I’d like to share words of wisdom I’ve received from varying sources over the last five years – my own version of Letters to the Editor. This first one comes from a college friend (and now family through marriage), who has worked in the education system for 12 years.
When I asked friends and family to share thoughts and experiences for The Things Teagan Taught Us, Amy sent me the email below. It made me think so much and experience so much emotion, that I felt it deserved a post of it’s own. My favorite parts in bold :-).
Amy with her baby girl
“Hi Kath – here you go! It’s more than you asked for – I thought over as many memories as I could and about everything that special needs children have taught me over the years. I concluded two major points:
1. Kids with special needs (in fact, all people with special needs) are just as unique, diverse, special and different as any other population of humans.
It seems like our society comes up with legislation to support and educate kids with special needs, as well as expectations for what they are like and should be able to do, neglecting the fact that kids with special needs each individually bring their own set of talents, interests, strengths, family backgrounds and personalities to the table. We do a disservice to them by thinking of them as all part of one group of kids.
I had a student a few years back who was in my 1st grade class with no IEP (Individualized Education Program), but certainly struggled with the academic content. I jumped through all the hoops and by the end of the year, she was tested and found to be Educable Mentally Handicapped (which is relatively severe given that she didn’t receive any state or school services until 2nd grade). However, she absolutely loved animals and had the sweetest personality toward animals and other kids. She was also the only kid in the class who could play the piano.
Play time with my kiddos, using her husband as a prop.
I had a good friend growing up whose little sister had down’s syndrome. She was a very funny girl. I just heard this story about her recently – She’s now in her mid-20s and her family is remodeling the house they grew up in. The contractor called the family and said he thought their daughter had gotten into the mom’s email because he received an email that requested a remodel specifically to the girl’s room with an additional toy room built off of that room (which was NOT in the family’s plans!) Sure enough, she had logged into her mom’s email and written the email herself!
2. So many kids with special needs are incredibly happy and at the end of the day, they want to love and be loved, the same way all people do.
In high school, I used to volunteer in the special education room occasionally during my lunch and study halls. Once on Halloween, the teacher let the kids play BINGO. After they had played once, she let them pick their own words to replace BINGO (so when they would win, they’d yell out “CANDY” or “GHOST” or something to indicate they won).One of the boys choose the winning phrase to be “Laurie is popular!” I don’t know why, but that really struck me at the time. Laurie smiled and was really happy about it. That moment made me realize that even though we systematically exclude people with special needs from a lot (like general education classrooms), they still observe and learn the same social structures; they yearn to have friends and be accepted. And they know how to make others smile!
Amy and I with some of our besties, doing our version of Teagan’s gigantic smile
I had a first grade student this year before I started maternity leave, who has special needs and he has a hard time socializing acceptably with the other kids. He wants attention (like every child) but he typically sought it out by hitting others or taking their crayons. I worked really hard to build a relationship with him by checking in with him every morning, giving him an extra boost even when he didn’t really need it. He would grab and hug my belly and say “I love Ms. Butler’s baby!” I really think he was returning the love to me by loving something that I cared so much about.
Teagan with her wonderful teacher Ms. Katie
Now that I am a mom and I have a new baby, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I want my child to be and become. I would guess that if you had every parent in the world come up with a list, there would be thousands of items, but that most parents would put “happy” near the top.
Above all things I want for my daughter, I really want her to know she is loved and to be happy. We get lost in material items or even accomplishments sometimes, thinking “If I just had that one thing…” or “If I could just do this…I’d be happy…” But I think my time with kids with varying learning needs has taught me that they love and want to be loved just like anyone else and can be extremely happy.”