Special Needs Does Not Equal Lowered Expectations

For years, I’ve had to fight against people constantly underestimating Isaac.  It has happened as far back as I can remember. It has been every school year without fail.

  • In Pre-K-I had to fight to send him to the integrated classroom, although it was painfully obvious that he was way past the peers in the self contained room.
  • In Kindergarten I had to fight to not have special transportation, and to give him as much time in the regular classroom as possible. There’s no reason with a half day program that the school could not schedule my child’s PT/OT/Speech times after the academic day was done.
  • In First Grade I had to fight for a technology evaluation that I had asked for since mid-Kindergarten. I was told that he was too impulsive, young and irresponsible. I had to fight for the OT to even think about doing more life skills and technology skills rather than “pre-handwriting.”
Every year, at some point, I come out with a headache because of these fights.
Friday night after open house, when I was going through my mail, I saw an envelope from the school district. It was for the 3-year review (triennial-tri for short). Looking through this monster of a form, I realized why I got headaches and why I had to fight for every single little thing that Isaac needed.
Two words: Lowered Expectations.
At each stage of this educational game, we have run into this chilling part of special needs kids. Teachers, administrators and therapists often focus on what the student can’t do rather than what they can do. This results in not pushing the student to their full potential and allowing them to skate by in some instances.
Prime example:
I received Isaac’s IEP in draft form, as is standard, prior to the meeting with the district last year. I looked over the goals and expectations of what he would be expected to do by the end of this year. When I got to the OT goals, I was flabbergasted. There was a goal for coloring. Coloring within the lines of a specified object.
Excuse me? Coloring? For an entering 2nd grader?  When I kicked the IEP back , the response I received was, “well, he needs to be able to do this.”
This demonstrates a clear lack of expectations, as well as a gross underestimation of my child’s skills and potential. If all he could do was color, I would have said that this goal was fine. But, fortunately for us, this is not all he can do. He can form letters, he can attempt to quasi-legibly write words.
When I asked that the bar be raised, because I knew he could at least attempt to rise to the expectation, I was given several excuses until they finally relented.  When they relented, they did so with a snide comment regarding how my expectations were too high.
Wait-my expectations were too high for my child? Just because I got rid of a coloring goal?
I think not.  I think their expectations of my child were too low.
So, how do you combat these low expectations from teachers and therapists?
It all comes back to the cardinal rule of special needs kids-know your child.
I can’t say that enough – KNOW YOUR CHILD.  Know what they can and can’t do as well as their personality. Do they play games with teachers so that the teacher thinks they are less capable and leaves them alone? Are they adventurous or shy? Are they the kind of child who rises to a high bar or needs to be given small steps?
As soon as you know those things, you can approach your team with confidence, and know that you are doing the right thing for your child.
Here’s the happy start to my story for this year…
At open house, I spoke to Mrs. G, Isaac’s new teacher. I asked her how he was settling in and if he had played any of his games for her.  I also asked her how he was meshing with his new TA.  She told me the following:
“I really think Isaac can do more than all of the paperwork and everyone else lets on. I was told he couldn’t write, he couldn’t do this or that and when he visited, he was really scattered. He’s really surprised me. If you don’t mind, I’m going to push him as hard as he’ll let me and take him as far as he can go.”
That was music to my ears and made me think that this year may just be that year I don’t have to fight.


  1. 1
    Misha Lynn Estrada says:

    I guess I am lucky. Both of my boys have always had teachers, paras and therapist who have pushed them to do their best. I’m hoping this continues for my older son who will begin middle school in the fall.

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