My Special Needs Child
Do you have a ‘classified’ or ‘special needs’ or ‘learning disabled’ child? This is a true story of what happened with our daughter and how we dealt with it. Please note that I realize that everyone’s situation is different as is the way they choose to address it.
My wife Lin really, really wanted to have children back around 1982. I couldn’t quite understand why since she already had ME. But she convinced me it might be a worthwhile pursuit and I kind of bought into the idea-- and by February 1985 there was one ‘in the oven’.
So preparation was made for the big day. The doctor said we should expect our little cherub on November 22, 1985. I was enrolled in natural childbirth classes with my wife (of course it was obligatory for me to ask the instructor ‘If it’s Natural Childbirth, why do we have to take a class?’).
Well, I never did complete the course because lo and behold our brand spankin’ new baby girl decided that 9 months was way too long to stay all cooped up. She entered the free world on September 22—a full 8 weeks early.
I guess there are reasons why 9 months is the suggested time for incubation because they had to keep our little girl there for an extra 2 weeks before she could come home. She was called a ‘Preemie’. But they finally let her out and we all began to settle in. And the last 24 years have been amazing.
Our little Jayne Lin seemed happy and healthy. She landed a job acting in a commercial when she was 4. It was awesome shooting all over Manhattan in New York City.
She went to school and in 1st grade we got ‘the call’. The school had tested and evaluated our daughter and had determined that she was to be ‘classified’. We were told that meant she would be put in ‘special classes’. My wife and I freaked out. ‘Not OUR daughter. Oh no. There must be some mistake. She’s normal. Whoever came to this decision must be an idiot!’
Even though I’m certified to teach in the great state of New Jersey, I wasn’t really sure about ‘classified’, ‘special education’, ‘learning disabilities’, etc. So I checked with a close family member who is an educational professional and she said ‘I know Jayne Lin and she is NOT a special needs kid. Don’t go along with the school on this’.
Well thanks for the advice but now what do we do? We talked it over with the school and with each other. The school was not changing their assessment. But we had our doubts especially since she was our child. I mean after Lin and I looked in the mirror and saw how perfect we were (it amazes me how we as parents think our children should be perfect when we’re all pretty much not), how could our little blonde beauty be less than perfect as well?
Maybe Mom and Dad had fallen short in preparing our girl for the rigors of 1st grade? We decided to do a bit of evaluating of our own. The summer between 1st and 2nd grade we encouraged Jayne Lin to enter a reading contest at the library. She read 113 books in 8 weeks and won the contest. Yes you read that right- 113 books. That didn’t seem to be very ‘learning disabled’ to me. Maybe the local public library was a better ‘fit’ for our daughter than the local public school.
We knew some people who knew some people whose children went to a small Christian school about 20 miles from home. Although we were attempting to live off my training business with Lin being a full-time Mom, we decided to give it a try. Jayne Lin got out of our mini-van the 1st day of school and immediately received a hug from her teacher. It was a good start and she thrived academically.
In fact, by age 12 our 7th grader made a special presentation at Montclair State University on ‘What It Takes to Become a Champion… not only in Sports but in Life’. She addressed a graduate class on Applied Sport Psychology and concluded with a question & answer session.
In 5th grade she had discovered basketball and was the best player on the worst team in the league—the team scored maybe 30 points ALL SEASON. Jayne told me she wanted to be a player. Oh no, I’m thinking to myself- small hands, no hops and not very fast getting up and down the court.
I counseled with a real coach about Jayne Lin’s physical limitations particularly for basketball. ‘No problem’, he said as long as she has heart and passion and the willingness to work hard. Pure ‘shooters’ are lacking in basketball because of all the time and hard work to become a good one.
And that’s what she did. Shoot and then shoot some more. Mom, Dad, little sister and little brother became permanent rebounders in ALL types of weather. I remember a late night shooting session in the driveway in the snow because J felt she needed the extra work.
Along with being an honor student, basketball opened up many doors for #33 to walk through, opportunities abounded. She played year round on travel teams, AAU teams, summer leagues, 3 on 3 tournaments, and shooting contests.
She started lifting weights when she was 12. She slept with a basketball (Pete Maravich, the basketball legend had done it as well). She travelled everywhere with a basketball.
By the end of 9th grade a very high profile private school accepted her to bolster their basketball program but they only took her because she had more than qualified academically. Her 1st week in the 10th grade writing class the teacher tore up her paper because it was way below the school’s standards (even though she was an honor student the year before in our local high school). The demands were high at the new school but she succeeded. By the end of high school she had a pretty decent resume-
Honor Student, Community Service Award (highest level), Christian Drama School, Youth Group, Fellowship of Christian Athletes, 4 years AAU, bench press (free weight)- 150 lbs., squat (free weight)- 250lbs.
Two times New Jersey Star Ledger “Most Unheralded 1st Team”, Two Time 1st Team All-Conference
Her shooting demonstrations included making 18 foul shots in a row- eyes closed, and 100 out of 108 3-point shots made in 10 minutes.
After changing colleges, she took a job as a coach and was the Youngest High School Varsity Girl’s Basketball Head Coach in the State (some think the country) when she had just turned 20 years old.
Hired 3 weeks before start of the season, she started with 13 girls in the entire program- none close to blue chip/ most with zero to bare minimum experience. The team was serving a suspension from its league and was not eligible for county tourney play. They lost their leading scorer 3 games into the season when she cut practice, went snowboarding, ran into a tree and cracked her cheekbone. They had to finish a Christmas tournament game ‘Hoosiers’ style with only 4 players because 1 had fouled out and 4 were nailed to the bench for breaking team rules. With very limited access to her Home gym, many practices were in a local park on a running track. No licensed driver was available for the School Van so Coach Jayne had to borrow her mother’s mini-van to transport players and beg parents to help. After practices and/or games coach had to drive 2-3 kids home. And after the 1st week in February all games had to be away because the Home gym only had 1 basket available. AND AFTER ALL THAT, the team won enough to qualify for the State Tournament.
She left coaching to get back on the court. Jayne Lin played 2 years of college ball (with a few highlights), waitressed on the weekends and graduated last spring Magna Cum Laude with a degree in English.
Oh and she sang the National Anthem acapella before numerous games and then played.
And she has played basketball in Africa, Italy and Spain with a women’s team. It was during the Africa trip a few years back that she met her future husband (May 22, 2010). While she can shoot way better than him, he is a tremendous rebounder. A match made in basketball heaven :D.
So the Preemie baby who they wanted to classify has done okay so far. Other than some attacks of TKS (Teenage Knucklehead Syndrome), she has performed at a high level with some of the best and brightest while holding true to her values and beliefs. Although her room and inside her car can be disastrous, Lin and I think she might do better with her own place (with Mike).
Reflecting back in why the educators wanted to ‘classify’ our daughter, it could have been any number of things- bad educators, bad school environment, bad parents, immaturity… It really doesn’t matter even if she had gone into the ‘special classes’. I think every kid has it in them to do something fantastic- no matter what the test scores say.
Mom and Dad just have to stay calm, love on their children and stay the course doing as much of the right things as possible… AND GOOD THINGS WILL HAPPEN!
As my friend David DeNotaris always says, “Make it a Great Day”...bye4now...
Russell Jones is an author, co-owner of My Back and Body Clinic in New Jersey, a Master-Level Rehabilitative Trainer, Strength Athlete & Motivational Speaker...
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