September 23, 2019

My Daughter’s Disability Was Not Her Destiny—and the Right School Made all the Difference

By Myisha Holley

My daughter sat quietly at the table, just staring at the paraprofessional as he quizzed her. He got louder and louder. And the louder he got, the more she pulled back. That was the moment it clicked: “Oh my gosh, he doesn’t understand her,” I thought. In an instant, I knew my daughter’s suffering wasn’t my fault, and we needed to make a change.

I couldn’t jump in. I had to remain reserved; after all, I am a black woman. If I raise my voice, I become the “angry black woman” stereotype. Considering the way this education system has treated my children, who wouldn’t be angry? Frankly, not nearly enough people are angry. Our system leaves us without the resources for our children to succeed. And as parents, we feel the day-to-day urgency to find them an environment that understands their needs and affirms who they are.

Finding the right school for my daughter required extensive research about school performance and services. It was more than a “choice” it was a matter of survival and a fight for the success she’s experiencing today.

Doing what’s best for our children goes hand-in-hand with educational transparency. We all want to do what’s best and our best. Finding the right school for my daughter required extensive research about school performance and services. It was more than a “choice” it was a matter of survival and a fight for the success she’s experiencing today.

At the time of the incident, my daughter was in fourth grade—but cognitively at a second-grade level. She was diagnosed with ADHD and emotional delay. Meaning when she’s anxious, her thinking and reaction are delayed (like when someone raises their voice). So, while her special education team should have been able to support what seemed like tremendous growth, she was plummeting. My daughter had suffered enough. Her classes were overcrowded; she struggled to get her teacher’s assistance because too many students required the same attention.

“This year will be different.”

So, we changed schools with the hope that so many of us carry: “This year will be different!”

And then, we changed schools again and again—out of public district schools, to charters, and back. I couldn’t watch my daughter fall. She has the right to an education just like everyone else does; it is a human right. And I couldn’t let it go.

Each step of the way a little changed. Her teams changed, she had a range of supports, including an earpiece to clearly hear the teacher and to eliminate noise. One school even designated a room for her, a quiet room for kids with sensory problems and named it after her. But it became clear that in order to be her champion, we required more information about what she needed and what was available to her.

Seeking outside expertise

It made no sense for me to wait for a diagnosis from the school when they aren’t medically trained. I scheduled my daughter an appointment with a neurologist at Children’s Hospital. She underwent three weeks of testing designed to get as much information as possible. My daughter’s disability was confirmed, and with new test results and recommendations from the neurologist, I could walk into a school with a clear understanding of what she needed and how to advocate for her: She needed a smaller, quieter environment. Any noise is too much noise. My daughter works better with a team. And she needs a team that believes in her.

So, for the very last time, in her seventh-grade year, we (my daughter and I) decided it was time for her to change schools. Who knew we’d end up in a different school district—but that’s what happened.

When we first entered school, it was the district leader who greeted us and showed us around the school. He gave me his personal contact. The classrooms in the special education unit are small and intimate. My daughter doesn’t need a microphone, earpiece, or headphones; she uses her own voice. She had a special education team that included an occupational therapist, speech therapist, rehabilitation therapist, and a social worker who sent me weekly progress reports and suggestions for ways to help with homework or connect to her comprehension to current assignments in class.

Today, my daughter is in the 9th grade and is doing awesome! She has made the B Honor Roll, and I am extremely proud of her! We had to change a few schools. And I thought for a moment, I was going to homeschool her. But, I didn’t give up because I had to do what was best for her.

My advice to parents

Here are seven things parents can consider doing:

Identify areas within the school where children with disabilities needed services/supports and share how those supports could be implemented.

Be persistent. Our children have a human right to an education. Sometimes, we can’t take no for an answer.

Leverage expertise outside of school. Once I received Children’s results and recommendations for my daughter’s learning disability, I had tools to navigate her education supports.

It is still early enough to transfer schools. Although the year has begun, you have time. Know what is important to your child’s learning, such as school setting and environment. Then, do your research on the schools you feel would best serve your child needs.

Do what was best. For my daughter, it required changing schools several times and transporting her every day myself. But it made all the difference.

Children should not be dealt with a one-size-fits-all approach. For instance, when selecting a school, allow your child to shadow a student during school hours. After all, your child will be attending the school—not you. You will want their honest feedback; your child’s education is on the line.

Advocate for better, more transparent data on how schools are serving students with special needs.

EdAllies seeks to elevate diverse voices and foster a candid dialogue about education. While we provide our blog as a platform for EdVoices and other guest contributors, the views and opinions they express are solely their own.