Month: February 2017
Dylan took the classroom Driver’s Ed class last July. Occasionally, he asks when he can start driving.
“All you have to do is make an appointment to get your learner’s permit,” I say. It’s the same conversation every time.
“But I don’t even know where to start,” Dylan whines.
“You get on the computer and you google it,” I say.
“I don’t know what to google!”
“Well then,” I say, “you shouldn’t be driving a car.”
“I know how to drive a car!” he says. “I just don’t know how to make an appointment! I don’t even know where to go.”
“Dylan, all you have to do is google ‘Learner’s Permit’ and ‘Maryland’ and you will be well on your way. Everything you need to know is right there on the internet. Do the same thing I would do. Just look it up, and follow the directions.”
“But I just don’t know what to look up!” His voice gets shrill.
“Maybe it’s just a phone call,” I say. “Or maybe you can reserve a time online. How will you ever know if you don’t do a simple google search and find out what you need to do?”
“Well I’m going to wait for Dad to help me,” he says. (Bill made the mistake of saying he would be nearby when Dylan was googling.)
“Dad is not going to help you. You make the appointment if you want to drive a car,” I say.
Usually at this point, Dylan’s argument sidetracks into something like, “But Dad said he would help me!” or “I have no trouble driving a car!”
It’s a vicious cycle.
“Dylan,” I say, “make the appointment. Otherwise, you will not drive.”
Shane is a good photographer. One of the few things he wanted for Christmas was a nice, professional camera. And surprise! Santa got one for him.
Two months later, I saw Shane’s camera on the floor, half under the couch. So I left a note on Shane’s bed. “Pick up your camera, and put it somewhere safe,” said the note, “or you will no longer have a nice, professional camera.”
The camera disappeared from its spot on the floor.
A few days later, Shane had a friend over, and they wanted to make a video. But they couldn’t find Shane’s camera.
“I’ve looked everywhere it could be,” Shane said. “And it’s not in any of the places I would put it.” They didn’t make a video.
The next day, I asked Shane: “Did you find your camera yet?”
“No,” he said. “I don’t have any idea where I put it.” We had this same conversation for days, with me getting progressively more upset. How could he not remember where he put it?
“I’ve been telling you for years,” I admonished, “that when you put something down, you need to picture it in your mind so you can remember where you put it!”
Then, quite suddenly, I had a revelation.
Shane had a vision processing disorder. He CAN’T picture it in his mind, because he never developed the skill to do that when he was a baby, or a toddler, or a preschooler. That’s why things get tossed all over the place, and why he can never find things after he puts them down.
Shane is severely lacking in visual memory skills! That’s why he’s always had trouble spelling – and I knew that. But I didn’t think about his inability to remember where he put things.
After he went through all that therapy at age 6-7, I forgot about the things he didn’t learn in the years before he started.
So I hopped on the internet and, sure enough, the part of the brain that allows Shane to write visual stories and songs, and take such great photos, is a completely different part of the brain than the one that creates visual memories.
I re-read the symptoms of kids with vision processing disorder. Among other characteristics, one article noted that memory issues were likely:
Long- or short-term visual memory issues: Kids with either type have difficulty recalling what they’ve seen.
So I started looking for ideas on how to improve his visual memory. It’s fun, actually. These are the games I most enjoyed as a kid: matching games, concentration, what’s missing?, etc. We’ve done a few games this week, and Shane seems to like them, too.
Sure enough, it’s a struggle for him. Not a struggle like, gee the kid can’t remember anything! – but a struggle like, huh, I never realized how much he needed to improve this skill.
Days later, Shane found his camera. It was in a rather neutral place, and none of us understood why he hadn’t been able to find it earlier.
I was glad he found it.
But I’m even happier that we can help him with something he’s going to need for the rest of his life.
Back when Dylan was in third grade, I found on the internet results from a tiny little study of 447 children. Those results included a comparison of their brain scans – the normal brain versus the ADHD brain. The 2007 article declared:
The scans – and the tiny study – confirmed for me something that made sense about Dylan. It was the first study I’d ever found that made sense. It said that ADHD was, essentially, a disorder caused by late brain development. Certain areas in the ADHD brain didn’t develop at a normal rate.
Dylan was a late bloomer. His whole life, he was a little behind his peers. He had to undergo speech therapy at age two, for example. The most noticeable slow development, though, was his teeth. His baby teeth didn’t start to come in until he was ten months old, and then they didn’t fall out until nearly two years after the teeth of most kids in his age group.
So when I saw the ADHD brain comparisons, I printed out several copies. I took them to every school meeting we had until – well, actually I still have the scan print-outs.
But today, I no longer need them. The Washington Post has finally verified everything I’ve ever believed about what was going on in Dylan’s brain. The results of a much more substantial study (3,242 people) have finally been published, with the title: “Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder is linked to delayed brain development.”
I knew this, but few others did.
The gist is this: Dylan’s brain isn’t developing at the same rate as that of his peers. Five of seven of the subcortical regions that were studied were shown to be significantly smaller in volume than those same regions in their non-ADHD peers. These five regions are responsible for such things as processing rewards, responding to stimuli, goal-directed action and forming memories.
In other words, they’ve confirmed what I’ve suspected for all these years: there is a biological reason that Dylan doesn’t function in the same way as his peers.
God knows he tries. In fact, he’s been working so much harder, and at such a slower rate, for so long, Dylan has nearly given up. Even though his brain is more developed in those crucial areas now, he’s giving up on himself. And it’s terribly sad, because there is a decent chance that eventually, he’ll be able to keep up with everyone.
In fact, knowing Dylan, he will probably excel beyond his own wildest dreams.
Meanwhile, other people with ADHD are just starting out. They’ve never seen that tiny little study I saw, and they’re wondering why their child is lagging behind in so many areas. And now they can know – not just suspect – that there’s a biological reason for their issues, just like there’s a biological reason for Dylan’s issues.
For now, here is my favorite line from the article:
ADHD is NOT a problem of motivation or parenting.
So here I am, breathing a deep sigh of relief.
This year’s IEP meeting for Dylan was a very popular place to be.
Teachers came from every corner of the school. Some of them have had Dylan as a student for more than a year. Some of them taught him last semester and weren’t likely to teach him again. Some of them had only taught him for two weeks.
But they all showed up at Dylan’s IEP meeting. Administrators and special education administrators had to get up and find more chairs. The room was so crowded, Bill and I just sat, in awe, and stared for a moment.
Dylan wasn’t the slightest bit interested. In fact, he seemed a little annoyed at all the attention.
But we all sat, and we listened to the reports.
The first teacher started with a thought that became a theme throughout the meeting. “Forgive the analogy,” he said. “But essentially, I see a tale of two Dylans,” he said. “I see the Dylan who’s bright and capable and enthusiastic and smart. And then I see the Dylan who gets overwhelmed and shuts down, and doesn’t turn in his work.”
Five additional teachers said virtually the same thing. They all saw in Dylan huge potential; they also saw it frequently going unrealized.
The words “organization” and “communication” were mentioned many times. Teachers said that he simply didn’t seem to know when things were due, even when they told him repeatedly. Even when they wrote it down on the board, day after day. Even when they put it online so he could check – and get – the assignments at home. Even when they said the same thing to Dylan, day after day, and received acknowledgement.
But the work rarely materializes. And it almost never materializes on the day it’s due.
Dylan is now under a strict 1.5-hour study time rule at home. He is going to do this time – supervised and timed, because we already learned that we can’t trust him to be unsupervised or untimed. He’s going to do it five days a week, with or without the whining and complaining and moaning that comes with it.
In addition, I came up with an idea (thanks partially to ADDitude online magazine) to make Dylan accountable for talking to his teachers, for finding out what’s due every day. I created a “signature sheet” that Dylan can use every day, with every teacher, to have them sign off that his work has been completed and turned in.
Everyone was on board with the idea – except Dylan. During his first day with the signature sheet, he came home with two signatures. The next day, he had zero signatures. The day after that, he had one.
This is with the teachers knowing, every day, that there is a signature sheet, and that he should be asking them to sign it.
In the meeting he said, “When the teacher says, ‘The homework is page six,’ I don’t think I should go up to them right after that and say, ‘What’s the homework?”
“I think the teachers would prefer you did that instead of just not turning it in,” I said. All of the teachers bobbed their heads in agreement.
Everyone wants Dylan to succeed.
Now Dylan just has to decide to do that.
We went out for ice cream.
A teenage boy stood behind the walk-up window. “May I help you?” he said, without enthusiasm.
“I’d like a cup of chocolate raspberry truffle with hot fudge,” I said. (This was before I started dieting again.)
“Okay,” said the boy. “Um, what size did you want?”
“The smallest one you have,” I said. (I was considering dieting soon.)
“Okay,” he said. He held up a cup. “Is this one okay?”
“Perfect,” I said.
“Okay,” the boy said. “What did you want again?”
“Chocolate raspberry truffle,” I said. “With hot fudge.”
“So chocolate raspberry,” he said.
“Yes,” I said.
He went away. He came back.
“And what did you want on this?” he asked.
“Hot fudge,” I said.
“Okay,” he said. He went away again.
He came back. Some hot fudge had appeared.
“Do you want whipped cream?” he asked.
“Okay,” I said.
“You do want whipped cream?”
“Sure,” I said.
He went away. He came back.
He handed me my ice cream, with whipped cream. He even remembered a spoon.
“Thank you,” I said. Then I turned to Dylan, who was next in line. “Go ahead,” I said.
“May I help you?” said the boy behind the window.
“Yeah, I want one scoop of s’mores and one scoop of graham cracker,” Dylan said.
“Okay,” said the boy. “You want one scoop of …?”
“One scoop of s’mores and one of graham cracker,” Dylan said. “And can I get hot fudge on that?”
“So one scoop of s’mores?” the boy asked.
“Yeah,” said Dylan.
The boy went away. He came back with one scoop of s’mores in a cup.
“And what else did you want?” the teenager asked.
“Graham cracker,” said Dylan.
The boy went away.
Suddenly it hit me.
“He has ADHD!” I nearly shrieked to Dylan. “This is just like talking to you!”
“No it’s not,” said Dylan, who hasn’t agreed with anything I’ve said in two years.
“It is!” I said. “Watch! This is just like talking to you!”
“No,” Dylan said. “He’s just getting my ice cream.”
“But watch!” I said. “He has to ask you twice about every single thing!”
The boy came back. “What did you want on that?” the boy asked.
“Just some hot fudge,” Dylan said.
“Yeah.” The teenager went away again.
Dylan didn’t seem the least bit bothered by this. To him, it was completely normal.
When something is too painful to write about, I would rather write nothing at all. And when tragedy strikes, especially when it happens to one of your dear neighbors, the pain can be immobilizing.
This is my moment of silence for a boy who died this weekend – many, many, many years too soon.
Shane announced one day that I was lying in my blog. He had, apparently, taken some time to read it.
“I do care about college,” he said – with the same enthusiasm that one might use to announce that he likes pepperoni.
I had no idea what he was talking about, but I had never heard this sentiment before.
“You do care about college?” I asked him, incredulous. Then I realized: “That’s wonderful!” I shrieked, gave him a hug and started jumping up and down.
“Mom,” he said, but he smiled.
“Let’s dance! Let’s do a jig! You care about college!” I continued bouncing and jigging, grabbing Shane’s hands to do a bit of disco. He so rarely expresses any kind of interest.
When the moment ended, Shane said, “Yes, I care about college. Why do you think I got all those A’s?”
Shane’s second quarter report card had six A’s and one B. He started his high school transcript with two A’s – no small feat, and a spectacular accomplishment.
“And,” he told me, “I don’t even know what website you’re talking about, so I don’t care about an asterisk.”
He showed me the page on my blog that was “lying.”
“He wants straight A’s, but not because he cares about college. He wants straight A’s because he would get a little asterisk next to his name on the local “Honor Roll” website.”
“I didn’t know you cared, really,” I told him.
Shane and I had spoken late in the fall about how important his grades would be when he was trying to get into college. We talked about grade trending and hard work and studying and scholarships. It wasn’t a long talk; he’s only in 7th grade.
But Shane remembered it, and took it to heart. He never mentioned it again, but he cared enough to get his grades up. In fact, his name went up (with several other names) on the 7th grade bulletin board at school.
The category was “Most Improved.” Shane raised at least three letter grades from mid-quarter to the end of the quarter, and – the board said – he increased his GPA 0.43-0.53 points.
He didn’t know his name was on that bulletin board until his friend saw it. She told her mom, and her mom told me, and I told Shane. Then Shane and I went looking for it. Neither of us even knew there was a board!
It’s sad, when you have a great accomplishment and you don’t even know it. It’s sadder still when a mom doesn’t recognize that her son made a real, conscious effort to change – and succeeded.
But Shane knew he could get those A’s – and he knew it was important. And he wanted me to know that he understood the importance of grades and college.
So I am correcting my blog accordingly, by posting this.
And I am feeling so, so incredibly proud of Shane.
Five days a week, before he does anything upstairs (including locking himself in his room, playing keyboard for five hours, or Face-timing his friends), Dylan is required to do 1.5 hours of school work, supervised and downstairs in the office – so that we can actually see that he’s working.
Because of previous arguments over how long he actually works, we’ve started setting a timer to discern the time limit.
Every day goes something like this:
(Dylan is upstairs.)
“Dylan! You aren’t allowed to be upstairs until your work is done!”
“I’m just doing one thing! Geez!”
“Do your one thing downstairs! I am sitting here waiting for you to start working!”
“I’m coming! I can’t believe you still expect me to find an hour-and-a-half’s worth of things to do!” (Dylan storms downstairs and starts tossing things out of his backpack.) “I don’t know how you expect me to do, like, all this stuff when I literally have absolutely nothing that I can possibly do!”
“I got an email from your teacher today, who says you are missing three things. Did you get that email?”
“Yes, and I already did it! I turned all that stuff in at school. I literally do all of my homework at school, and have absolutely nothing I can work on for a whole hour and a half!” (He sets up his laptop on the desk in the office.) “And this mouse totally won’t work, ever! I can’t get it to do anything! It doesn’t matter if I use the wire or if … well, now it’s working.”
There’s a moment of silence while Dylan looks at something on the computer.
“But seriously, I literally have nothing to do! Not one single thing! This is all stuff I already did. I just have to turn it in!”
“You can study for the SATs,” I say. “Or do some Spanish quizzes online.” (I motion to the list of web links I’ve left, in case he actually, ever, has nothing to do.)
“Like those would even help,” Dylan mumbles. He turns on music. This is usually the most obnoxious, growling, slash metal music in the world. He starts scrolling through his assignment possibilities on the computer, singing to the awfulness.
Sometimes he takes a break, gets a snack. We stop the timer, then start it up again.
I have to sit with him and supervise, or he chats with friends. The 1.5-hour block takes about three hours to complete.
But when I look over, he’s got six blank pieces of paper in front of him, something halfway written on the computer screen, and he’s diligently writing on both the papers and the computer. He’s tossing a tennis ball from hand to hand, while one hand holds a pencil and pauses occasionally to write on a piece of paper. His lanky body is usually sprawled half on the desk, half on the floor.
He does his work in a rather unorthodox way – a way that helps me to remember why school is so challenging for him.
By the time the 1.5-hour shift is over, Dylan is sitting on the floor, or on the bottom step of a kneeling chair, with his giant foot on the desk. He’s been singing nonstop – while working, even while writing. His laptop is sometimes tilted so far to one side, it’s nearly vertical. A fidget toy or a tennis ball is always nearby, or he’s completely revamped a paper clip so that it’s become a fidget toy. Dylan practically stands on his head, while lying on the ground, to finish his work.
But it’s finished.
In addition to having ADHD, Dylan has a rare disorder called Reactive Airways Disease.
It’s much less harmful than it sounds. It means that, for most of his young life, when Dylan got a cold, he did not get a runny nose like the rest of the kids. Instead, he was plagued with a cough that wouldn’t go away.
The “disease” is so rare that most doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong with Dylan. We started trying to figure out the problem when he was only a toddler.
He would start coughing at night – and he would cough, hard, all night long. It went on for hours and hours and hours, and he was so little. I was afraid he was damaging his lungs, or his throat, or both – or more.
Not only did he cough all night, though, he coughed for six months. He started in mid-autumn and coughed straight through until spring, every single night.
“It looks like allergies,” the doctor said. “Since he’s so young, let’s skip the painful allergy tests. Let’s give him a dose of allergy medication and see if it helps.”
Oddly, allergy medication did help. Sort of. Sometimes. Looking back, I have no idea why it we kept him on it.
When I took him off the allergy medication – after two years – Dylan seemed more agitated, less able to sit still.
The allergy medication had been sedating his ADHD behavior!
But we didn’t know he had ADHD yet. And we didn’t want him on medication when he didn’t actually have any allergies. So, since he was older, we had him tested for allergies and asthma. He tested negative for both.
I was actually the one who discovered the term “Reactive Airways Disease” on the internet, as Dylan coughed away at night. I took Dylan to see the doctor for the zillionth time. His pediatrician was out of the office and the substitute doctor – a woman I’d never met – said that she had Reactive Airways Disease, and she was pretty sure Dylan did, too.
They gave him an inhaler to be used at night when the cough started, and it miraculously stopped the cough before it went on for months. So we were sure that Dylan had Reactive Airways Disease.
Or at least … he did when he was younger.
As he got older, occasionally he would get a runny nose. It was very exciting at first, because Dylan seems to be outgrowing the disease that caused him so much havoc for so long.
Recently, when Dylan gets a cold, he sometimes gets a runny nose, just like the rest of us. And he doesn’t cough through the night anymore.
But one day, he woke up with chest pain. It hurt when he took deep breaths. He looked fine, and it was morning, so I told him to go on with his day. Then I called the doctor, just to be sure.
The office assistant answered my question. “Take him to the E.R.,” she said.
Dylan was just sitting with his phone, texting. He was fine. “The E.R.?!” I asked. “Why?”
“If he has chest pain and difficulty breathing, he needs to be seen right away.”
“It sounds worse than it is,” I said. “Why can’t I just bring him to you?”
“You can,” she said. “If his color is okay, and his breathing is okay, you can bring him to us.” So I did. Dylan got a thorough check-up.
The doctor, who knew Dylan has reactive airways disease, said, “He’s probably coming down with a cold.”
Sure enough, it was just a cold.
I left my children for a week.
Many parents find this time to be “restful” and “fun.” I found it to be anxiety-provoking and challenging. This doesn’t mean I had a bad time on my week-long excursion into the Virgin Islands. It just means I felt like I was doing the entire trip while missing a limb, or something like that.
Leaving the kids means leaving a part of me. It shouldn’t be that way; I know this, because every book I’ve read says that I should have a strong, solid life outside of raising my kids. So I do things – work, play ball, go places with my dog – but having a week away from the kids assured me that I do not do enough away from them.
I can’t count the number of times I thought, “I should work more when I get home.” I was thinking about substitute teaching, and how much more interesting my life has become since I started spending a day or two, every week, teaching a class – or several classes – full of curious elementary school kids. I like being there with them, doing things for them, being a “good sub,” as Shane calls it, and making some new friends. I’ve also learned a lot – about popcorn, and history, and people.
So I came home from my vacation and signed up for an additional four days of substitute teaching. I’m trying two new schools and a special education class, just to be bold.
But it is a life outside of my own kids, and one that I desperately need. Kicking around in foreign sands taught me that things can be incredibly beautiful and exciting on the outside, and my head would still be spinning around missing algebra assignments and course choices and extracurricular middle school activities. I even planned to attend an outdoor track meeting for parents – for a track team that Shane can’t join for another two years.
I have, since, decided to wait on the track meeting.
It worries me that, in a few short years, Dylan – my 24-hour-a-day job – will be doing something other than high school, and that I will be somewhat less necessary to him.
Today, though, thankfully, he wanted me to make his breakfast and lunch for him. And Shane enjoyed the same treatment.
So today, I am still needed here.