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.