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.

This is Logan's sixth Spring season but for the past three years since his first evaluation, I have noticed that he becomes very difficult during this time. While his behavior during the other months is no picnic, for some reason, I see him as especially difficult in the Spring. On some days he shows zero frustration tolerance and becomes easily angered and irritated. I usually describe Logan as a happy kid that is very hyper and easily overstimulated but in the Spring, he can be very wild and even foul and that really disturbs me.

I am still taking data on Logan to see why he has a good number of "off" days even when he is on stimulants.. What I've found out so far is that he seems to be more irritable when he doesn't get as much sleep (even 30 minutes makes a difference). Now, I have started looking at the pollen count to see if there is a correlation in his behavior.

On some days when the pollen count is low, he is better behaved but there are days when the pollen count is not that high and he is horrible. I am not sure if that blows my Spring allergy theory out of the water but it doesn't look good. On top of that, he has already dealt with the post-nasal drip from Spring allergies and now when his behavior is at its worst, he is not showing any traditional symptoms of allergies (runny-nose, itchiness, etc.) Does this mean that the allergies have settled into his system and is now wreaking havoc on his brain? It doesn't make any sense but what else could explain this seasonal dip in behavior?

I really hate this. I do not know what I am supposed to do. My DAN! doctor used to put him on Singulair but this was not really to treat acute allergy or asthma symptoms but rather he believed that the Singulair would do something to the leukotrienes in his body to help alleviate whatever is causing his ADHD. (Can not remember how he explained it to me, sorry.) Alas, the many months of taking Singulair did nothing as far is I could tell. I sometimes wonder if I didn't give the treatment enough time. To be sure, Logan has those dark patches under his eyes a.k.a. "allergy shiners." which DAN! proponents say is frequently found in children with autism (I guess ADHD too).

I am not the only person who believes that Spring makes some ADHD kids crazy (or crazier). My social worker who works with ADHD children in a public elementary school told me that the children in her care are having quite a hard time now. She believes it is the Spring allergens as well.

Even though my pollen count data doesn't support this but he really does seem different these days. The worst part is I have no idea what to do about it. How can I medicate this? How can I get rid of this? Can I just talk to him? Should I re-examine his diet to see if there is anything new in there? We just started Pediasure supplements two weeks ago, but I doubt that matters. Should I just continue with what we are supposed to do everyday or should I just let him be and wait for this to blow over? I really don't have a clue and that leaves me feeling helpless.

Whatever it is, I know I do have to be careful. Even if this behavior is temporary, there is a side of Logan that does things by habit so if I cut him too much slack, he will expect that even when he returns more to his normal self. I guess this means that I have to be really strict or tough or consistent or all of the above. I hate this because there is a part of me that knows that he must be feeling so awful inside if he is acting this way. I can see it when he finally breaks down and cries uncontrollably. Sobbing can actually help calm him down but only sometimes. I can see it when he starts to let his body feel tired and he seeks the comfort of his blankie. I wonder if he's feeling scared or depressed or hating himself when he is out of control.

As I write this post, I find myself resolving to be really consistent but at the same time, I think I am just going to have to spend more time with him. I guess that is something you would do for someone who has come down with say... pneumonia. Perhaps I should look at it as if his brain has come down with some sort of brain-pneumonia and so it's just not functioning optimally. And while I wait for him to heal, I can temporarily alleviate his symptoms by helping his brain do what is really tough for him: calm down and feel better about himself. There is only one quick-but-temporary method I find to work well towards this goal. Some experts call it "attending." Kai and I learned it at the NYU Child Study Center when we participated in a research study that was examining parent training methods.

I first read about this tactic in Russell Barkley's Your Defiant Child. Dr. Barkley called this method "Special Time." It is a simple exercise where you play with the child but you do not ask questions nor give criticism. You let the child take the lead and play with what she wants to play with (no video games.) You are supposed to praise and narrate her play. When the child displays errant behavior, you stop narrating and look away and say nothing. When desired behavior returns, you resume narration and praise.

When I first did this, I couldn't believe how well it worked. For me, the goal was not to change my child forever but just to make him behave better. After doing a few "special times"a week, I can honestly say that I did see some positive changes, at least at home. The exercises helped to calm him down and feel happy and I guess that made him behave better. Those results usually didn't last beyond the day or sometimes even an hour, but it was apparent to even poor scientific observers like me, that they did indeed help.

Logan loved "Mommy/Daddy and Logan Time" which is what we called the exercise. At the end of the 15 minutes, I thanked him for the time and told him that I look forward to the next time we did it. I wish I had the energy and will-power to keep doing this on a regular basis. Fifteen minutes seems somewhat simple but it is actually very difficult for me. Spencer must not be involved which can be difficult to manage. Additionally, we just have so much to do. There is homework, play time with both of them present, dinner, bath, and time to wind down to let Logan's sleep aid take effect. (They were a lot stronger when he wasn't on stimulants) Him sleeping later is not an option because I think that will produce negative results the next day.

I think perhaps this is all I can do for now. My pollen data chart is ridiculously unhelpful but I'm going to keep doing it for now just to see where it takes me. Honestly, I am surprised that I haven't done this before. It just makes sense to at least try to be a little scientific about figuring him out. At the moment, I am using which is helpful with its daily allergy forecasts being sent to my Inbox everyday. They even tell you what the predominant pollens are for that day. The best part is that you can look up past history of pollen in your area for up to 30 days. I especially like that feature because it helps me, the world's most oblivious mother, attempt to be somewhat scientific in finding out the root causes of Logan's mysterious extra-ADHD behavior in the Spring.

This was taken today and he had had a very tough morning. He did get some sleep in the car at noon which tells me that he must have been very tired. He never brings his blankie into the car but asked to bring it with him today. I suspected that he must have been feeling really insecure and sad this morning when he was angry and impulsive. A ride in the car seemed to calm him and help him become sleepy and he began to comfort himself and quiet down. Maybe today's bad behavior was not pollen-related but rather due to a lack of sleep? But the question is now - how do you get them to sleep more? I can't give him a time-out for waking up early.


Penny Williams said...

I love how you are getting so scientific with this. I have known for a long time I need to journal Luke's behavior and diet, etc in great detail to really understand how/when meds work, what may trigger days when they don't seem to work, and how different foods affect behavior. I have a hard time keeping up with this sort of thing, but you have inspired me to try. We just increased meds dosage and I am starting to change food so now's a good time.

I will say too though, sometimes ADHD is a roller coaster without any logical explanation. That's one of the many very frustrating aspects. But your scientific approach means that you will discover correlations when they exist.

Thanks for sharing!

Love bombs said...

hope this encourages you a bit as you fight through the challenges of SPRING...

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