Special Ed and Symbolism

by Tim on September 8, 2008

J-Man’s elementary school has this laser-precise process for parents dropping off and picking up their kids from school. The carpool/soccer-parent-van/whatever lane snakes around in the right lane as everyone waits their turn to deposit or reclaim children at the front of the school.

When picking up, each car has a number on a hang tag on their mirror. When a car pulls up, the attendant outside calls out the car’s number on the walkie-talkie, at which time the student(s) that match up with that number come out of the school and get in that car. It is the most efficient system I’ve ever seen, and even more surprising is how all the parents comply with it.

Notice above that I said “right lane”. There are two lanes, and absolutely no one is ever waiting in the left lane. Why is this important? We special ed parents think of it as our lane. That’s not completely accurate, of course, as technically it’s an emergency lane and a through-lane for anyone trying to get to a parking spot, but at the start and end of school, we’re the ones who use it.

They have us start and end school 15 minutes earlier than all the other kids, though there are always parents camped out in line regardless of the time it seems. I just turn into the school, slowly ease my way past the entire line – almost flaunting my hang-tag-free mirror – and go to – wait for it – our very own parking spots.

The special ed parents get to park in the handicapped spots in front. Yeah, we’re technically bending those rules a bit, but most of us don’t want our kids – particularly those of us with ‘flight risk’ kids – walking around in that parking lot, regardless of how well-behaved the parents in line are.

Plus we get to walk our kids into the school and wait inside for the teacher to come out. People quickly recognize us; we don’t need badges. I found out one of the women who works in the main office has an autistic child. We’re like our own little society.

The symbolism isn’t lost on me at all. We start at our own special time. We have our own lane. We get to bypass the rest of the parents. We have our own special parking spots – the handicapped ones right at the front. And many of the regular rules don’t apply to us. J-Man’s classroom has its own, dedicated, fenced-in playground. The autistic kids have their own P.E. time (though it’s nice they mix all the autistic kids from Pre-K to 5th grade together for that) and many other kinds of time. The autistic kids often use picture schedules for everything. In some ways, they live in a very different kind of time from the rest of the world.

Some people might think of this as sticking us off to one side, but I do see it as a necessary setup, and I appreciate that they try to make things easier and less stressful on our kids. It’s hard enough to drop J-Man off in the morning when he has me in a headlock of mortal terror. He has different needs, and this is what we do to meet them.

But it does remind me every day that we’re on a very different road – figuratively and literally – from everyone else. Is that a bad thing, though? Is it a lonely road, the road less travelled, the open road, or something else entirely, or all of the above? As I write this, it honestly doesn’t bother me that much right now. Maybe tomorrow it will. It’s hard to tell.

But we are on a different path from most everyone else. All of us in the Pre-K class pull in about the same time. I like them and they seem to have accepted me into their fold. Perhaps we have to band together like this since so few other parents have a clue what it’s like to be us.

I don’t know a lot, but I do know this. As I drive by the cars in the line and see all the parents, I ask myself, would I trade places with any of them? And each morning I’ve truthfully been able to say, no. I think as long as each of us can keep affirming that, we’ll be OK.

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