Today’s toon is about how disabled children are often passed on from grade to grade without mastering the skills necessary to actually “pass” the grade.  I understand why it’s necessary for schools to do this, and I don’t disagree with the policy.  If a child is retarded or severely disabled and unable to perform to grade level, well… you just can’t hold a 17 year old back in kindergarten AGAIN.

We just had Sawyer’s first IEP meeting at the new school.  We’ve had one to three of these a year over the past decade or so at the old school, and they have all, almost without exception, gone badly.  We would push for things for Sawyer that he needed, and the school would refuse.  We would threaten to sue and the school wouldn’t back down.  We’ve talked to lawyers and we’ve had IEP meetings full of mucketymucks from the school district, the Principals and moderators and service coordinators and advocates.  There has been cussing and there have been tears (we were NOT their favorite family and I’m sure they were so glad to see us move!)  What we have never felt, from the old school, was that they took our concerns seriously.  We didn’t feel important or that they thought we were worth listening to.

Now Sawyer has had great teachers, and he’s had some marvelous aides.  I have loved each and every one.  But they have had their hands tied by the district on numerous occasions and it’s been frustrating as hell.  And THAT is where this cartoon came from.  It was born out of  the seething anger that comes when you realize that if you lived in another school district, your child might be a lot more high-functioning.  It was born out of the sad realization that my son has barely learned anything in 11 years of schooling.  He has few life-skills, no practical skills.  He cannot read or write.  Just what, praytell, have I been sending him to school for?

Yeah, yeah, yeah, I KNOW.  It’s not fair to expect the schools to teach him things he is not developmentally ready to learn to do.  They are overworked and understaffed and he is an extremely difficult, extraordinarily disabled child.  But I also think that letting him get away with doing the same “work” for YEARS because he can and will finish it on his own and you know you can head off a tantrum by doing this, is wrong.  He is teachable, but he doesn’t necessarily want to be taught.  He is teachable, but it has never been, and will never be easy or fun to teach.  He is teachable but he needs his own aide and he needs one on one instruction and he needs behavioral therapy and occupational therapy and tons and tons of speech therapy.  He needs to be WATCHED and he needs to be stretched out of his comfort zone no matter how much he might hate it.

A lot to ask, I know.  Which is why I don’t fault his teachers.  They try very hard with limited resources and staff.  …But it doesn’t make it any easier to bear.  My child is essentially being ware-housed until such time that he turns 21 or 22 and is finally  kicked out of high school with his certificate of participation and little else to show for it.  He has not been given up on… people have tried and tried to teach him things.  But if it’s not working, bring in a specialist!  Get him more therapy!  Figure out a way to reach him instead of trying the same thing day in and day out and then year in and year out while hoping for a different result.  I believe that’s the definition of insanity.  Sigh…

Anyway, to get back to my point… THIS IEP meeting was different.  It was much more informal.  It was small.  There was no one from the district there.  And they asked us what we would like to have for Sawyer and then set about trying to get it for us.   They showed us work that was new that they were forcing him to sit and perform (and he WAS!).  They had high expectations for him, and while he wasn’t exactly meeting them, he HAS upped his game a bit because he is expected to.

It absolutely blew my frickin mind.

So teachers, please don’t write me hate mail.  I understand how hard it is.  I GET it and I appreciate it.  This cartoon was written before this new IEP meeting, but I decided to run it anyway because the feelings in it are very raw and very real.

Let me tell you, it’s nice to have some hope for once.  It feels… nice.  Weird and alien, but nice nonetheless.