This is the fifth installment of the story of our journey with Maura…
When Maura was about to turn three, it was announced that she would age out of the Early Intervention program, and considering what we knew to be significant global delays, we were suggested that we sign Maura up for a special education preschool program.
I’ll admit, I’ve never been too keen on preschool. One of my kids never even went. It just seemed…optional to me. The two who went to preschool were comfortably in age 4 when I sent them. And could talk, thereby tell me all sorts of things about their day.
The idea of sending Maura off to preschool so young was a bit concerning. Made even moreso by the fact that we weren’t sure where she’d go. We were living in a small town and at that point, the special ed preschoolers were bussed up to the next town. Only one day, someone realized that the majority of the kids in the other town’s class were from our town. So a local program was starting. My child got to be part of the Guinea Pig Class.
I wasn’t certain about it all, but knew this was probably in Maura’s best interest, so went off to the parent information meeting. There were only six kids in Maura’s class, so it was quite the intimate meeting. By the end of it, I was a little stunned – not from what the program director told us, but by other parents’ reactions. So emotional. So forceful. So opinionated.
I had been told once or twice how I was such a “laid back” parent. I used to get offended by that – I mean, I cared! I had concerns! That night, I understood what they meant. I was laid back compared to others. Maybe not laid back – I just didn’t go in there with both fists up and ready for a fight, looking for things to make negative comments over.
I can understand why the other parents were upset – their children were in the other program, it was a good program, and the unknown is scary.
Still, I found myself getting excited by preschool starting. Completely nervous, not sure what I’d do with myself without Maura. I mean, I’d spent the past three years taking this girl everywhere with me, half the time on my hip. It would be weird to not have her there with me. But I was excited about meeting other moms of special needs kids. I imagined we must have so much in common.
That year, I learned that your child could have special needs, but if it’s not the right special need, you’re shunned from certain circles.
I’m a nice gal. Really. I’m pretty friendly, open to new people, and always ALWAYS try to see things from the other person’s point of view. I walked into the preschool with a “Wow, we have SO MUCH in common!” attitude. I was greeted with “Sorry, your kid’s not like ours, we have no time for you.”
It wasn’t all in my head. When Mom 1 said to Mom 2 “Do you have the special needs directory?” and Mom 2 said no, Mom 1 explained how it was a directory of doctors, dentists, specialists who worked with special needs kids.
I said “Oh wow, I could use something like that!”
Mom 1 gave me a pointed look, then turned to Mom 2 and said “I’ll make sure I get you a copy.”
I got the message. Or at least, I thought I did. Apparently they thought that message wasn’t completely clear to me.
I don’t remember how the conversation started, or what it was about. I just remember the one mom turning to me and stating “You’re lucky! Your child doesn’t have autism!”
Yes, somehow I had found myself in a contest of “Who’s got it worse?”, and honestly, I didn’t want to be the winner. But really? REALLY? Somehow I was luckier because my kid didn’t share a label with theirs? I don’t think I responded. My mind was blown.
At that point, I gave up. I was not going to be bosom buddies with these ladies. I realized that just because two people each parent a special needs child doesn’t instantly bond them.
You can have a special needs child and still be a jerk.
I look back at it now and kind of laugh – because at last check, I was the ultimate winner of that “worse-off” contest. My child may not have autism, but she has not progressed as much as their children have. And we got the added bonus of seizures! Woohoo!
Eventually, we all simmered down and made peace. But it was definitely a lesson to me. Not every special needs mom is gracious and helpful and open-armed. Those who should be the first to help a fellow special needs mom out are sometimes the first to walk right past them. Sometimes they are so caught up in their own child’s label, they get a very narrow point of view with which they judge all special needs families by. The ironic part is when they go around preaching how their child is in so many ways, no different from any other child – and then are the first to exclude you because your child doesn’t have the same diagnosis.
It was funny – when we moved here to Ireland, Maura started going to a special school. We didn’t have to provide the right diagnosis. It was open to any child with moderate intellectual disabilities. The parents here weren’t all about their child’s specific label – they’ve been about their child and their schoolmates. I found a community of special needs families that are there to help and support one another, not a handful of people fending for themselves and fighting alone for what their child needs. It has shown me how a great special needs community can be like. It’s been refreshing.
I don’t think I’ve ever felt as alone with Maura’s issues as I did that first year of preschool, which was a shame. It was a place where I should have stepped in and been welcomed as a friend. Instead, it was a bit like junior high and I wasn’t wearing the right name brands.
But as with everything else, I learned from it. It’s why I am always willing to help out a fellow special needs parent, or at least give it a try. No one should be made to feel like they don’t belong, especially when they’ve been thrust into the world of special needs. I mean, if we can’t help each other out, then what good are we?