Monday, September 21, 2009

Basic Instincts

When Ben turned three years old, his services were turned over to the school system. This transition meant a new school placement for Ben.

We have been incredibly lucky to have had caring case managers, teachers and therapists to work with Ben since he was a baby. I trusted their ideas and suggestions. At the big transition meeting to determine a new school for Ben, this group told me that there was one school Ben just had to attend. From what they had heard, it had the best teachers, therapists and reputation.

I visited this school. I left knowing that something was not right. I could not put a name to it, I could not tell someone why, when asked. I questioned this doubt, pushed it aside because everyone else knew better than me. They'd been doing this longer.

At first, we sent Ben there five days a week, and slowly, moved to two days a week for a couple of hours, then yanked him out quite abruptly. Three years later, I have perspective on this experience. At the time, it consumed me. Here’s what I can say now:

1. Do the research. Know your options.
The group at this transition meeting (including me) had tunnel vision for this one school. If we had all our information, we would have learned about a public school within walking distance of our house with a special class just for Ben with a wonderful and caring staff.

2. Visit and ask questions.
Many decisions have to be made for your children, special needs or not, and it is necessary to see for yourself what type of people will be caring for your children. Visiting is good, but asking questions is key. Ask to talk to other parents, ask about turnover rates, staffing, daily schedules, progress reports, etc.

Make a list of questions based on what is important to you. After this experience, when it came time for kindergarten, I met each teacher and principal with a typed list of questions. I visited the schools more than once. It took time, it was exhausting, but I learned a lot.

3. Trust your gut. Or those little legs and arms.
Everyday that I dropped Ben at this school, I wanted to cry. I knew he did not like it even though he could not talk. At his previous pre-school, his little legs and arms would move frantically when we got into the parking lot. That was how I knew he loved it there. His legs and arms did not move when we were at this new school.

4. Everyone is entitled to their own experience.
Am I angry with the therapists that led me to this school? Do I hold a grudge? Absolutely not! They were just passing along what they had heard from other people. There are many families who have had incredible experiences at this school who have gone on to volunteer there and raise money for the foundation. And their children probably did well there. But for our Ben, it was not a good fit.

After we ended Ben's studies at this one particular school, he was able to attend the public school around the corner. That school turned out to be a very special place, where the people who worked there were like angels ready to take Ben (and our family) under their wings.


  1. This is EXCELLENT information!! Thank you for spelling out how important it is to trust your gut feeling when it comes to school and your child with special needs. Staying involved, visiting the classroom several times, asking questions and paying close attention to any gut/intuitive feelings are vital. I've been there several times with my own child who has Agenesis of the Corpus Callosum.

    I love how you say trust those little arms and legs. :) Great post and wonderfully written.

  2. As valuable as this is for families with special needs children, it is equally valuable for families whose children don't have special needs. If ALL parents were this interested, this concerned, this questioning, ALL public schools would be better places.


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