Saturday, November 25, 2006

Survival: Learning to ignore unhelpful remarks

This is a tricky one.
In your quest to understand why your child isn't quite the same fit in the classroom, as the majority of the other children seem, you may encounter well-intentioned parents lingering around the playground, who in an effort to be helpful and insightful will suggest ridiculous things. Some of the most onerous comments might come from parent volunteers in the classroom, (not to be confused with education assistants or student educators) who will have observed your child and then try to offer an embedded report and analysis. It's important early on to figure out who your troops are and gravitate towards those people in the event of the many, extended anxious moments you will inevitably endure in searching for answers and tangible solutions. (Even when you begin to get answers you can be assured your anxiety will not necessarily diminish!) Usually the troops tend to be people who have some experience of struggle with their own children. I use the word struggle carefully and it's not to be interpreted as negative because it's not. Struggle, if anything, is enlightening (case in point: no artistic process is undertaken nor completed successfully without some element of struggle.)

The kinds of helpfully intended, unhelpful suggestions you may hear are:

  • people palming off your concerns as having no legitimacy. "Don't worry.. it'll get better kind of talk." I would counter that by saying: if you are worried, investigate all the resources you can and advocate for your child swiftly. In my limited experience I think a parent's instinct can be very accurate about their child, especially since you spend so much more time with them. You have the right to information. There's plenty information and reading material available for you to research. There are organisations you can phone for advice. There are services you can investigate to assess your child, it will likely cost you cash, but it's a small price ultimately. Do not be put off investigating if you are living in abject poverty. Education programs in Universities often do assessments for low income families. There will be a wait list. Get your child on it.

  • some folks may suggest "you just need to practise... I have x and x tutor and my child goes to x tutoring service three nights a week." Again from what I understand about written output disorder, endless practice whilst not out rightly detrimental to the child will not necessarily produce marked results either. There is also the clear issue that writing is painful and difficult for these children. You'll notice your child may even lie down on the floor and protest. One professional who I talked to likened the experience of insisting a child with written output disorder write continuously to torture for them. You may already have seen this with your child: you ask him or her to copy something out of a book say and it's clearly a very taxing and unpleasant process for them.

  • You can expect to feel isolated and maybe somewhat alienated from other parents in the school playground. Remember though that struggle comes in all shapes and sizes and whilst you may not find anyone in the school population with the identical profile to your child per se, there are going to be other parents dealing with other challenges. They will understand your gripping anxiety. You seek them out gradually. You walk away from conversations that veer into unhelpful territory because you need all your mental energy to vote for your child, not argue the toss with someone who has no concept of what you are dealing with.
  • It's can feel similar with teachers. If your child is in a classroom with an understanding, informed and supportive teacher it's a great boon because the teacher will also be strongly advocating for your child's needs within the school and be accessing resources and help on their behalf. If, however, they are not you'll have to seek your answers elsewhere in the school or outside the school completely. A useful thing that I intend to create and add to this blog will be a list of open ended questions that will aide communications with the teacher and help the situation. There's nothing more distressing once you get some answers than to look back at parent teacher meetings and realize there were significant red flags flapping in the wind during them.

  • You may hear comments from parents that upset you. Perhaps someone infers that your child shouldn't be in this particular school for whatever uninformed reason. Perhaps they suggest you did or didn't do something for your child -- this may be phrased "well I began teaching my Johnny or Mary to write when he was three.. " Or they may comment or question the kinds of material your child is attracted to, this is common with gifted children. The words " I have to go now" should be top of your lexicon, followed by rapid footsteps towards the gate. Eventually you'll get very adept at noting when these kinds of conversations are in the air.

Having said all that: sometimes a conversation that has a seemingly unhelpful tone in parts can end up being enlightening. People may disclose ah ha.. my sister's child has that issue and you can talk to her about it. It really does depend on whether you can maintain your composure long enough to get to the useful part.

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