My Struggling Special Needs Son

My son Conner after a long day of getting make-up work. We were getting something to eat at the deli before digging in to 4 hours of working to raise his grade in 2 classes.

My son Conner has had and will probably always have struggles in school.  He was born at 24 weeks, weighed 1 lb. 8 oz., and is severely nearsighted.  At first we thought that this miracle child had only those things that would keep him from leading a somewhat normal life, but then came asthma, a low processing speed, ADD, and several other problems regarding motor skills and writing.

His education background has not been the best, either.  He did not attend pre-school, but went right in to kindergarten with a first year teacher who had absolutely no control of her class.  My wife arrived one day to pick him up and saw chaotic children running rampant and two little boys in the corner showing each other their unmentionables.  Conner was sitting at a desk with his head down because he was being punished for “not following instructions.”

We changed schools, and he now attends 6th grade at the school where I teach, but he is struggling to adjust to middle school life.  We work very hard and his teachers work very hard, but he struggles to turn in work, takes three times as long to do his homework as the other students, has trouble writing complete sentences and his spelling is not the best.  He is floating toward a failing grade in two classes even though he is surrounded by encouraging people who want to see him succeed.

The future is what worries me.

In an article in the New York Times posted only 5 days ago, it was reported that if something is not done, special education along with thousands of federal programs that most Americans rely upon will be cut drastically.  Special education alone will be cut by $2.3 billion.  My son’s state tests are modified to suit his learning disabilities, but starting next year this will change so that he will be tested without any modifications to his test.  This last one is a move, at least in the state of Oklahoma, to railroad the human right of a free education regardless of disability (see assessment of fulfillment – adaptability). Not to mention the fact that Individual Education Plans, set forth by an agreement between parents and school districts, are, according to IDEA 2004 required to give these students modified tests.  The State of Oklahoma will now override these guidelines even though federal guidelines trump the state guidelines.

Are we practicing social Darwinism here?  Where are the people speaking up for these students in our legislature?  I have taught students over the years who have needed a few modifications to their work to help them succeed, and I have watched them go on to college or other pursuits and they are successful, productive adults.  Are we seeing a move to quietly disenfranchise these hard working students who also have dreams of overcoming their difficulties to achieve greatness?

I will continue to work with Conner to ensure that he does what is required of him, whatever that may entail.  Like any parent who wants the best for their children, I spend a lot of time praising him for the things he does well because often he feels like the things he does wrong outweigh those more positive things.  It is a daily struggle with homework and making sure he turns in his assignments.  Another part of the equation is that he is a 6th grader, for he is facing more and more responsibilities every day.

All I can do is work hard with him, pray for him, love him, and encourage him to do better.  I will do my best, because deep down I think he wouldn’t have it any other way.

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11 thoughts on “My Struggling Special Needs Son

  1. I came across your site after searching for writing tips and this post caught my attention. My daughter has had special needs in the past. She was 2 1/2 before she said her first word. At 3 she only said a few words. (She would stand and scream when she wanted something because she couldnt communicate) I had just changed her pediatrician who suggested we get her tested for nutritional deficiencies and sensitivities with a lab test called NutEval by Genova Diagnostics. She was severely deficient in vitamin B which is needed for speech development. My daughter had a lot of other issues but the point I’m trying to make is how important nutriton is to developing children. She was a healthy eater but her body couldn’t absorb the nutrients. Six months after giving her what she needed her speech improved exponentially. Most doctors do not look into this. I wish you luck with your son.

  2. I worry about the future of special education here, as well. As a TA who has worked with severely challenged children off and on over the past few decades, I’ve seen a lot of changes, some of which do not seem to have been for the benefit of all children involved. There is a lot of ‘sweeping things under the carpet’, ignoring problems with the system, and funding cutbacks. There are many teachers who do not have the experience or education to deal with special kids in their classes and with more inclusion happening here, I foresee a lot of disruptions that will not help either the high functioning students or those who are struggling. I hate to think about those children who are teetering on the edge of success and failure. Without the support they need, there will be many who won’t make the grade.

    Good luck with your son, Roger. Know that you are doing the best you can. There might be organizations where you are that will fight for the rights of special needs students. With a little research, you could discover them and challenge them to fight for funding.

  3. You know, I think you’re amazing. Everytime I read your blog, I find out something else you do. Just writing a book takes time, dedication and sacrifice. Then it turns out you are a school teacher. My dad was a school teacher, he was always busy with marking, lesson planning etc. Always. And he didn’t write a book. THEN it turns out you have four children (and a wife), AND you spend a lot of time with them and now, one of them have ‘special needs’. I have now deducted that you don’t sleep because how do you do it? I am a single mum with two teenage boys, work as a massage therapist and run a second company from home, plus try to write my book etc. I am stressed. You don’t even sound stressed?
    Impressive. You have deserved that Superman cape.

  4. You know, I think you’re amazing. Everytime I read your blog, I find out something else that you do. Just writing a book takes time, dedication and sacrifice. Then it turns out you are a school teacher as well. My dad was a school teacher, he was always busy with marking, lesson planning etc. Always. And he didn’t write a book. THEN it turns out you have four children (and a wife), AND you spend a lot of time with them and now, one of them have ‘special needs’. I have now deducted that you don’t sleep because how do you do it? I am a single mum with two teenage boys, work as a massage therapist and run a second company from home, plus try to write my book etc. I am stressed, I’m crashing, I am tired. You don’t even sound stressed?
    Impressive. You have deserved that Superman cape! 😀

  5. Feeling for you. It’s always a struggle and maybe harder when you’re in the classroom yourself– easier to find fault with other teachers! Try to give him systems that help him stay organized. Thanks for sharing.

  6. My son struggled in school also. He was labelled “lazy” “unmotivated,”, etc. In fourth grade, we finally discovered that he had severe dysgraphia, processing information issues and other learning difficulties. There is so much misunderstanding about these kids. They are not stupid. Every child deserves a fair chance at supporting himself and fulfilling his potential, whatever that may be.
    I educated myself on federal laws and state laws and fought for my son’s legal rights every step of the way. I am sure that national groups (Learning Disabilities Association) will be fighting the State of Oklahoma’s ill-conceived laws, which appear to contradict federal law. There are no deep pocketed lobbyists for special education kids (whose difficulties are unique, not one size fits all). There are only parents, like you and I, who must educated and advocate for our children with local school districts, state and federal legislatures. We owe it to our own children, but also to all those children, whose parents, for whatever reason cannot help their children.

    You are doing all the right things for Conner. He’s so lucky to have you.

    PS My son, at 20, is finding his way and as he matures, his self-understanding has grown. We indulged and encouraged any interest he had growing up: pumpkin growing, bass fishing, mountain bike riding. These interests were also fun unlike the drudgery and torture that school was for him.

  7. As a parent of a child who battled cancer and survived, I often look with wonder upon those of you who deal with every day battles that do not go away. My daughter suffered and that time period in our lives was horrible, but it was temporary. We are now a few months away from being declared “officially” cancer free!

    Parents such as yourself who have children with such significant issues that are not temporary have my greatest respect. Keep on being the great parent that you obviously are, and know that we are praying too!

  8. Hang in there, Roger. You and Conner will get through this rough time.
    My eldest daughter went through a terrible few years at about the same age. Her psychological issues prevented her from functioning in a classroom. We struggled through a hellacious 6th grade year where I slowly watched my beautiful girl fade away. She had caring teachers that tried to protect her from the other children but, there was only so much they could do. Long story short, I home schooled her for 7th and 8th grade and she re-entered public school in high school. With the help of daily exercise and pharmaceuticals, she is now a successful college student.
    Through our experiences, we met dozens of families struggling with all sorts of challenges. You are obviously a dedicated teacher and know what your child needs to succeed. Keep fighting for him. You may not win many battles but Conner will know you are is champion.

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