Sometimes In Life, A Door Opens…

Zi6_0127As many of my readers already know, special education has been a driving force, for most of my life. Maybe I should say, helping and encouraging individuals with special needs and their families has been my driving force. It is one of the things in my life that brings me joy, and contributes to who I am as a person. God put a desire in my heart, a calling, to be a voice for those who deserve to be heard.

Sometimes in life, a door opens, and we are unsure if we should walk through it. Life might change….and change can be scary. It is often times easier to just stand for awhile, in the threshold, unsure of whether or not to take that next step. With that said, a couple of months ago, my husband and I walked through that proverbial door and embarked on a new adventure. We took an opportunity that allows us to create ways to help, encourage, and advise families of those with special needs.

Please check out our new website. The website is still “in progress”, as a matter of fact we feel the site should always be evolving and growing to be all we want it to be, while still taking steps toward our dream. Would you help us to help others by sharing the blog and website? Would you like, pin, share and retweet? If you, yourself, have a family member with a disability or you know someone who does, would you let them know about the website as a resource? Make comments. Ask questions. Be real. Help us make a positive difference in the lives of others.  The most recent addition to the website is the first in a series of videos I’m calling “SpecEd Answers”.  Check it out!

The Ups And Downs

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Today is Central Auditory Processing Disorder awareness day. April is Autism awareness month. As a special education teacher, consultant and advocate I have had the pleasure (and sometimes frustration) of working with students with all sorts of diagnoses. I have learned a lot from my students, and their parents, over the years…..things I would never have learned had I not been on this journey.

This is a post from my archives, I am reblogging in support of those with auditory processing disorders and autism.

Making A Real Difference

My friend was sitting at my kitchen counter yesterday morning. She hangs out while I work with her son during Fun Kitchen Fridays. He is learning life skills as we create a cookbook for independent living.  My friend told me that a jeep had just pulled up in my snow covered driveway. Dogs began barking as I opened the door. Flowers for me? Completely unexpected, but welcomed. The flowers were beautiful and smelled like spring on a cold winter day. The card attached read: Thank you for helping my Mom change my life. Love, K.D

The message was short. Simple. Sweet.

Yet, to me, deeply profound. I had what my son likes to refer to as “moist eyes”, as I read the card.

Over the past several weeks I have been consulting with K’s mom. K is on the autism spectrum and she needed help with school planning. Planning that would teach her, and challenge her, and benefit her….things that would make a real difference in the life of this young child.

For parents of children with special needs, many times the battles are great. Being an advocate is not easy work. There are set backs and disappointments, so when the battle is finally won the rewards are often bitter sweet.

Sometimes when life gets us down and everything seems to be going wrong, a small, simple gesture can mean so much.

Making a real, positive, difference in a person’s life. One day at a time.

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

Matthew 25: 44-45  NIV

Unto The Least Of These…

10th Special Olympics World Winter Games

As many of you know, I’ve worked with individuals with special needs for twenty-two years professionally, and for another six years before that, as a volunteer with Special Olympics, camp counselor and group home/ house counselor. I knew I wanted to teach and work with this population of people since I was about sixteen years old. In all these years I’ve seen a lot, done a lot, and have some good…and not so good memories.

Not too long ago I was looking through the online newspaper in the town I used to live in. I saw some of my former students. Arrested. Drug Possession. Armed robbery…and a myriad number of other things. It made me sad. The one young man I had in my classroom when he was only six years old. Even then he was hard core to the bone. I would go home at night and cry. The words that came out of his mouth were vile, hurt and anger seeped from every pore. My heart was soft for this little guy, who cussed me on a daily basis and even threatened my life on more than one occasion.

I would pray, “God, I don’t think I can do this! These boys have serious emotional problems. How can I make a difference? Will it even matter? Give me strength…and keep me focused. Give me patience with them even when it is undeserved.  Father in the face of darkness, I ask for safety for me…for them… Thank you, Father. Amen”

Looking back…did I make any real difference in their young lives? Was anything different for having me as their teacher? I wanted to help, but did I?

When doubt creeps in and I wonder about the past, God whispers to me through His Word……

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40  NIV

Nothing we do for the Lord is in vain. He sees. He knows. He remembers.

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This day I am thankful for:

* beautiful almost-Spring mornings

* enjoying my son driving

* shared smiles

* a latte my son bought for me as a surprise

* riding down country roads

* my husband patient with me as I snap pictures

* rest

* quiet in the midst of chaos

* mom time with each child

* opportunities that continue…

* the chance to make a real difference

* doing for “the least of these”

* God who sees

His Name Is Greg

I met Greg when he was 40. He was a quiet guy, as a matter of fact he didn’t talk at all. He was very skinny…all of 100 lbs. soaking wet. Fair skin and red hair. I wonder if he had Irish ancestry? I helped to take care of Greg the summer of my 19th year. I worked in a group home for developmentally disabled adults. You see Greg was severely and profoundly mentally retarded. He didn’t talk. He was in a wheelchair. He had to be fed and diapered. Greg’s mother had taken care of Greg all his life, but now she was in her 70’s and had become to frail herself to lift in her arms this son she loved. She visited him often and was quick to remind us what Greg needed. I think it helped her, more than it helped us as caregivers…and that was okay.

Greg taught me lessons that summer. Lessons I would have never learned in my college textbooks, or through my college professor’s lectures. I learned that I could have all the knowledge of special education in the world, but the most important thing an individual has to have to relate to someone with special needs is heart. I learned over those months how to have a servants heart. How to give to someone who is unable to give back to me. How to care for someone who couldn’t even smile at me.

I showered Greg and he promptly thanked me by getting sick on me. I cleaned us both. I fed Greg and he spit and drooled his dinner back out. I talked to Greg about current events, showed him books and catalogs, and we watched TV together. His eyes didn’t show comprehension. I rolled him into the kitchen with me while I fixed dinner. I talked with him, never knowing if he understood a word. I changed his diapers, and tried to give him the dignity that he deserved.

That summer I talked with God about Greg. I knew that God has given me a heart and passion for individuals who had special needs. My desire was to fulfill my dream of being a special education teacher. A dream God had given me years earlier. Yet, that summer I questioned God. I asked Him why? I didn’t understand. It was painful for me sometimes…to watch people who were so dependent on others. What was their purpose? Why did God allow them to have no control over themselves?

I am thankful God is GOD. He is all knowing. He is patient. He knows me and allows me to find my way through these difficult things of life. It began to occur to me that God LOVES Greg. He had not abandoned him. He had not forgotten him. He DID serve a purpose. Greg taught me a lesson about serving others. Having a servants heart. Caring for someone when they can’t love you back. Being gentle in a harsh world. Making an extra effort when others may think it a waste. The lessons that God allows are far more valuable……

That was 23 years ago. I don’t know if Greg is even still alive. I do know that he touched my life. For the better. Thank you, God….and thank you, Greg.

The Children That Changed Me–Part Five

The series that I’ve blogged on for the past several days has been a stroll down memory lane for me. I have had many, many students over the years and more stories than I can possibly tell in just a few short days. Each of my students touched me. Each of them special in their own way. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to meet them. Being a special education teacher has been an adventure. An adventure I am still on. Most of the time when people ask me what I do, I reply “I’m a wife and mom with all the challenges that come with that, a home school teacher, and I teach in special education.” Then a lot of the time I get this response…”Oh, it takes a special person to teach kids like that.” Hmmm…… I’ve given that response some thought.  I don’t consider myself all that special because I teach individuals with special needs. The truth is I feel blessed to have had the opportunity.  It sounds like a pat answer, but it isn’t. I truly mean that. I’m not perfect by any stretch of the imagination….and there were many days that were frustrating and I felt like giving up…but than again nothing in life of any real value comes easily, does it?

Unfortunately, over the years, I’ve had educators tell me that they didn’t really see the point of having my students in their classrooms. “They aren’t going to learn anything anyway.”   “I don’t know what to do with them.” (As if they were a thing, instead of a person!) At first I found it extremely frustrating. After awhile I realized, if  the teacher could not look beyond the disability to see the child, then it was their loss. Not all teachers were that way. Thankfully, there were many who reached out, worked hard, and met the challenges that special education entails. Both the students and the teachers walked away from the school year having learned something new about each other.  I’ve learned that special education isn’t perfect. It’s a lot of trial and error. Sometimes it’s going back to the drawing board and figuring out something new to try. It’s about not giving up.

One of my greatest treasures of the   “special ed world” has been getting to know my student’s parents. Sure there have been some… um…..how shall I say this, interesting ones.  Yet, most of the parents I’ve met have been good people. I consider it a privilege to know them. Are parents of children with special needs perfect? No. Do they sometimes get angry, or frustrated, or feel sorry for themselves? Sure. They are human. Are they thankful, and happy, and see even the smallest improvement as something to celebrate? Yes. I don’t think parents are perfect. I do think they are real. Many of us will never know the pain of watching our child struggle to eat without a tube. We won’t understand the feeling of knowing that our child can’t be on the local soccer team because he/she can’t walk, much less run. We won’t be able to commiserate about what it is like to see our child struggle to read or write and not have them feel dumb or stupid….or different. Or what about the parent that has a child trapped inside his/her own head, who is smart and funny and creative–but is unable to communicate it, because autism has stolen that from her? Every time, over the years, that I met with a parent I kept this thought foremost in my mind. These parents love their child, imperfections and all. They are requesting my help because they want their child to meet his/her full potential. Whatever that may be for that particular child. They want a chance for their child, just like any other parent. That’s it. So, if there are any parents of children with special needs that are reading my blog today. Thanks goes to you. Really. You are the ones that deserve it.