Last night I thought the “meltdown” was coming! I heard my son crying after finishing his homework. As I questioned him about why he was crying, I got the -”I Don’t Know” reply. I asked him, “Are angry, frustrated, upset, anxious, scared, overwhelmed, sad?” Well, it wasn’t exactly like that, but you get the picture. There was silence on his part and hiding his face with his hands. This was NOT going to be easy.
It took a long time for him to finally admit he was overwhelmed with high school. He feels inadequate, unprepared, anxious all the time, distressed by the “A” day and “B” day scheduling. The fact that he is now able to verbalize this to me after years of angry outbursts makes me want to jump for joy. Although he is feeling pretty terrible about things, this is a victory for OUR TEAM. So how did I handle this?
I said, “Let’s start at the beginning.” He told me the bus ride is OK because he has his headphones to block out the noise. The cafeteria is good because they serve cinnamon rolls several days a week. He can eat in the courtyard for breakfast and lunch instead of the noisy cafeteria. Isn’t that just like a growing teenager to think of food! He likes Team Sports and enjoys Art and Web Design.
It’s then I realize the discussion has completely skipped the academic parts of school. I begin to prompt him about his classes. As it turns out, he has good marks in Geometry and Biology, but he doesn’t think assignments are explained adequately. When he gets home, even though it’s written in his planner, he’s not always sure what he’s supposed to do. Spanish, which is not such a terrific grade, is even worse. The teacher gave everyone a CD-rom textbook that won’t load on the computer and the homework is due tomorrow. And the crying commences again….
I‘m about ready to blow my top at this point. Still no word back from the school counselor about his 504 accommodations paperwork or who is responsible for overseeing it and basically a nod and a grin from teachers at back to school night. Time for the -YOU HAVE TO BE YOUR OWN ADVOCATE -talk!
His first reaction really struck me. He said he thought asking for his accommodations was selfish. Frankly, I was floored, but I guess when you’re trying to be like all the other kids it could seem a little selfish. I explained that a committee had decided that he needed these accommodations in order for him to be successful in the classroom. They do not change the rigor of the course work. As I explained it: They merely help to ensure that you are able to process and focus on the information and handle it in a way that will not cause frustration, anxiety, and outbursts. It also gives you an “OUT” if you feel you need to leave the classroom. I think that’s when I saw the dawn of recognition in his eyes. I could see him thinking…Oh yeah…and that’s what I’m feeling now….so maybe I need my 504….
I suggested that he pick the class he was having the most difficulty with and ask that teacher to meet with him after school to show him the 504 paperwork she had and go over it with him. Wow…I don’t want much, huh? We even role-played the conversation with his Spanish teacher. My accent really made him laugh.
Being the parent/special education teacher that I am, after he went to bed, I wrote another email to his school counselor. As nicely as I could I explained that my son was headed for a major meltdown if she or someone did not take a vested interest in him. I provided her with all his diagnoses just to save her the time of having to look up anything. I also provided the name of his previous school counselor. I let her know of OUR plan for him to begin self-advocating. However, I made it very clear that if he was unable to do it himself, I fully expected her to pick up the ball.
At 3 o’clock today I got a phone call from my son saying he was staying after school to discuss his 504 with his Spanish teacher and asking if I could pick him up at 4 o’clock. I cheered that whole way there! He did it! My son took a huge step today! HUGE! I could not be more proud. He scored one for OUR TEAM! I could see the relief on his face when he got in the car. Now that’s a great day!
Side note: Still no email from the school counselor!