The first quarter of the school year was disappointing, to say the least. Our chatty boy probably said a total ten words the first three months at school. He rarely participated, did very little academically, and worst of all- his joy was diminishing quickly. It would have been easy to give up on his inclusive placement completely or agree with the team member that suggested he spend more of his day outside of the general education classroom. But, my husband and I knew our hearts, that our son was not what needed to change, it was his support. We never wavered on that belief.
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it is grown, not the flower.” Alexander Den Heijer
You know when you see a quote on social media and you say, “yes!” out loud and share immediately? This is a quote that resonates with me in regard to my son’s first-grade year. I think it really sums of a lot of inclusive education placements nicely. My goal is never to change my son and make him “fit in.” It is always to work with his team to cultivate an environment in which he can flourish.
Sadly, one of the main pieces of my son’s environment was not helping him to bloom, but rather, causing him to wilt. More times than I want to remember, I had to carry him into school because he refused to walk in on his own. And plenty of times I would cry in the car after dropping him off at school or picking him up. I can still feel the pit in my stomach as I remember our experience.
I felt so helpless.
Even though I knew exactly why my son was struggling and I was advocating on his behalf, it never felt like I was doing enough. If only I had a magic wand and could make it all better. The heavy feeling of helplessness is nothing new to me on this journey, but it will always be the most discouraging part of advocating for my son.
Thankfully, I have learned to appreciate the rainbows between the storms. I am so grateful that my son has a teacher that believed he was capable from the first day she met him. She never once gave up on him, even when it would have been the easy thing to do. Instead, she became his champion and continued to include him in her classroom every day.
Recently, my son received a change in a key piece of his school environment and he is finally blooming again. We have our happy and engaged son back. He wants to go to school and is so proud of himself when he walks out with his class at the end of the day. His happiness and self-confidence are why we never give up. Ever.
One of the greatest gifts my son has given me is perspective. He has taught me to find the positive in every moment and to never stop believing. I know there is always something to be grateful for, even a rough start to the school year. For without all the adversity the beginning of this year presented, I wouldn’t have been pushed to further develop my advocacy skills. And the wrong environment at the beginning of the year made us even more grateful for a better environment and to see our son blooming again, now.