The school holiday party that helped me see beyond my son’s reading progress

After my son was diagnosed with and in first grade, my early conversations with his teachers and IEP team were all about the “big stuff.” Evaluation results. Individualized reading instruction. . We talked about all the ways to help him catch up, and keep up, with his peers and succeed at school.

We didn’t discuss what I considered the “small stuff” — the daily goings-on at school that weren’t a challenge for him, like recess, assemblies, and field trips. These things just weren’t on my radar.

Until they were.

In first and second grade, my son was pulled out for reading every day. That happened while his classmates were also having reading instruction. He also was pulled out for speech-language therapy once a week.

The rest of the time, he was in class with all of his friends, doing exactly what they were doing, when they were doing it. That included being at the many holiday celebrations throughout the school year.

But in third grade, the school switched to block scheduling. Now, reading was taught in a block with social studies, and my son was spending 80 minutes a day in a special education classroom learning both subjects. It was only one extra period a day, but it took a toll.

By third grade, he had become more self-conscious about disappearing from the general education classroom in the middle of the day. I found out later he told his classmates that he was “just going to his locker” (for an hour and a half).

He must have spent a lot of energy trying to cover up, and I’m sure it was stressful. But at the time, he seemed to be making progress with reading and keeping up with the other subjects. That’s what was on my radar. That’s what we talked about at the fall parent-teacher conference.

Then came the Thanksgiving party in his general education class. Like every year, I got a group email from the class parent asking for volunteers to help. I signed up to bring cookies, and took the afternoon off from work.

That day, I arrived at the classroom to find parents setting up the food tables, and kids milling around waiting to dive in. But I didn’t see my son anywhere. When I asked the teacher if she knew where he was, her eyes flew open. “Oh, no! He’s still in the pull-out classroom! I’ll call up there right now and have him come down.”

A minute later a small figure appeared down the empty hall. When he got to the classroom, he didn’t come over to talk to me. He was trying to slip in unnoticed. It was painful to realize how removed he really was for part of the day.

Nobody had meant to keep him from attending the class party. Both the general education teacher and special education teacher felt terrible and apologized for not coordinating. And, of course, I hadn’t thought about it, either. In fact, I didn’t even know when, during the day, my son was in the special education classroom.

That was the first and last time that happened, though. For the rest of the year, his teachers made sure to coordinate when events were taking place during the reading/social studies block. And I made sure to know when events were taking place in both classrooms.

After that, I paid much more attention to the small stuff, and how it might impact my son. For his last two years of grade school, I asked both his special education teacher and his classroom teacher to communicate about upcoming celebrations so he didn’t accidentally get left out again. They were happy to do it. I think we all understood how important it was.

Hear from more parents. Read what a mom wants teachers to know about her (special education inclusion) child. And find out how one dad is making peace with his son’s IEP.

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