It's that time of year again. A few weeks ago I started getting notes home from my daughter's special needs school, first reminding, then begging me, to please send in this year's parent intake form
This is the form that asks me questions such as, do I think my special needs daughter will be her own guardian? (No.) Or, what are my hopes for her future? (I have no idea. I can't tell you what she is going to be like five minutes from now.)
My distaste for this form is not a secret to anyone who knows me.
A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to Lizzy's open school night. When I sat at her desk, I saw the dreaded form. It was with a copy of her daily schedule, the sticker chart for short-term rewards she earns for unpacking her backpack or cleaning up her snack without complaint (When she gets three, she gets to visit the school's fish tank, which she loves). There was also a box of tokens she earns for finishing a math or reading assignment, (With 20 tokens she gets a "shopping" trip to the treasure box, where she can pick a piece of costume jewelry which she adores). These are things that are appropriate for a typical child of 5 or 6, not a 14-year-old in the eighth grade.
"Kathy, I know you hate this form. I'm sorry." I looked up and my daughter's teacher was staring at me. My face has never been great at hiding my feelings.
"I'm sorry. I know it's not your fault. I don't mean to give you a hard time." The parent of Lizzy's best friend was sitting next to me.
"I hate these forms, too. I never know what to say when they ask what job or career my child has an interest in."
"Oh, I write that Lizzy wants to be a princess, and though we understand that there are only a limited number of positions available, we think if anyone can figure it out, she can."
"Do you really?"
Both Mrs. B and I answered yes at the same time. Then we all laughed.
Once we got home I put the form in the box where I keep all things I would rather not deal with.
After my third note home asking me to please send in the form, I finally sat down and started to fill it out. And, shock of all shocks, it wasn't as depressing as it usually is.
This year Lizzy's program includes off-campus job training. This means that once a week my daughter heads out with her teacher, support staff and classmates to Applebee's. Her job the last few weeks has been cleaning and arranging the menus. She takes them off the tables, cleans them off and then puts them back on the tables. It's not that different from the same task I had when I worked as a hostess in a trendy New York restaurant some 30 years ago when I was still trying to be an actor.
Every third Tuesday Lizzy's class heads out for travel training. This entails teaching the kids to take public transportation and get out in the community. Her first outing was to the arts and crafts store, Michaels, where the kids had a scavenger hunt and then picked out and purchased a craft for Halloween. Last week's trip included a demonstration at the Microsoft store and lunch at the Cheesecake Factory.
My daughter is having a ball, but the bonus is that she is learning important skills about showing up for a job, taking instructions, and getting rewarded for a job well done. After their shift, the kids get to order a soda and socialize with their friends for a bit. She is also gaining some confidence as she is praised by her teachers and the restaurant manager. She is also getting the chance to go to a store without me or my husband glued to her side.
Lizzy's new experiences have changed the way I approached this year's form. I could see that she might be able to find a job that is right for her and gain a little of the independence I know she craves. I still don't know what the future will hold for my daughter, but I see possibilities that I didn't before.
Of course none of this would be possible if we didn't live in a community that has a school like the one my daughter attends. We are dependent on the laws that say our child has the right to a fair and equal education. And we are lucky enough to live in a town where there are options for children who, like our daughter, need more than what our district's schools can provide.
I am not blind to the fact that our fate is dependent on lawmakers with the awareness that our society as a whole is better served if the weakest members have every opportunity they can have. And voters who agree.
I'm not going to lie, filling out the form was not a joyful experience. But this year there was a glimmer of hope that wasn't there before. And for that, this mom is eternally grateful for every lawmaker, business owner, taxpayer, teacher, and professional that makes this possible.
This piece was originally published on Kathy's site, My Dishwasher's Possessed!