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Back to You-Know-Where

schoolhouseI can scarcely believe it myself, but the end of summer appears to be on us. Schuyler starts classes next week, and some kids have already gone back to school. I have a hard time imagining going to class when it’s 107 degrees outside, but then, not everyone lives in a place like Texas, where the sun hangs murderously in the sky waiting for you to step outside for your ritual burning. School is here, and for the special needs parent, that means a whole new chapter in the Handbook of Great Uncertainties. (Volume one of the set.)

There are so many challenges for special needs parents, and so much hope. This is the year, we think. This is the year I get my shit together early and start the semester off right. No going off the rails, no ridiculous phone calls from the school about stuff they knew perfectly well at my kid’s last school. This year, we’re all going to be prepared. We’re all going to be on the same page. No territorial squabbles. No traumatizing stumbles for my kid because we missed something obvious. No day drinking. This year, we are ON this.

Our big plans for the new school year don’t always work out, and sometimes they REALLY don’t (hoo boy, let’s swap some stories!), but what you learn after a while is that it’s the small things that sort of anchor the tent in the wind. It’s doing that first walk-through where your kid maybe finds the key spots in the building where they can get their bearings, and you get the sense that perhaps your kid won’t get lost on the first day, or at least not on the second. It’s that moment when you see another kid greet yours like maybe they might be friends, and they don’t seem to have any obvious psychopathic tendencies or visible swastika tattoos. It might just be that small feeling, the one that suggests that this is big, but it’s not too big. It’s doable.

There are a lot of stories about when it doesn’t go well. Those are perhaps inevitable, although good god, do they still make me angry. There road forward is slow going, but there’s progress. This year in my home state of Texas, a new law requiring cameras in special education classrooms takes effect this Fall. Once cameras are in place (after being formally requested by a parent), schools are required by law to store at least six months of surveillance data. If a child spends at least half the school day in a self-contained special education classroom, the school district cannot legally deny that request by parents for that camera.

That’s kind of comforting, really. We all know how much goes on at school that parents never find out about. (And to my own mother, I’d just like to say again how really, deeply sorry I am. You know, for everything, mostly the stuff I still haven’t told you about.) Kids with intellectual disabilities or nonverbal conditions make for notoriously bad reporters. The idea of a little eye in the sky doesn’t sound too bad to us, and hopefully it sounds pretty good to teachers as well. CYA cuts both ways. Honestly, we’ve all fantasized about sending little drones to follow our kids around all day. Not armed drones, certainly. We’re not monsters. (Okay, maybe lightly armed. We’re not made of stone.)

Even with measures like classroom cameras, however, the fact remains that the older our kids get, the less we know about their lives. That’s a hard fact for any parent to face, but for special needs parents, there’s a level of concern that runs much deeper. Statistically, our kids are likely to be the targets of bullies, and are just as likely to be the victims of sexual assault. Many of those go unreported because the victim’s intellectual disability prevents them from successfully processing the crimes and indignities they’re almost inevitably subjected to.

For parents of special needs kids, this is the time of year when that delicate dance begins, between being over-protective (“Goodnight, honey. Don’t forget to charge the drone for tomorrow!”) and not serving your kid up to the wolves just yet. It’s the struggle to trust our kids to make good choices while trying to anticipate just what bad choices might look like and heading them off early. It’s sending them out into that grand, rough world one more time, knowing that soon enough, they’ll be going it alone.

To all the special needs parents out there, I wish I had some wisdom to offer, but instead I’ll simply wish you and your kids the very best of luck.

Okay. Let’s do this.

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