Free Spirit Publishing’s latest release, ADHD in HD: Brains Gone Wild is—by far—the coolest book about ADHD in existence. It’s so “melting your face off with the flames of awesomeness” cool, that I can’t imagine a cooler book coming along anytime soon. It’s written by Continue reading
There are only so many minutes in the day to spend reading blogs so those blog choices must be made wisely. I regularly dip into a few inspiring parenting blogs, a few spiritually nourishing blogs, and a few smart brainy blogs. I find all three of those elements in one of my favorites. It’s written by clinical psychologist, husband, father to two sons, former director and screenwriter, and all-around gentle soul Bruce Dolin. It’s named Privilege of Parenting. which really says a lot about the content. Every post gives me something to think about, but if you want to drift over that direction try How is Narcissism like Footed Pajamas?, Parenting Manifesto, How Doing Things At Which We “Suck” Can Be Good Parenting, and Relationship is Everything.
Now Bruce has a book out, also titled Privilege of Parenting. I must have read a hundred parenting books and in too many I find finger wagging about particular “rules” that must be followed. Bruce doesn’t go there. He offers stories and metaphors, giving us ways to understand ourselves and our children. Many of the stories he shares come from his professional experience working with troubled kids. Others come from literature, films, and lessons he’s learned in his own life.
As he explains in the book’s introduction,
Children are a gift, sacred beings entrusted to us to facilitate their growth and development. But parenting can also be transformative for the parent. No one is fully formed when they choose to parent, no matter how good a planner they are. Parenting is a perfect arena for our own growth and enlightenment because it takes us beyond our self and demands we use our highest power–the power to love.
One of the core concepts in this book is cultivating good relationships with our children. He addresses this from all angles and doesn’t shy away from the hard stuff. He offers dozens of refreshingly different exercises to try, each one calling us to be present to ourselves while deepening our understanding of ourselves and our children.
There isn’t much he doesn’t cover. The table of contents include a wide range of topics such as: ”Sometimes Worry is an Act of Love,” “Helping Sad Kids Feel Better,” “Understanding and Dealing with Oppositionality,” and “Using Intuition to Parent Better.”
This is a book to read with a highlighter. It extends the promise of wisdom that’s applicable to our lives, right now.
Read his blog, get his book, and deepen the path parenting takes you on every single day.
Review copy provided.
Perhaps one of the greatest gifts you can give someone is to help him feel understood. As a parent, it’s the biggest goal I have when it comes to my interactions with our school – to help my kids be understood by their teachers. Of course they’ll have issues, conflicts, misunderstandings, maybe some tears. They have those things at home, despite living with their perfectly understanding and unflappable parents (ha!). So there’s no way to think they won’t encounter bumps everywhere else too. But if those issues can be framed in the context of their unique challenges, if the “why” of their behaviors are at least considered when consequences are meted out or proactive plans are hatched, I’m a happy camper.
Unfortunately, like so many parents, I find goals and realities don’t always walk hand in hand. Awhile back, I wrote about the disappointment of some teacher conferences I’ve had (http://www.easytolovebut.com/?cat=361) and how I wished all teachers had to attend a course that helped them understand what it felt like to have ADHD, OCD, anxiety, sensory issues, Tourette’s, bi-polar or any of a dozen other challenges. The feedback from parents was overwhelmingly positive. But privately, I received emails from friends who are professionals in school systems. Their enthusiasm was far more muted. Even though they themselves struggle with anxiety or their own kids have 504s or they work with students with special needs, they let me know that while sometimes teachers don’t “get it,” sometimes parents don’t “get it” either. Continue reading
Snake wrangler, computer geek, vintage auto restorer. These are a few of the identities one of my sons tries on as he masters areas of interest to him.
He used to patiently stalk alongside our creek and behind the woodpile to find snakes. He didn’t hurt them or even keep them for more than a few minutes. I’m not sure even now what the object was other than a pursuit of something that fascinated him. He brought many of his captives up to the house where we marveled at them before he released them. Personally I prefer to marvel at snakes from a healthy distance but I can squelch the shivers when necessary. He didn’t just wrangle snakes, he also studied huge reference books about snakes, drew pictures of snakes, talked about snakes. Then one day he moved on to other interests.
Mostly out of necessity he put together his first computer from cast-off parts. That started a new fascination with bettering computer operations. He became particularly intrigued by the cooling systems. I listened, or at least kept my head swiveled in his direction, as he explained excruciatingly in-depth explanations about cooling system modifications and the resultant effect on computer efficiency. He taught himself so well that he’s still paid to fix our friend’s computer problems, both software and hardware. Sometimes he shakes his head sadly at how poor cooling compromises these systems.
He became interested in auto restoration before he was old enough to drive. Using money earned by shoveling manure from horse stalls, he bought a 1973 Opel GT. He clearly relished the time and mess it took to carefully tear nearly everything out of the car. Now he is in the rebuilding phase, his progress limited to what parts he can afford. He shares details with us at the dinner table and tracks each step with friends on forums. The day his little Opal is roadworthy I know that acclaim will come from friends, family and forum pals all over the world.
My husband owned his own computer business and has always fixed our cars, but he recognizes (sometimes to his chagrin) that our son prefers to go his own way as much as possible. In fact, when a question about computers or cars comes up it doesn’t always stay in the realm of consultation. It’s just as likely to become a spirited debate. That’s the nature of young people as they prove themselves, and we try to understand. That is, as long as the tools are put away.
We’ve noticed that eager parental encouragement doesn’t always translate to more eagerness on the part of our kids. Sometimes we like a hobby, lesson or interest much more than our kids do. Sometimes, even when they’re winning awards, they don’t want to continue. Or perhaps our excitement has put a damper on the pursuit. As our kids get older this becomes more evident.
We’ve learned our kids’ interests are their own. There’s no real value in forcing, cajoling or otherwise pressuring a young person to stay with an endeavor that has lost its allure. Kids in our house have to stick with chores and other work obligations, not interests.
Child development expert David Elkind notes in The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally it’s a misperception that children should “stick” to a pursuit once they’ve started in order to build better staying power for adult challenges. As Elkind writes, “The common assumption that commitment transfers from one activity to another is wrong.”
Making sure that a young person pursuues interests for his or her own reasons, not the parent’s, keeps motivation alive and passion genuine. Recent research backs this up.
Sure, we can foster our children’s enthusiasm with our approval and guidance when necessary. But we can also show them by example. We can pursue our own interests with the kind of joy and fervor that can’t help but inspire. That’s my newest excuse for my own art projects. I’m not making a mess, I’m providing a good example!
Laura Grace Weldon is the author of Free Range Learning: How Homeschooling Changes Everything. She lives on a small farm with her family where they raise bees, cows, chickens, and the occasional ruckus. Laura writes about learning, sustainability, and peace for print and online publications. Connect with her at www.lauragraceweldon.com
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)
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.
Erin MacMillan-Ramirez is a graduate of the University of Southern California Rossier School of Education Master’s in Teaching online program which has recently added on a Special Education Program. She lives in Houston, Texas and is currently working on a book about Autism and the education system in America.
What do Spock (Star Trek), Mork (Mork and Mindy) and Abed (Community) all have in common? They are all television characters. They all rely on logic and take verbal interactions literally. They are all childlike innocents, and in the real world they would all be diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. Mork would probably receive a diagnosis of ADHD as well. They are also written as the butt of every “error in logic” or “social misunderstanding” joke on their respective shows. Their natural curiosity, lack of social or verbal filters, and misunderstandings of social cues and sarcasm create the perfect set-up for great practical and verbal jokes on television shows. In the real world, it’s not very funny when people make fun of kids with special needs, but it happens all the time. Continue reading
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)
Today I’m reposting a blog I shared here almost exactly a year ago. Only a little has changed since then, for better or worse, mostly that I had knee surgery and have been recovering nicely. But I’m also much less worried about how the summer will go and how my boys will handle moving into the next grade in the fall. Entering into summer and full-time parenting with more confidence and fewer worries, who could ask for anything more? But now it’s time to come up with my focus goals for each child. Wish me luck!
My blog post from May 12, 2011:
I can’t believe it’s mid-May already. In a little over a month, my twin seven-year old boys will be done with their public school first grade experience, including the support we receive through their Individual Education Plans (IEP’s). I have to admit I’m a little nervous. They’ve been in school for six hours per day, five days per week, and now I’m out of practice at entertaining them and caring for them for so many hours in a week.
Have you been diagnosed (or self-diagnosed) as a perfectionist? I have to admit that I suffer from this debilitating ailment. Last year at this time I had already designed a written plan of weekly summer enrichment activities that were meant to maintain, if not advance, my boy’s academic and behavioral success. Am I a trained paraeducator? No, just a mom on a mission.
My plan last summer was ambitious. I knew I wouldn’t accomplish everything in the plan, but for me, just striving toward the perfection was enough. I was and still am proud of the plan, which included a special activity for every day of the week. Mondays were science field trips (to forests, arboretums, and streams), Tuesdays were arts and crafts projects, Wednesday was Adventure day (hikes and bike trips), Thursday was public library day, and Friday’s held park play dates (to help my boys continue to build their social skills and communication).
I also chose two or three major goals for each child to achieve by the end of the summer. Choosing a small number, I reasoned, would help me focus on what was really important when I was feeling lazy (as if!), or overwhelmed by all the choices of what to do (a regular problem).
Last year, I chose as major goals:
- riding their bikes without training wheels,
- learning to swim well (so I didn’t worry so much about them), and
- learning to tie their own shoes (selfishly because I was tiring of the task).
My fellow mom friends chuckled and rolled their eyes at my ambitious plans, but they were also inspired to come up with their own, probably more realistic, summer plan for their kids.
I have to admit that last summer, not even for one week, did I actually accomplish all that I’d planned for the boys. But most weeks we accomplished at least three out of the five days. For that, I was proud of myself and of my boys flexibility, willingness, and energy. It wasn’t perfect, but I kept focusing on what I was doing right, instead of what I failed to accomplish.
Of course I have no empirical proof (I am a scientist after all), but I do believe that our efforts prepared the boys for their transition into first grade, and certainly influenced the leaps both boys made during this school year.
My greatest joy of last fall was when the special education coordinator said, “It seems like the boys didn’t lose what they learned in kindergarten over the summer. Great job, mom.” She has no idea how much her praise and reassurance meant to me.
This summer will be quite different and I’m a little scared. Granted, the boys are now a year older and they’ll have a greater level of independence (yeah for me). But I won’t be able to provide them with the same level of attention and determination as last summer. This year I have my own disability to deal with (thankfully temporary). I tore several ligaments in my knee and broke my tibia just jumping in the air at a rec. volleyball game. Well, it wasn’t the jumping, but the landing that did me in. I’ve been on crutches for over seven weeks, and unable to cook, clean, (frankly not missing it) or do much else but yell crazily across the house while swinging a crutch in the air. Although I started walking again this week, our future is uncertain. I must decide when to have surgery to repair my meniscus and ACL and I must actually work at healing my injury, like a part-time job through physical therapy.
Last year I could put the boy’s needs ahead of my own almost every hour of every day if needed. I was shooting for “the perfect parent.” But this summer, I’ll be far from perfect. I’ll have to say no a lot more often to elaborate crafts and science experiments, there will be fewer grand outings, and this summer, my boys will learn the hard but valuable lesson about putting someone else’s needs before their own.
As an empress of worry, I enter this summer with the fear that my injury will hinder my boys behavioral, emotional, and academic progress. I’m concerned that heading back to second grade in the fall will be tougher for them without all the prep I’d planned.
My plan for this summer will surely not be anywhere near the perfection we glimpsed last year. Instead, it will be a grand exercise for us all in compromise and learning to accept “good enough.”
This experience has taught me many lessons, a few of which I’ve listed below.
I’ve learned to:
- be more patient,
- gracefully say no to opportunities that aren’t an “absolute yes”,
- accept and appreciate help from others,
- accept that I will never be perfect (still working on this one) J,
- set my standards at a more realistic level, and not beat myself up when I “fail”,
- appreciate my husband for the super-dad that he is, even when he doesn’t do it my way,
- encourage my children’s independence,
- worry less about reaching (or not) specific milestones, and
- focus more on spending memorable time together.
I’m sure that this summer, together, we will all learn many more life lessons.
How have you learned to muffle (or strangle) your inner perfectionist? What is your “good enough” summer enrichment plan for your special needs child? And please send me an e-mail if you’ve got any advice on how to recover from a knee injury.
Thank you for reading and sharing your stories with this group of caring, supportive parents.
“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