Disadvantages, Not Disabilities

As you can tell from the date, this was written a while back. I sent this off to as many government officials in my area as I could. Mckenzie is home now. He spent a total of almost 3 years away from home receiving an education in the States. To date I have not received a reply to this letter. I even booked an appointment with a local government official shortly after writing this. My answer from him after I read this through tears… “we are doing the best we can”.

To date, not much has changed in the Alberta Education system. With talk of changes to come soon, it looks like less help will be available to the kids that sit on the fence with their ABILITIES to succeed. These kids do not have disabilities, they have disadvantages. Its a long read but I hope you find it worth it.

 

April 11th, 2013
To All Concerned,

I don’t even know where to begin. This situation with my son just keeps getting more and more interesting. From day one of this journey this government has been no help, so I am not really sure why I would expect anything different this time.

For a number of years I have searched for a better school for Mckenzie to learn. Over the last year his Dad and I have searched and researched for a program closer to home (home being St Albert, Alberta and Cardiff) to help him be successful in life. Much to our surprise, we found nothing that would potentially help our son who has been diagnosed with severe ADHD since he was 3 years old. Nothing in St. Albert. Nothing in Edmonton. Nothing in Alberta.

But let me back up and paint you a picture of how he ended up in a therapeutic boarding school in Utah.

When Mckenzie was born, he was different from the start. One example of this was that he was very affected by change. In fact going to the grocery store was a challenge. He would be the baby in the carrier, not crying but screaming his little heart out. You know the one, that one that you think “can’t that mother DO something with that kid?”. I got use to this and just kept shopping, while everyone stared at me wondering why I didn’t do anything to help my distraught son. Truth was, there was nothing that would help him when we went out. Every once in a while, a kind stranger would attempt to help and go to pick him up and give him a cuddle. That only made things worse.

As he grew into a toddler, nothing in our house was safe. Everything that was not too heavy to lift was moved out of the way for Mckenzie’s safety. He was definitely busy. No naps for this little spit fire, on the move all day long. Come bedtime, it was a fight to get him to stay in his bedroom, never mind fall asleep in his bed. Time and again I was told by loved ones and doctors that he was just a boy and that all this was ‘normal’. I fell into bed each night, exhausted. But Mckenzie didn’t sleep well, so my sleep was just as affected as his.

Once he turned 3 I was so excited that he could start playschool. But it was very evident from the beginning that my son was very, very ‘different’ from the other kids. He wouldn’t sit for story time. He couldn’t contain his energy long enough to make a craft. Gym time was great; if all they did was run around. He didn’t follow instructions well. It turned into a chore to take him to playschool.

I finally made an appointment to have Mckenzie tested. Something was just not right about this picture of my son. We started out at our family doctor and then we were referred to the Glenrose. I was so excited to finally have someone listening to me and agreeing that this was more than a normal boy’s energy. Imagine my disappointment when the Glenrose phoned and told me that I was looking at between a year and 18 months to get in for a consultation. Through tears and frustration, I told the lady that I would take a last minute cancellation. I was desperate. We lived close by and could come in at last minute notice.

We managed to get an appointment through a cancelation within 3 months. That was a lot better than the 18 months I had been told. By this time, Mckenzie was putting himself in danger very often. As an example, we would be playing outside; I would step in the house to go to the bathroom. By the time I stepped back outside, my son had managed to move the picnic table to the fence, climbed up on the fence, scaled it to the carport and made his way onto the roof of the house to get his ball down. This is when he was 3 years old.

Once we had our appointment at the Glenrose, he was diagnosed with severe Attention Deficit Hyper Active Disorder and Opposional Defiance Disorder. We tried him in a couple of Behavioural modification classes at the Glenrose and then he attended Kindergarten there. I cannot say enough good positive things about our experience while at the Glenrose. The teachers and all the aides were amazing. The information that we gained as parents was extremely helpful. One of the statements that stuck out in my mind and still does to this day is that I would be my son’s biggest advocate. No one would go the extra mile without me prodding them the entire way. Sitting there back then, I did not know just how true that statement would turn out to be.

While attending the kindergarten at the Glenrose, Mckenzie started taking meds for his ADHD. We understood that he would never function in a ‘normal’ classroom without them. Boy were they right! We started with the smallest dosage that we could and kept working up to a dosage that made a difference for Mckenzie. That just happened to be the highest dosage recommended. Thank God for my exhusband’s drug plan or we would have been spending over $500.00 per month on medication.

He was transitioned into a ‘normal’ classroom setting at Leo Nickerson School in St. Albert. And the advocating began. Because of his ‘coding’ he could not receive adequate aid time in the classroom. But because there were a number of kids in the classroom that needed aid time, there was one teacher’s aide in the classroom full time. Lucky for us, Kenz was the one that received the most help or assistance from the aid. Unfortunately the others that also needed help, didn’t.

Elementary was a struggle for him all the way. He was never really good at sitting and learning. Over the years in elementary we had some really good teachers and some not so good. Some teachers were willing to go that extra mile and teach to our son. Others just kicked him out of the classroom for ‘acting out’. I remember thanking God numerous times for giving my son the brains that he had, as he would need them to basically teach himself concepts he missed in school because of his inability to sit still and focus on the lesson.

Jr high at Lorne Akins proved a little more demanding for Mckenzie. He no longer qualified for any additional help. For some reason from elementary to Jr high ‘someone’ decided that his problems in elementary ‘cured’ themselves over the summer. I did manage to get him some aid time to help him stay organized (once again with the advocating). He didn’t receive any time in school for learning social skills though. All through elementary and now into Jr High he had no real friends. Oh he could and continues to make them easily enough, but keeping them is a whole other story. In the beginning of his school years, he was bullied; for acting silly, saying ‘stupid’ things, not fitting it. Then as an act of self-defence, he began ‘attacking’ first. Oh he was and still is very quick witted and will cut you down before you even have a chance to think about it. But that comes from years of being picked on, pushed around and treated like a nobody. Please don’t tell me about the ‘antibully’ movement the government is on, there are no eyes on the playground or on that bus ride home. And if you ‘tattle’ trust me, it only gets worse.

His Dad and I did try a number of programs through Alberta Health Services, but once the program funding ran out, so did Mckenzie’s time with a therapist. We also paid out of pocket for therapy sessions, but social skills are definitely better taught in a group setting.

Then from Jr High to High School, his Individual Progress Plan was dropped all together, unknown to us. Well there is a lot more freedom in high school in regards to attending classes, Kenzie figured that out very quickly. By the time we pulled him out of the public education system a month before school ended in grade 11 for him, he was not attending classes at all.

One of the problems with kids with ADHD is that they are about 30% ‘younger’ than what their birth certificate says. So my 10 year old son really was about as social mature as a 7 year old, at 13 years old he was as mature as a 9 year old and at 16 he was about as socially mature as an 11 year old. So in fact I had a 16 year old who was 6’2” and 200 lbs with the social skills equivalent to that of an 11 year old BUT with an IQ in the top 5% of his high school peers. Just sit with that for a minute… an 11 year old very smart kid struggling to fit in at high school. You can only well imagine how that worked out.

If you can’t imagine, let me tell you. Mckenzie just wanted friends like any other human being on the face of this earth; he just wanted to connect with his peers. I remember him wanting to join minor football. So we signed him up, took him to practices and games. Then watching the games, we realized that Mckenzie didn’t seem to be on the field very much. I went over and talked to the coach after one game and asked him about it. He said that they continually tried to get Mckenzie on the field, but he was just as happy to sit on the bench with the other players then actually play the game. Mckenzie was ‘different’ from the other kids and before long, the other kids started picking on him and he didn’t want to play the sport anymore. Same thing happened in hockey, and martial art classes, and cadets, and everything else we signed him up for.

By the time he got to the end of grade 11, he had made some ‘friends’. These ‘friends’ though only seemed to want anything to do with him if he had smokes (a nasty habit he took up to hang out with kids at the smoking pit), pot (another thing he discovered would get him included with peers) and money. Mckenzie was famous for ‘lending’ money (never to see it again), or handing out smokes to kids that didn’t have any or smoking pot with ‘friends’ that wanted to hang out with him. He never got invited to parties, or over to a friend’s house. He was never included except if he had something someone wanted. Now I know you’re thinking, well just don’t give him money. Easier said than done. Mckenzie would ‘borrow’ money out of the change jar on the counter. He would take his siblings allowance, claiming it was left out and he didn’t know who it belonged to. So doors started getting locked and Mckenzie was no longer trusted. When I discovered just how bad it had gotten, I pulled him out of school and he finished out his school year at home, under my supervision. He went from a 32% in English to passing the class after the final exam, same story with his other subjects in school. So Mckenzie is a really smart kid just making really bad choices when left on his own to do so.

His dad and I paid for him to be re-evaluated in grade 11. Same results as before, top 5% of his peers for his IQ level (so an extremely smart boy) and severe ADHD (even though when he was tested he was on the highest dosage of meds recommended for his ADHD).

Mckenzie was on a very fast path to self-destruction. He was seeing a therapist because when he was 15 he was ‘cutting’, depressed and suicidal. I remember reaching out for help so many times to be stopped in my tracks. Once when he was caught stealing from work, I drove him myself to the police station. I was desperate as a parent to get my son the help he needed and didn’t know where else to turn. After an RCMP officer stood there in front of my son and told him that he was old enough to make his own decisions, he didn’t really have to stay in my house and follow my rules, and did he want them to find him a better place, I was exasperated. Here I was reaching out to help my son and this RCMP officer was telling him it was ok to not live by my rules. She actually said in front of my son that there was really nothing I could do. So I tried phoning child social services to find help, but was told that because he was 16 years old, they really couldn’t help him BUT it was my responsibility to ensure he had a safe environment! So I have the police telling him he didn’t need to listen to me but social services telling me that I had to still provide for him. Tell me that doesn’t send a parent to give up.

But we never have and never will give up on our son. His dad and I looked into alternative solutions. We searched for treatment facilities, day programs, etc. anything that would help our son. CASA house (here in the Edmonton area) has a year wait to get in. Other programs would require either my ex-husband or I to pack up and move to that area, because there is no boarding options. With 3 other kids, that is not the greatest solution.

We found a program in BC that would take him in. We immediately sent him to this program, not in Alberta, but in BC. He stayed there for 2 months then moved onto the Wilderness camp. Again, not in Alberta but outside of Boise, Idaho. He did not return to Canada, because there are no programs we could get him into to continue his care.

Mckenzie is currently attending a therapeutic boarding school in Utah. He is not only learning social and life skills; he is flourishing in school as well. And this is where the advocating begins yet again. Mckenzie is at the tail end of his therapy. He will be returning to Alberta soon, hopefully the end of July or August.

I have begun the process of having his courses that he is taking down in Utah to be looked about by Alberta Education to evaluate what credit he will receive for marks towards his diploma. To be honest, I was really not surprised at the run around I got, when I called Alberta Education. I was passed from one department to the next, telling my story over and over. When the day had finally come to an end, I was no further ahead. I got answers ranging from” he won’t receive credit for his work down there” to “I really don’t know who you should talk to”. I have all his course descriptions and teacher’s remarks but no one at Alberta Education can tell me how to go about ensuring Mckenzie gets credit for his work. So then I decide that maybe at the district level they can help. So I contact the St. Albert Public School district. They at least told me the truth… “Alberta Education will not get involved with this”, but suggested I contact the guidance counsellor from his old high school. See here we are 2 weeks after my initial contact with Alberta Education and I am no further ahead. I knew that I was right in getting started with this in April… I might just have an answer by September of 2014. I refuse to allow Alberta Education to not give my son credit for something he has worked so hard on. Not one of his marks is below an 80%!!

So what am I looking for, you are probably asking yourself….

Well for starters, I want my son to receive the correct credit towards his high school diploma that he deserves. It was not his fault that the government did not offer a program here at home to help him succeed. And trust me, he is succeeding.

I also want to know why there is no program available to children in this province for such issues. Are we really ok with teaching to the ‘middle of the class’? Are we really ok with having kids that just follow along in life, don’t stand out, and don’t march to their own drum?? Because that is really in essences what my son has been told all through his life. Don’t be different, don’t be any better than the next guy, and don’t do anything to rock the boat. Just be like everyone else and things will be fine.

So finally we are getting our son the help that he needs to be a productive member of a society that turned their backs on him. Mckenzie’s dad had the means to pay for the treatment that our son so desperately needs. So my question is; what are other parents that can’t afford to send their son away doing….

That is where I believe our judicial system comes into play. I wonder how many inmates, if tested, would come back as ADHD or have some other learning disability. And believe me, ADHD is a learning disability. If you don’t believe me, I would be happy to drop my son off in your office and you try and teach him. I would be curious to see just how quick you would agree with me that something needs to be done. I wonder how many people on the ‘outskirts’ of society had been pushed around and beaten down till they started believing that they just weren’t worthy. Our government is so reactive to these situations rather than proactive.

So what is the solution? I don’t have all the answers, but the way things are going is not right. We need classrooms that teach to ALL students, not just the ones that ‘sit down, shut up, and fit in’. We need different classroom setting for different needs. Not everyone is cut out to sit for up to 6 hours a day and learn. Pardon me, we throw phys ed in there for 40 minutes a day. You can throw all the statistics back at me that you want, but I see real kids, every day failing in life. Why don’t we be the ones to step up and assist these kids finding their way in life? Why don’t we be the brave ones that stand up for them, instead of burying our heads in the sand and hoping for the best? How about we are the ones that step up and tell society that we are willing to help the kids that struggle everyday with learning? Or the ones that sit on the side lines at recess because no one picked them to play on the team. How about we are the ones that start a movement to get these kids the help they so desperate need to ‘make it’ in the world. We need to be the voice for these kids, because they don’t know how to tell us that they need help. Their parents don’t know which way to turn or they don’t have the means to ensure their child receives the help that he/she needs. Some just don’t have the voice to be heard.

So are you going to be one of the ones that say ‘what can I do about it’ or are you going to help me find solutions to a growing problem? I just can’t sit by and watch another kid get pushed through a system that is going to fail him anyway.

Debbi S
A mom to 4 future voters

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Debbi Serafinchon Written by:

Just an average ordinary woman being herself on this crazy ride we call life. I say what I mean and mean what I say. I chose to bring along 4 crazy side kicks on this journey, my 4 kids. The actual realization of my journey began after my divorce. Hindsight being what it is, I realized before my divorce I was just going through the steps. My eyes are now wide open to the path ahead of me.

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