Our Unique Learner – Part II

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.

Our boy lives for summer and anything outdoors – especially water activities! He is a completely different child during the summer. For the past few years I had even been toying with the idea of him perhaps having S.A.D – Seasonal Affective Disorder – due to the fact that he seems to get more angry/down during the winter months.

Over the past few school years, there always seemed to be reasons for his behavior changes. In preschool, his favorite teacher left and he started hitting (yes, hitting) the new teacher. He wouldn’t participate in any of the learning activities, only in building stations. But he was so cute, and the director of the school really didn’t want us to punish him because, according to her, he was such a sweet boy! Are you kidding me!?!?!? After much discussion with our “sweet boy,” we switched preschools, and he became much happier in the new, more structured environment.

He began kindergarten and made comments about hating it. Who hates kindergarten?? We met with the teacher and kept in touch with her. After a couple of months he was fine, so we chalked it up to having a hard time adjusting (and a loss of summer). Then there was first grade. We went to Meet the Teacher Day the week before school began and we walked in to see a very pregnant lady. I knew this wasn’t going to be good. And it wasn’t. She was out for the whole second quarter and the boy was a wreck. But this also coincided with the beginning of winter. Second grade was a bit of a mess trying to figure out the writing disorder. Throughout it all, he has been blessed with awesome, kind, caring teachers. And by the end of second grade, we finally had a diagnosis.

During the summer between second and third grade, it was hard to get our son to do anything scholarly. I was trying to get the boy to do a little reading. He could do maybe a sentence or two out loud before he’d give up and throw a fit. He stumbled over many of the words and really couldn’t make it through a whole sentence without trouble. So, I tried something new. I asked him to read a page quietly to himself while I read over his shoulder. When he got to the end of the page, I asked if there was anything he had trouble with and if he could tell me what happened since “I didn’t read the page.” Shockingly, not only could he tell me about the page, he had no problems with any of the big words. I even pointed out a really big one like “appreciate” and he read that one word to me. But, he could not read a word like that out loud to me during the reading of an entire paragraph… so what in the world was going on now??

Third grade began, and I kid you not, we were contacted on day 4 by the teacher. She wanted a conference with us. Thus far, all of our parent-teacher conferences had consisted of the teachers telling us about how sweet our son is, and that even though he struggles to write and really does better working when the teacher is by his side, he is by far the most polite student in the room. My first thought was, “Ah, this year we are dealing with a teacher who has not been fooled by our son! Good for her!” No offense to his previous amazing teachers! He is a rascally devil. 

Third Grade Teacher was concerned that his writing wasn’t “enough.” She knew that writing is an issue for him, but we were now talking about what appropriate expectations for amount and content should be. She was concerned that he wasn’t coming into class and getting on task right away. I shared my reading concerns. None of us knew what to do. We came up with a plan, but weren’t convinced it will solve the issues. We talked with son about expectations and remained in constant contact with the teacher. I turned to the internet to attempt to figure out son’s latest issue and wondered if it was a processing disorder.

I became increasingly convinced through information from the teacher, talking to my peers, and from my own research that there was something else going on with our son. I was just at a loss as to what it was, therefore I had no idea how to proceed. I did the motherly thing and was comparing him to his peers and could see he was falling behind…

Meanwhile, his grades were slipping. At the same time, winter was coming which meant we were entering angry season. It was not uncommon for him to talk about how he hates school, hates our family, etc. during angry season, but this was usually after someone at school was mean to him or cheating during a basketball game or his sister had wronged him in some way. Angry season = high drama.

I think this picture sums it up pretty well. Both drawings were done at church and both were done by my children. The one on the left says “hope” and was drawn by my kindergartner. The one on the right says “help,” is all crumpled up, and was drawn by my third grader.  These are funny to me in a sad kind of way. Is that wrong?

unique learner

At this point I was getting frustrated with the teacher because even though we put accommodations in place last year, they were mainly for state testing (but others were for writing in general), and I am realizing that we really need more. I was thinking that the teacher should be doing more. Papers were coming home with comments saying that she couldn’t read what he had written, and I was thinking, “No duh! You know this is a problem! Let’s think about how else we can assess his knowledge, or perhaps GIVE HIM MORE SPACE FOR WRITING!” He had earned low scores on all the beginning of year assessments (level 1 and 2). I started retyping math worksheets at home so a one-sided worksheet was now two-sided so he’d have more space to do the questions instead of trying to squeeze everything in the space provided. (He wouldn’t use separate paper). The teacher made comments like, “I love how you’ve given him more space!” Ergh, you can do that too… We had pulled fully into Frustration Station. 

I contacted the school. We needed another meeting, and it wasn’t going to be a pretty one.

Let me reiterate that I am also a public school teacher, and I am in full support of the teacher. They are doing their job in the best way they know how. I didn’t want to tell her what I thought she should be doing because I don’t know how to do a third grade teacher’s job…but still. I just knew things weren’t working, and I had likely waited a bit longer than another parent may have and longer than I should have.

In light of the fact that this post has gotten a bit long, we will continue the saga in Part III. 


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