I have worked in support of Children with differing abilities for 15 years. My heart called me to serve Children who needed people in their corner to help them access the world around them, be it their physical or academic environment from a very young age. I think in order to truly convey how important this work is to me, you need to know me a little bit more.
Growing up in the 1980’s, TV shows painted an ideal world for Children like me. It was the era of The Cosby Show, Full House, and Growing Pains. I grew up believing that if you worked hard, told the truth, and kept your eye on the prize everything would turn out OK. When the inspirational music was cued, the solutions to life's problems flowed. I always really appreciated the way these shows inspired a belief that once a challenge was identified, people could band together to help support the Characters needs and in the end everything worked out OK. I clearly remember an episode of The Cosby Show, where Theo was a teacher and he was trying to help a student with Dyslexia. This episode struck a chord with me at the young age of 12. I remember identifying with Stanley(the student) because I was finding it hard to read for knowledge, remember what I read and then organize it into a written piece that garnered a decent grade. I was embarrassed and did not want people to know I was struggling, because I feared that meant I was not smart. Now, as an adult who has grown into herself, cued the inspirational music in my head, and forced myself to take several leaps of faith to prove to myself that I can do hard things: I not only put myself through College, I graduated with honours, was invited to represent our class as the Convocation Speaker, and returned as a guest lecturer for my program. I have worked in support of more Children than I could count, and I have been so lucky to be a part of their stories. I have learned that the person who doesn’t believe in me, has often only been me. I have learned that when my mind goes to that place of fear, it is just the voice of a small Child, who did not yet know her gifts.
Today, I am a Mother of 3 beautiful Children. I have been married to my loudest cheerleader, support, and confidant for 15 years. Together we have built a life, and home that far exceeds anything that 12 year old little girl ever believed possible. Today, I am also a parent who is walking through the special education pathway with my own Children. Today, I look into the eyes of my own kids and I see so much of myself reflected back. I see strength, perseverance, and grit. I see doubt, and fear, and frustration too. It pains me to know that they will need time and experience with the gamut of their emotions paired with a thousand instances of cueing their music and pushing through to the other side of a challenge, because my Mothers Heart just wants to spare them any pain. My brain however reminds me that they too are capable and resilient little beans who with appropriate services and remedial supports will fly under their own power. They don’t need my sadness, they need me to remain a staunch advocate in their lives.
Now, when I watch that clip of the Cosby Show, I identify with it in a completely different way. When Theo says “ “When I got this job, all I saw was me helping kids, I never thought about the kids I couldn’t help” it resonates to my core. The reality is the school system is largely underfunded and highly regulated. Creative solutions and programming prove difficult within a setting that relies on structure to meet the needs of the masses,and struggles to support individuals. The teachers are working hard to consider and meet an abundance of unique needs and are inherently good people who care about their students. The support staff are dedicated and show up everyday to support the kids but there rarely seems to be enough staff or time to really affect change the way we all wish we could. I think about how many times I have affirmed a frustrated or fearful Child, or lay awake at night trying to solve how to get the help a student needed in our overloaded system that would serve to bridge the gap between needs and service. I empathised as a parent walking this pathway ourselves with the frustration that a Child would not always be given every opportunity to succeed that they need, usually because of political systems and the almighty dollar that remain barriers for them.
I am motivated in part by that still strong voice of a 12 year old girl that doubted herself into adulthood because of learning differences, as well as the faces of my Children and the Children I have supported over the last 15 years who need someone to show up and meet them exactly where they are, and stay until they get to where they want to be. It hits home with me when I see Children believe, like I did, that they are not smart, or will never reach their dreams because of their differences. It angers me because these Children, with some more targeted interventions could be shown their gifts through someone else's eyes and reinvent the way that they see themselves. The thing that reaffirms these feelings in our Children is a system that is not yet refined to routinely nurture differences. It has been my experience, both personally and professionally that the funding models and bureaucracy of it’s implementation often leaves families spending valuable years of their Child’s time in the school system wading through options that don’t fully accommodate for their needs. This is not synonymous with the belief that the front line teams of people in our schools are not showing up everyday for our kids and making the absolute most of every single tool they have at their disposal. Conversely, it identifies that these educators deserve access to all the tools and resources necessary to ensure they can provide every accommodation our children need. I have been so blessed to work alongside some of the most amazing teachers in support of these kids. I have worked on wonderful teams that made students feel important, valued, and most importantly - empowered to overcome obstacles. It is my strong opinion that this is not an educator issue, it is a systemic issue of under funding practices, complicated legislation that parents need law degrees to understand, and a lack of advocacy taking place by people in positions of power who could actually take the needed steps to reform special education services in Ontario.
Schools are filled with amazing education teams, what they lack is a clarity and continuity of process to provide intervention at the optimal times, the ability to remove the red tape to truly develop and implement Individualised Education Plans, and the funding to invest in the tomorrow of EVERY child in Ontario. When I have a hot second to sit down and think about what it feels like to Parent Children who have differing abilities, or to work tirelessly in support of them, this episode always pops into my mind. It feels like a disappointment to realise that there will be kids left behind by the system who deserved to be adequately supported to meet their full potential. It was when I read a quote on social media that read “Be the change you want to see in the world” that I realised I have always had the ability, the experience, the passion, and the training to make a difference in the lives of students who are just like me, and my children. KW Special Education Services is a place that endeavours to meet kids where they are, and to accompany and support them until they get where they want to go. The music is cued, and I am ready, and honoured to rise up and support your family!