I was just tending to the farm and trying “not to get into any trouble.” SGM’s boots had just hit the ground in Afghanistan. RM was three years old and relatively healthy.
RM had transitioned into the special education preschool in district and was making very little progress. When the autism diagnosis came, the relationship with the district became a cyclone of lies and deceit and I was swept up into their storm.
I don’t remember how bad it really was. I only remember darkness and the feeling of spinning…
When I came to in an unfamiliar land, little did I know then that my house had landed purposefully atop the Wicked Witch that viciously ruled the Munchkins.
Another autism mom (RM’s YMCA teacher from more than a year prior) magically appeared descending through the clouds. She was surrounded in an effervescent glow with a gentle smile that could kill and in place of an exquisitely sparkled wand she carried a bloodied and bruised wooden bat.
She did not hand over a pair of ruby shoes. No. She handed me the bat.
It would take entirely too long to explain the misadventures down the Yellow Brick Road in this one post, many are highlighted in the archives here. But I will tell you that along the way to an appropriate outplacement I met many characters in The Land of Oz.
The Scarecrow led me in the wrong direction.
The Tin Man really had no heart.
The Cowardly Lion hid behind a title and a desk.
The Wicked Witch always waited until four o’clock on a Friday to mail shit to my home.
There were Flying Monkeys and a Forest of Fighting Trees. All terrifying at first glance but would reveal themselves as completely ineffective at their jobs. They relied on gruesome makeup and the special effects of words like “Due Process” and “Mediation” to keep up the charade.
I was desperate to make my way to Oz. I thought the power I needed to find comfort at home again could only be granted by The Great and Powerful Wizard.
I honestly had no idea who The Wizard was.
I went to Congress and looked for The Wizard there. I went to The White House, too. I went on cable news and begged an entire nation to help me find the answer. WHO is this Wizard?
WHO do I BEG for an education for my child? WHO will fight for her? WHO will LOVE her enough to say YES? WHO will seek justice for her?
WHO IS THE GODDAMNED WIZARD??
When my child’s placement is threatened, WHO do I fight?
When her programming needs to be reframed, WHO will write the goals for her to access the same curriculum as every other child? The science and the social studies, too?
WHO will teach me the laws and how to hold the district accountable?
PLEASE. TAKE ME TO THE FREAKING WIZARD.
I was searching for what was there all along. I just didn’t understand that I possessed the brains, heart, courage, and power to make it all happen.
Yes, I needed a little help from a Good Witch and countless other parents who shared their own experiences. Yes, I needed the bat once in a while to ward off The Flying Monkeys. Yes, I needed to educate myself.
But in the end, it took only a few emails and a bucket of water.
Because really, truly, I had The Power all along.
So do YOU.
So do YOU, my friend.
Don’t let the cast of characters in Oz make you feel less than THE MOST IMPORTANT, EFFECTIVE AND POWERFUL MEMBER OF YOUR CHILD’S EDUCATIONAL TEAM.
The Scarecrow is not smarter than you.
The Tin Man does not love your child.
The Cowardly Lion will never have your back.
At the end of the day your brains, love for your child, and courage to take charge of the Individualized Education Plan (IEP) are the most tangible and relevant elements in a land somewhere over the rainbow.
When I felt like the characters I faced were not acting in good faith, I opened up The Curtain using The Freedom of Information Act (FOIA). I used a State Complaint and the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) to pour a bucket of water on The Witch. You see, these are free and fairly straightforward tools that were created for ME. They are nothing to be afraid of and they are actually very easy to use. And if you feel that you aren’t sure of how to use them correctly, there are state and federal officials who get paid to enforce IDEA and FOIA. That is their job. They are not Flying Monkeys, THEY WORK FOR YOU.
Actually, everyone involved in your child’s education work for you, too. Even Scarecrow, Tin Man, and The Cowardly Lion. They are your employees. YOU are The Wizard.
I finally learned that the IEP is my own legally binding magic wand and as The Wizard I write the goals that dictate the services my child receives. If district and school staff are unable to execute programming that allows my child to access the general curriculum as outlined in her goals – separate goals for each core curriculum standard* – then I grab the bucket of water and pour.
There is no one to fight. There never was. I just needed to figure out that I AM THE WIZARD.
I. AM. THE. WIZARD.
And so are YOU, my friend. SO. ARE. YOU.
[*45 of 50 states have adopted Core Curriculum Standards and have/or are in the process of implementation. Individual states should have curriculum frameworks available on their education department websites, or for entertainment factor you can request the subject frameworks from your district BOE. The very basic intent of IDEA is that every child, regardless of disability has ACCESS to the SAME curriculum as the general education population in ALL subject areas INCLUDING ARTS AND SCIENCES. Kids with autism deserve better than goals that are reflective only of basic human functioning – they deserve to experience the entirety of what this world has to offer.]