Special Needs program is responsive

Tue, 06/17/2008 - 3:41pm
By: Letters to the ...

I was sorry to read the angry commentary on the Fayette County schools’ special needs program in a recent Free Speech.

I don’t know what “powers that be” made this person so unhappy or exactly what the reason for doing so would be, but I have to say that in my unfortunately vast experience of special ed in the Fayette County system, I have encountered nothing but what I have felt was real concern for the best interests of my children.

I have two special needs children, one a young adult in vocational training and the other soon to enter middle school. As a result I’ve attended two IEP (individual education plan) meetings or more each year for each child, and have been amazed at the meticulous professionalism that goes into the preparation of these, and must do for every other special needs child in the system.

And in this person’s comments the reason for the careful documentation becomes apparent. I have to say that nothing about having a handicapped child is ever easy, but the reason I can almost always count on losing a few tears in these meetings is because without these folks, my kids and I would be lost.

That’s not a figure of speech — I am not weak or lazy or stupid, but I could not do this alone. It’s no life for sissies. There is something emotional I cannot adequately describe in having all of these well-trained and extremely caring people show up to sit around a table and talk about one of my children in ways that make it clear that they know each of them well and care a lot about the course of their lives.

I have never understood the apparently pervasive attitude that these IEP meetings should be confrontational and defensive. None I have ever attended (and I daresay I might hold the record for attending them as a parent in this county) have approached that, but the tone of the endless paperwork makes it clear that an adversarial situation would not be unexpected.

Those people so unhappy with the services our schools provide might give thought to all the time and energy and money spent on paperwork pre-empting their endless argumentation that might be better spent on the child. Just because destiny has dealt the worst imaginable blow to an innocent does not mean that everyone is out to get you because of it, and most likely the board of education is not plotting your destruction.

With regard just to the stay-in-preschool question, in the cases of both children my experience was exactly the opposite. I was fairly active in PTO affairs when my eldest son was in elementary school, and I went in one harassed day with my recently diagnosed special needs 3-year-old on my hip to drop off some PTO paperwork in the office and left with the assurance that my daughter would be in special needs preschool the next week. She was. I didn’t even know the service existed. It was terrific.

Sadly my young son was diagnosed with severe autism; happily it was caught at an even younger age. One call to Clarice Howard at the BOE, who was at that time one of the “powers that be,” and he, too was in the works almost instantly.

When it came time for him to leave preschool for kindergarten, it was suggested at his IEP that since he was doing so well in that school with that teacher, kindergarten be deferred a year. As before, we weren’t aware that the option was there. It was offered as what was best for our child and probably not for the continued pleasure of his company.

If some evil conspiracy to punish anyone for suggesting it existed at that time, I wasn’t aware of it. As I recall, the decision was left to us and we chose to follow that recommendation.

I could easily become very, very bitter at what life has dealt the people I love more than eating and breathing, while others apparently take the health of their children for granted. I am deeply sorry for anyone else in this rocky boat with me, and I truly understand how it would be a sort of relief to have someone somewhere to blame.

But if one has to live through this particular kind of hell, Fayette County is probably the best place to do it. My gratitude for the kindness and sensitivity of teachers, therapists, bus drivers and monitors, school principals, parapros, and the folks in the exceptional children’s office is enormous.

(It’s hard to imagine people pursuing a career in special education for the express purpose of not providing service and not caring about these kids, which is the only logical conclusion of what I understood the Free Speech post to imply.)

The kindness of strangers is often the difference between a rotten day and a pretty good one, too, and most people are amazingly kind. Since I do not believe in anonymous sniping and vague insinuation and am willing to stand behind what I say, I’d like you to know that my name is Joy Ballard, very proud mother of David, Melanie, and Paul. I’m easily found, and if nobody likes what I’ve written — well, far worse things have happened.

Joy Ballard


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