Wednesday, April 29, 2009

for child "experts," they sure don't know much about kids

Danny has been in the "system" almost as long as we have lived here.  As early as 18 months, we had him evaluated and he qualified for Early Intervention for speech and developmental therapy, and later for physical therapy for his SPD.  Over the years, my kid has been evaluated, tested and examined dozens of times.  Charlotte, on the other hand?  Never.  Last year the principal encouraged me to take Char in for the birth-preschool screening, but I decided against it.  I had had my fill of "experts" telling me what my kid could and couldn't do.  I was sick to death of the limitations of the tests and the inaccuracy of the results.  I mean, really, how effective is a test if it relies on a very small child's ability and willingness to listen to directions from strangers and sit still for long periods of time?   

This year, I decided to go ahead have Charlotte evaluated at the preschool screening, mostly out of curiosity.  I naively went into the screening assuming it would be a somewhat pleasant experience.  After all, I knew perfectly well that Charlotte would not qualify for extra services. I wasn't going to come away from this worrying about Charlotte possibly being autistic, and I was fairly confident there wouldn't be any surprises for me.

Sadly, despite Charlotte falling well within the normal range, it really wasn't a very positive experience, especially for me. First of all, when the social worker sat down with me to go over the results, all she focused on were the things Charlotte couldn't (or wouldn't) do.  Not once did she mention a strength or even assure me they don't expect kids to get everything right.  Seriously, by the end of her little monologue, I was convinced that my daugher did indeed need therapy, that was how focused on the negative she was.  It wasn't until the very end that the lady finally told me that Charlotte was normal, but by then I had heard so many criticisms, it was hard to latch onto that one brief statement.

I came out of the meeting feeling slightly shell-shocked and more than a little defensive.  I mean, how dare they lombast my child's abilities that way?  The more I thought about it, the more unrealistic it seemed to me.  I mean, some of the things they expected of my child seemed laughable.  Having been a teacher, I understand the limitations of standardized testing.  I know that they are designed just to see where on the continuum of "normalcy" kids fall.  So, I understand that there will be questions on the test that seem excessively advanced.  Still, there were so many things about this test that surprised me, things that display a total lack of understanding of children.  Allow me to share:

**While Charlotte can identify most of the basic body parts (arm, hand, belly, and even chin)  she couldn't identify her knuckle.   Never in a million years would I have even thought to teach my kids where their knuckles are.  And my three year old is supposed to know this?  Just seems a bit advanced.  Now if they had asked my lovely daughter where her vagina was, she would have aced THAT question!

**At least twice, the social worker mentioned that Charlotte was too wiggly during the evaluation.  
I wish I could go back and ask her exactly what she means by that.  I would also love to know just how many other kids were deemed "too wiggly."  She's THREE!!!!  Isn't she supposed to be wiggly?  Seriously.  I cannot think of a single non-wiggly three-year-old; it makes me think of the  scene in "Uncle Buck" where Buck is meeting with the principal and says, "I don't think I want to know a 6-year-old who isn't a dreamer or silly heart, and I sure don't want to know one who takes her student career seriously."  And I will add that I don't want to know a three-year-old who isn't a wiggler.

**Apparently, at one point Charlotte got bored with questions, like what does a thermometer do and instead declared, "I want to play."  
OK, so first of all, what three-year-old knows what a thermometer does?  That one really surprised me.  Secondly, Charlotte had been in this testing for over an hour.  Is it really out of the ordinary that a little kid would get bored with this much testing?  

**Charlotte didn't do too well on the self-grooming questionnaire that I filled out and I am sure a big part of that is she isn't potty trained, which frankly, is all my fault.  What did surprise me on this section was that Char should be blowing her own nose with no help and without being told to do it.  None of my kids have ever shown any interest in blowing their noses.  They would be far more content to wipe them on their sleeves, if I let them.  And judging from most of the kids I see at church and the library, they don't seem to be in the minority on this one.

**Charlotte wouldn't cooperate on the vision test, which bothered me until I found out why.  In order to do the test, one of Charlotte's eyes had to be covered.  Oh, and I forgot to mention that I was not in the room with her at any point during the evaluation.  So, my daughter would not let a complete stranger cover one of her eyes.  And the tester told me that this could be a sign that Charlotte has a vision problem.  It didn't ever occur to her that actually, having a stranger cover your eye might be a scary prospect for a little kid.  

Interestingly, while we were waiting for the social worker, I heard a tester tell a dad that he needed to come into the room because his son (who was at least a year older than Charlotte) wouldn't cooperate during the vision test.  Apparently, Charlotte is not the only one freaked outby  people touching her eye.

So, now, according to the tester, I need to spend the next week practicing this with Charlotte so she can come back and actually cooperate on the test. Yes, I am supposed to figure out a way to make my kid allow me to cover her eye while we play games.  As if I don't have enough to do, what with feeding, cleaning up after and teaching my kids to blow their dang noses.

There's more, but I won't bore you with the details.  This experience just really underscored to me the shortcomings of our public school system.  You cannot test a kid for an hour and get a really accurate idea of what the kid knows.  I understand that we just don't, at this point, have any viable alternatives to this sort of testing.  Still, you would think that in dealing with small children, the evaluators would be a bit more understanding and realistic.  At the very least, they could point out where your child is excelling and not just focus on the weaknesses.  Because, as was repeated in my Special Ed graduate seminar, you never get the whole picture when you just focus on a kid's weaknesses.  You have to include the strengths to really begin to understand the child. 

Sunday, April 26, 2009

trip to the park, SPD style

The weather here has been beautiful, bordering on tropical, so we decided to get out of the house today and go to the park.  It was a trip that made me reflect a lot on Danny's SPD and how far he has come.

Danny rode his tricycle the entire way and I couldn't get over how well he did. Last year, he had to stop many times along the 4-block route, and he pedaled really slowly.  It was hard for him to coordinate, and almost impossible for him to pedal and steer at the same time.  Today, not only could he steer, but he pedaled pretty fast and didn't need to stop unless his wheel got stuck on something.

Then, once we got the park, Danny begged his dad for a "puppy under," also known in some circles (meaning any people who do not belong to the Pancake clan) as an underdog.  I couldn't believe it.  Years ago, when we first began therapy, Danny couldn't stand to be on a swing for more than a few seconds.  Now he can pump his legs and actually enjoys swinging high.  It's a pretty huge accomplishment here in our house.

A kid from Danny's class happened to be at the park as well, which delighted Dannyno end.Too bad K, who was with a couple other kids, one being his brother,  was  not so delighted to see Danny.   Danny wanted so badly to play with K, but K was a total brat the entire time.  He called Danny a "weirdo" and told him to quit following him.  Danny wasn't even being inappropriate at all.  He did run around a lot and made some funny robot noises, and ok, yes, at one point he ate some grass, but still, I don't think the comments were necessary.  I was also surprised that K's mother never reprimanded him or encouraged him to "play nice" as I would have done had Danny been leaving someone out.  I had to really bite my tongue to keep from snapping at the kid.

My first reaction was outrage and then, I freaked out worrying that Danny would never have friends and that his SPD would make him an outcast forever.  But then, I looked at it a bit more realistically.  I have no idea why K was so rude to Danny, because seriously, Danny was not at all out of line at the park.  Perhaps, I realized, this was more about K being kind of a crabby brat than about Danny being unable to make friends.  And then, I also remembered how on Tuesday at the kindergarten preview, Danny played for almost an hour with two friends from school, one of whom is a girl whose mother has told me comes home calling Danny her friend.

So, you will all be proud that today, for once, I have decided not to catastrophize.  I am choosing to focus on the positive aspects of our trip to the park and on all the progress Danny has made.   And I know I need to remember that stuff like this happens to ALL kids, whether they have special needs or not.  I mean, I was teased a whole lot in grade school by a couple of really mean girls (one of whom I found on Facebook the other day.  Is it totally evil of me that I felt just a twinge of glee when I saw that she had gained at least 100 pounds?  This, the girl who called me fat in junior high?  I repented afterwards.  But still, I'm only human.)

Anyway, I am trying really hard to keep a sense of persepective with regards to my kids.  But it sure isn't easy when I think someone is being mean to them!

Friday, April 24, 2009

is it WW or Sesame Street?

I just received a letter from Weight Watchers begging me to come back to them and even offering free registration.  In the past, I have been a member of WW several times.  I do like the program and always lose weight on it when I am actually following it.  I had been considering joining up again, but hesitated to fork over so much money for something I could conceivably do for free.

Anyway, on the WW ad, there was a picture of  this cuddly guy.  His name is Hungry and he is the new mascot for WW.  Yeah, they now have a mascot.  What is this?  College basketball?  Why do I need a furry monster to help me lose weight?  As if I don't see enough of these guys on Sesame Street everyday.

Is it just me or does he remind you of the Cookie Monster?  

Yeah, I don't think he is going to be very helpful to me in my quest for a svelte body.  When I see him, all I want is cookies.  Is this a misguided marketing campaign or something more sinister, like an attempt to subliminally trick us into eating more cookies, thus ensuring that WW will always have customers?

I don't know, but I'm off to get some snickerdoodles.  

Monday, April 20, 2009

Monday Mumbers--puke, chocolate and diets

1 Number of celebratory dances I have performed since successfully posting this marvelous button, thanks to Kia.  I am no longe the most cyber-challenged person I know.

7,350,658  Number of failed attempts to catch a bit more shut-eye this month.  I swear my kids have teamed up with the world's telemarketers and all the people of Illinois to ensure that I do not get any extra sleep ever.  Seriously.  The few chances I get to lie down for a nap, one of the kids comes into my room screeching, "Wake up, Mommy!  No sleeping!" or the phone rings.  If it isn't someone asking me to donate to breast cancer research, then it is the Red Cross requesting I donate blood.  And on the rare days the phone doesn't ring, someone actually rings my doorbell.  Now, why, why I ask you would anyone think I am interested in buying meat from the trunk of their car?  These salesmen come at least a couple of times a year and none of my excuses ever deter them.  Once I even claimed we were vegetarian, thinking surely this would convince them to quit bothering me.  No luck.

1.5  The measly number of pounds I have lost in the last two weeks of strict dieting and grueling workouts.  What's up with that?

16 number of mini mint 3 Musketeer bars consumed this past week.  What?  Don't tell me chocolate isn't part of a "strict diet."  I mean, they're mini, for pete's sake.  And yes, I know I am addicted.

3 Number of days I skipped grueling workouts this week.  Hey, I have to start slow, right?  Can't just start whole hog.  I DID just have a baby, people.  Give me a break.  

1 Number of times Charlotte called the planet Uranus "my anus" today.  Made me laugh like a prepubescent boy.

1 Number of times I was totally puked on in the wee hours of this morning.  Tommy really got me--spit up all down my shirt, and it was 4 am.  I reeked of baby spit up until 2 this afternoon when I was finally able to get a freaking shower.

3 Number of weeks I have been husbandless every  single weeknight, which means it has been over three weeks since I have been able to escape this asylum by myself.  I am beginning to feel a bit trapped and loony.  I need to get out of this house without any children.  And not to go grocery shopping or errand running, because that SO does not count.

3 Number of months I told Bil I was supposed to wait before having sex postpartum.  I think he caught on that I might be exaggerating a bit.






Thursday, April 16, 2009

IEPs, Domain Meetings and Oreos

I just bought a package of Oreos for the very first time.  Not being my favorite cookie, I don't typically eat them.  I can count the number of times I have ingested Oreos in the last year on one hand.  So, why did I buy Oreos?  Because I felt bad for Danny.

This morning I had a domain meeting at Danny's school.  What this means is that I sat down with all the people at school who work with Danny: his teacher, speech therapist, special ed teacher, the principal and the school psychologist, and together we determined what evaluations Danny should have before kindergarten. 

The meeting was fairly straightforward and even pleasant; I have had really good experiences with the staff at our preschool.  They really seem to have Danny's best interests at heart and don't appear to be trying to shirk their responsibilities the way other school districts seem to do (at least from what I have heard, especially in the Special Ed course I was required to take in grad school).  They are even making it a point to ensure that the Occupational Therapist does an evaluation, even though Danny at this time does not qualify for OT services at school. 

So, why the Oreos?  I am not sure, but despite the good meeting, I just felt really sad.  Sad that Danny has to undergo even more evaluations in the Fall, (he has undergone so many evals in the last 4 years that I have lost count) sad that he struggles with so many common tasks that are easy for most kids, like handwriting with the proper grasp, interacting appropriately with others, handling disruptions in schedules, and communicating his feelings and grasping abstract ideas.  

As I said, I know it isn't really rational, how I am feeling.  As far as I can tell, Danny has no idea that he is different from other kids.  And truly, his differences are not nearly as noticeable as they used to be.  He is doing well in school and seems to be prepared for kindergarten.  But still.  I know they are there and I worry about it a lot.  I  know that many of the difficulties Danny faces are actually pretty common across the board.  For example, even though Charlotte can speak quite well, when she is tired and overstimulated, she rarely communicates coherently, preferring instead to cry and keen and throw herself to the floor.  I know that most kids have problems communicating when they are upset, but Danny is definitely delayed in this area as in most areas of communication.

What doesn't help is that this past month has been extremely difficult for Danny.  He has regressed in a few ways and is acting out in ways that he hasn't done for quite some time.  Danny has had a really hard time with overstimulation and has been much more emotional  and short-tempered.  There are so many possible explanations for this, not least of which is having a baby in the house and Bil not being around much at all.  Add to that the disruption in schedules, me being a crabby shrew much of the time, and the fact that our therapy has been spotty at best and you have the recipe for lost of meltdowns and difficulty in dealing with sensory stimulation.  And Danny's teacher pretty much confirmed this when she told me he has been doing really well, especially this past month, at school.  Obviously he is struggling at home because of all the disruptions.

I'm not even exactly sure what I am trying to communicate in this post.  Danny is a wonderful little boy who is full of life and curiosity; he's very intelligent and exuberant.  But there are still major difficulties sometimes and developmental delays that make me worry about him and the future.  Maybe I am sad because I thought it would have all been fixed by now?  I don't really know.  What I do know is that I wish I could make it easier for Danny, even though I know that isn't always the best solution. I recently read a book in which a parenting expert  asserted that the best way for a kid to develop high self-esteem for them to have to overcome challenges.  When a kid does something that is difficult and requires hard work and they succeed, it tends to make them feel good about themselves and their achievements.  I agree with this and even see it manifested in Danny lately.

So tonight after dinner, we will be having Oreos for dessert, because even though I can't take away his SPD, I can give him a special treat and watch his face light up as he says, "Mommy, Oreos are my favorite treat ever!"  

Monday, April 13, 2009

Monday Mumbers--Spring Break Edition

What did I ever do before the infinitely funny and creative Kia came up with this whole Monday Mumbers idea?  Here are this week's stats:

5 the number of times I have unsuccessfully tried to upload the high-tech button that Kia made especially for Monday Mumbers.  I guess you will just have to visit her blog to see it in all its cyber beauty.  

2 number of rooms we have painted in our house in the last two weeks.  We did a Pixar Cars theme in Danny's room and it looks really cute. In a fit of creative genius, Bil painted Danny's dinosaur coat rack to look like the Dinoco logo.  It looks awesome.  

52 number of times I whined to Bil this weekend, "I'm booooooored, Bil.  I want to do something fun"  and "I am sooooo sick of being in the house."  I have mostly stayed home the last month to protect Tommy from all those germy people out there, but I am really getting tired of these four walls, however beautifully painted they may be.  Someone please come visit me!!!!

12 hours I spent on Facebook.  I finally acquiesed and joined Facebook despite my previous resistance.  I have nothing against the site; I just don't really need yet another way to waste my time online.  And as evidenced by the number of hours I spent online, I get sucked into this type of thing way too easily.

4 number of people on Facebook who have requested my friendship, though I barely know them.  One of the guys I actually had to sit and think about for several minutes before I could figure out who he is.  Of course, I accepted their bid for my friendship, because I don't want to hurt anyone's feelings.  How dumb is that?

1 number of cool chats I had online last night with my long-lost college roomie.  The one who dated my twin brother.

45 number of minutes I spent doing aerobics this morning, and it is only 9:30 am.  Yay, me!

67 number of times I tripped over Danny or Charlotte while I exercised.  It seems that they also thought doing some aerobicizing was a fabulous idea and they decided to join me.  During the whole 10 minutes that they lasted, Danny kept yelling things like, "You're doing it, mommy!  Way to go.  One more time!"  I felt like I was back at Bally's Total Fitness with Bambi the extra perky instructor.  It did make me laugh, though, and that is kind of an ab workout, right? 

4 the number of weeks since I have gotten more than 4 hours of consecutive sleep. 

8 the number of consecutive hours of sleep my husband got Saturday night.  How?  Well, in my infinite compassion and charity, I told Bil to sleep on the couch and volunteered to get up through the night with Tommy.  If I were still Catholic, surely this would guarantee my canonization after my death, right?  I am one sainted wife.  And I have only once prompted him to express his undying gratitude for the sleep.

670 number of calories consumed in the form of Easter candy.

1 number of times I have been fired in my life.  It happened this week when Danny went all Donald Trump on me and said, "Mommy, you're fired!"  Don't worry, he quickly rehired me when he realized Daddy would be my replacement.  Something about me baking more treats than Bil....

52 number of times I have looked at my blog header and been reminded of a garish romance novel cover.  It may be time to change.  Any suggestions for a replacement?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

stark, raving, screaming mad

So, I may have mentioned  a few (hundred) times that Bil is working a new shift this month, which gets him home around 8:30.  I may have also mentioned that this has done a number on my energy levels, not to mention my sanity.  And the kids must sense that I am in a weakened state, because boy, are they manipulating it.

Last night, when I put the two older ones to bed, Charlotte, in her typical fashion, kept asking for a drink or a kiss.  She then escalated it and started coming out of her room despite my warnings.  She got a bit of a spanking on her diaper, which set her off screaming.  And screaming.  And screaming.  She continued to leave her room and I would calmly escort her back in.  Which set off more screaming and wailing.  She finally said she wanted to sleep in the other room (her old bedroom) so I put her in her old crib.  This made her scream more, despite the fact that she told me to put her in there.  So, we came back to her and Danny's room where more screaming ensued.

After much wailing, Danny started getting upset.  Even without his sensory issues, I could see how Charlotte's screams could bother him. They were seriously driving me crazy.  All I could think of was how I could escape this madhouse, but of course, Bil was not yet home.  In hindsight, having Danny and Char share a room may not have been the best idea. I was sitting at the kitchen table when it all got totally out of hand.  Danny started screaming because of Charlotte's screaming, which made her scream all the harder.  She actually had the nerve to scream, "Danny, stop screaming!!!"

I waited a bit thinking naively that surely they would scream themselves to sleep.  (And let me be clear here, they were not crying, they were literally screaming.)  Well, apparently, they both have much more stamina and stronger vocal chords than I gave them credit for.

What was much stranger and more disconcerting than all the screaming, though, was my reaction to it.  As I stood in the doorway trying to figure out how to stop all the shrieking, I started laughing.  Hysterically.  I couldn't stop.  Seriously, I laughed for a good few minutes, while my kids kept yelling and sobbing about all the screaming.  I just totally lost it and laughed and laughed at the madness that is my life.

So, I had been thinking that Charlotte was stark, raving mad, but now I am beginning to think that really, I am the crazy one.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday Mumbers--3 weeks postpartum

3   The number of months pregnant I now look.  Whoopee!  I am making progress.  At this rate, I will only look chunky next week, not pregnant at all.  Major accomplishment.

35  The number of times in the last two days I have cursed my idea of starting my diet this weekend.

22 Accidents Charlotte has had since Saturday when we decided to go ahead and let her wear underpants.  The potty training is not going very well.  Story of my life.

$2,179  this is how much my epidural cost.  Can you believe it?  It might have been worth it, had it actually worked!  I keep wondering if I can get a discount.  Since the anesthesia only numbed half of my body, I don't think I should actually have to pay full price.  Furthermore, since it completely stopped working about an hour before Tommy was born, I really think we deserve at least 75% off.  Think the hospital will go for this logic?

5 number of times I have regretted my choice of careers since I got the anesthsia statement. Why did I never even consider med school?  The anesthesiologist has a really cush job that pays extremely well.  I mean, he comes in, sticks me with a needle and spends about 15 minutes in my room.  For this he charges me over $2,000?  And you apparently don't even have to be very good at your job in this field, since I get no discount for an incomplete epidural.  If only I had applied myself more in Biology class instead of spending all my time reading Shakespeare.  I mean, really, studying literature hasn't done a whole lot for my bank account.

21.7  The number of meltdowns Danny has had since we brought Tommy home.  He has been having an extremely difficult time with transitions and with the upheaval in his normal routine.  He has regressed a bit in his ability to be flexible.

1  The number of times we have actually done therapy with Danny in the last month or so.  I feel so guilty about this, but man, has it been difficult to just get the essential things done, like feeding everyone and cleaning up all their excrement.  I know therapy is essential, too, but it is a lot easier to put therapy exercises off than, say, cleaning up a poop explosion.  Plus, Bil is working a different shift this month to get trained on a new line so he doesn't get home until after 8 pm, which means I have to take care of feeding all the kids and getting them to bed all by myself.  I don't know about you, but the hours between 4 and 8pm feel like they last 64 hours.  Let's just say, I am not at my most patient and nurturing self at the end of the day, which is why it is always such a relief when Bil walks through the door and can provide some assistance.  

Now that I have a newborn and am totally sleep-deprived?  Yeah, not such a good time to go a whole month with no assistance in the evenings.

83 Number of times my mother cooed about what a great baby Tommy is while she was visiting.  And she's right, he is actually an easy baby, especially compared to my other two sweethearts.  But, I now fear my mother may have jinxed me because Tommy has been fussy today.  Sure, as soon as ma leaves, he gets fussy.  He is already in on the conspiracy with my other two angels.

16 The number of times I have had to step away from the computer while composing this post to pick up Tommy or fetch yet another snack for Charlotte.  The girl is voracious, but come to think of it, maybe this is why she never finishes her dinner.  Hmmmm....

675 Number of mint Three Musketeer bars I have eaten in the last month.  They were the mini bars, if that makes a difference.  I am addicted.

1 Number of near nervous breakdowns I have had this week.  Have I mentioned that Bil doesn't get home until after 8pm?  Yeah?  Well, it bears repeating and it had a lot to do with my almost breakdown, if you ask me.

20 The number of grams of fiber I have inadvertently consumed today.  I forgot the oatmeal my mom brought has 10 grams of fiber and I went ahead and ate a Fiber One bar before lunch.  I hope I don't end up regretting this.

OK, have to go comfort Tommy again.  You jinxed me, mom, so I think to make amends you need to come back and help me the rest of the month.....

Saturday, April 4, 2009

my conspiracy theory

Not long ago, I read the book Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes, a fascinating read, which I highly recommend. In it, the author describes the training that the military gives to a certain group of special agents. One part of it consists of the trainees being hunted down, captured and then held and tortured to see how they will hold up under duress.
The torture consists of things, like interrogation and withholding food, some beatings etc. What surprised me, though, was that they also keep the trainees from sleeping for more than 15 minutes at a time for a three-day period.

Images flashed through my mind of my head hitting the pillow just as a kid started crying, or of lying down for a nap and hearing a knock on my bedroom door and a little voice saying, "Mommy, wake up and play with me." Reading this made me realize several things:
a) I was not being paranoid when I suspected that my children had received some specialized training in torture techniques and manipulation. They are just too good at what they do.
b) Obviously, I was also correct in my theory that they are conspiring to drive me mad. I just had no idea that they were using techniques also used by the military.
c) My kids are way, way smarter than I am.
d) No wonder I am so close to a nervous breakdown.
e) I really don't stand a chance against them, do I?