Updated: Feb 15, 2020
Almost everything about my personality makes my becoming an advocate very unlikely. I am very introverted, never want to offend or upset anyone, and happiest at home with my family. My idea of “me” time would be sitting in a bookstore reading, writing, and drinking a mocha latte. I am very adept at avoiding tense situations and intentionally try to live in a calm bubble. I don’t follow politics very closely because I feel that the news is all so skewed that it’s hard to tell what is actually going on, also the underlying oppositional stance between political parties frustrates me. I generally find systemic issues exhausting and try to “do the best I can within my sphere of influence”.
It’s interesting how one’s “sphere of influence” can change overnight. Lately, it seems that ADHD is everywhere I turn, both at home, and in my classroom, and with educators and parents that I interact with around the world. As a parent and an educator, I work with ADHD every day. My son, Jason, has taught me and challenged me to continue to learn about, a condition that I knew absolutely nothing about.
Jason is suspended today for hitting a kid after being provoked. On the incident report, the adult wrote that Jason stated that “he snapped”. Jason also accurately reports what occurred in his own handwriting. He and the boy later apologized to one another. The other child is not hurt, thankfully. Essentially, Jason was suspended for failing to self regulate and acting impulsively and violently. These are classic symptoms of his disability.
As an educator, I can tell you that suspension is sometimes necessary to ensure safety but overall has many, many negative effects on individual students. We usually suspend the kids that desperately need to feel wanted at school. The research has overwhelmingly shown that multiple suspensions lead to expulsion, drop out, and often prison. Educators often refer to the “suspension to prison” pipeline because research has shown us that this is the reality for many.
This is not Jason’s first suspension. I’ve lost count but he has been suspended at the very least 30 times and he is in 4th grade. I withdrew him from kindergarten a month early because the school told me that they were considering expulsion. We were also told that he was no longer welcome at a separate after school program that same year. These are pretty strong messages for a child. Personally, if I were repeatedly asked to leave school, I would never want to show my face there again.
ADHD presents itself in many different ways however children with ADHD struggle with self-regulation, impulsivity, and anger and violence can be a “go to” for them in the moment. When they are in a more calm space, people with ADHD are able to view situations more reasonably however their disability centers around an executive functioning disorder that makes thinking before acting difficult, and sometimes not even possible. Kids are working within these limitations and instead of supporting and encouraging them, when they fail we are removing them from the learning environment. I promise you the rejection and the negative messages internalized hurt more than the day off of school.
I stated earlier that almost everything in my personality makes me a poor candidate to be an advocate. I do have a quality that will not allow me to let this go, however. I am very stubborn when I believe in something. I never wanted to be an advocate but I found myself contacting the Superintendent’s Office today and I will continue to present information and share my voice as an informed parent. I am terrified of public speaking but I will present at the school board if they allow me to. Some days writing a book and sharing our story is overwhelming but I will continue to write and eventually to speak because I must.
I am a teacher and I can tell you that we are collectively working very hard and doing our best. The adults at Jason’s school this year are amazing and compassionate. The decision to suspend Jason was based on a district policy. The issues in our school system are largely systemic, and even cultural. I do not believe in blaming or being conflictive but I will not remain silent while my son, and other children, continue to be marginalized by a system that does not support or even fully understand, ADHD. To reference Maya Angelou’s eloquent statement, I know better and therefore must do better. When we know better, to remain silent is dishonest.