Friday, April 30, 2010

Geeky Children, Geeky Parents

Once in a while you do something out of the ordinary and rejoin the world of typical parents just for a few hours and you realize just how out-of-place you really are.

This past weekend, I attended a bridal shower for a dear friend but unfortunately, I really didn't know anyone there. Thus, I ended up sitting and chatting with three women who knew the bride from college. There were all married and had children, and from what could discern, all of the children were typically developing. I was just happy to be sitting with moms because I thought there could be some interesting conversation but it was more interesting-odd rather than interesting-cool or interesting-useful.

At the beginning of the shower, I decided in advance that I would not blurt out my special need-ness to anyone. I thought I might reveal it later but only if it was necessary and hopefully it would come out casually.

I tried to be an observer instead and listened more than talked as the moms and I discussed topics like schools, emergency rooms, staying home, juggling work and family, etc. I started feeling really distant as they delved into subjects like sleepovers and afterschool activities.

I listened as they talked about how many boys or girls were in their house for their last sleepover and how it went well except for the girl who went home early. "But she has issues," the mom said. I thought about my kids and how they would feel about sleepovers when they got to that age. Would anyone invite them? Would they even have any typically developing friends? Could they control themselves and their emotions in someone else's house?

And then there was the discussion on weekend sports activities. I envied these women who could take multiple children to classes and have their child who may not be attending a class, patiently wait until their siblings finished their classes. That would never be the case for us. I can barely take my kids for a walk in my neighborhood without fearing for their safety and constantly redirecting them to behave more appropriately to the point where I am breaking a sweat.

I then got really lost when they started talking about middle schools and high schools. They seemed to know everything about which school their child would eventually attend. I know my children are young but I have no idea how much they will be able to overcome their disabilities in a few years from now. I have no idea when they will no longer need an IEP. Maybe college? ugh. Thus it is hard to look forward to any school. I guess that really sucks because I will not get to plan ahead as much as I want and if I try to plan ahead, I could very well be wasting precious time that I don't have.

I could have mentioned this in our discussion but when things like this came up, I just listened. I just listened to all of the things that I do not have. Strangely, it really wasn't envy that I felt. It was more loneliness. I knew that it would be strange if I opened my mouth and started talking about how it was so great that they knew which school their children would attend because mine had special needs and that we've been living between question marks and exclamation points since the days of breast pads and crib mobiles. I had a feeling that they might not get my meaning. I wonder if they would take it like, "Gosh, you are so lucky that your car turns on and you can drive after you put the key in the ignition."

Giving more of my life's details and start rambling out acronyms like ADHD or PDD would probably not bring about any comments I want to hear. I guess I'm tired of hearing stuff like, "my nephew had it and he's fine now," or worse, the eyes shoot straight down to the floor because they have nothing to say and I for some reason end up feeling ignored or stupid or regretful for saying anything at all.

Why do I feel like this? It's only a bridal shower. Why can't I just be happy for the pretty bracelet that the bride's mother made for each guest and the manicure set that I could also use to clip my kids' fingernails.

When the subject of extracurricular activities came up, I said that my kid had no luck with soccer but rather we have been trying out chess lately. ( I don't know why I had to begin with talking about his soccer failure first). I suppose I felt the need to extra-explain why I put him in chess class. The bride's mom had lovely things to say about how chess is good for promoting intelligence. I felt embarrassed after I talked about it, as if everyone at the table thought I was boasting about my smart kid who has a hard time doing other things but is great at the smart people's game. The other moms practically said nothing which made me feel even more odd. One did mention that her son learned chess but conversation didn't go anywhere after there.

I finally did mention that my son had "attention deficits" without spelling out the whole disorder and wasn't asked a single question afterwards. I wondered if that scenario was odd. I wonder what I would say if someone was talking to me at a bridal shower and she said that her son has cerebral palsy, so swimming is hard for him, . Actually that is not a good comparison because I identify with pretty much any mom that has a child living with challenges.

So what is my point? I am not sure if I have one except that I really feel like an outcast (or geek) sometimes. I really think that I am no different from my kid in that I find it so incredibly hard to be socially appropriate or just plain likable. I feel like I have no commonality with many women regarding the issues that are so incredibly huge in my life. Thus, I feel lost and out of place in their conversations. I also feel like I have a family of geeks and while you think I am trying to be humorous, I really just want to make sure that my kids will have friends when they finally mainstream out among their typically developing peers. So far, Spencer is completely obsessing about subways and numbers. Logan still likes math and chess and driving games on the Wii. My husband rarely sees or speaks to his friends and if he does, it is because they called him.

Okay, that says it all I guess. We are a family of geeks and I love them and see that the geek in them might be the one thing that brings them into society. Logan has already said he wants to be a mathematician even though neither of us really know what a mathematician does. Spencer is exhibiting cognitive talents more and more each day. Whispers of the word "Asperger's" seem to echo in the air. He definitely seems to have some traits of autism spectrum disorder and I always thought he'd grow out of the PDD-NOS diagnosis. Oh well. They are just words. He is still him, a geek, just like his mom.

Photo: My first-born geek, Logan. We went to a park and Logan managed to find leftover geese food on the ground. Sometimes, I wish I wasn't so safety-conscious (and that he was more safety-aware) so I can let him explore like the way I was able to when I was a kid.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

My Mother the Scientist

I think I finally realized that I would never be good in science after I took my first high school science class. The class was called "Earth Science," and my instructor was a very good teacher named Mr. Cave.

Perhaps high school is when a kind-of-smart-but-lazy A student finally becomes a B student. For me, I usually did well in my classes from elementary to junior high school even though I didn't pay very close attention to the teachers. Things weren't so hard and if they were I would teach myself the lesson with the textbook and solve things that way. I never went to the teacher for help and my parents couldn't help me because they didn't speak English. If the subject was boring then I would really need to have a good teacher to help make it interesting. Mr. Cave was one of those teachers and I was lucky for that because I hated Earth Science. However, despite Mr. Cave's good teaching skills, I barely got an A- that year because that was the year we started to have to do hands-on projects requiring cooperation and observation in the lab.

Lab was awful. I don't know why but I had two left hands and half a brain during lab. I remember one day that I had to position a lamp to face a pot of soil ( the sun warming the earth) and then measure the soil's temperature every 10 minutes or so to mark the increase. I do not know why things like this were so hard but it was. Perhaps it was ADHD coupled with anxiety from having to work with someone else? I do not know but I won't be surprised if Logan ends up struggling in science lab. While hands-on work comes naturally to him, cooperating with others does not. Additionally, in lab, both his and my trial-and-error style of learning is not really supported there. There is just not enough time.

Now I feel just as incompetent as I had when I was in the lab but this time, that pot of soil is now my son and that lamp is a variable otherwise known as diet, stimulants, and the question of the month: pollen.

Monday, April 12, 2010

The Search for Passion Continues

Ever since we have had trouble with the Wii in our home, I have noticed that Logan has not wanted to play Chess so much. He has a CD-rom that enables him to learn chess moves and play against the computer but that has been untouched for at least two months. I have been getting a bit worried about this.

Since summer is approaching, I have been thinking about other activities for Logan other than his private swimming lessons of which he has become quite bored. I started thinking about actual chess lessons since I know that Logan really does like it and hoped I could find something affordable in my area.

Luckily, I found a chess class that ran in the Spring for five weeks and they were offering a free trial class. When I called they said that only two kids were enrolled which of course was good news to me. I signed up for the free trial right away.

This was my opportunity to find out if my Logan had a bit of chess genius in him. I knew that he can beat my husband sometimes so I hoped that he might have a real talent that could be nurtured. In truth, I am looking for anything to help get him excited about life. Logan is not a depressed boy by any means but as he gets older, he will have to feel proud of himself in some way because he is starting to realize how hard it is for him to do seemingly simple things.

I feel paralyzed when he starts to cry and tell me that he is stupid. This kind of talk has been coming out more and more lately. Sometimes I think I know what to do in these situations but do I really? Should I be understanding and yet strict and make him do it anyway which is kind of the time he starts wailing with the self-pity? ie. homework, reading a book, finishing his lunch, etc. This is a whole other can of worms which I am still grappling with. I'll write about it hopefully soon.

I was so excited about the chess class. Logan looked relaxed about going too. It was as if he knew that he'd be comfortable there. When he got there, he met the instructor and was allowed to bounce around in the gym area until class started. "PERFECT!" said the OT deity that lives in the back of my brain. Bounce around and then sit down to focus? What could be better?

Within a few minutes, the other kids rolled in and unfortunately, newly enrolled children also showed up so it was five kids in total and not three. I thought it would be okay and Logan sat with his back faced to the gym (good) and across from the teacher (good). I had told the center ahead of time about Logan's issues. The class was almost an hour long but Logan only lasted about 40 minutes. In the world of Logan, 40 minutes is tremendous but still I wasn't happy. I dislike him leaving the class early especially on the first day. It sets a bad tone and tells me that he would likely stay in class even less than 40 minutes if we decided to try again.

Either way, the instructor told me to have him come to the class that took place right after the one we tried. That class is geared for slightly younger children and had only one student in it so in a way, it was better for Logan. Still, I liked the class with kids his age but could feel that the teacher really didn't want him in that class anymore.

Additionally, it was important for me to find out if he thought Logan had any real talent for chess and I was disappointed to hear his tepid response. "He did some things," the teacher said. I didn't completely understand that comment but I guess it basically meant that Logan is no chess genius. I feel embarrassed to say this but I was disappointed. I was hoping that chess might be his "thing." Better chess than say... Mario Kart, cigarettes, and cutting class, right? I know, I am thinking way too far ahead and secretly wishing that chess can prevent possible pot-smoking in the future.

The teacher didn't seem to be enamored of him in anyway either. This was short of inspiring to say the least and really, you have to be a little inspired to put your very distractible kid in a chess class, right? I have also been struggling with these questions: Should this result tell me that I shouldn't enroll him? Should I keep searching for another chess class or maybe not even bother? Does he have to have great talent for something for me to give him a shot at it? What should determine the answer? Tuition? Logan saying he wants to go? I want so desperately for Logan to be proud of himself in something other than Mario Kart (Wii). Maybe chess could be it because swimming doesn't look like it is his thing.

Today I read an article in about a person with ADHD who finally excelled in life after he realized that he could run competitively. His story brought about a lot of comments in the The New York Times' Well Blog when I had first read about him last year. He found his talent when he was a young teen and forgive me for my greed but I would love to have Logan find his "thing" at a much younger age. Tomorrow would be a great time. Kids like mine require so much motivation to move on. Finding his passions and talents could certainly help him go in the right direction. Uh, and it could make my life easier too- I can't help but think that this notion might be propelling me at least subconsciously.

I sincerely pray that both Logan and I (and Kai) will have the ability to find and recognize his passions and talents sooner than later. I also hope that we will have the means to support those talents once my husband and I figure out what they are. Hope it will be something that more closely resembles things like chess or swimming and less like other interesting things such as extreme dirt-biking or speed racing. I suppose there could be worse things than being a race car driver but please oh please God, can you give us the chess and give the race car bug to someone else?

While it's not chess, I think Spencer is very fond of numbers and so his therapist and I use it to motivate him to do other things. Here he is washing his hands appropriately because on the educational flyer that we got from school (that my friend made at the department of health in this city- yes, small world), he is advised to wash his hands for 20 seconds. He sees the number 20 and he is more apt to comply. While he has several delays and his behavior can be whacky at times, I am so happy because he seems to be advanced in early math skills. I basically live with three numbers geeks. When I see numbers, I run in the other direction unless it is a big sale for clothing, shoes, and toys.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Wii: Friend or Foe?

I know that mine is not the only family to go through this issue but boy AM I ANNOYED!

This past Christmas, my brother bought a Wii set for Logan. I was really grateful not only because it was an expensive toy but also because the last time I had tried the game for Logan, he failed at it miserably. To me, the Wii was just another typical thing that my atypical boy couldn't enjoy. I was especially dejected because I had heard of the potential therapeutic effects the Wii could have. It seemed like a wonderful way to move around productively so he could get that out of his system but alas, it proved too hard for him so we decided not to keep it.

When Logan tried the Wii this year, the games we tried were different. Everything seemed easier and Logan took to it right away. He was in heaven and we watched him enjoy himself the way you watch a kid eating an ice cream cone for the first time.

That was over three months ago and our lives seem to be different now that we have a Wii. I actually find it hard to remember what we used to do without a Wii. He loves and plays with it so much. We are going on vacation in June and I actually planned on taking it with us but now I am not so sure.

At first, Logan just played the Wii Sports game. That was easy enough. He liked it a lot and was able to teach himself how to do everything. That created less stress on all of us. Logan likes to learn by trial-and-error when he is excited enough about the lesson. Wii Sports definitely did keep him busy but eventually he would get bored and walk away.

However, my husband then bought a game called Mario Kart, a race car game, which really didn't have any educational or therapeutic value at all from at least what I could see. I suppose it could possibly have some hand-eye coordination help but really, unlike his Leapster, Logan is not asked math or spelling questions and unlike Wii Sports, he is barely moving any part of his body. Nevertheless, Mario Kart is his favorite game and he bothers no one for quite a good chunk of time while he plays.

This past week, we had a break from school and Logan was allowed to play the Wii intermittently throughout the day. I would often try to hide the remotes or the game CDs so that he would not play without my permission because once he started, it was a struggle to get him away from it. I would have to hide the CDs in different spots because he knew where my hiding places were. In the morning, I would walk into my kitchen and see every cabinet door left open because Logan had been looking for it. He was like a wee little drug addict needing his fix so badly that he didn't even bother to try covering up his tracks.