BELGIUM: When Special Needs Children Have Children
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.