Friday, October 8, 2010

What my kid can do that your kid can't

So I posted today on Facebook that I love Fridays because John knows he gets to play video games after school so he gets up and starts working before I even get out of bed. I listened to a webinar yesterday about the lies that homeschooling moms believe. One lie is that no one else has the troubles they have and everyone else's children are further ahead. Facebook can exacerbate the problem when people are posting about their wonderful vacations and children's progress.

I realized very quickly that I tend to post only the good stuff. I'll have you know that our struggles in parenthood and fosterparenthood have been harrowing. I am THRILLED when good stuff happens and I have to share it with someone because I'm so excited. I focus on what's good because that gets me through the day.

Let me give you some history. John spent 8 months in the foster care system before we met him. During that time, one social worker indicated that he was in more than 20 homes though the record states it is less. John has been diagnosed and treated for Reactive Attachment Disorder and Bipolar Disorder.

Despite my hippie biases against pharmaceutical intervention, my boy takes very a powerful atypical antipsychotic and lithium each day. There are side effects both short term and long term that make my head spin but we opted for something that would limit his tendency to unstrap his seat belt and beat me with objects while I am driving. He once covered my eyes while I was driving because I told him he was going to have to eat dinner before dessert. (Which was always the case.) Then there were the two times he tried to get out of a moving car because he was so desperately angry.

I've had the police called because I was restraining him while taking him out of a store to keep him from hurting himself and me. I told him to stop climbing on the furniture in the store or he would need to ride in the grocery cart. Then he tried to pull a glass shelved baker's rack over on top of himself. He's told me before that he wanted to hurt me with a knife and that he wanted to hurt himself with a knife. He was mean to the cat. Simple disappointments or overstimulation would lead to rages that lasted for hours.

I've requested police assistance and he has run and hidden from them. One policeman kindly suggested I might consider medication for him. Yeah, well, the one he was on was being weaned down because he'd been stable and we wanted him on as few medications as possible. The doctors and I now refer to that medication as the "anti-police" drug. We don't need police intervention when he's on it.

And trust me, it isn't a matter of consistency. Theo's grandmother once noted, "Why does he behave like that? Throwing fits? He knows they never give in."

He's had imaginary friends that we eventually realized were visual hallucinations. He had days and weeks at age 5 that involved him rocking, staring out the window and crying all day. He's had times where I've woken up at three in the morning to find him doing experiments involving light bulbs. He once decided to build a ray gun by sticking metal wires into an electrical outlet. And there are other issues I'm very reluctant to talk about in public.

To say there have been dark times would be a grave understatement. There have been prayers upon prayers. I've read so many books on raising boys and overstimulated children and on bonding and attachments and Bipolar. I've literally loaned out enough of those books to other mothers in need that I could be considered a public library. I take what works and move on.

Frequently, what works only works for a while because this isn't behavior related. It is a mood disorder. It isn't based on rationality. Behavioral intervention works when people are actually making decisions. Nearly anything would send him into a panic. Flight or fight isn't really a decision, it's an instinct. We've done bonding activities that have offered some help to calm him down. By the way, there are plenty of books out there about what to do if your child is being bullied but I found nothing about what to do if your child was the bully.

When John wasn't panicking he was a well-behaved and very reasonable child. That's why it was so hard to watch him go through this. I only once experienced that kind of rage where my eyes turned dark and I could feel myself detach from my senses. It was during one of these dark periods of John's severe instability and I had just experienced my first miscarriage. There was no thinking. There was only anger and then there was extreme embarrassment and guilt afterwards. My John used to experience that rage within himself daily.

Medication staved off the worst of the worst of the symptoms but I still had never seen him stable. Then an answer to prayer came when we agreed to change our diets. It wasn't with the idea of helping his Bipolar, it was seriously where we were led by God. Within three weeks we saw him stable for the first time ever. Nevermind that I had asked numerous health professionals about nutrition and they all said, "Well, it won't hurt him but it won't make any difference in his behavior. I'm very pleased to say that they were wrong.

As his moods settled it became evident that some of the struggles John had with learning weren't all related to mood. After great efforts at home (I am a trained special educator, afterall) we finally decided to get some testing. Turns out that John's written expression skills and visual motor coordination are in the .2 percentile. To help you grasp that concept, I'll say that at that time, my 10 year old boy and my 3 year old girl could have drawn pictures and you wouldn't have been able to guess which one was the artist. It was handy in that it reinforced my decisions to have him answer me verbally in most subjects and to eschew cursive handwriting for typing.

But how do I get from the picture I've painted here, to the amazing, confident, well-balanced boy I'm getting to know today? There have been a lot of little helps and strategies and medications and good whole foods that have helped but I'm going to have to answer with a big I. DON'T. KNOW. But recently, I'm starting to have some suspicions.

Despite using myriad phonics programs and my own adapted reading plans and timed fluency exercises, my fifth grader was struggling to read at a second grade level this spring. And we were happy because that was progress. He was two and a half years behind in math. It was hard to get him to write his name more than once a day.

Yet, suddenly, he'll be only a year behind in math by Christmas and he's typing 9 words per minute and starting to write paragraphs on paper. And he's blasted past a fifth grade reading level to being able to comprehend and tackle pretty much any popular fiction on the shelf.

I wasn't sure if he was understanding a book he's been reading this week but he answered all the comprehension questions I could throw at him. I still thought that he might be getting the big concepts but not technically some of the words. Those thoughts were proven false when I started to read a chapter aloud to him last night and he indicated he had read to a certain point by saying, "Start here, Mom, where it says 'He abruptly...'".

Oh.... ABRUPTLY.... nevermind.

Let's not forget he's mostly a cooperative, normal 11-year-old boy. He has his moments which need correction. He still occasionally panics. But I now have a young man who gets up early on Friday to complete his school work as fast as he can, most of it independently. He used to go into hysterics when he just knew we were going to start anything challenging. He does his own laundry and is a huge contributing member of our family. His obsessive compulsiveness is well under control. He's a pleasure to be around. He does spat with his sister.... Oh wait, that's normal! :D

I thank God as I contemplate where John is now. And I remember a few books I read by Raymond Moore which highlighted studies that said boys specifically (it happens earlier in girls) reach some sort of developmental coordination around the age of 10-12. He said you could basically give a child no formal education up to that time and they could easily then catch up to their peers within six months. I nodded my head at the concept and felt pressured to pressure an education on my sick son.

I've done nothing new educationally in the last six months but to keep moving ahead with him at his own pace. But that pace has drastically accelerated. I think he's suddenly developmentally ready. I realize the One who made him, designed him well. It's hard in our society, but we really do need to lovingly and tenderly wait. Through no greatness of our own, our children will become who they are meant to be.

We can't teach them to walk but we can clap our hands when they try. We can pick them up and encourage them when they fall. They grow and learn, we've just got to love them, feed them, and present them with the next challenge. Be gentle on your children and yourself. They are individuals made by God. He put your family together and has equipped you to meet their needs. So let's stop comparing them.


JeniferRiddle said...

Oh the vast amounts of love coming your way. You shine, my friend.

Anonymous said...

I'm a better guy for knowing you and your family. Thanks for the parenting lesson. :-)

Jennifer Connell said...

God knew (as always!) exactly what He was doing when He sent John Raymond to your family. Girl, good for you sharing the dark times. That it REAL, and "real" helps other people grow. Love you, sister!