friend for a few hours.
    keep on advocating for your little girl and label it however you would like!

  5. I've noticed that within the special needs community, where one would hope all types of disability would be accepted, parents who have kids without intellectual disabilities are particularly outraged/offended if someone assumes their child has those kinds of delays. There is still a stigma around cognitive delays, even in this world. I think SN parents need to check themselves against that judgment - it hurts those of us who do have kids with intellectual delay to hear your outrage at that "diagnosis" for your own child.


Having a child with a CHD is like being given an extra sense---the true ability to appreciate life. Each breath, each hug, each meal is a blessing when you've watched your child live off a ventilator, trapped in an ICU bed, being fed through a tube. Each minute is a miracle when you've watched your child almost die and come back to you.
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