Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Diving Off the Deep End of the PEER

 

I found out recently that people in my life, both friends and family, feel that I am a bit of a know it all.  I could have been offended at this knowledge, but surprisingly, I wasn’t.   I personally don’t think anybody could be a true know it all, but I did think I knew a lot……….a lot about myself, my life, my kiddo’s life and our journey.  I knew these things because I had opened my mind and embraced my ability to learn.  This week I tested that ability and embarked on an adventure that would drive me to seek a deeper understanding of myself and my willingness to use that knowledge to help others.  Over the course of the week I learned more about things I thought I knew and I learned about things I didn’t realize that I didn’t know.  Most importantly, I learned about sharing my experiences in an effective way, instead of an intrusive ‘know it all’ way.

willing to learn

 

One of the beautiful aspects of the state of Georgia is that it’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Disabilities is one of the pioneering agencies in the field of mental health services…..specifically, in Peer Support Services.  For many years there have been adults working in the position of a Certified Peer Specialist in the fields of mental health and addiction recovery.  After years of advocacy for both families and youth, there are now emerging groups of Peer Specialists that are specifically centered around youth living with these challenges and parents of people living with these challenges.  This week I joined their ranks and completed my training to become a Certified Peer Specialist-Parent.

What is a Peer Specialist?  We are people who have ‘been there and done that’.  We are people who can use all of the knowledge we have gained, the experiences we’ve had and, most importantly, the emotions we have felt to provide support to others who are walking the same path.  We are the people who will ask “How are you?” ……and then listen to the answer without hesitation or judgement.

howWally

 

At the beginning of the week, I felt strong in the knowledge that I possessed all of the skills I needed to be the best Peer Support Parent possible.  What I learned, after lots of tears and self reflection, was that I don’t need to have all of the answers…… I don’t need to fix everyone around me…… I should simply be there when they need someone who understands.  I also learned that I have been drowning myself in service to others, always feeling that just because I have the ability to do something means I have to.  It was eye-opening for me to realize that I can take a breather from other’s lives to focus on myself and not feel guilty……..and that’s ok.   I didn’t learn this from the curriculum,  power points or exams…..I learned this by walking in the door every morning to 20 people who understood me before they even knew me.  I learned this by having virtual strangers sincerely asking me about my well-being every morning.   I learned this by having these strangers become caring friends by the end of the week.  In my daily life, I have a wonderful ‘mom’ friend who gets me, I have supportive friends at NAMI who get me, but having this large group of peers surround me and envelop me in kindness and understanding every day this week was a life changing experience.

As parents of special needs kiddos, we live our lives for our children and families first…….and then we love to educate others about what we know.  I have been doing this in an effort to make this world a better place for my child and others like him.  For a long time I felt that I was fighting this war alone.   I didn’t realize that by doing this to the extent I do, I am stretching myself thin.  I know I spout about self-care to others often, but I rarely follow my own advice.  I find it funny that it took me taking a class in an effort to help others to teach me to help myself.

Just goes to prove that this world is full of things that I don’t know. So I thank my teachers this week, all of my peers who taught me that’s it’s alright to care for myself and opened my eyes to the fact that I’m not in this alone.  I have warriors by my side.  Alone, I might be able to change the world, but I will burn out quickly.  As a group, we can give each other strength and a little bit of relief that we can take on the world together…….and go so much farther in our efforts.

keep-calm-and-ask-for-peer-support

The Power of the Share – An Experiment with Social Media

As I was scrolling through Facebook the other day, I saw a shared picture.  Like many I have seen before, it was of a teacher holding up a sign that asked for people to like and share their picture so their students would understand the power of social media.  This one was slightly different though, it also said “so they can understand that we all have the power to change the world”.  Do we though?  Does liking and sharing a post on social media allow us to change the world…….well, it could…..if people were actually paying attention.

Like many of you, I have seen these types of posts for years.  Almost all of them have traveled the globe with thousands of likes attached.  Never have I seen them with a message other than the initial like and share request.  It is easy for someone to hit that share button, but what if there was a message attached? Would they read it?

I have been writing this blog about parenting my child with a bipolar diagnosis for over a year now.  I started it to try to make a difference in society regarding mental health.  I would love to end the stigma that surrounds people with a mental health diagnosis and their families.  I would love to educate those who don’t understand our lives.  I have found that my blog is not quite doing what I intended it to.

I have a small, loyal group of readers.  Most of them understand this life and it helps to know they are not alone.  I am proud that I have reached some people who truly appreciate what I am trying to do here….but I wish I could reach more.  I wish I could break through to the teachers who have treated my son like he was more trouble than he was worth.   I wish I could break through to the health care workers that sat in their seats and whispered (loudly) about how horrible a parent I was because my son was having a meltdown.  I wish I could break through to the neighbor who doesn’t allow my son on his lawn because he feels that his mental health diagnosis is a threat.  The challenge is that I can’t break through those walls if the only people reading this blog are those in the know.  There is a saying I have heard many times within NAMI support groups, “You can’t know what you haven’t been told”.  Well, I am going to add “People can’t hear you if they don’t know to listen”.

I an effort see if I can get more people to listen….and to see if we can really change the world with social media…..I have decided to do a little experiment.  Facebook has changed the way this blog posts in recent months.  People used to click on the picture I connected with my blog and it would immediately open the post.  Now, it simply opens the picture with a link to the post.  I am putting a picture with this blog, much like those of the many teachers that are trying to get 100,000 likes.  If it is shared and liked, the blog link will be attached.  We will see if more people read because we are shared via picture on social media. We will see if people can see beyond the picture.  We will see if we can change the world and end the stigma, one like at a time.

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If you are a new person reading this blog post due to clicking on the link…..BRAVO!!! You are the type of person that just might help us change the world.  Please aid us in educating society so we can erase the stigma of mental illness.

*NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness – for more information or to find a support group in your area go to:  http://nami.org/

 

A Light In The Attic

face-your-fears

 

When we moved to the south three years ago, there were definitely a few fears I had to face.  I was up for the challenge and excited about what lay ahead,  but being the northern girl I am, there were little thoughts nestled in the back of my mind about what I was getting myself….and my child into.

First came the big fears.  My son, CJ, had a hard time being accepted by his peers….and by adults, for that matter…..when we lived outside of Albany, NY.  Would he have trouble with this southern move?  My husband and I are progressive thinkers in the matters of life, love and faith.  How would WE be accepted into this more conservative society?  It didn’t take long for those thoughts to be quieted.  Within months, CJ had found a couple of true friends and my husband and I had become a part of a wonderful circle of very accepting people.

Then came the silly fears.  Georgia has big bugs….and snakes….and tornadoes.   I have to say, I have not seen one snake near our home since we lived here (I did see one in the lake down the road, but it was far enough away that it didn’t even phase me).  There has only been one bad tornado….and it was about fifty miles away.  The bug thing I am still working on.  Two and a half years since we moved into our house and I still have not ventured into the attic for fear of an encounter with a brown recluse spider. In three years I have learned to face my fears of the unknown (well, most of them anyway)…..and this week I triumphed over another one….home schooling my son.

Since elementary school CJ has struggled with being in a classroom.  His anxiety has gotten so overwhelming that he can become physically ill….nausea, vomiting, chest pains.  He was afraid to let teachers know that he understood the work because he didn’t want to be called on.  If a teacher reprimanded him in front of the class, he carried it with him every day.  His struggles with his learning disabilities and sensory processing disorder has hindered the learning process….especially when he has come across teachers that don’t understand working with challenges. This has all been a part of living with bipolar disorder.  This has all been part of our lives since the first grade.  This has all been a part of our lives until we decided enough was enough.

In June, my company was forced to do some layoffs…..me being one of them.  I seized the opportunity to change some of my life goals by starting my own company.  I did so with the assumption that my son would be attending the private school we enrolled him in last winter.  Little did I know, on his first day of school that would all change.

We knew going in, that this was a Christian school, but I specifically asked what views they held upon enrollment.  I was told that the curriculum didn’t hold any specific point of view and that they had students from all faiths attending.  They held up to that for winter and spring semesters.  Not so much this year.  On his first day, CJ was told he was a sinner by his history teacher because he believes in evolution and that the world is millions of years old.  He also got in trouble after that history teacher said God wrote the bible and my logical thinker son said…”Um, no. The followers of God wrote the bible…..that’s why each book is named after them.”.  Later in the day he encountered his new biology teacher who literally struck fear into one of his classmates as she reached across the desk to hit him with a yard stick.

As soon as CJ got in the car at the end of the day, he told me what happened and said, “I am never going to be able to speak in that class because I am sure I will be hit eventually”.  Looking through my son’s notes that day, the only thing on a page from that class said DO NOT SPEAK….underlined five times.   Needless to say, he was a nervous mess.  That night, he woke up from a severe panic attack,  sweating, crying and shaking.  It took him a while to calm down and get back to sleep…….and then he woke up the next day the same way.  The next time I dropped CJ of at school, I remember thinking “School should never have to be a place you are afraid of.”.

By Wednesday of that week I had a long conversation with my husband.  What if I tried to home school him?  I know we had attempted on-line schooling before, but what if I created a curriculum that spoke to him? So, I embarked on a new adventure….trying to build the right curriculum for my kiddo.  Something that would teach him life skills as well as academic ones. Something that would engage his interests while educating him.  Something that would make him want to learn more.

CJ and I had a long conversation about it and I set forth the rules we would have and the schedule we would follow.  We determined to keep the same school schedule he had at the private school, four days a week of class and Fridays would be set aside for any catch up work or course work to help him understand something he is struggling with.  He would also be expected to pick some type of community program to volunteer with.

This week we started.  As before, I had fears going in.  I began with quite a bit of nausea, myself…especially because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out which curriculum program we were going to use….so I created what I call a Frankenstein program…..  little pieces of different programs and some of my own.  I wanted to start by September, so we began with five subjects instead of the six I planned.  I am still working on the curriculum for history and will add that in the next couple of weeks.  This year, our subjects are Oceanography, Popular Literature(focus on comic books and manga), Sign Language, Accounting/Economics and Life Skills (my answer to Home Ec).  Each day I allow CJ to pick which subject he wants to start with.  Our classes are a mixture of reading, lecturing and hands on work so I can see how he learns the best.  He has not made one complaint.  He has completed every task I have set before him.  He even woke me up early on Friday asking me why I let him sleep too late because he wanted to start school.

After the first couple of days, I heard CJ on a telephone call to his grandmother.  He made a comment that struck me.  He said “I understand what I am learning because when I ask a question mama takes time to explain instead of just reading the same thing a second time like all my other teachers have done.  I mean, if I didn’t understand it when you read it the first time, how is reading the same thing a second time going to make it any better?”.  Because he and I are one on one, I have the time to explain things in detail to him and to answer all of the questions he may have, which is something his teachers never had time to do.  I think this will be the key to our success.

So, we are only one week in….but it has been an amazing week.  I wonder if it’s about time I faced another fear and venture into the attic….maybe I’ll leave the light on for a while first, just in case.

light in the attic

My Pet Project

brain overload

Hello All.  I know I have been MIA lately.  I have a really good reason, I do……I promise.  Most of my writing time had to be used for a little project I have been thinking about for a while….but working on for the past few months.

When CJ got into the private school he is now attending, a friend stated how much she wished her son could go there, too.  Unfortunately, due to the distance, she wouldn’t be able to get him there and still get to work.  I thought about her and all of the other parents that are in a similar situation.  I am lucky enough that I work from home with a flexible schedule, so I am able to drive the kiddo 40 minutes to school.  We are also lucky that, because he has an IEP, he qualified for a special needs scholarship.  There are so many kids with mental illnesses or neurological disorders that could use a smaller, calmer environment, like CJ’s school……but unfortunately, they don’t have access to one.  I decided that it was my goal to change that.

For the past few months, I have been putting my mental energy and writing energy into creating a magnet school proposal (our public school system loves magnet schools) that will be geared toward high functioning kids with challenges who simply need an alternate learning environment and a true ‘whole child’ approach to reach their true potential.  It will integrate creative learning techniques, a relaxed, sensory sensitive classroom, team-building, social and life skills training for core students and add in extra classes such as,social psychology, humanities and special ed training to students that wish to pursue those fields as careers.  It will help all the students by letting them work every day with the ‘other’ population they will be working with for the rest of their lives……and help create acceptance and understanding between the two.   I have been in talks with a couple of different counties and they are interested in seeing what I have been working on.  I am proud to say….it is near completion.

Thank you for your patience with me while I work on this project that is very close to my heart.  In the meantime, enjoy this adorable picture that represents how my brain feels right now….and, as always, thanks for reading .

cute brain over load

 

Unlocking the Senses

sensory

I have come to the realization that I talk about sensory processing disorder (aka sensory integration disorder)quite a bit in this blog, yet I have never really explained what it is.  I know it sounds simple and straight forward…..it means our senses don’t work properly….but do you know how that can affect our daily lives? With our kiddos it can cause behaviors that we just don’t understand.  I came across a mom at a recent event whose child had sensory processing disorder and after talking for a bit, I found out that she didn’t even know what that diagnosis really meant.  I try not to get clinical on here….I am not a doctor.  I am just a mom who has lived with a child with sensory issues since the day he was born…..and I have done some research on the topic.  So I thought I would tell you what I know and how it’s related to my kiddo.

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Growing up we were taught that we had 5 senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  When it was first suggested that CJ had sensory processing disorder, I thought that it was a no-brainer….of course he did.  He hated loud noises, I had to cut tags out of his clothes, his socks had to be turned inside out, he didn’t like his hair brushed…..he was the pickiest eater ever.  As he progressed through elementary school, these issues seemed to get worse, so I thought I would read into it a bit.  I was astonished at what I found out.  They LIED to us……yes, our kindergarten teachers that taught us about the 5 senses were lying. Ok….well, maybe they weren’t completely lying…..but they didn’t teach us everything.  There are 3 additional senses that I did not know about.  I am going to give you a run down of all 8 senses, their technical names (in case there are doctors out there confusing the hell out of you) and some of the challenges our kiddos face if they have challenges with that specific sense.

1- Visual – This, of course, has to do with our eyes….how we receive light and other visual stimuli. If your kiddo has a visual sensory challenge, bright lights or sunlight might be a problem for them.  Also, flashing lights….especially strobes, can send them into a tailspin. I have a friend who has challenges with light due to chronic migraines.  She uses low watt Christmas lights all over her house. That might help your kiddo, too.

2- Auditory – This is all about sound….but not only strength of sound, it can be about how that kiddo’s brain receives certain tones.  Basic challenges with auditory disorders can be problems with loud sounds.  I once read that you know your kiddo has SPD when their mom always has ear plugs in her purse….or has mastered the ‘flush and run’ in public bathrooms (these are both items I can check on my list).  When he was younger, my son hated the sound of the vacuum cleaner.  I would have my mom take my son outside the house when I wanted to vacuum. This also went for days I wanted to mow the lawn.  As he got older, I found that if he was in control of the noise, he was ok with it.  Once I taught him how, vacuuming was one of his favorite things to do…..you know, before he became a teenager that has an aversion to house work. Back on topic, though, sound is only part of auditory disorders.  The other part is how our kiddos hear things.  There may be certain tones and sounds that their brain just doesn’t process correctly.  It’s not that they don’t listen to us….sometimes they just simply can’t process what we are saying by how loudly or softly we are speaking or even how we are forming our words.

3- Olfactory – This is about the sense of smell.  This can be a challenging one….especially if you enjoy eating out. My son refuses to go into a Subway Sandwich shop because he doesn’t like the smell of the bread baking.  He loves the smell of things baking at home, but there is just something about that Subway bread he can’t stand.  When he was younger, he wouldn’t want me to light scented candles around the house. Even now, I usually run a scent by him before I buy it. There are some kiddos that have the opposite problem, they have an under-sensitive olfactory system. This can drive parents nuts, especially when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness.  This is not to be confused with smelly teenager syndrome……they can smell it, they just don’t care.

4- Gustatory – This all about oral senses and taste.  This really could be called the chicken nugget syndrome.  I don’t know what it is about those things….but so many kids with oral sensitivities will only eat chicken nuggets.  I once suggested to my son that he should write a blog all about chicken…the best franchises to eat them….the texture of the breading…..the spices used etc.  For years, my son was a chicken expert.  He has since become quite the foodie….but it took many years for that to happen.  This is also one of the sensory challenges I personally have.  Mine has to do specifically with texture. Unfortunately, there are many fruits and vegetables that I just don’t like the feeling of in my mouth. Onions, for example…..I love onions.  The flavor is wonderful…..but to get a big piece of onion in my mouth makes my skin crawl and will ruin my appetite for the rest of the day.  When I cook, I use big chunks, so I can get the flavor with out actually eating it.

5- Tactile – This is all about how we physically feel things, touch.  I have pictures of CJ when he was little, sitting on a beautiful green lawn, holding his hands up.  I have another one of him sitting in a pile of fall leaves, crying….with his hands up. And still another one sitting in snow….with his hands up. You get the picture.  He didn’t like the feeling of anything  that was in extreme contrast to his world. He loved the satin edging on his blankie, he loved to grip soft rubber toys….anything that was smooth.  If it was rough or contrasting in texture at all, he just didn’t like it.  To this day, he prefers to take a bath than a shower…..he used to say ‘the shower spray is pokey on my skin’.  An interesting analogy I heard about tactile disorder was to imagine a cold winter day, your heat isn’t working, you have to take a shower before work…..you step onto the cold shower floor, with the cold water pouring down on you feeling like little bits of icicles on your skin.  This is how tactile dysfunction is for our kiddos.  Everything is attacking them like a cold icy shower.

6- Vestibular – This is the sense of balance.  Do you have a kiddo that falls out of chairs for no reason?  Do you have a kiddo that can’t ride a bike….even with training wheels?  Do you have a kiddo that falls up the stairs? If so, that kid probably has vestibular challenges. This can be a hard one to deal with….and frustrating for a kid that just wants to fit in.  For the sake of full disclosure….CJ is the kiddo in every scenario above.  The hardest thing for him to deal with was riding a bike.  All of his friends would go bike riding and he just couldn’t do it, even with training wheels. By the time he was 8, he was starting to get ridiculed about it.  One of the things that I read helps with this is a trampoline.  It helps to adjust their internal balance.  I thought it was worth a try, so I enrolled him in gymnastics.  In about 6 months, he was riding that bike.  To this day, bike riding is one of his favorite things to do.

7-  Proprioception – This is all about the sense of space……or where their body is in conjunction with everything else around them.  The easiest way I have of explaining this is the line at the grocery store.  Do you have a kid that doesn’t understand that they are so close to the person ahead of you in line that they are practically hugging them?  Does your kiddo constantly get in trouble in school for touching his/her classmates in line (this is mostly for elementary school students)? They may not know how close they are to that other person.  Their sense of space…..or how much space is between them, may be skewed.  This one….along with vestibular challenges, tend to be the sensory issues that get kids in trouble most at school, especially for younger students.  They may be considered class clowns or a total clutz.  Either way they get laughed at by the students and reprimanded by teachers for something they are not in control of.  This can wreak havoc on a kiddo’s confidence and self-esteem.

8- Interoceptive – The trickiest of them all – this is the sense of what is going on internally.  I once read an explanation about interoceptive disorders being a comparison to a traffic jam.  The brain knows what it wants to do, but can’t relay the message to the rest of the body.  This type of disorder usually comes about in something called a sensory motor disorder.  One of the motor disorders that is really misunderstood is called dyspraxia.  This can effect the fine motor skills. As a part of this dysfunction, my son has something called dysgraphia.  This pretty much means that writing is a challenge.  Truthfully, it has taken many years of practice, but his hand writing still looks like a 2nd graders. It also takes him a long time to write one sentence.  This has hindered him in so many ways throughout his education.  His frustration with his writing has effected every class in the past(with the exception of technology classes).  Even though I have the use of a tablet/word processor written into his IEP, very few teachers actually read his IEP or follow it. Interoceptive disorders, specifically dyspraxia, tends to be the one that effects a child’s school experience the most.

For many of these sensory challenges, especially in younger kids, they don’t know how to deal with their body’s inability to react the way they want it to, so they end up frustrated and most often, having a tantrum.  The way I used to explain it to teachers was, imagine you were working at the computer and regardless of which key you pressed, it would just freeze up and you wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything…..would you be frustrated? This is how these kids feel when their brain doesn’t send the info to the rest of their body….like a frozen computer.

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Statistically speaking, 1 in 25 kids has some type of sensory processing disorder.  That’s 1 kid in every classroom……yet most people (especially teachers) don’t even know it exists. Kids with SPD are also very often misdiagnosed with ADHD. Doctors have a really hard time separating the two…..especially because a lot of kids with ADHD also have SPD. This also goes for people with  mental illnesses, neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Sensory Processing Disorder isn’t even recognized as a true diagnosis….because it doesn’t have an ICD-9 code …..which is the bible of medical diagnoses. Because of this, when attempting to get evaluations or treatment by an occupational therapist (who most often deals with SPD) it is not covered by insurance.  When we were attempting to get my son’s first IEP, it was years before his bipolar diagnosis, so they gave him an ADHD diagnosis, because it was the only way to get him help in school.  They really need to recognize SPD as a true disorder of its own so more kids and their families can get help.  We also need to educate our educators so they know what to look for with these kids and can find better ways adjust their learning environments.

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For parents of SPD kiddos, it can cause frustrations because we don’t know what is sensory challenges and what is simply bad behavior. The best thing I ever read was The Sensory-Sensitive Child, by Drs Smith and Gouze.  They are both moms of kids living with these disorders.  Reading that book not only educated me on the senses, but opened my eyes to how I reacted to my son’s challenges.  I was no longer quick to reprimanded him or punished him for things that were beyond his control.  I, instead, looked at each action and tried to determine what caused it before I reacted to it.  I then learned what his triggers were and how I could help him in a positive way by teaching him coping skills. In the end, it changed our relationship for the better.

My Note to Teachers, Administrators and Parents

We had an incident happen with one of my son’s teachers last week. She said something defeating and borderline cruel.  It ended up in a meeting with the principal to get some more information. I really try to avoid principal meetings if I can, but this case warranted such an action.  After it was all smoothed over, it got me to thinking. Teachers all studied and took the time to invest in their education to make this their career, so why are some of them so indifferent to their students? Didn’t they start teaching to make a positive impact on young lives?

After letting this stew in my head and fume over it for a couple of days, my anger at this woman lessened and I started to think a little differently.  We, as parents of special needs kids, expect teachers to be flexible and understanding that our children learn differently……yet, we are not flexible and understanding when teachers aren’t able to teach differently.  I am not saying that all teachers are the best fit for special needs students, but it doesn’t mean that they are bad teachers.

Teachers

I try to teach my son that he needs to respect his teachers and school administrators, even if he doesn’t agree with them or understand their motives. I want him to know that, in life, he is going to come across people that he will not work well with; it doesn’t mean that he shouldn’t try. I feel the same should go for the teachers.  Every year you have multiple students walk into your classroom. Odds are that there are some personalities you are not going to like……there are some you are going to hate, but it doesn’t mean that they deserve less of your respect or effort.

I am also aware that teachers have a lot on their plate. I have heard that parent communication is the least of their worries. In this day and age, where electronic media is at your finger-tips, it should not be as challenging as it was when we were kids. If you are teaching special needs kids, it should be a given that you will need to fit some time into your day to communicate with parents.  Of my son’s core classes, he is struggling with 2.  I have been told his grades reflect work missed due to absences. When he is absent, I email teachers to get assignments he can do at home. The classes he has trouble with are with the teachers that rarely respond to me….if ever. I feel that this is not a coincidence.

Administrators

My son is in an inclusion group that is part of a modified special ed program at his school.  They are in mainstream classes, most of which have an aide there if needed.  There is one inclusion team per grade. My suggestion to administrators is take the time in picking your inclusion teachers.  Get information from parents of students that have had that teacher to get a feel for their patience level and teaching style before having them work with special needs kids. It will not only help the kids, but it will help the teachers, too. If you have teachers that don’t work well in this type of situation, they are simply going to be miserable…..and that will carry over into their other classes and students as well.

Parents

Our kids sometimes perceive things a bit differently than they actually happen.  Before you jump to conclusions about anything at school, ask questions instead of throwing accusations.  Instead of starting a conversation with “my child said you…….” you can say “I would like to discuss the conversation you had with my child. I was hoping you could shed some light on what was said”.  The difference is discussing what happened rather than putting them on the defensive.  This way, you are also including the teacher in finding a solution for future interactions with your child, instead of criticizing them for poor job performance…..which, let’s face it, is what parents are doing every time we complain to a teacher.

I am not saying that we should not advocate for our children. Believe me, my son’s teachers know me well.  I will be the first person to call them on wrong or hurtful actions……but I also call my son out as well. Parents have started to look to teachers to blame them for our children’s poor choices at school. Parents need to step up and realize that our children are far from perfect.  Yes, for special needs kids, their challenges may play a part in that, but our parenting plays an even bigger part.

Is this always easy? No, of course not. Believe me, I had trouble sending my son to school this morning knowing that for the next month he is going to have to work with a teacher that used threats and put downs as motivation. I can only hope that this makes him stronger and he can prove her wrong. Show her that he is worthy of her respect and that he is not less than.

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All kids, special needs or not, learn by example.  If the adults in their lives, parents, teachers and administrators, don’t step up and do better, we are doing these kids a disservice.

 

The Common Core Conundrum

My son, CJ, is failing math. This month he has to take the GA state CRCT (criterion referenced competency test) and I was told that if he does not get a passing grade in math, he will not make it through to high school.  This has me worried for many reasons.  I don’t think holding him back is going to help him perform better next year…..in fact, I think he will end up being bored with learning all of the same things over again and be even more of a challenge in the classroom than he already is. My other concern is that, if he is held back, that has him turning 18 in the end of his junior year……and it will be out of my control to keep him in school if he decides to drop out. You see, there are days when he is determined to graduate.  There are even days when he talks about college. More often than not, he tells me that he wishes he could drop out now.

Up until 7th grade, CJ always did well in regard to math. Actually, until 6th grade, it was his best subject. Last year that all changed.  That was the year we moved to GA, and that was also the year they initiated the lovely thing we know as common core (could you hear the sarcasm?).  He was dropped into a program that was playing catch up to try to meet the standards that they were already behind on.  Because of this, they are moving so fast that many of the kids can’t seem to catch up.  When my son started to fall behind even further, he gave up.  This year they put him in a smaller secondary class to try to help him learn skills he was missing, he passed without a problem, but it still didn’t help him in his regular math class…..because he learns differently than the way his teacher is providing the information.

From what we are experiencing with CJ, I think common core is disastrous for kids with special needs or learning disabilities.  They usually need ‘out-of-the-box’ methods to help them understand things and common core does not allow that.  My feeling is that this is simply because the teachers are held to testing ‘checkpoints’ along the way and have to move faster to meet those testing standards, they can only take the time to teach using ‘in-the-box’ curriculum. I don’t think this is necessarily the fault of the teachers, it is the common core standard that has them backed into a corner. I have read that common core is simply about the standard requirements, not the methods, however, I have heard and read about many teachers that say it doesn’t allow them the freedom to teach to the best of their abilities.

It’s not just kids with special needs, I know many children without learning challenges that are struggling in math since they have implemented common core.  In fact, I received an email from CJ’s teacher last month stating that 90% of her students had not performed as expected on a recent unit test that was taken on a Friday. She then sent a link to a Powerpoint presentation to help them study and asked the parents to have these kids do an on-line retest, because she needed to start the next unit on Monday and didn’t want them to fall behind.  I wanted to scream……….90% of the kids did poorly, yet they were expected to understand what she was unable to teach them in a Powerpoint presentation???? On top of that, they had to keep moving forward within 2 days.

I have to admit, I have trouble understanding algebra.  For me, my inability to do algebraic equations has not hindered me in life. I graduated from art school. I have a great job that helps provide for my family.  I am actually really good with numbers…..but put them in a ridiculous sentence where I have to find a, b, x or y and I am lost.  I am far from stupid; I am simply a visual thinker.  There are many people out there that are like me.  If I was put in my son’s class right now, I would most definitely struggle because the teacher wouldn’t have the time to show us ‘visual thinkers’ an alternate way of learning the information. If every student is expected to learn the same way, you are setting them up for failure.

I have read articles and watched videos on common core. One of the simplest ways they used to explain it was by showing a stair case.  Just like every house is designed with a different style of staircase, each state has different levels of requirement in education.  What they are trying to do is get every state’s staircase to match, so that when kids get to the landing at each grade level in MO their knowledge matches the kids on the same landing in MA.

Ok, here is my problem with that……..even if I agreed with the common core principle. If this standard was implemented starting with 1st grade and then adding a grade each year following, by the time these kids got to middle school or high school, they might all be on the same page, or at least in the same vicinity.  When you implement this across the board and, in the same year, expect middle school or high school students to meet the standards that equal those in Shanghai where they have been implementing this type of standard for years, you’re kidding yourselves……and placing way too much pressure on these kids.  It’s simply too much, too fast……for the students and the teachers.  They are back-tracking and trying to fill in years of gaps in information.

Here is another issue I have. Not every kid is going to be taking the same staircase after they graduate, why on earth are we expecting them to do that while they are in school? Success to some students might be college, medical school or a law degree, but to others it is working with animals, building cars or designing landscapes. For some special needs kids success is maintaining a job, being self-sufficient, balancing a checkbook and paying bills on their own.

In my opinion, by holding them to the common core standards;  we are not giving each child the tools that they need to be successful in THEIR lives, we are expecting them to accept the only tools that are being offered to become the government’s standard of what they think successful should be.