Many mornings, I drive Dylan to the bus stop. It’s not far – maybe a quarter of a mile – but it gives us a minute to sit together. He probably should be walking, to get those endorphins going, but he always ends up running while wearing a monstrous backpack. The thing weighs about 50 pounds, and I feel for him.
Plus, he’s been having a lot of good mornings, and it’s actually pleasant taking him to the bus stop.
He has been coming downstairs early – almost “on time,” which is 15 minutes before the bus comes. He puts on his shoes while he eats breakfast, but for the most part, he’s ready to go. He eats most of his breakfast now instead of carrying it out the door with him. It was always funny watching him wrap up dry pancakes and carry them out the door, but he did it so often I was beginning to think he might prefer them without syrup.
So one day, I drove him to the bus stop like I often do. And we sat and talked for a minute, like we often do. I am trying hard not to harp on his grades or his missing work or what papers he needs to turn in – or whatever. So we had a reasonably pleasant conversation.
It was a rainy but nice morning, although it’s darker in the mornings now. And the bus came with its bright red flashers, and pulled in front of us, like it often does. I kissed Dylan on the head and he grabbed his backpack and his coffee and started walking toward the bus.
Then he started to skip. He walked a few feet, and I guess he got a little too happy. He skipped three or four times, and landed near the back of the bus – when he either realized he was skipping, or forgot to skip. And then he walked to the bus door with the rest of the neighborhood kids.
Sitting there at 7 a.m. on that gray morning, I started to cry. I hadn’t seen Dylan skip to school in his whole life.
Skipping, for Dylan, is an energy outlet and a subtle show of happiness. He’s been skipping since he was very young, and did it without ever being taught. It’s one of those things that just came naturally to him, along with his long hair, giant smile and free style. Dylan was meant to skip.
Sure, he skips during the summer. He also skips on weekends. He skips when he’s excited about going to work at Field of Screams. He even skips sometimes when he’s just walking the dog, or heading out to the swing set.
But I’d never seen Dylan skip to the bus. The bus was always a signal of doom. It was the thing that would take him to school, which was his “death sentence” only last year.
But Dylan is getting better. He’s growing up, and finding his way, and doing what he needs to do for himself.
And sometimes, I guess, that means he needs to skip to school.
Dylan has C’s in two classes. There are only two weeks left in the quarter, and he said he was “trying” to get straight A’s.
He constantly insists it’s getting better – but he’s doing the exact same things, with the exact same results. He still doesn’t think it’s a problem.
As always, Dylan is scrambling to “find” all of his missing work. As usual, his assignment grades read something like this: A, A, A, Z, A, E, E, A, B, Z, A, Z, A, A, Z.
The “Z” means “missing” and the “E” (almost always) means “didn’t find it in time.” (Sometimes “E” means “didn’t bother to study.”)
Although there are now consequences for C’s, I am saying almost nothing about it. But here is what I want to say….
Dylan, you don’t need to put yourself through this. You don’t need to consistently dig yourself into a hole, just so you can dig yourself out. All you have to do is turn in your work on the day it is due! Just turn it in THAT DAY and you will have amazing grades!
You know HOW to do it. It’s three easy steps!
- Talk to your teacher. Ask every day, “What was due today?”
- Then TURN IT IN. (This step is essential.)
- If it’s not done, finish it at home and TURN IT IN the next day.
It IS that simple!
If you turn everything in on the day it’s due, there will be no more failing grades. No more work to “make up.” No more digging around in your backpack, trying to find it. No more doing the same assignment twice. No more trying to figure out what you did with it. Just turn it in NOW.
KNOW the word “NOW.” Really, really understand that “NOW” means “RIGHT THIS SECOND.”
Take it one class at a time, Son. Talk to your teacher right after class. Do it every day. Do it every day NO MATTER WHAT. Talk to your teacher even if you are in a hurry, even if you have to use the restroom, even if someone is trying to talk to you, even if you got a text during class. Talk to your teacher EVERY DAY. Just walk up after class and say those four simple words: “What was due today?”
Then pull out the work, and hand it to your teacher. And that’s it! You will never, ever have a Z again!
But I’ve said this all before – ad infinitum, ad nauseum – and he will never, ever change his behavior just because I asked him to change it.
He will only ever do anything when he discovers that HE CAN DO IT – and when he thinks it’s worth it to make his work a priority.
I just don’t know when that day will ever come.
I have found a nifty new position at the schools where I substitute. It is called a “reading specialist.”
This is the kind of job I could have full-time and actually enjoy. My job – as substitute reading specialist – is to go into different classrooms and help kids who are struggling with reading. For some classrooms, I take a handful of kids out of their classrooms for half an hour, and work with them in a small group. Sometimes I get just one individual student for a whole half-hour.
I’ve done this job twice. And what I have learned is, I am a great reading specialist. In fact, this is the job I envisioned when I started teaching twenty-plus years ago. This is also the reason I do home-and-hospital teaching.
I actually get to see the results of my teaching.
My biggest problem is that I can’t “fix” all the students in one day. Some of them, I would never be able to “fix.”
To complicate everything, there’s the vision processing problem – and the other learning disabilities.
Shane’s vision processing disorder was very difficult to diagnose. Only one person in the world – a physical therapist who was not in the school system – was able to guess that Shane should get checked for vision processing disorder.
Combine the physical therapist with the hyper-vigilant mom. Then add a vision processing specialist who’s nearby – which is rare. And we could afford treatment, giving us a recipe for success. But…
Not everyone has that kind of good fortune.
This week, for example, I met a little girl who was reading to the best of her ability, and the letters were obviously flipping and flopping all over the place in front of her eyes. She could have been tired – or she could have dyslexia or even a vision processing disorder.
But it costs $500 for the testing. And this little girl probably didn’t have $5, let alone $500.
And that’s just for the testing. The therapy cost us $20,000 – not including the minuscule amount that was covered by insurance.
That’s why I want to stand up on my soapbox and scream. Assuming every child has insurance (and many don’t), learning disabilities aren’t considered a “medical” issue.
Insurance doesn’t cover anything related to learning disabilities – except drugs. And the drugs do nothing more than to alleviate the symptoms. They do nothing to cure the underlying problem.
Both vision processing disorder and ADHD are related to brain dysfunctions. There is a biological reason for both “disabilities” – and that biological reason is directly responsible for the inabilities to function properly in school (and in life).
The insurance companies, however, have deemed that kids – and all people – with these disorders can “get by” in life. Many, if not all, will be miserable every single day of their lives until they graduate from high school.
ADHD, they say, is not a medical problem. Yet it has been scientifically proven to be responsible for more youth suicides than depression. What more do they need as proof that this needs treatment?
And many kids with vision processing disorders will never learn to read. This very newly identified disorder has no statistics – but from what I saw in Shane, I can say with complete certainty that, if undiagnosed, vision processing disorders will cause the same kinds of reactions in kids.
These kids will just spend their entire lives believing that they’re stupid – and then they will act accordingly in their adult lives.
I thank God every day that we had the means and the good fortune to help Shane. I only wish that everyone could be so fortunate.
For our last exploratory college road trip, Dylan and I are hitting the road for four days – again causing me to feel bad about leaving Shane.
This time, it’s because we are leaving in the midst of the annual parent-teacher conferences. Once a year, the public schools offer parents a chance to meet with each teacher – and this takes place at the conclusion of two student half-days.
Unfortunately, the half-days make it a very convenient time to take Dylan on the road. And it is the very last time that parent-teacher conferences will be offered for Shane. In high school, there are no more conferences.
Perhaps even more unfortunately, none of this is done online. The scheduling is all done early in the morning on those two half-days, with parents pouring through the doors by 7 a.m. – and all day long – each trying to find a ten-minute time slot for seven different teachers. It’s all done with paper and pencil (“NO PENS!” I heard once, because of all the erasing that’s done during this process).
And it’s all overseen by one poor administrative secretary trying to monitor the schedules of 62 teachers (not including special education, deaf or autism teachers) and trying to help new parents figure out the system and find seven open time slots.
I am not a new parent. I know the system.
Over the years, I have become adept at arriving before school starts, complete with my son’s prioritized list of teachers, ready for fast scheduling. I grab the math book first, to make sure I am able to meet with the math teacher, since math teachers are notoriously challenging to schedule. Then I find the other essential teachers: English, science, social studies. I move on to the electives last, since they are slower to fill up.
I’ve learned what times the conferences are offered (well into evening) and that teachers are happier to meet early in the day – when they’re not exhausted from talking to all the parents.I’ve learned where the classrooms are, and which ones are too far away for me to schedule in a back-to-back time slot. In fact, I have finally learned how to schedule all of Shane’s teachers into a single two-hour time frame.
Last year, after playing this game for five years, I was able to meet with every, single teacher in an hour and twenty minutes. More casual parents have been known to take two days to meet with teachers, and still miss meeting with three or four of them.
This year, though, I am missing it entirely. Now that I am a veteran scheduler, I will not be able to utilize one of my predominant skills.
Fortunately, I have already remedied the situation.
Even though the conferences are a month away, I have already emailed all of Shane’s teachers. I explained my dilemma and asked if I could still meet with each of them, for just a few minutes, to check on Shane’s progress this year.
Now – without ever leaving home or picking up a pencil – I have my own, personal parent-teacher conferences scheduled with each of Shane’s teachers. Best of all, these personalized conferences fit into my schedule and their schedules, so no one is displaced. And I will get some quality time to concentrate on Shane after all.
And I think we will all be glad when I am not there early on the morning of the first half-day, grabbing for a pencil.
The kids don’t like change. I don’t like change, so it is not particularly surprising to me that the kids would also prefer that everything always stay the same.
So when it was announced, years ago, that eating Greek yogurt was better for health than eating plain, sugary yogurt, Bill and I switched to Greek yogurt. It has a more bitter taste, akin to sour cream or cream cheese, but with vanilla flavoring and/or the terribly unhealthy “fruit on the bottom,” it is quite edible.
The kids will only eat yogurt with “no chunks,” though, so we couldn’t even sway them to try the fruity kind.
I realized that most of the world had switched when I could barely find the “old” yogurt at the store. Greek yogurt had replaced nearly every brand in the store. I tried again to have them eat Greek yogurt (vanilla! no chunks!) and Shane did get it down. But only once – and then he said he would “rather not” eat it again. Dylan wouldn’t even try.
Last week, I went to the store and their “old” yogurt had been replaced – not by Greek, but by “custard style.” It came in a new cup, which was shaped like most of the Greek yogurt cups, but inside was the same sugary junk they’d always eaten.
So I put a note inside each lunchbox:
this is NOT greek yogurt
the yoplait people are trying to make their yogurt LOOK like greek yogurt so people will think it’s healthy
it’s not. it’s the same crap you like, just in a different cup
With the note intact, I hoped they would, at least, give it a try.
Shane came home with his yogurt uneaten. To be fair, he’d barely eaten any of his lunch because he’d had to retake a math test at lunchtime.
Shane can try again next week.
Dylan came home and, while cleaning out his lunchbox, reminded me about the note.
“My friends thought this was really funny,” he said. “People took pictures of it and put it on their stories. And it was on, like, six different Instagrams today.”
So I got my point across!
Best of all, Dylan ate the yogurt. And of course, it was delicious.
Dylan is learning to drive.
Given that he has ADHD and is 16 years old and can’t turn in his work on time no matter what and has to be reminded to do things 74 times before he actually does them, one might suspect that driving would be a challenge for Dylan.
But it’s not. In fact, Dylan is an absolutely wonderful driver. He is careful getting ready to go, and forgets nothing. He adjusts his seat position. He checks his mirrors and his seatbelt and the steering wheel. If he plans to listen to music while driving, he sets it up beforehand. He makes sure the air and/or heat are to his liking, and moves away from the wheel any objects that might be a distraction.
Then he pulls out.
While he’s driving, he stays focused on the road ahead. He checks his mirrors often, but not too often. He turns his head to cover his blind spots. He uses his turn signals, his headlights, his wipers and even cruise control when necessary. He watches the traffic to his left and right, knows who’s behind him, and is always aware of other drivers’ speeds – so he knows when he needs to pass and when he needs to get out of the way.
He doesn’t go more than five miles per hour above the speed limit. He asks questions about headlights and taillights and turn signals. He is interested in the new features of cars that “tell” the driver when a vehicle is too close, or in a blind spot. He absorbs all of it, and drives gracefully while contemplating new inventions that would help the driving public in the future.
I was worried that he’d be unfocused, distracted, crazy – or even aloof. Instead, he is alert and aware and conscientious. In fact, I’ve never seen him so focused.
I think we’ve discovered what it takes for my brilliant, ADHD-enhanced boy to concentrate. When he has 15,000 things to think about simultaneously, he shines.
I am leaving Shane for the weekend.
This time, it’s to take Dylan on another college road trip. It’s the third one of its kind, where Shane gets left behind. And there will be more to come.
I always plan things for Shane to do while I’m gone. I think way ahead, and find things he can do with his dad or his grandparents. Then I create an itinerary for Shane, too, since Dylan and I have an itinerary that’s usually set six months in advance.
Shane likes itineraries.
The challenge for me is that Shane is the baby of the family. This means that – in spite of my best efforts to the contrary – Shane has fewer baby pictures, fewer videos, fewer at-home educational opportunities, and even fewer lullabies. By the time Shane got here, I was just too tired to sing the whole song I sang to Dylan, so I sang a shortened Paul McCartney song instead.
While Dylan got special time with me for three years, we hardly noticed Shane for his first three years. First of all, he was so quiet. I didn’t know babies could be so quiet. But he seemed content – and probably was – so we just let him sit there. Dylan, on the other hand, was entertained non-stop from the time he came out of the womb. I don’t know how much of this forms their personalities – or how much their personalities dictate what happens to them in life.
But Shane was easy.
Shane is still easy. Someone told me once that easy babies can be brutal as teenagers; I’m still anticipating that.
But for now, Dylan still gets all the attention. He needs constant stimulation. And we’re always working harder with Dylan, trying to make sure he’s okay.
I don’t know if this is just the nature of a special needs child or not. When Shane was undergoing vision therapy treatment, we went to his doctor several times a week – but when we came home, Shane magically did his therapy “homework” on his off days, with no prompting from us. When he needed our help, we helped. But mostly, he just did everything he was supposed to do, and we watched as his processing abilities improved.
But Dylan needs to be reminded to do everything. Six times. We have meetings with his teachers and his case manager and special testing people. I’ve emailed hundreds of people about Dylan, for various reasons, trying to explain him. “He’s brilliant,” I say. “He just can’t remember anything you tell him to do.” By contrast, I almost never email anyone on Shane’s behalf.
I don’t need to.
Dylan took special classes, entered special programs at school, and went to private school for a whole year. He’s had extracurricular activities of every sort, and more jobs than I can count.
While Dylan was in the gifted program, Shane and I sat in the car and waited for half an hour, every day, for the end of Dylan’s school day. Then we went inside and I talked to Dylan’s teacher while Shane waited for me.
Shane learned to dress himself at two, and fed himself breakfast and got himself home on the bus every day while I was driving 45 minutes to pick up Dylan from his private school. It was Shane’s last year of elementary school, and I mostly missed it.
I guess I’m feeling a bit guilty that I am leaving Shane again.
I try hard – very, very hard – to spend quality time with Shane. I just hope he is getting enough love.
Dylan started hating English class in 7th grade, when his teacher used improper grammar … to teach grammar. He had hours and hours of class time to work on assignments that he finished in less than one hour. He read a couple of books that he’d already read (in elementary school) and wasn’t the least bit challenged.
In our zeal to keep him engaged and interested in school, we sent Dylan to private school for 8th grade – and his English teacher wasn’t interested in helping kids succeed. Dylan’s 8th grade English teacher was a strict disciplinarian who didn’t fit into the “Friends” mold. He chose books that suited his personal agenda – specifically, to teach the history of downtrodden people – but did nothing to help Dylan love literature. (The teacher has since been fired from the school.)
In 9th grade, Dylan loved his teacher – but by then, it was too late. Dylan had stopped reading for fun. There were no more requests for library books about cars, physics and neurology. In fact, after two years of bad teachers, Dylan stopped going to the library. Too many books, articles and stories had been forced upon him in an unpleasant way. He couldn’t see the forest anymore, with all those dead trees in his way.
When he was little, Dylan loved the library; he loved books. The whole English saga made me sad.
He struggled through 9th and 10th grade. He had great English teachers, but a bad attitude. He got some B’s and a C, and wished every day that he didn’t have to take English. In fact, the entire reason he dropped out of the IBCP program is that he couldn’t bear the thought of taking two years of college-level English.
Then – this year, thanks to a friend’s recommendation – Dylan quite suddenly switched into an AP Language class, which is college-level English.
Dylan LOVES this class.
On day one, I asked him how it went.
“I love it,” he said.
“Really?” (I thought he was being sarcastic.)
“Yeah, it’s really good.”
“Well what are you guys doing in there?”
“Too much to really talk about,” he said. “But it’s great!”
Since that time, Dylan has told me not once, or twice, but many, many times how much he loves his new English class. He likes his teacher, but mostly he likes the challenge that it’s offering him. He likes that there’s more than just reading and spitting back information. He likes that he has to think and analyze. He likes that there is intelligent, heated discussion.
“I’m really going to love college,” he said.
In other words, Dylan has finally rediscovered the kinds of challenges he found when he went to the GT program in 4th grade. He’s finally found something that suits his intellectual level. He is engaged in his learning.
And I haven’t seen this reaction from him since 4th grade. He’s not just focused – he’s interested in what he is learning. I can remember him telling me way back then, “I love school now!”
It’s the same reaction he had when he came home from his first day of AP Language.
While he was “stepping back” away from the honors level classes, afraid of more busy-work, what he needed was more of a mental challenge. He needed to be stimulated.
And now, at least in one class period, he is.
Shane and I went to an NFL game yesterday – an interesting event for two introverts. We enjoyed ourselves, though, until – near the end of the game – Shane’s stomach started to hurt.
“Do you want to leave?” I asked.
“No,” he said. “We’re staying for the whole game!”
So we did. And on the way home, his stomach still hurt. He’d had a lot of junk food, certainly nothing healthy. And he drank two sugary drinks, a soda and a lemonade, which is more than he normally allows himself.
“Why don’t you just rest,” I said. “Put your seat back and close your eyes.” I handed him some sunglasses, so he could rest more efficiently.
Shane slid the seat back into a reclining position, and he was quiet for several minutes. I doubted he was sleeping, since he hasn’t napped since the age of two, but he was trying to rest.
NFL traffic can be awful. I said a little prayer that we get home safely.
Two minutes later, almost imperceptibly Shane said, “Mom, can you not crash the car so we can get home safely?”
I was stunned. I wasn’t driving erratically or even terribly fast – but Shane was worried. After all the crazy NFL people, the yelling, the booze, the shoving and aggression and screaming… Shane couldn’t relax because he was worried.
“That’s my plan,” I told him. “I am not going to crash the car and we will get home safely. In fact, I just said a silent prayer so we have help getting home safely, too.”
“Okay,” he said.
I’m not sure my words were reassuring enough.
I’ve been a worrier all my life – afraid to close my eyes for fear that something bad will happen. I don’t want to loosen the illusionary reigns of control.
But Shane has almost never shown signs of fear. And his little question, which was probably his equivalent of my prayer, made me realize that he’s more vulnerable than I realized. Inside his always calm exterior is a churning of emotions that somehow needs to be settled to match his exterior.
I want to remember this. I want to look at him and know that he needs reassurance, too – that, like all of us, Shane needs reassurance, too. With all the hoopla in this house, with Shane’s older brother constantly debating and pushing and yelling … with Shane’s parents arguing and yelling at Dylan and at each other … with all that Shane sees and hears and knows…
Amidst all the family chaos, Shane needs reassurance, too.
Dylan is showing up for classes every day. It’s been almost a month of school, and he’s not a ball of anxiety – yet. Of course, while I have plenty of my own anxiety, I am not contributing to any of his school-related anxiety anymore.
He still forgets his work – but I am not responsible for that.
I occasionally check his grades, and can see that he’s missing work. Mostly, I don’t say anything at all.
Dylan forgets to turn in his assignments, then he figures out that something’s missing. He talks to his teacher, and sometimes his case manager, and he turns it in. Usually.
In other words, he is doing exactly what he has done for the past six years. The difference is, I am not in the middle of it anymore.
I am not forcing him to do anything, either. We have no requirements about studying and no requirements about sitting for an hour to “do” homework. Instead, he has consequences. He doesn’t have to study or do homework, but if he has anything less than a B in any class, he doesn’t work on weekdays.
So Dylan comes home from school and does nothing. He sits on the couch with his phone, or he sits upstairs on his bed with his iPad, or he goes in the back room and plays music.
In fact, I haven’t seen him do homework for longer than 10 minutes in the entire year. And that was a one-time occurrence. The day that he did his homework, I thought things had changed. I thought it was the beginning of Dylan being responsible for Dylan.
But no… It was just a fluke.
Due to a number of circumstances, most notably that his English teacher got sick, Dylan has just changed from Honors English to an AP English class.
His schedule is changing from mostly low-level classes and two Honors classes … to mostly low-level classes, two Honors classes, and one AP class.
Dylan says he is excited about the change. He thinks it is more appropriate for him. In fact, he’s mentioned several times that nearly all of his friends are taking IB classes – and I think he misses them.
He has also said that they are all overwhelmed with work – which they are, since many of them are taking a full college-level course load. Dylan does not miss the extra work.
So this is a compromise, I think.
One AP class could be enough to send Dylan right over the edge. Or it might be just the thing to make Dylan responsible for Dylan.
Only time will tell.