Teachers, in my opinion, are some of the most dedicated and hardworking individuals around. As a parent of a special needs child I need the teachers, special education providers and therapists that we work with to know that I simply could not do it without you. We are a team (and those words have been said to me by the teachers and case managers) and when it comes to providing the best education and guidance to help my son grow and learn, having my team has made all the difference.
As the school year is coming to a close, we are in the midst of finalizing IEPs, setting goals for next year, navigating the therapy schedule for the summer and next year and my child is just one of the many that my team is doing this for in these last few weeks. Each and every one of you works extremely hard and much more than society gives you credit for and it is safe to assume as a teacher or educator you have heard many times how wonderful your schedule must be, how nice it is to finish work at 3:30pm each day and of course the fact that some of you have your summers off. These assumptions could not be further from the truth. You get up and go to work earlier than most people and finish projects, grading papers, writing out reports or planning for your classroom during your evening hours or weekends. You spend much of your hard-earned income on additional supplies and tools to engage your students. You may have the summer off but you are rarely able to take time off during the school year outside of holidays and rarely get more than a 30 minute break during each work day. Teachers do not have two hour client lunches or negotiate deals while spending the day on the golf course or enjoying cocktails. There probably are no 10 minute breaks to chat with your coworkers and catch up on the latest TV shows or sports game. You are taking care of children during your working hours and as someone who is a mom to two young boys, I can imagine this means your days are non-stop and you cannot simply close your office door and tune out your coworkers like so many of us can.
It seems impossible to thank you for every little thing that is done, for every accomplishment you have made possible, for the endless hours of patience and understanding you demonstrate and for the simple yet amazing fact that you have dedicated yourself to this profession. Without my sons teachers, case manager, therapy team and all of those who provide support and guidance to our family, we would not only be lost but would never have had the profound experience of witnessing what true dedication to one’s field looks like.
Attempting to list all of the reasons why I am thanking you would be impossible because I realize I do not know about half of the things you are doing behind the scenes on behalf of my child or our family. What I can do is tell you how much it means to me to have you in Charlie’s life, how much you have positively impacted both Charlie and our family and why it matters so much to me as his mom.
In no particular order, here are 10 reasons why I thank you:
1. For the fact that you celebrate Charlie’s milestones as if he was your own child. No one in my life (outside of my husband and our parents) may ever understand the struggle that we face with reaching milestones and the heartbreak that often comes when your child does not reach milestones like other children do. We celebrate even the smallest wins as if we’ve hit the lottery and the best part of working with our team of teachers and therapists is that they celebrate just as proudly and loudly along with us.
2. You are some of the only people in my life who I can laugh with about the ridiculousness or insanity that comes along with being a special needs parent. You get it, you have seen it all, you don’t judge it or dislike it but rather you embrace it, you enjoy it and you laugh at our stories or you tell me about your own stories with Charlie with a huge smile on your face. This team – these teachers, they know all about our code names, imaginary friends, odd quirks, incentive and reward systems and go along with it no matter how weird it may seem. They know who PIA and MYA are (I won’t go into these in detail) which for our team is enough said.
3. You take your time to truly understand Charlie. Not in a textbook way, not in a this is his “label” way but rather in a “who is this child and how can I connect with him way”. This is at the core of what makes each of you indispensable to me. One of the true joys of having a team as a special needs parent is realizing that these individuals really “get your child.”
4. No amount of shoe throwing, meltdowns, screaming, diaper changing, potty training, space invading activity throws you off course. You keep on keeping on and in most cases do it with a smile and a laugh. You are not judging my child, you are not judging me, you are not throwing up your hands and throwing in the towel. You are working each and every day to help Charlie be his best and like a parent, giving up on him is not an option to you.
5. You remind me almost daily that Charlie is not his diagnosis. You have told me in person, on the phone and in emails time and again how smart Charlie is, how wonderful he is, how funny he is and how much he is growing and learning. You – his teachers and therapists give me hope and confidence every single day. I know how awesome my son is but I still worry and fear for his future and while this may never go away, my team has allowed me to have faith and to acknowledge how far we have come.
6. You decorate a weighted vest with paw patrol stickers in hopes it will entice Charlie to actually put it on for a therapy session. You willingly sit in a blow up boat in my basement in order to engage Charlie’s love of imaginary play. You make up a new game in speech therapy when a piece from your old board game goes missing because it makes Charlie happy and excited. You take the time to email me when he has a really good day or has done something new or accomplished something challenging. You reach out to me when you don’t understand something he is talking about or referring to because you want to know, you want to understand and you want to connect with Charlie. You develop social stories based on space and rocket ships to assist with potty training. You put up a tent in the classroom so he has a space to be alone or calm down if needed. You do all of these things for my son.
7. The countless hours you spend in meetings with me, the evaluations that are done, the never-ending progress reports and paperwork, the goal setting and the emails you answer from me with questions about even the littlest change or concern. You respond to me at 7AM, at 2PM and sometimes at 12AM. All of these may seem to go unnoticed but we do notice, we are aware and we are appreciative.
8. The other team players who I may not even know or have never spoken to yet I am aware they work with my son and most likely deal with some challenges as a result. To those individuals I thank you for including my child in activities like art, music and gym and for embracing the inclusion model. When Charlie’s gym teacher (who I met just last week) told me that “in his eyes Charlie could do no wrong, just look at that face” I almost cried with pride for my son but was also humbled that this man saw what I see in my child.
9. For your endless patience not only with Charlie but with me. I can be exhausting in my never ending quest to do everything possible to help him. I email you at midnight, I talk your ear off when I drop him for therapy, I ask questions 2-3 times just to make sure I am understanding the response and you never make me feel like a bother. I don’t care if you think I am annoying, I do care about the fact that I rarely ever feel that I am asking too much.
10. As parents, we all love our children fiercely but as a special needs parent it can be almost impossible to trust that those who are caring for your child are seeing him for who he really is. My absolute awe and admiration for our team is due to the fact that I can see, feel and experience the love they have for my child. You expect teachers to like kids, but I never expected for my sons teachers and therapists to enjoy Charlie the way that they do. Their eyes light up, they laugh out loud and they make me feel like the luckiest mom in the world as a result.
As we all head into summer I hope that you, our team, are able to find time to relax, vacation, spend time with your own families and get a break. You have earned it and you deserve it. Thank you for being who you are and doing what you do. I do not know what prompted you to enter into the field of education or therapy or in particular why you chose to work with children with special needs but I for one am grateful that you did.