Neuro-Diverse Kids & the End of the School Year: Let’s Celebrate Their Successes, Too by Ann Marie Patitucci
One of my children is neuro-diverse, which means he has neurologically atypical patterns of thoughts and/or behaviors. Put another way, attention deficit disorder (ADHD) and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), just two of many examples of neurodiversity, are diagnostic labels used to explain diverse ways of thinking, processing, learning and behaving. The neurologically atypical patterns can be especially apparent in a school setting.
This time of year, while some families are celebrating straight As, sports achievements, academic awards, arts awards, scholarships and college acceptances (as they should), parents of neuro-diverse kids may feel a range of emotions, such as gratitude that the school year is nearly over, apprehension about the changes that summer will bring and anxiety about how to maintain friendships during the summer. Our kids also experience a range of emotions that come with peers being honored for being the “best” and the “most” and achieving the “highest,” while our kids’ hard work and growth are seldom noticed, let alone recognized at a school ceremony. A local parent recently shared on social media:
“This is [my son’s] first year in middle school ... His first year not making the honor roll. His first year that he’s felt alone, like he has no friends in his classes. And now his first experience going to an awards ceremony where many of his peers received awards for 'working hard,' 'being respectful' and 'achieving the honor roll.' While he may not be able to focus [well], he spends 12 plus hours a week on homework only to [get] Bs/Cs. His teacher has told us he is respectful … so I know he tries hard at that, too. He came home today disappointed that we weren’t [at the ceremony] … He felt alone and that nobody recognizes how hard he works. The school only notified parents whose children were receiving awards. We didn’t even know [the event] was happening. We could’ve talked to him about it.”
We parents of neuro-diverse kids did not ask to be part of this unique group, though we bond easily, as only we know what it’s like to raise, love, support and advocate for a child who is atypical in a neuro-typical world that doesn’t yet understand neurodiversity and the unique ways in which neuro-diverse kids (and adults) think and learn, behave and socialize. This can be true even at school. In fact, Dr. William Dodson states that "it is estimated that those with ADHD receive 20,000 more negative messages by age 12 than those without the condition.”
I belong to a local social media group for mothers of children with ADHD. When I found the group, I had already met with my son’s doctors and had read just about everything I could get my hands on, but I wanted to hear from the source- parents. Being connected with them has helped me to better understand and support my son and to remember that we are not alone in our challenges. One of my favorite things about the group is the Annual ADHD Honor Roll, which happens at the end of each school year. The annual post simply states: “Let’s hear our successes.”
Reading everyone’s responses brings me to tears every year. If your kids are neurotypical, some of these “successes” may seem strange to you, but the parents in the group see them clearly as successes and understand why it’s important to acknowledge them. Here is a sampling of the comments:
- “We are ending the school year with a final grade of Bs across the board. Also, he isn't watching as much YouTube at school.”
- “We have had the same water bottle for two years!!”
- “We’ve completed a full year of therapy and have grown tremendously in impulse control!”
- “We didn't get called into school once (first time ... he's in 7th grade)!!!”
- “We survived. That's about all I can say, but honestly, I'll take it!”
- “[He] made it into the school building more times than he didn't. Still missed most of the first period class this year because he was late, but overall an improvement.”
- “We tried a new medication this last nine weeks, and he brought four Fs up to As.”
- “[She] went a whole year without breaking or losing her glasses!”
- “He was picked for the safety patrol at his school.”
- “We haven’t lost a single hoodie this year (although we did acquire one of dubious origins).”
- “This is the first year since starting school that I haven’t received a call from the principal. I will take that WIN!”
- “We found a great fit in how to homeschool, and my daughter began to soar … She also received the 'hardest worker' award at her gymnastics team banquet! It isn’t always easy; in fact without her medications she can’t function at all, but she has made really great strides this year!”
- “Mine turns 17 in two weeks and I think I’ll have finally gotten him diagnosed.”
- “My son found a passion for soccer, and he’s getting quickly better at it. Fun to see a spark ignite, where there wasn’t much direction before.”
- “No school avoidance and only one referral.”
- “My son made it through kindergarten without a phone call home or a note about bad behavior. Truly a first for our household.”
As for me, I’ve seen so much maturity and growth in my son this year (and I’m not just referring to his height – he towers over me at 6-foot tall!). Some days are easier than others and some challenges persist, but when I look back at the last six years, I am amazed at how far he’s come and I’m incredibly proud of him. He’s had so many successes this year, both big and small, and they are all worthy of recognition and celebration, no matter where that celebration takes place.
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