Thursday, December 31, 2015

Finding another one

Even though I talk a lot about my son and his struggles at school, it's not my biggest worry. My straight-up, hands-down, absolute top concern for my son (and my daughter as well, to a lesser extent) is that he doesn't have a friend. He sort of runs around with the other boys at Cub Scouts, but they don't extend anything more than politeness to him. We have another family with a son a year older than him that we do things with, but he's more of an activity partner than a buddy. The situation isn't horrible - the other kids aren't outright mean to him, he's often content to be on his own, and he's close with his sister, E. But I think he really would like a friend, and my heart aches for him when he talks wistfully about having another boy to play with.

This week we went to the library with that other family. Their son is gifted too and not as socially isolated as P, but still in need of friends. They had spent all day at the library a couple days prior, and the father laughed at a small pile of books that their son had pulled out that hadn't been re-shelved yet. The mother quietly, "Well, it might be another boy who took out those books and left them there. You never know. If there's any place to find another one," and here she smiled conspiratorially, "this would be the place."

I smiled awkwardly. By "another one" I assume she meant another gifted child. I'm not so dead-set on finding other gifted kids for P to play with, although it's really nice to have a kid who doesn't think it's weird to spend a play-date reading. However, I do think it would be good to find another Lego fanatic, or another shark expert, or another kid who wants to learn to build a device powered by hydraulics. And since that isn't happening in school, I suppose it's my responsibility to take P to where they congregate.

So I guess 2016 will bring library events, museum classes, zoo workshops, and summer rec classes, not for education or enrichment, but in hopes of finding another one. Another kid like my son.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The moon analogy

I recently came across a Facebook group called Raising Poppies, which is for parents of gifted and 2E kids. I joined and dove into a world where people are talking about which Mozart song is their toddler's favorite, whose kid got a microscope for Christmas, and whose kids spent the weekend playing Minecraft. All of the kids are brilliant and intense and the parents laugh and applaud and sympathize. Weird kids are normal there, and there's no such thing as offbeat, just syncopated. It's intoxicating. I want to spend all day reading it. If it was a place, I would want to live there.

But it's not real.

In T-minus seven days winter break will be over and I'll be sending my kids back to school, where nobody is charmed by their intelligence and willing to overlook their flaws. And while it's fun to dip into a community where people treat me like my kids are perpetually awesome, but it's not a useful mindset to carry into the real world.

I've been thinking a lot about school and P, and the best analogy I can come up with is that his school and I are both looking at the same moon, but I'm insisting that all that exists is beautiful reflected light, and they're insisting that all that exists is the half that's cold, barren, and shadowed. It doesn't help either of us to really understand the moon if we fail to acknowledge that the it can have both attributes simultaneously. My kids can have flashes of intelligence and glaring deficits at the same time. One doesn't erase the other. You have to deal with both. The difference is, I'm trying to accept that both exist, while his school seems determined to believe that it's one or the other.

I think that it's important to celebrate your offbeat kids, but it's also important to remember that there are basic societal expectations that our kids still have to fulfill, even if it's hard or doesn't come naturally. They have to successfully navigate a world that doesn't care about their stellar IQ scores, but does care about their unwillingness to take direction or work with a group.

I'm trying to help my kids be successful here. But it's really nice to peek into a community where they're already wonderful.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Shoes

I was recently told by P's OT that he needs new shoes. A PT came in to consult briefly at his last appointment and showed me that his feet are pronating out, which is sort of like knock-knees, but in his ankles. Lace-up shoes, preferably with anti-pronation insoles, would help that. I'm still investigating insoles, but today I took P out to get him some shoes.

I realized very quickly that I somehow made it through 36 years of life without learning how to buy good shoes. When I was in my twenties I bought shoes by following this method:

1. I need new shoes. Time to go to the mall!
2. These are cute.
3. And on sale!
4. SOLD.

Now, when I buy shoes for myself I use this method:

1. I need new shoes. And also laundry detergent. Target it is.
2. Why did I bring my children along?
3. Yes, we can go look at the Legos after this.
4. Where did your sister go?
5. I'm pretty sure these are my size.
6. Yes, we're leaving.

When I buy P shoes, it goes like this:

1. I need velcro shoes in size 2.
2. Hey, green ones.

Which is still a step above how I buy shoes for my daughter, E:

1. It needs to have Hello Kitty on it.

So despite my blinding ignorance in this area, and despite the fact that P doesn't even know how to do lace-up shoes yet, we set out to buy good, supportive lace-up shoes. I really should have Googled it before I left because I have no idea what to look for. The insides look mostly the same. How can you tell if it has good arch support? I don't know. Should I have gone up a size if we're getting insoles? Who knows? And why was it that when I needed velcro shoes, all they had were lace-ups, and now that I need lace-ups all they have are velcro shoes? I finally found a pair that seemed okay. P said they feel a lot better than his old shoes, so that's a plus. Hopefully they'll help him.

Now to work on tying shoes. We haven't had much snow yet, so I haven't had to send the kids to school in boots, but I know it's coming and he'll need to put his shoes on by himself.

So after this come the insoles. I wonder if I can just buy green ones in size 2.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Merry Christmas way too early

Last night I took the kids to my aunt and uncle's house for Christmas Eve festivities. By the time we got back home and got the kids fed, cookies set out, notes to Santa written, and kids tucked in and asleep it was pretty late. I thought to myself, I hope we can get going in the morning. I hope we don't oversleep and wind up arriving late to my parents' house tomorrow.

I'm telling you, a stupider string of words has never slid across my consciousness. Because at 3:15 AM P woke up and assumed it was morning and came bursting into the living room, flipping on lights and shouting that Santa came. And it was my job to tell him that no, it was still nighttime, and that he should definitely go back to sleep.

Sometimes my son is so absentminded that he walks into walls or forgets to put on pants. And sometimes he's passionate about something with the white-hot intensity of a thousand suns. Christmas is one of the things he's intense about. I should have known there would be no going back to sleep. However, I was tired and he's eager to please, so I ushered him back into his bed. My husband had put a plush Chopper doll near his stocking, so I let him take the stuffed astromech droid back to his bed to cuddle and, hopefully, sleep with.

Nope.

For about fifteen minutes he talked to Chopper and asked several times if it was daytime yet. I gave him my husband's phone and explained that if he slid the phone's keyboard out it would turn the phone on and show the time, and once the time was 5:00 AM he could get up. For the next ten minutes we were treated to the sound of t-ck, t-ck every fifteen seconds as he slid the phone open, saw it wasn't 5 AM yet, and slid it shut. Eventually he found the process to be too frustrating, and he softly set the phone on our bed. After he went back to bed I could still hear him tossing, turning, talking to Chopper, and sighing in frustration.

At 4:30 I conceded defeat and let him turn on his lights and play with the contents of his stocking with the stern warning that he wasn't to talk, make noise, or wake his sisters until 6:00. And, to his credit, he didn't. But still, 6 AM came way too early when I had gotten to bed late and only got snatches of sleep for three hours.

And yet, P didn't do anything wrong. He did everything I asked. He tried to sleep and settle down. But his excitement was just too much for him to handle. And really, who can blame him? In the grand scheme of things, it's not so bad to start Christmas a few hours early because of a little boy's enthusiasm.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

On the same path

Recently I was helping my son, P, wash his hair during his bath. After the water sluiced away all of the shampoo bubbles, he looked at me and said, "C and I are the same. E is different, but C and I are on the same path."

I was very surprised. He spends a lot of time playing with E, who is not only just two years younger than he is but also extremely bright. C is a toddler, and although he's a little more interested in her than when she was a baby, he mostly seems to ignore her.

"Really?" I asked. "How do you mean?"

"We both had weird fears," P replied. "And I pretended to be other things when I was her age, just like she does. We're the same."

Those things are true. C is afraid of ladybugs (the cutest and most benign insect in North America), and when P was a toddler he was afraid of Benjamin Franklin*. Also, when P was a toddler he would spend days or even over a week pretending to be someone else, and he absolutely wouldn't break character. One time he refused to respond to his name and would only respond when called "a pig with big teeth" (like the boar in his Richard Scarry books). Later on he went through a phase where he was hardcore about being called Tom Silva. Yes, one of the hosts of the TV show Ask This Old House. P adored that show and absolutely loved Tom. By way of comparison, today C spent the entire day pretending to be our cat. She would only respond when I called her by the cat's name, she communicated mostly in meows, and she would frequently come up to me for a head rub or a scratch behind her ears. I even saw her running her fingernails up and down the cats' scratching post.

"C and I are going to be the same," he repeated, "and E will be different."

"Maybe you're right," I replied.

Honestly, I hadn't seen many similarities between my youngest and oldest children, but my son is sometimes more perceptive than I am. Maybe the two of them will be more similar than I thought.






* I am absolutely not making this up.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Chew it up

When I order something online, I stalk my packages.

Whenever I order from Amazon or eBay or any place that will supply me with a tracking number, I follow my package almost obsessively. I get text updates and I order mostly with Amazon Prime so things come in two days anyway, and I still manage to check the USPS or FedEx website about 50 times a day.

However, today I ordered a package that I won't be stalking. I don't want it to come because I hate that we needed to order it. It's a chew stim necklace for P.

P has some sensory issues. He kind of cycles through his sensory seeking behaviors...sometimes he's very restless, sometimes he's prone to hopping up and down, and sometimes he chews. The necklines and cuffs of many of his shirts sport mended holes because of his chewing. When his behavior ramped up this summer we bought him a chew necklace with a rubber pendant in the shape of a long crystal. It worked like a charm - almost overnight he transitioned from chewing on his shirts to chewing on the pendant. He chewed it all summer and then, fortuitously, moved on to a new sensory behavior shortly after school started and I was able to take the necklace away. I was concerned that the kids in his class would ask about the necklace or make fun of him because of it.

Now, though, his chewing is ramping up and he's gone and chewed through his necklace and moved on to destroying his clothing. Time to get a replacement.

I'm happy that his behavior is so easily accommodated, but jeez, did he really need to have yet another tendency that sets him apart? Couldn't he have caught a break in this area? Being wiggly or jumpy can pass as normal, but chewing on things? Did his brain really need to crave that type of input? Why not something that at least looks normal?

I need to read up on sensory seeking behaviors. Maybe I'll get a book and toss it on the stack with my book about the emotional needs of gifted kids and my other book how to build executive functions in children. Oh, and the professional literature I try to stay on top of (although, to be honest, I've indulged in some fun reading as well - I have to do something while I sit in my girls' room and wait for my toddler to go to sleep).

On the comparative scale of problems, his sensory issues are small...but they're problems that he doesn't need.

I should order something fun from Amazon so I have a good package to stalk.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Frankie

This week I found out about Frankie McDonald, a young man in Nova Scotia who has autism and who does what is quite possibly the most enthusiastic weather report on the internet. He did a storm report this week and after describing the weather he began shouting, "ORDER YOUR PIZZA, ORDER YOUR CHINESE FOOD. CHARGE YOUR IPAD CHARGE YOUR IPOD CHARGE YOUR CELL PHONE. DON'T DRIVE IN ANY PUDDLES AVOID THE PUDDLES." And he ended his report with "Good luck out there. Take care. Be safe."

He has bullies and detractors, people who subscribe to his YouTube channel just to poke fun. He's aware of that. He doesn't care. He also has a couple blogs, and a Twitter account where he asks people what the weather is like in their area, or asks people to Photoshop pictures of him into different situations. He's a local celebrity in his town. You can even buy his bobblehead.

It seems that he's a person who found what brings him joy. He ignores the people who don't get it and welcome in the people who celebrate it with him.

I also saw a YouTube video where someone was saying that he shouldn't be online because everyone was just laughing at him. But from what I saw, it seems that many people are celebrating with him. Being quirky isn't necessarily a bad thing, especially when you can build up a little community to be quirky with.

This is exactly what I hope for my kids...if they can't be the same as everyone else, I hope they find a community that celebrates their differences. Does it matter if 90% of people think you're weird if you can find that 10% who enthusiastically accompany you on your journey? Who geek out right along with you? I'd say that's not a bad balance.

I wish Frankie did regular forecasts for my area. I'd watch him every day.

Friday, December 11, 2015

It's not that he's smart...

Recently I was catching up with a friend and we got to talking about our kids. After talking for a while about the tough time P is having in school she sighed and said, "You make it sound like his life is difficult because he's smart."

Well...no. That's not true. I mean, being smart is a good thing. It helps him learn things and learning brings him joy. Last night he asked to stay up just a little bit longer so he could finish his book about wasps, he just loved it so much. Who would think that such a trait would be a bad thing?

No, his life isn't difficult because he's smart. It's difficult because he's different.

When you're different life isn't so easy. He has trouble finding kids who care about the things he cares about. What other seven year old cares about wasps? He reacts to things differently. He'll collapse into a puddle of tears when he gets frustrated because his emotions are bigger than he is, and the other kids think he's weird. His teacher is frustrated with him. His principal doesn't understand him. The school psychologist doesn't want to understand him. The kids in his Cub Scout troop accept him, but he's definitely the last choice for any partner activity. He sticks out like a sore thumb in just about every situation.

He doesn't have a single close friend. Not one. His school has a "buddy bench" where kids without a playmate can sit until someone notices he's alone and includes him in their play. It's the bench where P sits alone.

In schools we push the message that everyone is special, and you're great the way you are. Unless you're weird. Then maybe another school would suit you better.

So, no. His life isn't difficult because he's smart. His life is difficult because when you're seven years old, being different is never easy.

Friday, November 27, 2015

OT evaluation

On Wednesday P had an evaluation to see if he needed occupational therapy. I had been somewhat afraid that I would be told that his problems were nothing, and that we should never have requested a referral. Instead, when I told the OT that P had been assessed for occupational therapy through his school system, she said, "He didn't qualify, did he? Yeah, he'll qualify with me." Which on one hand, was nice because he'll get help, but on the other hand I thought, Jeez, he must really be lacking in skills if she's so confident that he needs this.

Yeah, he was lacking.

His core muscles are weak. His joints are weak and floppy. He can't coordinate moving his limbs together, like doing jumping jacks or using both hands to put pennies in a bowl. He has a primitive neck reflex that keeps him from moving his head without turning his body (I've noticed before that he sometimes gives me a certain look out of the corner of his eye when he asks a question - I thought it was a cute mannerism, but it turns out that he just can't move his head). His vestibular system is jacked up, which is maybe why he gets so carsick. His pencil grip is wrong. He seeks sensory input. The whole time I kept thinking, How did I not notice this? How did I not realize he was so far behind?

The nice thing, though, is that she seems to feel confident about his prognosis. She has a plan of attack and she'll give us things to do at home. I feel like we'll see results.

The other interesting thing was that she either picked up very quickly that he was gifted, or she read his chart. Either way, about ten minutes into the evaluation she started talking about very bright kids and the frustration they can experience when motor delays affect their ability to write or do projects. She talked about how bright he was, asked if we were considering enrolling in the local gifted magnet school, and discussed the more academically-centered high schools. When I mentioned that the school seemed to have some difficulty understanding the difference between his physical difficulty with writing and a lack of cognitive ability to write, she rolled her eyes and said that one absolutely did not equate with the other. At the end of the evaluation she said that it would be fun to work with him, and that he was a "great kid."

One one hand it's great that he has an OT that gets him. On the other hand, the people that think that he's gifted but quirky include the team that evaluated him last spring (a psychologist, a special ed teacher, an occupational therapist, a speech therapist, a special ed supervisor, and a social worker), two gifted & talented teachers, a psychologist who reviewed P's records when we were considering a 504 earlier this fall, and now a clinical OT. They all see his strengths and weaknesses as pieces of a larger pattern, a profile of gifted asynchrony that includes both skills to work on and talents to nurture. The deficits don't erase the gifts, and the gifts are awesome.

And yet, his teacher just sees a kid who's basically behind but managed to ace an IQ test. His principal just sees an undiagnosed autistic kid with a mom in denial. I don't know how they can be so entrenched in their opinion in the face of so many dissenting opinions.

Maybe after OT beings to help with the deficits they'll see more of his abilities. I doubt it, but one can hope.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

New books

P's school has started a program where kids get a prize if they read 20 minutes a day. P usually reads like he breathes, which is constantly, so I was really surprised when I had to remind him to do his daily 20 minute readings. Last night I asked him why he wasn't reading as much, and he sighed heavily and said, "I haven't been happy with my reading lately. I've read all of my books and I'm tired of them."

Usually book fairs, book order forms, and trips to the library ensure that we have a steady stream of fresh reading material in our house. It didn't even occur to me that might be a problem...but in thinking on it, we hadn't gotten a book order form until just recently, and things have been too hectic for library visits lately. Sure enough, he was out of books.

I offered to let him read a book online, and I signed into a website that allows teachers to print out leveled reading books. I found an entire section of science books and we sat reading about deep-sea creatures, how different animals have different eyes, and how diamonds are formed. P curled his long, lanky seven-year-old self into my lap and stopped me after every passage to comment or connect it to something he had seen or read elsewhere. Every once in a while he stopped me to say, "That's amazing," or "That's fascinating. Isn't that fascinating?"

What really struck me was that he seemed to unwind and relax before my eyes. It was like he'd had an itch all week and was finally able to scratch it. He loves learning, the voracious consumption of facts. I underestimate that sometimes.

Soon his book order will come. He'll get a book about minerals and another one about how to grow sugar crystals. He'll be so happy.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

OT

On Friday afternoon one of the occupational therapists came to talk to one of my colleagues. I overheard that she sends her kids to one of the schools we're considering for my son, so we got talking about that school, and then about gifted kids, since her two kids are.

I got on a roll about my son's school, and how they think he's a bad writer because of his bad penmanship, and how he should just use an AlphaSmart for typing, and see, this is what they're complaining about, this is his handwriting, as I showed her a photo of his writing my phone. She took it and flinched and said, "Oooh, that's bad."

Now, there's a difference between bad handwriting, and bad enough to make an occupational therapist flinch handwriting. Apparently my son has the latter. She offered me a couple templates of special handwriting paper and a list of community resources for occupational therapists. She also asked some questions...is he clumsy? Does he seem to have trouble with awareness of space? She said gifted kids live inside their heads a lot, and that doesn't lend itself to learning spatial and body awareness. It all makes sense, but it's still weird to hear, "Your child could use occupational therapy," from an actual OT. It makes it seem like something is really wrong.

Part of me is furious because it means that, to an extent, his school was right. Something is wrong. I know I come into school meetings and err on the side of, "He's extremely bright and misunderstood," because I feel like I have to in order to counteract their attitude of, "He's probably autistic and he should go to a different school." Considering occupational therapy is like conceding to their viewpoint. I'm also afraid that if they find out they'll say, "Well, look, he needs extra help. He's obviously special ed. We need to refer him again and make sure he's labeled this time."

Part of me is frightened. I know my son is outside of average, but this is a concrete sign of that. Most kids don't need OT to learn how to write, or put on a coat, or walk without banging into things. If he needs that help it means his brain is not doing something it should be doing. What else won't he be able to learn?

Part of me is embarrassed, because I have friends who have kids with real, diagnosed disabilities who get occupational therapy and physical therapy for an actual, physical reason. Because he has a motor disease. And I just keep thinking, What am I even complaining about? So he can't write clearly or tie his shoes, so what? Seeking out a prescription for OT seems to be akin to saying that I think my son's issues are just as tough as their kids', which isn't true of course. Now, as a speech pathologist I know that's not how therapy is...I see a spectrum of kids ranging from kids who can't speak at all to kids who have a mild stutter. But still, I feel like I'll be laughed out of the OT/PT clinic and my son's troubles will be traced back to my own inadequate parenting.

In the end, regardless of how I feel or what the school thinks I have to do what's best for my son. And that means talking to my husband and our son's pediatrician about whether this is something we need to pursue.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Ships and boats and gifted adults

Since my son was identified as gifted in June I've spent a lot of time reading up and learning about it. And in the process, I've started to see myself more and more in the descriptions of gifted kids. It makes sense...I guess, technically, I'm gifted too.

My dad was a psychologist before he retired. When he was practicing he tested my IQ, and as a grad student he tested the IQs of his parents and siblings. He said that everyone's IQ was clustered in the upper 120s and lower 130s. And if we're using 130 as a clinical cut-off, well, I'm just a couple points above that line. My dad never told me until I was in college and took an IQ test online. My dad commented that he was surprised that the score was accurate. Still, I never really considered myself "smart" because my grades weren't the highest and I struggled with math. Still, knowing what I know now, I think I was gifted. Am gifted, I suppose. It's weird to think about.

People talk about my son and his giftedness like it's an automatic ticket to success and happiness. I wish. I'm not going to lie, being smart has its advantages, and it's not a huge burden to bear like cancer. But it's not always entirely a good thing. Or, at least, it hasn't been for me.

About a week ago I was reading with my son and I found out the difference between ships and boats. Ships go on saltwater, and boats go on inland waterways. I was immediately intrigued by that. I thought back to instances of hearing about boats and ships. Had books and magazines always used the terms correctly? You hear about shipwrecks but never boatwrecks! What about the huge Great Lakes vessels, were those still just boats? What about the Edmund Fitzgerald, was that a boat? Or was it a ship because it could conceivably go on the ocean? COULD it even go on the ocean? It was big enough...wasn't it? Was this boat vs. ship terminology even correct? My mind went on and on and on, playing with this new information.

The next day at work I was eating lunch with my co-workers and during a lull in conversation I almost busted out this new boat vs. ship knowledge but I stopped just in time because NOBODY CARES. And in that moment I felt so sad because this knowledge that I had entertained myself with for a good half an hour was worth absolutely NOTHING to everyone else, and I felt so different. As if everyone else hangs out in this bubble of common interests and thought patterns, and I can sit near it, but not inside.

I know that everyone has interests that they don't discuss except with fellow enthusiasts...people don't discuss their motorcycles at length with people who don't ride, or go over dozens of pictures of their dog when they're with cat people. We all adjust our conversations for the audience. And yet, I feel like I have to do it more. Nobody cares about the tree down my block whose leaves are the exact color of fire, nobody wants to read Wikipedia all day, nobody would stop flipping channels to watch a documentary on ANYTHING, who cares what it is.

I hope my kids don't grow up feeling like they're always on the outside of the bubble.

And for what it's worth Wikipedia refers to the Edmund Fitzgerald as a ship.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Signs

It's only October but I've already put two measures into place to keep my sanity with my son's school situation:

1. Asking my husband to drop him off once or twice a week, so I can have a couple mornings a week where I don't feel sick to my stomach on the way to work because I had to drive away and leave him at that place.

2. Seeking out other schools.

It's still up in the air about whether we'll pull him from his current school this year, but next year it's an absolute. We have to find him someplace else. So far we've had one option and it's been incredibly stressful for me to think about what would happen if he wasn't accepted to that school, but this week we found another school which could be very good for him. And they want him.

It would be awesome to have him in a school that wants him.

I don't believe that God communicates with us constantly via signs. Some people believe that every little occurrence is a sign, and I'm just not on board with it. If I believed that, then last night when the chain snapped on the cross necklace I wear constantly it would be a very bad sign indeed. And yet, I think sometimes signs are real. And I think yesterday I may have gotten one.

Yesterday a colleague of mine called with information about that second school that might be good for my son. It's a neighborhood school, but it's small and high-achieving and they're excited at the prospect of taking on the challenge that is my son...at least so far. Before I started my commute home I left a message for the principal to call me so we can talk. As I drove home there was a mix of sunshine and rain, and as soon as I turned my car east down the street that leads to my house I saw a giant rainbow across the gray sky, and these lyrics came through the stereo speakers:

Howling ghosts they reappear in mountains that are stacked with fear,
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart.

And in the sea that's painted black, creatures lurk below the deck
But you're a king and I'm a lionheart.

And as the world comes to an end, I'll be here to hold your hand
Because you're my king and I'm your lionheart.

Sweet little boy, I'll always fight for you. Someday we'll find a place for you.


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Shut out

Things have gotten a little heated between me and my son's school. I've gotten the message to back off and let one of the district staff act on my son's behalf, and so I will. But before I got that message I had arranged to observe my son's classroom. So, I kept my appointment, even though I felt like it was kind of futile.

So today I spent two and a half hours sitting on the sidelines in my son's room. I saw everything the school says - he doesn't finish his work, he's out of sync, his social skills are behind - and I saw everything that I anticipated - he's bored, he hates the work, he craves conversations about ideas, he loves to read and learn. Once I felt like I had seen enough I quietly thanked the teacher, who was busy with transitioning groups of kids, and walked out. I was supposed to meet with the principal but she was out sick, so I just signed out and left.

More than anything I want an email from my son's school. So, what did you think? What did you see? We want to know your opinion. We want your ideas and knowledge about your son.

What I've gotten so far: silence. And I'll continue to have silence. I know it. Because they only contact me at this point to put out fires or respond to my complaints. It's not a partnership anymore - it's adversarial. So there's no way any of them will call or email or solicit my input at all.

It's surprisingly painful to feel shut out. To know that they have him all day, and that they have negative ideas about him. To see the relationship between my and my daughter's teacher begin to frost around the edges because it's a small school, and they all talk.

I hate it.

I've dealt with adversarial parents before professionally, but I had no idea how much pain was behind their reactions.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

My little boy

I have a little boy, and on the weekends at our house his eyes sparkle.

We say he's spunky and energetic and joyful.

We see that wants to learn and will read voraciously about whatever interests him.

He makes the best stories while we're doing housework and will talk on and on to any adult about the fascinating things he's read.

We admire his passion and drive.

We love how quirky he is and adore the things that make him unique.

We always tell him how much we love him, our little guy.

I have a little boy, and on school days we watch his eyes dull.

His teachers say that he's too active and distracting.

They see that he refuses to care about the topic at hand.

He makes up stories when he should be doing schoolwork and will chatter on inappropriately about irrelevant topics.

They are frustrated by his high emotions and narrow focus.

They sigh about how atypical he is, and they try to correct the things that make him strange.

They always tell him to sit and be still, their little problem child.

I don't want to give him back to them on Monday.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Jealous

This afternoon was unpleasant.

In the building where I work we're all kind of crammed in together, and I share a space with a few other people. I overheard one of my co-workers talking on the phone, helping out a teacher who happened to work at my son's school. This teacher was really concerned about a student of hers and they were talking about the best way to help the kid out.

The whole time I was aching with jealousy. Why couldn't someone be concerned about my kid?

What was so wrong with my kid that people aren't worried about him? I understand that he has challenging behavior sometimes and he doesn't fit into the normal classroom mold. He also can't be slotted into the various Special Education options because, guess what, he's exceptional without being Special Ed. And yet, as much of a pain as it is for the teachers, it's more painful for him.

You have no idea how much it would mean to have someone there do something on his behalf. To look at him and see a kid worth helping instead of a mom worth placating. To realize he's someone special instead of someone weird. I know his teacher has thirty kids to look after, but I wish she could spare some thought and compassion on mine.

This week I'm meeting with the school staff to discuss a learning plan for him. I'm hoping that I'm proven wrong and that there will be wonderful things thoughtfully put in place for him. I hate being jealous.

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Satisfied

Once when P was a little baby I fed him and he fell asleep. He looked so happy and I realized that every single want and need was met. He was fed, warm, safe, and loved. I felt a little bit sad because I knew that as he grew his wants and needs would become more complex, and I might never be able to make him so completely content again.

Tonight, a little over seven years later, P asked if he could have a snack while he read in bed, and I let him have an apple. I offered to put it on his bed for him so he wouldn't have to climb up his bunk bed ladder while he held it, and I got to see him scramble into bed and curl up, almost laughing with joy at being able to snuggle into bed with a book and a snack, fed, warm, safe, and loved once again. His mind has become so much more complex, but for now, a snack and a book satisfies it.

I'm so happy I have more of these opportunities to make him happy.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

The Best Summer Ever

Yesterday we had a department-wide meeting for the department I work for. One odd thing about working in the district that my kids attend in is that there is some overlap between my mom-life and my professional life. I email my kids' teachers from my work account because I can search for their emails in the district directory. I grouse about the new computer system with my kids' teachers at parent-teacher conferences. And yesterday I saw the speech pathologist who evaluated my son for autism, and helped discover that he was gifted.

She asked how his school year was going, and how his summer was. To be honest, it was probably one of the best summers of his life. For the first time we let go of what he "should" be doing - the daily park visits, pool excursions, and tearing around the yard that kids his age usually crave. Instead, we followed the interests of all three kids. We spent so much time in museums and libraries this summer. I also insisted that the kids get outside to get exercise, but for us that walks around the neighborhood or hikes in the woods rather than tearing around a playground. We did spend some playground time and sometimes the kids got into it once we were there, but if they didn't, that's okay.

This summer P was so much happier than he'd been in a long time. And we found that his sensory seeking behaviors and tantrums decreased. Meanwhile he was more outgoing, flexible, and willing to try new things. He blossomed because he was finally spending his days doing what made him happy.

People talk about nurturing their child's gifts. I suppose we should too, for all three of our children. But right now we're just concentrating on making our kids happy. And for all three of our kids that means the voracious consumption of information. Tonight I was sitting with the kids at dinner and asked them what they wanted to do tomorrow (Sunday) and the toddler threw her arms into the air and said, "Moo-see-um!" Both her siblings chimed in with, "Yeah, museum!"

We're not being pushy, we're making them happy.

Monday, August 24, 2015

The kids who don't fit in

Since the start of the school year is upon is, I wrote this on my Facebook page:

Hey teachers and educators, the new school year is starting. As you get to know your new students (and do a hundred other beginning-of-the-year tasks, I know, I know) I ask you to take a couple minutes to consider your weird student. The odd kid. The one who doesn't get along and doesn't fit in, either socially or academically or behaviorally. Perhaps he has a special ed label, or maybe she doesn't and you wish she did. The one who's a pain. That kid.

If that kid is a pain to teach, imagine how painful it is for that kid to learn.

Being the perpetual odd one out is hard. It's a heavy load to carry six hours a day. Think back to the last time you felt left out, and multiply it by 180 days. To you, that kid is inconvenient...to that child, school can be impossible. And don't think that kid doesn't realize it...the girl who can't attend to task, the boy who can't control his outbursts...they know they're different.

So please, try to find the good in "that kid." You believe it's in every kid - it's why you went into teaching, right? Make this year about what he can do instead of pointing out again and again where she doesn't measure up. Maybe this is the year your weird kid can find his place.

I was heartened not only by the people who "liked" it, but the people who shared it. I hope people see it, and that people are willing to raise their fist - or, at the end of a long day, raise a glass - to the kids who don't quite fit in. The kids on the special ed of the spectrum, the gifted end, and everyone in between.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Open House

I got a mass mailing letter from my kids' school today. They're having their Open House before the school year actually begins to allow families to drop off school supplies, meet teachers, and check out classrooms before the school year begins. They're also going to have a meeting about the school's progress, and have a big celebration as they install the new giant art project the students made. They even invited community members who don't have kids at the school, so they can see the great things going on in their neighborhood school.

That letter felt like a punch in the stomach. Because when we all left for the year at the end of last year I was no longer on speaking terms with my kid's teacher, they were complaining about the evaluation that found him gifted (after all, he was so different, it HAD to be a disability!), they had no firm plans about how to accommodate him this year, and I got the definite feeling that their attitude was, "Don't call us, we'll call you (maybe, eventually)."

They want me to celebrate a school that doesn't celebrate my child?

Part of me is holding out hope that I'm wrong. That I'll get to my son's classroom and his teacher will be excited to have him and he'll slide right into the dynamics of the room. And part of me wants to barge right in and demand his rights, to show them my phone with my school board member on speed dial. But being stupidly optimistic or extremely angry won't be a productive way for me to advocate for him. Even though I'm angry and feel slighted by what happened last year, I have to swallow it and get over it so I can be effective for my son.

Sometimes I hate being the mom.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Looking Forward to School

My kids have nineteen days until they go back to school.

My anxiety is in full swing. I'm having nightmares...last night I dreamed that I went to the school's Open House (which occurs a couple days before the official first day of school) and found my son's classroom in an old, abandoned third floor, with acoustic tiles falling from the ceiling, cracks in the walls, and rain being blown through broken windows. The teacher refused to talk to me without her principal present, and for some reason my parents and in-laws were there asking me why the classroom and the school were so bad. When we went to my daughter's classroom we found her teacher had been replaced by a troll who refused to teach because bending down to talk to kindergarteners gave her backaches.

A dream interpreter would have a field day with that symbolism.

During the day I think about school and I feel my chest tighten up. At first I thought it was allergies but now I think it's anxiety.

When I ask my son about school he simply says that he's fine, and then asks how many days of summer vacation he has left. However, once he did say he was looking forward to it because he wanted to learn about animals. I sincerely hope that he gets to do that.

Part of my anxiety is about when and how to approach the teacher. Should I email her now, before school starts? Some teachers are setting up their classrooms next week and might prefer meeting with a parent before they're hit with meetings and kids. My husband thinks we should wait until Open House but it just seems like school is in full swing then with meetings and prep.

I'm an educator. You'd think I could handle this better.

Monday, August 3, 2015

Likewise

Tonight I'm so excited because in two days I'm going to be attending training at my son's school district to become a facilitator for SENG parent discussion groups. I'm excited to meet other parents, excited to learn more about my son's giftedness, and excited because they said there would be mid-morning snacks.

Snacks!

I'm also nervous, though. My son is very bright, but my husband and I just let him meander down his own path. We don't try to direct or funnel his gifts in any way. So instead of being a piano prodigy or a junior scientist, he dives into varied topics, and some of them are very typical for his age. One day he'll be studying evolution, then two weeks later he's watching Minecraft videos with the same intensity. His current obsession is Lego...before that it was therapod dinosaurs, especially spinosaurus. I've read that switching interests like that is typical of gifted kids, but I'm also afraid that the other parents there will have kids who are building working rockets or composing poems.

I'm also afraid that they will be all chatting about how much their kids like school and how successful they are...after all, the parents who are most likely to show up to district volunteer opportunities are the parents who are happy with their kids' school. What if I'm the only one who dreads what the year will bring?

I'm so nervous that I sewed myself a new tote bag to bring to the meeting. Most women would buy a new outfit, but when you sew...this is the type of thing you do. They'll respect me when I come rolling in with this, right? Who wouldn't want to chat with someone whose bag is covered with an adorable Japanese fabric featuring vintage cameras?



Mostly, though, I'm very excited and curious. I can't wait.

Thursday, July 30, 2015

I'll stick with you

A couple days ago my husband and I took all three kids to the wading pool. As we walked up to the pool I heard my son, P, tell my daughter, "Remember, don't go by the middle of the pool where the other kids are."

"Don't tell her that," I protested. "She can go where she wants and go by whoever she wants."

"But the other kids splash too much and it scares me!" P protested.

"Well, then you can play on your own," I said, "but you have to let E make her own friends."

Then E sidled up to P and said quietly, "Don't worry P, I'll stick with you."

This isn't the first time E has sacrificed playing with other kids in favor of playing with P. On the playground she refuses to play with her classmates in the mornings and afternoons because she insists on hanging out with her brother. Truth be told, he doesn't really have other friends and school is stressful for him, so he could probably use the support. However, I know it keeps her from socializing with kids her own age. She mentioned once that she didn't have any friends in her class because they wanted to play with her but not P, and when I said that she should make friends her own age she shrugged and said, "I'm fine with it."

I don't want her to sacrifice her own friendships to support P. Supporting P isn't her job. And yet, sometimes I wonder how much of a sacrifice it is. She and P make up amazing imaginary stories and games with complex rules, and she keeps up with him surprisingly well considering she's two years younger. Maybe she feels that she's more in step with him than she is with kids her own age.

I know that eventually they'll each find their own way. I suppose that in the meantime there are worse things than two siblings who stick with each other.

Friday, July 24, 2015

Drinking

I had each of my kids two to three years apart, so between pregnancy and breastfeeding there wasn't much time for me to have my body to myself. As a result, I stopped drinking. I wasn't a super-heavy drinker before, but I stopped even having a wine cooler on a Saturday night. I lost my tolerance, and drinking wasn't as fun when one bottle of hard lemonade made me loopy. So even after I weaned my toddler, C, I avoided alcohol. I have nothing against it, it just didn't fit well into my life right now.

And then we had P. And P endured this past school year, and at several points throughout the year I thought, This is it. This is the turning point. Here's where it gets better.

And it never did.

And then he went through his special ed evaluation, and had IQ testing, and we found out that he wasn't autistic, but gifted. And again I thought, Okay, now we know what's up. Now we can help him.

But then I started reading blogs and websites about raising gifted kids. I really thought that it would basically be parents saying to each other, "High five! Our kids are brilliant!" But it wasn't...and I quickly found out that P's school experience is not uncommon. And it might not be a one-time experience for him, just a poor fit between student and teacher that would be nothing but a distant memory by next October. This was our life now.

So guess who's back in the alcoholic saddle.

My daughter is fascinated by my "fancy glass that you can use to tap other glasses at fancy dinners." My son informed me that if this was medieval times, I could get put in the pillory for drinking. It's just one glass of wine after the kids are settled in bed, but something tells me that this will be a consistent item on our grocery list every week.

Get used to the sight of it, kids. Little C is only two years old, so we'll have at least sixteen years more of this.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Introductions

Who makes their introductions about eight entries into their blog? Oh yeah, ME.

My name is Christine. I'm a speech pathologist working in a school district. I love my job and I don't know what else I would do with my life. In my spare time I sew, knit (poorly), take photos (very poorly), and blog.

I'm married to a wonderful man named Mike. If you meet him, you'll know where our kids get their smarts. He's a stay at home dad and his hobbies include reading about everything and anything, playing music, and building guitars.

We have three kids.

Our oldest is our son, P. P loves science and building, and on any given week he's completely consumed with...some topic. It varies. Lego, Minecraft, fossils, geology, evolution, astronomy...he's always reading and learning about something. He's also super-quirky.

Or next child is our daughter, E. E is very smart, fiery, headstrong, and can read people like a book. She will be our President someday. Or our dictator. Either way, she'll do a fine job.

Our youngest is a toddler, our daughter, C. C is going to keep up with her siblings at all costs. She will have an awesome time at all costs. She is going to seize the day and wring every drop of joy out of it and then use the day's empty husk as a surfboard. It's hard to be in a bad mood around C.

We also have three cats. Our house is crowded and chaotic but I'm so happy to be a part of this family.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

Before I knew my son was gifted, I didn't think much about gifted education. I acknowledged that sure, gifted kids should be challenged and educated at their ability level, but as far as advocating for that...meh. My professional interests lay in special education, on the other end of the bell curve. My students can't talk, or tie their shoes, or cross the street safely. They need help. Ultimately, wouldn't the smart kids be fine?

I'm starting to realize that the smart kids won't be fine, at least not if their experience is like my son's.

Think back to the last truly boring meeting you had at work. The last boring, mind-numbing meeting. Remember how you felt? Were you frustrated? Even angry?

What if you had to go to that meeting all day, every day?

That is what school is like for my son.

Here's what "gifted" looks like at my house:

It's kid who says he's sick every single morning before school. At first he was just feigning sick, but after awhile he was genuinely feeling ill with anxiety.

It's a kid who cries on Sunday nights at the daunting thought of having another five days at school.

It's a kid who has no close friends because none of his interests overlap with kids his age.

It's a kid whose emotions are so strong that he sometimes gets swept up and acts out, and at the time he's feeling the most vulnerable and out of control, all his teachers do is punish, yell, or send him into the coatroom.

It's a kid who is chosen last. Always. For everything.

It's a kid who can't show his best abilities because he can't do his work exactly like his teacher says.

It's feeling my stomach sink whenever my phone at work rings because I'm afraid it's his principal calling again.

It's analyzing every single communication I have with the school because, at this point, things are so contentious that I hesitate to email or call for something as benign as birthday treats or asking if the nurse can give medication.

It's clocking more hours sitting in meetings with my kid's principal than in meetings with my own school administrators.

It's my kid spending one session with a Gifted & Talented itinerant teacher, and suddenly he's skipping off to school eagerly looking forward to their next session.

I hate it and it's unfair. And suddenly, I'm much more in favor of gifted education than I ever was.

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Right question, wrong time

It's 9:30 PM.

Me, to son: You have to go to sleep. Seriously. It's late. No more questions.
Son: Okay Mom. (nanosecond pause) Hey Mom?
Me: Can this wait until morning?
Son: No.
Me: Okay, what is it?
Son: How is it that water can put out fire, when fire burns grass, and grass can stand up to water?
Me: (trying not to bang head into wall)

I did explain it to him. This is something I struggle with as a parent. He says things that are so insightful, so delightfully bright, but at the wrong time. Like when he should be going to sleep. Or during class. Or while I'm explaining why he should clean his room. And I want to recognize his intelligence and revel in it a bit (because, honestly, it's really a fun part of parenting him), but at the same time I want to recognize that his timing is inappropriate. I want to foster and encourage his inquiry, but I also want him to be able to navigate and get along in a world that isn't enchanted by his intellect.

I also want him to go to sleep by 9:30 PM, because by that time, I am ready to be off the parenting clock and curling up with some ice cream and mindless TV.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Life is Weird

This evening I was skimming an article on recombinant DNA before handing it off to my son to read. I wanted to make sure it didn't have anything about sexual reproduction because, after all, he's barely seven years old.

Then I realized that not many parents of seven-year-olds are worried about the sexual content of articles about DNA. TV shows or comic books, maybe. But not so much this.

Our life is weird.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Through another lens

Last summer I got together on a regular basis with a friend of mine whose son is five months younger than mine. Both boys were different and quirky and needed social skills, so play dates seemed like a good idea. The boys liked each other, but both kids seemed more fixated on their preferred activity than on playing with one another. Still, the play dates were successful enough that we decided to try it again this summer.

Yesterday was the first of our play dates for the season. We took the kids to the park and the boys ran around for about half an hour before going their separate ways. I did feel bad because my friend's son kept trying to engage my son, but my kid would inevitably wander off. I used to feel terrible about this...why won't my kid play? Why can't he interact with another kid? Why did he have to be rude? Can't he just go along with this for a while? And, the most unsettling thought...what's wrong with him?

Now, I see it through a different lens. My friend's son is a typical kid. He wants to run as fast as he can, to climb the monkey bars, to push sand into a pile. My son wants to sift through rocks until he finds a fossil, to pretend to be augustasaurus babies swimming in the ocean, to make a replica of the Great Pyramids with sand. It's not that he's bad, it's that his interests are so different than his friend's that they have difficulty interacting.

I have difficulty finding things to talk about with some adults I know. Why would it be any different for a kid?

It's a big shift to start seeing my son's behavior as a difference rather than a deficit.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Why a rhombus peg?

A while back I was talking with one of my friends about my son's difficulties in school, and I said that he was just a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

"No," she said, "he's a unique, spiky, star-shaped peg trying to fit into a round hole."

That's not a bad comparison. He's not a square kid, where if you sand off the corners he could be jammed into a regular education program reasonably well. We've been trying that approach. He's a kid that would require significant alterations to fit into that space we designate as "normal."

For the name of this blog, though, I chose "rhombus" for two reasons. One, I liked the alliteration* of "rhombus" and "round." But the other, bigger reason is that when my son was in K4 he came home with a worksheet he had done about shapes. I was talking to him about the shapes, and I pointed out the diamond.

"That's not a diamond," he said impatiently, "that's a rhombus."

Well, pin a rose on your nose, boy. Back in my day we called it a diamond.

For a long time after that I had a sort of a mental block about the rhombus. For the life of me, I couldn't remember what shape it was. My son was so exasperated with me. It wasn't the first time he knew something that I didn't - his tool phase and dinosaur phase took care of that - but for some reason, it really bothered me. I suppose that's because I pride myself on maintaining at least an early-elementary level of mathematical ability, and this was proving me wrong.

Anyway, it suits him. Although I hope that eventually we get to the point where he's able to settle into a space that's better shaped to fit his needs.


* alliteration is one of my older daughter's favorite terms right now. She thought they called it "alliteration" because "that one sound is littered through the whole sentence." So cute.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Don't brag about it

Things have been a little slow at work lately, and recently one of my co-workers caught me perusing a book.

"What's it about?" she asked. I had it flat on my desk, so the cover was face-down.

"Parenting," I hedged.

"Is it about how to parent a genius?" another co-worker teased.

"It's not," I said. Technically it was about gifted kids, who aren't really geniuses. Loophole.

"I just believe that no matter how old your children are, it's never too late to learn how much your parenting has screwed them up," I said with a grin, flipping the book closed and shoving it into my bag. "Maybe it's not too late to undo some of the damage."

In reality, my son has been diagnosed as "gifted" for less than a month and I feel like it's already changing things with my friends. They've started saying things like, "My kid is smart...but not, like, YOUR KID smart, just regular smart." When he was labeled I wanted to shout it to everyone...he had been the problem child at school all year long, but here it was in black and white, a measure of just how awesome he was, how strong he was! But I quickly saw that instead of letting people into my joy, it drew a boundary. My friends were happy for me, to be sure, but now things are a little...different. A little weird.

So now I soft-pedal it a bit. Whenever I bring up how bright he is, I also bring up an anecdote where he was absent-minded, like the time he put his coat on upside-down and didn't notice. My friends talk about how many baseball hits or soccer goals their kids get, or how much they're progressing in their classes, and they all have that moment of mama-glow pride.

My kid has this one strength, and I feel like I have to hide it.

Don't think that I'm complaining or losing sight of the fact that my kid's intelligence is an amazing blessing. I just wish sometimes that I didn't have to hide it.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

And so it began

First grade was not kind to my son.

My son had always been a quirky kid. He was different. By the age of two he had developed a full-fledged obsession with tools. By three he was watching DIY Network the way other kids watched cartoons. He slept with an electric drill (bit removed, of course, because that's just responsible parenting). At four, when his classmates in four-year-old kindergarten were drawing pictures of their families he was drawing houses, with wires connecting a power source, such as a wind turbine, with an electric device, like a lamp. At five he wanted to do nothing except read about robots.

He also had sensory quirks. He would cover his ears and scream at loud noises. He walked on his tiptoes. He hated sweaters. I'm a speech-language pathologist who has worked with many, many kids with autism over the years, and though he seemed pretty quirky, he didn't seem quite autistic to me.

So, I vigorously defended him against anyone who suggested autism. He was shy, quirky, bright, but not autistic. When his school started to put pressure on me to have him evaluated for special education his pediatrician was furious. "What do they think they'll find out? That he's quirky? There's no DSM-V diagnosis for quirky!"

And yet, by March, his teacher and principal had had enough of his meltdowns and noncompliance in the classroom. I'd had enough of him crying at night because he hated school, or having stomachaches every morning at the thought of having to go there. Maybe I was in denial...maybe he did have a disability.

I signed off on the consent forms angrily. We were looking at autism, OHI for ADHD, and IQ. In my district we don't normally test for IQ, but I had seen too many high school students with normal IQs and low achievement after years of watered-down curriculum and lowered expectations. If the district did put him in special education I wanted proof that my son was bright enough to handle normal work, so I insisted that we look at his IQ.

Imagine my shock when I found out that he was not just bright...he was gifted. His IQ met the threshold for gifted and blew right past it. He wasn't autistic, he didn't have ADHD, his quirks and intensity and obsessions and behaviors were all the result of being gifted.

His teacher didn't know anything about gifted students. But, she was furious. She dug into her position and insisted that he had a disability.

I didn't know anything about gifted students. But, I jumped into the world of giftedness and started learning as fast as I could. And the more I learned, the more grateful I became that I had finally found a world where my son was normal.

I'm still learning. And I want to share what I learn here so other people can learn from it too.