Am I Holding My Special Needs Kid Back?

The Healthy Family Connections Podcast

Episode 187 · Duration: 00:18:43

Am I Holding My Special Needs Kid Back?

What do you do when your young teenager has special learning needs and you’re working hard to provide an optimal learning environment for them, and all they want to do, is be treated as a regular kid?Click To Tweet We’ll talk about this and a whole lot more on this week’s podcast,  Am I Holding My Special Needs Kid Back?

Today we’re hearing from Brenda from The Big Apple and Brenda writes:

Dear Mr. Brown,

My 14-year-old son is not easy to instruct, with his uneven attention span, language difficulties, shyness and emotional ups and downs that are, at times, hard to manage. His unique style led me to try homeschooling 3 1/2 years ago. Now, frustrated by social distancing, he says he wants to attend a large public high school so he can be “like a regular kid.” The search is not going well, and is stressing us out, leading to some intense power struggles. He is being very selective about the schools he's considering. Also, due to his unique learning needs and his personality, and the large-scale, bureaucratic and businesslike manner in which the schools in NYC are run, there aren’t realistically many good options for my son. Private schools, traditional ones and those with support for students with special learning needs would be an option, but my son insists he wants to be “a regular kid” and is resisting counseling, speech and other therapies. He is a clever, intelligent, kind and extremely creative young person, and I want to support his self advocacy and his desire to have a teenage life, whatever that is in this day and age, and his future pursuits. But I also want to support the option of sticking to the homeschooling path, which I think actually suits him (and me, as I have been wrangling with the schools for 17 years on behalf of my four sons and really dislike it.) NYC is a very rich and diverse cultural environment with great homeschool programs and events. I would love some support, ideas and a sounding board for my conflicted thoughts and feelings of guilt that I am holding him back. Can you help?

Brave Brenda in the Big Apple

To answer Brenda's question:

And thanks for sharing it with us. 

Yes, having a differently wired kid can be a real challenge. On the one hand we want to support their independence and ability to feel in control and be in control of their lives.Click To Tweet  On the other hand, we want to resource their needs where they will otherwise be at a disadvantage and fall through the cracks.  We don’t want our kids being left behind or feeling like they aren’t smart enough or good enough. 

You want to homeschool your son with so many resources in The Big Apple, why sit at a desk all day when you can have access to many more hands-on learning opportunities.  

Brenda, I took your question to my colleague Dr. Mark Burdick, an educational, clinical and forensic psychologist. 

Dr. Burdick offers that it should be the goal of homeschooling or any away from mainstream school, to reintegrate a student once they’ve caught up or built the requisite skills to succeed back in the classroom. Presumably, your son has been assessed and related to that has an IEP or individualized educational planDr. Burdick suggests that one way back to mainstream classes is to take one or two for starters, and see how he does and so the re-entry is gradual.  He recommends that you see how he does in his assigned school before you make a decision about a specialized school.  It sounds like you'll expect your son to go to college so he’ll need to function in a mainstream school to succeed there.  

Brave Brenda, I’m guessing that you’ve been just a bit ahead of your son in resourcing him.  In other words, you’ve been working harder than he has been to get things right for him.  We have to remember that our kids have their own faculty, their own control and responsibility for their lives.  When we work too hard to make things “right” for them, it can leave them feeling controlled instead of grateful for the help and opportunity they’re being given. 

Now your son is 14 and I’m guessing entering his freshman year next year.  Here is the problem; you say you are having intense power struggles. We should not be having those with our teenagers.  Here’s a way to think about things; essentially there are a few things we care about.

1) That your son feels supported and not controlled.

2) That he progress socially and emotionally

3) That he progresses educationally and grows and improves his language skills and his ability to focus.  

Brenda, none of those things will happen in a Control Battle based relationship.  The question your son needs to face is how can he continue to learn and grow and if what he wants is to be able to make educational decisions more independently, then can he address the issues regarding his special needs.  Wishing them away or being in denial about them, isn’t going to work.  Your son’s behavior with you now is immature.  He wants to go to a totally mainstream school, and he doesn’t want to accept the resources he needs to progress.  As much as wanting to go to his mainstream school, he has to want to succeed there and has to know and accept what it will take for him to be able to succeed.

It seems his mood management challenges are playing out in your relationship and in his communication with you.

The way forward has to support your son’s maturation and arguing with him isn’t going to get it done.  I’ll offer you a Control Battle ending talk you can have with him, but first a suggestion to address his educational issues.  If you have the resources to have your son working with an independent educational consultant, a licensed educational psychologist most likely, that would be an excellent idea.  A professional who understands his neurological profile and learning needs and can have a trusting supportive relationship with him could help defuse a Control Battle. Then when a decision needs to be made regarding school, educational therapy, tutoring, etc., they can guide the process. Also, for differently wired kids going to public schools, a credentialed educational expert can provide advocacy so that it isn’t left entirely up to a parent. 

Here is a Control Battle ending talk you can have and I’ll call your son Raymond.  

Raymond, making a decision about school isn’t going to work well by arguing and fighting. 

Important decisions should not be made by who fights hardest wins. Important decisions need to be made with careful thought and discussion.Click To Tweet        Your thoughts and feelings are an important part of any decision, but arguing and fighting are not good ways to communicate       your thoughts and feelings.

I hear loud and clear that you want to be like a regular kid and go to a regular school. Let’s talk about that.

First of all, you are a regular kid.  You are a clever, intelligent, kind and extremely creative young person, and I want to support your self-advocacy and desire to have a regular teenage life. Homeschooling or going to a school that supports kids that learn differently, doesn’t make you not a regular kid. 

I’m not ruling it out, yet I need to be clear with you, fighting and arguing are not ways to convince me that you are ready for greater independence. In fact, that kind of behavior lowers my trust in your ability to use good judgment and my support for your independence is based largely on trust in you and your judgment.   

So to support you, I need you to calm down so we can listen to each other and work this out together. Right now, we’re doing home schooling and if that’s going to change, then we have some important talking and listening to do.  So let me know when you’re ready for that. 

Now let’s assume your son has calmed down and is ready to talk and to listen. 

Raymond, going to your regular public school is only going to work if you’re motivated and committed to making it work. Just going there isn’t enough.  You have to go there ready, willing and able to be successful.  Once we talk with the school, it may mean trying one or two classes the first semester and see how you do.  It may mean working with a tutor.  We’ll need to get and accept professional input here, but the bottom line is you are clearly not ready to go with an attitude of non-cooperation. You can’t go and then fight with me every night about doing your homework.  You’ll need a plan for doing your work and a plan for the support and resources you’ll need to succeed.  

Right now you are enrolled in homeschooling.  I’m happy to work with you to move to a new school. If we make a decision and it turns out that it isn’t working for you, that you aren’t succeeding there, you’ll need to accept that we’ll need a school that is more aligned with your learning needs.  Why don’t you sleep on this and let’s talk about it tomorrow.

Brenda, in resourcing your son, you’ll need to make sure that he isn’t working with several different professionals; that could be overwhelming to him.  Assigning him to ongoing individual counseling when he isn’t motivated, isn’t a good idea.  Better to have him working with a strong educational therapist or psychologist who has the skill for connecting with, motivating and helping kids believe in themselves. If mood management is an issue, as it is with your son, that person should be able to offer mood management curricula and skill development. They can work with your son one on one and meet with the two of you some of the time as well to discuss progress and necessary resources and other educational decisions.  

So parents of differently wired kids and professionals who work with these families, it’s easy and common for parents to struggle with finding that fine line of support and resourcing of their youth on the one hand, and letting them struggle on their own on the other.  Brenda spoke of her guilt that she could be holding her son back and of course, there’s the guilt of not helping enough.

We have to have faith in our differently wired teenagers and make sure they understand that resources including medication, educational therapy, tutoring, and alternative schools aren’t a solution. The solution is the youths’ motivation to succeed and their willingness to do the hard work.Click To TweetAll of Brenda’s desire to give her son a fabulous learning environment won’t go well without her son’s motivation. 

Thanks for tuning in today listeners and special thanks to Brenda for sharing her dilemma with us.  I’ve really enjoyed talking with you and I’m back from a couple of weeks off visiting family and friends.  It was so rewarding to connect and act without the fear of infecting or being infected.  I just wish everyone all over the world could get vaccinated.  In the meantime, we can all vax up and do the best we can.  And remember, take care of yourself.  You need it, you deserve it, you’re worth it. Bye for now.


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