Friday, July 25, 2008

Because she asked me...

A while back, before my computer took an unplanned vacation, I got a request from a bloggy friend, Andria, to do a specific post. Andria, like myself, has 2 boys and a girl and a brilliant wit (we are a rare breed in that we're both also gorgeous). Her eldest, Jacob, is a funny, intelligent, sweet boy who is similar to my eldest in many ways. Especially in his emotional issues. Andria's been having a tough go of it with Jacob lately, and could use some support. Honey, I hope this helps!

Justin was the EASIEST baby and toddler. I'm talking, he would nap when we asked him to, never climbed furniture, and played happily with just about any toy you presented him with. He ate all foods (except for mashed potatoes!). He spoke with articulation well beyond his age and was reading before preschool. Truly, this little boy was a mother's dream. I never understood people who complained about taking one child to a restaurant or on an outing. I truly rocked at this parenting gig, or so I thought. Perhaps it was because of this easy early-on disposition that we "missed" the signs of the impending problems...

It's not that I didn't notice that Justin needed to be forewarned of any changes to a routine, or else he would cry and melt into a puddle. It's not that I didn't notice that he was always the last kid to join in at playgroups. Standing in a corner or up against a wall, he wouldn't venture into the family room, even if he'd been there dozens of times before, until just before the playdate would be ending. And if the kids all moved from the family room to the living room without him pre-checking it out? We'd have to start all over again at the wall!

But those seemed to be minor issues, for me. Nothing to worry about, right? After all, my son truly was(IS!) brilliant. Honestly, he asked the most astoundingly in-depth questions at just 3 and 4 years old. His mind worked like that of a scientist, and we couldn't have been prouder!

I can remember the first time someone didn't agree with my opinion of him. Preschool, week 1. Justin stood in the corner for a long time before playing with the other children and then, eventually, ended up hitting another child. I accepted that he was having a hard time adjusting and, after talking with him and the teachers, hoped it wouldn't happen again. This would set the standard for Justin's school years from preschool through second grade. The bad days often outweighed the good, with notes being sent home on a regular basis.

"He can't keep his hands to himself."
"He pushed Johnny/Susie/Nick and wouldn't apologize."
"He just can't sit still!"
and worse...

Oh, the things we tried!! Methods that worked at home, I would write out in detail and explain to the teachers, hoping to help them help him. It didn't help that he was "relearning" everything he'd already known for YEARS in kindergarten and first grade. How can we expect a 5 year old boy who is reading books (real books. He read Moby Dick in first grade!) to sit still and go over and over the letters and the sounds they make? I'm not saying that the work wasn't age appropriate. It was. My second son fits the mold of a typical kindergartener to the T. But Justin was bored! You can understand how difficult it was for me to not think that this was part of the problem. That THIS was contributing to his acting out and misbehaving in class. But it was his behavior changes at home and his actions OUTside of the classroom that began to truly concern us.

He began lying extensively. About everything. Homework wouldn't come home with him. He lost more pairs of mittens and hats than I can bear to think about. Whenever he was left to his own devices, instructions wouldn't be carried out. This was literally a 4 year period where I would have to repeat myself 6 times before he would come down with his socks on! I'd send him up with specific instructions, like "please put on the white socks that are on your bed. Then come downstairs." He would forget the moment he was out of my sight! And this would then erupt into tantrums that can't truly be explained.

Oh, the tantrums. Never before or since have I heard a child scream with as much passion and loss of control as my poor son did... Just by looking into his eyes during a fit would break your heart, because he truly wasn't in control anymore. The simplest thing could set him off. If we went to the park and it began to rain? That simple change in plans could ruin his day. RUIN it, as in crying in his room, thrashing about, for hours on end. Knowing this, I tried to prepare him for ALL possible outcomes for any situation.

For example:
"We're going to a birthday party today! They may have cake, ice cream, and games. They may give prizes and treats to kids. OR, they may not. Perhaps there will be CUPcakes and NO ice cream, or the ice cream may be melted (he hates that). There may be games that only some kids win prizes at and you may not get one. OR, if you do, the prize may not be something you like. Also, you probably won't be first to get the treats or play the games. In fact, you could be LAST. And remember that you may not win the games, but that's ok, because it's fun to just play, right? Oh, you might not know everyone there, but that's ok because...."

You get the idea, right? Now, multiply that by 24 hours, and then rinse and repeat for several years in a row. Also remember that alllll of the preparations in the world won't help your kid that has a hard time adjusting if he just doesn't feel comfortable. It doesn't matter if all of his friends at school are watching, he'll still put his head down on that desk and cry. It doesn't matter if his beloved relative gave him a present he'd asked for if he had it set in his mind that he really wanted a different one. He'll still stomp his feet and run to his room and cry.

These behaviors may sound like those of a"spoiled" child. I get it. I really do. I probably thought the same way before having my own high-needs child. But the difference between my son and a kid who was just manipulating his parents was that he had no control over his actions. Truly. In fact, we took him to a psychologist who gave us some fancy words to attach to the end of his name. (Executive Function Disorder) This title explained his behavior, but didn't solve the problem. We still had a young boy whose emotions were a constant roller-coaster that brought the whole family along for the ride.

I can write about this without sobbing right now, because somehow? Somehow Justin has changed. Somewhere between second grade's physical disruptions in class and repeated issues with defiance towards authority and the end of third grade, he matured. His neurological development finally caught up to his age and he is, for the most part, a typical 9 year old boy. I can count on ONE HAND the times I got a note home from his third grade teacher. On ONE HAND. Let me say that again: ONE HAND. What made the difference? I wish to hell I knew.

I think it was a combination of taking him off of Strattera (for a previous ADHD diagnosis) which causes increased temper in some children (check!), his brain truly developing, the constant dedication that Patrick and I had to helping this child, and the help of a fabulous teacher. His teachers from years past honestly tried. They did. But Justin's third grade teacher was a rock. She created in her classroom the foundation for Justin and other children to feel secure in their boundaries and expectations. Every note of ways to aide Justin she wrote down and implemented on a daily basis. Not only for Justin, but the rest of the class! My son HAS to have accountability from the beginning of the day to the end. He has to have someone helping him double check and stay on track. And with Mrs. G, he FINALLY had that stability.

We still have problems, don't get me wrong. But the difference is that the days with an issue are the ones that surprise me, instead of the other way around. He is constantly surprising me and my family with the level of maturity and adaptability he has achieved. I know I've said it in the past, repeatedly, how wonderful it is to step back and look at the difference in my eldest child. My heart bursts with pride at the young man he is becoming...

Now, if we could just get him past his food sensory issues...


Andria, and anyone else with a high-maintenance child (no matter WHAT their "diagnosis" may be) my heart goes out to you. I know, as you do, how marvelous your baby is. How much it hurts to not have others understand him. How it breaks your heart to hear foul things coming out of his mouth and your own, but the level of frustration is just too much. How you wish you didn't feel judged when your child melts down in grocery store and he's too big to carry under your arm anymore...

Hang in there. I understand. I really, really do! If you need to cry and bang your hands on something other than his behind, email or call me. Keep on fighting for your baby. Not only because it's your "job" but because good outcomes ARE there. It's a tough road and a bloody battle, but it's so worth it!
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