I waited on pins and needles for a text or phone call yesterday; unsure whether my friend was able to sit with him at school, whether the aid was going to manage to connect with him, unsure whether his classmates would move around him like an unpredictable pet.
Around 10 am my friend came home and said they didn’t let her stay. The energy was awkward but little man went straight to his seat without so much as looking back. We talked for quite a while about his options, what might be best, how his behaviors were just like her own son at that age.
Yes, he should just go and it will work itself out. He’ll learn. Or no, just homeschool him. He doesn’t need this stress. He’s too young.
We finally reached an agreement that either option would work. We just need to make a decision. I thanked her profusely and checked the clock, counting down the minutes until I would go pick him up and find out myself how his morning went.
My stomach has been churning for several weeks now. If my adrenals were not already shot, I’m pretty sure they are now. This constant state of alert is not at all healthy, but when you have a child who’s future mental/emotional health weighs in the balance by educated guesses, some of them conflicting, there is no way to just relax. There isn’t some all knowing wise man who is going to just magically move things. Yes, we can pray and “give it to God” but in practical reality, it is MOMS who make everything happen. By direct action or inaction. We are blamed whether we do or don’t.
I’ve noticed from the outset, in one way or another, my son’s problems are somehow my fault (our fault as parents). Our genetics. Our parenting. Our refusal to implement drugs. Our emotions (or rather mine as my husband seems quite calm). Every step of the way, no matter what happens, the buck absolutely stops with us. Whether we are indirectly or directly responsible, whatever happens to him, we are the ones picking up the pieces, or putting them back together, or wondering what we missed. If it all goes well, we can sigh a big sigh of relief. If not, everyone looks for why or how we failed to protect the child from himself, from life, from his genetic handicaps.
I’m very sensitive to people critical of children right now. Especially those who berate parents for ill behaved children. Someone even said in passing, “maybe you need Super Nanny.” Maybe you need to think before you speak? Super Nanny has no clue how to manage ADHD children (I don’t either but I’m learning). I saw her put children in time outs with their nose to the wall. ADHD kids respond best to positive immediate discipline…does putting a child in a humiliating position sound like positive immediate discipline? I stopped watching her after I saw that.
I’ve been learning that quick, short time outs are the only punitive discipline that is effective because of the way an ADHD brain works. Sort of like my dog. If you don’t catch them in the act and respond quickly, they won’t connect the behavior to the response. And the way an ADHD/sensory craving brain works, overly harsh, loud or prolonged punishment may trigger pleasure centers in the brain, rewiring it to seek out these negative sensations. That’s the LAST thing we want to see happen. And it helps explain why so many ADHD kids develop ODD (oppositional defiance disorder), something that is not biological but learned/developed as a coping/defensive measure. When the world does not understand, and constantly reacts overly harshly to their natural impulses, behaviors they can’t control very well, they have to protect themselves.
So stay positive. Focus on the good things. Reward even the smallest victories because it will help compensate for all the negative feedback that is overwhelming them.
In many, many ways ADHD brains are very different from non-ADHD/ADD brains. And I’m liking what I’m finding. Highly creative, innovative, risk taking, resilient, and fresh. If only I could help my little man learn some coping skills so he doesn’t develop ODD or continue feeling so badly about himself.
I spied on him through the big glass window and saw that he was working very diligently with his aid. Kids were swirling all around the tables, working on math and counting. Several boys came up to little man to talk to him. The aid reminded them all to get back to the project.
I saw another mom waiting for her daughter and we started chatting. Turns out, she’s a therapist and knows several therapists who specialize in helping kids like my son learn coping strategies for school or other places where they need it. She knew immediately what I was talking about with my son. She said these therapists are also great for parents because they help parents feel less alone and overwhelmed. Just those words of acknowledgment triggered my emotions to well up. I’m getting good at biting my lip.
Little man saw me and came running to the door. He gave me a big hug. Their project was just wrapping up so he said goodbye to his aid and grabbed his coat. Suddenly a group of kids, boys and girls came rushing over yelling goodbye. Little man took off running down the hall before he heard them. But I soaked it up. Little Gigi came running out, looking to give him another hug. They have been best friends since kindergarten. She looked everywhere wondering where he went. I gave her a hug and thanked her for being so sweet. Suddenly little man came zooming back into the pod and I said, “Hey, these guys wanted to say goodbye to you.” He poked his head back in the door and five or six kids came over to wish him well, high fiving and smiling.
He was like a rock star. I stuck a finger nail in the palm of my hand to short circuit the floods in my heart.
The teacher gave me a thumbs up and said he had a great day. She said he did really well at recess, too, a place where he has had the most difficulty since the start of the year. I am not a good enough writer to explain how high I was flying for the next few hours. My kids could have asked me to buy them a pound of candy and I probably would have. I hugged and kissed little man like a big teddy bear. I told him how proud I was of him. He said, “Yeah, me, too.”
As we drove home little man said very seriously, “You know mom, however much you love me, I will always love you more.” I laughed and said no way but he insisted. I let him win that argument, but any parent reading this knows there is no possible way.
I am thinking that reducing the anxiety and helping him get his social relationships working better will really help him function better in a school setting. If we cannot get those two variables working, I am not sure how to help him manage the sensory processing or impulsivity. And those are the main barriers to learning in the school environment. They would not be issues in a homeschool or Montessori setting…at least not as much because there is flexibility in how every lesson is engaged.
A good friend of mine called to share a story of her nephew with me. He had nearly exactly the same problems as my little man in first grade. Impulsive, anxious, bumping into everything and everyone, annoying teachers and classmates. His mother works for an integrative health company so was equally as concerned about medications as I am. They tried many approaches and found that sensory therapy, some meds for impulse control and playing the drums gave him the tools the cope. He is also a highly dynamic bright child and once he found positive outlets for his natural impulses, he achieved success in school.
My friend also relayed her daughters struggles with intense school anxiety, so much so that one of her daughters threw up nearly every day before school. I had no idea. Which just goes to show, you never know what a child or family is dealing with. I also did not realize that anxiety can develop as a child ages…I figured it would be present from earlier years. And the anxiety does have roots in feelings of security and safety. When a child feels unsure about whether they can be safe at any moment, it really can be debilitating and interfere with learning. Something as simple as giving them a permanent hall pass to use when ever they feel they need it or finding out if there is a small unobtrusive “lovey” or soothing tool they can have to calm the nervous system without making a scene or sticking out can work miracles for an anxious child.
All of this really helps put some perspective on what could be happening with my little man. I do think he has impulse control issues, sensory processing for sure and definitely anxiety. The question is whether he truly has ADHD…the neurological “deficit” of dopamine processing in the brain…and I’m not sure we will ever truly know.
I spent the rest of the day at a board training meeting and met a fellow board member who was a teacher for the Sultan of Brunai and in Hong Kong for over a decade as well as five years as an education psychologist. I told her a bit about little man and she immediately cautioned me in accepting any diagnosis. She emphasized how subjective they truly are and that teasing out all the factors, obvious and underlying, is not something to take very lightly (which of course we are not). She said many children appear ADHD symptomatic simply because they are so bright they mentally check out of boring classwork. It’s not that the children are dysfunctional, it’s that the teaching method and structure is.
She also stressed that even brain scans are NOT reliable because children’s brains are constantly growing. The prefontal cortex, the area where executive function develops, is not even finished until 21-25 years of age, AND it’s the last area of the brain to mature! Growth and maturity is asynchronous for ALL children. There are averages, but generally all children learn to talk and walk, eventually. She really didn’t think all this fuss over executive function was reasonable. We as parents and educators can develop tools to help children cope when they are behind the curve, just as we do with other developmental milestones.
My new teacher friend talked about her own experience with children coming in to work during breaks and recess because they really wanted to. Many other teachers and adults were incredulous, assuming these were the geeky kids who had no friends. She said it was all of them. She came up with immersive projects that progressed on a continuum, that had her students deeply invested. She observed that our system of periods and forced transitions is simply unnatural and really tests the patience and capacity of very bright children. They get frustrated. She said learning styles are essentially ignored and the system caters to the average child capable of passively receiving. Most children are really just learning to sit and listen and not do active learning.
She also said be wary of the drugs. Tolerances inevitably develop and we really do not understand what that does to a growing brain. Not to mention the fact that ADHD is often misdiagnosed as the primary “disorder” when it really is just an inner brain clock speed. These kids need a classroom that goes their speed, not the other way around.
“I think he’s gifted.” She said with her charming British accent. “It’s tough being a parent. You have to listen to your gut. You know your son. Don’t let anyone tell you who he is. You are the best expert.”
Just got off the phone with my friend who dropped him off today. She said he really resisted going into class but eventually, with her coaxing did. His new aid showed up and seems great. She will be able to commit to the next few weeks or months, however long it takes to get little man comfortable in the classroom. I’m so grateful to FINALLY have some consistency to look forward to. My friend also noted that his teacher seems really scattered and frazzled. She is very careful with her words, but by the time she figures out what she wants to say to little man, he’s already moving on. I have a feeling that this will be a huge learning curve year for her as well.
Tomorrow I am attending an ADHD conference in the big city. I look forward to hearing what all these experts have to say. Will take diligent notes.