Guest blog: Closing the Circle

Last week I wrote a follow-up to the earlier blog post where I was wondering how hard to push Sam to return to her swim class after she failed the lifeguarding test. The bigger question concerned how we negotiate challenging our children to new heights without challenging them so much that they are damaged by an overwhelming feeling of failure. As Orit Schwartz writes in the post below, the question is one we need to ask over and over as our children mature.

Closing a circle

So today, while you, Barb, are at the IEP meeting for Sam, trying to figure out and design the system of supports that would serve her during the transition from high school, I am dealing with a somewhat similar issue regarding my son, another HS junior with special education needs. I know that for Sam the current core question is supports vs. learning to manage more independently--pushing Sam to deal with gradually more challenging situations vs. arranging the setting to minimize stressors. Of course this is the core question for all of us--parents of children with special needs. This question is relevant at all times, but never more so as when we realize that our children are on the verge of becoming adults. So for me today, the question centers on an advanced placement class my son is taking this year.

Due to scheduling issues, my son was placed in an AP science class. He did not request it, but the counselor and the resource teacher, and I too, felt that he could do it. With help and supports, we thought, he can manage this class. Well, we were wrong. My son, who is usually a B student, is failing the class, and the stress of failing brought up his anxiety to levels we have not seen in a long time. I spoke with the teacher and the counselor, who were sympathetic and forthcoming, tried several accommodations, but to no avail. This class is simply not appropriate for him and by now all his other grades are sliding down, really--a free fall.

We asked the school to have him drop the class. Initially they were reluctant. This would imply some logistical and administrative complications, but mostly, the principal felt that it is important to push through, to work hard with help, but to complete what has been started. In our case, unlike with Sam’s swimming, we disagreed. We felt that to ask our son to push through the difficulty and anxiety is to ask him to pay for our mistaken estimation of how challenging is the class. Today, finally, the principal agreed. The school will figure it out. My son does not have to stress out about this AP science class anymore.

I thanked the counselor, who was truly supportive and managed to convince the principal that pushing in this case was against the interest of the student. She was very apologetic about placing him in the class. She said, “I learned this lesson and I will never do this again!” To which I replied that she certainly should do this again--it is important to reach higher and believe that diverse learners can achieve more. It is also important to be flexible and willing to adjust when needed. I told her the story of the first evaluation our son did with a specialist. When she summarized the results, the specialist told us to think carefully about the future because it was very unlikely that our son would be able to learn how to read and write…..I told our counselor that every day I would choose her and an unsuccessful AP class over the psychologist who told the parents of a four year old that he would never be able to read.

It may sound strange, but for me a circle was closed today--not The Circle--but one of the many we live through. From that prediction 13 years ago, to failing an AP class. Yes, sometimes pushing makes no sense, but overall--let’s believe that our children will surprise us!