After the terrible days Monday and Tuesday (read about it here), I decided to withdraw little man from school. When I saw him rolling around on the floor of his classroom like a three year old I just could not take another minute. What on earth was he doing? Why was doing that? It was as if he was trying to make himself as unpleasant and unwelcome as possible. He clearly had zero interest in participating in anything at school. So, how was this dynamic going to change? Having a scattered teacher and a seriously clueless aide, a well meaning principal and a series of bureaucratic procedures to be followed was just not a recipe for success. At what point was he going to snap out of it and say, “Hey, I get it. School is okay. Sometimes it’s boring but there’s cool stuff going on here and I’ve got a few friends”?
Dr. Hallowell, author of DRIVEN TO DISTRACTION said “connection” was the most crucial element of helping ADHD kids find success. There was no connection happening for little man. Zero. He was totally checked out and could not care less.
I really don’t think I had a choice but to take him out. I know that’s not him. I know he’s capable of much better behavior and performance. I’ve seen it. We’ve all seen it.
I made an appointment at a local learning center where they are experts in dyslexia. He didn’t want to go but I told him I’d get him a box of legos if he just did his best. I told him it was just an informational meeting anyway. I honestly had no idea what to expect.
The owner of this Dyslexia Haven, a woman in her late 50s, slightly heavy set with a tidy blonde bob and sparkly turquoise eyes purred at us to come in and have a seat. She winked at me and leaned in to little man asking his name. He mumbled under his breath, another recent trend I do not care for. She smiled and reached out to tap the table in front of him, “Do you like gum? Is it okay if he has gum, mom?” I nodded and he lit up following her to another room down the hall. He came back in moments chomping on his gum and she smiled returning to her seat pushing a stack of forms towards me on the desk.
Woodcock test. I have seen a few different psychological evaluations now. BRIEF, Sensorial, Wechsler, Vanderbuilt, IQ. I’m getting scary good at filling them out. She invited me to sit in the hall and fill them out while she “chatted” with little man. Before either of us realized what was happening, she began testing him (oops, sorry bud). I believe it was a full battery, Dibels and other reading and writing tests to determine his skills and weaknesses.
Over an hour later they both came out of the office. Actually, little man popped his head out about half way through to give me a kiss. I knew it was going well because he looked happy and she kept telling him how awesome he was doing. As he went to claim a prize from an actual treasure chest, she leaned in to my shoulder and said, “He definitely has dysgraphia.”
Dysgraphia. It’s a motor problem. It’s a working memory problem. It’s commonly linked to other disabilities like ADHD or dyslexia. In little man’s case, he can read. In fact, he reads very well. But writing is really, really hard. It’s actually harder than reading. I didn’t know that. But I did know that writing has been his weakness since his second year in preK at Montessori when they really pushed him to write and he pushed back.
And this year, in first grade, writing has been a huge focus of classwork. Writing all day long, except for recess and music. For a child with dysgraphia, that would probably be an unwelcome evolution. No wonder his enthusiasm for school turned on a dime. He was being asked to do the one thing he really cannot do, constantly. Dyslexia Woman said that bright kids usually take it the worst because they look around and see how well everyone else is doing and they really internalize it as a huge personal failure.
No wonder he’s been anxious and combative. No wonder his defenses have been up. No wonder he says he hates his teachers. No wonder he says he doesn’t fit in. Unless someone sees and understands what he’s struggling with, it just looks like he’s not trying or just needs to be prodded and pushed. He’s the fish being asked to climb a tree.
So, I withdrew him from school. I tried to reach the teacher personally on Wednesday morning but she seemed to be avoiding me. I just wanted her to know that we needed to pull him out to reduce the anxiety so we could figure out what was really going on. School seemed to be making him worse. I wanted her to know I didn’t blame her. Clearly she had her hands full. The accommodations were not helping. He was feeling more and more isolated and disconnected.
She smiled at me, her arms outstretched as she leaned so far back away from me I think she could have done a back bend. I wonder if I terrify her? I sincerely hope not, but I feel the tension between us. I suppose she feels like she has failed us. She hasn’t. But I do hope that he inspires her to finish her psych ed degree and bring an understanding of ADHD/dysgraphia into her toolkit. He may be her first, but he surely won’t be her last.
My son is my priority. All the good intentions in the world are not enough if he thinks he’s a worthless boy.
So, today we did some homeschool. I have made it VERY clear to him that this is a temporary measure until we figure out exactly what challenges he’s dealing with. Our goal is to get him back in school feeling like he fits. Whether that’s his old school (where his sisters are thriving) or another of the other public or private schools in our town. While finding out about Dysgraphia is a huge, huge discovery of epic proportions, we still want to see what we can do about the ADHD and working memory aspects of his overall challenges.
I worked with him on IXL math and did notice how quickly he would shift his attention, when it was way too easy (boring) or a bit too hard (quitting). Fortunately, the program does have a timer and motivational medals and prizes. At first he thought they were dumb but then as he got the hang of it, he would persist through the repetitive questions to concepts he fully understood. If I could, I would ask the developers to have a smarter system. When a child does minus 0s accurately after 10 numbers, they probably understand that a number minus 0 is always that number. Going on for another 20 questions is pointless and when they quit early (because it’s pointless) the program says they haven’t achieved mastery…but they have…that is a bit demotivating, in my opinion. Especially with an ADHD type kid. They don’t have time to waste on concepts they already know…
A teacher friend recommended Handwriting Without Tears and I found little man playing it unprompted in the car. He loves it. It allows the child to write letters in different textures, colors and sounds. Very tactile! So smart. And Dyslexia Woman uses it in her classes, too.
We went to our first group Dysgraphia class this afternoon. There were two other second grade boys who welcomed little man enthusiastically. I marveled at the sight of two boys roughly his size and maturity level. Seems like he has been towering over his classmates for years. His best friends are slightly younger/shorter/smaller. I always worry he’s going to accidentally sit or fall on them. These boys looked like they had healthy boundaries and would give little man clear feedback if he crossed theirs.
I sat outside the classroom for an hour and a half and watched the three of them smile, laugh and learn. Little man got into the groove really quickly. I felt my body relax ever so slightly, knowing that his desire to learn was still there. We just need to go gently, softly in a new direction with new resources, tutors and teachers who understand where he is with his skills. At Dyslexia Haven they understand how the brain works, or doesn’t work, and ways to get around it. Finally, I feel like I have real support for him and our family. I met another dad and mom and it was like “Yeah, we get it. You’re one of us now. Your son is gonna be okay.”
More soon on some of the books I’m reading and a truly insane detox program I’m seriously considering…I’ll just say it has to do with parasites and pathogens and it’s not quakery.