Don’t label my kid

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A while back I wrote that a “classroom consultant” was being brought in to observe and assess the situation in Son’s preschool, specifically his hitting issues. Well she finally came this past week but we only had a few minutes to talk after class, so it’s not clear if any conclusions have been made as to how to improve the situation. We’re supposed to get together for a meeting with her and the teacher to discuss her findings. I’ll write more in a subsequent post when I have more details.

She did, however, leave me with a big package of “parent information” about the program she is in. From what I’ve gathered, it’s a way to help kids integrate into care situations (private daycare, preschool) when they have issues that present a particular challenge to the teacher. In the context of just preschool, I’m okay with this. I adore the teacher and Son really loves the place and anything people can suggest to make it a more positive experience for everybody in the class is fine by me (and I’ll add this important caveat: right now he’s at an age where he is only barely aware that this is going on around him). However, upon reading the packet brochures I got a funny feeling, like this was just the start of something much bigger, something I wasn’t going to like…

There was an application form that required, among other things, a section to be filled out by a doctor or other health professional. That set alarm bells ringing. As did a comment by the consultant that we needn’t worry about Son’s speech because “when he’s in kindergarten they’ll monitor that closely”. The more I talked about this with my husband, the more suspicious we became that Son was going to end up with some sort of “diagnosis”.  

Personally, I’m a bit leery of all the diagnosing that is going on with our society’s children these days. And I can’t help but notice that all the assessing, evaluating, diagnosing, and treating is done in the context of the school setting. The goal seems to be to integrate children into the school environment with no real discussion about whether such an environment represents a normal, healthy environment for young homo sapiens. I would argue that the social dynamics most definitely do not (age-segregation, very low adult:child ratios) and the realities of classroom management require uniformity in the level of physical and mental activity at any given time during the day (understandable, but how reasonable given the variety of temperaments and personality types in a class?).

While there are many children who do just fine in this setting, could it be that a child who can’t sit still or focus is simply a child who is not suited to the classroom environment? And let’s remember that often this focussing is expected despite the fact that the child may have no interest in the topic, or may not wish to pursue that activity at that particular time. Is it the child who has the problem? Or is it that school simply cannot provide an optimal environment for each and every child?

We need to ask ourselves as a society whether the goal for our children is for them to understand themselves enough so that they can create lasting healthy relationships with the people around them? or whether our goal is to make life less difficult for schools and teachers. Should we try to force our kids to fit into a school environment even if that means medicating them? I suspect if more people understood what homeschooling really involves they would think twice about the answer.

And lest you fall victim to that whole “socialization” argument, try and recall a single work environment you’ve ever experienced where people are segregated by age, have to line up to go to the bathroom, have little if any input into how their job should be done, and who are subjected to standardized testing every few months. I doubt such a workplace is where you hope your child will end up one day. 

For my son, it soon won’t matter if he can put his socks on at age 4 (which I’m sure he’d learn quickly if his impatient mother didn’t always do it for him, using the opportunity for conversation to transition him from one activity to the next) because there won’t be twenty other 4 year olds to compare with, no arbitrary standards he’s expected to meet, and no Putting On Socks standardized tests for him to fail. Instead, the only reason it would become an issue is if he shows signs that his inability to perform this task is bothering him.  

And there, folks, is the real beauty of homeschooling. Because classroom management is a non-issue, learning can be tailored to each individual child’s unique temperament and personality. The highly active ones who like to move to learn can be accommodated as readily as the quiet child who needs a certain amount of alone time, or the visual child who learns better by seeing and doing rather than reading about it.

I know this is the goal of many dedicated and wonderful teachers, but these modern day heroes are shackled by the constraints and realities of administrative and managerial concerns that inevitably arise when hundreds or thousands of children must be brought to a certain standard of fact-knowing and moved through a system at a regular scheduled pace. For the record, I most certainly do not fault the teachers – I think it’s the system that is suboptimal. And while it works for many children, it’s the children for whom it doesn’t that most concern me.

For my son and our family the journey into the world of diagnoses, interventions, occupational therapists, teachers aids, and classroom strategies will end before it even gets a chance to begin. There are less than six months left in the term and since Son will not be going to Kindergarten the only thing I’m expecting to get out of this process is some tips for making the last few months of preschool go as well as they can. My husband and I are both determined to keep our son out of any system that wants to stick a label on him, and since my dearest friend has a 19 year old son with Asperger’s we have a first-hand account of what that system entails. I shudder to think about what life would be like if he stayed in the school system if this level of intervention is already appearing in preschool, and what would happen to his self-image and self-esteem when he got old enough to realize he was being labelled. And while we don’t yet know if that is the path the consultant is going to recommend, fortunately we will have an escape clause if it turns out to be just that.

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Categories: natural learning, socialization | 3 Comments

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3 thoughts on “Don’t label my kid

  1. Natalie

    Here here!!

    Thank you so much for articulating this! It is so heart warming to know that you’re travelling the same road ahead of me. My little guy will soon be 5, and I worry about diagnosis too. I believe he will mature and grow into himself, maybe not quite as fast as others, so we’ve decided to homeschool.
    Happy New Year! And thank you again:)

  2. missypup

    wow, you sure said that well. it’s exactly true, speaking as the mom of the 19 year old with Asperger Syndrome.

    Funny thing, though. He really enjoyed the structure of elementary-school classes, but his self-esteem was destroyed by bullying…what “a shame” for such a handsome, intelligent young man, hey?

    The situations to watch out for with my son was any un-structured situation… like gym class, assembly, lining up (nobody explained to him the social dynamics of lining up) and recess/lunch. Thant’s when the teacher:student ratio breaks down, and the kids bully. Even the older kids got in on it. We worked very closely with the school, but it did NOT help at all. I wish I knew then what I know now. Good job, dear friend! Protect your kids and figure out what’s best for them, be it schooling or un-schooling!

  3. lucky boy, free to be whoever he wants to be!

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