Confessions of a Mom Who Signed Her Son Up for Football (Don’t Bother Judging Me, I’m Already Judging Myself)

5 10 2015
The football obsession started before his first game in 2011.

The football obsession started before his first game in 2011.

Please allow me to explain myself. Perhaps I’m just trying to make excuses or make myself feel better, but this anti-football (until high school) mother just signed her sixth grader up for football, and I’m still a bit sick to my stomach about it. I’ve read the articles about the dangers of football and passed those articles to my son to read. So why did I do let him play this year when I’ve told him no for the past two years? Honestly, his Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD), with the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and ADHD sprinkled in is why.

This summer, we moved from a place where Cameron knew to a place he doesn’t. He started middle school this school year with not one soul he knows. He does not do well with change, so I thought he’d be the one struggling most with the move, but it turns out his seven-year-old sister was the one crying like I’ve never heard her the night we said good-bye to our house. I should add that we moved only 20 minutes away from our old house, so the kids still go to visit the old neighborhood, sometimes as often as once weekly. I should also add that Cameron’s best and maybe only true friend also moved away from the last district, so Cameron was going to have few solid connections with friends he could trust at his old school.

After the move, Cameron seemed to transition well, although he told me that while he may look fine, he feels like crawling into a ball and screaming most of the time. And he did have some rough days a couple of weeks after the move where he was relentlessly mean to and critical of his sister. He made us promise to never move again, partially because it’s been difficult and partially because he says he loves the new house and he’s happier than he’s ever been. We moved from a tri-level with a one-car garage and close neighbors to a two-story colonial in a small neighborhood with big wooded lots situated in the middle of a country field, and he loves the space. He loves having room to move and run and play. He has even met another kid in the neighborhood and they seem to get along well.

So I signed him up for football because of all of this. I didn’t realize until after I’d done it that this town is hugely into football. This made me very nervous since subcultures freak me out, and I think some parents with kids in sports are dangerously close to a subculture. But I signed him up so he wouldn’t go into his first day blind; he may actually know some kids when he starts school. I signed him up because I know how he struggles with social situations and I want to arm him with everything I can to help him fit in a little. I signed him up because we actually missed the deadline by a lot and he cried and said he knew kids who play sports are more popular and that might help him. I signed him up because someone from the team called us to let us know he could still join even though we were way past the deadline (like by months), and the 3% chance I told Cameron he had to play actually happened. I signed him up because a mom once said to me that her sensory-seeking fifth grader was joining because it was actually a place that he could run into things without being told not to. I don’t have to tell Cameron to keep his hands to himself in football. I signed him up because he is football-obsessed and has wanted to join for years. And maybe the kids on the team will accept him for who he is and maybe even become his friends—even if only one does, it’s a win for our family.

His first week of football, I made a decision. Last year he played flag football and the coaches were really hard on him. They expected him to read a map of plays off his wrist, which works for most kids but not for someone with processing issues. He didn’t know where to go until he actually ran the plays several times, and then he was actually pretty good. The coaches didn’t know how to work with him though, so they were frustrated, as was Cameron. It was painful to watch. This year I made a choice to tell the coaches about how he learns best. When the opportunity arose, I explained his processing issues and that he will learn the plays but may take longer than other kids. I explained that what he has is a “cousin” to Asperger’s and may have actually been diagnosed as such depending on the psychologist. The coach’s eye lit up at this and I felt like I struck a chord. I know that NLD is not Asperger’s but when it comes to explaining it to people who don’t know, it’s easier to say it’s a cousin to it than trying to list all of the things that NLD means to our family. People know Asperger’s; they’ve usually never heard of NLD.

Because Cameron was late to start, he wasn’t allowed to do any contact for his first five practices, which is the norm. This put him right up to the first scrimmage. He forgot to tell us that he had to be there at 7:15 for his 8:00 am game, so we rushed him out the door in 15 minutes immediately after he woke up. Even at 7:15 we were sweating in the sun, watching our recently-awakened son stare into space as the team ran through plays he didn’t know because he hadn’t received the playbook via email because, again, we were so late to sign him up. My husband, Jon, grew frustrated watching Cameron stare at the other teams, the trees, the sky, anywhere except where he should be, so when it was Cameron’s turn to practice a play, Jon actually had to walk away. We heard how the coaches were yelling at the boys for not doing what they were supposed to, and we were prepared for that to happen to Cameron. Natural consequence. Then a miracle happened. When Cameron was up, the coach went to him, looked at him, told him exactly what to do, and said he’d stay there with him while he ran through the play. Cameron caught the ball and had to be reminded what to do next, but was rewarded with “knucks” and a pat on the back from his coach. I cried. I mean not just tears welling up in my eyes, but straight up crying. Who knew such a simple act could conjure up so much emotion? Those little things count so much when you have a child with challenges in any way.

At the first opportunity I had, I thanked the coach and told him how much it meant to me. This is the part that gets a bit hairy… He said he knows Cameron has Asperger’s so he’s going to learn it differently than other kids and some kids don’t respond to his intensity so he is able to bring it down for them. I did not correct him. Literally as I write this, my son is at football practice where they think he has Asperger’s because of me! I didn’t write that on the form I filled out, I wrote NLD, ADHD, SPD. But I’m assuming they didn’t read that. Does this mean I have Munchausen by proxy?

I knew I’d read somewhere that Asperger’s are NLD are interchangeable, so here’s what I found on “NLD on the Web”

(http://www.nldontheweb.org/nldadvancedreading/aspergersdisordernld.html)

       “There is clearly a great deal of overlap between Aspergers Disorder (AD) and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), so much so that it is possible that the symptoms of each describe the same group of children from different perspectives—AD from either a psychiatric/behavioral perspective, and NVLD a neuropsychological perspective. The specific conventions of these diagnoses may lead to a somewhat different group of children meeting diagnostic criteria, but it is not clear that this reflects something ‘true’ in nature. That is, it may only be convention that separates these two groups.”

So that means I’m in the clear, right? It is important to me that he Cameron is accurately “labeled,” but maybe here it doesn’t matter because it’s semantics. Whatever I said to the coaches, they’re seeing it in Cameron and they are helping him grow because of what I pointed out to them.

I should add that the other parents are not a subculture, but rather they sat with their bags of food and sun umbrellas for four hours in the 90 degree heat and watched their sons without saying too much. That made me feel better too. I am so hopeful that the move we made will be a positive one for both of our kids. It was the most emotionally draining, physically exhausting summer ever, which may explain why I had influenza as I wrote this post. So far, uprooting our family seems like a step in the right direction, but it’s too early to know for sure. Cautious optimism…





To IEP or Not to IEP– Question Answered!

5 04 2013

It’s been quite awhile since I’ve written. For one, it is difficult to write during the school year. But second of all, I’m not sure how much I should write about my Cameron, who is no longer a little “noodle” of a child who doesn’t care what I write about him. Well, actually he truly doesn’t care what I write, but as he gets older, I feel like it’s more important for me to censor what I share as not to embarrass him. So, while I may have a bunch of stories in my head that he’s fine with me sharing, I’m not sure that I should. With that said, I do, indeed, have stuff to say… Shocking, I know. This one is a long one, but I think it will be helpful for anyone struggling with the decision of how to get your SPD kiddo help at school.

Cameron and I were keeping a dialogue journal with each other. A dialogue journal is a notebook where you take turns writing to each other.  He had written to me and asked me to read it right that moment, which is odd for him; usually he wants me to read it without him in the room. Seeing that it was grown-up TV time in our house because he was supposed to be in bed, I begrudgingly read about how he was taking the WKCE practice test (the statewide assessment) at school and was asked by his teacher to double-check his work, seeing that he’d finished so quickly. It was clear from what he wrote that his teacher wanted him to check, but Cameron wanted to read instead, so Mr. G politely asked Cameron into the hall to talk with him about it as not to embarrass him. To Cameron, this was a huge deal. He ended his journal entry with a giant “I HATE SCHOOL I HATE SCHOOL” scrawled across one page with pencil marks so dark I’m surprised his pencil didn’t break. I looked up at him and immediately he began to cry. Hard. This was the moment that became clear to me that Cameron needed some help at school. The fact that he’d been this upset about a practice test that he’s more than capable of taking in combination with his frustration with homework and his handwriting made me realize it was time. At 10:00 that night I left a message for the school psychologist at his school to start the evaluation process to determine whether or not Cameron qualified for special education, a decision I’d been struggling with for months before then, and one that his past teachers had alluded to.

Every day I teach students with IEP’s (Individualized Education Program—a legal document that speaks to what children with special needs need to be successful in school), but still I wasn’t sure whether or not he would qualify. His teacher thought the evaluation was a good idea, but I didn’t want Cameron to resent me someday for putting a label on him. All I knew was Cameron hated school, and he needed some help to meet his potential while he was there.

So one day, I just decided to ask Cameron what he thought. I asked him if he knew what special education was. He didn’t, so I explained it and told him that I was thinking about seeing if he was someone who could be included with special education to get some help at school. I told him I was afraid he’d resent me if we went through with it. “Why would I do that?” he asked. Then he said, “I think I want to try that special education thing.” With relief I went forward to write the referral, talk to his school psychologist, the speech pathologist, the teacher, and more. I mentioned all of the quirky things that we see at home, including his disorganization, his sensory-seeking tendencies, his frustration with homework, his handwriting that is “light years” behind his peers, the way he starts a sentences, gets about four or five words into it, and stops to recollect his thoughts, leaving everyone who’s listening to wait (im)patiently for 10 seconds or more, how he struggles to properly/effectively brush his teeth and wash his hair and body, how he cries whenever things change from what he expects, how he obsesses about Abraham Lincoln and repeats what he’s read verbatim, I even mentioned how I think he may be on the border of having Asperger’s Syndrome. It was like I was blogging to his IEP team; maybe I should’ve just given them this website. 

When it came time for the team to determine for which “disability” he would qualify, I knew they were thinking “Other Health Impairment” (OHI), which is what many students with ADHD or SPD have as their label. What I didn’t know until I received an email while working was they were also considering him for “Educational Autism.” Now it was my turn to cry. I mean, I’ve cried a lot when it comes to Cameron—I’ve cried out of frustration, pride, fear for his future, etc., but this time I cried because I thought I’d said too much, and I’d put an “autism” label on my son. Me. I did this. I gave him autism. (This may be a good time to point out that the team would be looking at whether or not he qualified for special education under that label, and did not, by any means, say he had autism—I may have been overreacting a bit- another shocker). I share a petri-dish-sized classroom with a coworker who has become a very close friend, and who also has a son with SPD tendencies. “Cry it out,” she said. So I did. And when I was back together a few minutes later, I called the psychologist, who explained that from what we talked about it sounded like this could be a possible label. (So, as I’d expected, it was my fault.) However, the benefit of teaching special education is that I know that there is criteria set by the state for whether or not a child qualifies, I had already looked up the criteria for Educational Autism, and I knew without being biased that it was a far stretch to say that Cameron qualified. The other benefit of teaching special education is that the psychologist believed me and took that label off the table. So just as quickly as I gave Cameron potential autism, I took it away. 

A few months later, it was IEP time. We gathered in a room of many, including the school psychologist, his teacher, a social worker, a social worker intern, a speech pathologist, an occupational therapist, a teacher of students with Learning Disabilities, the principal, my husband, and me. It was overwhelming to be on the opposite side of the table, and I didn’t know prior to that how long initial IEP meetings were. By the time the students come to me in middle school, it’s clear that they have hearing loss; I’ve never taken part in an initial meeting.

The meeting was LOOONNG. To sum it up in a long paragraph, everyone said wonderful things about Cameron and raved about how delightful, sweet, smart, funny, and observant he is. Some of my favorite highlights included when the social worker observed him taking a book out of his desk to lick it before putting it back (yes, he licked a book), not long after using pencils like drumsticks and saying, “Watch me Rock-N-Roll!” to his group. Another highlight was when the LD teacher helped him organize his desk one day, only to find 21 books that he’d hoarded away like a squirrel saving nuts for winter. I had known he lked to read while he was supposed to be focusing on the teacher, but 21 books?! Long story sort of short, he didn’t qualify for special education. What made the meeting even longer, though, was the discussion about how many accommodations his teacher was doing for him every day in the classroom. His teacher is wonderful, and we’re so grateful and blessed that he understands Cameron so well. He allows Cameron to use a computer when writing papers or spelling tests, he prints out the assignments that Cameron is supposed to write down each day so we can read them, he even went back into Cameron’s WKCE booklet to make sure he’d filled in the tiny circles completely so he would be accurately scored. He’s fantastic. Unfortunately, not all teachers differentiate as he does. I was worried that if he didn’t have something in writing, all of the hard work that he does would be lost in years to come by teachers who don’t feel they need to help him because there is nothing in writing.  So, for students like Cameron who have a diagnosis of ADHD, as well as SPD, there is the 504 Plan- which is a list of accommodations that are needed for a student to have equal access to learning in environments equal to their peers. After discussing the need and qualification for the 504 Plan (about 30 minutes worth), my dear husband spoke up to ask if we were “pushing it” and maybe almost enabling Cameron by providing him with accommodations different from others in the class. I appreciated where he was coming from, but at 90 minutes into the meeting, I (and seemingly the others on the team) agreed that while the accommodations are being implemented this year without a 504 Plan in place, it’s good to have it in writing for years to come.  My husband later informed me that he was having a hard time “reading the room,” and that he wasn’t sure if people were just agreeing to accommodate Cameron’s crazy parents who are demanding more from the school and less from their child or if they actually agreed that Cameron needed help.  What sold me on the 504 most of all was when his principal said he was the same way as Cameron and wished he would have had a team putting this together for him. 

So, Cameron has been fitted with an appropriate 504 Plan, which will be revisited annually to make sure it works for him.  He is much happier at school now, as I think it opened everyone’s eyes to who he is and how he learns. I like to think of him as a squirrely, book-hoarding, child who needs a bit of help to show what incredible potential he has.  He is great, and with help that hopefully lessens over time, he will someday be a happy, productive, responsible adult, which I think (hope) is what all parents want for their children.





What is Normal?

20 07 2012

Read the rest of this entry »








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