Saturday, September 10, 2016

More Heaven by Jo Anne White PhD

I try to keep my personal life and my review life separate, but when something comes along like this book, it just isn't possible.  This is likely to be a long 'review' so I'll give you the short version up front.  Buy this book.  Go now.

I have a special needs child who will be eleven in a few weeks.  He is truly the most incredible person I've ever known.  My job, as his mom, is to love him more than I ever thought humanly possible.  That includes loving him enough to give him the best possible life he can have.  Involved in that is doctor visits, surgeries, therapies, IEP meetings, daily meetings with teachers, counselors, social workers, setting up a support system for him as well as for myself.  Every moment of every day is teaching.  Nonstop.  Every moment in time is a chance for a life lesson.  It's a chance to teach him how to comprehend, how to take care of himself, how to cope in a world that isn't built for him.  That never ends.

I actually moved last year because of the school system here.  It was really difficult leaving my family and friends hours away, but what's best for my little guy comes first.  Always.  The fact is, the school system here is the best in this part of the country for special needs children.  I did my homework.  I researched.  I made phone calls.  I talked with parents and corporations and school boards.  Not once have I regretted the decision to move here.  My child has flourished under the care he receives on a day to day basis.  Do you realize how many hours a week your child is in someone else's care?  It may not seem like a lot, but it's more than half of the day.  For me, I have to have trust.  I have to know they're going to keep my child, as well as the others around him, safe.  I have to know they'll be willing to work with me through issues.  I have to know they'll be willing to take the time to get to know him.  They have  to be able to care about him on some level, otherwise they won't ever get through to him.

Now, since the move, I've come to realize just how important teachers are.  There isn't a day that goes by that I don't realize just what an amazing impact they've had on both my son's life and mine.  I appreciate them with all of my heart and do my best to make sure they know it.  When my older son was in school, I'll admit, I took those teachers for granted.  It's their job.  They get paid for it.  With my special needs child, there isn't enough money in the world to pay them for what they do.  I know how much time, effort and money they have invested in my child.  That's a debt you can't repay.  I cannot stress how important the care my child receives at school is.  They work together with me so that we have a nonstop learning system.  He doesn't work on one thing at school and another at home.  It's fluid because that's what works for him.

Everything that I've just written explains why this book was so important to me.  I haven't sobbed like this in years.  It's not a sad book, but I identified so heavily with it.

The story is fictional, but it's set back in the 1970's when it was first mandated that public school systems had to provide some sort of education for physically and mentally disabled children.  Over the years, there have been updates to this, but this was really where the special needs movement started, in my opinion.  Before that, these children were institutionalized and attempts at home school were made.  These children didn't really have a chance at leave.  Forty years ago, my child would have been institutionalized before he turned five.  With the advancements in society and education, he has every chance of living a 'normal' life.  Every single day we see progress.

This story covers a teacher, Miss Tina, and the first six autistic students that she received to work with.  I was expecting it to be a lot of facts and figures and clinicals (which would have been almost as interesting!)  but instead, it's written from Miss Tina's perspective as a journal.  The brilliance of this book is that there so many important factors that are just touched upon, but you still receive the impact.  There are only a few areas where you see the parents' impact on the child and their education, but it's a strong enough visual that that's all that is needed to really pound into your head how important that is.  Given that this is one of the first special needs classrooms, there's an air of fear and discomfort.  Only a few instances are given, but they're also powerful enough that you really get a feel for what the time was like.  Hell, it's still like that in a lot of places.  The bulk of the book is Miss Tina's perspective on the children, what their main issues are and how she's attempting to help them, as well as their progress.

For me, this was a chance to identify with my son's educational system.  I'm so amazingly blessed to have him where he is.  I appreciate them now more than ever.  This book isn't just for people like me, though.  With inclusion being such a hot topic, this book is for everyone.  The best thing you can do for a special needs person is show compassion and empathy.  In here, we have a great look at what life is like for these kids.  Once you can see the world from their perspective, it gives you a great understanding so that you can start to connect with them.  Even if you don't have a special needs person as part of your life now, the odds are good that you will eventually.  If you have zero interest in the special needs community, you'll still find this to be a fascinating read that will give you a great glimpse at the past as well as pull you in emotionally.

Side note:  My personal copy is being donated.

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