Every day I hear from moms who feel like their preschools are scaring them into believing there is something wrong with their little children. In my opinion, this is an abuse of authority. While most people would be so glad to have a top-notch school with excellent staff and resources, there is one negative thing that often comes with this great package: control.
I personally live in a state where the public school’s control is appalling. Teachers are allowed to teach homosexuality to first graders without notifying their parents first, prophylactics are given to high schoolers, homeschoolers are weeded out, state testing is crazy, and the DSS is called on cue for anything. I believe in School Abuse. But to see authoritarianism at the preschool level is more disturbing. And it happens all the time.
Schools that can afford to have resources and experts often end up usurping parental control. When you are dealing with little children, however, this is unacceptable. A teacher can frighten a parent into thinking their three-year old has a major disorder just because he or she shows some of the symptoms. They have a panel of experts there to test and diagnose, and then the child is put on an IEP with a label until they can convince everybody that they don’t need it (i.e. never!). The IEP is a legal agreement so you can’t just cancel it or take it lightly… it is the manual that now comes with your child unless you refuse services (which in itself makes you feel like The Awful Parent). Incidentally, multiple labels can be applied, which is often the first step towards kiddie medication. If you reject the IEP or labels, then the school can view you skeptically, as if you were negligent, and challenge you if necessary. More likely, the kindergarten teacher will just try again to get your child on an IEP by pointing out everything he or she hasn’t mastered yet compared to the other kids. You have to deal with this community and this school board as long as you live there, and you become tainted goods.
Who wants to go through that?
Most parents are afraid to stand up against a preschool staff of experts, usually because they themselves are worried that the experts might be right. What if their child IS autistic? What if they have some other developmental problem? We’re not experts, so we don’t know. And we’ve all heard for the last decade or two that children who get a diagnosis before they turn 5 (or 3) turn out fine whereas children who don’t have no hope! So the media frightens, experts confirm, and schools overdiagnose. These types of things frighten parents into ceding control to a preschool… and then to elementary school, middle school, and high school… there is no easy way out ;-)
I am not making this up. I am good friends with the special education teacher for the high school in our area. I have sat in on many of her classes, and she has told me stories first hand of how kids get on this path from age 3. The child is unruly or has a learning disability, the parent doesn’t know what to do, then the school becomes the parent. The child is shuffled through the system with all kinds of diagnoses, growing up into them, and then signing their own IEPs when they have the legal right to. Teachers, parents, and kids are stunted by these diagnoses on paper. Now most of the kids I saw did have disabilities and/or some problems, but they were mostly slight or behavioral… “misfits” who didn’t talk or look you in the eye, probably had ADD, no study skills, and a below average reading level. Most of them you could imagine being the three-year old who wouldn’t “integrate.” They were NOT the handicapped group you think of when you think of the state so graciously helping special ed kids get an education (which should be commended).
In my own son’s journey down this path, the preschool special ed teachers themselves were excellent. I am not writing this to discredit teachers or special education. I have several friends and two family members who are in the field, and I completely understand their care, concern, and liberty in taking care of special needs. However, as a mom, I maintain that it is completely unacceptable for a group of unknown experts to make me fear what’s wrong with my child. And then to provide the program and solution for me to ease my fears, as if they can handle it from there. This is precisely what happened when we went down the public preschool path with my first son. (And then had to consider it again with my second son.)
There is so much fear out there!
The special education services my child received were good. And he started developing more typically, which was relieving. But the whole experience made me feel so out of control, inadequate, afraid to parent, etc. I was supposed to know my child best and be his advocate, but it was clear that the public school staff were just feeding me a line when they said those things… they didn’t want me to ask questions or get involved beyond visiting the class if I wanted to. They came to my house every month to see if there was anything obviously wrong about it/me, they asked me to implement some of their learning props at home, they failed to call or email me about what was going on (a necessity when you’re sending off a three-year old that doesn’t talk!), and they ignored behaviors we felt were unacceptable. They had me come in for meetings with their directors where they said scary things to motivate me to sign the IEPs, they discouraged me from refusing services when my son turned five (telling me I could have a lawyer present if I wanted), and they threatened me that if I moved him to another school and tried to mainstream him, that everything might look rosy for awhile but then he’d probably take a turn for the worst in third grade when things get substantially harder… after all, that’s what happens to special needs kids who don’t get their special needs met!
It was crazy!
All of a sudden, my life was turned upside down. My child was given a label and a price to fix his label. And i was willing to pay that price because I wanted him to talk so bad. I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I’d said, “No, I don’t think he’s that bad. I’ll keep him at home another year and see…” but then he’d turned out to have a “real problem” and needing to be held back. What kind of mom could consider that?!
So I was a victim of Preschool Abuse.
When it came up the second time around with my next son, I was wiser. I skipped the school services route and found a private therapist. This experience was much better, but it was still full of icons and fear. What if he was four and still hated swings? What does it mean that his stuttering is getting worse? First he only needed occupational therapy. Then they added physical. Then he started regressing and crying so they wanted a neuropsychological exam. And all this for a borderline kid… not a classically disabled child but for an anxious and sensitive one with some motor delays. It really was over the top but I liked his therapist too much to quit. Plus, I was wiser.
From the feedback I hear on this blog, and from some friends of mine, I believe I am not alone in this experience. I believe many moms in their nice neighborhoods with their nice public schools are going through the same thing. Mostly this is a first-time mom trap, but not exclusively. I am eternally grateful for the civil servants in my area, but when those lovely benefits turn against me to work fear into my heart about my children, I am not a happy camper. And I am certainly not happy when the childraising expert elite (many of whom have not even HAD children of their own yet!) try to talk to me about my child as if they had given birth to him. Parents need to be bonded to their children completely, and not scared into doing somebody else’s will. Their agenda needs to incorporate professional feedback when it comes to possible developmental problems, but the medical establishment out there has gone overboard… and developmental or psychological handicaps ARE part of the medical establishment now. Your pediatrician, your kid’s teacher, the speech pathologist on staff, the directors of the public school, the media… all are on the bandwagon now. And once the foot is in the door for you to give your authority over to those people, who all know more than you to be sure, you are likely to keep ceding that authority again. You’re likely to feel like your kids are completely out of your control, and you’re just hoping that by the grace of God, they’ll somehow get through it and become successful adults.
This “hang on” approach is not healthy. Boundaries should be permeable but are absolutely necessary. So when it comes to Preschool Abuse or Expert Abuse, I encourage you to reject it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater, but protect your kids like the mother bear you are. Everyone will be better off for it.