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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Jill

I met her in kindergarten when her typical daughter was recommended by Teale's signing skills coach as one of the kids who seemed to care about Teale. We were inviting a handful of kids to Teale's Birthday party at a roller skating rink. We had asked Mary, Teale's one on one aid and signing skill coach for names of kids who she saw as good matches in the typical classroom. Our thoughts had been that Teale was an excellent ice skater (making her an even stronger roller skater) and showing her "typical" skills was good for the kids to see and for Teale to show. Teale wore a leg brace on her right leg as it was weakened by cerebral palsy, but she was a fighter who tried to keep up with typical kids in all physical ways. I won't deny that first meeting with Jill was odd. Jill is quiet and thoughtful, but in that situation she just appeared distant and not easy to approach. Her daughter has a severe peanut allergy, so she had to stay for the party, monitoring her daughter. You would think I would have learned to not judge a book by its cover, after all I was Mark's wife and Teale's Mom. The first time I met Mark, a very handsome, tall man, I thought he was full of himself, turns out he is just painfully shy. Teale, my daughter who has several disabilities, I am always fighting for people to see as just a person, not one with a disability. So, I'm embarrassed to admit at this first meeting with Jill, I judged her, thinking she really didn't get or care to get my life. I probably even thought she was one of those Pittsford Mom's, caught up in her own life of privilege. Years would pass before we would meet again and I would learn the truth. It was third grade, Teale's past years in a special education program at a typical elementary school had gone well, but the program ended after second grade. Inclusion was new in this school, Teale was pushed into typical classrooms as much as possible, but also had a home base special education classroom to learn skills not taught in typical classrooms. It was also a safety net, if she was having a tough time, the people in this classroom were trained to help her and provide outlets for her special needs. In third grade, there was not any special education program in place at her school, so we were forging our way through, making it up as went, so to speak. Mark and my feelings about staying at that elementary school were simple, Teale was comfortable and the kids had known her since kindergarten. Ripping her from the only elementary school she had known and having a whole new set of kids learn Teale seemed cruel. What happened in third grade though, turned out to be more cruel than changing schools might have been. It was challenging, the curriculum was far above Teale's abilities. She also lost the one person who had known her since preschool. Her dear signing skills coach, Mary, was moving to Japan, leaving Teale with a new signing skills coach, who didn't share the same passion for our daughter's needs. It was a rough transition, the special education teacher assigned to Teale was not a good match in personality or teaching skills. The typical teacher didn't seem to know how to incorporate my daughter into the class in useful ways. Teale was spending much of her day alone with adults and no peer interactions in a small room down the hall from her typical peers. The drive and passion to do what was right for my daughter seemed to just plummet in third grade. She became "the special kid" in the specials, mostly only seeing peers in their "special classes." She began to shut down that year, talking very little, participation in classroom activities dropped drastically. She was often given a "journal" to color in when the other kids did academics that were far above her abilities. Basically, third grade felt like all they did was babysit my daughter, giving her busy work to pass the hours. Teale was suddenly aware she was very different and she regressed. It was heartbreaking as she stopped showing her skills in classes she had previously done well in, like physical education. Teale's papers she brought home were boring and redundant, she was coloring much at school and working on the same activities. She was embarrassed of the completed work that came home in her backpack. Often crumpling them up if Mark or I tried to look at them or comment. My daughter was slowly shutting down and I had no control. I had often stayed out of the classroom, choosing not to volunteer because Teale was different with me there. Sometimes it just threw her and she would act out in a way the kids were not used to seeing her do. But for some reason, I signed up to help with tie dying shirts in third grade. This would prove to be one of the toughest things I ever experienced as Teale's Mom and a huge turning point in how I would advocate from then on.    ....to be continued....

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