Children with Special Needs :: The Early School Years

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Raising children with special needs is challenging. Our little guy has a handful of attachment and trauma based diagnoses. His brain developed differently as a baby due to what happened to him when he was little and now we are trying to help him feel safe enough to be himself, not only at home but also at school.

My son and I met almost four years ago, and at that moment my life changed drastically. He immediately bonded with me on a superficial level, but didn’t believe I was going to be around forever. There was no way for him to understand the permanency of adoption. He would ignore adults, mock, run away, hit, kick, bite, make messes constantly – it was overwhelming.

He was non-verbal at three years old and very afraid of the world. His inability to express himself made life difficult. He wouldn’t cry – just scream and destroy. With five kids – each with varying needs, helping him attach to me became a long, grueling process. One I read about in books, but never felt the depth of before.

I understood basic things about how to bond him, but not really knowing what was going on in his little head made transferring him to others difficult. It took months for me to believe that I knew what he needed. We had therapists, psychiatrists, teachers, friends and family – countless support. No one was able to keep him safe without me present for more than a couple hours – so much that it was easier just to have him with me.

Being with one of my children with special needs who constantly needs me is draining. He was mourning the loss of his former family while terrified he would stay with us. After moving from home to home over the years, he knew if he attached to us someday he would probably be ripped away. Nights were long as he couldn’t sleep and when he did, he had countless nightmares and dreadfully early mornings. The bags under his eyes spoke volumes to his deep exhaustion.

Over the years, helping him to be able to survive without me has been a painful process, but a necessary one. Delaying this sounded easier, but would only increase the chaos. He trusted me – maybe even loved me. It was time for him to learn the world can be a safe place.

Entering half day school at three years old, he was academically performing at age level, but his behavior was out of hand. Because of the countless resources he had for support at home, he didn’t qualify for an IEP at that age level like many children with special needs do.

Fast forward a year of struggling to stay at another school. Constant calls of him needing to be picked up. No one sure of how to help him be successful. Eventually his safety required intervention – a partial Day Treatment program finally became an option. After months of med adjustments and creative resources – he was finally functioning well. He had tools. Professionals. Constant supervision. A safe environment. He graduated.

A few weeks later he started at a new school. One who so badly wanted to help our son be successful. Teachers who wanted to know how to “fix” his problems. Creative ideas flowed, but in a school with lots of collaborative teaching, each adult interacting with him were using short term strategies to help him be successful. Over time, we learned that these short term solutions were too inconsistent for him and transitions became too much to bear.

After months of destruction, disrespect, running off and more, the team reached out to me out of desperation. I had provided them with tools – tools that could only work after a foundation of relationship and trust was built. He needed to know he was safe before any tools could be helpful. School administration got the team together to collaborate. Finally he got an IEP and now – while there are still rough days – there is consistency. The team is required to follow the plan.  He has aids and short term goals that allow him to be successful and participate in his class.

While many parts of this process of finding the best support for my child with special needs have been excruciating, they have been necessary. My son can stay at school – even on the bad days – because they have resources and staff to accommodate him. We are just in the beginning stages of this IEP, but knowing my son has a team and staff willing to adjust the class just for him is such a gift. So grateful the process is starting to work. I was unsure he’d ever be able to stay at school safely, but an IEP is making that possible.

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