Our First ARD Meeting
I have to be honest, I was not looking forward to our first ARD meeting.
ARD in Texas stands for Admissions, Review and Dismissal and in a nutshell it means that because your kid has Down syndrome you have to convince the school that your son or daughter has the ability to function within the public school environment. Every parent of a special needs child in the state of Texas will be subject to an ARD and it will be reviewed on a regular basis.
Before the actual meeting, I was asked to bring John-Michael in to a school within our district. There he was tested to see what services he would be eligible for within the school. It wasn’t to see if he’s disabled but how disabled he is, which was slightly disheartening as his dad. And don’t misunderstand me when I say this, but I think every kid deserves the chance to defy the odds before branding them as less than “normal”. But that’s the day I came face to face with how the world sees my son… disabled, less capable than other kids and headed for a barely get by existence because of it. Something I refuse to accept as the reality for John-Michael and I’ll share why in a minute.
It was also where I had my first revelation of what it means to become a parental advocate for my son. Interjecting to try and get these folks at this observation meeting to see the amazing kid that I see every day. You see, we’ve learned to communicate with John-Michael and have had the privilege of seeing how intelligent he can be but because he doesn’t have an audible language others struggle to understand him and I know it’s up to me to help them connect with my son. That’s what being a parental advocate is all about… right? At least I thought that going in.
And then it was time.
I forget his title but he was a pathologist of some sort, but he was tall, very tall and looked every bit the part of a school pathologist who studies behavioral science. He came over to my table and said plainly “we’re going to put in our report that your son has an ‘undetermined intellectual disability'” and a speech something or other… I don’t recall because I got lost in the words “undetermined intellectual disability”.
If I’m honest, those words didn’t set right with me at all, frankly I was irritated by them even though I knew I shouldn’t be. After all, they were just doing their job but I felt like I’d let John-Michael down somehow by not convincing them how amazing he truly is.
Of course, I’ve had time to reflect on my feelings that day as well as the meeting where we agonizingly reviewed the detailed report of their findings… sigh.
The bottom line is that we can and we should fight for our kids, advocating for them to be given a chance to succeed and to have the opportunities to show the world how amazing they are in their own way. In time, they will see what you and I see… an amazing kid with as much potential to succeed as any of his or her peers. And although success may look differently in the lives of those with developmental delays such as Down syndrome, it can still be considered success.
As parental advocates we may not be able to change the entire world but we can change the one our kids live in, one day at a time if we believe that we can and more importantly, that our kids can. So, my advise learn everything you can about being an advocate and be ready and willing to engage others as their advocate. Sometimes it’ll feel like that’s all we do, but if we don’t… who will?