Wednesday, April 11, 2007

A Powerful and Needed Alliance

What a Difference a Year Makes
My wife and I had a wonderful Easter with our 16-year-old son. This time last year, my son was socially isolated at his 2,000-student high school, on the verge of academic failure, so depressed over his situation that he did not want to see his two longtime friends on weekends, disinterested, and defiant and angry at home. He had lost his natural smile and our entire family was in crisis. This year, it has all changed, after we moved Andrew to a small high school that specializes in meeting the needs of kids with special learning challenges. This school has a student body of 75, half boys and half girls. Andrew has a group of friends to hang out with. He is learning to socialize with girls. He is passing all his classes. Like every child at this school, he is playing team sports, which he loves. He is fun to be with and he enjoys being with his family. And his natural smile and sense of humor have returned.

To me, this says we have to appreciate each positive moment, and when things are going poorly, if we take planned and careful action to change the circumstances, there may be good things later on. We greatly appreciate this moment. It could all fall apart tomorrow, although we believe that we are moving forward and should not return to where we were at last year. We are reasonably confident about the future, but we know many challenges remain. We never know the circumstances we will face, and each of us uses different strategies to cope. I wish you Godspeed as your circumstances change, hopefully for the better.

Dealing with Schools
At a parents' retreat at my son's school last month, several parents were in tears describing how many school employees, at the large public high schools their children previously attended, just don't understand the emotional toil children and families go through. We recognize that school employees can't get too involved in every child's situation, particularly in schools with large student bodies, but we do have great frustrations.

A CHADD chapter coordinator wrote us last week about her experience with her child's school. She wrote: "The meeting at [my daughter’s] school did not go well yesterday. I left there really frustrated after about only 20 minutes, [which was all the time] that they had planned to give me. Not all of my issues were addressed....I just want to make them aware of the fact that I am watching everything they do." Watching is unlikely to be enough.

Our upcoming annual conference has a one-day track for teachers, "Teachers as Allies," a philosophy expressed by a National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) publication. CHADD has been a wonderful advocate for the legal rights of kids with special needs. CHADD community support groups provide safe places where parents (and kids) can share their frustrations and experiences in dealing with schools. Sometimes teachers are part of these support groups. In a few model programs, CHADD chapters have become learning allies with teachers and school officials to improve education for children with special needs. Last fall we published the CHADD Educator's Manual, a guide mailed to every public school in America. The manual was written from a teacher’s perspective, to help teachers. We strive to be a resource and a help to school officials and teachers.

But we also need to motivate teachers and school officials to be more understanding and responsive to the emotions of kids and their families. Life can be so difficult, and an unresponsive and non-communicative teacher really adds to the burden of the child and family. An understanding and responsive teacher can make such a difference.

Anniversary Gala Dinner
This year marks CHADD's 20th anniversary. Part of our celebration will be a gala dinner event during our annual conference. The conference will be held November 7-10 and the gala dinner is November 8. The conference will be at the Hyatt Regency Crystal City in Virginia, just across the river from Washington, DC. We have an exciting program planned with a speaker lineup that includes leading national legislators and most of the CHADD Hall of Fame recipients.

I will be keeping blog readers informed regarding special speakers and conference participants. I hope that you can join us at conference. You can learn more and sign up to receive updates about the event through CHADD’s Web site. Registration begins in June.


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