Meeting Lauren: Amazing Grace
When I caught up with Lauren and her folks at the annual special education IEP meeting, I was immediately taken back by her grace and style. It had been a year since I last saw her. Her angelic face personifies goodness, hope, and determination. And in greeting, her smile showcases a unique blend of adolescent shyness and an emerging self-confidence. Being 16, a junior in high school, Lauren presents herself through a complex intersection of youth and a developing sense of maturity. She is one of a kind; a diamond in the rough.
When we first met years ago, she was a troubled 7th grade student failing classes right and left ; according to her teachers she was disorganized, lacked effort, and failed to “work up to her potential”. Though she felt like she gave school her best effort, no matter how hard she tried, she was always behind, missing assignments, and often feeling she didn’t understand subjects like math and science. By the time she came home every day, she was exhausted. Each night, her parents barely kept their daughter a float by assuring she finished the endless backlog of assignments piling up each semester. And sometimes these homework sessions would last for hours and end in a battle of wits between mother and daughter.
Fortunately, Lauren’s folks pursued every life support possible for their daughter; she was drowning in failed classes, excessive homework, and a growing sense of dread toward school. At first, after school sessions at a nationally recognized tutor center was thought to be “the fix”. But this was only addressing the symptoms of a more complex issue. From Lauren’s perspective, not only was she burned out from school, adding additional hours at the tutor each week on top of endless hours of homework, she was emotionally fried by the end of each day. Failing grades eventually or took a back seat to a greater concern related to depression; Lauren was feeling overwhelmed. Her mom recently commented, ” I remember this like it was yesterday: … you telling us to yank her out of Sylvan because it obviously wasn’t addressing her particular problem … after doing so, Lauren looked at me and we both smiled at each other – I never told her, but I hated taking her to Sylvan, too. I was just desperate to find something that would help her”.
Finally, her parents sought the help of a clinical psychologist. He administered a variety of assessments addressing learning processing, distractibility, forgetfulness, and explored their daughter’s emotional well being as well. I first met Lauren and her parents immediately after the ADD Type II Inattentive Diagnosis was discovered. And assisted the family by negotiating academic support at school through accommodations and specially designed instruction through an IEP (individualized education program). By 7th grade, Lauren and her family were worn out following years of playing catch-up with never-ending late assignments, overdue projects, and missing homework. Something had to give for Lauren was turning into an emotional wreck from the pressure of failing classes and poor report cards.
Lauren has always been an artist at heart. Her binder at school is a collection of doodles, detailed drawings, and fashion designs. From a teacher’sperspective, she was often described as “impulsive”, a “day dreamer” and lacked self-discipline. They never saw how hard she worked endlessly overtime toward improving her grades. Her mother remembers, “In fact, she was accused of being a slacker by some of her teachers (just not to her face) – it was told to me by administrators“.
After the formal evaluations, which included both academic and processing assessments, we discovered a significant piece of the learning puzzle, Lauren experienced a major challenge with “processing speed” for her tests indicated she was performing at the bottom 5% level compared to her peers on a percentile based rating scale. Processing Speed is often one area of a four part IQ (cognitive) assessment. Specifically, processing speed identifies the amount of time it takes for students to process information through various means, including auditory and visual learning. In Lauren’s case, she has experienced difficulty with making connections with new learning, directions, and concepts on the first go-round, and often requires multiple attempts at grasping the ideas before they are well understood and embedded in her memory. As a result, missing assignments, forgotten directions, unclear expectations, and general forgetfulness had been thought as the by-product of laziness and not trying hard enough based upon report cards through elementary school and junior high. Fortunately, an extensive set of accommodations have been adopted to support Lauren’s academic plan highlighting both distractibility (ADD) and processing speed including: provide a class set of notes, extend due dates when needed, sign daily assignment planners, and break large projects into meaningful chunks. In addition, her IEP also lends additional support through specially designed instruction in Study Skills and Organization. Lauren’s mother also made it clear that once the IEP was written, Lauren’s issues never went away; it was much easier to help her when the issues at the core of the problem were understood so she pursued additional after school support once again. “We were fortunate to find a great tutor. She has been a godsend! It definitely is expensive as we have her come over three times a week when Lauren needs it, but it is truly an investment in Lauren’s future. It also serves the very important purpose of allowing me to step out of the primary “homework Gestapo” role, which is a great relief and helps our relationship”.
One of the noticeable things about Lauren is her innate personal sense of fashion; she has style! In my years of knowing her, she consistently presents herself with a new hair style, unusually creative outfits, a flair for the unconventional, and when she smiles, she radiates. Also, she is someone who is taken seriously for she has acquired the necessary skills to be an exceptional self-advocate within her education. Due to her understanding of processing speed & distractibility associated with ADD and their impact on learning, she can now articulate examples of successful instruction within her classes as well as she is self aware of accommodations which are lacking when learning becomes most difficult. It is impressive to be in a room of teachers and watch Lauren address her strengths and short-comings with confidence. And within these meetings, she speaks to the adults with respect, honesty, and an astounding sense of grace. She is truly a blessing to be around.
As we concluded the annual meeting, I was profoundly impressed with the contrast between staff members and Lauren as they were trying to get in their last two cents worth addressing her future plans. College plans were described, course outlines were exchanged, SAT tests were mentioned, and an endless stream of last ditch effort advice was offered. And through it all, I saw in Lauren’s face, a look of patience and understanding years beyond her age. As if she knew the staff were obligated to share their unwelcome words of wisdom, though she really didn’t care. For she knew within: art calls, fashion reaches out to her, and creativity is a life force; she is going to Cosmetology School as soon as she can for she sees a career in hair design and make up in the very near future. Funny how, years ago, teachers pegged her wrong as she struggled through school, almost drowning in failure, and now, as she prepares for her departure, they still have it wrong. Her mom says it best, “She really IS something, isn’t she? It is just a matter of time; she will blow them all out of the water with what she is able to accomplish once it is HER desire and interest”. In the meantime, she takes it all in stride, with style and grace. And with a smile. That’s Lauren!