Dear Mama, Daddy, or Guardian of a Nonverbal Student,
You’ve already faced so many challenges with your sweet child by the time you enroll him or her in school. And now, I’m sure you’re facing guilt along with those challenges. HOW are you going to hand over your world to a teacher and walk away when you know there’s no “How was your day today?” conversation awaiting you at pickup? Maybe all you see is the huge smile when you get there to pick your child up — a smile that says life is better now because of you. Maybe all you see are the tears when you have to walk your child into the classroom, push him at the teacher and rush out the door quickly, because you know it will be a quicker transition for everyone if you are not in the room.
I’ll bet you sometimes wonder what goes through the minds of the teachers and therapists that work with your son or daughter at school. You wonder how the school day actually looks, once you walk out that door. I want you to know that I see you about to face years of wondering how your kiddo is doing at school. Years of wondering and hoping that what the teachers and therapists tell you in the meetings is what really happens. I’m in a special needs inclusive classroom each and every day. I want to tell you what I have learned and what is running through our heads when your nonverbal child is dropped off to us each day.
I want you to know FOR SURE that your child is no less special to us. Every day, our goal is to see that ALL our students learn, get loved a little, and have fun, too. While the daily academic goals might look a little different for your nonverbal child, our main three goals are still the ones that we work wholeheartedly towards.
I want you to know that we think about your child, even when we are not at school. That when one of us came to school and said she had dreamed that our youngest nonverbal student had walked up to her in her dream and started speaking in full sentences, we both commented how that would be so amazing!
I want you to know that we celebrate all the little milestones that your child makes, just the same as you do. We get a few extra seconds of eye contact. We get a smile! Your child gets a routine down. Engages a classmate, even for a few seconds. It doesn’t matter what it is, if it’s progress (in the best interest of your child), we celebrate it!
I want you to know that we understand how frustrated your child is sometimes, and that if we get hit or kicked, well, we keep trying to figure out what message your child is trying to convey. We understand that he doesn’t know how else to tell us that something is wrong sometimes. It’s ok. It’s part of the job and we will keep coming back day after day to do it.
And finally, I want you to know that the other kids are curious about their classmate who won’t speak, but don’t treat him/her any differently. I think you would love to be able to see the other students interacting with your child. It melts my heart sometimes how they are so sweet and do their best to interact when they don’t get “yes or no” responses.
I wish you could see, just for a day, how everyone in the school will rally to make sure that your child is having a good day. Whether it’s the principal, willing to come take him into the sensory room for a calming session when he isn’t happy with his teacher or aide for what they’ve requested. Or the other teachers, all ready to give advice to her teacher on how best to reach her IEP goals with her. The time and planning that the therapists put into tailoring their therapy to your child, is nothing short of dedication. The aides from other classrooms who know he loves the swing and will push him in it for an entire recess. Or even the kids in her class who have never gotten a “Hi” from her, but will tell her “Good morning” and “Hi” everyday.
So, although you can’t be with your nonverbal kiddo each and everyday at school, I want you to feel confident about sending him anyway. I want you to think about all these things that I have personally witnessed happening at our school, and I want you to feel good about that quick shove through the classroom door and then dash back to your car with a smile.