Thursday, May 31, 2007
My youngest son is what is commonly referred to as an underachiever. I have heard this since he first entered Kindergarten. Some fine, experienced teachers have been puzzled by him. They furrow their foreheads and say, "I think he can do the work...he doesn't seem to have any problem understanding the actual process...I'm just not sure how to motivate him." Over and over again, I have heard this. Probably as his mother, they were looking to me to solve this mystery. It is just one of those personality type quirks though. He lacks motivation and I haven't found the key to turn him on, so to speak. Here is the funny thing, he truly enjoys school. Wants very much to please his teachers. He doesn't have distracting behavioral problems. His problem of sort of drifting off doesn't bother others, it just hurts him, especially when taking timed tests.
This year has been particularly difficult. He has a very demanding teacher. I am fine with that, but he also seems to be completely unable to relate to Handsome Lad on any level at all. When I talk to him, I often get the feeling that he takes everything about Handsome Lad's behavior very personally...as though he is unmotivated just to get under Mr. W's skin! We really sort of got into it at our last Parent-Teacher conference. He suggested that Handsome Lad left his possessions scattered about just to spite him. He also suggested that he might benefit from being placed into the Special Education classroom...or at very least he should be repeating the 4th grade. Where to begin? First, Mr. W refuses to believe it, but Handsome Lad does want to please him and would never do anything just to spite him! He sometimes simply can't for some reason keep himself organized and/or on task. Second, I have a great deal of respect for the Special Education alternative available to everyone at the public schools. It addresses real needs that children have and some kids, of course, need intensive help to succeed. I assure you that this level of help is NOT what Handsome Lad needs...plus, sorry, but he doesn't need the stigma that goes along with it. As for repeating the 4th grade, if I thought that would help I would do it. I have nothing special against retention. I think sometimes another year is all that a kid needs to get where he needs to be. I didn't see this as being the case for Handsome Lad at all. So, we had some strong words between the two of us about these issues.
Finally, I requested that the district psychologist come in and do some testing to assess what is going on with my son. The teachers have gotten nowhere, although most of them have been much kinder about getting nowhere than Mr. W. After some sessions with Handsome Lad, she met with the resource teacher at his school to draw up a plan to help him succeed. We had a meeting this morning: me, Mr. W, the district psychologist, the resource teacher, and the Principal. I went in not knowing what to expect, but walked out feeling 100% better and totally vindicated in how I saw my son. It turns out that he scores quite high in all areas when he was tested one on one by the psychologist. She was especially impressed with his complex thinking skills and his memory. She did note that he has very poor fine motor skills, which I had also emphasized in my portion of the evaluation. After spending time with Handsome Lad, she determined that aside from motivation, which is still a bit of a puzzler, most of his problems stem from his poor fine motor skills. Think about it...if writing was difficult for you, and you were asked to answer a question would your response be a three word sentence or an involved paragraph? So, the psychologist and the resource teacher decided that based on this "disability" he does have a right to some special accommodations. Next year he will spend 30 minutes 4 days a week with the resource teacher getting one on one help with whatever written assignments they are doing in his class. Also, he will be permitted to have extra time when taking tests to eliminate the pressure and accompanying performance shut down that seems to occur with him.
Mr. W didn't seem that happy with all the positive talk that was going on. The Principal, with whom I have a complicated but respectful relationship was fairly quiet during the whole thing, mostly just there because it is her school and all. The psychologist expressed her great affection for Handsome Lad and said a lot of his problems seem to do with a lack of confidence (and I felt like saying 'no wonder' given what his teacher has been telling him all year). The resource teacher is excited to work with him. She feels that by the time he enters middle school he will be right on track.
I am so glad now that I asked for this assessment. I knew that Handsome Lad was bright, even with the gap between his potential and his performance. It felt good to know that I was right and even better to know that he will get a little extra attention to help him achieve the success that he deserves.