We are all unique. In today’s world, the idea of embracing differences and diversity is seen and heard everywhere. From television shows, advertising, books, and even casual discussions with our friends, we are all very aware that each of us is different. Unfortunately, in today’s educational atmosphere each child’s individuality is not always valued or encouraged. When we send our children to school, our hopes are that they find a warm, stimulating place that they want to return to day after day. Anxiety and stress should not be a part of the educational process but unfortunately with large classroom sizes, limited resources and a variety of levels in the classroom, these often become the reality. Minor classroom accommodations can change the way children perceive school and how they learn but these adjustments are not always easy. Here is our story about how we were able to get our son’s school to acknowledge his individual learning needs.
My middle son was diagnosed with ADHD and having difficulty completing written work in a reasonable time frame and his handwriting was almost illegible. But when he worked on the computer, he would type amazing stories and complete his assignments in a timely way. Unfortunately our request to have him type writing assignments in school was not automatically granted. He was still achieving A’s and B’s and the stress and anxiety he experienced to achieve these grades was not seen as a reason to allow accommodations. We were told that for a student to have an accommodation, they first needed to fail. This was not an acceptable answer for us and so we proceeded on a long, arduous journey to change the system for our son.
First came a diagnosis by occupational therapists that he had motor processing issues, followed by months of occupational therapy to improve his handwriting. Then, after three long group meetings with a variety of experts that included the principal, guidance counselor, school occupational therapist, school psychologist and the Vice Principal, a 504 plan (a plan that outlines how a child’s specific needs are met with accommodations, modifications and other services) was implemented that would allow my son to type his work. This small change has once again made him excited about school and increased his self-esteem. He now feels success every day instead of defeat.
What saddened me about this entire process was how difficult it was to make learning easier. Well-meaning school officials were constrained by red tape and while everyone truly wanted to help my son, no one could grant the requested changes to make his life easier that were clearly apparent at the beginning of the process. Working in the education field, I was familiar with the IEP and 504 processes. Using an ADHD “medical” diagnosis we were able to mold the system to fit our needs. It left me wondering how many students are left without the tools that can make learning easier. Programs and accommodations are available for most students who need a different approach, but many parents are not aware of the avenues that be explored or truly can’t afford the time or money to follow the process I did. This phenomenon is particularly acute for students that are borderline in performance; those that are doing well but encountering a roadblock that is holding them back. The schools, overwhelmed with caseloads of the more acutely needy, do not initiate changes for students that can squeak by in the mainstream environment.
Why can’t learning become a process that can fit all students differently? Certainly the question isn’t easily answered – we all learn differently, and if accommodations are necessary for everyone in a 25-student classroom, the teacher’s job will become unmanageable. So some meaningful bar is needed before allowances are made. But imagine if we had an effective screening process that encouraged teachers to ask for evaluation, quickly identified problem areas, and recommended the easiest-to-implement allowances that could at least get the students down the path of success more quickly. This wouldn’t solve all needs, but for relatively easy-to-recognize problems with straightforward solutions (like the ones we eventually implemented for my son) I have to believe that a more efficient process is attainable within the walls of the school, one that doesn’t leave parents on their own to navigate the jungle of requirements and cuts through the endless cycle of meetings that consume parents’ and educators’ time.
Have you had a similar experience? Please share with us!