Awareness Month

If you know my scholarship style with words, you know I teach kids how to do word sums and that these word sums help us think about the meaning, relationship, and spelling of words:

aware+ness —-> awareness

The base word [aware] comes from Old English and means “watchful, vigilant.”

Stick with me here.

The root of [aware] stems back before Indo-European languages formed and means “perceive and watch out for”. Aware has the same root as words such as beware, guard, regard, revere, reward, steward, ward.

October is Awareness Month for so many things. Most notably for this audience is: Dyslexia and ADHD. An estimated 25-40% of kids with one of these disabilities, often also, has the other.

Here is what I implore teachers and parents to do this month and beyond:

  • Beware of dyslexia and ADHD in children who have not yet been diagnosed.
  • Guard the social-emotional well-being of our children with dyslexia and/or ADHD.
  • Revere the unique and beautiful ways in which these disabilities can also be superpowers.
  • Reward your children for preserving, having grit, and advocating for themselves.
  • Steward children’s education plans in these strange times with grace and determination. (You can have both.)
  • Ward off environmental factors that turn their ADHD and/or Dyslexic superpower into kryptonite.

This all got really personal for me this week. For the first time, I had an embodied experience of my own version of what many of my student’s families have already experienced.

This past 6 weeks of distance learning Kindergarten for my middle child has been very difficult. She has been very resistant to the format and literally runs away out of the house when I try to sit down and “do school” with her.

In response, I have been working closely with her teacher, her grandparents, and Mindful Literacy tutors. Her Dad even tried to do Saturday school with her last week and well, see the picture below.

Still, I have had the “truancy police” call me multiple times because fighting with her and risking our relationship isn’t worth us clicking “done” on Google Classrooms.

I am not at all being flippant. The teachers in my District are doing an amazing job and have an impossible mission. I admire them so much, yet I do not envy them.

Nonetheless, after receiving a second call about Evie’s absenteeism, I found myself saying to the school secretary, “This format is not developmentally appropriate for her. I try my best everyday, but she is not having it.”

Those words and the visual of my husband trying to catch Evie up on a Saturday morning echoed in my head for about a week before I decided to call licensed psychologist, Dr. Wendy Naumann. I figured, if I had some data on what she already knows and can do, then I would feel better about letting her get away with skipping a few distance learning activities in favor for indulging her imagination and letting her creative side bloom in the fairy garden.

After 5 hours, we are still not finished testing (This is enough time to wrap things up for some kids). At the end of our last session, Dr. Wendy sat me down and objectively presented me with her observations on my daughter’s testing behaviors. We were on Zoom. But I have a feeling, that if we had been in person, Wendy would have grabbed for my hand as she spoke.

“Jessica, I think we need to consider the possibility that there is something else going on with her executive functioning. Even when we were in person, I could only hold her attention on these difficult and non-preferred tasks for a very short time before she needed to take a break. She is getting the testing items right, but it’s like she can’t keep herself together to keep going. I think we need to do more testing to rule out ADHD.” Using softer language, Wendy basically summarized that Evie is reading like she is 7, but her executive functioning is like a typical 3 year old.

The world outside of my body started swirling. My hands started shaking. I pressed my face to the screen so I could see Wendy’s face more clearly.

I paused.

I thought about everything I knew about Evie and everything I knew about ADHD.

I thought aloud to Wendy. She confirmed that my anecdotal observations aligns with the markers for ADHD.

I thought about all Evie’s strengths and connected those to the strengths of ADHD brains.

I thought about Evie’s struggles with distance learning. I thought about how at home I have always thought she was just being difficult. That she was still learning to regulate her rollercoaster of emotions (if you listen to the podcast with Wendy and I this upcoming Tuesday, I actually asked her about Evie back in July).

I thought about how Evie was avoiding and resisting virtual school and becoming a rebel, emo, artist type already at the ripe age of 5 years 3 months.

And before I felt anything else, the room stopped spinning and I felt so LUCKY.

And I started to cry.

I felt so lucky that we are potentially catching ADHD in my 5 year old this early.

I could imagine how much her team and I can do for her socially, emotionally, and academically being empowered with this information.

Had it not been for distance learning, I don’t know if any of this testing would have been done.

Honestly, I was just trying to get her out of distance learning work with a few data points so that I could avoid the struggle and stop the worrying.

The silver lining is this: If we know how her brain works, we can build on her strengths as a team and lessen the burden of a format of learning that is not “developmentally appropriate” for her brain. I almost immediately wrote a letter to the school asking them to complete a compressive evaluation for Evie (triggering Child Find).

Even when you know the signs, symptoms, markers, sometimes it is hard to see the forest from the trees.

It is sometimes really hard to recognize the markers in younger children and especially harder to recognize these markers in girls.

And it is really, REALLY hard to recognize these markers in your own children. Even when you have a Ph.D. in Special Education!

So. Continue to lean in on your school community and learn in on this Mindful Literacy community. (I sure will be.)

And what ever you do, continue to be aware.


Dr. Bennett