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The Freedom of Summer

It’s not the same every year. Some semesters, Schuyler comes off a school year where she had more success than stumbles and more advocates than antagonists. Other years, like perhaps this one, we reach this point in a state of exhaustion and maybe a touch of deflation. But no matter how it goes down, every year we arrive at this point. Summer break, and the freedom that comes with it.

I’m not just talking about the freedom from doing anything that doesn’t involve sleeping late, Netflix or the pool, although that’s certainly the part that Schuyler values. And it’s not even that simple for Schuyler this time. She has summer marching band, which begins this morning with percussion camp and has already provided drama of the “did anyone actually read her IEP?” variety. And she’s helping me deliver a speech at the beginning of August, which promises to be a very big deal. (Would you like to help her out?)

But summer brings freedom from the part of Schuyler’s public school experience that carries so much anxiety in its pockets. She’s free from the stress of mainstream teachers whose commitment to building an inclusive environment is intermittent at best, who perhaps see her as Not Their Job. She’s also free of the ones who should know better, for whom Schuyler is most assuredly Their Job. This has been a frustrating year for my daughter. Her mainstream environment has often presented a struggle just to be taken seriously and to get the accommodations that she requires, and the rest of the time, the idea of inclusion sometimes feels limited to “she eats lunch and walks down the hall with her neurotypical classmates, and they seem to think she’s swell”.

I’m not being entirely fair, and I know that. But unfairness is the currency of the realm for Schuyler. I spend a few pennies of it myself from time to time.

Schuyler once loved going to school. In her elementary years, she loved attending school like the nerdiest little nerdling in the world. That’s probably true of a lot of neurotypical kids who ultimately fall out of love with school when they get to middle school and high school. But it’s also true that in elementary school, she had a strong special education support environment focused on her class’s use of assistive technology and its integration into a mainstream environment, and now those supports are largely gone.

School has become less challenging for her in high school, with almost no homework coming home and very little exposure to her neurotypical classmates. Even band has been gently discouraged by her team, who would like to see her put in a Partners PE class or a Small Animal Science class (Hamsters 101). I guess we’ve arrived at that point in her academic career where “You can do whatever you choose with your life” has begun to transition to “You could maybe get a job at PetCo cleaning out gerbil cages”.

And I get why that makes sense to her school. I really do. But I still overbelieve, and I continue to hope for teachers to come along who do the same. They’ve been in short supply of late.

Summer releases her from that, and from the standardized testing that doesn’t make a lick of sense for Schuyler or her special education classmates. She’s free of the social anxiety that grips her a bit more tightly every year, like a snake. This year, she elected, with unwavering conviction, not to attend the annual band banquet, and we didn’t push it this time. Something in her eyes said “Please don’t make me do this.”

Summer is Schuyler’s time to be herself. She doesn’t know what that means, not exactly, and there is always the possibility of change, something that scares the adults in her life a lot more than it scares her. But given her own space and her own pace, she’s got a pretty fair chance of beginning to put all the pieces together, and preparing for the chaotic and unpredictable life that awaits her.

As if to bring home the point, yesterday as I was writing this, I took a break to get the mail. There they were, Schuyler’s STAAR test results. STAAR is Texas’s version of No Child Left Behind testing, and it has been a particular bugbear to kids like Schuyler this year. It stressed her out, and for no good reason at all. I took the results and I didn’t show them to her. She already knew how she’d done on them, and right or wrong, I didn’t want her to spend another second of her life letting them bring her low. As she played MarioKarts, I quietly filed them in an appropriate place.

And then I picked up a Wii controller and joined her.

FullSizeRender 2(STAAR test assessment results, receiving their own assessment.)

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