He's Just A Troubled Kid

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

I recently connected with a former friend from many years ago in one of those "So, how's life been treating you" conversations.  I'm not terribly fond of these catch-up calls, but he called me so I was able to ask questions and listen which I prefer to do.

In the course of family updates, my friend spoke of his nephew, saying he was struggling, was not terribly social, spent most of his time in his room, and said, "He’s a troubled kid.”  My first reaction was - what an antiquated phrase - yet kept asking questions, hoping to perhaps offer some insights into how he could help him.  Wrong assumption on my part.  Understanding his issues and wanting to step in to help was far less important than conveying - multiple times - that he’s troubled. 

After hanging up, I thought to myself ... why is this phrase still used to describe a struggling child?  I can't ever recall hearing anyone refer to an adult as a troubled adult.  It's not only a poor generalization, but it conveys nothing of substance.  To me, it's like looking away from something unpleasant.  You're aware of it or may have seen it but no...not getting involved.

We’re quick to toss around “labels” (both accurate and otherwise) when it comes to adults – he’s depressed, she’s bipolar.  And while labels can be obstacles based in fear and the unknown, once *it* has a name, we've got a starting point.  And this certainly holds true when we're talking about a child or young adult.

I understand well the reluctance of parents to label a child or teenager and many resist at every turn.  It's easier to say that he's going through a phase or she's just introverted.  But that's not good enough and certainly not for the child him/herself.  Not only do parents need to know why their child is struggling, but sharing this information - and relevant details - is important particularly when it comes to family and those close enough to the child to try to make a difference.  We already know the alternatives and few have positive outcomes.  Not to mention the need for the child to learn self-advocacy skills based on their understanding of themselves.

We’re quick to label one of *those* kids as being in special education yet even today, many lack real understanding about just what this means.  Just listen to the line in the film Admission where one of the college admissions officers exclaims, “The kid was in special education.”  So what?  The uninformed assume that this is an automatic roadblock preventing a struggling child from succeeding in school, college, or life.  I think not.

Much continues to be said - and needs to be said - about mental health issues and our children.  There’s a push to bring these issues to the fore to ensure that those who are struggling can access the support they need.  And while our words (or labels) can harm if used as a weapon, they can also embrace.  Failing to use the appropriate words to describe a struggling child is the same as looking away.  It's not an easy choice to make and there are risks involved, yet the same applies to any new ground.  The longer we remain in the past and keep looking away, the harder it's going to be to turn a troubled child into a supported child making strides forward. 

- Debra I. Schafer, CEO

We're Losing Our Kids

Working parents with Special education Special needs children including Autism ADHD Learning disabilities  Employee benefits Employee assistance Employee support Voluntary benefits. 504 Plan, IEP Program

The suicide of a college student.  The disappearance of another from a busy street.  Both in my local community.  Both within the past three weeks.  One remains an active effort with the hope for a positive resolution.  The other no longer does.

A young man I know well called just prior to Thanksgiving, telling me that the roommate of a friend had just committed suicide.  On campus and in their shared room.  A college student approaching the finish line toward graduation with a full life yet to be lived.  His friend needed short-term housing until alternate living arrangements could be made.  I heard the pressing need, yet the only thing that registered was that another promising young adult was in so much pain that ending it all seemed to be the only way out.

The raised voices about removing the stigmas and providing better access to mental health care are being heard.  Identifying young people who are struggling with depression, bipolar disorder, and other mental health issues is critically important, but that’s only one side of the coin.  There's another side, one that requires us to dig deep, that's as important if not moreso.

Like flipping a light switch, children cross a “magical threshold” into the responsibilities and pressures of adulthood when they turn 18.  Never mind that a child's brain is not fully developed until around the age of 25.  The welcome mat is thrown down and we hope for the best.

So what happens.  They find themselves navigating classes, working to maintain their grades, handling their self-care and finances, dealing with roommate and peer issues, figuring out new environments and expectations…a host of demands that would tax even the most prepared young adult.  Yet many are simply ill-prepared and not ready despite what the law says.

Along with reaching this passage to adulthood comes the accompanying challenges and obstacles that prevent and preclude friends, professors, and others from being able to step in when a student is in crisis.  And this doesn’t even touch on the "red tape" issues facing parents who are trying to get their children the help they so desperately need.  And often times from afar.

College is a “hot topic” today – in fact, I just blogged about it.  The cost of attendance, whether college is worth the investment of time and money, and the safety of students ... all important issues. Yet attention to the fact that the lives of many of these young adults are balancing on a tightrope because they are unable to handle the pressures seems to be missing in these discussions.  They're slipping and some of these cracks in their new-found adult lives are swallowing them whole.  And forever.

There is shared grief here … this student’s friends who knew there were issues yet did not know what to do or where to turn.  This student’s parents who may have been unaware of the extent of their child’s difficulties or had been unsuccessfully trying to secure help.  And the grief that we all need to share because of the lack of safety nets for our 18 - 21-year-old children who are dealing with depression, anxiety, drug and alcohol issues, and other issues that are pushing them to despair.

I’m a parent too.  Of a young adult who has also experienced difficulties.  I know the fights involved and the “systems” that work against parents in the quest of their lives.  Few things cut through a person’s existence like feeling helpless … like knowing someone is struggling yet being told that information cannot be shared … like knowing that the line between having another day to fight and the last day can be hair thin.

My heart goes out to this student.  No child -- and yes, whether 18 or 25, they are still children -- should be alone, unable to cope, and without the supports they need.  There are resources such as Active Minds (www.activeminds.org) working hard to raise awareness and garner support for college students with mental health issues.  We hear about these stories every day.  Yet when it happens to your child or in your community, it drives home the fact that some things have to change.  What are we waiting for?

-Debra I. Schafer, CEO

 

Snap Out Of It...

I love this line from the film "Moonstruck," when Cher tells Nicholas Cage to snap out of it after he says he loves her (she is planning to marry his brother).  It's a favorite that I often use when a particular topic arises. The topic is labels and let me first say this...no one likes to be labeled anything.  Labels are restrictive and create barriers.  They convey things to others that are often incorrect and can be discriminatory.  But...they can also open doors and create avenues that may otherwise not be available to pursue.  And they also help to bring explanations and reason to things that may truly need clarity.

All this to say, it always confounds me when I hear a parent say that they know their child is struggling yet don't want to have them evaluated.  My initial reaction is to empathize, saying that I understand that finding out "why" can be scary and overwhelming.  It taps into fears of the unknown, of what we may *think* we know about something, and of what finding out will really mean.  But it takes less than 10 seconds to move from an empathetic reaction to a "snap out of it" response mode.

No parent wants to think or be told that their child has autism.  Or is bipolar.  Or has ADHD.  What parent would ever want their child to be "labeled" no less to face the reality that others will know about it too.  What parent would wish therapies or being pulled out of class for support on their child.  None.  But parents who resist or refuse to "face the music" need to realize a few facts:

  1. They need to separate their own preconceived notions and "what if's" from the realities facing their child.
  2. They need to recognize that every day, week, and month of delay is precious time wasted.
  3. They need to understand that the label is essential to securing the supports and services the child may need in school...and beyond.

When I hear a parent express their concerns, I ask whether they prefer speculation or knowing.  Whether the status quo is working.  Whether their child is on a trajectory of success or failure.  Of *course* every parent wants their child to be healthy and happy.  To get good grades, make friends, and be successful in the world.  These are foundational desires all parents share.

Yet many children have been struggling for years, taking a huge toll on the child in immeasurable ways.  Repeated "F's" on tests can be seen (and can be devastating to the child), but it's the things out of view - the sense of failure, of not feeling smart, of always having difficulties - these are the things that can take away a child's desire to even try anymore.  And it doesn't matter if the child is in 3rd Grade or is 15-years-old; feelings of despair accumulate and struggling saps the drive and hope for a better tomorrow out of the youngest of children.

Do parents who resist an evaluation and "label" think that the struggling is going to stop at will?  That the child is intentionally failing math, purposely not making friends, or planning to have behavioral issues in school?  Of course not.  And this is where the "snap out of it" message needs to be said...and heard.

It is incumbent upon parents of children for whom struggling defines their existence to put their own fears aside and mobilize.  With the end of the school year upon us, summer is the time to secure an evaluation and to plan for how to make things better in September and beyond. Yes, this may mean special education services, frequent meetings with school, and involvement of private clinicians and outside experts.  But which vision do you choose...pretending the issues don't exist, hoping they'll just go away with time, or telling your child that you're now "on the case" and that things are going to improve?

A label is words.  Dyslexia.  ADD.  Asperger's Syndrome.  They only have power if parents allow them to.  These words are also doorways to answers and strategies that will move the needle from failure to success, defined differently for every child.

If you happen to be one of the parents who have allowed your own fears to override getting the information - and diagnosis - your child needs, please...snap out of it.  Your child is depending upon you to do so.

Sticks And Stones Got It All Wrong

Years ago, I vividly recall telling my son that words hurt as much as, if not more than, a physical action.  This was when he was experiencing daily torment by classmates in school because he was "different" - a book reader, creative, and not into sports.  Even the word different bothered me because it came with baggage that I wanted him to shed. On last night's news, there was a story about a man who ended his life after what appeared to be a lifetime of struggle.  The reporter said that the man "was mentally ill" and all kinds of images came to mind, even for me who has spent years advocating for children/young adults with a range of diagnoses and labels.  I then wondered how people without any frame of reference reacted to this statement vs. how they may have responded if the reporter said... the man "suffered for years with mental illness" or the man "struggled for years with depression."  Perhaps it would have softened - and brought a level of humanity and understanding - to an otherwise tragic situation.

Much attention is being paid these days to three topics - issues of mental health/illness, bullying, and struggles of our youth in the LGBT community - and all for good reasons.  Our mental health system is in shambles and many children, teens, and adults cannot access the services and supports they so desperately need.  Not a day passes when we don't hear about another child who has been and continues to be bullied in school.  And several days ago, I read words written by a student on a college blog about feelings of desperation - and wanting to die - because of being gay and excluded.

Many of our children and young adults are struggling and suffering, the results of which are often devastating for them and others.   Diagnoses and labels are often affixed with little regard for the weight of the words themselves and without the cushion of support needed after these words/terms are affixed.  Autism.  Bipolar.  Gay.  One single word can change everything for a person ... whether they're accepted, included, supported, loved, hired.   Imagine having your life defined by a single word or phrase.

No question ... short snippets of information and catchy terms often help us hook on and remember something.  But many times the thing that helps us remember is also the thing that makes us forget ... that behind the label or term is a person.  A person who may be struggling, trying desperately to overcome obstacles that sometimes even they don't fully understand.

One of the statements I make frequently to parents, educators, and to groups is this ... a diagnosis or label does not "define" but rather it "describes."  A definition is fixed, but a description is fluid and provides more room for explanation and information.  Words can and often do change everything, particularly when the words are facing outward toward another person.  Words also can and do hurt, but they can also explain, empathize, embrace...and heal.  And we need as much healing today as we can get.

Struggling Kids Become Adults ... Then What?

Did you know that the costs to incarcerate someone is more than it is to educate them?  I'm sure this is the case in most states as would be the statistics that show that a fairly hefty percentage of the young adults and adults in prison have undiagnosed disabilities - learning, developmental, behavioral, emotional, mental. This isn't about scaring parents into thinking that their struggling children are heading to jail.  Rather, it's about asking parents to look toward the horizon, where high school graduation, driving, college, employment, and independent living comes into play.  It's about acknowledging that if your child is struggling today, they may well grow into a struggling adult.

No parent wants to know that their 4th Grader has dyslexia or their 9th Grader is bipolar.  No parent wants to think about how their 6th Grader is going to manage through the social challenges of middle school when their child has Asperger's Syndrome or how their gifted 12th Grader with ADHD is going to handle the demands of college.  But here's the reality - acknowledge and work to support it today, or know that the gaps grow wider and the consequences far more serious with each passing year.

Over the past few months, I've read actual posts from college students asking to pay others to write their college papers or take their online classes for them.  Nothing new as we've heard about this for some time.  And while I'll readily admit that some may be lazy or just not interested in doing the work, others may have been struggling with reading, writing, or math for years.   This creates enormous pressure for the child which morphs into serious challenges for them as adults, and while they learn ways to "smoke and mirror" their deficits, eventually the smoke clears and the mirror cracks.

Ask any college administrator about the increasing numbers of freshman who are taking remedial classes - and more than one or two and often for multiple semesters - because they are woefully deficient in basic academic skills and this tells us plenty.  Ask any college health services department about the exploding numbers of students seeking mental health counseling and this tells us plenty.  And ask any manager about the numbers of Gen Y employees who cannot write a well-developed report or develop a budget and this tells us plenty.   These issues didn't just appear...many have been hidden in plain sight for many for years.

Parents are stretched thin, often struggling to balance work and family with a host of other responsibilities.  And having just one more thing to do is often enough to tip the scale beyond being able to manage.  Yet I would bet that there isn't a parent who doesn't want their child to be able to live and function as a competent, self-sufficient adult.  For many, however, this is a goal that comes with additional requirements in order to achieve it.

Maybe your child won't be posting on Craigslist or a college Facebook page for someone to write their Sociology paper, and maybe your child won't find him/herself struggling with emotional issues that makes keeping a full-time job impossible.  But maybe they will.  Wouldn't it be better to look the needs in the face now, while they're young, instead of hoping they'll go away when they become young adults?  We give our children roots as well as wings to fly, but for many, they need far more.

It's Halfway Through The School Year - So How Are Things Going?

January/February are typically brutal months - subzero temperatures, flu, snow days...everyone's counting the minutes until spring.  But if you're the parent of a child struggling in school, this time of year is about far more than the weather and health.  It's the halfway point in the school year which often means that school struggles morph into full-blown crisis situations. It doesn't matter whether your child is in 4th or 11th Grade, whether your child has Asperger's Syndrome or your teen has behavioral issues.  What does matter is that it's time to ask yourself (and honestly answer), "How are things going?"  For millions of children, the answer is not so well.  And for the millions of parents standing behind their children, the realities are as harsh as the weather.  And these harsh realities impact everything - home, work, families.  Everything.

So now what?

If your child has not been evaluated yet is facing mounting struggles in school, now is the time to pursue an evaluation.  School can conduct it, but it's best to pursue an independent evaluation conducted by a clinician of your choosing.  It often takes weeks if not longer to secure appointments, so after you dig your car out of the snow, start moving on it.

If your child is on an IEP and you have not reconvened your team since the school year began, it's time to call a meeting.  Prepare to discuss goals and progress.  Prepare to bring any data you have collected (and yes, parents should be collecting data too).  Prepare to advocate for changes, whether to services or supports ... whatever is not working needs to be reexamined.

If your child is on a 504, review all the accommodations to see if they are still appropriate now that half of the school year is behind you.  Make sure the school is actually implementing the accommodations as well and doing so consistently, particularly if your child is in middle and high school where multiple teachers come into play.

If your child is regressing, time to focus on data.  If your child is not making progress, yes...it's "data time" as well.  It's essential that you are requesting and gathering data from school, from outside supports (e.g. private tutoring, speech therapy), and that you are also providing data from home.  Remember that IEPs are not solely focused on academics - think social, behavioral, developmental, and functional needs as well.  So if you're not seeing progress, whether within or outside of the school environment, this information needs to be shared with the IEP team.

Parents often focus on the here and now - makes perfect sense since if things are not going well today, it's difficult to look a few years (or months) into the future.  Yet remember...the goal of an IEP or 504 is to help prepare your child for life after high school which goes far longer and includes far more than school.  So if things aren't going well today, you still have half a school year left to make things right.  Or at least, better.

Help Our Children

Many people will be writing and speaking about the horror that happened in Connecticut in the morning hours of last Friday.  No words could possibly express the depth of my sorrow for these families -- it's beyond description.  The loss of these children is life-altering for any of us who are parents. Our children need help.  The young man who committed this massacre (and no need to mention him nor any diagnoses being tossed around) had been suffering for years.  Many children are.  No excuses but rather a wake-up call.

For the past 14 years, I've been working with parents of children with a host of hidden disabilities.  Children who have been struggling at school and home.  Children who have found themselves in psychiatric wards...involved with law enforcement...taken from their homes by their own parents who are no longer able to care for them.  Despite doing everything humanly possible to help them and often for months and years, they encounter obstacles, lack of access, limited resources...the list is endless.  Parents wear out but keep trying.  Or stop trying because they just can't do it any longer.  They are doing everything possible but often, it's not enough.  And the children suffer.

As a society, we must raise the volume of discussion about mental health issues.  But that's not enough.  We have to do everything possible to help parents access whatever supports are needed for their children.   A 7-year-old who is struggling becomes a 14-year-old who is struggling unless this child receives support, services, and whatever else is needed to help them.  It is our responsibility to ensure that this is a priority.

Many parents don't tell their stories.  They're afraid of rejection or disapproval.  They're afraid of what might happen to their children if people *knew* what was happening in their homes and lives.  I've heard countless numbers of these stories from parents with desperation in their eyes and voices.  And today I'm worried for the thousands of children and their parents for whom Asperger's Syndrome is part of their daily existence.

As we all grieve for this unspeakable tragedy and discuss gun control and mental health issues, we must also look around at the families and parents we know...at the children we know or love, and support them with everything we have so that these children -- regardless of their age -- have the chance to heal and be well.   I'm not naive enough to believe that everyone with a diagnosis can be healed, but I do know that many, many children and teenagers who are suffering and struggling *can* move from the darkness into the light if they are able to receive the supports they need.  Don't we owe this to all our children?  Please...we must help our children.

They're "Hitting The Wall" -- Now What?

Virtually every day, children struggling is what keeps me awake late at night.  I wish all kids were succeeding in school and no parents faced the angst that comes with knowing that their child is not doing well.  But enough for my holiday wishes... Not enough, however, for the rallying cry that I make when kids are "hitting the wall" in school.  What's disturbing is that each academic year, I'm making the cry earlier and more frequently.  Yes, it's true that while not every child does well in every class, every grade, and every year, many children are indeed struggling in every class, every grade, and every year.  It's not the occasional struggle that's the problem, but rather, it's a pattern of struggling -- whether with academics, socially, or behaviorally -- that is the "call to arms" for parents to act.

For some kids, they hit the wall shortly after the school year begins.  For others, it's after the novelty of a new school year has faded and the expectations for performance become the norm.  And still for others, it's late winter/early spring when they can no longer compensate for the gaps that exist.  But no matter when it happens, a child hitting the wall is tantamount to the worst scene in a movie any parent could imagine seeing.

At this time of year, after school has been underway for several months, many children and teens are indeed "hitting the wall"... and hard.  Whether diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder, ADD/ADHD, or not diagnosed yet at all, grades are plummeting if they were decent to begin with, homework is not being completed, teachers are expressing concerns, and the child is suffering.  So are the parents.

Trying to figure out what's happening and then what to do about it is truly overwhelming for most parents.  And once some of these initial questions are answered, the tough part begins -- working to figure out how to secure whatever services and supports the child needs and then monitoring whether improvements are occurring once services and supports are in place.  This is particularly hard for working parents when ongoing therapies, school meetings, and crisis calls fracture their work day.

So what should parents do when their child is either hitting the wall or has already hit it full force?   First (and I know this does not relate to all parents), step out of denial mode and into mobilize mode.  The longer you wait to figure out what's happening, the greater the likelihood that the interventions will be more extensive and longer in duration.  There is a reason advocates push for early intervention services -- the sooner the supports are implemented, the greater the possibility for progress.

Next, secure evaluations.  Whether through your school district or, ideally, privately, you must determine what is happening before any interventions can be put into place.  A comprehensive psychoeducational or neuropsychological evaluation would give you data and information targeting your child's educational programming and would indicate whether further specialized testing (e.g. speech or occupational therapy) is warranted.  The goal is to gather as much information as possible so you need to ignore the "I don't want my child labeled" trap and be ready and willing to take on whatever it is that the evaluation results show.

And a word about evaluations.  If the numbers read like football scores or a foreign language, the clinician who conducted the evaluation must explain them to you so ask.  Prepare yourself with questions; e.g. "What do the standard scores mean" or "Why is there a discrepancy between reading comprehension and word attack scores."  Before you discuss the evaluation report either with the school psychologist or your independent clinician, a copy of that report should look like a Christmas tree -- plenty of red and green markings that indicate everything that is confusing or unclear to you.

Then, if your child does not already have an IEP or 504, you need to convene your school team to discuss eligibility (another topic to be discussed later).  The key is after eligibility is confirmed, you want to develop an IEP that has measurable goals or a 504 that has accommodations that meet your child's specific needs.   And after these documents are created, the work of ensuring that implementation occurs begins so you must ensure that you receive ongoing communication to gauge progress.  None of this is easy but neither is watching your child in crisis.

No parent wants to know that their child is reading at a 4th Grade level when he/she is in 8th Grade.  No parent wants to know that their child is unable to have a reciprocal conversation with a peer.  No parent wants to know that their child spends more time in the nurse's office than in the classroom because he/she cannot sit still in class.  Yet all parents want their children to be successful in school.

I know all too well what it feels like when your child hits the wall.  It feels like a roller coaster ride that someone tossed you on when you weren't ready.  But as parents, we have the ability to pull it together, mobilize, and get things done.  When you were younger, didn't you think your parents could make anything happen?  Well now it's your turn to whip out the wand and start making magic happen.  It may not be a straight or simple path, but at least the twists and turns of that amusement ride will become a bit more familiar.

The "What If's" That Actually Happen...

Parents who have children, adolescents, or young adults who are struggling rarely get "time off" whether for a holiday, vacation, or any other routine break.  This is particularly true when, as mentioned last week, the denial issue remains front and center.  During those 2:00 a.m. think sessions that most parents have at one time or another, the "what if's" rear themselves and the thoughts of the worst case scenarios start their one-act plays in our heads.  It's just part of parenting, particularly when it involves a struggling child. This weekend, I spent hours on the telephone with clinicians on behalf of a young adult located across the country who was in dire trouble.  These clinicians were making decisions about this child (and yes, those in their 20's are still children) while this child's parent did little to question or challenge the clinical decision-makers.  Even though what was being said needed serious questioning and the need to put on the brakes was apparent, it simply did not happen.  And while I take no credit for any actions taken on behalf of a parent or child, it was only when someone (i.e. me) who was not wallowing in denial jumped into the equation that rational heads and thinking emerged.  The alternative would have been catastrophic for the young adult, both short and long-term.

Here's what needs to be said (actually, said again as it's messages I frequently convey) to parents:

  • Even though someone has initials after their name, this does not mean that parents need to follow their recommendations without questions being asked, a clear and thorough understanding of what is being said, and knowing the steps in the process.  Even then, the answer of  "no" remains a parent's right.
  • Every child -- whether 7 or 24 -- needs a parent advocate to help them maneuver through situations that are beyond their grasp, particularly in times of crisis.  Don't let a child's age be the determining factor in terms of whether they are "old enough" to handle whatever is coming their way.
  • Every parent *must* set aside their denial about the severity of the issue/s or situation and deal with the reality of what is before them.  Denial is a parent's worst enemy because it basically takes the need to mobilize -- and mobilize quickly -- off the radar screen.

So often I find myself counseling parents to "get it together" and to remember that the issue is not about them, but rather about their child.  It is this denial and the delay that accompanies it that creates greater issues and challenges, not fewer.   Parents must never forget that their role in advocating for their children requires a clear head, open mind, and strong constitution.  Every parent has it -- some just require a little "kick in the pants" to remember it.

What's Worse...Denial or Fear?

Any parent would tell you that there's nothing worse than thinking or knowing that something is wrong with their child.  The questioning about what did *they* do (or not do), the concerns that perhaps they missed some earlier signs, the worries about the long-term issues that their child may face.  All are very real introspective questions that accompany parenting a struggling child -- it simply goes with the territory.  Many have said that it equates to the stages of grief.   I get it because I, too, have been there. But here's the problem.  Over the past several weeks (and for years beforehand as well), I have spoken with more than a few parents who have rejected the notion that indeed, something is happening with their child in school and that further investigation via evaluations is needed.  One parent stated that he's "just being lazy" while another parent said that "he just needs to focus better."  Another told me that "there's nothing wrong with her that less time on Facebook won't fix" and another said that while her child has already been diagnosed, it's really not what's going on.

Is this denial or fear?  And does it really matter?  The answer is this -- whether it takes two weeks or a year to mobilize, the longer the parents wait to do so, the tougher the path for their child.  We all know parents who kick-it into overdrive immediately, exhausting every possible resource to find answers.  We also know parents who take a "wait and see" approach, certainly understandable when the issues are unclear.  The problems emerge, however, when parents either conclude that whatever is happening is just a passing phase or that a "good talking to" or removing privileges will set the child on the right path.

That expression "it's all about me" comes into play in spades in situations where a parent, because of denial or fear, fails to take action to help their struggling child succeed.  The parent is leading with their own feelings instead of stepping back and realizing that no...this is not about me but rather, it's all about my child.

Each day of lost learning often snowballs into years of struggle.   What starts as a child's inability to read aloud in 2nd Grade often becomes a teen's inability to succeed in a high school public speaking class.  A middle school child without a single friend is a sign that something is amiss.  A child exhibiting troublesome behaviors is communicating that there is something wrong.  Parents need to pay attention and sweep their own feelings aside until the child's struggles are evaluated and interventions are in place.

Acknowledging that your child is struggling isn't easy.  But either is raising a child.  If you know, whether from seeing failing grades, the inability to complete homework, or mounting social and behavioral issues, that your child is not doing well at their job -- i.e. school, fearing what it "could be" or denying what it "is" and not mobilizing just delays acknowledging the fact... something is wrong and it's not going away.

Parenting is as difficult as it is rewarding.  No one prepares any of us for the "what if's" that come along with raising a child from infancy to young adulthood.  Yet parents *are* parents because we have the life experience and wisdom to make the difficult choices and decisions.  We can handle it because we must.

 

End of Year Musings

Something happens at the end of a year.  People make resolutions that are often not kept.  Friends decide to become friends again...if only for a short while.  And parents hope for a better year for themselves and their children. I, on the other hand, see the start of a new year as a continuation yet one with possibilities for a better tomorrow.  Continuing to work with parents of children with learning differences and to work with students moving toward the end of their high school education is nothing short of life-changing.  Few things can quite compare to knowing that your efforts have changed a life and if helping parents means helping their children, life is good.

My hope for the new year is that more parents become empowered to truly help their children succeed in school.  Eliminating the confusion and fear associated with advocacy is another hope as without adults willing and able to stand up for children, those with the most to lose (i.e. the children) will continue to struggle.

We as adults have the ability to do miraculous things.  It takes determination, guts, passion, and an unwillingness to accept failure as an option.  Each of us...adults and children alike...are individuals and as such, we need to accept the differences and work to ensure that every one of us -- particularly the children -- have an equal opportunity to succeed.

It might sound like talk but it's actually reality.  Success is defined differently for each of us, true, yet show me one child who doesn't want to read or who doesn't want a friend and I'll show you a flying car.  Stand by your children and let them know that you will carry them through whatever comes because this is what makes a parent a parent.

Happy New Year to all...

 

Bullying and Tragedy

I would be remiss if I did not weigh in on the recent suicide of a bright, talented young man from Rutger's whose world was destroyed by two classmates out for a laugh.  To say that I am equally angered and heartbroken would be an understatement. Over the past decade, I have worked with hundreds upon hundreds of parents whose children have suffered bullying, harassment, and worse at the hands of peers.  Doesn't matter the grade -- 1st Grade, 5th Grade, 10th Grade, college.  And while attention to these issues has increased, so too has the number of young people who feel frightened, overwhelmed, without support, and as though whatever they are facing can not be handled any longer.

We have instituted "anti-bullying" programs in schools, churches, and synagogues ... started groups to address self-esteem issues for teens and special education issues in classrooms ... provided platforms for college students to stand-up and speak about the issues most important to them.  Yet this week, several children have ended their lives because clearly, things are not working.

We are losing our children.  Bright, talented, sensitive, aware children.   Children who were on the path to adulthood and who may have made contributions to our world that could have changed it for the better.  We can shake our heads and collectively mourn or can say "enough" and start to do something about it.

Are we raising our children to respect themselves and others, to value differences, and to embrace all perspectives and experiences?  Are we demonstrating a clear intolerance for anyone or anything different from ourselves?  What messages are we giving, both verbally and by our actions?  And what could be the consequences?

We are at a crossroads and we can either continue along the path we've been walking or can make a decision to change.  I cannot imagine the grief that this student's parents, family, and friends are experiencing.  What I can imagine is that this young man deserved the respect that we all desire.   And a precious life has been lost.

Parents -- Your Time Is Now

I've been closely following all the media attention over the past week regarding education.  Finally, our national attention has turned in this direction and policy makers, business leaders, and educators have had their "smack on the side of the head" moment recognizing the direct correlation between the education of our children and our future in virtually every area of life. On a recent Philadelphia newscast following the opening night of "Waiting for Superman," a board member from a fairly large school district in the Philadelphia suburbs spoke the words that I've been speaking for years...parents need to learn to navigate the system.  Finally...someone on the "other side" of the table has said it.  Parents are an integral part of this process and have been excluded from the discussion for too long in part because they lack the knowledge of the system on a micro level -- their school district, their school, their child's class, and their child.

Are there pockets of parents -- and individual parents -- who have been and continue to be outspoken advocates for education?  You bet.  Yet the reality is that there are millions of children struggling in school and while the statistics paint a picture that no adult should want to see, the problem remains the disconnect between the national stats and the individual child.  Making the messages resonate so that parents finally understand that the issues are really talking about one child -- theirs -- and that their role in partnering with their child along the education journey  is the only way to change the status quo.

Whether your child is in 4th Grade, 10th Grade, or college ... whether your child is reading below grade level or has been diagnosed with a learning difference ... whether your child is attending a charter school or a private school ...  your involvement is a critical part of ensuring that your child is making measurable progress toward clearly established goals.   We can speak about policy change, reform, teacher accountability, math and reading levels, competitive nations, and a host of other key issues, each of which are part of the mosaic of education.  Yet without the active involvement of parents at every level of the discussion from the kitchen table overseeing math homework to active participation on school boards, real change will be a "stop and start" proposition.

It's October...early in the school year.  Commit to getting off the sidelines and into the game.  Volunteer one hour per week at school.  Attend school board meetings.  Start truly measuring your child's progress on a weekly basis.  Use data to track where you child is today and where he/she may be in two weeks.  Stop sitting on the sofa watching the media messages and stand up and do something.

Your child's future is depending upon your involvement.  The time is now.

Enough already...

NBC news tonight reported about a father from Florida who had enough with the bullying directed at his daughter.  What did he do?  Walked onto the school bus and basically said "enough" to the students.  How many of us would have either liked to have done the same or would like to do the same (or more) today? The report also raised some sobering statistics -- 85% of children with special needs report being bullied and over 150,000 children do not attend school for fear of the same.  When do we say enough already?  When do we do more than state that a school is an "anti-bullying" environment or simply provide a program addressing the issue.

When do we truly begin to focus on what is creating children who find the need to bully...to make other children feel "less than"...to physically and emotionally torture peers for fun.  What needs to happen beyond what we have already either witnessed from our homes on TV or have experienced with our own children to say "enough already."

The risks are increasing and the interventions -- while they appear to be on the rise -- are not getting at the root of the problem.  Something is terribly wrong and we need to figure out new solutions.  We have a responsibility to our children both individually and collectively to intervene on a new level and to end this madness once and for all.