Monday, April 21, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Your Gifted Child

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Everyone says they wish kids came with a manual.  I always figured they kind of did - it was the "parenting" section of the bookstore!  I spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars in the months before Mad Natter was born, picking up every parenting book I could find that gelled even remotely with my sensibilities.  I still have the stack around here, largely because I'm terrible at getting rid of books - books are my Precious...  I needs them.  This is why I have three complete sets of Lord of the Rings in this house, along with four different versions of Dragonlance, and a LibraryThing account that has several hundred other books in it... plus all the homeschool books, gifted books, everything that isn't nailed down (in an area of interest, anyway)...  *ahem* I digress. I have books. A lot of them. I have a stack over two feet high of parenting, infant, and toddler books, all of which are wonderful resources for raising children.  Unless your child is an outlier.  I found quite quickly that the "birth to age two" books were best for me, because some things he'd be on a par with his month-age, and other things several months ahead, and those books covered that.  But once you get out of the three-to-four arena, there aren't those kinds of specialized books anymore, and you're SUNK if your kid isn't Joe Average.

Studying maple shoots in the sand at the park!
We've been to doctors. Pediatricians and family practitioners. We've been to psychiatrists, occupational therapists, and now social workers. We've been working on "What IS This" for the last three years, and only in the last three weeks have we seen anyone who would approach our (politely phrased) "intensity issues" from a holistic standpoint.  Not assessing individual behaviors based on a chronological ages and stages checklist, not rating "avg+ to LD" on a sliding scale, but willing to look at Mad Natter, at Skeeve, and at me, and take our family, and all the people in it - including Mad Natter himself - as we came.  Looking at all of us, quirks and foibles and strengths and weaknesses simultaneously. I'm hopeful that this will be the beginning of the end of our search for What Is Going On Here, though we've been... foiled... enough in the past for this to be extremely cautious optimism.  The social worker folks have looked at his scores on things like that DORA, they've seen his behaviors, they've seen what his OT recommends (and how it helps), and they flat out are assuming he's gifted.  So that's a start - everyone else has been "convince me..." types, which when you have neither The Number nor the money to shell out to GET The Number, can be tricky.

Anyway.  Children should come with a manual.  They really should. But particularly gifted and 2E children, who can be among the most disparate personalities to roam the Earth...  Those of us trying to raise those children need the help!  Let me tell you, if you're waiting for someone to actually take you seriously and work with you rather than against you, what works in our house:

1) Set a routine.
It doesn't have to be strict.  We set a routine and it helps keep transitional times to a minimum of fussing. Visual scheduling also helps with this, as it allows Mad Natter to keep track of his day, and he knows what's coming at any given time.

2) Bedtime.
Again, ROUTINE. This is something new to us in the last week, but it's been working, and it has helped Skeeve and me (as well as Mad Natter!) immeasurably.  We've nixed electronics as of suppertime. We do not watch, we do not play, we eat together, and then it is free play time.  After free play comes tidying up, then it's upstairs to use the bathroom, brushing teeth, pajamas, then into bed.  Now, this isn't over yet.  Mad Natter must stay in his bed for the remainder of the night, but he has the next hour to do whatever quiet things he likes - playing quietly with toys, reading a book, whatever. After that hour is up, it's lights out.  Now it's time to get to sleep.  We have only had two nights where there were issues with his being up after lights out, and I'm pretty impressed, as there would usually be something every. Single. Night.  Oye!
Sensory AND Exercise! Can't go wrong!
3) Exercise.
This has been a huge thing. Now that the weather is warming up, we're able to get out and about more.  So, Mad Natter and I traipse off to the park after lunch, and spend a bunch of time running around.  Then we come home, and it's time to get dinner started, so he plays something either on the computer or the WiiU, and then... Bedtime routine!  I can't explain how incredibly much this has helped. We both need the fresh air and sunshine, but this has helped his dashing off all over so much it's insane.  Of course, we have the problem of his getting too much outside, and then overtired, but I'll take overtired and cranky for an hour over bouncing off the walls for six, thank-you-very-much!

4) Take care of YOU.
I know we did a tour on this earlier in the cycle, but this is huge.  Don't let caring for these super-intense kids wear you so far down you're done for!  Make sure you get your own checkups at the doctor. Make sure you're sleeping.  And for the love of all things holy, institute "Quiet Time." This is exactly what it sounds like. At our house, it is currently 70 minutes, building slowly to 90, of quiet. Not silence, because in a house with kids that's like screaming "DANGER, WILL ROBINSON, DANGER!!!" over a bullhorn, but quiet.  Activities need to be either sedate or done in your room, anything with noise needs "hearphones," and, most importantly, for the duration of Quiet Time, we Do Not Badger Mama. No questions. No look at me. No screeching, running, jumping, or otherwise loud/aggressive/active play.  Mad Natter sits with his Innotab or a book or puzzle, and plays quietly (no crashing of cars!) for 70m, leaving me that time to knit, play a game or two, read a book, anything I want to do.  Key words: *I* WANT to do. Not the time for "doing dishes" or "scrubbing floors" unless that's what you're really jonesing to do. But time to sit quietly with a cuppa and a good book, and just... chill.

5) Hang in there.
There is a provider out there who will help you. Either with diagnoses, or with understanding the differences between a child being highly-exceptionally-profoundly gifted and a child who has ADHD, between poor behavior and sensory seeking/avoiding, and between parents who don't care, and parents who are stressed enough to Just Want An Answer.  And in the meantime, we're here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

What do you do when it all looks bleak?

My day started entirely too early.  We're visiting Hammie and Buppa this week for the holiday, and this means Mad Natter is usually up with the sun.  I managed to squeak in a bit of extra sleep because all Mad Natter wanted was his Hammie, who was already awake, but then... Forty-five pounds of excited energy hit me like a ton of bricks. Mad Natter wanted gummi candy, and nothing but giving him gummis would do.

It was nine in the morning. He'd had two bowls of cereal and a banana, but wanted the candy. I told him flat out I was not sugaring him up this early in the day, but he could have some after lunch, or even after Buppa made brunch.  That's when it happened.  He went from excited yet demanding, and BOOM.  Switch flipped, he was FURIOUS.  Enraged, utterly livid with me. He grabbed, in an attempt to hurt me for thwarting his gummi plan. When informed he was not allowed to hurt me, he tried again. When that failed and he found himself seated on his bed for sanity's sake, he flopped and flailed and screamed and wailed about how he was starving, and I would never ever feed him again. How awful I am. How all he wanted was one tiny gummi, and I'm the meanest mother to ever exist for not giving it to him before I was even out of bed.

Hammie was amused, as apparently this is precisely what I was like as a child. Buppa blamed it on home schooling, as though putting him in a classroom three grades behind his ability would solve the issue. As the day went on, it went into a resounding chorus of "he's not officially gifted" and "all children are the same." and other such dismissive things.  As though explaining to my five year old that he is a little different to other five year olds, who don't read Magic School Bus chapter books, the fortunes in fortune cookies, and don't care if they have a hoodie with Minecraft diamonds on it, but would prefer Bob the Builder, was a harmful thing.  I'm not telling him he's better than other people. I'm not telling him he's less than other people. I'm telling him he's different, and that it's okay to be different.

I spent thirty-five years wondering what the hell was wrong with me - how, if all children are the same, and I'm not like the others, I must be broken - and I'm not going to put that on Mad Natter, too.  There's no point.  And no. I don't have the money to shell out for The Numbers and the Official Diagnosis. It's a minimum of $1500, and it would be 100% out of pocket. Given that it can be a stretch to make sure there's a full tank of gas in the car some months, it's fair to say I don't have that kind of coin kicking around.  But a child who, by Mooselandia-Local standards should be entering a grade 3 - grade 4 split in the fall... at SIX YEARS OLD?  I think it's pretty much a foregone conclusion there. Telling me it's not true unless I've given someone money I don't have to pronounce what I already know is another form of dismissal.  And with that Momastery article working its way around, again, I'm more than done with that dismissive stuff.

This life is not easy. There is very little I can do but hold on for the ride. I'm doing the best I can with the things I have available to me, but seeing very little result. Today, particularly after the input from my own parents, was one of those days where everything seems awful. I'm doing everything wrong, I'm turning my child into a terror, my sweet little boy will be lost forever, and I'm pushing him too hard to do things, even if they're simple for him - and I'm not pushing him hard enough to do things that are incredibly difficult for him.

Mercifully, I have a tribe now. A wonderful group of people who are able to tell me, without mincing words, that what might have worked fairly well a generation ago, isn't automatically going to hold water anymore. They were there to remind me that I'm not alone. That other people go through this. That it will get better, easier, and my sweet little one will emerge on the other side of the turbulence. I am infinitely grateful for that, otherwise today would have been a very dark day indeed.  And so I share the kind of insane day I've had with you, not because I want some kind of reply, but because I want you to know that, if you encounter these things too, you are not alone. You are NOT screwing up, you are not awful, you are a wonderful parent having a rough time with an extremely intense child.  We can do this.  We might want to drink some nights, but we can do this.  We're not alone.  Not anymore.