Monday, May 30, 2016

"The man who moves a mountain begins by carrying away small stones."

I've always known that my son is capable of so much more than what is expected of him. This could perhaps be the cause of my unwanted denial of his diagnosis. Gio is such a friendly child and shows a lot of eager to learn new things and to grow. When you see this sort of drive in your child is impossible to accept the opinion of others just because he has a disability. Planning for Gio's education hasn't been very easy. This was his last year of preschool and, even though I thought kindergarten was a matter of choice, it wasn't that simple.

Back in January I open enrolled Gio in a bilingual school in which my mom once taught at and my sister currently goes to. There a few reasons for this choice. The first is that I have always known that Gio understands Spanish more so than English. He understands English, obviously, but his comprehension is a lot higher in Spanish. The tablet that he uses to communicate is in Spanish and for the most part it seems it is the language he is most comfortable using. I don't want him to lose his Spanish; English will be learned regardless. The other reason is that my sister goes to that school. It may be the Mama Bear in me, but knowing my sister will be around gives me a sense of security knowing Gio will have someone to sort of lean on. Despite this, I want him to be as independent as possible. At a meeting I had with his team at his new school they offered to have my sister sit in with him the first few days of school and I refused because I don't want him to fully depend on my sister doing things for him. He's smart and if you let him he'll manipulate you so that he doesn't have to do anything, just like most kids his age.

Gio is very much like kids his age. He likes to play with cars, go to the park, play catch, watch movies, jump in puddles, etc. He is so much fun to be around and loves making people laugh. He brags about his dog, Eve, any chance he gets and he will ask for Mcdonald's anytime you ask him if he's hungry. All children have similarities as do they have differences. My child's difference is that he cannot verbally communicate. We barely started using his Talking Tablet to communicate and we have seen so much progress. He's opened up so much more. Gio has been able to show everyone willing to see the little boy I've always known he was. He has stepped out of his comfort zone and shown that he is capable of so much more outside of the special ed classroom; and that is where my difficulty with the school began.

For children with special needs, (a.k.a. those who have an IEP) it is necessary to discuss where they will go when they transition from preschool to kindergarten. There is a meeting parents have with the child's teachers as well as the special education team of that school district. We come together to discuss the child's needs and where he will be placed so that those needs are met and the child is most successful. According to my son's IEP that was done Sept. 2015 my son belonged in a classroom with intense support. After choice enrolling Gio at the bilingual school, the principal called me telling me I could not put Gio in that school because the school could not accommodate his needs as far as his IEP was concerned. I was so shocked and disappointed. What did they mean my son couldn't go to that school? Just because he has a disability? Seriously? I wanted to tell the principal that she was wrong, that my son was more than capable of being in a regular classroom. I called my mom and she explained the way things work in schools. Having a disability label on a child meant the school could really push their own educational agenda. Thankfully my mom knows how all this works and she knew the ins and outs. I studied my rights as a parent of a child with special needs and we asked for a meeting to discuss his kindergarten options. The first meeting was horrible. The special ed team pushed the fact that he needed to stay in a special ed classroom because his test results were so low, "severely below average" to be exact, that there wasn't any way he could function in a regular classroom. I did not accept this. I was not going to allow someone to dictate where my child would go without proving that that is where he would truly be successful. I asked for evaluations to be done in Spanish because that was a strongest language. Aside from that I mentioned that he used a device to communicate and part of the reason he failed the test that determines how ready he is for kindergarten is because he is not verbal. They had to find ways to evaluate Gio in a way that he could show his full potential. The potential I, as his mother, see day in and day out. I was not about to let them place my child in a classroom where he would not be challenged. The special ed director seemed to be annoyed and our persistence, but as is our right to ask for additional information, he had to provide this. He had to find a way for Gio to be evaluated on our terms. We scheduled a second meeting about a month out to give them time to test him and gather more evidence to support MY idea that he could function and be successful in a regular classroom. One day, after one of his evaluations his speech therapist called me and asked if I could go a little earlier to pick him up to speak with the bilingual SLP (Speech Language Pathologist) who evaluated Gio that day. I rushed over as soon as I could because the suspense was killing me. The SLP said Gio had done an amazing job. She expressed her joy at his excitement to work with her. Both the SLP and his speech therapist saw how eager he was to work with her when he heard her speak Spanish. He even went and grabbed his tablet from his backpack, even though he did not like using it at school. He scored higher in this test than he did in the English version and they were so happy to see the results.

Finally the day came for the second meeting. I was very excited about all the support his teachers showed, as well as a few people my mom had worked with in the past who knew us and Gio. The results of the evaluations spoke for themselves. The main evaluation proved Gio's greatest improvement. In the original test he scored a "severely below average" where as in the new one he was "just below average." This was so exciting to hear! To have your child's progress acknowledged and for his potential to be seen is indescribable. They were finally accepting what I already knew. My son was capable of learning next to his "normal" peers. There would be small accommodations needed of course, but he was accepted. I expressed to the team that I didn't mean to be a pain, but I know my son's potential and I want to kind of throw him out there so that he can truly grow. I feel like a classroom with too much support makes him lazy and I have very high expectations for Gio. I'm so grateful for the time his teachers took to make the evaluations happen on such short notice. My mom's aggressive persistence is also a big part of why this all was able to unravel the way it did. Her knowledge of the system really helped when it came to knowing what steps needed to be taken in order for this to happen. I truly believe Gio will be up to speed with his peers in time. I have no doubt in my heart that he will be successful. I have the mentality of raising my son to be a hard working, independent individual. Sure I could use his disability as an excuse to give him the easy path, a short cut, but what good would that do him? Is the goal not to raise our children to be full functioning adults of society? To be good people who contribute good things? What would a lazy child who depends on his mom and uses his disability as an excuse to have people do things for him contribute to society? And what's worse, what would this child do without his mom or anyone, for that matter, if he wasn't independent? This isn't about proving Gio is equal to a "regular" kid. This is to show Gio that if he wants something he can achieve it and I will always see his fullest potential. This is so that he knows nothing worth having comes easy. He will learn to be a hard worker and most importantly, if the time were to come that I am no longer around, Gio will know he can handle anything that comes his way independently. And what more could a parent give their child? Like the saying goes, "GIVE a man a fish and he will eat for a day, but TEACH a man to fish, and he will eat a lifetime." Some may think I put too much pressure on my son to do things for himself, but that is the greatest gift I could give him, independence and the will to want to work your hardest to earn what you want. Gio will know to believe in himself.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Happy Mother's Day

If you were to ask a mother how her labor was or what is the most painful thing about pregnancy/giving birth, she'll probably say the contractions, the pushing, the last weeks of pregnancy, the after when you're healing. Personally, what I remember the most is looking down at my stomach and seeing it hanging there all sore from how stretched out it had been and crying to my mom about how deformed I looked. But, if you ask a mom if it was worth it she will ALWAYS say yes. Regardless of how young or old we may have our children, being a mother always comes with it's challenges. The more I meet with different moms or hear of different situations mothers have been in with their children, the more I realize there's no such thing as "normal." Although my son's condition is permanent because it is genetic there are many other adversities mothers face. It may be your children suffering from allergies, from learning disabilities, from being too short, too fat, too skinny. The expectations of society put pressure on who are children should be since before they are born and we, as mothers, have to convince our children that they are perfect despite our lack of confidence in ourselves at times. A huge struggle I've noticed in mothers now a days is the lack of having a healthy relationship with our children's fathers.

Unfortunately, we as women have the bigger consequence when it comes to having a child. We not only carry our children for 9 months, but we have the bigger responsibility of raising them for the rest of their lives. I was fortunate to grow up with both my parents. My dad helped my mom with my brother and me while she went back to school. I've always been a daddy's girl, so this led to me having very high expectations for the father of my future children. My dad has always been my best friend. He played with me, fed me, clothed me. He made up bed time stories about how I was little red riding hood, but would turn into the pink power ranger when the bad wolf came around and my cousins were the other power rangers and we would save my grandma from him. My dad stayed up at night to rub my legs when I had growing pains. He was there for me whenever I had crushes on boys who didn't like me and he was there to become friends with boys who tried getting at me (I guess he was a true believer in keep your friends close and your enemies closer). My dad was always around and although him and my mom are now separated, he's very close to my younger sister as well. He's always looking out for her and if he gets off of work an hour early, instead of going to hang out with friends or going home he goes and looks for my sister to spend time with her, even if it's just for an hour. He's far from perfect, but as a dad I couldn't ask for more. I know you're probably wondering why I'm praising my dad on a Mother's Day post and the answer is this: many mothers now a days didn't get to give their children this type of father. Most moms are accused of being gold diggers when they ask for child support from their children's estranged fathers. They're accused of spending that money on themselves or maybe even on their new boyfriends. Single moms have it rough. It's the reality of today because for some reason we, as women, aren't usually so smart when it comes to choosing our partners. When we choose them, we go for looks or for how fun they are or for other superficial reasons. We don't usually think of how they will be as fathers. I've seen many videos bashing single mothers. These videos advise men not to date them for many reasons. One that caught my attention is very selfish, but, in a way, semi-understandable. It is that we as single mothers do not have all the time in the world to give to men. We are not available at all hours because of our children and even if we were to be, this is unattractive because if a women is careless with her children she isn't a very good mom therefore you cannot take her seriously. Another reason that stood out to me, is that the child is a constant reminder that she has been with someone else. Now this one blows my mind a little because there are women who have slept around and aren't mothers, but because we have physical proof that we have been with another man we aren't worth their time. It must be something their ego can't handle. One other reason, out of the many many I've heard, is that if she wasn't able to choose the right guy the first time she's probably not one to take serious. The thing that causes me the most frustration is that WE as the mothers get all the blame. We get the blame for getting knocked up by the wrong guy, we get the blame for when our children aren't acting right, we get the blame for things not working out for the father. We get accused of pretending to be victims when in reality we don't ask for anyone's pity. For the most part, the single moms that I have met are very independent and always have their children as a priority. I have a friend who had her daughter at 16 and is now graduating from University, when people didn't even think she would even get passed high school! In fact, she was finished with high school a semester early! She's an amazing woman and hasn't let anyone or anything stop her from showing her daughter that nothing is impossible. I have another friend, who is a single mom of two beautiful boys. She takes care of both and works a full time job. When they are sick, she stays up with them all night. She has given up her own personal life to give her boys everything they want, not just need. She gets absolutely no help from the fathers, never did. I admire my friends so much for being such amazing mothers and I can't imagine why anyone wouldn't want to be a part of their beautiful lives. The only logical reason I can come up with is fear. Mothers, such as my friends, are intimidating. They are strong and independent and have done it all alone and it might be a little scary to think you might just end up being a burden to them, but the beauty of them is they know how to love so deeply because they are mothers.

Men: you need to understand that it is better to have a women who WANTS you, not NEEDS you. Women: we need to stop bashing each other just for having children and we need to stop putting such a negative aspect on being a young and/or single mother. We need to thank and appreciate the women around us, especially the mothers. I've been so fortunate to have amazing and understanding friends. While I was pregnant, my friends stuck by me and have been there for me even in the most difficult times. When I found out my son has Down Syndrome they were more than supportive, and their support has never been inconsistent. I wana thank them, even the ones who aren't biological mothers because in a way they have been a sort of mother to my son. When I told them my son was accepted to REGULAR kindergarten (which I will post about in the next blog) they were all so excited and had nothing, but great expectations for my son's future education. I want to thank my mother also on HER day because without her I wouldn't have kept pushing for more when it comes to his education, and I wouldn't see how strong I am at times. My son's other grandmother has also been so good to us and has always been there to care for my son, despite the relationship I my have with her son. Most of all I want to say thank you and Happy Mother's Day to my beautiful angels who watch me from heaven, my grandmas Petra and Carlota because I would not be the woman I am today without them to look up to, and I always try to be a percentage of the type of women they were. I pray that they are proud of what I am doing for my son. Their wisdom would be very helpful during hard times, but I know they're always around. I am not a "single mom." I am not a "special needs mom." I'm lucky enough to be just a mom to a magnificent little boy who has taught me more about myself than I could ever know. It's humbling to know a whole day (or two if your Mexican lol) is dedicated to you. Happy Mother's Day to all the mothers who have nothing better to do than to give their children everything they need to be great people. Who are dedicated to raising amazing people who will one day save us from ourselves. Enjoy your day to the fullest. <3