Sunday, April 22, 2012

I Fear that We're not Cut Out for School

Another major milestone in the life journey of one of my children.  Time for kindergarten approaches and last Friday I met with our local public school staff to discuss transition of Kaio's IEP to elementary school.  I came armed with a mantra, "They are trying to help, they want the best for him."  I needed this mantra because earlier that week Kaio brought the IEP prep info home and I read his teacher recommending behavior modification goals like this: "Kaio does not enjoy teacher directed activities and when presented with non-preferred activities he often complains about pain in his arms or legs which prevents him from being able to complete activities.  If he has a different idea as to how an assignment should be completed, he will disregard teacher directions and complete the assignment as per his own agenda.  Kaio needs to complete teacher selected and non-preferred tasks following all directions."

Reading these brought back that empty looser feeling in the pit of my stomach.  The same feeling from my own childhood, when my parents and teachers punished me for not wanting to do things I thought were stupid and boring.   I totally related.  And I don't want to repeat the cycle with Kaio.  I hated when my dad would say, "Because I said so!" or "Children should be seen and not heard."  It seemed the more they tried to control me, the more we fought.  And like magic, as soon as I turned 18 and they unbolted the hold of rules and restrictions, our relationship dramatically improved.

So reading those IEP goals, I dreaded that our plan to start public school in the Fall wouldn't work.  On top of that Kaio begged not to go to preschool on Thursday.  He chose workbooks and grocery shopping over preschool!

So that Thursday we made a trip to the library and I checked out a book recommended by a local homeschooler on her blog Throwing Marshmallows.  I'd been following her posts since reading a loop email response about right-brained kids (visual spacial learners) exhibiting dyslexia.  

Kaio's sign to the faeries telling them not to ride on his carnival wheel while he's sleeping.  Here's the wheel:

He built this from a Lego Education Robotics kit, and then programmed it to spin with the software.

The name of the book is Right-Brained Children in a Left-Brained World: Unlocking the Potential of Your ADD Child and picking it up I felt a little ridiculous.  He hasn't been diagnosed with ADD.  I remembered the night I was seven months pregnant and on the phone with a friend from college, "The baby is moving constantly, I think he may be ADHD."

My friend laughed, "Oh no, perhaps a self fulfilling prophesy?"

My friend, a fellow psychology undergrad, knew all about my drawn out thesis research on fats and ADHD.  Back in 2004, when published studies on the benefit of Essential Fatty Acids (the kinds of fat in nuts, seeds, and fish) were just emerging.  Some published research demonstrated that giving EFA to kids with ADHD helped their attention.  I wanted to see if that held true with the general diet.  Were kids who's diets included more EFAs calmer and less ADHD?   

I did a little study (35 sample size) of elementary students at a local Christian school on their Omega 3 and 6 fat intake and behavior.  The survey found that children who consumed more margarine at home exhibited more ADHD behaviors.  At that time margarine was made with hydrogenized canola oil and contained Trans Fats.  Digging deeper, existing nutrition science research showed that trans fatty acids block absorption of essential fatty acids by the body.  The study was too small to say anything definitive, but supported that trans fats are bad for kids and EFAs good.  I vowed off margarine and started taking flax oil.  

I loved the whole process of research; hypothesizing, planning, discovering, decoding, and contributing.  I really loved it.  But put down that direction when I chose to walk into the world of IT.  I anticipate getting back into research someday, maybe with acupuncture.

So anyways, I started reading that ADD book in the library's family reading room.  Kaio, leafing through a  Ninjago story and Nala with Curious George.  I'm only into the first few pages and already starting to tear up.  I'm finally finding some words describing Kaio's tendencies, and in a beautifully positive light.  

Here's an expert in children explaining that Kaio's brain develops differently and that's why some things seem so tough for him.  And if we just teach in the way that his brain understands, he'll love school, keep up and gain the confidence to excel.  And how unfortunate it is that so many visual spacial learners get labeled as misfits because they struggle through phonics or showing their work in math.  

I remember my friends in highschool who were so much smarter than me, but received awful grades and barely managed a GED.  Their parents wanted to medicate them with ADD drugs, like Aderal and Ritalin, which worked to help them focus on writing a paper, but dissolved the creativity and spirit that made them such cool people out of the classroom.  It was so sad to see that; these super smart kids being told by the school system that they're failures.

And now I see my own future tangled in this debate.  Can I trust a system built for the masses to give my child the creative freedom and leniency that he needs to thrive?  

We entered into a bit of this discussion during the IEP meeting.  Conformity and compliance at the price of creativity.  I told Kaio's teacher how the behavior modification goal made me feel, how it reminded me of being a kid.  

In general the team (Kaio's current teacher, the elementary school SpecEd Chair and a Kindergarten teacher rep) offered assurances that he would be given opportunities to express himself within the assignments.  They all knew about the right-brained learning style and gave some suggestions that showed me they had been trained in how to teach to these kids, like to use sight reading instead of phonics.  They also said the county is rewriting the grade testing standards to lend more to right brained learning style. 

Finally his teacher told me that she's been doing this for 12 years and she's never met a child as creative and spatially gifted as child.  That was so nice to hear, because when we entered into this SpecEd program I was so confused about what this meant in the long run, I kept wondering, "Does this mean he's retarded?  Does this mean he'll never be capable of moving out of the house?"  

Now, I finally see that he learns differently and he's going to be fine as long as I celebrate his style instead of fight it.  Worrying about his struggles with expressive and receptive language obscured my ability to fully relax and enjoy where he's at as a unique kid.  I mean, as wonderful and sweet as he his, he seems vastly different with how he processes information, this really concerned me.  I'd describe to people by saying, "like he needs glasses for his brain." 

Maybe, I should have trusted him more from the start?  Probably.  But, it took a book to make me realize that I don't have to be overwrought.  And most of all, I need to stop comparing.  That should be my behavior modification goal for the year!

Glow bracelets in the bathtub.  Which he turned into planets.  And then created a mini solar system model.  First a blue and green bracelet representing Earth, then a yellow bracelet for the moon, then two orange ones for the sun.  We hung them from the ceiling and spun them to create the orbit effect.

He doesn't like spending five minutes making construction paper snowmen at school.  But he'll sit for an hour building and programming robots.

He got so good at building these that he could assemble and program one in the time it took me to fry sausage for breakfast.

He's so troublesome and playful, benevolent and loving.


  1. reading this almost made me tear up. you have such a beautiful, incredible boy, and he has an amazing mom. i love you guys. and those pictures at the end of kaio and mari are priceless.

  2. Hey Tama! Thanks for the support. Life is so confusing sometimes.

  3. Reading this reminds me of everything I've heard about my husband as a child. He was lucky, too, in that he had a mother who learned to understand his needs and fight for his right to learn the way he was meant to learn. In the end (if you can call 31 an end), he's become a creative, dedicated and highly passionate problem solver. Yes, he still struggles with reading, it's hard and slow, but his brain works in so many ways that I don't comprehend. I am fascinated daily by the ideas he comes up with and the connections his brain makes. I have faith that, in your home and your arms, Kaio will also grow to be such a wonderful man. Keep your head up and your heart strong.



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