Thank you, science, genetics, and $divinity, for gifting my first-born child with so many amazing traits. She is forgiving, grateful, team-oriented, creative, fair. She is filled with hope, love and kindness.
And thank you, also, for making her “abnormal.” Truly. Thank you SO VERY MUCH!
My 12-year-old’s ability to focus and control her behavior fall outside the normal range for her age. She was diagnosed with ADHD at age 10, after certain behaviors were called to our attention by her teachers. Her grades were mostly good, it’s just that she kept fidgeting, or was distracted. Forgetful. Disruptive. For the last two years, we’ve tried various medications in the methylphenidate class (Ritalin, Concerta), to help her to sit quietly in her chair, like she’s supposed to. And to get through the homework AFTER school.
The medication turned her into a zombie. A nice, docile zombie. She told me she was grateful for the medication, because now she could focus and sit still in school. But, dear readers, she was miserable. Everyone was so interested in diagnosing her, treating her like she has a disorder, that she started seeing herself as damaged. Her confidence plummeted. Her joy and exuberance dulled.
We followed up with various professionals, to help figure out the best path forward. We talked to school counselors, psychiatrists, behavior specialists, and doctors. They used words like dysfunction and disorder, and problem and trouble. We were counseled to try alternate methods of therapy like neurofeedback. Brain integration thereapy. Interactive Metronome. Or switching to a different class of drugs — Adderall* (Amphetamine). All of this, to ensure her success in school. And, I suppose, in life.
Not one person we consulted went against this model. Not one suggested or even hinted that maybe the real problem here is that THIS CHILD is not going to succeed very well in a traditional school environment. That the only real dysfunction is just… one of bad matching, of this particular kid, to the traditional school model.
And that’s what is really bothering me right now. Not one of these professionals who are supposed to be experts on children and learning dared propose an alternate mode of learning. As if there is NOTHING ELSE OUT THERE besides traditional schools that we might consider.
So we consulted the true experts on our child — ourselves and our child — and decided that school is the wrong choice. We are freeing her. Springing her from the prison it had become to her.
Our parents are convinced we are ruining her. She will never learn enough. Or have any social life. We will obstruct her success in life by taking her out of school. They think we should enroll her in a special school for her problem. Or, at the least, a special program for kids like her. Or possibly a strict Catholic school.
But we are done with the perspective that the traditional school system is a one-stop solution to all our educational needs, for all three of our children. There are alternatives! So far, the middle child loves her school, and she is doing very well. She’s staying in school, unless she decides otherwise (which isn’t likely). And the youngest is starting pre-k this year. We’ll take advantage of every opportunity, and make the best decisions we can, given our resources.
For THIS CHILD, this wonderful girl who has been really trying to make school work — we are done. We’re done with deferring her happiness to some faraway time after she graduates from high school. We happen to think that her happily-ever-after should begin now. And anyway, what is success? How do we quantify that? If you take the perspective that success is happiness? Well, we are moving full-tilt in the right direction!
We start our homeschool work next month. And we’ve crafted a curriculum that is geared toward her strengths and on the way SHE learns. She loves science, writing and computers. So she’s taking a year-long physics class with other homeschoolers in our town. She’s registered for a weekly online creative writing class. She begged us to sign her up for a webinar to learn Java programming. And for the rest? We’re taking an approach to learning using a history-based model. We’ll be joining other homeschoolers for social events and classes and tween nights. And she’ll be returning to her beloved piano lessons, and possibly moving toward testing for her orange belt in Aikido — extracurriculars that she dropped last year because she could barely get through her school day.
I realize the utter privilege in my ability to make this decision to homeschool my child. I am grateful that I have the support and am in the position to make this decision for my family. I wish every parent had the freedom to make this choice, given similar circumstances.
As far as the professionals go? We’re parting ways amicably. With one exception. She’s begun weekly visits with a fantastic ADHD coach, who is teaching her to see her strengths, and to delight in them. And to work on strengths she would LIKE to have.
This journey toward homeschooling has the excellent side effect of teaching me a lot, too. I’m learning so much from my kid. I’m learning to trust my instincts. I’m learning to turn to the positive role models in my community for support. I’m learning to say no, that’s not going to work for us.
I’m teaching my daughter that she should AT LEAST have a say in what she is learning at this stage, and that she is going to take over the reins and drive her own learning very soon. This is a new concept for her to take in. Isn’t it wonderful? Learning should not be a passive endeavor. It should be a full-contact sport!
Please wish us luck as we take this big step! And if you have any homeschooling resources or advice you’d like to share, please send it along to firstname.lastname@example.org.
*I think the drugs do work for a lot of people, and I know there are positive stories out there. But there is no one miracle cure for anything. And the course of action that is put before you by the medical professionals, the schools, the teachers is based on the perspective that if a child is diagnosed as being dysfunctional, he/she must be made functional. That it is the child who is broken, not the system.