Why We're Not Afraid of Special Education

little boy with backpack going to schoolWhen we first told some of our family members that we decided to seek support and services for our child through the school district's special education program (and later, after he actually qualified for the special education program), they were shocked. Shocked that Noah -- sweet, smart, sociable little Noah with all his invisible labels -- qualified in the first place, and that we would actually willingly send our child to public school special ed.


There was a lot of concern over the "labels" in his "permanent files" and teachers "judging" him down the road and pegging him out beforehand as a "problem." Concerns over the "sorts of kids" he'd be calling his peers or if he'd actually be expected to learn anything or "catch up" to the typical students. Who might tease or shun or tell short-bus jokes. My mother-in-law was convinced that having an IEP meant the school district could one day "force" us to put him on Ritalin or other medications because that "totally" happened to a friend of a friend of a friend who homeschools now. It was really kind of sad.

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It was fairly easy for me to ignore most of that chatter at the time, and it's even easier now. Noah started his second year of special education preschool this week. His permanent file is full of progress reports and evaluations and additional assessments -- all which label him as an incredibly bright little boy who just needs a few small accommodations, but who has moved forward in leaps and bounds already. One of the bigger concerns for this year is making sure that he's appropriately challenged and not academically bored."He's soooo smart," his teacher gushed at our in-home visit last week.

The school bus arrived at our house and he got on like a seasoned pro. No big deal. After his first day he immediately reported that he only got TWO smiley faces that day instead of THREE (basically marks for good behavior, like transitioning without protest or cleaning up toys), which meant he didn't get his special treat of a Star Wars sticker. He was embarrassed because he ALWAYS got all three smiley faces last year and ALWAYS earned the special treat (at least ... in his mind, though I remember it took him quite a few months before he really "got" the system). But the point was: He remembered, and he already knew exactly what he needed to do the next day, the second day of school, to earn that stinkin' sticker.

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He knows where the school library is and can find the gym and the music room and knows what playground he'll get to use as a kindergartner. This year his class will have several chances to eat in the cafeteria and spend time in the big-kid classrooms. We've heard repeatedly that you can also spot the PEP graduates on the first day of kindergarten because they're typically the only ones who aren't crying. He can already write his name and most of his letters. He shocks me every day with the ever-growing list of words he can read on his own. This is special education.

Special education is not what you might think it is. It's not a step down or backwards. It's sideways, a different path, and it might surprise you to realize just how far ahead of the game it can put your child.


Image via Matthew Ennis/shutterstock

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