To Walk or Not to Walk? **Sorry, More Info Added

Updated on November 29, 2017
M.6. asks from Woodbridge, NJ
12 answers

So one of our kids with special needs is a "senior" this year. We have already decided that he will not receive his diploma this year. He does not have enough credits, but doesn't actually need any credits to graduate since he has a waiver, and instead will get his diploma at the end of his transition program when he is 21 (at which point he would actually likely have enough credits to legitimately graduate without the waiver - not that it really matters, more of an FYI). The reason that we are not letting him get the "waiver diploma" is depending on where you live, he can be denied the kind of services we would like him to have if he does hold a diploma. Conversely, he can be awarded his "waiver diploma" at any time after 06/2018 - should having it provide a larger benefit than not having it.

The question we are struggling with is should we let him walk for graduation this year (well, June 2018). On one hand, he is an extremely concrete thinker - we are concerned that he will not go back in the fall because in his mind he will have graduated having worn the gown and hat (even though he didn't receive a diploma). On the other hand, if he pulls the diploma sometime between June 2018 and May 2019 (or mid year later) because of some unforseen circumstances, there is a chance he wouldn't walk at all. OR if we move during his transition program to another school, he would walk in a few years, but not with the kids he has been going to school with for the last 10+ years.

His stance is that he wants to walk this year, of course, with his "friends." However, most of his "friends" are actually not walking this year at all as he is in a multi-grade situation with 8 - 12 graders. Additionally, due to the type of disability he has, he has no "friends." He has never played at anyone's house (other than family) or called a friend on the phone. He isn't capable of interpersonal relationships with give and take on both sides. He just isn't. When he was very young, it didn't really matter as young kids parallel play. However, that is how he still interacts with kids to this day. We live in a fairly rural area with about 100 kids in each gradating class - and while every single kids knows our son, not a single one would call him a "friend."

So, in our shoes, would you let him walk 06/2018 and roll the dice that we can get him back on the van to school for the following 3 years, or wait to walk, but roll the dice that something could stop that from happening.

Sometimes when you are so close to the situation - it is difficult to see all sides of the coin clearly. I did talk to his school sp.ed. case manager and social worker to get their thoughts and basically they are just saying - gee, whatever you think is best :)


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So What Happened?

Ugh, my husband brought up an interesting issue last night. So we have another child with special needs who is currently in 11th grade. He is on a voluntary out of home placement in a facility because he requires a team of people w/24hr awake care. He WILL graduate on time. Why? Because he also has the credit waiver, AND would never have enough credits in a million years to graduate even if we waited, AND no "transition program" will take him. Generally, the transition program is about working out in the real world and doing some life skills classes (for our other son, because he can actually finish getting the credits, he will do a job in the morning and then take two classes each afternoon - allowing him to graduate naturally with the additional time). Our son in 11th grade is not safe out in the public at a job and has been in a Level 4 locked school for the last several years. While our son cannot be technically denied the opportunity to go to a Transition program, we do not plan to push it as it simply isn't safe for the outside world and we already struggle with each facility change to find a school to continue his education based on his many, many issues, finding one with a transition program would likely be impossible.

So, if we tell our soon to be "graduating" son that his younger brother, who has TONS of more issues, gets to graduate on time when he doesn't . . . Even trying to explain why - that's way too abstract of an idea for our son to comprehend. Do you feel this changes the picture at all? Most of you have already stated that you feel that waiting is the best choice.

P.S. - to the poster who mentioned that the transition is a "separate program". In most schools, you would be totally right. However, in our school, because of it's size and limited budget and staff, the transition program is basically crap and most parents don't even bother. I am making the school do everything they can to create a transition program for our son, but it isn't going to be separate like it is in other schools. For our son, he will have a job in the morning and finish his credits in the afternoon for a full "school day" until he is 21.

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answers from Washington DC on

Once he has EARNED his diploma? Then he walks. That's my opinion. Using the KISS method - Keep It Simple Silly.

Once he has EARNED his diploma - he walks. Until then? No.

6 moms found this helpful

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answers from Miami on

I would not. He needs the carrot. Use the walk as the carrot. It really is that important.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

The special ed class in our high school has a separate graduation - since many of the kids are in it till they are 21.
No one walks till they complete the program - it's a completion ceremony.
Don't confuse things by having him walk when there's no purpose for it other than 'well everyone else is' - and I'm surprised the school would allow that in the first place.
No matter how many years he's in school - he's not a 'senior' until it's his final last year and he's not going back to school anymore.
Once you walk - you're done.
He's not done - so he doesn't walk.

For his friends - he attends any graduation parties they might have that he is invited to.
That's the support and congratulations they need and expect.

What I mean by separate graduation is - the ceremony for non special ed kids is in a sports arena - about 500 kids graduate in a class - each graduating kid can invite up to 10 relatives to attend their graduation ceremony.
It's highly orchestrated - there are mandatory practice sessions in school for this.
If you miss practice then you don't walk across the stage - they will mail your diploma to you.
They have to do this in order to get it done in 2 hours because the arena can do 3 graduations per day and it's incredible how the parking and traffic works out.
There are 7 high schools that use the arena for graduation over a 3 day period.

The special ed program has their own ceremony at another location with less chaos and smaller crowds.

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answers from Honolulu on

I understand and relate to a specific part of your post. That's the "friends" part. My daughter has multiple medical issues and it took her 7 years to get through her online high school. She has no friends that are "real, live" friends. She has many "friends" that are online. Some she met before she got sick 14 years ago, and they've kind of kept in touch through cyber space. Some she's met via video games. She's quite confined to home, sometimes due to illness, sometimes due to anxiety. But she's very defensive of her "friends". She'll say something like "I'm playing a challenge race against my best friend". "Oh, who's that?" "Her name is Kylee, or Kaylee or something like that. I think she lives in Arkansas."

She also is a literal, concrete thinker. We had to keep encouraging her not to give up. When 2010 came around, which should have been her graduation year, she was pretty determined that she should graduate. That was impossible. She made it by the proverbial skin-of-her-teeth in 2013.

If your son is cognitively able to grasp the facts, is there any way that in his diploma folder, there could be some sort of nice printed message that was personal? For example: "congratulations on achieving X [number of credits]. This is a moment to celebrate! Now, you need to return to school in September and earn more credits, so that you can earn the complete diploma". Perhaps you could even make some sort of puzzle out of sturdy cardboard. Or a square like a Rubik's cube. Make a grid on what should be the diploma. Let him paste or insert the first square on the grid. As he accomplishes more, and earns more credit, fill the grid in. Use whatever inspires or interests him. It could be a picture of a cool sports car, missing all it's tires. He can add a photo of a tire when he earns 1/4 of the required credits.

I don't mean to offend. I'm not sure what kind of disability your son has; perhaps his intellectual functioning is superb. I don't mean to suggest anything that is too baby-ish for him. I was only offering a suggestion that perhaps you might take inspiration from, and adapt to his age, his interests, and his capabilities.

It took the counselor sitting down with my dd and giving her a written explanation of what she needed to graduate. My dd's mental functioning is not affected (other than extreme fatigue, and what they call "cognitive sluggishness" due to the many medications she takes), but she needed encouragement, and a written plan to follow.

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Springfield on

to not walk is my answer. the younger kid has different school things are different for him. the senior needs to be told this and reminded often that the younger ones school does things different.
your senior needs to walk when he has earned it.

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answers from Anchorage on

I think you are making a mountain out of a mole hill. Let's break this down to its simplest form. A student gets to walk when they have graduated and earned a diploma. It's a rite of passage. It means they are DONE with high school and they are not going back. It means they have earned the diploma they are handed and their work here is done. It means they are moving on to the next chapter of their lives. None of that is true for your son.

Take his brother out of the equation. Take the fact that 'all his friends are walking' out of it too. We teach our kids all the time that just because their friends are doing it, is not a valid reason for things. I think you will confuse him if you let him walk. I don't know your son tho, so maybe it won't confuse him but I personally think it would be confusing. You already said you don't want him to have a diploma so I think walking is wrong. Everything walking represents is not true for your son.

This is just my opinion and you do what you feel is right for your child. But you asked what we thought, so there you go. Good luck.

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answers from Portland on

Saw your SWH. Again, I think you can throw in 'so and so is getting their diploma' (including his brother) but don't make this about everyone this. When your son gets his diploma, it will be because he's earned it. Remind him of what it's about. It's a life lesson. There will always be others who get things that we don't - who earn things before we do. If he can't handle that, maybe get him some counseling sessions with his support group - I don't know, it would depend on your son. I myself would not cave on something like this just so he feels he's not missing out. I'm like that though - I find if we protect them too much, then life is harder for them later on. That's just me personally. I'm all about making a big deal and celebrating accomplishments when they are deserved. However - I do not have a child in your situation - and every family is unique - so not judging.


I think where you say - "However, most of his "friends" are actually not walking this year at all" then I'd keep it simple and have him walk later on, when he gets his diploma.

You can always explain that he will know some 'friends' walking this year, some the next, and so on - that's just the way it goes. There will be 'friends' walking with him when it is his time.

I'd keep the incentive (and have him walk later) if he needs it. I agree with you there, and the moms below.

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answers from Washington DC on

i guess it depends on what the walk means to you.

and him.

i myself put far more weight into the meaning than the ceremony.

i don't think graduation is supposed to be a social opportunity to do something fun with his friends. there are a gazillion ways to do that. the walk is supposed to represent an accomplishment.

if it's just a photo opp or a fun day, then go for it.

if the ceremony is a culmination and acknowledgement of the work put in, then obviously he shouldn't.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Philadelphia on

My friend’s special needs son walked with the kids he went though school with k-12 per the schools recommendation.

The post 12 program is so different than regular school and there was no confusion on his part. The program involves him “working” in the community so this is just what he will do until he is 21.

I personally would let him walk with his class and throw a party. His k-12 program will be over. It’s not like he goes back to 12th grade for the next 3 years. Explain to him that some graduates go to college and some go to this post 12 program.

Edit -I read The other responses and your edit. I would still allow him to walk if I were in your shoes. He has gotten promoted to the next grade correct? So regardless of what your district doesn’t or doesn’t do he will be finished 12th grade. Perhaps it doesn’t matter but it is 18 yo that typically walk not 21 year olds and he really won’t have much of a connection with the kids that graduate in 3 years.

The kids in my friend’s son’s class were very sweet to him on his graduation day. My friend has great pics and nice memories of his party.

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answers from Boston on

I think you've answered your own question by saying that
1) he is in class with kids in various grades, who are not walking
2) he's not done with school and you need to get him to understand he's not done and he needs to finish school for 3 years.

I'll add in my question, which is, what's the point of walking in cap/gown and just sitting there while everyone else gets up to get a diploma? What do they do - have him just sit there, or go through the line and shake hands with the principal and just be handed an empty folder with no diploma inside?

I guess I wouldn't factor in "What if he magically earns his diploma in 2019?" or "What if we move?" because those are unlikely, and you have a million other "what ifs" you can add in to make yourself crazy.

But, you know your child better than any of us, so if not walking will set him off in a major rage that's harder to control than resistance to the van afterwards, you can let him walk. But it seems to me that not taking him to the ceremony would be easier than forcing him on to the van in September. If he's not there, he won' know what he's missing, will he?

Good luck - this is a tough one.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Washington DC on

I still say he doesn’t walk until he is done. Period.
Life isn’t fair.
Everyone is different.
So be it.

I would say not walk only because it seems like he will go back to school and continue doing what he is doing now. Our program here is completly different once they are 18, so the cap and gown graduation moves them to the final step.
Good luck!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I work in the field, I have friends with kids in the programs.

Let him walk with his classmates when he graduates. In his mind that's the end of his school life.

I hope he has some sort of program lined up afterwards. One of my friends sons graduated at 21 and absolutely got upset every morning that next fall when they wouldn't let him go to school. Since they hadn't got him on the state list for services he couldn't enter a workshop program or work in any sort of supported jobs in the public. He sits at home all day every day and they can barely get him to go do anything. His life now is being at home all day.

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