As the start of school begins, I recall that day in 1996 when I took my son to his first day of kindergarten. As I stood there with all the other mothers who were weepy about sending their “babies” off to school, I was the one with the biggest smile on her face. I felt like I had just pulled off the biggest “educational coup.” My son with autism and limited verbal ability was going to a typical kindergarten!
As it turned out, 1996 was a stellar year for parent advocacy. Not just for me, but for parents across the United States. Later that school year, IDEA 1997 was passed, as well as TX House Bill (HB) 1800. IDEA is the law that requires public schools to provide students with disabilities with a free and appropriate education and access to the curriculum. The bill required schools to include students with disabilities in the Texas testing system.
At the time, I heard lots of talk from teachers and parents about the “horrible TAKS test.” I can honestly say the TAKS (now the STAAR test) was the best thing for my son. Up until that point, it was all too common for students with disabilities to enter kindergarten being able to string beads. And later, graduate from high school being able to string that same strand.
Once students with disabilities were taught the same curriculum, the bar was raised. Expectations were raised. When schools had to measure progress in reading and math, students with disabilities were able to move far beyond bead stringing. They began to learn! Academics lead to college and work!
Over the years, I learned everything I could about the special education process. I knew my rights as a parent of a child with a disability. I worked with the ARD committee to ensure that my son’s IEP goals were aligned with the statewide curriculum. He learned (with services and supports) alongside his peers in the regular classroom. And when he graduated from high school in 2009, I smiled my biggest smile of all!
My son went on to complete a special program at a community college. He now works part-time at Walgreens. He wants to drive a fork lift. He dreams of getting his own apartment (and living with a pretty girl). I can’t help but think his success as an adult began with that inclusive kindergarten class back in 1996.
For parents of young children, I highly recommend that you read Why Inclusion Begins in Kindergarten by Charlene Comstock-Galagan. Explore the IEP section of the Texas Project FIRST website to learn about placement, access to the general curriculum, and how to work with your school to h
elp your child succeed. Additional information can be found on this website in the Education and Schools section.
Wishing you many smiles as you start the school year!
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