Sunday, November 19, 2017

Is, uh...is this supposed to get easier?

On Friday at 3:15 I dropped my conference evaluation into a box, recieved my free conference gift - a combination pizza cutter/beer bottle opener...maybe I'm not the only one who occasionally needs food-and-alcohol comfort sessions - and drove away from my state's gifted and talented conference. It was good...I talked with other people from the city and heard some good information. I developed a healthy sense of gratitude for the wonderful system my kids are being educated in. But as I traveled a mile a minute along the freeway to get home, I little thought kept pushing its way into my consciousness.

Is this supposed to be easier?

I heard a lot of information meant to make me a better and more effective parent, but a lot of the information was old news. Dabrowski's overexcitabilities? Yes, I know them. Gifted kids are prone to intensity and perfectionism? Yep, heard that too. There's an amazing book out about parenting gifted kids? Yes, I've read it a few times and still refer back to certain chapters once in awhile (and yes, I highly recommend it!). Online resources? How about Hoagies' or SENG or NAGC? Oh, and gifted kids should be in a school where they're understood and challenged? Well, my kids' schools aren't perfect, but they're trying to accommodate my kids and my district has a very active Gifted & Talented department that educates and advocates for gifted kids. I know I have it good in that regard.

If I have all of this information and all of this support, why do I still feel overwhelmed?

Maybe it's because I have three kids. Maybe it's because P is 2E, which is just double the fun. Maybe I'm just lazy and expect life to be easier. Maybe the nature of this is just that it's HARD.

Maybe it's a combination.

I do think it's gotten somewhat easier since P was first labeled. I feel less alone and I feel like I have more direction. And parenting in general is not easy-peasy. But at the same time, I don't think this will ever be a walk in the park...more like a hike up a mountain. I guess it's time to strap on some boots and get used to the scenery.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Awkward

You want to talk about awkward moments? How about that awkward moment when your kid gets invited to another kid's birthday party, and when you call to RSVP the mom says, "Oh, I feel like I'm meeting another member of my family! I've heard SO MUCH about your son!" and all you can think is, "I know nothing about your kid."

I guess my son is the quiet sort when it comes to his social life. At the beginning of the year another family met me very excitedly and talked about how much their son liked P. I had NO IDEA their kid existed. I know that P has trouble with the other kids...he isn't as socially aware and his teacher has said that the other kids tease him. I kind of wish I could just follow P around for a day and see what his social life is really like. That's my biggest area of concern for him right now, and the thing I wanted to learn most about at the gifted conference this week. I want him to have friends.

Maybe he already has them.

All I know is, I'm looking forward to Saturday with that usual mixture of hope and dread that prefaces any social outing for P. Maybe with a little more of the former than the latter this time.

Sunday, November 12, 2017

Conference

This week I'm going to my state's gifted and talented organization conference. I'm going with a slight amount of guilt - it will be my first overnight trip away from my family, and also I have some work responsibilities that I needed to shift onto my co-workers in order to have the day off. But now that it's all arranged and settled I'm moving away from guilt and toward anxiety.

Emotions are fun!

For some reason the idea of going and doing this by myself is really throwing me for a loop. If I was taking a kid or two with me I'd feel a lot more at ease. But the idea of just being on my own and doing my own thing feels so strange. When did my identity shift so far away from "Christine" and come to rest so firmly on "Mom?" Also, the conference has a listing that shows who is attending, so I was able to scan it and see how many people I might be acquainted with so I'd know how many people I have to avoid. What I lack in small-talk ability I make up for in social awkwardness, so I hate running into people I know.

Sorry son, I think you get your lack of social ability from me.

Still, I've heard the conference is really good and the breakout sessions I'm going to are all part of a special track just for parents. I'm hoping for a lot of good information because every year I feel like I need more good information. Just like I need a night of watching what I want on TV and not having people interrupt me every ten minutes in a hotel the night before the conference.

This might be a good opportunity on a number of levels.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Just typical

A friend of mine noted this weekend that when she needs to talk to someone she always gives them something to do with their hands, like playing a card game. It allows them to fill in the pauses in conversation, and keeping their eyes on something else helps them open up and drop thoughts and feeling they wouldn't ordinarily let go. Maybe that's why she's always inviting me over to knit. And maybe that's why, while I was struggling with my new sock project complete with fine-gauge yarn and double-pointed needles, I let go more than I had intended to about my frustrations with P's struggles with math and my own feelings of inadequacy as his mom.

At one point I said, getting worked up, "The thing is, this will never be fixed. Never. There have been so many times where I thought it was done, that everything was just going to be great, but it never will be. There will always be another challenge or another thing going wrong, every single year. I've been hanging onto the hope that someday he'd be typical, but he never will be."

She rolled her eyes and waved her hand. "What's so great about typical? Who wants their kid to be typical?" she asked.

"I DO," I said. "There are some SOLID BENEFITS to being average."

"Well, yeah," she demurred. But we both knew what she was thinking...he'd never get there, so why dwell on it.

I spent Monday feeling sick to my stomach, and between projects at work I looked at adaptive math programs for kids with dysgraphia. There's just so little out there. He's failing and there's not a thing I can do about it. And let's not get started on his social skills or emotions...I feel like he has so many challenges that it's imperative to build on his strengths.

I'm so tired of fighting. I'm so tired of feeling like every new year is a new discovery about what he can't do. I just want him to have good grades and friends and a place where he fits in.

Typical would not be so bad.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moving forward

On Monday P had his first appointment with a psychologist for counseling. I was dreading it - I felt like I was receiving a prognosis more than a diagnosis. Was this the start of a new label, and a new journey with years of counseling, medication, and hospitalization, like my sister? Or would it head off half a lifetime of self-doubt and worry, like I experienced before I went into therapy?

Actually, as it turns out, neither was true. After the psychologist talked to P she turned to me and said, "Well, if you choose to go ahead, I think we could do this in six, maybe seven sessions." I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped and while I wish I had said something along the lines of, "Well, I appreciate your ambitious timeline and would love to see the change you can make for my son," I'm pretty sure I just blurted out, "Sounds awesome."

I did manage to keep, "You're either very, very good or very, very optimistic" in my head, so points to me for that.

With the spacing of sessions "six or seven sessions" will actually take about five months. P would be wrapping up his therapy right around the time his class takes their huge multi-day field trip, which would be about perfect.

So, we'll go forward with the plan. P had a meltdown at school yesterday and I wished fervently that his next appointment was next week and not two weeks from now, but I'll take what I can get. As much as I love the professionals that I've come to see as P's "team" - his pediatrician, the OTs who work with him in the hospital and at school, teachers he's particularly loved - and would be happy to add another caring adult to his roster, I just want this done with. I want him to be better.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

October 16th

The clock is ticking down to a date I've had on my calendar for two months...a date that I've been both dreading and impatiently looking forward to. October 16th will be P's first appointment with a psychologist.

I have not been batting a thousand in life in general lately. My house is a mess. I'm supposed to make some decisions about changing up my living room, but I'm just as mired down as ever. I had parent teacher conferences this week and I think I'm on rocky terms with one of my kids' teachers. Work...let's not even talk about that. And, of course, on the family front, nothing screams "awesome parenting" like your child needing to see a therapist before puberty.

I've been on the other side of this equation so many times, I know what I would say. "There's nothing about your child having an emotional disorder/autism/intellectual delay/whatever that makes you a bad mom. In fact, what makes you a good mom is the fact that you're getting help for him." But knowing that feels like a token comment thrown into a brass urn, and as it clangs around the echoes it creates just serve to illustrate how vast and empty the void is.

I hate this. And yet, I want this. I want help. I can't control his emotional outbursts, I can't fix his social skills, I can't tell the difference between normal sadness and something more pathological - something more like what his aunt endured. He needs this, and I'm desperately looking forward to the help...and dreading it all the while.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A change in mindset

Last night I went out for coffee with a friend of mine. She is super bright and has a son who is super bright and even though when we get our families together her kid is doing things like saying hello in seven languages while I'm struggling to make sure all of mine are wearing shoes and not screaming, I still like her.

That night, though, we weren't with our families. We were alone in the crowd at Starbucks, talking about our husbands and our kids and sewing and knitting and our jobs and whatever else. After a couple of hours there was a brief lull in our conversation and I took a deep breath and asked something I had been meaning to ask.

"Do you remember a couple of summers ago when we took that training together?" I asked. "And we read that book and learned all about these unusual traits gifted kids have?" She nodded and I asked, "Do you think those traits...persist into adulthood?" 

She nodded rapidly and emphatically and launched into an explanation of quirky, gifted kids she'd taught and how she saw some those same personality quirks in their parents, and I relaxed, relieved that she assumed that I was asking a general question, or perhaps a question about my kids. 

But she's super smart, and said, "There are traits in your kids that come from you. You all want certain things. And not material things...you want things to be a certain way, or be seen a certain way. E's hunger for social justice comes from you. Or the way P values certain things and understands that they hold a different place in the big picture than most people think they do. You're like that. Your gifts were passed on to them because you are gifted too."

"Ah, it's been so weird," I said, running a hand through my hair. "I mean...I spent so much time thinking that there was something just fundamentally wrong with me because I couldn't fit in. I spent so much time wishing that I could just be like everyone else, and wondering what I was missing that would make me like them. And I spent so much time believing that if I could just stop thinking like this, and feeling like this, and being interested in these things, then I could just be normal. And then my kids come along and I tell them that some of those same traits are okay, and being different is just fine, and it makes me wonder if I was wrong about myself." I caught myself and said, to deflect, "I mean...did you get that way with your son?"

No, it turns out, because she sorted her shit out long before approaching middle age*. But I spent most of my life trying to hide and forget about what I had. I guess the better approach would have been to figure out who are the best people to see and appreciate it. 




* That's 40, right?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Today's analogy

I posted this in a Facebook group this weekend. It seemed to resonate with people.

When I watch my sister parent her two neurotypical kids, it feels like hiking. There are predictable milestones and lots of guidebooks to tell her where she's going. It's hard work to be sure, and at times she's faced obstacles and circumstances that made it harder. Nobody enjoys hiking through a thunderstorm. But on the whole, the journey is enjoyable and most people understand what she's doing and where she's going.
Parenting my gifted daughter feels like mountain climbing. I'm not talking about scaling Everest here, but it's definitely an undertaking that requires different equipment. Even the smallest step feels like more work. There are fewer predictable milestones and people may think your need to climb is weird. They might tell you to take the same hiking trails everyone else does, or refuse to accompany you. But the views are exhilarating.
Raising my 2E son, on the other hand, feels like being strapped into a roller coaster. Sometimes he climbs steadily up, but it seems like within moments we go from climbing to plummeting. The highs are breathtaking and the falls are terrifying. Sometimes I feel like I'm steering, but sometimes I feel like I'm strapped helplessly into a ride that I can neither predict nor control.
All three journeys are, in turns, hard work, scary, and intensely rewarding, but they're all different. 

It's not a complete analogy - it doesn't touch on parenting kids with delays who aren't gifted, for example, single parenting, parenting in poverty, etc. But as a mom I felt like I took a few punches last week, and this is reflective of what I was feeling. My easy days are mountain climbing. My tough days are hanging onto a roller coaster.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Google Docs/Read & Write for Chrome

Google Docs has been P's favorite assistive technology so far. Remember, his worksheets look like this:


It doesn't really lend itself well to typing out answers. P started writing numbers in each blank, and then numbering his answers correspondingly in a Google Doc. The process would be even easier if the worksheet questions were numbered or - dreaming a little dream here - the teacher would put the worksheet into a Google Doc, share it with P, and then just let him answer that way.

P told me, "Google Docs is easy. It's just like writing. Except, you know, typing." It's familiar and simple. The auto-save feature is a huge bonus, and sharing with his teachers is a snap. All of the teachers and students in his district have Google accounts, so it's easy to share his completed Doc with his teacher for grading.

I also really love the fact that his class has regular access to Chromebooks, and that he can use his school Google account to sign into our Chromebook at home. Everything looks just like his school account, everything is in the same place, and homework will be much more seamless with that system.

I had been encouraging P to use Read & Write for Chrome. Read & Write is a powerful suite of tools that work as an extension on your Chrome browser. It can read text, look up words (with words or pictures as a definition), summarize long articles, and more. However, the most amazing tool is the voice dictation. I had students who use Dragon in the past, and it was a nightmare. I'm sure the new Dragon versions are better, but Read & Write is so simple and the voice detection is so good. You just talk and the words appear on the screen, right in a Google Doc. It couldn't be easier.

However, P was not on board. Using the voice input was just too different than typing, and watching the words appear on the screen distracted him from what he was thinking. I've used Read & Write with some of my students with good results, so I was disappointed that P was so resistant to using it.

Then, last night P had to do a worksheet. He misunderstood the directions, so when he was halfway done he had to erase everything and re-do it. He became less and less willing to do the worksheet, and distraction turned to procrastination turned to anxiety turned to tears. After two hours I sent him to get a drink and come back to try again. But when I tried to focus him on the questions at hand, he just poured out a jumble of ideas and partial answers.

"We're going to use Read & Write," I told him firmly. "Enough is enough. Let's just get this done."

So I turned on the microphone for dictation, turned the Chromebook so the screen was facing away fro him, and told him to talk about the questions. When he realized he couldn't see his words, the pressure eased and he quickly verbally explained all of his ideas. Then once he was done we simply cut-and-pasted each idea into the relevant answer area.

"See?" I asked. "Easy peasy. What do you think?"

He was exhausted and grateful. I think he finally sees the value of the program. Now he just needs to practice it enough to feel comfortable using it by himself.

Monday, July 17, 2017

SnapType

Before P left for summer break his teachers gave everyone in his class a long summer assignment...a book to read and a packet of worksheets to fill in about the story.

The sheets look like this...all writing.


With P's 504 plan being so new, there was no time to figure out how he would complete the assignment with his assistive technology. In fact, we don't even know WHAT the technology will be...because I work for the district I know it will probably be Google Docs with Google Read & Write for Chrome, but on paper it just says, "typing."

However, I heard that if you're willing to purchase the technology yourself, the school will allow your child to bring it and use it (how generous). So we're using this packet assignment as an opportunity to figure out what will work for P, and I'm not confining my search to what the district is willing to provide.

When I searched for apps for dysgraphia I really came up short. There are lots of apps for dyslexia, but dysgraphia doesn't seem to have the same appeal to app makers. However, one app that I found and loved was SnapType. I thought this would be a real game-changer for P, and I was all set to plunk down cash for an Android tablet just so he could use it next year. Luckily, we tried it first, and found out that it wasn't the magic solution we were hoping for. Nothing is, really. It's a tool, and a very good one, but it won't be the solution for all of P's problems.

SnapType is a very clever app. You take a photo of the paper or worksheet you need to write on, and then you just tap to add yellow text boxes to type your answers right on top of the photo. When you're done you can email it as a PDF or JPEG to your teacher. The yellow boxes disappear on the teacher's copy, which results in a very clean-looking worksheet. If you get the Pro version you can store images in the app in different folders, so the kid can always keep a copy.


Pros:

Worksheets like this are tough for kids with dysgraphia, and teachers often forget to scan worksheets in for kids who use assistive technology. This allows teachers or kids to make worksheets accessible on the fly. This is a huge plus. 

The folder feature makes it easy for kids to keep their worksheets organized.

This app gives the power to the student in terms of making worksheets accessible.

Cons:

You have to make your own line breaks by tapping a new box. This was hard for P to do when he was typing, because he was concentrating so hard on what he wanted to express, as well as typing it out.

There's no spell check or grammar check. I really miss this feature. I'd be willing to pay more for SnapType with spell check and grammar check.

One thing that isn't about the app, but is a practical consideration...P prefers to type on a real keyboard. I've looked for tablet cases with attached keyboards, and it's hard to find one that still makes it easy to take photos with the tablet. Most keyboard cases make it more cumbersome to manipulate the tablet to take a photo.

All in all, I think this will be very useful to P, and I hope his school will allow him to take a tablet to school to use. This would be absolutely phenomenal for an older student to install on their phone, either as their primary writing tool or just as a back-up to their usual accommodations.

I feel like I should give this a certain rating, like a certain number of stars. But P is past his astronomy phase and is all about steampunk right now, so I give SnapType 4.5 anachronistic goggles. It's a great app.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Floored

So I guess we're getting new carpet.

A few weeks ago my mom called me up and made me an offer. Well, "offer" might imply that we had a choice...instead she informed me that she and my dad do a lot for my brother and sister. They watch my sister's kids full-time, and my dad helped my brother remodel his old house, and he's currently helping my brother build a mini-barn shed on his new property. Because they do so much for my siblings, she said, they want to do something for me. And that something is new carpet in my living room and hallway, as well as painting the living room. 

At first I fought with her a bit...I don't need anyone's help, and I can paint my own house. Even though I regularly solicit advice and input at work for my students and among my friends and internet acquaintances for my own children, I don't ask for things that help me. I take care of myself. But as my protest bordered on rudeness and anger, I began to think, Yeah, they do help my brother and sister a lot. And it would be pretty sweet to have free carpet, and new paint that wasn't the result of my own effort. So I acquiesced, and my mom told me to start looking at flooring samples.

So yesterday I strode confidently into Home Depot like a Real Adult planning on making educated flooring decisions. Fifteen minutes later I left with three laminate samples, two carpet samples, four paint chips, and no idea what I was doing.

My mom had suggested that I just get samples that I thought were pretty. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that there's a choice that's right...the perfect intersection between durability, ability to enhance our house's resale value, price, and appearance. I'm still looking up flooring options because I don't just want to like my carpet, I also don't want to be wrong.

I went through the same thing when I bought a car back in 2014. I researched that car like it was my second job...I read Consumer Reports, looked up information online, kept a list of available cars at just about every dealership in the city, and finally settled on a Hyundai Santa Fe.

I totaled it within a month. The thought of replacing it was so overwhelming that I put off buying a replacement for years. We had gotten by with one car before that, and we went right back to what we were doing. When my husband found a full-time job it meant buying a second car again, and I bought another Santa Fe because I couldn't bear to re-do all the research. Unfortunately, my first Santa Fe was a first generation Santa Fe, and the one I have now is a second generation Santa Fe. FYI, the first generation Fes were awesome vehicles, as are the current iteration of the Santa Fe (the third generation). The second generation Santa Fes were not that great, which means I made a wrong choice, and I'm still mad about that.

I know someone who needed a car and just sort of went to the car lot and bought one she liked. I'm still a little stunned at her approach, and jealous that she could just get what she wanted without worrying about being correct or making the best decision humanly possible.

I know I have to pick out something...but living with plywood subfloors seems like a pretty reasonable option at this point. The splinters would distract me from the feeling of having made a wrong choice.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Assistive Technology

This summer P has a worksheet packet that he has to complete about a novel he's reading. He is less than thrilled about the novel, and I'm sure you can imagine his excitement level about the worksheets. 

But. BUT. It's a great opportunity to practice with the assistive technology he might use next year. And it's a natural opening to email his English Language Arts teacher and say, "Hey, this is my son and this is how he'll be doing his work. And see that hot mess of a job he did in the drawing portion of his worksheets? This is how you can avoid looking at that all year. Win-win!"

Now, I'm an experienced speech pathologist. Not as experienced as my colleagues, as they like to remind me (of the four SLPs I work with the most I have the least experience, although one of them only has an extra year on me). In my 13 years of practice I've worked with a wide variety of kids, and I've been lucky enough to help establish assistive technology systems for students. I'm not talking about augmentative communication systems here, like talking computers for kids who can't form words, but assistive technology for kids who can't read or write. My point is, I'm not an expert, but I've done this before. I've dealt with reluctant students, reluctant teachers, finicky technology, and assignments in need of adaptation. I know that technology is no magic wand, and that it takes work. And yet, I was still surprised when I offered my son a choice between a couple different pieces of technology, and he just said, "Oh Mom...I'll just write as neatly as I can."

"But honey," I said, "remember how hard writing is for you? You complain about your hand hurting and people not being able to read your writing."

"I'll just do the best I can," he replied, pulling the worksheet toward him.

I suppose I can understand that. Way back in 2010 when I gave birth to my daughter, E, I dislocated my sacroiliac joint. It's a little joint at the back of your pelvis, and when it comes loose it HURTS LIKE A BITCH. I could barely walk, and was stranded on the couch each day with a newborn and a 2 year old because walking just hurt too much. I went through physical therapy and it helped a ton, but the PT warned me that I would have to continue the exercises for the rest of my life to prevent the joint from dislocating again. She also warned me that I should get a rolling cart to carry my work stuff in, because holding all of my heavy bags on one shoulder would aggravate my hip.

I usually don't get around to the exercises...and I never did get that rolling cart.

Fast forward to a couple years ago, and my boss got us rolling carts to carry our stuff in. Did I thank her and start using it immediately, to save my hip from harm? Nope. I still juggle my work bag, my laptop case, my lunch bag, and whatever else I have to carry every day. Did I ever experience hip pain again? Oh sure, and sometimes I even have to put on a thick, nylon belt with stretchy velcro straps support the joint until the pain settles down again. But is the pain bad enough to force me to change what's familiar? Apparently not. Familiarity is comfortable, more comfortable than change.

My son is familiar with pencils and paper, and even though it hasn't been a successful relationship, it's comfortable. Unfortunately for him, he has what I don't...a mother who lives with me and is willing to force some change.

"Nope," I said. "You're doing this with technology. We're going to try it out so you're ready to use it next year." 

Sorry, honey. Change is never as comfortable as the status quo, but I know you'll be better for it.

Thursday, June 29, 2017

The Right Direction

This week P and E have been attending a half-day program run by the school district. It's targeted towards kids in the gifted program but technically open to all, so I enrolled E even though she's too young to be formally identified by the district.

Today when the kids came down from their rooms their instructor came with them. "I just wanted to say," she said quietly, "what a pleasure it's been working with P. He's matured SO MUCH since last summer! He's just been wonderful!"

"Oh, thanks, he's definitely done some growing this year," I said, smiling but still cringing a bit remembering how often his projects ended in tears last summer.

"And her," she said, pointing to E, "she's just great. Nothing bothers her! Well, not nothing, but she just keeps going and going, no matter what. Nothing stops her."

"Oh, that's good to hear," I said with a smile. "She was a little self-conscious because she thought she was the youngest kid in the class."

"Oh, she is," the teacher responded, "but she keeps up! She does all the projects!"

"That's great," I said, beaming. It's good to know that E can hang with the big kids...the big gifted kids.

P's teachers, his OT, and now these instructors...they're all seeing growth. He's still not hitting the target, but at least he's going in the right direction.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Trial Run

Today as my kids were cleaning their rooms I was sifting through the papers they'd brought home in their backpacks a week ago. It's the typical end-of-the-school-year avalanche of worksheets, workbooks, art projects, and summer letters for home. In P's backpack I was shocked to discover a thick packet of worksheets, and a few back-and-forth texts with his friend's mother confirmed what I had suspected, and what P had vaguely insinuated...he had a worksheet packet about a novel due when he arrived back at school in the fall.

"I'm actually he has this assignment because it will give him a chance to test run some of the assistive technology I want him to use in the fall," I texted her. "And it will acquaint the ELA teacher with how he'll be using his technology." We exchanged happy-face emojis at the thought, but later on as I paged through the worksheets again, my heart sank. The pages with multiple blank boxes scattered across, with a question and lines to write an answer in each, were visually stimulating to a typical child but a nightmare to my son who has visual organization issues. Should I make him retype every question onto a Google Doc to answer it? Should I let him use an app like SnapType to photograph the worksheet and type or use voice dictation to answer the questions? And if the pages with the boxes seemed intimidating, the pages with one essay question up top and a field of lines below just seemed ominous.

If I was feeling overwhelmed, what could I expect from my overemotional 9 year old boy? Suddenly his 504 plan, which seemed like such a positive step during the meeting, felt impossibly thin and flimsy. What did it provide him, exactly? What had I even agreed to? I didn't even have a copy of it - I had been promised a copy in the mail, but now, over two weeks later, it still hadn't come.

As daunting as it is, I'm still glad we have a trial run. It won't be enough to fully prepare P for doing work in a new way in the fall, but it will at least give us an idea of what issues could come up.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

From G to 2E

Yesterday morning the third graders at my son's school had an awards ceremony. Unbeknownst to me, P won an award for his hard work and improvement in writing. That afternoon P's teacher, the school OT, the school psychologist, and I sat down and found him eligible for a Section 504 plan for fine motor delay with dysgraphia traits. The meeting was largely to quantify his impairment and formalize the many accommodations his awesome teacher was doing, but still. The contrast between the way the day started and ended stuns me.

P has had sloppy handwriting for awhile. It's what brought us to OT originally (although our wonderful OT soon found a host of other issues to work on). It's what made his second grade teacher give his writing assignments "Basic" grades because she couldn't read them, and therefore felt she couldn't grade them. When I confronted her with the fact that his OT said that his handwriting is sloppy because his muscles are weak, she replied that she "knew" he wasn't trying and that he could write well "if he wanted to." His sloppy handwriting made me gasp when I saw his work portfolio in March during parent-teacher conferences. And when I asked him about it, he started telling me that he was embarrassed of his handwriting and didn't want other people to see it. He said that his teacher corrected his papers since his classmates couldn't read his sentences or spelling tests. The production of his handwriting, which was nearly illegible and couldn't manage to stay on a line or maintain a margin, was finally to the point of becoming a disabling condition.

Fun fact, occupational therapists can't diagnose dysgraphia. Only a neuropsychologist can do that. But now, at this point, three OTs have looked at P and said, "Well, I can't OFFICIALLY diagnose dysgraphia, but this sure seems like it..." So on paper P's official diagnosis is "fine motor delay with dysgraphia traits." But in reality, I truly believe that he has dysgraphia. And to be honest, it freaks me out that his problems don't just involve the fine motor act of writing. It involves organization, visual perception, coherence...it seems more like a learning disability than just not being able to hold a pencil. It scares me because the answer to his problems don't lie simply in giving him a computer and teaching him to type...it involves something more, and I'm not sure what will fix it.

I'm also feeling sad because he can now call himself "twice exceptional"...a child who is both gifted and has a disability. Kids who are 2e are a rare breed, and can often fall through the cracks in a system that can barely deal with gifted kids or kids in special ed...when you need both, they don't know what to do with you.

I'm giving myself the rest of the day today to feel depressed, afraid, and teary. Tomorrow I'm drafting an email to the school's principal advocating for a specific teacher to be his homeroom teacher next year. I've already found an app that I know will help him, and I'm going to start researching tablets that he could take to school to supplement the laptop the school will let him use.

I had said that when I retire, I wanted to be an advocate for exceptional kids...both kids with disabilities, and kids with gifts. I guess I'm getting my practice in with my son, who is both.

Monday, March 20, 2017

Serotonin

Recently, on a whim, I bought a necklace. It's a serotonin molecule...I've been mulling over the idea that happiness is just a chemical reaction. The things and experiences we value most in life are the ones that bring us happiness...but are those things really any more valid or real than drugs that stimulate the release of serotonin or dopamine? If I could take a pill to be happy, would that be cheating myself, or just efficiency? When most of what we do is erased within a lifetime or two, does it matter how much joy I got out of knitting, or how good I was at sewing, or how many people I enjoyed helping at work? The physical traces of everything I do will be up at an estate sale within 50 years or so, and the joy that I experienced was nothing more than chemically facilitated electric pulses shooting across my cortex, which will be slowly disintegrating.

See, if I had cable I wouldn't be thinking about this stuff because I'd have better TV to take up my time. But I don't have cable, so thinking about life, death, meaning and neurochemicals it is.

Anyway, it's been an interesting concept and I've been meaning to wear more jewelry, so I bought a serotonin necklace. It arrived today, and unfortunately, it was much bigger than I had bargained for...


...which disappointed me. I have a golden ratio necklace that's small and just looks like a little rectangle, so you don't really realize what a nerdy necklace it is. I've worn it several times and nobody looked twice at it until I was at a group for parents of gifted children. Then everybody noticed what it was. And everybody loved it.

I was hoping the serotonin necklace would be like that. Allowing me to indulge what interests me, but in a small, unobtrusive way that most people wouldn't recognize because it almost completely blends in.

One of the weird things about having a gifted kid is coming to terms that I might be like him. Smarter than I gave myself credit for. More perceptive than I thought I was. More in need of understanding than correction, and maybe not broken so much as just out of place. When I believe these things about my children, I start to consider believing them about myself.

Maybe I should concentrate less on being myself in the most unobtrusive way possible, and concentrate more on just being myself.

It will be a while before I wear that serotonin necklace, though.

Saturday, February 18, 2017

Chess day

This year I signed P up for his school's chess team. I didn't think he'd be particularly good at it, but he's spectacularly unathletic and awkward with other kids. I really wanted him to have a chance to work hard at something, lose gracefully, and be with other kids. Chess team seemed like just the ticket.

However...I didn't want him to go to tournaments. Losing during practice was one thing, losing in a competitive environment was quite another. Throughout the season I let tournament after tournament slip by, not signing him up for any of them. But as the number of opportunities dwindled, P started feeling the pressure to compete in just one tournament...they like to get all of the kids out at least once. And so, with some misgivings, a few weeks ago I signed him up for a tournament.

The entire week prior we emphasized the good parts of the tournament (Hot dogs for lunch! Candy and snacks! Participant medal!) while also warning him that he might lose each and every match. It was hard to tell how much P was taking in...he's a kid that lets his frustration show in a heartbeat, but keeps every other thought and emotion very close to the vest. I hoped that some of it was sinking in.

On the day of the tournament I was throwing-up-nervous, terrified that P would get too frustrated, or cry, or get lost, or act weird enough to draw the ridicule of his peers. And not only did I not have to just sit back and imagine the carnage, I had to witness it personally. Parents have to stay and chaperone the kids, so I went right along with him, my backpack stuffed with snacks, video games, and a battery back-up pack. I parked myself at a table in the cafeteria, which served as a lounge during and between rounds, and let him do his thing.

That day "his thing" was playing the best chess he'd ever played, along with socializing more with his teammates than I had ever seen. The chess coach had told me that the kids go out, play chess, and then come back and immediately play outside or play video games. P did both admirably. He handled his one loss and one stalemate gracefully, and accepted his three wins with equal grace. And between rounds he was right there with the other kids, playing our his iPad or Nintendo DS, showing the other kids his game, commenting on theirs, and running around the playground when he decided to spend his between-round minutes outside. Chess rounds take about an hour, but only 5 to 20 minutes of that is actual playing, so he spent the majority of his time in unstructured interaction with the other kids.

And, for the first time, he was indistinguishable. He didn't stick out. If I had taken a photo, you wouldn't have been able to pick him out as weird or different. You'd think that I would have been bored at an elementary school chess tournament with my son ignoring me and being too shy to talk to the other adults, but I couldn't stop watching and marveling at his experience.

It was amazing.

This year our schedule is too full to attend any more tournaments...religious ed obligations, Cub Scout obligations, and family events all ate up what little was left of the chess season. But next year, it will be a priority. He can't wait. Neither can I.

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Failing Her

My six year old is a planner. Actually, that's an understatement. Her very favorite thing to do is to plan and arrange a complex, gigantic event with as many people as possible involved. She's a hard worker too...she's not just a bossy kid, she does as much work as possible to see her plan through. When she has a baby-sitter, she creates a check-in table, name tags, and a night full of activities. When she plays school with the three-year-old she has homework, lesson plans, parent-teacher conferences, test scores, and report cards. It's not difficult to imagine her twenty years from now tossing her heavy curtain of hair over her shoulder, raising a fist and shouting into a megaphone at a huge political protest. Someday she'll be unstoppable.

But today she's six. And when she comes to me and plunks down her entry in a charm bracelet contest that took place at her imaginary school, with every charm idea illustrated and scored by a panel of judges, and informs me that I need to get her a prize because she beat "all of the other" entries...I just sigh. And tell her that I can't.

"What?" I asked impatiently. "Do you want me to drive to Target and buy you a bracelet? I'm not doing that. I'm already in my pajamas."

"Give me an old one!" she said.

"I don't have an old one," I retorted. "You girls have broken all of my old ones."

"I'll take a broken one!" she said. "Give me a broken necklace. I'll tie it around my wrist."

"No," I replied.

"Well, give me some yarn! Just some yarn! I'll pretend!" she cried. I wavered, and then she said, "You can attach this little horse to it as a charm."

"No," I sighed. And she huffs off to her next plan. I lean against the counter and sigh. It's been a long day - I have a demanding job feeding the needs of kids and adults. It's work that is, at times, emotionally draining. I also have three kids who need me intensely to listen, to help, to find, to encourage. By the time she runs up to me with her next plan, I'm just too tired.

I feel like she could do amazing things if I could just give her a boost...but I'm so tired that I can't give her the leg up. When I'm with my son, I feel like I'm doing okay...all he wants is for me to be his audience, and to give him hugs. With the three year old, she's content with snuggles and stories. But the six-year-old wants so much more.

Someday I hope I can live up to her potential.

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Find Your Tribe

I've heard the phrase "find your tribe," and to be honest, I always found it irritating. It seemed cutesy, for one thing, and for another thing it's the least helpful advice ever. It's like, "Feeling sick? Stop being ill!" or "Tired of being poor? Just have more money." Exhortations for people to "find their tribe" seemed useless without an accompanying how-to manual. 

I still don't have that manual...however, slowly but surely, I feel like I'm collecting a group of people who "get it" as far as this parenting-outlier-kids thing is concerned. And those relationships are worth cultivating, and those people are worth appreciating, because having people who get it is just awesome.

Today a mom friend of mine chaperoned P's field trip to the art museum. Unfortunately he had a big meltdown in the middle of the museum and it took both this mom and the teacher to calm him down. She texted me about it and then emailed me the blow-by-blow. I was mortified that he'd have a meltdown on a field trip like that, and my mind immediately jumped to what the teachers must have said, what the kids must have said, P being banned from all field trips (hello, anxiety disorder!)...I was crushed. C was sick so instead of receiving this news at work I was at home. I settled C onto the couch with a couple episodes of a cartoon and, unable to settle my mind, I dropped onto the other end of the couch and slept.

I dozed until the cartoon was over, and then I decided to face up to it. I emailed her back, saying how embarrassing that was, how P had made progress in managing his emotions but still lost control of himself sometimes, and thanking her for working with him. I was shocked when I got this back:

Not at all embarassing.  I just felt badly that he found himself in that situation and my efforts failed to calm him.  On what I hope is a positive note, the other students didn't seem to think anything of it. I'm glad you like the pictures and really hope P enjoyed the trip! 

I could almost feel the tension roll off of me. I can't express what it means when someone sees the kids at their lowest, the points where they struggle the most, and get it. P is slowly finding his place, and I'm finding mine.