posted Wednesday April 2nd, 2014


Saturday was the state Special Olympics cheerleading competition. Sophie’s team bombed. They finished third out of three, winning bronze medals. I found Sophie’s crumbled on the not very clean porch windowsill the next day. No one had even bothered to bring it into the house.

A rather sad end to the season, in contrast with last year, when Team Tempe came from behind to tie for the gold.

Here’s the thing, though. Sophie’s team bombed — but they also completely and totally kicked ass. They had great music, great choreography, they knew their moves. The crowd loved them. Sophie had a blast onstage, smiling, shaking her pom poms and her hips, staying on the beat and, of course, doing the splits (three times!) at the end of the routine. (When Ray gets a video made, I’ll post it.)

The competition was tough. In order to dance and cheer (as opposed to just cheer), a team has to enter the “advanced” category. And Tempe was pitted this year against two very good teams. So yes, technically they bombed and kicked butt at the same time. And honestly, I don’t think the team would have performed as well if they hadn’t been pushed so hard to compete. I love Sophie’s coach for making the decision to enter them in the harder spot.

It was one of those rare and beautiful moments when your kid is pushed to her limits under all the right circumstances, in a place where it’s safe to fail. In a place where it’s understood that even though every participant has “special needs,” someone will fail. A soft landing, a medal, but still, last place.

I sat in the audience as the bronze medal was announced, and thought about science.

Last week I learned something I am kicking myself over for not figuring out way sooner. What I’ve been able to piece together so far is that Sophie’s gotten little to no science and social studies instruction all year — and what she has received has not been modified, meaning it’s way too hard for her. Because of a scheduling snafu, instead of being pulled out of regular math and language arts for “resource” help, that’s been happening during science and social studies, the rare times Sophie is supposed to be learning alongside her typical peers.

Long story short: the work in science and social studies is too hard, and Sophie’s not in class (much if at all) to learn it.

I’m sure I’ll write more about this as I learn more (I have meetings pending with the special education teacher and principal) but one thing I’ve learned disturbs me most of all. Sophie was given a C in social studies and one in science, and word on the street is that this is because someone at the school has been trained to “never give a special needs student a failing grade.”

That could be because it’s expensive and inconvenient to educate a special needs kid. The idea generally is to resist holding such kids back a grade — just move them along, let them socialize with their peers. It could also be because it’s easier to give a special needs kid a C than disappoint either her or her parents. Ds and Fs raise more questions than Cs.

I am not a fan of either reason. I sat and stewed during the rest of that medal ceremony and it wasn’t because Team Tempe lost. It was because when you throw that up against what has obviously happened at school — and a school where everyone loves Sophie; where a lawyer fine-tooth-combs her IEP and attends all the meetings; where I like to think I’m on top of every little thing — almost an entire year can go by where no one’s offering your kid (and others, this seems to apply to at least two if not a whole gaggle of fifth graders and perhaps beyond) two of the main subjects taught at the school.

I blame myself. I should have figured it out. But I didn’t. No one did, until last week. Now there will be lots of meetings, carefully worded apologies (since all of this may or may not be illegal). They’ve already sent home science and social studies vocabulary words for Sophie to study for an upcoming test. For the most part, I’ve learned that people aren’t cruel; they are just not well trained for their jobs, and when Sophie’s part of the job, there’s a greater chance of mishap since it’s so relatively rare for a kid with Down syndrome to come along and require so many adjustments. And Sophie does require a lot. I get that. I feel guilty about it. But Sophie deserves an equal education.

And if the classwork is modified and taught to Sophie and she studies and takes a test and fails — she deserves an F.

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3 Responses to “Losers”

  1. Hi Amy – love the blog! Found it just googling around. I have learning disabilities and while my needs are different from Sophie’s, I understand how it feels to want to advocate for yourself (or your child) and simultaneously feel guilty about giving people extra work so you (or your child) can be successful. I just wanted to say, keep at it, because its definitely a fight worth fighting. Sophie deserves an equal education and if this creates extra work for the people who educate her – then so be it. This is their job. If you continually show Sophie that she deserves equal treatment, it will become the perfect foundation for her to build her own self advocacy skills! Go Amy and go Sophie!!!!

  2. I’m sorry this happened and I get what you are saying. What happened doesn’t sound like out of the ordinary. I don’t understand why the teachers/therapists/admin don’t think about the impact of when they pull people and what is missed. My friend here- her daughter struggles with math, so starting in 3rd grade she got resource math, but resource math isn’t the same as regular education math and this year going into 5th grade- that pull out went away- so a kid who struggles in math, then was pulled from the regular instruction of it in addition for two years was then dumped back in regular 5th grade math because of some administrative change.

    I’d love to know more about the careful wording. What worked, what didn’t- how you figured it out, what they can/will do for it. If they didn’t know to or how to modify it before- how do they know now- do you tell them what to do? This is the stuff I struggle with- how much of how to do their job (the teachers and therapists) do we have to or should we be responsible for.

    I hate that this happened. Well intentioned doesn’t help situations. So does this change what may happen next year?

    Wish I could buy you a coffee and sit and process with you. Ugh.

  3. Oh geez, I have so many thoughts on this topic. I am flying to Hawaii tomorrow where I will sit on the beach and gather my thoughts – on this and many other topics. I will be in touch.

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