October 2014. This was when my son was officially diagnosed with anxiety and ADHD. That diagnosis was devastating for me. I couldn’t believe my sweet baby had so much turmoil swirling around in his brain, that at age 5, we had him in therapy and on medication so he could make it through a day of kindergarten. I teach kindergarten. I was crushed that he wasn’t enjoying his time in a room filled with fun, laughter, and excitement.
So, with my husband and I both being educators, we pulled ourselves together and pushed for a 504 plan for our son at school. This would provide him with services and changes to his learning environment, so as to meet his needs and help him function in the classroom that was giving him so much anxiety. He was provided with a “safe space” in the room for him to head to when he was feeling overwhelmed. He was connected with the school counselor, who would check on him in the classroom and let him come visit when he needed to take a break. She was his security blanket.
I cried a lot that year. I cried at home. I cried to my friends at work. I cried when we met with the staff at his school. I’m a teacher. My child was not supposed to be “that kid,” the one who pushes the teacher’s buttons and alienates himself from his peers because of his behavior. Even though I knew he had a medical diagnosis of anxiety, I wondered where we went wrong in our parenting.
As the year progressed, his academic growth was minimal. All parts of learning to read were not clicking with him. Writing was painful. We chalked it up to his anxiety and ADHD getting in the way of his learning, and limped to the end of kindergarten. But when his academics didn’t improve with a summer of tutoring and a semester of first grade under his belt, when knew something else was up.
His therapist fast-tracked a request to have a full evaluation done, including learning disability assessments. His diagnosis of anxiety and ADHD held, and we added “reading disability” to the list. Now, this didn’t come as a complete shock, as my husband is dyslexic, as is his father. Dyslexia runs in the family, and now we officially understood what was going on! We figured this day would come. We never anticipated anxiety and ADHD would proceed it, though.
So, now it was time to move to getting an Individualized Education Plan (IEP) for our son. An IEP sets learning goals for a child, and describes the unique services the school will provide. There are strict legal guidelines on who will participate in writing the IEP, and there are items that must be listed in the document – annual education goals, the child’s present academic level, accommodations, modifications and a timeline for implementation.
Now, I have known parents who did not want an IEP for their child. They didn’t want their child labeled as “different,” didn’t want their peers to see them receiving help, didn’t want other parents to know their child struggled in school. I could not have been happier to see this official document put into play for my son. Finally, we had a plan to help him be the best student he could be! He gets support inside and outside the classroom. He gets extra time for taking tests. His assignments are chunked so he doesn’t have to complete everything in one sitting. These changes in his academic day make a huge difference for everyone involved!
In second grade, we switched schools, so he could work with a special education teacher who had been trained in a specialized program specifically for kids with dyslexia. We could not be happier with this move! He is now in third grade and he has become interested in reading. Truly, legitimately interested. He loves graphic novels because they aren’t overwhelming with words. We are reading Harry Potter together. He doesn’t fight school (much). Now, multiplication is another story. Baby steps.
We have a long road ahead. We will continue to manage his meds for anxiety and ADHD. We will continue to review his IEP, and make sure he is receiving the supports he needs. We will advocate for him when he is nervous to speak up for himself. His struggles will only make him stronger. And he will only make us prouder.