"What are you reading?"
I was sitting at the pool with a friend who also happens to be a public school teacher. I held up my book, Different Learners: Identifying, Preventing and Treating your Child's Learning Problems by Jane Healy, one of my favorite educational neuroscience authors.
I read these kinds of books when I can. Not only was developmental psychobiology my field pre-motherhood, I have spent the last 15 years raising and teaching one very bright child with ADHD and various comorbid issues and now another who so far can only be described as a "late bloomer" in the academic sense. Two very different kids with two differently-wired brains who require two very different approaches.
And then there's Middle, who thankfully does just fine.
With the other two, the thinking and reading and learning about what they need and how to help them get it never really stops. Dr. Healy's book helps tease apart the confusing maze of labels: ADHD, dyslexia, autism, Asperger's syndrome, non-verbal learning disorder, social-emotional learning impairment, executive function disorder, etc. She explores how the fast-paced, stressful culture in which we live affects brain development and how lifestyle choices can help or harm children at risk for these problems.
She and I think alike about many of these things, and it's always gratifying to see that eating carefully, limiting screen time, honoring children's own innate timeline for certain skills, allowing plenty of time for exercise and unstructured free play and many of the other things we have made a priority in our home and our homeschool are things she recommends.
Sometimes, when I look at the problems the Teen is still faced with, it's good to remind myself of what the first therapist we saw told us about our parenting practices. "Imagine how much worse things might have been had you not done all of those things." What a powerful sentence that was for me, at a time when I felt I must be the worst parent in the world. Dr. Healy's books have the same reassuring effect on me.
So I'm reading this book at the pool, jotting down notes, reminding myself to look up different terms and researchers when I get home. "It's like your own personal in-service!" she joked.
But she was right! Regular teachers regularly go through these trainings to better meet the needs of their students - why wouldn't I be doing the same for my homeschoolers? Thinking about it that way made me feel like a bona fide professional. An Expert in the Field, even. :-)
Later, I watched an interesting lecture on non-verbal and social-emotional learning disorders and the struggle to diagnose and treat problems in the face of so many overlapping issues. Fascinating stuff, but as with everything else in this realm, I come away with more questions than answers.
It's not easy - it's never easy - but when I look at things through the lens of books and lectures like these, I can honestly say I feel a lot better about the good that we have done, even though we've had to be quite countercultural to do it.
Just because the culture is unhealthy doesn't mean we have to be.
Just because we're having problems doesn't mean they might not have been a lot worse.
Sometimes a good in-service is exactly what I need.