Excuses, Excuses

One of the most gob-smacking things a child ever said to me was, ‘I can’t do that, Miss.  I’ve got ADHD.’  After I’d picked my jaw up from the floor and recomposed my features from inappropriate-laugh-in-your-face-ness to serious school-marm, I tutted, told him I’d never heard anything more ridiculous in my life, and sent him on his way, the proverbial flea well and truly in his ear.  As he bounced back to his seat (via the long-way-round rather than the one-way-system) I wondered quite how many times he had been allowed, in his nine or ten years of life, to get away with the same protestation, because that sort of thing just doesn’t wash with me.

You see, I am used to expecting the super-human from super-human small people. I have never been satisfied with ‘I can’t do that’.  I have long been of the view that, even though children carry labels that speak of limitations, even though my child bears one of these labels, the world, as my dad was fond of intoning to my disappearing teenaged back, does not owe him a living.  I cannot do the learning for him.  In the end, he will have to do it for himself, or forever flounder in an artificial infancy.

This is not to say that I haven’t made adjustments for the children with special needs in my classrooms over the years.  Time, angled writing boards, footplates, attention, sticker charts and books, differentiated activities; all these things have been, and are, part of my armoury.  I understand.  I understand that the journey into learning is harder for some than for others.  I sympathise.  I wish it wasn’t so.  If I could wish away the difficulty, if I could wave my magic wand over it and wash it away I would, in a heartbeat.

But underneath the sympathy is a steely determination.  A determination to see these kids, and my own, succeed, whatever the label.  Whatever the obstacle.  I remember one young boy, years ago.  He had problems with short term memory and dyslexia.  He and I had a chat one day about it.  He never asked for special treatment.  I never gave him any.  I just said to him that he needed to find his own way to remember things and he was just going to have to work harder at that.  We shrugged our shoulders in acceptance and got on with the job.  Later in the year I gave him the starring role in our class assembly (one of those teacher written plays, the sort with parts for everyone).  He volunteered.  I thought he would do a good job.  When he left that school I was touched that he mentioned that role, that assembly, as his best moment in primary school.

We knew it was hard.  But we also knew that I was cheering him on all the way.

And I took the lessons that little boy taught me with me when my own little boy was born.  Breastfeed?  Get on it.  Sleep through the night?  You betcha.  Potty training?  Why the heck not?  And what about all the other things – communication, tantrums, getting dressed, getting undressed, riding bikes, reading, writing, figuring out those bleddy coins and how much they’re worth? What about them?  They need to be learned, to be conquered too.  Just because a child has Down Syndrome, or Autism, or dyslexia or dyspraxia or ADHD or any of those other things, it doesn’t give him a Get Out Of Jail Free Card.  Eventually, on with Life he will have to get.

This doesn’t mean that I don’t find it hard, that he doesn’t find it hard.  This doesn’t mean that we haven’t had our days of throwing ourselves to the floor and shrieking at the unfairness of it all.  It is hard.  It is bloody hard.  But, after I have had my moments of not-quite-despair, I pick myself up, pick him up, take hold of his metaphorical hand, and on we go.  For I am driven by a moral imperative.  Just because something is hard does not mean that it isn’t the right thing to do.

So if you find yourself working with me, either child or adult, don’t come to me saying, ‘I can’t do that, it doesn’t work,’ or, ‘ It’s too hard’.  Together we can find a way. We can take that label, ADHD, Down Syndrome, Challenging Child, Challenging School, Pushy Parent, whatever it is, and we can give it our best shot.  We might not do it the conventional way.  It might take a while before the results of our labours start to show, and be warned, it will require extra effort on all our parts.

For me, anything else is writing people off.  Anything else is just excuses.

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9 thoughts on “Excuses, Excuses

  1. Great post Nancy. A ‘can do’ attitude is just so important. Pupils, parents, teachers and TA’s need to take this on board for all pupils but especially those with a label.

  2. So well said Nancy! Bravo that woman! Yes life’s bloody hard, for everyone, and yes, we do all feel like jacking it all in (sometimes for days at a time on end) but you can’t, especially not where children are concerned. I too have taught children who have said “I can’t behave; I have ADHD”!! Not on my watch you don’t. Okay you do, and I acknowledge that, but as you say you pull out the bag of tricks needed to deal with helping that child overcome their particular barrier to learning/socialising/whatever.

    On a more personal level, this line grabbed me particularly: “Just because something is hard does not mean that it isn’t the right thing to do.”

    Before I became kinship carer for my nephew I sat on a sea rocking back and forth over the pros and cons (for both him and for me) of my impending decision. So many people doubted whether I could/should/would do it. Social workers threw up every scary scenario they could to really challenge my decision and of course it was not a decision to be taken lightly and neither was it. But in the end I made the decision to do it, not just because it was the right and necessary thing to do for him, but because for all the “can’t do” thoughts which went through my head the “can do/ must do” triumphed every time. Even now, over 2 years on, I have days when I think “I can’t do this anymore.” But I know i can. I have. I brought him and me through the first 6 months and survived and they were the hardest and so I look back at these when I have a bad day and know I can. It was the right thing to do despite being the hardest thing I have ever done and continue to do in my life.

    Thanks for sharing a great post. Let’s rock on with a can do attitude for our kids in schools. (even though the bad days will try to pull us down, we know they won’t win!)

  3. A “can do” attitude is sorely needed nowadays! As a young adult with a disability myself, I wish I could tell younger kids that “I can’t do this, I’ve got —–” isn’t acceptable at all in the world out there. You just have to keep on trucking or be left behind. There needs to be more people like you out there!

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