In all reality a report card isn’t really anything all that important. It is ink printed on a piece of paper. It is a judgement based on tests and percentages. It is a snapshot of how a child performs in one setting, yet at the same time it means a lot. It is a predictor of success in school. It shows a teacher’s judgement of how well your child has internalized your rules, structure and values in a setting beyond a parent’s control. A good report card can fill a parent’s heart with pride. A bad report card, can make a parent cringe. When I opened the envelope of my son’s first report card I couldn’t help but think back to a family friend whose daughter, with special needs perceived her report card.
Special Needs Report Cards
When David’s (name has been changed to protect anonymity) mom showed me her report card fall semester, disappointment registered on her face. She walked me through the dismal grades which she knew David had earned. Auditory processing disorder, Tourette’s Syndrome and dyslexia made learning difficult for David. The family had also been working through finding the correct dosage of medication for their daughter to deal with anxiety and trouble focusing. They had been through a lot.
David’s mom understood the low grades in the subject areas but was perplexed at to why her son had earned a low grade in art and music. Couldn’t the teacher just give him a passing or excellent grade in those two areas? I have to say that I agree with David’s mom. I, too, am a teacher and when doling out bad grades, I try my hardest to sprinkle in the positive, even when a child earns mostly bad grades. I am very careful how I judge a child’s “effort” and “growth” because being too judicious with “unsatisfactory or needs improvement” where I could put “satisfactory” seems cruel and unusual. Parents usually have an understanding that their child has issues, especially if they already have an IEP. Rubbing salt in the wound by giving an all around bad report card to a child with special needs seems especially cruel. I am not saying that a parent should be given false information but an entire report card with “unsatisfactory effort,” in all subject areas seems extreme.
Back to the Present Day
I held the little manilla envelope in my hand and thought about David. Carefully, I pulled the papers out of the envelope. D’s packet included 2 pages of IEP goals, that had been reported on. It also included his report card. The feeling of hope, that maybe D had made it around the bend with the aggression, short attention span and social problems, was quickly replaced with a sinking feeling. It was that feeling that you get when you’ve done something wrong or are guilty of some terrible wrongdoing.
All I could think was how they don’t know D’s entire story. How he was born 6 weeks early with a collapsed lung. How he fought for his life in the nicu, with a machine breathing for him, tubes feeding him, beeping monitors constantly checking his vitals and wires connected to him to make sure he was ok. They don’t know how I sought early intervention therapy for him when he was 1 1/2. How he had speech, OT, PT, feeding therapy and ABA all before he turned 3. The hours and hours of therapy have helped him become the boy he is today. We know he has a long way to go but going from 1-2 word spontaneous sentences at age 2 1/2 to 5-6 word spontaneous sentences at 5 1/2, I feel quite proud of him.
And then I started thinking about David again.
David: Present Day
I called David’s mom up, out of curiosity and we chatted for quite a while. She told me that he had barely graduated with a diploma and he had gone on to take classes at the junior college to learn how to machine tool metal parts. He was still living at home but he wanted to move out as soon as he found a good paying job. He had a couple of friends he liked to do things with and had a pretty positive outlook and he had a close relationship with his parents. He maintained a closer relationship with them than his older brother who had followed the average path of an average boy without learning disabilities. In other words, things had turned out well despite those crummy report cards.
Back to My Kitchen Present Day
While David’s story nudged quite a bit of my anxiety away, something was still irking me: The need for social acceptance. I know, however, deep in my heart that a stranger’s acceptance is worth absolutely nothing. I even know that a close minded person’s judgement of my son is worth as much as a fly on stink. And I don’t believe that the teachers at his school don’t accept him. The unfortunate reality of school is that children are compared to an expected benchmark of achievement and given grades accordingly. IEP goals are, of course, different. They propose a measurable goal that should be attainable in one year. The goal is based on where the child is performing in a particular ares (reading, writing math, behavior, speech, fine motor etc.) and then offers incremental subgoals to give information about whether or not the child is on track to achieve the goal by the end of the year. So what is the most important thing, IEP goals or grades on the report card? Neither.
My son’s happiness and acceptance at home are all I have control over. I can exert my influence at IEP meetings but really, I have no control over what happens at school. My son has a disability and won’t measure up to the benchmarks proposed for children on the normal developmental trajectory without numerous interventions and therapy. So how can I register poor marks as a personal failure when I have done my best as a parent to provide the support and therapy he needs to do well in his home life? How can I feel like I’ve done wrong by the school when I have done everything to support their goals (for example, getting homework completed on time, reading books, practicing handwriting, etc.)?
Everything will be ok even if my son doesn’t follow the average path of the average student. His report cards will probably prove this point throughout his schooling. We will travel a different road than the average family and be forced to inform those who have a limited understanding of his disability. With love, understanding and compassion my little boy will be successful but in different ways than our culture usually recognizes as achievements.
With that thought in mind, I leave you with this quote:
“But the Beast was a good person…the Prince looked on the outside the way the Beast was on the inside. Sometimes people couldn’t see the inside of the person unless they like the outside of a person. Because they hadn’t learned to hear the music yet.”
― Karen Kingsbury, Unlocked