Monday, March 11, 2013

What Happened At School

An update on Firstborn.

Here we sit, just nine weeks out from Summer freedom.  Connor seems to have settled into second grade well enough, but we have our episodes.  There hadn't been one in quite some time.  Until now.

 I need to start at the beginning, though.

It's fairly common knowledge amongst our kindred that we started the ball rolling back in January at Connor's school to have him evaluated for an autism spectrum disorder.  We have since filled out every form known to mankind, asking us every question, from family history of mental illness to whether or not he can tie his shoes.  The school filled out corresponding paperwork.  All info was compiled over 40 days and Friday, we went before the group to share our findings.

It was already a crazy day, myself having fallen victim to some stomach plague the night before.  I wasn't going to be able to attend the meeting but Steve agreed to put me on speakerphone so I could at least listen to the discussion from my place of quarantine (It worked fairly well, except when lots of voices chimed in at once).  I sat on our couch, swaddled in blankets and handing Captain Droolypants toys one after another to keep his chatter to a dull roar, and I listened.  I won't bother with scores, but it'll be sufficient information to conclude that Connor's a bright guy.  This we have been told before.  His test scores place him in the "very superior" range for most subjects, his least impressive score being that of an average student in reading comprehension.  His quirky behavior and inattentiveness came up in discussion and everyone seemed to agree that he displays many of the common behaviors of someone with Asperger's.  However, due to the fact that his academic performance/acuity is so high up there, they don't recommend taking immediate action regarding his IEP.  Essentially, they can't provide a definitive "Asperger's" diagnosis, based on the fact that his academics aren't taking a hard enough hit. All of that I can appreciate, with the understanding that this was a school assessment and not a medical one.  In fact, we were encouraged to share the school report with Connor's pediatrician in the event that we are still intent upon seeking a final determination as to whether or not Connor falls on the autism spectrum.  "The analysis results are good for three years, and if his schoolwork begins to suffer, we can revisit the evaluation," I was informed. "But why would you want to place another label on your child?" I was then asked over the phone.

Just hold on a second.  A label is certainly not what I'm after here.  Have I come across like that?  What I am after is an approach.  I want to know how to handle it when my son goes off the deep end because he was asked to get dressed before breakfast instead of after like he usually does...when he has a complete panic attack at the idea of eating at a hibachi restaurant where there's open flame...when he bites his sister because she won't play the way he wants her to play...when he draws pictures of abusive monster parents and labels them "complete idiots"...when he says he's just a bad kid and will never be anything more...I want to be able to explain to future caregivers/teacher what the deal is, concisely, and offer suggestions for problems with correct perspective.  Knowing Connor's limitations and what makes him tick would go so very far toward helping us to help him.  That's all I'm after.  I am not placing him in a box!  God help the person who tries to do that to my headstrong boy.  At that moment, I felt like Connor wasn't the only person being analyzed.

It was suggested that we seek counseling for Connor from a professional who specializes in autism spectrum disorders.  Definitely a good idea. We're on top of that plan for sure.   I'm sure everyone's heart was in the right place as they offered up suggestions in addition to that, such as "try ignoring his negative behavior" (really?), but toward the end of the conference, I got the distinct impression that folks were out of ideas on how to help Connor assimilate into life.  They encouraged us to share with them any future revelations we come up with as we pursue counseling for him.  Hm.  Meeting adjourned.

I hung up the phone and about five minutes later received a text from Steve. "Going to get in line to pick up the kids.  Be home in a bit."  Good deal.  Five minutes after that, another text:

"Problem.  Incident in the class while we were meeting.  He made a knife and threatened to kill someone.  They're going to get him and bring him to meet with me and the Principal."

In my head, I was going, perfect timing, Kiddo.  Seriously???  Turns out he'd been waiting his turn at a game in the classroom and another student decided to change the rules while he watched them play.  It drove him batty.  When she refused to play it correctly, he drew out a chunk of playground mulch that came to a point at one end (he's notorious for collecting nature objects) and told her if she didn't, he'd use his "knife" on her.  Sounds innocuous enough when seen in that context, but of course the school has a strict no tolerance policy on that sort of interaction.  So he was saddled with one day of ISS (in-school suspension).  He had absolutely no idea why everyone was making such a big deal about it.  I'm still not sure he does.  In his head, he was delivering vigilante justice to a girl who broke the law.  The adults have the problem.  Not him.  What is wrong with people, anyway?  It was only after we talked laboriously over the entire incident that he finally began to see how his behavior affected others.  He felt pretty bad.  We cuddled and he went to bed.  But then the next morning he popped out of bed and asked, "Am I still grounded?"  I assured him he was.  To which he replied, "WHYYYY??"

Is it any wonder Steve and I are exhausted?  Ha!  But look at this gorgeous kid:
You will agree he is worth every moment of contention.  He is a sparkling wonder.  Make no mistake.

It would appear I ought to save the news on my other chickadees for another post.  This one was cathartic enough.  More to come.  Thanks for the vent.

Monday, July 30, 2012

This is going to be a LONG one, but it'll be worth it. Promise.

Connor is our firstborn.  Before him, we could only guess at what it would be like to be parents.  Like so many other generations of naive and childless young adults , we felt we had a fairly sturdy plan of attack ready when it came to raising our future kiddos ("MY child will NEVER behave that way in public!" Etc.).  Sure, we didn't know it all, but we felt we had enough experience around kids (both of us have a small background in childcare) to handle the basics.  After a bit of a rocky start at conceiving, we were delighted to learn we'd be having a little boy, and I set about doing countless "important" things like choosing a theme for the nursery and scrawling copious side notes in my cherished copy of What To Expect When You're Expecting.  I memorized how to diaper, bathe, feed and swaddle, and every centimeter of that nursery was sparkling perfection by the time we neared the due date.  Then Connor was born.  Suddenly, absolutely nothing I knew was right.  Connor cried that first night he was born.  All night.  He cried the next morning, slept two hours, then picked right back up where he left off.  This continued for nearly the duration of our hospital stay.  I was amazed at his stamina. But he was a beautiful, perfect baby and all ours, and I was completely in love with him, whether he howled like a cat or not.  We brought him home.  The crying continued at intervals, especially at night, and he never slept more than two or three hours at a stretch.  I wanted to deny that my precious bundle had colic, but the truth was there.  I could do very little to soothe his little tummy; he would have to outgrow it himself.  Sometimes the two of us would sit up in the middle of the night, crying together.
The colic did diminish with time, but his refusal to sleep never did.  As Connor got older, other peculiarities emerged, like his absolute intolerance of bright lights (riding in the car on a sunny day was always an adventure) and loud noises (fireworks were especially traumatizing).  At six months, I introduced solid food into his diet, which he received with absolute rejection.  His pediatrician assured me that some kids simply prefer the warmth and comfort of breastfeeding over a cold spoon, and he encouraged me to keep offering it.  After several months of our battling and getting nowhere, however, Doctor Dudgeon's pen was poised to recommend an evaluation for sensory integration problems. I left the office with a name and phone number.  The next morning, Connor decided to allow me to feed him a few spoonfuls of rice cereal.  We cancelled the appointment.
Despite Connor's "opinionated" nature, he was a wonderful kid.  Clearly a bright bulb.  He studied our mouths and imitated the sounds we made, and at barely eight months, he said his first word: "Doggie."  The first time he said it, it came out more like "Guck."  He was pointing at the dog.  I thought it was cute, but at first I didn't recognize that he was trying to communicate.  After several more "gucks," it became apparent to me that he was trying to call the dog.
"Do you mean 'dog,' Connor?  Doggie?"
"Doggie," he responded with startling clarity.  Holy cow.  After that, he learned 3-5 words a week.  He was speaking complete sentences well before his first birthday.  At 16 months, he recognized every letter of the alphabet.  At 2, he began reading.  At 3, he was able to read from the Bible.  He was obsessed with letters and words, their shapes, their meanings, everything. 
"Obsessed," in fact, quickly became the perfect buzz word for Connor.  It started with the alphabet.  Then it was trucks--at 18 months old he memorized the names of about 50 trucks in his favorite board book.  I enjoyed watching people's jaws hit the floor when he lisped "That's a combine harvester truck right there."  As a preschooler, it was all things biology.  He knew about blood cells and their functions, he could list off various systems of the body and which organs did what.  He was known to flip his preschool coloring pages over and draw DNA double helix models.  The boy was driven.  We were sure he was going to blow the lid off when he reached grade school.
Then we started getting frequent expressions of concern from his teachers:

"Connor doesn't want to join the rest of the class in our activities.  He prefers to do his own thing and he is resisting following instructions."

We already knew he was headstrong.  His tantrums at home could be earth-shattering.  But was it really as big a deal as they were implying?

"Connor has considerable difficulty transitioning from one activity to the next." 

"Connor insists on using the bathroom stall by the wall and will have a meltdown if we make him use a different one."

"He contradicts his teacher." 

All frustrating, albeit slightly amusing...but then things got a little worse:

"Connor cut another boy with scissors during craft time this morning, quite on purpose and unprovoked.  When he was told that he had hurt the child, he did not seem remorseful."


It was unusual.  Horrifying.  And Connor did not seem to understand what the big deal was.  Red flags were flying around my head like dust particles.  I wanted to panic.  I felt like a bad mom.  Was I raising a sociopath?  We began a series of tests on Connor, measuring everything from attention span to IQ.  After it all came to a conclusion, there was no conclusion.  We were advised to get Connor enrolled in public school as soon as possible, to alleviate his apparent boredom and steer his unoccupied mind toward more constructive pursuits.  We were assured that we had a well-adjusted, very advanced young fellow on our hands, whose frustration with his lack of academic challenge finally got the best of him.  Friends and family all cheered.  "See, I told you he was just bored."  Something in my heart remained unsettled.

Fast forward a year and a half.  Here we are, poised to tackle second grade.  Connor's done a great deal of growing up since we plunked him into that Kindergarten class mid-year.  Going to "big school" really did help him, and we saw a lot of the emotional issues diminish.  But a few things I observed continued to bug me:

  •   The way he remained disinterested in participating in social groups unless they were playing his favorite game of "Sonic Tag."
  • The way he prattled on and on about a particular topic, whether anyone was really listening to him or not.
  • The way a small error in a drawing or story he was composing could send him into complete meltdown.
  • How he would often close his eyes in public if he felt that too many people were staring at him.
  • How uncomfortable he was with hugs, even when shared with familiar people
  • How difficult he found it to relate to/interact with his baby brother, even though his deep pride and love was evident in other ways.

A conversation I had with a friend of mine as well as an online article I happened to stumble across caused me to revisit a possibility I had refused to consider from the beginning, although it's been there all along, haunting me:

This child could have Asperger's Syndrome.

If you're unfamiliar with this disorder, it's actually a mild form of autism.  Sufferers are often of average or above average intelligence, and it's characterized by a bizarre set of social oddities.  Reading the description made me feel like someone had been observing my child prior to writing it.

I feel so strongly that we could be headed toward a diagnosis with Connor.  And something about that makes me feel oddly encouraged.  Maybe because now we can move forward with a purpose.  I want so much to help him be the best Connor he can be.  He definitely challenges me to be the best Mom I can be.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

What year is this?

I just spent the last hour reading over the collected posts from the past few years.   My heart is so warm right now.  So much I had completely forgotten about!  Amazing to look back at a time when a certain set of troubles seemed the only ones in the see how they worked themselves see how we're on to the next thing and the next by remember the little funny things the kids said...the highs, the that's what's up with the whole "journaling" thing, huh?  Pretty cool.

Concepts are often lost on me. 

I could list the reasons I abandoned this blog, but they just don't seem as justifiable as they used I'm determined to pick back up.  I know I'll thank myself at the end of another four or five years.  To be quite honest, this blog's more for me than anybody else (take THAT, all 2 of my readers!!  Sorry, Mom.), and I need a place to deposit my thoughts.  So I'm giving this a go again.  Why, thank you, Self.  I do enjoy reading your prose.  Oh, that's mighty kind of me.  Think nothing of it.  It's all for Posterity.  Posterity?  Who's she?  I thought I was your one and only.  Joke's wearing thin, Medlin.  Move on.

A year and a half ago was my last post.  A little over 18 months.  I had a budding Kindergartener and a proud little preschooler then, and I thought my life was full enough.  If anybody had told me I'd be one kid richer the next time I sat down to type something here, I'd have plotzed.  Yet here I sit, mother of three.  And it just feels right.  Let me introduce you to the 2012 model Medlin:

You don't have to say it.  I know.  I know he's the most gorgeous stack of tires you will ever lay eyes on.  You can't have him.

Isn't it incredible how someone can come into your life and fill a hole you didn't even know was there (How did I not notice a hole that chunky)?  Sawyer is simply the whipped topping on our family sundae.  He's a happy, laid-back guy who enjoys sitting upright, gnawing objects, and generally making us melt when he smiles.  We're all twitterpated but his big sister's got a crush on him something fierce.  She breezes right past Mom and Dad first thing every morning, to smother him with kisses.  We're chopped liver.  It's ok.

I still have a budding Kindergartener, but it's my girl this time. If I thought transitioning her to a big-girl bed was rough on my tender heart those years ago, it was nothing compared to the Big K.  You'd think I'd be old hat at this milestone by now, having already parented a grade-schooler for more than a year.  Oddly, it seems more difficult this time.  Maybe it was the unconventional manner in which we placed Connor in school that made it less bittersweet with him.  We scarcely had time to wax nostalgic.  This time, I've had plenty of time to browse painfully thru Mia's baby pictures and her crayon artwork.  I've videotaped her preschool graduation and we have read her every "Kindergarten, Here I Come!" children's book the library keeps in stock. School starts in 2 weeks.  She is so ready.  I wish I was.

And my oldest child has become a bookend.  He's half of the collective I refer to as "the boys," a phrase which, nearly 7 months in, still feels a tad foreign on my tongue. He's handled his new role as Big Brother Squared with quiet finesse.  Although he isn't as affectionate with Sawyer as Mia, he is bursting with pride, as is evident in his many illustrated autobiographies, all of which detail how awesome the baby is and most of which get passed around at school and family functions.  Occasionally, I will catch him doing something adorable like having a matter-of-fact conversation with his little brother about how to construct a paper airplane. Sawyer thinks he hung the moon.

At seven, Connor's a mess and a half.  He is an imp.  He's complex, smart, mischievous, and innovative. Still every bit the challenge to parent he was at three, but always a marvel.  These days you'll probably find him pawing thru my recyclables for things to make into "inventions."  Friday, he told me he was working up designs for a "sweat collector," so he could find out how much sweat he lost every day.  I asked him to estimate how much he thought that would be, and he replied, "Well, Mom, that's going to depend on certain factors.  Like whether or not I play outside and how hot it is. If I spend all day in front of the Wii it's going to be a lot less than if I go outside and run."  Insights like these are exactly why I adore this special kid.  Oddly, conversations like these (and other things I've noticed), have also inspired a few revelations for me recently.  I'll talk more about that in my next post.

It's good to be back.  :-)

Monday, January 31, 2011

"Do I get to pack my lunch?"

Big changes ahead for Connor...

Steve and I will be meeting this week with representatives from Hixson Elementary School to discuss placing him in Kindergarten within the next few weeks! We will be working to design an individual education plan for him, allowing him to socialize with his age peers and simultaneously work at an academic level that challenges him! He will stand to complete Kindergarten with the rest of his class, but be given the opportunity to do much higher level work at his pace. This is an answer to prayer!

What a far cry from five months ago are we! I am so proud of my little boy. Admittedly, I'm also a little nostalgic, since suddenly (albeit unconventionally) I find us standing at the front doors of a new chapter in childhood. I thought I had a little more time to cuddle him at home, a few months at best, but I am absolutely certain that this is best for him. He has been ready for a while now. Mommy has to let go. If Connor can handle this, so can I! Mia will also have to adjust to less playtime with her best friend. It's going to rock her little world, but in a good way. Next year, she'll be in pre-k. I know she can expect the same wonderful learning environment at HPC Preschool that has nurtured Connor to this point.

Pray for us all as we turn this page! It's exciting!

More information to come!

Monday, December 20, 2010

It's no secret.

A friend of mine recently posted something on Facebook which got me going emotionally, about how increasingly impossible it is to keep the media (and the entertainment industry) from "sexing up" the minds of our children at an increasingly younger age.

My thoughts turned to our very recent family trip to Hamilton Place Mall; specifically, an incident which involved a pass by the local Victoria's Secret shop, whose "halls" were "decked" with what I can only describe as a disturbing mix of pink puppy cuteness and virtual pornography, two stories high. My kids started asking questions. I decided I needed to say something, whether my words will ever be considered by executives or no. My email follows:

I felt compelled to inform you that after years of enjoying your products, I have made the decision not to patronize Victoria's Secret anymore. My choice was largely influenced by the declining quality of product. Bras and panties I have purchased from your company have come unraveled after several washes, and I am disappointed in your methods of assembly, which obviously involve more glue than stitching. I have had to throw out several bras made by Victoria's Secret because they actually hurt to wear them; the adhesive used to put them together is considerably abrasive to skin. Lingerie I have purchased elsewhere (at MUCH more reasonable prices) has lasted me twice as long as your product.
My second motivation for terminating my patronage is more personal and involves a recent conversation I was forced to have with my three-year-old after a trip to see Santa at our local mall incorporated a pass by a giant VS display. First drawn in by pink polka-dotted puppy dogs, she quickly noticed the cinema-screen sized displays of oiled-up models in jingle-bell thongs and garter belts. I understand that your primary objective is to sell lingerie, which is, by its nature, sexy. However, using TOYS as advertising material is little more than a thinly veiled ploy to lure younger and younger patrons. I am not surprised to see girls as young as twelve sporting pants at school with "PINK" printed across the buttocks. I cannot raise my daughter to accept that this is ok, so I will begin by attempting to be a better example to her. I will no longer patronize your company. I would encourage you to consider alternate forms of advertising as well as higher standards of manufacture.

Amanda Medlin

Monday, September 27, 2010

Connor's journal entries

I've had multiple family requests for Connor's "blog" (his illustrated journal) to be posted here. So here you go, two fresh entries! The latter, on volcanoes, was composed just today.

We learned about two kinds of lava, one called "Pahoehoe" and another called "aa." Connor cracked up. He's been saying "aa" all day. He was fairly amused that the Romans had separate gods for everything. I think he found the concept rather excessive. I happened to have a miniature statue of Vulcan from the Birmingham attraction. Connor laughed at his bare butt. Apparently, volcanoes and Roman gods are hilarious. They really are.