Another School Year With ADHD

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As Man eagerly climbed the staircase of the bus for the last ride of his second-grade year, I let out a deep sigh of relief.  A year’s worth of emotion flooded out of me as I waved at his smiling face through the window while the bus drove away.  He disappeared down the street on his way to his last day of school and I burst into tears.  We had made it through another year of school and he was still a happy, sweet, and eager boy.

Second grade had been a success.  More than a success, he had thrived.  And suddenly I felt all the inner strength, fear, anxiety, worry, and anticipation that had slowly gathered inside of me over the last 180 days pour out at the end of my driveway while my dog looked on in wonder.  She walked over and licked the tears from my face, as she could feel the massive release of tension oozing out of me in that moment as well.

I don’t think I had realized just how much I was holding my breath every day until those doors closed behind him.  I don’t think I understood how much of my worry got on this bus with him and rode to school each morning until I knew that it was his last ride.  For my own survival, I had compartmentalized my fear and anxiety into the furthest recesses of my heart.  It was always there behind every beat, but I had refused to let it drive its rhythm.

My goal for Man every year (and I suspect this is the goal for many parents) is to just get him from point A to point B, from the beginning to the end, happily.  While I do push his studies and, of course, want him to thrive academically every year, my overarching goal is simple—his happiness and self-esteem.  I am of the belief that it doesn’t matter how smart he is or how well he did on that spelling or math test; if he isn’t happy and he doesn’t feel good about himself, then none of that matters.  His intelligence is static, it will always be there, ready for action, but it will be useless if we must first fight through depression and poor self-esteem.

Kids like Man are at constant risk for depression.  It’s not because they are born with a chemical imbalance (though some might be), it’s because their day-to-day academic and social environment isn’t designed for them.  For better or worse, I have accepted that his school setting is one we must live with and make work for us.  He, and others like him, will always be the round pegs trying to fit into the square holes.  It doesn’t matter what district in what state we live in, the laws of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Education Act) have not yet caught up with the social, emotional, educational, and executive functioning needs of the diagnosis of ADHD.  As I wrote about in my post Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP, he does not qualify for an IEP anymore and because he is doing well enough academically (the law states you must be two standard deviations below the norm), we wouldn’t have a leg to stand on if we pushed for them to pay for a program that caters more to his executive functioning and emotional needs.

So here we are, stuck making each new year work for us.  We take the social, emotional, and academic demands of each grade and face them head on.  We design and implement new strategies to fit that new year, and so far, that has been working.  He is still a happy little boy.  But with that comes extreme fear and anxiety—what if next year it doesn’t work?   I feel my ability to protect him slipping out of my grip with each passing year.  As he gets older, he grows to understand more about himself and the world around him.  As he climbs through the grades, he sees more clearly both his differences and his similarities.  As the years go on, he begins to ask more questions about these differences and how they have come to be.  And this makes me worry.

 For right now, for today, he loves himself.

For right now, for today, he thinks his group of friends is simply the best—and so do I!

For right now, for today, he thinks he is smart as a whip—and he is!

For right now, for today, he thinks his choices in extracurricular activities are sublime—and they are!

For right now, for today, he is a happy little boy—and I will work to keep it that way with each passing year.

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Why I expect My Son’s School to Provide More Than Just The Requisite Support

“We provide the requisite support.”

This is the statement that the school principal made to me when I expressed concern over Man’s participation in an upcoming school event.  Our school does a wonderful, day long, event that involves relays and egg tosses and a multitude of other team building activities that promote sportsmanship and working cooperatively.

The kids love it, they look forward to it all year.  Why wouldn’t they?  A day of no classes where they get to run around and play games all day.  Eat ice pops and laugh with their friends.  Feel part of a group and relish in the power of team work.  Sounds amazing, right?  What child wouldn’t look forward to a day like that!?

Man. Man doesn’t look forward to this day at all.

Sports and other physical activities are challenging for him.  He’s not the fastest, slickest guy on the field.  And even when he’s participating in a seemingly innocuous activity like an egg toss, his Sensory Processing Disorder makes it extraordinarily challenging.  When kids are running and screaming around him, his body gets overstimulated and basically shuts off.  He drops the egg and lets his team down.

This day, though the best day for most kids, is one of the worst days for him.

As his parent, I dress him up, give him a little pep talk and send him on his way to do his best.  I think it’s important he learns to participate and that he understand that trying his best is good enough. I also refuse to raise a quitter.  Not every activity that he is expected to participate in is going to be his favorite or something he is good at.  It’s important he understand this early on and learns to try his best to rise to the occasion.  And who knows, maybe he will get a surge of “sportiness” and help his team to victory.

As his parent, I’m also going to do whatever I can within my power to advocate for my son’s success.  That’s why I e mailed the school and asked if there was any way they could create one, “non-sports-based activity” for that day.  Just one thing that would help a “non-sporty” kid feel like he or she could contribute to his or her team in a meaningful way. I pointed out that teamwork can just as easily be promoted through LEGO tower building or some other less physical event.  I highlighted that while I valued their support of Man’s academic success, it seemed that their support of children with special needs did not to extend outside of the classroom as much as they thought it did.

Not unexpectedly, their answer was no.  “We provide the requisite support for your son.”

That statement was like a bullet to my heart.  You see, as many parents of children with special needs can attest to, “providing the requisite support” is NOT the same as promoting an environment where we let our children shine and thrive for their differences.  Today, with the statistics of children diagnosed with any number of behavioral, learning, and/or emotional disorders rising dramatically from year to year, different is the new same.

I have an expectation, and maybe it’s an unfair one, that my school go beyond just providing what is required of them by law.  I have an expectation that they encourage an environment that allows children to be celebrated for their individuality.  I have an expectation that they demonstrate how some kids might not excel in one area but might kick butt in another completely different arena.  Teaching teamwork is showing children that they all have something unique to contribute.  It’s allowing each team member to be called upon for his or her strengths and carried by others when he is weak.  It’s making sure that every member of that team feels the power of their own personal contribution to that team’s success.  It’s not creating an environment where someone feels less than all day, especially a young child.

I want all children, typical and atypical, to feel the glow of success within the walls of their school.  I want them all to be celebrated for their assets and to understand that they won’t be defined by their weaknesses.  I want schools to go above and beyond what is just legally required of them for the development, success, and benefit of every student that walks through their door.  I want them promote acceptance and understanding.

Who knows, maybe Man will toss the winning ring, or hop across the finish line just in time to win it for his team.  Maybe he will have the best day ever.  But that doesn’t mean that my expectations of his school will change.  It doesn’t mean that I will stop carrying the message and advocating for the support and celebration of his differences.

Your Child is Too Smart for an IEP

“I have good new for you!  We are declassifying your son!”

This statement was recently conveyed to a friend by a member of the Special Education Department at her child’s school… and it was decidedly NOT good news.

This has been a running theme with many of my friends and fellow special needs mama warriors lately: declassification from Special Education and the removal of their child’s IEP because recent test scores show that they are “too smart for an IEP.”

It’s infuriating.  If you think about the way the ADHD brain functions this statement doesn’t even make sense!

This very concept has struck a chord of fear within me.  Am I going to walk into Man’s next meeting and fight to maintain the Special Education services that he desperately needs just because he happens to be producing grade level work?

Most children with ADHD and other behavioral and emotionally manifested disorders are, in fact, quite smart.  We had Man tested recently and, as expected, the scores show that he is NOT intellectually disabled.  They indicated that his IQ is adequate to maintain age appropriate, grade level work, if not work that even is somewhat above grade level.

However, his ADHD makes that impossible.

My incredibly smart and gifted son can program a computer yet can’t find his way out of a paper bag.

Why?

Because the ADHD brain lacks executive functioning skills.  This means he can’t organize his classwork, he doesn’t know where or when to start an assignment, or how to pace himself so his brain doesn’t fatigue a third of the way through.  He can’t remember the materials he is supposed to gather, or if he was supposed to do it in pencil or crayon.  He can’t plan each step out or problem solve if he get’s himself stuck.  Therefore, it doesn’t matter what his IQ is, he cannot use his intelligence effectively without the help of the Individualized Education Plan that creates goals and accommodations to account for his lack of Executive Functioning.

My incredibly talented and smart child has a command of math that is beyond his years, but some days he can’t add 2+2.

Why?

Because the ADHD brain lacks the ability to regulate emotions.  This means that if he is feeling too anxious, his brain might just shut down.  If he is extremely angry or sad it can affect him to the point of being unable to complete classroom work that day.  If he is tired or overwhelmed simple tasks begin to seem insurmountable and he just gives up and walks away.  Therefore, his excellent math skills don’t matter, he cannot use them effectively without the help of the Individualized Education Plan that creates goals and accommodations to help him with emotional regulation on the days when he simply cannot do it for himself.

Some days, all you see is Man’s ADHD.  It’s worn like a badge, displayed like an eye sore across his chest.  Everything he does, everything he touches, is affected by it.  Without an IEP in place every day the bad days wouldn’t just be bad, they would be disastrous.

Some days, Man’s ADHD is imperceptible.  A mere hint showing itself at random, innocuous moments, leaving him undisturbed and highly functional.  Without an IEP in place every day these great days would only be somewhat satisfactory.

The only thing consistent about ADHD is its inconsistency.  Frustratingly, its symptoms will come and go without rhyme or reason.  Some days its sufferers will be super-starts, far exceeding the expectations of those around them.  Other days, they will be deceived by their very own brains, and even the simplest of tasks will seem impossible. Therefore, the accommodations and support that an IEP provides must be a constant.  The solid steadiness of that IEP is a vital guide for grounding these fragile, ever fluctuating students and their teachers.

No parent wants their child labeled or “classified.”  If we could fix our children and make their brains function perfectly, we absolutely would.  However, you are not calling us with “good news” when you tell us that you want to eliminate the services that they rely on to manage school successfully.  You are essentially removing their lifeline to victory.

Being intelligent and being able to effectively use that intelligence are two entirely different things.  Intelligence is so much more than just being “smart.”  It’s a combination of a thousand distinctive characteristics that must all be operating in synch with one another, like a well-oiled machine.  ADHD takes a huge wrench and just gingerly tosses it into that machine.  It doesn’t matter how “smart” a child is, an IEP works as a tool to eliminate that wrench so our children can effectively use their intelligence.

I understand that a 504 is a valuable resource.  It makes sense that schools want our children to thrive in the least restrictive environment.  However, academic demands change drastically from year to year, as does a child’s social and emotional growth.  The rush to declassify, an act that is virtually impossible to reverse, prior to a child demonstrating long-term, consistent success across a few grades seems drastic and irresponsible.  We should be more cautious with our children, as even the slightest inkling of failure and struggle can have dire consequences with this population.

So no, I refuse to accept that any child is too smart for an IEP.

Child with learning difficulties

If These Walls Could Talk

It’s impossible not to feel overwhelmed with sentiment and emotion as I pack up my family and ready us to move out of the first home we ever owned.  A decade ago, a young, excited engaged couple made the traditional migration from a thrilling life in the big city to settling down into quiet suburban living.  In the years that followed, we filled this home with a marriage, two children, pets, ups, downs, and in betweens- moments of love and laughter have bounced joyfully off these walls, while times of sadness and regret have seeped deeply into its cracks and crevices.  I can see the memories in every corner of every room- from smalls scuffs left on the baseboards from tiny kicking feet to art projects depicting our happy family taped lovingly to bedroom walls.

I go through the house daily, methodically emptying drawers and clearing shelves.  In this endless quest, items that were once thought to be gone forever begin to resurface.  I come across a bag containing the clothes Man wore home from the hospital- I had put it away for “safe keeping” in his closet over seven years ago and then, naturally, forgot it existed.  I inhale deeply, it has since lost its newborn baby smell, but the memories of that day come flooding back as though it were yesterday.  He was so small, a mere 5 pounds and 13 ounces, that he didn’t fit into the newborn sized onsie we had purchased for him and we had to fashion an outfit out of clothes the hospital provided.  A smile breaks out on my face and a tear streams down my cheek as I am swept up in the joy of the memory.

I move on to my bedroom closet with a broom stick in hand to help knock down items stored long ago on it’s very top shelf.  A white, pleather bowling bag falls and almost hits me in the head.  I rifle through its contents and find Madonna style 80’s lace gloves, handcuffs, edible underwear, and other kinky goodies.  Holy shit, the gag bag from my bachelorette party!  I am inundated with more memories; a bonfire on the beach, lobster dinner al fresco, and penis shaped shot glasses filled with too much tequila.  Suddenly, I feel old and tired; I’m so far removed from that young and carefree bachelorette.

All this mess, all this purging and packing, it has been an emotional roller coaster.  I am tense and exhausted.

I have spent months endlessly scavenging furniture stores and websites for new and fabulous items, vowing to fill our home with beautiful and CLEAN couches and rugs that have not been stained by children and gnawed on by pets.  Countless hours have been devoted to choosing the perfect wall colors to compliment the new and attractive “big-girl home” I am determined to have.  Walls filled with color that have not been marked up by crafting projects or dirt stained little fingers.

All this time, all this effort to create a new, improved, beautiful home, a home that is nothing like the dirty piece meal house I live in now.  I am anxious and feel undue pressure.

There has been so much time and effort dedicated to salvaging what we can still use, tossing the old and searching for the new, that the meaning of the move has been lost on me entirely.  This house, no, this home, wasn’t born out of “stuff” it was created by the people who dwell in it.  I have completely overlooked, or quite possibly just ignored, the fact these walls have seen the growth of family.  To avoid the overwhelming emotion that accompanies leaving my home, I have placed more value on the items inside of it than on the feelings, sentiment, and memories that it holds.

I became a wife in this house.  My husband and I were just three months shy of our wedding day when we moved in.  I can see us as newlyweds, glowing with love and enthusiasm, unmarred by the life that was to unfold before us.  I can feel the love that we had for each other, new and eager to please, carefree and wildly passionate.  I learned how to be a wife in this house, how to be a partner.  I learned about communication and compromise and how to come to resolutions together as a team.  I hear the fain echo of words spoken in times where we both thought we would never make it, where we were ready to give up on our marriage and go our separate ways.  I sit now in our bedroom and see the spot where he stood when we decided that we loved each other and our family far too much to give up and decided that we were worth fighting for.  I feel surrounded by the love we share now, as we have come out on the other side stronger and even better than before.

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Wedding day!

I became a mother in this house.  I can see the spot where I peed on the stick for the first, and second time.  I still have the same garbage can that I tossed those pregnancy tests into after they gave me the answers that I was hoping for.  I sit, right now, in the very bed that I napped together with my babies, desperate for some shut eye.  I can see the chair I sat in as I pumped my milk, praying that just one more ounce would come out.  I can feel the relief in the room where I decided to stop pumping and just feed my child formula, because I wasn’t a failure, I was just doing what I had to do.  I can picture the messes made and the floors littered with clothes that my then undiagnosed ADHD Man created in his tornado phase.  He moved swiftly and with purpose destroying much of our house.  I can sit at the table where he used to feed his little sister and speak the words, “Millie’s talkin to me!!!” I can relax on the couch where he first held her the day we brought her home.  I can return to the spot in my closet where I would hide and cry because motherhood was not what I expected and it stunned me to think that I was not as happy as I “should be.”  I can feel the warmth and the love of all the moments of laughter, triumph, fun, enjoyment, first times, and continued successes that this house has brought us.

I became a sober woman in this house, deciding once and for all that I could no longer successfully drink.  I see the spot where I crumbled in fear and desperation as the realization took hold that I needed more help that I had been willing to admit.

I became a student in this house.  After picking myself up and dusting off the remains of my unhappiness, I sit at the very computer where I filled out the applications and the wrote essays that would take me on this next journey in my life.

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I grew up in this house, becoming a woman that I am proud to be- a happy woman, the woman I always knew I could be.

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We became a family in this house.

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If my walls could talk, they would tell me of failures and triumphs, of sadness and successes. They would share with me the pride with which they have surrounded me and my family.  There is no new couch or new rug that matters more than the growth and the memories of the home that I have built with my family.  I will cry when we leave all these memories behind, having safely stowed them in my heart.  I will open the door to my new home with excitement and eagerness for the new memories we shall continue to forge together.

 

 

In Defense of the “Problem Child”

Yesterday evening I read an article in the New York Times entitled, “The ‘Problem Child’ Is a Child, Not a Problem.” (https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/24/opinion/collaborative-problem-solving-children.html) It discussed how the appropriate method of behavior modification should be used by teachers to help “problem” children fare better within the classroom, especially in the earliest, most fragile years of their education.  The article itself was fabulous, and extremely validating to parents of children with emotional and behavioral challenges.  It suggested that teachers receive more training in adequate techniques to prevent situations like the one highlighted in the article—the case of an eight-year-old child having long-term emotional effects, subsequently resulting in educational challenges, from preschool teachers managing his behavior improperly.  It emphasized that poor behavioral management in early childhood can have lifelong consequences.

Unfortunately, I made the big, no HUGE, mistake of reading the comments.  I have never been so blown away by a lack of empathy, and sheer ignorance about this population.  I am so angered and sad, but mostly, I’m disappointed and fearful.  I’ll be the first to admit that much of the challenge with children like this is their behavioral functioning.  However, another significant challenge is that the driving force behind such behavior is completely misunderstood.  Here, right in front of me, was the glaring proof of such stereotypes- and not just any proof, but proof presented in well thought out and intelligent comments in the New York Times.

I am ashamed to admit it, but often, when I am out in public with Man, I find myself making justifications for his behavior in one way or another- An eye roll to a person here to indicate, “I know, I know, I can’t believe he is doing that either!”  or a harsher than necessary talking-to so others around me don’t think that I’m just ignoring such behavior—a behavior, mind you, that he likely cannot control and that my stern warning will do nothing to deter.  I then find myself feeling terribly guilty- why did I feel the need to defend anything my son is doing to anyone, nonetheless a stranger?  Well, the comments section of this article just reinforced exactly why I feel such a need.

The comments fell into a few horrendous categories:

1)      The “bad children come from bad parents” type of comments.  I hear this often, that a child’s behavior is the direct result of bad parenting.  While yes, it is true that sometimes my seven-year-old simply acts like a seven-year-old and, in that moment, I probably don’t handle it to the very best of my abilities—I mean seriously, who parents perfectly all the time?  This is NOT what is going on for a child with ADHD.  Most of the parents that I know personally—and the thousands that I interact with regularly as part of the vast support networks on social media—work tirelessly on their child’s behavior. We use behavior charts, talk to doctors, use family trainers, send our kids to Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and are just generally on their cases about every move they make all the time.  We are stellar parents who have literally tried everything, including medication in many cases, and we still come up short.  Why?  Because our children are just wired that way and no matter how hard we work, we cannot completely deter the behaviors that come along with ADHD and other similar disorders.

 

2)      The “parents should help the child, it’s not the teacher’s responsibility,” type comments.  Most parents are doing all that they can with the resources available to them to help their child succeed in and out of the classroom.  This is true for both the parents of special needs children and typical children.  Even the mother of the child in the article stated that she would leave her child at school and then go and cry with worry.  It is overwhelming to have a child like this in a way that is unimaginable to others unless they are going through it themselves.  Diagnoses that largely manifest themselves behaviorally are incredibly challenging to treat.  Like a medical diagnosis, it cannot be treated in isolation; for behavior modification to be successful, every person that works with that child must be on the same page and CONSISTENT.  I often say that “consistent” is my least favorite word- you try getting teachers, coaches, babysitters, grandparents, etc. to follow a specific plan on how to reinforce positive behavior in your kid.  Any slight deviation in the behavior plan can have dire results.  Something as simple as you attending to your other child and not providing the proper, immediate reinforcement can set you back days or even weeks.  A child is at school for a good portion of their day; if the teacher does not understand the behavior plan then the child might as well not have it.  Additionally, many of these behaviors directly impede their learning, and therefore require the direct attention of the teacher, the person who is responsible for educating them within the classroom.

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3)      Which leads me to the next grouping of comments, the “children like this shouldn’t be in class with regular students,” type comments.  These were the most hurtful comments of all.  I completely understand where the parents were coming from; the comment was always based in the idea that these students take away from the learning experience of other, more typical children.  That’s just disappointing and short sighted.  Let me be clear; I am hyper-aware of how Man’s behavior affects others, especially his peers, but separating him is not the answer… for any child.  My son teaches others empathy and understanding.  He shows them that not all children are alike.  He demonstrates daily how one can overcome struggle.  He provides his classmates with a true cooperative learning experience, as learning to work together with a variety of different people is vital to lifelong success.  He is a good friend, and a kind hearted and genuine child.  He adds to the educational experience of other students by requiring their help with reading and handwriting—when students become the teachers, it is excellent for their development.  He also adds to their educational experience by helping them with anything STEM related.   Many of the comments also expressed concern that these children take up too much of the teacher’s time.  I get that—I want both of my children to get the time they deserve from their teachers and some days they are going to be the children that require the time, and other days it will be someone else’s child.

 

4)      The “children like this are just bad kids,” kind of comments.  No, no they are not.  If a child is acting out, it’s for a reason.  One person even went so far as to say that children like this were all psychopaths and that instead of teachers being trained in behavior mod, they should be trained in the early detection of such a disorder.  I mean… really?  When Man can no longer sit still or his hand is aching from writing due to his poor hand strength, he acts out.  He’s tired; he’s seven; he’s being asked to do something that he simply cannot do.  He is not bad; he is just a child who is challenged daily by his ADHD.

in defense of 2

 

The amount of parental blame in the comments was just startling.  Attitudes and ideas like that only serve to alienate the most fragile of students and their parents.  Instead of looking at the parents, we need to be looking at the public education system in its entirety.  We are failing all students, typical and atypical.  Increasing the number of teachers per school and per classroom, allowing for a smaller student to teacher ratio, would do wonders to allay concerns of all parents.  Creating programs that allowed for more flexibility in learning modality, instead of just focusing on the direct teaching method, would also benefit all students.  Pouring money into our educational budget instead of slashing it to its bare bones would benefit all students.  We need to stop looking for the simple excuses and start focusing on better, more effective long-term solutions.

 

I Would Die For My Children, But I don’t Just Live For Them

I don’t often begin writing a post with its title.  Most of the time, I have an idea that I want to express, so I sit down at my computer and within about 45 minutes, it’s gushed out of me with the emotion, power and force of Niagara Falls.  I then go back and spend an inappropriately excessive amount of time trying to come up with a catchy title that screams “click bait.”  A few weeks ago, I read a comment on a friend’s post. A mother had—and I’m paraphrasing here—stated that she lived for her children and that they were her absolute everything.  Reading such a comment left my stomach in knots and my brain reeling.  With my body tingling and tightened with angst, a realization formed: I just don’t feel that way about my kids.  Of course, as a parent, I was immediately flooded with guilt—this line of thinking just felt all wrong, it felt selfish.  I’m a mother, damnit, I’m supposed to live for my kids, aren’t I?  I hesitated to add my own comment, sheepishly returning to the post multiple times throughout the day and reading what other parents had written before finally deciding to comment myself: “I live for myself,” I wrote, “and my kids benefit from the happiness that I exude because of this.”  I left this provocative statement hanging on that page for all the world to see.

There it was, a perfect blog topic.  A controversial feeling that only the boldest of parents would express publicly. Parental condemnation click bait!!!  However, I didn’t know what exactly I was feeling and couldn’t yet quite put it into words.  A million false starts of a post in my head never made it onto the computer, and then, this week, two things happened. I heard the incredible Brene Brown speak (if you haven’t read her books, get them) and we attended a back-to-school picnic at my children’s elementary school.

Brene, in all her glorious wisdom, talked about the concept of “belonging”.  She began with the following quote from Maya Angelou: “You only are free when you realize you belong no place — you belong every place — no place at all.”  Was she talking about me? Has she been following along on my journey this past year?  This quote, stated so simply and eloquently, encompassed the very journey of soul searching and self-actualization that I have been on lately.

This is what the journey of motherhood has been for me; trying to find out where I, both as just Laura as well as Man and Lady’s mom, fit into this complicated world.  And the answer was right there in front of me in 1000-pt font and illuminated on a giant screen: nowhere, but also everywhere.  To belong doesn’t mean to “fit in,” to perfectly fit some mold; it means to always be your most authentic self.  When you’re authentic, real, and true, there is no place you don’t belong.  Honestly, most of my life, even before having children, was spent attempting to achieve this.  I essentially thought that having children would accomplish this very goal for me.  I would finally belong somewhere concrete, I would belong to motherhood.

I was wrong.

From the time Man was born, I lived and breathed for his every need and want.  As he got older and the demands of his ADHD took hold, my mood, my sense of self, my very being, revolved around his various successes and failures.  If he had a play date where he didn’t destroy a friend’s home, I was thrilled for a month.  If he pushed a child down the slide at the park, my week was over.  Everything he did dictated everything I felt.  Add the fact that I had another typically-developing child just 18-months his junior who also needed my love and attention and by the end of the day I had nothing left but my congratulatory glasses of wine and my misery.  I wasn’t belonging; in fact, the opposite was happening, I was losing myself more and more with each passing year.

Last year I decided that I had had enough. I stopped drinking, returned to school to pursue my dream degree, and again begin the lifelong pursuit toward finding my most authentic self. I have never been happier or felt more of a sense of belonging.  Furthermore, my time with my children has become more meaningful, fun, and contented; I am able to be present for them in a way I never was before.  In allowing myself to accept my truth, that I needed more than just motherhood to complete me, I have become the best versions of both Laura the person and Laura the mother.

 

fam school

Family back to school day!

 

Yesterday, at the kids’ school picnic, I was reminded of just how significant this journey is and how important it is to be steadfast in its pursuit.  Usually Man shies away from big events like these. They are too crowded for him and very overstimulating.  However, due to the way the day’s events unfolded, I unexpectedly found myself standing on the school playground watching my kids play, feeling miserable – a feeling which had become all but foreign to me in the last year.  Instead of adopting an attitude of belonging, I let my worries and fears about Man get the best of me.  I watched every move he made, I saw every social success, every stumble, and everything in between.  Instead of allowing myself to see what a HUGE step and triumph this was for him, or to even enjoy some time chit chatting with lovely ladies who I don’t often get to see, I was an emotional mess.  My mood was, once again, tied to his every move, and ironically his moves were mostly absolute perfection.  I was transported right back to a year ago and it was a harsh reminder that that person no longer belonged on the playground.

There is no doubt of how much I love my children. I would take a bullet for them, donate a kidney, and if it was possible, painstakingly remove every obstacle and hardship that this world will throw their way.  I love them with every fiber of my being.  I would die for them, but I can no longer just live for them.

mothers day

 

Back to School With ADHD

Even before I had children, I always knew that the end of summer was near because of one specific commercial. I can see it now: a dad glides gleefully down a store aisle, gingerly tossing school supplies into his shopping cart as his children follow behind him.  “It’s the most wonderful time of the year,” plays in the background as an announcer plugs the great sales on all things school-related at Staples. 

As a student, I always loved purchasing school supplies. Putting dividers into new colorful binders and filling my pencil case was always so exciting.  With each new year, came new possibilities and I truly looked forward to all of them.  Even now, in returning to school as an adult, I get a little thrill each semester when purchasing textbooks and fresh packages of erasable pens.  Dorky? Absolutely!  However, completely true. I love being a student and assumed that my son would as well.  How could he not?  He is brilliant and always interested in learning.  Most of our time together is spent answering questions about obscure subjects or listening to theories on even more abstract concepts.  I mean, his hobbies include learning all about sharks (do you know what ovoviviparous breeding means?  Because he does.) and building Rube Goldbergs.  The very idea that school would not appeal to this child’s brain never even crossed my mind.

Like the dad in the commercial, I figured that back-to-school shopping for Man would bring me the same joy.  I would relish in the excitement that he would get from a new folder covered in hammer head sharks and a new 12-inch ruler, as that meant he would get to measure things all day, another favorite pastime.  I would meet him as he came running off the bus on the first day and listen intently as he eagerly told me all about his new teacher and all the fun they were going to have that year.  A little unrealistic?  Maybe, but in those early years especially, much of school should be relatively enjoyable.  They should instill a joy of learning and an understanding of the importance of school.

 This has not been the case for my Man and me. Every item purchased on the school supply list means just another thing that he must maintain and keep track of.  And getting off the bus for those first few weeks, even months, I’m met with a child who is deeply saddened and frustrated by the day’s events.  In that initial period, I get almost daily phone calls from the teacher and the vice principal, listing his challenges for that day.  In those early months, every morning, I hear a little boy ask why school can’t be more like summer camp—an engineering-based camp that does hand-on, academic-based projects, mind you – and ask the question, “Do I really need to go today?”  Every day, in these final weeks before school begins, I am filled with worry; will this year be the same as the one that came before it? 

ADHD causes specific academic and behavioral challenges in students.  Man has difficulty organizing and executing tasks, making in-class assignments very challenging.  Once he feels like he can’t do something that every other child around him appears to be doing with ease, he does what he does best – runs off and does something else he knows will bring more success.  For children with ADHD, their classroom challenges often manifest as poor behavior.  Most of the time, they don’t even know where the challenge lies, or how to say, “I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing right now.” What they do know is that causing a disruption will get the attention of the teacher.  It takes a savvy, patient teacher to understand this fact and to have the capability to find the root of the behavior and not just dole out immediate punishment.

Because children with ADHD are wired differently, their intelligence doesn’t present itself in the same way as their neurotypical counterparts.  Man will never, EVER be the child that can complete classroom assignments with little to no assistance.  He does not learn like other children do – lecturing from the front of the room and then expecting him to complete an assignment quietly at his desk is pretty much out of the question.  He has already lost focus on what the teacher is saying by the second sentence; his thoughts began running wild with what was expressed in the first one.  Therefore, he requires a lot of repetition and asks a lot of questions.  Unfortunately, this can make him seem just average, or even slightly below.  Thus, he is treated accordingly by all who must educate him and he misses out on the opportunity to learn on an appropriate and stimulating level.

Many things come easily to Man, however, when something is a challenge, he wants no part of it.  Challenges for other children are 100 times more difficult to a child with ADHD.  It’s like hiking up a steep mountain with an extra 100-pound backpack on.  This is what ADHD does to my child, especially in a classroom setting.  When he is tired and just can’t take on the extra work that each day brings, it makes him look defiant or like he cannot follow simple classroom rules.  He needs a teacher who is going to understand this, look past it, and make it interesting for him to want to attack the challenges head on.  Will this be the year that he gets such a teacher, I wonder? 

Just like neurotypical children, atypically developing children are all dissimilar as well.  A diagnosis of ADHD means different things for different children and the educational strategies are not one size fits all.  When someone tells me that they have experience teaching children with ADHD, that means almost nothing to me.  The most important thing that a teacher needs to understand is that they must look beyond the diagnosis and assess my child’s needs based on what they see, not what they expect to see.  This was not the case last year and he suffered greatly because of it, and as his mother, I suffered right along with him.

Public school, it seems, is not designed well for Man, or any child with ADHD and other learning disabilities.  It’s no one’s fault; they must teach to the masses, and I totally get this – the entire school system does not need to turn on a dime for my son’s specific needs. While I appreciate that the district trains the teachers well and makes accommodations for my son, ultimately the expectation is that as a round peg, he adjusts and fits into their square holes.  In fact, every accommodation he has is to help him function better in a classroom designed for neurotypical students.  They have nothing to do with helping him use the brain he has, to learn to the best of its own ability.  They have nothing to do with teaching him how to use his strengths and overcome his weaknesses to simply learn the information that is vital to his education. 

I stress again that this is no one’s fault; it is just how the public education system is designed.  They do their very best to help with the resources available to them, but the end goal is always the same, to make sure every child is “on grade level”.  It doesn’t matter how much potential the child has, simply whether they meet the national standards for their grade.  Man did 50% of the work that the other students in his class did last year, 50%, and at the end of the year he was on grade level.  While only doing half the work as the other students in his class, he still came out on grade level.  Yes, while I’m thrilled he is on grade level, am I not allowed to expect that he could possibly be doing better if his educational environment was more conducive to his learning style?  Should I just ignore the fact that he no longer qualifies for certain accommodations because he is on grade level, even though the challenges within the classroom are still the same as they were the previous years?  Am I not allowed to be upset that my son already feels disappointed in himself every day because he sees the other children able to produce more than him while trying half as hard?  It’s not pressure that I put on him, it’s simply what he sees going on around him daily. 

So yes, I worry every day.  I worry that this year will be the same trying year as the last.  He does not deserve that, nor does any child who is like him.  Going back to school, it seems, isn’t the most wonderful time of the year for every family.