Last fall, my then two-year-old son started preschool. He was one of only three boys in the class, one of the youngest in the class and the only African American boy. He’s always been a smart kid– I had no worries about him grasping the concepts””nor was I overly concerned about his race, or him being among a handful of boys. I prepared myself for what I thought would be a successful first school year.
About two months into the year, the teacher approached me with the problem. During circle time, instead of sitting, he would get up and play. He was often defiant when asked to do something that he didn’t want to do. When it was time to walk in line, he would, unless there was something else he wanted to do.
None of these issues seemed reason enough for me to sound an alarm. I knew my son could be a little strong willed, but a two year old who didn’t want to do what he was told? Go figure.
The school, however, felt like there was reason enough to believe that his behavior could be early signs of a problem. They suggested further evaluation and early intervention, noting that getting to the bottom of it now would be the best way to ensure his academic success down the road.
Cue mom, going into full-on freak-out mode. After web surfing for a few hours, I had diagnosed him with everything from a sensory disorder to childhood schizophrenia. I contacted a state program, recommended by the school, for evaluation, and at the same time made appointments for some of the top behavioral child psychiatrists in the area.
From private specialists after multiple visits: A perfectly normal, active preschooler who could benefit from a classroom setting with structured discipline.
From the state after one 45-minute school visit and an educational assessment: A very smart child, in the top 8 percent of kids his age cognitively, with an emotional delay. A recommendation for an IEP and possible special education program based on potential pre-ADHD behavior.
I was faced with two drastically different diagnoses, intense pressure from the school and the state program to accept the state diagnosis, and the prospect of either tracking my child into special education at age three or ignoring a diagnosis and potentially setting him up for failure down the line.
It was one of the hardest parenting decisions we’ve had to make so far, but I learned a great deal from the challenge:
Get a second, and third, opinion So much of the outcome depends on both the therapist and your child’s behavior on that particular day. Instead of accepting one person’s word as gold, get some different perspectives in making a decision.
Use your resources I realize that everyone does not have the luxury of pursuing private therapists which often come at the price of “whole paycheck” (many of them did not accept insurance). But even if your options are limited, you often have more than one program you can access. Do your research and be sure to ask.
Build a Support Team I had my mom, a special educator for nearly 30 years, in my corner to guide me through the process, look over all documents, come to meetings and raise any red flags. Even if you don’t have a parent as a resource, seek out a teacher-friend that is not from your child’s school to have your back if you start feeling lost.
Listen to Your Child He may have only been a toddler, but in talking to him about some of the school incidents, I got a lot more perspective on what he was experiencing.
Know your rights Read everything you receive. If you have questions, ask them. Don’t ever feel pressured into making a decision that you’re uncertain about.
Be your child’s advocate no matter what Everyone you encounter in the process has an agenda. You are the one charged with keeping your child’s best interest at heart. You might make some people mad in the process. Now is not the time to care.
In the end, we decided not to accept the state diagnosis. I did not feel comfortable making decisions about my child’s future at age three based on the “potential” for a problem. We also decided that while his school was a good school, it was not a good school for him. We enrolled him in a new school and haven’t encountered any problems, but we are keeping an eye out for future ones, and know what to do if they arise.