Monday, June 20, 2011
When my first two children graduated from our homeschool in 2006, we declared our school colors to be black and blue. We were the homeschool of hard knocks! Not only did my children struggle with learning, but I struggled to try to find better ways to teach them. One of the biggest benefits for those attending workshops for children with various special needs is to look around and realize they are not alone. There are others striving to teach children with challenges, and others who understand the difficulties families face when their child has to work harder than most for every small gain they accomplish.
What has always amazed me is how God has prompted me to share some of the hardest, most unimpressive movements of my life and that is what people are blessed by in my workshops. Sure, I offer lots of tips and practical strategies, but what people connect with is hearing a speaker who admits to not having it all together but never gave up trying. My son is a young adult now, and he comes to conferences with me. People look at the two of us as survivors, who dealt with a lot of learning challenges and came out intact. Now Josh can share his perspective, and give parents insight into why their children may act the way they do.
I've never had all the answers to the challenges my children faced. What I did have was a commitment to help them grow into the unique individuals God intended them to become, equipping them as best I could. Sometimes I was out of ideas for how to teach a given topic, and my kids still weren't "getting it". All I had to offer was reassurance that I would keep trying to find ways to help, and would not give up on them. I would be the knot at the end of the rope that they could hang onto. The message was: Mom doesn't have all the answers but Mom will always be there with you, coming alongside until we figure something out.
Don't underestimate the power of just being there for your children. You don't need to know all the answers, but your kids need to know you haven't given up on them. It's in the safety of knowing your love is unwavering that your children find the courage to try again, fail or succeed, and try some more. Our children are far more than what they can or cannot do, and they each have something to offer. This overall supportive attitude has a far greater impact than the best teaching strategies in the world.
Years ago I had a man in his 30's come up to talk to me after I presented my workshop, "Helping the Distractible Child". I don't remember which conference it was, but I will forever remember what he said to me. He explained that as a child he always had difficulty paying attention, and was constantly getting in trouble as a result. He thought he was smart enough, but couldn't sit still and had trouble completing assignments. He tried hard to comply with the demands put on him, but always felt like he was a disappointment to his parents no matter how hard he worked. "I wish I'd had a mom like you," he said. "One who could see the strengths and work with me."
One day all of our children will be adults. I challenge you to be that Mom, the one who never gives up on her kids no matter what. Be that Dad, who is consistently there for his children regardless of their struggles. Be that husband or wife who sticks around during the hard times. Be that person, so that one day your adult children will be able to say, "I'm so glad I had a Mom (and Dad) like you."
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Her brother and sister (Josh and Beth) were crazy about her and wanted to include her in all their activities. They loved to teach her about whatever they were learning and when we were out and about Josh would hold one of Beckie’s hands and Beth would hold the other. Beckie was a very versatile playmate. She loved tea parties, dress-up times, Legos, and playing in dirt. Josh says Beckie is the best little brother he could ever have wished for.
I can still picture Beckie’s beaming smile as she grew up, and remember thinking how very loved and confident she always looked. More than once I thought I could have aptly named her “Joy” instead of Rebecca, because she typically seemed so joyful and brought it to others. It was hard not to smile when Beckie was in the room.
Like her brother, Beckie has dealt with attention challenges (ADHD), sensory processing difficulties, and an auditory processing disorder. Despite these struggles, Beckie has faced them with grace and determination and has experienced success. Today she is a second degree black belt in karate and at the time of her high school graduation she has already completed her first year of college.
Beckie has grown into a lovely young woman. She is compassionate, optimistic, funny, and strong. Her sense of humor and quick-witted observations are delightful. Beckie’s enjoyment when she is with animals and children is contagious. She is a loyal friend and a defender of the underdog. I think Beckie is amazing, and it has been a privilege and a blessing to be her teacher and Mom.
Beckie graduated from our homeschool, the Family Home Academy, on May 22nd, 2011. Congratulations, Beckie!
Wednesday, June 08, 2011
As a young adult Josh now manages most of his sensory problems with ease. He has discovered that he enjoys cooking and decided he needed to expand the number of recipes he knows how to make. I've taught him the basics of meal preparation, and I compiled a list of easy-to-prepare recipes that I thought Josh would enjoy making and eating. One such recipe was "Easy Lemon Chicken". Josh would gladly consume the final, baked version of this dish. Unfortunately, and I didn't know this about Josh, he can't stand the smell of lemon juice.
He's fine with lemonade, lemon-scented soaps, cleaning wipes, and lemon jello. In fact, I can't think of anything lemony that Josh reacted negatively to as a child. This experience revealed that there is something different and acrid for him about lemon juice and it was so hard for him to smell that concentrated lemon scent that he had difficulty just measuring it out to make the recipe.
Adding to the challenge was Josh's tendency to be impulsive, which of course is consistent with his ADHD diagnosis. With all the ingredients, even very common and frequently used ones, Josh automatically gives them a sniff before adding them to a recipe. He tells me he needs to check to make sure the smell is consistent over time and that things should smell exactly the same way each time or something seems wrong and he feels suspicious about that ingredient. In any case, sniffing food items is a well-developed habit by now, though thankfully not in public anymore.
Josh gave the lemon juice a whiff, and had an immediate nose-wrinkling response followed by thrusting his arm as far from his nose as he could extend it. Blinking incredulously, Josh proceeded to...take another whiff from the bottle of lemon juice. Why? Partly due to impulsivity and partly due to his sensory system demanding consistency over time. He had to check again just to make sure it smelled as noxious to him as it had the first time. Yep! It still smelled awful to him, but at least he knew what to expect the second time.
Predictability is comforting to the sensory-challenged. It helps to know what to expect, even if it is still an unpleasant sensation. Better the bad sensory experience you know than the unexpected sensory experience which could prove very unsettling merely by the unpredictability factor. Josh powered through the olfactory assault as he prepared the recipe, although it wasn't as "easy" for him as the recipe name implied.
Thursday, June 02, 2011
Slapshot, who is 2 years old, at least knows how to act like a dog in trouble. He avoids eye contact, tucks his tail a bit, and slinks a little. He takes himself to the back door and waits to be let out, darting down the steps as soon as he can squeeze his 95 pound doggy self through the opening door. He doesn’t bark to be let in until we come and call him or he feels he has paid his penance.
Daisy, on the other hand, is just over a year old and is totally clueless as to what it means to be in the doghouse. She gives the same toothy grin when she’s getting her leash on to go for a walk as when we discover she has chewed up a shoe and scold her. If she is put outside so we can clean up after her, she eagerly heads out and looks over her shoulder to see if we are coming along to play with her.
I’m not sure, but if there is a doggy ADHD I think she may have it. Some of the signs are there. Let’s see. She’s definitely hyper, and enjoys jumping on and off my furniture. Multiple times. She persists despite correction and redirection of this behavior. This is consistent with the hyperactivity my two ADHD children displayed when they were young.
Impulsivity? In spades. I have to be on the alert when I walk her because if she sees something interesting she will take off on a moment’s notice and try to drag me along behind her. I suspect that dragging sensation she feels is the only way she even remembers I am with her.
Distractible? Daisy excels in this category as well. I have been training her in basic obedience skills, starting with the command to sit. At first, she just gave me that toothy grin while lunging for whatever treats I had to give her incentive to learn to sit. Then she would sit just long enough for her tail to hit the floor and she’d be back to the lunging. It would have been great if I had been trying to teach her to bounce her hind end on the floor, but I actually wanted her to sit and stay put for a little bit. I should probably mention that I also had this experience with my ADHD children!
At this point, Daisy can sit with Slapshot by her side providing a strong role model. He’s in it for the treats, but that’s o.k. After I give the command to sit, I give the command to stay. I step back and maintain eye contact while giving the hand signal for “stay”. Slapshot is an old pro with this command, and he sits still as a statue while never taking his gaze from me. Daisy watches me intently for about two seconds, but if there is a noise or movement nearby she has to look in that direction. She just has to, she can’t resist the urge. Again, not unlike my distractible kids. Yes, she wants the treat. But sometimes it’s not worth missing out on something else.
ADHD children have difficulty completing tasks. Once again, this is true of Daisy. What tasks could a dog have to do? How about eating her dinner? Slapshot is a big dog, and gobbles his food down as fast as his specially-designed-to-slow-him-down dish allows. Daisy, while not as large as Slapshot, is also a large dog who forgets to finish the food in the bowl right in front of her. While Slapshot greedily inhales his food, Daisy has trouble initiating and dawdles around her bowl. (Another executive function skill my children struggled with growing up – but never when it came to food!) After a minute or so, Daisy begins to eat. She is genuinely hungry, but will abandon her food for almost any competing stimuli. If she hears another dog barking outside, someone at the door, or even if I take a few steps away from her, she lifts her head and goes to where the action is – even if it means that Slapshot will try and finish her food once his is gone.
I’ve always said a label can be useful if it helps you find information and get support for what you are experiencing. I already live with three individuals with the ADHD diagnosis, so I am recognizing Daisy’s symptoms early on. Daisy is a delight, even if she still has to learn that being cute doesn’t cut it. My family members can be pretty delightful, too.
In addition to the scattered trash in my dining room, Daisy had pulled a box of dryer sheets off the shelf in my laundry room and had chewed up the box and scattered the sheets around the room. She did not ingest any, just spread them around. As we cleaned up the mess my son suddenly commented, “Hey! It smells pretty nice in here!” Immediately the other two ADHD individuals stopped what they were doing to take a moment to enjoy the fresh aroma caused by Daisy’s chewing and all agreed that the room smelled wonderful. Way to live in the moment, guys!
Slapshot and Daisy came back in the house once we had the mess cleared away. Daisy trotted up to me with her usual enthusiasm and toothy doggy grin. I bent over to pet her, and as she gazed lovingly up at me I realized that her typical doggy breath had been replaced by the lovely fabric softener scent of Clean Rain.