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Coming to Terms with ADHD

Coming to Terms with ADHD

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Okay. I’ll admit it. Prior to having children, I didn’t really believe in ADHD.

Coming to Terms with ADHD

I thought that ADHD was either grossly over-diagnosed or that it was simply children’s reactions to being placed in unnatural environments with unrealistic and developmentally inappropriate expectations. After all, many schools limit recess time to 20 minutes a day. Under the pressure of testing, public schools have largely pushed academic learning and a more sedentary lifestyle on children at younger and younger ages. At home, children spend less time playing outside and more time indoors watching television or playing video games. In my naïve view, children, deprived of an outlet for their energy, would naturally act out.

The news media often corroborates this notion that ADHD is either a product of our current society or a syndrome invented by the pharmaceutical industry rather than a true neurological difference. In a 2014 Guardian article, Dr. Bruce Perry claimed that ADHD was not a real disease. “Part of what happens,” he A mom who confronted her ADHD skepticism.stated, “is if you have an anxious, overwhelmed parent, that is contagious. When a child is struggling, the adults around them are easily disregulated too. This negative feedback process between the frustrated teacher or parent and disregulated child can escalate out of control.” In the Psychological Today article, “Why French Kids Don’t Have ADHD,” Marilyn Wedge discusses how French psychiatrists, unlike their colleagues in the U.S., view ADHD as having social/emotional causes rather than neuro-biological ones. As a result, the French treat ADHD through psychotherapy rather than medicine. Other articles point to diet as a cause for hyperactive behavior. Many commenters on blogs or editorials view ADHD as the product of an undisciplined generation of children. They claim that if parents simply disciplined their children more or spanked them, then those children wouldn’t act so out of control. Finally, even psychologists, who believe in ADHD, question the dramatic increase in the number of children diagnosed with the syndrome after pharmaceutical companies began heavily advertising ADHD medications on television, radio or in magazines.

Thus, I too questioned the prevalence of ADHD. I viewed the syndrome as more of a behavioral problem than something stemming from neuro-biological differences. Then, I had my son, Sam. He was a happy, fat, wonderful baby (of course, all babies are wonderful). I breastfed him until he was over a year old. When he started eating solids, we limited sugar and fed him primarily whole foods. Except for plane or car trips, we didn’t allow him to watch television or play video games. Because we live in a moderate climate, he played outside almost every day. Yet, at 22 months, my son, like most toddlers, started having behavioral difficulties. Unlike most toddlers, my son didn’t grow out of many of the challenging behaviors, and those challenging behaviors seemed more extreme than those in other children. I attributed his behavior to the terrible twos and threes. Because I also blamed myself for Sam’s behavior, I read almost any kind of parenting book available about strong-willed and spirited children. However, none of the advice I read in therapists’ books really worked with my son. When Sam was four years old, I had an easier time parenting him, but he was still more challenging to raise than my younger son. Most people described him as having a lot of energy.

A mom facing her ADHD skepticism.After a tumultuous first semester in a traditional kindergarten, which I documented in my first blog post, I decided to take Sam to a specialist. After two days of extensive testing, including brain scans, the neuropsychologist diagnosed Sam with ADHD. In our follow-up appointment, the neuropsychologist spent over an hour describing how ADHD affects a child’s executive functions and how the frontal lobe develops differently in children with ADHD. My husband, who also attended the meeting, said that the neuropsychologist could have been describing him as a child. However, because psychologists did not diagnose children as having ADHD at the time, my husband was simply called “stupid”, “bad”, or “un-teachable.” My husband, who completed a master’s degree in his second language, obviously does not have any cognitive deficits. However, he does have problems with following directions, planning activities, listening, sitting still and solving problems. He has many strengths, but he also probably has undiagnosed ADHD. In some instances, ADHD helps him to hyper-focus on things he likes to do, but it also hinders his abilities in other areas.

Listening to the neuropsychologist, I also began to think about my mother’s first cousin, who was always described as a “wild child.” I only knew him as an adult, but he had boundless energy, couldn’t sit still, talked very loudly and with a lot of profanity, and slept very little. He was also a very intelligent, sweet and caring man, who became a wonderful father, husband, entrepreneur, and outdoorsman. His path to adulthood was not easy, and he had a very strained relationship with his parents throughout his adolescence and early adulthood. I started thinking about all the children, who were deemed troublemakers as young children, and the effect that those labels had on them. Even though people sometimes claim ADHD didn’t exist when they were children, kids with ADHD-like behaviors and neurological differences have always existed. Parents and teachers just didn’t have the tools to deal with the behaviors. I don’t think any child wins when that child has been pigeon-holed as a bad child at an early age. That kind of labeling only exacerbates situations rather than ameliorates them.

Finally, ADHD affects so much more than a child’s ability to sit still in class. My own son, when interested in a topic, can sit still for hours or hyper-focus (also a symptom of his ADHD). He can listen to audio-books for hours, build elaborate lego creations, and draw. However, during hyper-focus, he cannot pay attention to anything else but the task at hand. Unless you touch him on the shoulder and look him in the eye, he won’t hear his name being called. He also won’t stop what he is doing to go to the bathroom. At school, he has difficulty sitting criss-cross applesauce in a group, walking silently in a line, concentrating in a normal-sized classroom of 22 children, and following multi-step instructions. His ADHD affects his visual tracking and focus. His optometrist told me that whereas only 5% of the population has problems with visual tracking and acuity, 80% of her patients with visual tracking problems also have ADHD. Other studies show that children with ADHD concentrate better when they move, as opposed to neuro-typical children who become distracted by movement. In short, children with ADHD are simply wired differently.

If you've ever doubted an ADHD diagnosis, read this.

In many ways, I am grateful for the ADHD diagnosis, because there are a lot of research-based methods proven to help children with ADHD. I also realize how mistaken I was. All of the things that I thought might cause ADHD (schools with limited recess and emphasizing rote learning, poor diet, excessive screen time, lack of outdoor time, etc.) were not present in my son’s life. Yet, my son still had ADHD. When we moved my son to a wonderful school with an hour and a half recess, project-based education, small student-teacher ratios, and tactile learning, my son’s ADHD didn’t disappear.  He still struggled. However, the teachers at this school were willing to implement accommodations to help him succeed.

As far as parenting, my husband and I have attended lectures and therapy sessions to learn how to parent our son better. Because psychologists have been studying ADHD for over 50 years, we have benefited from their research and findings. My son is a creative, sweet, thoughtful, passionate, energetic and smart little boy. Like my husband, ADHD both helps him in some areas and hinders his abilities in others. I would much rather live in a society that gave these kids the tools to succeed than a society that penalized these children for being different. After all, it wasn’t that long ago that scientists blamed autism on the autistic child’s “frigid” mother. As for the claim that French children don’t get ADHD, research reveals that approximately 3 to 5% of French children have ADHD just like the rest of the world. ADHD may still be over-diagnosed in the United States, but I think the next generation would benefit much more from a society that helps kids with learning differences succeed. No one wins in a society that refuses to accept the fact that some kids are wired differently and may need different tools and accommodations at home and in the classroom.

Helpful Links

ADHD Resources from the CDC

ADHD Myths

ADHD Blogs

Collaborative and Proactive Discipline

 

 

Asthma, Not Ass-ma

Asthma, Not Pronounced Ass-ma

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Asthma, Not Ass-maIt’s Asthma Awareness Month

It’s “National Asthma and Allergy Awareness Month”, so it’s time to be aware of asthma. In general, I’m not a fasthma-156094_1280an of awareness campaigns. Like billboards, I assume they achieve just enough to keep folks coming back but I refuse to believe that we’re saving lives as effectively as possible. That’s my cynical side typing. My ever-positive side, on the other hand, knows that any spark that causes one more research donation or one more vigilant friend or parent has to be a good thing – so I write about asthma.

The first bit of awareness: we need the “th” in asthma. In all likelihood, the “th” prevents us all from pronouncing it ASS-MA. I’ll leave that right there for you to decide whether that’s for the better.

Giggles aside how do we respond to someone when they mention their asthma? Someone says “Oh, I have asthma” or “my kid has asthma” and we usually respond with a reaction somewhere between hearing about someone’s fender-bender and hearing what someone had for lunch yesterday. Asthma, for most of us, is perceived as a condition in which someone has an issue, inhales some medicine and feels better. Many of us have witnessed a friend or someone who has paused what they were doing, taken their inhaler, and gone about their day.

I will admit that before becoming intimately aware of asthma because of my son, I thought of asthma in much the same way even though my brother has asthma and I remember childhood nights when I would wake up to the sound of an air compressor forcing asthma medicine into my brother’s lungs. Still, he took medicine, and got better, and I was a kid so this is how my parents explained it to me. No big deal.

When my son was hospitalized with asthma before his first birthday, I started wondering if I hadn’t been underestimating asthma all these years. Still, I wasn’t sure at first if I was worried just because I was a new parent. After all, doctors are leery to diagnose asthma. Here was how our conversation went in the hospital room:

Us:       We’re confident that our son has asthma!

Dr:       Well, we don’t diagnose asthma this early. It may not be asthma.

Us:       His birth-mom and birth-dad have asthma and his biological brother and sister both have asthma.

Dr:       Okay, then he has asthma.

This didn’t happen over the course of multiple conversations. The exchange lasted as long as it just took you to read those 4 lines. And just like that, my son had asthma. Just like that!!

postit

But watching my infant child cough and spurt and struggle to breathe changed my perception of asthma, of course, and my understanding continued to evolve with every hospital visit, in-home treatment and pulmonary function test over the years. It’s hard to change awareness with pamphlets, infographics or tons of data; so instead, I leave you with some ways to shift your understanding a little bit.

 

One Breath Every Second

When my son was still an infant and having an acute asthma attack, we would time his breathing over the course of a minute. We would hope for 20-30 breaths per minute. We would wince when it would hit 60.

stopwatch-153398_1280If you have a moment and you’re not around anyone who might think you need medical attention, try inhaling and exhaling every second. Ready. Go. For me, it takes about 5 seconds for my brain and body to wonder what the hell is going on. It’s not comfortable, yet this is a typical of an infant suffering from an acute asthma attack.

 

 

Sometimes my son needs help to breathe

Do you respond differently to the two following statements?

“I have asthma.”

“Sometimes, I need help to breathe.”

We know that asthma is a lung condition and that breathing is a fundamental, involuntary thing we do, but our reactions to an asthma attack and someone visibly struggling to breathe are different. Obviously an asthma attack and choking are two very different episodes with different medical responses. However, we gain a better understanding of asthma when we remember that our friends and family with asthma sometimes can’t get enough oxygen in their lungs without assistance. I’ve only struggled to breathe once in my life and it terrified me. I slipped off the top of a fence in my friend’s backyard and landed flat on my back. I had the wind knocked out of me for the first time in my life and I absolutely thought in that moment that I was dying. When we need help to breathe, it’s kind of a big deal.

 

Carbon Dioxide Retainers keep poison in their lungs

 Here’s a quick breathing primer: We need oxygen, we make carbon dioxide, we get rid of carbon dioxide as fast as possible. This last step is important, because carbon dioxide is poisonous to us and doesn’t belong in our bodies. Carbon Dioxide in your lungs is like a Nick Jonas song in your ears. You have to un-hear it as immediately as possible or bad things happen.

Unfortunately, while some asthmatics struggle to take in oxygen, carbon dioxide retainers struggle to expel carbon dioxide. The result is that CO2 then lingers around potentially causing long term damage. Retainers face a higher risk of mortality, in part because the issue isn’t as noticeable to a parent, friend or doctor trying to listen for a cough or wheeze.

 

The inhaler is not an accessory

Cough, wheeze, chest tightening, puff of albuterol, and all better…

…is not exactly how it goes.Photo

The infamous inhaler that sometimes identifies the weaker adolescent co-stars of Hollywood coming-of-age movies IS a first-responder medical device that is necessary in an emergency situation. It is NOT a complementary fashion accessory to a pocket-protector.

During an acute asthma attack, it is used to slow down, stabilize or reverse an inflammatory reaction that is blocking air from getting where it needs to go.

Sometimes, this may be all a patient needs. In severe cases, what follows could be an ER visit or overnight hospitalization. Either way, parents and kids then deal with days or weeks of steroid doses and round the clock treatments and breathing tests to monitor progress. The medicine has unkind side effects, the routine is exhausting, the situation is demoralizing.

 

Moving Forward

So as you close the laptop lid or put your phone back in your pocket, go forward with a little more empathy and a little better understanding for the tumult and tenacity it takes to live with asthma.

As you watch a friend or loved one pause what they’re doing to grab their inhaler, keep in mind the extensive protocols in the hospital and home that you don’t see.

Next time you take in your first deep breath of the day, keep in mind that sometimes infants need 60 breaths per minute to get oxygen and remember that getting air out of our bodies is just as important to getting air into our bodies.

If nothing else, keep in mind that asthma isn’t inconvenient, it is life changing.

 

5 Tips to Conquer Homework with a 2E Kid

5 Tips to Conquer Homework with a 2E Kid

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Project Hell. This weekend our family sunk into the abyss otherwise known as 5th grade final projects, a.k.a. Project Hell.

The projects are just the kind of homework I’d want for my kids – they are open ended and allow for creativity. Patrick is currently producing a book on the flora and fauna of the Amazon and developing a board game about stopping deforestation. Davis has been conducting an experiment on the effects of video games on heart rate and also working on a presentation about tribal life in the Amazon.

Like I said, these are cool projects. Cool does not mean easy, however. Managing projects like these requires advanced planning, time management & organizational skills, verbal/written sequencing skills, good research skills, decent computer skills (like Word, Excel and PowerPoint), and more. These are exactly the executive functioning skills that lag in kids with ADHD.

5 Tips to Conquer Homework with a 2E KidSo for my 2E kid, the one with gifted verbal abilities, ADHD and generalized anxiety – this weekend has been project hell.

Fortunately, we’ve made it through with minimal arguments, stress and meltdowns. All kids are different, but between helping my own 2E child and working with many, many 2E kids at the tutoring company I own, here are the tips that I’ve gleaned for taming the homework beast for 2E kids.

Identify your 2E child’s passions

We all prefer to do things that we like, things we find interesting and rewarding. It is no different for our kids. In fact, for 2E kids, you’ve probably found that there is a HUGE difference in attention and perseverance when the topic is one of their passions.

Davis is a huge sports statistics and history fan – as in fanatic. He can hold his own with the most avid fans and his color commentary during sports games is chocked full of relevant facts and related stories.

He develops his own pre-season rankings for college and pro football, college and pro basketball and pro baseball. He has hosted his own sports TV show, writing the scripts and serving as the on-air talent.

Why is this important? It shows me that he has the organizational and research skills to complete his work. It shows me that he can sustain attention and sequence his ideas. It shows me a path forward when the project isn’t as thrilling as sports.

Pinpoint issues making homework difficult

So if you’ve seen your 2E kid’s considerable skills at work on a project of passion, but you don’t see those same skills displayed when doing homework, how do you make the connection? It helps to understand the obstacles. Here are four common stumbling blocks for 2E kids:

Physical Organizational Difficulties

Does your child know what has been assigned, when it is due and what is expected of them? If not, there is no way they can successfully complete their homework. There are lots of options here – use a day planner designed for school kids (like these or these). Skip the pen and paper (especially if handwriting and fine motor skills are a source of trouble). Use an iPod or smart phone to snap a picture of the assignment. Use the phone’s calendar program or a homework-planning app like The Homework App or My Homework.

If keeping up with assignments (turning them in on time and having materials to study for exams) causes trouble, then develop a new paper management system. I prefer ones that use a single binder, with pocketed divider tabs for each subject. Homework to complete can go in the back pocket of the divider tab and homework to turn in can go in the front pocket of the divider tab. Check out the SOAR Study Skills system.

Mental Organizational Issues

Sometimes the organizational issues are not about the physical things, but more about appropriately grouping like content together to develop a coherent story or plan. Davis has a phenomenal memory, as evidenced by his stellar sports knowledge. Ask him a question about something he has learned in school and he can talk about it in detail. Ask him to put pen to paper and his mind goes blank. He’s having recall organizational issues.

He needs help developing memory cues and chunking material into appropriate groupings to aid his recall when fine motor skills are involved.

Attention Issues

Addressing attention issues is easier in the abstract. Minimize distractions and maximize focus. Easy right? Not so much in common practice. There are lots of tricks to try and hopefully one or two work for your child.

5 Tips to Conquer HomeworkTeach positive self-talk. One of the most insidious enemies of attention is negative self-talk. 2E kids have lots of practice at telling themselves just how bad they are at school stuff. That running, negative commentary about how they can’t do their homework or they never get it right or they can’t show how much they really know is incredibly distracting. Teach your kids how to encourage themselves. Model appropriate praise. Help you kids practice combatting the negative thoughts that occupy their minds.

Set the stage for success. Make sure your child has an organized workspace. Gather everything they’ll need in one place: a good writing surface, pens and pencils, and a calculator or computer. Get rid of the phone – turn it off and/or remove it from the work area. Make use of the Do Not Disturb setting. If working on the computer, close extra browser windows – especially those with notifications that can be distracting, like Instagram, Twitter and FaceBook. Finally, use music to your advantage. Grab the headphones and create a playlist of soothing music. Over time, using the same music will help put your child in the right mood for studying.

Use a timer. Work for 30 minutes and then take a 15-minute break. Over time, the length of the working session can expand up to an hour.

Content Mastery

If your child really doesn’t understand what he is learning in class, get him help – and fast! Don’t let a momentary difficulty with math result in your child feeling beaten down and her ultimately thinking she is bad at math.

There are lots of resources for help with content mastery. Talk with your child’s teacher. Take advantage of before or after school support from the teacher. Hire a tutor. Check out Hippocampus or Khan Academy. Have your child form a study group with his friends. Choose the modality that best fits your child’s temperament and strengths. 2E kids may need to use multiple learning modalities to really get the topic.

Motivation Troubles

Does your child not understand assignments or expectations? Is your child simply wiped out after school? Does your son really just need some downtime before getting started? Is your daughter distracted by other activities that are more exciting?

Capitalize on your 2E child’s strengths

You know your child. What makes them tick, why they feel pride and how they shine. You know what they look forward to each day and how they feel and express love. Use this information.

Look at your 2E child’s academic strengths. What kind of learner are they? Visual, auditory, kinesthetic, etc…? Does your son excel at problem solving and logical thinking? Does your daughter love making connections between abstract concepts? Does your son have a phenomenal memory?

Understanding what your child’s relative strengths and weaknesses makes it easier to develop a path forward.

Develop & implement a joint plan

Make a Plan

Develop a plan with your child. Use your child’s strengths to mitigate the weaknesses you’ve identified together. Set a schedule and stick to it. Include milestones.  Overtime, these milestones can be less discreet.

Include Consequences and Rewards

Make them meaningful, but scaled appropriately for the task. An extra 30 minutes of media for completely homework that doesn’t include any grumping and grousing during the evening. Maybe it’s a longer term reward – a trip to the movies or a special dinner if your child manages a longer term project with minimal parental prodding.

Build in Choices

Letting your child exercise some control over the schedule will reduce the grumpiness that can accompany homework.

Revisit Your Agreement

Be willing to adjust your agreement if it isn’t working. Especially in the early stages of trying this approach, you’ll want to be flexible to see what works and what doesn’t.

Let your child fail

I’m serious – let your child fail. (Sometimes.) Stop rescuing them from their own missteps.

The consequences of screwing up these 5th grade projects are magnitudes smaller than having my boys whiff it on their college capstone project. Early failures when the stakes are relatively low create opportunities for self-reflection, change and triumph.  The discomfort and worry that accompanies failure are helpful in developing coping skills and frustration tolerance. 

I’m not suggesting that you set your kids adrift without any parental guidance, but the biggest gift we can give our kids is the chance to learn for themselves and that includes learning from their own mistakes.


2e Hoagies GraphicThis post was written as part of a blog hop hosted by Hoagies Gifted Education.

Check out other folk’s take on 2E Kids and Adults.


Maggie’s other writings on giftedness:

Anxiety and Giftedness: What is the Reality?

Right Fit Shoes: Why Gifted Identification Matters

Building Community

Gifted. Do You Watch What You Say?

Other resources from Maggie:

Get Help! Stop Struggling with Homework Headaches

Get Better Grades: 10 Tips for Test Prep

Strengths Based Parenting. How to Build on the Positive.

Resources:

Characteristics of 2E Students

National Association of School Psychologists

SOAR Study Skills

22 Science Backed Study Tips to Ace a Test

20 Study Hacks to Improve Your Memory

Music for Studying: 10 Tips to Pick the Best Study Music

 

Kindergarten Bullying

Kindergarten. Bullying in the Age of Clip Charts and No Child Left Behind

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Kindergarten Bullying

Here is where I will begin: a No Place for Hate march at my son’s school. The children stand on patchy grass and hold Styrofoam plates sewn together with yarn as improvised tambourines. They wait for the teacher’s cue to begin, and the dried beans inside the two plates slightly rattle. The head teacher yells, “Okay, let’s go! No place for hate.” The children chant after her and bang the tambourines at random. The parade snakes back to the school building, and it is over in less time than it took the children to get organized. Along with a few posters on the wall, this is the school’s response to bullying. It is also indicative of how the school addressed most issues, making some noise and appearing to tackle a problem while actually doing very little.Kindergarten No Place for Hate

 

Our family began my son’s kindergarten year the previous August at a dual language public school in central Austin. My children, half South American/half North American, spoke Spanish and English fluently due to the fact that they had grown up in a dual language household. We applied to get my son into the school after attending a school tour, where the principal promised a positive behavioral approach to discipline, a focus on project-based learning, an integration of drama into classrooms through puppet shows, and social/emotional learning incorporated into the curriculum. The school also had an organic garden, a turtle pond and chickens. We were all excited. Neither my son nor I cried that first day of school. As someone who loved books, my son was most excited that the school had a library.

In a very short time, we realized that the reality was a far cry from the tour. Within a week, I learned that the positive behavior reinforcement was actually a way for the teachers to publicly shame the students into behaving. Like many public schools, my son’s school employed a behavior clip chart with the numbers one through four. When the student behaved well, he remained on a four. If the student misbehaved, the student had to move his/her clip down a number. While I didn’t mind the number system, I didn’t like the fact that it was displayed prominently in the room for all to see. My son began to refer to the other students by their behavior number. Within a short time, my son became known as a one or a two.

Kindergarten Behavior Management FolderEven worse were the green folders. In these folders, the teacher wrote down every single infraction that the child committed during the day without mentioning anything positive. In my son’s case, these included minor incidents like saying he wanted to kiss one of his friends (“a boy,” the teacher wrote), to getting out of line, to things I would want to know about like hitting another student. From a management standpoint, I thought this was a horrible idea. Can you imagine going to work and having your boss write down every mistake you made during the day without commenting on anything you had done right? The technique would make you discouraged at best, angry and disengaged at worst. Even though I disagreed with the school’s discipline system, my husband and I, wanting to support the teacher, talked to our son about his behavior, took away privileges like television for days that he misbehaved and instituted rewards for the days he behaved well. In our house, giving positive feedback for good behavior, taking away toys or giving timeouts for bad behavior had worked fairly well.

Kindergarten nearly broke my son.

Kindergarten Teacher NotesAfter a month of being in kindergarten, my son made several heartbreaking statements. While reading Beauty and the Beast, my son stated that he didn’t think he was beautiful inside because he couldn’t behave well in school. He planned a soccer game for his friends and asked me to invite his teacher so that she could see that he was a good person. A friend of mine also reported that she overheard my son’s classmates taunting him and calling him bad. I talked to the teacher about the incidents. She offered to work with my son, applying different teaching approaches, which involved putting him in the corner all day to complete his work and sending him to the preschool class when he didn’t behave. I brought a behavior chart, so that she could place a star on desired behaviors, but the teacher abandoned it after one day. We also asked her to report on the positive things he did during the day, so that we could praise good behavior. She refused, telling us to ask our son to report the good things he did.

At home, my son began to throw fits after school. He said that he would rather be homeless than go to school. Talking to a parent of an older student, I discovered that multiple students had had problems with this teacher. I also found out that the teacher did not use many of the kindergarten staples like centers or manipulative materials for teaching. Instead, she relied heavily on the overhead projector and worksheets. We immediately began the process of moving my son to another class. We also began therapy to address some of my son’s behavioral issues in school.

His new teacher was a godsend. Trained in special education, she had a number of tricks up her sleeve to work with all kinds of students. However, the publicly displayed discipline system and the green folders remained. My son, because he had problems following directions and listening to the teacher, began to get teased. “Look, he has bugs in his ears. He can’t hear what the teachers are saying,” the children said. To make matters worse, he had another teacher, who taught Language Arts and simply could not deal with him. My son told me that she instructed the students to write a sentence. My son, who was only in his second month of kindergarten, said, “I cannot write a sentence. I can only write my name.” Even though the teachers hadn’t even taught the entire alphabet at that point, the teacher replied, “That’s not good enough. You need to write, “My name is ________.” Unable to do the work, my son began to put himself in the class’ “peace center,” a glorified time out area in the classroom, where he remained all day, every day until I picked him up.

Navigating the 504 process.

Upon the advice of our therapist, I met with the assistant principal and asked the school to conduct a Functional Behavior Assessment, so that their school counselor could observe my son in class, discover the causes for his behaviors, how the teachers were responding, and recommend some accommodations for the classroom. The school refused, saying that I would need an outside diagnosis. His pediatrician and therapist could not diagnose him with anything, but gave me the numbers for several neuropsychologists and pediatric psychiatrists. I took the soonest appointment possible for a neuropsychology assessment, but we still had to wait another month.

Because I thought the school might have refused to do the Functional Behavior Assessment due to costs, I arranged for someone from my son’s therapist’s office to do her own evaluation of my son’s behavior in class. I notified the teachers of the upcoming observation. My son’s therapist spoke with the school principal, informing him that someone would be coming to observe my son in class the following day. When the evaluator came, the principal sent her away, citing a concern for the other students’ privacy and a need to get the evaluator approved by the district. While this may have been true, the principal should have informed my son’s therapist when he originally spoke with her. Still wanting to work with the school, I attributed the event to miscommunication and talked with the school officials. They promised to get the evaluator approved and to email or call us when they had approval from the district.

We had multiple teacher conferences. The teachers brought out the Texas Essential Knowledge (TEKS) standards and my son’s test results. Even though my son could easily count to 20 or more, was starting to read, and came home from school and dictated stories to us so that he could create his own comic books, the school rated him as only being able to talk in complete sentences. We brought this up to the teachers, and they replied that even though they knew he could count to 20 (one of the requirements), he didn’t count well enough to meet test standards. When discussing his ability to dictate stories (another requirement), the teachers replied that he could only dictate a story that he found interesting or one that he created. The teachers said that they weren’t interested in his ability to create stories or talk only about stories that interested him. He would have to repeat the story that the test chose. In other words, the school wasn’t interested in his ability. They were interested in how well he could perform on a test. The teachers further discussed the need for students to separate fiction from non-fiction and to start to create a rough draft. Listening to the teachers rattle off the TEKS mandates, I felt the list sounded developmentally inappropriate and somewhat arbitrary. I wanted my son to develop a love of reading and to expand his notions of reality, rather than limit concepts through categorizations of literature at such a young age. The teachers said that unless my son could master all of the Texas Essential Knowledge and do well on the tests, they would have to recommend holding him back. In another meeting with the assistant principal, where she refused again to do any kind of behavior assessment or to offer my child any accommodations until he got a diagnosis, the assistant principal echoed the teacher’s belief that we should simply have my son repeat kindergarten.

My child was almost left behind.

In the meantime, my son began to call himself dumb on a daily basis. He said that he wanted to die, because he couldn’t behave in class. He hated being publicly demoted to a lower number in class, but the demotion did nothing to change his behavior. It only made the other kids call him bad. The new teachers sat him close to them. They tried some accommodations, such as behavior charts and fidget toys to keep my son in circle time. While some of the accommodations worked, the teacher abandoned them because the fidget toy broke or they simply forgot to use the behavior charts. My child also began to run away from his language arts class. While the teachers cited this as simple misbehavior, a friend informed me that she saw his Language Arts teacher yelling at him in the hallway, asking him if he wanted to get a “0.” I asked my son if he understood what getting a “0” meant. “It means my teacher doesn’t like me,” he said.

At that point, it dawned on me that my child was essentially the child being left behind by No Child Left Behind. We did not face any serious economic problems. We had read to my son every day since he was only a few months old. My son hadn’t watched television or played apps until he was almost four years old. Although he now watched television, we limited his television time to below the American Pediatrician’s Association’s recommendations. Furthermore, I spent ample time with my children and cooked them a well-balanced meal every day. We never ate fast food or processed food, and my children went to bed at 7:30 every night. Yet despite all of these facts, my child could not succeed in school. His homeroom teacher was wonderful, but she could not compensate for a developmentally inappropriate curriculum, ineffective classroom management, and an administration that preferred to fail students rather than figure out the causes behind a student’s classroom struggles.

My family is lucky. We have the resources to look for other options. However, not all families can afford private neuropsychological testing or therapy. Many families also might not have the time or resources to navigate the bureaucracy of the public school system. We withdrew my son after his first semester and put him in a small preschool that includes a kindergarten. Within a month of attending the other school, my son began reading, could count to 100, and started doing simple addition and subtraction problems. More importantly, he stopped calling himself bad and dumb.
We also received the results back from his neuropsychology test. My son has ADHD, which explains his behavioral difficulties. Academically, however, he was exactly where he should be. Therefore, holding him back in kindergarten would have been a mistake. It also would not have solved his behavioral problems.

No child should fall through the cracks in Kindergarten.

I return to the No Place for Hate march on that beautiful fall day. A single march and a few anti-bullying posters will not do anything to solve the complex problem of bullying, especially in a school with a discipline system that highlights the negative and publicly shames students. Standardized testing and No Child Left Behind will not cure social inequalities. In my opinion, educational funds would be better spent on teacher training and lowering class ratios. There are many public schools that are doing a phenomenal job, but no child should be failing kindergarten. Kindergarten should be a year when a child falls in love with learning. Despite my son’s negative experience, we’re lucky he did not lose his interest in learning. Many families are not so lucky. Too many children simply fall through the cracks in a system that places more importance on state mandates than on the well being of a child.

In case you were wondering, when we withdrew my son from the school two months later, the principal still hadn’t followed through with our request for professional observation of the class. Additionally, the day after we decided to remove my son from his public school, the school’s name appeared on a list of the worst public schools in Texas.

Preparing for a 504 Meeting

Preparing for a 504 Meeting

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Does your child have a 504 plan or need one? if you are trying to navigate the 504 process, check out this overview of the 504 law, as well as some tips and tricks to use along the way.

Preparing for a 504 MeetingWhat is Section 504?

Section 504 is a federal law designed to protect the rights of individuals with disabilities in programs and activities that receive Federal financial assistance from the U.S.  A 504 meeting occurs when the parents and/or school believe that a student would benefit from special accommodations in school, due to a mild disability or chronic illness that does not require services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).  (For an overview of the differences between IDEA, 504 and The American with Disabilities Act, check this out.)

What conditions are covered under Section 504?

To be protected under Section 504, a student must be determined to:

  1. have a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits a major life function like their ability to:
    1. walk, breathe, eat, or sleep
    2. communicate, see, hear, or speak
    3. read, concentrate, think, or learn
    4. stand, bend, lift, or work;
  2. have a record of such an impairment; or
  3. be regarded as having such an impairment.

Because of the difficulty managing a specific list of conditions covered under this law, The US Department of Education describes the physical or mental impairments covered by Section 504 as:

  • any physiological disorder or condition, cosmetic disfigurement, or anatomical loss affecting one or more of the following body systems:
    • neurological;
    • musculoskeletal;
    • special sense organs;
    • respiratory,
    • including speech organs;
    • cardiovascular;
    • reproductive;
    • digestive;
    • genito-urinary;
    • hemic and lymphatic;
    • skin; and
    • endocrine;
  • any mental or psychological disorder, such as:
    • mental retardation,
    • organic brain syndrome,
    • emotional or mental illness, and
    • specific learning disabilities.

What should the 504 Plan look like?

The 504 Plan is a list of specific accommodations, modifications, supports and services that will be provided to your child. Ideally, the 504 plan will also:

  • Identify who will provide the accommodations,
  • Name the person responsible for ensuring the plan is implemented,
  • Is distributed to all of the child’s teachers, specialists, and support staff,
  • Is placed in the child’s school file, and
  • Is reviewed at least annually.

How do I know if my child needs accommodations?

Sometimes, as a parent, you know what’s going on with your kids; other times, you have a vague sense that something may be amiss.  If you are still trying to pinpoint the specific problem disrupting your child’s learning ability, The National Center for Learning Disabilities put together a great graphic organizer to help you identify your concerns and develop a plan for further evaluation.

In order to write a 504 plan for your child, the school district is required to conduct an assessment of his/her disability.  A district staff member who is knowledgeable about your child, the evaluation criteria and data and placement options will lead the evaluation process.  Sources of data for the evaluation may include: aptitude testing, achievement tests, teacher reports, medical professional’s reports, and your child’s adaptive behaviors. If you have had independent testing, you may provide this material to the school for inclusion in the evaluation process.

What are accommodations?

Accommodations typically fall into major categories:

  • Presentation – how the learning material is presented
  • Response – how the student responds to the assignment.  Assistive technologies like recording classroom presentations, using a calculator, or typing assignments or using voice recognition software for written assignments, can be helpful here.
  • Setting – what is the environment in which the student is working/taking a test
  • Timing – does the student need extra time on assignments or tests?  Does the student need extra breaks?
  • Organizational – does the student need support organizing homework and study materials? Assistive technologies like calendars, homework planners, or even taking a photo of the homework assignment, can be helpful here.

Deciding which accommodations will make the most difference for your child is hard. Hopefully you can work collaboratively with your child’s teacher and school counselor.  Your child’s pediatrician, medical specialist, or therapist will also have great ideas (and can send a recommended list of accommodations to your school counselor).

Additionally, you can search for accommodations for specific conditions.  I’ve linked to some examples for common conditions: ADHDanxietydyslexia, or food allergies.

For specific information about accommodations during standardized testing, check out the websites for each test: STAARSAT, and ACT.

 

Resources

National Center for Learning Disabilities

ADDitude Magazine

Texas Education Agency (TEA)

U.S. Department of Education, Office of Civil Rights

This post originally appeared at The Learning Lab.