This is a post dedicated to those folks who are just starting, going through, or having gone through the K-12 school systems in the United States of America.
If you have a special child, someone with a special need, there are a few things to fight for. As someone who had a mom who did all this, I can speak mostly for blindness related stuff, but there are social things that come with all disabilities that all students should be wary of.
For the parents, especially those of young boys and girls, this little bit is for you. When you start going into preschool, Head Start, or whatever thing you choose, if your child has disabilities, there is a juggernaut of papers to fill out. For blind children, you must have an evaluation of the child’s vision, and don’t be fooled by the “Sight Saving” schools. Also, do not be fooled by the mental evaluations that go along with blindness as well. Parents somehow have to navigate the juggernaut of papers and service offerings, but one of the things your blind child may or may not need is mental evaluations. When your child turns two, for instance, all two-year-olds have tempers and stuff. All of us have been there with kids, the terrible two’s and stuff like that. Why should you give a two-year-old drugs to pump through his/her system? Some little toddlers are ok, but there’s something that all parents should know. Preschool depression has become a problem. Part of the depression may stem from a parent’s inability to care or passed on from a parent’s epigenetic code. This means that according to science, parents should take better care of themselves. By the time your child is filled with paperwork in school, or should I say, bombarded with that huge pamphlet or packet, you will have found Autism or blindness or whatever. Autism is not detectable until aged 2, when a child is able to speak. Sadly, many autistics are thrown in homes as adults, or there isn’t enough care for them. Autism is not always a good thing for families, and others use autism as an excuse to divorce or split up or just neglect the child’s needs. Not all kids have this problem, but I’ve met many autistics who have parents who are cool and those who are cool themselves.
For blind kids, the paperwork begins with an Individualized Education Plan. Let’s use John as an example of someone with an IEP. This is a composite sketch, so everybody, just sit back and let’s do a roleplay for a few.
John is five years old, just exiting preschool or perhaps he’s beginning Grade Kindergarten. His mom, Kate, says, “I want to find the best schools for him.” Under the law, all disabled kids must have an appropriate, least restrictive education for them. Special education has to have a certain amount of allocated resources. Let’s do three scenarios.
First, Kate and Shawn, the couple in this first scenario, had John. Shawn couldn’t handle John, and left. Kate was devastated. So she becomes John’s advocate. Little John, at five, goes to a regular school. The thing about John’s school that Kate likes is the special ed teacher, a Teacher of the Visually Impaired. Kate meets with the TVI and the teacher decides to do an evaluation on John’s eyes. She finds that John is so visually limited that he can’t read printed words and see models and shapes and stuff. John’s IEP must read, if you’re following me, that he needs Braille instruction. Kate has a choice of literacy or not functionally literate when she makes her decisions for John.
In this scenario, when the TVI, let’s call her Marina, meets with Kate and John, an IEP is written up. In such a thing, it should read something like, “John needs to be taught Braille. The goal will be met by the end of the semester. It will be met when John reads adequate Braille, grade 1 or uncontracted Braille.” Now, I know that some of you blind people are all hyped about UEB, and here’s the UEB thing. I do not like UEB because some contractions take up space, and if you want to have less volumes of Braille books, you must try Contracted Braille. However, I would teach both Contracted and Uncontracted Braille.
What is the outcome of the IEP for John? When Kate and Marina decide to write up the IEP, and John learns Braille, let’s say he’s eighteen and graduating high school. He will be able to hold a diploma in his hand, proudly stating, “I graduated.” But before then, through his elementary years, he will be spelling words out loud, letter by letter. John will be able to get an opportunity to participate in spelling games and word study. John will be able to understand the mechanics of English and so on. Depending on the foreign languages he chooses to learn through his secondary years, the IEP will state later that “John will learn Spanish and French Braille literacy.” Since Braille is a French system, I think French would be fun to learn for any blind person. Louis Braille added the letter w to make English possible to write. The Contractions will make it easier and John will use his educational skills to talk to teachers, paraprofessionals, etc.
Scenario number two is when Kate decides the wrong. She says that because her son has a bit of vision, he must use it. This is a typical weakness for parents. Unless the child is a totally blind child, the vision in the child’s eyes is according to parents as useful as anything. In scenario 2, John is told through an IEP that he must learn Print, very large Print or regular print. Blind people can’t read Print if not given the right amount of vision. If they don’t have any sight, it’s obvious. This child must learn Braille. What is the outcome? Dysfunctional illiteracy, no graduation, being held back for too many years.
Scenario 3: Let’s say that Kate says John will learn without Print or Braille. She may be scared of the IEP paperwork and may say, “I don’t want pullout sessions for John.” She may say clearly that John needs to learn computer skills. But at five? He can’t use Penguins or Webkins dolls, right? Well, I would not recommend that for anyone because you buy a doll. Club Penguins isn’t what I’d do and doesn’t teach too much. So many kid friendly online games do not teach Braille. It’s hard to find Braille literacy games on apps and stuff. But there are ways to explore. Scenario 3’s outcome is downright horrendous for John. No literacy. John doesn’t get Braille or Print, instead, he gets speech technology instead. This is another misconception that blind people can’t read and must use speech. We think Braille is antiquated.
Ok, so IEP paperwork may scare any parent. But let’s be clear. What do you want for your child? What does your child want for him/herself? The goal is independence from a parent or relative. The real goals for children who are disabled should include the following:
1. Literacy for blind kids. This includes Braille. Ask any good mother of a blind child. They will explain that Braille helps big time. I use it every day.
2. Mobility aids such as a wheelchair, mobility or blind cane, or support cane if needed. Wheelchairs have some difficulty with navigation in some places, so when you pick a school, pick a place with bars on bathrooms and no stair requirements so that your chair bound child can travel around.
3. Friendliness of the kids toward your child. The goal here is to encourage social interactions. When you took your little one on play dates, did you leave the kids alone in a safe environment to play in? Did the kids play happily together? This doesn’t always happen with blind and disabled kids. Autistics have a harder time socializing the normal way than most people do. If your child is diagnosed with preschool depression, other problems arise.
4. On your IEP, you want to put your goals down, but as your child ages, think about other stuff. When you look at real social goals, look at where your child is. But look at your methods of parenting and see if they possibly might not play nicely with your child’s development as a person. Even at 28, I’m still growing and developing a personality because my own parents did not allow dating and sex ed in the comprehensive manner.
When your child reaches mature age, I’d go back and read the thing on sex ed and dating. Please do me a favor, people, and write in the child’s IEP a goal for understanding maturation issues and dating. Do not mention marriage if that’s what a child cannot understand. Not unless you have a healthy view of it. All children should have a healthy view of relationships and marriage, including that marriage is something you do when you love someone else. When you marry someone of the opposite sex, you say you love that person when you take the vows. Teenage maturation issues should be jotted down on paper, and you should have a private discussion with your son/daughter about these issues. It all starts at home. And you should help by role playing a date scenario. For instance, if you’re shy, offer to ask a parent to role play with you a dating scenario. If you’re a girl, ask your mom or dad to play the guy and learn the approach that is best for you. As the parent, be the giver of wisdom, and try and give positive feedback if needed. You can say something like, “You know, I liked this way you said it. I liked the manner you approached the dating in and so on. But don’t be afraid to be a bit more confident.” IF you’re the parent and you think your child is doomed to being a sexless saint, no babies, no real life, then you should get to know disabled adults who either care for themselves and children or live on their own. Either way, your child needs a mentor who is disabled in some way and can do normal things. Then, in your brain, define normal.
When your child graduates, you will be a proud parent of a graduate. Just ask my mom. Ask anybody’s mom who had a son/daughter who graduated high school. One thing, if you are a Muslim parent and you think your son/daughter has to be married after high school, omit that step. Marriage is not a commercial thing, it’s about who God wants you to be with. It’s about who God puts you with, and love is the backbone of such a relationship. As the parent in this kind of culture, you know love made a difference in your child’s life. But be wary of your tendency to force your daughter to be an unpaid maid or servant or charity wife. It isn’t safe for any young girl with a disability to be arranged in a marriage with someone. Mutual agreements can be made with a parent and child, but if the child does not like any of the spouse choices you pick, you must accept this and move on.
If the child does not want to be married, that’s it. Move on as a parent and let the child make decisions when graduation is complete.
Coming up: I’m going to write something about one evil requirement of graduating high school, the Standardized Test! Mwaaaaaaahahahahahahahahahaha! So what if you think that’s a good thing? According to a panel of my friends, who will be mentioned here, it’s not a good idea and we dominate our educations with it.
Later on, I’ll talk about why the Music Died in schools as well. The budget cuts are really bad for all of us. Thank you for reading.