I have a secret. Don’t tell anyone, but I want to pluck my own eyeballs out when I’m reading stuff about special education. It makes my head hurt. I have to keep Google hot and ready every time I start reading about new goals, education models, or laws. Even with those “plain language” oh-so-helpful packets we get, my eyes cross. I’m an active and informed parent. I do my best to stay on top of my son’s education and help other parents, but I have to admit that a bonfire with these reams of reading material has crossed my mind more than once.
If you are one of the folks that has given me a pack of papers or helped to write those helpful packs of papers, it’s not you, it’s me. Really. I’m not just saying that to be nice. I know you spend a large amount of time trying to create something clear, helpful and factual. You probably have task-forces and stuff. The packets always come bundled so attractively with colored covers and lots of clipart of stick-figure parents scratching their heads or demonstrating how to read. Sometimes there are even hearts. I appreciate them. They give me something to color when my mind wanders off while reading. If it’s possible, could you maybe include some Finding Nemo clipart? Particularly something with Crush the turtle, because then I can imagine him telling me to “Focus, dude.”
It really is me. It’s completely my fault that I have trouble focusing on this stuff. You studied education in college. You learned and practiced and now you are putting that knowledge to work. I didn’t plan on being here. I had absolutely no intention of ever knowing how special education works. My plan was simple; have babies, make cupcakes, take pictures and watch them go on to graduate from esteemed colleges and make wads of money to take care of me in my old age. One of them was penciled-in for buying me a summer home in Florida. Instead, Autism came to town and even though it’s been a bunch of fun on wheels, it means my son’s education needs some tweaking and I have to learn about special education.
Here is where I would like to offer some suggestions for bridging the gap between “official plain language” and “actual plain language” in special education writing. First, I suggest an explanation of written materials in a casual setting like maybe a movie theater or bar. Scratch that, my husband says that probably won’t go over as acceptable. Okay, how about an animated YouTube video with dancing stick-figures who sing about special education concepts? They can take pauses between songs to tell special education jokes that are also informative! In my mind, I imagine the fun we can all start having during IEP meetings when someone starts humming the catchy “Inclusion Inn” tune and then the whole team joins in for an impromptu sing-a-long! OR here is an absolutely crazy idea; what if us parents had someone to hold our hands in the beginning? Not really hold hands. I mean a go-to person. What if you guys printed a big phone number on the back of your packets that had a person on the other end. That person doesn’t need to actually answer any big questions about law, but it would be nice if they told us where to look in these packets for our answers. We could make it like an egg-hunt or a quest! We can call the phone person the “Sphinx” of Special Education. The phone person asks us a riddle (“What’s the code on your handbook?”) and then we say we lost the code and..hmm. Maybe not.
Okay, so I don’t have a big, beautiful solution for making it less painful for me reading my packets. I do have a simple request though. When I or one of my fellow parents or caregivers sits down with you either informally or at an IEP meeting, try to remember that we are learning an awful lot in a very short amount of time and we probably didn’t intend to learn it in the first place. Please try to smile and by all means, impress us with your desire to help explain what is going on in a clear manner. Some of us are trying to focus, dude.
*Author’s note -I already know the very last unofficial goal I will write. “To burn every last pamphlet ever sent home with 100% accuracy”.
Cynthia Gregory is a professional stay-at-home mom to three (one on the autism spectrum), writer of www.CGregoryRun.com, and she used to do things other than parent, but she can’t remember what they were.