Queen of the Distracted

Imagine life in a house with 6 kids - now imagine if 5 of those kids and their father have ADD/ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) - that is our house! Welcome to an inside view of my life and our home dominated by ADHD... THERE IS NEVER A DULL MOMENT!

Ladies and Gentlemen! Boys and Girls!

"Ladies and Gentlemen, Boys and Girls!"

Those were our oldest daughter Rachel's first words, from the time she was a toddler she would belt them out proudly standing on the arm of the couch. At the time we had no idea what ADHD was or that it would play such a central roll in our lives.

Since then we have learned a lot, not the least of which is how many individuals and families suffer in silence. We have experienced first hand how misunderstood and misrepresented a disorder can be.

As a family we decided to take action - to risk embarrassment and labeling to get this important message out to the world. Come join our family, share in our lives, and see ADD/ADHD as we see it...
A gift with a heavy price tag.

WELCOME to life in the ADD/ADHD House!

Monday, July 30, 2012

Public Schools vs Home School: My Great Debate

Our family psychiatrist called me in after his visit with our 14 year old son.  I sat down.  He sat down, looking a bit like he had just been ran over by a tornado.  He looked at me, blinked a couple times and said, "WOW!"  Yeah, I know, he has that effect on me too, I thought.  We proceeded to have a long conversation about the crazy level of hyperactivity my rather intense son exhibits.  He's a ball of energy physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Always wound up, always moving, thinking, doing.   We were headed to the "this is the circle of ADHD talk" (holds his hands in a nice tidy circle) And here is your family (a good distance outside of the circle)  and here is Hunter (points somewhere far away from the circle).

Super intelligent, ADHD (heavy on the hyperactivity), anxiety ridden, intensely neurotic, possibly OCD we pulled him out of public school at the end of 3rd grade.  Now, he'll be a freshman in high school and we have decided to give public school a second chance.  Our beloved psychiatrist was not very encouraging about this decision.  He has some serious questions about whether Mr. Hyperactive is going to cope well in a traditional classroom setting.

My heart sank.

I have been wrestling with this decision since we made it at the end of this last school year.  Decision, yes, we decided it but I think everyone in the family knows I am only loosely committed to it.

This last year we put all our high school students back in public school.  Before that all of our children were engaged in some form of online home school program.  But this last school year, at this little public high school (only 500-600 students), has been so successful that we decided to take the plunge and put our last two home schoolers back into the public school system. 

One will be a freshman and one a 6th grader.  That is if I don't cave and leave them in home school.  I fully anticipate being a complete and utter wreck for the next few months.

It's unavoidable.

To back the story up a bit - we started with everyone going to public schools.  Even our youngest did kindergarten at a public school.  But as we were plugging along, doing what society tells us is the right way to do things, it was becoming abundantly clear that the public school system wasn't working for us.  It was a different problems with each of our children.

Too distracted to learn, too overwhelmed, too stressed, feeling unsuccessful, depressed, left behind in the classroom.  I was managing as best I could.  Making the rounds of Student Study Teams and IEP meetings, researching, observing, advocating.  Regardless of the problem the school's solutions were like a band-aid on an amputation.

We decided to do home school for one and the rest caught wind and begged to come home too.  By the time school started they were all home, all six of them (we hadn't found our 7th child, Fernando, yet) .  I was a nervous wreck then too.  Home school has been a lot of hard work but it's worked for us in many ways.  

1.  No homework at night - I cannot tell you what an absolute change this made to the stress level in our house.  No more battles, no more anxiety, no more fighting tired, un-medicated, and already overwhelmed brain to accomplish something it just couldn't do.

2.  Freedom to set your own pace.  It's hard to adequately describe how the ADHD brain works to a person who has never dealt with it but there is a great advantage to being able to do what the brain wants to do when it wants to do it.  We call it riding the wave.  In a home school setting we could ride the history, math, or literature wave and do it all day long if we wanted to.  Of course we had to balance out later so we were making progress across in every subject.

3. Equally as important setting your own pace and schedule was being able to pick our location to work.  We have done home school in the doctor's office, in the mall, at restaurants, at the park, in the car, in the waiting room for OT and speech therapy, at the desk, under the desk, on top of the desk, on the floor, in a chair, standing, pacing, in PJs, in full-body cardboard armor, decked out in every nerf weapon we own, even in the bathroom (favorite sneak off and read more location).  Whatever worked, we did it.

4.  Mastery based work kept my child with dyspraxia from getting left in the dust.  When we pulled her out of public school in the 5th grade she was reading on a 1st grade level and comprehending on a 5th grade level.  She sat in class each day she got more behind because teaching her at her pace and level wasn't practical and certainly not the priority.  A mastery based learning system allowed us to work on a subject until she got it.  And she got it.  When reading finally clicked for her she read over 30 novels in a year - she became unstoppable in every subject.  She got all As and a B in PE this first year back in public school but I know that would have been a different story with out those years in home school.

science project
5.  There is no doubt that my children have absorbed more from their curriculum than they would have in a normal classroom setting.  Maybe it's the lack of other distractions, maybe it's because their curriculum isn't shortened or abbreviated for time.  They are expected to read it all, do all the work, this combined with less distraction made them retain more.

6.  Social Skills - this may not seem like such an obvious benefit but social skills and crowds are a mystery and a terror to our household.  I have one in particular who I wanted to keep in school for the social education.  As it turned out school was too overwhelming of an environment to learn social skills for her.  She and our other kids learned much more from the smaller social circle where they were not completely overrun.

7.  Private Speech and Occupational therapy.  We were part of a public charter home school where we had the benefit of an excellent curriculum provided to us that met state standard, we had a charter teacher for help and support, and we had all the aspects of our IEP met with privately contracted services.

Our psychiatrist made a point of concern in that last visit.  He acknowledged the incredible minds in our house, the incredible minds of his ADHD patients in general.  Then he said his concern is that schools weren't designed for these kind of minds and in the process of operating to their design ADHD kids often get left in the dust despite their brilliance.  In the process of operating to their design that brilliant ADHD mind often gets lost, feels stupid, feels different in a bad way, feels failure, feels broken.  That is what was happening before that prompted us to pull our children out of that environment.

You may be asking how can you go back to public school?  Truth is we found a public school that can rival our home school experience.  Okay, you can't attend in your PJs or decked in cardboard armor and I'm pretty sure they want you to sit at the desk not under it or on it.  In this tiny school district we found a gem of a high school.  They have given us our own long list of reasons to trust them with our children.  This year they proved themselves with our dypraxic daughter going above and beyond to meet her where she's at and help her move forward.

When it really boils down to it that's what we're talking about, trusting them with our children. Trusting that their interests are the same as ours, to see our child explore their talents, conquer their weaknesses, and learn in the process.  I want a school that will empower my child towards their future.

They certainly proved themselves with our daughter, this year we'll see if they're ready for Mr. Hyperactive.


Spike N Tuna Jones said...

Thank you Lisa for sharing. I plan on passing thisone on to some other folks I know. :)

Lisa Aro said...

Thank you for reading and for passing it along. :)

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Rebecca Winfrey said...

I would just like to say that reading some of your stories makes me feel so much better knowing I am not the only one going through a lot and I only have one with ADHD so I envy your ability to be so calm! I will continue to read and take from you anything I can! There is hope for me and my son!!