When heading back to school is like walking a gangplank: For parents with kids that need more

It’s been really quiet on the blog for the past two months. The reason?  Going back to school left me literally holding my breath and apparently writing is impossible when you’re not breathing.

For most families, heading back to school is full of excitement.  Anticipating new milestones is coupled with measuring growing kids and nostalgia.  This, of course, is balanced with unending supply lists, check ups and clothes shopping.  I could just park on the issue of clothes shopping with kids, but for the sake of everyone’s sanity let’s move on.  (Seriously stores need to install parental lounges during this season so we have somewhere to decompress during this process because KIDS CAN BE INCOHERENT ANIMALS WHEN IT COMES TO CLOTHES SHOPPING.)

Back to topic: There are typical families with parades of first day happy pictures and then there are some parents, such as me and the hubbs, that are still duct taping our brains back together after barely surviving the last few school years.  And the reality is that our tween is doing the same – with his heart.

If your kid has ADD, ADHD, OCD, APD, Autism, Anxiety, Aspergers, or any other of the dozens of diagnosis that are so prevalent these days, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  With these kids school can mean heartbreak far beyond the typical minefields of dealing with a class bully or having trouble fitting in.  This is a pervasive heartbreak that can squash all hope.  A heartbreak that comes when your kid realizes the teacher resents the challenge he presents in the classroom – or when she begins to feels different – or when getting through each school day is an exhausting marathon where they always seem to end in last place.

A parent’s heart can’t help but break when their kid’s heart is breaking.  And the truth is, a  heart that stays broken for too long has trouble hanging on to hope.

For us, the downward spiral at school was precipitated by horrifying side effects of ADHD meds. No meds led to low impulse control, morning meltdowns, horrific teacher punishments, and basically the upheaval of daily life as we knew it.  The sad part is THIS CAN BE THE TYPICAL LIFE OF A FAMILY WITH ADHD OR OTHER DIAGNOSED KIDS. Take these days and all their intense negativity and emotional drain and add to it the constant parental advocacy that is necessary at school and getting through the year can literally leave you all hanging on to sanity by a thread.

The reality is that school typically does not look the same for the child that struggles.  The educator that handles a myriad of students with nurturing and inspiring care can be the same one that becomes unglued and demeaning to a child who struggles.  The teaching efforts that are made in a general classroom setting – even stretching to include the IEPs and special needs – are just not going to always cover the kid who needs more.  While it’s easy to shift blame to teachers who continually forget our kid needs written reminders, or extra time, or extra patience – when you step back and look at all it takes to parent these kids – how can we realistically expect that a teacher caring for so many could possibly do it?  As one educator told us “We are simply not equipped to handle your child’s needs.  We are a round hole and your son is a square peg.”

BACK TO BASICS                                                                                                           After a failed school change, we decided to reassess our kid’s needs.  Our education plans had been whittled down to hoping for a positive school year where our kid could regain some confidence and love learning again. We were finally at a point of letting go and completely re-prioritizing what school should be for him.

RECOGNIZE WHAT’S NOT WORKING AND WHY                                                             Sometimes a failing situation can be of our own doing. For instance, we thought the calm, nurturing and open environment of Montessori would be exactly what our kinestetic learner needed for a positive change.  It failed MISERABLY.  A child with high anxiety shuts down in an environment of choice like Montessori and testing revealed our kinesthetic learner was actually an auditory learner.  We’d completely missed the mark.

TESTING IS KEY                                                                                                             Testing can assess more than smarts.  Do you know HOW HE PROCESSES information?  What is her RECALL SPEED?  Exactly what poses his biggest LEARNING HURDLES? WHAT IS HER OPTIMAL CLASSROOM ATMOSPHERE?  A psychological / educational evaluation is one route to try.  This exhaustive process provides a wealth of information that can be exactly what you need to pick a fitting school.  And these days most of us have school options with varied learning environments to choose from.  For us, this testing was definitive in telling us vital information we needed to make a school choice.

THINGS CAN TURN A CORNER                                                                                   With solid data showing that our child needed a school specializing in ADHD, we felt confident about making that change. Now, for the first time in a handful of years, we start our day with smiles. There is a deep understanding of our tween by his teachers – in fact, WE are learning from them also.  We see confidence where there was waning self-esteem and excitement where there was detachment.  It isn’t perfect, and it doesn’t solve all our problems, but it is absolutely nothing short of welcomed wonderful.  And since school is no longer a source of constant crisis, we are now free to address and move forward on other issues we need to tackle.

START OVER                                                                                                                Parenting a child with a diagnosis that affects their learning and personality is a really tough road.  It means grieving many of the expectations you may have had for your child.  They may have to go a different school path than planned.  Their sights may be set in unfamiliar directions and their interests may be well off the beaten path.  My advice?  Go back to the start.  Take your clenched hands filled with the things you planned and let them all go.  It’s not only okay, it’s the only way you can take hold of all the amazing, unexpected, quirky and wonderful that is in store.  Remember, this is their story.  Typical parenting means taking lead, but with these we must instead gently navigate the unfolding of their chapters.  While we may be scared of what the page turn will bring, we are meant move forward with hope and great expectation every step of the way.

3 thoughts on “When heading back to school is like walking a gangplank: For parents with kids that need more

  1. You know what? I started writing something and found myself writing a whole blog entry! So I am going to try to convey all my opinions in a very short answer.
    Kudos for you parents who keep looking and trying! It is wonderful that you understand that your kids are wonderful human beings who just have a different way of learning.
    It is important for all of us (the dinosaurs of the 20th century) to understand that different it’s ok, different it’s good and that we are the ones that have to learn to adapt, love and cherish our kids.
    I can only imagine the struggle but I know the victory is sweet and the key to success is to keep trying until you find the right fit. It sounds to me that this is exactly what it’s happening to you right now!
    Sharing your story not only helps to heal that broken heart (the family one), but I’m sure it is of great help to other parents that aren’t so sure what to do.
    Way to go! Wonderful great kids!

  2. Love it Ali. I think this hits home with so many, not just those with a diagnosis. My youngest has dyslexia, my oldest is not diagnosed with anything but still we needed to find the right school fit for him. He was a square peg in his round school and miserable. Finding the right school for your kid’s personality makes them thrive and now he is. Meanwhile the one with dyslexia seems to make everything work for him – in the school that was all wrong for my one who is considered “normal”. Is anyone really normal? My experience is to let your child be who they are and it’s our job to find the educational system that will allow them to do just that. Kudos to you for taking the journey instead of just dealing with the wrong situation for your son.

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