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No Easy Answers

foggyIt’s that time of year again, the beginning of the spring semester, when all the least fun parts of Schuyler’s public school experience begin to rise up out of the swamp and demand attention. Soon we’ll start worrying about the STAAR test, Texas’s state-mandated standardized testing. It’s the Godzilla monster that stomps through our little Tokyo ever year. We also begin preparations for Schuyler’s next IEP meeting, and the future that it portends. (SPOILER: More monsters, pretty much forever.)

An early part of this preparation comes in the guise of a questionnaire sent home to special needs parents. I know I’ve talked about this before, but this questionnaire and its accompanying mess of emotions returns annually, like a comet in the sky, spooking ignorant primitives like myself. This form asks some pretty straightforward, basic questions about Schuyler’s life and what we see as her strengths and weaknesses. But the next-to-last part of the questionnaire is titled “Dreams for the Future”. These questions, as simple as they are, have no easy answers. Some of them are trap doors. Open them at your own peril. Sometimes the things they reveal can bite.

“How would you like to see your child’s day occupied after graduation? What are the top four skills you think your child is missing and would need to work on? What kind of transportation will your child need? Where do you see your child living in five years after graduation from high school? In ten years? What support system would you like for your child following graduation from high school, besides the immediate family?”

Perfectly reasonable questions. And we answer them the best as we can. Every parent of a special needs child faces these questions, and they’re not hard, except of course they are. We’ve been asking ourselves variations of these questions for years. All along, really, except of course they feel different when applied to a just-diagnosed three-year-old than a fifteen-year-old high school student. There are so many questions that could go on that form. I don’t know how to answer any of them.

“Do you think your child will ever make friendships of real depth? Do you think she’ll ever meet a boy or a girl who will get her, truly understand her, and not hurt her or ruin her gentle heart? Do you believe the world will find a space that’s shaped anything like your daughter where she’ll fit without having to contort herself to a breaking point? Do you believe your child will ever live entirely independently? Since we already know that you can’t even begin to imagine that, what do you think will happen to her when you’re gone and her mother is gone and she’s standing there in a pretty dress at a sad funeral wondering what the hell happens next? Do you wake in the middle of the night wondering if and when the world is going to devour your only child?”

The last part of the questionnaire, titled “Barriers to the Dream”, has but one question.

“What are your fears for your child following graduation from high school?”

I’ve been staring silently at that one question all weekend. The pen on the table remains untouched.

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