Apples and Oranges

Family

Don’t compare your children.  That’s what we are told, we read about it, we know we shouldn’t, but I think most of us–if not all of us–do it. I don’t compare my two kids in the way that I think one is better than the other or should be more like the other, though. On most days, I don’t have a favorite child, but due to the fact that I am a human being who naturally looks for similarities and differences between things, I’d have to be completely disengaged not to notice that my two kids are ridiculously different. In fact, it wasn’t until giving them baths one night that I realized how different they are and also how severe Cameron’s SPD is.

First up in the tub was Amelia, who was about three at the time. I was all set to wash her hair when she asked to do it herself. I squirted the shampoo in her hand, she rubbed her hands together, and she washed her hair independently, only needing some help to wash the longer hair at her shoulders. Then, I was about to wash her body, when she asked for the soap so she could do it herself. Again, I squirted soap into her hands and watched as she stood up in the slippery bathtub, with her mom holding her breath and telling her to be careful, threw her leg up onto the side of the tub, and scrubbed her legs and the rest of her body like she had been watching Zest commercials since birth and was waiting to finally emulate what she had been aspiring to do.

Next was Cameron’s turn. Cameron was about seven years old, and prior to watching Amelia, I don’t think I realized how much he could probably do on his own. I’d always encouraged him, but now I knew that if someone that much younger than him could scrub up like Mr. Bubble, then he should have at least been able to do most of it on his own, even if it wasn’t perfect. He got in and I asked him to hold out his hand so I could squirt the shampoo. He was lying flat with only his little head and monkey ears sticking out of the water. He slowly lifted his flimsy hand out of the water while keeping his body submerged. I squirted the shampoo. He turned his hand so it started to pour out. I told him to be careful not to spill it. He continued lying in the water, now with his ears covered too. “You’ll need to sit up,” I said. “What?” he asked, not considering the fact that he couldn’t hear me because his ears were covered with water. I repeated myself. “What?” I started to help him sit up, which was met with whining. “Nooo… I’m cold.” He slowly began to sit up anyway, only after trying to finagle his body in a way that he could stay in the water while washing his hair. Clearly he had troubles with that, since he had one shampoo-filled hand still held in the air—until he forgot that it had shampoo, and put his hand down into the bottom of the bathtub to help support himself, washing away what little shampoo was left on his limp hand. Taking a deep breath, I squirted shampoo into his hand again, and asked him to rub his hands together. With slow, flimsy hands, he rubbed his hands together like he was rolling a hummingbird’s egg- gently and carefully- with most of the friction happening between his fingers. “Wash your hair,” I encouraged. He took his somewhat shampoo-filled hands and he scrubbed his hair like you’d scrub a sunburn—not at all. But he totally tickled his hair lightly with his fingertips, all while wearing a grossed out look on his face comparable to someone who stuck his hand in a bucket of worms. There have been many moments in my parenting career when I’ve seen Mr. SPD staring at me in the face– this was one of them.

Not long after that little eye-opener, Amelia started to make me wait downstairs during her baths so she could surprise me by doing everything herself, down to cleaning up the bath toys and getting dressed and ready for bed. Cameron did take notice of this, and attempted more independence, as well, although to this day there is still a remarkable difference between the two.

What parent wouldn’t take notice of the huge difference between their children in this situation? As you may expect, the differences don’t stop at the ways in which they bathe; they are different in nearly every way, as well, to the point that when one of them says they like a new food, the other pretty much decides not to like it before it enters their mouth. Cameron likes Tom Petty, Bob Marley, and Dave Matthews. Amelia likes those too, with a generous dose of Katy Perry and Pink on the side (which naturally, Cameron detests). Cameron loves sports, Amelia likes them but prefers arts and crafts (which Cameron doesn’t). The more I think about it, it’s pretty obvious that Amelia wants to be like Cameron and Cameron just isn’t like Amelia, nor does he wish to be. Which is good because I don’t think it would be healthy for him to aspire to be like his kindergartener sister.

Now may be a good time for me to admit that my husband and I were not too sure that we wanted another baby after we had Cameron. Cameron was hard and we’d put in lots of work. The idea of putting in all of that work again while parenting an older child at the same time as a newborn, then toddler, was not appealing. However, as Cameron grew, we decided he needed to be brought down a notch. He (and his grandparents) thought the world revolved around him, and we knew he needed some healthy competition. Also, as he got a bit older he got a bit easier to parent and we decided to see what would happen if we threw our hats in the ring for one more go of this parenting thing. Nine months later, Amelia entered Stage Left as if literally, the world was and is her stage.

Sometimes on Cameron’s really tough nights, Amelia watches his tantrums quietly, or goes to her room on her own, or plays independently, or simply says, “I feel sorry for Cameron.” On those nights, we all work to help him be happier or less emotional or more independent. When the tough nights are over, we are thankful to Amelia because she is so good for him in so many ways. She forces him to not be as rigid—well kind of, because most of the time he’s trying to control her actions, her mannerisms, her chewing, her singing, her breathing (seriously) to be what he wants and expects it to be- but she rarely changes who she is to appease him. She adores him, she plays with him, she makes him feel important and smart, and she loves him unconditionally. The one thing that they don’t differ in opinions about is their love of each other and of our family.

So while I admittedly have times of guilt that I sometimes prefer to be around one child more than the other, I definitely do not love them any differently, and I definitely wouldn’t change who they are. I would not even change the fact that Cameron has SPD because it’s made him who he is- compassionate, tolerant, kind, and caring- and I think it’s done the exact same thing for his sister, as well. So while they may be different in so many ways, they actually do have the same amazing characteristics that make them the incredible people they are.

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Wiggle Worm Triumphs Over Homework

Cameron under the table, where his homework lies in wait while he works his core and cleans up the floor (something he’d never do if he wasn’t doing his homework).

I. Am. Exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, exhausted.  However, tonight I am also triumphant.  Let me explain.  As I write this I am watching Cameron “do his homework” while Amelia is babysat by the TV and dinner is waiting to be made.  I set Cameron up with a yoga ball to sit on while he does his homework, I brought home some “Reading Helpers” which look like a ruler with a colored, transparent line to use while reading to help with tracking, and I cleared the area of distractions. Now, let’s revisit that “do his homework” thing.  At this very moment, he’s actually under the table, lying with his stomach on the ball, using it to reach for a paper that fell on the floor.  The paper that fell on the floor fell because he was bouncing on the ball instead of sitting on it.  Now he’s switched to lying on his back on the ball while rocking and staring at the ceiling.  If you could hear through this post, you’d be listening to this odd high-pitched noise he randomly makes—kind of like when you stretch and make that noise that comes out of your throat because your mouth is closed. He makes those sounds while he eats, takes a bath, reads, writes… pretty much whenever he isn’t talking.  I just said to Cameron, “I don’t think that ball’s helping you.” He said, “Yeah it is.”  Now he’s kneeling on it, bouncing, and writing.  This should really help with his handwriting issues.  Or at least it will help with his core muscles.

Now he’s making an even higher-pitched noise and I’m trying not to let him see me laugh.  I laugh because if I didn’t find ways to laugh, I would cry.  A lot.  Now he’s panting, talking in that weird high-pitched voice, and adding some more weird sounds.  But he’s content.  I’m not sitting next to him to coax him to write every letter of every word.  He’s not arguing with me, or even Amelia.  It’s a precious moment of peace that I am so thankful for.  Now he’s banging his chin on his wrist while it sits on the table, making his teeth snap together like an alligator’s.  So, yeah, he may have some sensory issues.  Oh, and now I’m fortunate enough to be listening to his ever-so-popular mouth-fart noises.

But, guess what?  He just finished his homework!  No tears.  We had a couple of close calls when I made him fix his mistakes, but I had warned him that I’d correct his work, and it seemed to help.  Yes, there was a bunch of fidgeting on the ball, but I am willing to accept the fidgeting, noises, and chicken scratch for a finished assignment in less than an hour.

How did I do it, you ask?  Well, not only can this mom throw impromptu dance parties in the living room, help with intricate Lego building, read with funny voices, and make Halloween costumes out of nearly anything in the house; that’s right, for my next trick, I will predict the mood and melt-downs of the SPD monster inside of my child and avoid them with pre-planning.  Yes, I beat him to the punch today.  I had him start his homework right away after his snack, before his exhaustion set in.  I made it sound exciting that I had a new “tool” for him to use while doing today’s homework assignments.  He got the ball ready to use before he even started his homework. When he said he was almost done, I excitedly said, “Great! Then I’ll check it, you can fix your mistakes, and then you’ll be all done!” and he didn’t seem to notice that meant he had more time left than he’d thought.  I also got rid of his biggest distraction, Amelia, by placing her in front of the TV, which is in a different room.  And I didn’t even sit at the table, cook, or anything except sit in the chair within his line of vision and type this.

Why can’t I beat him to the punch every day?  Because I’m exhausted.  I work full-time with kids who have special needs, which puts into perspective how lucky I am to have a son with SPD instead of the plethora of other things that can happen to children.  However, by the time I get home, I’ve given so much to my students, and then I’m expected–no required (in a good way)– to give even more to my own children because my motto is “I will not put my students before my children.” But it’s really, really hard.  It’s hard to be “on” at work and at home. It’s hard to bring all of my strategies, tricks, and especially my patience home with me.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but I’m giving myself permission to be tired.  I’m tired just from watching Cameron do his homework, but I think I’m even more tired from the tactics I had to employ in order to make it go smoothly.

With that said, dinner can wait no longer.  Lucky for me, I am also giving myself permission to make frozen pizza.

Homework; A Mini-Post

Do you know what really sucks?  Homework.  Copying words for spelling is such a HUGE struggle for Cameron, which ends in tears (because he’s exhausted and over-sensitive and throws fits over things that aren’t that big of a deal).  He’s not even supposed to have this much homework because the teacher gives class time, but Cameron is “falling behind”.  At least that’s what Cameron told me.  But why is he falling behind?  Is he goofing off?  Do we need to look into (gasp) medications?  What other things can we do before we get there?  Does he need an IEP?  What additional accommodations would help him?  Is it his handwriting?  Handwriting is a skill I most definitely have taken for granted until Cameron started struggling.  But O.M.G. does he struggle.  How am I going to make it through 10 more years of this?!  Can you tell I’m panicking and stacking all my problems into one giant pile that makes me overwhelmed and thinking that everything’s way worse than it actually is?  Thank you, lone Berry Weiss, for ending my night on a more relaxed note.  Ahhh… Mommy’s medicine.

Back to School with SPD

The best part of a new school year is the fresh start.  No matter what happened the year before, you only have to deal for nine months at the most, then you’re on to a different classroom, teacher, and group of students.  It’s kind of awesome when you think about it.

Last school year didn’t start out so hot for Cameron.  About a month into it, I was on the phone with a therapist trying to figure out how to help our son, who had been turning into an emotional hurricane nearly every school night.  Each night was a mystery of what his Sensory Processing Disorder would serve up real nice-and-special for the family.  Sometimes we had “angry frustration over 10-minutes of homework,” with a side of “hit your sister.”  Other nights we were given “bossy controlling rule-maker” followed by “uncontrollable crying for an hour because your three-year-old sister looked at you.”  And when we were lucky, we had “snuggly lover” accompanied by “working really hard to find something to feel sad about.”

Once we figured out that Cameron had SPD, we weren’t exactly sure how to help him.  The few things I did ask his teacher to do were rarely done, and I felt like Cameron was spinning his wheels (as were his parents).  His therapist gave us a nice list of things for his teacher to do to help him, but we were never able to coordinate a meeting with his her to review them.  Before you knew it, it was the end of the school year and he was doing fine enough; so we decided to call it a wash and start fresh this year.

This is the first year we’ve started the school year knowing Cameron has SPD, which is a big advantage for him, his teacher, and us.  First of all, I asked around to figure out what teacher would be best for him.  Then, I did something I’d NEVER imagined I would do… I called his principal to request this specific teacher.  I decided to take initiative, since he has learning needs that can be helped or hindered by the right teacher.  This is kind of against my philosophy because I feel like an important skill for people to have is to deal with learning from/working with/being with people they don’t necessarily enjoy.  However, when I saw his love of school dwindle last year, I decided to take action and request someone who would work with him in a more proactive manner. We’ve now had nearly a year to figure out some tricks that work for Cameron, so when I went into his school on Meet the Teacher day, I had a mental list of things to tell his new (and requested) teacher.  It kind of went like this (written in the play version; feel free to grab a friend and act this out).  Also, if you click on the link, you’ll see the “xtranormal.com” version acted out in a mini-cartoon.

Cameron’s Back to School Act 1

Cameron’s Back to School, Act 1 (click link to view short cartoon movie of this Act)

[Cameron and his sister are playing loudly with beanbags in the corner, imagining that they are a draw-bridge, among other things while jumping and making crazy animal noises.  Katina and Mr. G are on the opposite corner of the room, talking quietly.]

Katina: I just want you to know that Cameron has been diagnosed with Sensory Processing Disorder.  He is a sensory seeker, which means he’s kind of grabby towards other kids and needs to be reminded to keep his hands to himself.  He has a hard time sitting still sometimes, too.

Mr. G: Oh, do you think he’d like to sit on a cushion? [gestures to blue, nubby, wedge-shaped cushion near where he’s standing]

Katina: Yes!  I also have tried to have him sit on a yoga ball at home while he did his homework, and he did say that he liked that.

Mr. G: There’s actually a classroom in our district that has those ball chairs for every student.  I think that teacher got a grant.  I can’t afford to get those chairs for my whole class, but if you want to send one in with Cameron, he could use it here.

Katina: Wow!  That’s great!  Maybe I will, if Cameron is okay with that.  Also, he has terrible handwriting.  He’s been tested for occupational therapy, and he doesn’t qualify, but it’s been an issue in school for quite awhile.

Mr. G: Can he type?

Katina: No, but if you’re willing to let him do that, I’ll start practicing with him at home.

Mr. G: Well, if that works better, that would be fine. It doesn’t matter to me.

Katina: I really don’t make him practice extra writing at home because I don’t want him to hate to write.  He has really great ideas, and he can get them down on paper, but it’s hard to read.

Mr. G: My goal is to make it so he doesn’t hate writing too, so we’ll do whatever works for him.

Katina: Great.  Another thing is that Cameron tends to lose control when he’s excited and needs to be reminded to calm down. We do brush him with a sensory brush, and it really calms him down.

Mr. G: If you want to send the brush to school, I would be fine brushing him here.

Katina: Well, I don’t know if Cameron would feel weird about that, but if he’s fine with it, I think that’s a great idea.  There’s one more thing.  I am a teacher, and so I was curious about his reading level.  He reads really well, but running records (where he reads aloud and a teacher records any errors he makes while reading)  are not easy for him.  He has a hard time getting his words out in general, which includes while he reads.  I gave him a reading test at the beginning of the summer and asked him to read silently, and then I asked him comprehension questions.  He was at a middle school level when I tested him.  I’m not saying that’s for sure where he’s at, but I feel like he comprehends best when he’s not reading aloud to someone.  When he reads aloud, he’s placed at about a fourth grade level.  I’m not trying to tell you what to do, but I’m just letting you know that happened.

Mr. G [smiling and nodding]: My son was the same way.  After I told his teacher about that, she tested him after he read silently and she said she’d never give him another running record again.

Katina: Thank you.

Mr. G: I’m not the best communicator, so if there’s something else, please just let me know.

Katina: I’m not a helicopter mom; I just wanted you to know about Cameron before you start.

SCENE

I left Cameron’s school thinking, “Oh. My. Gosh. This couldn’t be more perfect!”  I was excited and hopeful for Cameron.  Flash forward to the first day of school.  (You’ll need four people for this act, but one part isn’t a speaking role).

Cameron’s Back to School Act 2

Cameron’s Back to School, Act 2 (click to link to a short movie of this act.  There are only two characters in the movie because that’s all the website allows.)

[Jon, Katina, Cameron and Amelia are eating dinner around the table, discussing the kids’ first days at school.  Amelia is making a mess, has already spilled milk, is playing with her food more than eating it, and has pasta sauce on her face, in her eyebrow, and in her hair.]

Jon: How was your first day, Cameron?

Cameron: It was great!  I was so good I got two back scratches from Mr. G.

[Jon and Katina give curious looks to each other.]

Katina: …Really?  Does he do that to everyone?

Cameron: No, just me.  He said real quiet to me, ‘Your mom said I can scratch your back if you want me to.  Is it alright if I scratch your back?’

[Jon and Katina exchange glances]

Jon: Hmm.  Were you around other people?

Cameron: Yeah, I was at my desk.

Katina: Let me take this opportunity to remind you that if you ever feel uncomfortable with an adult-that they’re touching you inappropriately- you have to tell us.  Even if they tell you not to.

Cameron: I know.  I like Mr. G. because he touches me.

[Jon and Katina exchange concerned, surprised, yet somewhat amused glances)

Jon: What do you mean?

Cameron: Like he touches my arm and my head when he’s talking to me.

Katina: Yeah, you do like that.

Cameron: Can we send my brush to school?

Katina: I’m not sure I’m comfortable with him brushing you quite yet.

SCENE

I know in my heart that Mr. G is not a creepster.  I know that he was doing what he knows works for Cameron, because it turns out that Mr. G’s son is kind of similar to Cameron.  So I am so grateful that he’s being so kind to and understanding of Cameron.  However, due to the fact that I am a mother, I can’t help the weird vibes that this whole conversation gave me.  I was planning on addressing the brushing with Mr. G after the school year was rolling a bit more.

Well, it turns out that Cameron REALLY wanted to be brushed at school, because he “scheduled a private meeting” with Mr. G in the library, where he asked where and when Mr. G would be able to brush him during the school day.  Don’t get me wrong; I am proud of his self-advocacy skills, and I’m thrilled that he clearly feels a strong connection with his teacher.  But still… this is probably something that should be discussed with his parents before taking it to the teacher.  But this should come as no surprise to me.  Cameron is a “go get ‘em” kind of guy.  When he wants something, he figures out how to get it.  I should be happy he didn’t “schedule a private meeting” with the principal regarding this pressing issue of brushing.  Luckily, his teacher told him that he needed to talk to us before the brushing could occur.

So the good news is we have a teacher who is willing to go above and beyond to meet the needs of our son without an IEP (Individualized Education Program). The other good news is that I don’t think there’s a bad news (yet).  Cameron and his self-advocacy have worked towards getting what he needs, and that is a step in the right direction.  Now we need to work on his approach, both when telling stories about being “touched” and when asking his teacher for things prior to discussing it with his parents.  We’re getting there!

People Are People

People.  They can be amazing, extraordinary, beautiful, and sometimes mean.  This week in our house, it felt like those mean people were swarming around us, just waiting to sting when we least expected it.

It started at the state fair.  While in one of the millions of lines for food at the fair, a bright-pink-lipstick-wearing fifty-something lady behind us looked at me at said, “Excuse me,” in a clear, demeaning, snarky voice.  I had no idea why she said that so I gave her my dead-behind-the-eyes look (behind sunglasses, mind you) and awkward smile.  She must have sensed my confusion, because she sarcastically said, “That’s what you usually say when you bump into someone,” while looking at Cameron.

Mommy defensiveness kicked in and I said, “Oh.  He has sensory issues,” to which Cameron, on cue, growled loudly because he didn’t really want me telling fair-goers about his business.  I turned away from her and quietly said, “Sorry, Cameron, I had to tell her because she’s being a ‘B.’”

“She’s being what?” he asked.

“She’s being mean,” I responded with light-speed thinking. “And when you bump into people, you really need to say, ‘Excuse me.’”

“I didn’t bump into her!” he said.  And honestly, I believe he didn’t realize he had.

I was ready to let it go, but my husband Jon was not.  “Are you really that upset about that?” he asked the grump.

“Move along,” she snapped, while dismissively waving her hands to move him forward.

“You must have some life,” said Jon.  Ouch.  We waited uneasily for another five minutes or so that felt more like 30 minutes, while Jon turned redder and redder, fuming from her ridiculousness.  I told him to relax, that Cameron really should have said, “Excuse me,” and that it’s not that big of a deal, but he could not get past that someone would be that irritated at a fair where you can’t take two steps without bumping into some person or animal, and who would be so angry with a kid for being a kid.

The next day, my kids were playing at the YMCA indoor play area.  Cameron and Amelia were screaming and laughing loudly, which made me feel anxious.  I am forever worried about bothering other people.  When I’m driving, I rush to get out of the left lane when other drivers are behind me, when I’m shopping, I always make sure my cart is out of the way.  This may sound just like manners to some people, but it makes me feel extremely, heart-racingly uncomfortable when I know I’m in the way or bothering other people.  So when my kids were screaming like kids do, I tried to relax and let it go, but found that it was too much for me to handle.  On my way to quiet them and give them the two minute warning, I passed two kids sitting at a table watching the play area, and I heard one of them say, “That’s that weird kid in there.”

With a broken heart, I looked at him and said, “That’s my kid in there, so… you know… that’s cool (sarcasm font needed here).” He didn’t say anything, but I heard him and his friend continuing to talk about Cameron while I neglected the two-minute warning and ushered my kids out of there as fast as I could before I said or did something I would regret to those little… word-that-you-should-never-use-to-describe-children.

So, my kid is the “weird” kid.  I looked at those kids, and thought about how “coolness” seemed to be naturally oozing out of them with their long, shaggy hair, awesome eight-year-old swag, and general ease of life.  I thought of Duckie in “Pretty in Pink” and how that could be my son.  I thought of myself and how I struggled with my lack of cool in school, and how I’m still uncomfortable in my own skin more than a grown-up should be.  I am quirky.  Why would I expect my children to be anything but that?  I certainly LOVE that they are “odd.”  They both have imaginations that could rival Steven Spielberg’s.  They love nature, they collect bugs, rocks, shells, wood, or whatever other artifacts they think are interesting in the given moment.  Cameron loves his stuffed animals, his precious yellow blanket, cars, and Playmobil, but he’s not a big fan of Legos- of course, since that’s too much fine-motor for his fingers to handle.

But I think I really know why those kids said that.  When Cameron plays, he is loud, he makes crazy, loud (annoying) noises, he is too touchy-feely, and he is a forever-bossy rule-maker.  He makes up rules for everything from how to go down a slide to how to play kickball.  Honestly, it’s annoying.  I am his mother, and I know these behaviors are due to the fact that he is not physically feeling things like other kids.  He is loud because he gets over-stimulated and his energy comes out through his mouth.  He is touchy-feely because just watching people around him isn’t enough for his senses; he needs to feel them.  He is a rule-maker because he feels so out of control of his senses, he needs to have control of everything else.

Jon and I have talked to him about these things.  We’ve been blunt, frustrated, embarrassed for him, understanding, patient, impatient, loving, and any other way we can be.  Cameron does not change these behaviors.  He cannot control himself when he’s in the moment, even if he knows that kids will think he’s “weird,” because I have literally told him that before.  So, now what?  It’s happening.  Kids think he’s weird.

So now, I pray, I use “The Secret,” I hope, I send positive juju into the universe, for Cameron to find friends who see him for who he is and not his surface reactions to things, and for him to keep the good friends that he already has.  I want to protect him from the self-consciousness that was my childhood, but I know that’s impossible.  While I don’t really like the bossiness he exhibits, I don’t want him to change, and I don’t think the resilient and stubborn Cameron will change.  I just want him to embrace the “weird” and continue to find others who do the same, just like I did.

Here’s My Number- So Call Me Crazy

I was recently inspired by a hater who thinks I’m “CRAZY” because I write this blog.  This opened my eyes to the fact that there are probably many people who think I’m crazy for airing my dirty laundry onto the Internet, and I felt the need to step onto my soapbox for a moment.  Thank you for humoring me.

What’s even more inspirational to me than the “haters that are gonna hate” is the many more people who have contacted me to let me know that they have found peace in knowing that someone else has similar experiences to theirs.  I am so inspired by the support from people who would have never known our stories had I not shared them.  I am NOT the kind of parent or person who sweeps things under the rug, nor will I ever be.  I do not look at this opportunity to share our stories with whomever wishes to read them as “airing our dirty laundry,” but rather look at it as showing how an absolutely incredible, but extremely misunderstood child has been able to find his wings and soar above and beyond our expectations (which were pretty high in the first place) with a bit of education, understanding, and appreciation of his sensory-seeking ways.  If his stories help other children find their wings, then these “rude” comments from the haters are well-worth it, and I make no apologies.  With that said, I have a short story about the beginning of our journey to helping Cameron soar:

It was the day of my master’s degree project presentation.  Almost-three-year-old Cameron came with Jon to see my awesome trifold poster board display and enjoy the mini-lunch that was served for the families and friends who came to see the projects.  Cameron, as usual, was over-stimulated and full of energy, which left him jumping, skipping, running, and talking in his megaphone voice.  My instructor, who just happened to be a nun, stood by watching.  I was thinking that she’d probably like to pull out a ruler at that very moment, so I turned to her with a sheepish smile and jokingly said, “Ritalin, here we come!”  Her reply?  “There are other dietary things you can do before using meds.”  And then I knew that even a woman of God who was supposed to think that children are precious gifts was thinking that my son wasn’t exhibiting “normal” behavior.

When he was evaluated for ADHD, Cameron’s psychologist recommended meds.  Jon and I decided that was not the best option for us/him, so we decided to look into behavioral interventions.  Even as a special education teacher, I struggled to find and stick to strategies that were successful in curbing Cameron’s behaviors.  So it wasn’t until three months later, when Cameron’s transition to second grade left him sobbing and throwing tantrums almost nightly, that I called my clinical psychologist (yes, I’m proud to say that I have a therapist) to see if she could help him, or help Jon and me parent him better.  I was picturing her as the “Kid Whisperer,” training the parents, not the children.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, she mentioned the fact that many children with “ADHD” actually have sensory processing issues and recommended a clinic for children like him.  And that was the step that changed our lives for the better.

I am so grateful for the knowledge that has helped us understand Cameron.  As I continue crossing the virtual picket lines, I hope that these stories continue to inspire others as I’m inspired by my son.  I hope that Cameron’s transformation to a more emotionally-controlled, still sensory-seeking bookworm helps other families identify their amazing kids.

His Own Advocate

In a kind attempt to make Cameron feel better about being brushed, my well-meaning mother-in-law said to him, “That looks so great!  I wish I could be brushed.”  Cameron responded, “You have to have sensory issues to get brushed.”  I was impressed.

Jon and I believe that the only way to help Cameron is to promote his own understanding of what his issues are, why they are what they are, and how to cope with them.  This can work for us and against us at times.  Part of Cameron’s SID is that he is very sensitive to sounds.  When he listens to music, he likes it super loud.  When people chew with their mouths open, especially his sister, he becomes physically agitated (which could be a genetic trait, because I’m the same way).  He also can’t handle her singing with the radio—which may be more of a sibling issue than an SID issue.  I told him that this sensitivity to sounds could be part of his SID, so when he was yelling at Amelia to stop singing and I told him to be patient with her, he replied, “Remember, I can’t help it.  It’s part of me being brushed.  I’m more sensitive to sounds.”  Touché, Cameron.  Touché.

Since he just finished a break from school, I was prepared for a tough transition.  While brushing Cameron last night, we talked about the fact that change is tough for him, and he often loses control.  I tried to give him examples, but he is the forever excuse maker, so he was trying to convince me that he was upset because the Wii actually belongs to him and to whomever bought it, so it’s really his, so he was upset because… that’s where I cut him off.  I’m not sure if non-stop talking, negotiating, and excuse-making is part of SID, but I kind of doubt it.  However, when Cameron in defense-mode those are some of Cameron’s most prominent attributes.

My point in all of this is that unless Cameron knows what sets him off and what makes him feel better, he won’t be able to help himself.  Our goal for him is to be independent, productive, and happy.  He can’t be any of these things if we pretend he’s “fine” and we don’t take advantage of this golden opportunity we have to educate him about himself while he still listens to and looks up to us.  So while it backfires at times, when he tells me that he can’t write neatly because he was just born that way, it works wonders when he asks to be brushed and comes up with his own brushing routine.  Now to wean him off of brushing before his college roommate needs to do it for him…

Potty- My Nemesis, Part 2

I do believe it’s time to revisit the potty stories!  As I have mentioned before, potty has been a struggle for Cameron, but he gets better every day.  In fact, just recently we had a full month with no accidents!  This is something he’d been working on since the beginning of the summer, so it was a huge victory when he made the 30-day mark, after about six months of trying. My husband, Jon, told him that if he made it 30 days without an accident, we’d go to a water park.  Although I thought this was a bit unattainable, he did it!

The potty issues have been a part of our lives for a long time now. To reiterate what I’ve said in past posts, this was one of the first missed clues that Cameron may have a sensory issue.  He was having frequent accidents (like four or more poop and/or pee accidents per week) and had only one or two dry nights in his life at the age of six.  On numerous occasions, I would see a giant wet spot on the front of his pants and would tell him he peed his pants. Always argumentative, he’d say, “No I didn’t!” look down, touch his pants, then say, “UUUGH!”  I had told his gastroenterologist that I really didn’t think he knew when he had to go or when he went, but I felt a bit unheard.  So, when we finally got the Sensory Integration Dysfunction (SID) diagnosis, I told Cameron that the therapist said he really can’t feel when he has to go to the bathroom, just as I’d suspected. Cameron’s response was, “Yeah! I know!  Tell Dad that because he doesn’t believe me!”

Jon is not a dad who rules with an iron fist, but he was frustrated.  Mother Theresa would be frustrated with our situation.  It’s really hard to have a son who poops and pees his pants after being potty trained for years.  There’s constant cleanup, non-stop stinky laundry, dozens of destroyed underwear thrown into the landfill (because sometimes, I am just not trying to wash that out!)  There’s a lot of emotion that accompanies an “accident-prone” child too- guilt, empathy, anger, sadness, etc.  It doesn’t seem like it’d be this big of a deal, but trust me, it is!  It’s also difficult to believe that someone doesn’t feel when they have to go. Potty-ing just seems like a human function that doesn’t need teaching beyond a certain point.  Like feeling hunger, for instance—no one has to tell you you’re hungry, you just are! No one should have to tell you that you need to use the bathroom either, but such is the nature of the SID beast.

When Cameron was almost four, Jon went away for the weekend.  Our daughter, Amelia, was four months old, and Cameron, who doesn’t transition well, was still adjusting to having a baby in the house, and was now angry that his dad was gone.  This was one of the worst weekends of my life.  For real.  Besides my grandma’s memorial being that weekend, Amelia could have suffered a traumatic brain injury if I wouldn’t have stopped Cameron from hitting her over the head with a folded up play baby stroller.  I stopped him inches from her head; I am pretty sure it’s a miracle, because I’m still not sure why or how he was able to stop, or why or how I turned and looked at him at that exact moment.

The icing on the already despicable cake was when Cameron was supposed to be napping, but was instead fighting.  When Amelia was a baby and Cameron was a preschooler, I occasionally tried to nap when they did; however, whenever I did this, Cameron refused to sleep.  He’d say he didn’t want his blanket, then he wanted it, then he wanted to be covered, then he didn’t, then he wouldn’t stay in his room… Grrr.  On this particular day, after making an encore presentation to my bedroom a half a dozen times, Cameron once again came into my room, where I was attempting sleep, and said, “Come look at this.” I begrudgingly got out of bed and let him lead me to his room.

On the floor, there was a wet spot.  “What’s this?” I asked.  I looked over at him, with his smug smile and devious eyes and asked a question I already knew the answer to.  “Is this pee?”

Cameron, still smiling, pointed to another place on the carpet and said, “Look at this.”  I should add that there was a distinct smell of poo, as well, but this exhausted, post-partum mother could not take any more at that moment.  So, I did what any sensible person would do at times like this.  I put myself in a time out while I cried, thinking, “What is wrong with my child?” Cameron came to watch me for a while, as if I was trying to win an Academy Award.

“What’s wrong?” he asked… As if he didn’t know.  Honestly, I don’t really remember what happened after that.  I think I may have post-traumatic stress disorder.  I’m sure I did not get a nap; I know I cleaned up the pee, like my son was a dog who piddled on the floor because he was excited to see me… Or maybe he was marking his territory.  I mean there’s that new sister thing—he may have wanted to make sure his room stayed his room in case she decided to come try to take it over.  Anyway, I did eventually figure out that the smell of poop (which I really should be immune to now, but I’m not) was coming from Cameron’s WINDOWSILL.  He smeared it.  On the windowsill.  It kind of blended in, so it was pretty hard to detect.  Really.  Do other parents have these stories?

Let’s return to the present, and celebrate how far we’ve come.  No more trying to kill his sister–if he does, she can fight back now–no more marking his territory, no more smeared feces like a monkey in a cage, and, most importantly, no more surprise accidents.  Cameron’s accidents are much less frequent—in fact, at the risk of jinxing us, I think his accidents are what could be considered “typical” for a seven-year-old.  Frustration, empathy, sadness, and anger have been replaced-most of the time, anyway- with pride– Pride in Cameron, and pride in our family for persevering.

Auld Lang Syne

Tears of loss.  Screams of sadness.  Flails of anger.  Cries of frustration.  A Badger fan’s reaction to their second Rose Bowl loss in a row?  Nope, it’s just Cameron’s New Year’s Eve.  Let’s reminisce…

After a lazy day of too much TV time, Jon and I were informed that it was New Year’s Eve.  We thought it was December 29, which is what happens when you’re on vacation—you lose track of what day it is.  We were enjoying a relaxing day, planning for our friends to come over the following day, on what we thought was New Year’s Eve.  Our front door opened, and in came my father-in-law.  “Happy New Year,” he said.  “New Year’s isn’t until tomorrow,” was my response.  “No… It’s today,” he replied.  I added the days in my head and realized that it was, indeed, New Year’s Eve, which meant that we had a lot to do to prepare for our friends.

I let Cameron play a game on my phone (adding to his day of too much screen time) while I scurried to prepare.  Then, I watched as his ginormous meltdown began rather slowly.   I had just put his sister, Amelia, on the couch to become more lucid after her nap.  Suddenly, Cameron, playing the phone game with intensity, absentmindedly sat on Amelia.  He was in a zombie-like trance, and plunked his skinny butt directly on his sister, whose face smacked the back of his head.  “OH MY GOSH, Cameron,” was my unplanned response as my mouth hung open in utter disbelief.  Both children were crying, and I tried my best to calm both with two arms (in times like these it would be nice to be an octopus).  He wasn’t hurt, but was crying because I yelled at him.  I tried to tell him that I wasn’t angry, it was pure shock that made speak louder than usual, but I hadn’t yelled.  I decided that the phone game needed to be put away, and so did Cameron.  I calmly asked him to go to his room to relax and read until I was ready to leave for the store.

He came to the store with me and seemed better.  We bought a fun New Year’s dinner for the kids with Cameron making most of the food choices.  Upon return home, the kids ate their special dinner while we waited for two very good friends to arrive.  We were planning to have a Wii bowling tournament with Cameron’s brand new Wii.  Both kids were so excited that we started playing before our friends even arrived.  As the night went on, we realized that even though we’d been playing the Wii for awhile, we were not going to have enough time for a full-blown tournament.  This, in combination with the fact that Cameron was losing some bowling games (losing graciously is not one of Cameron’s strengths), caused Cameron’s wheels to start coming off.  He started to cry.  When I gave him the choice (Love & Logic) to either stop crying and play one more game or keep crying and go to bed, he kept crying.  I had to pick him up to get him to move to his bedroom, which is not something I’m going to be able to do for much longer—he’s a long, noodley 7–year-old!

Apparently, this unleashed an uncontrollable beast.  Tears, screaming, uncontrollable sobbing—the worst I think I may have ever seen, but this time Jon was there to help, so we tag-teamed the situation like WWE wrestlers in front of our extremely non-judgmental friends.  In our attempt to put out this super-blaze, we spent nearly two hours doing what we could to help Cameron; we took turns rolling over him with a yoga ball, hugging him, brushing him, talking to him, etc, but nothing was working.  In retrospect, we were trying to put out a fire that we should have been preventing all along.  During hour two of the fiasco, Cameron came out of his room for what seemed like the hundredth time while we were trying to make dinner for the grown-ups.  “Please, just stop crying and go to bed,” I pleaded. “I can’t control myself” Cameron sobbed. “I can’t control myself either, and I’m about to go postal on you if you don’t get back in your room right now!”  Yep.  I said that.  I turned around to see our friends laughing at me.  “I’m not sorry I said that!” I exclaimed.  There goes that Mother of the Year trophy once again.  One of the things I was thankful for that day was that he has no clue what “going postal” means.

What went wrong? A lot.  It was winter break, and we didn’t do enough to keep his senses in check.  Sometimes we forget to do all of the things that we need to do with a child who has Sensory Integration Dysfunction.  Let’s review our mistakes:

1. Overstimulation: Let’s face it; we’re all over-stimulated during the Christmas season, but most of us have strategies to help us deal with the assault on our senses.  My preferred strategy is wine and avoidance.  We should have provided Cameron with breaks from the chaos for whatever amount of time would’ve worked.  We also should have increased the amount of times we used the sensory brush with Cameron to once every two hours during the break..

2.  Screen Time: When Cameron watches too much TV or plays too many computer or video games, he turns into a sassy, disrespectful monster. To help with this, we limit the TV-watching, and also set timers for 30 minutes when he’s playing video or computer games.  This helps him so that he’s not surprised when it’s time for him to stop.  Over break, since we had just given him his new Wii, we were relaxed on the rules, and allowed him to play for longer than we normally would.  We should have enforced the timer rule!

3. Sugars, Dyes, and Preservatives: I have a confession: I would rather eat Cap’n Crunch and Pop Tarts for breakfast than something healthy.  I am a big fan of empty calories that are provided by sweet and sugary things.  I even love circus peanuts, the nuclear orange squishy non-peanut candy that most people think is disgusting. I am aware that I’m a hypocrite, but we try to limit dyes and preservatives from entering our kids. It was Christmas, though, and there were piles of bad-for-you foods wherever we turned.  Especially red things– red dye, in particular, really does affect Cameron’s focus and behavior–but we didn’t really set limits because it was Christmas, after all!  We should’ve made sure Cameron was full of protein before heading into the Christmas treats war zone, especially for breakfast.  Protein helps kids like Cameron focus.  We also should have made sure he sat and ate even during the intensely exciting pre-present opening.  Due to the fact that I was over-stimulated and couldn’t focus on one thing for too long, I didn’t monitor his food intake like I should have.

4.  Structure/Schedule: Cameron thrives on a schedule, and malfunctions when we throw a wrench in what he’s expecting. While I am not the most organized person, we generally try to keep somewhat of a schedule, but this did not happen over winter break.  We, like so many people, were trying to meet with several different families and friends, do as much as we could, and relax all at the same time.   Our semi-structure didn’t stand a chance.  Even though it was chaotic, each night we should have written a schedule for the next day’s plans so there weren’t any surprises for Cameron.

5. Exhaustion: Our kids go to bed close to the same time and do the same routine almost every night, even on vacation. Unfortunately, we were a bit more flexible than usual over our winter break, allowing Cameron to stay up later to be with family or friends.  This made him progressively more tired so that by New Year’s Eve, he was an exhausted wreck.  We should have stuck to a routine and got that boy some sleep!

The good news? We have learned from our mistakes.  I’ve heard that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.  In some ways, I am insane because I’m pretty sure I did some of that over break.  On the other hand, I will remember this winter break, and don’t plan to have a repeat next year (or during spring break).  I just read on the ever-reliable Wikipedia that “Auld Lang Syne” symbolizes endings and new beginnings.  So here’s to a new year of new beginnings and understandings of my sweet Cameron!