My Son's Story and How This Site Began.....
In 1991, when my son was born, I considered myself a fairly competent teacher. True, I was strict, but not unreasonable. Yes, I expected certain classroom behaviors, but not the impossible. I've since realized that there was much then that I didn't know about my students -- or about my son.
When my son was a baby, he cried all of the time -- not the scrunch-up-the-knees colic cry -- but a full breath-stopping wail that could last up to an hour and a half! This crying was inconsolable and seemed to be triggered by an event or outing. He would be as happy as can be, for instance, during a trip to the mall; upon arrival home, however, he screamed as if he were the most miserable little baby alive. I can remember times when I couldn't hold him close enough, couldn't calm his spirit, couldn't sit and listen to him any longer, crying myself and asking God why He gave this little boy life if he was going to be so unhappy.
By his second year of preschool, my husband and I knew our son was not like other kids -- he seemed to have special needs -- needs we weren't sure how to meet. For instance, we realized that our son couldn't follow directions -- not wouldn't -- couldn't. We learned to take him by the shoulders, look into his eyes, and say, "Focus." We asked his preschool teachers to do the same -- it helped him to listen to us and "focus" on what we were saying -- something we now know his brain does not allow him to do easily.
As the preschool years came to an end, our son experienced several drastic behavioral changes -- he was "in trouble" a lot. He lashed out aggressively toward other kids, he would get a vacant look in his eyes during times his behavior was most out of control, and at times, he would become so enraged with something "gone wrong" that I would literally have to sit on the floor with him, my arms and legs "wrapped" tightly around him to get him to calm down. Kindergarten loomed ahead, and we prayed that the newness of learning would grab our son's mind and reduce the frequency of the preschool behaviors that were possibly caused by mental boredom.
We were blessed with a wonderful teacher that first year who had a gift for loving difficult children -- children like our son! Lauri willingly answered his questions, she willingly met with us as we faced his challenging behavior in class, and she patiently and prayerfully worked with him as he went through the ADHD diagnosis process. ADHD diagnosis entailed several visits to a specialist recommended by our school's high school guidance counselor. We and our son's teacher completed evaluation forms about what we had observed, and the doctor prescribed Zoloft to raise the seratonin levels and Adderall to establish a balanced adrenalin level. This was not a quick and easy process. We all experienced "the weeks from hell" when the dosage wasn't quite right. Eventually, however, by the end of the kindergarten year, our son's diagnosis and prescriptions were established. During that time, we also learned that any foods or drinks with red dye increase his out-of-control behaviors, while a bit of coffee helps calm our son. We had to research and reassess many environmental factors related to ADHD. In addition, as our son grew, the medications had to be adjusted -- there is no "one-time" "this-is-all-you-need" fix for ADHD.
Jonathan's school years were traumatic due to his own behaviors and the misunderstandings that arose when a teacher or administrator did not understand ADHD beyond the "attention problems." His first grade teacher never even tried to understand -- for you who are parents, do not give up advocating for your child even if a teacher is "older and supposedly, wiser" -- for you who are teachers, do not ignore any information offered to you to help you understand your students (and their parents) better. By the spring of his second grade year, we knew we had to find a different school for Jonathan. The principal of his school did not have the background knowledge or concern to deal with Jonathan -- in fact, one evening he called my husband and me at home to ask that we keep Jonathan home the next day because Jonathan's teacher (the principal's wife) had requested it. I asked if Jonathan was being suspended for some behavior problem, and the principal responded that no, it wasn't that -- it was just that his wife felt she and the class needed a break from Jonathan.
Jonathan did not go back to that classroom. He stayed with my sister for a week while my husband and I prayed and looked for another school to put him in for the rest of the year. The Lord led us to a school called Light and Life, in our neighborhood, which though smaller, had teachers and a principal who were educated in how to work with kids like Jonathan. He finished up third grade at that school. The first three years of elementary school took their toll on Jonathan and our family. We found ourselves emotionally drained and decided to move closer to family for support. The following year was another experience of educating a teacher, but we did have the support of an educated principal at Fresno Christian elementary who met with us and Jonathan's teacher frequently to develop preventive and positive strategies to help Jonathan succeed. The year was difficult, but he did make it through. The following year he was homeschooled but he essentially played outside for most of his fifth grade year (the year was also unusual in that due to unexpected circumstances, we were living in the living room of my in-laws for a year!). In sixth grade, after yet another family move, Jonathan struggled to get back into the routine and discipline of yet another school, but that proved more than he or the school could handle. The following year he entered seventh grade, in a public school. Two years later, we proudly watched as he walked across the stage, graduating from eigth grade -- despite missing the last week of classes due to his inability to handle major changes/endings. When Jonathan applied to the high school at which my husband and I teach, he was denied admittance due to his past. After many people's prayers and our formal appeals, minds and hearts were opened and Jonathan was admitted. The first week of school, he met another student who, like Jonathan, played computer games; the second week of school, he spent the night at this new friend's house. I cry as I recall his excitement -- due to moving and social issues, Jonathan had never had a friend before, let alone one who invited him over. Now, Jonathan has graduated from that high school (not without struggle, but still he did it) and tried attending college, but discovered his true passion while working as a sound/lighting intern at a local theater. Recently, he earned his certification as a sound engineer, specializing in post production, from Musician's Institute in Los Angeles -- thus proving that one, he is a survivor and two, college is not for everyone and we need to rethink how we look at success, academic and otherwise.
Every new school year brought anxiety and fear of what the year ahead would hold for Jonathan and us. Each year was a year of learning, also, for me as a parent and as a teacher. My husband and I realized that a blissful home-life each day after school was probably an illusion. We accepted this, and understanding why our son behaved as he did, we tried to help him develop his strengths. And perhaps, just as important, I developed an understanding of why some of my students behave as they do. Since my son started school, I've had to step back and look at some of my classroom practices and realize that I've hurt kids in the past because I did expect the impossible of them. I decided that I wanted to share my experiences with other teachers -- teachers who, like me, may be skeptical of the various disorders and the requests of parents -- so I created this site in 1998 and will faithfully maintain it so that fewer kids are misunderstood.
You see, in 1991, I didn't believe in ADHD. I thought it was an excuse parents used when they weren't willing to hold their child accountable. I assumed the student was lazy. I responded to the student's behaviors accordingly, with harsh judgment and actions. Oh, I look back now and ache for those kids -- kids whom I didn't understand. Was I unfair? Possibly. Was I willfully unfair? No. Was I ignorant? Yes.
Several years ago, though still quite memorable, a parent of a former student of mine reminded me of the teacher I used to be. She recalled that in the spring before I was to have her son in class, she wanted to talk to me about his ADD and the problems he would have in class. Tears filled her eyes as she remembered my response -- one I've now tried to block from memory -- one she did not deserve. I needed to have a son with special needs to become the teacher my students needed me to be. I didn't know that, when my son was born -- I am absolutely certain of it, though, now. Lessons learned painfully -- to prevent hurting those in my care. It is my prayer that as teachers learn more about their students as individuals, more individuals will look back and say, "Thank you for understanding me."
All of the above written by Laurie Hagberg, 1998/updated 2014
is hearing a student say,
"Thank you for understanding me."
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