I’ve been skating through life with identical twins that happened to have been born with an extra 21st chromosome (Down syndrome) and an Old Soul who was always a peaceful, slow-going, nature-loving kid… Always, that is, until her second grade teacher began yelling at her for her “peaceful” daydreaming ways. The constant barrage of demeaning attacks in front of her classmates made her feel she was bad, slow, stupid. And when that teacher drove my peaceful Old Soul to quiet tears day after day, she’d yell at her even more saying, “don’t be such a baby”. My Old Soul shut down. I recognized she’d grown unhappy with school. I’d ask her every afternoon how her day was and she’d say cheerfully, “good.” But it wasn’t until 5 other parents of children in her class told me their kids were concerned for the well-being of my formerly happy and peaceful child because of the “brutal” treatment she received at the hands of their teacher daily, that I went and talked with the teacher.
Me: I understand [the Old Soul] is getting in trouble in school. Is there a problem?
Her: “Not really. She just daydreams and doesn’t finish her work.”
Me: Are we talking about an attention deficit?
She: “No, she’s just immature.”
Me: Should I speak with the School Psychologist about her behavior then?
Her: “NO! With her grades, her name will never come across the desk of the school psychologist as a problem!” (My edification: the Old Soul is phenomenally smart.)
I went to the school psychologist anyway… against the teacher’s recommendation. I told her that my Old Soul is the quintessential daydreamer. A deep thinker solving the problems of the world… truly! I said she was miserable in school. Crying all the time because the teacher yells at her for not working fast enough and for daydreaming. I told her we’d been dealing with it ourselves for several months but nothing was working. I explained that I could no more make my daydreaming, Type-B-personality Old Soul speed up to satisfy the teacher than I could change the screaming, Type-A-personality of the teacher herself. And I let her know that all of the parents at our school knew the teacher’s reputation for yelling. I’d been warned on the last day of first grade, when my Old Soul was assigned to this teacher’s classroom! Though my daughter’s distractions preceded her presence in this teacher’s classroom, it had gotten significantly worse as a result of the yelling. When she was yelled at, my daughter shut down and accomplished nothing… which made matters worse. But, it was her only recourse. To support my accusations, I told her about the other students/their parents reporting my child’s treatment and resulting misery to me. I relayed the conversation I had with the teacher and explained that she, the Psychologist, needed to help me help my child survive a year with a teacher who was being cruel to the point of abusive to my daughter. It was December and I recognized the Old Soul couldn’t be moved to another class. Because we’d experienced several examples of the teacher “punishing” my child and others for “tattle-telling” their parents that they’d been yelled at, I demanded that she not reprimand the teacher but, instead, suggested she could use our home situation (twins with Down syndrome and a revolving door of therapists) as an excuse for the Old Soul’s sensitivity and reason to LAY OFF yelling at her. I softly demanded that the teacher stop abusing my child.
The Psychologist agreed and spoke with the teacher using The Boys’ Down syndrome as an excuse for the Old Soul’s inability to tolerate yelling. She asked that the teacher cease and desist! It worked for a few months. A tentative, if not short-lived, peace returned. But, as the end of the year approached, witnesses reported that my quiet and shy little girl was being yelled at again, driven to tears 4-5 times per day. We struggled until she graduated the 4th grade. And I spent the Summer trying to recoup her sense of self-esteem.
Third grade was better. “The teacher NEVER YELLS Mommy!” But the Old Soul’s slow-and-steady, turtle-like demeanor meant she often did not finish her work at school. And homework fell just short of torture, with the whole family held hostage by her distracted, hours-long academic forays. Playdates were cancelled. Afterschool activities foregone. Dinners pushed aside. Bedtimes missed. But, her grades never faltered. She managed 97s, 98s, 99s and 100s on every test she took and aced the state exams such that she was invited into the gifted program in our district. However, by the first week of 4th grade, I could see our homework woes were still with us and, hearing that Project EXTRA meant “EXTRA” homework, we declined her participation in the program.
I took the Old Soul to a highly recommended counselor knowing none of us would survive struggling with homework the way we’d been over the last two years. We outlined the problem for our new counselor and he instantly recognized her extraordinary intellect and just as quickly convinced us to reverse our decision about the gifted program. She enrolled while we worked together painstakingly each week giving the Old Soul tools and tricks to help her stay focused. She tried mightily and succeeded only marginally. But over and over again, she’d eventually revert back to her distracted ways. Interestingly, it never happened in the gifted program she attended on Tuesdays where she was consistently engaged in challenging thought and activities! Still, she spent the majority of her school hours being reprimanded by her teacher. “She doesn’t really yell Mom. She just raises her voice at me and it upsets me because I know she’s mad at me… A LOT!” Then the Mom of one of her classmates stopped by to say her daughter was really worried about my Old Soul! Saying, “The teacher is really hard on her, Mom. She cries a lot at school!” I discussed it with my daughter, my husband, our counselor and my trusted Pediatrician who’s known the Old Soul forever. The good Doc tipped the scales when he said, ” When a child is receiving behavioral counseling, when she’s trying but can’t sustain the desired behavior, that’s a sign you may be dealing with a neurological/chemical cause that’s not within her control. Have they done any tests?” He recommended that I suggest the Connor Scale?”
I’d explained my philosophy to the counselor over the course of the last 4 months. We’d talked about the over-diagnosis of Attention Deficit and the over prescription of psychopharmaceuticals in children (my perhaps media-influenced but not scientifically-supported opinion… we’ll have to see how/whether this changes now that it’s about my child). But I also felt that it was just as wrong to not diagnose a real attention deficit problem as it was to over-diagnose a behavioral issue as one. If my daughter had a problem focusing and it was causing her to struggle in school and be unhappy in life — regardless of how good her grades are — then I owe it to her and we are remiss in not addressing it. We kept up the discussion as I reported each week, “I don’t know…. I don’t think she can control this! I’m not sure but i don’t think it’s opposition. She is trying! But during the hours of homework, she can’t seem to recall or apply these tools to rein in her wandering mind… even when I remind her. I’m just not sure it’s within her control.” We’d begun contemplating Attention Deficit (not being able to keep her mind on one task long enough to complete the task), academic-related anxiety disorder (academic test and performance anxiety) and perfectionism (avoidance and not finishing as a sign of her work not being good enough). The thing is, the Old Soul had never actually demonstrated behaviors consistent with clinical ADD — or anxiety, for that matter — in the counselor’s presence. That’s because one-on-one conversation, especially with adults she was comfortable with, is an absolute area of strength for the Old Soul. High intellect and engaging conversation presents no opportunity for her mind to go adrift… like the gifted program at school. And, finally, we tested — though reading about them I don’t know why — the counselor opting for the BASC over the Connors Scale. The teacher filled out her part. I filled out mine. And, the counselor attempted to do his part — his first foray into a school-like arena with the Old Soul… tests. He was shocked to find the Old Soul couldn’t get past the 4th of 100 True/False questions. Her meandering discussion of and intense indecision over giving the best, right answer was overwhelming to her and telling for him. “Another sign!”
He scored the completed parent and teacher evaluations and the results revealed clinically significant Attention Deficit (no Hyperactivity) and at risk for secondary anxiety. The Hammer met the nail head-on!
Finally! A diagnosis! I was relieved beyond belief to know there was something at the root of her unhappiness (and my and her teacher’s frustrations with her pace and unfinished academic work). Now that we have an explanation — not an excuse, as I keep reminding my Old Soul — we just have to figure out how to help her manage it.
Medicinal? Not sure. Homeopathic? Maybe… if it works. Behavioral? Absolutely! Psychotherapy? Without a doubt! A combination? I’m certain. Program Modifications? Sure, if it’ll help her to be happier and more peaceful and her grades don’t suffer. We’ll have to test and tweak to see what works best for my beautiful Old Soul. So, with the diagnosis, I recognize much of the tough work is still ahead of us including official confirmation via a psychiatrist.
I’m halfway through the book Driven to Distraction by Drs. Edward M. Hallowel and John J. Ratey (both of whom have ADHD). A fascinating and informative read recommended by a distant family-member-by-marriage who was just diagnosed with ADHD as an adult! At this point, recounts of others’ experiences would be greatly appreciated. What worked? What didn’t? How’d you get there? Best resources for education on ADD? Come on friends, bring it on!