To the School System,
This year has been an extremely tough one for our family.
I’ve been a parent in the School System for 15 years, and was a student, myself, for 13 years (K-12).
I had no issues. I found school to be easy….probably too easy. I definitely didn’t try hard enough and still got mostly great marks. Sure, I re-did Math 10 (3rd times the charm, right?) but I didn’t care one bit about sin/cos/tan or graphing. Never have used it.
I believe that over the past 11 years, my sons (and I) have been repeatedly traumatized by the School System.
I understand that is a weighty sentence, but I fully believe it to be true.
Trauma is described as a deeply disturbing or distressing experience. It doesn’t have to be a death or violent event for someone to perceive a situation as traumatic.
Complex trauma is:
- Begins in early childhood, and
- Occurs within the child’s primary caregiving system and/or social environment
Typically, complex trauma exposure involves the simultaneous or sequential occurrence of child maltreatment and may include psychological maltreatment, neglect, physical and sexual abuse, and witnessing domestic violence.
Exposure to these initial traumatic experiences, the resulting emotional dysregulation, and the loss of safety, direction, and the ability to detect or respond to danger cues may impact a child’s development over time and can lead to subsequent or repeated trauma exposure in adolescence and adulthood without supports that might buffer the negative effects.
I have two sons that have experienced repeated distressing and disturbing experiences within the school system. They both have a diagnoses of Autism Spectrum Disorder, Anxiety, ADHD and Learning Disabilities.
Cognitively, one son is average and the other is superior…..that also brings in another layer of complexity.
We have fought on behalf of our boys, for the last 11 years.
There has been misunderstanding of their specific disabilities and needs.
There has been mistreatment by well meaning but un-informed teachers.
There has been GROSS misjudgment of stress behaviors.
There has been repeated segregation, alone, in medical rooms.
There has been denial of child specific supports as defined by diagnosis.
There has been brutal bullying with no consequences for the bullies.
There has been denial of access to opportunities because of disability, with no support.
There has been repeated emotional and mental trauma which has also resulted in physical strain on both of my boys.
It doesn’t stop there.
What affects my boys, effects our entire family. Our family of 7 is precariously balanced on the best of days….Neuro-Diversity, and Mental Health are tough loads to carry. Throw in any mental and emotional upheaval and there is no balance….we come crashing down.
My boys are resilient in the fact that, they get up every morning full of anxiety for what the day will accost them with. Every social interaction is fraught with anxiety; and requires that they must decode idioms, expressions and body language. This “social language”, that we take for granted, is foreign to them; and they struggle with learning it. Not because they don’t try or want to understand, but because they have a neurological difference that makes it difficult to do so.
EVERY DAY is filled with stress…..with anxiety……with sensory overload.
They don’t get a break from it.
And yet they carry on.
My boys keep walking into your schools EVERY DAY knowing that at some point they will be mentally, emotionally, or sensorily assaulted. Maybe not on purpose, but it happens just the same….
If I slam your hand in a car door by accident and then apologize, does it make your fingers any less broken or painful? No, the trauma is still there. Imagine how you would feel, if people repeatedly slammed your fingers in doors.
You’d probably end up extremely jumpy and tense; and mistrustful of those around you. It doesn’t matter how much they seem to like or try to understand you, “survival brain kicks in and reasoning and logic shut down.” In fact, you’d probably not want to go where people and doors are.
But everyday, my boys continue to enter your doors, and try again……it’s insanity, really. And I feel like I’m perpetuating the insanity….the trauma…. by encouraging them to continue to “go and trust”.
They are so very tired.
And I am so very tired!
- I am tired of holding them when they come home crying because someone misunderstood their diagnosis and their heart.
- I am tired of fighting every year to say the same thing and not being heard.
- I am so very tired of being seen as someone causing conflict or someone on the “other side”.
- I am exhausted from scraping up a weeping child who has been judged incorrectly as defiant or non-compliant.
- I am exhausted from dealing with meltdowns as a result of pressures placed on them at school, to live up to “typical” standards.
- I am so very weary of encouraging my children to go back to their teachers and EA’s to work “issues” out, when I believe that my child is being hurt (however unintentional) as a result of lack of knowledge and understanding.
- I am angry that I have been fighting for 11 years for people to “see” my children….to see beyond the the stress behaviors and see their heart.
- I am so exhausted and traumatized from the past 11 years, that I cannot even fathom continuing to advocate for my children. I cringe at the very thought of connecting with the schools to advocate on behalf of my boys and yet….. I must advocate for them because I am SO concerned for their mental and emotional well being, in regards to their care and treatment within the school system.
Dear School System,
How can we change this?
How can we affect change within our school system, so that children like mine are not traumatized on a daily basis?
How can we affect change within our school system, so that children like mine are recognized for the value they bring?
How can we affect change within our school system, sooner rather than later?
- Do our children have the right to access a place where they can be encouraged to love to learn?
- Do our children have the right to have the same opportunities as their “typical” peers?
- Do our children have the right to access safe places, mentally, emotionally and physically, to learn and grow?
Right now, this is not the case….my children (and many others) are not being taught, trained and encouraged in safe and meaningful ways, within the School System!
How can we fix this? How can we work together to accomplish this?
ps. It is not my intent to disparage any specific teachers that my sons have or have had. I feel very strongly about the brokenness of the School system, specifically in regards to special needs children. I feel that there is a HUGE lack of knowledge, in regards to working with children that are Neuro-Diverse. I believe that there are a lot of teachers and staff are that are well-intentioned but unfortunately, unknowledgable regarding neuro-diversities.
There is a WEALTH of information available. I’d strongly suggest Stuart Shanker’s Self Reg as a great starting point….not only to aid with Students but also with Teachers and all School System Staff, in dealing with their own stresses.