Last night I had the honor of attending a Speak Up for Kids talk, one of many that are taking place across the country in honor of Children’s Mental Health Awareness week. As a volunteer (and the parent of two kids with differences), I’ve been working with the Child Mind Institute and the Dallas Academy to both plan the event and to draw parents in my local community to it.
While the topic “A Parent’s Guide to Bullying” drew parents and educators to the event, once we entered the Q&A session, the discussion quickly turned to our children with differences, who are often targeted by bullies. I was blown away by the honesty and reality of our discussion, and was reminded that I am not alone in this fight to provide my two children with an appropriate education in a safe learning environment.
Parent after parent talked about how their child has been victimized, not just in the form of bullying, but by being denied appropriate accommodations and special education services on their child’s public school campus.
One parent, a single mom and active military member, spoke through tears about how her extremely bright 7-year-old son is being “singled out” daily by his teacher due to his severe ADHD. He also has problems socializing, describes himself as “weird” and has been repeatedly bullied. Yet, after multiple meetings with both her campus and district administrators, she had not been provided with information about her child’s rights under 504 or been informed about the possibility of an IDEA (special education) assessment to determine if her child is eligible for special services.
Another parent, a former special education teacher, shared about how her 14-year-old son has been denied protection under IDEA. Despite having provided the school district with three separate doctor’s reports stating that her son has Asperger’s syndrome, her son’s IDEA assessment showed that he “did not meet the eligibility criteria” for services. Also through tears this mom went on to describe how her son, a constant victim of bullying, ultimately “became the bully” when he began displaying aggressive behavior. “What do I do?” she pleaded to our group, explaining that she has already pulled him out and had begun home-schooling.
According to the National Center for Learning Disabilities, kids with differences and special needs have a greater than 60% chance of being bullied. But, the statistic we don’t hear is the one quantifying how many children in this country are not receiving the services they need for learning differences and special needs in our nation’s schools, despite having both federal and state laws in place to protect them.
I am hopeful that the Speak Up for Kids events will spark a larger conversation across our country about protecting our kids with differences. However, it’s going to take a lot more than talk to motivate our nation’s leaders to address the concerns of parents who are begging for appropriate accommodations, services and protection for children who draw outside the lines, and are too often overlooked and underserved in our nation’s schools.
Perhaps the question is, when we speak up for kids, who is listening?
Lyn Pollard, a mother and advocate, blogs at Different Doodles, among other outlets.