THE LAST FIRST DAY

THE LAST FIRST DAY

“Goals live on the other side of obstacles and challenges”

…Jim Collins Great by Choice

Today is my last, first day of law school.

I can honestly say that it will be my last, first day of school EVER.

It seems fitting that I am starting my last first day by helping 100 incoming students start their first, first day.

It is difficult to wrap my head around the fact that this is my final year of law school. I have been extremely reflective over the past couple of weeks as I gear up physically and emotionally to finish law school, pass the bar exam and start working as an attorney. I remember exactly how I felt this time two years ago and to come full circle, as what I believe is the very best version of myself, is truly thrilling.

But more than anything, I am filled with gratitude. Grateful to my husband, for not thinking twice about throwing 100% of his support behind me when I told him I wanted to give up a substantial income and successful career to go after what I believed would make my life “great,” and for giving me the space and foundation to stop everything else in our lives and focus on law school for three years; Grateful to my small but very close circle of friends, who seem to know exactly when I need their support; Grateful to my Dad, my first legal inspiration who is forever my biggest fan; Grateful to the angels at CCARC, who have made our dreams come true for Ryan, allowing me to pursue this endeavor; Grateful to my brilliant classmates at QUSL, who welcomed their oldest classmate from day one, and who have become like family to me; Grateful to my colleagues and mentors at Rome Clifford Katz & Koerner, for this amazing summer. I woke up every single day for the past three months excited to go to work and ended each day excited to go back the next morning. I am grateful for the time they have taken to teach and guide me and for allowing me to start my final year with the privilege of having employment secured when I am done with the bar exam in July. I still can’t believe my good fortune of finding such an incredible place to work and of finding such amazing people to work for.

This final year will be hard, no doubt. It will be filled with challenges and moments when it all seems impossible, but I can finally see the end goal and what my life will be like when I am done and I love what it looks like.

As someone who is much better at writing about her feelings than she is at talking about her feelings, this blog was a way to keep my friends and family close to me while I worked through this journey. Some of the entries have hit a nerve in the universe and have been seen all around the world, but in the end, I hope that it can serve as a motivator for anyone who feels like they have become complacent in his/her life and who is thinking about making a change, amidst the daily struggles that may seem insurmountable.

Life is short, work hard and go for it, whatever your “it” may be. Choose to have a great life, it is so worth it.

And now, I am off to find my locker.

Law School Melly Scene 7: Great by Choice and No Regrets

Law School Melly: Scene 7: Great by Choice and No Regrets

“Most people will look back and realize they did not have a great life because it’s just so easy to settle for a good life”  -Jim Collins

Today I ran into someone I used to work with when I was a school principal. He is now a principal himself and he asked me the same question that I get from many of my former colleagues when I see them now, “do you miss it?”

Do I miss it? No, I don’t.

Truthfully, I don’t think that is really the question. I think the question people are really asking is, “do you regret leaving education?”

Do I regret it? No, I don’t.

But that doesn’t mean what people seem to think it means.

It isn’t a negative reflection of my career in education or the wonderful people I worked with and for. I am extremely grateful for all of my experiences as a teacher and administrator. I am appreciative of the opportunities that I was given and while I feel I would have been better at law school 20 years ago, I believe that I will be a much better lawyer as a result of my almost 20 years in education. I didn’t dislike my job or the work. I wasn’t unhappy. But I knew that there was a different path for me, I just knew it. I felt it was the right time to shatter through the ceiling of education into something I had always considered doing: practicing law. I had a good life as a school principal. But I wanted to have a great life. And I don’t regret it for one second.

And people just don’t understand it. Skeptical people ask me, “so do you think you are really going to like being a lawyer, do you think this is really what you want to do?”  I get it, they don’t know that I spent a year sitting in law school classes, talking with lawyers, professors, deans of law schools until I was really sure I was ready to apply. But it feels like they are really asking “how could you walk away from a successful and stable career where you were doing good work and making great money, do you regret it?” And the answer is NO. But, I can feel that way and still miss the people, my co-workers, the kids, the staff, the parents. And I do. When I run into a former colleague, parent or student, it fills me with joy and reminds me of a time when I did some excellent work with stellar people.

Yet most of the time, the conversation ends with that person saying something like, “well good for you,” which feels to me like the equivalent of when someone from the south says, “well bless your heart.” I don’t think people are being unkind intentionally but I do think people attempt to internalize my choices and wonder if they would be brave (or crazy) enough to do the same. I also believe that even in 2017, people don’t understand how a woman in her mid-forties could leave a successful career to pursue a totally different path.

I study leadership because it fascinates me. My favorite leadership book is Good to Great by Jim Collins. It has been my professional bible for years. The book is a study of how companies go from “good” to “great” and in it he breaks down the leadership tenets that effectuated the change. One of my favorite quotes from the book, “good is the enemy of great,” resonated with me immediately. Good isn’t good enough, and complacent just isn’t me. And somewhere deep inside of me, I knew that I needed to change paths to live a great life. I love to work and I work hard. I was ready to channel my efforts into the work I believed I was meant to do. And it doesn’t diminish the importance of the work that I’ve done-I will forever be proud of that. But becoming an attorney feels more like “me” than anything I have ever done before in my life. I hope that everyone reading this feels that way about the work they are doing because being true to yourself is the only way to become great.

And it isn’t easy. I am two-thirds of the way through law school and it was very difficult to start again. It is tough to sit in a classroom with people half my age who are smarter than me and try to find my place. It is challenging to go from being at the top of your game to being a novice. To go from being the boss to being the intern. All while having to deal with the responsibilities of my life. It takes humility and determination. But most of all, it takes courage. The courage to live the life that I know is right for me. You can’t be a great leader unless you are an effective leader of your own life, personally and professionally. Choices always come with scrutiny and I accept that but I have evolved into a truly great leader of my own life.

I wish I could come up with a concise answer to the question of why I left education, why I went to law school, will I be happy as a lawyer, but the answer is just too big, too deep and too personal to articulate effectively. For now, I can only say that I attend a great law school, have acquired a great amount of knowledge, have made great friends, work at a great law firm and am at the very beginning of what I trust will be a great career. Great by choice and no regrets.

 

 

Law School Autism Mom Scene Six: Law School is like Bikram Yoga

“You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the water slide overthinking it, you have to go down the chute.”   Tina Fey

Law school is like Bikram Yoga.

For those who don’t know what Bikram yoga is, picture this: 90 minutes in a 105-degree room with no music, a giant mirror, one instructor, almost naked participants and 26 difficult postures that you do twice. The goal in Bikram yoga is explicit. They tell you on your first day: “just stay in the room.” And they mean it. If you feel weak, dizzy, or sick, they want you to lie down but they do NOT want you to leave the room. I went once with a friend who actually passed out during class. When she came to, they instructed her to lay down and stay in the room (she did, but she never went back). Completing a Bikram yoga class having stayed in the room feels incredible-regardless of how well you performed. You leave sweaty and accomplished.

For those who don’t know what law school (for someone who is 44) is like, picture this: 6 semesters in a classroom with brilliant students (fully-clothed and the age of my children); case books the size of an encyclopedia (remember those?); hundreds of pages a day to read-all in the language of “law,” (which is foreign); professors who cold-call you during class for answers and when they do, 50 pages of reading comes rushing to the forefront of your brain at once, (rendering you speechless); and at the end of each semester, 3-hour final exams which constitute your ENTIRE grade. Oh, and there is life too. Parental responsibilities don’t go away just because you are in law school. Completing a law school class having stayed in the room, regardless of the challenges, feels empowering-you leave sweaty and accomplished.

Although not quite as explicit, the goal for your first semester of law school (and perhaps the other five as well) is exactly the same as it is in Bikram Yoga: just stay in the room. When you are feeling humiliated for not knowing an answer (happens to everyone); when you don’t understand the content; when there aren’t enough hours in the day to complete the mountain of work; when there aren’t study rooms available or meetings with the professor weren’t as helpful as you’d hoped-the only way out is through and you just have to find it within yourself to stay in the room.

One of the things I love about Bikram yoga is that after the first class, I have never been self-conscious about how well I achieve any of the postures. I realized that not one person taking the class gave a shit about what I looked like or whether or not I was able to balance in tree pose, because they were all just trying not to die and were focused on their own practice. Law school is the same. I went in initially feeling somewhat insecure as a “nontraditional” student, only to find out that not one person taking the class gives a shit about what I look like (I may or may not wear yoga pants every day) or whether I get an answer right or wrong on a cold-call. Everyone is just trying to survive. Law school is really hard. Everyone is trying to stay in the room.

I am officially one-sixth a lawyer. One semester down and five to go with the second semester beginning tomorrow. I could end with an anecdote about bursting into tears while making my husband French toast on a Sunday during finals because I thought it was taking away from my study time (and I forgot to turn the stove on), but I won’t. I will end by saying that the past 5 months have been the most humbling, inspiring and exhausting months of my life. I have never worked harder. I have never learned more.

Being around young, smart, motivated classmates has already made me better in so many ways. Watching young people demonstrate leadership warms the heart and brings to life the all of the potential I have always believed that kids possess. Second and third-year law students go out of their way (daily) to offer support to first-year students. It is a beautiful thing.

And not once on this journey have I doubted that I was on the right path. I know for certain that I am exactly where I am supposed to be. There is a beauty in this that I have never experienced before and do not take for granted. Each day brings me closer to fighting injustice for families like mine. And even when it gets overwhelmingly difficult, I promise that I will stay in the room.

Law School Autism Mom-Scene Five: An Epoch in My Life

Law School Autism Mom Scene 5: An Epoch in My Life

“Oh, it’s delightful to have ambitions. I’m so glad I have such a lot. And there never seems to be any end to them– that’s the best of it. Just as soon as you attain to one ambition you see another one glittering higher up still. It does make life so interesting.”

L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

 When I was nine-years old, my mother gave me a copy of Anne of Green Gables for Chanukah. I had always enjoyed reading but this is the book that made me fall in love with reading. I couldn’t put it down, became enamored with Anne Shirley and was ecstatic that there was an entire series of books that continued the remarkable story of her life. I became a voracious reader after that and to this day, am always in the middle of a book. Yet after all of these years and hundreds of books, I don’t think I have ever connected to a character in a novel the way that I did with Anne. She was just so filled with life, wonder, positivity, wisdom and love. I wanted to be just like her.

I recently reread Anne of Green Gables for the first time in about 30 years. A wide range of emotions swept through me as I reunited with my favorite heroine. I was delighted to read the beautiful, poetic paragraphs describing Prince Edward Island-they still bring vivid pictures to my mind. I was nostalgic when I met Gilbert Blythe for the first time (again) and cried very sad tears when Matthew died. L.M. Montgomery’s words filled me as much at 44 as they did at 9, perhaps even more given the context of my own life.

Tomorrow is my first official day of law school-Anne Shirley would identify it as an “epoch” in my life. I have received a tremendous response to my decision to become a special-needs attorney-all positive. I have heard everything from “I could never go back to school at my age, good for you,” to “you have inspired me to reconsider my own career choices.”

The truth is, it feels incredibly peaceful to be on the right path at exactly the perfect time for me. As I consider what to wear tomorrow for my first day and wonder how I will fit in with a cohort of students who are half my age, I just know it will all be amazing. I will not take a single moment of the next three years for granted and feel that my experiences up to this point will make me appreciate this journey in a way that I wouldn’t have at 23.

So, off I go, filled with ambition, a new backpack (on wheels) and a ton of new law books. I am ready to embrace the next phase of my life and to quote the girl who continues to inspire me in so many ways: “Isn’t it splendid to think of all the things there are to find out about? It just makes me feel glad to be alive–it’s such an interesting world. It wouldn’t be half so interesting if we knew all about everything, would it? There’d be no scope for imagination then, would there?”

Anne, I couldn’t agree more.

Law School Autism Mom: Scene 4-The Day My 16-Year-Old Became Potty Trained

Potty training a special needs child is a lesson in futility-at least it was for me. At what point while Ryan was kicking, biting, screaming, crying and running out of the nearest door was I supposed to get him to pee on a cheerio in a potty? After having the potty thrown at me several times, I just gave up. When Ryan was initially diagnosed with Autism at the age of three, I was told that he was so severe that he would never learn to speak, use the toilet or be independent in anything. I was told to find an institution, as we would be unable to support him at home. The doctor (who I always refer to as Dr. Evil), told me that I might consider having him fit for a protective helmet as he would likely start banging his head against walls and that he would never emotionally attach to me. He would never call me mommy, and would never have a relationship of any sort with anyone. There was more but at some point I shut down as this was all disclosed to me ON THE DAY HE WAS FIRST DIAGNOSED WITH AUTISM. I had no idea what autism even was at that point. This doctor had no parental bedside manner and I left that office paralyzed, confused and feeling completely hopeless.

Some of what the doctor said to me that day remains true but a miracle happened one day when Ryan was 16. Ryan’s school does an amazing job with bathroom skills and as such, he began using the toilet when he was about 9. At times he had to be forced, he wouldn’t go on his own, but at least he started identifying the toilet for its proper use.

At 16, Ryan was still in pull-up diapers and we were eating dinner one night in our family room, which has a bathroom just off of the kitchen. Eating is Ryan’s religion. He loves it. He would eat all day and night if allowed (as evidenced by our lack of supervision this past Thanksgiving where his gluttony made him sick). Nothing can get Ryan away from the dinner table until he is told he is all done and there is no more food coming.

Ryan had half a plate still filled with food when he stood up, walked over to the bathroom, left the door open (we didn’t care) and did his business. I looked at my husband and kids in disbelief and we all froze, afraid that the tiniest sound would distract him. Ryan stood up off of the toilet when he was done and I told him to wash his hands, which he did to the best of his ability. He came back to the dinner table, sat down and continued eating. I promptly burst into tears.

I will never get to watch Ryan play baseball or soccer or win a spelling bee, but at that moment, I felt same amount of pride as if he had scored a goal or hit a home run. I mentally told Dr. Evil to go fuck himself and slept better that night than I had in years. When you have a child with special needs, every little victory is celebrated. A day without a tantrum; using a utensil properly; not getting a phone call that he bit someone, sleeping through the night for the first time at age eight. These are the home-runs, goals, touchdowns, and trophies that special needs parents hold on to. I couldn’t have been more proud of Ryan that day-that was HIS victory.

From that day on, Ryan began using the toilet independently. It was as if he just decided one day to do it and committed. There was nothing really unusual about that day leading up to it-I guess he was just ready. The truth is, that moment renewed hope in my husband and me that maybe there were other things he would someday be able to do. I had definitely given up hope for many things when it came to Ryan and he taught me that day to never give up on him. So, I never will. But, at almost 19, I am ready for him to be ready to know when to take a shower.

Law School Autism Mom: Scene Three-Aren’t We All Being Tested?

Testing is a controversial topic in the world of education today. The national shift to common core standards demanded a new assessment and most states have chosen either the electronic PARCC or SBAC to replace the paper and pencil tests of the past. These assessments are difficult as standards are far more rigorous, districts have not been given enough time to adjust and there is a learning curve for students when taking a test on a computer.

Parents around the country are choosing to “opt” their children out of these assessments. Some are parents of special needs children, claiming that the test is creating excessive anxiety in their child. Some are morally opposed to testing and are opting their students out to take a stand. Others are telling their children that the test doesn’t matter and they don’t have to take it seriously.

All of these choices fall within parental rights and everyone is entitled their own opinions about testing. But here is the thing: aren’t we all being tested? Isn’t testing a part of our culture? Doctors are required to take the MCAT to get into medical school and then take the USMLE to obtain a medical license. Lawyers have to take the LSAT to get into law school and must pass the Bar Exam to practice law in any given state. Teachers are required to pass several PRAXIS exams, and it is required that my own child is tested every 3 years to make sure that he is still autistic.

I recently took the LSAT exam, which is a requirement of all students planning to attend law school. The test consists of 4 multiple-choice sections (2 logical reasoning, 1 analytical reasoning and 1 reading comprehension) and one essay. You are given 35 minutes to complete each section. I knew that completing this exam was mandatory and as someone who was always a good student, I wasn’t worried about it. I arrogantly thought that completing a Sixth Year Degree in Education Leadership would translate into any academic setting –one look at the logic games section of the LSAT and I realized that I was wrong.

 I had an epiphany while studying for the LSAT. There are courses that cost thousands of dollars that can help you do well on the test but I felt strongly that this defeated the purpose. Don’t law schools want to know who I am organically? Don’t they want a true assessment of my strengths and areas in need of growth as a learner? Why would they want me to take a course that enabled me to ace an exam, as that only proves that I can be taught how to take a test, not that I have what it takes to be an attorney?

This question stunned me as I come from the world of education. My own career has relied heavily on student achievement and test scores. I spent a great deal of time preparing students for assessments. As a teacher and administrator, I administered formative assessments, summative assessments, benchmark assessments, state assessments. Each time the data came back, I poured myself into analysis and tried to make decisions that made sense for the students that I served. I enjoyed this process, I believed in this process and to this day I think that there needs to be consistent measurement of learning. But I never really considered that this type of testing and teaching to a test extended so deeply into the professional world. And I never really considered that a test like the LSAT, a test that could potentially decide a person’s career, would be one that you could purchase a course to learn how to take.

And yet, isn’t that what so much of school has become? Districts are working tirelessly to implement common-core, create professional learning communities, foster inquiry-based learning and yet at the end of the day you cannot get away from the fact that districts, schools, administrators and teachers are evaluated by student performance on state assessments. Advanced Placement classes in high school prepare students for the Advanced Placement assessments and scores on these assessments inform a student’s college track. Realtors include a town’s performance on assessments in the information they use to sell houses. As I get ready to enter law school, I recognize that much of my coursework is designed to help prepare me for the bar exam. It is a cycle of testing that we, as a nation are caught in.

The day that I took the LSAT exam, I entered the testing space and sat next to a girl who was silently crying. I had my required Ziploc bag of allotted items and I could see that she had forgotten hers. She didn’t even have a pencil. I put on my mom/teacher hat, handed her a couple of pencils (I had about 50 in my bag, because well, you never know), a granola bar and one of the two waters I had brought. After she thanked me, she said: “I think I might throw up” and ran out of the room. She never came back.

When she left, I thought about all of our students who feel anxious about testing and the amount of school days they spend testing (average is about 35). I thought of our special needs students, how difficult it is for many of them to navigate through these tests and how they must feel before school on testing days. How challenging it is for parents of special needs students to coax their children to go to school on testing days, knowing how frustrating and soul-crushing it can be for their child.

I considered my own anxiety levels; which were quite high before, during and after the LSAT exam. I wondered what would happen to the girl who left the LSAT. Would she try again? Would the angst of taking this test prevent her from pursuing law? If so, she probably wasn’t meant to be an attorney. Then the bell rang and it was time to take the test. The test itself is about 4 hours. I was fortunate, as afterwards, I could go home and take a nap to help regulate myself after the experience. Students around the country don’t have this luxury, as they are expected to test and return to a full school day.

I believe that those who feel there is no value in testing are missing what I did: that regardless of how we feel about it, testing follows us throughout our lives. We do need to be able to take tests-it is that simple. Until this changes at the very highest level, I don’t see it changing in schools. We can (and should) advocate to place less-weight on the results and evaluate the social and emotional impact it has on our students; ultimately, the tests may change but we will continue to test.

Taking the LSAT was a powerful experience for me as it forced me into the role of “test taker,” after years of being the “result seeker,” and I have a newfound empathy for our students, especially those with special needs. I received a good score and the truth is, I felt great about it. It gave me confidence when I sent in my law school applications. Many of our struggling students never receive a score that creates this sense of self-esteem and we need to make sure that our children internalize that they are so much more than a proficiency level.

Law School Autism Mom: Scene Two: Empathy and the Special Needs Parent

“Humans aren’t as good as we should be in our capacity to empathize with feelings and thoughts of others, be they humans or other animals on Earth. So maybe part of our formal education should be training in empathy. Imagine how different the world would be if, in fact, that were ‘reading, writing, arithmetic, empathy.”

-Neil deGrasse Tyson

When Ryan was five, his destructive behaviors escalated and he always appeared to be crawling out of his skin. He was never still, never comfortable, never happy, never sleeping, always angry and extremely physically aggressive. He punched, hit, bit, spit kicked-all of the time. We still have scars, (both emotional and physical) from that time.

One thing that would temporarily soothe him was motion; riding in a car, a swing, being on a train, or pulled in a wagon. The movement somehow helped to center the frequent sensory explosions that came at him from the world.

One day, I took him to a mall as they had a train set up for kids and I wanted to see if he would enjoy it. Part of me was desperate for Ryan to experience some “typical” activities that other children his age engaged in. I intentionally selected a day during the week, when it would be less crowded and was greeted in an incredibly harsh way by the gentleman running the train (let us call him Caldwell which in translation means near a cold well, which is what I would have liked to have shoved him down). Caldwell looked tired and angry and was not the type of person who should be interacting with children. I should have listened to the maternal instinct inside of me that recognized the emotional red flags but getting Ryan out of the house at that time was such an exhausting accomplishment, I stubbornly decided that mean man or not-my son would ride that train.

As soon as the train started, Ryan started stimming. For those who don’t know, Self-stimulatory behavior, also known as “stimming” and self-stimulation, is the repetition of physical movements, sounds, or repetitive movement of objects common in individuals with developmental disabilities, but most prevalent in people with autism. In Ryan’s case, when he is happy, he flaps his arms and bounces up and down and makes loud sounds.

The very second Ryan started bouncing, Caldwell ran (literally ran) over to him (as the train was moving) and screamed at him to “SIT DOWN.” At first Ryan didn’t realize Caldwell was directing this verbal attack at him but it happened repeatedly, until finally his tone and close proximity scared Ryan, who immediately started to melt down. I have been able to exhibit patience and professionalism in the face of adversity many times in my life-this was not one of those occasions. I ran like hell towards my son, grabbed him off the moving train (Caldwell was now yelling at me) and waited until the ride was over. When it was, I approached him with my screaming child in my arms, (who was at this point pulling my hair, biting my face and crying in sheer terror). I explained to him that Ryan had special needs and he was excited to be on the train, his bouncing was “stimming” which meant that for a few minutes, he was comfortable and happy. I wanted to try putting him on the train again but Caldwell said no. His words and I quote: “retarded kids shouldn’t be riding my train.”

It was one of those surreal moments where the room stops and things go silent. I really couldn’t absorb his words and kept thinking ‘did he really just say that?’ When I came to, the Jersey girl inside of me exploded and I lost it. I wasn’t patient or professional in my delivery.

Ryan continued his aggression and there was a small crowd emerging (this was before cell phones or all of this would have gone viral on You Tube) and while I felt humiliated and wanted to leave, I also felt paralyzed. Caldwell walked away from me while I was screaming at him and I just sat on the floor and started to cry, I mean really cry-sloppy crying. This only exacerbated Ryan’s emotional breakdown and boy were the two of us a sight. I still have the scar on my leg from where he kicked me and drew blood.

It was at this moment that a woman came over to me (let’s call her Madison which in translation means Gift of God, which she was for me on this day). She hadn’t seen what had happened but saw me on the ground sobbing with a hysterical child in my arms and blood coming through my pants. Madison sat down next to me and started talking in a soothing voice to me but all the while looking at Ryan. She told me in this soft, hypnotic voice that she was the mother of a child with cerebral palsy who lived her life in a wheelchair and she had a couple of hours to herself each day and she often came to the mall. As she told us her story, she handed Ryan some chips and he began to calm down and I told her what happened. She stood up, took my hand, and led me right to the general offices in the mall. Madison demanded to see a manager and told him the story of Caldwell and Ryan and the train incident. The manager instantly retrieved Caldwell, demanded that he apologize to me and told me that he would be “severely reprimanded.” I of course insisted that he be fired and threatened to call my attorney.

The manager handled me well. He told me that he “could only imagine” how hard things were and how hurt my feelings must be. He gave me his business card, a $100 mall gift card, patted Ryan on the head (FYI: NEVER do that to a child with autism) and told me to please come back to the train and give it another try, anytime and for free.

Madison stayed with me through this ordeal and when we said goodbye she said something that I will never forget. “You can’t expect people who don’t experience the pain that we do on a daily basis, to get it the way that we do. Only other parents like us can truly empathize.”

I didn’t recognize it at the time but in this one traumatic event, I experienced both sympathy and empathy. Caldwell was a terrible person, the mall manager sympathized with the situation and Madison knew how to help me because she was able to experience true empathy for me.

Madison’s words have stuck with me over the years as I often find it difficult to empathize with people in situations that don’t rise to the level of autism. It is difficult to get to the pain of someone who is complaining about something that I see as routine. Terrible two’s? Try dealing with a ten-year-old two-year-old. Your child got in trouble at school for talking in class? At least he knows how to talk. Your kids are fighting? At least they engage with each other and the list goes on and on. It becomes very isolating for a special needs parent to be around parents of typical children because these everyday conversations come up and you can’t participate. While some parents are struggling with bedtime routines or attachment issues-we are struggling with EVERYTHING. Attachment issues? Please. I have never heard my son call me “mom” or say “I love you.” Bring up the Caldwell and the train story at a play-date and you can only imagine how awkward it becomes. Sympathy, pity, discomfort all over the place; but not empathy.

As a teacher and school administrator I felt a special connection to my students and families affected by disabilities. Some would say at times I favored them-that was my empathy shining through. As a special needs attorney, I will organically empathize with clients and families and I believe that will enable me to serve them at a deeper level. Dr. Daniel Goleman, a famous psychologist and author on Emotional Intelligence, wrote that “a prerequisite to empathy is simply paying attention to the person in pain.” I try to do this each and every day with everyone I encounter. It comes naturally to me in some situations and is more challenging in others. But I pay attention to people’s pain.

Madison taught me to seek out my fellow special needs warriors and be there for them. I pay her empathy forward as often as I am able to. I urge anyone reading this to pay attention to the special needs families in your own communities, at your schools, at your restaurants and especially those melting down publicly somewhere at a mall, grocery store or Target. We are everywhere and if you show the slightest bit of kindness towards us, even if you can’t quite understand our pain, we will never forget it or you.