Thursday, October 19, 2017

Moving forward

On Monday P had his first appointment with a psychologist for counseling. I was dreading it - I felt like I was receiving a prognosis more than a diagnosis. Was this the start of a new label, and a new journey with years of counseling, medication, and hospitalization, like my sister? Or would it head off half a lifetime of self-doubt and worry, like I experienced before I went into therapy?

Actually, as it turns out, neither was true. After the psychologist talked to P she turned to me and said, "Well, if you choose to go ahead, I think we could do this in six, maybe seven sessions." I'm pretty sure my jaw dropped and while I wish I had said something along the lines of, "Well, I appreciate your ambitious timeline and would love to see the change you can make for my son," I'm pretty sure I just blurted out, "Sounds awesome."

I did manage to keep, "You're either very, very good or very, very optimistic" in my head, so points to me for that.

With the spacing of sessions "six or seven sessions" will actually take about five months. P would be wrapping up his therapy right around the time his class takes their huge multi-day field trip, which would be about perfect.

So, we'll go forward with the plan. P had a meltdown at school yesterday and I wished fervently that his next appointment was next week and not two weeks from now, but I'll take what I can get. As much as I love the professionals that I've come to see as P's "team" - his pediatrician, the OTs who work with him in the hospital and at school, teachers he's particularly loved - and would be happy to add another caring adult to his roster, I just want this done with. I want him to be better.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

October 16th

The clock is ticking down to a date I've had on my calendar for two months...a date that I've been both dreading and impatiently looking forward to. October 16th will be P's first appointment with a psychologist.

I have not been batting a thousand in life in general lately. My house is a mess. I'm supposed to make some decisions about changing up my living room, but I'm just as mired down as ever. I had parent teacher conferences this week and I think I'm on rocky terms with one of my kids' teachers. Work...let's not even talk about that. And, of course, on the family front, nothing screams "awesome parenting" like your child needing to see a therapist before puberty.

I've been on the other side of this equation so many times, I know what I would say. "There's nothing about your child having an emotional disorder/autism/intellectual delay/whatever that makes you a bad mom. In fact, what makes you a good mom is the fact that you're getting help for him." But knowing that feels like a token comment thrown into a brass urn, and as it clangs around the echoes it creates just serve to illustrate how vast and empty the void is.

I hate this. And yet, I want this. I want help. I can't control his emotional outbursts, I can't fix his social skills, I can't tell the difference between normal sadness and something more pathological - something more like what his aunt endured. He needs this, and I'm desperately looking forward to the help...and dreading it all the while.

Sunday, October 8, 2017

A change in mindset

Last night I went out for coffee with a friend of mine. She is super bright and has a son who is super bright and even though when we get our families together her kid is doing things like saying hello in seven languages while I'm struggling to make sure all of mine are wearing shoes and not screaming, I still like her.

That night, though, we weren't with our families. We were alone in the crowd at Starbucks, talking about our husbands and our kids and sewing and knitting and our jobs and whatever else. After a couple of hours there was a brief lull in our conversation and I took a deep breath and asked something I had been meaning to ask.

"Do you remember a couple of summers ago when we took that training together?" I asked. "And we read that book and learned all about these unusual traits gifted kids have?" She nodded and I asked, "Do you think those traits...persist into adulthood?" 

She nodded rapidly and emphatically and launched into an explanation of quirky, gifted kids she'd taught and how she saw some those same personality quirks in their parents, and I relaxed, relieved that she assumed that I was asking a general question, or perhaps a question about my kids. 

But she's super smart, and said, "There are traits in your kids that come from you. You all want certain things. And not material things...you want things to be a certain way, or be seen a certain way. E's hunger for social justice comes from you. Or the way P values certain things and understands that they hold a different place in the big picture than most people think they do. You're like that. Your gifts were passed on to them because you are gifted too."

"Ah, it's been so weird," I said, running a hand through my hair. "I mean...I spent so much time thinking that there was something just fundamentally wrong with me because I couldn't fit in. I spent so much time wishing that I could just be like everyone else, and wondering what I was missing that would make me like them. And I spent so much time believing that if I could just stop thinking like this, and feeling like this, and being interested in these things, then I could just be normal. And then my kids come along and I tell them that some of those same traits are okay, and being different is just fine, and it makes me wonder if I was wrong about myself." I caught myself and said, to deflect, "I mean...did you get that way with your son?"

No, it turns out, because she sorted her shit out long before approaching middle age*. But I spent most of my life trying to hide and forget about what I had. I guess the better approach would have been to figure out who are the best people to see and appreciate it. 




* That's 40, right?

Sunday, October 1, 2017

Today's analogy

I posted this in a Facebook group this weekend. It seemed to resonate with people.

When I watch my sister parent her two neurotypical kids, it feels like hiking. There are predictable milestones and lots of guidebooks to tell her where she's going. It's hard work to be sure, and at times she's faced obstacles and circumstances that made it harder. Nobody enjoys hiking through a thunderstorm. But on the whole, the journey is enjoyable and most people understand what she's doing and where she's going.
Parenting my gifted daughter feels like mountain climbing. I'm not talking about scaling Everest here, but it's definitely an undertaking that requires different equipment. Even the smallest step feels like more work. There are fewer predictable milestones and people may think your need to climb is weird. They might tell you to take the same hiking trails everyone else does, or refuse to accompany you. But the views are exhilarating.
Raising my 2E son, on the other hand, feels like being strapped into a roller coaster. Sometimes he climbs steadily up, but it seems like within moments we go from climbing to plummeting. The highs are breathtaking and the falls are terrifying. Sometimes I feel like I'm steering, but sometimes I feel like I'm strapped helplessly into a ride that I can neither predict nor control.
All three journeys are, in turns, hard work, scary, and intensely rewarding, but they're all different. 

It's not a complete analogy - it doesn't touch on parenting kids with delays who aren't gifted, for example, single parenting, parenting in poverty, etc. But as a mom I felt like I took a few punches last week, and this is reflective of what I was feeling. My easy days are mountain climbing. My tough days are hanging onto a roller coaster.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Google Docs/Read & Write for Chrome

Google Docs has been P's favorite assistive technology so far. Remember, his worksheets look like this:


It doesn't really lend itself well to typing out answers. P started writing numbers in each blank, and then numbering his answers correspondingly in a Google Doc. The process would be even easier if the worksheet questions were numbered or - dreaming a little dream here - the teacher would put the worksheet into a Google Doc, share it with P, and then just let him answer that way.

P told me, "Google Docs is easy. It's just like writing. Except, you know, typing." It's familiar and simple. The auto-save feature is a huge bonus, and sharing with his teachers is a snap. All of the teachers and students in his district have Google accounts, so it's easy to share his completed Doc with his teacher for grading.

I also really love the fact that his class has regular access to Chromebooks, and that he can use his school Google account to sign into our Chromebook at home. Everything looks just like his school account, everything is in the same place, and homework will be much more seamless with that system.

I had been encouraging P to use Read & Write for Chrome. Read & Write is a powerful suite of tools that work as an extension on your Chrome browser. It can read text, look up words (with words or pictures as a definition), summarize long articles, and more. However, the most amazing tool is the voice dictation. I had students who use Dragon in the past, and it was a nightmare. I'm sure the new Dragon versions are better, but Read & Write is so simple and the voice detection is so good. You just talk and the words appear on the screen, right in a Google Doc. It couldn't be easier.

However, P was not on board. Using the voice input was just too different than typing, and watching the words appear on the screen distracted him from what he was thinking. I've used Read & Write with some of my students with good results, so I was disappointed that P was so resistant to using it.

Then, last night P had to do a worksheet. He misunderstood the directions, so when he was halfway done he had to erase everything and re-do it. He became less and less willing to do the worksheet, and distraction turned to procrastination turned to anxiety turned to tears. After two hours I sent him to get a drink and come back to try again. But when I tried to focus him on the questions at hand, he just poured out a jumble of ideas and partial answers.

"We're going to use Read & Write," I told him firmly. "Enough is enough. Let's just get this done."

So I turned on the microphone for dictation, turned the Chromebook so the screen was facing away fro him, and told him to talk about the questions. When he realized he couldn't see his words, the pressure eased and he quickly verbally explained all of his ideas. Then once he was done we simply cut-and-pasted each idea into the relevant answer area.

"See?" I asked. "Easy peasy. What do you think?"

He was exhausted and grateful. I think he finally sees the value of the program. Now he just needs to practice it enough to feel comfortable using it by himself.

Monday, July 17, 2017

SnapType

Before P left for summer break his teachers gave everyone in his class a long summer assignment...a book to read and a packet of worksheets to fill in about the story.

The sheets look like this...all writing.


With P's 504 plan being so new, there was no time to figure out how he would complete the assignment with his assistive technology. In fact, we don't even know WHAT the technology will be...because I work for the district I know it will probably be Google Docs with Google Read & Write for Chrome, but on paper it just says, "typing."

However, I heard that if you're willing to purchase the technology yourself, the school will allow your child to bring it and use it (how generous). So we're using this packet assignment as an opportunity to figure out what will work for P, and I'm not confining my search to what the district is willing to provide.

When I searched for apps for dysgraphia I really came up short. There are lots of apps for dyslexia, but dysgraphia doesn't seem to have the same appeal to app makers. However, one app that I found and loved was SnapType. I thought this would be a real game-changer for P, and I was all set to plunk down cash for an Android tablet just so he could use it next year. Luckily, we tried it first, and found out that it wasn't the magic solution we were hoping for. Nothing is, really. It's a tool, and a very good one, but it won't be the solution for all of P's problems.

SnapType is a very clever app. You take a photo of the paper or worksheet you need to write on, and then you just tap to add yellow text boxes to type your answers right on top of the photo. When you're done you can email it as a PDF or JPEG to your teacher. The yellow boxes disappear on the teacher's copy, which results in a very clean-looking worksheet. If you get the Pro version you can store images in the app in different folders, so the kid can always keep a copy.


Pros:

Worksheets like this are tough for kids with dysgraphia, and teachers often forget to scan worksheets in for kids who use assistive technology. This allows teachers or kids to make worksheets accessible on the fly. This is a huge plus. 

The folder feature makes it easy for kids to keep their worksheets organized.

This app gives the power to the student in terms of making worksheets accessible.

Cons:

You have to make your own line breaks by tapping a new box. This was hard for P to do when he was typing, because he was concentrating so hard on what he wanted to express, as well as typing it out.

There's no spell check or grammar check. I really miss this feature. I'd be willing to pay more for SnapType with spell check and grammar check.

One thing that isn't about the app, but is a practical consideration...P prefers to type on a real keyboard. I've looked for tablet cases with attached keyboards, and it's hard to find one that still makes it easy to take photos with the tablet. Most keyboard cases make it more cumbersome to manipulate the tablet to take a photo.

All in all, I think this will be very useful to P, and I hope his school will allow him to take a tablet to school to use. This would be absolutely phenomenal for an older student to install on their phone, either as their primary writing tool or just as a back-up to their usual accommodations.

I feel like I should give this a certain rating, like a certain number of stars. But P is past his astronomy phase and is all about steampunk right now, so I give SnapType 4.5 anachronistic goggles. It's a great app.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Floored

So I guess we're getting new carpet.

A few weeks ago my mom called me up and made me an offer. Well, "offer" might imply that we had a choice...instead she informed me that she and my dad do a lot for my brother and sister. They watch my sister's kids full-time, and my dad helped my brother remodel his old house, and he's currently helping my brother build a mini-barn shed on his new property. Because they do so much for my siblings, she said, they want to do something for me. And that something is new carpet in my living room and hallway, as well as painting the living room. 

At first I fought with her a bit...I don't need anyone's help, and I can paint my own house. Even though I regularly solicit advice and input at work for my students and among my friends and internet acquaintances for my own children, I don't ask for things that help me. I take care of myself. But as my protest bordered on rudeness and anger, I began to think, Yeah, they do help my brother and sister a lot. And it would be pretty sweet to have free carpet, and new paint that wasn't the result of my own effort. So I acquiesced, and my mom told me to start looking at flooring samples.

So yesterday I strode confidently into Home Depot like a Real Adult planning on making educated flooring decisions. Fifteen minutes later I left with three laminate samples, two carpet samples, four paint chips, and no idea what I was doing.

My mom had suggested that I just get samples that I thought were pretty. Unfortunately, I can't shake the feeling that there's a choice that's right...the perfect intersection between durability, ability to enhance our house's resale value, price, and appearance. I'm still looking up flooring options because I don't just want to like my carpet, I also don't want to be wrong.

I went through the same thing when I bought a car back in 2014. I researched that car like it was my second job...I read Consumer Reports, looked up information online, kept a list of available cars at just about every dealership in the city, and finally settled on a Hyundai Santa Fe.

I totaled it within a month. The thought of replacing it was so overwhelming that I put off buying a replacement for years. We had gotten by with one car before that, and we went right back to what we were doing. When my husband found a full-time job it meant buying a second car again, and I bought another Santa Fe because I couldn't bear to re-do all the research. Unfortunately, my first Santa Fe was a first generation Santa Fe, and the one I have now is a second generation Santa Fe. FYI, the first generation Fes were awesome vehicles, as are the current iteration of the Santa Fe (the third generation). The second generation Santa Fes were not that great, which means I made a wrong choice, and I'm still mad about that.

I know someone who needed a car and just sort of went to the car lot and bought one she liked. I'm still a little stunned at her approach, and jealous that she could just get what she wanted without worrying about being correct or making the best decision humanly possible.

I know I have to pick out something...but living with plywood subfloors seems like a pretty reasonable option at this point. The splinters would distract me from the feeling of having made a wrong choice.