I am not an educator, but I am a parent of an ADD kid. So my experiences may vary from yours, but if your LD kid is in a regular public American school, I’m betting your experience may be similar (and depending on where you live, might even be worse).
This will be a long story, I’m realizing now that it will need to be more than one post. This first post is the history of my son’s first six & half years of school in the public education system (kindergarten through mid-fifth grade).
My son suffered from depression (unbeknownst to us) for quite a few years. We blame his allergy meds. When he started kindergarten he was younger than most (turned 5 at the end of August). I know a lot of people in the education field and after having conversations with my son they all told me he was very bright and shouldn’t have problems in kindergarten, but socially he was immature so be on the watch for issues in that area. They weren’t wrong. But there was NO holding back my kid. He was so eager to start school, I didn’t have the heart to hold him back a year.
Kindergarten went pretty good, but I inquired anyway if he was too immature. His teacher said maybe, but that he was doing well.
First grade was harder. I inquired to the teacher about his social skills or if maybe he could be ADHD or something. She was in her first or second year of teaching and didn’t have a lot of experience with ADHD, but said she didn’t think so. He did start seeing the social worker because he did seem sad or didn’t seem to care about stuff (hello, depression anyone?). They also created a “behavior plan” the second half of the year to help him focus better (hello, focus issues?).
His second grade teacher was very experienced and even worked with special education kids in her past. So I was happy that if he “did” have issues, surely she would see it. But nope, she didn’t think he was having attention issues. He’s just having problems with behavior.
I took the kids to a Halloween event with my Aunt (an educator). My boy had one of his fits (he never had terrible twos, but terrible 6, 7 & 8, you bet!). She was floored – he’d always behaved in her presence before. She told me to have him evaluated for ODD (Oppositional Defiant Disorder). Pediatrician didn’t think he had issues. We took him to a psychologist and she wouldn’t diagnosis him anything until we did a lot of tests first. That meant drawing blood to see if he had a thyroid condition (like me), he didn’t. She also wanted to get a scan done to see if his tonsils/adenoids were too big (meaning he wasn’t getting good sleep), but we couldn’t afford that (insurance wouldn’t cover it). So therapy was all we could do.
Enter another behavior plan created mid-year. By the end of his second grade year we figured out that his allergy meds were “probably” causing depression (a lot of negative self talk, hated school, not many friends, behavior issues at home and school, etc.). His pediatrician didn’t think allergy meds could cause depression, but he didn’t push it because we (his parents) felt so strongly about it. Sure enough, 2 or 3 weeks later he was a different kid. He still didn’t like school, but the end of year/summer vacation was soon so he was pretty happy there too. No more negative self-talk, no more wishing he was dead, he was happy. Genuinely happy. We were astounded. Thank goodness for the Internet, this is where we read stories from other parents about allergy meds causing depression. I don’t care what doctors say, you can’t dispute the change it had in him!
The therapy continued, but still no diagnosis.
Third grade started with detention in the first week. Already he hated school. Kids were mean (accidents that harmed him were always done to him on purpose), everything was always someone else’s fault, he never took responsibility for anything. More detention within the first month. We requested the social worker to start a behavior plan now, at the beginning of the school year instead of mid-year (why exactly did they always wait until mid-year anyway?).
By the end of the first month of school we’d had it with his therapist. We were getting no where (and insurance was running out). And my boy knows the drill, he knows how to talk to the therapist to tell her what she wants to hear (don’t forget, very clever boy, been in psuedo-therapy since first grade with the school social worker).
We took him to The Bridge at the urgency of a friend whose kids did well under their guidance. It took them all of one week to diagnosis him ADD (not really ADHD because he’s not hyper). Everyone (teachers, social worker, school officials, pediatrician, etc.) did the proverbial hand-to-forehead head smack. Of course! He’s ADD! How come we didn’t pick up on that earlier! Seriously? I’ve been asking about this since first grade, people!
Sidebar: Palatine School District 15 sucks when it comes to learning disabilities. A fellow SD15 parent told me that the school doesn’t even acknowledge dyslexia as a learning disorder! Really? Hello, dyslexia been around for.ev.er. How could they not acknowledge it? (This may have changed as she was told this when her boys were in 2nd grade & they’re the same age as my boy.)
So now we have a diagnosis (yeah!) so the school continues adjusting his behavior plan in hopes that it will help him succeed. His teacher was great. Now knowing his limitations she was more patient with him and gave him a lot of encouragement. We also started experimenting with medications. Some parents don’t like using medication, but with my thyroid disorder I learned early on what a blessing the right meds (and right dosage) can do for your mental well-being. For the first time in his life he was (kinda) enjoying school.
Fourth grade meant a new teacher. This guy was fairly new to teaching (2nd career, came from non-school background), and had no experience with special education kids. No biggie, we got him up to speed right away and although he struggled with my boy, the year went relatively well and still using behavior charts. I really think his teacher didn’t believe in the ADD diagnosis, he just thought my boy didn’t know how to behave (whatever, bad parenting, insert eye roll here).
We had to try many different meds this year, finally succeeded with the Daytrana patch because we could put it on him a half hour before he woke up and he didn’t have to swallow any pills.
We took him off meds for the summer. Experimented with Magnesium supplements (Kid’s Calm) which worked great for both kids. But the school and his therapist thought it best to go back on his meds for school. One thing we didn’t consider is we started him on the same dose he left off, we should’ve gone with a low dose and worked our way up as needed.
Within days he was a different kid. We didn’t realize he was over dosing on his ADD meds. He was angry, irritable, even violent. After a couple of months of the crazy behavior (that only happened at home when he was coming down from the drugs) we stopped the meds. He had pulled a knife on us, destroyed property, threatened to hurt us, his sister and himself. We had him evaluated at Alexian Brothers Behavioral Health Hospital, they weren’t completely helpful. Their recommendation: continue with weekly therapy (at The Bridge) and try new meds. They gave him a good “talking to” about the threats and we had to remove all the knives from plain view.
But at this point he had lost all the good that the years of therapy had given him. He was angry, out of control, and running the house. We were all walking on egg shells. We hit new heights the first week of December. He refused to go to school. The social worker had us call the police to escort him there (ultimately he went with his dad while I was on the phone with the 911 operator). Apparently “school refusal” is a common thing that you call 911 for.
I called his pediatrician and got a referral for a psychiatrist. We needed to find out if this was more than just ADD. The referral was for a polar disorder (he didn’t want to use the word “bi-polar“). Unfortunately we couldn’t get him in anywhere until after the first of the year. We actually contemplated not driving to Texas for Christmas for fear of him having an episode (as we now called them). We did go and he did have one, but we weathered the storm and our family got to witness what we’d been living through.
Appointment with the psychiatrist is set for January 3rd. Bring on 2011.
(end of part 1)