It is a running gag that we Belgians like to make things complicated. This shows itself best in the Moloch which calls itself ‘Government’.
Government – like all of its kind – has a thing for paperwork. It starts even before you are born, when your mother and father are requested to fill in form after form to guarantee your basic rights and to prove that yes you are about to enter the world.
And it goes on and on and on. Papers which need to be filled out announcing your actual birth, your name, gender, weight, etc… Then when you are a few weeks old, your mother will receive an order to have you weighed, measured and to have a friendly chat with a childcare specialist about how you – little pooping nugget – are doing. (Don’t get me wrong, I greatly appreciate this service: these checkups – and accompanying vaccinations – are free of charge, and they often aid in detecting health issues really early.)
When you enter school the whole administrative shebang is transferred to another institution, which will now not only monitor your growth, weight gain and fine motor skills but also your learning process and general scholastic development. And, of course, there is paper work to be filled out…
So this is how I found myself filling out a five–page questionnaire on a rainy night in May in preparation of our eldest’s first annual checkup. Most questions were simple and straightforward : “Do either of the parents wear glasses?” (Yes, both), “Any hereditary diseases, mental illnesses,…” (None), “Primary language spoken at home?” (Dutch), “Any serious illnesses as an baby/infant?” (No).
But there was one question which gave made me pause : “Was either of the parents treated for a learning disability as a child/adult? If yes, please specify which one.”
Well, yes, actually. I was.
When I was about seven or eight years old I was diagnosed with the type of Attention Deficit Disorder, now called ADHD–I. Later they threw in some dyscalculia for good measure. While I never took any medication, I did receive treatment well into my teenage years.
Those were very difficult times, mainly because when I was diagnosed, the whole ADHD–spectrum was relatively unknown. Most people – teachers, close family members and other – scoffed when ADHD or ADD was mentioned.
Many called it an imaginary condition and would tell me that I was making things up, that I was just “not that bright”, “plain stupid”, “not trying hard enough” or – my personal favourite – “a lazy good for nothing pest, who would never get a degree and whose only career option was cleaning toilets”.
I vividly remember how my mother and I were asked to come to the principal’s office one day during my first year of high school, so we could discuss my poor results and lack of attention during class. We arrived carrying a thick file full of test results, reports, statements,… only for the principal to refuse even to look at the file and tell my mother that “it was about time that she accepted her daughter was not as intelligent as she was and that she should not waste peoples time by insisting I remained in a normal classroom.”
Needless to say, my mom was a wee bit pissed off and the discussion which followed can best be described as a fight between a lion with anger issues and a crazy, rabid baboon on steroids.
It got better when I changed schools the next year. It got better when I got older, because I got a better view on the what, the why and the how. It got better because I developed coping skills. It got better because the therapy actually worked and somehow my brain got whipped into some kind of shape. As we now know there is no “curing” ADHD. I still get distracted easily and rely on noise cancellation headphones or classical music to get me through a bad day.
After filling in the questionnaire I catch myself looking at my children all too often, and playing the “What if” – song in my head.
Because what if – along with the sensitive skin (sorry about that one, by the way, kids) and the shape of their eyes – I gave my kids those parts of me. What if, they, too, will have to fight a lifelong battle?
I know times are different. We are lucky to live in a part of the world where education is a basic right, not a privilege and not something for which we – women – have to fight. I know there is a better understanding, new developments in treatment and more acceptance regarding learning disabilities as opposed to when I was a kid. I know – think, hope, … I will probably be more prepared in dealing with one or both of my children being diagnosed with a learning disability than my own mother, who was basically left in the middle of the jungle with a broken compass as her only tool to help her fight a way out, if only because I’m aware of the fact that this situation may arise and have lived it, am in still living it, coping with it.
What if… ?
How are people dealing with the whole learning disability spectrum in your neck of the woods? If you are a “former special needs child turned adult” how would you deal with this situation?
This is an original post for World Moms Blog by Tinne of Tantrums and Tomatoes.
Photo credit to the author.
Nice one, really! I like your style!
I believe you and your kids will survive better in this second generation. Although it might be though in a different way: it seems like évery child has some kind of ASS or ADHD or other learning disability these days. If a child is too noisy in class, it gets the label ADHD even without a proper diagnosis. And I don’t like the over-medication-trend either.
That being said: you are well prepared. Not only do you know what might come, you will also recognize it earlier and you will be able to empathize with what your child is going through. That will help a lot.
I know, because as a mother of two ‘special’ kids, I feel their needs which makes it so much easier to deal with.
My oldest is ‘gifted’ and overly sensitive (got it from me) and has a form of ADD (got if from his dad). He needs a LOT of challenges to keep him happy, but needs a well measured portion of peace and quite all the same to keep him from exploding.
My youngest is adopted and has attachment difficulties, which I happen to have as well, but learned to cope with. We also think she has a form of ADHD, although this might be a ‘heritage’ of her adoption history (she is not used to all the stimuli, all the toys, all the possibilities). She is overly sensitive as well, and can’t even stand a label in her t-shirt. We keep on wondering what a terrific ‘match’ she has been to our family.
These days, it is easier for them than it was for my husband and me. We were able to chose a school with Freinet-education (in Belgium, I don’t know if it exists abroad) in which the children get a lot of individual attention and get to work at their own speed. They learn to find their strong points, and acknowledge their weaker points, without judgement. They don’t get grades, but receive a written report which describes how they develop in class. Because this kind of education is quite hard for the teachers, it requires quite some parent-participation. There are parents at school all the time, which has really been comforting for our youngest, seen her attachment issues and anxieties, because school is just an extension of home.
When I compare this to my husband who got tied to his chair in class when he was 6 yo, ‘because he just couldn’t sit still’, I believe we are on the right track and have good hopes for them 😉
Greetings from an other part of Belgium!
Thanks for the compliment.
I had heard about the Freinet education system and the benefits. As far as I now there is no such school nearby (we live near Mechelen) but we do have a Steiner school.
So your husband was tied to a chair? We have indeed come a long way…
Tinne, this is the life that I live. I had learning disabiliies as a child, with a lot of autism-like characteristics. Although I’ve never been diagnosed, I suspect that I have Aspergers Syndrome. I needed all kinds of therapy and some medication all through school.
Now I am the mom of a child with autism, and although it’s challenging, we get by. There is a lot more available these days in terms of supports, and we just know more about autism now than we did when I was a child.
I do what any parent does, which is to shower my child with love, and go out of my way to ensure that he is given all possible opportunities to reach his potential, whatever that turns out to be.
I have a very special, deep connection with my son. There are times when he is unreachable, but sometimes, I can see into his world. Sometimes I just instinctively know what he needs. And I think that perhaps, having been a special needs child myself, I have a special depth of understanding of what he goes through.
Great post – this really resonated with me.
Showers of love…. exactly. I hope I can be there for my girls like you are for your son, that I can see and know what they need and know what they are going through.
How disgraceful how this was all dealt with back in the day! You have proved them so wrong!
Thank you for honesty and for writing this post.
Early detection is a big thing, here, in the US. Our town provides preschool for children with special needs and picks them up by school bus. Once in kindergarten, I believe, all kids share the same classrooms, but aids are added as needed.
Thank you for kickstarting this important discussion this week!
Thank you Jennifer. You are so right about early detection. It is very important, especially with regards to long term treatment.
That is why I’m actually really glad that they asked that question, even though it made me worry some more.
Tinne, I am clever and intelligent, and yet needed tons of support with the simpliest stuff (like getting dressed)- but at the same time was able to do the most difficult things! I also have several Autism characteristics, was called “stupid”, “lazy”, “special needs child”- (but not in the good sense), but I was never diagnozed with anything.
When my little girl was diagnozed with sensory issues and needed therapy ebcause of this, I read about SPD (Sensory Processing Disorder), which together with my general clumsiness, total lack of spacial orientation, sensory overwhelm and sometimes problems with tackling more than one conversation at a time, made perfect sense to me now.
On top of that, I am an expat (and I was an expat child as well!) raising expat children, and that alone can make them special needs children (the definition I read once is that any child taken out of his or her comfort zone is a special need child). I look at this this way: maybe my treshold for screaming or tantrums is lower than for other parents. I need tons of me-time, adn I have three children, and each of them is different adn I need to attune to each of them individually!
The other side is that I know that it can get better, and if I take care of my needs, I’ll know what they need. I know that while I definitely gave my girl these sensory issues, maybe they also got my gift for languages, and music and Thinking Deep Thoughts…
I love so much that we live in a world connected to one another and can discuss all these things so openly and honestly. I am also very pleased we have moved on from the past and know that things like ADHD and autism are real and there is help available to all concerned…
Thanks for sharing your insights.
Similar to Jennifer’s comments, I feel that early detection and support in my area of the US is strong (if you have good insurance and can afford testing, etc.)
I am fortunate to not have a learning disability, and so far my children do not seem to, but I have friends and my son has friends who do, and I appreciate hearing your story.
There is a good chance at least one of my children will inherit my anxiety-depression and I’m doing my best to keep an eye on it. I want to save them the struggles I faced in not knowing what it was or how to treat it.