Saturday, November 17, 2012

Teaching an Old Mom New Tricks

I've been working on this post for a while, because I wasn't sure if I was going to actually post it or not. Every person has his or her own learning style. Mine is that I'm a research hound. I find out something that interests me and I dive into it. For example, motherhood. When I decided to become a Mom, I checked out every pregnancy book I could get my hand on at the library before I was even pregnant. I wanted to know what I was getting into before I jumped in. I found out quickly that there were books I had to get rid of because they annoyed me in how they conveyed their information. There are a million books about pregnancy and parenting that feel "judgy" to me. That if you don't follow their recommendations to the T -- you are a failure or you're committing child abuse, etc.

Learning about the realities of kids with social anxiety issues like X-man and talking to his therapists and reviewing notes I've taken on his behavior since he moved from side-by-side play to interactive play led me to looking up texts regarding children's social skills. And by look up, I mean full on all-nighters. I feel more comfortable when I "know" about things. I was this way about my foot surgery, too. I don't like surprises when it comes to this kind of stuff. Surprises for birthdays or holidays or just because it's a Tuesday in January, sure. My child's mental health -- not so much.

This means I have a pile of books both from my library and from the Illinois Early Intervention Clearinghouse thanks to my friend LL who works there. A lot of them were created for general education teachers to help them plan and implement ideas in their classrooms. Some are focused on how to best advocate for your child in an IEP meeting. Most of them are about PDD (Pervasive Development Disorder) which is currently what the DSM-IV (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders) calls Autism, Asperger's and PDD-NOS (Not Otherwise Specified -- which is a catch-all for -- "You share some symptoms with a lot of diagnoses, but aren't clearly on the spectrum in any particular place). There's a great book called "Teaching Children with High-Functioning Autism" by Claire E. Hughes-Lynch, that addresses up front the difference between HF Autism and children that are Gifted.

When I looked at the chart above, I realized that for the most part, the characteristics on the gifted side resembled my son much more than the HF Autistic side, but I found it made sense to me that there were areas were the two "groups" crossed over, particularly in the Attention and Interest Areas.

Growing up in Rockford, I was in a self-contained gifted class from seventh through twelfth grade. I have to admit that I got into it by the skin of my teeth -- like two points on whatever standardized test they had me take when I was 12.

It never occurred to me that they taught me any differently, particularly when the tests the Chemistry teacher gave the regular juniors were the same we got in gifted education sophomore year. I always assumed that "gifted" in my school district meant that you were intellectually smart and tested well, and well, that was it. The sections on "gifted" kids in Hughes-Lynch's book talks about gifted children needing to be taught differently. It also talks about how their neurological processes maybe advanced cognitively but may be thoroughly underdeveloped socially. There is also a "tremendous overlap in characteristics between children with HFA and children who are gifted."

I also learned that anxiety disorders almost always coincide with children who are diagnosed with being on the spectrum, having ADHD and being gifted.

The big word I learned to represent that there are numerous children who have symptoms that overlap diagnoses is comorbidity. Because we have a 504 meeting on Tuesday, I'm trying to read up on how to best advocate for my child. As far as I can tell, X-man doesn't fit into one particular diagnosis more than the others, and because the DSM-IV is changing in May, the one he might fit into best (the random one) is likely to be changing all together from being part of the spectrum to being a communication disorder. And the books are all pretty repetitive in their frustration about how subjective nailing a diagnosis can be for a child with symptoms that work with multiple diagnoses.

Let X-man be X-man has always been my philosophy. It usually works out best. But sometimes in a classroom of 24 people X-man can't be X-man, or at least he doesn't feel like it's okay that he's him.

I talked in an earlier post about a friend who said the key to socialization success in school for her child with Aspberger's was to be quirky rather than weird. As it turns out my favorite book in the heap that I have is called, "Quirky Kids: Understanding and Helping Your Child Who Doesn't Fit In -- When to Worry and When Not to Worry" by Perri Klass, M.D. and Eileen Costello, M.D. It pretty much covers everything and gives a lot of consideration to kids with overlapping symptoms. "Note the way that quirky children, in their rich variety, have made it necessary to create certain categories that are defined by NOT fitting into any categories" (i.e. PDD-NOS). It was also interesting to note that "Virtually all these children have trouble making friends, their behavior is just strange enough to make other kids uncomfortable or scared. The inability to see another's point of view, the anxiety, the tendency to have rigid expectations of others, and the lack of flexibility combine to make this child more alone in the important social world of childhood."

It even hits on the difficulties at home and in the parenting community, "For parents of quirky children, these parenthood realities are particularly intense and charged. Life at home can sometimes feel like an hour-by-hour struggle. It doesn't help much to have well-meaning friends assure you that, of course, they understand..."

So, as I waded through all the PDD stuff, I requested a lot more books on different subjects that they didn't cover very thoroughly like the children with intense emotions. And I found an awesome article on dual diagnosis of being gifted with learning disabilities from SENG (Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted). The Internal Factors and Dual Diagnosis headings are fascinating because they not only cover gifted children often having high verbal skills but most of them having poor writing skills and about how schools often don't allow children who are classified as learning disabled to be gifted and vice versa, even though it is entirely possible to be both. Gifted children have tremendous emotional frustration from having minds that can create wonderful stories and understand complicated concepts, but brains that can't seem to get them down on paper.

Then there was an "Ah HA!"

"Along with intensity, one typically finds in gifted individuals an extreme sensitivity-to emotions, sounds, touch, taste, etc. These children may burst into tears while watching a sad event on the evening news, keenly hear fluorescent lights, react strongly to smells, insist on having the tags removed from their shirts, must touch everything, or are overly reactive to touch in a tactile-defensive manner."

This is what we have been going through lately. (Table 1 in the article is also pretty informative regarding strengths and weaknesses).

I am not a doctor. I have never played one on TV. I'm not a social worker or a therapist or pathologist. I'm just a Mom who is trying to figure out how to help her son be successful in a mainstream school environment and how to learn to appreciate his strengths and his weaknesses and to recognize self-acceptance. Do I think my child has PDD-NOS? I don't know. Do I think he's gifted? I don't know. Do I think he's got some sort of Asperger's? I don't know. But I do know that the emotional issues he has are symptoms from all three diagnoses.

I also know that he is a kind, smart, sweet kid, who, when he throws a fit isn't try to be a spoiled brat -- he's trying to rid his brain of the overwhelming feelings he has of fear, shame, frustration, anger, neglect, etc. He has not developed enough to have the ability to calm himself, to focus. Or as stated in Quirky Kid, "Quirky children have tantrums that don't go away if you ignore them, that don't lend themselves to limit-setting and time-outs... Parents don't create the rage in their quirky kids. Tantrums, in most quirky kids, are a combination of their developmental differences, their sensory problems, and their peculiar emotional wiring. You can help your child progress developmentally, filter and accommodate the sensory stimuli, and handle the emotional impulses, but you must do it without laying blame, either on him or yourself."

This is what I've learned so far. I'm going to continue researching emotional intensity and see what how much all of this helps when we go in for our 504 meeting on Tuesday.

On a side note, X-man went to the Sloppy Science program tonight at the Phillips Recreation Center in Urbana. As we're walking in, he tells me he's scared. Then he says, quite matter-of-factly, "Not scared, nervous. Nervous because this is new. I've never been here."

I reassured him that the program was just 90 minutes long, and that it looks like it's the first time they'd had it. If he likes it and they do it again, he could sign up. If he didn't like it, well, then he gave something new a try in the name of his love for science. When we walked in they had some slime on the tables. Another boy came in with his Mom, and he was nervous about staying, too. The boys introduced themselves. He was in first grade at Southside. And then they were both okay with the parents leaving because they could bond with each other.

When I came back, X-man was at a table with three other boys. There was a table of five or six girls to the left, and a table with a boy and a girl together in the back. He told me the different experiments that they did. He said he enjoyed his time there, and he totally dug checking out the dancers that were practicing in a different room on our way out. He was a different kid from the flailing crying mess I picked up from school three times this week. The difference being, I think, the couple hours at home where he just got to chill out and decompress and have some time not stimulated in a busy classroom environment. It also helped that tonight there were 12 kids to 3 adults at the Science event. It meant there could be a lot of one-on-one attention, which X-man thrives on.

1 comment:

Debra Crabtree said...

LOVED this. I am the same way about researching everything. I am def. going to check out the article on giftedness and learning disabilities. K struggles socially in very different ways than x-man (not so much anxiety as just social... oddness and inability to see others' points of view). But also because I think I work with some teenagers that fall into the grey area between diagnosis and it is frustrating to see kids medicated when maybe there are otehr things to try.