Thursday, October 2, 2008

Because He's Different

My heart is breaking right now for my son. He is getting in trouble at school daily. Despite this, for some reason, the schoolwork he brings home is always perfectly done. The only flaw we, as his parents, can see, or that his teacher can see is that his handwriting is not always what we would hope. As a matter of fact, on his progress report, across the board were 100% scores, except for handwriting. Yet he continues to disrupt the class. Exhausted from all of the slips and notes brought home from school, John and I sat down with the principal, the teacher, and the school's guidance counselor. We were attempting to solve this problem Evan seems to be having. I have exhausted all resources, and I am terrified that the "bad kid" label will follow my son throughout his education if we do not do something, anything, to stop this.

We have taken away playthings and priviledges. We have grounded. We have tried the opposite, as in rewarding the desired behavior. I even took him on a mini shopping spree one day when he not only brought home a perfect math test, but also a perfect behavior report. As in, I literally took him to the store and gave him free reign to choose whatever he wanted. (He chose books!) So what else can I do?

Well, after the call from his teacher this afternoon, I was so frustrated that I started searching things online. Here is the thing: I blame the school system, partly. And here is why:

Evan was 4. He was a very small 4, as a matter of fact. But he had just barely made the cutoff for kindergarten. So we took him to be assessed, and they said he was ready to start big-boy school. I would have much rather him stay home and be my baby for another year. But I trusted them to let him start school. He did remarkably well.

So when I graduated from college, credentials in hand, we moved to Indiana. He continued the second half of kindergarten there. At the end of the year, we were told he was just too small and young, that they wanted to retain him, and he should repeat kindergarten for the next year. I disagreed with their assessment of him. They counted such things against him as his physical size, his status as an only child, and more ridiculousness beyond his control. But I allowed them to retain him, not realizing the impact it would later have.

Now, after 2 years of kindergarten, he is in first grade. Academically, he is perfect. There is nothing they give him that he cannot do well. As a matter of fact, he is slated for the gifted and talented program, which does not start until the very end of the school year. For now, he is with average first graders.

His teacher uses such words as immature, impulsive, and spoiled to describe his behavior. When I explained that he has been assessed for ADD/ ADHD and was found not to reach the criteria for a diagnosis, she acts shocked and hints that medication may be the answer. In the classroom, Evan is limited to what he is allowed to do. When they go to the school library, he is only allowed to select books from a special selection designed to meet the abilities of average first graders, despite the fact that Evan can read way beyond that level. After bringing this to his teacher's attention, she has started to personally escort Evan to a special, more advanced section to choose books in which he may be interested.

In the meantime, he continues to bring home the pink discipline slips. He knows right from wrong, and can verbalize that he should not be behaving that way at school. He can explain why. He also tells me that they give him "baby stuff" to do at school, and this is further exhibited by the fact that he breezes through multiple homework assignments within 10 minutes or less. Total.

Reading articles on gifted children left me in tears. We, as parents, want nothing more than a normal child. Scratch that. We all want our children to be exceptional, smart, beautiful. And yes, all children have some gifts. I don't claim to be any different. But the more I read, the more I realize that my son truly is different. Which means more to me than others.

Not a lot of people know that I was burdened with the gifted label as a young child. It is not fun. You think differently, process information differently than the other children. Adults puzzle over your behavior. I could never handle riddles and puzzles because I would over-analyze everything to the point that others would think I was stupid. I wasn't. I just thought through things differently than others. Because of that, I never fit in with the other kids. As I got older, I could act differently to make myself fit in. But I never truly felt at-home with anyone. To a degree, that is continued now.

It is very difficult, as a parent, to vocalize your child's flaws. As in, "Nope. I won't admit it. He is my son, and he is PERFECT." But as I read these articles, it was like I was reading about my son from someone who knows him better than I do. I reverted back to being the kid nobody understood. And for the first time since trying to figure all of this out, I remembered what it is like to carry that label. Everything made sense to me. The fact that Evan was slow to start talking as a baby. The experts told us back then that they suspected that his thoughts were too complex for his limited speech ability. Then I flashed on his experimentation and the times I struggled to keep him from trying to cook in the middle of the night. And what about the time when he was 4 and I punished him for sneaking out of his room and filling my coffeemaker with cocoa powder in an effort to make hot chocolate. To him, that was an experiment.

Everyone will tell me not to worry, that he could not possibly remember. But here is the thing: He will. He will, because I do. I can recall the scratchy blanket I was wrapped in when my family made a pilgrimage to Disney World when I was 3. I can remember the smells, the feelings, the sights of it all. I remember my little pink Strawberry Shortcake bathing suit and asking my Mom what the fuzzies were on the seat, where it had pilled from the poolside concrete. I remember my pink bibbed overalls I wore in preschool, can describe to you the layout of Learning Station One, where I attended in Cincinnati. I remember eating breakfast with Mom before she dropped me off, at Burger Chef (before it was Hardee's) and asking the manager why Chef wasn't spelled S-H-E-F, because that was the sound it made. I was 3. So I know he will remember.

I am so afraid I have failed my son. Whether through upbringing or genetics, or whatever, that I have done this to him. I have made him Different.

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