Through my 18 years as being an advocate for special needs children, I have seen many different situations and problems that families are forced to face. First, hearing and having to accept your child’s diagnosis and second - what to do next. From changes within the family to the child’s academic environment, parents are confused and overwhelmed.
Although the public school system offers many different support services, parents need to go through a process of finding a competent physician who can diagnosis the child properly before even sitting down with the school to discuss the changes and services needed for that child. In a follow up post, I will discuss how to find a doctor who genuinely will work with the family in order to help the child reach the goals set before them.
Schools Districts Aren't What You Think
Unfortunately, in some cases school districts do not offer many support services. Perhaps the services are not available in the specific school that their child attends and therefore may have to enroll in a different school within the district. Sometimes, the school district that the family lives in does not have the appropriate services at all and then the child would need to attend a school within a different district. Or in some case scenarios, the child does not belong in the public school system at all and requires to attend a therapeutic school. In order to determine what is best for the child, the process can be long and drawn out.
The majority of schools that I have had interactions with blatantly refuse to send a child out of district and moreso do not admit that the child needs a therapeutic learning environment at all. Although each child is different, I hear the same verbiage from the schools. They say they can handle the child, they say that the child is doing well ( in some cases, the child is exceeding expectations), they say that things don't change overnight and the family needs to give it time. I have had this conversation with schools (too many times to count), but the bottom line is everything that they are saying in each of these cases is false. The majority of schools and their staff blatantly lie. Why? Because they want to exude the image that they are doing everything right and the problem lies within the family unit. It makes their job easier by just sweeping the situation under the rug. The truth is: in order for a child to flourish not only academically but personally, there needs to be a collaboration between home and school. Without that, everything becomes an uphill battle. The school ends up providing an environment that DOES NOT lend itself to learning and growing but creates an environment of anxiety for the child.
You Won't Believe This
Many of the horror stories that I have heard from families range from staff bullying the child to a security guard at a public school grabbing the child to staff members changing grades on a paper and/or test so it makes the school “look good” to telling the parent that the best way to handle their child because they are disruptive is to put them in a classroom by themselves with a staff member of some type for the day, everyday, until the child “gets better.” The school engages in this behavior because they do not want to deal with the child and the issues at hand. I equate this with being put in solitary confinement. How does this help the child? It doesn’t!
However, the most disturbing instance was when the school called CPS on a mother and had her arrested. Why you ask? The child had been bullied relentlessly. The mother spoke to the school over and over again about this and they never addressed it. The bullying became so bad that the child came home one day with choke marks on his neck. The mother immediately called the school to notify them and they made up an excuse by saying the child was just playing with other students and it was nothing. After that incident, the mom was frightened for her child to continue attending that specific school. She communicated this to the school along with the many other times she explained to them how the school was not an appropriate learning environment for her child nor a place where she felt he was safe. They ignored it in the past as well as dismissed the latest occurrence. Due to the fact that she kept her child home and ultimately because CPS was contacted by the school, she was arrested. Now mind you, she not only was trying to take care of her child but she herself had to retain a criminal defense attorney in regards to the arrest. This is one of the most horrific examples of how school districts manipulate and lie while not being proactive to address the initial bullying situation with the child. The staff and administrators are lazy. They don’t want to work and they certainly don’t want to help; which by the way is their job.
I can’t tell you how many times I have sat in a meeting whereby every single staff member and administrator have communicated the same piece of information in the same way. Be aware, that prior to any meeting that you, as a parent has scheduled, everyone (staff and administrators) have had a meeting amongst themselves prior. They talk about the case, decide what they will and will not say and attend that meeting in order to intimidate the parent (s) or caregiver (s). Some parents have equated walking into a meeting feeling as though they are a part of a firing line. How awful and inexcusable when the school is “supposed” to be helping your child. They push you against the wall and make you feel as though you have no choice but to accept what they are saying. You ALWAYS have a choice and do not let them tell you otherwise. NEVER sign any papers until you have read them fully and had someone else look over them as well. Whether that be your spouse, a family member, an advocate or attorney.
I have one nightmare story after another in regards to families hiring an advocate and/or attorney. This topic, I will address in a future post. Not all advocates and attorneys are the same, so beware and if you are at that point, question everything until you have all your questions answered fully. If you still have any questions or do not feel right about that individual, DO NOT HIRE THEM! Your gut feeling is usually right.
Be Wary Of Helping Hands
In my opinion, there are very few individuals who get into the education industry to genuinely help the child. For the ones that do, they do a phenomenal job and are an integral part of that child’s life. These are the people that a child will remember moving forward and be ever so grateful for the time and interest spent on their behalf. However, on the flip side, most educators are in this industry because “it’s a job.” They have no dedication, interest or feelings of empathy for these children who genuinely need the specialized support services. I have seen first hand how support services change a child. They allow the child to progress, become very good at something which in turn increases their self esteem exponentially and allows them to feel part of something larger.
Special Needs Children Deserve The World
Should you feel as though the school your child is attending, whether it be public, private or even a therapeutic one is not providing the appropriate learning environment coupled with the appropriate services, make that change. With children who are special needs, time is of the essence and change is very difficult. As hard as the situation is on you, it is even harder for your child. Remember, they did not ask for this but what they are asking for is your help to do the right thing for them. Special needs children are just that - SPECIAL!