Compulsary Attendance

It's kind of better when I stop thinking about the fact that our son is NOT ATTENDING SCHOOL right now. It's unfortunate and I sure wish on so many levels that he was happy and healthy and learning well.

But it's not the case. Nor was it the case this time last year, but his mask was firm and I so wanted to believe that he was "maturing." He kept a friend for a while and rarely got in trouble at school. He was not. He was minimizing and hiding and he spent the year scared.

I know that now and I cannot, no matter what anyone says or does or promises, forget it. I was busy running all over town teaching regular school during the day and yoga in the evenings. He was participating in yoga at least two or three times a month, formally. I thought he was improving.

He was not. In elementary school, his teachers told me that he was getting the material, but he just wasn't passing the standardized tests. I wanted to believe them. But I thought these teachers must be miracle workers. When I would attempt homework with him it was a maddening experience. I couldn't make the connections work for him. I was highly concerned, but I blamed myself. I am many things, but an elementary math teacher is not one of them. 

We enrolled him in after school programs where he could be assisted by specialists for his grade level. He could have access to all things school with a caring staff there to support him. It was our back up -- our survival plan. In addition, we spent thousands of dollars on tutoring at a place in Memphis called Bowie Center.

I longed to be able to send him there to attend school, for real, but it was not a possibility. It is a $20,000 year investment that was barely available to us at $60/hour after a regular school day. He enjoyed going because he got the personalized attention he needs to learn.

I barely struggled academically in school, so I am constantly checking my perceptions against those of my husband, who had a much harder path to travel through his formal schooling. I began to see the ADHD characteristics in my students. Suddenly, I had a different level of compassion for the struggles of those with this condition.

Lazy and unmotivated disappeared from my vocabulary. I cannot, in good faith and conscious, say someone is unwilling to work or has no energy to work when the child is flitting around the room or dancing down the halls. That's energy, folks...unchannelled and misdirected, but it is energy.

I would pray that something was getting through the haze and fog surrounding my child's brain. I would check in with teachers and keep digging around websites of the likes of Ned Hollowell, Daniel Amen, and Russell Barkley. I would purchase books about learning obstacles and tried to educate myself on this brain thing of which I had no experience or logical understanding. 

 

"Racecar, no brakes." Got it.

Their brains are wired differently.

ADHD is/isn't a superpower. Got it.

 

Wait, what?!

 

Oh, the privilege of having a solid brain with a fast processor and a lot of short and long term storage. Our guy is not so lucky. I would explain his behaviors to practitioners and teachers and describe how he would go into the other room and forget what he was there for. I was sure he would eventually remember to look both ways when crossing a street. He still forgets to do his...a lot.

I could sense we were running out of time because I could feel his resistance to being corrected for such things as he could now see these things were not age-appropriate for neuro-typical children. How detailed should one be in describing a disability? We wanted for him to know he would likely have to work harder and differently from others, but we never wanted to place a burden on him for that. We also didn't want to set him up to make excuses.

All along, we are worried we are playing right into a pattern of behavior that is co-morbid with ADHD, called Oppositional Defiant Disorder. We would engage in punitive discipline and it never felt right at all, but it is definitely what you'll hear from the older school of thinking. You can't beat a disability out of a kid. Redirection and prevention were always the best options. Redirection worked sometimes and prevention began to feel like nagging to a young man who has part of his brain on the same level as his teenaged peers.

How do you tell a child his working memory is testing very low and in many areas of development, namely, executive functioning, he is years behind his chronological age? How do you explain that you reach for his hand when crossing the street because you know it's not his fault and he is not less than,  but you must keep him safe.

 

It is your responsibility.

 

It is our responsibility to keep our children safe. I'll go further and I'll agree that it is also our job to nurture our children, to feed and clothe them and provide as best we can, opportunities to become life-long learners.

So, in this in-between time when I might otherwise feel like cowering in the kitchen as he did the night at the end of August when we heard the knock at the front door that got this whole thing underway...I cannot. I am not trained nor skilled to diagnose my child. I am not an expert in special education, nor am I highly skilled with middle school-aged brains.

But I AM a fierce protector. We will keep our child safe. Unfortunately, right now that means he cannot attend school. The school to which he is assigned is unsafe and until we get to the bottom of what is an appropriate placement for him based upon this upcoming independent education evaluation, we will fight to keep him out.

We have an uphill battle any way we look at this. Our boy is struggling hard and the terrain is so very rocky. Thanks to moving closer to family, we have a support system. We did not have anything near that for the past eleven years. It has been so hard. I do not even want to imagine what this experience would have been like had we had it before we moved. And it was coming...his last school had entered the punitive phase as well...can't teach proper behavior -- just punish it instead. Paperwork from his after-care program expressly stated that the principal said, "student only has three write-ups to be dismissed."

If you think our special needs kids are being taken care of at school, you might want to check your work. Seriously. It's a TALL order to serve all these different needs and learning styles and if you have a tough cookie, you better get involved stat. Find an advocate or a specialist in IEPs and get down to work. It is not a matter of IF, but WHEN you will have to advocate for your child.

I know the mind can find what it wants when it wants, but I have seen story after story in the media and online and I have talked to local moms and dads...this is an EPIDEMIC. Maybe they don't realize they are doing it, but schools are finding ways to send special education students out for disciplinary issues instead of correcting them or providing services to assist the students. It is sickening. Yesterday afternoon, I spoke to one such mom from north Texas. Her son is 13, autistic and she had just left the DA's office. The felony charges for her son are forthcoming. Coincidentally, this child's friend experienced a similar thing two years ago.

Do you smell that? That's the rot in the school to prison pipeline.

I'm begging you -- be proactive. AS much as it seems ridiculous - educate your child's teachers about your child's condition. Do not assume they have studied it. Most teachers have a ONE SEMESTER Special Education class as part of their degree. Trust your gut. Ask for what your child needs. Get an advocate EARLY in your child's education so you can navigate the very tricky world of IDEA (Individuals with Disabilities Act). There are laws in place to help our children, but many of them fly under the radar.

For many of our high needs kiddos, services are very expensive. Schools are required to provide FAPE. That is a free and appropriate public education. Be very careful about how you approach that. Make sure your child is ready to interact with the general population before you allow his or her "least restrictive environment" to become the mainstream. Or at the very least, make sure that the approach to discipline in the IEP (Individualized Education Plan) is such that the child's disability behaviors are not punishable in the same way that neurotypical students are.

We are so eager for our kids to "fit in" and find friends and sometimes even to "be normal," but the kids are not alright and bullies are running the game. Seriously. They are finding the kids who struggle intellectually or socially and they are goading them and getting a rise out of them for their own entertainment and the results continue to be traumatic. 

Report every single incident your child tells you. You might feel "helicopter-y" or, better, like a "snow plow," but I'm telling you, YOU ARE YOUR KIDS ONLY CHANCE. No one knows your kid better than you do and you'd best get prepared to fight for everything you can so your child can have success. Have the nurse send you emails when there is a "tummy ache" (for the 12th time in a month). Chase a document trail. Get a three-inch binder, tabs and start hole-punching every single official piece of paper you get from the school. Include a few work samples here and there and print those emails where you ask for help.

Find out the laws in your state and use them to your advantage. When the school does an evaluation, take it with a grain of salt and request an IEE (Independent Education Evaluation). Many states allow parents to request that at the school's expense. Do it. Even if you agree with what the school evaluator saw. This is just a hunch, but if the school sees it, they have to serve it. But if the school never sees it...well, you see where I am going with that.

We are talking about low-incidence, serious learning challenges, and needs. This affects your child FOR THE REST OF THEIR LIFE.

And I'm sorry to have to say this, but be careful who you trust. Your trust may just be used as a weapon against you.

Reach out - let's chat. We need to support one another like our children's lives depend upon it. Because THEY DO.

1 comment

Roberta Lerman

Outstanding and Powerful piece!

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