The first time my husband (who was my boyfriend at the time) and I spoke about having children together, the first thing he said was “I hope we don’t have a little boy who stutters. Genetics show they have a tendency to stutter more than girls.” Ten years later, he still says it whenever a son is mentioned. I was well aware of the reason why he felt that way then and even more so now.
As a kid, my husband had a terrible stutter that made him the brunt of jokes from heartless kids throughout his younger years. A stutter that caused fights in an attempt to defend himself from those jokes. A stutter that made his school attempt to have his mother put a straight “A” student into Special Education. With years of therapy and a proactive approach by his mother, he overcame this simple speech impediment with no issues. It rears its ugly head every now and then, but never overshadows his brilliance.
Imagine our surprise when our 4-year-old little girl started to have fluency issues this past January. Out of nowhere, she started having trouble getting her words out without assistance and I saw her dad’s heart start to break. He was immediately concerned about her being teased or people thinking she wasn’t bright just because of this minor hiccup in her speech. His childhood scars suddenly became very visible. After some research, we were advised to reach out to our local public school system for a speech therapist to come to her school for a day or so during the week. We live in an area with top-notch schools so it didn’t sound like a bad idea.
Things started to go downhill once we realized that public schools label speech therapy as “Special Education.” My husband and I agreed that was a big fat NO. As one of a few black kids in a predominately white area, we did not want another unnecessary label following her around. This kid had always been ahead of the game when it came to learning and we refused to let something like this make her question her potential. We continued our search for the best therapist we could find and were lucky enough to find a top-notch therapist that specializes in stuttering. Unfortunately, insurance does not cover therapy that is not medically necessary, so since January, we have spent over $6,000 on 5 months of therapy. My daughter is now back to about 90% fluency and her stutter is barely noticeable. Even now, we are constantly approached about putting her in the speech through the school and we continue to politely decline.
I think about what we went through and can only thank God that we were blessed enough to be able to get her the help she needed on our own. We could advocate for our child to have the best help without a second thought, but what about the parents who can’t afford to be their child’s biggest advocate and get them the help they need. Those are the kids that end up with a special education label not because they actually do have a learning barrier to overcome, but simply because his or her parents don’t have the financial means to look outside of the public school system. God bless our special education teachers because there are children who genuinely need the help, but what about the ones that have just been thrown into these classes for no reason other than meeting a few check marks on a basic evaluation sheet?
Studies show that there is a strong correlation between poverty and a lack of access to necessary education programs. Starting as young as pre-school, poor children get poorer quality educations. How many kids have had their confidence ruined by wrongly being labeled as “special needs” or “special education”? How many kids have acted out in frustration and ended up being known as the “troublemaker”? This downward spiral is hard to stop if the root cause of the problem isn’t addressed early on. Research has pointed to the fact that students of color are sent to special education in disproportionate numbers, especially when compared to their wealthier peers.
Lack of funds should never be the cause of a child not being able to take advantage of every positive opportunity presented. How do we bridge this gap? Where do we even begin? Do we address this country’s failing education system or the fact that too many of our citizens are being paid below living wage? I am not sure where to start, but I do know that SOMETHING has to be done so that our children don’t continue to fall by the wayside simply because they don’t have the financial means to let their lights shine bright. What are your thoughts?
Kristle Pressley is a mom, wife, writer and entrepreneur based in Atlanta, GA.