The “perfect” ending to the school year

One of the biggest internal struggles that parents of special needs children face is when…and how far…to “push” your child. Your goals are usually the same as any other child…to be happy, make friends, have others in their lives who love them and treat them well, get through school, and be as independent as possible. How you get them there can be the most complicated part.

One of my best friends is the most successful coach in college gymnastics. One of her many gifts is the ability to motivate and inspire…which doesn’t mean holding your hand…it involves giving you a little kick in the pants at times. In going through our most difficult years with our son, she was one of the only people I talked to about all that was going on here at home.

I was scared, and depressed much of the time…and frankly a lot more unsure of myself and down in the dumps than I had been before…thank you for hanging in there with me! I had young children, all my family lived at least 15 hours away, my husband was busy with a crazy job, and I was a NJ girl living in the south…I didn’t quite fit in. She became my family…my mentor, the voice of reason, and my best friend.

To sum up what I learned from all of my conversations with her…when you have a child that struggles, you can’t focus on the excuses. Your focus has to be on visualizing what they need to accomplish and get to work. For a child who has a health issue, it’s important to start early by educating them on their disorder, their treatment, and how to manage it…from appointments with Drs – to getting out and taking their own medication.

The world is not going to be kind to them at times, and they are going to get knocked down…that’s just a part of life. What children need to learn is how to pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep moving forward.

Sounds simple…far from it.

But it was exactly the direction we needed to go in. We started to visualize his future…that we wanted him to go to college, and that we wanted him to be independent…so back to the subject of when and how to push your child?

My favorite Suzanne quote: “Losers make excuses…winners make adjustments.” It sounds harsh…remember this is a coach talking about competing against other teams…but this will start to make sense in just a bit.

What I’ve realized recently is that one of the most important life skills that we have been working on with our son for years now is one of “resilience”…a constant state of “making adjustments” to things that are thrown in his path. When a child is emotionally more fragile it gets complicated, but it’s not impossible. For a child that sees things differently…as with Asperger’s syndrome…theres a lot of work involved and it can be exhausting, but also rewarding and worth the investment.

College was going to be his fresh start. He saw it as a chance to reinvent himself and start over…something that I think every high school graduate dreams of. Then the reality of being a freshman sinks in…no one there to hold your hand, less structure, difficult classes, and no built in social network…the year of navigating the sea of life for the first time on your own.

But one of the things I have told both my kids is that college is all about learning how to learn and problem solve…how to face challenges and learn how to push through to them succeed…to adjust. It’s all about figuring out how to manage life without us behind them. This independence feels really good to them when they first realize that they can do it…it’s an important step in letting them go and fly out of the nest…a bitter sweet one (that still doesn’t stop me from inserting my two cents in whenever they let me – one thing I have to still work on).

This week is finals week for my kids…a time of stress and celebration…they made it through the school year. Looking back it was one of the most difficult years with my son’s health…complications, more aggressive treatments, several emergency visits, a ton of tests, changing doctors, weekly doctor appointments with specialists, side effects…it was a tough one health-wise.

Academic and social life were not easy either as a result. He felt pretty bad almost every day for the past 8 months, which translated in to struggles in school and not feeling up to tackling as much as he he would have liked to. But he pushed through…many kids would have dropped out facing all of the things he had to go through…but he never stopped for long. When he was really sick he would lay low for a bit or come home, but as soon as he felt up to it he would head back to school and continue on. His work ethic that he developed in high school really paid off. He was self-motivated and driven.

To not get the grades that he got in high school…to struggle with a subject without ever working out the kind of support that he needed to succeed in it…this was frustrating for him this year, but he never gave up. He realized that it was still going to be difficult to make friends in college. He embraced the greek life that he never thought he’d be a part of, and participated in an improv club that he found…finally finding some places where he felt comfortable. He worked hard in school, but had also found time to have some fun.

We are starting to see the results of all the “pushing”…the hard work and support that he has had over many years. We were there if he fell too far, but didn’t jump in to rescue him or save the day… this year we just kept pointing him back toward tapping in the resources at the university that were there for him instead. Looking back as nervous as I was, something inside me knew that he needed to go through this, and that he could do it.

In a recent conversation he said how difficult it was this year, but now he knows how to approach next year a little differently. His medical treatments are finally working for now, so he’s feeling much better each day. He had a very bumpy start to college life…but he made it through. He’s got goals and he’s focused.

He knows there are things that he will always struggle with, but now he has the experience and confidence that he will get through it. On paper it may not have been the perfect year, and there will be more bumps in the future…but for us it was the perfect ending…he’s developing that resilience that he needs to get through life on his own…he did it! 🙂

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