The Quota Conspiracy

It’s never easy to watch a child struggle. It’s even harder to learn that your child is struggling more than his/her peers, whether it’s in one specific area or several areas. For many parents (including myself), it can be difficult to determine the difference between a minor stumbling block and a more significant issue. What often makes this determination even more challenging is all the advice – welcome and unsolicited  – we receive along the way.

The following is my own story of how I discovered my child’s language delay and auditory processing disorder.  I believe many of you will find it similar to your own story.

My discomfort at my child’s inability to communicate, or utilize expressive language, sent me seeking an evaluation when she was two and a half. My mom and sister (a school teacher) cautioned me against comparing my child to other children. “All kids develop differently,” they explained. Although comforted, I countered that I was comparing my child to peers from her 2 – 4’s program. Some of the children were a year to 18 months younger.

When interrogated by family, friends, and even casual acquaintances, I systematically presented my observations.  My daughter was overwhelmed by the noise of crowds and birthday parties and would stay in my lap. She rarely made eye contact.  She did not want to have to contend or converse with well-meaning acquaintances. She would cover her eyes when her friends’ sitters, fathers, or neighbors spoke to her. She would or could not make phrases, much less sentences. She did copy what we said, whether it was right or wrong (speech pathologists call this “echolalia”). When she fell down, her response was “Are you OK?” or “You’re  OK!”  She had memorized our response. A knife was “don’t touch,” and the oven or stove was “hot” whether it was on or off.

I took the logical next step and scheduled a visit with her pediatrician to rule out hearing and vision problems. After performing a brief exam, Dr. ”Name withheld” asked me why we were there.  I shared that we had scheduled an educational evaluation. He cautioned that if “they” (Early Intervention) look, they always find something wrong. He wondered if her behavior was a reaction to her new baby brother. Knowing that so many variables factor into a child’s growth and development, I figured he could be right.

I was already questioning my decision when a mom in my child’s playgroup warned about “special education quotas.” Her point of view was that agencies and educators had a quota to fill, and that they had to find a certain number of kids to fill schools and receive services. Her theory was formed through years of work in a rehabilitation center where she had witnessed abuses of Medicaid and prescription drug programs.

This theory was indirectly supported by the director of my daughter’s nursery school program.  He cautioned me against “Special Education,” explaining that it was “a slippery slope,” a black hole that children fall into and never return.  “She’s young,” the director advised.  “She’ll catch up.”

The “quote conspiracy” was brought up at different points in my journey by doctors, educators, family members and friends. What worked in my favor was a husband who trusted my gut instinct and family members who in the end said “it can’t hurt to learn more.”

Getting into PS 372 wasn’t a magic cure.  There were still services to sort out and goals on my daughter’s IEP (Individualized Education Plan) that had to be adjusted. But an engaged staff and school-based support team were on hand to answer my questions and guide my family.

Now, years later, working as the Parent Coordinator for PS 372, I talk to parents who ask me about quotas so I know the theory is still out there. I tell them many more students require services than we can provide. There is no quota – just a desire to get each child the help he or she may need to thrive in school.

I hope my story has helped establish that there is no such thing as a “special education quota.” I encourage parents to remember that fact if you have questions about your child’s progress or an educator or some other person in your life raises questions about your child to you.  The process for acquiring evaluations and services changes as often as the strategies used by educators.  It can be overwhelming, but it can also be the start of getting your child the help he or she may need.

In a future article, I will share some of the strategies classroom teachers, speech providers and occupational therapists (O.T.’s) put in place that have helped support my child’s education as well as my family’s journey.