by Michael Corry
I have two daughters, and each has a child with disabilities. My granddaughter Alaina is intellectually disabled. She is diagnosed with a very rare syndrome caused by a malformed gene. My grandson Jack is on the autism spectrum. I am very confident in the business world, after working for 48 years in the financial services industry, serving as the CEO of my firm, and serving on several boards of directors. I had no confidence that I knew how to help my daughters other than letting them know we would do all we could to help them and to keep our family motto of “Never, Never, Give UP! I knew it was going to take a lot more than keep up the positive attitude.

So I decided, I needed help. I had been on the Finance, Athletics, and The Chancellor’s Council Committees at UMSL. I asked to be introduced to someone in special education. I was very fortunate to meet Pat Kopetz. Pat is the E. Desmond Lee Endowed Professor of Education of Children with Disabilities and the Director of the Center for Research & Study of Disability, Education, and Culture (CRSDEC) College of Education. I asked her if I could monitor a class that could help me help my grandchildren and their parents.

She set me up to monitor one of her classes in the special education graduate school “Teaching Children with Severe Disabilities.” After the first class, I decided to enroll. I was able to much better understand how special education professionals are able to improve the lives of their students and their families. I was able to communicate with the teachers and therapists in their language. We were able to replicate the therapy and the methods to alternate behavior at home. I am now able to attend and contribute to Alaina and Jack’s Individual Education Plans (IEP).
Pat guided me to take “The Law and Special Education.” This class helped me gain a tremendous amount of appreciation for those who created and passed the legislation IDEA that dictates that that all children with disabilities:

  • Have a free appropriate public education available to them
  • That special education and related services should be designed to meet children’s with disabilities unique needs and prepare them for further education, employment, and independent living
  • That children with disabilities and their parents’ rights are protected
  • That states, localities, educational service agencies, and Federal agencies shall provide assistance to provide for the education of all children with disabilities

Although we are delighted and very appreciative of the services provided by Kirkwood and Brentwood Schools and the special education professionals, we did have on occasion to take advantage of the law and ask for a review of Jack’s services that we felt needed to be amended.

Pat has guided me to complete the graduate School’s Autism Certificate. I have completed four of the six required courses. I retired at the end of 2017, and I intend to continue my education towards a Masters in Special Education. I hope to be able to spend the rest of my life working to help children with disabilities. I am motivated by the following story:

“Making a Difference”

An older man walking on a beach sees a young man reaching down, picking up small objects, and throwing them into the ocean. Curious he called out to the young man, “Good morning! May I ask what are you doing?” The young man replied, “The sun is up, the tide is going out, and if I don’t throw these starfish back in the ocean, they’ll die.” “Young man, don’t you realize there are thousands of starfish and you can’t possibly make a difference and save them all!” The young man bent down, picked up another starfish, threw it into the ocean, and said, “I bet it made a difference to that one.”

Michael Corry is a member of the board of directors of Special Education Foundation.