By sharing my family’s story of navigating the school system with a child with unique learning needs, I hope to share a little about the steps we’re taking to get the support our child needs, encourage people to listen to their instincts, and hopefully give a bit of inspiration! You can read Part I of our story here and Part II here.
As predicted, the first meeting of third grade was not pretty. The whole gang was present – even the principal of the school. I think in all there were 10 people in the room. There were all kinds of specialists present due to the fact I was convinced my son had some sort of processing issue.
- He can spell aloud, but not on paper.
- He can read to self, but not aloud.
- He can read a word in isolation, but not in a paragraph.
- He can write a word clearly over and over again, but not sentences.
- Loud noises bother him.
- He has to have certain socks.
- He can’t stand having to have his shirt tucked in for his basketball games.
- Chewing. Heaven forbid anyone in the house is chewing.
- He can’t read if anyone is talking anywhere in the house.
- He watches his peers to see what he’s supposed to be doing (in class and during sports practices).
- Test discrepancies from his second grade evaluations and beginning of the year tests in third grade.
When all was said in done, the anger was politely left out on the table. The team was super supportive, but it felt as though the teacher was under attack, and that was not a nice feeling. A ton more accommodations were officially put in place. More evaluations were going to be done. We were going to test for anything we could think of because anyone who had ever worked with this child knew that he was not performing at the level at which he was capable (I told you they were super supportive). This included a test we parents were going to have done with our pediatrician – ADHD. But I knew that wasn’t it. I have taught kids with ADHD so I knew that wasn’t it. So we filled out our paperwork, and the teacher filled out hers. The other evaluators did their tests. We met with the pediatrician. All tests were negative. Except the ADHD test. What?? I was so convinced it was an audio processing thing, but he passed that test with flying colors, and in fact, hearing is apparently a strength of his.
Our doctor, whom I love and trust immensely, met with my husband and me for an hour. He asked us lots of questions. Our child is not hyperactive, which is why I think we missed this. Our doctor said the results of the paperwork indicated that our son was showing signs of depression and anxiety – in third grade.
Those of you who have been following along with this series are probably thinking we are idiots. Hadn’t I been making excuses for him being angry/upset – since preschool??? My husband and I both felt like we should have known, but really how could we? There always seemed to be a reason that explained it away, and it always got better. Hindsight is 20/20. Our doctor said the lines between ADHD and depression can be a bit blurry as one can act like the other or “cause” the other.
Ultimately, we decided to try medication for him (lowest possible dosage), and I know that many would disagree, and I don’t really want to hear the whys about that or to be criticized for our choice. The decision we made won’t be right for everyone. Please be sure to thoroughly talk to your doctor and ask a ton of questions. Do your own research! It was a huge, huge, huge struggle for us to even go this route. But I also know that having a depressed, young son who once told me on Christmas day that he hated his family was also a struggle and heartbreaking.
Just as a reminder, this was a picture I shared in the Part II post. The drawings were both done in church. The one on the left was by our kindergartner and says “hope” (with a backwards P). The crumpled up drawing on the right was done by our third grader. It says “help.” Sums up his feelings quite well.
We had a follow up meeting, and again there were about 10 members present. This one was so good! Our boy is thriving! His mid-year testing came back, and due to his accommodations (before medication), he went from a level 1 to a level 4 in reading!!! Math improved as well. His teacher is working so hard to implement these accommodations. We both cried a little (happy tears) in the meeting. The teacher, my husband, and I all went together to pull our son out of class to share the test results with him. He was so proud! And since beginning the medication, the teacher reports that our son is answering so many questions during carpet time. He has uttered the words, “school is actually kinda fun now.” We are finally seeing happiness! The difference is amazing and our son has been very insightful about it. He has said that his body has finally learned how to act. What seemed to take forever (like school or church because it was like torture) now goes by quickly and he can participate because he can focus. He has not had any ill effects.
We have had a lot going on here. We currently have a good mix of accommodations and have found that medication was needed for our son. We know that in the future, all of this could change and we have to monitor the situation closely. What works in third grade may not work in fourth. We as parents need to have our finger on the pulse of our children’s educational needs, and if something doesn’t feel right to you, it might not be.
Ask questions. Talk to your friends (remember when we had babies and all we did was talk about diapers and feedings and compared notes on that stuff? We should seek out other people to talk to about this stuff, too!). Research. Contact the school. We are our children’s best advocates. I am exhausted just thinking about the struggle ahead (middle school! high school!) and I hope and pray that his support team will be as awesome as the one he has now.