Month: September 2013
Dylan’s brilliance has, apparently, only carried him through 6th grade. He’s now hit what someone on my GT/LD email list called “a wall.” He’s been able to skate by on his intelligence for years and years. Now he has to learn how to study.
I know better than to think I can teach him anything. He recoils from my advice like I’m a venomous snake. I say, “Hey, let’s go over … (blah)” and Dylan says, “WHY?! I don’t NEEEED to go over that! I already KNOW all there is to know about that!” And within minutes, we are in a screaming battle that ends with one of us storming out of the room saying, “FINE. WHATEVER.”
But his dad? His dad thinks like Dylan does. He acts like he does. And oddly enough, he probably learns the same way, too. So I asked Bill to help him.
The two of them sat at the kitchen table tonight and prepared for Dylan’s algebra test as if they were long lost study buddies. Dylan didn’t whine or moan. He didn’t fight or complain. He sat there with his notes and plodded through algebra with his dad – just like he’s supposed to do.
It was amazing. They sat there for more than an hour without any issue whatsoever. Dylan doesn’t take pills on weekends (really – why would he?) so he did the whole thing with no medication – and the tapping on the floor and beating on the table didn’t start for 70 minutes. An hour and ten minutes of STUDYING ALGEBRA.
I am beginning to think I have a lot to learn about my son, whereas up till now, I was pretty sure I knew everything.
Best of all, I think Dylan knows more about algebra now than he’s learned all year in school. We shall see…
On school days, Dylan leaves the house at 7:15 to catch the bus. He wakes up at 6:30.
I wake up at 6:40, go downstairs, make his breakfast and part of his lunch. I want to make sure he knows how to make his own lunch by the time he gets to high school, so he puts in two items the night before. Then I make the sandwich so it’s fresh.
I make his breakfast so that it’s piping hot – but not too hot – at 7:00 when he is expected to barrel down the stairs to eat. I try to give him a high-protein breakfast because, in the years before his medication, we learned that protein helps his concentration. Best of all, there is something in eggs (besides protein) that helps him focus. He only likes eggs if they’re smothered in cheese, so on most days, he gets an egg sandwich with high fiber, whole grain bread, and a piece of fruit.
On normal days, he eats and chats with me for about 15 minutes. Then he puts away his dishes and his water glass, tucks his lunchbox into his backpack, then takes his pill and his vitamins with a 6-ounce glass of milk, often chocolate. He consumes them, puts his glass in the dishwasher, throws the hood of a coat on his head because he never has time to put the coat on his body – then he struts out the door with his 90-pound backpack and heads for the bus stop.
He stops at the end of our long driveway, turns around, and waves at me – standing in my PJ’s on the porch.
Yesterday, I got up at 6:40 and found Dylan asleep in his bed, lights still off. I considered waking him, but only briefly. He knows that if he misses his bus, he misses Morning Show (which he loves) and two periods of school before I’ll drive him in – when I take his brother at 9:00.
So I let him sleep. But I made his lunch and his breakfast, just in case.
At 7:12, I heard the thumping of what-seemed-to-be a cow in his room. SLAM! BAM! WHACK! A mere three minutes later, Dylan thundered downstairs yelling that his breakfast wasn’t ready (I was microwaving it so he could carry it with him) and shrieked that I should have KNOWN that he woke up at 6:30 and fell back asleep BY ACCIDENT! WHY DIDN”T I WAKE HIM?
Of course, I yelled back. I always respond so maturely. “You do NOT get to yell at ME because YOU fell asleep!”
“I’ve only been awake for three minutes, Mom! Give me a break!” he grumbled in his defense.
(Was he kidding? Sadly, no.)
I handed him his lunchbox, his breakfast sandwich, a milk box and a pill – no vitamins today. He started inhaling everything on his way out the door. He raced up to the end of the driveway, 90-pound backpack slamming him with every flat-footed stomp as he ran.
He got to the end of the driveway, turned around, and waved. How I love that boy.
Shortly thereafter, I remembered: Today is School Picture Day.
After a two-hour IEP “review,” Bill and I prepared to present our findings to Dylan: three choices of how to take responsibility for himself and turn in his papers on time.
Being the anal mom that I am, I typed up his choices in color-coded font, using italics as appropriate. I also spent two hours (when I should have been working) printing out encouraging research about mechanical and automotive engineering colleges, and creating a collage of quotes from, and facts about Albert Einstein, who reminds me of Dylan in many ways.
We called him in to discuss the options at 8 p.m. and Dylan sat down with a loud moan. “Another hour of talking about being sad,” he said. This was in reference to the previous two nights, when he went to bed crying about his “hard” life, and how he already felt “like a complete idiot and a jerk.”
Middle school is crushing his spirit. Hence, the Einstein quote in the collage I made for him: “Great spirits have always encountered opposition from mediocre minds.” I enlarged that one especially.
So we said to Dylan, no, this wasn’t time to be sad. We wanted to talk to him about the IEP meeting. He grumbled again. In frustration, I said, “Fine. If you don’t want to talk, don’t talk. You can figure this out all on your own.”
And he stormed out of the room. Took a shower, watched a video, went to his room.
He tore down the Einstein collage without reading it. He never looked at his choices. The engineering college research is sitting in a pile on the floor next to me. We certainly never got to that.
I spent my whole day working for him, trying to encourage him, helping him in the best ways I knew how. I offered love and positive affirmations. I organized everything for him into the simplest possible terms, without being condescending. I spoke to him like an adult, and he responded like a child.
He broke my heart. He crushed my spirit. He didn’t take any help.
And this morning, he went off to school with a chip on his shoulder and the right to be wrong. And I watched him go.
Shane makes movies. He’s been making movies since he was old enough to hold the big, clunky toy camera he got when he was in first grade. He makes movies with the little people, the action figures and the dog. He’s made so many movies, no one has ever seen them all. We dump them on his personal hard drive so he can make more. He’s run through that clunky camera and two adult cameras, and is now making movies on his Nexus 7.
This weekend, he made a movie starring HIMSELF – as both Shane and Shane’s evil, telekinetic twin from a parallel universe. The movie is called Parallel. On the left side of the screen, he stars as “good” Shane. On the right side of the screen he stars as “evil telekinetic twin.” And he made the entire 10-minute drama without benefit of photo editing software. Every few seconds, he would change from one outfit to the next, add or remove hair gel, and position himself on the appropriate side of the screen – so he appeared to be having a conversation with himself. He made telekinesis seem real, with objects flying from one side of the screen into a character’s hand. He even wrote and sang a song. He had no help, on any of it.
The movie is very, very good. He worked for hours (and days) making it, talking about it like a new best friend. He has sincere, creative talent and incredible perseverance for a nine-year-old – or for any age. When he finished, he ran downstairs and said, “I’m finished with Parallel! Do you want to see it?”
And like any good mother I said, “Not right now.”
To be fair, I was in the middle of something – although I have no idea what – and I put him off until afterward. Then his dad assigned him a job in the yard, so he did his job for awhile. When he came back inside, out of breath and excited, he said, “Do you want to watch Parallel now?”
And I said, “Not right now.” I was putting batteries in something, and was late to pick up dinner (since we were ordering out again).
And then, seeing the thin veil of disappointment cross his face, I kicked myself HARD and said, “Wait, yes, I can watch it now.” I put the batteries in quickly, delayed the food pick-up (and dinner) and sat down on the couch with him, and we watched. It was the best 10 minutes of the entire day.
And it was really good. He has passion for this, and I’d like to find him a good software program for Christmas that would make his life easier. I’d like to get him a class in filmmaking. I’d like to give him STUFF to encourage his wonderful talent.
But mostly, next time he makes a movie, I want to drop everything I’m doing and say, “Yes, I’d love to watch your film!” Because that’s what he needs more than anything in the whole, wide world.
Last night was Back to School Night at middle school. Meanwhile, the IEP meeting is next Tuesday, so I received written teacher comments from all 7 teachers. You’d think my kid had no problems at all.
Dylan’s teachers talked about him in such glowing terms, I started to think they had the wrong kid. They said things like:
“Dylan has started the year fantastically.”
“He seems motivated and responsible.”
“Dylan is a delightful student in my class. He is polite and has good interactions with students and staff.”
“No concerns at all about Dylan thus far.”
“Dylan is off to a GREAT start.”
Then, when I met his teachers, I found them to be knowledgeable and interesting. They seemed to know what they’re doing, and they had a great grasp on their material and how their class was responding. I was very, very impressed (which is not always the case) with ALL of Dylan’s teachers.
So how could they be talking about Dylan?
WHAT I SEE:
“Dylan forgot to turn in his homework again.”
“Dylan hasn’t done a single minute of school work at home all year.”
“He missed 2 out of 4 questions on his test. I mean, he DIDN’T SEE THEM.”
“Dylan needs a computer for his writing, but never uses one.”
“He’s disorganized, disheveled and often forgets to brush his hair or wear deodorant, or both, on any given day.”
Sigh. I know I’m right – but maybe they are, too…
So I became wildly encouraging, praising my son for everything he’s doing right. We read the teacher comments together. I made a big fuss and high-fived him. Because gosh, he’s doing GREAT.
Then I sit back and worry about letting my guard down. What if I’m not vigilant, if I think he’s doing great and I let him fall on his face?
I remember years ago, when I went to my first (and only) CHADD meeting. Dylan was in first grade and I was in a panic. “What if I let him do everything by himself and he FAILS?” I gasped.
And more or less they said, “So what? Let him fail. That’s how he’ll learn.”
So it’s been six years since that meeting and I’ve been trying to let natural consequences take their course. It is VERY VERY VERY VERY VERY HARD. I want to jump in and fix everything, and I DO jump in and fix too much.
Hm. Maybe I fix too much. Maybe I should let him SUCCEED, as well.
I’m preparing for next week’s IEP meeting at Dylan’s school. After two very rough weeks, we’ve learned that the new special ed coordinator and the new case manager are completely confused.
For example, at last year’s IEP meeting, the conversation went something like this:
ME: “Dylan needs someone to make sure he’s on task. He’s tired in English. It’s 7th period.”
CASE MANAGER: “My office is in that room anyway, so I’ll be there if he needs any help.”
TRANSLATION to the IEP: “Dylan will receive the support of a special educator or para educator in Advanced English.”
So this year, they sent a person to stand next to him in English.
We put a stop to that immediately, since Dylan’s main goal is to appear normal. After all, he’s in middle school.
But the new special ed coordinator and the new case manager are very difficult to train. They sent me the IEP to review – and it was addressed “To the Parents of Jose Fuentes-Martinez.”
These two simply don’t pay attention to the details. And Dylan is suffering because of it. Of his case manager, he says, “She’s making me look more like a moron than everybody already thinks I am.”
We’re trying to get under the radar here. We’re trying not to publically humiliate him. Yet, in the first three weeks of school, our new special ed team has humiliated him four separate times – not including the day he had to change his schedule to get “support” in English.
But the first note of order at next week’s meeting will be: who the heck is Jose Fuentes-Martinez?
When Shane was a toddler, I would frequently find him with his head on the floor and his diapered butt in the air. He would just lie there like that, until someone found a way to get him up and moving again. I thought he was tired, or even bored – which seemed unlikely for a toddler – until several years later.
Somewhere along the line, I realized that he was listening to absolutely everything. I think, in his toddler days, he was listening to the vibrations in the floor.
Even during that baby stage when all babies look people right in the eye, Shane looked across the room. The first video I have of Shane laughing was when my husband, Bill, was holding him and making a funny sound. Shane heard that sound, no doubt, but he never looked at my husband.
Most people – especially males – are born with a strong visual interest. Shane simply wasn’t. Or so I thought.
When we found out that Shane had a vision processing disorder, it made a lot of sense. All his idiosyncracies finally fit into place. He was listening but he wasn’t paying attention visually – because he couldn’t. Vision processing disorder mimics dyslexia – which is how we found it.
Shane knew every letter and how it sounded by the time he was 3 – but by age 6, he still didn’t want to read. When he finally started trying to read out loud, it was obvious that his letters were jumbled and that he couldn’t concentrate on any single word. He would get tired after every page, and rub his eyes constantly. With his ability to repeat the letter sounds easily, the reading issue didn’t make sense.
In preschool, I almost got into a fist fight with his teachers because he had circled the lower-cased letter “q” when he was supposed to circle the lower-cased letter “b.” I explained to the teachers that this was the same letter, just upside-down. I thought Shane was brilliant, knowing that. Shane also did jigsaw puzzles upside-down or sideways. He still does. (I should probably have noticed that he didn’t ever do them right-side-up.)
But when he was writing letters backwards in kindergarten, we finally took him to an occupational therapist. After half a dozen visits, she said, “He may have a vision processing disorder.” We went to a specialist, who confirmed with a test: Shane definitely had a vision processing disorder. The doctor showed me with a flashlight how Shane’s eyes could go googly-eyed like Cookie Monster on Sesame Street. It was bizarre. But it was nothing compared to what he could not do on those tests.
We spent two years on treatments – basically “eye games” where Shane taught his eyes and his brain to work together. It cost $20,000, none of it covered by insurance (because vision processing is still in its infancy as a disorder). Treatment took almost two years, but Shane’s eyes and his brain are finally working together.
Still, yesterday, as we were driving home from the Chesapeake Bay, Shane stared out the window.
“Shane,” I said. He didn’t look at me.
“What?” he said.
Dylan looked at him. “Shane,” Dylan said, trying to get his attention.
This went on for several minutes. I was driving, so I had no idea that Shane wasn’t looking at me. He never stopped staring out the window. This was not defiant behavior. He was listening and assumed that was sufficient.
Dylan, however, was incredibly frustrated. “SHANE!” he finally screamed, “Look over here!”
And Shane looked at us immediately, because he hears every word we say. He absorbs them and responds without hesitation. Still, sometimes it would be nice if he just looked at us – if those big, baby blue eyes would look into mine.
It happens more now than it did before treatment, certainly. But not nearly as much as I’d like.
Last night, Dylan told me about middle school – really opened up about it for the first time. He kept saying, “It’s really dark.” He didn’t mean the lighting was bad.
He talked about a popular kid named Andrew who treats him like garbage. Who whispers rotten things like, “I love you and I want you to be my partner” during class. Dylan said, “He’s very good looking. And he’s dumb as a post.”
He talked about a boy who bit one of his friends last year and drew blood, who this year choked Dylan during lunchtime because Dylan accidentally hit him with his lunchbox. I’ve told Dylan he could fight back. I’ve told him he has my permission to clobber anyone who hurts him. Dylan chooses not to. He said this biting, choking boy is kind of his friend.
He said, “I feel sorry for them. I know that if they do these things, their lives must be harder than mine. I don’t want to make their lives even worse by hurting them.”
Then Dylan talked about a girl who tried to commit suicide – again. He talked about how beautiful she is, but that she doesn’t seem to have any close friends, even though a lot of people talk to her. He said that after her second suicide attempt, on Tuesday, more people are talking to her now. She’s even smiling a little bit. But other people are attacking her viciously online, sending messages ostracizing her further … for trying to kill herself.
“You said that people who commit suicide don’t usually talk about it first,” he told me. “But she talked about it all the time. She told lots of people she was going to do it. And then she took a bunch of pills.”
“She’s just so beautiful,” he said. “Why would she want to kill herself?”
I tried to answer him. I talked about middle schoolers trying to find themselves, about fighting back without fighting. I talked about choosing how you will deal with it. “There are only two choices,” I told him. “You can let it get you down, or you can learn to laugh about it.”
I don’t know anything else. I don’t know how to handle it. Middle school almost killed me. I let it get me down. For 30 years, I let it get me down.
Shane, my 9-year-old, was sitting next to Dylan the whole time he was talking. Shane is two years away from middle school and has no idea what’s going to happen there. He wasn’t listening, really, but I know from experience that he’ll come back later – maybe in a few weeks – and ask me a hard question about this conversation.
Dylan said to Shane, “It’s really dark in middle school.”
Shane seemed to be in his own world, and thought this was his opportunity to talk. He said, “Mom, I dare you to go into the woods on Halloween night.”
So we changed the subject, but today I woke up at 5:30 and couldn’t get back to sleep, thinking about my baby being brutalized by middle school. Thinking about how I did nothing to save myself from middle school, and how I can do nothing to save Dylan, either.
At 6:30, I went into Dylan’s room, where he was just waking up. I rubbed his back and said, “Don’t let them crush your spirit. You have such a wonderful spirit.”
He said, “I’ll try, Mom.”
The new school year has begun again and, with it, the same old problems that have been plaguing us since my 7th grader was in preschool. Dylan now – suddenly, because he’s in school again – ‘needs to do this’ and he ‘needs to do that.’ Even with an IEP and constant contact with the school, the counselor and the special ed folks, no one seems to know what I do – that he was born this way for a reason. Squishing him into a public school box doesn’t do justice to his good points.
Dylan is multi-talented and incredibly intelligent. He solves problems that I couldn’t begin to solve, and his philosophical questions are He can do anything, mostly while spinning, singing and standing on his head. He doesn’t turn in anything on time. He doesn’t even remember sometimes that he’s done it. But Dylan is a master of many things. He can sing like an angel, so he’s taking chorus. He can imagine, design and build, so he’s taking robotics. He’s fascinated by technology and a whiz with A-V equipment, so before school he does behind-the-scenes work for the school TV show aptly titled, “Morning Show.”
So today, finally, I heard from his case manager – the person who, last year, was his saving grace and encouraged him in everything. But his NEW case manager is not warm and fuzzy. She is not encouraging or even pleasant. Worst of all, she rearranged his schedule to take him out of robotics. She planned to meet with him once a week DURING chorus. And when did she deliver this information to him? During his 15-minute “Morning Show.”
She said, “He may not like me for a few weeks.”
I said, “He may not like you for the whole year, but that’s not the point.”
The point is that, to Dylan, this feels like a punishment. You have ADHD, so let’s take you out of your favorite classes and activities. We’ll sit and talk about all the things you do wrong instead.
I spent hours on the phone today, then on email, then back on the phone … getting Dylan’s schedule back to normal, begging for the special ed folks to see him for the incredibly beautiful young man he’s becoming – and to realize, once again this year, that they are not dealing with an apathetic parent. I’ll fight till the ends of the earth for him if I have to.
And I may have to.
Dylan is going to be a teenager soon. Technically, it happens in 3 months, but it’s happening NOW. And I keep denying it, or missing it, or something, because I keep thinking he’s still my little boy.
Yesterday, Dylan was listless, which is not his usual manner. He’s usually bouncing off the walls, spinning, tackling Shane and doing headstands. Since it was a weekend, I supposed that Dylan needed some mental stimulation.
Since he was a little kid, and after I discovered CelebrateCalm.com – a story unto itself – I’ve learned that ADHD is quite manageable, as long as you give your kid something mentally stimulating to do. Maternal instinct says “Let them run!” but it’s actually counter-intuitive. Running tires him out and exacerbates his symptoms.
So one day, when Dylan was driving me particularly crazy, I threw a giant bucket of blocks into the middle of the room and said, “Build a village!” He and Shane raced over and started building – and within an hour, they had a giant metropolis with everything from a neighborhood pool to museums and a town hall. And best of all, Dylan calmed down for the ENTIRE weekend! It was amazing.
So when he was lying on the couch, I gave him another building project – but he wouldn’t step up. Shane did the entire project and I screamed at Dylan to “Go to your room and just lay there if you’re so tired!” He did – under protest – and when I went upstairs 20 minutes later, Dylan was just laying there, mad at the world but mostly at me. I left him there for another 10 minutes when, sullenly, he came down and said nothing.
I was about to send him upstairs again when he suddenly broke. He started crying. He said he thought I hated him and that I didn’t understand him and that he felt discouraged and on and on and on…. Glumps of insecurity and confusion just rolled out of him with no apparent end. It was a hormonal avalanche.
I recognized it right away: it was ME, at age 14. I don’t know why I hadn’t seen it before. I’d been trying to treat his ADHD when he was just being a typical underappreciated teenager.
So I sat him down and explained that he’s my first kid, and that I had totally blown it. That what he’s feeling is perfectly normal and that I’m sorry and that I love him always, no matter what. I assured him that I want him to be happy but that sometimes growing up is hard, and he isn’t always going to be happy. And that I am the one who most needs to learn that.
I’m growing up right along with him, and learning things I maybe should have learned the first time around. I can only hope I recognize “teenager” next time, and don’t punish him for being normal. After all, he’s been so abnormal for so long, isn’t this just what I want for him – some semblance of normal?
Well, what I really want is for him to be happy. And so it goes….