Everyone thinks their child is the greatest and best and most special. Most people are right about that, because kids are pretty cool, overall, or else we’d stop having them. MY CHILD, of course, is truly amazing. She always has been.
But that’s not to say that she hasn’t been a challenge, because she has. Very early on in her schooling career, we realized that she was just kind of… doing her own thing. She’s bad at paying attention, sitting still, etc. Since she seemed to skip the baby talk portion of her development and started taking in fairly complete sentences, we figured she was pretty smart. So maybe the inappropriate singing and occasional screaming were indications that she was not being challenged by her academic environment.
“Oh, no, it’s not that.” The school tried to explain to us that she just needed to learn to settle down and listen and follow rules. We tried to model that kind of good behavior and explain it to her on a level she could understand, but my instincts were telling me that something more was happening here. It wasn’t that she didn’t WANT to behave properly and do well, it was that she just couldn’t. She could. not. do it.
We met with the school psychologist. “Do you think she could have ADHD?” Oh no, probably not, they said. She’s just a little bit immature and needs to learn to listen better. We’ll work with her to help her improve.
Oh, okay. Kindergarten and first grade went well because she had teachers who were patient and kind (literal saints, actually) and were able to direct my child’s insane amount of energy in productive ways. Then second grade happened. Her teacher for that grade SUUUUUCKED. She wasn’t very nice to Jillian, and was rude and abrupt with me whenever I contacted her to discuss what Jill was going through. This teacher routinely sent Jill to the principal’s office instead of trying to help her OR working with us to figure out ways to help her. I hated that lady and I still do because that second grade year nearly destroyed my bright and curious child’s love for learning. She never really recovered from that, you see.
By the time third grade rolled around, I was VERY certain that child had ADHD and so I scheduled another round of meetings with the Child Study Team which sounds impressive but is ultimately a group of people who want to do the absolute minimum to help these kids who just don’t know where to put themselves. They “evaluated” Jill and decided that she didn’t warrant a formal IEP/504 plan, but they’d give her a “gel seat” for fidgeting purposes. And that was the last straw for me.
We took Jill to a developmental pediatrician who spent nearly 8 hours with her, giving her tests and just chatting with her and with us both separately and together. It turns out that yes, Jill has ADHD. A fairly severe version of it, thank you very much. Also, as usually happens with kids of this type, her IQ is off the charts high (higher than mine and they don’t usually tell you what your IQ is but sometimes you’re a sneaky teenager who looks up their own files in the guidance office at high school and learns a lot about themselves BUT I DIGRESS) and yeah she probably IS bored in school.
The doctor suggested medication, which I was initially hesitant about. What about other interventions? He said yeah you can totally try those and they may help a little but I think you’ll all be frustrated a lot longer than you need to be. So medication it is! And it has been a godsend. She’s old enough now to be involved in the decisions we make about her meds and she’s smart enough to know when she needs it and when she can forgo it. Medication was never my first choice but it was the best one for her.
Then we started intermediate school. We asked for an evaluation of her AGAIN and they blew us off AGAIN and it was stupid and frustrating for everyone. Jill did okay in fifth and sixth grades because she’s smart and the meds helped. She even managed to get into an accelerated math class.
Then middle school happened. She struggled a lot as the expectations changed for her. Things that come naturally to other kids don’t even cross her radar, so we asked the school AGAIN, SOME MORE for an IEP/504 evaluation. They hemmed and hawed but I’d been doing a massive amount of research and I was PREPARED. I wrote a letter to the school that clearly outlined what our rights were and what recourse we were prepared to take if those rights weren’t respected. I usually hate doing shit like that because ugh, nobody wants to be this person, but I was really at the end of my rope with this school system. They were not LISTENING. And I was getting very tired of watching my child struggle when just a little bit of support would have gone a very long way.
So 7th grade went okay, really. 8th grade was going sort of okay, THEN COVID HAPPENED. Oh boy. Turns out, asynchronous learning works pretty well for some ADHD kids. Rather than have to sit in front of a screen and pretend to pay attention, getting an assignment and turning it in later was something we could work with. Granted, the whole virtual school thing sucked out loud and wasn’t good for most kids in the long run, but the last few months of 8th grade went well for Jill because she felt like she had more control over it all.
Her freshman year of high school started out in a really bumpy way. The scheduling was crazy-making for neurotypical folks, so imagine how an ADHD family who needs a predictable routine handled it. Eventually, due to positive Covid cases causing Jill’s in-person days to be cancelled, we elected to just keep her home full-time and that was maybe not the best thing for her.
Of course, we had a lot of other crazy shit happening right then, what with What’s-His-Name’s bike accident (perhaps you’ve heard me mention it before) and the aftermath/recovery of that. Dealing with that meant that Jillian didn’t get nearly as much support from me as she probably needed and by the time I was able to focus on her, 9th grade was a mess. Then we sold our house and moved! So not only did she spend the school year “learning” through her computer screen, she did it while we sold a house, bought a house, packed up a house, lived with our friends for a month, moved into a house and got settled in a whole new place. Any kid would have struggled with that and we did get to the point where we asked her teachers to let her do literally any work that would drag her grade up to a passing grade.
And so, ninth grade ended. Nobody was happy.
With great trepidation, we got her registered at her new high school. Almost IMMEDIATELY, they called us to set up a meeting with the Office of Exceptional Students to discuss Jillian’s IEP/504 situation and work on how we can all work together to best support her in the upcoming school year. THEY called ME! I didn’t have to send vaguely threatening letters!! I didn’t have to make multiple follow-up calls to ask what interventions were being put in place and what support she would have! I didn’t have to make multiple phone calls to MAKE SURE that IEP was being followed! It was truly amazing, the amount of help and support the school was OFFERING. I didn’t have to DEMAND anything, like I did with the previous school.
This Child Study Team seemed surprised at how grateful we were for all their assistance. I explained a little bit about how much I’d had to fight for and they were appalled by that. “This is our job!” they said. “This is what we’re here for.”
I didn’t know that it didn’t have to be so hard. And I’m a tenacious fighting bitch when it comes to my kid. What about parents who don’t push as hard I did? What about parents who don’t know what their rights are? What about parents who get brushed off and never call back? Jill’s previous school district FAILED HER. They failed her and I’m 100% certain they are failing other kids like her. That is disheartening and for all that I miss my friends and my community back in Jersey, I do not miss that school. They failed my child in almost every way.
This school we’re in now is truly outstanding. The IEP is in place and Jill’s advisor checks in with her a few times a week to make sure it’s being followed. They send me monthly progress reports that are better every time. And last week (which is what prompted this post) we got a letter saying that based on recent test scores, Kidzilla is off the charts gifted in language arts, specifically reading. This is a kid who was forced to do a “reading log” (I have RANTS about that) and went from a curious and engaged reader to a clock-watcher who read for the required 20 minutes a night, no more, no less. So to have her skills recognized in this way is amazing and reinforces the fact that we made the right decision to move.
Her grades reflect this, too. 9th grade transcript is a shitshow and her grades for 10th grade so far might as well be from a completely different student. The school psychologist even said as much. He had all of the documentation from Jill’s old school and when he compared it to his own observations of her, he couldn’t believe it was the same kid. We can’t rule out the idea that maybe she was replaced by an alien at some point, but yeah, she’s a totally different child here than she was in NJ.
As for me, I am trying VERY hard not to feel guilty about any of it. I know that I fought for her. I did as much advocating for her as I could do. I did my absolute best and I trusted my instincts even when the school was telling me “no.” And now we have a kid who is excited about school again and starting to look at what she might do after she graduates. That alone has been worth all of the upheaval of the past year. The whole time, I was right about my smart, amazing child. I will fight lions for her.