I have severe dyslexia and was diagnosed with ADD as a child, so I was very tuned in to Gabriel’s schoolwork and behavior early on. But he was reading very early, so I was never concerned about him not being able to read. I did notice other things, though. We started him in a school where the kids chose what they wanted to do, and he never wanted to write; he chose to do sports every day instead of going to English class. I began to be worried that my son was not picking up a pencil.
So in second grade I put him back in public school and stressed the fact that he hadn’t written all year. But his writing continued to be a huge problem. We did workbooks at home, but it didn’t make a difference. By the time he was in fourth and fifth grade, we couldn’t understand anything he’d written. There were all these spelling errors, and his handwriting was literally like chicken scratch.
During all that time, he went to martial arts three to four times a week. By middle school, he was a red belt, which comes with lots of responsibility – he even had his own students. So, it wasn’t just physically challenging, it was also mentally challenging for him. It’s been an incredibly positive part of his life.
During sixth grade, two things happened. Gabriel started to get a lot of coursework, and since his school had sports programs for free, I cut back on martial arts and let him choose some school sports to do instead. But at school activities he wasn’t encouraged to push himself. He would come home and say, “I’m not really doing anything.”
“By the time he was in fourth and fifth grade, we couldn’t understand anything he’d written. There were all these spelling errors, and his handwriting was literally like chicken scratch.”
At the same time a lot of his friends started taking ADHD medications. Gabriel began asking for medication, saying that he was having a hard time focusing. I told him, “No, absolutely not. Your friends have ADHD diagnoses.” Gabriel did not have any diagnoses at that time. He had never even been evaluated. He wasn’t getting in trouble, and his grades were great even though he had trouble writing.
I know ADHD is real, but I also feel like hyper activity means a kid wants to be active. I felt like his decrease in physical activity was the reason he was saying, “Oh, I’m anxious. Oh, I have ADHD. Oh, I need medication to solve this problem.” But I wanted to make sure I was listening to him and wasn’t just telling him no because I didn’t want him on drugs. I knew that seventh and eighth grade are a time of transition. If Gabriel needed coping mechanisms, I wanted to give him effective ones, and not just say no and have a problem that I was ignoring.
I really wanted to make sure Gabriel didn’t have an attention problem. Ultimately, it was the possibility that there was something else going on in the background that led me to the Healthy Brain Network.
One of my friends who had done the program suggested the Healthy Brain Network to us to make sure there was nothing else going on. She knows Gabriel well, knew he had a lot of anxiety when he was younger, and that he seemed very introverted even though that wasn’t necessarily his natural tendency. She told me, “Just sign up and see what they come back with.”
“When we got our feedback report, I was really happy to finally get words for problems that we had been experiencing — to be able to explain the disconnect between home and school.”
We participated when he was 14, and our experience was pretty good. It’s been great for Gabriel actually. It was so good for Gabriel’s ego. He liked that the staff loved how fit he was. He flew through a lot of the physical challenges, and he exceeded expectations. He loved the energy and the effort.
When we got our feedback report, I was really happy to finally get words for problems that we had been experiencing — to be able to explain the disconnect between home and school. The two big takeaways were that he had executive functioning issues and he lacked the motor skills to write properly.
It was validation for a lot of – for lack of a better word – my paranoia. His handwriting was illegible; he had strong ideas but his writing lacked cohesion since he waited until the last minute to do things. I had been reaching out to teachers about it and their response was, “Ahh, boys… that happens from time to time with boys. It’s fine.”
“We’ve found a tutor for executive functioning. He’s been doing that for several months now. And it’s been making impacts in his life.”
The clinician recommended that he get an assisted writing device, such as a tablet, and a 504 plan saying that he needs an assisted device in school. It was helpful because we were able to take that to the school, to his counselor and teachers, and say “these are challenges that he has, and these are steps that we’re taking outside of school to help with it.”
We’ve found a tutor for executive functioning. He’s been doing that for several months now. And it’s been making impacts in his life. The extra support is supposed to get him to work on the things that he doesn’t want to do. He has a whiteboard in his room, and I see him writing out lists of things that are important to him. He’s setting goals and priorities, verbalizing them and putting them in order.
There are still challenges. Tardiness is a challenge, but he’s definitely aware of it. And we’re in communication with the school about it. It’s still a journey to incorporate these things in life.
And I’ve seen him clean up his room on his own. Some 16-year-olds might do this, but he’s never been one of those people. Lately he takes initiative and cleans up his room. That is a positive change: seeing him using those tools in areas where he needs it.