Watching Closely: When the Demands of School are an Issue

There's a tug of war for parents of special needs children that I imagine is universal when it comes to school. How do you know when your child's got a real problem that needs your intervention or when it's an issue that you need to let them work out on their own?

We're always in hyper-vigilant alert-mode, looking for issues before they crop up so that we can be on top of it, in fix-it mode. Some issues, though, aren't ours to fix, but ours to teach our children how to navigate on their own.

Many years ago, my solution to Bobby's schooling was to be there with him and then to remove him entirely and home school him. Each decision was agonizing until the final decision to bring him home. After his stroke, decisions like that became easier. As he's reached adulthood, there have been different types of decisions, every bit as agonizing for me as when he was younger. This summer making the shift from his attending the day center for the disabled to a full-time volunteer at Meals on Wheels and the local SPCA was a tough one. Leaving him that first day at Meals on Wheels, alone, with strangers in the REAL world was terrifying and walking away from him that morning to let him navigate that new world on his own was harder than leaving him at kindergarten so many years ago. But I did it, because, as my mother wisely reminded me, we'd been working towards that moment, for years.

It's worked out well. He's happy there and there have been no issues. He's a hard worker and is doing fine. I don't know whether he'll move beyond where he's at, whether he'll be able to one day support himself, but if he can't, he's in a good place doing good work.

The girls' journeys at school are not nearly as difficult or scary, but there are still hurdles to get over, concerns that worry us, judgments to be made. When Lily started school, we didn't know how she'd do, what her functional level would be. Over the last five years, though, she's proven to be extremely intelligent and able to function well above grade level. We've had to push, cajole, incentivize, argue to get her to do her school work at the level we know she's capable of. This year, we seem to be losing the battle and in the subject areas where we know she tests highest. No, she's not failing, but that's because the effort is non-stop to keep her trying. It's still a 20 point drop, though, in one area, and that's significant.

How do we decide what's the underlying problem? How do we know if we've hit a wall where her autism makes it difficult for her to answer questions because the questions have become more difficult as they move to inferring what characters are thinking and feeling? Or decide whether it's boredom on her part? Or any of a hundred other possible things? It's been a more complicated year, no question about that. She's making friends, but she's also dealing with teasing and moving between three classrooms instead of two.

We'll continue to watch closely, to advise from home, to assist at home, to work to give her the tools to navigate this world, but we'll be looking for those key signs that signal the public, mainstream classroom is no longer appropriate for her, and when we reach that point where the gains don't far outweigh the problems, we'll make the decision to home school her.

We're not there yet, though. We're in that gray area where our guts churn, our hearts ache, and we watch, work, and wait, all while really hoping that choice doesn't have to be made, that with the right tools and motivation, she can navigate this new, increasingly complex and demanding world.


usethebrainsgodgiveyou said...

I think what you are saying is very important. School is probably the singular most stress producing thing in the lives of special needs kids. Knowing our kids don't "fit the mold" and not knowing where to draw the line...well, there's a reason why so many special schools are started, and homeschool is for us poor folk.

It's great to have that choice, if need be. Our kids are more important than societies ideas about fitting in, because often times they are fit to the bottom of the ladder.

The sad thing is, they are just children, one and all. They pay the price for those who enter the teaching profession who have no love of children.

Bobby must be an extraordinary person, to rise above the battles life has handed him. Having the love and support of his family helps, I'm sure.

I hope all of all our children rise above the expectations society, and we (sometimes) have for them. I can't see the future for Ben, and I know we look to the future with a wee bit of trepidation, but it will be here, regardless! I suppose we'll just do the best we can, as always.

farmwifetwo said...

To be very blunt... one card you should probably play is a reminder that should she fail, she will repeat the grade. Autism may be the reason, but it's not in my house an excuse. Since in our house it isn't the autism that's the biggest issue but behaviour... I don't sympathise with mine. My eldest may learn that lesson yet, school knows if necessary I will have him repeat a grade.

Unfortunately, he is in a school who's standardized testing for years has been more than 10% below the board and the province for provincial average ratings. His school/class is high behavioural and the fall out hits us daily at home. He has had his moments at school but for the most part are minor. I will not homeschool him, yet I suspect when I do his younger bro the fall out will be huge. He does not care that his bro has extraordinary issues. He's just pissed that he's in a classroom full of toys (Gr 1 to 6 self-contained) and doesn't have to do the same work as he does.

He is missing the "I give a shit" gene, "I wish to better myself" gene. He has the "it's not my fault", "it's all about me" genes in double doses.

Having been here, done this with my younger bro... my sympathy is non-existant. At 39... he hasn't changed any and amazingly has a well paying job - also one that he has to play the "a...." at so it suits his temperment - that he hasn't managed to lose yet... He usually get's fired about every 3 yrs or so.

Sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind. I am tired of the unending pissing matches.

Karen V. said...

"How do you know when your child's got a real problem that needs your intervention or when it's an issue that you need to let them work out on their own?" I don't. I mean, sure there are simple problems they can figure out on their own but when you are talking about the big issues that you are in this post, I don't.

What I hear you saying is that we have to stand back and let them fall down a few times on their own. Then, we have to decide if it's appropriate to let them change their own behavior or intervene and "prompt" them through it. With a disability, we don't know if they are reacting due to behavior or the inability to process what is going on due to the physiological differences in their brains.

As a parent, I always want to step in and make it better. I'm just beginning this school trip though. We've just begun in kindergarten. I'm already prompting through homework, wondering whether I should write that uppercase M again or leave it backward like a W. I prompt. I know at such a young age there is plenty of time for me to prompt until I must stand aside. But every day, I wonder will I someday homeschool? How far will he make it? Will he be able to go to college? Will he work? I don't know. So I guess we must stay in the present and live in the moment - each moment -so we don't end up asking where did all that time go? :)

farmwifetwo said...

Karen there's a very big difference btwn prompting and doing.

I have to prompt the younger to do his work. This involves pointing to the words and having him read the instructions. He uses a calculator at home for math - they refuse to give up on counters at school but that's another battle - since unlike his speed at learning words, he's not learning math facts - BUT, he as to do the sheet now on his own. Yes, I redirect, but I do not do. I know he can write the numbers neatly and when they get into unlegible, he gets to rewrite them. He's usually unimpressed but he gets over it.

I find school's and aides like to "do". When you child's homework comes home full of their writing and colouring... you know they are doing the work nor are they learning.

Jen said...

School is the bane of my existence. We have reached that point where the mainstream class is not a good fit, and are now trying to figure out the next step. The school doesn't have an appropriate class, but I am not ready to pull her out completely. It's meeting after meeting of blank stares and no help...it is the single worst part of life right now...