Achieved. For most, this word means accomplished or finished. For my son Brady, this word means progress. This word means hope. This word is what we finally heard this week at parent/teacher conferences. This word is what we have been working so hard for and watching our son push and push toward, even when the days are tough. This one little word, that means something so big. This past Tuesday night, we heard it.
As many of you know, my son's parent/teacher conferences were a challenging experience for my husband and I last year. We were sad and disappointed to see so many "below sufficient rate" next to all of Brady's IEP goals. We were surprised and heartbroken to hear the teachers' assessment of our sweet little boy. Struggling, challenging, not engaged....and frustrating, those were the words used to describe my son last year. The year was so disappointing. The year tugged on our heartstrings when we realized our son was in an environment where he was seen as more of a distraction and burden than a special little boy doing the absolute best he could possibly do. His challenges were always the focus, never his strengths. So, as summer came to a close, my husband and I regularly struggled with the decision of where Brady should continue with his education. Should he stay in our school district's early childhood special education program, where he had been, or should we move him to another progra? We wrestled with our emotions, our hopes and fears for our son and worry for his future. We struggled with what the best decision would be for Brady. Where would he receive the most support, while still being able to share his sweet personality? Where would his unique needs be appreciated and nurtured? So many questions. Eventually, we decided to give it one more try in the ECSE program. We couldn't lose faith that the program had not seen the best of our son yet and we so very much wanted to see him "achieve."
This school started off right and has only gotten better. This past Tuesday, my husband Joe and I went to Brady's conference with an open mind, and a little skip in our step. I was confident it would be different than last year....better. This year we had an advantage. Since September, Brady's teacher has been sending home daily progress reports relating to each and every one of Brady's IEP goals. There would be no surprises this year. We have watched Brady's progress from day one of this school year. We went into the conference knowing he has made progress.
As I walked down the long hallway to Brady's classroom, the doubt started to creep up, but I tried to think of my little boy and his smiling face as he climbs those big bus steps all by himself day after day. I thought about my sweet son sitting in a big kid chair during circle time, quietly amongst his peers, for extended periods of time, without the assistance of his aide. I thought about all the positive feedback that was coming home week after week. I had only good thoughts swirling around in my head, as I was greeted by Brady's teacher and speech therapist. Brady's teacher started our conference off by sharing with us her optimism and true excitement in all the big strides Brady has made this year. I felt a smile spread across my face and a few tears of pride well up in my eyes. But then I saw her pull out her checklist and I held my breath and prepared myself to hear a laundry list of Brady's struggles and challenges, instead she started checking off strength after strength that Brady has been demonstrating in her class. She told us about all these special little things Brady was doing...sitting for long periods of time, transitioning independently from one activity to the next, indicating likes and dislikes and really trying to find ways to communicate. And his smile and giggles. She made sure to share with us how truly happy he seems each day.
Sure, he isn't learning his letters or even participating in some of the activities, but he is a different little boy. A boy who can be a part of a group, even if he isn't in the center of the group. A boy who can look up into your eyes now and really connect. A boy who looks when you say his name. A boy who loves to be in school, who craves routine and wants to learn a little more each day. A boy who just wants to be given the opportunity to achieve his goals.
As we scanned the progress report of IEP goals, we saw the word we had so longed to see. Achieved. There it was. Two times. Two goals, that had previously said below sufficient rate of progress, now said Achieved. He did it. He achieved. We never doubted him, but seeing that word in black and white made my heart fill with a pride that is so precious to a special needs parent. To any parent.
There are still challenges and things Brady cannot do, at least not yet, but that was not the focus of this parent/teacher conference. Brady's incredibly compassionate and gifted special education teacher spent more than twenty minutes sharing Brady's strengths. She, and the rest of this amazing team of teachers, aides and therapists, see Brady's unique special needs, not as challenges, but as gifts. Gifts that must be opened slowly and with time. Gifts that are fragile and require special attention. Gifts that are unique and beautiful and must be treated as such. My son is so much more than numbers, extra chromosomes and tests. My son is a little boy who just wants every opportunity to be all that he is meant to be.
As Thanksgiving approaches and the second card marking moves forwards, I am beyond grateful for the progress my son has made, for the small celebrations that his teacher acknowledges each day and for all the hard work that his teachers, his family and most importantly, my son, have put into his education. I continue to be amazed by the fight and determination that fills my sweet little boy and I am so proud to see it all validated and laid out in front of me during a parent/teacher conference. All we wanted when this school year started was for Brady to have an opportunity to achieve. Instead, Brady achieved. Achievement isn't an end to something, it is just the beginning for my Brady.