With our senior set to graduate in 39 days, 17 hours, and 30 minutes (not that I’m counting), last night we attended our final Denver Academy Gala as parents of a current student. Because the last two gala events had to be held virtually, we were thrilled to learn this year’s event would be in person again, and at The Ritz-Carlton, nonetheless. I’ve missed this event because it is my yearly excuse to get dressed up and prove that I know which fork to use at a full place setting. I get to wear a lovely dress and heels and see my husband looking dapper in his suit. And raising funds so more students can attend this private school that teaches students with learning disabilities the way they learn best is a passion project now. Steve and I will likely continue to attend these events after Luke graduates because the school changed our sons’ educational trajectories so dramatically. Luke entered 7th grade at the school reading more than a year below grade level, but four years later at 17 he was reading at post graduate level. Joe, who struggled in nearly every subject in elementary school, now attends a competitive liberal arts college and has a 3.6 grade point average. You can’t argue with that success. This year the school celebrates fifty years changing lives for these neurodiverse kids. We were happy to dress up, show up, and donate from the deepest corner of our pockets.
It’s not hyperbole when I say Denver Academy saved our family. Once our sons started at this school, there were no more homework battles; in fact, we were rarely asked to help with homework at all. Parent/teacher conferences no longer made me cry. The boys started believing they were capable. Smart, even. This was new territory for them. They began getting involved in sports and clubs. For our part, we attended a seminar that simulated what it’s like to live with learning disabilities and gained a better understanding of our sons’ struggles. We showed up for every lecture and presentation DA held that we felt could help us do better for our kids. We bonded with other parents whose experiences with their children were eerily similar to ours. We no longer felt isolated in our situation with our children. We found a home, and nothing in our lives has been the same since.
Thank you, Denver Academy, for teaching our kids how to be successful in their skin and for teaching us that learning differences are something to appreciate, not fear.
“Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do.” ~Dr. Benjamin Spock
Today I was thinking about the times in my twenty years as a parent when I was brave enough to follow my gut, to speak up for my children, to make the right choices for them in the face of opposition from medical professionals, family members, friends, and even random strangers who couldn’t keep from speaking up about something they knew nothing about and that was none of their business. Sometimes I made these bold moves with my voice shaking. Sometimes I made them unconsciously, simply changing a behavior without considering why I had. No matter how I managed to summon the courage in those situations, though, I trusted myself. And, as it turns out, I intuitively knew a lot more than I thought I did.
When most kids their age were starting first grade, I thought it wise to keep both our boys back a year and give them a second kindergarten experience. I simply didn’t feel they were ready. I just kept thinking that an extra year to be a child, to build basic skills, could never be a bad thing. It was odd watching boys they knew from playgroup jump ahead of them in school. It was odder still when boys who were younger than they were suddenly were in the same grade. In the end, both boys ended up being diagnosed with learning disabilities, and the extra year allowed them to fit in with their fellow students until we figured out what they needed. If they had gone to school “on time” with other children their age, they would not have been able to keep up. They weren’t ready then. Neither boy has suffered for the extra time we suggested they take to get to where they needed to be.
When Joe was 7 and finishing first grade, I remember him crying and telling me he didn’t want to go to second grade. He hated school. He actually said to me, “I’m the dumbest person in my class” (that story here). That broke my heart because 1) I knew he was not dumb at all and 2) how do you fix the shattered self-esteem of a 7 year old? So, I went out on a limb and took him to Children’s Hospital in Denver to be evaluated for ADD after Joe’s occupational therapist suggested it. It took less than an hour spent with two child psychologists and one child psychiatrist before they took me aside and told me they were positive Joe had ADHD. They suggested trying him on a low dosage of Concerta, the slow-release version of Ritalin. Joe and I agreed he should try it. Several friends thought I was crazy. How could I put my young son on a Schedule II drug? Three days after he started on it, Joe, then 8, told me he finally felt like himself. That medication changed the trajectory of his life. It allowed him to focus at school, to trust himself, to make good decisions, to grow his self-esteem. It allowed him to graduate high school with a 3.8 GPA and gave him the opportunity to be accepted at a well-respected, private liberal arts college. He and I have zero regrets about this decision.
When I told Joe’s pediatrician at his next appointment about his new prescription, he read me the riot act for not consulting him first. Didn’t I know that he could have evaluated Joe? Why wouldn’t I consult him first? He was his doctor, after all. I looked that doctor square in the face and, with a voice rising from somewhere in my gut I did not know I had, told him, “Yes. You are his doctor. You should have diagnosed this already based on all your visits with him and all the forms we filled out for you and the tests you yourself gave him in your office.” He huffed out of the room. Joe was horrified. I told him everything would be fine, and we would be finding another doctor. Ten minutes later, to his credit, the doctor returned with Joe’s chart and admitted he should have caught it. We found another pediatrician anyway.
The next pediatrician came recommended to us by a couple friends as well as Luke’s dyslexia tutor who knew him personally. The boys were at that office for six years. During that time, they became teenagers. When the doctor conducted his physical exams of the boys, I stayed in the room. I never allowed them to be alone with the doctor during the physical exam when they were undressed, even though they might have felt it invaded their privacy. To combat that, I would turn to face the wall when the doctor checked their genitalia. My main reason for remaining in the room was that the boys were not great at sharing information, and I didn’t want to miss out on what the doctor was saying or finding. My secondary reason was that when I would ask the boys on the way into the office if they wanted me to stay in the room, they always did. I knew it made me seem like a meddling, overprotective, helicopter parent. I did not care. As it turned out, that doctor was one day no longer at the practice. He was being investigated regarding claims made by other parents of inappropriate sexual touching during exams. We dodged a bullet because I stuck with my gut.
If you are a new parent, a soon-to-be parent, or a parent who is constantly questioning your decisions about your children in the present moment, I’m here to tell you that what Dr. Spock said is true. Trust yourself. Trust your intuition. No one knows your child as well as you do. Listen to them. Listen to your heart. Meet them where they are and not where you hoped or wanted them to be. And then do whatever the damn hell you want to raise your child(ren) the way that makes the most sense for your family. Ignore the naysayers, the comment makers, and the nosey Bakers. You know more than you think you do, even when you aren’t aware of it.