In late February I attended the National Tourette Syndrome Education Conference in Washington D.C. Tourette is still relatively new to our family, as it's only been 1 1/2 years since our son's official diagnosis. This conference was the first time I had been around people who fully understand the life we live. While it was so comforting to be surrounded by so many who get it, it was also heartbreaking to hear how many people had children (or were once children themselves) who were placed in an education system that did not understand their needs. The lack of awareness and education regarding those living with Tourette is astounding.
It is my firm belief that our education system is broken. The method which our children are taught and the focus on standardized test performance has created an educational environment that deprives our children of developmentally appropriate practice, the opportunity for diverse and creative learning, and the social connection our children crave.
Children are curious. They are hands-on and in motion. They enjoy creating and exploring. Children are social and imaginative. How often is this the focal point of their school day?
Many children can conform to the norms of an average school day, but is this really want we want for our children? My two older children could follow the rules and "meet benchmarks," but they would return home each day with the same old complaints: "We sit too much." "I didn't finish my lunch because I didn't have enough time to eat." "Ugh, school was so boring." "The work was too easy." "I really want to learn about (fill in the blank). Can I get started on that?"
My younger son would rarely make it through a single day without incident. Most days the incidents were too many to count. The traditional method of instruction was not meeting his needs, yet the school could not create a reasonable, appropriate plan to educate him. The solution? Ship him off to a behavior program. The most overused placement for misunderstood kids. No, thanks. We'll pass.
The infamous box, that so few kids actually fit into, is crushing so many of our children, typically developing or not. The innate desire to learn is fading. The system is so focused on "meeting benchmarks" that being average is the acceptable norm. What about the child who is begging to be challenged? What about the child who simply cannot learn the way the curriculum is being taught? What about the child who is perceived as behaviorally challenged who is lacking skills to perform? What about the child who struggles quietly, but goes unnoticed? What about the child with an amazing physical or musical talent or creative mind who would learn so much more if only they could utilize those talents while learning? What about the child who is twice exceptional?
My platform is to help educate parents so they can become a knowledgeable, powerful advocate for their child with special needs. Our children have the right to have their challenges properly identified, appropriate goals, accommodations, and modifications to ensure they can access the curriculum and learn, and for their unique needs to be met. Realizing the answer, "because this is how we do things here" is not acceptable is one of the first steps in breaking down those walls that close around our children. With a solid understanding of basic law and your child's rights, coupled with the help of an advocate or educational consultant, you can push for an educational experience that is appropriate for your child.
Our kids need at least one champion in their corner (outside of ourselves of course). They need to be in an education system that values their uniqueness and accepts their challenges. One where positive behavioral interventions and supports are the norm and a punishment/reward system is a thing of the past. They need to be met with kindness and compassion each and every day and believe in their worthiness. They need to feel they belong. This all starts with a school's administrative leadership.
If an inclusive, accepting culture is cultivated by the individuals leading a school, it will set the tone for others to follow. It will create an expectation that ALL children, regardless of ability, will be respected and valued as an integral part of the school community. What a great gift to ALL students.
Our kids matter. All kids matter. This is why we will work to ensure each and every child is provided with an education that is #AppropriateForAll.