For my early school years I was classified as a Special Education kid, a term that has now morphed into Special Needs. I’m not sure which term I prefer to be called; I don’t find either one preferable really; although I can’t come up with my own term that seems to fit either. I was mainstreamed into kindergarten and that’s when I considered myself “rid” of the Special Ed label. I was still considered to be “Special Ed” until the end of fourth grade because I had an educational plan, assessments, in school therapy when needed, and aids in kindergarten & first grade. I probably would’ve had an aid for longer if I didn’t tell one of them that I didn’t need her anymore at some point in first grade. Nobody ever accused me of being tactful.
I had no idea my past would come back and haunt, I mean bless, me later in life.
Working in Early Childhood Education you don’t see very many kids who are, or at least can be identified as, Special Needs. I always told potential volunteers that if they wanted Special Needs experience they’d have the “best luck” in the Preschool. At least that’s what I told people who, I guessed, didn’t have first hand experience in the Special Needs arena.
Within days of starting at my placement I started to notice things.
I happened to bring up my newfound sixth sense during a spiritual direction session. To be honest I think I thought I was going a little insane. I was looking for a way to really contribute in my workplace but I didn’t think it would come to me, I thought I would go to it. I had also gone to my boss about my “insights” on multiple occasions at this point and although she was supportive I was frustrated that no one felt the same way I did, especially after making an observation that was deemed “insightful.”
My spiritual director and I shared the common thread of chronic ailments, although I didn’t consider this at the time, I now see that going to her for some prospective/insight was a good decision, even if it wasn’t exactly a decision.
I remember saying something like, “I don’t get why everyone can’t see what’s so clearly obvious.”
We went back and forth a little.
“And for you it’s like a neon sign.”
“With flashing lights.”
Honestly I was never really sure if I was seeing what I thought I was seeing. I often felt like I was having, “I see dead people” moments. It would take a little while before I would go to the director, who had become a mentor, with my observations/concerns.
I also wasn’t a kid person, so I knew nothing, and that’s being generous. I was amazed when I discovered 1 year old could, and did, sit down when told. But I was more or less at a loss when a 3 year old would ask me to tie their shoe; shouldn’t they know how to do that? (Infants were a mystery to me, and still are)
There was this framed poster in the office of one of the Disability Services director where I went to college that said, “Label Jars, Not People,” it became my life slogan for a while, because it was really getting to me that, “What’s your disability?” was asked with the same seriousness as “What’s your name?” And one often followed another, and sometimes in an order that’s just flat out rude, I don’t care who you are.
I really struggle with labels. As much as I don’t like to be labeled I do label others, and often myself. I understand them for identification purposes, hair color, eye color, height, weight/build; things that I’ll be as bold to call “hard core facts”. How else would you identify a missing child, or anyone else, without them?
Labeling someone with a disability, whether you know of it or not, is where I struggle. I know I’m known in some circles as “with the disability” or “has C.P” I understand that it’s my “most identifiable” quality but it’s an awkward thing, it can easily go from well meaning to demeaning, yet still acceptable, although it isn’t.
Throw all of this together and you can just imagine the pickle I often found myself in. I don’t know kids well & I don’t like labeling people. So how do I go about serving children that might need a little extra than the other kids?
To say it was difficult would be being nice. I would loose sleep over this.
Not only would I loose sleep over that I would loose sleep over others not doing enough to help the kids that needed it. After all isn’t that what the building was built for? We need to serve every child, even if a few need more or different acts of service than others.
I never got totally comfortable with my role in identifying children who might be Special Needs but the more comfortable I got the more the frustration changed. I went from not wanting to be the identifier to being angry when someone didn’t take my observations into account. I quickly realized a pet peeve of mine is being preached to about being a team player and then not being treated as such.
I did learn one thing though, well several:
1. Don’t deny what’s in front of you
2. Not everyone sees what you do
3. Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth (it could be God)
4. It’s in giving that we receive
5. A gift is a gift; not receiving it just because it isn’t what you wanted is a disservice to everyone
6. A gift can also be a burden, but it’s still a gift above all else.
7. Your life has been a series of lessons that lead you to the next teaching experience that will also be a learning experience that your take you to your next learning experience.
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
Hey baby, what’s your sign has a whole new meaning to me now.