The view from here

Kitten thing fell asleep in my hand last night. And this morning she was purring and rubbing herself against Mark’s foot. We estimate that she is about 7 weeks old, and yesterday she weighed 600gm exactly. So next week, hopefully she will be ready for a great forever home, and we will be able to settle her in before I go to Dunedin for Unwind.

Small boy had a trial day at the Academy for Gifted Education in Takapuna last week, and he loved it so much that we decided that sending him there part time had to be part of our arsenal. This year, we are going to get our joyful kiddo back. Before he started school, he loved learning, and drawing, and reading and numbers, and every educational experience we could give him was devoured.

Over the years we have seen his thirst for knowledge devolve into a resistance, a sad place for a kid that thrives on learning. School, and the expectations and pressures have crushed him to a point that is unacceptable, and we want to spend this year reversing the damage that has been done. He’ll continue at MindPlus with Diana this year, and also spend 1 or 2 days a week at AGE, following his passions and dreams in a supported environment that is pretty similar to a structured unschooling approach. Tomorrow we will meet with the learning coach to work out a learning plan for him, and see where that path will lead.

Academically, he may slip behind. But my expectation is that our child will thrive and learn exponentially, once he recovers his sense of joy and wonder. Financially, it’s a good thing we like lentils. Philosophically, we are sad that public school hasn’t worked out for him. We passionately believe in public schools, and feel that if every parent supported public education, then public education would be well enough resourced to be able to accommodate kids like ours, that don’t fit into a public school shaped hole. At least, not yet.

Intermediate school might be better. High school almost definitely will. And by the time he hits university, and has found his tribe, and his passion, life will be wonderful. But for now, for this particular Inigo shaped kid, there won’t be any more trying to jam him into a hole that isn’t ever going to accommodate his complicated angles. Bean bags all the way baby!

In case you’ve ever wondered about what it’s like to have a gifted kid (and why parents who have gifted kids don’t always see it as a gift!), have a read of this. The intensity of living with a person who feels that the death of a butterfly is important, who feels bad about being rude once five years ago and it keeps him awake at night, and who can still barely tie his shoelaces at 10 years old, but also understands that time and space are really the same thing, is another kind of parenting challenge that isn’t well understood, and not talked about enough.

Some thoughts on school

This week you will most likely have seen loads of first day of school and back to school pictures. This time if year is joyous for many kids and their parents, and for others, it is, well – not joyous.

Squid was desperate to start school. He thought he was getting a giant knowledge key so he could unlock the secrets of the universe, and start to really delve deep into science and maths and art. So when his teacher gave him a number two to color in (and stick two dots on!), the disillusionment was crushing and profound. He kept hoping, and I kept advocating, but after 5 terms at that school, it became evident that nothing was going to change.

So we moved to NZ. Partially we hoped that an inner city school wouldn’t be as socially conservative, and that our whacky rainbow obsessed atheist leftie six year old would find a better social fit, but we also hoped that he would find his groove academically too.

The first teacher started to send him home with books well below his reading and comprehension level. I wanted to trust the system, but I hesitantly asked what the deal was, as he was reading (by choice) much more complex stuff at home. The teacher replied that although his reading was excellent, his comprehension just wasn’t up to scratch, and that he needed to work on his comprehension before tackling more complex texts. Given that I had been discussing what he was reading at home with him for a few years at this point, I found the comments puzzling, but “hey, she’s the trained professional” is what we are socialised to say, so I backed down.

When we started to consider moving to NZ, one of the things we uncovered was One Day School, a one day pull out program for gifted kids. Entry to this was only open for kids that tested as gifted, defined by them as “on or above the 95th percentile” in any one or more sub categories of the WISC. Hoping that ODS might provide a bit. More intellectual stimulation (and mostly some weirdo peers to socialize with), we paid for the testing.

Chris, who did the testing, said to me afterwards, “he qualifies for inclusion, but I have to say that for most kids I only say that they are able to attend. But for Inigo, I am going to say that he needs to go”. In her opinion, his mental health was a risk if he didn’t find a place where his gifts were not just tolerated, but also celebrated. (One Day School with Reema, and then Mind Plus with Diana have saved all of us. Inigo wrote last year that Diana was “a beacon of hope and happiness”. Without that one day a week, I dread to think how any of us would be coping today.)

A copy of the report was sent to the school. The teacher put up his reading level significantly. Apparently his comprehension wasn’t faulty, but his interest in answering questions in the proscribed format was. His teacher was starting to “get” him. And then he changed teacher.

Year Two (called year One in Australia) he had 4 teachers. One in Australia, two in NZ public school and he started at one Day School (now called Mind Plus). With all that upheaval, we didn’t expect that it would be a brilliant year for him socially or academically, but it wasn’t that bad, considering.

Year Three he was placed in a class with a fairly new teacher who was moving down from teaching older kids. She said she had an interest in gifted kids, and our conference at the beginning of the year was hopeful. But things didn’t go well. Inigo was becoming increasingly anxious about school, and started to get in trouble for not completing work. We decided to bite the bullet and spend the very large amount of money to get a full educational psychology assessment done. If you’re looking, I highly recommend Indigo Assessments in Auckland.

Wow, was that worth the money. Kid has scores all over the place. Usually, people score within about 5 percentile points in each of the five areas tested. Fluid Reasoning, Visual Spatial, Verbal Acuity, Working Memory, and Cognitive Efficiency. A difference of 20 percentile points between two or more sub tests is indicative of a learning difficulty. Two of Inigo’s scores were over 70 percentile points difference.

The positives. His fluid reasoning is so high it falls within the area of the test where it can’t be accurately measured. Don’t play chess against this kid. Or try to win an argument. Or be surprised when he patiently explains quantum physics to you like you’re an infant. His visual spatial and verbal scores are also high, but not crazy high. Just gifted, not “oh my god I’ve never seen that before” high.

The negatives. His working memory is above average. Still better than bad, but a huge disparity for someone with his logical ability. Remembering what he is arguing about could become a real problem. But the biggest disparity was in cognitive efficiency. He may come up with ideas that will change the world, but your coffee will go cold before he gets the words out. Entire civilizations may rise and fall in the time it takes him to put on a pair of underpants. And you can forget about asking him to write anything down.

The summary. Kid has a brain the size of a planet, but it’s a planet with a slow metabolism. He’s brilliant, but so slow it would take an exceptional teacher to be able to work with him to bring out what he is capable of. He also had a 99% probability of meeting diagnostic criteria for inattentive ADHD. And possible dysgraphia and dyspraxia/DCD.

We asked the psych to attend a meeting with the school (again, at our cost – how parents without our means navigate this, I don’t know). The psych suggested that asking Inigo to do less volume of work, but to expect a higher quality of work was reasonable. She also provided a list of intervention strategies to trial.

It was a clusterfuck. But I’m still in “the teacher knows best” mode.

He we kept in at recess and lunch for not completing work. He was expected to do the same work as other kids, regardless of his needs or ability. He was publicly humiliated when he became so anxious he started chewing his clothing, leaves, and furniture in class. He was accused of sexually assaulting another child (reaching for a kid, kid moves, hand goes up pants), and accused of being a liar when he tried to explain. He was put in a room with two hostile adults aggressively questioning him with no advocate (and I wasn’t even informed), and not let go until the other child insisted it was an accident.

And when he clung to my leg, and begged me not to leave him in the classroom, the teacher joked about him “doing a runner” or some such inane rubbish. I feared he would follow me and leave the school grounds, so I went straight to the office. I saw the assistant principal and explained my distress. She assured me that if I went back to uni, or got a job, I “wouldn’t be so anxious” about my child.

It still appalls me that I didn’t do more to protect him then.

Year Four, he had another lovely teacher. But things still weren’t great. Academically he was still meeting national standards, and he had at least one friend (and it had been a while since he had talked to me about his best friend the tree). So we coasted, until the end of term three, when he told me that he had had “such a bad day at school that I thought about hurting myself”.

It seemed that this got the school’s attention. His teacher pulled out all the stops to make sure that he was assessed accurately (especially in maths, his pet subject), and he jumped two year levels. Term 4 he was a much happier kid, and we thought we had finally cracked the school code. He was asked for his preference of teacher for the following year, and was able to build a relationship with her before the end of the school year. He was to have his choice of teacher, be in with his best friend, and everything was looking positive for his transition to the senior school for year 5.

2017, his teacher was great, worked hard to make sure she checked in with him frequently so he didn’t lose track of where he was supposed to be and what he was supposed to do. His friendship with his bestie was strong, and he appeared engaged in class and happy to skip off to school. Until he wasn’t.

At the end of term 2, it became apparent that his school performance was slipping, especially in writing. We discussed the possibility of getting a formal ADHD diagnosis and trialing meds. He was thrilled to have another option to try.

Term 3 he went back to school on medication, and hopeful that things would improve. But his relationship with his bestie had started to change, as M discovered new friends, and Inigo became more and more desperate and fixated on M. Academically, things improved a little, but not enough to lift him up to national standard in writing. We begged his teacher again to look at alternative assessment methods.

After this, he went up another 2 year levels in maths, but not at all in writing or reading. I was disheartened to read the teacher comment on his report that he “needed to learn to work independently”. Yes, of course he does. But for a child with significant struggles, that is a thoughtless thing to write on a report. Throughout the year it also became apparent to me that the large studio classroom of the “Modern Learning Environment” was placing extra strain on him. I explained Spoon Theory to him, and asked him how many spoons he was using just to exist in the classroom for a day. Not for social interactions, not for school work, but just coping in the environment. “About half”, was his answer.

This is a deeply sensitive kid, mind and body. He cares deeply about right and wrong and he works really hard to do the right thing. He had no choice about going to school so he worked hard to do what he could to make it tolerable. When told he needed to try harder, he did. When it was hard, he internalised everything. I asked the principal for help. I was desperate. I said, as an indication of how hard things were for him that if things didn’t improve, I’d have to homeschool. She rolled her eyes at me and turned on her heel to walk away.

So that is what we are doing. The ed psych reminded me that the definition of stupidity is to keep doing the same thing over and over, and expecting a different result. We told Inigo before Christmas that he wouldn’t be returning to the school. We didn’t have a plan as yet, but we knew that much. He looked sad. I asked him if he felt sad about it. He said, “yes, there are some things I will miss. But I feel much more happiness than I feel sadness.”

And today, of the way home from his first psych appointment (booked months ago when things were at crisis level), we started talking about the good things at school. He listed them off one by one, but then reiterated that he was happy with the decision not to return.

“Because mama, all of those things are just the relief from a bad thing, not actually good things.”

When someone is hitting you with a stick, it feels great when they stop.

Sometimes, the kid blows my mind

Stroop Test

We’ve been having (yet more) struggles at school. But he’s happy. He goes to school without complaint, and I’m just relieved that he seems happy.

But he’s slipping academically. Still “on standard” for reading and maths (where he used to be years ahead), but falling behind in writing.

At the end of last term we had a chat to his teacher to try to work on some problem areas – one that was mentioned was figurative language.

Now, he’s been reading since he was four and a half, and I assumed he had a pretty good grasp of figurative language, so this was a surprise to me. Nevertheless, I took every opportunity to discuss figurative language where we found it, and also asked him to do a few “busywork” worksheets at about the right level. I still felt he understood the material without extra instruction.

Fast forward to tonight. We’ve decided to only speak in general terms about the events over the weekend in Charlottesville, only that people are being awful, and that he doesn’t need to know the details. He’s a highly sensitive soul, and sometimes he has nightmares over world events, so we don’t tell him everything, all the time.

I introduced him to the concept of cognitive dissonance, and how some people will continue to believe a comfortable lie, rather than accept a new truth that compromises their world view.

I then asked him to do a stroop test. He did really well, but admitted it was hard.

Then I turned the card upside down, and asked him to repeat the test. I asked if he found it easier the second time, he said, “yes, because the abstraction removes the context, and only shows the content”.

So then I freaked out a little. And then I asked…

“Can you think how that test, and our findings apply to figurative language, and why authors use it?”.

“By abstracting the content, the author can express a message that people might not want to see otherwise”.

Boom.

For the teachers

This is a shout out to my teacher peeps.

This week, my kid expressed his unhappiness at school in a way that could not be ignored, and it couldn’t be misinterpreted.

And the response from the school has been heartening. Teachers who have worked with my boy have been shocked, and distressed, and they have made the time to set things in motion for change.

There have been teachers in his past that have ignored, minimised and disregarded his challenges, and his feelings about school, and my advocacy for my boy. But the last two days I have seen three teachers go above and beyond to make sure that this situation gets turned around.

And one special teacher, who happens to be a friend to both Squid and I, who took time out of her busy life to make sure we are supported and informed, and nurtured – you can’t know what your advocacy has meant.

I am hopeful that things will change really soon. And if it does, it will be down to great teachers, working passionately within a system that constrains and stifles where it should lift up and celebrate these wonderful people.

Thank you for the work you do.

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May 2016

I just turned 46. It’s not so bad. I’m full of gratitude for the life I am able to live right now. Still terribly fond of Mark, so blessed to be mama to the best kid in the world, and doing fulfilling work, both in my volunteer role, and in in actual paid employment.

Yesterday, I taught a knitting class and had great feedback.

Inigo learning to knit while daddy played tennis

This morning, I finally taught Inigo how to knit (he learned to spin at the end of last month).
And this afternoon I published my first ever pattern on Ravelry – it’s nothing complicated, but great fun, and a good beginning project for a learner.

Next weekend we have Woolfest – the third annual pop up fibre market in Auckland, and the second one since I tok over as area delegate. Festival went off with nary a hitch, and for the first time eve, Inigo seems to not only be enjoying school, he has great friends, and he seems to be heading for some positive academic results for the first time.

I hope all is well with you too.