Today is my son’s graduation from elementary school. For seven years he has attended this school and he even started way back in preschool. This makes him the longest attending student in this school since none of his other preschool classmates are still around. It’s a monumental day because it marks an incredible triumph in his young life because nothing has come easy for him. I can’t think of one of life’s milestones that my son has accomplished without a little extra support. He doesn’t even grow naturally and requires a daily shot of growth hormones to help nature run its course. It’s been this way for every aspect of his life including eating, speaking, fine motor, gross motor, learning, socialization and more. The amazing thing about my son is he manages these struggles with a huge grin, a heart of gold and the desire to learn when taught correctly. Don’t get me wrong he has many strengths to compensate for his challenges and he ALWAYS find a way to compensate but it takes time, effort and patience to teach him how. This is why today we will all celebrate this major accomplishment in my son’s life because he has progressed so far but this is also why tomorrow I start to worry.
Before I move on to my fear of this transition I need to spend a few minutes thanking a few VERY IMPORTANT PEOPLE. My son’s current fifth grade Teacher also taught him in fourth grade and first grade. This is unheard of for a child to have the same teacher in a general education setting for this many years but that’s how it worked out for us. I knew she was special way back during the first grade year when my then six year old son turned to me one day and called me by her name. Yep, he had a crush, and it was darn cute. Then I attended an IEP with her where the speech therapist tried to exit my son from speech stating he no longer had any articulation problems. The speech therapist turned to the Teacher for support and asked, “You can understand him, right?” His Teacher got a slight smile on her face and responded, “Of course I can he speaks just like my 2 year old so I understand him just fine.” This was first grade and he was six and talked like a 2 year old. There was no way we were exiting speech. This is the moment I realized she truly had my son’s back. This has continued every year she has taught my son and there is no way he would be where he is today without her. She has made a difference in my son’s life in more ways then she may even realize.
In the second grade my son was diagnosed with a learning disability and started working with the school’s resource teacher. She became his case manager and has been working with him going on 3 years now. She has always been honest with us and never once held it against us when we filed for due process to get additional services. This is a rare and precious trait. I’d like to think we have an excellent relationship and she knew she could always call me if she needed any help with my son. She has also proved more than once that her main concern is my son and had no other agenda.
Since the original school based speech therapist in the first grade we have gone through a number of SLPs. The speech therapist this last year stepped up big and was instrumental, as was his Teacher and Resource Teacher, in getting my son an appropriate placement for next year. When the District told them they could only offer one school to my son I fought to get a District Rep at our IEP meeting. In this meeting the District rep asked these three amazing women to justify my son attending another school and they all stood their ground and advocated for my son. Lesser woman would have folded to the pressures of their employer and as an advocate I have seen that happen many times before. They did not and because of that have given my son a chance at success in middle school.
So today he graduates and I will be the proudest Mom in the entire crowd but next year has me afraid. As an advocate I have seen how many children struggle with the transition to middle school and it scares me. It also scares me that we will be starting with a new IEP team, new teachers, new therapists and new everything. I don’t know if this group will have my son’s back and make a difference in his life the way the current group has. I don’t know if he will be able to keep up, make new friends and generally be accepted for who he is. Here's the thing I've realized though, fear is good. Without fear there would be no advocacy. Fear makes me vigilant, fear makes me strong and fear makes me push on because there is no other option.
I did find out recently that my son’s current Speech Therapist and Adaptive Physical Education Teacher will be working at my son’s middle school next year. This should help ease part of the transition process and it will be nice having a couple of familiar faces around the IEP table next year.