Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Struggle is Real


I am not a scientist or a medical doctor. I don’t even play one on tv.  My husband is a doctor, but he is not a psychologist, psychiatrist, or pediatrician.  So much of what we know about ADHD comes from first hand experience in our very own home since about 1995 when it first began to rear its adorable head in our eldest spawn. 

I did not always, but now firmly believe that ADHD is a real neurological disorder or brain difference. I can find plenty of evidence to support that, as in actual bona fide peer reviewed academic research that proves that children and adults with the hallmark traits of ADHD have observable variations in the frontal lobe which cause problems with focus and attention (not a lack of it, but inability to pay it to the thing they’re supposed to at any given moment), impulse control, and hyperactivity.  This cluster of traits affects everything from learning to lack of awareness of their own body in space to ability to make friends and maintain relationships.  Recent studies even suggest that people with ADHD have weak eye muscles and too much histamine. Huh. Funny how my one son wears corrective lenses for weak eye muscles and regularly breaks out in hives. 

If you want to believe that it is not a real thing and that all these children and adults need is more discipline or play less video games, well, there is just no talking to you. It’s true that you can find experts out there who will back you up on your skepticism. It is widely believed that ADHD is overdiagnosed and overmedicated. This is probably right, but doesn’t mean that ADHD doesn’t exist at all. If you believe it is not real, obviously you don’t live at my house.  I suspect that is the viewpoint of someone who has not seen it up close. These unbelievers have not watched students in the classroom or a spouse or their own child suffer because of this allegedly made up problem. 

ADHD tends to be familial, connected to a gene passed down from fathers to sons primarily, but girls are also sometimes the proud recipient of the family legacy.
I’m sounding negative. I don’t mean to . There are also some very cool things about the people in my life who have ADHD. 
Here are a few:

Creative
Fun
Engaging
Intuitive
Empathetic
Curious
Barrel of laughs

I’m feeling defensive about it today because of how it leaves my boys often left out of things.  Other kids tolerate them, but they end up spending a lot of time alone.  Naturally fitting in doesn't happen. Kids with ADHD are intense, driven, and sometimes blurt out the very first thing that pops into their heads with no regard to whether that thing should be spoken aloud.  They have a tendency to put other kids and adults off. 
It’s hard to see your people who you love suffer and feel isolated.  Having others suggest that it’s because of bad parenting just makes it worse. I even had a good friend tell me that she just thinks one of our sons difficulties are caused not because of his diagnosed ADHD but because he is "weird...because, you know, you guys are weird." 
People.
*Sigh*
What are you gonna do.


Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Reflection

I'm neck deep now in this online class for renewing my teacher license. I should finish up this week if I don't keep getting distracted by Facebook and blogging and laundry and childrearing and such.  Today's five hour chunk was about technology in the 21st century and about how teachers are no longer the dispensers of all knowledge and the "experts". They are rather the lead-learner. Their job is to guide the students in collaborative learning activities that seek to synthesize and curate the vast amounts of information available on any given topic. The content of state standards are addressed and lessons designed by the teacher, but the methods are far different now. It's very exciting if done right, I think. So many get it entirely wrong, especially when it comes to accommodating all learners. I digress.
One of the quotes I ran across today was from American philosopher, psychologist, and educational reformer John Dewey: "We do not learn from experience...we learn from reflecting on experience."
So true.  Maybe that's why I like blogging.  It's not enough just to go through life experiencing it all. To make sense of it, we have to reflect on it. So welcome to my reflection space since 2005. It may not make any sense to anyone but me, but here it is.

Tuesday, February 02, 2016

Wherein An Old Lady Ponders Her Worth in the Work World

I taught 8th grade Language Arts for six years back in the 90's. That feels like a whole lifetime ago. Kids haven't changed much, but education surely has. For one thing, standardized tests existed, of course, but not like today. I remember taking them when I was a kid back in the dark ages. A big deal was not made of them. You wanted to pass, and I'm sure the percentage of students passing was some sort of reflection on the school, but the stakes were not anywhere in the vicinity as high as they are these days. Teacher salaries were in no way tied. When I finished teaching in 1997, ISTEP scores were the business of the students and their parents. In the six years I taught, I never knew whether my students passed or not. It was never talked about. We did not do ISTEP reviews,  and we did not eat/sleep/live for the almighty standardized test.  Another difference seems to be the method of imparting information has shifted from an emphasis on lecture to self-learning. The teacher is to be thought of more as a "guide on the side" rather than a "sage on the stage."

I am currently taking online classes to renew my license, which is for grades 5-12 Language Arts/English. I've never taught high school, but open to it. I am told I will be offered an interview late this month or early next month for an opening at the middle school that our boys will attend next year. The job is teaching 7th and 8th grade Language Arts and Composition.  I am both excited and nervous about taking this on for so many reasons, if the interview turns into a job offer which turns into me being a teacher again come August.  I will have to be brought way up to speed on some of the tech requirements. I'm not completely helpless, but neither am I completely confident. Our school is almost completely paperless, using iPads and smart boards instead of text books and paper and pencil. Assignments are given using apps like eBackback or Evernote and turned in digitally, graded and returned, all online.  It's actually an exciting time to be in education because the whole world is at your fingertips. Gone are the days of signing up for a TV cart with a VCR in the AV room and hoping one is free the day you need it.  Now if a teacher wants to show a quick clip of something in the classroom, as long as it can be found somewhere on the internets, it can be immediately shared with students on the smart board.  Voila. Resources are limitless.

I recently heard a veteran teacher who I know to be excellent--conscientious, effective, and always learning and trying new ways to reach her students--disclose the fact that she experiences heavy doses of self-doubt. She lives in fear that she'll be discovered and outed as being sub-par and run out of town on a rail. It's so ridiculous! She's fantastic and everyone knows this! She's one of the most respected teachers I know of in our school.  I wonder if all of us just feel sort of not up to the task, whether it be as professionals or as parents or any of the other roles we play in life. Do any of us really get up every day free of any shred of self-doubt? Do all feel it but most of us just don't talk about it or admit it?  I was surprised to hear this particular teacher say it. Who'd have imagined that SHE, the teacher others want to emulate, would wonder whether she is good enough and fear others finding out that she's just an impostor.  Then I watched that documentary, The History of the Eagles (which by the way was fascinating and you should absolutely watch it if you are a fan), and heard Don Henley admit to doubting whether he was good enough and whether or not they deserved the fame and success that they achieved as a band when so many others were just as talented and whether a lot of it didn't just amount to luck and being at the right place at the right time and knowing the right people. Huh. Anyway, got me thinking about how maybe all of us think this way and how most of us just don't admit it but rather try to put out a confident and self-assured vibe to the world, a Fake -it -till-you-make-it sort of thing.  As for me, I won't hide it. I'm not so sure about my abilities in anything.  My eagerness to try and high threshold for embarrassment at this point are the best things I've got going for me.


Wednesday, January 27, 2016

First Transition Meeting

Last Friday a team of 9 people sat down to begin talking about Jude's transition to middle school.  I was pretty nervous about it because my husband was unable to be there and so it felt like a lot of pressure all on me. Turned out though that I didn't have to say a lot. The special ed teacher ran the meeting. She is a true advocate for Jude, for inclusion, and is a personal friend of mine, so we were in good hands.  She and Jude's general education 5th grade teacher said some very nice things about how far Jude has come academically, socially, and behaviorally and they also were truthful about his continuing struggles.  It is important to give a full picture to the staff at the MS so they can adequately prepare with eyes wide open and feet set. They can appear pretty cavalier at times, with reassuring, "Oh, yeah. We've GOT this!" but they don't even know the first thing about Jude.

In our district, children with more involved special needs have traditionally been sent to another school a few miles south in an entirely different district because our special needs co-op served two counties and they would pool resources in once school to save money.  This was the case up until a few years ago when the co-op dissolved and each district became responsible for its own students. So it is no exaggeration to say that since its inception in 1968, our middle school and high school has not seen the likes of Jude. They think they know, but they don't know.  They don't know that even though he will be a sixth grader working on letter sounds and kindergarten reading and plus 1, we will want him to be included in the general education setting with an aide and modifications.  They don't know that he is still a flight risk who will need dedicated eyes on him every second of the day.  They don't know that when he gets frustrated, he still has the rare tendency to hit or throw or kick or spit. They don't know that very rarely he can get overstimulated and experience an acute stress reaction that looks like a panic attack: sweating, pulse racing, pupils dilated--a true fight or flight reaction that just takes gentle soothing and time to recover from.  They don't know the first thing about his AAC communication device that he uses daily.
They also don't know that he has grown leaps and bounds since just this year in terms of his willingness to communicate verbally and to slow down and say things a second time if he is not understood the first time.  They don't know that he used to have days with as many as 20-30 unwanted aggressive behaviors and last quarter he had exactly 0.  They don't know how sweet he can be and how funny.  They don't realize that he is as complicated a person as any other child they have entering their building next year. He is not his diagnosis nor is he defined by his limitations.  His potential is unknown. We want the bar held high for expectations and see where he can go.
It's an exciting and fearful time.
We'll have a couple more transition meetings this spring to hammer out exact minutes for services on his IEP, a training session for his AAC, and at least a couple of tours of the middle school building with Jude.  Oh, boy. We'd better all brace because it's coming!


Thursday, January 21, 2016

The Education of the Spawn

The education of the kids has always been an area of great concern for me, and each one of them has had their own challenges. There has been no easy button in our home when it came to learning.

Chloe has probably had the easiest time of it at school because she was free of disability and was generally the kind of student that fits well into the intstitutional setting.  A pleaser, she paid attention, met or exceeded expectations, and had a natural curiosity that was not killed by the sometimes mind-numbing boredom of a traditional school day. During the early elementary years, had our school had a "gifted" program, Chloe probably would have been a good candidate. In second grade at the beginning of the year, her teacher sent home a report saying that Chloe had tested at reading at the 8th grade reading level and added "above grade level" in the comments section. After Christmas, she sent another report home. Chloe had been tested again and this time in the comments section it read simply, "WAY above grade level." So the trick was finding bookts for her to read (devour) that were challenging to her but still appropriate for a second grader. Keeping her engaged was no small matter.  That was the year we welcomed our twins, Simon and Jude, into the family.  Our attention to things beyond basic survival may have waned just a bit that year. Chloe used to beg me to homeschool her and I really regret that I didn't do it. I'm not sure I would have done her justice at home either during those trying times, but it couldn't have been worse. Her third grade teacher didn't know what to do with her, so she sat her at a separate table in the back of the room with a student with learning disabilities who was performing well below grade level and had them each work on projects independently.  She basically just sat back there and read books all year with the occasional math lesson thrown in.

Jacob had a rough schooling experience as well.  From about age 3 on, the complaints began from preschool teachers about his impulsive behavior and inattention.  Since he was our first, I had no frame of reference. I thought he was just being a typical boy and that mountains were being made of molehills.  After two more preschool teachers confirmed that his behavior was outside of what would be expected of even the most energetic and rambunctious young boy, we started to believe it.  When his first grade teacher began calling home weekly, sometimes tearfully, about Jacob's disruptive behavior, inattention, and failure to learn, we decided to seek help.  This is not to mention the fact that Jacob was clearly a very smart boy. From the time he could speak, he was telling all who would listen every fact known to man about ladybugs, dinosaurs, rocks, or whatever the obsessive interest of the month. Yet he couldn't seem to learn to read or do any sort of simple math.  It didn't make sense to us or to him. He'd come home in tears saying, "I don't understand why I can't learn. I know I'm smart." Indeed. So we took Jacob to a child psychologist and put him through all the paces of testing and not surprisingly, he was diagnosed at age 7 with ADHD.  We started him on Ritalin, and it was like a miracle. I know it's controversial and you can know that we agonized over handing our little kid a drug every morning that was messing with his brain chemistry. *However* Overnight he was able to focus, he began reading, and he stopped getting into trouble because of his interruptions, rude outbursts, and hanging from the chandeliers.  When Jacob was in 4th grade, he ran into trouble at school once again with a teacher who did not at all find him charming and who sent home notes written to me in red pen about his numerous infractions each day followed by ten exclamation points and signed with frowny faces.  Yes, really.  I should have talked with her more, talked with the principal, intervened. But Jacob was so unhappy and I was surrounded at the time by a number of friends who were successfully homeschooling, so at semester break I just didn't send him back.  I bought some used homeschooling books and with little advance planning or really even much of a gameplan, we began our brief stint of a homeschooling experiment. Having been deeply "schooled" myself as a student and as a teacher, I couldn't break out of the mindset of a traditional school day. What Jake and I basically did was school at home.  The upside was that he got out of a bad situation with a nasty teacher who actually seemed to hate him (she was fired at the end of the year. Turns out she sucked!), we were done most days by around noon, and it gave me an up close and personal view into his ADHD mind.
 I know there are those who still don't think ADHD is a thing. I may have even been one of those skeptics at one time.  When we began homeschooling, we decided to discontinue Jake's Ritalin. How distracted could he possibly be with just the two of us?  Well, how wrong we were. Jake didn't need a classroom full of kids to be distracted. His problems were in his own head. He had a million thoughts swirling around in there all the damn time, so much so that since the time he was tiny he would cry at night for not being able to fall asleep because he couldn't shut his mind off.  He has described the situation in his noggin as not so much being not able to pay attention, as paying attention to EVERYTHING and not being able to focus on any one thing at a time.  If ever I was not a believer, I was then.  The struggle was very, very real.  Jake quit taking medication when he was in middle school. He didn't like how it made him feel or the fact that his appetite wasn't great and by that time he was trying to bulk up for sports.  It was his choice to make by that age. His grades did suffer and to this day he struggles with insomnia, focus and attention, and time management.  He's getting ready to graduate from college with a double major in Biology and Psychology and a minor in chemistry. Yesterday he took the GRE and did very well. His interest in science has been a constant throughout his life. He's interested in research and has already been involved in several labs on campus and will have his name listed as first author on a paper which has been submitted for publication this spring.  So, he's doing great. But he still has no idea where he left his keys, his wallet, where he parked his car, or what time it is.

Simon is so like Jacob is so many ways that it's hilarious.  Diagnosed with ADHD in 4th grade. Medicated and currently in therapy to help with strategies for success in school and in life.  Therapy is something I never tried with the older two that I wish I had. I mean, really. After attending their little brother's funeral at the tender ages of 4 and 7, maybe we should have considered the life-long effect such a tragedy might have had.  We attended a program for a year and a half as a family, but probably wouldn't have hurt for Jake and Chloe to have had a safe place outside home to talk things over.  Anyway, I thought with Simon having a twin brother with Down syndrome as well as a learning difference of his own, it might not hurt for him to have someone to talk with who isn't mom or dad and who is trained in such matters.

Meanwhile, Jude is continuing to blaze trails at our small rural school in terms of what it looks like to include a student in the general education classroom who is well below grade level and who is largely non-verbal.  It's blowing some minds, I tell you.  And yet, it's working. This is the best year he's had at school by far. He has grown up a lot and many of the behaviors (running, kicking, throwing, hitting, spitting) that we dealt with in the past just seem to not be as awesome for him to do anymore. Also, he is included in his 5th grade classroom for most of his day.  He is pulled out for a brief communication group a few times a week with other students in the school who use AAC devices, and he still gets pulled out periodically for speech therapy and OT, but for the most part he is a student in Miss. J's 5th grade classroom and he has made leaps and bounds of progress this year as a result.  He is talking more  (and more clearly), he is excited to participate and be a full member of the class,  he is an emerging reader finally, and he's beginning to get beyond just counting and starting to learn about adding and counting money.  Tomorrow we have a meeting, the first of several, with the middle school staff to begin the conversation about transitioning Jude to middle school. I'm super nervous about it for several reasons...fodder for another blog post.  I'm headed out in a minute to go buy some fancy snacks to share at the meeting tomorrow, you know, to butter them up.  A spoon full of sugar helps the medicine of full inclusion go down, I always say.




Monday, January 18, 2016

State of Faith Address

Not that you asked, but a moment to reflect on the current state of my veryownpersonal faith is probably overdue.  It's been a popular blog topic of mine over the years because I seem to always find God so gosh darn unfathomable.  Not a thing has changed in that regard. I remain flummoxed and suspect ever will be.  The new and improved part though is that the perpetual bewilderment no longer bothers me.  In fact, I have come to embrace the mystery as being all part of the experience.  How would or could I or any other human being understand a concept as large as God? Sometimes I think there is an actual deity who is responsible for all of life on this planet and any others, and who I will meet someday in whatever afterlife awaits.  Other times, I think God is the goodness that exists inside each one of us. Sometimes I think this life is all there is.  I feel a sense of wonder at all of it and do not feel hopeless at the prospect of a finite life. It only makes me want to dig in deeper to appreciate each day, each breath, and live well to honor those I love.
I used to get in a twist about what I considered to be a narrow religious view that I was taught as a child.  Now I'm grateful that I was brought up thinking about God and always considering life's meaning.  Socrates is credited with the saying, "the unexamined life is not worth living." Well, no danger here. I examine the crap out of it.  I respect the fact that we are all on our own journeys to make meaning of our 80 or so years of life (if we are very lucky), and when God helps one make sense of the journey, then why not?
As you can see, Blog, I have uncinched quite a bit over time.  Thank goodness.  All that cinching was getting so exhausting.


Sunday, January 10, 2016

2016

Well hello, Blog. It has really been quite a while, hasn't it? Let's reflect on the past year and look forward. It'll be fun.
I confess to losing some interest in you, Blog. My last post here was about an exit interview we planned to have with our oldest son which never happened. We just sort of never got around to it and before we knew it, the holiday break was over and he was back off to college.  We talked about doing it this year. I had my list of questions ready to go when my husband started to express some doubt that this was such a good idea.  The purpose of the conversation we would have was to debrief a  child's experience of growing up in the home.  The idea was developed by a family therapist who felt the exercise would be beneficial in getting it all out on the table--the good, the bad, and the ugly. My loving husband, having met me, knew that carrying crushing guilt is my special gift. He predicted that because of the nature of the questions and the possibility of things being said, no matter how tactfully, about our perceived shortcomings that I might dwell on said things to an unnatural degree on a level that in all of human history, I alone have ever been able to attain. I knew he was right.  I mean, we did the best we could at every step of the way and Jacob could always work out unrealized wounds from his childhood with his therapist on down the road and we would still be able to sleep at night. The truth is, we just don't have to say everything to each other.
After that, I just didn't feel inspired to write anything. After that, I started long-term subbing at the boys' elementary school everyday in the special education department. I learned a lot and enjoyed the experience more than I ever would have expected. I loved being part of the staff, working with the kids, and staying busy and getting out of my own head for a while. Plus it kept me off the streets and out of the meth lab if for only a short time. I was finished with my stint right before Christmas.

In other news of 2015, Jacob entered his last year of college. He is expected to graduate in May with a degree in Biology, Psychology and a minor in Chemistry.  He has a wonderful girlfriend who is very sweet and tall and also he has a thoroughly annoying Chihuahua mix named Carter. What lies ahead for him is as yet undetermined.  Chloe gave her keynote address at her high school graduation and began college this year. She is pursuing a bachelor of fine arts in musical theater and loving every bit of it. She also has a wonderful boyfriend, also very sweet and tall. Simon has become quite the techy guru and collector of vintage gaming and other gadgets.  Jude has begun talking much more and more clearly and has also begun reading.  2015 has been a year of great growth for all our kids. I am so proud of each of them. They are my heart. They are all still working so many things out, as am I.
 

2016 would have been the year that Seth graduated from high school. He'd have turned 18 in April. So strange to think of him grown up.  Some years are harder than other on that front. This one hurts a little more than others in the recent past, but we persevere.  We cling a little more tightly to each other. We talk about the past and remember, but what really holds us together is dreaming about the future.  This summer we will celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary. We enjoy the fact that as we get older, we are more comfortable with ourselves and care less about what others think.  We stop chasing people. We are endlessly grateful for our broken little family and our extended family and for the history and deep friendships we enjoy with a few. We let some things go.  We are each grayer and thicker and more wrinkled, but it turns out that I'm enjoying getting older. It's a privilege not granted to all.
 

 So now I'm back to working as an on-call sub, working out during the middle of the day at the Y, taking an online class, reading, and apparently, blogging.  Happy New Year, Blog and all who visit here!