A couple days ago I had to do something I’ve been dreading doing for a while now. I had to visit the principal at the boys’ small, private school and tell her that it’s likely that our boys won’t be returning next year. I had to tell her this now, months in advance of fall registration, because I need to pass along some evaluation requests about our boys from the school in which we’re hoping to enroll them next year. I wasn’t dreading this conversation because I thought I would get grief or because I eschew conflict (which I truly do). I was anxious about this conversation because for the past eight years this school has been a safe haven for our boys, a place where they felt loved even though they knew they weren’t exactly like all the other kids. It’s been a place where they’ve always felt special.
When Steve and I first received Joe’s ADHD diagnosis, the psychologist told us he might benefit from a more specialized learning environment or, at the very least, a school with special education services. We looked at our bright, articulate son and couldn’t even begin to imagine him at a special school because the term special somehow implied slow. Jokes from our childhood about the short bus began driving through our head. We considered switching him to a public school but, after talking with several special ed professionals, we determined that Joe might not even qualify for special ed assistance in a public school because the need is so great. I couldn’t imagine transferring him to our local public school, where the class size would be double the class size at the private school he was in, on the off chance that he’d receive enough services to make up for the deficit in personal teacher attention. So, we kept him where he was because at least there we knew they would accommodate his needs, and we knew he felt comfortable.
Turns out, though, that his comfort level isn’t enough of a reason to keep him at the school he’s always known. He and Luke, we’ve discovered, will benefit greatly from placement at a school that specializes in teaching students with learning differences. I recently read that 1 in 7 people have some type of learning difference. These type of issues often run in families. They are not indicative of lower intelligence, although most people seem to think they are. The truth is that a learning difference is just that, a different way the brain processes information. Because schools have to cater to the majority, most teaching is done in the systematic way that works best for most students. Our sons are not in the most category. It’s taken us a while to accept that they’re different. It’s taken us even longer to acknowledge that putting them in a special school doesn’t mean that there is something wrong with them.
So, we’ve at last arrived at the place where we’re ready to make a big leap and switch them to a special school. As parents we’re finally able to admit that our boys are different and to believe that, although their differences are difficulties now, someday those differences will be valued as strengths. When I began to explain to the boys why they struggle the way they do, I wanted to put a positive spin on it for them. So, I did some research. I told them about Richard Branson, Albert Einstein, Charles Schwab, Bill Gates, and Steven Spielberg. I told them how thinking differently made those men special in a good way and how their differences made them successful. I told them that while they may struggle greatly on the front end learning a new task, in the long run they may be better off for the unique perspective. Funny how the more I did research to try to help my boys feel better about themselves, the more I found myself feeling better about them and their potential. I no longer look at dyslexia as a life sentence (although Luke will have it for life), nor do I look at ADHD as an impenetrable road block. Do they make things a bit more difficult for my guys? Absolutely. But, as Luke told me after we watched The Big Picture: Rethinking Dyslexia with them a few weeks ago, maybe true success requires a special brain, the kind of brain he knows he has. Go ahead. Call my kid special. I dare you. He’s just different enough to understand it’s a compliment.