Back To School,  FASD,  special needs

When They Exceed Your Expectations

My children have both given me hundreds of proud moments. They both excel at something. My eldest is bright and talented and pretty much every year from the time she started school she has won awards. Student of the month. Check. A’s in every subject. Check. Friends. Check. She is a beautiful smart and creative overachiever. My youngest child is now six. She is beautiful and smart and incredibly athletic and she also has special needs. I love her madly and we agonized for years over the choice of school for her. We kept her at a great private preschool as long as possible. She did her junior and senior kindergarten years there and she was well supported in a small, contained classroom. But the transition to public school, well that was going to be hard for everyone. Would she be able to manage at French immersion as her sister did? Would she fit? More importantly would the school fit her? Were we crazy to send a child with special needs to French immersion? Would her sister feel overburdened having her there? Would she be devastated if she didn’t have her there? As the parent of a child with special needs I have no qualms about telling you that I have daily questioned the purpose and reality of inclusion. I understand the philosophy and do not question that other children gain much from being around children with special needs. But what of the other side of the equation. Does it really benefit all children to be included. In fact I have heard from some children with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorder) who would tell you that being included in class meant they were always “the dumbest kid there.” And what does this child learn when always out of the class? I have seen many other horror stories and also honestly have seen instances where inclusive education has meant fast-tracked to home instruction. Children expelled for disabilities far too often. But back to my daughter. Earlier this year it was touch and go, she has been staggered in and sadly I have felt too often that she was growing disheartened. Earlier this year, when the progress reports came home she asked where’s my A? There were no As. No grades on a progress report. But she is already judging herself against her sister and that makes me a bit sad. Ainsley is a child with disabilities still judged by the same criteria as the rest of her classmates. That bothers me – a lot. Is a child with autism or Down Syndrome expected to communicate at grade level on all the subjects? They are most of the time doing the best they can. They don’t communicate the same as typically developing children, not because they don’t want to or aren’t trying hard enough, but because they can’t. Anyways, too often I am parent advocate and feeling in that role somewhat on the other side of the table. Teacher, principal, experts, and me, the parent. It is a great and exhausting role. This week my daughter’s teacher called and I was assuming it was bad news and then she told me my daughter was getting the student of the month award at the assembly. I showed up to the assembly yesterday. First, my daughter got an award for student of the month. A thing I wasn’t sure would ever happen. The applause was deafening. Then five minutes later the librarian handed out two special reading awards and a book. Again, her name was called. My hand shook from taking pictures. It was a good thing as it kept me distracted from bursting into big proud Mommy tears. (see blurry photo at left) It was her moment. And mine too. I know she is proud of her awards. She has worn the button everywhere today that proclaims her student of the month. I am humbled and proud and awestruck and dumbfounded and hopeful and proud again. I could see for a moment that we are all on the same side of the table. I could see too that some people at Ainsley’s school are as accepting and loving and appreciative of her as we, her family, are. I couldn’t get a better Christmas present than being able to watch this child exceed all of our expectations.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.