Sep 18

Shocking the carpool moms…

scribbleThis morning was rough.

J, my 11-year old with FASD (fetal alcohol spectrum disorders) has recently started school after being homeschooled for 2 1/2 years, and while it’s probably our best option out there it is not perfect. He’d be the first to tell you that. I’d be a close second.

We are now in week 4. Weeks 1 + 2 were blissful, week 3 was rough, and now, finishing up the first month it looks like rough is here to stay.

He got up at 4 this morning, then 5, then 7. “You are a f*cking bitch!” he yelled me at 4 a.m. when told to get back in bed.

At 5, “You don’t care about me, you asshole!” He pulled a framed picture off the stairway wall and hurled it at my husband, who was explaining he had to wait until 6 to come downstairs.

At 7: “I hate that fucking school. It is so fucking boring! Get me the fucking salt!” He threw the kitchen chair to the floor. Continue reading

Nov 21

Holiday fun! Relatives who don’t get your ETL child…

I posted this almost a year ago today and it’s still pretty relevant. Thanksgiving and the holidays are really stressful for kids like ours, and unforgiving family doesn’t help matters at all. I’m hoping this year’s holiday will be okay, but I have a contingency plan if anything goes wrong – pay attention to my child and leave as soon as things go awry.
Let’s get one thing straight from the get-go: I have a really great family. My parents, my in-laws, my sisters, their husbands and my nieces – all have been really understanding and forgiving when it comes to dealing with Little J.
Yes, there have been moments, like when my (very tired) mother-in-law was seated next to LittleJ for a 4-hour car ride and he talked non-stop from the maple syrup capital in northern Vermont all the way to their home in western Massachusetts , forcing her to eventually put her hands over her ears to try to drown him out, or the time he called my mom a Big Butt and my step-dad picked him up and turned him upside down to “teach” him not to do that, or the very first time he met his same-age, heretofore peaceful female cousin and within 5 minutes had goaded her into punching him in the head…oh, the list is really endless. But all in all, our immediate family has been very understanding and kind and generous in helping with Little J. Many times much more than I’ve managed to do so, frankly. And I really appreciate it. Continue reading
Nov 12

Homeschooling your child with neuro-behavioral special needs: myths and realities

Compared to many people, I haven’t been homeschooling very long. J, my 10-year old with ADHD, learning disabilities, audio processing difficulties, developmental delays, poor short term memory, and sensory processing issues, all under the umbrella of fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD, is only just starting his 2nd full year of homeschooling along with his brother, 13, who is neurotypical and a typical early teenager. But deciding to homeschool was no easy task, and I’ve read a lot and thought a lot about why this is the best choice for our family. Continue reading

Aug 09

Children Seen But Not Heard? Promote Self-Advocacy

It is next to impossible to ask ADHD children to wait a moment.  They need to say what’s on their minds right at that instant or they’ll forget what they were going to say.  I know that this can become tedious at times, but it is important to allow ADHD children this privilege because it will help them to speak up and advocate for their academic needs in the classroom.  Parents are pivotal in developing this self-advocacy skill in their children.


ADHD and/or learning disabled children need to be able to ask for academic assistance in the classroom.  And they need to have their questions addressed as soon as possible so that connections can be made to the information delivered.  By allowing your ADHD and/or learning disabled child to form and ask pertinent questions about whatever is going on at home, in a movie, etc., and expect answers in a timely fashion fosters the ability for him or her to do so in the classroom with the same expectations.


Usually classes with special needs students have aides to assist the teachers as well as the students.  It is important that your child feel comfortable enough to approach either the teacher or the assistant with academic questions whenever necessary to be able to perform well in class and therefore obtain the most knowledge.


If our special needs children can develop this skill in their formative classroom years, they will be ready to advocate for themselves in college and out in the workforce.

Aug 06

Why People Drive You Crazy

Especially those crazy-makers we call our kids!

Have you ever wondered why some people can’t get anything done and others can’t relax?

Why your kids react so differently to the same parenting methods?

Why some babies are calm and others hard to console?

Why your behavior changes around certain people?

Why getting along can be so difficult?

Why People Drive You Crazy: Part One: A Fresh Look at Temperament is the book for you. Karyn Van Der Zwet spent the last seven years poring over psychology, anthropology, physical health, and neurology trying to find out what provides each one of us with a sense of well-being. The answers she found dismantled many commonly held beliefs we rely on to parent our children and relate to each other.

Karyn distills this information into short and insightful sections in her newly released book, the first in a series. She explains temperament, personality, and different reactions to stress. The bulk of the book has to do with understanding and succeeding in our relationships with different temperament types.  Throughout the book she uses her own categories for four main temperaments: Owl, Hare, Butterfly, and Tortoise. I tend to shy away from such divisions, but I notice these names are easily remembered and quite useful. I’m mostly Owlish. Now I know why I clam up around Butterfly types and become frustrated by bossy Hares. More importantly, I see situations that I normally blame on myself differently and, thanks to hundreds of hints Karyn shares, have more constructive ways to deal with them.

This no-nonsense book is platitude-free and packed with practical tips. I think it’s particularly useful for parents. It’s not an overreach to say this is the sort of book that helps us make childhood better for our children. As Karyn notes in the first section,

Sometimes, people drive us crazy because their temperaments are different from our own. It is common to attribute certain behaviors to flaws in character, which are actually normal and uncontrollable biological reactions based in temperament. Sometimes we see behaviors in another, which reflect our own internal state or temperament. If we learned these behaviors were unacceptable or undesirable then, too, we may find the other person irritating…

Temperament is not destiny. If parents manage their children’s temperament well, the more extreme aspects can be modified and the children can, eventually, learn to manage their temperament for themselves.

The Kindle version is only 99 cents. For one week only, get 15 percent off the paperback price of $7.40 using this code created for Easy To Love readers: S2LW47CN

May 21

Feeling Bitter and Taken for Granted. GRRRR!

Man oh MAN I’m in a foul mood right now. Angry. Sad. Bitter. And jealous. Here’s what happened that brought it all to the front. Not really THE REASON, but the trigger, if that makes any sense.

This morning I took Little J to his school’s speech therapist’s house for a 2-week intensive therapy session she’s doing with him and another child. He goes to an independent school for kids with special needs and we are really lucky that they are able to think outside the box and do things like this with him and the other kids when it’s possible. He’s there to be company for the other child, to be observed outside the setting of school, and to do focused listening therapy in the hopes that it will tell us something about his auditory processing issues.

I am all for this experiment, but I’ve quit holding my breath in the hopes that this – or any other therapies or medicines or treatments – will have any real, positive effect on him. FASD, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, is brain damage caused by alcohol exposure in utero.

Brain damage is brain damage is brain damage. Which doesn’t mean he can’t learn, but that his learning is limited. Slower. If the corpus callosum, the area of the brain that takes messages back and forth between the 2 halves, is small or even nonexistent, and the front lobes aren’t fully formed, which is what we suspect is going on with J based on his medical history and behaviors, there’s no documented treatment that can regrow or re-form those portions of the brain.

So when the speech therapist talks about ‘building new neural pathways’ in a brain that has serious, serious deficits, especially using techniques that have no research in connection with FASD (which isn’t saying much, honestly, since so little has been studied about therapies for people with FASD), I smile and nod, but I’m no longer hopeful. I’ve come to the bitter part of acceptance of my son’s disabilities. The part that most parents of kids with special needs don’t talk about. The part that’s tinged with grief.

So now you know my frame of mind, here was how this morning went down. I got up at 6 so I could make breakfasts and get everyone cleaned up and out of the house for 7:15. When J wakes up he is grumpy and rude, and I was called “bitch” and “idiot” and screamed at a couple of times for telling him to wipe milk off his face and to find his socks.  In between screaming at me he stops, smiles, and runs face-first into my body, saying “hugs.” When he does this sort of thing I find it really hard to reciprocate. At this point in my morning I am just trying to survive. Physical affection towards someone who has been, frankly, verbally abusive, is not top on my list.

While getting him and his brother ready I also had to watch the dogs – J has been bothering them recently. Not in a sadistic way, but in a ‘I’m stronger and bigger than you and I’m going to haul you around and tie you up’ kind of way, if that makes any sense. I really, really, really don’t like it when he does this to our dogs and I’m always on edge when he and the dogs are in the same space. And before you tell me to change the spaces they’re in, please realize that sometimes I have to do things like put on clothes and use the toilet, and the child is perfectly capable of letting himself outside so he can chase the dogs around the yard.

Anyway, we all get in the car, I drop J’s brother off, and J and I head to the therapist’s house, which is 50 minutes away. About half-way through his Kindle stops working and he starts smashing it against various surfaces, screaming swears, and making random nonsense noises. And then we hit traffic. And then I really, really, really start to need to pee. Really, really badly. Plus, I haven’t had breakfast and I can feel my blood sugar tanking. I have some hypoglycemia/blood sugar (probably stress-related) health issues that I’ve not been exactly ignoring lately, but I certainly haven’t been paying very good attention to. Suffice it to say I am not feeling great for the last 15 minutes of the drive.

When we arrive at the therapist’s house it’s all I can do to get out of the car without peeing on myself. I mumble hello-where’s-the-bathroom and stumble inside.

When I come out, much relieved, J is smiling and happy. The speech therapist is smiling and happy and uber calm. They talk about doing chores (which J has to be FORCED to do at home) and taking a little walk (again, a FORCED activity at home) and when she asks if she can give J a little snack of salmon or turkey in a while I can’t help it. I blurt, sarcastically, “Good luck!” Because if I were to suggest a snack like that at home it would not go over well. (Which, incidentally, is why J did not eat lunch or dinner the day before – he simply didn’t like it).

But I bet you a million dollars he eats that turkey or salmon. And I bet you a million dollars he will tell her he likes it. And I bet he feeds that dog and takes that walk and is sweet and kind and has a decent conversation with her, the kind I NEVER get out of him, because he’s too busy telling me how mean I am.

So that’s where I am this morning. Bitter. Taken for granted. And super jealous of his speech therapist, who’s getting to experience my boy in a way I never get to.


(image by flickr user Lucia through Creative Commons license)

May 20

The Perils of Working—Spending

Marie got her first job, working at Auntie Anne’s Pretzels, through a classmate friendship.  Her friend brought her to work one day and introduced her to the boss, who happened to be looking for more teens to work during the summer time.  The boss gave Marie an application which she was able to bring home so that I could help her complete it and check the spelling.  She started work the next week!

At first, she took the tasks that the others didn’t really want to do, like emptying the trash and cleaning the equipment.  But then she became the “sample girl.”  The boss noticed Marie’s friendly demeanor and sunny disposition.  Wearing her smile as part of her uniform, Marie offered pretzel portions on a tray to people who walked the mall.

The Mall.  This is the danger.  Because she works at the Mall, Marie buys on impulse.  She is a pushover for any fast talking sales person who tells her something is on “sale.”  This can be anything from food that she won’t eat to objects that she doesn’t like.  I want to help her understand the concept of making money and then the necessity for saving some of it for later.  I’m trying to get her to stop and think:  Do I really need this?  Do I really want this?  Why?  Do I even like it?

Every time I pick her up after work, she comes out with loads of bags; CDs, movies, posters, and displays from the music stores, plastic ware, washcloths, and socks from the Disney Store, and, yes, countless stuffed animals and soft fluffy blankets.

It is her money and she can do with it what she wishes.  I know.  I’m just trying to get her to realize that it is not necessary to buy everything in sight.  She needs to understand the concept of money.

May 16

Taming the stress monster (If you can’t change the child, then change the environment)

As someone who has edited a book about parenting children with invisible special needs like ADHD, ADD, OCD, Anxiety, Autism, FASD, and any number of other alphabet-soup diagnoses, I’ve noticed something curious: people have started asking for my expert opinion about parenting.

I am the expert on nothing except stress, I say. And not in a how-to-overcome-it-and-lead-a-happy-life kind of way, either. As in, I am constantly stressed and since every time I seem to get over a particularly large parenting hurdle I see another up ahead. I have no real idea how to tame the stress monster that threatens to take over my life.

My son’s behavioral issues seem to come in cycles. Because of his processing problems and potential for sensory overload (all of which are due to prenatal alcohol exposure; he has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder), the more calm and contained we can keep things, the better. But then something happens, like we go on a trip, or we have a visitor, or my husband has to work a lot, or we go to a family party, or the seasons change, or they’re having a field trip in school, or what he thought we were having for dinner isn’t…and it’s an all-systems go moment for him, and the part of his brain that functions pretty well in calm moments stops – and the impulsive, sensory-seeking, wild mind takes over.

When he’s worked up it takes Herculean efforts on our parts to manage him. Tantrums, throwing things, screaming, impulsivity, swearing, arguing for the sake of arguing – and no real way to stop him besides physically removing him from the situation.

Every time something triggers him, his behavior triggers me. If he blows, I blow – maybe not always in the moment, because in the moment I have to deal with him – but I can feel my shoulders rise, my throat get tight, my head begin to throb, and unless I can handle the situation quickly the stress monster has me, and has me good. Even when the incident is over I can’t think of anything but what just happened, how I could have managed it better, and how terrible a mom I am.

Recently my son has been in a good cycle. At home we’ve been keeping it calm and predictable. I’ve had time to exercise, see friends, and have a little fun. My children have been getting along. My husband has been balancing his job and home better than he has in a while. I’ve felt like I had a handle on my life and my stress. All has been great, until…

Carpool. My son goes to a school for children with special needs – learning challenges, behavioral problems, and difficulty regulating their emotions. It’s a good fit. It’s also an hour from home.

Carpool usually is quiet, except when it’s not. And yesterday it wasn’t. I don’t know what was going on with them, but the minute they got together they started sniping, goading, and teasing each other.

All efforts I made to stop it, including asking them nicely, asking them not so nicely, threatening to involve parents, threatening consequences to my child, didn’t work. I was ignored. And we still had 20 minutes left in the car.

My guy escalated fast: he swore at the other two kids and threatened them, then pulled his fork from his lunch box, bent it in half, and waved it around. “I’m gonna shove this up your butt!” he yelled to one of the kids.

I pulled over.

I then took my child from the car and swatted his behind. I screamed, “What are you doing? Why are you acting this way?” He screamed, cried, then said if he had a gun I would be dead. We got back in the car.

For the last 20 minutes of the car ride there was complete silence. We walked into school, the kids put their lunches away and went out to the playground, and I burst into tears. The school director gave me a sympathetic ear but it did little to calm me.

The rest of the day I was a mess. I couldn’t think of much else besides what happened in the car and how I completely mishandled it. How did spanking him solve the problem? How did screaming? But what would have been better? Completely ignoring them? Allowing him to continue to scream obscenities? Allowing them to continue to tease him and goad him and grin when they got him to explode?

I have no answer. And I’m not writing this in the hopes that someone here can tell me what I should have done. I can’t change what happened. I can only try to change what will happen. And part of that is taking a break from carpool for a while – a good long while. Several extra hours a week driving in peace is worth it to me, as is keeping my boy – and me – calm. Anything to keep that stress monster away.

(Image courtesy of flickr user autumn bliss)

May 09

Are We Really Listening?

attuned listening, how to know if you're listening,

Wikimedia Commons

“Do you really want a dead cat on your desk?”

When a teacher took a parent’s phone call at the end of another busy school day, she was taken aback by the question. She couldn’t figure out why a first grader in her class came home telling his mother that their recently deceased family pet had to be on the teacher’s desk the next morning.

Then she realized what must have happened. At the beginning of each school day, children clustered around her desk in the few minutes available before the bell rang. They were all eager to talk.

“Fish sticks are yucky so I want to change my lunch ticket.”

“Want to see me do jumping jacks?”

“This picture of me and my bike is for you.”

“Here’s a note from my mom.” Continue reading