Yesterday was report card day. As I overheard the neighbors talking about it, I felt a rising pit in my stomach. There are some days you just can’t take on any more. Some days you just don’t want to think about disability or challenges. Yesterday was that day for me. I was done. I really just wanted to make dinner and not think about anything else.
But because I’m a mom, and I’m ever-curious about my children, I pulled out the report cards anyway.
For my eldest, we read it together and we talk about what he thinks. I could see his subtle pride, not because of a grade but because of the recognition of his effort; the notes that mention how hard he worked on a particular project, for example.
The others I read on my own first. For my son with a disability, report cards can be harsh.
“While there remain some areas still in need of improvement, we can confidently state that Joe* has had a very successful year.”
As I write those words, they seem less powerful than last night. Last night, I read those words and the tears fell as a smile crossed my face. “It has been a very successful year.” Yes, it has. I do not take that lightly.
“Unlike the beginning of the year when Joe always needed to be in extremely close proximity to his teacher, he is now feeling much more confine and secure in the classroom.”
I just want to break this down for a minute.
At the beginning of the year, this child was stuck like glue to me at drop off. I’m sure a lot of you can relate to this feeling. It rarely ends well. How many times have you had to leave your child crying or have a teacher literally peel your child’s body from your own? UGH. The worst.
This year enabled him to develop the capacity to self regulate because he’s learned what it feels like to be overwhelmed with fear but to experience co-regulation through his relationship with his teacher.
This year, Joe’s teacher, a parent himself and a nurturing soul, would see my son and his face would light up as if he’d been waiting all morning to see him. He would often bend down to his height or take an extra minute to ask him a question and really listen to his answer. He would quickly and subtly position Joe in a role within the class where he felt safest, while still maintaining the flow of all of the students in the class. There were still days at the beginning where he needed to be peeled off, but it was with respect and care that the transition occurred and it slowly faded. Last week, I walked him up to his classroom. We were a few minutes late (which is not ideal because it’s harder to join a class already in session, of course). But Joe walked away confidently, turning midway to give a wave as he walked into his classroom and joined his friends.
Honestly, I could have stopped reading there. Because this is so much more than an easier drop off for me. This is a child who has developed a sense of self and a sense of belonging. A child who now feels like a valued member of his class and of his community. This year enabled him to develop the capacity to self regulate because he’s learned what it feels like to be overwhelmed with fear but to experience co-regulation through his relationship with his teacher. That co-regulation is the basis for self-regulation. And self-regulation is an important part of the foundation for learning and problem solving and negotiating social relationships. Yes, he has more work to do. We have more work to do. He’s so ready! But let me tell you, watching him walk into that classroom on his own, holding his head high? I’m just going to hover there for a minute
Whether you are closing out one school year or getting ready to start the next, think about how you can add social emotional supports into your child’s IEP goals. Sometimes these are more in the “how” than the “what”, but it’s important for new teachers to know what works. Sometimes we find what works by identifying what didn’t work. But this is also an opportunity to think about a time when you weren’t fighting for something and wonder, why? What was in place that we didn’t necessarily put there? Look at those relationships and look for patterns. What makes someone a good fit for your child? What are those qualities?
To the teachers who are genuinely curious about how their students are doing that day, to the bus driver who sets clear limits but doesn’t label the child as ‘bad’, to the front desk staff who welcome each child into the community by name everyday, and to the after school instructor who resets to allow her students to start each new day fresh, THANK YOU! Your kindness and empathy and openness are changing the world. Trust me.
For more on writing an IEP for your child, check out our Guide here!