Doing what is best, even when it's hard
I clearly recall the day we entered the classroom where my then three-year-old first born son was going to attend pre-Kindergarten, in a class for special needs kids. He had the language of a one-year-old, but the reading/spelling skills of a child three times his age. I was still in a fog from having my second son, who was barely three months old. I was tired. Even though part of my brain was already considering the possibility that my son had autism (or a special need of some kind) I was definitely still in the “but he makes eye contact” stage of my journey.
As I entered the classroom I saw a small number of children. One had a helmet on, one had Down Syndrome, and one was stimming (although I didn’t yet know that word.) I could not reconcile that my son belonged here- for what I thought was only a speech delay. While I wondered if he would EVER speak (spoiler alert- he now never stops talking) I remember the incredible cloud of sadness that loomed as I made a decision I never thought I would have to make- and put my precious baby boy in a classroom full of children with disabilities. I knew in my heart this was where he needed to be.
Ten years later, looking back on it, I am certain that the year and a half he spent in that classroom were the most pivotal months of his development. Within that time frame his speech went from severely delayed to right on track. No one (including his speech therapists) could explain it. He went from that class into a typical pre-Kindergarten class (as recommended by his team.) From there he went to spend Kindergarten through 4th grade in public school. Throughout those years (because of his IEP) I got an annual letter in the mail about a state scholarship for children with special needs to attend private schools. I made it an annual tradition to scoff at this letter and toss it in the mail. As it became clear that his public school, while supportive and accommodating, couldn’t meet his needs, it was time, yet again to consider moving him elsewhere.
Everyone who I consulted recommended a private school for children with learning disabilities. I had grown up in this town, and I had heard of this school. In my mind, I had associated the school with children who had behavior issues. I resisted, multiple times. But I decided to tour the school (I mean I have been wrong once or twice.) I was blown away. This was where he needed to be. The school had small classrooms, social skills classes, could help him with his reading comprehension issues, AND we could use that pesky scholarship to help pay for it! I left with a huge packet full of extensive paper work. When I returned the very next morning with it all filled out (medical forms and all), the receptionist told me I might have won the record for the fastest turnaround.
I’m basically an expert in making big changes now. I know that even though it hurts, sometimes we have to make decisions for our kids that are the best for them. Recently, a friend with a three-year-old who is very similar to my son at that age reached out to me about the same program. She had her son at the Jewish preschool that she always assumed he’d attend, and even though she knew he needed something more, it was emotionally hard for her to make the move. I assured her that it was the right thing to do. I have the gift of perspective now. I’m happy to share it with her, as I wish someone had with me.
I’m a product (and proponent) of public schools, and I always assumed that all of my children would be too. Now, when people ask me where my kids go to school, I give the answer I never thought I’d be giving. I always wonder if they are judging my son because they have preconceived ideas about the school he attends. I’ve come to not care at all what they think. Maybe one day the answer to that question will be different, but if it never is that will be just fine with me.