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My Mockingbird

by Ruthie

My son was reading Harper Lee's story To Kill a Mockingbird for English I. As he dictated to me his answers for the study guide, I was struck by how this wonderful story's metaphor applies to twice-exceptional children.

In the story, the narrator's father tells her that it's a sin to kill a mockingbird. When she asks why he said that, a neighbor tells her that mockingbirds don't bother people -- that they make music, and they sing their hearts out for our enjoyment.

Some of the well-meaning professionals shoot at our mockingbirds. We parents of twice-exceptional kids are told that our kids are too smart to receive the special education and related services that we know they need -- and in the same breath, that they don't achieve enough in the classroom to receive the kind of instruction we know they need. These people have winged my son several times.

Since Kindergarten, teachers have said to me, "I've never seen anyone like him." "He should repeat first grade because he's socially immature." "He can do the work, but he doesn't try hard enough." "He can focus, I've seen him do it." "He's so smart, but he won't do the work." "We can't assess him for disabilities because he's not failing, but I wouldn't be surprised if he does have a learning disability." "We can't put him in a higher ability class because he doesn't have the work ethic." Of all teachers he had, only one suggested disability testing or any other help outside her own classroom (and this particular one had been his TAG teacher for four years).

My son was diagnosed Gifted/ADHD at age 6. He was diagnosed with dysgraphia at age 14. When I learned about our rights about IEPs and 504s and requested testing, the school wouldn't test him because he wasn't failing. They wouldn't test him even after I told them that he spends hours on homework; that I coached him nearly every night by prompting him and redirecting his attention. We had him assessed privately and finally got a 504 document half way through 8th grade. Our 504 team included the district GT coordinator, a counselor and a vice-principal. Not much changed -- the teachers who had been making informal accommodations for him continued to do so and the others didn't start.

Then at the beginning of high school, I wrote to each and every first quarter teacher describing the accommodations that would be appropriate for him, and then requested a 504 meeting from his new counselor. The 504 meeting was held in a very crowded room -- there must have been 12 people there. The teachers and resource people made suggestions right and left. "If he needs to use the computer for writing, he can go to the library." "A resource aid can give him lecture notes for English and History." "He can take essay tests orally or at home on the computer." "We'll understand when he's a couple days late with his homework." I was floored. These were the things he was denied for so many years. We were in an unfamiliar world: teachers who worked together for a student's good.

The first quarter ends next week and he loves high school. His grades are better. He still dictates homework to me almost every night, but he's taking more of it on himself. He turns in homework late now and again, but less frequently. He'll start independent study in math tomorrow. He plans to go through two years of math (Algebra II and Functions, Statistics, and Trigonometry) this year -- and the teachers absolutely support him and believe in him. I know it's early yet, but somehow I feel that these teachers won't shoot at him.

Our twice-exceptional kids don't eat up teachers' gardens, don't nest in their corncribs. But with appropriate accommodations and services, they sing their hearts out for us. That's why it's a sin to kill a mockingbird.
 


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