Having just moved from the US to South Africa, we are looking for new schools and therapists for our two sensational kids. It is no mean feat. For kids who’ve gone through so much change lately, we want to get the mix just right. I’d hate to have to disrupt them again. You see, I’ve changed Pudding’s school before when the mix wasn’t just right. And I know the difference a really good teacher can make to a child…
Pudding’s first IEP was written in December right after she turned 3. We’d been a long time without any services, so we were ready. I’d read a lot about how I’d need to be her advocate, but I honestly didn’t think that would be necessary. We were all on the same side, surely, in wanting what was best for Pudding. Having deliberately moved to the area specifically for the quality Preschool Autism Class (PAC) we were initially discouraged to find that the IEP meeting was taking place at an elementary school offering only special education classes which were not autism specific.
My concerns were shot-down by the teacher asserting that the PAC classes were only for “low-functioning” children with behavioural problems. And so proceeded a meeting where almost everything had been predetermined. A lot was made of using a visual schedule for transitions, something I knew to be neither effective nor necessary for Pudding, who transitions well (most of the time). When I said this, I was reminded that the teacher had vast experience with lots of children, including those with the same diagnoses.
Feeling like a “helicopter parent” I backed down. How I wish I’d spoken up! But I’d lost my voice back then, and it took me a while to find it.
I started to find it when we watched Pudding become more and more anxious and withdrawn. Then we saw more regression than progress. When I spoke to the teacher, she just kept telling me to give it time. One time in a meeting the teacher casually referred to Pudding crying every Wednesday when it was the group OT session. It was the first time I’d heard of her crying, and apparently it had been happening every week. I suggested that there may be sensory issues in the gym, but the teacher did not seem to know what I was talking about. Now I was on edge, and debating whether the social aspects of preschool were worth the cost. I suggested she call me, or send a note home when she had a bad day, but this never happened. Instead we got photos of Pudding looking everything from sullen to miserable. I had to carry her in tears to the bus- the one she’d once been so excited to ride.
The culmination of our fears was when I talked to the teacher about how Pudding was possibly over-stimulated, and that was causing her to shut herself off in school. Rather than admit this was a possibility, the teacher replied that perhaps we should “lower our expectations” when it came to Pudding. Every professional who has come into contact with Pudding has said the opposite of this, but even had they not, how dare a teacher ever say this to a parent? Rather than choose to lower our expectations with Pudding, we decided to raise them with regards to her education. All children deserve to be taught by someone who will help them reach their full potential. That potential can’t possibly be determined at 3 years of age.
One day, another child was being observed by a PAC teacher, who voiced concerns about the way Pudding seemed so withdrawn and isolated. She felt her program would be beneficial for Pudding. The teacher asked myself and Spectrummy Daddy to meet with her. We took Pudding along, and watched her hug Ms. S and saw our happy, silly girl return. Less than a week later, she was at the new school, and we never looked back.
From then on the IEP meeting was entirely different. A negotiation where every person around the table had the sole interest in helping our child. Just as it should be!
A good teacher looks for a way to connect with a pupil no matter how hard that might be. They communicate whenever necessary with the parent, looking for ways to help both in and out of school. Both giving and taking advice from those who know the child best. They look beyond the diagnosis to see all their strengths and weaknesses, playing the strengths to their advantage and finding ways to work on the weaknesses. A good teacher can make a world of difference to a child, whether they have special needs or not.
I lost my voice for a time, by keeping quiet when I needed to speak out. I let Pudding down when she needed me, and I’m so sorry for that. I’ll do my best to make sure that doesn’t happen again. Now I can use my voice to say what really matters: Ms. S, you are amazing- thank you for being the teacher Pudding needs, the kind that every child deserves.
It was hard for my family to leave the care of Ms. S, who remains in contact to track Pudding’s progress. Now I have a blueprint for the kind of relationship my kids need with their teachers and therapists. It might not be easy, but I won’t stop until we get the right mix. Our kids deserve nothing less.