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Testing, Testing, 1-2-3

This week, the girl participates in her first annual testing session since we’ve been homeschooling.

It is less a test of her abilities and more a measure of my prowess as a teacher.

I’m a bit nervous. Possibly more than she is.

I actually had trouble sleeping, which is not unusual, but I don’t usually worry myself awake. Most nights, my brain spins stories or posts destined to never see an audience because I fell asleep halfway through.

Before we adopted, I didn’t understand when my friends bemoaned their children’s test anxiety. You’ve heard the phrase “pulling out my hair” in frustration…I’d never seen it in action until one of our little friends showed up with no eyebrows. He was anxious about testing and pulled them out, bit by bit. (There’s a disorder called trichotillomania, but they ruled that out and said it was just anxiety.)

I’ve always loved school and am a geek-tacular stay-up-all-night-crammer. My test grades were rarely less than stellar. (Not bragging—just explaining why I didn’t understand how tests might be scary. I just saw them as a challenge.)

Might not remember any of the material a week later, but as long as my grades were high, everyone seemed happy.

None of my peers ever talked about test-taking anxiety. On occasion, someone admitted being nervous about passing a certain test or achieving a certain grade, but no one was pulling out their eyelashes.

When my friends discussed their children’s test-taking anxiety , I thought it was hyperbole.

And then we adopted our kids.

The boy has no such thing as test-taking anxiety, mostly because he doesn’t care.

He likes good grades, mostly due to sibling competition. He doesn’t like it if his sister’s grades are higher than his, but he has an innate ability to both put in minimum effort and get fairly decent grades. In general, he displays an incredible lack of concern about school (the exception: history studies…the one time he has the legitimate ability to learn about war in a setting in which discussing weapons is taboo).

Our girl, on the other hand, wants to “get everything right the first time” and doesn’t understand why memorizing information requires so much effort on her part.

She should be able to assimilate it by osmosis, of course.

I’ve tried to help her understand that very few people can view text once and remember everything they need to know, but I am—thus far—unsuccessful.

Her expectation of perfection frustrates her. It often trips her up during testing, because the moment she sees a question she doesn’t know, she starts freaking out. She doesn’t necessarily have any external physical reaction, but she begins making mistakes and overlooking obvious answers.

Any information she might have known flies away like pigeons from a coop.

To prepare her for the upcoming annual test, I gave her a practice test 3 grade levels below her own. I thought it would bolster her confidence.

Instead, she stumbled over one question and spiraled from there. She ended up answering one-third of the answers incorrectly.

She KNEW all of the information.

I asked her the questions verbally and she answered all answers with 100% success.

But put that paper in front of her, and she freezes up.

Hoping to alleviate her fear, I explained the test doesn’t matter. The results are less about what she knows and more about highlighting anything I still need to teach to keep her on par with her peers. (Or, if I have my way, to get her ahead of her peers…but I don’t say this. No pressure. We’re still catching up. But I tell you, this kid is brilliant.)

I keep telling her I don’t know of anyone who takes standardized tests for a living.

None of it seems to sink in.

I am a bit concerned that the test results won’t be accurate because she may miss answers she truly knows after confronting a difficult question.

I’m fighting my own version of test anxiety,.

I want her to do well for her own sake. I want to show her that she can do well on a test. I’m hoping to help her overcome the stress induced by the public school system yearly testing.

I’m not on a witch hunt and don’t have anything against public schools but they put so much pressure on the kids with constant drilling, remedial groups before and after school, prizes for doing well and promises of ice cream for those who participated well in prep exercises.

One mother opted for her child not to take the test, which is allowed, and the school tried to fight her. Her daughter is extremely smart and would have done very well on the test, reflecting positively on the school and raising their scores.

I didn’t even know skipping the exam was an option until it was too late.

Because they drilled the importance of testing into my daughter, her already perfectionist personality can’t handle an error. Once she knows question is incorrect, it’s over.

I’m praying she does well, but to be honest, I have personally seen her growth this year and found that she is much smarter then they gave her credit for.

She just needed to hear things in a different way. Sometimes I have to explain things more than once, but once she gets it, she gets it.

I’d like to instill in her that the point of school is not to get good grades but to learn the information we need to be able to do well in life and to interact with others in a positive way.

Math is important. Most of us will never use trigonometry, but basic math, algebra, and geometry are all important for most careers.

Language is one of the most important subjects. You might be an amazing genius, but if you can’t communicate your ideas, no one will care.

History is her favorite subject and I’m so thankful for this. Learning about history and taking it to heart gives us compassion for others, helps us recognize dictators before they take over, and allows us to see the mistakes we as people have made in order to avoid repeating them.

Hubby and I also want to give our kids a love of science. Curiosity and willingness to problem-solve are key to lifelong learning and success.

We were fortunate to find a fabulous art class this year, in which she studies some of the masters and has an opportunity to try to paint in his or her style. She likes to sketch and color but has never shown much interest in painting until now. She’s very talented.

I was in grad school by the time I realized the point of school was not to cram one’s way to the highest grade possible, but to ingest and comprehend the greatest amount of information to then translate into real-life application.

Creativity, curiosity, problem-solving ability, and the knowledge that you can find the answer to pretty much any question if you look hard enough: this is what I want my daughter to learn.

Testing this week won’t even affect her by next week. The true test will be life.

I’m thankful for the opportunity to find out what she has learned and what she still needs to know to keep up with her age group…or surpass them.

But I know that this test will not measure her ability to live a happy, successful life.

For that, we will have to rely on the test of time.

 

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Excruciating Ride, Part 2

Continued from Excruciating Ride
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Photo Credit: Benjamin Wong

I often search Flickr for just the right photo, but I don’t always find what I want. In this case, the picture is worth about a million words.  

The roller coaster we’re riding with our son right now isn’t any fun.

As I walked into the hall, my son whipped the pencil away from his chest.

“What are you doing?” Reaching for the pencil, I leaned over to see whether he’d progressed through his school work. I used the pencil to point, summoning as much nonchalance as I could.

“You need to fill in these blanks in pencil, please.” I handed the pencil back, adding, “Pencils are for paper; pencils are not for poking people.”

He nodded and took it.

After he finished his school work, I gave him a journal assignment. He wrote about suicide by a pencil stab.

An hour later, he growled in frustration when I wouldn’t believe an obvious lie. He left the house and headed down the driveway. The timing worked well, because we needed to head to an appointment, so I pretended to think he was going to get in the car.

Unlocking the vehicle, I called, “Hey, thanks for getting out of the house so quickly so we can be on time! Do you want me to meet you at the end of the driveway?”

He froze, then turned slowly and shuffled back to the car, muttering, “wearing the wrong shoes, anyway.”

His sister gave him a sharp look. “Were you trying to run away?”

“Yeah, but I need my other shoes.”

She shook her head. “Running away is stupid. What are you going to eat?”

In a cool, flat tone that gave me chills, he said, “Dead squirrels, probably.”

By late August, I was spending an average of seven hours per day closely monitoring our son. Completing tasks became almost impossible; he didn’t want to move, so he began a sabotage campaign. When we put the house on the market, we asked the kids to try to keep things neat for the showings. He thought buyers would refuse to purchase the house if he worked against us. He trashed his room, wrote on the walls in permanent marker, decimated a large planter…every time he wasn’t by my side, I looked for the next bit of destruction.

He did the opposite of whatever we asked and began doing things he’d never done in the past, like climbing out of his window to leave the house. Hubby and I did our best, but…have you ever tried to keep an 11 year-old in sight at all times? It’s even harder than it sounds.

Cameras and a newly-installed alarm system helped, but we still couldn’t supervise 100% of his day. Showers became especially problematic, because he’s really too old for one of us to stand there. He plugged the drain with toys and toilet paper, defecated in the tub and filled the curtain with water, letting it go when it became too heavy (all over the bathroom floor).

Because he is diagnosed as “on the edge” of the Autism spectrum, the in-home counselor suggested we apply for ABA therapy for help with behavior modification. Good ABA therapists have successfully helped non-verbal, low-functioning children learn to communicate and to perform self-care tasks. If his apparent inability to follow directions stemmed from the autism, the therapists would be able to help. And maybe, once he had a habit of doing the right things, he would feel better about himself.

While I sat outside with the supervisor, outlining the challenges of the last several months, another staff member sat with our son to evaluate him. I explained to the supervisor that he’s great one-on-one with an adult, so I expected the other therapist to find nothing. Sure enough, when she joined us, I saw The Look.

The Look, n., facial expression indicating the parent must be out of her mind, as this child is brimming with intelligence and compliance. 

Thankful for backup from the in-home counselor, the supervisor and I explained there is more to this kid than becomes obvious in one meeting. We were approved for services, but staffing shortages meant ABA wouldn’t start for several weeks.

A week later, the threats of suicide came almost daily, sometimes several times a day. His moods swung between anger and depression. I couldn’t leave him alone with his sister for even a minute because he started lashing out at her.

ABA wasn’t going to be enough.

We began looking for residential treatment, this time for a program that lasted more than a few days.

Continued

 

 

 

 

 

Great Expectations, Part 2

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Photo by Wayne S. Grazio

Albeit under a coat in the floor of the truck (who does that?) he was minding his own business when she started grabbing the coat away from him. He hissed and growled like a cat, trying to keep the coat, and she started laughing and pawing back at him. He started pulling at her laces, in cat fashion, when she decided she didn’t like him messing with her shoes and got angry.

By that time, he was wrapped around her ankles, still thinking it was a game. Knowing that I don’t have patience for physical contact between them (it generally degrades to a fight), she started screaming, “GET OFF ME!” as though he’d just jumped across the seat at her. (Which, let’s be real, does occasionally happen.)

And when I asked for an explanation, she described the situation as though she’d done nothing but wave her hands in the air to magically not really make it rain inside the truck cab.

“When I asked you what happened, did you tell me the truth?” I was seething, trying to hold it together. The boy had managed four straight days with no major incidents, and what she’d done might trigger him.

She is fully aware that if she gets him riled up before class, he has trouble de-escalating. On days she prods him in the morning, he tends to come home with many “red” marks and few (if any) “green” marks. Our rule is to keep the morning as calm as possible. 

She looked me straight in the eye. “No. I lied and said I’d only made it pretend rain because I wanted to stay out of trouble.”

I nodded. “And what’s the second reason you lied?”

Her chin jutted into the air a fraction of an inch. “I didn’t lie to try to get him in trouble.”

Really.

“So…if I thought you only made pretend rain and he attacked your feet, what would happen?”

“He would get in lots of trouble.”

I squinted at her. “But you didn’t lie to get him in trouble.”

“Nope.”

Sometimes conversations with this kid have me feeling like I’ve fallen down the rabbit hole. And then through a looking glass. And then took LSD.

“Ok. Let’s think this through. You lied, knowing that it would keep you out of trouble and he would be in a lot of trouble. Is that lying to get him in trouble?”

“Yes.” She shifted, unhappy with the turn of events.

I looked at the boy. “I don’t care what she does. You keep your hands off your sister. Got it?”

He nodded.

The bell rang and teachers lined the sidewalk to monitor incoming children.

I pointed at him. “This does NOT affect your day. Get it together before you reach the building. You’re on a four-day streak. Make it five good days.”

He nodded again. I told her we’d discuss it further after school, and they jumbled out the door.

Continued…

Learning Not to Punch the Teacher

When your mom borned you, she took one look and threw you in the trash.

The classmate who delivered this charming nugget to my son probably had no idea how close he was to the truth. No concept of how deep his words would wound.

Afterward, we had a long talk about how it’s okay to want to punch someone but it’s not okay to actually put hands on someone. I am proud that even in the face of such soul-searing spite, our boy did not retaliate.

I suggested that he find a constructive way to deal with the painful feelings. Punch a pillow. Draw a picture. Write your feelings.

Tonight, I take my own advice.

Our son’s teacher vacillates between understanding and intolerant.

She is personally offended by his need to draw while she talks and doesn’t understand his Aspie idiosyncrasies.

But after Dad died, she gave our boy a lot of grace as he worked through the grief in the way all the articles predicted: a nosedive in school behavior and performance.

My emotions conflict often when dealing with her.

Today, I received a text.

I saw your son violently kick a student from another class. Please encourage him to behave appropriately in school.

The text bothered me.

If he “violently” kicked another child, I should have been picking him up from the principal’s office, not finding out after the fact.

This was followed by,

He didn’t eat his lunch today.

and

During the test today, he took a red pen and drew on his arms.

This last one, I’d already noticed, a fabulous red dragon tattoo. Although I’ve asked him not to draw on himself, I’m not that concerned about impermanent ink decorations. If he sneaks off to get a real tattoo, well, that’s a problem. No tattoos until you’re 25, when your brain has matured fully. That’s the rule. 

I responded, “Yes, I saw. Did he do anything right?”

She didn’t answer.

I added, “He mentioned that his friend showed him new shoes that change color and invited him to hit them with his foot. Was this the kicking incident?”

No response, then,

He asked permission to bring a cannonball and a bullet to school. He said you will help him bring the cannonball to school. Cannonballs and bullets are not allowed in school. Please discourage him from bringing these items to school.

Good grief. A family friend gave our little history buff several artifacts collected over the years. Our guy’s first response:

“We’re learning about this in history! I bet my teacher would love to see these!”

I told him that he couldn’t take them to school but that possibly I could get special permission to bring them in so the kids could see the display. Evidently he was too excited and brought it up to her.

This is the kid who smoked me in the “Jeopardy” category World Wars and corrected his teacher (accurately) when she taught about Pearl Harbor.

He’s really thrilled about history. Instead of encouraging that passion, she’s just annoyed.

My true difficulty with the situation is this:

I get it.

I understand fully that he requires ten times more direction than any other kid in class. He needs someone to help him see the connection between his actions and consequences (good or bad). He is frequently distracted by a buzzing light, a whispered word, a tapping foot or a bug doodling around the room. He doesn’t think through actions or words before he does or speaks.

I want to be on her side. I want to be a team.

Maybe the last two years (with fabulous teachers who recognized the diamond shine under the inches of behavioral coal dust) have spoiled me. We worked together to find solutions and they’ve offered advice for his current teacher. Those two years weren’t perfect and there’s no way to dream they were, no matter how flexible your imagination. But we worked together and tried each others’ ideas.

She discards ideas faster than I can suggest them.

Seriously, I just want us to work together to point this kid to success; the success I KNOW he can have. In a recent IEP meeting, his caseworker shook her head and said, “even with all his focusing struggles, he’s still keeping his grades up. I can’t believe it.”

I CAN believe it.

He’s brilliant. When he barely studies, he still passes (sometimes with 100s). With the right guidance and focus, he’ll be unstoppable.

Right now, though, she’s just telling him (and me) what he’s doing wrong. And that really gets me steamed. I have NO problem with consequences and the Assistant Principal can vouch that I lend full support to every intervention.

However.

He responds to consistent recognition of what he’s doing right. If he knows he’ll be consistently rewarded for doing the right thing, he generally does the right thing. I say generally, because he’s far from perfect (aren’t we all) and it doesn’t always work, but 8 out of 10 times, it does.

She says, “it’s too hard” to catch him doing well. She thinks it’s ridiculous to give him a “good” point for eating lunch (which the psychologist suggested as at least one guaranteed good point for the day). She argued against most of the interventions that everyone else (school counselor, head psychologist, principal, case worker, mother) agreed upon. She has 20+ other kids and doesn’t have time to devote to my kid. Just “thank God” when he’s quiet and ignore him.

I get it.

But this constant “tattling” (because that’s what the texts above felt like) is just wearing me out. Tomorrow I’m taking the conversation to show the principal, then asking what can be done.

The last time I asked, every other class was maxed out and there’s no possibility of moving him to another class.

Maybe there’s no solution other than,

“Hang in there.”

We’re in school for about four and a half more months. Almost an eternity, yet I know the time will dissipate like clouds puffing past a skydiver.

Fifth grade is not the end of the world. No one wants to know, “How were your marks in elementary school?” No one asks, “Were you ever sent to the principal’s office before middle school?” Maybe we just need to make it through.

In the meantime, though, Hubby takes me for walks and I write.

Tonight, as we trudged down the moon-drenched driveway, I said,

“I want to punch her in the face.”

This is not entirely accurate; I don’t actually want to punch her because then I’d have to deal with legal action (this is the forethought I hope to instill in our boy). However, I want to write about it, and thereby feel better. And so, with a tip of my hat to the best rhymer ever, I write.

 

For Teacher

I must not punch her in the face

Though maybe just a spray of mace

Just a smidge, only a sample

No, I must be an example

Must not, must not kick her knee

Shall not, will not put a bee

In her coffee piping hot

Flick her? No.—NO! I cannot.

 

When I am so mad…I’ll write!

Get some extra sleep tonight.

Go for long walks down the drive.

In her car hide a beehive.

Oh, wait, that last one is wrong;

Instead I’ll sing out a song

Whisper a soft little prayer

That she will lose all her hair.

 

Oh, no, there I go again.

Paying vengeance is a sin

I must let it go, be done

Show forgiveness for my son

That boy’s always watching me

And I so want him to see:

 

Great achievement’s possible

Mercy is unstoppable

Even on the hardest day

Grace and faith will make a way.

 

There.  I feel better.

And bonus, I’m not going to jail for punching a teacher. So, there’s that.

When life just isn’t fair, how do you deal with it?

 

 

 

 

 

To Her Teacher

Dear Miss Stacey, 

You have hit the jackpot. I say this without sarcasm or irony. My daughter is every teacher’s dream.

At times, she will hang on your every word. She will work to keep her classmates in line. Will absolutely follow every directive and do everything you ask with a smile on her face. If you need extra help in the classroom, she’s your girl. She will do everything in her power to ensure you see her as the sweetest, brightest, most charming child.

And for the most part, she is that child.

At school. 

When I tell you she refused to do her homework, you’ll eye me with suspicion.

When I describe how she pretends not to understand simple math calculations, it will sound like delusion. Especially after you watched her complete the work easily with you.

When I explain that we’re late to school because she intentionally poured a cup of water down the front of her outfit just before leaving the house, you’ll assume I’m crazy. 

Her charming, adorable—angelic, really—demeanor will belie every detail of any stories I might share with you.

But I’m not making it up.

In the beginning, she truly will be your ideal, perfect student. This may last well past Christmas if you’re lucky.

Once the school honeymoon has worn off and she begins to recognize you as an authority figure, you will likely begin experiencing RAD.

This doesn’t mean you won’t still enjoy her. Her third and fourth grade teacher (she looped with the class) absolutely loved her. But she was fully informed about the RAD symptoms and messaged or talked with me several times a week.

Last year, RAD manifested in the following ways: 

  • Wandering into class late or at the last minute (even though she was dropped off on time)

  • Taking excessive time to get organized

  • Obsessive playing with items in her desk instead of doing her work

  • Dropping pencils or other materials

  • Multiple bathroom trips

  • Difficulty getting along with peers in more than surface interaction

  • Bossing or controlling other children (she’ll call it “helping” them)

  • Not reading or following the directions on assignments

  • Ignoring, daydreaming, “zoning out” during teaching

  • Sitting by herself and “looking sad” to get other kids to ask her what’s wrong (at which time she regales them with stories of her past and of being adopted)

    These may sound like “regular kid” issues but are actually her bid to control her life…and your classroom.

 

A prime example of her determination to have control: she decided she “won’t” be good at math. Her refusal to learn endangered her ability to graduate 4th grade. We’re still dealing with this.

 

She’s willing to crash and burn

in order to live life on her own terms. 

 

(RAD kids) are in a constant battle for control of their environment and seek that control however they can, even in totally meaningless situations.  If they are in control they feel safe.

If they are loved and protected by an adult they are convinced they are going to be hurt because they never learned to trust adults, adult judgment or to develop any of what you know as normal feelings of acceptance, safety and warmth.  Their speech patterns are often unusual and may involve talking out of turn, talking constantly, talking nonsense, humming, singsong, asking unanswerable or obvious questions.

They have one pace – theirs. No amount of “hurry up everyone is waiting on you” will work – they must be in control and you have just told them they are… Need the child to dress and line up, the child may scatter papers, drop clothing, fail to locate gloves, wander around the room – anything to slow the process and control it further.  Five minutes later the child may be kissing your hand or stroking your cheek for you with absolutely no sense of having caused the mayhem that ensues from his actions.

-Arthur Becker-Weidman, PhD
Center For Family Development
www.Center4FamilyDevelop.com
(c) all rights reserved

Our girl is a beautiful, bright kid. She has the potential to do anything she wants in life.

Right now, what she wants is control.

We want her to have some control but she needs to learn she can’t control the people around her in negative ways. 

We are working with a therapist to help her resolve her issues. She’s made slow progress in the five years with us. She may try to discuss this with you or other students in order to garner sympathy. If that happens, please remind her she can talk with us or her counselor but may not share life details at school.

A couple years ago, she convinced a teacher we were mistreating her and Social Services paid us a visit because the teacher called. If she says anything concerning, please ask the principal to call her counselor. School administration is aware of her situation.

Please don’t try to counsel her yourself; if you have any concerns (or if you see the behaviors listed above) please text or call me as soon as is convenient. I will be happy to work with you to find creative solutions. 

Our goal is to show her that adults can be trusted to protect and care for her. We appreciate your understanding and willingness to work with us. It’s not easy.

Trying to help her develop trust is exhausting.

Someday, though, she’ll graduate. She’ll be a healthy, happy adult. She will succeed. 

And you’ll be one of the people we thank.

 

 

 

To His Teacher

 

Dear Miss Othmar,

You are about to become the third most important person in my son’s life.

You will spend more waking hours with him for the next nine months than his dad or I.

Your encouragement, understanding, creativity and enthusiasm for learning will impact my son’s life forever.

My son is intelligent, wise beyond his years, interested in learning about almost everything and unbelievably creative. One-on-one conversations with him will leave you amazed at the depth of his thoughts.

If you connect with him, if you play to his strengths, if you feed his love of science, math and reading, you will find he’s your most dedicated student. He will be your most loyal supporter. Your truest pupil.

However.

His ADHD, high-functioning Autism (what used to be called Asperger’s) and traumatic background sometimes interfere with his ability to show others who he really is.

He hears every little tick, hum and buzz in the building as though it’s right behind his ear. The fly most kids easily ignore will capture his attention like a tractor beam.

Transitions may leave him confused. Keeping himself organized is an almost insurmountable task. Writing assignments in a planner takes him much longer than other kids, thanks to his sensory and motor difficulties.

Attempts to connect with his peers sometimes leave him reeling.

He craves—but doesn’t always understand the best way to procure—acceptance. He thinks making kids laugh is the same as being liked, which means he may act out to get a giggle.

Perceived unfairness blows his mind; he has difficulty ratcheting his emotions back if he finds himself or others being treated in a way that “does not compute.”

However.

In an environment where he feels secure, encouraged and safe, many of these quirks minimize naturally.

Here are some suggestions for a smooth ride this year:

  • Be firm, fair and calm.

  • If he freaks out, give him a minute to calm down in a quiet space. Ask him how the situation could have been different—and what he can do in the future to avoid the situation.

  • Give him advance notice for transitions. “Five minutes until we leave for lunch. Have you finished your paper? What do you need to do next to get ready?

  • Find creative ways to get him involved. Ask him to master a concept so he can help teach someone else.

  • Notice his interactions with others. Feel free to “interfere,” to take him aside and make recommendations for relating.

  • When his attention wanes, stand by his desk, tap his page, put a hand on his shoulder…small connections to bring him back to earth.

  • Encourage him to take notes and write down his assignments, but please text me a picture of the assignment board.

  • Be firm, fair and calm. (This is really the most important.)

 

I am so thankful for your dedication to a wonderful education experience for all the kids in your class. I fully understand that you don’t have extra time to dedicate to “special” behavioral needs.

One last however:

With this kid, an ounce of prevention truly is worth a pound of cure. If you can find a few extra minutes to pour in at the outset, the rest of your year—and his—will benefit. If you make a connection with him, he’ll be motivated to make you proud.

Thank you again, in advance, for everything.

 

Winning

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Photo Credit: AwesomeSA

 

Every once in a while, we get a win. Today, I feel sort of like the kid in the picture. The one in the green shirt.

I’m not bragging, but so much of the time I write about the hard stuff, and today I’d like you to join me in a little happy dance.

Fourth grade has not been easy. Both kids have had frustrations (math for her, staying focused while testing for him). And of course, those frustrations have spilled over to home.

You JUST DID the SAME kind of problem. It’s the SAME process with different numbers. Simply DO what you JUST DID.

or

You knew all the answers last night. ALL. OF. THEM. How could you tank this test?

We worked this year. Double duty math practice. Extra spelling drills. Re-taking tests at home if grades sank below C-level. (Sorry, nerd joke.) And no, not for credit, just for training.

Their teachers have been phenomenal. The school is incredible. Anytime I ask for extra support, more worksheets, conferences…pretty much whatever we need, they provide. I’m so glad we have one more year with this super team.

And today, all the extra work, the collaboration—and yes, the tears—paid off. In spades.

Hubby and I sat in the crowded auditorium as children dressed in red, white or blue filed in behind jubilant teachers. When the principal began announcing names of children with elevated scores on year-end tests,

he called her name.

Hubby and I couldn’t hold back our whoops. And then,

he called his name. 

Both of our kids stood, proud, in line with other children who’d scored well.

She received an award for reading. He received awards for reading and math.

Five years ago, he was 5 and didn’t know the alphabet. Five years ago, she was 7 and couldn’t read three-letter words. 

We have come so far, the four of us.

SO far.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I Can’t Hear You…

I ask the usual question as the kids clamber into my truck.*

*Yes, I drive a truck. It’s big and black and bad@$$ and NO I’m not a redneck. I just like my truck. And also Hubby thinks it’s hot. So there’s that.

How was your day?

All the parenting books encourage me to “ask open-ended questions!” in order to elicit enthusiastic and long-winded answers from my children. Obliging my curiosity, they answer with enthusiasm and long-windedness:

He: “Mmmph.”

She: “Ehhhh.”

“Come on guys,” I wheedle, “I know something happened today.” Then it hits me. Ahhh.

“Did your teacher have to speak to you about behavior?”

“It’s all Ellie’s fault,” he explodes. “Stupid Ellie made me have silent lunch!”

I try to catch his eye in the mirror. No dice. “So…how did Ellie make you have silent lunch?”

“I knocked a magnet off the desk,” he says, “and I tried to catch it before it hit the ground and my hand whacked it instead of catching it and it flew across the room and then Ellie said I threw it but I DIDN’T throw it and it was an accident, just an accident. And then I got silent lunch BECAUSE OF ELLIE. IT WAS HER FAULT!”

I wait for him to breathe. “Your teacher seems very fair. I don’t think she’d give you silent lunch just because Ellie said you threw a magnet.”

He wails in rising crescendo as tears fill his eyes.

“If Ellie would stay out of my business 

I wouldn’t have had silent lunch.

IT’S ALL HER FAULT because she gets IN MY BUSINESS ALL THE TIME!”

I try to hide my smile. Good thing I’m driving.

“So,” I say, “your teacher told you, ‘I’m giving you silent lunch because Ellie got in your business,’ is that right?”

“Mmph. No.”

By this time, we’ve parked at the house. I turn around. “Look at me.” He does, defiant. “I think you’re not telling me the whole story. Tell me from the beginning.”

He sighs. “I knocked the magnet off and it went across the room. Ellie said I threw it. I said I didn’t. I called the teacher over, like you said to do when I have trouble.”

I nod. “And what did the teacher say?”

“She said it wasn’t a big deal and not to worry about it.” He leans back, arms folded. “But it WAS a big deal because Ellie keeps getting in my business!”

Ah. Lightbulb.

“And did you tell the teacher Ellie was ‘getting in your business’ after she said it was fine?”

“Yes,” he growls, “and then she gave me silent lunch. See? It’s Ellie’s fault!”

“You told her about Ellie just once?” I ask.

“Well…no. I wanted her to do something about Ellie and how she gets in my business so I kept telling her about it.”

I see he’s beginning to comprehend the problem. “How many times do you think you told her about Ellie?”

“A bunch of times.”

“And what did she say?”

“That I should forget about it and get back to work. But Ellie ALWAYS does it. And then I get in trouble,” he grumbles.

“So, let me make sure I understand. You hit the magnet accidentally. Ellie said you threw it. The teacher said not to worry about it. And then you kept complaining about Ellie to the teacher and wouldn’t stop when she told you to let it go. Does that sound about right?” I scoot around further in my seat so I can see his eyes.

“Yeah.”

“So,” I said, “look at me. Tell me—and be honest—whose fault was your silent lunch?”

He glares. “Hers,” he begins, then falters. “Mine. My fault.”

“Why?”

“Because I wouldn’t stop talking when the teacher said to stop.”

“Exactly.” I sigh. “Why do you care so much about what people say about you, anyway?”

“Because they’re in my bus—” he begins.

“Stop.” I say. He looks up. “The last five or six times you’ve been in trouble, it’s because you’re pitching a fit over someone ‘in your business,’ but if you’d just let it go, you probably wouldn’t be in trouble, right?”

He nods.

“Do you actually get in trouble when kids tell the teacher you’ve done something?”

He shakes his head. “Nah.”

“Right. Because you guys are in the FOURTH GRADE. Everyone knows that fourth graders are some of the biggest tattle-tales ever. The teacher isn’t going to give you a consequence unless she—or another adult—sees you. Right?”

Eyes wide, he says, “All fourth graders are tattle-tales?”

I nod, solemn. “It’s true. Everybody knows it. So why do you care what they say? You know, you should care about the people who can affect your life. Do you know who those people are?”

He shakes his head.

“Your teachers. Of course, you should be nice to the kids in your class, but when it comes to what they think of you…the teacher is where you should focus.  No matter what grade you’re in, don’t worry about what other kids say. They’re just kids. And a bunch of them will end up in jail, anyway, so who cares what they think.”

Eyes wide, he peers around my seat. “In jail?”

I grin. “Well, that’s what happened to some of the kids I knew. On the other hand, some of them ended up in government. Almost as bad. But don’t go to school telling your friends they’re going to jail. I don’t need a call from the principal.”

Laughing, he says, “So. I should just worry about what the adults think of me.”

“More or less,” I agree. “Be kind to all your classmates, and if they accuse you of something, just ignore it. Make your teacher happy. You’ll get into less trouble. And seriously, a teacher might even give you a job reference someday.”

He hops down and opens the driver door, squinting up at me. “No kidding?”

“No kidding,” I say, as he climbs up next to me. “In fact, I saw my tenth grade Biology teacher just last month. She told me she remembered a science fiction story I wrote. That was over twenty years ago. You never knew what someone might remember; make sure it’s good.”

He hugs me. “I’m glad we talked about it. Can I put my fingers in my ears and say, ‘I can’t heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeear youuuuuuuu’ when they bother me?”

I grimace. “No, please don’t.”

“I’ll try to do more ignoring. But I’m not very good at it.” He shrugs.

“Yeah,” I say. “Sometimes I have a hard time ignoring people, too. You know, when they found out we were adopting, some people told us not to do it. What do you think we did?”

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Photo Credit: Luca Prasso

“You ignored them,” he crows. “Good thing, too. Huh, mama?”

Yep. Good thing.


 

So. How was your day?

 

 

Preventing Adoption Disruption

No adoptive parent plans to send a child back  into the system.

No one argues that keeping foster or adopted children in one stable environment is best.

And yet,

the rate of disruption is up to

ONE in FOUR,

especially for older children.

 

Here are some ways we—as parents, social workers and advocates—can change the odds.

  • Get help/support in school. Involve the educators.

A good school system can make all the difference for a child on the edge.

When children do well in school, disruption in foster family placement is less likely. Conversely, studies show that behavioral challenges leading to frequent school suspensions and expulsion cause greater lengths of stay in foster care and disruptions in placements. That, in turn, leads to more school changes and more involvement with the judicial system.

When children experience greater school stability and success, foster parents feel supported and better equipped to help the child in their home, not only with school related activities, but with other issues. This increases the likelihood of permanent, stable placements.

**

Education can be a critical component to improving outcomes for youth served in the foster care system as you heard from the studies I cited, and it is critical to, at a minimum, share data between systems to track outcomes. Education, the courts and child welfare agencies can and must work together to achieve improved outcomes.

David Sanders, Casey Family Services, delivering plenary address at the Third National Judicial Leadership Summit in Austin, Texas. (Emphasis mine.) 

Alternate options may be necessary. Not all children of trauma can survive in mainstream school environments. On the other hand, some children must acquire socialization in order to survive.

We considered homeschooling in the beginning, but our entire support team (in-home and in-office counselors, psychiatrist, psychologist, occupational and speech therapists) recommended we keep the kids in a traditional school setting.

Within a few weeks of enrolling the kids in their first school with us, the administration was ready to cut our boy’s Kindergarten day in half. “He’s just not ready for this.”

We fought to keep him in school; obtained a one-to-one behavioral aide, applied for (and received) mentoring and in-home counseling services. I volunteered at the school for hours every week to be on hand if he had issues. His Kindergarten teacher and the Assistant Principal joined “our side” but everyone else…not so much. Those two years were grueling.

Then, we requested approval to move schools. The new principal denied my request to volunteer and wouldn’t allow an aide in her domain. I was shocked (and terrified) but she assured me, “we’ve got this.”

And they did.

Principals, teachers, guidance staff and paraprofessionals met with us. They asked questions. I brought handouts outlining RAD, PTSD and how to deal with children coming from trauma. They listened. Teachers and staff dispensed necessary consequences with grace and care.

The children learned boundaries. They began to recognize school as a safe place.

Hubby and I are thrilled with the level of support and understanding. The kids are thriving. I can’t imagine where we’d be without such amazing people behind us.

Seek out specialized education that fits the child such as alternative schools, home schooling or a school that excels in understanding and serving the educational needs of children who have special needs.

MN Adopt Fact Sheet

  • Extended Visitation with New Family

Extended visitation: meeting with the new family for dinner, spending a few hours with the new family in a neutral setting, touring the new home and neighborhood, spending a night, then two.

This kind of gradual introduction to the new family is not always possible.

Several of our friends adopted from other countries. They were able to send scrapbooks of pictures and descriptions to their new child, but communication was difficult. In-country visits were required prior to adoption, but this did nothing to acclimate the child to new surroundings.

In our case, the agency lost our background checks (requiring re-printing). In the meantime, the kids needed a month of respite housing.

Because we knew the family providing interim care, we saw the children several times and they even visited our house—albeit with no idea we were possible new parents.

If not for that mistake (or God’s providence), our kids would have been dropped off with us: outright strangers in new, unfamiliar surroundings. As it was, they were terrified. I can’t imagine how they’d have felt if they’d never visited our house or met us.

Sure, giving the children time to get used to new surroundings and mentally prepare themselves for a move takes more time and money at the outset than plopping the kids into their new lives. However, disruption requires even more resources. Encourage your agency to consider extended visits prior to moving the kids, if possible.

Extended visitation is even more important for older children. No (sane) adult moves into someone else’s house during a first date, but this immediate commitment to live with strangers is required of many foster kids.

Visitation gives the child a chance to get familiar with his or her new neighborhood, see his or her new school, and perhaps make friends with some of the neighborhood children. It allows for a gradual “getting used to” all the new people and places that will be a part of the child’s life in the adoptive family.

Making a lifetime commitment like adoption should not happen quickly or under pressure. In many ways, adopting the older child or a child who has special needs is more like entering into a marriage than becoming a parent. Especially with older children, adoption brings together individuals with unique experiences, ideas, habits, and values, and asks them to suddenly live together in a family unit.

-Adoption.com, Thoughtful Visitation Practices Prevent Disruption

 

Click here for Part 2 (and to learn two of the most important ways to prevent disruption).

How to Train Your Dragon

Baby girl is T-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-I-CKED.

Yesterday, she came home with a test sporting a…less than satisfactory…grade. In big red ink.

We’re fairly lenient with the schoolwork. C (or, “average,” if you’re not familiar with letter grades) is acceptable as long as they studied—and especially if I’m sure they know the material. Sometimes the test questions are difficult to understand as written, even for me. I re-word the question, and if the child can answer, we move on.

Two years ago, I had concerns that report cards would never include A or B grades. I was wrong (and I’m thrilled). We don’t mind average grades, but we want them to feel successful. The kids have both had recent academic success as the educational pieces fall into place in their brains. We’ve had opportunities to celebrate both B (“above average”) and A (“excellent”) this year.

“D” grades (“below average”) are indicative of a few possibilities:

  1. ineffective studying
  2. distracted during testing
  3. limited understanding

Whenever the kids bring home any grade D or lower, I request a clean copy of the test questions. The kids study with me again and retake the test at home (not for a grade, but to be sure they’ve retained the information). Sometimes our guy can rattle off all the answers before our study session (and the teacher verifies he was distracted by a fly zipping and dive-bombing throughout test time).

His batlike hearing is a “gift” of trauma; his body is always on alert. It is a detriment in so many ways. He hears—and is distracted by—everything most others tune out. The fly. Fluorescent lights buzzing. The TV upstairs at bedtime. Raindrops hitting a window. Me, solitary in the pantry, wrapper in hand. “Hey, is that chocolate? Can I have a piece?”

On the other hand, he heard two separate leaks in our house and saved us thousands of dollars in potential damage, so…two sides to every coin. 

Once we determine the underlying cause of the D, the child, teacher and I work together to help sinking grades rise to C level. (Nerd joke, sorry.)

F (“failing”) is another situation.

Because when our kids tank a test, it’s SPECTACULAR failure.

A failing grade means one of two things:

  1. didn’t bother studying
  2. didn’t bother trying

and neither is an option at our house.

To solve the “didn’t study” issue, their teachers now send a group text to parents showing the test calendar so we can prompt the kids to read their notes.

Group text means that either

  1. other children have the same issue, or
  2. they don’t want to make us feel bad, so they send it to everyone. 

I like to pretend it’s #1.

Our girl decided she didn’t need to read her notes but told me she’d studied enough. I took her word for it (stop rolling your eyes).

Then the test came home.

I found out she hadn’t studied.

The children’s teachers require them to spend at least 15 minutes reading every day during homework time. This morning, I informed our girl that she would need to spend that time reading her notes instead of her usual fiction.

“I have to spend that time reading a BOOK. The reading teacher said so,” she steamed.

“Well,” I said, “if you can show me that you learned all the information on your study guide on Monday, you can read fiction the rest of the week.”

She glared at me and snapped, “I can’t learn it ALL in 15 minutes.”

I could feel my frustration bubbling higher. My goal this month is to react less to her antics, since we know she’s looking for attention (and seems to prefer negative). Whooooooooosahhhhhhhhh

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Photo Credit: Josh Janssen

She continued to argue her point as we loaded up for school. I stayed silent as she complained. Finally, she said, “Well, they’re not going to like that AT ALL.”

“Who won’t?” I wasn’t sure what she meant.

The School. They said we have to read a book for 15 minutes each day. They won’t like it when I tell them you won’t let me read books.” Smug smile.

Inside me:

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Photo Credit: fortherock

I recognized the you-know-nothing tone she used. I was a snotty-attitude-thinks-adults-are-idiots-pre-teen once, myself. This didn’t help.

Breathing, I soothed the inner dragon back to Komodo size.

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Photo Credit: Naparazzi

“You’re right.” I smiled.

She looked up, shocked. “I am?”

I nodded. “Yes, you definitely need to have your reading time. I shouldn’t interfere with what your teacher requires. Instead of replacing your reading time, we’ll just add 15 minutes of studying each day you’re assigned homework. You can read your notes for a quarter hour AND still read your books. Problem solved!”

Eyes narrowed, she said, “I don’t like that plan.”

By this time, I didn’t even have to pretend to be cheery. “Oh, but you argued so well for keeping your reading time. And I’d hate for the school to be upset…so I think this is perfect.”

She crossed her arms. “But…that’s like…a HUNDRED AND TWENTY MINUTES.”

I tried not to laugh (I did, really). “Perhaps we need to add math practice.”

She grunted and gave the seat in front of her a little kick, then turned to glower out the window.

“So,” I said, “what can you learn from this morning’s discussion?”

She muttered something, then said louder, “that I hate science and I don’t care about the solar system so I shouldn’t have to study them.”

“Mmmmm…no.”

“That I hate studying and I’m mad.”

I shook my head. “No, but great job identifying your emotions. Actually, what you’ve learned this morning is that arguing with your Mama will not end well for you and you probably shouldn’t do it.”

By this time we were in the queue for drop-off in front of the school.

She grumbled out the door, followed by her brother.

Rolling down the window, I called, “Love you guys!”

He echoed back. She ignored me.

Ahhhhhh, pre-teen life.

And we’ve got at least seven more years of hormones ahead of us.

Can’t wait.

Please, if you have any secrets for surviving the teen years, share below. 

 

 

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