Tuesday, May 26, 2009

What's in a job?

When I picture my son behind a desk at work, all I can see is a grown up version of the same kid spinning around in a chair as fast as he can. And breaking pencils. I often wonder whether he’ll go to college and what he might do to earn a living as an adult. 

Last summer, my kids started coming home from day care with handfuls of “tickets” for prizes at their school. At first, I was so proud that they were doing so well in this academically oriented daycare. Then I learned the truth. 

My son figured out that he could sell time on his Nintendo DS to the other kids for tickets and the tickets could then be redeemed for candy. A good deal for him, a good deal for his consumer. He quickly enlisted his sister’s participation and the two of them became “rich” feeding off the electronic dependencies of their peers. 

This was about the point that I stopped worrying about how he was going to earn a living. Okay, maybe I still worry a little. Scholastically, he’s got some problems but socially, he may be the king of networking. In our last neighborhood, he was dubbed “the mayor” by one of the other parents because he got all the kids together to play. What was most interesting to me is that the kids were all different -- some smart, some athletic, some older, some younger -- and my son was the common friend among them.

I’m not sure what this will all add up to – a career in sales? Politics? A street hustler?


Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Captain Chaos

I decided to clean my son’s room yesterday after two months of letting him “handle it.” Before I stopped badgering him to clean his room, I set up some ground rules mainly that there was to be no food in the room and clothes that weren’t put in the laundry room on Saturday didn’t get washed. I foolishly thought that if he had to wear a dirty uniform to school, he’d get the message and start picking up his stuff off the floor. He's worn the same socks to school for two weeks and I'm not sure where the clothes are coming from. Still there's been no attempt to straighten his room.

I’ve read 100 times that kids with ADHD have “poor organizational skills.” What I haven’t read is an accurate description of how incredibly messy that can be. Sure, his binder and school papers are shoved in his backpack with little hope of ever finding them again. But his room achieves a whole different level of disorganized and “poor organizational skills” doesn’t begin to cover it. Pure, complete chaos seems more appropriate. 

I’ve tried to help him. He has a dresser with drawers for clothes, shelves for books, bins under the bed and in the closet for toys and boy stuff, a bedside table for a clock radio and a lamp, a desk and even an organizer for his cell phone and iPod. 

The bookshelves were empty, clothes were on the floor, bins were empty and his “stuff” was everywhere. The bedside table was clean, the lamp and clock radio across the room were connected by an elaborate mass of extension cords. His desk was home to a 2-ft. long Lego vehicle (the extra pieces are still sticking to the bottom of my feet) and there were parts of broken toys, victims of his endless curiosity, everywhere. 

When I ask him to clean his room, I write down specific tasks so that when he gets distracted two minutes later, he can, theoretically, look back at his list and get back on track. It worked better when he was younger and not so curious. The last time I left him alone to clean his room, I returned 15 minutes later to find him finishing a pulley system made with dental floss so that he could open his bedroom door by moving his chair across the room. 

I think a sparse room with no “stuff” is the answer. Rubber walls might not be a bad idea either. Anyone else have any ideas?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Extra help

At times during my son’s educational career, it has become very clear that whatever assistance I had to offer wasn’t going to be enough. Usually, this was during the time periods where I worked full time and didn’t have the time or energy to work with him after school. Or he simply needed more expertise than a mom with a degree in communications could give him. 

There are a lot of great educational resources out there. I've preferred to stick with one-on-one help rather than learning centers that often cost just as much.

Tutoring – 

What’s worked – An educational therapist. They’re typically more expensive but they have the education and experience to warrant the added expense. The one I hired worked on language processing, memory and attention issues. She also attended IEP meetings with me which was invaluable. 

What hasn’t worked – me, at least not all the time.  It’s not easy to work with your own child. I get frustrated. He gets frustrated. Pencils get broken, papers get crumpled. I can’t begin to count the number of times his binder’s been closed for the night without homework completed because of the strain it caused between us. 

What’s worked – Hiring a tutor who is also a special education teacher. The one I hired one summer was encouraging but firm and set high expectations for my son. They covered a lot of ground in a short period of time. 

What hasn’t – using tutors that don’t know the material.  I knew things were bad this year (sixth grade) when my son’s homework tutor sent me an email saying she didn’t understand his math homework.  

Much of what I’ve learned about my son has come from the professionals that worked with him. I’m not sure who has been educated more by his tutors, him, or me. I didn’t know what ADHD looked like until I saw my son work with the educational therapist. The work was hard, he had to think and he was wired. The placid little guy that watched TV with his face glued to the screen was gone and he was sent into perpetual motion. I saw my son in a new way and now can appreciate the challenges his teachers face on a daily basis.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Shaky hands

Around the time my son started to talk, his speech therapist noticed that his hands trembled whenever he tried to color with crayons, drink from a cup, put food in his mouth or grasp small objects. An MRI showed everything was fine and we were told that these hand tremors or what we called, “shaky hands,” were here to stay.

I quickly accepted that my son probably would never become a neurosurgeon but I didn’t realize the effect that poor fine motor skills and “shaky hands” would have in the classroom. Writing is tiring and mostly illegible. Over the past 10 years, the schools have tried to help and I’ve sought help from outside professionals but the problems persist and handwriting remains his biggest obstacle in the classroom. 

Poor Handwriting (dysgraphia)

What’s worked – Using an AlphaSmart or small portable keyboard. I bought him one in third grade, he’s now in sixth and he’s finally accepting that it’s his friend. (www.alphasmart.com

What hasn’t – A well-meaning occupational therapist with the school district tried placing a weight on his wrist to steady the shaking. It didn’t work at all and was painful! She also tried a contraption made of string that made him hold the pencil differently, also ineffective and very distracting. 

What's worked – Cursive. Despite being told by his third grade teacher that he’d never write cursive, his private school requires it. Using cursive, he has no letter reversals and there is space between his words. He still tires easily and it’s not always legible but it’s an improvement over his manuscript writing. Handwriting Without Tears has a good program for teaching handwriting at home. (www.hwtears.com)

What hasn’t – Big pencils, small pencils, mechanical pencils, triangular pencils, pencils with squishy grips, pencils without squishy grips, paper with raised lines, paper without raised lines, graph paper, paper with huge spaces, paper with regular lines, blank paper. 

Thankfully, my son has adapted very well to using a computer and type, type, typing away. I keep telling him that the day will come when no one sees his handwriting. After all, when was the last time any of us wrote a note by hand?

Monday, May 4, 2009

Do you hear what I hear?

Auditory processing disorder has become a common diagnosis among children with learning differences in the past several years. Most professionals agree that it’s hard to distinguish between an auditory processing issue and ADHD. Often, a child might have both.

An audiologist determined that my son had a “moderate” auditory processing disorder when he was in first grade. To be quite honest, it’s very hard to tell if any of the products or interventions has been effective, none provided immediate results but it’s possible that his improved listening and processing skills are a result of early interventions. 

Auditory Processing 

What’s worked – small class size, quiet work environment, sitting in the front of the class. 

What hasn’t – My son completed both sets of Earobics exercises, dozens of hours of computer listening time. The cost was relatively low ($69 per set) but there was no noticeable change. 

What’s worked – My son and another child in his second grade class had a speaker on their desk and the teacher wore a microphone. It seemed to help keep his attention longer but it was deemed ineffective by the school after a short trial period. 

What hasn’t  – a 90-hour listening program (the Tomatis Method). It was very expensive ($5,000) and required him to be in the administrator’s facility for two hours a day for weeks. The program is best known for helping autistic children speak but did not have a noticeable effect on my child's learning or ability to focus.

There’s an interesting book on auditory processing called “Like Sound Through Water,” by Karen Foli. The book has a wealth of information and resources on auditory and language processing and it’s a good read as well.