I Crossed Off “Special Needs” on My Kids IEP
There are many ways to describe a person. Saying someone has a special need or has special needs does not infer that there is something special about their needs. People with disabilities do not need anything intrinsically different from what you or I need. People with disabilities just want to be recognized for who they are instead of observed for what they are not.
So often society wants to ‘normalize’. We’ve all said it during this pandemic, “I wish things were normal again”, “I wish we could go back to our normal routines”. Well did you know that over the years the word ‘normalize’ has been taken out of context? Normalize does not mean to be normal, or to make things normal, it means to provide the same supports to everyone. To normalize is a process ensuring the need to create a balance within a system, to bring something back to a standard state. How do you bring people with disabilities to a “standard state” when it comes to education? You have to provide equity to education. How is this accomplished? For every student it is different and this is the most exhausting part of advocating for my kids. As a parent, I don’t always know, and neither do our educators.
Recently, I normalized my daughter’s IEP. I crossed off every two phrased statement that said ‘special need’ and ‘disability’. I crossed them off so the team could see the person they were talking about was still a person. I wanted them to read her IEP as if she were a person and not a person who has a disability. I wanted them to see how support would then be provided so she could have the same access and interactions with education and her peers. The person they were talking about needed some assistance in the classroom in order for her to be able to normalize to the students around her. So she could communicate with help in order to develop friendships and interactions with her peers, she needed a booster seat – something all kids need when they just need to be placed a little bit higher so they can eat their food off of the same table as their family. We, together, started to see more of what her needs instead of being jaded with the excuses of “Kate has Down syndrome”.
We all need a little help at times. Mr. Rogers is infamous for his phrase of reminding us to “look for the helpers” in times of need, they are out there, they will help, and they will help you to feel better. Those are the people that I am looking to help and be on my daughter’s team at school and in our community. My daughter does not need an eight-page paper laying out the types of assistance she needs and why we have to legally justify her disability in order to get them, she just needs equal opportunity, she just needs a booster seat to be able to sit at the table with her peers. She just needs people to see her for who she is and not what she has. Her name is Kate.