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“How I Helped My Non-Conformist Daughter Survive the School System”

I never gave up on her. Thank goodness she never gave up on herself.

My highly spirited daughter with attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) has unique ways of learning. She has medical issues that are challenging. She is a nonconformist, her own person. She is also extremely bright, innovative, funny, and highly ambitious.

When she entered the school system, however, her confidence and self-esteem almost vanished. Traditional school programs are not known to be charitable or friendly when it comes to accommodating learning differences.

Indeed, my daughter’s overall school experience turned out to be hellacious. The lowlights include:

  • Failing marks arrived often, rarely accompanied by an explanation from the school.
  • Many teachers ridiculed and scolded my daughter because of her learning differences and medical issues.
  • Piles of unfinished schoolwork were sent home regularly with no warning and no instructions.
  • Accountability, compassion, and genuine support from the school were sorely lacking.

Why didn’t I homeschool this child? Why didn’t she drop out? My daughter refused both. She is a social creature, and she is also stubborn, not a quitter.

I knew that I had to come up with a plan of action to avert school disaster. It would be far from perfect, and it would be difficult.

[The ADHD Test for Girls]

The following strategies worked:

I became my daughter’s full-time advocate. I kept in touch with school officials. I helped develop accommodation plans. I supplied the school with all the information they needed, including recommendations from doctors and specialists. I fully cooperated. My ongoing presence, professionalism, and diligence made the difference. The school staff quickly understood that I would not rest until my child was treated fairly and was faring better academically.

I became my daughter’s full-time resource teacher. When excessive school work started coming home, with no warning and no instructions, I despaired. The resource help offered at school had clearly failed. I pleaded with the school for a better, kinder arrangement. It didn’t happen. I became an unpaid resource teacher, and my daughter’s schoolwork was completed.

I made unpopular decisions. One was that I (occasionally) excused my daughter from classes. She had to stay up late a lot to finish schoolwork. She was not getting the rest that her medical conditions demanded. She was often tired. I reported and explained absences, and I assured teachers that missed work would be completed. The reaction from staff was usually unpleasant and lacking in compassion. Safeguarding my daughter’s health and welfare was paramount. When properly rested, she always returned to her school commitments and completed her work.

I kept meticulous records. I had records of all school communications (phone calls, emails, and so on) that involved my daughter. When school promises were ignored, I reported them. I eventually received an apology letter from a school principal because so many assurances had been broken. My communication records provided important evidence about what was really going on. This gave me strength.

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I made big sacrifices. I put my career aside for 10 years. Household finances, family, and social time were deeply affected. This proved how worrisome my daughter’s education situation had become. These sacrifices (and many more) proved that my mission to help my daughter in school was genuine and serious.

My daughter and I accepted antagonism. I was labelled “hostile” by school officials for daring to be my child’s advocate. Yet I was cooperating fully and assisting the school by being a resource teacher. My child continued to be harassed by teachers, but she worked long hours to ensure that her schoolwork was completed.

The antagonism was unconscionable. But my daughter and I refused to let it get to us. It was a herculean task to get my child through the school system. The adverse effects on my daughter (and me) were serious and significant. But she ended up graduating, on time, from elementary school, high school, and college. The strength and resilience she demonstrated for almost two decades in the school system was remarkable.

Parents like me, I discovered, must be courageous, creative, persistent, focused, and determined if they want to help their nonconformist children.

But there is hope. Absolutely.

My daughter is now in her 20s. She is living independently in a big city. She is pursuing her passions and her career with astounding determination. She is using her vast skills with confidence and vigor. She is a survivor.

I never gave up on her. Thank goodness she never gave up on herself.

[Why Teens Stop Trying — and Achieving — at School]