Month: November 2013
If I were on a quiz show, and someone asked, What bothers you the most about your son’s ADHD?… I would think about the disorganization, the forgetting, the failing of classes, and the need to constantly repeat myself.
But what bothers me the most is Dylan’s use of other humans as a brain stimulation tool – particularly when he uses his brother.
The way Dylan’s brain works, information doesn’t flow readily from one section of his brain to the other. It goes so slowly, sometimes it doesn’t get there at all. It’s like a broken electrical circuit. And one thing that speeds up the process – just a tad – is doing something physical. That’s why he’s so incredibly bouncy. Stress balls are a great tool, except that he does tend to throw them. He jumps up and down, spins around, dances and throws things all so he can assist his brain in functioning.
But sometimes, there are no stress balls to be had. He picks up whatever is close by – and quite often, what he finds is his little brother. He uses Shane to stimulate his brain.
He grabs Shane and hugs him. He tosses him around like they’re doing the tango. He pushes him, pats him, squeezes him, pulls him, drags him and rolls on him. They wrestle like animals and Dylan is twice Shane’s size.
Surprisingy Shane, who doesn’t even like me to put my arm around him, takes all of this in good humor. He giggles and laughs and acts as though it is all in good fun. When Shane gets hurt – and he often gets scraped or scratched – he is always the first one to defend his brother, claiming that it was really just an accident.
So I suppose I shouldn’t be so bothered by the dragging and pushing and tossing. But Shane is my baby, too. I want him to be safe and unharmed.
Before Shane was even born, I read a book in preparation called Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live So You Can Live Too.
I wanted to be prepared. I didn’t realize, at the time, that I was going to have two drastically different personality types, or that Dylan wasn’t a typical three-year-old child. I just didn’t want them to hate each other.
The thing I remember most from the book is that, as long as the kids aren’t in serious physical danger, I should back off and let them do their own thing. And I have done this, to the best of my ability, since the day Shane was born. Partially as a result of that, the two of them are now very close.
Dylan isn’t really dangerous. He can be rough, but not the kind of rough that breaks limbs or causes hospital visits. His shoves are tiny, his gallumphing more of a dance than a wrestle. He’s very bouncy and ridiculously hyper on occasion, but he cares more about other people than he does himself. (He can work on this aspect of his personality in therapy when he reaches adulthood, if he’d like.) Meanwhile, he really does not intend to harm Shane.
But Dylan does intend to use Shane as a brain stimulant, whether or not Dylan is warned, threatened and even physically removed from the situation. He is constantly hanging on Shane – unless he has some other mental form of stimulation.
The only thing I can do to keep Dylan off of Shane is to keep his brain otherwise occupied. When Dylan is building, inventing, creating, designing, or researching something that really interests him, he is absolutely mellow. Playing a mental game that he loves, for example, particularly if it’s a game he invented, takes away all that physical angst. He becomes almost adult in his behavior, and his brain is firing on all cylinders. It’s amazing.
Of course, that’s when Shane ends up entertaining himself by writing or making a movie – which is also awesome, and a story for another day.
Our month of testing the new medication is finally almost over, so I called the doctor to make our appointment to get OFF the medication and try something new.
“You haven’t made the appointment?!” the receiptionist squealed. “The doctor is booked completely and she’s leaving the country until January!”
“But I called LAST WEEK and she said we had to wait a month!” I squealed back. My voice got very high. “The medication isn’t doing ANYthing to help him and he’s FAILING all his classes and we can’t WAIT until January!”
“Wait,” she said, pausing. “He isn’t with you right now, is he?”
“No,” I said, “but I can have him there in half an hour.”
“Right,” she said, “we’ll see him then.”
So I pulled him right out of Algebra class – which, along with three other classes, he is now failing – and took him to the doctor.
Hearing our woes about the new drug, our neurologist didn’t sound hopeful.
“If the Intuniv didn’t work, we can put him on Strattera,” she said. “Frankly, we have no other option. It was originally an anti-depressant but they found that people who take it can pay attention better.”
So basically, this is our last chance. And after absolutely no success with the other medication, and my poor son now failing everything, I’m not holding out any hope that this will do any good at all.
Of course, he isn’t suicidal anymore, so that’s a plus.
But he will be at the end of the year when he realizes that his dreams of going to college are lost because he’s flunked out of the seventh grade. I guess he doesn’t need to be an engineer and design cars, which is his dream. Perhaps he can be an auto mechanic instead. Same thing, right?
We start the new medication over a holiday weekend. We have to wait another month to see what happens. By then, it will be Christmas – and I’m betting he ends up back on stimulants in January.
This is not a happy cycle. Happy Thanksgiving, ho ho ho.
While Dylan is excelling at ADHD behavior without the benefit of medication that works, Shane is blossoming into someone who is completely incapable of recognizing the fact that he has put something down.
Shane has always been easy because he rarely forgot where he put things. He followed the letter of the law, so he always knew what he was doing, where he was doing it, how he was going to finish it, when (especially WHEN) he was going to do it, and what he was going to do after that – and how, etc.
Lately, though, he is losing, destroying and forgetting everything. More than once in the past week, I’ve honestly wondered if ADHD is contagious, or if maybe Shane just wants some attention for the same attention-grabbing things Dylan does.
Shane has a folder that he brings home from school every day. He’s been bringing home this folder since he was in kindergarten, forgetting it maybe three times in four years. In the past few weeks, though, he’s forgotten the folder three times – each time, completely befuddled as to how that could have happened.
His glasses went missing one day last week. He took them off while on the trampoline – which, coincidentally, was completely covered in leaves. He went out into the cold with a flashlight, praying earnestly the entire time, and actually located his $400 glasses IN THE LEAF PILE.
Things seem to just fall out of his hand, as if he were never actually holding them. I’ve watched him pick up a toy, play with it, then plop it down in the middle of the room and scurry off to get another toy. Mere minutes later, there are 600 toys on the floor, and he’s not playing with any of them – but he’s used them all. He never, ever puts anything away.
This weekend, we went through his stuff, so as to rearrange some furniture in his bedroom. He was stunned to find that he had as many recyclable papers (TRASH) as he did treasures, which he wants to keep forever and ever. These treasures were in a crumpled heap in his “treasures” area, and he was also stunned to find four full books that he wrote and hadn’t been able to find anywhere.
I have no idea what to do about this problem. When I put something down, I pay attention to what it is, and where I’m putting it. Shane doesn’t even know he has it in his hands, and then it’s gone. There’s no organization at all.
I remember reading once, long ago, that organization is a skill that needs to be taught. I also remember buying a book about organization for my beloved husband, who has the same amount of organizational ability as a baboon. He never found time to read it. And I never found time to teach him what needs to be taught – not that it should be my job, of course.
Shane, however, is still – possibly – trainable. If only I had a clue how to go about training him. Perhaps I need to read a book on the subject – quickly, before he loses everything he owns.
I am trying to be patient with this medication, but it’s obviously not helping One. Single. Thing.
Dylan hasn’t turned in his lab work from October 30th – the day before we took him off his medicine. He did it in class. He just hasn’t turned it in.
He had a take-home quiz on Chapter 1 of Call of the Wild due a week ago. He didn’t even know what it was, when I pulled it out of his binder. It had pencil marks, as if he’d started to answer the questions and then just erased everything he’d written. After pestering him for several days, he finally turned it in yesterday – a week late.
His algebra homework was due on Nov. 8th – and he turned it in, after constant prodding, yesterday. Today is the 21st.
Three weeks into the new quarter at school, Dylan’s got a D in science and he’s failing algebra. The algebra grade will be the first one on his college transcripts.
The reason he’s doing so well in engineering, chorus and P.E. is because there isn’t any paperwork to turn in.
He loves to give food to the homeless, but he forgot to take his items to school every single day of the food drive. The drive is over now. Anyone need a small jar of peanut butter and a can of stewed tomatoes?
At home, he’s just as unresponsive. He doesn’t wipe the table after dinner – ever. This has been his job for two years. He doesn’t practice piano – although he plays it for hours. He is engrossed by very small things, and has no idea what he’s supposed to be doing if he gets stuck, say, making some sort of pulley out of a piece of yarn and a yardstick. He forgets to brush his teeth, wear deodorant, put on long sleeves for the cold weather.
He forgot to take his pill so often that I made a chart to keep track of the pill-taking. His job is to mark the chart while the pill is in his mouth. Yesterday, he forgot to mark the chart.
We call him for dinner and he doesn’t come. Sometimes he doesn’t even answer to the sound of his own name.
Yesterday, interestingly, we were talking and he blurted, “What?”
I said, “What do you think I said?”
Then he repeated it, almost verbatim, and said, “You don’t really need to answer me when I say what? because sometimes it just takes my mind that long to figure out what you said.”
I remember – again – that Dylan tested in the 9th percentile for processing speed. He may be brilliant, but he can’t process what is said until everyone else in the room has moved on to something else.
Until this month, and for several years, I believed he would outgrow this. I believed his brain would catch up, develop properly, eventually fill in the gaps of ability that he didn’t have when he was younger. I watched it happen with his half-brother in 7th grade, after being diagnosed early as “borderline” ADHD. Chris went on to become studious, attentive and an honors student at college – with no medication.
But for Dylan, I’m not so sure. For all those years, we didn’t give Dylan any medication at all. I hate medication.
Now I am just waiting for a pill to do something. Please!
Shane is sometimes ignored due to good behavior. Because Dylan’s issues are so RIGHT-IN-YOUR-FACE, it’s hard to know if Shane even has any issues.
But I’ve been paying attention, and Shane definitely has some issues.
Diagnosed with a vision processing disorder at age 6, and even after two years of treatment, Shane has developed a strong inability to spell. He not only can’t spell simple words, but he consistently misspells simple words – in different ways. Last year, he had trouble with vocabulary tests because in order to answer the questions, he had to copy the words from a list – and he still misspelled them.
His handwriting is also very difficult to read.
Last spring, we took him to the person who diagnosed his vision processing disorder and she said, He has dysgraphia. So I went into hyperdrive. With a diagnosis, we could finally meet with the school and get him some help!
It took months, but we finally had our meeting yesterday. The principal asked us to talk about Shane’s issues. The teacher brought in samples of his work, which were passed around the table. I talked and talked about Shane’s issues – how we were worried about his future, but that his current teacher seemed to be doing fine with his handwriting and spelling.
But once his work was passed around, we could tell that talking wasn’t going to do any good. The lady at the end of the table started reading his journal and couldn’t put it down. She even read parts of it aloud.
“His use of vocabulary is stunning,” she said. “Here’s the word extraordinary. And his sentence structure is amazing. He writes better than I do!”
Someone said, “You shouldn’t be looking at his spelling. You should be looking at college scholarships.”
That’s when I realized: Shane is too smart, too good of a writer, too good of a reader, and too good at math … to get any special treatment at all.
I did ask for the use of a word processor for longer assignments. I asked if he could use the hand-held spelling dictionaries. They said, “Sure! That would be fine.”
Then they tossed us out on our ears. We were there for a total of 20 minutes. There was no talk of a 504, an IEP, or even another meeting – unless something gets drastically worse.
Once again, Shane is on his own. Perhaps this is just how it was meant to be.
The house in which I live is my 20th home. I used to joke and say that if the oven got dirty, it was time to move. It’s a bigger joke for me, because I so rarely cook anything. But I have been here for almost 10 years – which is a full 6 years longer than I lived anywhere else. (I’m not even counting college, when I lived in four different dorm rooms in four years.)
I lived in 9 of those homes before I graduated from high school. I went to one school for K-2, a different school for grade 3, and another one for grade 4. I thought we were staying forever when I went to middle school and stayed in one school for grades 5, 6 and 7 – but then we moved – twice – before the end of 8th grade, so I went to two different schools in 8th grade. Following that, I went to high school (a new school) and moved again after 10th grade, to yet another town and school. For those who don’t want to figure it out, that’s 8 schools and 9 houses, all before the age of 17.
My boys only know one home.
My kids were both born when we lived in a small rental property, but we moved right after Shane was born to a much larger place – and we haven’t moved since. I have my husband to credit for this, since the oven has gotten dirty a number of times. But lately I’ve been thinking, it’s not so bad staying in one place.
The kids have friends they’ve known since kindergarten. Even with a transfer to the GT school, those kindergarten friends will go to middle school and high school with them (assuming no one moves). And even with my idiosyncracies, I have made – and kept – friends from when the kids were much younger.
Best of all, the kids are getting up every morning and they know what to expect. The routines haven’t changed. The sea of faces are generally the same faces they’ve seen since they started kindergarten. There are no huge surprises, nothing thrown at them from outside their peripherial vision. Shane is likely to get some of the same teachers Dylan had – which may or may not be good. And Dylan is likely to graduate with kids from his kindergarten class.
In a way, I envy my own children. They will have lifelong friendships, and a feeling of stability and security throughout their lives that I never had. Other than normal school changes – from elementary to middle, for example, when everyone they know is doing it with them – they can go to school knowing what the place looks like, who will be there, how they will be treated, where they need to go.
I used to tell myself that every new school, every new home, was a fresh start. I had a chance to be someone new, to act a different way, to make more friends and keep them forever. But the truth is, I was always me. I never made many friends. I was always a little weird. And since I moved repeatedly, I never kept friends forever.
My kids, though, can keep friends forever. It’s a wonderful thing, being able to offer that to them. They come home to the same house every day. It’s something I used to see on TV, on The Brady Bunch and The Waltons and Happy Days. I’d wonder, what would it be like to come home to the same house every day?
Now I know. It can get monotonous and routine, but stability is good. I’m afraid to say I’m enjoying it, because it could be taken from me at any second. But, quite honestly, I’m enjoying it. Thanks, God.
After two weeks on the new medication, Dylan is showing signs that he isn’t capable of focusing on anything. He claims that he is paying attention but, as his algebra teacher pointed out, he is staring into space. When I ask him to do things, I ask and ask and ASK and ASK – and sometimes they still don’t get done.
It reminds me so much of Dylan in 4th grade. He was in the GT (gifted/talented) class, and was certainly capable of the high-level thinking in the class. His homework took four hours, though, and he was failing math by the third week of school. His work was coming home unfinished, yet he enjoyed the GT approach tremendously.
So I went into class to see what Dylan was doing. In a way, the entire class reminded me of Dylan. They were practically jumping out of their seats with answers to virtually any question. They all had their hands up, and wanted so badly to share what they knew.
The first day I observed, the class was in high gear – except for Dylan. He vascillated between being eager to answer – about 1/5 of the time – and staring blankly – or possibly intently – at the class pet, a blue Betta fish.
He just stared and stared at that fish. I couldn’t even imagine what he was thinking. The fish mesmerized him, as if nothing else were happening in the room. The other kids were jumping up and down in their seats, waving their hands, offering opinions. And Dylan was staring at a fish. The fish was barely moving, just its fins twitching. Betta fish are not known for their flamboyant behavior.
I watched him watch that fish for half an hour.
Later, the teacher assured me that he did, occasionally, stop watching the fish long enough to answer a question or do some paperwork. But mostly, he stared at that fish. When he came home, he asked if he could have a fish. He begged for a fish for four months. Eventually, he got one.
Meanwhile, I went back into his classroom to help with a science experiment. The class was excitedly measuring and recording and measuring and recording. They were pretty loud, so the teacher had installed a sound-activated stoplight in the room. When the light changed from green to yellow, the class was supposed to get quiet. If it got to red, that meant real trouble.
Mostly the light was on green. The class worked hard on the experiment. Everyone was talking, agreeing and disagreeing and trying to become a team. Everyone was writing down everything.
Dylan’s paper was blank. He was watching the stoplight.
He would stare at it until – FINALLY! – the light would change to yellow, and he would thrust up two fingers into the air – the school peace sign which meant be quiet. His fingers were in the air before anyone else in the class – because he wasn’t doing anything except watching the stoplight.
He was quite proud of himself, knowing when he had to be quieter. Kids would hush a bit, then the light would go back to being green. And Dylan would watch it again – doing nothing else – until it changed back to yellow. His eyes wide, he would thrust up that peace sign and start saying to his classmates, “be quiet! shhhh!”
This week, he’s acting like that again. He’s not doing anything he says he’ll do. The teachers have to remind him that he’s in class. He thinks he’s paying attention but he’s simply not there. So the new medication isn’t maybe doing all that well.
I called the doctor and she assured me that we couldn’t tell anything until a full month has passed.
Perhaps, while we wait, I could send him to school with a fish.
This morning, Dylan’s algebra grades included two A’s, a Z (missing homework), and an E (failed test). This averages out to a hefty D in the class.
Not bad for one week into the new quarter – and quite typical for a GT/LD kid.
So, since their school allows retakes, I asked him to retake the test after school.
“I can’t retake a summative!” Dylan wailed. “She told me that last time!”
There are summatives and formatives. Both mean TEST but I have no idea of the difference. So I printed out his grades and wrote a note to his teacher: “Please allow Dylan to retake the summative so that we know if he understands the material,” it said. “It doesn’t matter if it changes his grade.”
I handed him the paper. God only knows where he put it. He is supposed to meet with her after school. I sent her an email, so she can expect him. And also so she can tell me if he doesn’t show up. The last three times he was supposed to retake a test, he didn’t show up.
“I forgot,” he said.
Yesterday was a half-day of school. At lunchtime, he was supposed to retake his chorus test (which he missed last week because we went out of town). We talked about it, discussed the timing in great detail. In the afternoon, I asked him how it went.
“Oh, I didn’t take it today,” he said. “It was a half-day.”
“I know it was a half-day,” I said. “But the teacher was expecting you at lunchtime.”
“Well I didn’t think I could take a test if it was a half-day,” he countered.
There was some yelling. I am not doing well with not yelling.
I went on and on about how Dylan didn’t show up last week for the basketball team meeting, even though he’s wanted to try out for basketball since he was 10. Try-outs were finally coming, and he missed the meeting because he didn’t know it was happening. This, after two weeks of coaching from me, and a reminder for several days beforehand – and the day of the meeting. The meeting also allowed some time to play basketball, so I got Dylan some new gym clothes, so he would stand out in try-outs. We talked about that, too.
“Oh,” he said when I didn’t see him coming out of the gym, “I thought it was next week.”
So when he also didn’t retake the chorus test at lunchtime, I completely lost it.
I called my husband, who has a touch of the ADHD himself.
“I can walk into the kitchen for a glass of water,” said Bill, “and end up fixing the car. I’m not sure this is the time to bring down the hammer on Dylan.”
He was right, of course. I knew I married him for some reason. He adds balance to my insanity.
So we have decided that notes in the lunchbox will be very helpful. “GO TO CHORUS,” says today’s note. And then after school, he is supposed to go to algebra.
We’ll see what he actually does.
We went away for the weekend – and got stuck. On our way home, something weird happened to the car and it stopped working. It’s a fairly new (2012) minivan, and the problem turned out to be minor, but it happened on a Sunday in Middle-of-Nowhere, Pennsylvania – so we ended up stranded for the night (in a cushy hotel with a pool).
The original plan was to stop at some caverns and enjoy a quick visit at the halfway point of our 8-hour trip. But a few miles from the caverns, on a curvy mountain road, the car just lost power. We crawled to the caverns, called for help, and ended up skipping the cave tour altogether in favor of crawling 20 miles to the nearest car fix-it place. Being late in the day on Sunday, they couldn’t even look at it until Monday, so we crawled to a nearby hotel (with a little help from Yelp) and hunkered down for the night. My parents were traveling with us, and were immensely helpful in the entire Save-the-Car process.
The caverns were supposed to be the highlight of our trip. Instead, the boys played in the fitness center. They went swimming (twice, with some inventive suits). We had pizza delivered, and they watched TV for two hours (NOT allowed at home) before finally going to bed … and missing school the next day.
At breakfast, Shane drew on the table with his finger. “This is how good it can be,” he said, drawing a line up above his plate, “and this is how bad it can be.” He drew another line well below his plate.
“And this is how our trip has been,” he said – making sharp roller-coaster-like marks on the table, showing that the trip had fluctuated from very high to very low and back again – several times. He explained that missing the caves was very sad, but having fun in the hotel was unexpectedly good.
I wanted to tell him: Yes, Son, this is LIFE! Life is always exactly like this. There are highs and lows. Things are good and bad. One minute you’re up, high as a kite, and next minute you’ve plummeted to the ground – but you always get back up again.
The line he drew reminded me of a heartbeat monitor, keeping track of a beating heart on a machine in a hospital somewhere. It’s a scary thing watching that line. When it goes up, you know everything’s going to be okay. When it goes back down, you just pray that it goes back up again. The dreaded flatline means there is no more hope.
Same as life. Without the ups and downs, there’d be only the dreaded flatline.
I wanted to tell him this, to prepare him that a car emergency and a swimming pool are only the tips of the iceberg for what will follow in his lifetime: the rest of fourth grade, middle school, high school, college, work, family, kids, grandkids – LIFE.
Instead, I laughed and said, “Yep.” That’s just how this Trip has been.
Dylan is back. After one week on the medication, we don’t know much about its effects on his school work, but it’s like having the “old” Dylan back again.
He’s kind and fun and funny. He’s sweet and caring and wild. He’s cool and brilliant and wonderful. And for so many months, I thought the teenager was taking over. The PILLS were taking over!
Dylan has always been a happy, enthusiastic boy. He smiled – quite literally – when he was 3 weeks old, and he never stopped smiling. A few months ago – maybe even a year ago – I realized he had stopped. He wouldn’t smile for pictures. I assumed it was his self-consciousness taking over. Along with his late brain development, he’s also late in getting his adult teeth – so braces aren’t a possibility yet. I thought he was trying to hide his teeth.
I almost hope he doesn’t read this blog, because I don’t want him to go back to not smiling. But in the past week, since taking him off stimulants, he’s been happier than ever. Yesterday I yelled at him (yeah, I did) and instead of it turning into a knock-down, drag-out, hours-long battle to the death, I said my piece and shut up. He said his piece and shut up. It was awesome. I mean, the yelling wasn’t awesome. But a small thing was just that – a small thing.
So tomorrow we up the dosage of the new medication to see if he can stay awake through it. I sure hope he can. We’re going away for the weekend and I’m thrilled to be taking “old” Dylan along – the one I remember from birth and toddlerhood. The one who isn’t agonizing over life.
Thank you, GOD, for helping me to realize that the pills were the problem. If I’d left him on them for much longer, I can only imagine what would have happened.