My son’s IEP meeting was a couple of weeks ago and of all the things to zoom in on a single phrase from the Student's Strengths section is still dogging me. For the most part our IEP meeting went very well. I feel like we have appropriate expectations set in his goals. There is good documentation of the accommodations and assistive technology he needs. (We could use more specific interim objectives in place but we are getting there with that as well) I followed my usual cookies and combat boots philosophy and only needed the cookies. So all in all I should be ready to call it a win and move on but my mind keeps coming back to those six words.
“Little Man blends in pretty well”
This is what Mr. X put in for my son’s strength in the present level of performance section. He blends in pretty well. It seems like such an innocuous phrase but in truth it is the only truly toxic thing in the whole 34 pages. It's probably the most toxic thing he will run up against in his whole life. Mr. X would be astonished to read that I am sure. Maybe some of you are as well. Mr. X, all my son’s teachers, like him. One of Little Man’s strengths is that he is pretty darn charming and as long as you are respectful of his few quirks, a very laid back, “easy” child as well. I can almost SEE Mr. X’s baffled expression were I to tell him how that single comment has been gnawing away at my brain and my heart for weeks. And that is the only reason I have not said something about it. Yet. I just don’t know if I can find a way to say what is bothering me so that he (and the rest of the team) will see how corrosive it is versus just seeing me as a total whack job.
Those six words are the embodiment of a whole mindset that is perilously dangerous for my son. They list as his strength the ability to “pass” for normal, to suppress what and who he is and seem, at a superficial level, like a standard issue individual. This is corrosive to his well-being, to his soul, in so many ways that it’s almost impossible as I get deeper into this post to even write what I mean in a reasonable coherent fashion. I can’t imagine trying to speak my way through it without coming across as a wildly emotional irrational mom, someone easily dismissed and unheeded. But in many ways – this single issue is the foundation of my son’s well-being for all of his life.
Some folks would understand better why it upset me if the school had set “blending in” or “passing” as a specific goal. Any one in a minority or marginalized group would instantly get what I am saying. Setting the goal to seem “not disabled” would more clearly lay out the subtle message “being different / disabled is not ok - only being the same as everyone else is.” One of the first things I ever read about how dangerous this is for folks like my son is still one of the best. I wrote about it here.
But sadly even as a stated rather than implied goal would still leave a lot of people wondering what in the world I am going on and on about. And I just can’t seem to find the words to explain. I can't let it go either. I just can't so I just keep chewing on it, on how to explain so people can hear.