When the advocate isn't advocating, and executive function

posted by Jeff | Saturday, December 9, 2023, 11:07 AM | comments: 0

One of the things that gives me some level of comfort about Simon's education is that he's mostly well supported. At this stage, what we often see as his challenges are the ability to recognize information that he should have, which is more an ADHD problem than anything. It's difficult for him to be switched on long enough to learn what he's supposed to learn. I can deeply empathize with this. The drugs help a little, and he even takes a midday dose at school. But the one classic developmental delay that still nags him is around executive function. As a parent wanting what is best for their kid, this is the thing that scares the shit out of me more than anything. That's because if it is simply delayed development, cool, he'll get it in two or three years. If it's outright dysfunction, that's a different conversation. For all of the delays he's encountered, I assume that's what this is, but education isn't fundamentally built to accommodate this.

Where we see this the most is starting and finishing things. A blank page is just about the worst thing for him to encounter. It's difficult to discern what he does or doesn't know from school because of that starting barrier. This isn't something limited to school, because it can apply to virtually anything, like a pile of unfolded laundry or full dishwasher. My theory, supported by some stuff that I've read, is that when he encounters something that he's confident in or wants to do, a metaphorical blank page is not a big deal. I've seen him start to do math that he understands like a boss, or even power-wash the driveway. But write three or four sentences, let alone an essay, on something he's not familiar with, and it's a bad scene.

One of the worst kinds of blank pages for him is one that requires any kind of drawing. Drawing is a pretty abstract thing to do when applied to something like, say, history. So imagine our frustration when he keeps getting history assignments that require drawing things about historical events. Do you want to assess him for his knowledge of the history, or ability to draw it? We've been having this issue with this teacher, who also, according to Simon, has been unwilling to help him in certain situations that seem a bit off, if Simon is telling it like it is. That's deeply concerning. (And for the record, we've had to add no-drawing into his IEP.)

I am very easily frustrated with Simon, a lot, maybe even most of the time. It's a cruel irony when I apply "why can't you just do..." when the same expectation has been placed on me my entire life in situations where I'm just not wired to do the thing that way. My post-diagnosis journey has been to give myself a little grace about what I couldn't or wouldn't do well because of ADHD and ASD, because it wasn't a personality flaw. And yet, I find myself applying the same thing to Simon. When a teacher isn't advocating for him, which is bad enough, I certainly should be.

I often find myself wondering how we tap his true intelligence, because it's there when his curiosity breaks through the executive function delay. I try to think about how that worked for me, but I had some degree of natural curiosity toward just enough things to more than get by. It's why I got an A in broadcast law but D'ed my way through things like philosophy and American literature. I don't know how to help him, which is why I have to advocate.


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