I was once told by one of my daughter’s special education teachers, a women with several years of classroom experience, that as a parent, it was my job to hope. Clearly, she felt my daughter had very little potential. She was proven wrong. Attachment disorders, PTSD, and other trauma based disorders have a nasty way of mimicking cognitive deficits. Fear renders children unable to perform simple tasks, fear of test givers freezes trauma victims in mid reply to simple questions. Evaluations are skewed. Placements are made inappropriately. And now, judgments at the level of the BSEA, a parents’ court of last resort, are being made based on these same assumptions about a child’s potential.
I attended the Special Education Advocacy Network (SPAN) annual BSEA Update Program presented by Attorney Dan Ahearn last Friday – An intensive, rapid fire, recap of the past year’s key decisions covering placement, procedure, services, eligibility and more. Atty. Ahearn made special note of a trend among BSEA hearing officers and others including Supreme Court and circuit court judges, to consider a student’s “potential” before ruling in a case.
That may work in your child’s favor if, like in Andover v. BSEA, you can prove that your 14 year old with Asperger’s is really smart. Well, at least Sara Berman considered it in deciding that no one had really done their homework and identified the right placement. But, for the severely disabled 20 year old student in Nauset v. BSEA, William Crane decided that limited potential meant limited services and that the schools were already doing enough.
My daughter has done better each time she has been given an opportunity to prove that she can. With each new academic support, each therapeutic intervention, each trauma sensitive modification to her environment, she has found the courage and resources within herself to move forward as a person and as a learner. As a mom, it will always be my job to advocate for her best interests, to celebrate her success and, oh yes, to hope that others see the gifts she has to offer.