From the time she started to learn to read your daughter has struggled, saying that the words jump around the page. This effects her learning immeasurable for five school years, numerous teachers, specialists and tutors before she is finally diagnosed with a problem focusing. She requires glasses to help her focus on the page.
As long as you can remember, your child has had difficulty concentrating and staying on task. He is quiet but easily distracted. He finds it hard to retain information or apply something he has just learnt to a new problem. He has also struggled to make friends. Completing homework takes him twice (or more) as long than you’ve been told it should, and that is with your constant help and attention. Sometimes he acts out, assuming the role of the class clown, to hide his struggles. On and off, he has been provided extra assistance in class, you’ve had behavioural communication books between school and home since he was four, he’s seen the school psychologist since he was six. He is now ten. And he has only now been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.
These are brief glimpses into two real life examples that friends have recently had shared with me. The following is an excerpt from a message I received from the mother of the child used in the first example;
“I have told you about the learning difficulties she has had and all of the different specialists she has been to, to try and figure out why. We have finally found the issue, it’s her eyes. She has focusing problems which glasses have fixed and now her level of acceleration is phenomenal. Anyway, the point I’m getting to, is that it was the fifth eye specialist that I took her to, and the only one that diagnosed this issue. If the first one had diagnosed her, when she was 5 years old instead of year 5, she would be in a much better position now. Also, we have had the money, time and will to continue to search for help, imagine the children whose parents accept the first diagnosis, “Just get used to the fact that she is never going to be normal,” which is what I was told. Or their kids are ‘labelled’ by their teachers and peers, which in turn creates life long repercussions. We are lucky that we stumbled onto a wonderful doctor and I will forever be in his debt. I now have a daughter who is exploding with confidence, and catching up rapidly. Every one has noticed a remarkable difference in her demeanor, it has made her so much happier and me too, to see her this way.”
Whether it be academic struggles, behavioral concerns or dealing with social issues such as bullying, there will be times when, as parents, we are required to act on behalf of our children, a process – as you can see in the examples above – that can be ongoing for many years. This important role of advocate certainly doesn’t cease once they begin at school. YOU are so important to your child’s learning, growth and development, whatever their age.
I remember a healthy discussion amongst a group of educators about which was more important to a child’s learning and development – the knowledge a parent holds of their own child versus the more generalised knowledge of child learning and development that a trained educator accumulates through study and experience.
There is no denying that a well trained, experienced educator with a passion for teaching and learning knows a lot about children. But there is also no denying that a parent knows their own child better than anyone else in the world. A parent sees their child in ways, times and places that an educator will never be privileged to see. This is something I have always believed but have seen and felt so much more keenly since becoming a parent myself. And that is why the observations of BOTH the trained educator and the parent are so important when it comes to formulating any sort of plan around a child’s learning and development.
Next time you hesitate to comment or ask questions out of concern as being labelled as “that” parent, remember these stories. You may have to ask again and again and again until you find the right answer for your child. You may have to question, and even discard, the suggestions of a range of professionals. You might feel like it’s hopeless and not know where to turn next. When you feel this way, remind yourself that just as our love for our child has no end, so it is with our role as advocate for their best interests.
Do you have a story to share about advocating for your child with teachers or other child development specialists?