What My Special Needs Child With The Really Big IEP Has Taught And Retaught Me As A Teacher In This Pandemic

I am the proud parent of  two children. One is a highly intelligent and academically driven young lady who looks like her mother. The other one is what some in the educational field might call “special.”

He looks like his mother as well.

Specifically, that child has Down Syndrome and is on the autism spectrum and needs modifications in school that help him to learn optimally.

As the older sister is busy getting ready for the second semester of her college freshman year with more virtual classes, the younger brother is continuing to deal with an ever changing reality that until a few weeks ago kept him away from his friends at school and the designed routine of instruction. He was part of the only class that was brought back into his middle school toward the end of last semester. Both have handled their situations with a grace and adaptability that seem beyond their years.

And while I am a twenty-two year veteran public school teacher, the real teachers in this house for the past few months have been my children especially my special needs child with the really big IEP.

It was about a month ago that my wife and I had the yearly IEP meeting for our son where we review goals, make new ones, modify accommodations, and have the honest discussion of expectations versus reality. We are blessed with his being at this public school with the teachers and assistants who help him access the curriculum, but always focus on him as an individual.

Yes, that meeting occurred virtually using Zoom.

He has desperately missed his routine at school as have I. But we are safe and getting healthy after our family’s bout with COVID-19.

And there is so much that he has taught and re-taught me these past few months about being a teacher that no standardized test could ever measure.

1. Education is about the people. If I could count the number of times he calls out names of teachers and classmates regularly, then I would need to relearn big numbers. He misses them as much as I miss my students.

2. Special Education teachers are the “salt of the Earth.” I knew this before, but I REALLY know it now. Their wanting to reach out to him at this time and provide any support whatsoever has been tremendous. Whether conferencing with us as parents or just reading a story with him online, his teachers have been tireless in offering their support.

3. Teacher Assistants are just as vital as anyone else in the education of special needs students. The fact that we have thousands less now in this state than we did before the 2008 recession is one of the most abominable realities that could have been prevented that this teacher can think of. And we do not pay them half as much as they are worth.

4. No technology can replace the basic foundation of the student / teacher relationship. “Personalized” learning has the word “PERSON” in it for a reason.

5. We do not as a nation or a state invest enough in resources that special needs students require. Looking back over the LEANDRO report this past week about how we as a state fund support special needs has given further clarity to this.

6. Moving around and getting exercise is key to learning. I truly appreciate the power of going into the backyard and swinging on the swing set can reengage someone’s mind. I am doing it myself.

7. Laughter is medicine. 

8. Lunch should never be less than thirty minutes. Some of the best conversations I have ever had with my son have been at the kitchen table.

9. Standardized tests really do not work. My son has proven over and over again that he never was standard, his teachers are not standard, and this current situation is not standard.

10. He really wants to learn, experience, interact, smile, and seek knowledge. 

11. Patience. Can’t really explain that fully, but I have more of it right now than I did three weeks ago.

12. AND… Betsy DeVos is still a horrible Secretary of Education.