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.


  1. What a fantastic outlook you have on your specific parenting challenges. I am in awe! I especially love how you want to focus on the strength rather than the weakness. Your boys are lucky! And much congrats to Sam for scoring the lead! When will they be performing it? (hint hint)

  2. Beautifully written... But then again, I would expect nothing less ! Your children know what a great mom you are. But, I believe that what they don't yet understand is, how lucky they are to have a mother like you who is there for them at every turn. The article is wonderful. Your boys will one day understand even more that as their mother, you're truly so much like a very rare gem. Keep up the wonderful writing !

  3. Hi! I just wanted to weigh in and let you know about my experience with ADD, OCD, and TS. I was diagnosed with these at around age 7 (1992) and started on medication (clonidine) shortly thereafter. At first I was on the pill form, then the transdermal patch, which worked incredibly well. I did not have any learning disabilities, and I have always done very well in school, but the ADD was certainly a challenge to manage. Social interactions were a bit of a challenge already, as I was one of the youngest in my grade, but my mom worked with me a lot in that she talked me through potential situations and responses before events such as birthday parties so that I would be more prepared for things that might "go wrong."

    I stopped with the catapres patch around age 13, because the TS tics pretty much just went away on their own. Through sheer willpower, I have fought the ADD with everything I have. My preferred method, utilized throughout high school, college, law school, and bar studying, is to listen to one song on repeat, because that drowns out all the other background noise. Then, all I have to focus on is my work and the single background song. This has been made infinitely easier by the iPod Shuffle--- I started out carrying around a cd player!

    Best of luck to you and your boys!