As I stand looking around the room of my 12-year-old daughter I am reminded of what a creative and bright child she is. Her bookshelves are filled with her collections of Tolkein, Rowling and C.S. Lewis books. Collectibles from the Brian Jacques series are strategically placed to make the shelf come to life. From the ceiling fan, she has hung green lace that almost looks like a climbing vine in the center of her room. There in the corner of her desk is a collection of journals; each filled with a different chapter of her life.
I know I shouldn’t, but occasionally I browse through the journals that hold her creative writing. I don’t do it because I’m nosy or looking for something. I do it because I stand in awe of my 12-year-old ADHD/LD in written language daughter and what she has become.
You see, not too long ago, after a horrible experience with a state mandated writing test, she quit writing. I don’t mean she stopped writing as much -I mean she stopped writing. The act of putting things on paper has always been difficult for her. “What” she was saying has always been creative, but she does it her way. “Her way” earned state honors at the Young Author Competition that year. “Her way” produced poetry well beyond her years that could make you wonder how someone her age could know so much about life. “Her way” was great and awesome and unique. “Her way” included the use of a computer to help with the readability issues present with her disability. “Her way” included Dictaphones for lengthy assignments.
So trying to fit as I’ve heard it put “her ocean of thoughts through the single water hose allowed by the state writing test” sent her over the brink. Being given a single prompt and having to plan, write and edit in a small time frame is difficult for most adults. You can teach basic writing skills such as grammar and sentence structure, even spelling - but creativity? I don’t think so. What I do think, is that you can squelch creativity in children by forcing them to write in a “canned” format.
It has always been difficult as a parent of a child with learning disabilities, to find support and assistance. Most of my support has come in the form of conversations at the skating rink or the beach as parents discuss the struggles we each face. There has never been a time where support systems for parents with learning disabled children were more needed.
With the “Leave No Child Behind Act” and in our state the “ABC’s Accountability” program, the potential is there to turn children into numbers. As parents, we know that our children are so much more than numbers that fit neatly on a data sheet. The intent of all of these programs is a good one. The intent is to make sure that all children, including the learning disabled, reach grade level expectations. The problems surface in the implementation of these new guidelines. There is such a rush to get them in place that everything is unclear especially for children with LD.
For example, when my daughter did not meet state expectations for the writing test, there were no clear guidelines for what the school would do, what I should do, or what would happen to my daughter. It didn’t matter that she was a straight A student with her only modifications limited to testing situations.
If we are going to hold the students accountable, we have got to be accountable to them as well. If we put guidelines in place that say they must reach this level, then we must give them the tools to do so AND have measures in place in case they don’t. Beyond that, we have got to find a way to provide support for parents on the local level. IEP meetings are often intimidating and parents aren’t always clear about what options are available. Schools, for fear of liability issues, are reluctant to offer too much guidance to parents. So where does that leave the children?
Our children are treading water, trying to hold their heads above the circling tides of rapidly changing standards. They need a life raft. Children who are learning disabled are not numbers that will fit neatly on data sheets. That would be far too simple. We’re going to have to work together as parents, educators and legislators to not lose sight of the child in our quest to “Leave No Child Behind.”
As I look around her room now, I know what an intelligent and truly gifted child my daughter is today. She will never fit neatly in a cookie cutter mold of what an ‘educated child’ should be, but neither did a lot of amazing authors, scientists, politicians, Nobel Prize Winners or other people who have contributed so much to society. I look around with a great deal of pride at the things that make my daughter so much MORE than a number on a data sheet.
Poetry by Kim Smith’s daughter
(reprinted with permission)
Some People Don’t Know
Some people don’t know
But as I return home
I sit among the branches of a dogwood
Gazing out into the sunset.
As the leaves whisper stories
Of the earth’s existence and loves of one another.
As they finish I walk to the water.
As I step onto clear land
The trees start to sing…
As I dance among the warm mist
We dance~hearts filled with joy
Among the mists of our minds.
Now I am back as always
Wishing the trees would sing once more.
As I sit on the cold ground
As I sit on the cold ground
I look at the sun.
Flowers and others in a garden
Listening to their thoughts
They think about darkness,
Light and beauty of the earth.
As I speak with them
I think “All my friends is what you are.”