Month: March 2015
It’s like a bad joke. A really repetitive, never ending, tiresome and very bad joke.
So it’s appropriate that I write this for April Fool’s Day, I suppose. But it’s a bad joke. Not a fun prank. Not something I want to keep living, day after day after day.
I had just finished putting the final touches on the Easter baskets. I had one more small item to squish in there, so I ran out to the store. I felt great – spring had sprung, and life was glorious. Best of all, Dylan was doing so well!
Then I got home and checked my email.
There were two “confidential report” emails from two of Dylan’s teachers. These are behavior incident reports – things that were so bad, the parents have to be notified.
“During a bathroom break today, Dylan placed textbooks and an umbrella in front of the boys bathroom door while it was occupied. The student in the bathroom at the time felt ‘barricaded in’ by the action. Although Dylan is allowed time to take a minute outside of class, moving materials in the hall and obstructing doors is not appropriate. In response, Dylan spent (recess) today in the office.”
The other said:
“During Science class, Dylan asked to use the restroom and I gave permission. However, after doing so he left the building and went to another building to get earphones for his friend. Middle school students are required to be escorted between buildings.”
These reports describe some child I’ve never met. Since he’s been going to this private school – with all the freedom and flexibility in the world – Dylan’s completely run amok.
I’ve never had reason to use that term before, but it fits. My child has run amok.
My first thought upon reading these reports was: WHY WOULD HE DO THIS?!?
My next thoughts poured out in an email to the headmaster – which I sent without re-reading:
“I know that the school is a wonderful, peaceful place that allows the kids to move around freely. I also know that Dylan is allowed “frequent breaks” on his learning plan. But this is a boy who absolutely does NOT need to go to the bathroom during the school day.
I’m considering having Dylan – even if it’s ONLY Dylan – be restricted to sitting in the classroom, away from the other kids, with no possibility of bathroom breaks or moving around inside the room. I realize that this sounds like prison. And it completely defeats the purpose of our bringing Dylan there in the first place. But if he can’t learn to be respectful in a ‘free’ environment, then perhaps he shouldn’t be allowed to be so ‘free.'”
Five minutes later, the phone rang. It was the headmaster.
“Spring is here,” she told me, “and the kids are very excited. The teachers are having an extra-hard time reigning them in. But this is not an emergency.”
“You don’t think we need to chain him to his desk?” I asked.
“I don’t,” she said. “We are seeing some improvements in his behavior. This time of year is always hard. We’ll just keep working with him on our end, and you keep working with him on your end.”
I wanted to crawl through the wire and kiss her. Well, except it was a wireless phone, and I’m not sure there are any wires through which to crawl.
Basically, she told me to take a deep breath and forget about it.
I’m starting to believe that if I would just learn to reassure myself, all of my anxieties would vanish.
So I’ve been listening to Dr. Amen’s book, Healing ADD, on CD. It suggests some dietary changes for Dylan, to help combat ADHD and keep the blood flow moving in his brain.
Some of these things we already know – and I am making sure Dylan listens to the book, too, so that he can carry out this plan later in life. He is, so far, nicotine and alcohol free, and doesn’t appear to be doing any street drugs. So that’s a huge plus. Nearly 50% of untreated ADHD kids end up “self-medicating” with alcohol and street drugs. At 14, we are thrilled that Dylan is choosing to abstain.
Sugar is another issue. While it decreases the activity in the brain, it gives Dylan a little “boost” – which he recognizes – followed by a “crash” – which he doesn’t seem to recognize at all. He has enough sugar in his lunch without dessert (flavored milk and side items, as well as – sadly – his peanut butter). So he’s asked me to stop putting in desserts. Then he eats a huge bowl of ice cream after dinner.
We’re still working on the sugar thing.
The other thing it suggests is high – very high – protein. So I’ve been adding protein to his lunches and dinners. He’s been eating a high-protein breakfast since third grade (when I first heard Dr. Amen on PBS) – mostly scrambled eggs with cheese. Now, though, he is eating nearly twice the amount of protein in the morning. I’ve been making smoothies with spinach and Greek yogurt, which really adds to his intake. (I actually like them, too, and use them as my breakfast.)
In addition, he’s taking two supplements – an amino acid that’s supposed to help with production and reception of dopamine – and a multi-vitamin which, while called “Focus Power” (or some such) is really just a multi-vitamin. Lots of calcium and B-complex.
On Day 2 of this “diet” (2 vitamins and a bunch of extra protein), Dylan turned in all his missing work. To be fair, this was the day after he forgot absolutely everything. Then he came home from school and played the piano. He forgot about his promise to study for 43 minutes (yes, 43 minutes) a day and played video games for about ten minutes.
When I reminded him about his 43 minutes, he put down the electronic device and said, “Oh, I can do that now. I guess I’ll just study.” And he went and got his binder without so much as a whimper.
I don’t know if the diet and vitamins are working. I don’t have a clue if it’s going to continue.
But I loved Day 2 of this “diet.”
As if I’d forgotten, I am now listening to a book on CD that reminds me of the most obvious – and easily forgettable – fact about Dylan: he has ADHD.
I’ve seen Dr. Daniel Amen on PBS many times. I listened so intently to what he was saying, it never occurred to me to actually read one of his books. But now I’m reading Healing ADD, and I’m absolutely astounded at myself for waiting this long. He’s an ADHD expert, who has raised children with ADHD and done thousands of brain studies on people with ADHD.
His book describes Dylan over and over and over – reminding me that every, single one of Dylan’s problems can be attributed to ADHD.
So, as I often do, I got a bit carried away within minutes of listening to this book. I did a quick internet search for the Amen Clinics. I remembered from years ago that there is one in my area – so I looked it up online and called the number.
“How may I help you?” asked the well-trained man on the other end of the line.
“I’m considering bringing in my son for an evaluation,” I said, knowing that this was a very expensive possibility.
Insurance doesn’t cover anything related to ADHD – just like it doesn’t cover anything related to vision processing disorder. These are “learning” issues, not physical ones, according to the insurance companies. Never mind that the learning issues are caused by very physical brain malfunctions. But that’s a rant for another day.
“How did you hear about us?” asked the Amen Clinic representative.
“Well, I saw Dr. Amen on PBS a few times, and I’ve read some of his books.,” I said. (I was literally two chapters into one book, actually, so perhaps I was exaggerating a bit.)
“Tell me about your son,” he said.
“Well, he has ADHD. We know that for sure. He has every symptom, and we’ve done the testing and we are sure he has ADHD. And we’ve tried everything there is to try, but he’s not getting any better. So I thought we might bring him to you.”
The man laughed. “We hear that a lot,” he said. Then he described the clinic’s methods, which he called a “natural approach.” It sounded wonderful. I learned later in the book that this “natural” approach often includes a “low dose of Ritalin” and/or other common ADHD medication.
“The evaluation takes place over three days,” he said. “And it will be $3,700 for the initial consult.”
I wanted to vomit, but remained upbeat. “Okay,” I said. We decided he should send me an email with all the pertinent information, and I would talk to my husband.
So I did talk to my husband. “Maybe I’ll just read the book,” I told him, “and see what he would recommend for Dylan – and we’ll try that. Then, if we think we should take him in, we could do it later.”
“I think that’s a good idea,” said my husband. After $20,000 in vision therapy treatments for Shane, and equal thousands (spread out over a decade) spent on Dylan already, throwing another $4,000 at the problem seemed a bit … extreme.
So I’m listening to the rest of the book now. Duh. Perhaps I should have done that before making the phone call.
Dylan had four days off – a long weekend – and on the fourth day, I mentioned his “zero” issue. With four missing assignments in physics and one in algebra, the zeros were adding up.
“Go get your missing work,” I told him, “and make sure it’s all ready. Put it in a place where you won’t forget to turn it in.”
He hemmed and hawed. “It’s already in a place where I won’t forget to turn it in.”
“Okay, then put it in the car. Put everything in the car that you will need for tomorrow.”
“What about my lunchbox?” he whined. “My lunch won’t be ready until tomorrow!”
I sighed. “Then put everything else in the car and just take your lunchbox to the car in the morning,” I said. “Are you sure everything is ready to be turned in?”
“YES,” he said. “Oh my GOD!” And he stormed off to load up the car. After four days off, it must have been extra exhausting.
The next morning, he came downstairs five minutes late. “What am I supposed to do?” he asked, as if he hadn’t been going to school for 11 years already.
“Put on some shoes and socks. Then get your breakfast; get your lunchbox and get in the car,” I told him. And he did. Eventually.
As we pulled up to the school, 45 minutes later, I reminded him: “Turn everything in. All four physics assignments AND your algebra assignment. And don’t forget that you need to turn in your SSL form, too.” (This last form is so that he gets credit for three months of work on the school play. He was supposed to turn it in last week, but didn’t.) “Will you remember all of that?”
“YES!” he said, as if I were truly bothering him with all the reminders. He took his stuff, and went into the building.
Seven hours later, he came out.
“Did you turn in your papers?” I asked, as nicely as I could.
“Well, apparently one of my physics papers wasn’t finished. But I turned in the other ones.”
“Weren’t you supposed to check that yesterday, before you packed them up?”
“I don’t know. I guess so.”
“Don’t you think four days was enough time to finish all of your late work?”
“Maybe,” he said.
“What about your algebra homework? Did you turn that in?”
“I didn’t have algebra today.”
“Don’t you think you could have found a moment to turn in your paper anyway? It’s already two weeks late!”
“I didn’t even see her.”
“Maybe you could have gone to her room and you would have found her there.”
“I’ll turn it in tomorrow,” Dylan said.
“And your SSL form, so you can get credit for all those hours?”
Dylan put his head in his hands. “No,” he mumbled.
We turned the car around, and went back to school. He grumbled, groaned, griped and slammed things around. Then he turned in his SSL paper.
“THERE,” he said, getting back in the car and slamming the door. Hard.
Like it was my fault.
I gave Dylan a simple assignment: ZERO zeros.
A zero reflects missing work. Sometimes it’s classwork that he didn’t finish in class. Sometimes he finished it but shoved it into his binder instead of turning it in. Sometimes it’s homework. Sometimes – whatever it is – it’s somehow gotten squashed into the bottom of his locker or sandwiched between his lunchbox and the form I asked him to return last week.
“NO zeros,” I told him. “You only need to make it until spring break. But you need to turn in every, single assignment, every day. If you turn in everything by spring break – and I mean everything – I will let you have an extra half-hour of electronics time on non-school days.”
“Okay,” Dylan said. “I’m really going to do it.”
“Do you know how to do it?” I asked him – since he’s never successfully turned in his work in every class, ever.
“Sure,” he said. “And I’m really going to do it this time.”
“What is your plan?”
“I’ll just really try,” he said – oblivious to the fact that he’s said those same words 6,598,722 times since he started middle school. Now he’s starting high school, and his habits are exactly the same: come home, text friends, do nothing related to school, go back to school with nothing done. It’s been a pretty consistent pattern.
“No,” I said. “You will not ‘really try.’ You have to do something different. Hey! I know! Why don’t you try TALKING TO YOUR TEACHERS AFTER CLASS TO SEE WHAT YOU NEED TO TURN IN?!?”
“I don’t know why I don’t do that,” he said. “I always think that I’m going to, and then somehow I just don’t.”
It has been three years.
For three years, I have said: “There is only one thing you need to do. You need to talk to your teacher after class. Say, ‘what did I need to turn in today?’ And then, when your teacher tells you what it is, you get it out of your backpack and give it to your teacher. Then you say, ‘what do I need to turn in tomorrow?’ – and write that down.”
He did it for one week. This past October, he did it for one week. Because I paid him a quarter for every teacher he talked to, every day. He made a few dollars, then he quit doing it.
So here we are again. The third trimester is starting, and Dylan’s behavior is – if anything – even worse than it was before. He comes home, texts friends, does nothing related to school, then goes back to school with nothing done. And he certainly isn’t turning in his work.
Oh, and yesterday I looked online and found that he had four missing assignments in Physics, one missing assignment in Algebra (along with a failed quiz and a failed test). These are the two classes that matter, since they are high school level classes and will go on his transcript for college. Oddly, these are also the ones in which he is missing work.
So he will not be getting extra electronics time at spring break. And even though it is a full week away, I am wondering how he will ever meet his goal of improving drastically before the end of the trimester, since I don’t know how he will survive high school if he doesn’t practice better study/homework/classroom habits right now if he’s planning to pass 9th grade.
There’s a chance I’m getting ahead of myself, worrying for nothing.
And there’s a chance that it will just never, ever change.
I got Dylan’s report card a bit late.
Actually, I didn’t get Dylan’s report card at all. While searching for something else on his desk, I discovered it – awaiting a parental signature – buried in a stack of papers. I didn’t think the new school gave out report cards, since we had everything available online – and since no one had ever tracked me down to get my signature on it.
Dylan’s private school has trimesters, rather than quarters. His first trimester report card appeared two days before the second trimester was over.
Each class offers a personal perspective on Dylan’s behavior in class. When the first trimester ended, these comments stood out:
“When able to focus and listen, Dylan grasps the concepts….”
“His grades suffered mainly due to not completing or turning in his work….”
“Dylan has a lot of potential to be a great student. However, he is very figety and distracted….”
“Dylan should listen carefully for quiz warnings, and use homework answers to help him review….”
“Less socializing in class would benefit classroom completion rate….”
In spite of this, Dylan did great: three A’s, four B’s, and a C. But we went an entire trimester without hearing these comments, and I can’t help but wonder if we had heard them earlier, would we have been able to do something differently – anything – to improve the next report card.
My gut tells me, No. You have done everything you can possibly do. And so, I am done “doing” stuff to change what is, inevitably, the way it is going to be.
Dylan is going to listen in class, or he’s not. He’s going to distract himself and the teachers, or he’s not. He’s going to get good grades, or he’s not. He’s going to turn in his work, or he’s not.
And if he doesn’t listen, distracts himself and the teachers, gets terrible grades and doesn’t turn in his work (which go hand-in-hand), then there is nothing I can do about it.
And if he listens in class, doesn’t distract anyboy, gets great grades and turns in all his work on time, this will be something for which *I* can take NO credit.
His life. His choices. His consequences.
I can guide him in the right direction, but ultimately, I am learning, his success or failure has absolutely nothing to do with me.
Dylan is trying very hard to be responsible. He had a full week of doing everything right, with regard to being prepared. He checked online to see if he had homework. He completed the homework he had, and turned it in. He remembered to bring materials to class almost every day.
He got into trouble for bumping into a boy – and then, the next day, throwing an ice ball at a girl. He had to sit out of “flex time” (private school’s version of recess) two days in a row, and he missed P.E. None of these seemed like appropriate punishments for a kid with ADHD – so his parents (us) and teachers (them) had a meeting.
The meeting went well. We decided that Dylan should concentrate on bringing a pencil to class, and that he would go to flex time the following day.
This morning, Dylan and I had a wonderful ride to school. He was funny and upbeat. He’d been doing so well. We had a long, leisurely ride to school – 45 minutes, each way, every day, twice a day – so we had lots of time to talk. We talked about music and cars and other stuff we both like.
Then we got to school.
“Where’s my backpack?” he said – interrupting himself with, “oh no….”
His backpack and lunchbox were both at home. Every paper he would need throughout the day, his textbooks, his pencils, his lollipops (for focus) and mints (also for focus) – everything was still at home.
“What am I going to do about lunch?” he asked, clearly skewing his priorities.
“Go to the office and tell them you forgot your lunch. They’ll give you something to eat that you don’t like.”
“Okay,” he said.
“What happened to being responsible?” I asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said. “This is the kind of thing that happens and I just don’t know how it happens.”
I thought about that.
I am old. I am 50 and a half. I’ve been misplacing things and forgetting things and losing things all the time lately. I never lost anything until I turned 50, and I forgot very little. Then it was like somebody turned on the faucet in my brain, and my short-term memory just started flowing out.
So I know exactly how he feels. And while I yelled at him for 10 years (because it would never happen to me), I now understood.
Dylan went to school, and suffered his consequences.
Later that day, Dylan texted me, apologizing. He’s trying to earn extra time on electronics, but I think he was genuinely upset about forgetting his backpack. In third grade, he forgot it 4 out of 5 days a week. So he is actually improving.
I texted back. “The problem is not you. It’s the ADHD.” And I suggested that we figure out a way to kick it, really learn to live with it, together.
I am hoping that now, maybe, finally, he is ready to try something new so this stuff will stop “happening” to him. And he will be able to take control of his life, and his behavior, by learning how to live with what God has given him – talents, intelligence, inner beauty and strength, and ADHD.
I live outside of Washington, D.C. While the public schools in D.C. are some of the worst – if not the worst – in the country, those of us in the suburbs suffer from an opposite fate: everyone wants to be the best.
Jay Mathews writes an education column for The Washington Post and today’s column sparked those little electrodes in my brain – again – about the whole IB-AP controversy. Jay says:
“For most students applying to selective colleges from most high schools, taking three to five AP, IB or AICE courses are fine…. But in some very high-performing high schools in the Washington region, many students still will take more AP, IB and AICE courses than they need.”
What caught my interest is that he says ‘AP, IB or AICE’ – implying that they are all used rather interchangeably in higher education.
I have been agonizing about how to get all the right courses for Dylan’s IBCP program and how to squeeze in some AP classes, too. I have read that some colleges don’t recognize ‘IB’ – but will recognize AP, because IB is still fairly new. I didn’t want Dylan to be turned away from the college of his choice because they don’t know enough about the IB program – so I was planning to squeeze in some AP courses.
But quite honestly, Dylan’s brain isn’t best suited for AP classes. They are memorization classes – learn-a-lot, test-a-lot classes. The IB classes (and tests) are more analytical, with more open-ended essay questions on the tests. ADHD and AP don’t go together.
So while he would do fine in an AP setting – because of his intelligence and his persistence – I think he would enjoy an IB class, and suffer through an AP class just to get to college.
At the same time, the IBCP program is brand new – at least in my county. We have no idea whether it will be embraced or detested by higher education. There are no statistics, since the first IBCP class won’t graduate until the year before Dylan does.
I am proud to say I’ve never even heard of ‘AICE’ – thank God. Apparently, our high school doesn’t offer that.
So my gut is telling me not to bother with AP classes for Dylan, now that I’ve read this article. He will have 3 IB classes – two of which are two-year classes – so that’s 5 IB credits. That should be sufficient for any college.
My head, however, is still stuck on stupid: What if…? what if…? what if…?
Luckily, we only have to register for ninth grade this month. In 9th grade, only one AP class is offered, U.S. History, which Dylan is not taking.
So we have a year – and a high school transition – to survive first.
Dylan’s curfew for electronics is 10:00. This means that, at 10:00, he turns off all video games, social media, texting, Instagram, tweeting, snap-chatting, Skyping and whatever else he does that keeps him away from the family – and from going to bed at a reasonable hour.
But one night, I found him Skyping people – still – at 10:30.
“Dylan,” I said, “it’s 10:30. You will not have any electronics for 24 hours.” He knows the consequences, and didn’t even fight.
The next day, though, during a calm moment, he broached the topic.
“I was wondering,” he said, “if there’s anything I can do to stop having all these limitations?”
“Sure,” I said. “You can show me that you’re responsible enough to handle things without all the limitations.”
“Well how can I do that if you don’t give me a chance to show you?” Dylan paused. “I mean, really the reason I keep going over my limits is because I think there’s nothing I can do to show you how responsible I am. So I figure it doesn’t matter what I do.”
“It does matter,” I told him. “It matters a lot what you do. The more responsible you are, the more privileges I can give you. And believe me, I would love it if you were responsible, because I am exhausted being the only one who is responsible for you.”
He pondered that. Or at least, he looked like he was pondering.
“Well, can I be responsible really fast?” he asked.
I almost laughed out loud. “No,” I said, “there is no way to be responsible really fast. You have to earn privileges over time, showing that you are responsible.” I pointed out the three wonderful weeks we had, back in October, when he was being incredibly responsible.
“That’s when we took away your bedtime requirement,” I told him. “And now you can go to bed whenever you want, and you’ve been responsible with making sure you get enough sleep, so we haven’t had to put the limitation back. But you are not acting responsibly. You still don’t talk to your teachers; you still don’t turn in your work on time. You didn’t even know that the science fair was tomorrow and it was the biggest event of the whole year.”
“So if I did all that stuff, I could prove that I am responsible?”
“Yes,” I said. “Over time, we would be able to trust that you are able to behave responsibly enough to do without limitations. But it does take some time.”
“Like a couple of weeks?” he asked.
“Like a couple of years,” I said. “But I’ll tell you what. If you do really well this month, and do really well until spring break, I could extend your electronics curfew until 10:30 on non-school days. But I’m talking turn in everything, talk to your teachers every day – no zero’s for a whole month. Do you think you could do that?”
“Sure,” he said.
And so, we shall see.
A few weeks ago, Shane wasn’t feeling well. He didn’t have a fever, so I sent him to school.
“If you start feeling worse,” I told him, “go to the nurse and have her call me. I’ll come and get you.”
No one called.
That afternoon, when I went to pick him up, he ran over to me. “This was the worst day!” he said. “I had blurry vision like all day. And I had to keep putting my head on my desk. I was so tired all day! And my throat hurts and my head hurts and I didn’t even eat all of my lunch.”
He talked so fast and so much – especially for usually quiet Shane – that I assumed he wasn’t that sick.
“Why didn’t you go to the nurse?”
“I did,” he said.
“Well, what did she say?”
“She took my temperature and said I didn’t have a fever. So she told me to lay down for awhile. And then I went back to class.”
“Why didn’t you have her call me?”
“She said I didn’t have a fever, so I told her not to call you.”
“Next time,” I said, “if you are sick enough to go to the nurse, please have her call me. I can always come and get you. That’s my job.”
“Okay,” he said.
That evening – maybe three hours after school ended – Shane got a fever. He was out of school for two days.
So this morning, when he came into my room shortly after 6 a.m., I rolled over and said, “You’re sick.”
“I don’t feel very good,” he said. “I have a sore throat and I have a slight headache. But mostly I just wanted to tell you that I’ve been awake for 50 minutes.”
Shane is very exact about numbers.
“Well, you need to get back to sleep,” I said. “And we’ll see how you’re doing when I get home from taking Dylan to school.”
So Shane went back to sleep, and I took Dylan to school.
When I came home, Shane trotted down the stairs, dressed for school, and sat at the kitchen table.
I was excited. I was dressed to go to the gym. I had a student to teach. My husband and I had tickets for a hockey game, and were supposed to have our first date in five months. If Shane went to school, I could do it all.
“So you’re going to school?” I asked, smiling.
“I don’t know if I should,” he told me, not smiling.
“But you’re all dressed,” I said. I felt his forehead. “And you don’t have a fever.”
“I got dressed just in case,” Shane said. “But remember that day when it was like the worst day of my life? I had blurry vision and I kept putting my head on the desk…” He clonked his head on the table for emphasis.
I remembered. “Do you feel that bad?” I asked.
“I have different symptoms – is that the right word?”
“But I feel about the same as I did that day, maybe just one slight tad better.”
“Okay,” I said. “You’re staying home. I don’t want you to have another day like that.”
Shane found a spot on the couch, and I covered him with a blanket. I cancelled my teaching session. I cancelled my date. I showered instead of going to the gym.
Four hours went by.
Now Shane has a fever. Sure enough, he is sick.
Sometimes, the child just knows more than the parent.