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Dear mama of a precious, special student, the student who sees like no other, with perspective both unique and beautiful. The student who needs an extra bit of help but gives an extra lot of love. The student who doesn’t know better but tries his best. The student who is on a first-name basis with everyone in the doctor’s office. The student you may have been told would be more work than was worth. The student with wheelchairs and scaffolding, with hearing aids and speech therapy, with extra chromosomes or missing skills. 

To the mom of the student with special needs, I see you. 

I read of your despair in between the lines of guidelines that exclude you. 

I see your pain when your child is forgotten or sacrificed in the name of “a new normal.”

I see you hopelessly caught between decisions that will prove to be harmful, regardless of what you choose. 

Your child being overlooked or not considered new to you. You’re used to policies that exclude your child, trigger your child, forget your child. You’re used to having to remind, email, advocate, demand. You’ve seen the trips she can’t take, the games she can’t play. You’re used to being misunderstood, underserved, whispered about and shushed away. But this time is different. This time it’s life and death.

RELATED: The Struggle You Don’t See in a Special Needs Family

On the one hand, of course you’re worried about your child’s health. You want to keep and protect him, shield him from an unknown and scary virus. You don’t want him worried about germs, masks, distancing, coughs. You don’t want school to become scary or sickly. You don’t want to scramble if plans and quarantines pop up out of nowhere. You don’t want to send your baby into an environment that has no experience whatsoever with what the world is currently facing. 

But . . . 

On the other hand, you need school. You need the familiarity and structure that helps your child thrive and learn. You need the services provided by the school district. Your child needs social counseling, life skills lessons, speech therapy, occupational therapy, reading help, writing help, any number of helps. You can’t implement an IEP or 504 accommodation at home… but you also can’t see how they’ll be honored in an overly distracted school focusing more on masks than meeting needs. 

You need what your child’s school has to offer, but you don’t want what the school could also share. 

You need school and safety, but this year those are mutually exclusive. 

To the mom of the special needs student who is facing a school year with no support, I pray you find it. I pray your voice is heard. I pray you find peace in what you choose. 

When forced to choose between your child’s health and your child’s needs, it can feel as though your only decision is to accept guilt and failure and what your child will miss or experience. It can feel as though your child is doomed regardless, bound to be forgotten, set up to backslide. 

I see your sadness, mama, when you rely on badly-needed services that are only possible through the school but see others rejoicing in the time off-campus. I see your defeat, mama, when plans to protect the masses leave out the vulnerable. I see your struggle, mama, to make the right choice when given two options you’d never have chosen to begin with. 

RELATED: 3 Hard-Fought Lessons I’ve Learned as a Special Needs Parent

We don’t know what the future holds, and we can’t predict how school will work. We’re working blindly at best, impulsively at worst, to find our niche in a world that has suddenly been blown wide open by closing everything down. 

I see you, warrior mama, willing to do whatever your child needs.

I see you researching, contacting, preparing, agonizing. I see your fear at flying solo and your trepidation and joining the crowd. I see you feeling so alone and unprepared, unsupported by policy and faculty. I see you, glorious mama, and I know you’re going to make it. 

I know you will make a choice, and as a special needs mama you know that you can always count on your plans to change. I know you’ll roll with these changes as you’ve rolled with each diagnosis. I know you’ll cry in secret while caring in public. I know  you’ll shout for change while you whisper for relief. I know it won’t be easy, mama, but I know that you can do it. 

Jennifer Vail

Jennifer is married to the very handsome man she's loved half her life, with whom she juggles 3 hilarious, quirky, sometimes-difficult-but-always-worth-the-work kids. She is passionate about people and 90's pop culture, can't go a week without TexMex, and maintains the controversial belief that Han shot first. She holds degrees in counseling and general ministries, writes at This Undeserved Life, and can often be found staying up too late but rarely found folding laundry.

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