As a secondary science instructor in the Inland Empire (California), I encountered many students with special needs. A large percentage of these students had some form of Attention Deficit (with and without Hyperactivity) Disorder (ADD / ADHD), with various comorbidities such as anxiety, depression, aggression, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), often also compounded with a bit of dyslexia, interpersonal issues, and/or family problems. What struck me was that despite the students having IEP (Independent Education Plans), special classes and resource teachers for tutoring, these students were typically failing their classes, and worse, failing at being successful at life in general. These students had difficulty making friends, participating in academic or extra-curricular activities and often expressed difficulties getting along with their families.
This issue became all the more concerning when my son, Gabriel was diagnosed with ADHD. Circumstances were reversed, so to speak. As a responsible parent, I took my son to doctors, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and he was tested for all types of learning issues. He had a Speech Therapist, occupational therapy, a Psychologist and a mother who has experience with both the condition (I am also ADHD) and being an instructor. Gabriel attended a private Christian school for grades pre-school through second. We did not notice any out of the ordinary academic difficulties (as relates to an ADHD child). I met with his instructors and we worked out accommodations (no formal IEP) that would work for him and the instructors. He did well. Gabriel’s grades were typically A’s and B’s. My personal experience did not seem to jive with my professional experience, as I was seeing children with the same disorder as my son in high school, only these students were doing much worse. I was puzzled.
When we moved back to Southern California, we enrolled Gabriel in public school for third grade. We did our homework. The school was a blue ribbon school, and highly recommended. Gabriel began to experience difficulties almost immediately. I worked within the system to ensure he had appropriate accommodations. Gabriel a formal evaluation, an IEP, a Speech Therapist, a Resource teacher, a Psychologist and a mother who has experience both with the condition (I am also ADHD) and being an instructor. Unfortunately, despite everything put into place for my son he began to fail at school. His grades went down to D’s and F’s. He began to make himself sick rather than go to school. After three quarters, I had to remove Gabriel from public school and put him back into a private Christian school environment. Again, almost immediately, Gabriel’s performance did a complete 180, only this time for the better. His grades went back up without a formal IEP, a Speech Therapist, Resource Teacher, or Psychologist. He did have a few accommodations, but nothing other than being allowed to retake a test if he did exceptionally poorly (sporadically). Gabriel began to enjoy school again and looked forward to going to class.
I had to wonder, what was the difference?
Addressing the Issue
There have been many, many nights spent contemplating how to resolve this issue. I am haunted by the pain seen in students’ eyes, and the defeat they felt at being perpetually unsuccessful. For the most part, my ADHD students did better than most, at least in my courses. I cannot speak to other classes. I only know that I went to great lengths to ensure my students knew that I believed in them, ADHD or not. Further, I was able to share my own perspective and personal experiences encouraging them that they could be successful despite their disorder as I was.
Unfortunately, my success with a few students was not nearly enough to find a permanent resolution to the issue of why some students do so poorly despite all the educational accommodations. As a result, I went back to school to continue my education into issues such as motivation, attitude, perception, learning, ADHD, social interactions, etc. to learn what I could do to improve the situation, whether by developing a new program, or modifying a program already in place.
Other than on a small scale, as described above, where I helped a few students feel better about themselves, develop better academic skills, and goals, my personal experiences helping in the community are rather limited.
In my 20’s I participated as a counselor for a Rape Crisis Hotline in Southern California. I did it for approximately three years. It was a difficult assignment as I had the midnight Friday through midnight Sunday shift each week. In fact, my friend teases me because she says she always knows who to call in the middle of the night because I still wake up instantly awake when a telephone rings. It was a great experience. I helped many women find help when they really needed it. I would probably still be participating in the program if it had not lost its funding.
In my 20’s I also participated as a volunteer for a Domestic Violence Program. I volunteered doing things such as intakes, helping with the women and children, and performing administrative tasks. Again, it was a great experience. There are so many people who struggle with violence in their lives.
Most recently, I helped a local church revamp their Divorce Recovery Program. My friend was the director of the program and had expressed concern that they were not reaching the needs of those taking the course. I volunteered to help her modify some of the materials and add some additional interaction into the program. The participants seemed to really like the course and that was a good experience.