I feel like the system has failed me. Or to be more precise, it has failed my child. I’d love to tell you that after all the interventions and therapies it has been smooth sailing with Monkey Boy in middle school. But it hasn’t. And I don’t think it ever will be. I know there are always going to be hurdles to conquer with any child, be they academic, emotional, physical etc. But with Monkey Boy, they sometimes seem unsurmountable. And I’m sure many of you can relate, especially if you, too, have a child with developmental disabilities. If you haven’t read about Monkey Boy yet, it all started here.
Monkey Boy at 4 months
Don’t get me wrong, he’s made so much progress…huge, huge gains since preschool. But he doesn’t see that. AT ALL. And his teachers don’t really understand it either (really, how can I expect them to when they’ve only known him this year?). I wrote a letter at the beginning of the year detailing his struggles, but that’s not the same as living them…and feeling them. The problem is he is still expected to perform at the same level as his peers.
I came to that realization last night. Well, that’s not totally true. It’s something that is fairly obvious. But it really hit me last night. Ultimately, every therapy, every intervention, every degree of help was really leading up to one thing. Get him on the level where everyone else is. Ok, so the therapies outside of school don’t focus on that per se. But really, the main purpose is to help his performance in school.
And an IEP is all fine and dandy, except that the IEP is NOT really an individualized education plan (maybe in a self-contained classroom, but not in the mainstream). It does detail his weaknesses, provides help and goals in those areas, and sets modifications that help him. Assuming those modifications are actually implemented. I know it’s hard with so many children in the classroom. The thing that gets me, and has always gotten me, is that he is still expected to move forward at the same pace as his peers. But he’s also still working on the skills to get to a place where he can actually understand what is going on. I equate it to taking Algebra while at the same time trying to learn addition. Don’t get me wrong; I do appreciate that he has an IEP, since it would be much worse without it. I just don’t think it’s the answer to everything.
So, all Monkey Boy sees is that he is always behind, the only one not understanding, and he is constantly telling me he is “stupid” and can’t learn. He tells me this at least once a day, and I don’t exaggerate. And no matter how much I try to tell him that he has already learned so much and remind him of how far he has come, it doesn’t matter. I know I’m not alone. But I think a lot of us in these situations don’t openly talk about it very often.
Master Yi-Yi and Monkey Boy
For him, it really boils down to language. He has all these diagnoses…autism, ADHD, sensory processing disorder. But the crux of his problem is language. He is slow to process what is being said, so listening when someone is speaking quickly completely throws him off. Certain tones and volumes irritate him (he much prefers a male voice), and some things need to be said in a certain way for him to understand. I’m constantly finding myself trying to explain things in just the right way. Again, I won’t say that he hasn’t improved. In fact, after a year and a half of speech therapy outside of school, he improved exponentially in both comprehension and conversation. In addition, he has enough self-awareness to know what he doesn’t understand and to ask questions.
So then it really, really frustrates me that he has teachers who get irritated with him for asking questions. I truly do understand that it can be distracting to them and the whole class. But he has been taught to ask questions, and if he stops because he is discouraged, it will undo everything we’ve worked toward. Which leads me back to “the system”. I completely and totally understand that a teacher cannot hold the rest of the class back because Monkey Boy is slower. What the answer is, I have no idea. I don’t think holding him back a grade would really benefit him. And after a full day of school, after-school tutoring doesn’t really work either. There is only so much studying a person can do in a day. Because every day is a huge challenge, he reaches his threshold pretty quickly. And homework is still a major battle.
In the beginning of the year, middle school was going pretty smoothly for him. He loved the saxophone. He was doing well. He even got on the honor roll the first nine weeks. But now, he’s frustrated again because the pace is a lot for him to handle. I partly blame the SOL tests because their expectations are that every child of a certain age should master the same material in a fixed amount of time.
I really thought we had found something with band and the saxophone. He was excelling. Now it’s gotten more difficult, and he is ready to quit. Because it’s the same thing. He just needs a little more time than most kids to learn something. It’s not the physical playing that’s the problem. It’s reading the sheet music. It doesn’t help that he misses band once a week for speech. I have voiced my concerns to the band teacher and the student support team, and luckily he has an excellent band teacher. So, I’m really hoping he can encourage Monkey Boy to continue.
First Band Concert
The worst, though, is math He was doing great. He was picking things up quickly and finally understanding concepts that gave him difficulty in the past. Now, he’s come to a grinding halt. He started having a lot more homework, and the pace increased. He’s also constantly telling me his teacher gets annoyed with him when he doesn’t understand something. This week , he was supposed to be learning a concept by watching a YouTube video (and don’t even get me started on the “flipped classroom” method of teaching). He came right out and told me that he can’t learn anything that way, which I totally believe. I had trouble understanding the video even though I completely understood the concept. Which is what actually led me to writing this post.
So if you have a child like Monkey Boy, I can definitely relate. I’m not sure I have any wise words of wisdom, but I find it reassuring just to know I’m not alone. If I could just make him see what I see.