Every year my son's special needs school invites former graduates back to speak to parents about their lives. Ranging in age from teens to adults, they spend some time letting us know what they've been up to and how their learning issues have affected their journeys. Every year I attend this presentation along with many other parents. We hang on every word the speakers say because we all have the same nagging question inside of us: what does the future hold for my child?
Parents of kids with learning issues have a lot of questions, but that's the biggest one of all. If my child is struggling now, will he always? Can he go to college? Get a job? Live a regular life? Listening to those who have been there, done that, is something we crave. It's like looking into a crystal ball, if only for a moment, and allowing ourselves to believe that everything will be OK. If that child can do it, then so can mine. Or so we hope.
Most of the returning graduates are in high school or college, but one year there was a middle-aged man who had left the school some 30 years before. He described himself and his challenges as an elementary student while many parents in the room nodded in recognition. You could practically hear the thoughts inside their heads: Wow, that's just like my child. And he seems so together now! Rationally, we know that every person is different and just because he turned out OK is no guarantee for our children. But seeing someone like him is a comfort and hearing his words, spoken genuinely and confidently, was just what we needed.
And then there was the high school student who not only was thriving, but was working hard to smooth the path for students with similar challenges. He recently wrote an article for the New York Times in which he said, "My goal is to help close the achievement gap between students with disabilities and non-disabled students." Reading something like that, you can't help but feel optimistic.
Another one of these presentations is happening soon and once again, I will attend. I've watched my child improve year by year, yet still I need the reassurance. I need to sit in a room with parents who understand and listen to stories from those who struggled. And yes, some of these former students may still struggle today, but they are doing what I hope my child will always do: they are moving forward. They are attending and graduating from high schools and colleges. They are working and playing and starting families. They are coping with the challenges they face and not letting those same challenges stop their momentum.
Your definition of success may be different from mine, but I know, with all my heart, as I listen to these former students, that they have succeeded. And with time, luck, and a lot of hard work, my son will too. He will move forward.