When the school year begins and my children are worried about whether their friends will be in class with them, I see your worry scroll across the screen in a darker, more anxious tone. Will the new teacher understand your son? Will the school protect your daughter from her nut allergy? Will the one-on-one aide be reliable, communicative, loving?
I know you probably wonder if anyone whose child doesn’t need that level of support has even noticed you. Perhaps that flicker of wonder passes quickly as you walk away from the schoolyard each morning to a list of therapists and specialists to call, or perhaps it digs in more deeply as you watch other parents’ first-day-of-school photos scroll past, uncomplicated.
I want to tell you that I am following your stories. I know you need the school to write down your child’s homework and they aren’t, and that you’ve spent hundreds of dollars on attorneys just to get them to follow the IEP they signed. I know your child has struggled with sensory overload in the hallways and needs a solution for getting to class in silence. I know that you’ve been fighting for years to get a proper diagnosis for your child so that you know how to help. I know that your child hasn’t spoken yet and you’re tired of guessing what they want.
I know that you’ve lived with your child for their entire life but that your parents think you’re making it up. Or the teacher does. Or, sometimes, your partner does.
I am paying attention. I see you.
I don’t know how to help, but I know you need some. I know your child needs the aide that costs money that could otherwise go toward gifted programs, and I defend that expense. I know that your child could die if even a particle of peanut butter touched her, and so I send uncut fruit for snacks. I know that inclusion programs are better for your child and, in all the ways that matter to me, better for my child, too. I know that my children need to be taught compassion for and patience with your child, to see the ways in which your child has gifts for them and the ways in which they need support. I know that you need to be seen just as I do, and that your needs are easily lost and dissolved in the ocean of your child’s needs.
I know all this in part because I dipped the edge of a toe into your world, in two 504 plan meetings for a set of fixed-duration needs my child would have. Our plans had expiration dates each time, but even then, I felt the rising anxiety each day, wondering if the school would comply. Several times, I had to follow up when they made mistakes. When I imagine that being a lifetime of mistakes and a lifetime of worry, I am both crushed by idea and impressed by any semblance of calm you display on any day.
I know you’re not superhuman, and I know you sometimes have to pretend you are anyway.
I see you. I’ll keep advocating for the policies that can help you and your children, for the recognition of our shared humanity, and for common sense and compassion in how the world treats your family.
I hope this school year shows you the same grace I wish for my own family: kind teachers, loving classmates, a safe environment, and an administration that looks out for our best interests.