I put my kid on the short bus every day.
I know he has challenges that require extra attention in school; I worked with our school district to make sure those supports were put in place for him. I've met his teachers and therapists and read their progress reports. I know there are enough kids with similar challenges that there's a class just for them - and not just one class, but several classes in every school district in the country, manned by teachers and aides and therapists who have dedicated their careers to helping them catch up with their typically-developing peers.
I know all that - my kid is in special ed.
But knowing isn't the same as seeing.
Progress reports and IEPs don't tell you about the screaming. The constant, high-pitched shrieking of a non-verbal six-year-old in diapers as she objects to the demands placed on her in the only way she knows how.
Progress reports don't describe how the other children in the class keep working on their writing and math exercises, diligently ignoring the screaming.
Progress reports don't do justice to how hard my baby works all day to master things that come so easily to typical kids.
Sitting in on a morning's activities - circle time, writing time, gym class, math time, speech therapy - I was in awe of how much energy my kid expends to stay on task. And that he does it. The teachers sometimes have to use their hands as blinders or put Ryan in a weighted vest or prompt him seven times to make it happen, but Ryan can write the sentences he's supposed to write, figure out what number is missing from the pattern, identify the picture of a bar of soap and its purpose and place it in the appropriate room in the picture of a house. But because of his communication and social deficits, it is perfectly appropriate for him to be in the same tiny class as the shrieking child and a loving, sweet five-year-old who only recently learned to utter one-word sentences, like "Eat."
I kissed Ryan goodbye in the lunchroom and went off to cry in my car. Why does it have to be so damn hard for him? For all these kids? Why is he still struggling to answer yes/no questions properly after over a year of attention to this in speech therapy? How long will it take before he consistently calls his kindergarten teacher by her name and not by the name of his last preschool teacher?
And does he know he's in special ed? Does he know the kids at the other tables in the lunchroom are having spontaneous conversations with each other, and that it comes perfectly naturally to them? Does he know how hard he's working, and that despite his amazing successes he's still miles behind the typical kindergarteners?
Does he know how proud I am of him?