Monthly Archives: September 2012

What a difference a friend makes

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Two children playing with a dog

Two children playing with a dog (Photo credit: BiblioArchives / LibraryArchives)

Like many kids with ADHD, M doesn’t always get along well with other children. He makes friends, but has trouble keeping them. In the past, his behaviour has been unpredictable and outrageous at times. It isn’t surprising that other children don’t want to hang around with him as they don’t know what he will react to and when, nor what he’ll do.  He’s been known to kick, punch or even strangle another child, when he’s angry. Fortunately, he’s learning to manage his anger. But he still doesn’t always get social cues. I’ve watched him with other kids, totally in their faces and watched them physically recoiling while he chats on. This is pretty typical of ADHD kids – they tend to he have little concept of personal space and don’t clue in to social cues like facial expressions or body language.

 

Some children are naturally solitary and don’t much care if they have friends to hang around with after school and on weekends. Not M. He has always craved the company of other children. He can amuse himself, but too much time alone and he complains about “being bored.” More significantly, M’s lack of a social support network (adult speak for a “best friend”) has been a big source of his anxiety.

 

For a few years, he hung around with a couple of children who lived in the neighbourhood. They were a bit older and as the youngest child in the group, M got bossed around. As a group, they played highly imaginative outdoor games, but there was always lots of drama. It became increasingly clear to my husband and I that the group dynamics weren’t the healthiest, especially for M. But no matter how many times he came home upset at something that had happened, he couldn’t let go of this relationship. The Devil he knew was better than having no one to hang around with. Eventually things reached a tipping point and we told M he couldn’t go inside their house to play. Gradually, he lost interest in playing with them.

 

This left him pretty much on his own. Even though he seemed to get along well with a couple of the kids in his class, he was never invited to play with them after school or on weekends.

 

However, things began to turn around last winter. After defending another child in the after school program against a racial taunt, he began to be invited to play at the child’s home on a regular basis. This was about the same time that he lost several friends because he used a racial slur – one door closes and the other open. Around the same time, M also became good friends with a child from karate and they played together regularly on weekends.  Although M’s friends know each other, M hangs out with them separately. Groups, even small ones, are still challenging for M.

 

Both M’s friends have high energy siblings, so neither child is particularly put off by M’s behaviour. They are both capable of  dealing with M when he starts getting bossy. As M has become more comfortable and secure in his relationship with each child, his need to be in charge has decreased. Relationships among 11 year old’s rarely run smoothly, but there haven’t been too many disagreements. When they do occur, the kids work it out themselves.

 

Over the last couple of months, we’ve noticed that M seems much happier and confident. Knowing he has friends who “have his back” has significantly boosted his self-esteem.  He seems less anxious about going to school. In the past, M has spent a fair amount of time trying to get attention from other kids, even though they may not be the best fit for his personality or share the same interests. he doesn’t seem to be doing this as much. Since school started, he’s been much more willing to participate in class activities than he was when school ended. He’s getting along with his classmates and not getting into conflicts with other children, either at school or in the after school program. He’s not suddenly perfect – he told me tonight that he’s been bumping into classmates with his scooter as they go up to class in the morning and this morning, one of them kicked him after M bumped into his foot.  Typical M – he didn’t seem to understand why the other child reacted badly.

 

No doubt some of M’s new attitude can be attributed to the fact that he’s a year older and is gradually becoming more mature. He is increasingly able to control his temper and react appropriately. But I think having two good true friends has played a big part in his growing confidence levels. Even though he and his friends go to different schools, he knows he’s not completely alone. Since he doesn’t feel so socially isolated, he’s less anxious, which means he can make better choices. The more he succeeds, the more positive feedback he gets from his teachers and other adults. We’ve seen first hand the impact of the vicious circle of negative feedback; now we’re seeing the impact of positive feedback.

 

Most kids need at least one close friend – one person who shares their interests, and with whom they can do stuff with and sometimes just hang out.Kids like M, who have  social and behavioural challenges, really need one or two close friends. But that very behaviour can get in the way of making friends. In the past, the odd time M was invited to another child’s home, I can remember mentally crossing my fingers and hoping he would be invited back. More often than not, there would be some sort of conflict and M wasn’t invited back. Now, M has two good buddies and knows he will be invited back.

 

Back to school – so far so good

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Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B...

Heiwa elementary school %u5E73%u548C%u5C0F%u5B66%u6821 _18 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Almost 2 weeks into Grade 6 and M’s had the best start to any school year so far. I’m probably jinxing it, just by talking about it. But no calls from the principal. Not a single one!

No news is not always good news – in the past, the school has not always advised us when there’s a problem looming, until M’s in crisis. This year, the supports the school committed to last June were in place on Day 1. M has an EA, the same one as past year, at least for a few weeks. He will continue seeing the school social worker. And we finally got the psychologist’s report (the assessment was done last spring), so he can get a computer on a permanent basis, rather than from time to time, depending on availability.

It also helps that M has the same teacher as last year. Most of the kids are the same too – last year, it was a Grade 5/6 class. Rather than re-distribute the students among the two Grade 6 class, they kept the group together. Having combined grade classes is great, but school is chaotic enough for M. Any amount of continuity is a good thing. M had a couple of good buddies in the class, so he had a social safety net going back this year. The school post the class lists a couple of days before the first day back, so M knew who else would be in his class.  usually there’s one child that M doesn’t get along with, but he said he likes everyone in the class.

Since it’s only Week Two, we haven’t had much feedback on his behaviour or his academic progress. His EA told us last week that M had been participating actively. After a little pep talk from the teacher and the EA, M even did part of the class’s cursive writing assignment. Last year, M consistently refused to do the writing assignments,  even with the computer. He claimed not to be able to write in block letters, let alone cursive.  If he started an assignment, 9 times out of 10, he didn’t finish it.

From the school’s perspective, managing M’s behaviour has been a much bigger issue that whether or not he completes his work. The EA’s primary function is to assist M in resolving issues with his classmates and other students when they happen. The EA also acts as a buffer between M and other children, especially during recess and other less structured activities. When M is stressed, his ability to make good decisions is practically non-existent. He would often misinterpret another child’s behaviour as a slight or aggression and either lash out or obsess about what had happened. We’ve learned the hard way that M’s anxiety can trigger some pretty rotten behaviour. Other kids don’t want to be around him, which makes him feel even more anxious and socially isolated. It’s like watching a hamster running round and round on a wheel. Except in M’s case, we know the wheel’s going to hit the wall at some point. That’s usually when we get a call from the principal.

But the phone lines are quiet so far. We’ve had a couple of emails from the EA, indicating that things are going well. M still isn’t doing what he’s asked the first time, but when prompted, he usually complies. That’s progress too.

Over the last couple of years, whenever I’ve remarked about how well M’s doing, he’s hit a rough spot almost immediately afterwards. But it’s hard not to share good news. So if I get a call from the principal tomorrow, I only have myself to blame.

100 posts!

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day 100

day 100 (Photo credit: bitmask)

 

I wrote my first blog post on January 17, 2012.  I had no grand aspirations, other than to chronicle my experiences as a parent of a child with multiple challenges.  While I felt like I had a lot to say about my life with M, I certainly didn’t anticipate that I could find enough to write about to fill 100 posts.

 

In the early days, blogging was primarily cathartic.  The two previous years had been a roller coaster, with some positive developments, interspersed with lots of calls from the school, multiple suspensions, meetings with school board officials and generally struggling to keep M safe and in school. M’s behaviour has always tended to escalate during the winter months – maybe too little sun or exercise. I was fully anticipating that we would see a repeat of this pattern last winter.  In the first few months, I was working through a number of issues that I have experienced as M’s parent – mental health, behavioural, and just the day-to-day coping with an alphabet soup child (his particular potage being ADHD, anxiety and anger management). In the end, M had a relatively successful year.

 

The blog has given me a forum for expressing some of my concerns. Less about M, but about my parenting. I spend a lot of time worrying about whether I’ve made the right decision or whether or not I should be doing more to support him. By reflecting on particularly stressful situations with M, I am able to get a bit of distance.  As much as I love my kid, some days are horrible and hit every one of my “I’m-a-terrible-parent” buttons.  Writing a blog post helps me process situations and cut myself more slack than I might otherwise.  Plus, blogging is way cheaper than therapy.

 

I have also used my blog as a way to push myself to be more creative. Making jewelry, cards and other crafty projects is a way for me to manage and reduce my stress. But working full-time and parenting doesn’t leave much at the end of the day. So while I know making a bracelet or a birthday card will help me feel good about myself . No matter what else has happened that week, I’ve used my imagination and created something tangible. But getting organized to actually do something has always been a challenge for me.  Not only has the blog given me a forum for sharing my projects, but I’ve  made things I never would have tried before, like a necklace for myself or a scarf for a friend’s daughter. I’ve discovered that the more I create, the more creative I actually am. When I am not making things, I don’t have many ideas. But making and posting a project or two a month keeps my creative juices primed. These days, I have many more ideas than time (no amount of blogging can make me any less disorganized or lazy).

 

Over time, I have come to realize that this blog has reconnected me to writing.  For most of my adolescence and into my twenties, I kept a journal. Plus I wrote short stories and poems. I’m not sure I was particularly good at creative writing, but it gave me a great deal of pleasure. My journals chronicled many years of depression and unhappiness and as I got older (and I suspect, happier), I stopped keeping a journal. Writing is also a significant part of my professional skill set. I didn’t know how much I really missed writing until I started blogging on a regular basis. I am still finding my voice, but my pleasure in putting of sentences and paragraphs together has been renewed.

 

Through blogging, I have discovered some terrific blogs. My absolute favourites are Reinventing Fabulous and The Blogess, both written with brutal honesty by women who are struggling with a myriad of issues. The authors of both these blogs are excellent writers (also published) so reading them is pure pleasure. Plus, reading other blogs is educational in that it helps me identify what works and what doesn’t. Mini-tutorials for the new blogger.

 

Getting to 100 posts has been an adventure. I’m anxious to see what the next 100 posts will bring.

 

Six things I learned about my kid this summer

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Summer Needs Action xD

Summer Needs Action xD (Photo credit: Ghawi DXB ™)

 

It’s Labour Day weekend and the new school year is just around the corner. We’ve had a great summer – lots of weekends at the cottage, warm, sunny days and just hanging out with friends and family. Now it’s back to the routine of early mornings (school starts at 8 am), endless streams of permission forms and extra-curricular activities and going to bed on time. It means my husband and I have to be much more religious about getting lunches ready the night before and enforcing bedtimes. Back-to-school is an adjustment for everyone.

 

M has had a good summer. There were a few temper tantrums, but with much less physical aggression, even compared to a couple of months ago. We’re still working on managing the verbal aggression – M swears worse than a longshoreman when he’s angry.  We got a fair amount of attitude whenever we asked him to do something around the house, but sometimes he would surprise us by sweeping the floor or dusting his room. He claimed to be bored unless he was hanging out with a friend or on the computer, playing MindCraft, but he learned how to play a couple of new card games and beat his dad multiple times at Uno.

 

Even when you think you know your child, from time to time, he or she will surprise you. As M gets older, I find the complexities of his personality unfolding like the layers of an onion. Sometimes, his tastes have changes or he has lost interest in a particular activity. Other times, he’s clearly learned a new skill or has overcome an obstacle that has given him trouble in the past. And once in a while, I realize that I have misread a characteristic of his personality.

 

Here’s a list of six things I learned about M this summer:

 

  • He doesn’t like to swim. While he will tolerate going into a swimming pool, he doesn’t care much for open water. Apparently, it has “stuff” in it. We spent a fair number of  hot, muggy weekends at the cottage this summer and swimming was often the only relief from the heat. I finally bought a couple of extra-thick styrofoam noodles and a blow-up water recliner, which M liked to play with. But unless it was really hot and everyone else was swimming, M avoided the water as much as possible.
  • He isn’t afraid to look silly in public. Once day a week at Tennis camp was Crazy Hair or Hat day. M went for 4 weeks and on every Crazy Hair day, he wore a blue and white wig that came from the Dollar store. One week, we tied little pony tales with bright covered elastics; another weekend, he went off wearing a lop-sided tiara; and recently, he wore a triangular “hat” with pictures of the Eiffel Tower on each side, perched on the top of the wig. For the final week, the wig was decorated with an assortment of household items, using pipe cleaners. He got points for his team for dressing up, but he could have settled for something a little less conspicuous. As far as M was concerned, the sillier the headgear the better.
  • He’s an introvert. This was the most surprising “lesson” I learned about M this summer. He has always been very social and preferred to play with others than be on his own. Since he seemed to need lots of company and external stimulation, I had assumed that he was an extrovert. But watching him this summer, I could see that while he likes to be around people, he needs plenty of downtime to recharge. He would often come back from playing with another child or an activity and sit quietly on the couch, reading. Or he would go to his room and listen to the radio. Sometimes, I’ve had to adjust my behaviour and let him take the time to chill out, rather than scheduling lots of activities in a single day.  Pushing M into doing something before he is ready has always been a challenge, but now I have a better sense of why.
  • Mental attitude is key for M. Never ever having tied a shoelace, he decided to forego shoes with velcro and go straight to lace-ups. He’s still not totally proficient at tying his own shoes, but he’s discovered he can shove them on his feet, even when they are tied up. Contrast this to tennis, where is a good player. But somewhere over the summer, he let himself be convinced by a group of other kids at Tennis Camp that he wasn’t a strong singles player. Prior to that, he always finished at the top of his flight, but lately he’s struggled. I always knew that M could talk himself out of doing things, but now that I know he can talk himself into things too. Could be very useful as we try to help him get more comfortable with writing. According to reports from the school last year, most of the time, M would just refuse to start an assignment that involved any writing. Hard on his self-esteem and equally difficult for the teaching staff to assess his work.
  • He is fully capable of amusing himself. Like most 11-year old boys, M’s favourite activity is playing computer games. While he has a 30 minute-a-day limit during the school year, we were much more relaxed about allowing him media time during the summer. Nonetheless, there were limits and despite moaning and groaning, he could find things to do to entertain himself, often for hours. I expect this falls more into the category of things I suspected but can now cite as evidence to M when he complains about being bored.
  • M can handle between 45 to 60 minutes at a time on the computer. Much more than that and he gets really irritable and easily agitated. I discovered this the hard way a few times this summer, when M had been playing on the computer for an extended time and I asked him to shut it off and do something else.  He’d usually refuse and we’d argue back and forth for 10-15 minutes, until he’s slam down the lid of the laptop and storm off. A couple of times, the arguments escalated into full-blown meltdowns. Fortunately for all of us, we figured this out early on in the summer.  Once the causal effect was clear to M, it was a matter of coming up with acceptable limits in terms of computer time. Even better, these limits could be enforced, because M understood what would happen.

 

All of these insights are useful in terms of understanding M and what makes him tick. Figuring out a couple of his triggers is useful in terms of trying to avoid meltdowns and help M manage his behaviour.  It has certainly made the summer go much smoother. We’ll cross our fingers for the fall.

 

Challenge of Travel blog hop – visiting New Zealand

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I am excited to be participating in my first ever bead blog hop, Challenge of Travel. Organized by Erin Prais-Hintz of Treasures Found:Inspiration is Everywhere, the blog hop is a whirlwind tour around the globe, with stops at numerous countries in 5 geographic areas.

The rules were simple – select a region that you don’t live in and choose an “inspiration” nation from within that region. Erin kindly offered to select a country for us, but I decided to pick my own.

I decided on New Zealand in Oceania. I’ve never been, but friends and family who have been lucky enough to visit NZ, rave about it. The scenery alone is worth an airline ticket – beautiful beaches, lush forests and mountain vistas.

English: Relief map of New Zealand

English: Relief map of New Zealand (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Looking down on Browns Bay and beach from the ...

Looking down on Browns Bay and beach from the point to the south (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cape Maria van Diemen

Cape Maria van Diemen (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Cascades Park, Waitakere, Auckland, New Zealand

Cascades Park, Waitakere, Auckland, New Zealand (Photo credit: Sandy Austin)

Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand

Fiordland National Park, South Island, New Zealand (Photo credit: Sandy Austin)

I generally design a bracelet or a necklace around a specific bead or component. This time, I started with texture. Wool.

Sheeps Eyes

Sheeps Eyes (Photo credit: James @ NZ)

NZ’s is known for having lots of sheep and wool has traditionally been one of its best known exports.

I happened to see a blog post on Art Bead Scene about Heather Powers’ upcoming beading retreat, Back to Nature, which featured an amazing felted and embellished leaf. I got out my big bag of wool and started playing around. Making a felt bead is easy – roll raw wool together with hot water and soap until the fibres stick together and you have the shape you want.

I started off making a leaf, to reflect the forests of NZ. While it was the right colour, the shape didn’t work for me. As I was digging through my supplies for more green roving, I discovered an oval-shaped bead that contained all the colours. Suddenly all my creative neurons started firing.

Two felt beads – choices, choices

Once I decided upon the focal bead, the rest of design came together very quickly. The felt bead was much better suited to a necklace.

Design in progress…

As much as possible, I wanted to use natural, rather than man-made elements, to reflect NZ’s physical beauty. I considered using Paua shell, which is comes  from New Zealand. When my mother visited there a few years ago, she brought me back  a lovely pair of Paua shell earrings.

Polished Paua Shell 3/4

Polished Paua Shell 3/4 (Photo credit: Kenno_mcdonnell)

Wandering around my local bead store, I found a package of bone rondelles that seemed to fit the bill. I also bought some wire and seed-beads, but everything else came from my own cache.

When I showed my husband the original design, he commented that it needed some bronze, to reflect the Maori culture.

Maori

Maori (Photo credit: Nokes)

maori-carving6.jpg

maori-carving6.jpg (Photo credit: rowanf)

I hadn’t contemplated incorporating indigenous design into the necklace but I embellished the felt bead with size 10 seed beads in brown iris. The design is totally free-form – I followed contours of the variations in the colours of the bead. Against the green, the seed beads really stand out. I needed to be able to attach the bead to the necklace, so I made a wrapped-loop bail and over wrapped the top of the bead to give it a bit more texture.

Close-up – felted bead

In addition to the bone rondelles, I used two similar but not identical beads made by Gaea; an enamel filigree bead from Gardanne and a glass rondelle from Kelley’s Beads. I didn’t want the necklace to be completely symmetrical, so I played around with the placement of the beads. Since there was already a lot going on, I decided to keep the clasp simple and fashioned a simple S-clasps with 20 gauge wire.

I am really happy with the end result. The necklace will go perfectly with my new green dress and funky suede boots.

Thank you for joining me on my first bead blog adventure. Thanks to Erin for organizing such a wonderful voyage. You can check out Erin’s Nepalise-inspired designs and follow other participants here:  http://treasures-found.blogspot.ca/