The Education for All Handicapped Children Act was enacted in 1975, just two years before my sister with Down Syndrome was born. Public Law 94-142 was still new to our small town in Oklahoma when my mom sat down for her first IEP meeting in 1983, when it was time for my sister to start kindergarten. She talked with a young teacher who wasn’t trained in special education, had never taught a student with Downs, but who was willing to meet the needs my sister had. And so began the sixteen years of my sister’s special education–of IEPs, therapy discussions, mainstreaming plans, and life-skills assessments.
I’m thinking a lot about that first meeting my mom had thirty years ago. Today, my son had his first day of kindergarten in an autism support class. His teacher has a degree in special ed. She has experience with kids who have autism. She and I speak the same language of mands, reinforcers, and targets. We easily discuss his sensory needs and avoidances. She asks about diet restrictions and eloping tendencies. She knows the questions to ask because my son is not the first child with special needs she has ever taught.
He is not the first because for the last thirty-plus years, parents of special-needs kids have paved the way for us. Today, I’d like to honor them.
Thank you for your help passing laws that give our children opportunities for school and work.
Thank you for your help getting churches, schools, office buildings, and entertainment venues to be accessible to everyone.
Thank you for demanding ramps, elevators, parking spaces, and braille signs.
Thank you for encouraging doctors and researchers to keep learning more about how to help our kids.
Thank you for showing companies the need for better leg braces, more mobile wheelchairs, communication devices, and sensory-friendly clothing.
Thank you for Special Olympics.
Thank you for reacting to dirty looks and mean comments with love and grace, and for teaching others acceptance and tolerance.
Thank you for not accepting the limits others put on your children so we can see our children’s potential.
Thank you for starting support groups.
Thank you for telling your hospital, “Call me anytime parents need to know they aren’t the only ones to hear this diagnosis for their children.”
Thank you for the way you love your child with special needs.
I am so thankful for my parents and the thousands of special-needs parents who have paved the way for us and our children. They have truly fought the good fight in so many ways.