Sitting around the table with everyone who had assessed my child over the past few months, or in some cases—years—was intimidating.
What were they going to say? Were they going to kick him off the boat—not because they don’t want to help him—but because he ranked in need behind other kids when it came time to dividing up the special education pieces of the School Budget Pie?
I had come to find each of these specialists and staff members endearing in different ways. For better or worse, we had been contractually married for several years in the common cause of my son. We were linked, convenanted by legal documents and a mutual desire to help him.
But what if, once we got around that table, the budget dropped between the two sides of the table, dividing us abruptly in half like Moses parting the waters of the Red Sea? What if a former Ally in the Care of My Son now became a Defender of Policy, Keeper of the Budget?
We had already argued our case in written form as well as in person during various team meetings. They had seen our vulnerability, our parent angst, a few tears, our pain, our fear, and our determination. They knew our passion.
We had shared openly our prescription battles and medicine failures. We had opened our palms face up showing all our cards, revealing our plans for further outside evaluations and our current count of five outside specialists. I resolved to be open, shed light, break down any misunderstandings about anxiety and depression, educate, and tear down the stigma.
To be fair, I believe everyone in the room was as open about mental health as I am, but when it comes to what goes down on paper to help a child’s academics, that can be the elephant in the room, and sometimes, we can all smell that elephant, but it’s hard to acknowledge he actually took a place at the table with us.
Two depression episodes later. Two years of the same pattern: lost functioning for two months. Two rises in anxiety and shut-downs of an otherwise socially and academically bright child. ADHD can explain some of it, sure, but anxiety was the monster behind the rest. Would they see it that way? If they don’t see it consistently negatively impacting academics, would they take the mental health piece seriously?
We listened. We tried to repeat back their words to make sure we comprehended the overall message, goal, theme, understanding, vision.
We heard the abridged explanation of so many psychological, educational, and occupational therapy evaluations and the thrown-out acronyms and statistics of where he fell in the range of normalcy and average, whatever they really are in Educational Jargonville.
And how about these awesome terms:
- Visual perception
- Visual memory
- Visual motor integration
- Visual tracking
Are you dizzy yet?
And then there’s:
- Processing speed
- Working memory
- Visual field
- Crossing the midline/bilateral integration
And fun terms like:
- At risk
- Clinically significant
Yeah, those are the ones that make me want to go hide under the bed with Smell-ephant, his sensory elephant, and never come back out.
I frankly prefer the more benign ones like sensory diet, quiet workspace, and that absolutely glorious word: accommodations.
[As a sidenote, it turns out that my sweet boy walks on the insoles of his boots, not, apparently, to drive me crazy with worry about foot development, but to get sensory feedback. Wow, I could slam a wall right now after a year and a half of worry to get some good feedback. I can’t imagine living in a body that needs more than I do during stress!]
After asking some questions and expressing some concerns, we were painstakingly walked through a flowchart, the purpose of which was to determine eligibility for services.
And then there it was: He had two disabilities—not just one. Untreated, they both affect academics.
I’m so thankful they didn’t try to separate out or tease those related diagnoses apart. Yes, anxiety and ADHD are two different animals, but they make their bed in the same room, and they usually lie down wrapped around each other. Same thing with sensory integration issues: It’s sometimes pointless to sort out which came first—the chicken or the egg—because if you seek sensory feedback more than the average person, not receiving it can make you anxious and inattentive. If you are anxious and inattentive under stress or because ADHD is not well managed that day, you seek more sensory feedback to ease your stress level.
See what I mean?
As the eight specialists, teachers, guidance counselor, and administrators (remember they are simultaneously Lovers of Educating Children and Defenders of the Holy Budget—an understandably tense combo some days) surrounded us delivering news that not only would we get a revised IEP (and not be thrown off the ship), but we were now to receive 45 minutes of pullout services going into his new school year, I felt like God had set this table for us.
This was my post on the “private” wall of my Facebook:
I’ve never been so happy in my life to have my kid listed with two disabilities and get 45 minutes pulled out for service a week. Pushing back the stigma about anxiety/depression one child at a time. Thank you all for your prayers! I’m so grateful. It was more than we had let our hearts hope for! Before this day, we had spent a lot of time building our case in team meetings, reading special ed law, and typing up our reasoning/justification/advocacy. I will not stop advancing this cause just because we have a win, but I’m so grateful we can relax about next school year a tiny bit. Thank you all for your amazing support!!!! Thank you, God! You are holding Little Man’s hand right now, aren’t You? I can almost see it, but it amazes me that You are simultaneously holding mine.
*Salad Boy’s and my research, preparation, outside-evaluation-collecting, and advocacy for Little Man could only get us so far. We knew the risks of where Little Man fell on the budget-justifying spectrum. We knew the law. We knew where the district could dance around the law and where we could insist on certain rights. We understood both sides of it and respected those evaluating our son—both inside and outside the school. But I’m convinced what made a difference in this was laying it at the feet of our amazing Savior. It was trusting Him, asking Him to lead us, telling Him to help us choose and measure our words carefully, and seeking His assistance in building our relationships with people in positions of help that made the difference. I believe He blesses those who work with pure hearts to help our kids when we ask Him to—and I do ask Him, somewhat frequently.
I want to say here that the outcome could have gone either way. For other IEP-advocating parents—those who pray and those who don’t—we sometimes get a win and sometimes have a bigger battle ahead.
The table He prepared for us was a path we could trust for our son—whichever path that turned out to be. Not everything has gone our way. Not every time have we been understood. But we know that because we asked Him, He has our child’s future in mind. He has our back.
Had we not received services, we knew He’d show us a different way. If it wasn’t what we wanted, we knew it would be what we needed—for personal growth, for increasing faith, for Little Man’s overall future.
Some have said: Just pray the disabilities away. We appreciate that. It’s a great reminder to ask God because
Matthew 21:21-22, ESV
And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.
And whatever you ask in prayer, you will receive, if you have faith.”
We pray every day. I bless Little Man with the peace of Christ every day. I speak a blessing of who he is in the Father’s eyes, not what is said on a piece of paper. In the Father’s eyes, he is exactly who he should be right now and one day will be whole and healed.
In the meantime, I see God working new things in us through this trial, slowing us down, bringing more peace in the storms.
And I see a table laid before me that isn’t in a sterile elementary school conference room with 10 tense people sitting around it hoping they find the meeting of the minds.
I see one where we have a placemat, silverware, beautiful china, crystal glasses, and the most beautiful, amazing, glorious Host sitting at the head of it, saying:
“Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and eat with him, and he with me. Come and eat with me.” Revelation 3:20, ESV, Jesus speaking
That’s where my faith, trust, and hope lie, no matter which results swirl around my IEP table, in upright cushioned chairs in the specialist’s office, or even on the weighted-with-much-angst days around my own kitchen table.
How about you?
More on our personal struggles with ADHD/OCD/anxiety/depression and our journey to greater wholeness can be found inside Not Just on Sundays: Seeking God’s Purpose in Each New Day.
*During fitness season (prepping for a marathon), the husband is affectionately known as “Salad Boy.”
**This blog has been shared at Mom 2 Mom Monday Link-Up, Make a Difference Mondays, Grace & Truth, Simply Inspired Wednesday’s Link-Up, Christian Mommy Blogger, RaRa Link-Up, Blessing Counters, A Little R&R Wednesdays, Faith-Filled Fridays, Dance With Jesus, and Saturday Soirée Blog Party.