A neuropsychologist said of my oldest son: “His brain is not organized the way the world wants it to be, so he has problems functioning. But he doesn’t have behavior problems. His brain doesn’t do those.” My youngest son also has a brain that doesn’t fit the world he lives in, but his brain does cause behavior problems. That makes him a “problem,” especially for schools. He doesn’t fit school. School doesn’t fit him. School probably isn’t going to change. My son’s brain probably isn’t going to change. Not enough to fit school, anyway.
This brain-in-school thing presents a problem. Four problems, actually.
Problem #1: It’s the lawBy this, I mean two things. One, the government requires children to be enrolled in school. Two, all children, regardless of what type of brain they’re blessed with (yes, you read that right…), have the right to a free, appropriate, public education in the least restrictive environment. This the [in]famous FAPE in the LRE. (I’ll have to take up the fact that this does not work out for every child in another post.)
Problem #2: The futureMy son, like most kids, eventually needs to go to college or a find a vocation. In other words, he needs school to help him build a future. (I could write yet another post about how future worry, future fear drive so much of what we do, especially in education.)
Problem #3: He needs something goodBy good, I mostly mean not damaging. Traditional teaching often places demands on these children that are simply (way) too high. He needs a school environment that challenges him while also accommodating his uniquely structured brain.
Problem #4: We both need a breakI need a break from him, and he probably needs one from me. Plus, I work.
What to do?
Suggestion 1: Pick your pastureYou’re the shepherd, which means you decide where your lamb and his brain will spend the day. Choose the best pasture you can, and choose new ones as needed. Sometimes this means multiple school moves, which, yes, gets exhausting, expensive, and frustrating. It can also make it you look like a “problem parent,” especially to adults whose children’s brains happen to fit the world. For some of us, our best or only option is the local public school. Other times, private school works. Just don’t ever give up.
Suggestion 2: Ask teachers what they needContinually ask teachers what you can do to help them work best with your child. I’ve covered books, handled book orders, proctored tests, and helped with grading and different organizational tasks to help my child’s teachers manage their day.
Suggestion 3: Avoid comparisonsComparing your situation to anyone whose life seems better could make you feel frustrated or defeated. And if the other person’s life seems worse, you might feel better by comparison, or your head may fill with any number of worst-case scenarios.
Suggestion 4: AdvocateKeep asking for what your child needs. Remember, this is how people learn about different kinds of brains. Be respectful, but don’t shut up. Don’t give up.
Suggestion 5: Face realityAs I wrote in an earlier post, accept that this is the deck you are playing from. It’s the hand you hold. The other hand is your child’s. Find the right game for your deck, for your child. And if it doesn’t work, let it go and play again. Which leads me to my last point…
Suggestion 6: Forgive yourselfYou are doing the best you can at any given time with the information and resources at your disposal. Some problems cannot be solved. And even if they can be, you’re still going to make mistakes. It’s okay. In that spirit, I will leave you with these wise words from Glennon Doyle’s Carry On, Warrior:
There is really only one way to deal gracefully with being human, and that is: forgive yourself. It’s not a once-and-for-all thing, self-forgiveness. It’s more like a constant attitude. It’s just being hopeful. It’s refusing to hold your breath. It’s loving yourself enough to offer yourself a million more tries. It’s what we want our kids to do every day for their whole lives, right? We want them to embrace being human instead of fighting against it. We want them to offer themselves grace. Forgiveness and grace are like oxygen: we can’t offer it to others unless we put our masks on first. We have to put our grace masks on and breathe in deep. We have to show them how it’s done.