Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Re-defining Special

Maggie is in special education. That term, "special ed", evokes different responses from people. There are still those who giggle, or tease; there are those who resent everything about it, finding it unnecessary and expensive; and there are those who cannot imagine life without it. As you may have guessed, I fall into the latter group.

Special ed is a relatively new concept. Before 1975, when congress passed the Education for Handicapped Children Act, kids with special needs either stayed home from school or were institutionalized. I graduated from high school in 1974. I would have been excluded from school if I had special needs.

Special ed is an ever-evolving concept. It changes and refines every year. It includes the most physically disabled, like Maggie, and the child who appears perfectly fine but cannot learn in the way most children do. It takes place in almost every school in special day classes and regular classes. It is not perfect but any means, but neither is typical education. It will take a few more generations to get rid of the bias and the concept of funds being “deviated” from regular ed. It will arrive in full when it is no longer considered “special education”, but just education. But that is a long way off.

The evolution of special ed and the services many children need was and is accomplished mainly through the outrage of parents and educators. Maggie’s state of the art program in San Francisco Unified exists because of parents, and mostly mothers, who could not get what their children needed 10 or 15 years earlier and made noise about it. My hat is off to them. And I hope I am doing my part for those kids who will follow Maggie.

One of those women is my cousin Mickey. Her oldest son Bobby was born in 1976 and had special needs. Mickey, as a mother and a teacher herself, kept fighting to get him what he needed. Because she is such a lovely person, she fought with the system rather than against it and made friends instead of enemies along the way. She relocated to an area that was more beneficial to Bobby’s education. And Bobby flourished. When I say flourished, I mean as a person, not as a person with special needs. Because of his mom and her ability to get his needs met, Bobby finished school, got a job and lived independently. He met a girl, fell in love and asked her to marry him.

He grabbed the brass ring.

What more do any of us want for our kids?

Bobby died last Friday at 32 years of age. I don’t know as I write this what took him, but I know he died in his own apartment watching ESPN, something he loved to do. The world is quieter and a lot less jovial now. Bobby was larger than life, in every respect. His personality was huge and filled every room he entered. He was the life of every party and every gathering. I will miss him and so will everyone who ever met him.

Thanks Bobby, and thanks to your mom Mickey, for making “special” so special.

1 comment:

  1. At some point it is my greatest hope that it is not parents who have to "do it all". The world should embrace our kids who are so very special. Bobby sounds a lot like my own son.


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