The simple answer is you really don’t. At least, you don’t ever know beforehand, that is. Last year, both of my sons had a hard year at school. I had a terrifically hard year as their parent. My oldest, Omar, got diagnosed with ADHD, shortly after my youngest, Lucas, was diagnosed with autism. Both were going to schools that really weren’t fully interested in meeting either of their needs. That left me feeling so stressed out, from the time I woke up, until the hours Id lay in bed. I’d ask myself. What is the right thing to do? How can I meet both of their needs? How do I know my choices are right? All I knew was what I was doing didn’t feel completely right. But, I didn’t know what would be better. We can be so scared to try something new that we stay in the ‘comfortable uncomfortable’ for way too long.
For me, it all started with not wanting to believe Lucas really had the level of special needs that he did. I remember the exact moment where the concept was even introduced to me that he might need more intense therapy than we had him in. At the time, we had him in 30 minute sessions twice a week of speech therapy, and one hour, once a week, with a special education teacher. She met with him at his day care to help him participate with the teacher’s group activities and play with friends. After his first speech therapy session, his provider walked with me and my son outside towards my car at the end of the session. I remember standing on the sidewalk in front of the school. Her words were coming in and out. All I could think about was getting to day care in time to get to work in time. I didn’t want a change. Uncomfortably comfortable is certainly better than the drastic unknown, right?
But, she went on. She told me, if I wanted what was best for him, it warranted the drastic change. Stop working. Working had honestly felt like my identity at this point. I liked what I did. I liked making money. I liked having things the way they were. She stood there suggesting that I drastically change everything. And, furthermore, was as bold as to say that “if I wanted what was best for Lucas,” I would make the changes necessary. Tears filled my eyes as I stood there looking at her. I didn’t want to hear the words. I didn’t want her to be right. She couldn’t be right. She had only spent thirty minutes with my son. How could she make such strong suggestions. She couldn’t have come to the right conclusion, surely. I wasn’t ready for it. After months of wrestling with the idea that I could really be doing Lucas a disservice to not improve the setting in which he was learning, my husband and I agreed to make the switch.
My steady work became random, per Diem, assignments. We entered the world of the unknown. In every single way imaginable. How will I parent this child well? What if I make mistakes? What if they are huge mistakes? What if they are mistakes that cost him a better prognosis than if I hadn’t made those mistakes? Decisions. Which therapies? How much? Ones that insurance doesn’t pay for? I hated the world of the unknown. I like having a clear plan. I want to know what is the best option and choose it. Unfortunately, parenting doesn’t offer that option. There is no one and only way to do it. Each child is unique, and so are my husband and I. We knew we had to figure out the best that we could come up with, and found solace in the fact that we could always re-work the schedule as needed throughout the year. And that’s what we did. We started out with full time preschool with a special needs teacher. At first it was decent. Lucas had 6 kids to one teacher in a class. Slowly, other kids entered the program until it was way too big for the teacher to manage well. Administration was not supportive of what the kids needed as individuals. Knowing it didn’t feel like the right decision made me sick. We decided to switch gears, and put him in full time ABA therapy, and reduce preschool hours.
For my son with ADHD, there was a constant battle of helping him feel good about himself in the middle of being reprimanded so frequently, due to his poor impulse control. Do we try medications? Do we begin behavioral therapy? Do we make a reward system? Will that help? We set up a meeting with his teachers and school psychologist. The result? “Omar is so far intellectually beyond the average kid his age or grade. Therefore, putting strategies in effect for him to perform at his best would be giving him an unfair advantage over the other students.” That’s when I realized, his school wasn’t going to fight for him, so I had to.
That is one thing I have had the hardest time with. Yet, this journey has forced me to learn how to cope with it. Things are going to change. No matter how much I do or don’t want them to.
This year, we tried something drastically different. I’ve learned by now, not to be afraid to try drastic. At least then, I can say I’ve tried everything available. My oldest son will be at the same school as my youngest, and for completely different reasons. My oldest will take on the challenge of being in a full-time gifted program to help keep him better engaged. He’s had to deal with a lot of change in his life; a big move from NY to FL, his brother’s brain surgery and autism diagnosis, a new school, and a major change in both parents’ work schedules. He is so inspirationally adaptable to change. As for Lucas, we decided to reduce his ABA hours significantly. This was tough for me. I used to see ABA as his best chance of learning the most, while his brain is still so teachable. But, darn that word again. Change. He will now be enrolled full time in the exceptional student Pre-K program, which will be a blended class of typical and special needs pre-K students. I have a good feeling about this year. I have a good feeling, because we have all grown so much in our ability to more boldly make decisions, assess what’s working and what’s not, and be able to seek the next step. We have learned not stay stuck in something that isn’t working.
So. Back to the question. How do you know that you made the right decision? Well you won’t know before time has passed. You may feel like you have, but that may change. And therein lies the answer. The only way to really be able to do the ‘right thing’ for your kids is to be open to change. Be open to the fact that a choice that worked then, might not work now. and vice versa. Be open when something isn’t going right. Be open that sometimes the scariest choice is the best one. Sometimes overcoming the fear of the unknown frees us to experience the wonderful we had been searching for all along.
This year, I am willing to take on change. I won’t let fear hold me back. If our best choices don’t work out, I will know that on the other side of that can be better ones. Only, if I am willing to accept change. The end of something is usually just the beginning of something else. And, as long as our family sticks together and is willing to make the necessary changes, then we can embrace this journey, with continued hope and anticipation of good things to come.