A difficult path made more difficult without sharing
I remember well when my son was in preschool. He started in the “twos” program twice a week, moved into the “threes” 5 mornings and then of course the “fours” before entering Kindergarten. As a mom for the first time it was such a huge milestone sending him off into the care of others. I am an educated woman. I had my first child in my mid-thirties and I had a background working in education.
Yet, I put such weight on the opinions and expertise of the teachers. They had the experience working with kids of this age. They were around kids non-stop so they must know that my child is doing well, on target for his milestones, socially where he should be, right? They must see him for the genius that I saw! For the kind, smart, caring little boy that he was, right? “Isn’t he cute?” “ Don’t they like him?” and of course…..”they must judge me as a good mom for having raised such a child right?”
I remember those days well with semi pain in my heart – dropping him off and the quick goodbye as they whisked him into the room so as not to linger too long and create a snowball of tears (from either of us). Bye bye! Now it’s time for mom to leave and we’ve got him – we know what we are doing; we are the experts.
Not Seeing the Full Picture
Yes I remember wondering, worrying, while also feeling free for that precious 2-3 hours of “me time”, time to wander Target, walk the neighborhood, go for coffee with another mom. Me time when all I did was wonder – “how is he doing?” “is he learning?” ‘is he happy?” “is he making friends?” “what are they doing?”. My little secret – I would leave him in class, go outside and slowly creep up to the window to peek in and try to catch a glimpse of what was happening in the classroom. What mysteries? I would do the same upon my “early return” for pick up….trying to get a glimpse of him.
Yes – I was always handed a happy child back. “He had a great day!”. “Bye!!! See you tomorrow!”. “Don’t forget to bring home the artwork”….. do a dots, every so often on special occasions the stock “turkey handprints” and of course the father’s day “footprints”. The poem with the tea bag for mothers day and my son with a smile.
Were We Missing Something?
By the beginning of the “4’s” we knew that there was something different about our son vs other kids his age. He was just not running down the hall to hug friends the way the other kids were. Instead he preferred to do puzzles alone than play with others. He would line his shoes up by the door. He was just kind of “going along” with what was expected of him….but was he happy? He was obsessed with puzzles – the more pieces the better. The memory on this kid was outstanding!
I kept seeing his strengths and was so proud but I would have a major panic attack if asked to bring him to a birthday party. It was all too much for him. He did not want to be in large groups with loud noise. “Is something wrong with my child?” or “is this just him……his own person” I would think. The noise was loud for me most often too!!!
One day his 4’s teacher asked to speak with me. She felt that we should get him evaluated.
No matter my thoughts leading up to this, it was still a blow – evaluated??? For what? She felt that he was not holding his crayons with a good grip, that possibly he was adverse to certain sensory activities. This reason was honestly the farthest thing from my list of possibilities but I did not hesitate. I am a true believer that if we have information and know more, we can proceed to do better for our children and ourselves.
Looking back, I can’t help but wonder how much easier this conversation would have been if the center had an online sharing platform like Educa. Through Learning Stories, I would have had a better understanding of how he behaved during the day with children around, and I could have contrasted that for the teacher by commenting in a story on how he handled those kinds of situations at home.
A shared understanding that might have taken a lot of the wondering out of this process.
A New Mission
So we went down the evaluation path both through our school district and with a private developmental pediatrician. This happened quite a few years ago (my son is 16 this year). The diagnosis was Aspergers. Behaviors vary with such a diagnosis but it gave us a path to work with. We proceeded down the route of social skills, occupational therapy, pragmatic speech therapy, applied behavior analysis, a shadow in the classroom to help engage him with other kids at play etc….
I became an expert on all things having to do with my son. I became the behavior expert, the social skills expert, the coordinator of playdates to help him expert. I watched the best of therapists and I absorbed what they had to teach me so that the 90% of the time that I was with my child (not the 10 that he was at school for 3 hours) I could help him. YES – I knew my child better than anyone because I was there through it all.
Here’s the thing though. Before that one teacher brought up the sensory issues I had a gut feeling didn’t I? I was watching and assessing situations and I knew. I knew that something wasn’t quite right. Yes – I knew all his strengths and gifts as well. I don’t expect all kids to be the same or perfect but I knew deep down that he was struggling socially.
Working Together… Separately
As soon as we started all the “therapies” I realized quite quickly that I had a team in place and a team working independently of each other is a losing team. Teams that win and succeed are those that communicate and collaborate with each other to cross the finish line and achieve success. My “dropping off” with a “bye bye” and picking up with a “thanks…see you tomorrow” – with a teacher-parent meeting planned for every three months or so — was not going to cut it.
And so – I went to Target (of course) and picked up a composition notebook and decided to keep a revolving journal for my son. I would write in anything I felt was relevant for his teacher or team to know – good, or challenging and would hand it to his teacher who would hand it to his shadow who would give it back to me. I would then share it with his other therapists so that we were ALL on the same page regarding this child and we were all working toward common or intertwining goals.
I always emailed the TEAM when corresponding with any of them so that everyone was in the loop.
I Was Educa Before Educa
What I was doing was sharing on paper, exactly the thing Educa does so effortlessly for teachers and families online and with parent apps. It was laborious and only worked because of my sheer force of will to make it work, but it achieved two really important goals:
- It helped all team members see how my son did in other environments – visibility
- Trends and themes emerged because the sharing was frequent and regular, not once every few months
And so, not only did this help my son but the whole team was extremely grateful to be working together.
I truly believe this helped in the success of my son who is now turning 16, a straight A student with a kind and social group of friends. He is interested in both film and biology and is a true success story. My worries now are more typical but I have zero doubt in his ability to succeed and have modeled for him the value of communication and collaboration. He is outstanding at both.
Again though, I can’t help but wonder. A team of adults around a child all with the same mission, to support my son. It should not have been so hard. The idea of wanting to see how a child behaves in different situations with varying relationships and pressures seems obvious, but it wasn’t.
My Learning? I Joined Educa!
What am I doing now? In addition to being his mom as well as having a 13 year old daughter (ok – that’s a challenge for a whole other article) – I am working for a company, Educa, that encourages teachers to assess children regularly writing Learning Stories that use an event or activity to take in the whole child at a point in time.
The magic of Learning Story fits my story exactly. Each story is a way to make learning visible and to collaborate with the caring adults around each child. So that everyone is on the same page and all caretakers who know a child can have a voice, an input on the planning for this child.
And yes, this includes parents too! The actual EXPERTS in the child’s life!
Educa is mainly for early education but is used in schools for children with special needs, and in schools where frequent sharing with families (instead of periodic reports) is valued.
I didn’t plan to come work for Educa. In all honesty – Educa found me – through a friend and coincidentally what we are doing touches my heart and soul for all the reasons you can imagine having read this entry.
I cannot say enough how much I wish I had a platform like this back when my son was in preschool!!!! That being said, full disclosure – I no longer have the do a dot artwork, or the turkey handprints for that matter. And there wasn’t a Learning Story portfolio for me to download, like families on Educa can. But I DO still have the composition notebook. The keepsake that is the story of success for my child and my family. This I will cherish forever.