Monday, April 6, 2015

Day 6: Acceptance is Patient

“All children can learn, but in different ways and on different days”
Our society is in such a hurry.

We want our child to keep pace, whether it is kicking the most soccer goals or getting the best grades.

We wear it like a badge of honor when our child is advanced or does something ahead of schedule.

We stick the “My Child is an Honor Roll Student” bumper sticker on our car and post stories of our child’s accomplishments on Facebook.

We compare one child against another, even though we know this is wrong.

And so we push kids too far…too quickly…too soon.

But what happens when our child doesn’t measure up?

I am very familiar with measuring sticks. 

It is my job as an educator to know the standards that measure student learning outcomes at each grade level.

A large part of my job deals with understanding the standards, unpacking them, assessing them, and tracking how children perform in relationship to them.

I helped to write the pacing guides that dictate the curriculum that the teachers in our district follow.

I am the queen of high expectations.

I not only say that all children can learn- I believe it.

I know exactly what my son must know and be able to do in school.

I know that he is ahead…and that he is behind.

But I also I know that he will get there in his own time.

It has taken me a long time to get to a place where I have learned to accept that Ben will learn on a different timetable and will show his learning in ways that are not always typical.

This hasn’t always been easy.

When Ben was a baby I would read the “What to Expect” books and impatiently watch for the milestones.  I beamed with pride when he learned to hold his head up, roll over, and crawl.  At first, the milestones came right on schedule, even ahead, but then things started slowing down.

When he walked at sixteen months, I reminded myself that it was within the range of normal. 

When his talking lagged behind, I assured myself that boys talk later.

I tried not to look around his preschool class and compare- but I couldn’t help but notice the little boy who was talking in complete sentences to his Mommy and the little girl asking endless questions to the teacher.  Meanwhile, my child was stuffing Easter grass in his mouth at the sensory table nearby. 

Fast forward to Ben’s autism diagnosis.

Report after report confirmed that Ben was delayed in many areas.  20 month delay in fine motor and gross motor skills.  Low average scores in auditory and expressive communication.  Delays in social functioning with sensory sensitivities and attention/self-regulation difficulties.

Hearing that your child is below average in such cold, clinical terms is hard to hear, even when you know it’s true.  As an educator, I’ve sat on the other side of the table in such meetings.  I’ve seen the charts and that graphs and I know what they mean.

It is a very different feeling when the data belongs to your precious child.

At first I let the numbers define my feelings and I allowed worry to enter in.    

Then I felt a huge sense of urgency to help him catch up.  I read articles that talked about the magical window of time for learning between birth and age five.  I began scrambling to find therapies to help him.  

To catch him up.  

To get him on track with his peers.

Fast forward to PreK.  I heard time after time that Ben is smart, but his difficulties with focusing makes it hard for him to show his intelligence during assessments.  He struggled with peer relationships and paying attention in class.  He had difficulty regulating his emotions. 

When comparing Ben to his classmates, he was both ahead and behind.  Academically, he knew all of his letter names, letter sounds, and many sight words.   He had known them since before he was three.  His vocabulary was well advanced for his age.  And yet, on any given day, he may or may not be able to demonstrate this knowledge during an “on demand” assessment.  Mathematically, he could count to 100, though he struggled to recognize basic shapes.  He had mastered basic addition and had a strong concept of number sense.  Writing, however, was a huge struggle.  He absolutely refused any writing task unless it was done “hand over hand” with an adult.  Cutting was hugely frustrating to him.

Ben excelled in some areas and lagged in others.  In the autism world we call this “splinter skills”.  Many people on the spectrum are very advanced in certain areas but far behind in others.  This is why it is absolute fallacy to compare one person’s progress to another. 

By kindergarten I had learned to compare Ben’s progress to Ben alone.  

I now understand that Ben will meet the standards and expectations, in his own time.

His writing has improved by leaps and bounds this year.  He now knows how to correctly hold a writing instrument and is beginning to write simple words and sentences.  His drawings have moved from “scribble scrabble” as he calls it to clearly recognizable people and even animals.

Ben is reading on grade level (though he prefers to read “easy peasy lemon squeezy” books with a clear pattern) and continues to show strong math abilities.  He can mentally add and subtract one and even some two digit numbers.  And still, on any given day, an assessment may or may not show his true abilities.

I have learned to accept that Ben is a different kind of learner. 

He is a smart kid but school does not always highlight his strengths.

He has deficit areas that we are addressing through therapy and intervention .

I look for progress and I look for growth, but I no longer expect his progress to match a predetermined pacing guide.  Past experience tells me that we may not see "improvement" in a certain area for a long time, only to see a huge spurt of growth in a very short timespan. 

So it was with potty training.  Ben struggled with this until he was 3 ½, and then in a matter of a couple of days he was fully trained.  No accidents at night.  No accidents in the car.  Not ever.  This is how he works.

I accept Ben for the wonderfully unique learner who he is.

I no longer stare at the student work samples on the wall outside his classroom and agonize because his letters aren’t as straight, his ideas aren’t as clear, or his coloring isn’t neat and inside the lines as the paper next to his.

I smile because I see the beauty within the work that he does. 

I smile because I know how far he has come and how far he will go.

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