Today was my son Clintons first day at White Oak which is a private school for children with non-verbal learning disorders such as Dyslexia. It is small, about 80 students spread out over 12 grades, but that is only part of what makes White Oak unique. It is very supportive, nurturing envirornment full of specially trained staff who truly give their all to these children. That is not to say that public schools do not have that, but unfortunately the special education system is broken and children like my son who have different abilities are getting just passed thru because their needs are expensive.
I can remember the start of last school year everything was different – it was very heavy. I knew from day one of 4th grade something needed to change for my son. He came home from that first day head hanging low and in tears saying his teacher had told he would never read and that he was a distraction, he was too fidgety, he was lazy, he wasn’t trying. My son receieved a Dyslexia diagnosis at the age of 5 and he has an IQ of 95 (average range) and he was placed in what Westfield Public Schools call an “Essential Life Skills” class. Essential Life Skills classrooms are made for children who are functioning at a lower cognitive ability (IQ range 50-70’s) well thats not my son. He was a Dyslexic child with an average IQ who had Atypical qualities – he did not belong in Life Skills. So I demanded an emergency IEP meeting, hired an educational advocate and had him moved to more appropriate classroom settings, one of which was an Orton-Gillingham based classroom. To be honest, yes his spirit improved, his smile returned and he started to love learning again but our battle for his future had just begun. What followed was more testing which included a Neuro-Psych evaluation, an assistive technology evaluation, outside speech and occupational therapies, meeting after meeting, phone call after phone call, hundreds of emails, faxes, texts, and questions. I did not want my son to be anyone but who he is in his truest form but there are skills he needs that I cannot teach him such as writing, reading, math and social.
With each small victory came double the defeat, errors big and small were revealed, some willingly and some forced. Everyday felt like groundhog day I knew where Clinton needed to be, but I just didn’t know how to get him there. There was no peace for me during that year as I was also recovering from a rotator cuff surgery that I was not prepapred for – I wasn’t able to work, I was stressed, I wasn’t sleeping or eating right – I was drained but somehow everyday I got up to fight another day.
Fast forward to this year I had never seen my son so happy on the first day of school! He was all smiles, he was excited, energized and joyful and I felt like I could breathe for the first time in 10 years. When I picked him up he actually gave details about his day instead of one word answers, he said he felt he belonged like he was home. White Oak isn’t a magic pill they still have the same issues other schools have, but what differs is how they handle it. The treat each child as an individual, they give them realistic goals and expectations, they encourage communication and parent involvement. Isn’t that what we all want? to be heard? thats what I wanted – so many times in those meetings I felt as though I was being talked over and not listened to as though I didn’t even know my son because I didn’t know what all the scores and terminology meant. While future meetings will be far better I have not forgotten about the child who cries or the parent who cries with them. I have not forgotten the anxiety, the pain, the sadness, the confusion and the anger. I do not have all the answers but I do know that thru this process of helping my son – I discovered my purpose – To help those where I was.
The Oak Tree
by Johnny Ray Ryder Jr
A mighty wind blew night and day
It stole the oak tree’s leaves away
Then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark
Until the oak was tired and stark
But still the oak tree held its ground
While other trees fell all around
The weary wind gave up and spoke.
How can you still be standing Oak?
The oak tree said, I know that you
Can break each branch of mine in two
Carry every leaf away
Shake my limbs, and make me sway
But I have roots stretched in the earth
Growing stronger since my birth
You’ll never touch them, for you see
They are the deepest part of me
Until today, I wasn’t sure
Of just how much I could endure
But now I’ve found, with thanks to you
I’m stronger than I ever knew.