What happens when we let go and accept what is, rather than trying to be “normal?” What drives us to need to fit in with our peers so badly anyway? Fear. Fear has us believing that standing out or being atypical is “bad.” Reber argues in chapter five that, “For us to do what’s best for our kids, we need to stop making decisions out of fear” (p 127). Fear to buck the “norm” and fear of our child “not being normal” or “fitting in” drives many decisions for those of us parenting exceptional children. Reber asks us to reflect upon the following:
- How willing are you to question your own ideas of what you expected your child’s life to look like?
- Where are you regularly coming up against your own parenting expectations not meshing up against current reality?
- How might your own beliefs about the way things “should look” be keeping you stuck in moving forward to accept what actually is?
It’s okay to admit that we all have some form of expectations about what parenting will be like, and that accepting that that reality may not come to be is HARD. However, Reber argues that “when we parent from a place of insecurity and distance ourselves from who our child is in an effort to make ourselves feel more comfortable, we’re joining in a chorus of voices pointing out everything that’s wrong with being atypical” (p 106-107). Our goal here is to be firm in the truth…whether that is during a meltdown in the grocery store, during a parent teacher conference, or in the privacy of our home. If we expect to change the conversation regarding how the needs of atypical children are met in schools and society in general, then modeling that respect and acceptance of our own differently wired child’s needs is critical. It is difficult. It is not comfortable when you are being stared at in line at the register because your child cannot make a decision on what flavor bubble gum she wants and eventually melts down. But don’t our atypical children deserve a world where their needs are met with compassion and where opportunities are afforded to them at the same rate as their typically developing peers?
Another important piece of the reading that I took to heart was a piece of the fourth chapter that outlined ways that most schools are not set up to fully support exceptional children. It is no fault of theirs. Our public schools are full of people doing the best that they can with what they have. However, the way that public school is designed is FULL of possible triggers for any atypical child. Does your child struggle to work in groups? How do they respond when an assignment highlights the challenges that they face? Do they become overstimulated at times? Even a quiet classroom can stimulate a sensory sensitive child. My own child has done a beautiful job during distance learning with me, after some initial challenges in getting down a routine. She knows exactly what to expect each day, and we can alter plans if we need to if she is having a hard time getting a hold on her emotions. After Spring Break, we will be switching back to a full time in person model, and I am fully expecting and ready to embrace her on some tough days during this change for the last couple months of school.
I feel like the pandemic has highlighted ways that our educational system has needed to change for a long time. The current system tries to fit square pegs into round holes, and for many, it doesn’t work. Other models, such as a virtual format that is more self paced, a hybrid model where some time is spent in a classroom and some time is spent in a virtual or homeschool setting, etc. meet those needs better. My hope is that we will have learned from all the adapting we had to do during this time just to get instruction out to students and be able to fine tune a system that was in need of a tune up to be more inclusive for all.