I was recently speaking to a fellow special needs mom struggling to get past a painful IEP who doubted she could forgive the enemies at her son’s school. But she had to, because he refused to transfer to another school and leave his hard-sought social network behind. This forgiveness is a battle for many of us. We all fight for our children’s rights, and sometimes our advocacy is downright ugly.

Case in point: After my husband and I were disillusioned by our local public school’s teachers and administrator, we sued the school district to get my son, who is on the autism spectrum, into an appropriate least restrictive learning environment. For us, that meant moving away from the special education track and into general education with a private behaviorist. So how did I march my kid back to that same school the following year after winning the case, and work successfully with the same people, those enemies who were seemingly biased against him? How did I sweep mounds of contention under the rug and start anew?

I can sum up my take-away from that experience in one sentence: If you want to forgive, you must first understand.

I like to say that every person has their own belief system.  My belief system is rooted in the knowledge that my son is very intelligent even if he is an “outside the box” thinker, that he has unlimited potential underneath some odd behavior, and I advocate accordingly. The actions of my enemies that year were rooted in their own belief systems. Let me clarify, I certainly didn’t agree with their beliefs, but if I wanted to forgive and forget, I had to acknowledge the existence of them.

My son’s kindergarten special education teacher, who didn’t think he was fit to move into a general education class, believed wholeheartedly in the benefits of her special education curriculum. The general education teacher who taught my son math, and who also participated in our IEP meeting, believed in a traditional approach when dealing with distracting behaviors in her classroom. She thought my son’s behavior would be detrimental to the other students in her class.

But my biggest enemy was the assistant principal, the gatekeeper between our school and the district who ran our IEPs that year. This woman was a district “lifer” angling for a promotion. She would do anything to tow the line and save her bosses from funding the 1:1 behaviorist that my son would require in a gen ed classroom. But another way to look at it (which I was only able to do much later in retrospect) was to understand that, underneath the politics, she truly believed the district’s resources would be better spent further educating school aides for many students, rather than providing an expensive private aide for one.  Never mind that the “continuing education” offered to staff by our district was considered laughable by many, because that wasn’t was she believed.

A year later the assistant principal left (to become the principal of a neighboring school), so it was a little easier to return, but I would have walked through those school doors with a smile on my face either way.  I didn’t have a choice, because I was holding my son’s hand, and he was looking at me, absorbing my energy – my positive, forgiving energy – and he was smiling himself.

*EDIT* 10/14/15:

Coincidentally, the evening after I finished writing my “Mama Bear Forgives” post, I attended a screening of the short documentary film, FACING FEAR.  I could give you a one-liner summarizing the film, but it won’t come close to describing it, describing the conversation that it has started about the power of tolerance and forgiveness, and the far-reaching audience that power touches.  I encourage everyone to go to the website to find out more and join the movement!  www.facingfearmovie.com

Kudos to The Willows Community School for arranging the screening (as well as a screening for their upper grades) and the touching Q&A that followed.  


  1. What a great article. Facing Fear was mind blowing. The 2 people in it are so interesting and the growth they experienced in this lifetime is unmatched and moving. Kudos to you for being able to see the bigger picture and smile walking into school. Congrats.

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