Dear First Time Sleepaway Camper,

Dear Man,

Another school year has come to an end!  We spent this third-grade year meeting challenges head on, supporting you through failures, and basking in your successes.   As we continue along on your educational journey, we expect that each year will bring its new tests and trials.  You continue to meet these obstacles with grit and grace, and this year was no exception.  You complete the school year with the same continued happiness and self-confidence with which it began.  This has always been the only goal daddy and I have ever had for you and we are unceasingly in awe of the hard work and dedication you put in every minute of every day.

Tomorrow you leave for your first summer at sleepaway camp.  A new chapter in your life and a new opportunity for growth will present itself.  Your absence in this house will be a huge adjustment for all of us.  I am so excited to watch you fly free, but I am also incredibly terrified to take this momentous leap.

Daddy and I both have such fond memories of our time at sleepaway camp and we so badly wanted that for you.  We weren’t sure it would happen.  However, we took the time to find the right camp for you, one that would support your needs but also provide you with a typical and complete sleep away camp experience.  We are thrilled that you will get to participate in this incredible rite of passage. 

Sleepaway camp is going to be like nowhere you have ever been before.  You will have a unique opportunity and I don’t want you to miss out.  There are such high expectations placed on you in the classroom, you always have to give 200% just to accomplish a small task.  Camp will NOT be like this; it will be a place where you can let your guard down and be your most authentic self all of the time.

This summer, take some time do the following…

Leave your box behind and truly live outside of your comfort zone.  Do things you didn’t think you could do.  At least once a day, get involved in an activity that you wouldn’t have chosen to participate in at home.  Camp is a place to explore new things in a safe and kid friendly environment.  So, pick up that Gaga ball, get in that pit, and give yourself over with wild abandon to those activities you fear the most.

Relax.  There are no tests here, no behavior charts, and no assignments due.  No one is demanding your full attention or checking over your shoulder to see if you completed your “must do” work.  There are no unwanted pressures placed on your cognitive and mental load.  Let down your proverbial hair and just have fun.

Befriend someone wholeheartedly different from yourself.  You will have a chance to live with a variety of boys for an entire month.  If you allow it, you will get to know these other kids at their core.  It will no longer be about the superficiality of who is “sporty” versus who likes to play video games, it will be about who they truly are on the inside.  You will find that you have more in common with the vast majority of these boys than you had originally thought. Camp bonds are deeply rooted and lifelong, these friends don’t go home at the end of the day, they go to sleep right next to you night after night.

Grow up, dad and I won’t be there for you.  It’s time to reduce your dependence on the adults around you for every little thing and learn to problem solve on your own.  You will be expected to make your bed, clean your bunk, brush your teeth, and finish your meals without our encouraging words and support.  The decision on what activity you choose to participate in that day or if you go out in a rainstorm in just a t-shirt and flip flops will be yours and yours alone.  You will have some adult assistance and guidance, but this will be your first real foray into maturity and independence.  Don’t waste it.

Break your addiction to technology.  You will be encircled by mother nature, grow to love her again.  Take the time to connect with the people and the beauty that surround you.  Sit by the lake and write a letter, lounge on the stairs of the bunk and laugh with friends, play cards, do Mad Libs, take a walk, read a book.  Do anything that doesn’t involve a screen. 

Be yourself.  At camp, you get to be just who you are without any additional expectations.  You’re not a student, a classmate, a brother, or a son.  You’re not the kid that’s terrible at kickball, or the one who distracts the other students in class.  You’re not the fun friend that’s sought out to make the other’s laugh or the one who likes to help his peers with math.  You’re not a lover of EDM or hater of Fortnite.  You’re not the kid who has ADHD.  You’re just Man. 

I know you will have a wonderful time at camp.  I promise, if you let it, it will be the start of a wonderful tradition.  You will come home and begin to count the days until you can return.  You will grow and thrive and return to us a new Man. 

Love,

Mom

Words Matter: 8 Statements From IEP Team Members That Have Truly Hurt Me

Teachers, principals, assistant principals, bus drivers, teacher’s aids, librarians, office staff, special education directors, school psychologists, OT’s and guidance counselors, I’ve had conversations with ALL of them.

I’ve discussed the good, the bad, the success stories, and the major failures.

I’ve requested, directed, strategized, and begged, apologized, thanked, praised and collaborated. 

Team meetings, conferences, informal conversations, evaluations, I’ve participated in all of them over the last seven years and managed to maintain my composure and gratitude for those that help my son on a daily basis.

Not all of these conversations are easy, in fact, most of them are downright painful.  It’s rare that you get a phone call or an e mail just to randomly tell you how wonderful your child is doing.  After a few years, I finally began to request that before launching into what’s wrong, we take a minute or two to discuss what’s right. 

Most of the time I welcome these conversations, it means they have taken the time out of their day to discuss my son’s education, health, and well-being.  I am thankful that they care enough to do this, going the extra mile for my little guy is not in the job description.  However, I have also heard some doozies over the years, utterances that have made my blood boil, my teeth grind, my eyes tear, and my brain scream…

… and, in some cases, literally cursing the messenger:

Is he on medication?  First of all, giving a child medication is a personal, family decision.  Whether he is or is not medicated should have no bearing on the level of care you provide for him.  With that being said, he actually takes a booster dose WHILE AT SCHOOL.  If you are a member of the team that provides bi-weekly services to my child, you should be familiar with every aspect of his plan.  As one friend said, “that’s just sloppy work.”

Oh, he is on medication, well, are you sure you give it to him every day, because some days it seems like he’s not on anything?  Are you joking?  Yes, I can see how, on rare occasions, one might forget to medicate their child.  But I think the bigger question here is, have you ever worked with a child with ADHD?  Medication is not a magic pill, while it helps significantly, it is NOT a cure all.  The only thing consistent about ADHD is inconsistency.  So yeah, some days, for no rhyme or reason, it might appear as though he is unmedicated. 

Have you tried outside therapies?  Now I know you must be joking!  Like every parent I know who has a child with special needs (or any extra medical challenges), I have done everything emotionally, physically, and financially in my power to help my child.  I often find that the school toss out unsolicited suggestions on how to help a child without considering the ramifications to the family.  Most often, extra therapies are not covered by insurance and families have to pay out of pocket.  I understand your limits as a school, I see that you are attempting to try your hardest, please assume that I am doing the same.

But he’s so brilliant!  I hear this one often, and while it might seem like a compliment, it really only serves to aggravate the situation more.  I know he’s brilliant, I also know that what he has achieved academically does not reflect just how smart he is.  I see that he works his ass off every day, thrice as hard as most of the other kids to only get half as far.  I take no solace in the fact that you think he’s intelligent, as he’s clearly not thriving, but just surviving.

I don’t have any power over the IEP team!  I believe I actually used the word “bullshit” when I heard this one.  As a member of the team, be it a teacher, OT, school psychologist, or SLP, your words and recommendations matter.  As a parent, all we can do is gather the information from our team and go forth to present our best arguments when requesting services for our child.  The information you provide regarding his or her performance is power.

He has the potential, I’ve seen him do it.  Yes, but he isn’t really doing it.  Much like its previously stated cousin, “He’s so brilliant!”  this statement doesn’t allay my fears, it only serves to enflame them.  He does have the potential, and in four years of being at your school, you still haven’t figured out how to maximize that potential.  When do we stop trying to fit my round peg into your square hole? 

PLUS, when this statement is made at a team meeting, it serves as evidence that what they are doing IS enough, they have “seen him do it!”  Instead of serving to open a discussion on ways to truly amplify his capabilities, it actually shuts the door permanently in my face.

All kids develop at a different rate.  So true!  But when the tests that you’re giving demonstrate that his development is significantly behind his aged matched peers, this condescending statement does not serve to alleviate my worry.

PLUS, when this statement is made at a team meeting, it often signals that they are about to shut down any special service request and use this statement as the reason, which is, simply put, shitty.

We’re just biding time.  Wait, what the what?  No, I want my kid to start thriving yesterday!  How long do we wait, how many different strategies do we try before we finally do what’s in his best interest?  He’s a little boy, not a science experiment.  What we do now, how permanent, lifelong, consequences.

Your words matter.  I am the primary care giver, the primary worrier, the mother of a child with special needs, the way in which I am approached about my child is key to my mental health.  In the end, you have my child on your caseload for a few years, I have to wage the war forever.  Choose your words and your delivery kindly, because most of us mamas have a good fight within and we won’t tolerate anything but the best for our children. 

ADHD: I LOVE Him, But His Poor Impulse Control is Killing Me.

I’m sitting at my desk at work, knee deep in charting.  I hear the phone inside my desk drawer ring, and I ignore it, too busy to deal with whatever it is.  Moments later it rings again.  I hear the impatience in the tune it spits out and I can’t disregard it anymore.  I close my chart and open the drawer, glancing down at the screen I see it’s the babysitter.  I have three missed calls from her.

My heart pounds.  It’s an emergency!

I call her back, and she assures me immediately that the kids are fine… HOWEVER, it seems that Man has stuck some metal into a socket and blown a fuse, the kitchen has no power. 

This is the third time that he has done this in the last year, so I know exactly how to walk her through fixing it.

I push the fear from my mind and the aggravation sets in- will he ever learn that that is dangerous?  Will he hurt himself, or someone else the next time he does it?  For there is ALWAYS a next time.

We’ve all seen THAT kid and THAT mom.  You KNOW the dynamic duo, you’ve met them before. 

The kid who is standing in the shopping cart, arms out, pretending to fly, as his sibling runs him down supermarket aisles.  His mother running after them, yelling angrily, embarrassed, and worried about concussions and broken bones.

The kid who is hiding in the clothing racks at Target, playing hide and seek.  His mother, frantically searching for him, frustrated, impatient, worried about a possible kidnapping.

The kid who just picked up that huge rock on the playground and tossed it across the field, oblivious to the 10 kids it almost hit in the head as it arcs nicely and lands on the ground with a loud thud.  His mother, shamed, desperately apologizing to other parents, worried that the other children will not want to play with him anymore.

For this child, knows not what he does, and this mother understands that… and it worries the SHIT out of her. 

Impulse control. 

It’s something that develops over time as the brain grows and classic conditioning does its job.  When we stick metal in a socket it shocks us. Therefore, the next time the thought occurs to us try it again, we are quickly reminded of the searing pain that coursed through our hand and the screams it elicited from our mom the last time tried that.  We decide not to do it again.  Simple.

This does not happen for the child with ADHD.

These are not magical children who don’t get shocked.  They do- and that shock hurt them just as much a their neurotypical pal who tried it also. No, it’s that they don’t stop long enough to think of the consequences of the last time they performed such an action. 

In other words, conditioning does not work as well with this population.  They have an idea and immediately act upon it.  The mechanism of the brain that says, “Dude, the last time you did that you got hurt, blew a fuse, AND your mom got pissed!!!” is completely absent.

In our house, this is the most challenging aspect of the ADHD diagnosis.

It’s easy to see how a lack of impulse control affects one’s behaviors.  If your child never stops to think of the consequences of their actions, that can lead to some pretty out-of-control situations.

But subtler, and more challenging to understand, are the ways it permeates EVERY. ASPECT. Of functioning for this child and their family.

Without impulse control, independent functioning becomes almost impossible.  At three years of age, this is expected, but by seven, eight, thirteen years of age, it’s unconscionable and exhausting for parents.

It affects activities of daily living:

Yes, we have all had to remind our kids a few times to put on their shoes or brush their teeth in the morning.  However, eventually they get it.  Sure, they might need an extra, gentle, reminder or two (or several) on days when they are not completely on their game.  But, all in all, by a certain age, your child can dress and bathe themselves somewhat to completely independently.

This does not happen for a child who lacks impulse control.  The verbal reminder is given, but suddenly, a bird is flying by the window and it’s cool and it’s red!!!  The sweat shirt is dropped, the child gleefully runs to the window and enjoys his birdwatching for like 20 seconds.  But then, something else of interest catches his eye!!!  The sweatshirt remains crumpled on the floor- a complete afterthought- until mom notices that her kid is wandering around the house naked, hyper focused on peeling the wrapper off of a crayon he found under the couch yesterday.  She calls out, “Go get dressed!” However, he has dropped the crayon and become engrossed in tapping the spoon for his morning cereal on the counter- he’s jamming!  He is deaf to her words. 

This happens every morning.  EVERY. MORNING. Until mom just gives up and sits next to her child, a child who is waaaaay too old for this, and dresses him herself.

It affects school:

Oh, how it affects school.  Do I even need to elaborate on this one?

It affects learning in such a substantial and significant way that it’s almost too much for me to wrap my head around.  I think people often think that ADHD just means a kid “can’t sit still.”  Yea, you know why? Lack of impulse control.

Paying attention in class, completing assignments, participating appropriately, prioritizing and organizing work, homework (oh the homework!), simply walking down the hall to gym class- it’s ALL affected.

It affects relationships:

God, does it affect relationships with both family and friends. 

This post is borne from the shame I have felt lately because I have been extra short with Man. 

As his mom, I am tired.  Tired of having to help him with everything. 

I’m anxious.  Anxious that he will never improve.

I’m fearful.  Fearful that I don’t have it within me to be the understanding and calm parent he needs all the time.  Fearful that I am just losing my patience.  Fearful of how much more I’m yelling lately.

I’m reminded.  Reminded constantly that it is all out of his control, he never, EVER, does this on purpose.  (Sometimes I think it would be easier to handle if he were, at least then my anger would be justified.)

It affects friendships, relationships with siblings and other family members, teachers, random strangers on the street, even the checkout guy at the drugstore counter.  Have you ever tried to have a conversation with someone who constantly interrupts you with their own stream of consciousness?  Eventually you just…

It affects one’s ability to truly master something, even something they love:

Mastery comes from the ability to practice and dedicate yourself to a specific task.  However, without impulse control, your ability to commit the time needed to achieve mastery is impossible.  It means that no matter how gifted you are, or how interested you are in something, you might never truly achieve excellence.  It’s as though you are trying your best, but your best just got up and walked away to do something else.  

This saddens me deeply for Man, as he is so brilliant and curious, yet, so far, he can only produce middle-of-the road success with everything he tries.

The hardest part, the most challenging and maddening part, is watching the one you love suffer because of something that is completely out of their control.  They, more than anyone else, are the most impacted by the lack of control they have over their own brain.  It often masks the kind, wonderful, interesting, and incredible children they are. They simply cannot make it function in the desired way and this leads to daily exasperation and regular disappointments.  They often work three times as hard and get half the results of their aged matched peers.

It’s this reason that forces me to push my own irritation aside, gather my strength, wrap my arms around Man, and be his scaffolding until he doesn’t need it anymore.

Bring it on, Bullies: Fighting Back With Empathy

We sit in a large semi-circle as the professor walks the room and tosses out discussion-questions to the class: “What is one belief you hold true about human nature?”

The previous questions had made me ponder and consider for a length of time before I was able to answer constructively, as they are designed to do.  However, this one, for me, was simple.  My hand shot up, “I have always been a believer in the innate goodness of people.” I said.   And it’s true.  I have always thought that people are largely caring and compassionate.  They most often strive to be their best and do right by others.  I think that unless you are a sociopath- which is rare- we all have a sense of decency and consideration for our fellow humans. Unforeseen challenges arise in everyone’s life that have the ability to derail us from this path and bring out the very worst in us.  However, if given the opportunity to heal and move forward, we strive to jump back on that better path again. 

While yes, I believe we are all essentially good and endeavor to be kind, we don’t often understand how.  I don’t mean that you don’t know how to click on the “donate” button to an important charity or let the mom with the screaming kid cut in front of you in line so she can just get that kid out of there.  I mean, we don’t know how to be emotionally kind.

“Emotional kindness” is the ability to use empathy and perspective-taking to understand another’s feelings and behaviors in a certain situation.

What is misunderstood by many is the connection between thoughts, emotions, and behaviors.

I have a thought- “My husband just left allllll the dishes in the sink for ME to wash!!! What am I, his maid?!?!?”

I have an emotion associated with that thought- My anger is at a 10!!!

I then, consequently, have a behavior associated with that emotion- I make snide, passive-aggressive remarks to make sure he understands how truly pissed off I am.

Now, I’ve created a situation where we are both upset.  I’ve gotten myself super pissed off and ready to fight and my less than stellar behavior has pissed him off too.  

What if I had tried to take his perspective and attempted to empathize with him in that moment?  What if I had used emotional kindness?

If I had really stopped and reflected on the situation, I would have noticed that he did seem extra tired when he came home that day.  I would have reminded myself that he almost ALWAYS washes the dishes, so something was probably on his mind or else he would have done them.  I would have understood that leaving the dishes in the sink had nothing to do with me personally and that I knew in my heart of hearts that he did not think of me as his maid.

When I rearranged my thoughts, my emotions calmed down, and instead of being passive-aggressive, I gave him a hug, walked to the sink and did the dishes without another word.

Bullying hasn’t been a huge issue in our home yet, but we haven’t escaped its grip entirely either.  It is one of my biggest parenting fears for both of my children, especially Man.  When you are raising a child with differences, whether subtle and somewhat undetectable or glaring and overt- Man probably falls somewhere in the middle- it puts him or her at greater risk.  However, if we are being totally honest, unfortunately, every child is at risk nowadays.  Whether the parent of a child with special needs or the parent of your average Joe, I am definitely not the only parent who worries about their child being bullied.

 But what if we tackled bullying with emotional kindness? This is what I have been trying to instill in both of my children lately.

When one of them comes home saddened and deflated by a challenging altercation with another student, my initial instinct is to go nuclear on that kid.  My mama bear instinct in full effect, I want to speak harsh words to this young child and tell them to leave my kid alone!!

Buuuuut, then I calm down and try and use it as a learning opportunity.  I let them be hurt by it, because, of course, being teased, or “burned” as the kids like to call it, isn’t fun and it’s very upsetting.  However, I then try to teach them to think of what the “bully” might have been feeling at that time.  As a believer in innate goodness, most likely, that kid is having a rough time of his own and bullying is the only way he knows to make himself feel better.  I show them what empathy feels like and together we work on finding peace with the situation through increasing our emotional kindness.

Bullying at this young age is often a result of not having the skills to express your true feelings and emotions.  Often, children cannot even identify their emotions, let alone talk about them rationally.  Starting to teach our children at a young age to understand that there is always an emotion behind a behavior is a vital skill with lifelong benefit.  It certainly doesn’t eliminate the hurt of being bullied, but it allows them to minimize its overall lasting effect.  It allows them to depersonalize the negative behaviors of others, a skill which will forever be of benefit to them.

Please note, this post relates to general bullying as defined by, “unwanted, aggressive behavior among school aged children that involves a real or perceived power imbalance.”  It does not pertain to harassment, which is a prosecutable offence.  0000000

ADHD, Sobriety, and The Myth of Perfection

A year ago, today, I was so laden with anxiety, so overloaded with moving out of our home of ten years, that I was ready to call the entire thing off.  But it wasn’t just the move itself that was causing the stress, it was the overwhelming pressure I put on myself to move out of my messy, piecemeal, house- the one with mismatched furniture, rugs stained by years of toddler traffic, couch cushions ripped by gnawing animals, and a faint smell of dog pee in the basement- and into a new, clean, well-appointed home.  This home was going have clean, perfectly decorated rooms, it would be a real, adult home.  Most importantly, it would be the opposite of the home we were leaving behind.

The other day I was talking to my sponsor who also happens to be an LCSW.  She was wearing both hats while helping talk through a particularly challenging situation I was having at my internship.  I have had thrown for a loop by both a client and a colleague and it had my spiritual fitness in a funk. 

“Give yourself a break, Laura, you’re new at this, and you’re doing great.  You’re not expected to be perfect.”

This morning, I ordered a product called Skinny Fit (I’ll let you know if it works ladies).  We are headed to Florida- bathing suit country- in a few weeks and no matter what I do, I cannot get rid of this holiday spare tire.  If I’m being real, it’s more like the “giving birth spare tire” that I acquired almost seven years ago after having two c-sections in 18 months.  It’s never really gone away no matter how hard I worked out or how well I ate, and I’m tired of it.  I could hear the disapproval in my husband’s voice when I shared this new idea with him.

“No one is perfect, honey, do it if you have to, but I don’t think it’s necessary, you look great to me no matter what.”

Currently, I am sitting at the kitchen island in my house.  When I look up from the screen, my gaze falls upon a half empty room and a large bare wall.  You see, one year later, my house is not perfectly decorated, most walls remain empty, and we still need quite a bit of furniture.  But we are here, we are happy.  Having empty rooms has not stopped us from loving our new home and making new memories within its walls.

My need for a perfect house was gingerly tossed out of the back-door months ago.  Rooms will be filled over time and walls will be covered when we get around to it.  I let go of my expectation of perfection and a peace and tranquility settled over me.  I can enjoy my house, empty rooms and all, because it’s not about the furniture in the room, it’s about the family that fills it. 

I went back to my internship after talking to my sponsor armed with the knowledge that clients were supposed to challenge me.  I’m supposed to make mistakes and learn from them, and I’m certainly not supposed to have all the answers.  That’s what being a student and an intern in all about.  Furthermore, being a clinician is a life-long learning experience, I will forever be gaining knowledge from new clients and other clinicians.   I lowered my expectations for my interactions with my client and it helped tremendously.  She didn’t expect me to have all the answers and since I was visibly less frustrated with myself (and her), she was able to open up in a new and exciting way.  Giving up my need to be the perfect clinician actually allowed me to be the best clinician I could be in that moment.

As for the Skinny Fit, the jury is still out.  However, I did take a break from writing to take a huge scoop of peanut butter and lather it on an Oreo cookie, so I have my doubts as to its full effectiveness.  I’ve had two children and I love food, especially sweets, my body will never again be that of my 16-year-old self.  Some parts will still jiggle, many will still sag, and I can actively feel the folds in my belly touching right now, but I would rather have the perfect forbidden snack and be happy, than the perfect body and feel deprived. 

If it’s not obvious already, the theme of this post is perfection.  As a person who grew up with ADHD and as a parent watching my child grow up with ADHD, I can tell you that one characteristic is feeling like we can never reach our full potential- it’s like our best self is in a lock box buried deep inside and we cannot find the key.  I often watch Man, his brilliance stifled by his impulsivity.  Just last night at chess club, he imprudently made his next move and, voila, he was in check within 30 seconds.  When we were talking later that night, he was frustrated with himself, “I knew what to do, mom, but I made the wrong move anyway.”  This is a theme that permeates his life, and mine.  Feeling, no KNOWING, we can do better, but being unable to figure out how. 

It took me well into sobriety to realize that this was one of the reasons I drank.  It’s maddening to feel like you are capable of so much more, but not knowing how to get there.  However, while sobriety did give me the ability to get closer to achieving my best self, it also gave me permission to be imperfect.  I spent so much time trying to be better, to do better, battling an uphill battle, that it wore me down.   I see now that it’s not about winning the battle, it’s about deciding whether or not to fight the war in the first place. 

Perfection his highly glorified.  It is something that very few, if anyone, EVER attains.  There is only one gold medalist, one valedictorian, and one winner, and their perfections were equally hard work, luck, and confluence of other circumstances that affected their competitors.  It’s an image we all try and portray, I mean, when was the last time you posted a picture on social media that wasn’t perfect?

My friends, I give you permission to be perfectly, IMperfect!  Allow yourselves to make mistakes, but make sure you learn and grow from them.  Understand your own limitations, and accept them, embrace them, flaunt them!  Be who you are, defects and all, and love that person unconditionally.  Always remember, it’s progress, not perfection.

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.