It’s a growing concern. Hell, it’s become a bloody epidemic. More and more as a mother, I’m hearing how parents have to fight for education for their special needs child against a school system that is neither properly educated themselves, don’t care, or don’t have the resources to help a special needs child within their classroom. So where does that leave parents? Having to educate their children themselves, when the workload of taking care of a special needs child is already enough.
From the moment our son was released from Child Development at the age of five and entered the school system, I knew it was going to be a struggle. Not because our son isn’t great. He’s a great kid. Not violent. Not disrespectful. But because of the array of problems he faces on a day to day basis, a list of special needs from mild cerebral palsy to sensory disorder, chronic fatigue and headaches, to early onset bipolar disorder, things were going to be tough.
As parents, we had five years of learning, accepting, and then learning how to help provide our son with what he needs. Now I was expecting the educational system to do the same. So, when they failed, and they failed miserably, it was the start of resentment and a battle cry from a mama bear who only wants to see her son succeed in life. I mean special needs or not, doesn’t he deserve the right to a proper education?
Chantelle Morvay-Adams, who is also a mother of a special needs child, agrees education for teachers is important and can address the biases that she says still exist towards people with special needs. “Everybody that works in the school system would really benefit from having, not just a voluntary class, but a class that you have to take that is about our children because you can’t help them if you don’t know them.” Quote from CBC Radio One
Chantelle is right. Teachers are not educated enough, and without education comes biases and often ignorance. A prime example is that my son had one teacher this year making fun of him when he wasn’t at school due to his legs being sore. This teacher cracked a joke about my son’s chronic absences in front of my son’s peers. My son learned of this from his peers after school and I watched as a parent his self-esteem and trust which is already broken by other past teachers completely blow up. The response we got was an apology email from this teacher, and then a statement that said this teacher had no idea my son had mild cerebral palsy.
Why does that matter? Making fun of a student behind his back is a complete gross form of misconduct and negligence on the teachers part, especially when educators are there to teach, uplift and push forward our children whether they have special needs or not!
The Supreme Court of Canada, in a 2012 ruling, said the B.C. School Act makes clear that all learners have the right to acquire the skills and knowledge needed to contribute to society. “Adequate special education, therefore, is not a dispensable luxury,” the court said. “For those with severe learning disabilities, it is the ramp that provides access to the statutory commitment to education made to all children in British Columbia.”
This is not possible when parents are met with extreme prejudice and walls when voicing their opinions on how schools educate their special needs child. And trust me when I say our voices are not heard. If anything they are ignored and the owness is put upon the child. Or the child is labeled as lazy, not wanting to try, so therefore unteachable.
Trust me I know, we heard it all this year.
Our son went from grade five with a couple of teachers into grade six to twelve with seven teachers. None of these teachers knew him or what his needs were. They don’t see a child who struggles with social cues, anxiety, bright lights, transitioning issues, fear of adults, or pain in his body. He did psych-ed testing three months into the school year so the school had an idea of where his learning was at. We were promised adaptions would be made, meaning doing lesser work than the other students, help provided with aids such as using computers or verbal testing because of his dexterity issues from his cerebral palsy, and understanding due to the fact that it was an everyday struggle just to get him out of bed because of his bipolar disorder and the deep anxiety and depression.
Some teachers provided these well put out adaptions. Some did not. With so many students and a lack of education for teachers on specific special needs, it’s no wonder teachers feel overwhelmed with children such as my child in their classroom. So what does that mean?
We received an email at the end of this year and here are a few things we were told about our child who thrived in his last school, did well despite being behind, and felt as though his teachers cared about him enough to educate him to the best of their ability. The outcome for our son this year? He failed everything and he’s a failure, not the school or the educators.
- All his teachers feel he has the ability but the issue is he doesn’t do the work.
- He had to be redirected constantly by teachers and other students because he’s socializing too much
- He wanders away from his desk, talks to his peers while they are the ones working.
- Teachers are going over and over work with him, even the EA has to redirect his attention.
- He has no idea where his class is in terms of working on something.
- We know he has the skills and adaptions to do the work but we see a child refusing to do it.
- His teachers have offered him more time at lunch and after school for extra help.
- He doesn’t follow through on things or make any contact with the teachers. We expect middle school student to have independence and be able to articulate their needs to self-advocate. He isn’t doing this.
- His teachers are now only asking for him to do what is absolutely needed to complete Ministry of Education’s Learning Standards, so much less work.
- He had failed grade six but will move to grade seven. But learning gaps created by absences and not doing the work required makes it hard for a student to keep up with their peers. He’s capable but just isn’t doing it.
- His teachers are disappointed with his behaviors when it comes to him doing the work.
I cannot even tell you how disgusted and disappointed we are as parents because what that email told us was the school and teachers just don’t get it. They don’t see a child with special needs but instead have lumped him as a student not wanting to try, instead of one needing help they either can’t or won’t provide. What we heard was your son is a loser, which is why they are now only asking for him to do what is needed so he can meet government standards instead of providing him with the same educational experience as the other kids because they have given up on him.
How can a child with special needs thrive in his education when a school expects that child with special needs to self-advocate for himself? It’s not possible! What you are left with is a child with low self-esteem, feeling isolated from their peers, blamed and singled out. How can he thrive in the classroom with these types of attitudes, and parents having to consistently fight over and over to explain and put into place what their special needs child requires?
Would you be able to thrive?
We truly hope our son has a better year next year. As a family, we have sat down and come up with various solutions to help provide him with the things he needs to excel. But the moment he leaves for the school bus and gets on, that is where my job as an educator ends. It’s up to the school to educated themselves on my child, read his medical reports, have meetings together to go over a game plan on how best to teach him. Sure, we can help with homework, trying to make sure he gets there on time and has what he needs. But essentially if a child doesn’t feel his teachers or his school care about him, his willingness to try goes out the window.