Friday, December 10, 2010

i'm becoming a hermit ... are you?

Hermit. I still remember how I learned what that word meant. I was 5 or 6 and my mother was reading the book Heidi to me. Heidi's grandfather was a "hermit," remember? My mom said a hermit was someone who lived in seclusion & never spoke to anyone. Creepy, huh?

In those days, I was the most social person I knew. I wasn't "alive" unless I was surrounded by friends. I used to lay on the kitchen floor & cry out to my mom, "I'm borrrrrrrrrred!!!" My mom would tell me to go color, or read a book. But I didn't want to. I wanted to be around people! I wanted to have a friend over. I wanted to do something BIG. I wanted P.T. Barnum to ring my doorbell, with elephants on balls and poodles on tricycles in tow. This continued, in some form or another, over the years. Whether I was in my 20s or 30s, I wanted to be where the action was: partying at a bar, shopping with friends, out at a school function, dinner with friends.

Now I am 45 and I say, "Screw the action!" I spend my days holed up in my warm house and the scary part is ... I LIKE IT! Some days, I even stay in my pajamas. Then I find myself panicking at 2:00 pm, knowing my kids will arrive home soon & my jig will be up! After all, I'm the one who yells at them to get out of the house & do something. So, surely, I can't set such a poor example. I quickly shower, make my bed & rinse the oatmeal-encrusted breakfast dishes in the sink. By the time my boys get home at 2:30, (poof!) I am magically transformed back into Donna Reed and they are none the wiser!

But I guess I am not a true "shut in," since I do converse with people on the outside: I text, I tweet, I blog, I Facebook. While, I'm guessing Heidi's grandfather didn't have internet access up there in the Swiss Alps, me thinks he & I have a lot in common. Hermits of the world ... unite!!!

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

stirring the special ed pot

All those labels are getting me steamed. In the world of special education, my son is a veritable bowl of alphabet soup: OCD, ADHD, TS, LD, OHI. In English, this translates to Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Tourette Syndrome, Learning Disability and, (as if those weren’t enough,) Other Health Impairments. Over the years, we’ve had almost every letter of the alphabet flung our way. But in reality, my son is not a hot appetizer, a grouping of letters, nor even a diagnosis. He is just Sam: my beautiful, funny, affectionate, inquisitive, compassionate, chatty 13-year-old boy. He's a talented actor & singer, who can also rock out on the drums.

Now, I'm not completely knocking diagnoses. They can certainly be a starting point, and may even give us a basic "recipe" as to what makes a child tick, or in my son's case ... er ... tic. They can also be immensely helpful in terms of securing special education services from a local school district. But, just like in cooking, you can’t focus on a single ingredient. As parents and educators, we need to look beyond to the whole person. We need to understand & respect what truly motivates a child, and capitalize on his or her strengths, (versus focusing on the weaknesses.)

In this day & age, it is completely frustrating that there aren't more programs suited to a kid like mine who is "in between." He is too academically impaired for a regular class, but too high functioning socially for a special ed class. Okay, if I lived in Manhattan, I would have my pick of several great programs. But I am stuck in the suburbs with little to offer. So we have had to make do.

Sam is a "street smart" kid who finds it social torture to navigate middle school from the perspective of the special education class. Not only do kids treat him differently, but teachers can be condescending, as well. To quote Sam, "What is their problem? I'm not an idiot!" He longs for his summers at sleep away camp, where there are no labels and he is treated like everyone else.

But I am hopeful that eighth grade will bring about positive changes in his world.  For starters, he was cast as THE LEAD in the school play, Seussical. And, yes, I admit it: I am proud that a “SpEd” kid beat out 100 other middle schoolers for the plum role!!! These Long Island soccer moms need to understand that just because a child is challenged in one aspect of his life, doesn’t mean that he doesn’t excel in other areas.

Otherwise, I will continue to try -- for Sam and my other two sons -- to create building blocks of positive experiences for them … each one serving as a solid foundation for the next.  I don’t really care what letters of the alphabet these boys represent. All I know is that each one brings a flavorful ingredient to the mix. And I can't wait until the timer goes off and I get to see how awesome this recipe turns out.