Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Who Cares About Kelsey?


I read about a new documentary film today, called Who Cares About Kelsey?

It's the second film by Dan Habib. His first production was Including Samuel about his and his wife's efforts to mainstream their second child, who happens to have cerebral palsy. I hadn't heard about Habib's first film, but I watched the trailer today. His son has got to have the biggest smile on the planet! The movie is about two years old, but I'd love to catch it some day.

Right now, I'm anxious to see his new movie, however. The title subject, Kelsey, is a high school girl with ADHD and emotional/behavioral issues. Just watching the three-minute trailer brought me to tears.

Any ADHD parent has fears for their child's future.  I know I think about Dylan's future almost constantly. Heck, he had trouble with fourth grade!  What's middle school going to be like??  High school?? Will college be an option for him?

I know it will be painful, but I really want to see Who Cares About Kelsey? What I've read about it suggests that it has at least a somewhat happy "ending," although the end seems to be just as Kelsey graduates high school - so it's certainly not "the end."

The trailer and the article I read in Education Week both suggest that even with all the hardship Kelsey faced, she was also lucky that she had teachers and administrators at her school who were really interested in her and in helping her to succeed. We all know that is not always the case. So often, kids who are outside the norm are seen as too much trouble. ADHD is tough enough; I can only imagine how much worse it is with significant behavioral issues, too.

I'm trying to find a way to bring a screening to New Orleans. Everything I've seen about the film suggests that it's worth seeing, for all parents. 

Learn more about Who Cares About Kelsey and let me know if you've seen it or if there's a screening coming to your community.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Spinning out of control

If you read my short bio, it tells you the many hats I wear:  Mom, Wife, Communications Director, Den Leader, and Church Volunteer. As part of those jobs, I'm also called on to be a Chauffeur, Trainer, Teacher, Event Coordinator, Therapist, Chef, Housekeeper, Designer, and probably more that I am not thinking of right now.

Most of the time, I manage all these jobs with stylish aplomb...or at least I manage to smile and laugh as things fall apart around me.

Right now, however, I really do feel as though I am spinning out of control. We've been joking a bit about it around the house, saying that our feng shui is out of whack. RockStar did move all the furniture around. And things did start going awry shortly thereafter. We laughed about it. 

Then we moved the furniture back.

Unfortunately, the feng has quite shwayed back. Our fridge that died isn't working yet, even though we've had the guy out to see it. Our 12-year-old Husky, whom everyone thought was a puppy less than six months ago, is crippled up like a pretzel and can barely walk. My mom has had to go on oxygen and will likely never come off of it. And work! Sigh. Work just gets more and more and more and more stressful. 

Oh, and did I mention, SCHOOL starts again in a couple of weeks.

I don't think I dreaded it this much when I was in fifth grade. 

As a result, I really do feel as though I'm spinning out of control. Not like I've reached my limit. Like I hit my limit around May 28th and it's now more than a month in and we are way past overload.

It's really frustrating for me, because I am the one who can and does handle EVERYTHING.

What does the rock - the one who normally supports everyone around her - do when that rock-hard surface begins to crumble?  How can a rock support everyone else when she's crumbling?

I know that I will get through this. I know that my surface will toughen up again and I will again be able to do 10 things at once, juggling everyone's issues simultaneously.

But right now...I kinda' wish everyone and everything would take care of itself for just a little while.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Summertime Success or Summertime Slump?

Photo courtesy Flickr, under Creative Commons
This was going to be the summer that made a difference.

I was wholly unimpressed with fourth grade. I tried really hard to like or at least tolerate his main teacher, but by the end of the school year that became utterly impossible.

My appreciation of his language arts teacher waned far earlier when I realized she wasn't being sweet; she was being condescending.

Together, they were bullies. Bullies to Dylan and bullies to me and RockStar. 

I tried to share with them as much information as I could. Information about what worked with Dylan and what didn't. Information about ADHD and executive function deficits. Feedback on how homework went during the evening and how I had hired a tutor to help. 

I even asked them for advice. But their bottom line was that Dylan was not trying, he was on par with his peers and certainly not as motivated as they were.  He was not even interested in doing things on his own. The unsaid undercurrent was that our parenting was highly deficient and we didn't hold him up to a high enough standard. The impression was that Dylan was not keeping up and, possibly, never would. It seemed like he was just not worth their time.

Although Dylan managed to not only pass fourth grade but also that year's high-stakes testing, I didn't feel he had really gained the education he should have. Where were the hands-on science experiments? Where was the handwriting practice he desperately needed (as opposed to demands for handwritten answers)? Did he really "get" the math he had learned? Was he reading for enjoyment, or because he had to? (I knew the answer to that!)

So I started the summer anticipating a whole learning environment, kind of an "afterschooling" rather than "homeschooling."

It hasn't gone quite that way.

We have done some science experiments, which Dylan absolutely loved plus he had science at one of the camps he attended. He also had a couple of days of math at camp, too.  We are about halfway through Hugo, which we have co-read (he reads a page; I read a page). And we have had several handwriting sessions based on something I read about "handwriting clubs." 

Is that enough? The answer is, I don't know.
Photo Courtesy Flickr, under Creative Commons

The science was easy. He has a genuine love of science and he'll eagerly do anything hands-on related to it, although I did have to watch for his low tolerance for frustration. One night we did balloon rockets. He got easily frustrated when it was difficult to get the string to go through the straw and nearly melted down when our first go at it had disappointing results. I tried to point out that that was what science was all about - trial and error.

I really thought we would've been through more books by now, but so many other things seem to be getting in the way of reading, the most infuriating being the television. Our family rule used to be no TV on a weeknight. But RockStar started relaxing that on his nights with Dylan even before school got out. Since school's been out it has been a very alluring temptress. I've tried to maintain a no-TV policy on "my" nights with Dylan, but have relented from time to time for a variety of (good and bad) reasons.

I'm most disappointed by the lack of handwriting progress. At first, Dylan was excited by the format of our, very exclusive, "club." This was the general outline:
  1. Large-motor exercises such as running, jumping jacks, or faux balance beam walking for about 5 or 10 minutes.
  2. Small-motor exercises like squeezing a stress ball or stretching our fingers for another 5 minutes.
  3. Letter play.  This took a variety of forms, including writing letters on each other's backs with our fingers and having the other person guess what they were. Probably 10 minutes.
  4. And finally, writing on paper, with a goal of at least 5 minutes. 
Photo Courtesy Flickr, under Creative Commons
Although I kept the methods for number four very easy, it was still a challenge. The first time, I asked him to write about his day. The goal was to keep writing, not worry about spelling or grammar and to not get stuck on getting down just the "right" things. He still stalled, thinking about what to write, so I tried to just get him to write what I said, but he balked at that. One night he agreed to write in the Handwriting Without Tears book we have, but another night he wouldn't do it. In fact, he's gotten to where he just won't write for me.

I thought it would be easier to get him to "write" on the computer, but short of typing games, he has been resistant to typing, too. When I try to ask him "why?" he doesn't want to write or type, he doesn't know. It's like the very idea puts up a wall of frustration and fear in him. The idea that he might do it "wrong" does seem to be part of it, but I also can't help feeling that there is a disconnect between his brain and his writing that he just doesn't know how to get past.

School is now three and a half weeks away. I can feel the tension creeping into my shoulders over the very idea of it. I don't know who his teacher is and there is a very good chance it will be a teacher new to the U.S. I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing. I've yet to get the results of his psychoeducational testing and I fear that it won't give me something to use and point to in getting him more help. If that's the case, it will almost seem to validate his fourth grade teachers' opinion that he's just not interested in trying, when I know that's not true.

Today I read an article on the Great Schools website about "Why Boys Fail." It's a somewhat depressing but all-too-real view into one writer's experience with her son. Author Christina Tyner-Wood says, " I hoped as he got older, this bright boy would be more willing to speak up and demonstrate that his inattention is not incomprehension." But their experience showed that things had to get a lot worse before they could get a little better.

Her son does ultimately get his act together, although not without needing to repeat a class. They hopscotch through schools and teachers, always trying to find a place that will value his strengths, rather than highlighting the ways that he doesn't conform.  To me, this experience sums up public school in America right now:
In the fourth grade, for example, his language arts teacher warned me he was failing so I called a meeting. She handed me proof: a test where he’d been asked to write a response to a prompt. She had given it an F.
It was good — and not just the grammar and spelling: he could write a lead, build suspense, and tell a joke. “What’s wrong with this?” I asked. “This is good writing — even for an adult.”
She handed me the rubric she had been teaching from. It stated a sentence had to be six words long. “He used a two-word sentence. I am not trying to teach good writing,” she informed me, the irony apparently lost on her. “I have to teach him to write to that rubric so he can pass the EOGs (end-of-grade tests).” I pulled him out of this school shortly after.

Isn't that just crazy? He wrote something (I would be singing!) but it didn't follow the rubric, so it was deemed "not good enough." How, tell me how, have we gotten so far off track that this makes sense in any school? 

Like the author of the article, I have to work and we can't just jump up and move to find a more suitable school. She does have her mother come oversee homework (her son is now in high school) and limits homework to just an hour (per the advice of The Homework Trap's Kenneth Goldberg). She tries to find solutions that make sense for their family and her son's skills and abilities. But the article ends with somewhat of an unknown. It sounds like her son has more high school to go and they don't know if his overall grades will be good enough to get him into college. To me, he sounds like a bright kid (he takes honors chemistry) and the idea that we would squash the dreams of a kid like that are horrific.

Tyner-Wood's article is not the first I've read that talks about how we are pushing down the curriculum. Pre-school is the new first grade. First grade is the new third grade, and so forth. Dylan's class covered algebra this past year.  I wasn't introduced to "X" until some time in junior high! At one time, in a much more sexist era, boys outnumbered girls in colleges. The reverse is true now. We just are not valuing the way that boys learn.

I certainly do not want to go back to the days when girls only went to college for the MRS. degree, but we need to find a way to balance education. Bright, interesting, and interested boys - like Dylan - need to be valued! They cannot have teachers giving up on them in fourth grade! 

If nothing else, I'm not giving up on him. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Living in the Moment

Living "in the moment" had become something of a mantra. The idea is to be mindful of what's going on rightnow and not worry about what happened yesterday or what you have to do later. At any given time, we only have this one moment, right, so why not live in it?

I realized today that is exactly what Dylan does, and probably what all or most kids with ADHD do.

The moment that sparked this realization for me was nothing short of ordinary. We pulled up to church this Sunday morning at around 10:55am, just as we have thousands of times before, and I started to get out of the car. We traveled the same way, parked in about the same place, and would enter through the same door. For me, it made sense to be ready, both literally and mentally, to exit the car and head toward church.

Not Dylan.

He had been playing an exciting game of Men In Black on the way to church. He had a ray gun and was taking out nefarious aliens left and right. Who knew there were so many hidden aliens in New Orleans?

So when the car stopped, he didn't immediately unbuckle his safety belt. He didn't make a move toward the door. He didn't even gather up his weaponry to use on the way to church. The human-vs-Zartian* battle was still in play in the car.

This blows my mind.

It's not that it was unusual. Hardly. We replay a facsimile of this scene multiple times a day, hundreds of times a week.

What blows my mind is how regular it is.

For me, I'm always thinking 10 steps ahead. Now, the mindfulness proponents might be aghast at that and I won't deny that I could use a little more "in the moment-ness," but in everyday life, I find it's necessary - no, essential - to be prepared. To have strategized not just your next step, but several steps ahead.

My response to this morning's delay was simple. I left Dylan there and went into church. He's 10 and he can get out by himself and cross over to the church and get himself where he needs to be. Yes, I did go check a few minutes later, and he was, indeed, inside. My car was unlocked, which is not a good thing in New Orleans, but I let that go for the sake of efficiency and getting to church on time. The stakes were not so high.

Unfortunately, that's not true all the time.

I've written before how difficult it is to get Dylan up and out the door. The challenge of getting homework done. And recently about trying to explain money matters.

All of these require, I think, advance thought. Thinking beyond thisminute. If you are only living in one single minute, why worry about academics? That test occurs days or weeks later. Save for the future? No way! Not when what you want is right in front of you, this second. Get dressed for school or watch TV? No contest!

I see the same problem in RockStar, too. On days off, nap comes first, then chores. (And often, not all the chores get done.) He's had a very hard time with jobs largely, I think, because he doesn't like them "right now," not seeing that if he puts more into it, he might become more comfortable and like it better. The idea of retirement planning is completely foreign to him. So long as there is money in the account to spend today, he is happy. Unfortunately, that has often - especially lately - not been the case.

I'd love to have a great solution to all this. A wonderful anecdote about how we've been able to combine our individual strengths and weaknesses to create a hybrid of being in the moment and planning ahead. Unfortunately, I don't, although I can say that after years (literally), Dylan did learn that he had to be ready to get out of the car when the teachers opened the door at car pool. It's not that I hadn't told him day after day to get ready. But he had to figure out on his own and it was really like he had an amazing "ah hah" moment and was much much better afterwards. (The teachers were shocked and I'm sure they wondered what I had done.)

What we need is to find a way to make those lessons come a little quicker and to have a hybridized way of looking at time. They need to plan a little better; I need to relax a little more. Hopefully, we can find that happy medium.

*A Zartian is a Zombie Martian.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Dollars and Nonsense

Can we get a RedBox?

Can we eat at McDonald's?

Can you download this ap/get this Lego(tm)/buy me a snowball?

The requests are pretty relentless and I am not typically an "easy" mom. I don't just buy stuff because I'm asked, although if there's a good reason for it (like, it's 98 degrees and the request is for a snowball) there's a possibility that I'll go for it.

The problem has become that even little expenses are hurting our budget.

Much as I hate to admit it, we are living above our means. This is not to say that we are taking fabulous vacations, buying designer clothes, and installing a swimming pool.  I only wish it were that easy.

We are living above our means despite the fact that we almost never go out to eat anymore.  We are living above our means despite the fact that we don't have premium movie channels, high-def TV, or a video game system.  We are living above our means despite the fact that I now park two blocks from my office, near the projects and not in my building in order to save money.

How do I explain budgeting to a 10-year old when I'm not even sure that we parents get it?

That said, I'm trying. When Dylan suggested he could live on selling lemonade (and keep in mind his own lemonade selling experience netted a profit of $2.50), I created an itemized budget for him. Rent, utilities, groceries, and other basic needs for a single guy. Then we talked about all the start-up and recurring costs he would have in his lemonade business. With what he would need to live on, his costs, and a target number of sold cups, he would have to sell the lemonade at $3.00 a cup - and that was for lemonade made from the flavored powder, not real lemons and sugar. 

Would you buy fake lemonade for $3.00 a cup? 

I also opened him an account at  I forget where I read about it, but it's a Dave Ramsey site to teach kids about money.  I agreed to give him a $3.00 allowance in return for some chores, and I created some other tasks that can earn him bonus funds.  We'll see how it works.

The Three Jars refer to Save, Spend, Share. Although our own budget is mostly focused on spending at the moment, I long to get back to the save and share modes, too.

So after I helped Dylan learn about money...I started taking some of my own advice.  

I've actually been working on this for a while. I tracked our expenses for a couple of months. Not pretty. I've now taken that and lowered our targets. So instead of spending $700 - $800 on groceries, we will now try to live on $600 of groceries. Sounds simple? It is until you try to keep the groceries to $125 per trip, with an extra $25 for stuff we run out of during the week, mostly perishables.

I've also cut back on some of our cell phone plans. Based on our usage, I think we can do it, although the overage fees are significant if we cannot. But I've learned how to check our usage and I've told RockStar he has to reign in his texting habit.

You do feel more in control by planning a good budget, although even with all the changes I've made there's still a bigger expense column than a salary column. And I don't see a lot of ways to make that change unless we take some drastic measures that I'm not all that keen about. Cut Dylan's Kung Fu classes? Not acceptable. Cut out internet entirely? Not realistic.

It's frustrating, as I've shared before. But since the alternatives are to get depressed or sell our house, I have to try. And maybe if we can get our finances in order, we can be an example to Dylan.  Even if he misses a RedBox or two.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Techno-Strategy Excitement

I'm so excited, and it's all from a webinar.

I've attended more than a few webinars in my day, and they certainly are not all created equal. Many of them have interesting titles but it quickly becomes obvious that they just want to sell you something.

Some present information that's so basic you would have to be completely new to the subject to get anything out of it.

In the best of webinars, it can be hard to maintain your attention since you lack a warm, physical body in your presence (or maybe this is just me).

Today's webinar was unlike any of these examples.

I found out about it from a local non-profit group geared to parents of kids with disabilities. It can be hard to think of your child as being "disabled," especially in comparison to kids with "real" disabilities like cerebral palsy or blindness. But when you look at the impact of executive function deficits on academic learning, the label of disability becomes a little easier to apply.

Educational consultant Susan Fitzell was the presenter and the title was "Techno-Strategy Blast." I won't give away the tips and tricks she presented - maybe she'll do a webinar or presentation that you can take part in - but I will describe some of the reasons why I'm so excited about it.

The presentation was divided into five or six different areas, and covered web-based tools to help kids with learning deficiencies.  Really many, if not not most, of the tools would help kids of any kind.  

She talked about timers and flash cards, both of which we used at home.  But it was a huge "ah hah" moment when she showed us ways to incorporate visuals into flash cards!  What a simple idea that could potentially make a huge difference in committing facts to memory! 

A number of other tools branched off of the typical flash card to other visual methods of learning and studying.  One of my big beefs with typical schools is that kids are not taught how to study.  These tools and ideas go a long way to giving kids appropriate and helpful tools for studying.

Another part of the webinar focused on both auditory and video tools. She mentioned using books on tape and later in the session I asked about "relying" on audio books over traditional reading.  She shared a great story about a student who had done the majority of his K-12 reading through audio books and went on to do well in college.  While I'm not ready to give up traditional reading, she helped me to see that audio books provide another option for helping with schoolwork.  She also highlighted the benefits of continuing to read to kids long after they are past picture books.  I love reading to Dylan and don't see us giving it up any time soon or, really, ever!

Fitzell is a teacher, but she's also a mother whose son got through school and is in college while working with two learning disabilities.  While it's great to hear from knowledgeable experts, it's even better to hear from a mom who has successfully helped their unique kids navigate through academic waters.

I "left" the webinar excited.  I want to try some of the tools she shared, and I feel re-energized for the second half of the summer's learning opportunities. We had a rough year, last year, but this presentation helped me feel that we can readjust and start over this coming year. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

A Flair for the Dramatic

Oh, the drama.

Every, and I do mean every, parent of a child with ADHD is very familiar with drama. There's the we're-leaving-the-house-right-now-and-I-can't-find-my-shoes drama. There's the I'm-so-tired-I-can't-do-homework-but-I-could-easily-build-a-3-story-castle-with-Legos(tm) drama.

There's drama over wanting a playdate, or an ice cream, or a hug after you've done something you shouldn't have.

There's the drama of thinking you are too cool for school or at least too cool for parents.

Really, there is drama for every situation.

Thankfully for ADHD moms, the drama is not limited to our "highly spirited" children. To every childhood, a little (or a lot of) drama must reign.

But in a new turn of event, for once, I am encouraging the drama.

It's Camp Drama.

Okay, that's not really the name of the camp. In fact, the first appearance of this welcome drama isn't even at a drama camp. It's at Dylan's annual, ordinary camp, where he gets to choose activities for each of the two sessions of camp.

In the first session, he had karate, science, and water play. This time around, though, it's baseball, math, and ... dut da da da ... drama!

I've been encouraging him to get involved in drama for a while now. In addition to his natural proclivity towards drama, Dylan is also painfully shy. Not when you know him - he'll talk your ear off then. But if he doesn't know you, he's practically mute. 

At my office, in the elevators, he hides behind me.  At 10.

If I'm lucky, when meeting someone new, he'll mumble "Hi" before running somewhere or hiding under a table.

So, I'm hopeful that drama will give him a way to overcome his shyness.

If he can get used to putting someone else's words in his mouth, perhaps he can put some of mine in there when he is in a situation where he has met someone. We've discussed various phrases:

"Pleased to meet you."

"Nice to meet you."

"It's a pleasure to make your acquaintance."

Okay, that last one sounds a little dated, but it was in an old movie we watched and he liked it and started saying it over and over again. I'm still waiting for him to actually use it on a real, live person.

After his normal camp, he will attend a performing arts camp, where I hope he'll really get into drama during the three weeks he's there. 

I can say that so far he really likes it. He's been begging me to go over his lines with him. It's a short script - just one page typed - about two kids at a movie. He's been working hard to give feeling to his words.

That's another part I hope helps.  Giving him words to use. When he's angry, so often it's just reaction, not description. I try to encourage him to talk about what he's feeling, what's wrong, why he's angry, but a lot of times, it's just noise or anger, not something I can use to help.

Will four weeks make a big difference? I don't know. Dylan's school has a "Talented in Theater" program, but not only do you have to audition to get in, he already misses most of his "flex time" classes to finish work he doesn't complete in class. I don't want to get him into something he doesn't actually get to go to. At one time, the school had a drama club. it seemed to go away, but it would be great if it came back...if it didn't interfere with homework.

I tell him all the time that he doesn't have to tell someone his life story; he just needs to be friendly and nice when he meets them. We all need to learn this at some point; it's just a little more challenging for introverts. Thankfully, we are not alone.  Here's a list of shy celebrities and other famous people:

Introversion is also getting a bit of love from author and speaker Susan Cain, who talks about how the current practice of grouping kids in classrooms can be challenging for introverts.  Here's her TED talk.

I'll report back at the end of the summer on how all that drama unfolds. And let me know if you've tried drama to overcome shyness and anger, or have you found other ways to deal with them.

Shakespeare, look out! We're gettin' dramatic!