While dropping Sam off and picking him up from school every day has presented some very real challenges for us, one of the real advantages has been daily contact with his teacher/aides. Beyond the communication book, I usually get a quick update on how the day went, what his mood was like, and any wins that went down. This 1:1 info means that there are usually very little surprises when we actually get to the IPP meetings. I've got a pretty good idea of how much Sam is rocking his way through the school-day grind.
As I was reviewing his goals in preparation for today's meeting, I couldn't help but smile to myself though. The goals set out by the school are so very different than the goals that we are working towards in our every day lives.
Don't get me wrong- I am ALL about taking the learnings that he gets in the classroom and applying them here. Being part of Sam's team means supporting all team members in their work with him. So I try to expose him to the arts and crafts for fine motor work. And I definitely make sure that he gets his gross motor play in. And I use the techniques and equipment recommended by his SLPs.
But those are the schools goals. And while I support them, they are vastly different than the ones we have created for ourselves.
The school focuses on 'school readiness'. They focus on 'social skills'. They focus on 'life skills' like doing up zippers and taking off shoes.
These are all extremely important and definitely a part of what we work towards at home as well.
But these goals are such tiny ones compared to the larger goals that we are always mindful of, within the family unit. Our goals are more long term, and they are so broad that they are hard to measure in terms of forms and checkmarks.
Here are some of the main goals (or 'principles', as I like to call them) that guide our every day parenting journey (using the language of IPPs, just cause I'm feeling a little snarky):
- Sam will live a full, rich, and happy life in which he feels loved and accepted for who he is.
- Sam will learn to self-advocate in a variety of ways to communicate to others his needs, wants, feelings, and opinions.
- Sam will develop an awareness of his strengths, challenges, likes, dislikes and areas of disability. He will learn to capitalize on and/or mitigate these, just like every other person must, in order to navigate the complex social fabric of living in community with others. He will make friends with people he trusts, and nurture healthy relationships with people who respect him and accept him for who he is.
- Sam will understand that he is expected to grow and learn to the maximum of his capacity and capabilities and will lead a responsible and meaningful life.
Those are the things that are important to me.
Honestly, I am not concerned with whether or not Sam learns to self-toilet in the next twelve months. While that is unquestionably a skill that I would like to see him develop, I believe that if I focus on helping him communicate with me in ways that are mutually meaningful and if we are able to create a relationship of trust and acceptance, in which all modelling is done with sensitivity and respect, that he will naturally learn these skills as part of his natural personal growth.
It doesn't mean that I won't teach him. What it means is that I won't hold him down on a toilet seat, trying to protect my face from kicking and thrashing, because peeing in the toilet is "on the list of goals." I will not train him like an animal and forget that he is a person. I will not contribute to anxiety and frustration, and will respect that home is where he is supposed to feel safe and secure. It means that I will not teach using coercion and will trust that he will continue to grow and discover in a way respect his own individual timeline.
Ultimately, what it means is that I will not sacrifice our relationship in order to develop compliance so that I can check a bunch of marks off on a developmental score sheet.
Because at the end of the day, it is much more important to me that my child loves himself and feels respected, safe and secure than it is for him to learn to tie his shoes. Shoe tying does not equate happiness. Shoe tying is not a measure of a good life.
So I will leave the shoe tying to the schools and the therapists. And I will do what I can to help Sam achieve the goals that they have set.
But never at the expense of the goals that we have set in our own home.
Because happiness and self-acceptance should really be the only goals that matters.