The night is always darkest…

High school and AD(H)D is like oil and water; you can mix them as rigorously as possible, yet they will always continue to separate.  The trick is to understand they don’t mix as well as other substances.  Teachers, parents, IEPs, and IPRCs are the breads and flours we need to complete this mix.  It takes the right combination of each to get a solid mixture.

When my mom got the call from Mr. Cousineau, she knew that I was finally going to receive the help I needed.  We met with Mr. Cousineau at the end of the school year, probably with a week or so of school left.  It was my grade 12 year, and next year I would be challenging myself with the OAC courses as I prepped myself for university.  Everyone wanted me to transition successfully to university–everyone except me; I just didn’t care.

We sat down with Mr. Cousineau, a tall, beefy, foot-ball-coaching type of guy.  He was calm, and reserved.  My mom sat down, ready to tear into him as a representative of the failed system that left me for educational-death.  Mr. Cousineau made a quick move as he introduced him self:

“Thanks for coming, I’m Mr. Cousineau (I’m sure he used his first name; I just don’t remember it,) and I’m just distraught and so sorry.”

And just in that introduction my mom was stunned to silence.  Now, if you knew anything of my mom, silence does not come cheap for her.  She was raised in a family of four kids, she was used to getting her way, and she was one of two girls in our household of seven.  She yelled, a lot.  This time, she just sat down and as robotic as any other meeting and she said:

“My name is Lynne Wachna, this is my son, Matthew.”

Mr. Cousineau quickly took control of the meeting.  He apologized over and over and explained how turnover in the special education department has led to a bit of unorganization.  He acknowledged that I did not receive the help I needed and took full responsibility, even as a new teacher.  He explained how there was nothing to be done about the past but learn from it to prepare for the future.  Next year he was going to make it his duty to see to it that I get the help I needed.  My mom was at the break of tears.  Everything she needed to hear, he said it.  Finally, a rope was thrown out to our sinking ship.

…Then my OAC year started.  Nothing but heart break for my mother.  Mr. Cousineau was transferred out to another school.  I’m sure it had something to do with budgets (I hope it did.)  Of all points in my schooling career, this I will always identify as having the second largest impact.  With no assistance, and a heavy course load, I quickly fell behind.  Ashamed to show my face in class, I skipped classes on a regular basis.  I started to hang out with the other students that skipped classes, getting involved with drugs and alcohol during school hours.  It was a mess.  It was my OAC year.  I had many highlights that year:

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  • A “0” in English
  • An average of 35% in all of my classes
  • Over 100 total absences
  • OFSAA Swimming Finalist (finished 6th and 13th)

Ya, I know, the last one doesn’t seem to fit.  I see the last part as proof that I wasn’t a loss cause.  There is a lot to share about my OFSAA experience and my medication, but that will be in my blog about my treatment.

I ended that year applying for university and college.  I met with my councilor at school to figure out what programs to apply to.  I wanted to be  a radio DJ, and he had no clue what program I should take.  He had me apply to anything that was drama.  One of those programs was the Drama in Education program at the University of Windsor.  This program had a full day interview requirement for its 2000 applicants (they would end up only picking 20.)  I made it to the interview and was actually selected.  They sent me a letter telling me that all I had to do was pass my OAC year with a 65% average.  I knew I was far from it.  I finished OAC with a 35% and no clue what I was going to do with my life.

My parents continued to push me that summer to upgrade at summer school and to register for a second try at OAC; a sixth year.  The first thing we did was meet with the vice principal, Manny.  My mom and I sat in his office, and the meeting started with a tone.  Manny sat down and told me I couldn’t come back.  He showed me my marks and absences and said I was over 18 and they didn’t want me back.  My mom lost it.  She somehow managed to release the anger inside without having to raise her voice; I had never been so scared.  She cited the years and years of lost education with no resources and no help.  She cited my files and their recommendations from doctors and psychologists.  Manny was stunned.  He swallowed his pride, and offered me a contract.  One missed class and I was out.  That year I skipped about 10 classes for school functions with Manny’s blessing.

I received the help I needed from a great LST teacher.  I received extra time on exams.  Teachers actually worked with me, rather than against me.  It felt so different, and I got caught up in it.  I started to develop into an organized student.  I worked on things like routines, organizational plans, and study plans.  It was great.  I finished that year with an 85% average and my first year tuition paid off in bursaries and scholarships.

Years later, I ended up in teachers’ college.  In my education, a fellow teacher candidate asked me if I would make a presentation about teaching students with AD(H)D.  I shared my story and was asked a burning question.  “Can you tell us some more positive stories, we feel like you have been bashing teachers the whole time and we kind of feel bad.”

To this I replied:  “Well, we’ve come a long way since.  When I was young, good stories were far and few.  My story should show that we are moving in the right direction in special education.”

High School’s Highs

I apologize for those of you who enjoy the early morning blog reading.  As with many aspects of my life, I was challenged by AD(H)D this morning and forced to adapt!  Before I dive into my blog post, I want to share a part of what happened today.  For any of those who know, or are, someone with, AD(H)D, you understand the importance of routines and rituals, and the struggles to plan ahead.  As an adult with AD(H)D, I have found that the best way to combat AD(H)D is by establishing well formed rituals for mundane tasks (such as the order of showering, breakfast, getting dressed, in the morning.)  By allowing my muscle memory to take over this aspect of my life, it frees up my mind to focus on other, more important things.  The pitfall of this is the chaos that is followed when your rituals are interrupted.  That happened to me this morning (I just moved into my first house, so everything has been chaotic) and as a result, I forgot to post my blog before leaving this morning.  I received an email reminder around lunch and that super attentiveness kicked in.  I knew I forgot.  I knew I had to get that posted.  I knew I couldn’t post until I got home.  What.  Could.  I.  Do.  ?.  My heart filled up with uncombatted tension.  This was the super attentiveness.  This was the super fixation, concentration, and frustration that is hardly spoken of in the circles of AD(H)D.  I could not take my mind from thinking of it until I got home.  Now I can breathe, adjust my blog, and post it.  I can turn this experience into an opportunity to make my blog more real, more relative, and more thoughtful.

Richard’s last post featured a cartoon that I have posted on my facebook page already.  It’s a great one.  I try to advocate for education amongst other things on facebook whenever I see the opportunity (yes, I’m one of those!)  I wanted to share another image that I feel relates to Richard’s comic:

As a teacher, I understand that standards are hard to meet, given, every student learns and does differently.  We can’t force students who excel at verbal communication, to fail at written communication.  In real life, those people become radio hosts, newscasters, etc.  They do not force themselves into jobs like journalists that would challenge them to not be fired everyday.  Our school systems need to match the way the real world works.

This was part of my undoing in school.  I will be frank, I take as much responsibility for my education as should any person under the age of 18; absolutely none.  I believe by 18 you reach a level of maturity (or around that age) that allows you to better understand choice and consequences.  Argue with that as you will, but as soon as you accept that concept, getting students to succeed (no matter who they are as learners) becomes almost too easy.

I entered high school already socially challenged by both my social disabilities associated with AD(H)D, and the issues that come with changing schools in grade 6.  Friends did not comes easy.  Despite my desire to play sports, that didn’t come easy either.  Academics were never my strengths either, so I was left with very little to make me fit in at my school.

I managed to make a few friends, some of which were great, some of which I now understand to have been disguised as friends.  My first day of class I was all over the place.  It took me half a period to find my grade 9 English class and when I entered, I was immediately told to leave.  Apparently the answer to being late, was not to be in class.  I skimmed by with a 51 in that class, having never read a book.  It took me a week before I figured out how to skip classes.  In business, it took me 3 days to figure out how to copy and paste the mind numbing typing exercises, and another 4 days to figure out how to just copy files from the other class.  My mediocre grade 9 year finished with an average of 60 and one failed class.  My parents met with my business teacher to work out a deal; if I upgrade my English credit in summer school, she’ll pass me in business.  Logic I still don’t understand.

That summer my IPRC (identification, placement, and review committee) meeting came up.  A very intimidating site.  Here’s how it felt as a student:

I was there to be judged by my principal, a psychologist, a student councillor, teachers, and some board people.  My only friends there were my two parents, and I wasn’t gonna say nothing if I didn’t have to.  The meeting started and almost abruptly reached the conclusion:

“Your son will be placed in the basic program at century where he can focus on workplace skills.”

My mother tells me this story all the time, and my own memory helps me form the next part:

“Oh really….” asked my mother.  “And what assistance did you offer him this year to prevent him from failing?”

You’re probably thinking now that I never mentioned anything.  Well….I had nothing to tell you about.

“Well, there doesn’t seem to have been much offered, but clearly your son is not interested in school.”  answers some bigwig.  I never once heard someone say “clearly school is not interesting for your son.”…hmmm….

The rest of the conversation was very one sided.  It ended with the IPRC allowing me to not only remain at Massey, but register in the enriched courses as well.  This was my request.  I loved math, always understood it, and wanted to be great in it.  The IPRC also promised better support, and more resources for the following years.

Grade 10….57 average, two failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

Grade 11….54 average, two failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

Grade 12….52 average, three failed courses.  No support.  No resources.

By the end of grade 12, I was skipping classes more often than I was attending them.  I scored in the top 25% of Canada in two math competitions, finished my second year on the swim team, and was getting into drugs.  I could feel my future in the balance.  Then my parents received a call from Mr. Cousineau.

Through the rabbit hole…

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Good morning friends of the LDAWE community,

My name is Matt, and I have been given the pleasure to share my personal experiences on the LDAWE blog.  I hope that through this journey, I can continue to learn more about myself, while aiding those who may be going through similar situations.

I will try to give a general backstory for myself in my first post and follow it up with some detailed and intense stories of my childhood; I have 10 posts scheduled for this year, and I, myself, am excited to see what I will post for each of those (one of my always relevant struggles with AD(H)D is planning ahead.)

Before I can continue about my backstory, I feel that I should cover a couple of preambles.  First, I do not keep up with the ever exciting and always changing, never to be agreed on, terms for Attention Deficit Disorder.  When I refer to Attention Deficit Disorder, I will use the acronym AD(H)D.  Many of us have seen the variations including, but not limited to: ADD, ADHD, AD/HD, ADD/ADHD, HDD, and ADD+H.  Personally, I feel that much of the confusion is because AD(H)D manifests itself differently in different people.  I have seen this first hand in my own family and friends.  Between me and my two other brothers that were diagnosed with AD(H)D, only one of us showed signs of hyperactivity.  In fact, our original diagnoses were ADD, HDD, and ADHD (although, the third brother was diagnosed long after they stopped using HDD.)  Of the struggles in school, it seemed that the brother with the HDD (hypoactivity deficit disorder –if I remember it correctly) experienced a more subtle set of challenges.  From watching and learning within my family, I believe that the hyperactivity is more of a hit or miss part, which is why I use the brackets around the “H.”

Secondly, and most importantly; no matter the tone, the dissent, nor the disapproval I may have for my family, friends, teachers, etc., it is not a reflection of who they are, but of the situation they were presented with.  I grew up in a time that “ritalin boy” was an appropriate way to describe a hyperactive student.  Despite how hurtful that was in school, ritalin has been a fairly obsolete drug since the mid-90s.  For sake of example, my parents made many ill-fated choices as parents.  This wasn’t because they were bad parents, but because raising a child with AD(H)D was challenging on its own.  We speak all the time about my childhood, and they openly admit that they would have done things differently had they a second chance.  I always explain to them, however, that I wouldn’t ask for it any other way as I am extremely happy with my life.

I have worked very hard to meet many accomplishments in my life, and I am continuing to strive to meet more.  One of my proudest was finishing my four university degrees.  After nearly failing out of high school (another great story for a future blog,) I quickly adjusted myself to make it through another year of high school and seven years of university.

Halfway through my university “career,” I discovered that there was a special bursary for students with a disability (BSWD) that I could have been taking advantage of (another great topic for a future blog.)  As part of the process, I was given a psychological assessment to further explore my umm…”capacities” ☺  After a full day of testing, and a long process of evaluation, it was determined that I had a reading disability, a learning disability, and a memory disability, in addition to AD(H)D.  Whenever I tell this story, I try to always include that they found my IQ to be in the 97th percentile, along with upper 90th percentile in the majority of my other areas.  It’s a great example of how we are all created equal, one way or another.

This was not, however, my first psychological assessment.  I was originally diagnosed around grade 3 with some tests that I now remember as fairly comical (apparently in grade 3 I thought the world of Michael Jackson as he was my go-to answer.)  Since my original diagnosis, I have taken ritalin, dexedrine, adderall, and concerta.  I have since weaned myself off of medication (I will explain how in a later blog as well) as I continued my studies in university.

After finishing university, I found employment as a teacher with the WECDSB.  I have dedicated myself to continuing the successful strides our schools have taken to ensure the success of students with special needs.  I have received my special education qualifications, along with three other additional qualifications.  I feel that this blog will be a perfect opportunity to continue my efforts to help students (and parents) to succeed with a learning disability.

Please follow my blogs, my next one will be on August 9th.  I would like to leave you with one final thought:

Many people tell me that AD(H)D is a disability.  I tell them all the same;  AD(H)D is not an inability to focus, but an ability to see everything that is happening.  When I drive my car, I notice every car, when someone is changing lanes, where the pedestrians are, just everything.  AD(H)D is not the inability to focus, but the ability to focus on EVERYTHING.

Till Next Time!

Matt (Mr. Casey) Wachna

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Follow me on twitter @followmrcasey

or visit my website: mrcasey.com