Why I Chose Extra Help for My Son Over Extracurricular Activities

When I sat down for my son’s IEP meeting in seventh grade, I expected to hear what I’d been hearing at these meetings for years. He’s making progress. He’s a pleasure to have in class. He’s well-liked. He’s disorganized and easily distracted. He’s anxious.

Paul has and , and he also struggles with math. It had been a tough road with his learning and thinking differences. But my husband and I were dedicated to giving him all the help he needed. We wanted him to improve and be successful in school. And that’s what his IEP meetings had typically focused on—goals, skills and academic achievement.

This time, however, his teacher said something I’d never heard before: “Paul talks about soccer nonstop, and he clearly loves playing. But he needs other interests and activities that he can feel good about.”

Suddenly, I was burning with guilt. If my son didn’t have enough interests, it was my fault. I should have exposed him to more things.

It took me days to shake that feeling. Once I did, I realized why the teacher’s comment stung so much. It’s not that I didn’t want Paul to take music lessons or join the chess team. It’s that his afterschool schedule was already filled—with tutoring sessions. Those were his other activities. And they weren’t fun.

Paul spent one afternoon a week at the math tutoring program at school, and two afternoons with a private reading specialist.

It was a financial drain for us, and an emotional drain for him.

That left Paul with two free afternoons. He spent those at soccer practice, which he loved. Still, he sometimes got understandably frustrated when he had to meet with his tutor while his friends went off to band practice or science-club meetings.

I suppose I could have cut back on tutoring so Paul could try other activities. Having another interest probably would have improved his self-esteem. It might even have led him to consider a wider range of college and career options.

But how good would he have felt about himself if he never caught up with reading and other skills?

Paul’s in community college now, and reading still isn’t easy for him. I sometimes feel bad that so much of his time growing up was spent working on his challenges. But I no longer have any regrets about my decision.

I realize it’s not my “fault” that he didn’t have more extracurricular activities growing up. Parents of kids with learning and thinking differences often have to make hard decisions when looking at their child’s strengths and needs.

But I know that the extra help was an important use of time because his grades—and his self-esteem—improved. And I also know he’ll have opportunities throughout his life to find new passions.

Discover the pros and cons of various tutoring options. Learn more about finding the right tutor for your child. Read about the benefits of afterschool programs for kids with learning and thinking differences.

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