An Interview with Suzanne (Jenny’s Mother)
Well, hello. My name is Suzanne Suchanjk. I’m the mother of Jenny Suchanjk. She’s 18, a senior at Winston Churchill High School in Potomac, Maryland. I’m immensely proud of her, and I’ve just listened to her interview. And my heart is just bursting with pride. I can’t say enough about how both my husband and I are so happy and how things have turned out.
What part of the journey with your daughter has helped her the most to be successful in school?
Well, there are a lot of elements, besides having parents that love her and support and nurture and knowing that she has strong advocates in her corner. I think the one thing is we always set high expectations, and I think that’s very important because it signaled to Jenny that she was valued, and she was loved, and she gained a lot of confidence when the expectations were very high. It doesn’t mean that there’s never any failure or never any drawbacks, but always the bar is set high. And communicating that—not only in words—but in deeds. In all our actions, all our focus is—we expect a lot, and we know that she can do it.
What do you feel success means to your daughter?
I think success for Jenny would mean reaching her full potential, leading a satisfying, happy life where she feels fulfilled. Being confident, being able to problem solve, finding her place in the sighted world. One thing that is very important is when the sighted community is comfortable, that is such a win for the blind community. Everything that spills out of that comfort level, it helps break down barriers, it fosters understanding, and it must happen to have this satisfying, fulfilled life.
What would you share with other families as to ways to encourage collaboration between your family and school personnel?
I think it’s important for members of the family to be united in their goals for their child, and they need to speak at any occasion—especially at an IEP—that they speak with confidence, that they know what the disability policy is in their area, and to communicate to the school that they know that this child has an advocate and a strong advocate, and the parents are involved and they’re going to be supportive. I think that I would suggest to parents be very careful and pick your battles. Don’t start telephoning, emailing, texting about every little thing—every little transgression because the schools—as more and more children move into the regular classroom, it’s overwhelming in a lot of situations, and that’s not helpful and that’s going to get you labeled as a problem. You want to be secure in your point of view, and let them know that you’re very strong in your point of view and you’ve done your homework.
As a parent with a graduating senior, what advice would you give to a family to prepare for life after high school?
Well, this world is getting more complex by the day, isn’t it? I would say that leaving high school, I think we have some wonderful community colleges. A two-year program. It doesn’t necessarily have to have an academic focus. It can be technical. It can be a certificate, but the child should not stay at home. It has to get out into the community, has to learn skills. So I would strongly urge going to college. My daughter is going to go to a liberal arts—they need that experience to find out who they are, what they want to be, and that is the perfect venue to do that. Whether it’s a four-year or a two-year… that would be my suggestion.
Why would you say it is important for parents and their young adult child who is visually impaired know about, and advocate for, the inclusion of the Expanded Core Curriculum in the IEP?
Boy, I’m so glad you included this question. I have brought this up at every IEP, and the reaction I get is a lot of shuffling in the seats. There’s a lot of acknowledgment that they are important issues, but where do you find the time? It is a factor of time. I read over the list. A lot of these can be incorporated in —during the day but a lot cannot. The problem is the higher functioning—that mentally functioning —the visually impaired child is, the more focus there’s going to be on academics and that’s necessarily so, and that’s the way it should be. But that’s going to crowd out time for functional life skills. But you’re not going to sacrifice AP Physics so that she can spend time learning to vacuum.
The rationale is, “Well, if she can learn AP Physics and differential calculus, she can sorta pick up these independent life skills.” But that’s faulty logic, because as we all know, when you’re sighted, a lot of the ordinary functional life skills are just picked up through observation. For a blind individual, that’s not going to happen. They need to be taught. They need to hand-over-hand. They need repetition and lots of it.
So the problem is how do you do that? Well, there are summer camps that are devoted to these skills, and they’re wonderful but after a week or two or three, that intense focus is gone. But what’s really needed is an ongoing… it’s continuous.
That’s where the parents have to come in and snatch every teachable moment that they can find. It is a problem. It’s one that we’ve battled for 18 years, and we just hope for the best. It is a problem, and we recognize it, but I’m glad that it’s talked about; I bring it up at every IEP meeting. It is written about in the IEP. They know that we bring it up. But it’s a function of time. There’s only a certain amount of waking hours in the day.