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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

Dear Complaining Parents: You’re Ruining It For The Rest Of Us

Categories: children, parenting, school, special needs kid

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homework againLast year, my husband and I sat down with Henry’s teachers to talk about his diagnosis and about what kinds of things he could — and could not — be expected to do. We had always given his teachers a heads up about his issues, but as he moved into middle school, it was clear to us that we were finally at a point where he was going to need some extra help — and, occasionally, some significant accommodations — just to get through the day.

I am hesitant, always, to request special treatment for either of my sons; when I am compelled to ask for help, I am careful about what I say and how I say it. Wade and I both work hard to make it clear that we respect the job that the boys’ teachers and coaches are doing and that we are willing to meet them more than half way and do whatever they ask to help our son. We are also always clear that we expect our son — whichever son we happen to be talking about — to pull his own weight, to the best of his ability.

We went into our meeting with the middle school teachers prepared to argue for Henry, to explain — in detail, if necessary — what his issues were and what accommodations he might require and why we felt it was so important to do these things for him. We listed all the labels — ADHD, dysgraphia, generalized anxiety disorder, Aspergers syndrome — and shared what we knew about Henry: He is disorganized and doesn’t handle change well and has terrible handwriting and poor social skills.

He might need to type some of his homework, we said, rather than hand writing it. And he might need graph paper for math in order to keep the equations straight. And he will lose things. Lots of things.

To our tremendous relief, the teachers were supportive and helpful and entirely willing to work with us. But in the end, we weren’t asking them to make any big changes for Henry. We were just asking them to recognize his differences and work around them. He would still be responsible for all the same work and all the same deadlines as the other kids.

That was exactly the outcome we were hoping for.

Wade and I are the type of parents who always have a strategy, particularly when we think about how we are raising Henry. What’s the strategy, we ask ourselves, to get the boy to do his homework? Get ready for school on time? Eat new foods? Not panic at the doctor? Some of our strategies succeed in ways we never could have imagined, while others are fail spectacularly. But we’re alway thinking, always trying to stay one step ahead of the boy.

And of course, we are always, to some extent, making it up as we go along, because Henry is our firstborn and we’ve never parented a kid like this before. But one thing we are sure about is Henry’s disability does not mean that we are asking anyone to change the rules just for him. It’s not an excuse for him to get out of doing something difficult or challenging. Ever.

We will just come up with a new strategy to get him through the hard parts.

Recently, though, I feel like I am the only parent who still believes this. I am surrounded by adults who complain, loudly and publicly, about how unfairly their child is being treated by teachers and coaches. They grouse about not enough playing time and too much homework. They claim that the reason their children aren’t performing up to their potential is because they are being hindered by teachers and coaches who don’t recognize that potential. If their child just got to play more minutes or do different homework, he would be a success. They insist that the rules be changed to accommodate their child.

This makes me crazy.

I hear parents talk endlessly about self esteem, about how sitting on the bench for one inning of baseball or having to finish five complex word problems for homework is crushing their child’s soul. These parents make me feel old and curmudgeonly, because when I was a kid (100 years ago) you just did what the coach or teacher said to do, no questions asked. And if you wanted more playing time or a better grade, you worked harder.

The truth is that not every kid is a starter or a math whiz; kids struggle with lots of things and it is our job as parents to teach them how to manage that struggle. For kids like Henry, this may mean specific accommodations; for kids like Charlie, it may just mean extra homework help and shooting lots of baskets in the driveway.

Every time I hear a parent complain about how unfair the system is, I want to say: If your biggest concerns about your child are counting the number of minutes or innings that he plays, or agonizing over his not-quite-straight-A report card, then count your blessings. You’re not going to get any sympathy from me, because every time you ask for special treatment for your child, it undermines what I am trying to teach my children about hard work and persistence and respecting teachers and coaches.

And it makes it harder for me to ask for the help that my quirky kid, with his laundry list of neurological issues, genuinely needs, because all of the clamoring about how we can’t hold our kids accountable for anything that is outside their comfort zone has made teachers and coaches wary of parents who ask for accommodation. Understandably so.

I wish — oh, how I wish — that I never had to email teachers or coaches and explain about Henry’s issues. I would happily trade the panic attacks and anxiety and social awkwardness for lower grades and less playing time. I truly would.

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