Tick...tick...tick...tick... The sound of the clock reverberates through my head. It nearly drowns out the psychologist and teachers who are talking as I sat in a small chair made for a preschooler. Feeling just as small as a child while listening to them tell me that there really was not much they could do for my son. Except put him into a special education classroom because that might be better fit for him. Feeling the hot tears of anger well up into my eyes all my heart could think of was being my son's voice for him.
That was me sitting in that tiny chair six years ago. When my son was four years old he entered into the public school system for the first time. His first year should have been full of wonder, playfulness, and learning. Not even a month into his prekindergarten year his teacher pulled me aside to speak to me about some things she had concerns over. She mentioned that he was “hyper”, “didn't listen”, and was “out of control”. Of course my first thought was she had mistaken my son with someone else because these were not the behaviors I had witnessed on that scale at home. Yes he was a typical boy full of rambunctiousness and we had some discipline issues but that was rare. He lived life wide eyed and full of curiosity. This didn't sound like my sweet son. I listened as she recounted his day of being on the red circle for behavior as she said most days were like that. She sent me home with some paperwork to fill out to let the school test him for Asperger's, Autism, and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder by the psychologist who worked at his elementary school. Every parent can relate that if there is a problem with our child we want to know the root issue. I felt that it couldn't hurt because I thought they wanted to help my son just as much as I did. I personally chalked it up how he acted at school to the recent cross country move we had done and him no longer being the only child with the welcome addition of his little brother only a few months prior. Although at home we did not witness these behaviors on the scale they did at school I just thought maybe it was some adjustment issues along with starting school for the first time.
By the end of the calendar year he was tested and the results came back. I met with a substitute classroom teacher since the first one moved, school psychologist, and an occupational therapist. They said they together had come to the conclusion that my son had ADHD with a fine motor delay. The latter conclusion was due to the fact he had messy hand writing. My son was four. He was just learning how to write. Being the proactive parent that I am I said I was open to starting services for his “fine motor delay” as soon as possible. I also thought I wanted to have him tested outside of the school system by someone who had never met him before. I felt that they had preconceived opinions on my son due to the behaviors they said they witnessed. I thought we could just start the very next day. That is not how this works. Welcome to the day and age of the Individualized Education Program or IEP. There is a federal law called the “Individuals with Disabilities Education Act” or IDEA. If a child needs any special education services as my son was going to need because occupational therapy falls under the special education umbrella then your child will need an IEP set up first. Many people come together to make this document for your child. The principal, teacher, occupational therapist, and special education teacher can all be involved. The IEP is used to create a unique and individualized plan to help your child be successful in school.
Setting up his IEP took time as we all had to agree on what would be best for my son. He ended up with a wonderful interim prekindergarten teacher and she did all she could within her ability to help him be successful and happy. In the short few months she was his teacher he actually enjoyed class again. Rarely did she speak to me because she formed a close bond with him. She could bring him back to focus and encouraged him within boundaries she placed. She fostered his love of the weather and would spend her extra time meeting his needs. During this time I also had him tested by an outside psychologist who specialized in educational testing. Her results on my son were quite eye opening. She told me that my son did show signs of possible ADHD but due to his young age she was reluctant to formally diagnose him. She did find something else that was incredible. Since they do not have formal IQ testing for young children who have just entered school they test their fluid IQ or capacity of knowledge. At age four his fluid IQ was 130. To put this into perspective Albert Einstein's IQ as an adult was 160. Armed with this knowledge I proudly walked into our final IEP meeting. We were moving out of state and I wanted to make sure that my son's IEP reflected exactly what he would need once we settled into our new home. We still had a month of school left before it ended for the year. That was when they said they just couldn't do much more for him except let him finish the year out in the special education class room. Even the special education teacher of that class room felt that he was not meant for that class. He had yet another new teacher in his classroom and she agreed with the special education teacher. The school psychologist and another teacher who offered support services did not agree with me wanting him kept in his current classroom. I asked what they could offer as far as him being gifted and the support services teacher scoffed. He asked me if I was asking if he could skip a grade. I was not asking that. I was asking what they could offer to nurture this beautiful mind of his. Nobody was on the same page. So collectively we could not agree. My son finished his year in his own class room because I would not agree to him being in the special education class room.
This is just as small portion of how much I have had to advocate for this special child of mine. In six years though he has come a long way. What I have found helpful is being a team with your child's educators. We have constant open communication with them. We ended up moving into the wonderful arms of people who adored my son. They matched my intrepid determination that my son would not be defined by any label. That he was just himself and not the impulsiveness and frustration that he sometimes would show on his really rough days. Over time with the advocacy of myself, his heart and hardwork, his teachers nurturing the spirit of my son, and other educators willing to do whatever they had to in order to see him flourish...he did just that. My son no longer needs OT services, he has went on from having an IEP to Section 504 which sets up modifications for him when it comes to learning if he needs them. We see as he matures and grows the need for modifications in his education become less and less. My son becomes more confident in himself every day. Within the last two years he was been formally diagnosed with ADHD and coined a “twice exceptional learner”. Meaning that my son on one hand does need some modifications for his learning with having ADHD but also for him being gifted as well. His IQ was tested again one year ago and it was a formal IQ test. He ranked in with the IQ of 140. He has been in the Gifted Education program for two years and counting. He is an honor roll student. He also is active in his school broadcasting club, cub scouts, and is continually making us proud of the fine young man he is. This could never have happened had I not spoke up for him the moment the first teacher pulled me aside. Then the continued open communication with his educators. I have to take this moment to personally thank again his amazing teachers he has had in the past. You will never know how eternally grateful I am for loving him as he was your own child. You all instilled in him that he was worth every deep breathe you had to do when refocusing him, every time you had to show him something again, and you never let him feel he was less than amazing. He knows how loved he was in each of your classrooms. You went above and beyond for him. We could never thank you enough. Especially that first teacher in Prekindergarten who was only there for a few short months who nurtured him during a very turbulent year. All of you are still very much in our lives and we are so thankful for each of you. I want to note that the public school system is not the enemy and I have to be clear here on that. Every school system has much to learn about these amazing children we have today. Especially those who fall into a gray area of education like mine.
From the moment we give birth to our children we become their voice, their hero, and their advocate. In the beginning of getting services for your child it can seem scary and daunting. You can navigate through them though. I highly suggest researching as much as you can. Don't forget that you have a voice and work with the educators as a team. Always ask what can they do to help your child be successful and happy at school. Know your parental rights. Check in with your child's teachers often. Keep the communication open and offer insight. Nobody knows your child like you do. I have included some links that may be helpful. Your child is amazing and deserves the very best education.
Natasha has 18 years of experience working with birthing and postpartum mothers. She is well versed and rounded with experience in holistic wellness and integrative medicine. Natasha focus is to treat the body as whole instead of a symptom.