11 Jan 2019

You are the best parents for your child(ren): so he's different, and it shone- because Love never fails.

When we think of kids shining - in our performance-oriented world - it's easy to look for trophies, accolades, performances and grades.

During the recent school holidays, my son invited his classmate over thrice. I have not met this boy before, but was glad mine is getting off the couch! We arranged for the boy to make his way to the train station. I was going to meet my son for lunch, and then we would pick his friend up. Then I remembered I needed to get the groceries so we revised our plan to include doing the grocery. Instead of having my regular one minion, this time I had two to push the cart! 

The boys talked incessantly. Boys! O well, somewhere between the bread and the cheese, I overheard mine telling his friend, "my family is very supportive of me...". I am not fully sure what they were talking about, and it seemed unlikely that they were comparing family profiles. I tucked the little gem in my now warmed bosom. 

When I pulled out the gem to examine it, I marvel. This is why the simple statement means so much.

My son does not shine, very much or very often. In fact, going by the usual parameters, he does not shine at all. He's never brought home As, received heaps of praise from teachers or get glowing approvals from peers and other parents. 

In fact, last year, as a Secondary school kid, he had some of his worst school experiences.

Our parenting and family dynamics are far from perfect. His older sister often runs out of patience with him. 

But the Bible says: Love never fails.

He can fail his exam. He can fail at meeting the expectations of a society bent on conformity and performance. He can fail at figuring out his best and almost daily, he fails to remember stuff!

But as long as we love him, we tie a chord of safety around him where his failures will never be final.

I believe this is what he feels when those words emerged, that we are supportive of him. He shines from the love he feels. It keeps him afloat in a storm-tossed reality that is common for boys who tend towards impulsivity, hyperactivity, and anger.

The following explains what it's like for boys like him:

It’s a sad fact that many students with LD or ADHD have more failures than successful moments in school, and this affects their attitude toward learning and their behavior. A student with impediments to learning needs a developmentally appropriate level of knowledge about his own cognitive profile. Without it, he is likely to attribute his lack of success to a lack of ability or intelligence.
Repeated bouts of fear, frustration, and failure in school create stress that builds up over time. This state of mind is actually neurologically damaging. It impairs brain function by fouling up the brain’s chemistry and even shrinking critically important neural brain tissue, making problems with learning and attention worse.
Chronic stress decreases memory and cognitive flexibility, as it increases anxiety and vigilance. This ratchets up a student’s alert level and gives rise to a protective defensiveness. As a result, too much energy is put into escaping the threat by avoidance, resistance, or negativity.

When teachers, administrators, and parents misread this behavior as willful or oppositional—not the defensive, protective stance of a student trying to avoid looking inadequate—they compound the problem by casting the student as a bad kid. Most students would rather be thought of as a “troublemaker” or a “class clown” than as stupid, and many, therefore, live up to their reputations.

Faced with real or perceived fear, we respond by fighting or fleeing. This is not a conscious choice; under stress, the so-called fear centers deep within our brain (most notably the amygdala) go on high alert.
When the fear centers of the brain are activated, the area of the cortex in the front part of the brain, called the prefrontal cortex, is de-activated. The prefrontal cortex, along with the basal ganglia and the thalamus, controls the executive functions (organizing, planning, and executing tasks efficiently) that are critical to learning. In kids who are already at risk for academic difficulty because of ADHD, the secondary impact of stress puts them in a tailspin. Just when they need this important part of the brain, it shuts down. When stress goes up, cognitive ability goes down. 

In fact, research shows that chronic stress is associated with a larger amygdala and a decrease in the size of the cerebral cortex, suggesting that repeated, highly negative experiences actually re-form the architecture of our brain.
The mental relationship a child has with a challenging task in great part determines how he or she deals with what comes his or her way. When kids believe that they have little control over a task, and they are about to look ignorant or incompetent (yet again), this triggers the stress response. When a kid’s brain is sending the message that “This is too difficult! There’s no way I can do this!”, fear centers go on high alert, and the thinking part of the brain shuts down in the service of survival. It’s a circular, self-perpetuating cycle of fear, avoidance, and escape.

Some days when I think about how hard it can be for children like him, I feel so broken, and so helpless.

But if I, the parent, the adult, cannot be that North Star, that stability, that strength, and that clarity, what hope will he have?

We have had many honest, vulnerable, conversations over the years. Often with tears. Frequently wrapped in silence and then a prayer.

I have wondered about trauma, questioned the system, petitioned the teachers. Then, I find I am alone, again. No one has answers, and certainly, no one can 'fix' this. 

It is our journey to embrace.
It is our quest to embark on.
It is our adventure to hack.

With God, by our side.

We sometimes don't work well as a team either. Our assessments vary. The father, the sister and I don't always agree. That can add to the difficulty. 

Yet- one day at a time, one meltdown to the next... we keep taking the next step. We keep coming back. We step back into the ring. 

My son's simple statement tells me that Grace will win the day, that Love truly won't fail, that family is about sticking by each other.

the lil warrior

He, made in the image of God, a precious gift and trust to us, is worth all the prayers, reading, observation, conversation, planning, and hoping.

I cannot see how it will come together. But sparkly moments like this one tell me there is a bright, fierce Light within. It will break forth one day.


What's your story of love?


In case you think your child is stressed at school, look out for these signs:

> Refusal to do the work (passive or aggressive negativity)

> Devaluation of the task (“This is so stupid”)

> Acting up or acting out to direct attention away from the challenging task

> Acting “in” or becoming sad and withdrawn

> Exhibiting signs of anxiety (sweaty palms, tremors, headaches, difficulty breathing)

> Becoming engrossed in a task in which he is successful or one that’s fun (refusing to stop writing a story or doing a drawing, turn off a video game, or to take off a headset and stop listening to his favorite music)

> Efforts to encourage (“I know you can do this”) are met with more resistance

> Asking an adult to stay close and help with every problem (over-dependence)

How to de-stress.
Neuroscientist and Nobel laureate Eric Kandel, M.D., explained that just as fear, distress, and anxiety change the brain to generate sequences of destructive behaviors, the right interventions turn the cycle around. That’s what the DE-STRESS model aims to accomplish. 

It includes the following steps:

> Define the condition. 
Make sure that the adults involved in the child’s life understand and agree on the cause of the challenges. If there are “dueling diagnoses,” valuable energy is wasted on disagreements, legal challenges, and “doc-shopping” to resolve differences of opinion. The adults need to come to some consensus about the child’s condition. A plan built on guesses or misinformation is destined to fail.

> Educate. 
Informed adults (parents, psychologists, teachers) need to educate the child about the nature of his/her challenges. Only an informed child can be a self-advocate.

> Speculate. 
Think about how the child’s strengths and assets, as well as his challenges, will impact his prospects going forward. Think ahead: What’s going to get in the way of success and what should be done to minimize disappointments and derailments?

> Teach. 
Educate the child about how to use strategies that will address his specific needs and maximize his success. Give the student the tools he needs to take this bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground.

>Reduce the risk. 
Create learning environments that focus on success and that minimize the risk of failure (small classes, individualized attention and support, providing time and space to reinforce learning, decreasing distractions).

> Exercise. 
There is scientific evidence that physical activity reduces stress. Make sure that the student is engaged in a regular program of physical activity.

> Success. 
Replace doubt with confidence by creating a learning environment that allows the student to experience success more often than failure. Make sure that fear, frustration, and failure are overshadowed by successes. Show the child that confidence and control are by-products of being competent. Help the child internalize a mantra: “Control through competence.”

> Strategize. 
Use what you and your child have learned about achieving success in order to plan ahead. Find opportunities to confirm that confidence and a stress-reducing sense of control come naturally from feeling competent. Teachers and parents should make learning from errors part of the plan, and help the child move from strength to strength.

Unless students have the opportunity to learn skills that allow them to bypass or overcome learning weaknesses, they are likely to exhibit the fight-or-flight response. Fortunately, the changes in neuronal circuitry associated with chronic stress are reversible in a healthy, resilient brain. 

Appropriate interventions like the ones mentioned above are simple, cost no money, and can result in re-setting the brain to a healthy state. Looking at stress through this lens will lead to better learning, enhanced self-esteem, and improved behavior.

The ADHD/LD label is not as disabling as one’s view of the label’s meaning.

Students who know they have a learning disability but who identify with the negative aspects of that label experience what researchers Claude M. Steele, Ph.D., and Joshua Aronson, Ph.D., call “stereotype threat.” 

Kids worry constantly that they will do something to confirm the stereotype that students with ADHD/LD are less competent than other kids.

Gabrielle Rappolt-Schlichtmann, Ed.D., and Samantha Daley, Ed.D., M.Ed., at the Center for Applied Special Technology, in Wakefield, Massachusetts…. have found that when students in a research project have to identify as having a learning disability before starting an academic task, they perform more poorly than a similar group of students who are not asked if they have a learning disability. Some take this as evidence that it is the label itself that is disabling, and make a case for not using it.

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