Our Journey Raising Two Children with Special Needs

This blog chronicles our life raising two children, Nicholas 14, diagnosed with Prader-Willi Syndrome and Weston 17, diagnosed with Autism/Asperger's/ADHD. It's the ups, the downs, the joys, the sorrows and most importantly, the beauty of living a life less perfect, a life more meaningful.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Boy, Opposite

In educating Weston, (diagnosed with ADHD), I have learned some interesting things.

In order for him to be successful in the learning environment, he needs everything to be opposite.

In fact, the school environment is probably the worst possible place to learn for a child diagnosed with this condition.

Let me explain.

Here are just a few basic ADHD principles:

1) Move don't Sit

In order for Weston to engage his brain, he needs to move! Physically moving his body helps to activate his brain.

In school, however, children must sit quietly in their seats, or face dire consequences.

2) Noise not Quiet

Noise transferred through head phones actually helps my child to listen. He needs noise....it helps him to concentrate better. Ed Hallowell, ADHD expert suggests that even adults diagnosed with ADD benefit from some kind of "white noise" to help them to focus.

In school, ipods are outlawed, those who use them face dire consequences.

3) Busy Hands not Empty Hands

If I want Weston to listen I must first put something in his hands!

Moving his hands opens his ears. Lego's are one of the most perfect "listening tools" I have  found to help my son to listen. As his hands engage so too does his mind and he will talk up a storm if his hands are busy.

In school, teachers insist that all items are removed from a students desk or they may face dire consequences.

4) Male not Female

Weston responds better to male energy. Male teachers hold the secret key to motivating Weston. He prefers the straight forward approach, the thinking vs feeling, the "do or die" philosophy and well defined walls that men typically use in providing structure in their classes.

In our school district, male teachers are an overwhelming minority.

5) Outside not Inside

If I want to calm Weston, I put him outside. Soothing talk can sometimes make him more upset.....a good long ride on his bike is sometimes the best medicine.

In school, classes are rarely if ever held outside.

6) Under Stimulation not Over stimulation

Loud, noisy environments are physically painful to Weston. He feels it physically and will often react abruptly and inappropriately in these environments. Wouldn't you, if your body hurt?

In school, there are noisy classrooms, cafeterias, auditoriums, recess.....those who have trouble here often face dire consequences.

Can you see how the school environment can spell trouble for a child diagnosed with ADHD?

Can you see how one's self esteem can start to deteriorate after so many dire consequences are placed upon children who are just trying to survive in an environment that is not conducive to their style of learning?

I have held many IEP meetings with many teachers to discuss these exact issues. I have found that it is not easy to change a culture. Most teachers believe that children diagnosed with ADHD choose to be difficult; that these children are willful and if they only tried harder, they would be successful. They resent changing rules to accommodate children who just want to be difficult.

As a mother, I can tell you without a doubt that my son Weston's brain works differently. I know this is true because when I employ different strategies, they work! I have found many valuable resources by many recognized experts who support this important philosophy, Russell Barkley and Ed Hallowell are two of my favorite. I would encourage all teachers and parents of children diagnosed with ADHD to read them.

If Weston is to be successful in school and life, we must recognize this fact and teach/raise him in a manner that understands and more importantly respects his academic, listening and learning differences.