Impact Feature Issue on Stories of Advocacy, Stories of Change from People with Disabilities, Their Families, and Allies (1988-2013)
In the Gap is Where Hope Lives (Part 2, 2013)
At the end of 2013, Samtra K. Devard reflects on unexpected changes in her daughter Lauren’s education experience between the early childhood and middle school years. Today, Lauren’s family has had to face some difficult choices as they continue seeking the best for Lauren.
It’s been five years since I shared Lauren’s early childhood education experiences in Impact. Since then, we encountered a bump in the road on her education journey. We discovered a gap between what we thought was happening at school and what was actually happening. There was a gap between what we believed Lauren’s education program was doing for her and the way things actually were. There was a gap between our expectations for Lauren and those of her educators. There was a gap between how we value Lauren and how our public education system valued her.
The gap has changed our journey. In this gap, we discovered we had some very important decisions to make. Do we lower our expectations to match our reality OR do we live for the day when our expectations BECOME our reality? Answering this essential question may seem easy. On the surface it is. Bridging the gap turns out to be the single most life-changing moment I have experienced as a parent.
Frankly, I was surprised to find our daughter’s education journey reeling in a gap. I experienced a range of emotions. The first was guilt. How could I have missed the reality of what was going on? I was active, engaged, present, connected, and visible. Yet, I still missed that some fundamental education essentials were not in existence. I felt angry and deceived. I had relationships with my daughter’s team. I trusted them. I felt betrayed, paralyzed and not sure what to do. This gap tested me. This gap tested the hope I claimed to have, hope that Lauren will do all that she was created to do, and be who she was created to be. When I thought all was well, it was easy to say I had hope. But now that I knew all was not well, I had to answer questions for myself. Is the hope I have able to produce results for Lauren? Is the hope I have able to sustain me through gaps like this? Is the hope I have able to keep me from growing weary with fear, anger, unresolved issues and unanswered questions about how Lauren can be successful in school? Did I even have hope? The gap required something of me I wasn’t sure I had, and that is the power to make a difference. And that’s what I pray for – the power to make a difference for Lauren.
I first tried to negotiate an IEP that would meet Lauren’s needs. But that failed. I was then led to homeschool Lauren. Our homeschool journey has taught me a lot about how Lauren learns, about her strengths and weaknesses – as well as my own. Homeschooling Lauren one-on-one has produced growth in both of us and it is making a difference.
With all that happened, I also needed closure. I attended a meeting of my school district and made a public comment about what transpired with Lauren. Then I did something very important – I forgave them. I needed to free myself from the negative emotions that I was holding onto so that I could focus on what lay ahead.
It was so tempting to lower my expectations about Lauren and her education when I learned that school wasn’t doing what was appropriate for her. This has become the biggest lesson of all. Now, when there is a gap between what I expect for Lauren and what anyone else says they can or can’t do, I don’t lower my expectations. Instead, I continue to hope. Hope is what bridges the gap between where she is and where I expect her to be. Lauren still has strides to make and I’m confident that she will make them.