School started early in Little Man’s life. He was 2. After beginning speech therapy for speech delay and then occupational therapy for sensory integration issues, I found out about a preschool that our town offers for free to qualifying kids. But it’s more than mere preschool; they offered therapies as well. At two, the kids only go there 2 mornings (or afternoons) a week, and during that time receive group therapies they may qualify for. At ages 3 and 4, they go four half-days a week. It was good for Little Man, and a very much-needed 2.5 hour break for me. At that time in Little Man’s life, every day was full of meltdowns and difficulties, transitions being nearly impossible, and overwhelm and exhaustion (for me) being ever-present.
As time went on, Little Man went from his 3 years in preschool into our local elementary school, maintaining qualification for special education, mostly as a safety net for the transition between schools. At the time, I assumed that after kindergarten, most of his delays would soon be caught up and school wouldn’t be much of an issue. Never assume.
I can’t remember which year it started (probably first grade), but at the beginning of each year, I educated my son’s teacher about Sensory Processing Disorder. None of them had every heard about it, or had the slightest clue what it was or how it affected a child/ person. I would share how each of my son’s senses were affected, and that because of it, he was different and had different requirements from most children.
By the end of first grade, the only services provided: physical therapy for hand writing and small motor coordination, ended. What we didn’t know yet, because the state we live in does not screen for dyslexia, is that Little Man had dyslexia. That’s why learning to read, and spelling were such nightmares. But no one at his school seemed concerned about it. I naively thought that it was up to the teacher to notice weaknesses in their students and by virtue of a student’s struggle or poor performance, recommend review and testing for qualification for special education. Boy, was I wrong.
By the time second grade rolled around, Little Man was having a hard time being in school. I thought it was all because of his Sensory Processing Disorder, and talked with the school counselor a number of times, trying to get a 504 Plan created to give him accommodations based on his SPD. The Plan was eventually created (about half way through the year), giving him all of ONE accommodation. About 3 or 4 others were nixed by the counselor because they would require a tiny amount of extra work/ energy from the teacher. What was granted was for Little Man to be able to sit on an exercise ball instead of a chair. It helped some, but it was still a very rough road at home.
Third grade, with the teacher not being a good fit for Little Man, was a year from hell. The school counselor was no help. She’s great for kids who come from broken and drug addicted homes. But for kids with healthy home environments, who have invisible disabilities, she sucked. There was so much that I didn’t know then, that was making my son’s life at school difficult.
It took the third grade year from hell, and following a bunny trail of information, to lead me to find out that he probably had dyslexia, and to pay to have a neuropsychologist evaluate him. Thank you from the bottom of my heart, Dawn Quyle Landau (who beautifully writes Tales From The Motherland) for telling me about the neuropsychologist who ended up evaluating Little Man and helped open my eyes in a big way about what was going on with him.
When Dawn gave me the name of this neuropsychologist, I had no idea what they did, or that I’d been needing one. Several weeks later when I was talking to a woman about the fact that I thought my son might have dyslexia, she said I should have him evaluated by a neuropsychologist. Bingo!! I love how the universe works sometimes.
Finally, in fourth grade, Little Man started the year with special education assistance and an IEP (Individual Education Program that creates educational goals and lists accommodations). That year was pretty much a lost year academically, because of having the teacher leave the class in the middle of October, replaced by a substitute. And it wasn’t until Christmas that we all found out that this sub would finish out the school year as their teacher… and it was her first classroom. Her classroom management skills were beyond green, and the class was beyond unruly.
As much as Little Man continuously gripes, whines, and complains about school, his fifth grade year was the best year he had. His teacher used to be the school’s full-time special ed instructor, when they had one full-time. She knew how to reach him, and how to get the best out of him. Their relationship was good, and by the last trimester, Little Man was on the honor roll: his first and last time in elementary school.
Last year was the swan song of elementary school: sixth grade. It started with Little Man getting sick the first whole week of school, and being out for an entire week. That set the tone for the entire year. He was chronically behind and missed a lot of school; some due to actual illness, but mostly due to anxiety and panic attacks. It took an entire school year of hell, but I finally figured out what was going on, and it was an issue between Little Man and his teacher that brought on his anxiety. Now that he’s no longer at that school, things are very different and more calm.
So here we are, at the beginning of a new school year. It’s a different school, being middle school, and a much larger school. No longer part of a class of 30, Little Man’s class is over 300 now. His classes have co-teachers, so there is more than one person teaching in the classroom. He has special education support every single day!
I connected with his seventh grade counselor last June just before school let out. One of the things I liked about her immediately, was that she confided to me that she has dyslexia, and was open to new resources about it. Unlike other people in the school system who were very closed to learning about disabilities (ironic that a teacher wouldn’t want to learn about their student), she asked me to send her links to info that I liked. And when I sent her a note that described Little Man’s challenges and his gifts, she was appreciative.
On the second day of classes, I was able to sit down with Little Man’s support team of the assistant principal, his counselor, and his special education instructor. They asked me about concerns I had, and I related last year’s anxiety nightmare. They came up with a great solution that Little Man can use if he needs a break from the classroom for a few minutes. His code words to his teacher are, “I need a drink.” And he can go out to the bubbler, take a few minutes to recoup and then return to his class. Our talk was brief, but I got the sense that Little Man’s special education teacher knows how to work with a variety of children, with a variety of different abilities.
I told them that because Little Man’s weak areas are what school’s all about: reading, writing, and math, they might not get a chance to see this rock star shine. But I let them know loud and clear that this boy is intelligent, kind, caring, intuitive, and exceptionally creative. I left the meeting feeling very optimistic about this school year.
And, of course, when Little Man came home, he was whining and complaining about having to write a huge essay. Apparently, the teacher was passing out Skittles to the students, and asked them to grab some. Then the teacher had them count the Skittles. Little Man had 58. However many Skittles they each had was to be the number of sentences in the assigned essay. Writing, for Little Man is about a much fun as having a tooth extracted. Actually, he’d rather have a tooth extracted. What really burned his butt was that he took a bunch, thinking he could give them out to the kids around him, because he doesn’t even like them.
And so we begin.
Are your memories of your school years fond ones?
For more posts relating to the voyage and Sensory Processing Disorder, check them out here.