Wouldn’t it be great if neurological abnormalities made perfect sense? Wouldn’t it be great if the brain were completely predictable? If we could fit neurological disorders in a neat little box and tie it up?
But we can’t.
Two of my children have Tourette Syndrome, and another son may have dyslexia and ADD. These conditions are not predictable and are not the same from one day to the next. That can be good. If Rachel is biting the inside of her mouth this week and making herself bleed, we are all encouraged by knowing the tic probably won’t last long. If Silas is doing that high-pitched, makes-you-cringe squeal today, it’s good to know that particular tic may be gone by tomorrow. And some days, the words on the page make total sense to Caleb and he reads beautifully, building his confidence and making us smile.
Often, though, this unpredictable nature of my children’s brains is very frustrating. They don’t know what to expect from their own brains and bodies. And even worse some days, this makes it very difficult for their teachers to understand my children and know what to expect from them.
Today, Rachel’s tics may be very low-key and her handwriting may be beautiful. Tomorrow, she may be trying to write while shrugging her shoulders, stretching her fingers, rolling her eyes, flicking her hair, and holding in a disruptive vocal tic. You can imagine what her handwriting looks like on those days!
Today, Silas’ tics may be mild and nearly imperceptible. Tomorrow, he may blow raspberries with his lips in class, punch his arm into the air (and perhaps into a classmate), and rip up paper at his desk, making a huge mess.
Today, Caleb may read familiar sentences aloud, seemingly reading just as well as his classmates. Tomorrow, he may struggle with the simplest words and completely freeze on a math test, unable to read the directions, embarrassed to ask for help, and unable to remember any of the math facts he has practiced a hundred times.
It can seem as if my children are rushing through work, not paying attention in class, being lazy, or disobeying. And because they are children, I’m sure there have been times when they have rushed through work, not payed attention, been lazy, and disobeyed. But most of the time, the problems they have at school can be directly connected to the ways their brains work differently than mine does.
On yesterday’s progress report for Caleb, three out of six comments were that he is not paying attention or is distracted in class. When I asked him about not paying attention in science class, he emphatically told me he does pay attention but when his teacher tells them to write answers in the blanks in their workbook, he has no clue where he’s supposed to write the answers. He is listening to her and he hears what she says and could probably recite it to her if she asked, but he can’t figure out where on the page or in the book he is supposed to be. And since all the other students seem to know what they’re doing, he does not want to ask for help and look dumb. So, in his words, “She probably thinks I’m not paying attention because I’m not doing anything.” Ya think?
I think he gets similarly lost in other subjects, and then he is embarrassed because he thinks he is the only one who doesn’t know what to do. So, he either sits there doing nothing (and appearing to not pay attention) or he distracts from his cluelessness by goofing off and making the other children laugh. He bounces a tiny bouncy ball or makes gassy noises in his armpit. Anything to distract the other children from realizing that Caleb doesn’t know what to do!
Similarly, Silas may feel an uncontrollable urge to make a particular noise with his mouth. He knows if he makes that noise, he’s going to disrupt class and may be made fun of. He could make that noise and get in trouble and make the other kids think he’s weird. Or he could turn that noise into a loud gassy-sounding raspberry on his arm, which we all know first graders think is hilarious. Then he still gets in trouble for making noise in class, but the other kids think he’s funny instead of weird.
It seems to the teachers as if my boys are having behavior problems. And they are having behavior problems, to a certain extent; however, the root of their behavior problems stems from their neurological disorders. Punishing them won’t necessarily help the problem at all. They need to learn more acceptable ways of coping with their neurological issues, and they need for their teachers to look past the behavior at the real issue and help with that.
Rachel’s main struggle has been with handwriting. As I explained, her penmanship may be beautiful one day and messy the next. It seems like she’s rushing through her work, not taking the time to do her handwriting well. In reality, she’s probably having multiple tics or holding in multiple tics while trying to write neatly. Her teacher wants her to strive for excellence and asks her to re-do her work, taking her time and making it neater. Though I agree that we want Rachel to strive for excellence, it’s not as simple as that.
So we look for that balance — educating the teachers about neurological disorders, encouraging our children to strive for excellence and not ever use their conditions as an excuse, teaching our children coping mechanisms, figuring out what is a neurological issue and what is a behavior issue, advocating for them at school, having patience with them at home, and the list goes on.
Oh that it could all be simple and predictable! But it’s not. And my children have such colorful personalities and multi-faceted gifts, I guess I wouldn’t want their brains to be simple. At the end of the day, I am thankful they are made exactly the way they are!