Achilles heel

April 27,2011
Professor Mom
Aliki McElreath( )

Aliki is a writer and college English teacher. She lives in North Carolina with her husband, two children (ages seven and ten), a dog, a cat, a rabbit, and too many fish.

It's EOG (end-of-grade-testing) week for L. this week, and next week, too. The fun starts Thursday, with the EOG in science, and Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday are the reading and math EOG tests. We have been trying as hard as we can to walk that delicate line between helping L. prepare for the tests, yet not pushing his stress threshold past the limits. He desperately wants to do well on the tests, yet he still seems unable to both conceptualize and put into practice what he needs to do to achieve success.

And throw in a big dash of oppositional behavior towards anything school-related, and you have a real challenge when it comes to helping your child prepare for tests.

Last week I asked L. if his science teacher had sent home any preparation sheets to help along the study process. I know the walls of his classroom are papered in science vocabulary words that will be on the EOG test, yet none of these words have made it home.

No, L. said. He hasn't sent any sheets home.

I realized then that I needed to rephrase the questions for my literal-minded son.

Did the teacher pass out any sheets?

L. thought for a minute: Oh! Yes he did.

Where are they?

I don't know, L. said, exasperated.

Maybe in your locker?

Oh, yes, probably.

And there they were, in a crumpled pile at the bottom of his locker.

This is one of the pieces of the school success picture that we struggle with the most, and that worries us considerably when we think about next year. Lots of kids (and adults) struggle with disorganization. I have college students now who struggle with it considerably. They are the ones who lose every handout I give them; who forget to write down their assignments; who can't even keep track of the date of the final exam. I am like the nagging mother hen to them all, yet I know, too, how important developing organizational skills is when it comes to school and job success. You might struggle with something academically, but it you can stay on top of the organization piece you're more than half-way there.

We've been battling L.'s chronic disorganization since he set foot in elementary school. Before the kindergarten year was over he had lost clothes and lunchboxes and homework and handouts and books. I see the difference with T., who herself isn't a pillar of organization yet she has never lost anything at school and she is able to prioritize her time (completing all the homework for the week in one night, for instance, so she won't have to do it later; or, remembering to hand in all the forms we send back to school with her, and to file the returning ones correctly). Even at a young age, she hasn't struggled with executive function tasks the way L. does.  I think we're finding more and more that the challenges L. faces because of his AS were more severe in the early years of school, while now his focus and anxiety issues are the ones truly getting in the way of his success. We have tried color-coded folders, time sheets, labels, and a myriad of other 'tricks" both at home and school, but we still haven't made much headway in helping L. with the organization piece of it all.

Yesterday I stopped into school and collected as many handouts and worksheets as I could. I cleaned out the bottom of his locker, and found field trip forms, more study sheets, and lots of writing drafts. 

One of the teachers in the hallway clicked her tongue when she saw me kneeling on the floor in front of L.'s locker, and when she saw what I pulled out of it. I know what she saw: a messy, disorganized kid and a helicopter mom-turned-enabler.

Me? I saw a parent who is trying as hard as she can to help her kid stay on top of all this mess.