I don’t know you, but I’m fairly certain you know me. I’m the mom who almost sued your school district to get her daughter occupational therapy. The one who went to the administration to make sure an IEP was in compliance. And let’s not forget that time I hand delivered a letter to your superintendent’s secretary when other administrators tried to remove my daughter from the school she has attended for the past two years.
All of these stories are true, and in one week you’re about to become my daughter’s new teacher for the school year. I know what you must be thinking, “Why me?” Unfortunately, you and I will never get the time to sit down and discuss my side of these stories, but I’m hoping you’ll learn I’m not as bad as those stories make me out to be.
Yes, I have a long and mostly unpleasant history with your district. I can’t change that, and quite frankly, I wouldn’t want to. I may have gotten a bad wrap, but in doing so I made sure my daughter received the support and assistance she needs as a declassified student in your general education class.
When you meet my daughter for the first time, you may think I’m delusional. Don’t feel bad — most people do. Her issues are easy to miss. So here’s what I want you to know about her. She’s sweet, passionate, funny and brilliant. She’s popular and well liked by all.
But regardless of how she presents, she is still a child with sensory processing disorder (SPD). So what does that mean? To start, she is very impulsive. She talks — a lot! She will call out, talk out of turn and act without thinking. She doesn’t mean to disrupt you, nor is she consciously seeking attention. She’s just overly excited and easily overstimulated.
She may not seem bothered by the environment around her, but deep down inside all the noise and activity of the normal classroom environment is too much for her to take in. She’ll want to chew gum all day and keep a water bottle at her desk because the sucking and chewing calms her down. She also needs to move, and if that need becomes greater than she can tolerate before the schedule allows her to do so, she will move on her own without permission. She has learned ways to move around the classroom so that it won’t disrupt you or the other students.
If you can, give her jobs to do. She loves that. Organizing books, delivering messages to other classrooms, giving out the lunch boxes, taking the chairs off the desks — any of these simple tasks can give her what she needs. Doing so throughout the day will make for an easier day for both of you.
The most important thing I can tell you about are the times you will see behaviors you will feel the need to correct — rigidity, difficulty with turn taking or difficulty with situations where things don’t seem fair to her. These are important because they aren’t just behaviors that need correcting, they are signs that she’s internally unregulated and starting to unravel.
In these instances, behavioral intervention will not be effective. She knows the “right” and “wrong” ways to act in these situations, but when overstimulation starts to overpower her, she will seek external control. This is a sign that she needs a break — a class job, a quick walk or some quiet time with a book will be just enough to reorganize her nervous system and calm her down before she starts to cry.
Now I know this may be a lot to take in. I only know all this after studying and analyzing her for years. I understand you won’t have the time to really digest this before having to dive right in. I also understand that you have 20 plus other students to worry about. So I’m asking you to just trust me. Trust me when it comes to this one student in your class.
Let the work I’ve done with her over the past few years guide you to making this a successful year regardless if you can see her difficulties or not. In seven years, she has learned to manage this extra set of needs she was born with. She doesn’t need much from you — just patience, compassion and understanding. If she knows that you “get” her, she will have the confidence she needs to give you her very best.
This year is not only a new experience for my daughter but for me as well. She has always been a special education student, and I have always been the special education parent who is also a special education teacher. She is used to having several adults in the room leading and guiding her throughout the day.
This year, she will have only you. That’s a big job, but it’s one I am confident you can handle. You see, I’m not only my child’s biggest advocate, I’m also a teacher’s biggest advocate as well. I know how hard you work and how thankless it can feel. I know about those small moments you find in a day that you turn into valuable life lessons. I know the decisions you make on behalf of your students come more from your heart than your head. I know parents will criticize you more than recognize all the good you have done.
So if you’re truly thinking, “Why me?” the answer is simple. You’re the right person for the job. You are my child’s greatest chance for success in this transitional school year. You’re the perfect and delicate balance of structure, routine, patience and compassion. You’re the teacher who can push this extremely intelligent child to reach her full potential while understanding she is wired just a little bit differently underneath that confident and cheery exterior.
And regardless of the ugly history between me and your school district, you and I are starting fresh on this journey together, and this letter is the start of what I hope becomes open and honest communication between parent and teacher. So let’s take the opportunity to work together and make this school year the best it can be.
I believe in my daughter. And I believe in you, too.