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High Expectations are Key!

Everything is possible if you keep the eye on the goal. One essential element to this is attitude of setting high expectations. A child with a disability may not be able to do what their peers do but they can learn to be functional and a contributing member of society. This only occurs when we have high expectations for our children. Low expectations lead to poor outcomes, especially in special education. Schools need to prepare children with disabilities for further education, employment, and independent living. (Purpose of IDEA at 20 U.S.C. 1400(d))

Congress found the following as they stated in IDEA:

“(1) Disability is a natural part of the human experience and in no way diminishes the right of individuals to participate in or contribute to society. Improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities…

(5) Almost 30 years of research and experience has demonstrated that the education of children with disabilities can be made more effective by (A) having high expectations for such children and ensuring their access to the general education curriculum in the regular classroom, to the maximum extent possible, in order to—(i) meet developmental goals and, to the maximum extent possible, the challenging expectations that have been established for all children; and (ii) be prepared to lead productive and independent adult lives, to the maximum extent possible.” 20 U.S.C. 1401(c)(5)(A)

In the official U.S Department of Education Blog, Michael Yudin, Acting Assistant Secretary for the Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services at the U.S. Department of Education says, "While the vast majority of students in special education do not have significant cognitive impairments that prohibit them from learning rigorous academic content, fewer than 10 percent of eighth graders with disabilities are proficient in reading and math on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). Too often, students’ educational opportunities are limited by low expectations."

Only 11 states DID NOT MEET compliance documetation as submitted. This is reflected in this graph above. When you add the data as to how the students were actually performing! Only 18 states and territories MEET IDEA requirements in 2014 as reflected in the graph below.

Michael Yudin goes on to say, "In enacting IDEA, Congress recognized that improving educational results for children with disabilities is an essential element of our national policy of ensuring equality of opportunity, full participation, independent living, and economic self-sufficiency for individuals with disabilities. We must do everything we can to support states, school districts, and educators to improve results for students with disabilities. We must have higher expectations for our children, and hold ourselves as a nation accountable for their success."


On a personal note, my oldest son, was non verbal and rocking in the corner. At 2.5 years old, he lost all of his advanced language and social awareness over a several week period. It was devastating. So devastating that his biological father could not handle it. He left after we visited the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where we were told that our son had Autism. As a single mother of a little boy with profoundly Autism, I struggled to get him services. It did not matter that I was an administrator at one the country’s most prominent hospitals. I could not find the right interventions to help him learn! Throughout this journey I chose to never look back and always keep my eye on the goals, even when they seemed soooooooooooo far away. I had high expectations for him and I was not going to let them go. He would come come from school and we would work until 9pm on homework, speech and language, physical therapy, occupational therapy... and then he would go to bed.

He presents with lots of labels including, Autism, ADD, fine motor deficits, dysgraphia, anxiety, depression, expressive, receptive and pragmatic language disorders, motor planning deficits, executive functioning deficits, specific learning disorders in math, reading and writing, dyslexia, visual scanning deficits and post traumatic stress disorder … The list goes on and on. One day his developmental pediatrician said to me, “ I’m just not going to give him any more diagnoses – there are only 10 lines on the form and he has already filled it 2xs over.”

• When he was 4.5 years old, I was told by the school psychologist, at four meetings, that he was not educatable and would need to be institutionalized.

He went to the public school, then to a special school, and successfully graduated.

• We were told by the school that he would never ever read and they begged me to remove his reading goal from his IEP.

As a teenager he finally learned to read with a 6th grade comprehension level. He became a lector at church and loves to read to others, even though this is an area of weakness.

• We were told he could not participate in sports at school.

He became a Junior Olympic champion in skating and traveled all over the country with his coach.

• We were told that he had significant fine motor issues and we should not give him music lessons.

At 3.5 years old he had his first piano recital. He plays the violin and has competed successfully in many American Fiddle competitions.

• He brought his Junior Olympic Skating medals to school one day and was brutally beaten by a “normal kid”, who broke his eye orbit and punctured his eye. It took us 6 months to save the eye. He could no longer see the rink lines and could not compete any longer in national competitions.

He started to ice skate with Special Olympics and was asked by the Gold Medalist, Scott Hamilton to skate at the opening of the Gretchen Wilson Concert on Ice, in Philadelphia, with other Olympic Stars, who graciously included and supported him.

• He was told at church he could not acolyte, “He will never be able to follow such a complex set of rules.”

He became a wonderful acolyte and even served at the National Cathedral. He then began to train acolytes at church.

• At church he met all the requirements, over 2 years, to go on the class pilgrimage. Not one other child met all these requirements. We were told that he could not go on the Ireland pilgrimage because he took medications. He was able to manage his own medications appropriately, so why was that a barrier? I told the school director that if that was the criteria that I was going to disclose all the medications that others in the group took and that her actions were a form of discrimination.

He went on his pilgrimage to Ireland with his neuro typical-peers successfully. As per the chaperones he was the best behaved of all the students and a true ambassador with everyone he met.

• His school’s vocational program told us that he was not good enough to get an independent job, due to his pragmatic language deficits and his desire to socialize at work. They refused to assist him in job placement.

He got his own job at a national company and kept it for 8 years. He earned employee of the year and a rewards dinner in NYC.

Because of his social nature he was able to get many of his friends jobs by selling them to prospective employers.

He is the social butterfly in a large social group (20+) of individuals with special needs. He has a better social life than I ever did or will and includes everyone. He has moved on to a better job and continues to love to talk to everyone.

There were many times my son’s step-father and I were stuck as to how to assist him. He would hit a plateau and not progress, no matter how many professionals we brought in. The key to progress was to always have high expectations and never never give up. One or the other of us would figure out how the situation would look from his prospective and integrate his strengths into the picture. Working forward from there we always had a breakthrough.

Our son has the determination to win over any challenge. When it took 1000 times for him to learn a single word with fluency, he would do it. He never gave up. I can’t imagine where the world would be today it we all had his determination and motivation. He still has significant anxiety and can get taken advantage of, but he surrounds himself with good-hearted people. He is a fine young man - who still refuses to make his bed. But, as we all know a mother needs to choose her battles.

Copyright 2015 Marie Lewis

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