One of the hardest things about being a parent is watching your child struggle. It's tough having to stand by helplessly as the outside world distorts the way your precious kid sees themselves. It's gut-wrenching hearing them say things like, "I'm so stupid! I'm dumb! Why couldn't I be born smarter!"
Worst of all is when they really truly believe it - that just breaks your heart.
School is a pretty tough place to be sometimes. There's the fitting-in-socially struggle (and coming up against the kind of nasty kids who whisper things like "faggot" and"dumb-ass" when they think nobody's watching).
Even if your self-esteem is pretty robust, that can be pretty hard to take on a daily basis. Especially when the Kids Code of Silence has drummed into you: "Don't be a snitch".
So you suffer in silence and your parents are left wondering why you are moody and anxious and reluctant to get out of bed each morning.
That would be enough to deal with on its own.
But then there's the actual schoolwork. Academic effort. Maths. English. Science.
All the subjects that require you to write and calculate and remember and reason and recall endless facts and methods and weird names for things. And then they test you and grade you and compare you to everyone else in the class/grade/country.
At that point, when you know you've tried so hard to learn the stuff they've been trying to teach you, well those test-results can be pretty soul-destroying.
Some kids just struggle at school, full stop.
I have kids like that. And the further into school they get, the more difficult they find it, the more anxious they become and the more trouble I have getting them up every morning.
My kids have my brain. The dyslexic bit that makes remembering stuff difficult, that makes maths numbers slide out of your head like slippery fish. The kind of brain that makes you feel like you're forever missing the point, not quite fitting in. The kind of brain that needs to experience and see and do before you can understand something new. The kind of brain that gets confused by long technical explanations. It's called a low working memory, and slow processing speed (dyslexic traits).
On top that my kids have ADHD. Yep, that's brand new information, and it makes SO MUCH SENSE. (They are highly physical, easily distracted, easily bored, passionate, impulsive, emotional and high energy). But this post is not about that.
This post is about a conversation I had with my son the other day as I attempted to drive him to school (late) in the middle of rush hour. His school is a half hour bus ride away, so when he missed it I had to take him, at the busiest time of the morning.
Every road we turned down had traffic backed up, jammed, not moving.
Rather than sitting stuck in traffic, going nowhere, I turned the car around, tried another road.
More traffic backed up! This was worse than usual. Was it caused by an accident? Road works? Who knew!
So we took another detour, tried another route.
As we drove, we talked.
He told me how he felt about school, why he didn't want to go. He told me how he got some grades back the day before, and had compared his grades to those of his classmates. He told me how he watched others in his class quickly clicking onto a new maths concept, while he sat there in confusion with his brain fizzing. He told me how disappointed he was when he worked really hard on an English project and thought he'd done well... until he got his results.
He felt like it just wasn't worth trying. Like he couldn't ever get it.
"Why can't I be smart? Why am I so dumb?" he said.
And my heart broke for him as I pulled another u-turn and tried another road.
All these detours, all this blocked traffic is exactly what happens in my brain - and his.
We hit a mental road block and have a choice: Stay stuck in traffic or try another way.
Again and again it happens.
But if we keep refusing to stay stuck, if we keep turning around and trying another route, WE WILL GET THERE EVENTUALLY!
So that's what I told my son. My frustrated, discouraged, brilliant son who is a genius with a ball at his feet and who can read a game and create goal opportunities like no-one else.
My son is a genius in his own way. He has things he is amazing at. Like the way he engages with little kids and the way he has insights and asks questions about deep stuff that just doesn't usually occur to kids his age.
I told him, Don't give up. School can be rough when your brain works in a different way. Just take it one day at a time.
There's no pressure from me or dad. We've got your back, you're not alone.
When you hit a learning road block, we'll try another route. When you feel stuck, we'll try something else. And you will get there eventually.
Because you are smart. You are clever. You are amazing at lots of things.
And nobody is expecting you to be an accountant or a brain surgeon.
You just need to figure out what YOU are a genius at, and do what you can about the rest.
Because as Albert Einstein said so brilliantly:
“Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”
I think it helped.
And we were only ten minutes late for school, because I found the best back street route, no traffic jams. (We might take the long way round but we get there in the end).
**P.S. The bullying was finally disclosed, and the school notified. In the meantime, as I've put into practise being the squeaky wheel, they are supporting my son amazingly with new inclusion in two great programmes, B-Cool and Boyzone. Very grateful for a supportive school guidance counselor and a great form teacher. It pays to be a squeaky wheel!
P.P.S.: The ADHD diagnosis for my son is in place of an earlier one which suggested mild Aspergers traits; this has now been discounted. It has also been suggested that Dyslexia in some form has gone undiagnosed, which is what we thought all along.
P.P.P.S.: My son gave me permission to share this story as long as I didn't mention his name. But he wanted this photo added in!
- My DYSLEXIA Diagnosis: Taking the Long Way Round
- The Squeaky Wheel Gets the Oil: Learning to Speak up for My Kids