I assumed middle school was geared to prepare you for high school, especially by the 8th grade. And I thought, particularly for children with special needs, it should be mandatory. Being undergirded with more comfort, routine and awareness before a huge shift transpires is vital. Preparations could include promoting independence. (Ex. Increasing responsibilities. Establishing jobs within the classroom. Giving leadership roles. Allowing them an opportunity to handle certain challenges on their own.) Design goals to ensure a student will gain skills needed for high school. Suggest electives based on their interests. Link students up with other high schoolers ahead of time. (Start a friendship group that will open up their social skills.) Make the classroom a similar environment to that of the high school classroom, so students can become acclimated to their new place of learning a lot quicker. Expose these kids to the actual high school early. (Take them a few times a year to see the building and to meet up with the principal, the teachers and the students in the class. Observing can help bring comprehension to the change ahead.) And help them excel now and in the future by letting the functional academics be based on ability, not the diagnosis and couple it with accommodations and support they may need. These are a few suggestions. I just figured that these kiddos will need more than a conversation during a transitional IEP meeting at the end of the year. Their whole environment is about to change and for some, that could be catastrophic if not handled in the best interest of the child. An intentional plan of action should be in place for the present year and the year coming. But maybe I’m expecting too much. I was really thinking that equipping my son and other children with special needs would have started at least some of these tips yesterday. And when I say yesterday, I mean at least the beginning of the 8th grade year. However, I’m finding out that this is not so in many instances. Recently, I was faced with an awakening, and fear ushered in new levels of worry that brought me to my knees.
This year has not been what I had expected it would be for my son. Even though he’s learned quite a bit of life skills needed for the day to day (and I’m grateful), he’s lacked the functional academics that is also a necessity to be adjoined with the life skills taught. There needs to be a balance. And often times, it’s been disappointing and disheartening to watch. He entered a setting that was the very opposite of everything he had learned and was accustomed to. He’s had to manage through a lot, and I’ve wondered why should he have had to? His goals did not reflect that there would be a complete metamorphosis to his familiarity. I presumed the year prior would resemble the year current. And yes, I do understand that this is a new year, a new school and a new district, but I had hoped there would be some similarities that my son could hold on to. Since this was not the case, my son has taken on a new normal that quite frankly, at times, reminds me of his elementary years. Although my expectations are high for Callie, I was starting to feel numb about how these expectations would come about. We knew high school was coming but based on where he is, I figured that this is pretty much where he is going to be when he makes the transition. However, I took a blow two months ago. My husband and I visited the high school that Callie will be attending in August. The students there and their maturity, their responsibilities, their understanding and their communication & social skills were beyond anything I could have imagined. I wasn’t shocked because I thought this was an impossibility. And I do realize that each child is different. I was shocked and heart broken because where my son was versus where he is going was miles apart. It was like being in another country. The language was different. The atmosphere felt foreign, and I knew if I felt lost, surely, my son would too. His current habitat for 7 hours of the day cannot begin to connect to the new journey ahead. I don’t look at what Callie cannot do, but briefly in that moment, his limitations jumped everywhere in my mind and I became blind to who he was…his accomplishments, his strengths, his determination. His weaknesses swallowed up what I knew of him and tears fell down my stunned face because preparations for the year to come had not been introduced. Callie’s year had been at a standstill. No regression, but no forward movement either. I watched kids in this high school classroom answer science questions that would have been asked in a general ed setting. There were tablets used to follow the text. The students were taught as if special needs was in theory only and not in existence. Students were engaged in conversation and were anxiously waiting for the opportunity to bring their input to the forefront. No one appeared to feel shy or out of place. There was determination in the air, and there was even a level of expectation from the teachers and paraprofessional that took precedence. My heart sunk. I kept thinking – the present should not ever be that far off from the road ahead. The experience was like night and day. And maybe I should have seen that coming especially if your child has not been properly equipped. The teacher for next year saw the deep concern in our faces. She smiled and said, “I need you to trust me. Callie is going to be fine.” Both my husband and I talked over each other, trying to convey how unprepared our son was. She smiled again with much assurance and said, “He’s going to be fine. What you see now is not how they all came in. You have to trust me.” She seemed sincere. Her smile gave comfort, that this was not her first day at the rodeo and her words rang the much needed security essential for me to look beyond the day.
Now, I won’t say I’m not nervous. I don’t think I would be a Mom if I didn’t have some insecurities. High school is not a walk in the park. The social aspect alone can be too much to handle. So, for my son, I still consider the what-ifs. I’m concerned about his uneasiness and his vulnerability. I think A LOT about how he will connect to the different world he’s about to leap into….and believe wholeheartedly that he could have benefited from some exploration, details, groundwork or anything beforehand. But I cannot dwell on what was not established for him. I will make myself sick and further will be an ineffective backing for him. This is where I lean on hope and experiences of past to rush in like the wind, and understand that everything cannot be taught. As much as I would like, I cannot prepare for all things, and that fact is a hard thing to accept, when most of life has been in the bubble of routine. Going outside the norm is not a treat I look forward to tasting. Both Callie and I find safety in the already. But I have seen my son overcome many obstacles, and I cannot and will not start questioning his will and persistence now. I have to remember what I know and have learned about this journey, and simply trust that hope will merge newness and prayerfully, something familiar – and take Callie on an incredible ride.
Thanks for listening,