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My daughter has entered those tween years, and as a mama of a kiddo with special needs in middle school, here are my confessions…
Lets face it — in the world today, sending your kids off to school is scary. Couple that with a child who is different from the mainstream or who may not be able to speak out for themselves is downright terrifying.
Middle school is that place where kids are just beginning to understand the social hierarchy and where they fit in. Not only that, they are trying to figure out who they want to be. It can be a judgmental and unkind place.
social/emotional interactions can be challenging
For kids like my daughter who are behind the curve developmentally and socially, it is sometimes lonely too. Additionally, kids are not always understanding of differences. I hear her in her bedroom talking, moreover, practicing what to say. I asked her what she was up to and learned she was anxious about an interaction with a peer in the lunchroom. He had taken her lunchbox and wouldn’t give it back. The interaction was filled with insults, and she asked me whether she was ugly. My heart sank.
You see, in contrast of my fears, this interaction happened with a peer who is in her special education class. Not at all what I expected. Role playing to practice firm and direct responses, I reminded her of what she’s learned in Tae Kwondo – that no one is allowed to enter her space without permission. (In TKD she’s taught that she shouldn’t ever seek to use what she’s learned – but instead to keep someone at arms length telling them to ‘back off’ as a first measure of defense)
Attending school functions
Imagine my panic when she asked to attend the school dance. I want my kiddo to have as many experiences as she can – I want her to be included. I also want to enclose her in a bubble and keep her safe from the world.
In attendance was one of the classroom aides, which allayed some of my fears. My daughter has this way of thinking that every kind interaction with a person makes them her close, personal BFF. I worry every day that someone will take advantage of her openness and naivete.
Walking through the door to pick her up, I was pleasantly surprised –I saw kids giving her hugs and high-fives all the way down the hallway. Kids calling her over by name to say goodbye. I saw inclusion. I have shared my thoughts about awareness; these kids were taking action – small but powerful action – to include my daughter.
Don’t get me wrong, I am still scared to death. As a matter of fact, it’s every time she steps on to the bus, goes to an event, or goes some place where I am not an arm’s length away. We continue to practice responses to common social situations, which helps to reduce her anxiety.
10 Confessions of a Middle School (Special Needs) Mama
- I seek out items that look like what all kids use, but my kiddo can use independently – here are our Middle School must haves
- ‘Stranger danger’ techniques are reviewed at least weekly. To the point of eye rolls. I like the book Not Everyone is Nice; it’s simple; something she is able to understand.
- Over dinner, I bring up social scenarios, and we practice.
- One of my biggest fears is that ‘typical’ kids won’t accept her. I have since learned that I’ve underestimated some wonderful ‘typical’ kiddos.
- Every day, I worry – like all parents -whether the school active shooter training is enough, particularly for kids with disabilities. (I have confirmed that her class does get the same training as all students)
- My heart breaks every time I have to remind my daughter that people aren’t always nice and well intentioned.
- I’ve sought help through agencies that teach social skills; the one we found uses the Circles curriculum to help teach social intimacy.
- It’s my job to let go and let her participate – safety is priority #1, but she deserves to have Middle School experiences.
- I need to remind myself of #8 OFTEN.
As a parent, it’s tough to find the balance between allowing your child to experience Middle School and keeping them safe (both physically and emotionally). This can be even more difficult when kids are behind the curve developmentally and socially.