Sometimes you have to make a really hard decision for your kids. You gather all of the information you can, talk to your spouse, your parents, and your best friends (in my case ad nauseam) until you are certain you are making the best decision possible. You make the choice with love, cross your fingers, and make it so. You may never know if it was the “right” decision. All you can do is wait and hope.
Approximately three months and three days after we made the very difficult decision to pull my fourth grade son out of public school and put him into a school for children with learning and social issues, I got my answer. It wasn’t a whisper or a hint. It was a full-out shout: “YOU DID THE RIGHT THING—GO YOU!”
Allow me to explain.
We pulled my son out of public school because as he got older, it became increasingly more difficult for him to function successfully in that environment. Socially he always struggled, but the older he got, the more other kids were aware of his awkwardness. They said things. The older he got, the more aware he became, too. Sometimes kids wouldn’t even say things directed at him, but he misinterpreted them and got his feelings hurt almost every day.
Academically he just shut down. He’s brilliant. He was on “The Today Show” when he was 7 because he knew every fact about the presidents of the United States. He taught himself to read and spell at the age of 4. However when it came to school he didn’t engage. His teachers had to repeatedly ask him to answer a question in class. As the reading comprehension difficulty increased, it became clear that he couldn’t do higher-level thinking like inferencing and main ideas. He was in jeopardy of failing the standardized test for third grade. He felt like a bad student. It was not how I envisioned his academia was going to unfold.
So we had him tested—a lot. We found out he had language processing and auditory processing issues. We made the tough choice to pull him out of public school mid-year. We agonized over it. He didn’t want to do it. He started in February.
One day in May his school was closed for conferences and IEP meetings. His old school teacher invited him to spend the afternoon with his old friends. While he was there, I would go to the conference and then come back to get him. As we walked into his old school he got very nervous. He saw his old speech therapist. She asked how his new school was. He was shy but answered her, “I like it a lot. We have no school today. I’m here to visit Mrs. Quint’s class.”
We knocked on the door. A student answered, shouting, “He’s here!” The class yelled “JOEY!” I absolutely wanted to cry, but I didn’t because it would have embarrassed him. Mrs. Quint told Joey they had been waiting for him. They were going to have lunch in the classroom (instead of the cafeteria) and arrange their desks to put him in the middle since he was the guest of honor. Joey’s friend from another class had heard he was coming and requested that he could join them. They had playground time and activities planned for the afternoon. I left with a very happy heart. On I went to the conference.
My mom met me there because my husband had to work. We met with two of his new teachers. They went over Joey’s test results. We laughed together, in amazement, at his math and verbal scores. Then we talked about his weaknesses. This school has five kids in a classroom, so the teachers got to know him incredibly well, very quickly. We talked about his work with reading comprehension. We talked about his social struggles, and they suggested a social program we might try to help with what they were already working on in school. As their grand finale they showed us a graph. This graph showed his progress with auditory processing in a program called Fast ForWord. The computer-based program slows down sounds to help retrain his brain to process them better. Then it increases the speed and number of sounds as the student starts to hear (and indicate) the differences. The first 18 days Joey didn’t get it. He didn’t hear one sound different than the other. The line on the chart flat-lined. But then something clicked. His brain caught on. The next 18 sessions his levels increased every day until he was right on track, ready for the next step of the program.
“We see it in the classroom,” his teacher said. “He’s paying more attention because he is processing more of what we are saying.” I remembered that Joey’s private speech therapist had recently noticed that the past few weeks he was more relaxed, cracking more jokes, and flying through exercises that he had struggled with. “It’s just going to get better from here,” the teacher exclaimed.
My mom cried. I cried. This was incredible news. We had been told there wasn’t much that could be done for auditory processing. This innovative software, which wasn’t available in public school, was no doubt helping him more than any of us could. The teacher handed me a copy of the test results.
On the way out of the school my mother thanked everyone (in her very sweet, very Jewish Grandma way). She cried to everyone and thanked them for the best Mother’s Day present she could have asked for. “Great, because I didn’t get you anything,” I said as I handed her the copy of the test results.
I left his new school, tears in my eyes, and headed to his old school to pick him up. He bounced out to the car with a potted plant he had made me for Mother’s Day. He said that he had a great time, and that he was glad he could see everyone before the summer. We both had a great afternoon, with closure that we both obviously needed. I’ll try to remember that feeling the next time I have to make an incredibly difficult decision. I probably won’t, so I’m apologizing in advance to my family and friends.