Navigating life with a teenager….who happens to have bipolar disorder

Posts tagged ‘Teaching’

A Light In The Attic

face-your-fears

 

When we moved to the south three years ago, there were definitely a few fears I had to face.  I was up for the challenge and excited about what lay ahead,  but being the northern girl I am, there were little thoughts nestled in the back of my mind about what I was getting myself….and my child into.

First came the big fears.  My son, CJ, had a hard time being accepted by his peers….and by adults, for that matter…..when we lived outside of Albany, NY.  Would he have trouble with this southern move?  My husband and I are progressive thinkers in the matters of life, love and faith.  How would WE be accepted into this more conservative society?  It didn’t take long for those thoughts to be quieted.  Within months, CJ had found a couple of true friends and my husband and I had become a part of a wonderful circle of very accepting people.

Then came the silly fears.  Georgia has big bugs….and snakes….and tornadoes.   I have to say, I have not seen one snake near our home since we lived here (I did see one in the lake down the road, but it was far enough away that it didn’t even phase me).  There has only been one bad tornado….and it was about fifty miles away.  The bug thing I am still working on.  Two and a half years since we moved into our house and I still have not ventured into the attic for fear of an encounter with a brown recluse spider. In three years I have learned to face my fears of the unknown (well, most of them anyway)…..and this week I triumphed over another one….home schooling my son.

Since elementary school CJ has struggled with being in a classroom.  His anxiety has gotten so overwhelming that he can become physically ill….nausea, vomiting, chest pains.  He was afraid to let teachers know that he understood the work because he didn’t want to be called on.  If a teacher reprimanded him in front of the class, he carried it with him every day.  His struggles with his learning disabilities and sensory processing disorder has hindered the learning process….especially when he has come across teachers that don’t understand working with challenges. This has all been a part of living with bipolar disorder.  This has all been part of our lives since the first grade.  This has all been a part of our lives until we decided enough was enough.

In June, my company was forced to do some layoffs…..me being one of them.  I seized the opportunity to change some of my life goals by starting my own company.  I did so with the assumption that my son would be attending the private school we enrolled him in last winter.  Little did I know, on his first day of school that would all change.

We knew going in, that this was a Christian school, but I specifically asked what views they held upon enrollment.  I was told that the curriculum didn’t hold any specific point of view and that they had students from all faiths attending.  They held up to that for winter and spring semesters.  Not so much this year.  On his first day, CJ was told he was a sinner by his history teacher because he believes in evolution and that the world is millions of years old.  He also got in trouble after that history teacher said God wrote the bible and my logical thinker son said…”Um, no. The followers of God wrote the bible…..that’s why each book is named after them.”.  Later in the day he encountered his new biology teacher who literally struck fear into one of his classmates as she reached across the desk to hit him with a yard stick.

As soon as CJ got in the car at the end of the day, he told me what happened and said, “I am never going to be able to speak in that class because I am sure I will be hit eventually”.  Looking through my son’s notes that day, the only thing on a page from that class said DO NOT SPEAK….underlined five times.   Needless to say, he was a nervous mess.  That night, he woke up from a severe panic attack,  sweating, crying and shaking.  It took him a while to calm down and get back to sleep…….and then he woke up the next day the same way.  The next time I dropped CJ of at school, I remember thinking “School should never have to be a place you are afraid of.”.

By Wednesday of that week I had a long conversation with my husband.  What if I tried to home school him?  I know we had attempted on-line schooling before, but what if I created a curriculum that spoke to him? So, I embarked on a new adventure….trying to build the right curriculum for my kiddo.  Something that would teach him life skills as well as academic ones. Something that would engage his interests while educating him.  Something that would make him want to learn more.

CJ and I had a long conversation about it and I set forth the rules we would have and the schedule we would follow.  We determined to keep the same school schedule he had at the private school, four days a week of class and Fridays would be set aside for any catch up work or course work to help him understand something he is struggling with.  He would also be expected to pick some type of community program to volunteer with.

This week we started.  As before, I had fears going in.  I began with quite a bit of nausea, myself…especially because I didn’t have a whole lot of time to figure out which curriculum program we were going to use….so I created what I call a Frankenstein program…..  little pieces of different programs and some of my own.  I wanted to start by September, so we began with five subjects instead of the six I planned.  I am still working on the curriculum for history and will add that in the next couple of weeks.  This year, our subjects are Oceanography, Popular Literature(focus on comic books and manga), Sign Language, Accounting/Economics and Life Skills (my answer to Home Ec).  Each day I allow CJ to pick which subject he wants to start with.  Our classes are a mixture of reading, lecturing and hands on work so I can see how he learns the best.  He has not made one complaint.  He has completed every task I have set before him.  He even woke me up early on Friday asking me why I let him sleep too late because he wanted to start school.

After the first couple of days, I heard CJ on a telephone call to his grandmother.  He made a comment that struck me.  He said “I understand what I am learning because when I ask a question mama takes time to explain instead of just reading the same thing a second time like all my other teachers have done.  I mean, if I didn’t understand it when you read it the first time, how is reading the same thing a second time going to make it any better?”.  Because he and I are one on one, I have the time to explain things in detail to him and to answer all of the questions he may have, which is something his teachers never had time to do.  I think this will be the key to our success.

So, we are only one week in….but it has been an amazing week.  I wonder if it’s about time I faced another fear and venture into the attic….maybe I’ll leave the light on for a while first, just in case.

light in the attic

My Pet Project

brain overload

Hello All.  I know I have been MIA lately.  I have a really good reason, I do……I promise.  Most of my writing time had to be used for a little project I have been thinking about for a while….but working on for the past few months.

When CJ got into the private school he is now attending, a friend stated how much she wished her son could go there, too.  Unfortunately, due to the distance, she wouldn’t be able to get him there and still get to work.  I thought about her and all of the other parents that are in a similar situation.  I am lucky enough that I work from home with a flexible schedule, so I am able to drive the kiddo 40 minutes to school.  We are also lucky that, because he has an IEP, he qualified for a special needs scholarship.  There are so many kids with mental illnesses or neurological disorders that could use a smaller, calmer environment, like CJ’s school……but unfortunately, they don’t have access to one.  I decided that it was my goal to change that.

For the past few months, I have been putting my mental energy and writing energy into creating a magnet school proposal (our public school system loves magnet schools) that will be geared toward high functioning kids with challenges who simply need an alternate learning environment and a true ‘whole child’ approach to reach their true potential.  It will integrate creative learning techniques, a relaxed, sensory sensitive classroom, team-building, social and life skills training for core students and add in extra classes such as,social psychology, humanities and special ed training to students that wish to pursue those fields as careers.  It will help all the students by letting them work every day with the ‘other’ population they will be working with for the rest of their lives……and help create acceptance and understanding between the two.   I have been in talks with a couple of different counties and they are interested in seeing what I have been working on.  I am proud to say….it is near completion.

Thank you for your patience with me while I work on this project that is very close to my heart.  In the meantime, enjoy this adorable picture that represents how my brain feels right now….and, as always, thanks for reading .

cute brain over load

 

Unlocking the Senses

sensory

I have come to the realization that I talk about sensory processing disorder (aka sensory integration disorder)quite a bit in this blog, yet I have never really explained what it is.  I know it sounds simple and straight forward…..it means our senses don’t work properly….but do you know how that can affect our daily lives? With our kiddos it can cause behaviors that we just don’t understand.  I came across a mom at a recent event whose child had sensory processing disorder and after talking for a bit, I found out that she didn’t even know what that diagnosis really meant.  I try not to get clinical on here….I am not a doctor.  I am just a mom who has lived with a child with sensory issues since the day he was born…..and I have done some research on the topic.  So I thought I would tell you what I know and how it’s related to my kiddo.

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Growing up we were taught that we had 5 senses; sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch.  When it was first suggested that CJ had sensory processing disorder, I thought that it was a no-brainer….of course he did.  He hated loud noises, I had to cut tags out of his clothes, his socks had to be turned inside out, he didn’t like his hair brushed…..he was the pickiest eater ever.  As he progressed through elementary school, these issues seemed to get worse, so I thought I would read into it a bit.  I was astonished at what I found out.  They LIED to us……yes, our kindergarten teachers that taught us about the 5 senses were lying. Ok….well, maybe they weren’t completely lying…..but they didn’t teach us everything.  There are 3 additional senses that I did not know about.  I am going to give you a run down of all 8 senses, their technical names (in case there are doctors out there confusing the hell out of you) and some of the challenges our kiddos face if they have challenges with that specific sense.

1- Visual – This, of course, has to do with our eyes….how we receive light and other visual stimuli. If your kiddo has a visual sensory challenge, bright lights or sunlight might be a problem for them.  Also, flashing lights….especially strobes, can send them into a tailspin. I have a friend who has challenges with light due to chronic migraines.  She uses low watt Christmas lights all over her house. That might help your kiddo, too.

2- Auditory – This is all about sound….but not only strength of sound, it can be about how that kiddo’s brain receives certain tones.  Basic challenges with auditory disorders can be problems with loud sounds.  I once read that you know your kiddo has SPD when their mom always has ear plugs in her purse….or has mastered the ‘flush and run’ in public bathrooms (these are both items I can check on my list).  When he was younger, my son hated the sound of the vacuum cleaner.  I would have my mom take my son outside the house when I wanted to vacuum. This also went for days I wanted to mow the lawn.  As he got older, I found that if he was in control of the noise, he was ok with it.  Once I taught him how, vacuuming was one of his favorite things to do…..you know, before he became a teenager that has an aversion to house work. Back on topic, though, sound is only part of auditory disorders.  The other part is how our kiddos hear things.  There may be certain tones and sounds that their brain just doesn’t process correctly.  It’s not that they don’t listen to us….sometimes they just simply can’t process what we are saying by how loudly or softly we are speaking or even how we are forming our words.

3- Olfactory – This is about the sense of smell.  This can be a challenging one….especially if you enjoy eating out. My son refuses to go into a Subway Sandwich shop because he doesn’t like the smell of the bread baking.  He loves the smell of things baking at home, but there is just something about that Subway bread he can’t stand.  When he was younger, he wouldn’t want me to light scented candles around the house. Even now, I usually run a scent by him before I buy it. There are some kiddos that have the opposite problem, they have an under-sensitive olfactory system. This can drive parents nuts, especially when it comes to hygiene and cleanliness.  This is not to be confused with smelly teenager syndrome……they can smell it, they just don’t care.

4- Gustatory – This all about oral senses and taste.  This really could be called the chicken nugget syndrome.  I don’t know what it is about those things….but so many kids with oral sensitivities will only eat chicken nuggets.  I once suggested to my son that he should write a blog all about chicken…the best franchises to eat them….the texture of the breading…..the spices used etc.  For years, my son was a chicken expert.  He has since become quite the foodie….but it took many years for that to happen.  This is also one of the sensory challenges I personally have.  Mine has to do specifically with texture. Unfortunately, there are many fruits and vegetables that I just don’t like the feeling of in my mouth. Onions, for example…..I love onions.  The flavor is wonderful…..but to get a big piece of onion in my mouth makes my skin crawl and will ruin my appetite for the rest of the day.  When I cook, I use big chunks, so I can get the flavor with out actually eating it.

5- Tactile – This is all about how we physically feel things, touch.  I have pictures of CJ when he was little, sitting on a beautiful green lawn, holding his hands up.  I have another one of him sitting in a pile of fall leaves, crying….with his hands up. And still another one sitting in snow….with his hands up. You get the picture.  He didn’t like the feeling of anything  that was in extreme contrast to his world. He loved the satin edging on his blankie, he loved to grip soft rubber toys….anything that was smooth.  If it was rough or contrasting in texture at all, he just didn’t like it.  To this day, he prefers to take a bath than a shower…..he used to say ‘the shower spray is pokey on my skin’.  An interesting analogy I heard about tactile disorder was to imagine a cold winter day, your heat isn’t working, you have to take a shower before work…..you step onto the cold shower floor, with the cold water pouring down on you feeling like little bits of icicles on your skin.  This is how tactile dysfunction is for our kiddos.  Everything is attacking them like a cold icy shower.

6- Vestibular – This is the sense of balance.  Do you have a kiddo that falls out of chairs for no reason?  Do you have a kiddo that can’t ride a bike….even with training wheels?  Do you have a kiddo that falls up the stairs? If so, that kid probably has vestibular challenges. This can be a hard one to deal with….and frustrating for a kid that just wants to fit in.  For the sake of full disclosure….CJ is the kiddo in every scenario above.  The hardest thing for him to deal with was riding a bike.  All of his friends would go bike riding and he just couldn’t do it, even with training wheels. By the time he was 8, he was starting to get ridiculed about it.  One of the things that I read helps with this is a trampoline.  It helps to adjust their internal balance.  I thought it was worth a try, so I enrolled him in gymnastics.  In about 6 months, he was riding that bike.  To this day, bike riding is one of his favorite things to do.

7-  Proprioception – This is all about the sense of space……or where their body is in conjunction with everything else around them.  The easiest way I have of explaining this is the line at the grocery store.  Do you have a kid that doesn’t understand that they are so close to the person ahead of you in line that they are practically hugging them?  Does your kiddo constantly get in trouble in school for touching his/her classmates in line (this is mostly for elementary school students)? They may not know how close they are to that other person.  Their sense of space…..or how much space is between them, may be skewed.  This one….along with vestibular challenges, tend to be the sensory issues that get kids in trouble most at school, especially for younger students.  They may be considered class clowns or a total clutz.  Either way they get laughed at by the students and reprimanded by teachers for something they are not in control of.  This can wreak havoc on a kiddo’s confidence and self-esteem.

8- Interoceptive – The trickiest of them all – this is the sense of what is going on internally.  I once read an explanation about interoceptive disorders being a comparison to a traffic jam.  The brain knows what it wants to do, but can’t relay the message to the rest of the body.  This type of disorder usually comes about in something called a sensory motor disorder.  One of the motor disorders that is really misunderstood is called dyspraxia.  This can effect the fine motor skills. As a part of this dysfunction, my son has something called dysgraphia.  This pretty much means that writing is a challenge.  Truthfully, it has taken many years of practice, but his hand writing still looks like a 2nd graders. It also takes him a long time to write one sentence.  This has hindered him in so many ways throughout his education.  His frustration with his writing has effected every class in the past(with the exception of technology classes).  Even though I have the use of a tablet/word processor written into his IEP, very few teachers actually read his IEP or follow it. Interoceptive disorders, specifically dyspraxia, tends to be the one that effects a child’s school experience the most.

For many of these sensory challenges, especially in younger kids, they don’t know how to deal with their body’s inability to react the way they want it to, so they end up frustrated and most often, having a tantrum.  The way I used to explain it to teachers was, imagine you were working at the computer and regardless of which key you pressed, it would just freeze up and you wouldn’t be able to accomplish anything…..would you be frustrated? This is how these kids feel when their brain doesn’t send the info to the rest of their body….like a frozen computer.

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Statistically speaking, 1 in 25 kids has some type of sensory processing disorder.  That’s 1 kid in every classroom……yet most people (especially teachers) don’t even know it exists. Kids with SPD are also very often misdiagnosed with ADHD. Doctors have a really hard time separating the two…..especially because a lot of kids with ADHD also have SPD. This also goes for people with  mental illnesses, neurological disorders and traumatic brain injuries. Sensory Processing Disorder isn’t even recognized as a true diagnosis….because it doesn’t have an ICD-9 code …..which is the bible of medical diagnoses. Because of this, when attempting to get evaluations or treatment by an occupational therapist (who most often deals with SPD) it is not covered by insurance.  When we were attempting to get my son’s first IEP, it was years before his bipolar diagnosis, so they gave him an ADHD diagnosis, because it was the only way to get him help in school.  They really need to recognize SPD as a true disorder of its own so more kids and their families can get help.  We also need to educate our educators so they know what to look for with these kids and can find better ways adjust their learning environments.

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For parents of SPD kiddos, it can cause frustrations because we don’t know what is sensory challenges and what is simply bad behavior. The best thing I ever read was The Sensory-Sensitive Child, by Drs Smith and Gouze.  They are both moms of kids living with these disorders.  Reading that book not only educated me on the senses, but opened my eyes to how I reacted to my son’s challenges.  I was no longer quick to reprimanded him or punished him for things that were beyond his control.  I, instead, looked at each action and tried to determine what caused it before I reacted to it.  I then learned what his triggers were and how I could help him in a positive way by teaching him coping skills. In the end, it changed our relationship for the better.

A Little Shellfish, Not So Crabby

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At the end of our NAMI meetings, one of the things we go around the room to ask is ‘What will you do for yourself in the coming weeks?”.  This is an important question.  Caregivers tend to forget to do things for themselves when their focus is on their loved one with challenges.  The things we do for ourselves help us to reduce the stress of our lives.  Being a little selfish is ok.  Helping ourselves, in-turn, helps our children. That statement goes for ALL parents, not just those with special needs kiddos.  Unfortunately, it’s a statement that I forget…..a lot. When it comes to the end of our meetings and that questions is asked, I usually have to search for an answer.  This week, I did 2 things for myself.

The first one was my hair.  I know, that may sound silly….but in my life, spending a day in a salon is not something that happens very often.  Not only did I get my hair done…..I had it colored pink.  I have done pink highlights for a few years now….but this time I went all in, and it made me so happy.  Every time I look in the mirror, I smile.  Isn’t that what self-care should do….make us feel better? Well, I feel better with pink hair. I know my grandmother will be disappointed, but she is not the one in the mirror looking back at me every day…..and it is that person who I need to make happy. We forget that sometimes….that our happiness is important.  We worry about what others will think….of us, of our kids, of our lives….but what matters most is what we think.  Do you like yourself?  Are you teaching your children to like themselves? Is your life bringing you joy?  These are the important things to remember.

pink hair

No, this is not an April Fool’s joke. 🙂

 

The second thing I did was take a class on suicide prevention in teenagers.  I know that may not sound like self care…but it actually makes me feel good to learn new things….any new thing.  I took the day off of work, my husband took on the drop off and pick up duties for my son and I left for the day…..to learn ways to help other kids in need. If that’s not a win-win, I don’t know what is.  I have spent so many years learning everything I can about mental illnesses and neurological disorders in children to help my son.  It makes me happy to use that knowledge to help other children and their parents.  This blog was the first step….and now I am getting ready for a few more steps in that direction.

I always say it is important to teach our children that they are not their illness….they should not let their illness define them.  They are so much more than that…..and so are we.  We are not just parents of special needs kids.  We are human beings that need to be a little selfish every once in a while….and that’s ok.

What will you do to take care of yourself this week?

 

*NAMI is the National Alliance on Mental Illness – To find a NAMI support group in your area, go to:
https://www.nami.org/

The Suicide prevention class I took was called Lifelines and it was provided by The Society for Prevention of Teen Suicide.  They also offer a free online certification training for educators on their website:

http://www.sptsusa.org/

My Unexpected A-Ha Weekend

aha moment

As I awoke, unusually early for a Saturday, I felt a bit nauseated.  I was approaching, what I considered, a challenging weekend.  You see, for some time now I have dealt with mild social anxiety.  It has become especially difficult for me since CJ’s challenges have gotten harder.  I have come to the conclusion that it is directly connected to CJ’s diagnosis.  My theory is that, for most people, home is routine, home is monotonous and they look outside their door to find something to spice up their life or to experience something different in their world.  For us, life at home is unpredictable.  When I wake up each morning, I have no idea what to expect from my day.  When you live like that, who wants to face even more unpredictable situations outside your door?  Not me.  I tend to stick to what I know…….the stores I shop at, the restaurants I eat at and the friends I spend time with.  Putting myself into new situations can sometimes make me physically ill.

For the past year and a half, my husband, Michael, and I have been a part of a family support group for caregivers that is part of the NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness) organization.  It has proven very helpful for us and we have a nice group of people locally that I am very comfortable with.  In an effort to help others, we had decided to sign up to train as facilitators so we would have more people able to run the meetings in the event that someone was ill or out-of-town.  I didn’t think much of it when we initially inquired about the training.  Last week, we received an email that there was a training class happening about an hour from where we lived and they had an opening.  So, there I was, Saturday morning, nauseated and driving along hwy 20 feeling like I was going to be sick.  Little did I know that this weekend would not only be full of new challenges….but give me a lot of insight on how lucky I am.

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a-ha_take_on_me_2_1985_the80sman

Couldn’t resist inserting an actual A-Ha moment.

A-ha moment #1:

Throughout the weekend, our training was filled with scenarios and role-playing that reflected many situations that families with mentally ill loved ones deal with.  It wasn’t like I didn’t know all of these situations happen…..but the fact that they were written into a training class somehow made me feel different than just hearing it in a support group.  I have met people in similar situations that have gone through what we go through regularly and it is always comforting to know that there is someone out there like you.  What hit me this weekend, with this training class, was that there isn’t just ‘someone’ out there like me….there are so many people out there living in these situations that they created a training scenario about it. I don’t know why it took this class for me to come to that realization.

A-ha moment #2:

By lunchtime on the first day of training, my nausea was gone and I was quite comfortable with everyone in the room.  Feeling included with other people has always been hard for me.  Even as a teenager, I didn’t feel as though I was ever a ‘part’ of a group.  I had friends and was acquaintances with many people in many different ‘cliques’, but was never a true part of any specific one of those cliques.   Even with family, I can sit at a dinner table and feel as though I am not seen or heard.  I have just always been so much better one on one than in a group.  I am quickly finding that I can feel at ease quickly with just about everyone I have met through NAMI.  I don’t know if it is because we all have a story, we all have a life that others may judge…..so we don’t judge each other.  It’s like a permanent ‘safe zone’.  From my regular support group, to the NAMI walk, to this training class, even though I have started out nervous, I have felt comfortable pretty quickly.  Kind of like a fraternity or sorority, you can meet someone new, find out that they are involved in NAMI and there is an immediate bond and understanding.  It may have taken me until the age of 39….but I think I have found my ‘group’.

A-ha moment #3:

One of the topics that came up a few times this weekend was the fact that NAMI helps so many people feeling lost and lonely after losing friends and family that don’t understand what you go through when you are caring for someone who is mentally ill.  This was brought up on Saturday in conversation, but I didn’t think about it much in the context of my own life.  Saturday evening, after class was done, I had planned on spending the night at my best friend’s house as she lives close to where the class was being held.  I got there at 5pm and we started talking…..I don’t think our conversation ended until we fell asleep at 2:30am.  I love nights like that with her, where we can talk about anything and everything, but I think I sometimes take for granted how lucky I am that I have a friend like that.  In the car the next day, I started thinking about the fact that she has been in my life and CJ’s life since he was a baby. One of my other best friends has been a part of our lives since before he was born. They are my biggest cheerleaders and supporters.  As I thought about it more and more, I realized that I have not lost anyone in my life due to CJ’s illness the way that so many others have.  At first I thought it was because I am lucky that my friends accept CJ’s illness. As my drive home wore on I changed my mind as to why. I think it has more to do with my acceptance of CJ’s illness.   I have never hidden our struggle.  There may not be many people in our lives, but most of them have been on this journey with us. They don’t just know the good, happy, parts of our lives…they know all of it.  They share the highs and lows with us.  If anything, my vocalization of our life has brought more people into my world.  The more people, the bigger the support system.  I have gained better friendships with people from high school, people from church, people from social media….heck I even now have a friend overseas that I consider a part of my support system.  I don’t think I would have been able to have gained such a great group of people and surrounded my family in so much love if I hadn’t been willing to accept CJ’s illness and educate others. This realization has made me feel like, somewhere along the way, I made a few good decisions in how I handled the challenges life has thrown at us.

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So after 2 exhausting and emotional days……..with a long night of girl talk sandwiched in-between, I am now a certified NAMI Family Support group facilitator.  I am also now planning on training to be a NAMI Basics class teacher, to help other parents of kids and teens understand more about mental illness and navigating the educational and health care systems.   This weekend has taught me that I still have a lot to learn…..but at least I can take what I do know and help others in the best way I know how.

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To get more information about NAMI or to find a support group in your area, please go to

 http://www.nami.org/”>

Ch-Ch-Ch-Changes

Things are changing in our world once again. After trying a semester of a split (home and school) schedule for CJ, we have found that it is not working.  He needs more structure and he and I need not be in an office all day together…..even if it is only every other day. His grades are suffering, even more than before. Even worse, our relationship is suffering. I am after him constantly to get his online work done.  By the end of some days, we aren’t even speaking because there has been so much frustration and tension between the two of us.

Lego Devils advocate

I have always been a firm believer in public education, really, I have…..it’s just not working for my son.  Since the 6th grade, CJ has been in modified special ed classes.  This means that he takes mainstream classes with guidance, either from a secondary teacher or an additional aide in the classroom for core subjects. Other elective classes are simply mainstream.  This year we tried to do a split program where he takes some classes online and others on-site.  This has been our challenge, online classes don’t provide him enough guidance and on-site classes are getting so big, special ed kids are getting lost in them….as well as getting emotionally overwhelmed with the social challenges that always come with high school.

I have also found that, just like all kids learn in different ways…..some teachers are only able to teach in certain ways.  As we have gotten up to the high school level, there seems to be less patience and understanding for kids with challenges…..and less flexibility in the way teachers are able to reach them.  Last month, I had a conversation with his case manager, who also happens to be one of CJ’s co-taught classroom teachers.  We discussed that with his modifications (extra time, option to key instead of write…etc) CJ has the ability to do any of the work provided…..he just needs the motivation to do it. This teacher said to me “I have been trying to get him interested, but as case-managers, we are taught to modify programs, not motivate kids”. This made me upset.  Not at this teacher…..he was doing everything in his power to help my child….but his statement just goes to prove that teachers aren’t always given the tools that they need to work with these kids effectively. He is only one teacher….among the many that my child experiences every day.

Lego Motivation

 

I know many people who are educators and I know this next statement may make some waves…..but I think there is way too much ignorance in the teaching profession in regard to kids in special ed programs.  ‘Special needs’ does not in any way, shape, or form mean stupid.  Unfortunately, we have come across multiple teachers in recent years, who think just that……or at least they treat the kids in their classes as such. Although there have been a few that we have been able to educate about how neurological challenges effect kids in the classroom……and how to work with those challenges, there are even more that refuse to hear.  Because of this, my son feels defeated on a regular basis. He is constantly telling me how dumb he is. CJ is far from stupid…..he actually has an IQ of 112. While he may not be classified as a genius, he is above average.  One of his best friends happens to be autistic….and is brilliant, but still requires special services in school.  There are so many kids in the same situation that are getting lost in the system. I am afraid that, in our situation, since CJ has entered middle school, the public school system just hasn’t been serving his needs as well as I would like. I think this has a lot to do with the class size and the rigid curriculum that is being placed on these teachers, but some of it is the teacher’s willingness to learn how to work with different children’s skill sets and challenges. A whole other part for us is CJ’s lack of willingness to engage once he emotionally shuts down. This happens quite often.

We found an option that we qualify for through GA’s special needs scholarship.  Because CJ has an IEP (Individualized Education Plan), GA will pay for certain private schools.  We have a couple of schools in our area that are classified as special needs scholarship recipients….but not all are the right fit for CJ.  We did find one, however, in the next town over, that we are going to give a try. The classes are small, 12-15 kids max, and 25% of their kids have IEP’s, so they know how to work with the requirements. They also have a 4 day class week and the 5th day is a catch-up or tutoring day. Another bonus, being a private school, they have the ability to work with a different curriculum than the state mandated common-core.

So, I am running around gathering all of the required paperwork in the hopes that I will have it all together by Friday, the day I need to go in and fill out paperwork. If all goes as planned, he will be able to start after Christmas break. This is my last hope.  If this doesn’t work for him, I really don’t know what our next step is. No matter what I do, I can’t force him to want to learn and I can’t force him to understand the importance of an education. No matter how much I would love to do this on my own……I need help.  Educating a child takes a team and hopefully I will find a team at this school that can help me motivate him and educate him. One of the challenges with bipolar disorder is that CJ rarely sees beyond today.  So I will take a page out of his book….. for today, I will be calm and hope that this new school fits his needs. I will hope that the teachers will have patience with him and somehow help me get him excited in learning again. That would be a beautiful thing.

Lego Teamwork

 

****Today’s graphics are a nod to the wonderful Sheena at Not a Punk Rocker. who helps me see the light at the end of this long tunnel. 🙂

If Kids are Going to Rule the World….We Better Teach Them Some Manners First

considerateI wrote the other day about how this world has become so self-involved.  I had a dream last night that triggered a memory from a while back that I thought I would share with you all.

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Following my divorce, I dated a gentleman for the better part of 4 years. He was from a big, boisterous Italian family.  They would regularly have family dinners to celebrate birthdays…..and since there were a lot of cousins, there were a lot of family dinners.  One day, he called and asked if I would like to attend his mother’s birthday dinner that next Saturday.  Being the introvert that I am, he sensed my hesitation and told me that it would only be a few of us and it would be at a restaurant in a nearby city.  I asked what type of restaurant it was and should I have CJ (who was then 3 1/2) stay at his grandmother’s for the evening?  After making some inquiries, he informed me that his sister, Jane, was also bringing her 5-year-old daughter and had brought her to this restaurant multiple times with no problem.

On the evening in question, we met up with his family outside this very, very upscale restaurant.  I groaned inwardly….I knew it wasn’t going to be a fun evening, this was not a good space for my sensory sensitive kiddo.  I felt a little better when the maitre d’ brought us to a semi-private dining room.  Our group of 8 was seated at the one large table in the room and the scattering of small 2-seat tables were all empty.  I figured, we were there fairly early, so maybe we could eat and get the kiddos out of there before the bulk of diners arrived.  I was wrong.

Following a huge influx of appetizers and very few people being able to make a decision about their meals, and hour and half later…and before we were served our meals, couples started to be seated in room along with us. Being able to maintain a toddler in a private room is one thing….but now I was trying to maintain a toddler in a public atmosphere after he had been behaving for well over an hour.  What made it even harder was that Jane had handed her 5-year-old a pad of paper and told her to play waitress.  Of course, CJ would have none of sitting when another child was allowed to wander.  Jane…..a child behavioral specialist, picked CJ up out of his chair, reprimanded me and said “you have to let kids be kids”. As our 2 small children started wandering around the room taking orders from all of the couples sitting at surrounding tables, I was mortified.  Needless to say, for any other dinners with that family, my son got to go to grandma’s….where I could let my ‘kid be a kid’ in a space that was appropriate for him to do so.

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Why did I tell you this story? Well, just as we have become an egocentric society, we are raising selfish, entitled children.  What made it ok for our kids to interrupt other people’s evenings? If you were a couple that was having a private ‘date night’ at a very upscale restaurant, how would you feel about small children impeding on that time?  Had I been given more information going in, I would have found a sitter for my son….but once I sized up the situation, I was trying to use it as a teaching moment…trying to teach my son to be respectful of others. That teaching moment, my choice as a parent, was over-ridden by other people who thought they knew better. In turn, it was insinuated that I was a bad mother……and was told that night that I had a lot to learn about parenting.  Years later, I still feel like I wasn’t the one with something to learn in that situation.

Our society is becoming so self-involved because we are teaching our children that it’s ‘all about them’ and that their feelings, wants and needs come before others. It may seem old-fashioned of me, but I think it’s time that we return to teaching manners, first and foremost.  If you want your kid to be able to act like a kid, then bring them to an environment that is conducive to that behavior.  If you bring them into an adult situation or environment, be prepared to use it as a teaching moment for your child…..and for you.  Your child needs to learn to respect other people’s space and privacy and you need to learn that, if your kid is ‘being a kid’ there are probably going to be people who are upset by that. But guess what…..it’s not all about you or your kid.