Are you sure about that?

Parents of children, who are presenting differently to their peers or siblings, are often caught in an overwhelming place wherein they are willing to ‘try anything’. Their vulnerability is their instinctive desire to do ‘whatever it takes’ to remedy ‘the problem’ or resolve the difference. They seek school placements; various extramural programmes; medication and/or supplements; diets; technology; assessment. Parents usually want the best for their child. They want a happy child who is succeeding. They grapple to come to terms with the challenges that being slightly or dramatically out of step from the mainstream ‘norm’ brings when a child develops differently. Ironically, often times, those same parents also have goals for their children that include each one ‘reaching full potential’, ‘standing out from the crowd’, growing up to be ‘extraordinary’.

In searching for sure fixes and remedies, a parent can be beguiled and fall prey to good marketing of products and services that may be well intended at best, or exploitative at the outset. Parents in this place are vulnerable to the ‘next thing’, the ‘magic’, and the pressure of peers. It can be hard to find one’s voice and one’s mind. What if you turn something down, and it turns out to be the silver bullet? The question to ask is, “Are you sure about that?”

Questions to consider in order to be ‘sure about that’:

  • Is your child on medication that is targeting the right need?

Has your child been seen by a specialist? Do you know and understand the benefits of the prescription, and the side effects? Do you have a clear idea of why the medication is indicated for your specific child? Are you sure that you have considered the risks of your child not having the medication he or she needs, if the support is indicated, before you deny him or her the opportunity? Have you got a monitoring plan in place wherein you are sharing feedback with the adults in your child’s day – therapists, teachers, au pairs, and family members? If you have been wary of western medication, and you use supplements, fasting, dietary restriction and other remedies ARE YOU SURE about what those herbs and oils or diet variances are doing to your child’s neurology, liver, kidneys and endocrine system?

  • Is the programme you are investigating for your child well researched?

Well-researched or evidenced based practice will have clinical research papers associated with it and peer review processes to support it. A few articles on the web is not research, it is anecdotal evidence and likely biased in one direction or another. Researched practices like RAVE-O; multi-sensory learning; a spiral curriculum based on the age of the child and the related developmental ability, like Singapore Maths; Instrumental Enrichment; Cognitive Enrichment Advantage; Cognitive Behavioural Therapy; Snoezelen; Sensory Integration, are all backed by science. Is the course you are wanting your child supported by the same? For starters, anything offered in 10 sessions or 20 weeks is possibly useful not harmful, but not likely developmentally appropriate: children learn at different rates, at different times and in different ways. A one-size-fits-all approach to frequency of exposure is already a flag, perhaps?

  • Is the school you are considering registered, sustainable and properly governed? Does it have an ethos of care that promotes honest partnership with parents? Why does it exist?

The demand for independent schooling, small classes and a culture of care has made the market wide open to well-meaning educators or shrewd entrepreneurs who can accommodate your child as an individual, tomorrow. To be sure, be responsible and use your head as much as your heart.

Ask: Is the school registered with the requisite statutory educational body, in South Africa, the Department of Education of the Department of Social Development? Is the school associated with another body wherein it is accountable, like the SABJE, ISASA, Catholic Schools Association, South African Association for Home Schools? Is the school accredited by UMALUSI, the statutory body in South Africa appointed to monitor quality assurance? Are the teachers qualified and registered with SACE? Are the health practitioners registered with the HPCSA? Does the school have a board of governors or trustees? Is the school certain it is sustainable and how can they show you this? If the school principal is the owner, what is the plan for the school if something happens to that owner? How involved are parents in a formal organized platform (like a Parents Association)? Does the school own the land or building or is the lease long term and secure? How will the school report on your child’s progress and against what standards or criterion? Are you registering the child with the school or with the curriculum provider?

  • Is the curriculum at the school or center built on learning that will take your child forward developmentally on a cognitive level?

To be sure, ask to see the full curriculum from Grade R to 12. Is the curriculum used internationally or nationally? Does it meet developmentally appropriate standards? What examining board oversees the promotion from this curriculum into tertiary education and is this entity registered in and of itself in a country? If you are seeking a specialist school, like a school for learners with autism, what does the school do that is in keeping with best practice in the area of autism and can the school point you to the framework for intervention they subscribe to, or not?

  • Do the parent strategies you employ, take advice to try or find on social media strengthen your attachment and relationship with your child in a healthy way, or break the trust?

10 ways to be a better parent or 5 tips for 21st Century parenting found on a blog may be enriching but not likely the route to adopt for your child on first reading. To be sure that the strategies you employ as a parent are useful to your relationship with your child and also developmentally appropriate, consider talking to someone you trust like a mentor in the family, your spouse, the teachers at the school, your faith based leaders. Be prepared to hold the mirror up on your own practice and make adjustments if their advice resonates with you, uncomfortably or not.

  • Do you seek advice that is trustworthy from professionals, friends and family who care and have the best interests of your child in mind, even more so than yours?

Are you sure that the person advising you has no other agenda than the well-being of your child – not to appease you personally, to ingratiate themselves, to secure your business (think of the sports coach or facilitator who will tell you only good things about your child to keep your business), to keep peace or dominate you in a personal power play? Think about difficult conversations you have had with staff at the school or a therapist or doctor: sometimes these are the very people being candid and honest with you to try to encourage your action and you may have reacted defensively at the time. No educator or therapist wakes up one day to set about upsetting a parent with bad news. It takes courage on the professional’s side to approach you honestly. Think back on these conversations. Are you sure you should have dismissed the feedback?

  • Is the assessment of your child held in tension with the whole context of your child?

Are you sure that any assessment of your child has been a collaborative activity that has considered your child’s full world? Was there a good amount of time spent on the ‘background history’? Were many people consulted at the school, in your home, even yourself? A quick screener at a busy reading clinic or online is not an accurate assessment of whether the programme on offer will help your child, but it is a very effective way to get you to sign up!

  • Is the extracurricular sports programme you have packed into your child’s already busy day really indicated and developmentally appropriate or is it a great cash generator for a smart entrepreneur?

Children need to play. Premature competition and sports specialization is detrimental to the well-being of your child. Why exactly have you signed your primary school child up for additional sports clubs? Are you sure of that answer? Is it fear that he or she may be ‘left behind’ in high school sport? Is it your own self-esteem? Is it yet another barrier to time with you or useful supervision whilst you are busy? Is it because you simply feel the social pressure around you and that if you didn’t, your parenting provision may be viewed as somewhat lacking in your social circle? Children need to unwind, to play, to relax, to connect with their homes, pets, siblings and parents. If the school you are attending offers 2-3 times a week sport or exercise, this is likely sufficient. Besides, recent studies show that role modeling is the best way to improve your child’s activity – active parents have active children. Are you sure you are as active as you ought to be?

Is your child old enough for competitive sports?

Experts in both youth sports and child development agree: Kids are not ready for competition until they are at least 8 years old. Before that, they just can’t handle the stresses of winning, losing, and being measured and scored on their performance. For children under 8, sports should be about physical activity, having fun, learning new skills, and laying the groundwork for good sportsmanship. That doesn’t mean that all kids will be ready for competitive sports as soon as they turn 8. For many children, it’s not until about age 10 that they can grasp some of the nuances inherent in competition. It’s hard to learn that sometimes, you lose even when you try your best. Developmentally, kids playing competitively need to have sufficient self-discipline and a good attention span. They need to be mature enough to listen to and respect the coach, as well as the standards of group instruction. If your child is super-passionate about soccer, but doesn’t have the patience to perform practice drills over and over, she may not be ready to join a competitive team. To decrease the risk of injury, kids should not play contact sports such as football until they are at least in middle school (age 11 or 12). There is also a risk of overuse injury if your child specializes in a certain sport or playing position at a young age.

Hibbard DR and Buhrmester D. Competitiveness, Gender, and Adjustment Among Adolescents. Sex Roles vol. 63, issue 5-6, September 2010.

And there are more questions to be sure about…

  • Do you allow screen time that is balanced? Is that game benefiting your child? Are you sure your child needs 3G or internet access? Really?
  • Are you sure that you have done the research on those age restricted games you buy your child? Why would you override the recommendation?
  • How indicated is that technology you are pushing for your child to use – does the app assist your child or was it just an idea to try? Are your really sure you should be removing the cognitive role it fulfills at this point in your child’s life, or is it just a way of removing a hardship?

Bellavista is committed to educating children with barriers to learning using evidence based practice and a developmental approach to learning. Socially, physically, cognitively and emotionally, a child sets about the business of ‘growing up’ at his or her own pace, uniquely and beautifully. The programme offered at Bellavista School to support parents in raising a child with differences or disabilities includes only researched strategies. Our professional experience is that these work. We believe that good governance is prudent, accountability is responsible and professional practice is a given. There are no quick fixes. It’s journey of continuous gains, setbacks and celebrations. The process of child development is exactly that, a process. It takes time and each child will respond at his or her own pace. Resist the panic to do more. Our responsibility is to ensure exposure to the right strategies, repeatedly, until mastery is achieved. Our accountability is to our parents and also to the child. We will tell you where we are at, what your child needs and when your child needs it. We will be honest.

We trust the process. Do you? Are you sure?