November 6, 2013 by Angel Pricer
Moving mental mountains in silence has been my way through most of my life. It’s not that I never talked to other people about my problems, but more that I’ve felt no one really gets the way I view them and anyway, the more I talk about my problems they longer they tend to stick around. This perspective has aided me in taking what I call the “Psyche Plunge” into my own underworld more than most mortals dare, and at times it’s also left me feeling like an alien amongst the rest of the world. Yet, these journeys within helped to form a different viewing lens on life events that I am now prepared to share. I am so grateful for the love and support I’ve experienced as a result of my commitment to report on our Road to The Hunter School. The heartfelt comments have brought me to tears even as they encourage me to keep moving – writing – on. Thank You.
Great Strength, Great Challenge
I’ve always found it extremely difficult to define the issues we have faced with our oldest son, mostly because I feel so conflicted about how to fairly quantify the range of behaviors he exhibits against the backdrop of the brilliant light that he is. Over the past six years I’ve completed more questionnaires about my boy and his behaviors than I can count. Many evaluators, both in the education and mental fields, have noted that they don’t often see so many positive comments under the strengths portion of the paperwork. Perhaps that is why it’s always been so difficult for me to accept that he needed specialized help. Though his range of behaviors has been undeniably antisocial and frustratingly present across all settings, his considerable set of strengths include:
Funny, Quick Witted
Excellent Oral Communicator
Innate Leadership Qualities
Born Problem Solver
These qualities, in a loving and nurturing environment, express themselves in a pro-social and positive manner that offer a tremendous benefit to society. However, when suppressed due to a lack of understanding and a desire to control the child and his environment, we are faced with an angry, frustrated child who is quick to rage against a world that seems so foreign and unfair.
Why is it then, that a child who has been recognized as an engaging and lovable child by nearly every educator and mental health professional who has interacted with him was on the road to escalating his behavior to the degree that his fits of rage were more frequent and increasing in intensity?
There are two main points to address in considering this question, though each one deserves deeper exploration in future essays. First, there is the lack of love and acceptance in school and the ‘real world’ in general. Second, there are the lengths to which caregivers (and especially parents) must go to in order to cultivate the self care that is crucial to being present, attentive and loving in all of their interactions with these children.
Every human being upon this planet is worthy of love and acceptance, and children such as my son are ACTIVELY CALLING OUR ATTENTION to its deficit in the world, in our schools and most of all, within our own selves. It’s a tough job, and these kids will not stop pushing our buttons until we get with the LOVE program!
Our challenge has been to consistently create the best environment for these strengths to blossom so that when he engages with a world steeped in lack and fear he can do so from a place of love and confidence.
To Identify, or Not Identify…That IS the Question
I am a rebel. I’ve always questioned authority, with a desire to explore different ways of doing things. In first grade, I asked my teacher why it mattered whether I memorized the alphabet in order, as long as I knew all the letters. Now I understand it to be part of the consensual reality (a system we all agree to use without questioning why we agree to use it). It seems innocuous enough, alphabetically speaking, though surely you can see the implications when applied to other more harmful consensual belief systems. My teacher had a simple enough response, “that’s just the way it is!”
Given my propensity to challenge the status quo, it comes as no surprise that I had to face an extreme case of resistance to having my child identified for Special Education when I KNEW he was so much more than the deleterious behaviors which begot the recommendation in the first place. In some ways, we were ahead of the game when it came to seeking extra support for our son. It was clear from his first preschool experience at age 3 that he had no plans of fitting into the realm of acceptable educational programming, whether that was at a small church daycare, an alternative private school, public education and then onto the more specialized Full-Time Emotional Support setting. Which, by the way, is where some of the worst behaviors began to surface.
What I thought was making sensible requests to accommodate what I knew about my son’s learning and behavioral style turned out to require a lot of meetings, paperwork, doctor visits and the right clinical diagnosis. I hated all of it. Why can’t they see he just needs more one on one instruction, a smaller class size, less distractions in the classroom, the ability to write with a marker instead of a pencil, and a whole lot more opportunity to move, bounce and fidget? Well, “that’s just the way it is!”
Providing children like my son with the appropriate educational setting to bring out the very best they have within them takes a lot of resources. In education, resources = money and, to get that funding, you have to go through Special Education. There is much to look at when it comes to resources and caregiver burnout, so stay tuned for more on the topic.
Having swung to both extremes of the Special Education Identification pendulum and bumping up against many points in between has helped me to formulate an informed view of the dilemma faced by many families and, as is my rebel way, to propose a better alternative.
Let’s face it, there are a lot of misinformed beliefs surrounding what Special Education is, and what it is not. We all have memories of our own schooling and the stigma surrounding Special Ed classes exists regardless of which side of the door you were on. These early experiences, plus lots of other factors go into forming our beliefs around the topic of Special Education. For me, I just didn’t see the point of all the hassle when I knew my kid just needed a different set of circumstances to set him up for success. The system doesn’t work that way though, so I went through it just like it’s set up and found a whole lot of problems in the process, not the least of which was the nearly obsessive focus on all the poor choices and bad behaviors that were reported, in detail, on a daily basis.
This led me to make the radical decision to take my son out of school and “love him all better.” That sounds great and all, but it didn’t work. The reason? Because although I am one strong, loving mama, I cannot meet all the needs of all the people all the time. We cannot do this alone. And because I ran the Special Education gamut, working through every miserable experience along the way, I now work in partnership with the Director of Special Education in our school district (who, by the way, is an absolutely overworked, underappreciated ANGEL!). Had we not identified, and not persevered through all the trying times with love as our primary goal, our son would not be receiving the opportunity he is today.
Advocating for my little guy, with love, has opened the door to and extraordinary opportunity for our family to actively participate in a much needed re-visioning of the education system. This is absolutely about meeting the needs of my child first, but it does not stop there. It’s also about showing that there IS another way and it CAN be accomplished…not just for 30 kids at one small school in Rumney, NH, but here, in East Pennsboro School District, and there, where you are.
This is how we change the landscape of education, by listening to the loudest voices of those who, with the most impactful behaviors, tell us what doesn’t work so we can focus on what does.
The Hunter School is putting Love in Education, and as a result it opens the door to bring loving awareness into all schools, and to all of the people who serve our children, hopefully, with love and acceptance of themselves and the kids they interact with every day. It starts with you…and me…working together…in unity.
Image courtesy of Naypong at FreeDigitalPhotos.net