You may have read in some of my previous posts that my son is in the sixth grade and has been on an IEP since first grade. School has been a struggle for my son and myself. I look at education in a very practical, logical sense. What I have found out is that many times our educational system has no sense of being practical or logical.
Third grade for my son was a big hurdle. It is the year that he started having tics. It is the year I learned that you can not trust the school, and the school does not always have the student’s’ best interest in mind. It is the year that I changed my approach in dealing with the school.
During the onset of tics, my son was being taught by a teacher whose mere voice raised anxiety. Unfortunately I did not recognize what was going on until it was late in the school year. Third grade was also the year when the students learn math facts. They spent a significant amount of time memorizing addition and subtraction math facts.
The school used a program called Rocket Math to learn math facts. It is a program that begins with easier addition and subtraction problems and gradually gets harder. The student practices a set of math facts in preparation for the test. The teacher determines how fast a student can write, which then correlates to how many math facts they need to get done on the test. The test is a one minute timed test. If the student correctly completes the number of equations required based on their writing speed, then the student moves on to the next set of math facts. Each set of math facts get progressively harder as they work their way through each set. The key to rocket math is practicing each worksheet over and over again.
Now my son had a couple of disadvantages here. He has dysgraphia and had tremors, both of which made it difficult for him to write. Supposedly the teacher adjusted his writing speed goal to take this into consideration. Rocket math was an activity that occurred all year-long. Every day the students practiced their math facts with the intention of passing a set of math facts and continuing on to the next set. Every day my son brought home a worksheet with the current set that he was working on at school.
Close to the end of winter during third grade, I noticed that when we worked on the practice rocket math at home, it triggered my son’s tics. Whether we were casually doing the math or practicing a one minute speed test, the tics would start. All I had to do was bring out the green sheet of paper that had the math facts on it, and the tics would immediately begin.
When the tics had first appeared we were not sure what they were. One form of my son’s epilepsy involved facial focussed seizures which included rapid eye blinking. The neurologist had put my son through a number of tests including a long-term EEG. The goal of this EEG was to capture the brain activity while these movement events were occurring. The doctor asked me if there was a way to trigger the event. I pulled out the green piece of paper with the math facts on it and the eye blinking, head jerking tics immediately started. As a result of working with our neurologist, neuropsychologists, and other specialists we determined that my son was experiencing anxiety, and his reaction to the anxiety was to have a tic. His body had associated the green piece of paper with stress and it reacted to it with tics. Once seizures were eliminated from the equation, we focused on the anxiety topic. Besides seeing a psychologist, we also worked with a specialist that taught my son bio feedback and other relaxation techniques with the intent of preventing the tic episodes. Unfortunately none of this was successful.
Meanwhile I talked to the school about my son’s situation with anxiety. Besides rocket match, I could see a pattern of events that would raise my son’s stress and would result with a bout of tics. The event included:
walking into the noisy lunch
violin practice, which we had to drop
any assignment that was difficult
transitions from room to room
going into a store or a restaurant
getting ready for school
walking in the noisy halls at school
playing with a rambunctious group of kids in the neighborhood
playing a video game where he was stuck on a level
Pretty much anything that could raise anxiety resulted in a bout of tics. I explained this to the school but they didn’t really get it. I asked them to stop the rocket math. There had to be another way of teaching math facts without doing the one minute timed test. I even asked them to put the rocket math on a different color paper. Get rid of the green. Now do you think they would cooperate? No.
I even introduced them to a learning system called touch math. Touch math is a multi-sensory approach to learning math and works with student of all abilities and learning styles. The key goal to touch math is reduce the need for memorization. Each stage of touch math is reinforced with pictures, touching, and counting. Research studies indicate that children transition from the concrete to the pictorial and finally to the abstract stage of learning. Touch math is respective of this transitioning. The founders of touch math made it their goal to help banish math anxiety, whether that anxiety is born of fear, lack of comprehension, or a learning disability. It is very practical approach and a perfect solution for my son.
The school tried touch math for a couple of weeks, and before I knew it they were back to the green sheets with math facts and timed tests. I had even bought the materials they needed to use for touch math. During this time it was also obvious that the anxiety at school was expanding to other triggers.
I don’t understand why a school would continue teaching with a method that was detrimental to my son. The more the mind associates specific activities with anxiety the harder it is to get rid of the automatic response of tics. The goal was to break that cycle before it got too ingrained in my son’s mind.
All of this was very logical, but for the next two years the school continued making my son do rocket math. This raised a whole set of anxieties, and for two years my son was constantly having tics. Over time the tics got worse, beginning with an eye blink or head jerk and evolving to full body jerks and screams. During this time the school also punished my son for having the tics, as if he was purposely doing them.
Why couldn’t this school see what this was doing to my son? Why couldn’t they chose to teach math facts in a different way? Even today, I don’t understand why they were so insistent on using rocket math.
You can understand my frustration. What could possibly be the reason? A different learning method would mean they would have to do a little extra work to enhance their lesson plans? Were they lazy? Or is it just incompetent teachers? It has been this specific experience that opened my eyes to the fact that this school did not really care about my son or his education. They were just riding out their time until they could pass him off to middle school.