Jun 11

Go ahead, freak out

Let’s face it. You weren’t expecting ADHD, Autism, bipolar disorder, FASD, or any health issues classified as a neurobehavioral disorder. No one does. It comes at you suddenly, from behind, and with great force. It’s more than being blindsided; it’s like falling out of the boat, without a life-jacket, and without knowing how to swim. Oh, by the way, there are piranhas under that dark surface too. It’s unexpected and terrifying.

So what do you do when you’re not expecting a developmental or neurobehavioral diagnosis?

now_panic_and_freak_out__by_jweinstock-d3hvgozFreak out!

Go ahead. I’m not kidding. Freak out! Panic! Have a pity party.

Feel sorry for yourself, your child, and your family — it’s natural. Take some time to wallow in the fact that your in-utero plans for your child’s future have possibly changed altogether. I know that’s not the advice you expected, but you have to acknowledge and validate those feelings so you can move beyond the shock and grief and eventually reach a good place.

When you’ve cried until there are no more tears and taken in the “Why Me Monster” as though he is your new BFF, come back to the real world and start researching to discover your next steps to get on your way to successfully parenting a child with neurobehavioral special needs. Take as long as you need — there aren’t rules for this and the information will still be there when you’re ready.

First Things First

Okay, stop panicking now. While it feels like it initially, a behavioral disability diagnosis is nothing to panic about. In fact, I challenge you to celebrate the impending clarity that comes with diagnosis. There’s a certain amount of relief to finally knowing why your child is struggling.

There is one essential thing to remember when your child is first diagnosed. You are not alone. Say it with me, “I am not alone. I am not the only parent who struggles with this special brand of parenting.” You may even want to post it on your bathroom mirror and treat it like a personal affirmation for a while. It certainly won’t hurt. Parenting a child with special needs can be very isolating so you will need to consistently remind yourself that others know a similar journey.

Acceptance of your child, just the way they are, is crucial, now more than ever.

Grieve the Loss

I’m sure you visualized your child gloating about their latest “A,” or crossing the stage during college graduation at some point during your pregnancy or adoption process.  It’s an innate instinct to want the very best for our children and to visualize their life’s milestones very early.

A special needs diagnosis often initially feels like an abrupt end of many of your dreams for your child. Finding out your child has a disability establishes the possibility that all your dreams for them may not come true. But it doesn’t mean their dreams aren’t possible.

Let’s face it, receiving an ADHD, Autism, bi-polar, FASD, learning disability, etc. diagnosis for your child is tough. No, it’s not a terminal illness or a physical handicap, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t feel sorry and grieve. Your pain is valid, even if it isn’t as intense as someone else’s. You just found out your child has a neurological disorder — that something didn’t quite go right when their brain was developing — and that entitles you to a period of sorrow. If you weren’t upset about it, that would be something to worry about.

It’s natural to grieve when your child is diagnosed with any disability. Your world has changed — either your expectations have been shattered or you have come to the realization that the madness chaos is here to stay, at least somewhat. While it’s necessary to go through that period of grief, you also have to get beyond it. Feeling sorry long term doesn’t help the situation one bit.

Take a little time to be sad, angry, scared, heart-broken. Sit in a room alone for a couple days. Take a bubble bath until you shrivel. Cry. Scream. Recoil. It’s okay to be irrational for a few moments and let these feelings surface.  It’s even healthy, dare I say. Take a few days, maybe a week, to process and work through your feelings — then move on because wallowing is not going to help you or your child.

I sat in front of the T.V. alone in my bedroom and stared out the window for a couple days after my son’s ADHD diagnosis. I cried a lot and I have a faint memory of eating lots of ice cream. I tried not to think about ADHD, yet it was all I thought about for days. Years in fact, if I’m honest with myself.

Gratitude and positivity are the only roads to genuine happiness. For that is how we survive, and eventually thrive. It is easy to feel hopeless when parenting a special needs child. I decided wallowing in my sorrow wasn’t doing me, my son Ricochet, or anyone else any good. Denial and tears were not going to erase his ADHD and they weren’t going to teach us how to do the best for him either. So I chose to direct my compass toward the positive and I moved on to gathering knowledge, the next crucial step.

(Image from jweinstock on deviantart.com.)
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You can find Penny Williams’ books on Amazon:

May 12

Repost: The Critic

contemplationAs much as I think I have “accepted” my children’s learning challenges, I forget that I still have The Critic living in me as well. The voice of acceptance is calm and even soothing at times. It has been cultivated and reflects flexibility and surrender to what is in me and my children, rather than rigid ideas of what “should” be true. “The Critic”, on the other hand, is loud and harsh and, at vulnerable times, unrelenting. Three kids with ADD? Yeah, right! You’re just a bad mother. ADD? Not! Rather, it must be LMS (lazy mother syndrome). Maybe you are imagining all this because you are in the mental health field. Maybe you jumped the gun in terms of assessment and intervention and maybe all this HELP has actually created the problem. Maybe it is your hyper-vigilance with the oldest, the Sudafed you took for a bad sinus infection when pregnant with the second child, or the way the youngest baby turned blue as she left the birth canal and needed oxygen… Or, most benignly, maybe it is just your screwed up DNA.

It does not matter that we have consulted with experts in the field many times over the years to see if the ADD and related learning problems are our imagination, the validation we desperately need to avoid self blame. It doesn’t matter that we have been told that this is genetic or simply how they are wired. I still find myself living with chronic doubt. I don’t like to admit that The Critic is always nearby, but it is. Continue reading

May 02

Repost: Hello, My Name is Eve, part one: What were you expecting?


This repost is by Kay Marner, the co-editor of Easy to Love but Hard to Raise: Real Parents, Challenging Kids, True Stories. Through editing the book Kay found a pattern in the experience of parenting children with neurobehavioral special needs. She frames it as the experience of an everyparent, “Eve.”

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When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent untold hours with my nose in the book What to Expect When You’re Expecting.

Throughout my son Aaron’s first year of life, What to Expect the First Year was always close at hand, on the table by the rocking chair where I fed Aaron, sang to him, read to him, and rocked him to sleep for naps and bedtimes. Then, before I knew it, I’d switched to What to Expect the Toddler Years.

Sound familiar? Do you remember those days? Wasn’t it magically reassuring to follow along—and even read ahead–in books that explained every stage of development, and answered every possible question—sometimes before we knew to ask it? Continue reading

Jan 09

Be the patience you want to see

This is an excerpt from The Resilient Parent: Everyday Wisdom for Life with Your Exceptional Child, by Mantu Joshi. Mantu is the father of three children, a minister, stay-at-home dad, and a writer. The Resilient Parent offers short person essays to help us reframe the experience parenting children with special needs so we can be more resilient parents!

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I hate transitions. I hate that I cannot just beam my children from activity to activity like in Star Trek, or get them from the minivan into the house by wiggling my nose like Samantha in those old Bewitched episodes. No, we have to physically get from point A to point B, which means that someone is likely to throw a tantrum. Continue reading

Dec 01

Oppositional

 

oppositional-girlThis is a re-write of a post I first published on this blog about 2 1/2 years ago. At the time I was just starting to understand fetal alcohol spectrum disorder (FASD) and what it really meant for my son and my family. 

The first time I wrote this I was coming to an understanding of what “NO” meant when my child said it. I had started to see that it wasn’t simple opposition. I still saw it as him trying to get negative attention, which isn’t my current interpretation of his behaviors. At the point I wrote the original post I was starting to understand what actually worked for my child, but I was still missing the WHYs: at that time I didn’t have a very complete understanding of his brain differences and how the NOs fit into all of that. I’ve updated this post to reflect my new understanding of FASD, my child, and the primary and secondary characteristics of FASD.

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My child has a default setting, and it is NO.

If I didn’t know better, I’d say he had ODD, or oppositional defiance disorder. Many experts – psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and others – have suggested he has ODD in the past. He certainly has all the characteristics – but in reality he has FASD, fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. What looks like ODD is a result of chronic frustration from living in a world that expects “typical” behaviors from an atypical brain. Saying NO is what he does when confronted with people expecting more from him than he can actually do. Being angry and sad and frustrated are actually normal responses to chronic misunderstanding. So labeling him with ODD is not very useful as it doesn’t lend understanding. It simply describes behaviors. It doesn’t look at the WHYs, and I’m not sure that it looks at the WHAT-TO-DOs. In my experience, understanding the WHYs is what drives the WHAT-TO-DOs.

So here are the WHYs:

When I, and other people who train about FASD and the brain, talk about FASD we often split up the behavioral symptoms of brain dysfunction into 3 different groups. This is based on research done by Ann Streissguth and others, and described by Diane Malbin, my mentor and trainer.

First are the primary characteristics of FASD. These are directly related to brain differences and although they vary from person to person, they include slow processing, problems with memory, sensory differences, impulsivity, developmental lags, or dysmaturity, difficulty with language and communication, poor executive functioning, and difficulty with abstract thought. Each of these brain functions show themselves behaviorally. The person with slow processing may not be able to answer questions quickly, which might look like the person is ignoring the question, or ‘not listening.’ The person who is dysmature and who has language difficulties may be able to superfically engage in conversation at his/her chronological age (due to mimicking or good expressive language skills), but may have little understanding of the content of the conversation, leading others to believe he/she is “getting it” when they are not. Later, when the person with FASD is supposed to remember the conversation or apply what he or she has learned and cannot, it is interpreted as deliberate and willful disobedience.

We help the person with FASD by understanding brain differences, accommodating their very real physical disability (because the brain is part of the body, right?), and structuring their environment for success – just as we do for any other physical disability. We quit assigning motive for what they cannot do. We give them the benefit of the doubt.

Secondary characteristics – like what looks like ODD – are behaviors that result when primary characteristics are misunderstood as being on purpose, intentional, or manipulative. If a person’s needs aren’t met, that person gets frustrated, angry, and shuts down. If this happens time and time again, and if that person is punished for things he or she simply cannot do, frustration and anger increase exponentially. This is a normal response to having one’s needs be unmet.

Tertiary characteristics of FASD are the very unhappy endings of chronic misunderstanding and frustration: jail, homelessness, addictions, and hospitalization.

It’s really important to understand FASD in this way – it’s not a mish-mash of all the symptoms. It’s not an inevitability that the person with FASD will become an addict or have to go to jail. It’s primary differences in the brain, what happens when those differences aren’t understood and needs aren’t met, and what can happen when those needs aren’t met over a long period of time.

Let me explain, using my child, and all his NOs, as an example.

  1. Primary characteristic: he is highly impulsive and so often says the first thing on his mind. Because he often can’t do as asked, the first thing on his mind is often NO, whether or not he is able to meet the request.
  2. Secondary characteristic: he is fearful and anxious about new things, and this expresses itself by a rejection of new things, leading to NO.
  3. Primary characteristic: he has trouble processing situations and conversations rapidly. He uses NO as a place-holder, a way to buy himself time to understand what’s being asked of him.
  4. Primary characteristic: he’s dysmature, so while many children outgrow the NO at age 4 or so, he’s really not there yet.
  5. Secondary characteristic: when he’s feeling most frustrated, he combines the NOs with name-calling, the phrase, “You are mean,” and sometimes crying and tantruming and throwing things to  communicate how he’s feeling.

The primary characteristics are how his brain works. The secondary are the reactions to dissonance between expectation and reality. We can’t change the primary characteristics, but we can change our OWN REACTIONS to the secondary and change his environment for better success.

Here’s how this works in real life:

Continue reading

Nov 24

If Mama Ain’t Happy…

This is a re-post of a speech I gave to welcome everyone to the 1st Happy Mama Conference and Retreat, first held summer of 2012 in Conover, NC. It’s a great retreat and is still going on!

I’m reposting the speech for a couple of reasons. One, because even though several years have passed, none of the challenges I and so many of my fellow mamas of children with NB special needs have changed, and two, maybe more importantly, the core message of this speech is still CRUCIAL for us to remember: you are not alone.

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I’m Adrienne Ehlert Bashista. Some of you might know me from our group blog and book: Easy to Love but Hard to Raise, or through the Facebook page connected to it, or through A Mom’s View of ADHD blog or Facebook page, or some of you might not know me at all.

I have a 10 year old son who has fetal alcohol spectrum disorder, or FASD. I’m not going to talk that much about FASD except to say that it’s a brain-based disorder that manifests itself behaviorally. It’s a physical disability because it is based in his body, but it’s in the part of the body we don’t see, the brain, but the part of the body that has the greatest impact on his behavior, his learning, his ability to get along in the world, and his relationship with his family and anyone else he meets.

Our path to getting our son the correct diagnosis was a loooooong one. His first diagnosis was ADHD, followed by ODD, mood disorder, pervasive developmental disorder, pediatric bipolar, then we found out he has borderline intelligence and finally, after 4 psychiatrists, 3 therapists, 2 family practice doctors, 3 OTs. 1 speech therapist we found the diagnosis that made sense.

For everyone in this room who’s had to struggle to find a diagnosis, whose had to trust her gut more than the experts, who’s taken their kid to very well-meaning, kind, but ultimately ineffective people, who’ve largely blamed yourself for your child’s behavior problems (because in the end, who else do you blame)? I need to tell you this: Continue reading

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

Sep 08

No One Brings a Casserole

Screen Shot 2013-09-07 at 4.47.12 PMOnce again, I am attempting to sleep in a chair in an emergency room. It’s been three days since the kid was discharged from a three-month placement. He started in a CBAT (useless). From there, where he received no care, he was moved to a psychiatric unit where meds were finally changed. Final stop was a developmental disabilities unit for behavioral therapy and then home. Things were a little shaky and we thought it was just part of transitioning home. We have a wonderful behavior therapist that helped us navigate through some rough times. The hope was once he was back into his day treatment school and into his routine, he could settle. Unfortunately, that was not the case. This year has been exhausting.

And the hardest thing about all this madness is, as a friend of mine often says, no one bring a casserole.

These past three months were the second placement this year. He has been placed more than he has been home. It has been a physically and emotionally draining experience. It has stressed our finances. Free time is spent traveling to facilities for visits, attending meetings, making phone calls and doing research on offered treatment options. There were days the entire family would make the two-hour drive for a visit only to be turned away because he was unsafe. Resentment began to build. Family members felt robbed of weekends. Some of the things we were all feeling sound incredibly terrible and selfish – even in my own head. And the hardest thing about all this madness is, as a friend of mine often says, no one bring a casserole.

Continue reading

Aug 05

What I did on my summer vacation, or Car Trip! Yay?

car tripIf you clicked on this expecting a list of suggestions for how to have a happy car trip with your behaviorally challenged child then I hate to break it to you: you’re not finding it here. My husband and I are in the midst of a 2-week car trip with our two boys, 11 and 14, and while there have been some true high points to the trip (Maid of the Mist at Niagara Falls thrilled me- yes, I am a true tourist in my own country) there have also been some super low, low points. Like having nasty wet paper towels thrown in my face at a restaurant. Like hours-long swearing fits in the car. Like constant bickering. Like my younger child’s complete and utter refusal to do anything other than what he wants to do with absolutely NO compromise.

Continue reading

Jul 01

A Forever Teacher

parent Teacher post 7-1-13Parents are their children’s first teachers.  I took this seriously and began teaching and reading to my children as soon as they left the womb.  I just didn’t expect to be still doing it 27 years out.  I’m talking about teaching here, not guiding or offering advice.  I mean helping my daughter read her mail, or better yet, making sure she doesn’t throw away her important mail claiming it is only credit card applications.  Spelling words for her so that she can fill out applications and inspecting the checks she writes to be sure they are properly written.  But I didn’t start this until Marie graduated high school and junior college.  Before that, it was enough to get her through the academics.

I believe that homework is a necessary part of any education, but it can become exhausting with a special needs student in the house.

In elementary school, the dining room table was always a mass of folded or spindled or torn papers.  Pencils, erasers, and erasable pens, rulers and homework planners, workbooks and textbooks were scattered everywhere.  That was where five children accomplished their nightly homework.  Well, most of the children.  Marie would leave the table with the rest of them, but she wasn’t finished.  I would sit by this chaos closing my eyes and rubbing my forehead, as if it could all disappear and I could have some free time.

I would sigh and reach for another cup of tea. Marie’s the oldest, yet academic work is difficult for her. And, she’s a hurrier. In elementary school, Marie would look at a paper and decide she knew what to do. From my relentless “Read the directions first!” sometimes she’d look at the first word—or even the first letter—and plug in whatever word happened to be in her head. She just wanted to say she was done, like the other children.

But she’s not like the other children.  She needed reinforcement and repetition. And this all took time—endless hours of correcting, reading, and explaining again and again.  Downtime that I could have spent enjoying the children, playing a game with them or going for a walk.  Quiet time reading a book of MY choosing, or spending time with my husband.  Visiting friends or shopping in peace.  But at my house, at that time, the world revolved around Marie and her education.