I have loved turtles since I was a young girl. In the humid summers at my grandparent’s lake cottage in Indiana, I would spend hours each day catching and releasing turtles. In my mid-twenties, I paid to be part of an Earthwatch Expedition in St. Croix to help “Save the Leatherback Sea Turtles”. Something about turtles intrigues me. They have a hard tough carapace, top shell, that looks indestructible, but can be injured. Cartoons depict turtles withdrawing into their shells in times of surprise or fear. Actually, the box turtle is the only turtle that can truly pull itself all the way into the shell for protection.
Did you know that only 1 in 1,000 sea turtle hatchlings survives to adulthood? There are predators, obstacles, and genetic mutations that can cause their demise. Our daughter is diagnosed with cerebral palsy but most likely has an unidentified genetic disorder. We knew about this from birth. Our family refers to her as our “turtle” because she is on her own time line, moving and developing slowly, but we pray she will finish the race strong. She reminds us of the childhood story “The Tortoise and the Hare”. But, I am not going to talk about her today. I want to talk about your turtles. Your children that learn a bit differently. School is hard for them. They want to retreat into their shell, but we can not let them.
Almost daily, a parent reaches out to me in tears or throwing their hands up in surrender. They do not know how to get their child to care about school, work smarter not harder, study, and/or remember to turn completed homework in to the teacher. This one cracks me up. We all agree that if a person does the work, they should want to get credit for it. Am I right? Your turtle does not think this clearly.
Our children that learn differently need to be explicitly taught to head for the water.
Turtle hatchlings will follow any light, assuming it is the moon, because God instinctively wired this into them to help them get to the ocean after hatching. Often, the lights from resorts or volleyball courts lead them astray. The hatchlings use all their energy to flop toward the wrong light. Our children know they are supposed to turn in completed assignments, do their homework, and study, but the distractions are too great. That light pulling them to what they are good at or what is more fun, is stronger than their instinctive desire to obey their parents and follow teacher directions.
What is a parent to do? Lead your child to the water. Take all of those thoughts that you hear from society about letting your child fail to become a better learner and bury them. You, or a teacher, have to teach your child, step by step, how to be a learner. Children do not always instinctively know how to get there. We need to coach them through the school journey, but not take out all of their obstacles. Your child needs to learn how to avoid predators and move around driftwood dead ends. The goal is to get your kid (turtle) to the water. Once he or she is there, I believe they will swim and eventually beat that hare (smarty pants kid that gets straight A’s without trying). Sorry, I am sure these kids are just as dear and loved, but sometimes I get tired of having their accomplishments shoved in my face on social media. No one posts about the time they cried with joy because their fifth grader finally passed a multiplication timed test. I do not post when my fourteen year old actually holds a spoon on her own and feeds herself yogurt. We may not post these victories on line, but we should praise our child as if they made the honor role. Each step, each hurdle is significant.
Children with learning differences, ADHD, on the spectrum, executive functioning challenges, and other diagnoses may not be able to find the water on their own. God picked you to be their parent. He knew your child would have trials, tears, anxiety, feelings of not being good enough, or disappointing you. It is okay. Your baby turtle is going to make it to the water, but you need to patient.
As parents and teachers, we need to help our turtles see success as attainable. They are not stupid or lazy. Our kids just see things differently. This is what will make them great swimmers in the future. They will not ride the same current as the masses. It will be their beautiful minds creating intricate swimming patterns that will make all your struggles worth while. Hang in there mamas and papas because your journey will be the memories in your child’s future.