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Hopes and Dreams

When we have hopes and dreams for our children, we want to provide for them in a way that we think will lead them ever closer to those opportunities we would like for them to experience. We cannot be deterred, but we must learn from the professionals available to us. It is ideal to approach education with an open mind, but to also listen to your heart. For example, a mother I know has two boys just a year apart in age. She watches them play together in the yard with friends and sees the success her son with Down syndrome has in that setting. When her school informs her that her son with Down syndrome cannot go to regular school, she relies on her maternal experience to reinforce her instinct that he does indeed belong in a regular classroom. After a somewhat protracted IEP, the child is granted placement in regular preschool. The mother and father used the combination of instinct and experience to support their desires and got the results they wanted.

Of great significance in the case of Jonathan, was the relationship both parents forged with the school. Jonathan had already attended one year of a categorical classroom with a lovely staff of teachers and support personnel. These are the very individuals who conducted the IEP for the next year; the year the parents wanted change. Because of their awareness that this difficult choice was early in the 18-26 year process for their son, they framed their request to move him away from that program (this involved moving away from these same nurturing professionals) around his success at age three. These wonderful educators had taught him a great deal, and while the parents were sure he would learn more in a generalized setting, they praised the staff who had brought him so far that they were able to make a different choice. In this way, they were able to make a decision for their son which was supported by the school. At every possible juncture, the parents showed a great deal of respect for the staff. I was in attendance at the meetings and am certain that the family will continue to have a wonderful and mutually respectful relationship with that district.

 

Not all stories have such tidy endings. There will be IEPs ruled by contention and in which it seems everyone but the child is being considered. There will be occasions where outside legal help is the only way to get results. When the two parties cannot agree, it is often helpful to have outside help. Before going to that, let’s look at why two parties cannot agree.

 

We will start with the teacher’s and their experience and subsequent placement recommendation. As recently as 1999, serving as an advisor to the State of Michigan Board of Education, I was stunned to learn that special education teachers and general education teachers do not take the same classes. Segregation from the start! There are now many schools which offer some overlapping programs and, even back in 1999, there was a move toward merging the disciplines. But this is a powerful frame of reference. If a young student, say, age 20, decides to become a teacher, he is going to define his major as either general education or special education. At a very young age, we are asking our future teachers, future advocates, future leaders …to choose sides. This is not a decision made lightly. Sometimes the choice to become a special education teacher is based on the deep desire to help others; those who most need advocates and support. Likewise, a choice to become a general education teacher can be motivated by a love of math, not a desire to avoid those with special needs. At the same time, the young student who chose to become a math teacher will often graduate with only one class in diversity; of all the learning that has taken place only one class addressed the need to know how to accommodate those with differences.

 

If a teacher has had an education geared largely toward general education and content, he is going to be most comfortable with what he knows. Indeed, he may have made a conscious decision back in college to not go into special education because he didn’t see that as his area of strength. Now he is forced to teach all students and may feel overwhelmed, undereducated and ill prepared. What a terrible burden for a good, caring and talented teacher!!

 

The parents have lived each day with their child and often see her as a learner. If there are siblings in the house, the parents have already been living in an inclusive setting. While they may slightly alter story time, bedtime procedures, meals or a trip to the zoo to accommodate their child with Down syndrome, they likely do not make separate events of each. While this may not create conscious thought about how their child should be educated, parents have lived this inclusive life prior to even placing their child in school.


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