Wanted: An Emotional Seeing-Eye Dog
By Judi Bernstein
It’s been my experience that children in Special Ed need to go over things many times to understand where they’re going. They need to plan everything in order to protect themselves from the unknown. They need an emotional seeing-eye dog. That’s us; that’s our roles as parents.
Just as we don’t leave it to schools to foster religious concepts or personal relationships among families, we can’t rely on the school to protect our children from every eventuality.
Schools can’t solve all our problems. We have to solve them, or at least act as interpreter and coordinator among both regular and Special Ed teachers and the school administration.
When my son entered fifth grade, I met with his teacher beforehand, something I’ve done every year since he was diagnosed with learning disabilities at age seven. Later, he and I checked his teacher assignment and the location of his new classroom, but it was all changed at the last minute. I happened to be in the school that morning when he came downstairs, unraveled. Both his classroom and resource teachers had been changed. Almost immediately, I got a call from his teacher: “We’ve got a problem. This child is not what you described to me.” “Perhaps because he didn’t expect you,” I responded. As it turned out, he believed he was being judged or punished and that’s why he was assigned to a different class.
After our initial conversation, his teacher talked to the previous year’s teacher, then went back to class and reinvented herself for my son. She did wonderful things for him that year. She made him the eraser cleaner and the note carrier. She got him a job with the teacher who produced the school plays, putting him in charge of the backstage crew. As a result, that year he gained a tremendous amount of respect in his own eyes, and in the eyes of the kids in his class.
When children are young, we have the opportunity to guide them toward emotional safety. When they are strong internally, and have a good sense of self, the remediation and strategies that the school puts into play can help them to meet their fullest potential.