My cheeks burned as I played along, offering sound bites. A start-up venture. A film project. Independent study. Anything to avoid the truth: that my handsome, broad-shouldered son was, probably, at that very moment, home in bed with the shutters drawn, covers pulled over his head.
Officially, Will was taking a gap year. But after 13 years of school, what he needed, what he’d earned, was a nap year. Will has long suffered from learning difficulties. It took years to pinpoint a diagnosis — and even when we did, figuring out how to manage it wasn’t easy. He needed a break. So did I.
Will’s problems began to surface when he was in kindergarten. “He’s not where the other children are,” his teacher whispered to me one morning. I knew what she meant. Clumsy and slow to read, Will rested his head on his desk a lot. His written work, smudgy from excessive erasing, looked like bits of crumpled trash.
Still, his teacher’s remark stung. I couldn’t shake the image of 20 kids on the playground, climbing on the monkey bars, and Will alone on the soccer field picking dandelions. Not where the other children are.
Had I been the sassy sort, armed then with the knowledge I would later accrue, I might have joked with that teacher, told her that Will had greater aspirations. But I wasn’t there yet.
‘Just get him through’
School was torture for Will. He couldn’t take notes, failed to turn in homework, forgot when tests were coming up. Yet on standardized tests, his verbal scores consistently exceeded the 99th percentile. I wondered why he struggled, when clearly he was bright.
“Just get him through school,” his first-grade teacher had advised. Neither of us sensed what a long and painful road lay ahead. But her advice became my mantra: Just get him through.
Over the next several years, Will was evaluated for learning disabilities. While he had a superior IQ, an excellent memory and a solid grasp of complex linguistic cues, he fatigued easily and suffered from weak sensorimotor, visual perceptual and language output skills. And because he exhibited all nine symptoms of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, ADHD-inattentive type, he was slapped with that label, too.
While these evaluations provided useful information, they never answered our more pressing questions. Is there a way to determine reasonable academic expectations? How do we know when to push, when to back off?
By the time Will hit sixth grade, I’d reduced my work hours so I could be home in the afternoons to help Will with homework. Even with a master’s degree and years of teaching experience, I still struggled to reteach Will everything he should have learned at school.