Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Why This Decision?

My daughter J is 8 years old. From early on, her love of learning was apparent to everyone. She taught herself many things like reading at 3 and cursive writing at 5. She loved to write her name all over the playground in chalk at 2 years old. When Catholic pre-kindergarten began for her, she was excited, though reluctant to separate from me. Eventually she began enjoying school, but a little too much. She was in "time-out" almost every day for misbehavior (talking out of turn, fidgeting, being overly curious, etc). Kindergarten was ok. her first teacher was tolerant of her behavior and just said she had "ants in the pants". When I switched the kids over to the local public school, her new teacher enjoyed her and found her personality "exuberant". This teacher told me J was "way beyond" the phonics workbooks they were doing, so had J sit in the back of the room reading and doing book reports. J wrote wonderful page-long summaries of the books she read, but was very unhappy and felt isolated. I believe this was what caused her eventual disdain for reading. First grade was the worst. The teacher couldn't deal with J and we had several meetings on how to handle this.

I started researching on the internet what could possibly be the problem. So, I changed J's diet, eliminating anything and everything that could be a possible allergen causing her to misbehave. I found out J has a bit of a sensitivity to orange juice, tomato products, and corn products. But over time the difference wasn't that significant. Although this teacher really didn't like J, she recommended her for a nearby gifted program. All of J's information was sent out and evaluated, and she qualified to take the test for the program. We were all thrilled to learn that she was one of the top 2% to make it into the program.

Second grade at the new school was refreshing. J was happy among "smart kids" like her - no singling out or isolation here! She still was fidgety and chatty, but in general, her behavior had remarkedly improved. The teacher was concerned, though, and requested I get her tested for ADHD. This upset me, but I would do anything to find out why my daughter wasn't ever really "fitting in" with the school mold. So that spring, equipped with my parent and teacher questionaires, I went in to see a pediatric neurologist. She asked J about 3 questions and sent her out of the room. She then told me that since this office was an "artificial environment" she couldn't tell if there was anything wrong with J. She then made a diagnosis of ADD based solely on the teachers questionaire. I was confused and annoyed and asked about further testing, observations, and other parties involvement. She told me I was "just not ready to accept this diagnosis" and to come back another time to discuss treatment. Needless to say, I was livid and realized not only could this have taken place over the phone - she requested an office visit so she would get my insurance money, but this doctor was completely incompetent. I never called her again.

It is now December of third grade. She no longer has the fidgetiness or chattiness, but the new thing seems to be inattentiveness, lack of focus, and distractability. I researched things like CAPD and ADD-inattentive. I bought book after book on ADD. I gave J homeopathic ADD medicine (no side effects) and Omega-3 capsules. I even gave her coffee in the morning before school (I read it works just as well or better than ADD stimulant medication). Within the last month I bought a $30 e-book about how to combat attention problems by using exercises and activities and just last week I just bought a $170 "kit" containing all these things to help improve reading comprehension by learning how to use your eyes better (I don't know, it sounded great when I bought it).

I just feel like I have tried so many things. It is getting ridiculous. I know there is nothing wrong with J. She is amazingly bright and perceptive. She writes beautiful poetry and stories. She is always a regular in the popular groups and makes friends very easily everywhere we go. She notices everything and always has an interesting perspective on things. After almost 5 years of formal schooling, I finally realize that a classroom environment is too distracting for her. Although she loves school, she cannot learn there. She told me once that she hears all the outside noises (garbage truck, car alarms, airplanes) and inside noises (tapping, clicking, buzzing flourescent lights, and even other kids breathing). Any activity with a time limit is agitates her - tests especially. Her current teacher told me she is very smart, but is not a test-taker, and if she was in a regular mainstream class she would get straight As. She doesn't realize the mainstream class was actually worse for her.

So here we are. J got an assessment the other day stating she was performing below the program standards in Reading, Writing, and Math - Classwork needs improvement - Conduct is satisfactory - Homework and Effort are good. The teacher wrote a note below it saying the program is too demanding for J and it's not the proper placement for her. Well, that's ok. I would really like for her to be in this excellent program. It goes all the way up to 8th grade and all of the students go on to the top high schools. But, no matter how excellent the program is, it may not be a good fit for J. I do not think this is a case of "evening out". I have seen her love of learning fade slowly away over the years. It breaks my heart. Whenever there is time spent away from school (vacations), she becomes the child she used to be who loved books and learning.

So I have come to the decision to homeschool her if she does not make it to the next grade in this program. I mean, it's not over 'til it's over and we still may have until June to improve her concentration and grades. Third grade is the hardest at this school everyone says. Fourth grade is a breeze compared to 3rd. So I have a feeling next year at this school would be better than this year, but I don't see her moving on. I am already preparing myself to homeschool by September.

I have done so much research. I live in a state where the homeschooling rules and regulations are ridiculous, but manageable. I know how to prepare an IHIP, quarterly reports, and yearly summaries. I've made lists of what we have, what we need to buy, and what we will do all day. She is excited about the prospect and isn't worried about not returning to school. She is on a competitive dance team that meets 2 evenings a week and goes to Sunday school. We will also join local homeschooling groups where she can meet other kids who homeschool. All I need to do is decide on a curriculum - if we decide to use one. The first few months will be spent basically "de-schooling" to get the school out of her system and allow her to re-learn how to learn. I have only read good things about this and I have the support of my family behind me.

I just wanted to mention also, that J has 2 siblings (she's a middle child) who are in school and are thriving there. I think public school is truly fantastic for what it is and most children will do fine there. Some children are just divergent thinkers who are not wired for that specific way of learning.

The beginning of this journey is with public school. J's test scores have hovered between 70 and 80 for the most part, with a couple of 40s and a couple of 90s and 100s. She got all top marks in the enrichment classes: Science, Spanish, Computer, Library, Gym, Art. She got an 84 on yesterday's math test - better than usual. And 2 projects handed in this week were outstanding in my eyes. We'll know the grade in January, probably. I have to say, I have calmed down so much. I do not worry anymore about what will become of her if she cannot make it at the school. I have a strange sense of peace about all of it. I know she will be fine no matter what.

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