Thursday, May 22, 2014

What Are Your Special Needs?

The following post was inspired by Kristi's Our Land recent post (Do All Kids Have Special Needs?) and the pictures I took after reading her Facebook request.


There was a gathering at our local park last weekend for families with children attending Kindergarten next year. It was a lovely day, and I got to sign up for the PTA and all that. But I was nervous. Would my daughter interact with the other children? Would her delays stand out so much that she would not be able to keep up? Would she be found out as a special needs, hindering her social chances from the get-go?

Let me be clear, I'm not ashamed of my daughter's special needs, and I don't try to hide the fact that she has them. But neither do I want to introduce her as "my daughter with special needs." She is so much more, and there is a stigma to the special needs label. I know this because I have awarded too freely (before I had a child with special needs) and then because of this conversation that occurred soon after we arrived.

Parent One: How many Kindergarten classrooms are there?
Me: Seven, I believe.
Parent Two: Actually, six. And then there's a special needs classroom.

There's a prejudice, and as a perceived member of the Parents of Typically Developing Children Clan, I was allowed to hear it. And you now what? I walked away. At the time I could only think of how I might be labelling my own child in the eyes of this woman with a narrow view of children with special needs. I don't feel any anger towards her. It never occurred to her that one of the parents she was talking to had a child with special needs, that special needs can hit as close to home as our neighborhood park. With hindsight (the wonderful clarity of hindsight), I can think of numerous polite, confident responses to her statement that would cause her to think twice about exclusionary statements in the future. And I can also realize that speaking up and using my personal experience would have probably have made a lasting impression. So, next time...

It turns out Maggie did find a little buddy. The buddy was more invested in the relationship than she was, and I fulfilled most of Maggie's side, but Maggie kept up, albeit slowly and with some assistance, with everything the other little girl did. She climbed and slid and and bounced on the swinging bridge (holding on). When the other little girl made a comment about Maggie taking longer than she did to climb the chain ladder, I simply commented that some activities are harder for some people than others. While the chain ladder might be difficult for Maggie and easy for the other little girl, there are other tasks that are challenging for the other little girl and easy for Maggie.

It was an easy, smooth exchange, and that's what I really wanted to say anyway. That will probably turn into my public school mantra.

With that and Kristi's post in mind, I'm publishing the photos I sent to her. Three of us came up with our own challenges (and I chose Leo's). Some tasks come easy to each of us, and some tasks are hard.








17 comments :

  1. One of my challenges (among many others) is writing as well as my cousin Sarah! Reading your blog posts is effortless. And I love the pictures you included in this post! The PTA lucked out in gaining you as a member, just as Maggie and Leo lucked out in scoring you as a mama. Speaking of mamas, can you hear mine reminding you that worry changes nothing? I've had the "some activities are harder for some people than others" conversations many times this school year with Ellie, be it with respect to school work, physical activities, social skills, etc. In those conversations I've always tried to bring up what I view as the flip-side of that coin, too: "everyone is 'smart' at something," be it relationships, athletics, music, school, etc.

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    1. Awww, Katie, THANKS! Yes, yes, worry doesn't help; it's not productive. But then, that's my challenge. Nita was another important and valued (and valuing) member of my cloud of witnesses. It is good to think of her in this lesson.

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  2. I love that! What a great idea! My challenge is that I over commit and try to tack too many things at once!

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    1. Ahhh, I do that one sometimes, too. But mostly I worry too much.

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  3. I have a many challenges including finding balance, believing in myself, money management, and being much less nice than you are and way sensitive about things like "Six. And one for special needs." GRRR.
    I LOVE the photos (and I can still use them right? even though you posted here?)
    xo here's to us both surviving school next year and I love your post!

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    1. Sorry if I jumped the gun on this one. I thought you were going to use the photos yesterday and had decided not to.
      Ah, yes, money management, my nemesis. That's why Brian pays the bills.
      Listen, I'm not really proud of myself for walking away. It was kind of tough to write it for the public. So maybe another of mine is fear of confrontation?

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    2. Sorry you thought I wasn't going to use them!!! I am!

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  4. You will not be surprised to hear that ONE of my challenges is...making decisions! Especially large ones that involve money. I love this picture of Leo--Miles could have the same sign. Charlie's biggest challenge currently I think is managing not getting what he wants. I shouldn't speak for Scott... :) I like this idea very much and firmly believe it. Don't you think if we could all grasp that we're good at some things and need help with others (and get willing to ask for it!), we'd do better by one another? I am so confident Maggie will make friends at school!

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    1. Ha! Leo's pic is my fav. I tried to do a worry face in mine.

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  5. I love your pictures and the challenges you name! I'm also really glad you were inspired by the Our Land post. Doesn't it stink to think of all the productive and thought-provoking things you could have said after the fact? Although in that situation, probably walking away was the most productive thing to have done. As parents to kids with special needs (ugh, that term!), we seem to feel an obligation to educate the world. That's a whole lot of pressure. Sometimes it's OK to just be a parent, have fun with your kid and not worry about making sure other people get it.

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    1. That's how it always goes with me. I think I'm a slow processor. :)
      Thanks for the reinforcement on my decision. I don't know, but I appreciate that you back me up on it!

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  6. I think the way you responded to the little girl's comment was perfect and really, walking away from the mum who made that very ignorant remark was probably the best thing to do under the circumstances. I love your photos with your individual challenges. I'd say one of mine challenges is the same as yours!

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    1. Ah, that anxiety. It's a nasty thing, isn't it? Thanks for backing me up on my actions. It's so hard to know what is the right thing to do.

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  7. I love your post and I love that I know you - you are a great person and a great Mom to your kids. Do you sometimes wonder if your life as teacher is really more about being their parent than about being anyone else's teacher? I do. It's a whole huge thing in my head that I should probably write in a post. I swear the reason I have my experience as a teacher and the degrees that I do are for the primary purpose of being Zilla's parent and advocate in school. Honestly.
    My challenge is worrying, too! Since Zilla was born, I worry about EVERYTHING! I even worry about worrying. I worry that people won't listen when we talk about who she is and what she needs. I worry that people will pooh-pooh us when we say words like "special need" or "exceptional" for about ten different reasons. Ugh. Another long story and probably a post.
    Why don't we live closer? Wouldn't a talk over coffee be awesome?
    I think what that woman said was the height of ignorance. It's words - and thinking - like hers that make it so difficult for any kid who is even the slightest bit different to be looked at for who they are and not what they have.

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    1. Ummmm, YES to the coffee. If you ever come to the DC area, you better call!
      I do think pretty frequently about teaching and parenting and what I've learned from each. I know having been a teacher makes me a better parent and a better parent for Maggie's teachers. Most often, I think back to how insensitive I was as a teacher because I had never been a parent. I wasn't rude, but I didn't know any better. I definitely changed after I became a mother.

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  8. I love this post... I love the signs they are absolutely genius on so many level...my daughter is not considered special needs but is considered considerably delayed i think they even labeled her as learned delayed - her reading and math skills are not grade level , and I am thinking that perhaps she might be dyslexia ; she is trying, and has every possible help that our school can provide, our school has inclusion classes mixed in with mainstream classes the students in the inclusion classes through out the day are sent to a smaller room - my daughter is also pulled out for ESL - having said all of that she is one of the popular girls., as she reminds me of this and I say that is not important, what I recently learned from her is that she feels quite comfortable asking her girlfriends to help her read if has to in her mainstream class. not sure what you are getting at except keep advocating for your daughter and I am also going to make up signs not only to let people aware of challenges but to let my daughter know that we all have them - :) Thank you for making this so clear. Marisa

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    1. Thank you so much, Marisa! You should read Kristi's post that I reference in this. She gave me the idea, after all. I'm so glad your daughter has good social relationships. That is so important and will help her feel good when the academics are hard.

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