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I start counting down the days to summer break as soon as school starts in the fall.
Being a parent of school-age children can be exhausting. Being a parent of a child with special needs on a school IEP is a whole different ballgame. Both of my children are on IEPs. This makes for a very long and draining school year. By the time May rolls around I am burnt out. This isn’t just regular burn-out, it’s like burn-out on steroids. IEP parents have all the same stresses and worries about their kids as every other parent, but we also have an additional set of stresses and worries that come with an IEP or a child with special needs.
For those who don’t know, an IEP stands for Individualized Educational Plan. An IEP lays out the special education instructions, supports, and services that a child needs to get through school. It is a bit like a contract with the school, but this contract is ever-evolving and changing.
One of the services offered to us each year is summer school. Every year it is offered. Every year I say no. I am making the same decision I make every year on the topic: No, my kids will not be attending summer school. And then the guilt sets in…
By the time summer gets here I am just mentally and emotionally drained — so are my kids. Summer is our time to just be a family, and for my kids to just be kids: no school meetings, no school schedules, no stress, no anxiety, and no worrying about falling farther behind. We need this time to exhale, relax, and recharge.
This year, more than any other, I am finding it harder to even get through the regular school year let alone think about summer school. I hit a point this week where I badly needed a break. The problem is, as an IEP parent, you don’t get breaks. If you take one, or if drop your guard or diligence ever so slightly, things can rapidly spiral out of control. Anyone with a special needs child or a child on an IEP knows the drill: there are no breaks during the school year… and as we all know, this year was definitely no exception.
This is why we’ve learned the importance of celebrating any goodness that comes to us over the course of the school year. You know, the little victories, no matter how small they might be we celebrate them. We celebrate because we know there will be many hard weeks without them. Many times we are bombarded with so many negatives continually driving you down that you have to celebrate these victories in order to achieve any semblance of balance, to lift yourself up… or dare I say… any feeling of normalcy.
I feel anything but normal when it comes to school. It only takes a single conversation with a parent of a child who doesn’t have learning differences to remind me that our normal is a different kind of normal. School is optimized for the “normal learner,” whatever that is. If your child isn’t a normal learner, you know it. You’re reminded of it everyday. Not intentionally. No one is out to be malicious (well, let’s hope not). It’s just how it is. It really starts to beat you down after a while.
If you’re not worrying about your child’s struggles, you are worrying if you are doing everything you can, what more can be done, and what needs to be done next. In our case, we are extremely lucky to have excellent and engaged IEP teams for both of our kids. Honestly, I couldn’t imagine if we didn’t have the support that we have. Actually, I can… we didn’t always have this kind support, and it sucked. Even with great support, it’s still unbelievably draining. Daily life is a constant reminder that we are a square peg trying to fit into a round hole: meetings on top of meetings, therapy sessions, and behavior plans that only accentuate “we are not normal.”
When we started the IEP process with our eldest nearly eight years ago, I never thought we would still be here doing the same things each year. I used to hear stories of parents who weren’t engaged in their Special Ed child’s academic career. I couldn’t understand how that could happen. It took me a while, but I totally get it now. You get to that point where you want to throw your hands in the air and say, “Screw it! It is what it is.” You want to give up, and you want to check out.
That’s what I absolutely want to do, but that’s not what I’m going to do. I am going to keep pushing forward. That’s what parents do. I will cry alone, outside in my car. I will sit up all night researching schools, therapists, techniques, and who knows what else. I will try my best to stay on top of everything that needs to be done or needs to be known. I will fight to make sure my kids are getting everything they need. I will probably second-guess every decision I ever make. I will do all of this until that very last minute when summer break begins. In that last moment I will finally sit back, rest, and take a breath. A long breath. If I am being honest, I’ll probably crack open a bottle of wine in celebration too… because it’s summer break.
So, no, my kids will not be attending summer school.