Family Life,  Parenting,  Uncategorized

The Trouble With School (When You’re Wired Differently)

One of the rules of blogging is that you should write in a niche where you are an expert. You provide value to your readers by providing solutions to their problems because you are a resource they can trust. Naturally, your reader base expands, your blog makes money, you quit your 9-5 and move to a quiet beach town where you can watch the sun set over the ocean from your porch while you wiggle your toes in the warm sand.

Guess what-I am not an expert on anything that I write about.

Sure I have experience-more in some subjects, less in others. My goal with this blog is not to anoint myself an expert on anything, but to create a space for parents who are living life differently to feel heard and seen. A place to find support, ideas, and provide a little relief because no, you’re not the only one who feels the way you do. Sometimes life is hard, and you are not alone.

This is one of those posts.

A Neurodivergent Kid In A Typical Classroom

My son loves school-you might think that love is too strong of a word, but it is the most accurate word. He loves his teacher, playing with his friends, creating art, visiting the library, and seeing Mom come in for class parties. He is sad on snow days when school is cancelled!

My son also struggles mightily with school. You see, a typical classroom can be a difficult space for a neurodivergent student to learn and succeed. When your mind can’t filter sensory input or you have lagging executive functioning skills, the school day can feel like an exercise in survival, not education.

Add in some communication challenges for your student-sometimes you don’t have the words to explain how you feel or why the lesson doesn’t make sense. What about worksheets? If your handwriting skills are lagging, you’re constantly being asked to tell your teacher what you wrote because they can’t read it. How’s that feel after a few hundred times?

Maybe your student gets support-perhaps a funny shaped pencil that is supposed to help you write, and highlighted paper so you can make your letters the correct height and words a finger space apart. A grown-up might do some of your writing for you. You have extra time to take tests and take them in a different room with the lady that helps you with math. Your teacher tells you that you get to go take a break in a room that has toys, pillows and a swing.

But the other kids don’t have these things.

What I Imagine School Feels Like For My Son

You leave your coat on because it helps you feel safe, even though you get hot. You don’t understand the math worksheet, but you want to be polite so you don’t say anything and try your best….and draw a really good black widow spider chasing a fly. Then your teacher comes over and tells you that you need to do the questions. You feel your face getting really red because you don’t know how to do them. She suggests that you take a break, but you say no because you’re supposed to be doing the math worksheet and don’t want her to be upset.

Then you have to take a spelling test-you know that you didn’t do well, because you can’t remember the letters past the first few in the long words, and the letters don’t always follow the rules (k and c make the same sound, but sometimes k doesn’t make any sound, and if you add an e to the end of a word it helps the vowel say their name, but not all the time because “s-t-a-e” is not the right way to spell stay). After that it’s time for a test on conjunctions, and you don’t even remember learning this because there were three snow days last week so you just guess.

You get all the questions right on the quiz about the book your class just finished reading-it was about a dog and you really like dogs.

When it’s time to go home you can’t find your folder that you’re supposed to put your papers in, so you just shove them in your backpack along with your lunchbox (and you didn’t eat lunch-the cafeteria is too loud, there are weird smells, and you just want to get outside for recess). There’s an important paper that you need to give to your mom.

Home After School-But Do More Schoolwork

You’re so glad to be home-you’re tired, hungry and feel like you need to lay down. You can’t wait to play Minecraft, because that always makes you feel happy, and you’re good at building. Maybe you will find that polar bear you were following yesterday.

First you have to do your homework (you and Mom agreed that homework has to be done before screens turn on). You have to practice spelling words, but they’re so confusing and you can’t remember the words and letters. You ask your mom not to spell them, just read them out loud-you can do that. But she has you spell half of the list…and you get most of them wrong.

She’s nice about it and tries to help you remember, but you feel bad because you aren’t doing it right.

Then you have to read for half an hour. Reading used to be one of your favorite activities, but your mom told you that you had to stop reading the same five books every day and switch out one or two. You don’t want to, and your brain feels like it can’t read anymore because you try to read along in the chapter books at school but there are too many words, they’re too small and close together. You try to just look at pictures, but your mom tells you that you have to read words. She offers to sit with you and listen, but you don’t like reading out loud because you might mess something up.

Then you find out that the important paper was a math test that you got a bad grade on and you have to correct all the problems that you got wrong-all 23 of them. Your mom helps, but you don’t understand how to do the problem or why your answer was wrong and it’s just so hard you start crying.

And The Parent’s Heart Breaks

This year has been tough on my kid. The material comes faster, there’s state testing to deal with, new support people. He’s been trying his best to cope with the anxiety and stress in whatever way feels most natural to him. Some of these are good mechanisms, but there are others that we are trying to help him set aside in favor of a different mechanism that won’t be harmful to his mind, his body, or anyone/anything else.

It’s hard to navigate the ins and outs of all the different people, processes and structures that you’re supposed to follow to get help. You want people to love and care about your kid as much as you do, but logically you know they don’t-they’re not your kid’s parents! Pushing (and pushing, and pushing, AND PUSHING) for help can be exhausting and frustrating. But if you don’t-who will? And who suffers?

Last week I was up to my eyeballs in worry and frustration. Two mental health professionals had recommended that I start looking at alternative schools in my area, and I felt like I had no idea what I was doing and the wrong decision would affect my son’s entire life. I mentioned all this when my hair stylist innocently asked “so how’ve you been?” when she started to trim.

She knew someone who could help. I was connected, and I also reached out to a couple other people. I was throwing spaghetti at the wall-we couldn’t keep doing what we were doing, because it wasn’t working. Did I follow proper procedure? I guess not, but I wasn’t trying to circumvent the process-I wanted to be heard. I wanted someone to care, I wanted someone to say “you’re right.”

Today I sent an email to the IEP team about what had been going on, why we were concerned, and who may be reaching out, and what meetings I have in the next couple weeks. Apologized for doing things in the wrong order, and it wasn’t my intent. I expect that we’ll have another IEP meeting soon. Will anything be solved? I don’t know, honestly. But I am going to do my best to get some sort of change made for my kid.

What’s The Point Of This Post?

I didn’t teach you anything, I didn’t give you a printable, and I didn’t ask you to sign up for a mailing list. I didn’t establish myself as an expert; if anything, I established how NOT AN EXPERT I am.

When I am deep in the trenches, I feel like a failure. I feel like I am doing everything wrong, not doing enough, or a combination of the two. I feel like I am the only one going through whatever I am going through. It’s an isolating feeling.

That’s why I wrote this. Because I, and you, are not alone. We’re not failures-we’re doing the best we can for our kids. It takes more emotional strength than people realize to continue to advocate and challenge institutions and people to make changes so our kids can meaningfully participate and be successful.

I wrote this because I want you to know that I see you. And you’re doing great.

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