Friday, March 6, 2009

A New Normal

Recently we got home from school at a normal hour - no after school activities or therapy appointments. It happens once a week, and no matter how chaotic it might become, I relish it. This day, the boys had a snack and then went for a bike ride, with no disagreements about where they would ride to or even whether or not one or the other wanted to go on a ride. They came home, having stopped and gotten me the mail (without my asking them), and started in on their homework. There was no fussing about having to do the homework, no procrastinating, no fighting over which computer to use. Tommy worked intently on his spelling sentences, typing things like, "My Mom's vision has gotten a lot better since her cataract surgery." As recently as a year ago, I could not have imagined him thinking, let alone writing, this sentence, and the only word he asked my how to spell was "cataract". Will worked on describing what it would be like to travel through space in A Wrinkle in Time for his book club, without constant reminders to come back into focus. Tommy clipped his nails (typically a major sensory issue) without being asked.

You might be thinking "and then what?" But that's just it - nothing! Frankly, it was a bit eerie. I felt as if someone had slipped me a Valium. I would have no justification for complaining to my husband that night that I was tired. And then I thought, "is this what normal people feel like after school? Do they enjoy the euphoria that comes from these simple successes every day?" Then I realized, of course not. In fact, as I was discussing with another mom from their Yoga class, these neurologically, emotionally or learning disabled kids are the new normal. Therapists, educators, parents - we all need to come to accept these kids as what might now be defined as typical. In doing this, I think the infrastructure of our schools (and society) would be so much better equipped to handle them.

There is plenty of debate about why this is. Is it something chemical in our environment? Is it the media and our early exposure to it? Is it an evolutionary thing? No one can tell you for sure, but what I can relay is this: The heads of two private schools we have been at (who are both older women) will tell you that years ago you could walk into a classroom, and in a heartbeat pick out "the kid". "The kid" had ADHD or learning disabilities, more often than not "the kid" was a boy, and "the kid" was the one who was going to cause the teachers and administrators a boatload of trouble all year long. Today, you are challenged to walk into a classroom and pick out the typically developing children from the bunch. Both these women know that to exclude the sensory kids, the dyslexic kids, the AHDH kids, the bipolar kids, the anxiety-ridden kids, or the depressed kids would deplete their school populations enough that they would most likely not be able to fill their classrooms.

Though it can be very difficult for a parent to accept the disabilities and challenges his or her child may have, take solace in the idea that it is, in many of our minds, a new kind of normal. Know that you are in good company. Advocate your child's rightful position academically and socially. And cherish those rare days when things are eerily, and abnormally, calm!


Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Change Bandit

I often think that the old nursery rhyme "when he was good, he was very, very good and when he was bad, he was horrid," was written about a bipolar boy ages ago - long before they knew about diagnoses, meds, therapies and blogs. When Tommy does something bad, it doesn't surprise me, even though it happens less and less as he gets older, more mature and has more defenses under his belt. Yet, I do not know why I continue to be so surprised when he does something very very good. It stands to reason that the intensity of his good nature should balance, or match, the intensity of his bad nature. Still, the good things feel like Christmas morning each and every time, and I continue to be struck by just how sensitive and loving this boy, who has been capable of such anger and rage, can be.

And such was the case of the "Change Bandit". Each year UNM Children's Hospital does a radio-thon with a local station (100.3 The Peak) to raise funds for their annual appeal. As part of this fundraiser, the radio station asks people to become Change Bandits. If you sign up, they send you a money bag and you ask people to donate their spare change to the cause. I hadn't even realized Tommy was paying any attention to the radio, when he announced "I really want to do that!" So we logged into the station's website when we got home, and they sent him his Change Bandit kit. He got started right away, dumping out the various coin dishes around the house, looking under couch cushions, etc. I thought that might be the end of it, as he, along with other bipolar kids, have a tendency to get extremely excited about something and then drop it the next minute for something else. (This is a symptom of mania.)

But, much to the pleasure of his father and me, he persevered. He brought the change bag to school and made a presentation about his cause at community meeting. He stood outside the classroom door at drop-off and pick-up and asked parents for change. Then, much to my amazement, he got on his bike one day and rode to a neighborhood where the houses are quite close together and stopped at each and every one asking for money. Yet, I doubted he could really do it; I begged my husband to get in the car and go looking for him. I imagined him raging at a stranger who didn't give him any change, or losing his way back home. But, when he returned I found out that with each doorbell ring, he politely introduced himself and explained his mission. This, I thought, is something a boy his age, without issues, could well have trouble doing. And for every house that answered the door, he collected money.

Finally, the radio station sponsored a party for the Change Bandits at a local kids arcade/pizza buffet joint, and Tommy proudly turned his change bag in. As we listened to the radio this morning, he said "I helped those kids, that's good, right?" "Good? It's HUGE! You rock Tommy," I responded.

I found myself taking two lessons away from this Change Bandit experience. One, get your challenged kids involved and focused in a cause outside themselves. Help them see it through to the end. Everything is so much about them, in negative and positive ways, that working toward a third party goal seems quite therapeutic. And two, stop being so taken aback when Tommy shows the love, tenderness, generosity and independence that is very much a part of him. Expect and accept more of it.

For more information on donating to UNM Children's Hospital see: 100.3 The Peak - Donate Now