Month: March 2017


Thanks, God.

Dylan is playing Willy Wonka in Willy Wonka.

This means that he opens the show, sings a gazillion times, and helps close out the show, too.

We saw the show last night – opening night.

Let me backtrack for just … one … moment. Dylan has a few problems in school. He doesn’t sit still in class, and he is often doing something that he shouldn’t be doing, instead of doing what he should be doing. He sometimes remembers he has homework, and sometimes he does it. But he rarely turns it in. He’s incredibly intelligent, but there’s a lot of talk about potential and expectations when discussing Dylan’s school work.

Dylan can be a bit … um … challenging.

But he has the voice of an angel. When he sings, I vacillate between melting into a puddle and sobbing uncontrollably.

And in Willy Wonka, Dylan sings a lot. So I spent a lot of opening night in tears, then melting, and then crying again.

I am so proud to be the mother of this incredibly talented singer.

Interestingly, Dylan – who can’t remember to turn in his homework, or do whatever I just asked him to do – had absolutely no trouble rattling off about 117 perfectly timed lines, without missing so much as a word.

I do wonder about ADHD.

Long ago, I heard that babies and toddlers are born with those big, beautiful eyes – so that their frustrated parents won’t kill them.

I’m fairly certain that God has given Dylan this gift for a reason, too.

Thanks, God.

I Can Wash My Hair!

Last night, I went to bed last. I was up an hour after everyone else, doing important stuff like calculating Dylan’s possible GPA with or without his various C grades.

When I woke up, I forfeited my shower in order to make breakfast for the boys. At some point, Bill showed up in the kitchen.

“You know that really nice alarm you got me?” he asked. “It stopped making sounds!” Bill was truly shocked. I was not. The alarm is at least a decade old, and has enough buttons on it that something should have broken once a month. I’m impressed that it lasted as long as it did.

I started making lunches. Dylan came screaming down the stairs a few minutes later, late as always and racing out the door to catch the bus. I anticipated this, and had wrapped his breakfast in foil to keep it warm.

But Bill, since he was home, volunteered to take Dylan to school. I was able to leisurely finish making his lunch, and sent them both off with all the right stuff.

I can take a shower, I thought, AND I can wash my hair! The previous day, I had spilled half a bag of pine nuts all over the pantry floor, and spent half an hour pulling pine nuts out of iced tea boxes, so I hadn’t had time to wash my hair.

I finished making Shane’s lunch and raced upstairs. I had to be at work in an hour.

I passed Shane on the steps.

“I left your breakfast on the counter,” I said, kissing him on the head. I didn’t want the dog to get it. “See you in 15 minutes!”

“Okay,” he said.

I hopped in the shower, so excited to have a moment to get something done for myself.

The water was lukewarm. I took a very fast shower and jumped out, shivering.

Then I raced downstairs with a towel on my head and printed out seven pages of algebra for Shane to study while he finished his breakfast. Shane seemed oblivious to the fact that he had a quarterly assessment in a few hours.

“You were supposed to do this yesterday!” I declared, throwing the pages next to his plate and running back up the stairs.

We were ready to go, surprisingly, on time.

All I had to do was drop off Shane, go home, cook and eat a couple of eggs, and get to work on time. (As a substitute teacher, I have absolutely no idea how parents do this stuff every day.)

On the way to school, Shane said, very simply, “Do you know what I hate about cliffhangers?”

Then he didn’t say anything at all. He just turned his head, and looked out the window.

I love my life.

What Sold Me?

When I was in high school, I wasn’t all that interested in colleges.  I wanted to go to college, and I certainly thought college would be fun, but I never thought about the variety of colleges available to me, or their programs, or the differently sized populations, or what college would best prepare me for my future.

From the time I was in kindergarten, my dad worked at colleges. By the time I graduated from high school, he worked at one of the most prestigious colleges in the country. And by the time he retired, he had consulted at colleges all over the world.

I grew up on college campuses. To say that information about colleges was readily available to me would be a gross understatement.

But did I use that information? No. Not really. I cared very little about the things that really mattered.

For example, I remember getting a brochure in the mail – along with dozens, if not hundreds of other brochures – since that was how it was done back in “my day.” But this one really stood out to me. It was big and square and was shaped like a matchbook (because that’s also how it was done in “my day”) and each of the “matchsticks” represented a different aspect of college life at Capital University.

That’s how I decided that Capital University was the college for me! I was sure of it!

But it turned out that Capital University was in Columbus, Ohio – a full three hours from home. That sounded like a long drive, at the time. I was afraid I would get homesick and wouldn’t be able to get home if I needed a quick respite.

So I never even visited Capital University. But wow, that was one cool brochure.

I ended up at Mount Union University, also in Ohio. What sold me? Two major things: (1) They had a powder puff football team (on which I never played) and (2) Mount Union’s colors were purple and white.

I loved purple. Oh, and it was only two hours from home.

Today, my husband drives three hours every day during his commute.

And also today, I am looking at colleges worldwide … for my kids.

Dylan’s current top-runner is ten hours from home, and we’ve already visited. Shane wants to work on movies, so we may end up on the other side of the country during his college search. And we’ve already seen every college in the state that’s worth seeing – and some that aren’t – and in most of the neighboring states.

And I am loving it. I know more about colleges now than I ever did when I was a student. I know about their acceptance rates, program specialties, populations (by number, sex and racial diversity), professors, and mascots. Oh, and I know plenty about their music programs, student satisfaction rates, what the food is like on campus, and if there’s a lot of drug and/or alcohol use.

In fact, I know substantially more about some colleges that I’ve never even seen than I ever knew about my own college.

And Dylan knows almost nothing about colleges, even though he’s visited nearly a hundred campuses.

Nor does he care. If he were to get a really cool matchbook brochure from Capital University, he might not even open the envelope.

But I sure am having fun.

Is the School Safe?

A tragic event happened at Dylan’s school last week: two males sexually assaulted a 14-year-old girl in the boys’ bathroom. This horrific event could have happened anywhere, since there are criminals wherever there are people. But it happened during school hours, at MY son’s school.

Unfortunately, the news media appeared the next day.

But the “news” didn’t stop. The two males happened to be illegal immigrants, so Dylan’s school became a platform for a national stance against immigration. Then, in case that wasn’t sufficient to cause uproar, the media broadcasted that our school was receiving threatening phone calls – people (lovely people) threatening to shoot all the immigrants in the school.

During a week of media glory, the school responded with added police protection, calming statements and letters, a huge meeting to address parents’ concerns, visits by the superintendent of schools, and – I’m sure – many, many staff meetings: What can we do to make sure this doesn’t happen again?

There’s nothing they can do. There’s a full-time security presence and 105 security cameras installed throughout the school. It’s the smallest school in the county. We just can’t be everywhere, all the time.

Still, the parents’ email list caught fire. Everyone panicked. Is the school safe? How can we send our kids there? Why isn’t the principal doing more? Why didn’t they warn us about the threatening phone calls? What if there’s a bomb?

One parent said, to explain why she isn’t sending her son to school: The “high school appears to be under siege.”

It APPEARS that way.

This appearance was not caused by a sexual assault, or by the school itself. This appearance is completely thanks to the media. They have taken what once was a very strong, safe school, and turned it into a media circus. They broadcast the horrors of one event, discredited the safety of our school, turned us into an immigration platform and then announced that our school is being attacked.

And once the media latched on, so did the parents.

The assault could have happened at any other school, or a grocery store, or a movie theater, or any number of places where people are. People did this – two very unkind people. And people are everywhere.

But if the media has shown us nothing in the last several years, it’s that we have to be very, very, afraid. They focus only on bad news: death, destruction, crime. Fifty years ago, the media did stories about how much money was raised by a local car wash to help a needy family. Now the car wash is forgotten – and the needy family is spotlighted.

Bad things happen. It is a horrible fact of life. But the news isn’t broadcasting anything good, and the media absolutely glorifies crime. This is not reality! This is an appearance that the media creates to get higher ratings.

I’ve been to the high school. My son’s school is one of the absolute best schools in the area. It is filled with teenagers, so it can’t be perfect. But we have caring, vigilant staff. And right now, they are doing everything they can – even though perfection is impossible.

But FEAR gets ratings. That doesn’t mean we have to play into it, to hide out until the “danger” is gone. The danger was always there – will always be there, as long as there are people. The media just spotlights it.

If we tune out the media – even social media – we might see what’s really happening. We are all – passively and/or passionately – doing the absolute best we can.

It Never Occurred to Dylan to Check Their Schedules.

After a rather spectacular two weeks, in which Dylan did everything that he was expected to do, consistently and responsibly – including his 1.5-hour study shifts and getting 30 signatures on a signature sheet that holds a total of 30 signatures – he decided to take a break this week.

That’s the only explanation I have.

He is back to complaining about his homework time, that he has nothing to do. Meanwhile, his online zeros have multiplied – especially in Spanish and Foundations of Technology, for no apparent reason. He’s stopped working in Foundations of Technology altogether, and has waited almost three weeks to finish a test in his government class.

“I really need a break,” he texted me, explaining why he couldn’t make up even one test at lunch time. He has play practice after school every day except one – and he said he plans to take the test that day.

His teacher, however, won’t be available that day after school. His case manager, too, won’t be available that day.

It never occurred to Dylan to check their schedules. Dylan just assumed that, since he was available, everyone would be sitting on pins and needles waiting for him to show up and take the test.

They were not.

Luckily, he has me: the mom, the secretary, the scheduler who thinks of such things.

The teacher emailed me about the test, and I got started fixing the problem – with no help from Dylan. He will be taking the test that day, with supervision, thanks only to his case manager, who arranged the whole thing after my prodding.

Dylan’s case manager has saved him more times than he can count – and he doesn’t even know it. I spent a good hour of my day on making this happen, and I’m sure it’s nothing compared to what she did for him.

So now, we’ll see if he remembers to show up and finish that test after school.

It will probably take him five minutes.

I Was the Only One Who Could Do It!

Shane came home from school and told us that a friend of his “tested” everyone at lunch.

“Tested you for what?” I asked.

“It was a big word,” he said. “I don’t remember what it’s called. But I was the only one who had it.”

Shane looked a little concerned.

“What was the test?” I asked, suddenly feeling a little concerned myself.

“Well, he asked everybody if they could name colors with letters,” he said. “Like the letter ‘A’ is green, ‘B’ is blue, ‘C’ is red….” Shane listed a dozen letters and their respective colors.

My jaw dropped. I needed to know. “You see colors when you think about letters?”

“Yeah,” he said. “But I was the only one who could do it!”

I read a book a few years ago – a fascinating book called Born on a Blue DayThe man saw the days of the week as colors, and it so happened that the day he was born was a “blue” day in his mind.

It was written by Daniel Tammet – an autistic savant.

After some quick research, I discovered the word I was looking for: synesthesia. Neuroscience for Kids According to the website, “” (which is all the neuroscience I can handle):

Synesthesia can involve any of the senses. The most common form, colored letters and numbers, occurs when someone always sees a certain color in response to a certain letter of the alphabet or number. For example, a synesthete (a person with synesthesia) might see the word “plane” as mint green or the number “4” as dark brown.

I read Born on a Blue Day because ADHD is on the autism scale, and I thought I might get clues into the way Dylan’s brain works.

But I remember thinking that Shane had some things in common with the author, too. In fact, when Shane was younger, I took several online quizzes to see if he might have Asperger’s Syndrome – and at least one of those quizzes was triggered by my reading that book.

Synesthesia is, in fact, associated with various forms of autism. The study samples have been small (200 adults) but the results have been conclusive: this condition is found more often in people diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders. (In England, apparently, “synesthesia” is spelled with an extra “a.”)

The study found one in five adults with autism spectrum conditions – a range of related developmental disorders, including autism and Asperger’s syndrome – had synaesthesia compared with about 7% of people with no signs of the disorders.

Like the study I found about Dylan’s brain years before a larger study confirmed it, these results aren’t making the “big” U.S. headlines – yet. This study is at least three years old – but it’s not quite trendy or interesting enough yet to warrant further studies. Or maybe it’s warranted further studies, but we haven’t gotten the results yet. These studies take an absurd amount of time in our bureaucratic system.

I am testing Shane for synesthesia nonetheless.

COME SEE THIS!

There are two weeks left in the third quarter, and an amazing thing has happened.

Some background on this amazing thing:

  • When Dylan was in fourth grade, he was in four different math groups. He started in the highest level, because he obviously understood the concepts. But he never finished his work, and seemed a bit spaced out in class. So they kept moving him around, trying to find a place where he could succeed. He could not.
  • When Dylan was in fifth grade, he had a teacher who let the kids move at their own pace, as long as they finished the work. They had a chart with star stickers, representing what they had done. Dylan excelled at this, and got a ton of stars. Since fifth grade, we’ve been wishing all math teachers would institute this system.
  • When Dylan was in sixth grade, he was at the top of his class. He did so well, in fact, that we all agreed that he could skip the “review” class, Investigations Into Mathematics, and go directly into Algebra 1.
  • When Dylan was in seventh grade, he had a teacher who constantly reprimanded him for not paying attention. We invited her to every IEP meeting, but she didn’t seem to understand that he has a biological issue. There were no charts with stars in this classroom. Dylan eeked out a C in Algebra 1, and the school recommended that he take it again for a higher grade.
  • When Dylan was in eighth grade, he retook Algebra 1 with a kind teacher in a class with seven kids at private school. He got a B.
  • When Dylan was in ninth grade, he took “regular” Geometry. Most of his friends had completed Honors Geometry in 8th grade, but we were afraid, given his math struggles, that he wouldn’t be able to keep up with the pace of Honors math classes. If he had turned in his work on time, he would have gotten an A in Geometry. But he didn’t, so he got a B.
  • Dylan is now in tenth grade, taking “regular” Algebra 2. He started the year with a tutor, because we weren’t taking any chances. He barely saw the tutor, and still got a B for his first semester grade.

In other words, math has been a challenge for Dylan. So when I checked his grades online this week, I literally screamed.

“DYL! COME SEE THIS!”

Bill came running into the room. “What?”

“Not you,” I said. (“Dyl” and “Bill” sound very much alike, so this is a continuous problem in our house.) “But look at this!”

Bill started over to the computer.

Shane, too, wanted to know what was going on – almost enough to look up from his video game. “What?” Shane asked.

“Look at Dylan’s grade,” I said to both of them. “DYLAN!”

“WHAT!” he yelled back.

“COME HERE!”

He grumbled all the way down the stairs. Finally, Dylan arrived in the office, where I pointed dramatically at the computer screen.

“Look at this!” I squealed. “LOOK!” And he did.

“Yeah,” he said, as if it were the most normal thing in the world. “I know.”

Dylan has an A in Algebra.

What Have You Actually Done?!

Dylan has been writing a paper for two weeks.

When he was tested in fourth grade, his processing speed was in the 9th percentile. Unlike his height, which has always been above the 75th percentile because he is very tall, his processing speed has always been very, very low.

This means that writing for two weeks is an insufficient amount of time for him to finish a 1,000- to 1,500-word paper.

The key word for Dylan – whether or not he knows it – is tool. For 15 years, we’ve offered him tools to speed up his processing speed. Fidget toys, including his brand new fidget cube, have been great – although rubber bands are equally successful. Chewing gum, mints, lollipops and hard candies are also great motivators for the brain to process.

Unfortunately for the public schools, the most successful tools for Dylan are music and movement. Restraining his movement actually makes his brain process more slowly.

Now that we have the 1.5-hour supervised shifts, I am always sitting next to him when he works.

The music never stops playing. Dylan never stops singing, except to drum on the table. He taps his foot, bangs on his knees, drums his fingers on the desk. He knows every word to every song, and I’ve never heard any of them before.

He sits on a kneeling chair, so he is leaning forward most of the time – or sprawled completely backwards. He sings and sings and sings.

He scrolls through whatever is on the computer screen in front of him. He scrolls up. He scrolls down. He tosses a ball at the wall. It bounces three, four times. He puts the ball down. He sings and sings. He never stops singing. He scrolls up again. He scrolls down again. He clicks out of the scrolling document and goes into the paper he is writing.

He types maybe six words. He sings and sings. He sings while he is typing. He stops typing and drums along with the music. He goes back into the scroll-able document. He sings and sings. His feet move constantly. He goes back to his paper – the 1,000-word document he’s been working on for two weeks – and he stares at it.

To me, he is doing absolutely nothing. He is just singing and staring. He is staring and singing. There can’t possibly be anything going on inside his brain.

I explode regularly. I try not to, but I can’t seem to control myself. It bursts out of me like a comical word balloon.

“What have you actually done?!” I spurt. “How could you possibly be getting anything done at all?”

He explodes back. “I have done ALL of THIS!” he says, waving his arms at the screen. He points to three very short paragraphs. I find it difficult to believe that they aren’t the same three paragraphs he showed me yesterday.

“You aren’t typing anything!” I say. “You can’t possibly type and sing at the same time, and you haven’t stopped singing for one second!”

He continues to sing. He types an entire sentence.

“See?” he said. “Now will you please get off my back!”

“What did you type?” I ask. If I were singing and typing, I would be typing the song lyrics.

He reads me the sentence, which is not a song lyric at all.

I am surprised. Again.

And again, I have to back off, and let him do it his way, even if it makes no sense to me at all.

What If We Play “What Moved?”

Shane and I have been playing visual memory games. We’ve played concentration and matching games. He does pretty well.

We’ve also played “how many things can you remember?” I put random items into a box, and Shane looked at each one for a few seconds. Then he listed as many items as he could remember. He got 16 out of 26 – not bad!

And we played some online computer games that are supposed to enhance memory. We played one in particular that matches faces – which is especially good for Shane, who spent the first nine years of his life unable to tell the difference between people who had the same color and style of hair. (This was especially a problem when it came to the color “brown,” which is a very popular hair color. All people with short brown hair looked exactly the same to Shane.)

I downloaded a bunch of these suggestions from the internet, so that I would be able to offer him the best visual memory enhancers. We’ve tried all of them – except one.

We have not played “what moved?” because I am afraid of the results.

“What moved?” is a game in which two people sit in a room. They look around and study their environment. Then one person closes his eyes, and the other person moves something. With eyes open, the first person subsequently identifies what moved. Hence, the name of the game.

But Shane doesn’t see things. He doesn’t know that they are there. His room is often a disaster – but not just a random disaster. Everything is organized – and then there will be a pair of socks right smack in the middle of the floor.

The socks will sit there for nine days.

Or there will be a jacket in a ball on the floor. Shane will step on the jacket, walk around the jacket, throw things on the jacket. The jacket will never again move, until a parental unit prompts him to hang up the jacket.

I am the only parental unit who will say anything, by the way, because Shane’s father’s jacket is never hung up.

Or the CDs will come out of Shane’s CD player and go … onto the floor. No matter how many times I mention that CDs are quite breakable, and that stepping on a CD will result in a broken CD, Shane will not put his CDs in their cases.

It’s like he just doesn’t see it at all.

I realize that this may have nothing to do with visual memory. It may just be the way he is, or the way boys are, or the way people are – in general.

I do not want to face this fact. I want it to be something fixable.

What if we play “what moved?” and Shane can’t figure out what moved? Then what do we do? Do we play until he figures it out? Do we play it for days and days and days until we know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that Shane simply can’t observe the things in his environment?

Sigh.

I guess we will have to play it and see what happens.

She Changed Shane’s Life.

When dropping off Dylan at school one morning, while it was still dark since the sun hadn’t yet popped over the horizon, a woman approached my car.

“I know this might sound creepy,” she said, “but did your son go to Graceland Preschool?”

Interestingly, Shane did go to Graceland Preschool!

“Not this son,” I said, pointing at Dylan, who was sitting next to me. “But my other son did.”

“Shane?” she said.

“Yes!”

“I was his teacher,” she said.

She was unfamiliar to me, except for her smile. Formerly a large redhead, she was now a 100-pound blond. And apparently, she now teaches at Dylan’s school. We chatted for a few minutes, her apologizing for approaching me after ten years, and me professing my undying love for her. Then she went inside.

Dylan asked, “Was she really Shane’s preschool teacher?”

I nodded. “She changed Shane’s life.”

Then I realized that I probably never told the teacher that she changed Shane’s life. And teachers should know that their work truly makes a difference. So when I got home, I emailed her the following story:
One day after school, you pulled me aside to talk to me. You said that Shane spent his entire playtime with his head in the dollhouse. It was a little, tiny dollhouse – so he just stuck his head inside, quietly. You talked to him and asked him to come out, but he wouldn’t. He was very sad that day, and that was how he handled the emotion. (Someone had told Shane to get off the slide, hence the terrific sadness.)
That was an eye-opening experience for me, as a parent. Shane is the younger brother of a VERY high maintenance child. Older brother has ADHD and other issues that Shane doesn’t have, so Shane got very little attention. In fact, Shane was pretty much raising himself. He was a very easy child.
But when I heard about the dollhouse, I realized that we needed to do something. We needed to look at ways to specifically boost Shane’s self-confidence, encourage him to speak up, and give him positive reinforcements when he was doing something right. Up until that day, we’d just let that good behavior go unnoticed.
As parents, then, we changed. We started paying closer attention to Shane, getting genuinely excited when he did things well, making a point of complimenting him. We created a poster with a huge picture of Shane. We put adjectives all around the picture – words like “funny” and “calm” and “smart.” It was a reminder that so much about him is good. And that poster is still hanging in his room, ten years later.
Shane is still an incredibly “easy child.” He’s in 7th grade now, and he is peaceful, laid-back and kind. Best of all, he feels good about himself. He knows he’s okay, just the way he is. He’s an out-of-the-box thinker and very bright, so he can be a little weird. But he’s okay with that, too.
And that – seriously – is because of you. Because you took the time to tell me what happened, to talk about Shane’s rough playtime, to show me that tiny dollhouse. You took the time to care about what Shane was feeling. Not every teacher does that – even in preschool – and we are eternally grateful to you for that.
I can’t believe I forgot to say all that to you this morning, but I am glad that I can tell you now. Thanks so much for saying hello this morning.
And then I decided the story is worth sharing with the whole world, too.
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