Month: June 2017
On our way to the National Institutes of Health, Dylan and I argued constantly.
“You need to be responsible,” I was saying.
“I am responsible,” he was saying. “Compared to everybody I know, I am the most responsible person there is! I don’t do drugs or drink or hurt other people. I don’t sneak out or skip school. I do everything I’m supposed to be doing! Why do you think I’m not responsible?”
I thought about all the times he did his school work, then didn’t turn it in. I thought about him sleeping through his alarm on the last day of school – and on the morning of his learner’s permit test. I thought about the huge projects he was supposed to do for school, when he waited until the last minute and put in minimum effort. I thought about him running out the door without any of the right stuff. I thought about him endlessly texting when he should have been studying.
“I have told you what you do that’s not responsible,” I said.
This has been a major point of contention between us for … well, forever. And here we were, facing it again, on our way into the National Institutes of Health.
Coincidentally (or not), we were going to the National Institutes of Health because Dylan has been taking part in a study for kids with ADHD. We’ve been doing this study for years. He takes tests and plays games and gets an MRI, and I fill out a bunch of paperwork.
But this time, I saw my paperwork in a brand new light. One familiar form was titled:
BEHAVIOR RATING INVENTORY OF EXECUTIVE FUNCTION
I had filled out this form many times since Dylan was in third grade. So I recognized it right away. It’s a list of 86 behaviors, and my job is to say whether Dylan does these things “OFTEN,” “SOMETIMES,” or “NEVER.”
The form mentions behaviors like…
…Does not check work for mistakes
…When given three things to do, remembers only the first or last
…Has good ideas but does not get job done
…Forgets to hand in homework, even when completed
…Blurts things out
…Has trouble getting started on homework or chores
…Written work is poorly organized
…Does not take initiative
…Becomes too silly
…Has a messy closet
…Has to be closely supervised
As I sat in the waiting room repeatedly circling “OFTEN” on this form, it hit me – hard: THIS is why I believed that Dylan was irresponsible.
While he is responsible with his major life choices – which is incredibly hard during the teen years – he still isn’t doing the small stuff. His larger choices – whether or not to drink alcohol or skip school, for example – are actually solid and positive. He’s doing a great job with the important stuff.
Dylan’s “irresponsible” behavior is irrevocably tied to his ADHD.
I looked at the form, and the list, and thought seriously about why I really believed Dylan was irresponsible. And it turns out, it’s almost entirely because he has ADHD.
So, while he needs to figure out a way to live with his issues (like homework and a messy closet), I need to give him credit for being as responsible as he can be, given his disorder. I need to recognize that he is responsible, that he just has some behaviors that he has to work on.
I can’t fix those things for him.
Things changed for me that morning. I recognized that the moral choices in life are the ones that matter, and that the small choices are his to make.
Dylan has just shipped off to West Virginia, along with his church group, to help those less fortunate. He will be gone for one week.
Last year, I missed him terribly, but it was a positive experience for him. This year, I already miss him terribly – and I assume it will be just as positive.
And I know one thing for certain: Dylan will work.
Dylan has a lot of positive attributes. He is smart, and can solve problems better than I ever will. He is wildly gifted in music. And he understands things at a level above a lot of people, because he sees the “big picture” in life. He’s empathetic and kind and generous and loyal. He is dedicated and believes in promises.
And when he works, he works hard. Dylan does not like to sit still, and no matter his brilliance, school is never going to be his thing because of that. The flip side is: when he is at work, he is likely to be the hardest worker there. Because he understands its importance, he gives all he’s got to a job.
He wanted to be a mascot at a “birds of prey” day at our local park once. He wasn’t old enough, but he asked anyway – and they put him to work. At age 13, Dylan did a great job, walking around as a giant hawk for several hours. And he didn’t take any breaks, even though it was nearly a hundred degrees.
But what astounded me was Dylan’s work after he took off the costume. I went to pick him up at the scheduled time, and Dylan stayed nearly half an hour extra, because there were still things to be done. He was directing traffic. He was folding and transporting chairs. He was running up and down a huge hill to help people carry boxes and tables. And he didn’t stop until it was all done.
And that was just a day in the park.
Now he is taking part in the Appalachian Service Project, which means he will be doing something even more important – and he knows it’s substantial. He knows that his week in this community will make a huge difference in the lives of its people. And that will only make him work harder.
I will miss him terribly. But it’s worth it, knowing how much Dylan will change the world.
I found it. I have identified Shane’s learning issue.
I think Shane has something called nonverbal learning disorder. It is rarely diagnosed because kids tend to do fine without it being diagnosed. The symptoms are all oddly fitting to Shane, and the largest of the symptoms is that the learning disorder has nothing to do with verbal skills.
Kids with nonverbal learning disorder generally are very intelligent, and have a large, solid vocabulary by a young age. But as they grow older, it’s sometimes noticeable that they miss social cues, take things too literally, and struggle with some subjects in school, especially math.
Shane hates math. He loves numbers and is very interested in number patterns and statistics, but math is hard for him. At one point, I thought he might have dyscalculia, which is like dyslexia with numbers. But he doesn’t have most of the dyscalculia symptoms.
And he fits the mold well. Here’s some of the description of kids with nonverbal learning disorder by Leslie Packer, PhD:
“They may have outstanding rote memory skills and attention to auditory detail…. Do not let their strong rote memory or attention to detail mislead you: these children ‘see every tree but can’t understand a forest.’ Although they may have an excellent retention of material presented orally, they don’t always comprehend or ‘get’ the subtleties and nuances of language. Impaired in problem-solving skills, they may fail to apply or generalize previously learned skills to new situations or materials…. Visual-spatial deficits are also reflected in poor visual recall, faulty space perceptions, and poor sense of directionality…. Poor comprehension of visually presented material is one of the hallmark characteristics of NLD, and there is often (but not always) a significant Verbal IQ – Performance IQ discrepancy on intelligence tests.”
He does have most of the symptoms of nonverbal learning disorder – except two. He is not clumsy or uncoordinated, which is commonly (but not always) associated with this disorder. He does have the horrific handwriting also associated with NLD.
BUT… Shane had vision processing therapy, which specifically worked on coordination issues. So he is substantially less uncoordinated than he would have been without therapy.
The more I read about this particular disorder, in fact, the more I think Shane has it – and the more I think I might have it as well. Something about being incapable of solving simple problems… it’s like I lack common sense. Maybe this is why!
Or maybe neither one of us has it.
The really interesting thing is: we can’t treat it anyway. It is recommended that those who have it … just learn to adapt.
We started the summer with a list of things for which Dylan would be responsible. On the list were things like feeding his hermit crabs, wearing his retainer, studying for the SATs, and telling me when he was ready to go to work or voice lessons or whatever – things he should have been doing for the past several years.
Dylan was supposed to make his own appointment for the learner’s permit test – which, technically, he did. Unfortunately, Dylan only made the appointment after his father showed Dylan exactly what website to visit, and pointed him directly to the correct form to fill out. (To say that I am still angry about Bill “helping” would be an understatement.)
On the day before the learner’s permit test, I realized that Dylan wasn’t quite as prepared as he needed to be.
For one thing, he took the Driver’s Ed class a full year ago. Dylan hadn’t looked at his book or studied his notes since July of 2016. I mentioned this to him.
“All of my friends said the test is really, really easy,” Dylan told me. “And most of them took it before they even took the class, so I know I don’t need to study.”
After chiding him for a few minutes, Dylan finally said, “Well, I was planning to study a little bit.”
Just before he went to bed, he took a sample test online.
At the end of the sample test, the website suggested that he print out a list of the things he would need to take to the appointment: a U.S. passport, a pay stub bearing the applicant’s name and full social security number, and a checking or savings account statement signed by a parent. Additionally, he was supposed to provide a document to prove that he is a dependent of said parent. The Department of Motor Vehicles requires these documents for proof of identity.
Dylan ignored that.
Dylan also had an email sitting in his email inbox for two weeks, which outlined those essential items. Dylan didn’t compile any of the required documents. In fact, he didn’t seem to know that he needed them.
He chose the documents that he wanted to submit. He filled out the form. And the email generated by the form went directly to his email address.
But he didn’t even consider getting those documents ready.
I could have helped him. I could have said, “Gee Dylan, don’t you think you should get your paperwork together?” That’s what I’ve been doing for 16 years. Instead I said, “Will you be 100% ready to go by 9:30 in the morning?”
Dylan assured me that he would be ready. And I knew perfectly well that he would not be ready.
I also knew we’d be driving to the DMV for no real reason.
But this is my point about responsibility: you must be responsible for yourself or you are not being responsible at all.
So, knowing that Dylan hadn’t done what he needed to do, I agonized. I tossed and turned all night, and had nightmares that they didn’t ask for his proof of residence, but they let him drive anyway. My alarm blasted on the morning of the appointment, with me drenched in sweat.
Dylan slept straight through his appointment.
We didn’t even go to the DMV, so he doesn’t even know he wasn’t prepared to take the test.
Nearly a month after mentioning it to Shane, I finally approached the subject of electronics restriction with Dylan.
First, I came up with ideas for things to do in the “down” times: camping, the zoo, swimming holes, waterfalls – you know, summer stuff. I even picked things we could do for shorter time periods: miniature golf, picnics, bike rides, movie matinees.
With nearly 50 choices, all visually laid out, labeled and sortable, Shane had a blast. He created a countdown from the various choices, finally coming up with about 20 nearby fun activities, and more than a dozen day-trip activities.
Dylan took the same choices, looked through them, and said, “What do I do if I hate half of these and I don’t want to do them at all?”
Teenagers are so fun.
After they finally – mostly thanks to Shane – came up with their favorite things to do this summer, I printed out their decisions, in order, and magnetized them on the fridge. Shane came up with an additional idea and added it to the page. Dylan ignored everything.
The next day Shane asked, “Now that we have it all organized, when are we going to do all this fun stuff?”
“Not this week,” I said. “But we’ll get started when Dylan comes home from his trip.” (Dylan is going away for a week with the church.)
Later I was in the car with Dylan – the only time I see him – when I finally had to tell him about the plan.
“We’re going to have four-hour blocks without electronics,” I said. “We’re going to use that time to enjoy things away from all the little screens.”
“WHAT?!” Dylan shrieked. “We’re going to spend four whole hours doing absolutely NOTHING?! What am I supposed to do during that time? How am I supposed to talk to my friends? How am I supposed to do anything?!”
“You will have plenty of time to talk to your friends,” I assured him. “And you will also have some time to enjoy the summer.”
“I am enjoying the summer!” he wailed. “I’m HAPPY! For the first time in my life I am finally happy and you’re going to take that away from me!”
“No Dylan,” I said. “I am not going to take that away from you. You will have plenty of ….”
“Yes you are!” he screamed. “And I suppose we have to do this every day?!”
“Four times a week,” I said, deciding on the spot. “And remember, I will be off of electronics, too. This is something that we’re all going to do together.”
“Together, right. But you decided it. So for four days, just because you want no electronics, I don’t get to talk to my friends! I don’t ever get to do what I want to do!”
“You will still get to do what you want to do,” I said, though it fell on deaf ears. “And we’ll get to do some things as a family, too.”
“Right, like we’re going to do anything that’s good. I need my friends! I can’t live without them!”
“You can,” I said. “And you will.”
And he will. For a whopping sixteen hours a week, he will survive.
I have a plan for summer.
My plan is to limit electronics time every day – which includes limiting my own electronic time. Four days a week, we will take a substantial chunk out of the day and use it for non-electronics-related fun.
First and foremost, this means we will spend some quality time together. Hopefully I will get to spend some time with my boys, but (also hopefully) they will spend some time together. I doubt that they will use these electronics-free chunks of time to read books.
But they could.
Second, this means that I will not be checking emails, writing blogs, looking up trivial details on the internet, or doing any online work. In spite of the fact that I sincerely do not want to spend my entire summer sitting at my computer, I am a bit nervous about unplugging – even for a few hours.
I know, however, that I will get over this feeling and we will find some things to do with ourselves.
I have already started listing things to do: the zoo, pedal-boating, kayaking, walks in the woods, museums, swimming pools, etc. After all, it is summer.
And I have already started making excuses about why I won’t do those things: it’s too hot; it’s raining; I have to work; the dog is tired.
But I am committed. I am giving this thing a try.
I had a rough night sleeping. Since Bill got home from the hospital, I’ve had many, many rough nights sleeping. This is not terribly uncommon for me – and it is uncommon for Bill who, I’m sure, is having rougher nights than I am.
I am now sleeping down the hall, behind a makeshift curtain of aluminum foil, using a battery-operated alarm clock that I bought for Dylan (who, of course, never uses it).
Last night, I had a recurring nightmare. It kept coming and going, as if I were having it all night. I woke up several times.
Then, during what was finally a deep, sound sleep, the alarm went off.
The sun was up behind the aluminum foil, so I leapt up and out of bed. I went downstairs to brush my teeth in the powder room. I turned off all the porch lights and let the dog out. Then I went into the kitchen to start making lunches.
And that’s when I saw it: the clock said I was up a full hour early.
I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know why it happened. But when I went back to look at the alarm, it was set for an hour early. I didn’t set it that way purposefully. In fact, it was set for the same time all week – but somehow, today, it wasn’t.
I tried to take a nap, but it was too late. I was awake for the day.
Today is the last day of school. I am serving breakfast at the 8th grade graduation ceremony (just for fun) and tonight I will be out late at a ball game, watching Shane’s mascot antics. Between times, I have lots of errands to run – plus, I’ll be taking care of Bill (who needs virtually nothing, but it’s an exhausting thought).
It’s going to be a long day.
In band class, Shane and his friends are working on a project. They choose a song, and then each writes his own music for an “original” rendition of that song. It’s a smart idea that teaches teamwork, composition and performance.
It took them several days to agree on a song. When they finally did, they chose the Star Wars Cantina.
Shane worked for an hour, at home, to create his percussion part. Then he went back in to share his part with the other members of his team.
He came home sad. “That whole hour making my drum part was just a waste,” he said. “Apparently everybody else has music that’s from a remix of the song, and it’s not the original song at all.”
“What do you mean?”
“Well, the music they printed out isn’t like my music at all.” Shane launched into a detailed explanation of the way the music was written. I don’t understand written music, and certainly not percussion, so I didn’t understand anything he was saying. The gist of it was, Shane’s music took substantially less time to play than the music of the trumpets and trombone.
“I’m sorry,” I told him. “What can you do about it?”
“I guess I just have to rewrite the whole thing, but I don’t know how to do that if I have the wrong music.” He eventually just wandered off, frustrated. He didn’t work on it much, because he had no idea how to fix the problem.
But the next day, Shane came home from school nearly elated. “Apparently I really do have the right music,” he said, pulling out his music and showing me. “See that note right there?”
There was a tiny half-note at the top of the page, in the upper left corner, above the song title. “Yes,” I said. “I see it.”
“Well I read that note like it was colored in,” Shane said, excited. “That’s why my music was too fast!” He started spouting numbers – sixes and twelves and fours – that made no sense to me.
“So that’s why you thought it was a different song?”
“Yeah,” he said. “So now all I have to do is make it fit. I don’t have to rewrite anything!” He bounced upstairs.
The issue he had, I guess, is that he didn’t read the instructions right. In this case, it was in music lingo, or I could have helped.
But this has been a problem that’s plagued both of my kids since they started school. Rather than read the instructions at the top of the page, they look at the first problem and guess what needs to be done.
Then, quite often, they have to go back and figure out what they did wrong.
Brilliance does have its problems.
It is the last week of school.
If memory serves, the following two or three months will be glorious. Dylan and Shane will do things together. As a family, we will go places. We will spend quality time just being.
And there will be substantially fewer arguments, less yelling, and more peace – because there will be no school.
There will be no arguments about when to get homework done. There will be no screaming matches about how teachers have said that Dylan’s work isn’t done, while Dylan insists that it is.
There will be no online grades to check, so there will be no E’s for me to mention – only to hear about how Dylan already knows about that, and then blames his teacher for not changing the grade fast enough. There will be no more E’s.
No one will be grading Dylan on his work, except at his summer job – where he is spectacular.
I can remember saying to Dylan once – long, long ago – that Albert Einstein had an awful time in school. “Some people just don’t learn the way the schools teach,” I said.
This is still true, and if we had had the money to put Dylan into a Montessori school, maybe his entire life would have been different. He could have done everything with a hands-on approach, learned at his pace – FAST – and succeeded in school beyond his wildest dreams.
Or maybe we didn’t need the money. When I got my teaching certificate, I told my college counselor, “I want to get a Montessori teaching certificate!”
And she said, “Sorry, we don’t offer that here.” I was crushed, because it was the only kind of degree that made sense to me – even then. If my college had offered it, maybe I would have gotten a Montessori degree and been able to homeschool Dylan instead.
But we didn’t have the money, and I didn’t get that degree, and this is his lot in life.
So we count the days. For 260 days a year, we count the days until it’s over.
There are 524 days left before his high school diploma – or slightly less, because seniors get a break at the end of the year.
All I can think is: I did this to him. It’s my fault. I forced him to go to school.
And for the 957,000th time, I consider homeschooling him.
Dylan is going to get two more C’s on his report card this semester.
He doesn’t care. In fact, he seems to think it is dandy.
One of the classes in which he will get a C is called Foundations of Technology. It is the easiest of three options that fulfill the technology requirement for high school graduation. The other choices are Introduction to Engineering and Computer Science Principles.
We’ve only just realized – now that Dylan has dropped out of the IBCP program – that he didn’t even need to take Foundations of Technology. He took Computer Science Principles last year, which would have sufficed as a technology credit – but I thought it would be an IBCP credit, so he had to sign up for Foundations of Technology.
Dylan claims the class is “too easy” and “so dumb” and he thinks it’s beneath him to do well in a class that’s so “ridiculous.” As a result, instead of putting in a little effort and getting solid A’s, Dylan is lucky that he’s not failing the class.
One nifty option, though, is that Dylan can take the class online – which means that, if he gets a C, he could retake the class fairly easily. If he got an A online, it would bring up his GPA.
Since Dylan doesn’t care about his C, I approached his case manager and counselor with the question about retaking the class online.
“If he takes it in the summer, even just the second half, would the new grade replace the C he’s getting now?”
After much ado, the counselor responded with this:
“He has already passed Foundation of tech A with a grade of B. It also seems like he will finish Foundations of tech with a grade of C. Therefore, after this year he will complete his tech credit. Also know that the colleges are mainly interested in the academic grades while the elective grades get smaller attention. Some elite college will even recalculate a student’s GPA using only the academic classes. I believe he should finish this semester out and be done with it.”
I have read a number of college admissions books. I have studied online. I have watched videos by admissions counselors with “tips” for parents and students facing the college years. I grew up on college campuses. I know more about colleges than I do about the public schools in which I teach. So there isn’t much a person can tell me that I have not already heard.
But this was news. Colleges don’t care that Dylan is getting a C in an absurdly easy class?
This seems highly unlikely.
And that’s how I learned that I should not pay attention to the advice of our school guidance counselor. He’s a nice guy, and he probably doesn’t expect much from Dylan, given Dylan’s attitude about school. And I really like everything that the counselor has done for us thus far, with regard to making sure that Dylan has classes that are suitable and scheduled properly around his issues.
But I am not going to follow Dylan’s counselor’s “sage” advice about college any longer – regardless of whether Dylan retakes this class online.