As a flip side to the coin we flipped last week with our entry about expecting more from your child, I would also like to offer up the scenario of parenting a child who has difficulties functioning in a traditional classroom setting. By traditional I simply mean where there is a large social aspect to the environment and teaching is done to the group. I am very supportive of the many alternatives we are exploring regarding education, such as homeschooling and online studies but I am speaking to parents who have invested the education of their children outside the home.
My son, who is now an adult, has Asperger’s Syndrome and had a very difficult time in school. He was born years before AS even became an official diagnosis in the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual) so for quite some time I had no idea what I was dealing with. I just knew that my son was different. Aspies (the collective term some of them refer to themselves as) have a very hard time in social settings, experience difficulties with organization, personal hygiene and non-verbal language cues (i.e., facial expressions, voice inflections, etc.). My son would often burst into tears when teased by other children and this behavior more times than not would snowball into school-level harassment. He often walked out of the house with his shirt on backwards and inside out. His hair was never brushed except by me. He was a walking target.
By the time he had reached high school the bullying had reached epic proportions. He was being chased home from school, had been beaten up a few times and I had been called into the school more times than I’d like to recall.
I was not expecting this child and I was angry for a long time. I loved my son but I didn’t understand him and didn’t know how to help. It wasn’t until we had sought help from a professional and he was tested that I was able to put a name to what my son had. Asperger’s. We spent a couple years in counseling and it helped quite a bit.
For all of us who have children who don’t fall into what society conveniently calls “normal”, the school years can be excruciatingly hard. You have to let go and hope that they will navigate the impossibly complex waters of school. You worry all day and every time that phone call comes, the one from the school saying something happened again, your stomach drops.
Fortunately there are more supports now and other parents and educators aren’t as likely to squirrel up their face when you say that your child has a learning disability. Still, you have to fight for your child for every right he or she has under the law. You have to be their champion and their ombudsman. Their voice. It may be ADHD, Asperger’s, autism or a host of other diagnosis’ that they may have but a strong support system at home is absolutely critical.
I still find myself challenged by my son. I’ve discovered that I’m as confusing to him as he is to me but we love each other. He has shown me wonderful gifts that he has for writing as well as being a compassionate older brother to his sister. I’ve found that I’ve had to change what I think is a normal expectation to have and what is simply me trying to fit my son into my idea of how he should live his life. It’s not easy.
I recently joined a support group for father’s of children with disabilities. Many of the other father’s are my age but have younger children. I was eighteen when my son was born and was a single father. Our stories are similar as are our frustrations but it helps to have someone to talk to about it.
Your children are going to be who they are and it’s best to just enjoy the ride, if you can.