The Advocate

I used to be extremely shy. I’d run away from conflict. Confrontations scared me, and I was good at avoiding them. Most social situations left me tongue-tied and nervously sick to my stomach.

Having children changed me. Let’s face it, the whole pregnancy and childbirth process does much to erase shyness and embarrassment. You get over yourself fast. Having two little boys who had “issues” also made a big difference. ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, PDD-NOS, Executive Dysfunction, Celiac disease and Type 1 Diabetes (not once but twice). Having to deal with this boatload of issues at times seemed unfair and absolutely insurmountable.

But I learned, and I became an advocate. The most important thing I heard one of the Doctors (or was it a teacher?) say in the early days was that I had to advocate for my sons because they couldn’t do it for themselves. I had to be their voice. I took that advice to heart. So I listened, I researched, I read, and I asked questions. I went on instinct on more than one occasion. I asked for help and clarification when I needed to.

There would be hundreds of meetings over the years, and I started out attending those meetings feeling scared and uncertain. While I couldn’t speak up for myself, I could do it for my sons, however. At first, I hated when it was my turn to speak. All the eyes around the table would turn to me, and I’d stumble red-faced over what I had to say. I usually got out what I wanted to convey, but it was hard. I met with Doctors, behavioral specialists, social workers, speech therapists, occupational therapists, autism specialists, nurses, nurse practitioners, teachers, aides, administrators, Principals, school district representatives, and many other specialists whose titles and purpose I’ve forgotten. Most along the way were helpful, a few were awful, and a few were truly outstanding. All taught me something.

From the good experiences, I learned skills to help my sons adapt and adjust in their daily lives. From the bad experiences, I learned how to be stronger and fight even harder. Both boys made it through school, and I proudly watched them both graduate. Seeing them both wear their caps and gowns and walk across the stage with their classmates to receive their diplomas made me cry both times.

According to Merriam-Webster, an advocate is one who pleads the case of another, and a mother is a female parent who cares for and protects her children. Having two handsome and wonderful young men to parent and advocate for has made me a better and stronger person in the long run. I am still shy and awkward in some social situations, but I stopped running away. Inside I might still be shaking like a leaf, but I learned how to hide that. As I gained experience and grew older, I got more comfortable in my own skin. Forced to be outgoing and proactive instead of reactive, I grew to do things I never thought I’d do.

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Daily Prompt: The New School

http://dailypost.wordpress.com/2013/12/29/prompt-new-school/

You get to redesign school as we know it from the ground up. Will you do away with reading, writing, and arithmetic? What skills and knowledge will your school focus on imparting to young minds?

Photographers, artists, poets: show us SKILLED.

If I were to redesign school, I would focus on and celebrate children’s differences. Not everyone learns the same way, and not everyone is good at the same thing. Schools need to find a way to test and reach each child and customize a program for each one’s needs.

Having just completed my own first college degree, I learned a lot about higher education. I learned that the quiet people get left behind. Students need to speak up and make themselves heard. That’s not always easy for a child to do. I know. I was a shy child. I was always smart, but I was not assertive.

I have also parented and successfully steered two young men with challenges through school. We dealt with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD), Autism (Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified – PDD-NOS), another degree of Autism (Asperger’s Syndrome), Executive Dysfunction, and Diabetes Mellitus (Type 1). We had a rough journey together – me and my boys.

I learned from parenting my sons that no one would stand up for them if I didn’t. I learned how to be an advocate, and I spoke up on their behalf more times than I can count.  Parenting special needs children makes you more assertive and outgoing.  I learned along the way that there were some wonderful teachers and administrators out there. Unfortunately, we also learned that there are some truly awful teachers and administrators out there.

If I were to redesign school, my first step would be to get rid of the awful teachers and administrators. The ones who truly hate children and their jobs (and make it obvious on a daily basis) need to go. If you don’t love what you do, find something else to do! You are not helping anyone by staying and working until you drop. My sons had some teachers very close to retirement who had run out of patience and needed a good swift kick in their backsides. My heart breaks when I remember how one treated my older son.  We also had a few younger teachers who didn’t know what they were doing and were so rude and obnoxious. They clearly had no business teaching young minds. I get angry all over again when I remember some of the arguments I had with two of them, in particular.

The administrators and teachers who worked in special education for the most part were the best teachers we had. They were the most giving, loving and patient. I can recall only one who seemed a little “off”. She was so low key that she was boring, but perhaps she was a calming influence for the more restless children.

The second thing I would change about school would be to eliminate homework. It serves no purpose. Teach what you need to teach during the day. If we equate school to real life, when the child has a job, they usually won’t be bringing work home every night. Homework is more of a punishment than a lesson – especially for an Autistic child. For an Autistic mind, it makes no sense, and they can’t grasp the concept or its supposed importance.  Schoolwork is not to be done at home. It should stay at school.

The last thing I would redesign about school is the permanent expulsion of bullies. I know that bullies can grow up to be contributing members of society, but until they mature and can control their impulses; they need to be removed from the general population. There should be an alternate school that they could attend.  Maybe if bullies’ parents were forced to homeschool them, they would realize what is lacking in their own children. We had more than one run-in with bullies with my younger son.  Maybe the awful administrators and teachers could work at a school for the bullies, and they could be paid based on a merit scale. When they were able to successfully rehabilitate a bully, they would receive a paycheck. It seems a fair and fitting scenario for both. The bad teachers and administrators would learn how to reach challenged students, and the students with real and dangerous issues could find out how to live in a civilized society and how to treat others fairly and properly.