Special needs, yes indeed

By Mir
August 24, 2010

I think that any parent with more than one child struggles to make sure that things are fair, and that goes quadruple in the case of having a kid with special needs. No matter how many times I intone, “Fair doesn’t mean equal” to my kids—and I do believe that, by the way—there are always going to be cases where one feels they’re being slighted while the other is getting more. More attention, more privileges, more love, more WHATEVER; it doesn’t matter. What matters is that it’s a balancing act, giving them what they need, keeping my sanity, and keeping the peace.

It can be even more difficult now that they’re getting older and Chickadee can understand that Monkey gets certain accommodations at school and is oftentimes treated differently at home, too, as part and parcel of his “special needs.” And yes, the air quotes are required. Always.

Anyway, I thought it was time to shine a light on the whole “special needs” thing, as it applies to homework. Because some people may not understand what it means to have a special needs kid when it comes to something like this, and the process I go through 4-5 days/week with these kids.

To wit: I present to you, A Typical Afternoon Of Homework Around Here.

When Monkey (“special needs” child) gets home
He says hello, puts his stuff down, and tackles the dog. I ask how his day was, and he tells me about something that entertained him in class. I ask if he has homework; he says yes. I ask if he’d like to get a snack first; he says he’ll get a snack and eat while he does his homework.

He fixes himself a snack. He eats it while doing his homework. He is done in twenty minutes and goes back to tackling the dog.

I check his homework and he puts it in his bag. Done.

When Chickadee (neurotypical child) gets home
She says hello, puts her stuff down, and kisses the dog. I ask how her day was, and first she says “fine” but then tells me a convoluted story whose underlying theme is the unfairness of a particular teacher whom she is certain hates her guts. I ask if she has homework; she says “yes, but” and tries to explain why she cannot possibly do it right now. I suggest she get a snack and do her homework; she grumbles and gets a snack and sits at the kitchen table, eating it as slowly as possible.

I finally ask her to take the dog outside and she tells me she can’t because she has to do her homework. I resist the urge to tell her what else she can do. She takes the dog out and comes back and says she needs to use the computer for homework. I okay the computer but tell her to stay off of chat; this sparks a 10-minute “discussion” of whether it’s beneficial to “work with” friends on homework. (My position: No. Her position: YOU DON’T LOVE ME.)

She sits down at the computer and after calling into my office periodically for “help” on various things (all such requests are met with a cheerful, “I already went to 7th grade, thanks!”) for an interminable hour, informs me that she’s emailing me the finished product for printing. [The children’s computer is no longer hooked up to a printer owing to abuse of printing privileges, and because I’m a big meanie.]

It’s time for dinner. Afterward I return to my computer to print her homework.

I open the file mailed to me and look it over. I point out that one of her “meaningful sentences” is not only not particularly meaningful, it’s actually factually incorrect. Would she like to change it before I print? She wails that she can’t think of anything else and I need to help her. My automatic offering of “I already went to 7th grade, thanks!” is cut off and derided. I suggest the dictionary. She says “FINE!” and goes back to Instant Messenger and, I presume, gets a friend to give her a sentence idea. She comes back to me with half a sentence. I begin modifying her homework file in front of me with sentences like “This word means many things and stuffs and I am really smartish” while she watches in horror and dissolves in giggles.

There are jazz hands involved. Several times. I can’t explain; it was kind of a blur. FINALLY the rogue sentence is sufficiently tamed and I print out the assignment for her on my printer. She says, “You’re the GREATEST!” and proceeds to leave her homework on my desk until I threaten to run it through my shredder an hour later. Done.

Now. You tell me: WHICH ONE of these children is the one with special needs…?


  1. Sue @ Laundry for Six

    OMG we are living parallel lives. Also, you took their printer away because you don’t love them, didn’t you?

  2. Otto

    It’s the dog, right? She’s the neurotypical one … aside from that whole post traumatic suitcase disorder thing …


  3. Tracy

    I am laughing hysterically at this entire post. I love that they both greet Licorice when they come home but the scenerio with Chickie is like reliving my youngest daughters entire teenage years. Good luck with that! Boys are always easier. ;o)

  4. elz

    I am so glad your children are older than mine b/c I am filing away the, “I already went to 7th grade, thanks!” response in my brain files. As it pertains to tween girl children, I believ that “special needs” means mommy needs special things like alcohol, me time, chocolate, and retail therapy. Good luck, my friend. When she graduates from 8th grade, I propose that you submit your name to walk again as well!

  5. Mama Bear

    My Miss 12 enters middle school this year. She is ADD-Anxiety, a written expression learning disability, and a math blah, blah, (I have momentarily forgotten the name of this LD-BAD MOTHER!). I am terrified, beyond terrified of homework this year. In elementary school we sat together at the table, I guided her through homework every night for hours until grade 5. After that it was more like an hour each night. Add to the homework situation, she is on the swim team, with practice immediately following school until 6:00pm. I think I have bitten off more than I can chew this year. Please send help!

  6. Jamie

    My boys are just like Chickie! I want a Monkey for homework time! I am storing “I already went to X grade, thanks!” and “fair does not mean equal” for future use – brilliant!

  7. navhelowife

    You are THE most expressive writer, and continually make me laugh, cry, shake my head, and occasionally peek around the corner to make sure you aren’t hiding in my house. Out of 3 sons, one in each (Elem, Middle School, High School), only the elementary kid does homework without MASSIVE jazz hands!

  8. MusingsfromMe/Jill

    I must use the line “I have already completed ___ grade” each night I supervise homework. I also say “Homework will be the death of me” Yes, I’m a broken record.

    I don’t recall my mother nagging me the way I nag my kids. On the other hand I attended a Catholic convent school, so…the consequences for not doing homework were not something I wanted to experience. The teachers and the few nuns that taught were very harsh to us.

  9. dad

    Not only is “fair” not mean “equal” but life is rarely fair.

    I may have mentioned that to you before.

  10. Suzie

    Yeah. That’s our house, too. My younger daughter (entering 7th grade) is not “special needs,” but rather just “easy” [ha!], while my older daughter is just like Chickadee. Only, I’m willing to bet, louder. And as she’s entering high school in 2 weeks, it’s a little less appropriate coming from her. Also, because she “hangs out with friends” after school, unless she’s in trouble for handing in assignments late, the above scene often happens at 9 or 9:30 p.m. Unless it’s a hard day, then it’s at 11:30 or 12. And I’m exhausted.

  11. Megan

    Yup, same thing here (though I usually get the added bonus of tears from my NT girl). For my “special needs” boy, if it’s on his PECS schedule to do homework, he does homework. For my NT girl, she’s tiiiii-eeeerrrrrrddd after school and her brain needs a reeeeesssssttt. Thus ensues many, many minutes (hours) of drama and little homework. Thank you for putting words to the melodrama.

  12. JMH

    Heh. As an elementary teacher, I want to share this quote from the lastest research on homework: “Parent Involvement in homwork should be kept to a minimum. Encourage, motivate, and prompt your child, but do not sit with him/her and do the homework with him/her. The purpose of the homework is for your child to practice and use what we have learned in class.”

    So now you can tell Chickadee that completing her homework on her own has been SCIENTIFICALLY PROVEN to help her more than if she did it with you or her friends :)

    (Research was done by Marzano, Pickering and Pollock)

    As a mom…..I feel your pain…sigh..

  13. TC

    Sigh. Would that it were so here. Sadly, here the special needs kids has VERY special homework needs, while the NT kid is 9/10ths of the time easy to get through homework, too. (Though I don’t check her homework unless asked; I just make sure it’s done. That probably saves me more eye-roll/sigh combinations than anything else.)

  14. Kristine

    I remember those days….. So glad that it is over (for the homework side of it)……

  15. Lori N

    Homework in kindergarten & 1st grade with my oldest was just about the death of me. The nightly (yes, nightly, in K & 1st!) was one of the many reasons we decided to send her to a Montessori school. Our particular school does not assign homework in the lower grades. Last year, my then 4th graders (the same child) asked for nightly homework. ASKED FOR HOMEWORK!

    There are many reasons I love the school my kids are in…this is but one.

  16. s

    holy cow, too funny. I have the opposite gender thing going on though – my daughter gets straight down to business with very little grumbling. Unless the homework involves lots of math, then I hear how she is not good in math (not true, it just comes harder) and the teacher never explained it (and I certainly can’t – they do math STRANGELY these days!) and much stomping and fussing and such ensues (how many times do I need to tell her stomping around the house results in what?? a trip to her room??)

    My middle guy, however, is Mr. Homework Nightmare – gets up countless times to get water, find a new eraser, sharpen pencil. Focus is not his strong suit.

    This year, I’m being a Mean Mommy and allowing a snack first and then homework…no playing outside or watching tv or playing wii. And if that doesn’t work, then they will be fully unplugged during the school week instead of being able to watch a show after dinner if all work and chores done. We’ll see how this flies… It’s nice to know other mom’s force the homework after school thing…I have always let them “decompress” after school but that just results in a big homework meltdown later, so this year it will be work before play!!

    thanks for the laugh – I especially enjoyed the helpful homework help you provided with that awesome sentence!

  17. Kim

    My son and daughter were exactly the same. Now son is in 3rd year of college and daughter is off to her first. Sadly, I miss the after school homework romp.

  18. Sarah

    girls v. boys?

  19. Scottsdale Girl

    I loved coming home and doing homework right away. LOVED IT. I’m weird.

  20. Melissa R

    I believe the situation here is that one of the children is “special needs” while the other one is just “Special.” ;-)

  21. Joshilyn

    I am in the MIDDLE of a blog entry about MAISY JANE, HOMEWORK DIVA or HOMEWORK DEMON? ( Answer: both)

  22. Julie

    I think middle school kids are by definition SPECIAL NEEDS. ALL of them!

  23. jwg

    I’m not a proponent of homework until high school but I know I am in the minority. However, I am a big proponent of natural consequences. I’d let the school deal with the issue if Chickadee falls behind. It won’t be pleasant, but Harvard doesn’t care what grades you got in Middle School. When she finds herself ineligible for activities, or staying after for mandatory extra help, she’ll figure it out pretty quickly. And your life will be a lot easier.

  24. Kristi

    I hear ya! i’ve got one of those.

  25. My Kids Mom

    My dear 6th grade teacher (who I located on FB and wrote a ‘thank you’ to!) told us (daily?) that
    “Fair is where men in overalls throw cow chips for distance.”
    You can imagine how that went over on a room full of preteens. (We were “preteens”, they are “tweens”) Now? I get it. My kids? Notsomuch.

  26. Annette

    I have a legit special needs kid, 5 more that are simply “special” and one on the way:)
    There is not enough room on the Internet to describe the three ring circus of hell that happens in our home from3-9pm. Yet people expect to be fed during that time as well!

  27. Katie in MA

    My sister has her phd in urban education, specializing in research specifically in how children learn. Every single time she uses the word “neurotypical,” I giggle. And then had a tshirt made for her: Neurotypical: it’s the new “normal.” I just love the way the word sounds. :)

  28. lailani

    I am not far enough past this to not shiver, lol! You have a good point!

  29. Chana

    As a parent, I thought, what will I be doing when my toddler grows up and gets HW? Woe be to me to comment when I have not walked in her shoes. Each child is different! However, the former teacher in me wanted to comment. I was wondering if the teachers expect this to be your responsibility or hers? If they expect that its yours, well, sounds like your doing a great job. If not, it sounds like you are doing the teacher’s work for her/him. Ala Alfie Kohn, let her make choices. Seventh grade, might be a good time for that (jwg comment). Are you going to be doing this in high school? In college? Have you collaborated with her about a better way to solve the problem?

  30. Susan

    My daughter starts middle school next week; this post is just in time.

  31. ramblin red

    Generally speaking….your Chickie reminds me of my daughter, who is the special needs child here, but in this instance, her behavior is totally my 7 y/o son’s. Yes, my son who only recently turned seven has been channeling the misery of a premenstrual girl for the past 6 weeks. My husband even recently said, “That boy has needed a Midol for like, 35 days now.” Oy….

  32. Tirzah

    Doing homework with the kids is one of my least favorite things to do. My oldest would rather I do it for her and the youngest either gets it done in 5 minutes or sit there and spaces off for 20. Very cute post!

  33. Cele

    I do not miss the homework days. One weekend I asked Burp if we should read. His reply, I don’t need to read it’s summer. That didn’t cut it with me, but the ensuing conversation lead me to believe he was going to be a skateboarder like Tony Hawk and doesn’t need math or reading. He still doesn’t believe me that Tony Hawk can read and sign his own contracts and do the math. At which point he said he’d be a bum and live with his Mom forever. I’m couting she won’t let him.

  34. The Domestic Goddess

    Oh my heck. This is us, except both of my kids have “special needs” but one is waaaaay higher functioning than the other. The one who sounds quite a bit like Monkey gives me the eye rolls, the “I Caaaaaan’ts!” and such. The younger, non-verbal, severe one is all smiles and hugs after school. Insane.

  35. Momma Chaos

    oh yeah.. Chickadee sounds just like my 14 & 12 yr olds.. Especially the part where she can’t possible take the dog out because you just told her to do her homework. Why do you always tell her to do something and then immediately tell her to do something else MOM? Ohh wait, that’s what my kids say.. And then they act shocked when they get yelled at for being mouthy. hmmp.

  36. Aimee

    I LOVE “I already went to 7th grade, thanks!” That is made of the awesome.

  37. Randi

    Last year our son failed his first spelling lesson, which he proceeded to blame us for. That’s interesting – as though I were sitting in the room with him and doing his test for him! I reminded him that he was 9 years old, more than old enough to remember that he needs to not only remember that he has to practice his spelling, but that he HAS TO TAKE THE WORDS OUT OF HIS BACKPACK if he wants me to also remember to work with them on him. He failed the test, learned a lesson, and guess who passed their next spelling test with flying colors, with NO coercing from mom?

    Parenting is hard, yo. ;)

  38. Patricia

    When my son explained to me that writing his “S”‘s were too hard for him and he needed help, I shot back — “I passed Kindergarten once already, I’m not looking to go back anytime soon.” Now that I have a second grader, I hear him tell me “Mama, I know you graduated college, but could you please help me do this???”

    If you can resist that you are dead inside.

    But I’m learning, by help — he really means, sit at the table and watch me do this amazing thing called homework. I don’t have to DO anything more than just sit there and admire his wonderfulness. Wow, no wonder my mother claims he is just a mini-me.

  39. djlott

    I always told my kids that I did my 13+ years of school already… the Drama Queen didn’t appreciate that very much.
    It is amazing how each child is so different from their siblings in motivation, working independently, procrastinating or not, and the excuse dept.!! Thankfully my youngest, grade 5, who is “special needs” doesn’t have homework!

  40. Jen

    I grew up with ‘not equal, but fair’ and I use it to this day – not yet at home as I only have one kiddo, but at work… No, I don’t treat my employees 100% equally, but they don’t individually give me equal effort either. Call me mean, but the guy who’s willing to stay late when we have a big project due and who consistently goes the extra mile is always going to get more leniency on sick days, personal days, expenses, whatever. The 9-5er who is always five minutes late and packing up ten minutes before quitting time? Not so much.

    And I think you’ve struck a good balance in your homework involvement. I think kids need to build this habit of doing homework as a ritual. I didn’t, and instead learned by grade 6 that I could get away with it. And, being rather intelligent and quick to ‘get’ concepts, I did get away with it. Until university, where I floundered… And although I’ve established a good career, I still see some of those poor habits coming through at work.

  41. Catootes

    I’m catching up after vacation and holy smokes, it’s like you’ve been in my kitchen the whole time.

    The boy child, with Dyslexia, often has his homework done in 15 minutes or less, unless it’s a longer written assignment, which takes several days of drafts/corrections/rewrites and on and on.

    The straight A child sits at the table for HOURS finishing her assignments. HOURS, I say. While I slurp some bourbon and pound my head on the table when she asks to go over the math problem I can’t figure out for a third time.

    And their father is usually the one to handle homework as he gets home sooner.

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