I have always homeschooled my children, beginning ten years ago when my older daughter was almost 5. Because she was born in October, she would have missed the cutoff for Kindergarten; in the meantime, she could read and had learned to write her letters and her name. Homeschooling was what we wanted for our children anyway, and so we moved ahead with it.
Our older daughter is a smart girl, and I don’t say this simply as her mother. She really is smart, and breezed through most of elementary school with hardly a worry. The only subject she had difficulty with was math; when we got to division, we literally had to put the book away until her brain could cope with it. (Mathematics requires a straight-line thinking pattern, which is nothing like the creative splotches of thinking that our girl has in her head.)
School got tougher in middle school, and she started slowing down in some subjects. Reading still came easily – even difficult books weren’t a problem – but research and organization (or the lack thereof) caused other problems. But they were relatively minor.
When we started high school last August, I looked at the daily lessons from Seton and didn’t see too much work for each day. I surmised that we might even be able to get done early with some subjects. We stumbled a bit, trying to find good study strategies that worked for her as a hands-on, kinetic learner, and eventually figured out a few tricks. But we never have been able to quite keep up with everything the way I thought we could.
I was really thrown for a loop here. I felt like I was hitting my head against the wall with her, like I had to drag her through every subject, no matter how easy it was supposed to be. Subjects that were “easy A” material still required me to be standing over her like a slave driver, constantly berating her to keep going. Focus! Pay attention! Why can’t you just do the test in a reasonable amount of time!!?? It was making us both miserable, and making me feel like I suddenly wasn’t able to teach my child any more. What was happening to me? Was I making a mistake in continuing to homeschool her? Could I even do it?
Then I read an article at Catholic Lane, and I realized that what I needed to do was staring me in the face.
Kindergarten schoolwork hit us like the proverbial ton of bricks. First, I yelled and screamed and fought with my daughter. Not my finest hour. Then, I yelled and screamed and fought with various school and medical officials to get help for our daughter, who found reading, writing and arithmetic to be so terribly difficult. We obtained preferential seating and extra time on tests, we hired tutors, and I worked for hours with my daughter teaching her in the way she could best learn. Other parents skipped these “behavioral management techniques” and went straight to a medication regimen, but we persevered without it.
When my daughter began middle school, we realized behavioral management wasn’t enough. “We’re going to have her evaluated for medication,” my husband Manny and I informed the school’s vice-principal. “Good,” the vice-principal responded immediately. Still, I wondered and worried.
After this, I started considering the idea that perhaps it was time to deal with what I suspected for years: my 14 year old daughter likely has ADHD. I e-mailed Mike from Distracted Catholic with questions about his diagnosis and what I was seeing in my daughter. He was gracious enough to answer all of my questions, including the one where I asked if this was a familiar story to him. When he said it was, indeed, a lot like his experience, I made an appointment to have my daughter tested.
When I called, I learned that the testing was going to be out-of-pocket – the center does not file with insurance for ADHD testing – and I struggled for about five minutes with the idea that I was going to spend so much money on this test. When I realized that this could really make a difference for her, I berated myself for even questioning whether or not I should do it.
I ‘m waiting for the testing date to arrive, and First Things has run an article on ADHD:
We really don’t have an ADHD epidemic in this country. Our brains are not less healthy than the French. Instead, we have an epidemic of parents looking for a scientific excuse for their own disappointment in their children, and we have a glut of lazy doctors willing to prescribe whatever drugs parents request.
Hyperactivity? Yes, many of our children are hyperactive. Inability to focus? Yes, many of our children cannot focus their attention on a particular task. I’m not saying that the symptoms of ADHD aren’t real. These symptoms, however, do not stem from biological imbalances that require medication. The problem isn’t our children; the problem is us. We’ve created their social context, and it’s not a place where they can thrive. It’s time to admit that parents are the problem, not the children.
Insulted is an understatement for how I felt when I read this article. I don’t really know much about how the French do things, but frankly, having someone basically telling parents like me that we’re lazy, that we’re doing a poor job of telling our children “no” when necessary, that we are trying to medicate our children into compliance makes me kind of want to scream.
I think my daughter would be surprised to learn that we’re lenient parents who don’t say “no” often enough. Heck, most people think we are, as Dr. Ray has put it when he speaks to homeschooling conferences, Quasi-Amish in the way we have raised our kids. We don’t lock them in the closet to prevent them from being exposed to the outside world, but we do shelter them from harmful influences until the time when we see that they’re mature enough to handle it. We aren’t permissive, and we don’t give in to the demands of our children. We don’t fill them with junk food, I do what I can to make things from scratch as much as possible, and we try to make sure they get lots of outdoor exercise. (Let’s face it, my 14 year old just finished up a season of soccer that started in January; she had four nights of two-hour practices every week. Our 11 year old just finished her school year schedule of dance with a minimum of three nights of dance per week. There’s lots of physical activity.) They go to Youth Group and Sunday school at church, we’ve been involved with other homeschoolers for co-ops, they go to birthday parties and hang out with friends when possible.
When I was a teacher, I did see some kids who just weren’t told “no” very often. Their parents never seemed to take my comments about their defiance seriously. And I worried that some boys were being put on medication for ADHD too liberally. I thought that, perhaps, there was an over-diagnosis of the condition. (How many third-grade boys needed to be on meds? I seemed to have a lot in my classes.) I was extremely resistant to medicating my daughter, even though I knew she displayed a lot of the behaviors associated with ADHD, such as being wiggly, touching everything constantly, talking out of turn, lack of organization, etc.
But when I read the article by Caree Santos, I realized that maybe homeschooling didn’t have to feel like pulling teeth every. single. day. Maybe I was needlessly acting the slave driver part. Maybe – just maybe – my daughter couldn’t concentrate through no fault of her own, and she really was trying her best to do things quickly. Maybe it wasn’t my fault, and maybe it wasn’t hers.
And maybe there is something more I can do for her.
Note: I’ve asked my daughter to consider writing about this from her perspective, and asked her to read and approve what I’ve written. She will be contributing to this topic soon.