When Link was in first grade his teacher had a system. When kids needed to complete work at home, she had them put the work into their cubby. Each day the kids were to put the contents of their cubby into their backpack. Link was not very good at that last part. In fact he discovered that if he just left all his papers in his cubby, then Mom knew nothing about the papers. It was a great system, he’d not finish work at school, stick it into his cubby and then it ceased to exist as far as he was concerned. Life was great. Then one day his older sister decided to pick him up from class rather than meeting him at the car. She saw the cubby full of papers and the day of reckoning had begun. Mom made him complete all of the papers over the next week, AND she conspired with the teacher so that she could know every day if school work was completed at school. Link was cornered in a way that meant the easiest way out was to complete the assigned work. Suddenly he started working. We’d found the right solution and the road blocks to learning vanished.
I’m thinking about this today because I just met with Link’s history teacher and discovered that Link has a pile of incomplete work for that class. Writing assignments are never his favorite and this particular teacher talks a mile a minute, which is difficult for Link to follow. His instinctive reaction is to stop and try to wait it out. Fortunately at sixteen he is far more self-aware than he was at six. I’m able to make him a partner in the solutions, some of which sound a lot like “Yup, that’s tough. Deal with it.” The other solutions involve figuring out where in the teaching/learning process things are breaking down. Also I have to help the teacher understand that “Why didn’t you write anything on the quiz paper?” is actually quite a complex question which requires my son to introspect and then form thoughts into words. He wants to answer, but needs more than thirty seconds to figure out what that answer needs to be, because before she asked the question he hadn’t put any thought into the issue. Taking the quiz felt impossible and sorting is necessary to figure out why. Then maybe the next quiz will be possible.
Link’s teacher wanted to see his IEP paperwork and to know what accommodations are on it. I’m not really sure in detail. I’m confident that they are tailored to what was necessary in junior high, but will have to be revised for high school. I know they include his auditory processing disorder and his ADHD. I’m only now beginning to see what might need to be on the paperwork for high school. The teacher quite obviously felt at a loss without it. She wanted a check list “do this, this, and this, then you will have helped this student.” Only we’ve always used the IEP as a sort of fluid guideline and mostly worked with specific teachers to find solutions for individual classes. In one class he doesn’t need any help at all, in another we have to spend lots of time making things work. Most of the difference is in the relationship that Link has with the teacher. If Link feels relaxed and comfortable in a classroom, he doesn’t need help. When he gets stressed, he shuts down, stops working. Unfortunately I can’t put “don’t make him stressed” on the IEP paperwork. I can include “speak slowly,” “face him when you talk,” and “write down all his assignment instructions” Yet I know that even when these things are on the paperwork some teachers will adapt and do them without trouble. Other teachers will intend to do them, believe they are doing them, but they aren’t.
All of which is why I’m meeting with school administration tomorrow morning to discuss rearranging Link’s schedule. A few changes could make a world of difference. We may have to remove him from the class of a generally excellent teacher because that teacher does not have the right rapport with him. This, of course, lead me to worry that I’m over-helping. Growth comes from struggle. Link needs to learn how to keep going in spite of mental road blocks. He needs to learn more flexibility when he doesn’t like the form of an assignment. He needs to learn to recognize when he is avoiding work and consciously decide to do that work anyway. He needs to learn to turn assignments in on time instead of constantly doing them late and being allowed to get away with it because his IEP allows him extra time. I can see Link beginning to learn all of these things. He is amazing and smart, but I know that if the learning is too hard, then his tendency to shut down will kick in.
This is why I’m not going to tomorrow,s meeting with a list of things I want. Instead I’m going with a list of thoughts and options. I’m going with a hope that additional perspectives will bring out even more possibilities. Somewhere there has to be a good balance between accommodation for Link’s real disabilities and requiring him to do hard things so that he can grow. And it is entirely possible that I’m wrong about what he needs to learn and how he needs to learn it. That wouldn’t be a first. I’m still learning, trying to figure out this parenting thing. I would dearly love to find the right combinations so that the road blocks vanish and Link can just go.