Invisible Disabilities at School
Ya’ll, I’m tired. I feel like I just fought the bull barehanded, and the bull won. Again. For the umpteenth time. It doesn’t matter how I change up my approach, or how mean or nice I am, I’m still flat on my back wondering what happened in the end.
This is what it’s like for parents to deal with the education system when they have a child with invisible special needs. If my child were non-verbal, would anyone question that he needs help? If he were deaf? Blind? Wheelchair-bound? Nope. Nope. Nope and nope.
Did I mention I’m tired?
I’m tired of the same complaints from teachers. I’m tired of the same discussions on repeat. I’m tired of feeling disregarded and unheard. I’m tired of the frequent school avoidance. I’m tired of the raging anxiety. I’m tired of WATCHING MY CHILD SUFFER.
Apparently, I’m quite cranky too.
What is it going to take to get educators and school administrators to see these kids’ disabilities? What will it take for them to recognize that their students’ parents have spent more time with them and know the in’s and out’s of their special needs? What will it take to get the level of help they require, the level of help afforded to them by law?
I’ve tried it all. I’ve been the pleasant and caring momma. I’ve been the distraught, blubbering momma. I’ve been the nasty, I-secretly-want-to-cause-you-as-much-harm-as-you’re-causing-my-kid momma. I’ve been the look-who-just-filed-a-state-complaint-against-you momma, too. None of which have resulted in any lasting, positive change.
[Tweet “I feel like I fought the bull barehanded, and the bull won. #ADHD #Autism #InvisibleDisabilities”]
One significant problem is that every school year is starting from scratch. It isn’t for our kids — they come with all the post-traumatic baggage of school years passed. It is starting from scratch with teachers though. And teachers always want to impart neurotypical expectations to all students and then make changes only if and when it all falls apart. The new school year dance often goes something like this:
Day 1: Teachers expect that a child with ADHD/autism/learning disabilities/anxiety can perform like all their peers, especially if they are smart. The newness of the school year makes your child excited and interested, so they coast along on that for a few weeks.
Week 3: Your child starts to come home in a foul mood many days. He has already grown tired of educators insinuating that he is lazy or defiant. He’s still holding it together at school, but unleashes his fury later, at home, on their family.
Week 5: Your child’s backpack and/or school binder are a mess. There are waded and crumpled papers everywhere. There’s smelly old food in the bottom. You spend a few hours cleaning it out, trying to make heads or tails of all the papers, and over-thinking a new organization system that is “sure to work this time.” You email the teachers and remind them that your child has accommodations in their 504 plan or a goal in their IEP for HELP with planning and organization.
Week 9: The first report card comes out. Not the worst, but certainly could be better. You decide the school must be helping because things seem to be turning around. You don’t yet realize that the first 9-weeks’ grades are mediocre because the novelty of a new school year had your child at the top of their game the first few weeks.
Week 11: Nothing has changed. Your child starts faking illness and telling all sorts of tall-tales in an effort to escape the pain and discomfort of school. You remind the school that your child has anxiety and that expectations beyond his capability cause anxiety to escalate which causes school avoidance, which is ALL THEIR FAULT. They profess a commitment to help with these problems, but your son is smart, and he knows how to game this system (i.e., puking at school). You feel helpless and hopeless, like your world is collapsing around you. Likely, much like your child is feeling all day at school.
Week 13: Your child has missed five of the last 10 school days. Midterms come home and his grades have plummeted straight into the toilet. Your intelligent (maybe gifted) child is now a C, D, and F student. You see zero after zero on assignments, many of which you confirmed were completed and in his binder the day they were assigned. You see F’s on tests. That’s because your son didn’t study, but he didn’t study because he cannot take notes and he cannot plan and organize enough to bring home materials to study. You get all momma-bear on the teachers, reminding them of ADHD/autism/executive functioning deficits, and they claim your son just needs to “try harder.” They promise to help him, but you know it’s simply a ruse. You know it won’t change. They lecture him again on the need to write things down, take work home, and turn in papers. Your son is boiling inside — if he will melt is no longer the question, but when.
Week 14: Your momma-bear rant caused teachers to send home missing assignments to complete and some tests to correct. Now your son is more overwhelmed, more anxious, more stressed. Now he avoids school even more. You realize this will just be a repeat of years passed. Your heart breaks for your kiddo.
It won’t be long before you’re writing off this school year as completely hopeless and thinking, “maybe next year.” Unfortunately, you’re forced to wonder if that
good (who am I kidding?) decent school year will ever come.
Did I mention that I’m tired?