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.

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