Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Waiting for Isaac

We were supposed to have a student assistance team meeting today. While I wasn't exactly looking forward to it, I was looking to get it over with. Instead, however, we are home waiting for Isaac. As in Hurricane Isaac.

Having a day home from work and school is not a bad thing. But for any kid it can get pretty confining, especially when everything is closed. For a kid like Dylan, who can be a bit more oppositional, whiney, and less mature than his peers, well, it could be disastrous without a little creativity.

Refrigerator to the rescue!  In advance of the storm (and entirely unrelated), we had to get a new fridge and it was delivered quick and in a hurry before everything shut down. And what comes with a refrigerator? A refrigerator box!

Of course, it is way more than a box. For Dylan, it's a house. There's a window (positioned so that he can view the TV from inside of it) and a large skylight.

About mid-day we did some stretches from a vintage yoga book I found.  That felt good!

Then we made Jello.
We realized after the fact that he wanted to cut shapes in it so we dumped it out onto a cookie sheet. Not very successful, so we may try again tomorrow by making more Jello in a baking pan.

I have very fond memories of making Jello with my grandmother when I was a kid. I have never done it much with Dylan, which makes me feel a little bad, but of course, my grandmother didn't work 40 hours a week.

Finally, we took a walk.  Once the rain and wind comes in earnest, we'll likely be housebound, so we took a pretty adventurous path to a nearby bayou to watch the water churning.  It was good to stretch our legs and get some exercise.

We may head out to the lake in a little bit just to (carefully) see the waves. After that, we'll be officially hunkered down with our new (and outrageously expensive) generator (in the event of a power failure), some wine (for the grownups), and of course, Jello.

Experiencing Isaac.

 (c) 2012 Argonne Chronicles

Friday, August 17, 2012

The Honeymoon is Over

It was nice while it lasted, that calm, hopeful start to a new school year. It only took a week for the honeymoon to end, but I can't say I wasn't tensed up, just waiting for it happen.

It really began yesterday, officially one week into the year. I had scheduled an appointment with our pediatrician for a check up, and so we could discuss restarting meds and switching to something new.

Unfortunately, 98 other people also decided that yesterday was an ideal day for a check up. I get it; I really do. Start of school, immunizations, etc., etc. So I was patient. Dylan was, too, really. But with literally 30 other moms and kids in the first waiting room and the TV playing Disney Channel, he was not terribly successful in completing any homework. Even when we went to the second waiting room (it was so busy that they were handling it in triage fashion), it still was not an environment conducive to homework.

I thought maybe he could get started once we got in the exam room, but lo and behold, the doctor came right in!  We had a lot to discuss and honestly didn't make a decision on medication or rather, decided to postpone the decision for another week.  More than two hours after we first arrived to the practice, we finally left.

After a quick fast food dinner (coupled with multiplication practice), it was off to Cub Scouts for Round Up.  For those who don't know, Round Up is when you, well, "round up" new scouts.  Although current scouts are not expected to attend, Dylan is part of the color guard and was involved in the opening.  We literally raced to get there on time, and it was obvious Dylan was getting tired.  In fact, he had a melt down just before he went on but pulled it all together enough to say the Scout Promise (loudly!) in front of all the new parents and scouts gathered.  I was very proud of him for putting his emotions aside to do that!

The Round Up took another two hours, so it was after 8:00pm before we got home...and homework was still undone. I helped him attack science by sharing reading duties with him and letting him dictate answers to me.

Things began to get dicey when I read in his agenda that he had "not followed directions" in language that day. Apparently, the instructions asked him to underline the nouns, then correct the proper nouns.  Dylan had done that with no problem.  At the end of the page, however, there were new instructions asking him to go back and circle the subject and do something else with the predicate.

He didn't do that second part. Now, I'm not going to say he was right, but I can't disagree that the instructions were a little frustrating, asking him to do one thing, then go back and do something else. He told me, indignantly, that if that's what they wanted, they should have asked him at the beginning of the page!

We have had issues with his language teacher before. She has blatantly disregarded his 504 Accommodations and has been utterly dismissive about his learning deficits. Unfortunately, this is his third year with her and she's gotten no better better time.

He had another page in the same workbook for homework. The first part was similar to the the previous - he had to cross out the italicized proper noun and replace it with a pronoun. Although it was 9:00pm by this time and we were both exhausted from our hectic pace, he went through the problems with minimal complaints. That is, until the last item on the page, which asked him to write something.

As I mentioned in my last post, Dylan has now been officially diagnosed with dysgraphia, which is a written language deficit. Not only is writing physically difficult for him, it's mentally difficult, too. Somehow, there is a block between what's in his head and what comes out onto paper. When he has to write, he completely freezes up.

He needs to work on it. While he'll never become a calligrapher, we all need to physically write things out at some point. That said, 9:15pm at night after a long day is not the time to try to start a task that you are handicapped in. I told him to get ready for bed.

Ideally, he would have gotten up and done the writing this morning, but honestly, we were all still tired.  It was RockStar's day to get him up and going, and we all ran a little behind. It just didn't happen.  I told him to do it over lunchtime, but apparently that also never happened.

To be honest, things began to go south for him even before language class. According to Dylan, his table-mates were not working with him on a group project. I don't know if his exclusion was real or perceived, but it's evident that he became anxious. Very anxious. So anxious, in fact, that he began cutting his shorts with a pair of scissors.

I've since learned that when the teacher discovered what he was doing, she brought him into the hallway to discuss it and he began to cry. I later got a call from her, but because my cell service is terrible, I could only get a little of her message and only understood that she wanted to know if he were on medication.

That would have been bad enough, but language was yet to come. Dylan 'fessed up to the language teacher about not doing the writing part, although he did throw me under the bus by telling the teacher I told him to stop and go to bed. (He never mentioned that I told him to do it at lunch.)

The teacher (if you can call her that) actually told Dylan,"Oh, no!  You are not starting this again. You are too old for this." Keep in mind that this is the same teacher who tried to tell me that accommodations are not something you have for more than a short time. 

Dylan's day ended with him getting sick in aftercare. Stomach sick. I think all of this is working on him and literally making him sick. In fact, it's making me sick, too; sick and tired!

What kind of education are we giving our kids that they are so anxious they cut their shorts and lose their lunch? How can a teacher blame a child for his or her learning disability?

Of course, by the time I learned about what the teacher said to him, it was at the end of the day and it's a Friday, so I can't do anything until Monday. I'm livid with nowhere to go with it (but here).

How do you deal with your child's school? What would your response be to a teacher who really doesn't believe in learning disabilities?

Monday, August 13, 2012

Playing to your Strengths

We finally got the results from the psychoeducational testing Dylan took in June. To say I have been waiting with bated breath doesn't even begin to explain how anxious I was to see these results.

It's not as though I expected something groundbreaking. And, indeed, the results are very much in line with what I expected. But to me, the results give me concrete tools to add to my toolbox. 

Results I can use in understanding Dylan during homework.

Results I can use in looking at his grades.

Results I can use (I hope) in getting more and better services at school.

I know that the last is somewhat of a long shot; that in general schools - public or private - don't usually want to provide services to kids with ADHD. At least, however, it gives me an objective and professional opinion to back up a lot of my own findings.

What did the evaluation show?

For starters, it shows that Dylan has superior perceptual reasoning skills. From what the psychologist said and what I've read, this means he can look at shapes and patterns and really understand them. He can identify shapes even if they turned and twisted. It suggests that he can pick up information from non-verbal sources and use that to complete his understanding of something. Sounds like a good skill set to have for someone who wants to study astronomy!

It also showed that he is challenged in terms of written expression. Again, no surprise here. I have long suspected Dylan of having dysgraphia, based on the extreme challenges he has even writing a simple sentence or paragraph describing his day. He's often reported that his thoughts get lost on the way from his head to his fingers. The psychologist strongly encourages that Dylan become more proficient in keyboarding, something I want to approach school about.

It also showed that he has a very slow processing speed. Anyone who has tried to get Dylan to do anything that isn't immediately entertaining knows this to be true. Although his 504 already provides for extra time on tests and (theoretically) shortened assignments, this will provide further reinforcement for that, especially on those nights when homework would take hours for him to complete.

In general, most other areas were average or within normal limits. There are a few areas to watch and few outliers, like the fact that he has good spelling skills which you typically do not find with dysgraphic kids.

Although I've had the results for about a week, I haven't done anything with them. When I met his teacher, I had just received them and I wanted to digest them. I will prepare a copy for her, along with the letter I've been trying to write to her for weeks now (even before I knew who she was).

I've also left a message for the social worker in the hopes of convening a team meeting. The psychologist recommends a full speech and language evaluation to complement the evaluation of written language, especially since he has developed a lisp in the past year or two that appears to be getting worse rather than better. He began receiving speech therapy last year, but only on the basis of a rudimentary screening. This gives us more information that supports a full evaluation.

I'm relieved. Relieved that nothing contradicted what I thought and relieved that it's behind us and we can move forward with more information. Based on last year's experience, we'll probably still have challenges, but at least there are some new teachers this year and it's a fresh start for everyone.

Hopefully, they will recognize that Dylan desperately wants to do well and he has the capacity to do so; he just needs teachers and administrators to understand his unique learning abilities and to work with his strengths.

You can't get blood from a beehive, but you can get a lot of honey.

(c) Argonne Chronicles, 2012

Thursday, August 9, 2012

First Day of School Blues

I don't have a picture of Dylan heading off for the first day of fifth grade.

I didn't even think of it.

That is, until I got on Facebook and saw photo upon photo from other, more excited parents.

I feel sort of guilty, but I think it goes along with my whole feeling about the start of school this year.

At orientation on Tuesday night, another parent said she couldn't wait until Thursday for school to start. I told her I was dreading it.

I really am.

It was a good orientation. His main teacher seems nice and is familiar to us. He will still have one of his same teachers from last year, but we expected that.

I even (finally) have the report from Dylan's psychoeducational testing earlier this summer so if we have any issues that should at least help us to make the case for better services.

But it's so hard to shake off the trauma - yes, trauma - of last year. Last year made me hurt for my child. I got to see firsthand how our pursuit of test scores have left kids who fall outside strict parameters way behind. There was a complete and utter lack of compassion and nurturing. It was never, "Gee, Dylan seems to be having a hard time, let's figure it out." It was more like, "Dylan does not want to try and there's nothing we can do about it."

It will take a while to get over that.

I've been singing the praises of fifth grade to Dylan, hoping he cannot see through my facade. I want him to believe in himself.  I want him to know that I believe in him. And that I am and will be there with him, every step of the way.

So maybe I'll take a photo tomorrow. Document what could be the beginning of a transformative year. Start off on a positive foot and in the process, maybe, set us both up for success.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

The Buddy System

Dylan eyes the pool beneath our balcony, searching for a "target." When he spies one - a boy or boys within two or three years of his age,  he springs into action. Trunks on. Swim shirt. Floatie or boogie board and he's off.

During this vacation, it's been a target rich environment, for buddies anyways.

It does my heart good to see this. There was a time that I questioned whether I ever would.

I didn't start out questioning it. Dylan had two good buddies in preschool, which his teachers said was developmentally appropriate. One or two good friends was all a little kid could handle. So he was sometimes a little too bossy. We were sure he would grow out of it.

When he started kindergarten, neither of his buddies entered the same school. I tried to "set him up" with a classmate before classes began and for a time it seemed as though this was a great idea. But it soon became apparent that although Dylan was invited to all of the birthday parties, there weren't a lot of playdate requests. The ones I tried to arrange frequently ended in tears, as did many of the birthday parties.

It was pretty isolating for Dylan, and for RockStar and myself. We rarely got a break.

Which is why I was thrilled one hot June day when he was invited to sleep at a classmate's house. It was at the end of a long day, which should have been my first clue. He and I had gone blueberry picking in the morning, followed by an afternoon birthday party at a local amusement park. He and the classmate (the one I had set him up with before kindergarten) were thick as thieves throughout the party. By the time it was over, he had been invited to spend the night.

Their relationship had been a rocky one and I should have been more wary, but I wasn't. I was just excited for a night off! In no time, RockStar and I had a restaurant and movie all picked out. All I had to do was shower, dress, and drop off a bag for Dylan.

Before I finished packing the bag, I got the call. Both boys had gotten into it, probably over something insignificant. Both were screaming and crying. The other parent was sorry, but Dylan would not be able to spend the night. Could I come pick him up?

I sighed and hurried over. The mom was outside with him on the porch and his face and eyes were all red from crying. It was obvious he was crushed, but also still angry over whatever it was that had started the argument. A bundle of emotions. I hugged him, apologized to the mom, and took him back to the car.

I don't know if I ever found out exactly what launched the screaming match. Later that same summer, Dylan was diagnosed and his challenges making and keeping friends became more understandable. That is, they became more understandable once I learned that ADHD is more than just uncontrollable energy. That it affects social relationships and maturity levels. 

When we decided to medicate, the social aspect was as much of a driver as issues in school or behaviors at home were. More than anything, I wanted something that would help give Dylan some control that would allow him to have and be a friend. I wasn't even sure that the medication could promise that, although online resources suggested that it would.

The medication did help. It seemed to me that it gave him that split second's respite before he reacted. It gave him an opportunity to assess his behavior and decide what the better course of action would be. He was still bossy, but not as rigid and inflexible. I still heard about how his classmates called him slow, but he began to develop a cadre of friends, several who were a grade behind him.

At first, we limited medication to weekdays. We wanted him to have a chance to eat and sleep normally on weekends, and give his body a rest from the meds. A couple months into it, however, we went to a 7-day a week schedule. The decision came after a weekend camping with Cub Scouts. Dylan melted down over some slight and was just generally difficult to be around. We realized that the social activities didn't stop on Saturdays.  In fact, they were often more intense, fueled by candy and uneven schedules.

That's one of the reasons it's so amazing that both last summer and this summer's medication vacations have gone so well. Has the very fact of having been on medication helped show him what appropriate social behavior is? Or is it just maturity?

Whatever the source, I love it.

I remember telling him as just a little guy to go up to a group of kids and introduce himself. Shy as he is, he would rarely do it. While he is still painfully shy with adults, he's become much more self assured with other kids. He can easily go up to them and start playing with them.

Right now, from my balcony perch, I'm watching him share his floatie with a girl, laughing enthusiastically. Actual sharing! With a girl, no less!

I know there will be arguments and fights with friends. Times he will feel slighted, real or imagined. Occasions where kids will be mean, whether or not it has anything to do with his ADHD. But the fact that he has been able to make and keep several buddies, that he regularly sleeps over a friend's house, and the fact that he can go up to a strange boy and insert himself into their play...all of that, makes me feel more confident about his future.