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Fulfilling the Promise of IDEA: What I Was Called to Do
by Susan Bruce

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I am an advocate. I have ADHD. As a kid, I was often in trouble for my inappropriate behavior. They did not diagnose ADHD very often back then. I grew up during the spare the rod - spoil the child era. They knew very little about kids like me in the early 70s. Today, I advocate for my three kids with disabilities. They have learning disabilities and ADHD. I am also an advocate for other kids in my state. I work for my state’s federally funded parent training and information center, PRO*Parents of South Carolina.

Yesterday, I had a profound epiphany.

As part of my work, I participated in a local school district transition event called Pathway to Success. It was an event to encourage high school juniors and seniors with disabilities to explore post secondary options. Many colleges and universities participated in the event as well.

I had not been there long when I realized that many of the students in attendance could not, at the time, utilize any of the information provided by the colleges and universities. Many students were not on a high school diploma track. They would be receiving what this school district calls an “occupational diploma.” 

I talked with hundreds of kids, but two young men confirmed for me that I have been called to do this work.

These two typical looking, obviously bright 11th graders approached my booth and asked about our organization. I asked them if they had IEPs. They did. I explained that my organization trained parents of kids like them about their rights as kids with disabilities.

One of the young men said to me, “Ma’am, do you think you could help my mom help me get my GED? All I will get is an occupational diploma and I want to be a firefighter. I must have a high school diploma or at least my GED before I can do that.” The other young man chimed in that he was in the same boat, he wanted to be a Marine. We talked a little longer and I discovered both boys were in self-contained classes. One had a learning disability. The other had ADHD. Both boys said they had been in special education most of their school careers.

These boys, in their 11th grade year of school, had seemingly very bleak futures. Would these boys give up and drop out?

Greater Opportunities for Our Kids

I wanted to call their parents right then and scream, "It is not too late for your sons!"  Do their parents not know what I know?

As I looked into their eyes, I saw something familiar, something I recognized. It was a sense of being lost and of having very limited choices. Had things gone differently, I imagined I might be speaking with my own two boys. I also realized I was these two boys. They were me some 30 years ago!  While I managed to get a high school diploma, college was never an option for me. In this day and time, I wouldn’t have received the high school diploma.  My heart ached for them.

I gave them my business card along with information about our organization.  I suggested they have their parents call me. As they walked away, many of the struggles of my own life flashed before me. I realized in those moments that every choice not afforded me, every defeat, every lesson I ever learned, every success I have ever known, everything I have been through with my own kids, had brought me to this exact point in time.

I am doing what I was destined to do, what I have been called to do. 

As an adult, I have always known I did not meet my full potential. Because of this, I have fought so hard to ensure my four kids have the opportunities and choices I did not. It is a battle that I gladly undertake. It is a labor of love.

I always ask parents in my workshops, “What is it we all want for our kids?” The answer is always the same. We want to give our kids better opportunities and a better life than we’ve had. This is what drives the parent advocate. It is what drives me. In order for this to happen though, we, as parents, must be present and accounted for. We must actively participate. We must make ourselves experts.  We must stand up and be counted.

Fulfilling the Promise of IDEA

In this year of the 35th anniversary of the Individuals with Disabilities Act, I am thankful.

  • I am thankful this law allows me to advocate for better opportunities for my kids.
  • I am thankful this law allows me to advocate for a more equitable education for my kids.
  • I am thankful that my kids are on a high school diploma track.  If not for the IDEA, they wouldn’t be.
  • I am thankful for a journey, without which I would not have become what I am.
  • Most of all, I am thankful for organizations like Wrightslaw and parent training and information centers who empower parents on a daily basis to do all this!

I want to challenge ALL parents of kids with disabilities to stand up and take action.

Utilize every possible resource. Make yourself an expert on your child and the IDEA. Create a better outcome for your kid. No one has more to lose than you do, with the exception of our kids.

I ask myself a thought-provoking question. I consider my journey and everything that brought me to this point in time. Did I, by not meeting my full potential, really reach my full potential?  I am doing what I love. Perhaps, my full potential is to be gauged by my kids reaching theirs!


Susan Bruce

Susan BruceSusan is the mother of three children with learning disabilities.

After spending years researching and learning about IDEA and about her children's disabilities, Susan has spent the last two years applying all she has learned. She's now a "force to be reckoned with" when advocating for children.

Susan is the Region 3 Regional Education Coordinator for the SC Parent and Training Information Center, PRO*Parents of South Carolina, Inc.

Susan, an active member of the Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates (COPAA), also trains parents, teachers, attorneys, and other professionals nationwide on Effective Advocacy, Parent Leadership, Reading, RTI, and Transition. She has conducted training programs in South Carolina, Maryland, Missouri, Tennessee, and North Carolina.

In February 2010, Susan was the featured speaker at the South Carolina Parent Leadership Conference, Parents Leading the Way.

Susan serves on the Executive Advisory Board of Learning Disabilities Association of South Carolina and as a parent leader for the National Association for the Education of African American Children with Learning Disabilities (NAEAACLD).

Susan Bruce
sbruce@proparents.org

Created: 11/18/10

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