Two different kids. Two different scenarios.
Same internal parental struggle.
In Howie’s first grade class, the kids take a math timed test every Friday. They start in November with what they call “little plus” questions. It’s 50 addition problems on a sheet, adding numbers from 0-10. The kids have three minutes to complete the 50 questions correctly. The goal is, of course, to learn and practice their math facts.
I knew from the beginning that this would be a big challenge for Howie. I even mentioned it at his kindergarten to first grade transition meeting last May. It’s not that he couldn’t learn the facts – his academic abilities have never been the issue. It’s the processing speed. And the fine motor skills for writing the numbers quickly. And the anxiety. And his highly competitive drive. All of these issues had the potential to come together in a perfect storm of frustration and meltdown for him. I thought this was a recipe for disaster for him, that there was no way he could answer all the questions in that time limit. Nor did I think he could handle seeing the other kids complete the task when he couldn’t. Immediately I suggested we think of accommodations for him for the test. I even bought a book called “Last to Finish: A Story About the Smartest Boyin Math Class“.
“Let’s wait and see how it goes,” was the response back.
Every week he tried that test. Sometimes he’d complete 39 of them with the answers all correct. Other weeks it was 42 with a few wrong. One time he completed the whole sheet but had three wrong.
Every week he tried. No meltdowns, no frustrations. His aide and teacher worked with him on calming techniques before the test and during the test and they had him stand up in front of the class to teach the other kids how to stay relaxed during a test. They taught him where he needed to be by one minute and by two minutes to complete the sheet. They practiced outside of class and sent home sheets for us to practice at home. He never mentioned if the other kids had moved on to the next “little minus” sheets.
Every week he tried. And every week he came up just a little short.
At the beginning of April I mentioned to his teacher that maybe we need to rethink the accommodations again. “We know he knows the facts. He just can’t get them out fast enough. It has to be affecting him, doesn’t it? Even if he’s not verbally expressing it?”
He just couldn’t do it.
He came bounding off the bus that Friday afternoon. So full of pride. “I DID IT! MOM! I DID IT! I MOVED ON TO LITTLE MINUS!”
He jumped into my arms for the best real hug ever.
Spatial relations have never been a huge strength for Lewis. He doesn’t have a very good sense of where his body is in space – meaning he will often misjudge how close he is to a door handle or a corner on a counter top and walk into it or take a misstep and fall. It’s clear he gets this from me, as I have misjudged the amount of space between my side view mirrors and the opening of the garage. Three times. I can never accurately tell how close I am to the curb when parallel parking.
Lewis and I also don’t like the feeling that we’re going to fall. For example, he’s very uneasy walking on a bridge on playground that you can see through. I don’t like climbing stairs that are open.
Lewis was especially afraid to sit up on a swing. He would lie down on his belly on a swing with no problem and fly. But sitting upright? Nope. No way.
So I talked with his home ABA therapists about it and we made it a goal. He needed to learn how to swing.
He protested. A lot.
They started small with just sitting on the swing for a few seconds with the therapist behind him. The next time he’d sit a little longer.
Each time they’d say “It’s time to swing” he would say no. But then he would. For little bits at a time.
Several weeks of this passed. He just refused to sit there by himself and he melted down at the suggestion of a gentle push without someone holding him on the swing.
“MOM! MOM! I DID IT! I DID TWELVE PUSHES ON THE SWING!”
He wrapped his arms around my legs and looked up at me with the biggest smile.
Herein lies the struggle.
And this is the part that is hard to admit as a parent.
With Howie, I had decided he couldn’t do something. Everything about that testing scenario spelled trouble for him. I looked at the parts of his disability – the hyper-competitive nature, the inability to sit for that amount of time and attend to a task, the fine motor issues, the processing speed – and I decided he couldn’t do it. I knew he knew the answers and I wanted him to show the teacher that he knew the work without the interfering behaviors that keep him from showing he knows the work. Did he need to show that he knew the answers in the same way that every other kid in the class did? How many times did he need to not complete the task to show he needed accommodations? And did we need him to “fail” before we changed it, or was it better to start him off differently from the beginning?
But he could do it like they did. Yes, it took him until the end of April. But the pride – the glow of accomplishment that he showed – would that have been there if he was doing the assignment differently than anyone else?
So where do we step in? When do we say he needs to do it differently than the other kids? At what point do we acknowledge that “different, not less” is okay? Do we wait until Howie is self-aware enough to say “I can’t do this I need help” or I do decide that for him?
Now with Lewis it was the opposite. I pushed for him to work through something that was uncomfortable for him. He was uneasy, afraid, and unsure of himself on that swing. But I asked the therapists to help him overcome it. I decided he needed to learn how to swing. Was that wrong? Would it be so bad if he never sat up on a swing? I am afraid of rollercoasters and any ride that spins. Would it be acceptable for Tim to hire a therapist to make me go on a rollercoaster because everyone else does?
So what do I do? Where do I push? When do I intervene? When do I just let it go?
When we cross off a goal on an IEP or home program, we call it progress. But at what cost? Or whose definition of progress?
I want my kids to reach the next levels – to achieve the things I know they can achieve and more. To reach their limits and then feel confident to step over that line.
But more than anything I want them to be happy. I don’t want them frustrated, scared, upset or angry with me or school. Or life.
I need to figure out where my limit is too.
“So put me on a highway
And show me a sign
And take it to the limit one more time
Take it to the limit
Take it to the limit
Take it to the limit one more time” – Take It To The Limit by The Eagles