Tuesday, September 13, 2005

What is the Norm?

I need to talk about something that is very dear to me and very hard for me to admit and discuss. My daughter, bless her heart, has a possible learning disability. Her school has been hounding us since kindergarten to get her tested so they can give her the 'special education' classes they feel she needs. She attended kindergarten for half days and it was a zoo with the amount of stuff crammed into 4 hours. I volunteered at her classroom one day a week and I was usually frazzled when I left..... Gary and I felt Hannah would do better in first grade, having a longer day to have things slow down a little and be more structured. At the end of first grade, her teacher showed us on a chart where Hannah fit into the rest of the class. Out of 17 kids, there were 6 way above the 'norm', 4 at the 'norm' and 7 below the 'norm'. Hannah was the 5th from the bottom, or slightly below the norm. We took Hannah to the Sylvan Learning Center and had her independently tested. Yes, there were some issues according to them and for a fee, they'd be happy to guarantee that she could be brought up to speed. How can someone guarantee that? If they can do it, why can't the school? Are all 7 of those children (41%of her class) going to be tested for special ed? Are they asking too much too soon of the kids?

I guess what I'm fighting is having my child labeled as 'special ed'. The school keeps telling that it's different now than when I went to school. Nowadays, they are integrated into classrooms and no one even knows. Um excuse me, but if a special ed teacher comes into the classroom everyday to work with Hannah, the other kids won't know? or ever say anything to her? To this I say huh? what planet are you from? I know how kids are. I was one once.

This is how I, as a parent, see my daughter:

  1. She can walk and talk
  2. She can learn a song word for word after hearing it 1 or 2 times.
  3. She can remember word for word books that I've read to her.
  4. She can count by 5's to 100 (but not backwards)
  5. She can count by 10's to 100 (but not backwards)
  6. She can count to 100 (but not backwards)
  7. She can add and subtract using numbers up to 10 (7+8, 5-4, 8-3, 5+10 etc)
  8. She knows all her letters and sounds
  9. She can write all her letters and numbers
  10. She knows her full name, address, phone number and birthday
  11. She knows some states on the map
  12. She knows many things about different animals, the seasons, the earth, the ocean and the planets.
  13. She has a tremendous vocabulary and can converse extremely well.
  14. She has a great imagination and can concoct stories that flow in sequence.
  15. She knows quite a few words by sight and can read a couple easy books like Dick and Jane or Hop on Pop (Dr. Suess)
  16. She loves music, dancing, and singing. She knows many things about the arts, drawing, painting, and the different mediums.

I think she's a well rounded 7 yr old. What more is she supposed to be doing? Granted, you can't pass her a handful of change and have her count it. Christ, I can barely do that and I'm 41. She can't say the alphabet backwards (you try it... see if you can easily do it).

The only issue I can see with Hannah is that she needs to be prodded along. If you give her a page of sums to do and walk away... she tends to daydream and get sidetracked. Every classroom she's been in so far has had 3 or 4 different tables of things or 'jobs' going on at a time. From observing her, I can tell you that if she's sitting at the 'writing table' trying to write words that start with the letter P, and the 'science table' is squirting food color on ice cubes or floating things in water, and the 'math table' is sorting different colored wooden shapes, and the kids who have finished their 'jobs' are playing with Legos..... I ask you.... just where do you think her attention is? I always felt that if all the kids in the class were doing the same thing, she might be able to concentrate better. Maybe she's holding the rest of the class back? I don't know if because she's bored, distracted, can't focus or just plain doesn't feel like doing it.

Why can't anything be simple? Why is my heart-breaking over this?


Sue said...

Maybe Hannah does need some help with reading or math skills, but she is absolutely the most clever and delightful 7 year old! Don't ever fret about her brightness, she is a shining star! Unfortunately you are right in that they try to do too much all at once. It should be the whole class reading, then math, then science, etc. Not all different groups doing all different things at once. Thats sort of chaotic.
In Greenville, the ratio of special ed kids is about 70%. When Martha was in 1st grade, only 2 kids didn't get help in math and reading, her and one other girl. So she was sad when most of her friends went to Reading Recovery. I don't think the stigma is there like it used to be, but still the whole system is wrong. And even then it might not actually help the kids. They don't always know what they are doing, remember most people become teachers because it is the easiest thing to take in college. VERY few actually love children and learning.
I know that Nancy had to homeschool Mark because he wasn't getting the help he needed and would have been held back, also the same with Kahla, Marthas friend.
Annie has a learning disability but because she goes to private school it's dealt with and her other stronger areas are encouraged, like sciences for her.
And she gets a tutor for reading.
You're doing everything right, volunteering is a good way to keep an eye on things going on, and an afterschool tutor might be helpful.
Good luck! Stay happy, she's a fantastic kid!

Melody said...

I agree with Sue...You are doing EVERYTHING RIGHT! I do understand your heartbreak though. When Bre was Hannah's age she was diagnosed with petit maul epilepsy...she was having dozens of mini seizures a day which was causing her to miss big portions of her school day...It was a miserable time for us. Just stay on top of things and it will all work out for the best. Your love and support is the best thing for Hannah. Don't fret on it...you are a GREAT mom and Hannah is a GREAT kid.

Christie said...

My younger sister has a learning disability as well.
She even had to be let back from passing from Kindergarten into 1st grade because she simply wasn't developing as quickly as she should.
She's in her early 20s now and is one of the stronger females I know.
When she is faced with a difficult challenge she keeps on at it and has never given up.
I think a big part of that fact is due to the special classes she had to take for her learning disability.
Every rain cloud has a silver lining

Sarah said...

I understand why your heart is breaking over this, sweetie. This is your baby!!
A parent is a kid's strongest advocate. There are plenty of other ways to help Hannah with her concentration without giving her the label 'special ed'.
Look into community support in your area...a low-cost or even free tutoring service might be available, and it might be all Hannah needs. She sounds like a bright, wonderful and normal 7-year old who only may need some help learning how to focus better. A tutor can help her with that.

. said...

My best friend's son had a learning disability (diagnosed)and they moved him to a private school but then they were transfered to another city due to job relocation. He struggled a lot over the years but they worked with him and hired tutors. SO much is expected from our kids in school these days it amazes me. My son is spelling words in 5th grade that I learned in HS. It just seems tougher and tough. Just so you know, my friend's son is now 14 and is doing remarkably well. You are doing all the right things and I remember when my brother was the lowest in his class in 2nd grade. The teacher called my mom in and wanted to fail him (and 1/3 of the class actually). My mom refused to let it happen and you know what. He excelled after that year. Dont' fret and dont' worry. Just keep doing the things you are!

Cylithria™ said...

Sheri ! Wow tough call, but for now i say go with your gut instincts on this!! Do not let the school bully you!!

I wanted to come by and say Hiya and thank you for swining by my blog.... I'm so behind on blog visiting eek, I hate it when that happens. If you get a second some time today, I've got a post up asking people to go welcome home a US Marine who has a blog. he comes home today..... Anyway lady.....I don't think she is holding the class back....don't let the school bully you...and trust me they will if they can. Special Education Students bring in more money to the school then regular ones! Take care of you Sheri!!

Anonymous said...

Don't allow YOUR PRIDE to keep your daughter from receiving the help she needs !

Heather said...

I can definitely see both sides here.

What did Sylvan and/or the schools identify as problems? Are they something she needs professional help for, or is it something you can help her with? She sounds very bright (and adorable!) Maybe a private tutor, etc. like Sarah said if its something that needs a professional.

DixieDarlin' said...

I am a parent of four children (one with a learning problem) and a second grade teacher. Please allow me to share some views.

Sylvan typically tests your child as 'lower' than they are capable of, so that they can show great gains. (They want your money.)

Hannah should, as a second grader, be reading more than the Dick and Jane/Dr. Suess. If she is having to 'decode' several words in a sentence from a second grade reading book, then she will not be able to gain comprehension skills. She should be able to count backward at this point, too. (I don't know why the alphabet backwards is that important!) As she does seem to have several skills (art/music) outside of 'core curriculum', but is only on the 'easy' books, there might be some kind of processing problem. I can't make a diagnosis 'over the net'...but don't deny your child a chance to at least be screened.

I have two students who leave for about 30 minutes for problems similar to what your daughter seems to be having. I have aides that come in to help these students at other times, but they also help other children. Kids at this age are very accepting of the comings and goings of these students. I have been teaching 2nd grade for 9 years, and not once has a child been ridiculed for going to a special class. The other students often want to go, too!

If your daughter does have a problem, it is better to be addressed NOW, rather than in middle school, where the children WILL be cruel. And far better that she gets the help she needs now, instead of losing self-confidence. I know it is a heart-wrenching, painful thought. At least let her be screened. In my state, if you disagree with the diagnosis, and don't want her in ESE (Exceptional Student Education), she won't have to.

It is possible that she may be ADD or ADHD. No, I'm not advocating meds. Any teacher who tells a parent the child needs medication could be sued. ADD/ADHD is a MEDICAL diagnosis. You might want to have that screened. You DON'T have to choose meds if she does have ADD/ADHD, but you can make changes in her environment to help her. (Read "Scattered" by Gabor Mate...good info on ADD/ADHD).

And maybe she will just need another year in second grade. Is she a 'summer birthday'? Often those kids just need some extra time.

Just don't give up on your daughter. What am I saying...I know you won't!! Talk some more with the teacher, ask exactly what can be done, what are ALL the options. Talk to the principal if you are not happy with what the teacher says.

You'll be in my prayers!

Julie said...

Sheri, I have had the pleasure of working at the school with special needs children. For the most part they are just as normal as the rest of the kids at school, except for the acedemic part. Like your Hannah, they can read, but at a lower level than most of the kids their age and they are very easily distracted. And you are right about if they are integrated into the classroom of the "normal" kids, those normal kids DO notice that that student has special needs. Some of these special students eventually catch up to the rest of their graduating class...some get just pushed through the system. Our school has that special needs classroom and then they have another classroom for kids I think might be like Hannah. In this other classroom, kids that have difficulty with comprehension of their reading, and trouble with keeping focused on what they are supposed to be learning, are taught at a slower pace. It is a wonderful program and these kids by the time they are in High School are able to do their regular classroom work without getting behind. Now, I'm talking about the Junior High level of teaching and I'm not sure if there are programs such as this for elementary age students, but it might be worth looking into. Trust your instincts as a mom. You know your child best and if there was something "wrong" with her you'd know it in your heart. Don't shade the truth though because you think Hannah will be "labeled" if she is a special needs student. It doesn't make her any different if she is, it just means that she learns at a different rate of speed. I think schools jump too quickly on things like this...they don't allow the child the time to grow at her own pace. In a world where everything is all rush rush rush, this is an aspect of life where things should be taken slow. Keep your chin up and trust your own judgement...if you think she's fine, truly and deep down in your heart, then just lower your expectations and reward her greatly for any stride that goes above that expectation. She'll come in her own time.

Lauren said...

It simply amazes me what kids are doing in second grade these days. My nieces are both in second grade and are reading chapter books (I think that's what they're called -- kind of like short stories). The vocabulary they're using and their list of spelling words simply astounded me!

One of them, Rebecca, has major difficulty concentrating when there are distractions and if she thinks she's "missing out" on anything. The early thought is that she MAY have some tendancies toward ADHD, but the school is just watching her for now. She does go to a special reading class because she is not progressing as quickly as her class mates. She thinks it's a treat to get to do something different than the other kids... but then that's how my brother and SIL have explained it to her. She too is very gifted in other areas -- story telling (boy, does she tell some whoppers) and music. It's important for teachers to understand that highly creative children often have different learning styles.

When I was in school, I struggled with math -- unil I had a teacher who knew how to teach creative kids. She made it into a game and I caught right on.

So, what am I trying to say here... hmmm... I think that if Hannah has an identifiable learning challenge, then it should be addressed -- either by you and Gary at home, or by a tutor or in-school program. Just try to maintain your objectivity. Sometimes, when we love someone so dearly, we are blinded to their challenges/shortcomings.