Spectacular Seven

Last Friday (I’m a week late!) Jamie turned seven.

He is still the most challenging of the two of them but what he takes from me in frustration he gives right back in love and snuggles.

This last year has seen Jamie grow so much in so many ways. He’s finally learning how to express his anxieties so we can work through them. He’s is more willing to listen to us when we try to help him and his frustration level is much lower as a result. That’s not to say that he doesn’t get frustrated. He does. YES, HE DOES. But it’s less often and less intense than it used to be. He’s learning to deescalate.

He’s doing so well with school. Full day school was the answer we all needed. He has an amazing teacher who is kind and understanding and with all that he’s learning, he’s not bored.

He is his own self at all times; Jamie will be Jamie will be Jamie and I just love that about him. It can be frustrating, yes, when we clash, but in the end, knowing that my kid isn’t going to change to please others makes me happy. I know it will serve him well.

I just love having older kids and the more that Jamie leaves those early, dependent years behind him, the more delight I take in him (and Liam!). Babies are great but kids are AWESOME.

So, Happy Birthday, my dear Jamie! You brighten my days with your bear hugs and your snuggles. Never stop being you because you’re pretty great.

Yes, that's a pink cake. That's what he requested so that's what he got.

Yes, that’s a pink cake. That’s what he requested so that’s what he got.

Forward Motion: Picking Up Steam

As of August 27th, school is back in session. This was the test of all the stuff I’ve been fretting about all summer with Jamie. How would the transition to first grade and an all day schedule go? How bad of a crash and burn would we see? Campfire? Bonfire? Forest fire? ICBM?

I’m delighted (and gobsmacked) to report that he’s doing incredibly well. No fires at all. Not even a single flame. He’s taken to first grade like it was no big deal. All day school? No problem, Mom, I got this. I’ve spoken with his teacher, the principal, and his speech therapist – they all report that he’s been doing a FANTASTIC job at school. Far better than I thought he would be.

I have my theories as to why. Kindergarten in our district is a half-day program; we are one of the last holdouts in the area as far as this issue goes. Despite that, they have extended both the Math and Language Arts curriculums down to the kindergarten level. This means that they are shoving a full-day curriculum into 2.5 hours a day. Jamie never had recess last year because they flat didn’t have 20 extra minutes in the day to give to it. Frankly, that’s a lot of pressure to put on 5 year olds.

Also, he had a large class last year. There were 23 kids in his kindergarten class – three more than the cap is supposed to be and four more than the number Liam had. Any parent knows that additional children is not a linear equation when it comes to the work involved. It’s exponential. So extra kids is exponentially more sound, input, and commotion. Combine that with the enormous curriculum expectations and you get a whole lot of anxiety.

This year his class is 18 students and he has a WHOLE DAY to do a whole day’s worth of work. What a concept! He gets lunch, recess, and snack breaks every single day. Suddenly the pressure is off and school is fun. Plus, his teacher this year is every bit as much of a gem as his kinder teacher was.

In the last two weeks he’s been in school I’ve seen his speech get clearer and his reading explode. Last night he sounded out the word “wants” without any prompting from me. He hit the word, didn’t know it immediately, sounded it out, then said the whole word while I sat there with my mouth gaping. Before school started? If it wasn’t a sight word he knew from kinder he refused to even try to read it.

I still don’t expect every day to go this well. I’m sure we will have our bumps and issues. But he is so much happier this year and I couldn’t be more relieved.

Continued Forward Motion

This morning I had my meeting with the new principal at our elementary school so that I could discuss Jamie and his issues with her.

Short story: it went really, really well.

Long story: we talked about his anxiety and how it manifests in the classroom. We discussed strategies to help him and she asked really intelligent questions. She told me who his teacher would be and was very open to having Jamie come in to meet her and see the classroom prior to the first day of school. The principal will be discussing all of this with the teacher and will let me know when the teacher has some time in the schedule to let us come in. We also talked about Jamie being in therapy and what the school can do to work with that. It was everything I hoped the meeting would be.

While I was there I also brought up a couple of problems we ran into in terms of Liam and his academics last year. First, this year we will be opting Liam out of all standardized testing, including the three week long PSSAs in the spring. It’s just too much for him and tells them nothing they can’t learn about him in the classroom. Last year, he broke down into tears at dinner two days before the tests started because he was so worked up about them. The teachers say that there’s no pressure and that the tests don’t count for their grades but then they spend six weeks prepping the students to take the tests. My sensitive kid takes all that in and realizes that “hey, wait a minute, they ARE important and this stresses me out.”

She was completely understanding about this and I said I would give her whatever the state wants for us to opt him out. So. No standardized tests for Liam this year.

Second, I brought up the issue of study habits. Last year, the teachers would say “You have X test on Y day in two weeks. Make sure you study.” And then leave it at that. These kids were 10 and had never been taught how to study for anything. They were baffled by how to prep. I took Liam in hand and began to teach him ways to study for exams he was taking but I was really angry that the teachers handled it this way. You simply can’t expect 10 year olds to have this set of skills if they’ve never been TAUGHT them.

The new principal immediately saw the disconnect. I told her that, of course, we would continue to work with Liam this year because we knew that there were increased expectations. I also said that I know that there are things that parents are going to need to work on with their kids and I’m happy to do that but they need to be covering it in the classroom, too. My hope is that by the time I have a fourth grader again they will have gotten their act together a bit more.

I’m feeling more optimistic about this year than I was. Two more weeks and we’ll find out how misplaced that optimism might be. 😉

Forward Motion

Back in May, I posted about Jamie’s problems during his kindergarten year and the teacher’s recommendation that we have him evaluated for possible spectrum issues. That process turned out to be more convoluted than we originally thought. I should have known that, having been through the speech therapy merry-go-round.

Anyway, after numerous calls and getting shoved from one office to the next, I took him in for an evaluation for sensory processing issues with Occupational Therapy at Children’s. The short of it is that this appointment was largely a waste of time. His issues are more of a behavioral nature and OT couldn’t really help with that.

I left that appointment with a list of people I could call to try to get him a behavioral evaluation. SEPTEMBER was the earliest appointment I could get. I called in JUNE. I felt adrift and like I was talking in circles with these people. So I called our regular pediatrician and asked for an appointment to discuss the whole thing with him so that I could figure out the way forward.

I love our pediatrician and this appointment was no exception. He had us come in late in the day – we were the last appointment – and he stayed late to talk the whole thing through with us. We poured out the whole story and he gave us direction on who exactly to call, what to say, what to do, etc.

In the end, after more phone calls and more hideous wait times, I finally got an appointment with a private therapist for Jamie in July. We’ve seen her three times now and it seems like a picture is beginning to emerge of what we’re dealing with and how to help Jamie.

The root of his issues is anxiety. That anxiety can look like defiance and behavioral problems but it’s not. It’s anxiety. He is a massively observant kid and intelligent to boot so he soaks up EVERYTHING. Academically, he’s doing great. From an emotional maturity standpoint, not so much.

She said that she has seen a number of kids like Jamie – smart, observant, significant speech delay – who exhibit these same problems. Part of it is that speech therapy focuses solely on the mechanics of speech. The kids concentrate so hard on being able to physically SAY words correctly that they miss the part about learning to put words together to express complex thought and emotion.

With Jamie, he KNOWS he’s different from other kids. He knows that he doesn’t have the facility with language that they have; that causes him anxiety. He would rather shut down than make a mistake and put a spotlight on those differences. He hates repeating himself for the same reason. This causes the refusal to do things in class, the avoidance of eye contact with the teacher, etc.

Over the summer I’ve tried hard to alter how I react to Jamie’s mood swings and difficult behavior. I’ve been doing my best to be as patient as I can with him. I try never to rush him when he has something to tell me and just let him get the words out however he can. When he is clearly nervous or anxious about something, I’ve been working to acknowledge that feeling he has before trying to tackle the problem. “Yes, that is scary. That makes me anxious, too. I remember feeling like that about X at your age, too.” Then, I try to help him come up with ways to deal with it. “How about we make a plan to deal with that?” If he perseveres and does something I know he doesn’t like (ex: going off the diving board during swim lessons) I tell him how proud I am of him for doing it in spite of his anxiety.

He also does better with rules and regulations that are laid out prior to his being required to follow them. More on that in another post.

I have a meeting with the new principal at school in a few days to discuss all this with her. Concretely, I want to walk out of that meeting with a plan to have Jamie meet his new teacher and see his new classroom before the first day of school. I also have a number of things to share with her about Jamie’s personality and the ways we can help him excel in school. Some of it is as simple as instead of asking him to repeat himself, ask a similar question to get at the same answer. Other things are more complicated and it’s going to take a very special teacher to work with him. I’m praying for good luck on that front.

So, for the moment, I’m feeling better equipped to help Jamie. If we can find ways for him to cope with and manage his anxiety we’ll be miles ahead of where we were in the spring.

A Hard Day

Yesterday morning I had a parent-teacher conference with Jamie’s teacher and his speech therapist. They do conferences twice a year for the kindergartners so that parents have a sense of where their kids are as they head into first grade.

Academically Jamie is doing great. He’s got his letters and letter sounds, he knows his sight words, he’s starting to read; he knows more numbers than required, shapes, colors, patterns, etc.

Emotionally he’s not much better off than he was at the beginning of the year. It was a very rough transition in the fall. A new school, a new teacher, completely new classmates, a new schedule. All of this together was a lot for Jamie to take and there were meltdowns in school and bad behavior as a result.

We worked with him here at home. They worked with him at school. His teacher has had SO MUCH patience with him. And while things improved they’re not super great either. Enough that I am worried about how he’s going to adjust to all day school next year. I brought up the possibility of holding him back a year and was told that unless he was academically behind the district won’t do it. (Which is fine; I get it. Putting him with younger kids may not help him emotionally anyway and boredom would create its own set of issues.)

Finally, I asked if it was time to have him evaluated for Sensory Processing Disorder.

“I wouldn’t tell you no,” his speech therapist replied.

Jamie’s current list of problems are:

  • He does not handle change well at all. A difference in schedule, a change in pick up routine can (but not always) cause frustration, anger, and crying on his part. The problem being that small changes are occurring all the time at school and no one has time for Jamie to have a meltdown over them.
  • When he gets frustrated he shuts down. He squeezes his eyes shut tight, balls up his fists, and shakes to show his anger. Sometimes he pounds on the desk. This can happen because he’s been asked to do something and it’s not EXACTLY how he wants.
  • He is exceedingly particular about things, almost to the point of OCD. He wants to do things a specific way – HIS way – and in a specific order – HIS order – and deviation from that bothers him a great deal. If he makes a mistake he often insists on starting over at the very beginning instead of just fixing the error and moving on.
  • He has certain sensory affiliations. The one that pops up most often is his obsession with what he calls “smooth tags.” Basically, the clothing tags that are made from double sided ribbon are his *thing.* I’ve seen him carry around a shirt just so that he can touch the tag all the time. I’ve gone so far as to purchase double sided ribbon and pin some to a shirt for him so he wouldn’t go digging in his pants at school to look for a tag.
  • He has refused eye contact with his teachers. He does this either by turning his back entirely on them, pulling his shirt over his face, or looking down at the floor. Now, I know that this is a classic autism behavior but I personally think that it is something different for Jamie. I think he gets overwhelmed and begins to shut down and that is what brings about the loss of eye contact. He doesn’t know WHAT to do or he’s afraid that he’s going to get an answer wrong and he just shuts up and shuts down. If I look at him right in the eyes, he holds eye contact with no problem at all. He’s also affectionate with us, particularly me, and seeks us out for affection. So, I think his issue relates to an over abundance of emotion rather than an inability to understand emotion.
  • And last, but always present, are his speech issues. These ARE getting better and they’re doing so by leaps and bounds but having speech problems is not unusual with SPD.

I had to hold back tears as I walked out of school. I got in my car and cried as I called Scot to tell him. My head knows that intervention is a good thing. Diagnosis and a label means we can add interventions for him to his IEP. Occupational Therapy can give him coping mechanisms. My head knows that this is honestly no different than getting him evaluated for speech therapy.

My heart, on the other hand, hurts. How much more does that poor child have to go through? How many things is he going to have to have to deal with in a lifelong way? Why can’t something be easy for him, just this once?

And underneath all of that, buried deep down but flavoring everything, is that nugget of guilt. What did I do when I was pregnant that caused this? Was it how stressful that pregnancy was? Or did I do him harm by walking away from him when he was screaming as an infant and all I wanted to do was shake him? Did making him cry it out so young scar him psychologically? Did high doses of reflux meds cause something weird to happen in his brain development?

I’ll never have answers to any of those questions and my logical side knows that answers aren’t necessary. They won’t change anything about where we are and what we are going to face going forward. Dwelling on all of that doesn’t serve him or his needs; I have to put it aside.

So, I’ve started the processes of getting him an appointment to be evaluated. So far I’ve called three different numbers trying to get to the right office at the right Children’s location. I’m waiting on a call back from call number three. We have the summer to figure this out and hopefully by the fall we’ll have some answers and some strategies that we can incorporate into his IEP at our beginning of the year meeting.

In the meantime, Scot said something yesterday that was so very true. He said, “He’s still the same kid we sent to school this morning. He’s still the same one we love, we just might have better ways of helping him soon.”

Indeed. Jamie is still Jamie and I love that kid so very much.

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Spectacular Six

Jamie turned SIX on March 4th. Lately I look at him and it’s like he morphed from baby to boy in 20 seconds flat. How in heaven’s name did he get so big so fast?!

Once upon time, he had ankle rolls.

Once upon time, he had ankle rolls.

At six Jamie is still mercurial and difficult sometimes (a lot of the time). He is also loving and sweet, funny and sassy, too smart for his own damn good. He certainly has his opinions and he will let you know about it. Unlike Liam at this age, who was insistently independent, Jamie often demands that we do things for him that he is completely capable of doing on his own. Let’s just say he’s down with being the baby of the family.

Just as I am proud to be Liam’s mother, I am also proud to be Jamie’s. There are different reasons, though. Man, that kid is stubborn but while we butt heads because of it, he also uses it to never give up when it comes to his speech difficulties. I was looking at an old video the other day – the first proof I had of him *really* talking – and I am shocked at how much he’s learned and how far he’s come. That video was barely intelligible as speech – even to me, who has always been Jamie’s best translator. I’m damn proud of the kid for working through it and getting to where he is. I’m proud of who he is as a person – someone who loves his family so completely, someone who never gives up, someone who is sure of who he is and what he wants.

So, here’s to six and all its glories! Here’s to big kids and long school days and endless summers. Happy Birthday, Jamie! You completed our family and we couldn’t be happier.

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Hello, Again

This has been the longest month EVER. I keep wanting to blog and I keep running out of energy.

I’ve spent the last month finishing my semester of school that I got waaaaaaay behind on over the summer. It turns out that trying to do schoolwork with both kids in the house full time is an exercise in futility. By the time I had them both in school and a set time each day to work, I had to cram 7 weeks of course work into about 3 weeks. And then study for and take finals.

As you can imagine, that’s basically what I’ve been doing when I’m not feeding my children. (Always, CONSTANTLY, feeding someone. I fear the teen years.) You can just imagine how trashed my house is.

But I managed to power through the work and took my finals on Monday. I ended up with B’s in all three classes. I wanted A’s – oh how I wanted A’s – but this is what happens when you shove that much work into that little time. Lesson learned. I am now halfway through; 2 clusters down, 2 to go. I did finish all the hard science stuff which is good. It’s interesting to me and not hard but it is A LOT of information and my poor brain wanted to ooze out my eyeballs. From here on in it’s coding, medical office procedure, and professional experience. My plan is to take several weeks off and then start on the next cluster. I aim to finish the next cluster in late Jan/early Feb of 2015 and then tackle the last cluster. This should put me done with schooling just before code change in October 2015 and since I’m training on the NEW code system, this is good for me. Now I just have to hope Congress doesn’t pass ANOTHER delay to code change. (I know, I know. Good luck with that, Cari.)

The kids are doing well. Fourth grade adjustment has been a bit of a bear for Liam but I’m told it’s very normal and his best friend is going through it, too (though worse). We’re getting in the groove now and he will be fine but it’s a big change.

He started trumpet a few weeks ago. After a single lesson he was getting noise out of it. I wouldn’t necessarily call what goes on “music” (and neither would Molly, who hides when Liam practices) but he practices every day and he seems to really like it so I know that it’s only a matter of time before disjointed blats become actual notes and music. I am so proud of that kid. Talk about a well-rounded education; he excels in math, he’s loving music, he’s a black belt in Tae Kwon-Do. He’s also taking Chorus this year.

Jamie is LOVING kindergarten. He hops in the car everyday at pickup so excited to tell me about his day and all the things they did. It’s really a change from Liam who has never been chatty about what he does at school all day. Jamie just seems so happy to be learning and it’s already making a difference with his speech. I think the review of letters and the sounds they make has really made some things click in his head and certain sounds are coming a bit easier now. He’s also started working with the school speech therapist who is just fantastic. He gets one on one time with her twice a week and I am so grateful for it.

In other Jamie news, a couple of weeks ago he came up to me with his nose bleeding all over the place. This isn’t exactly unheard of with him – he seems to be prone to getting them – but he was clearly distressed about this one. So, I did what I could to staunch the bleeding and calm him down and then started to ask him questions about what happened. He refused to tell me. I explained and explained that I wouldn’t be mad at him and that I needed to know so that I knew whether he needed a doctor. Nope. Wouldn’t tell.

“Jamie,” I finally said, “did you put something up your nose?”

“Yes,” he whispered.

then…

“It’s stuck,” he said.

“What’s stuck?”

“A lego,” he replied.

I burst out laughing. I couldn’t help it. The kid stuck a lego up his nose and it wouldn’t come out. I had him blow hard and it didn’t budge so I got a flashlight (thanks, smart phone!) and looked in the nostril. The lego was visible so there was a chance I could get it with a pair of tweezers. I had Jamie lie down on the bathroom floor and I veeeerrrryyyy carefully went after Mr. Lego.

It came out easily enough but I have to say I was a little shocked and just WHAT was up there. When I saw it with the flashlight, I thought it was just one of those small round bricks.

Oh no. THIS, is what I pulled out.

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Friends, that is the handle to a lightsaber blade. All I could see in his nose was the round bottom end. He shoved that sucker waaaaay up there.

So, we had a little chat about how legos don’t go up our noses and that maybe we shouldn’t do such a thing again. Oh, and don’t put them in your mouth and swallow them either. You would think I wouldn’t have to tell a 5.5 year old this information but apparently I do.

Now that life is returning to a less hectic pace I want to spend the next few weeks getting some things done around here. First, I need to clean the place top to bottom. Christ, it’s a hovel. Also, I would like to put my plans for Project Playroom into motion so that I can reclaim my family room to some extent. I had also signed up to do The Subtraction Project in September but that was just a bit much for my overloaded plate. So, I’m saving all the email prompts and I’m going to do them in October. I should also try to get Jamie’s room painted while it’s still warm enough for open windows.

I should probably stop being such a lazy ass and get my butt back on the treadmill.

And on that note, to the treadmill I go!