Updated: Apr 29, 2020
Let’s talk about a great virtue, hope. It is positive, bright and full of trust. It is a virtue we must cling to in the world of special education for the success of our children. My child will speak one day, I will hear his/her voice. Chloe will stop hurting herself, there will be a time when she will no longer bite her lips until they bleed. If I just keep fighting harder and longer, Chloe will stop her self-injurious behaviors. Sometimes it feels like we are lying to ourselves, we keep telling ourselves it will work, but we still have not reached the light at the end of the tunnel. We cling on and we do not let go, even when the whole world lets go. But sometimes, you want to let go, after an ARD meeting when every professional tells you that your child is failing, your child is aggressive, your child is not benefitting from speech therapy, etc. You cry in the car and wipe your tears and in these tough moments, hope becomes impossible. I am telling you do not let go, keep holding on. Hope is the key in these tough moments because as Superman himself said, "Once you choose hope, anything is possible." -Christopher Reeve.
Hope helps us attain the impossible. As an educator I struggle with hope at times. Keeping hope is exhausting because it forces you to search for an answer. It puts the blame on you as a teacher. I tell myself that I need to train my staff more, I need more professional development, I need more visuals, I need more structure, I need more curriculum, I need to work harder, longer. Hope does not accept failure; it searches for success. Every success I’ve had during my time in education is due to hope. It is with hope that I taught a child his first word, and it is with hope that I toilet trained a 13-year-old. With hope, learning flourishes, growth is seen, and success is reached.
When a child fails to learn, it is easy to place blame on the child. I fell in love with ABA because when adhered to properly, it places the responsibility on the educator. It is this shift in responsibility where hope is born. It questions the educator, makes the educator search for what is missing. Why isn't the child learning? Let's try something different, let’s keep looking.
In my time as a middle school teacher, I once had a student who was extremely aggressive towards his classmates and staff. He would kick, punch, scratch, pinch, and bite. This student would sometimes bite as many as three individuals in one day. In my search for answers I found out that this student exhibited this behavior in elementary and at home since the age of four. He was adopted by a family member and had a very tough childhood of neglect and starvation prior to his adoption. This student was nonverbal and had very minimum skills. He did not respond to his name, would look at the wall for hours, and could not say words or sounds. I tried what seemed like everything and because of hope, I never stopped searching. I kept hoping to find the answer and kept working towards the answer. I was enthusiastic in my search; I knew that I could find that light at the end of the tunnel if I just pressed on. Even on days like the day he bit me so hard I thought I had nerve damage, I kept on searching. On days when his aggression behavior lasted hours, I kept on searching. Hope transforms into motivation, devotion, purpose, and knowledge. It leads to the key, the answer. This student was fully toilet trained, could sign five words and went three months without a single incident of aggression in the span of one school year.
If you are a parent or caregiver of a child with a cognitive disability. I have one piece of advice, never give up hope and search for places of hope for your child. Do not blindly follow labels, “an ABA center,” “the best private school,” etc. is nothing without hope. Look for a center or school that is full of hope. When talking to clinical directors, principals, school leaders search for signs of hope; When presented with a challenge, do their eyes light up? Do they start brain storming solutions? Do they reassure that they will search for a way? Or do they say empty words like he/she can’t, he/she won’t? Keep hope, search for hope, because with hope your child will succeed.