Friday, July 31, 2009

The Great Equalizer

My son has a crush on a girl. He didn't tell me that, I just figured it out after he took his phone charger to a baseball game so it wouldn't run out of juice and he could continue exchanging text messages with her. 

I'm not a big fan of texting with all the cutesy little shortcut words but as I peered over his shoulder, I decided that texting may be the great equalizer when it comes to some kids with learning issues. My son can be slow to express himself verbally but he didn't seem to have any problems keeping up with their texting conversation.

And, spelling doesn't count when texting. At one point, he asked me and his dad how to spell tomorrow. I started to tell him and his dad told him just to put "tmrw" and she would understand what he meant. Personally, I would definitely spell it out (correctly) but I'm thrilled that my son can communicate with a girl without having to explain why he has trouble spelling things or writing by hand. 

I'm sure we have more than a few conversations ahead of us about the appropriateness of how he uses that cell phone, but for now, I'm happy he's found a way to fit in with his peers.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Building a better mousetrap

Last week, my son and his friend decided they were going to tackle a little problem we have around the outside of the house -- mice. My son has tried chasing them with a broom which has an immediate payoff of getting them back over to the neighbor's yard and taking his adrenalin level up a notch, but it doesn't do much to solve the problem.

Looking for a more permanent answer, these two 12 year olds decided they would build a mousetrap. If you know any kids with ADHD, you can appreciate the difficulty of the task they were undertaking. Both have short attention spans and run at the same speed -- fast and constant. Other summer projects for them have included building and sleeping in condos made from cardboard boxes and attempting to catch fish by any means available at the neighborhood pond. However, most of their activities involve taking things apart rather than putting them together.

It was with great interest that I watched them gather up the tools they would need for their mousetrap -- wood, nails, a hammer and some sliced cheese. They came up with a plan to build a wooden box without a top and an opening at one end presumably for the little critter to enter. A loose piece of board sits on top of the box and a nail sticks into the box in the back. The nail is to hold the cheese.

They explained to me that the mouse would crawl in to get the cheese and the top would fall on him either trapping him, or killing him. 

So far, I've only witnessed ants inside the trap eating the cheese but I am very impressed with the boys ability to a) come up with a somewhat logical plan and  b) execute it without any injuries. They worked together and completed their project with no adult help whatsoever. They even remembered to bring the tools back inside! 

I don't know if all of their creative projects add to their educational experience in any way but I know that they're having fun and staying focused on one project long enough to see it through to completion. That alone is a big deal in my son's world.

I think the fish and the mice in this neighborhood don't have much to worry about, at least not from these two but you never know! They seem determined in their efforts and determination and perseverance often pay off. 

Personally, I hope they don't succeed because I am not equipped to handle the deceased critters!

Friday, July 17, 2009

Summer Reading

My son just finished the 3-part “Island” series by Gordon Korrman while I took on some not-so-light reading with Etta Brown’s,  Learning Disabilities – Understanding the Problem and Managing the Challenges.

Brown’s book is filled with information for parents trying to navigate their way through the public school system. She thoroughly discusses the laws, what “free and appropriate education” really means and what effect being placed in special education can have on a child’s education. 

I loved the organization of this book, particularly the action points and summary at the end of each chapter. She goes into detail about specific challenges, what each disability looks like at home and in the classroom and what a parent should do to help the child with classroom accommodations or professional help. She’s obviously well educated and promotes encouragement and understanding on behalf of learning different children. 

My only complaint about this book is the hard line Brown takes on parents. The first chapter reminded me of when my son was first evaluated for speech therapy at 18 months and the therapist asked if I ever talked to him. I don’t agree with Brown’s assessment that many learning disabilities are caused by neglect or abuse of the child. Certainly no families that I have ever met with children with learning disabilities fall into that category. Her chapter on ADHD is sure to upset more than a few parents who have made the difficult decision to use medication to help their child. 

I agree with many of Brown’s points, even if they are hard on parents. Leaving a child’s education completely in the hands of the public school is probably not a good idea. The school system is not going to make sure that every child meets their full potential or that learning disabilities are remediated. It’s a parent’s job to fill in the gaps and Brown does not mince words in making that point. 

For more info on Brown and her book, her web site is


Thursday, July 2, 2009

Educational Testing

At the end of the school year, my son completed a battery of tests administered by our local school district to see what type of support he’d be eligible for if and when he moved to the public school. The results were similar to previous tests and the results were the same – based on their criteria, my son does not qualify for special education services due to a learning disability. 

At about the same time his test results came in, I began the process of getting certified to teach special education. I’ve attended many seminars before about special education because I’m always looking for a better understanding of how my son will get educated enough to graduate from high school and possibly go to college or a technical school. 

I learned several things about how the education system works in that seminar and was left with one glaring fact – teachers aren’t any happier with the system than parents are. 

The statistics shared in that seminar were staggering. Nationally, more than 11% of the school-aged population receives special education services. Since 1990, the number of students receiving help has increased more than 32 percent. 

But parents, like me, are still frustrated. I remember the first time I was told my son wasn’t “far enough behind” to qualify for services. He was 6 and his speech and language test scores revealed that he was in the 12th percentile for kids his age meaning that 88 percent of kids his age would be expected to perform better on that test. He needed to be in the 7th percentile to receive help. I remember clearly looking at the school personnel in that first pre-IEP meeting and saying, “But I’m not raising a kid to be in the 12th percentile of the population.”

 My son qualifies for special education services under Other Health Impairment (OHI). In Texas, ADHD is not considered a disability category but students who have a diagnosis of ADHD and it impacts their ability to learn, can qualify under OHI. Any medical diagnosis that affects a student’s ability to learn can be considered to qualify a child to receive help from the school. 

My son’s learning disabilities have been well documented by professionals but in the public school setting, they are not severe enough. I’m thankful that my son continues to make good progress year after year but I’m still not willing to accept that he’s a 12th percentile kind of guy.