My son Brady has finished his first year of special education. I didn't think this would happen ....but I feel giddy. Giddy with the realization that we made it through. Giddy with pride. Giddy with anticipation for the future. And yes...giddy with all the pluses I see written on his final skills assessment of the year.
I promise this is not a post about grades. I have obsessed enough over the years about grades...my own and my children's. This is a post about progress. About growth. About determination. About learning to ask for what you need. About being an advocate for your child. About all of things I have learned about being the mom of a child with special needs...a child receiving special education services. I guess I also learned a lot about acceptance. Not only acceptance about my son and his challenges, but also acceptance of who he is . I also learned that acceptance doesn't mean giving up. Accepting my son and his differences and challenges doesn't mean I don't believe in him or think he can't accomplish absolutely anything he wants. Acceptance means figuring out who he is, and what he needs to become the little boy he is meant to be. Acceptance means giving him the tools to grow and the space to falter a little bit so he can learn to get back up on his own little wobbly feet again.
It took a very long time this school year to get to the point of acceptance. As a parent I was not quite ready to accept the challenges before Brady. I was nervous. Nervous that maybe we didn't put him in the right program. Nervous about him being away from his family. Nervous about his goals. Nervous about putting my little boy on a bus and sending him off into a world of unknown for 2 1/2 hours every day. Nerves were the only thing I remember about the first few weeks of the school year. I put Brady on that bus every day and drove to work holding my breath that a phone call would come and I would need to raise to school to rescue my little one. It took a very long time to not worry every time his bus drove away...I guess I was still worrying today when the bus rolled down my street one last time this year carrying very precious cargo...my little boy.
Eventually nerves turned to frustration. Brady was not making progress. I started to doubt my little boy's capabilities, his future and the unending possibilities that I always believed lay before him. I doubted my own son's abilities and those feelings scared me. So, we learned, my husband and I, how to speak up, ask for what Brady needed and advocate for him. And advocate we did. Brady's goals become realistic and attainable. Brady's team started to understand him and his unique challenges a little more. We all learned how to communicate and focus on the positive. Focus on Brady's growth...even if it is tiny and sometimes difficult to see. Focus on where Brady is going, not where he has been. Focus on communicating, in whatever way Brady needs.
Over the last few months, my husband and I started to smile a little when we opened his backpack. There were notes that gave us glimmers of hope that progress would come, that growth was happening and Brady was learning. We high-fived and celebrated with our little boy with each positive sign of development....and Brady smiled. Brady knew. He knew he was growing. Growing into a big boy. Growing into a bona fide student...and he was proud. We were proud. We are proud.
Today, Brady's fourth card marking Skills Assessment came home. I once again held my breath as I unzipped Brady's backpack.. I knew Brady had made progress. But, for a second, I started to feel the doubt, the fear and the nerves creep up. I opened his familiar green folder to find a Progress Report that showed he was more than 50% at a performance level where he was at a "sufficient rate"...we were ecstatic. He had grown so much from his last Progress Report in January. And then I saw it...the Skills Assessment. I dreaded the Skills Assessment. It had brought such disappointment the last few times it had arrived home. There were so many "cannot dos" in the past. Today, there were so many stars shining out on that piece of paper. The "stars" reminded us of how much assistance he still needed...but standing out were the pluses. Beautiful little signs that showed all the things he "can do." Four plus signs stood out above everything else. It took Brady all year to get those four little signs of affirmation. The pluses are positive. The pluses are beautiful in our house.
But this school year has been about so much more than those plus signs. It is about my little boy, his growth, his love of bus rides, the way he makes his teachers smile and our acceptance of all that we feared back in September. This school year is in the books and it has a great big plus mark on it.