Homework, Demons, and Metaphorical Mountain Climbing

16 Apr

We all want our kids to do well.  Sometimes, I know Alex is working his butt off but people who are not me, who do not live with him, who have not struggled to achieve almost every childhood milestone with him, cheering him on, cannot see the effort.

I think this probably happens to most parents at some point in their child’s education, but I have a hunch that those of us with kids who aren’t just “wash and wear” (wash and wear kids are born, hit their milestones, and for the most part only visit a regular pediatrician) have this feeling more frequently.

I sometimes feel this need, this drive, to correct the tiny things, the little oopses, so my kid can shine and people will stop seeing only the little tiny bits that need extra care and all sorts of implements and technical terms and see him as the whole, amazing person he truly is.

Which is, well, what we all want.  It’s just that Johnny (generic Johnny, not a real kid) never got the raised eyebrow from the pediatrician or the talk in the hallway from the preschool teacher (and the business card with the number of Easter Seals on it)… But Alex did. So for me, at least, that makes every victory that much sweeter and as his Mama it makes me fiercely defend what he can do.  And he works hard. Really hard. Other kids in his class have playdates and sports and even siblings. We don’t have time for that. We have Asperger’s (his and mine) and a whole buffet of physical disabilities (mine) that make this “acceptable”(for a typically developing child) amount of homework one of the only activities our family has time for.

I realize that my child may look lazy or confrontational at times or like he just isn’t listening. But he isn’t those things and he is listening.  When his teacher said “Alex, you only do your homework when you feel like it” she devastated him.   Alex doesn’t “feel” like doing 4 hours of homework every night.  Alex doesn’t feel like missing out on all physical activity and fun because he struggles to understand and at the end of a 6.5 hour school day, the last thing he is ready to do is put his nose in the books and pencil to paper.  He needs time and space to decompress. Any kid would.

I give him two rules for his day as he stands by the elevator in the morning, “Have a great day” and “Do your best”.  I am at the point where wishing him a great day seems too loaded, because then he feels like he broke a major rule if he doesn’t have a great day and that’s the worst thing for him because  Alex doesn’t break rules. He can’t. He’s not wired that way.

So we are waiting for our meeting with the teacher.  I don’t think that she really understands our kid. We gave them piles of information (and well crafted summaries, so as not to overwhelm). I feel like they were ignored and here we are.

I feel like we can’t ask for anything because it’s a private school. I feel like we can’t push it because we can’t put him in our local public school. And I’m too sick to home school him and 18 months of zero income and sky high COBRA health insurance and being sick is expensive. These things have left us so deep in the hole that the future is forever changed and we are indeed so very stuck.

Alex broke down yesterday and told me that he hates school.  He said that everyone makes fun of him all day long.

I broke down too. Because that’s my kid. And there is no way in hell (or Florida) that I will let him experience what I experienced at his age and most of my life with my peers and with some adults.  I don’t have to worry about him not being accepted by his parents, because he is mine and no matter the challenge, he will have me by his side, ready to tackle it.  But schoolwork is making up 100% of his days since they bumped him into the first grade.  And if he hates school, that sadness, that feeling of rejection, is riding on his shoulders.  The kid is brilliant, I can’t have his self esteem or his desire to learn squashed this way.

So we are waiting for the meeting.

And I’m compiling bits of evidence to share with the teacher and the administrator that show how Alex’s mind works and that he isn’t being a defiant little brat, but that this is his neurology. This is his wiring.  It is amazing and it makes him who he is and he is a spectacular human being with an incredible mind and a spirit that needs to be supported and encouraged and not squashed like some unsavory kitchen pest.

So here’s the evidence from today.  Here are Alex’s spelling words:

He has a bunch of activities for homework, every week, that involve the spelling words.  The activities are actually pretty cool, as the kids learn spelling, grammar, etc…  But with the amount of homework, Jeff has found that the best way to tackle these things are to get Alex to first transcribe the words onto lined paper and then go through word by word cracking out the activities for each word, assembly line style (or “Robot Style” as Alex and Jeff prefer to call it as it is much cooler sounding).  So I had Alex transcribe his week 3 words 3x today.

Do you notice anything?  I was going to correct him at first…

See how “photographs” (his handwriting has come so far in the past few months!) is above the dotted line on the paper?

I said to him “Hey Alex, why isn’t photographs on the bottom line?”

And he said, because that is how it is written on the list of spelling words from the teacher and he told me that he has to write it the same way or she’ll be annoyed that he didn’t follow how it was written on the paper.

So I looked.

Here it is again:

To fit the word “photographs” in the list they had to shrink the font.  So the bottom tail of the “p” isn’t touching the line at the bottom of the box it is printed in, the way the rest of the p’s on the list do.

So he wrote it above the bottom line on his paper, so it would be precise enough for him to avoid reprimand.

I had him leave it alone rather than explaining it and rewriting it. Don’t worry, I’m not throwing him under a future bus, I will explain it to him but just not until I get to talk to the teacher or we are eyeball deep in next week’s words because otherwise he will flip his lid until he can correct it.  I told him that it was indeed written that way and that I would talk to his teacher about it.

I want to scream “SEE! SEE!” and jump up and down in the schoolhouse.  I want them to see that this isn’t attitude or defiance or stubbornness or just some weird but average kid who demands things his way.  This is MY kid. My wonderful amazing kid who has Asperger’s Syndrome and he doesn’t ever  break the rules.  Breaking rules is actually painful to him.  Writing the word “photographs” on the regular line would have been breaking a rule to him.  And all he wants his teachers and the other kids to see is that he is a good boy and that rules are important and that he always follows them and they can rely on him to remind them of the rules or even teach them new rules, rules that aren’t strange and bossy rules, they are rules that if everyone followed them our world would be a much calmer and happier place.

He occasionally makes up rules.  Like the list of rules he made for Jeff and me when we were upset about something.   He wrote his observation, “They weren’t happy” and his new rule “Be happy” in the little notebook that I used to help him draw paw prints in (I would leave post-its with paw prints around the house for him… it was our own little game of Blue’s Clues).

But other than that he just really wants people to:

Not run in the classroom

Be nice

Use indoor voices when indoors

Help each other

Not tap pencils when other people are trying to concentrate

Not talk when the teacher has said “No Talking” (and he always gets in trouble for talking during this time because he is trying to tell the kids who were talking initially that there is “no talking”)

Know what a good friend he is (he reminds me of this all the time.. I know what a great friend he is, but he wants a chance for the other kids to find out)

Respect electricity.

Are those rules really that far out and unreasonable?

I don’t think so.

And I’m not coddling my kid.

I just need people who have contact with him on a daily basis and are supposed to be fostering a love of learning to know that he is indeed organically different from the other kids in the class.  I need people who have contact with him occasionally (very occasionally) who have not given me the benefit of the doubt to give him the benefit of the doubt, and if they truly love him, to give him that benefit of the doubt while not taking advantage of our overly kind nature and our desire to fit in.

Every kid is different.

My kid is different from all of those kids.

We just need people to respect the differences and not make assumptions about our kid, about us.

I have lived my whole life with people judging me and not giving me the benefit of the doubt, my brain is full of facts to defend every action I have ever taken.  But that stops now.  I am who I am. Alex is who he is.  I’m sick and tired of dealing with other people’s laziness and closed mindedness and I am just not going to tolerate it anymore.  I’m so full of this frustration and anger lately and digging up old bones more than usual because I need to figure out where I screwed up – not in what could I have done differently to not provoke the wrath of various people- but rather what did I do to make them think they could treat me the way that they did.   And there isn’t an easy answer.  This isn’t about self-help books or talk shows. It’s about people treating each other in a mindful way and not always taking the easy and selfish route. And it will be a cold day in hell (Florida?) before I let Alex become a doormat for other people’s demons and desires.  And the best way I can do that is to stand up for myself and be the best damn role-model I can be. After all, I’m his Mama and his best friend, and together we can scale or topple anything that gets in our way.

Chances are though, we will still politely ask it to step aside first.

Then we’ll topple the daylights out it.

*cue soundtrack to Legend of Billie Jean…Glad I hid my haircutting scissors and Jeff’s clippers before I decided to blog this evening*

xo
Bek
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4 Responses to “Homework, Demons, and Metaphorical Mountain Climbing”

  1. Bek April 16, 2010 at 5:36 am #

    Thought I’d share this resource…. Great list of top 10 pieces of advice for parents of uniquely gifted kids… I really like the term uniquely gifted as I know Alex’s strengths and his difficulties are very different, very unique, compared to his classmates….
    http://www.uniquelygifted.org/top10.htm

  2. Penny April 16, 2010 at 9:25 am #

    I think it’s great that you have a physical understanding of what life is like for Alex. I read and research as much as I can about ADHD because I am trying so hard to know what life is really like for my son, what ADHD feels like.

    Your son cares about what he does and has the drive and determination to do well and follow the rules. That is a good thing. I find the spelling assignment example you showed in this post so fascinating, that he sees things in that much detail. I also find it sad that his teachers have made him feel like everything he does has to be this perfect.

    I’ve just started following your blog so I don’t know your history but I’d say he would greatly benefit from a 504 Plan (take a look at http://wrightslaw.com if you are not familiar with it). My son has one and the accommodations tailored to his specific needs and differences make all the difference in the world for him in school.

    Interested to see how the meeting with the teacher goes.

    Penny
    http://adhdmomma.blogspot.com

  3. Shelley April 16, 2010 at 7:44 pm #

    Thanks for posting this, I don’t feel quite as alone after reading this piece, I could have written a lot of it myself. It’s so much easier for teachers & even physicians to lump kids all together & treat them all the same, rather than researching & looking at the evidence in front of them in order to actually help each child grow & advance in his own unique way. It can be very frustrating, as a parent to get the teachers & physicians to listen & see what’s really right in front of their faces.
    I hope the meeting went well!

  4. amy April 21, 2010 at 1:35 pm #

    I feel for you Beks – I hope you’ll be able to educate so these folks can understand and help, not squash. I feel so lucky that our school works so hard with our ADHD son. How did the spinal tap go?

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