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Stressing about the school year

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    Stressing about the school year

    I'm a stay at home mom. My husband's job makes it so that he is rarely awake at home for more than an hour or two a day, so I am pretty much alone in dealing with the kids and with schooling.

    My oldest is 13 in 7th grade. He is generally a very sweet and calm guy, so I don't have overt behaviors with him. He is diagnosed HFA with an IQ of about 95, but severe executive functioning problems. Last year close to his 12th birthday he was rated equivalent to a four year old when it came to the amount of supervision it requires to get him through tasks, especially unexpected or new ones. He spends a great deal of time asking what his next step in a task is (and he can never use three words when there are forty to cloud the issue with). He has improved in the last year on some aspects of this--none of them related to difficult homework. He also has moderate to severe fine motor and visual motor integration problems, so writing and typing are difficult and frustrating, and he does his utmost (almost never through direct means, but he is a master of delay) to avoid them.

    My second child is 15 months younger. He just turned 12, and is also going into 7th grade. He is moderately severe ADHD, emphasis being on the H. Getting his body at the table and his mouth quiet are ongoing challenges. He is also a late reader, only having independently finished his first novel a few months ago. He's loved audio books for a long time, and even at eight, he would listen to books like The Wizard of Oz (his absolute favorite series) or The Prince and the Pauper. The reading issue is with the decoding, not the understanding, but he is easily embarrassed and frustrated. He is also mischief incarnate and can start something without even seeming like he is doing anything (but these things don't happen when he's not there, and the smirk says it all). He is really good at math. It is the only subject he'll sit still for.

    Now I have my youngest, who just turned 5 entering Kindergarten. He's been attending a Mother's Day Out preschool one day a week since last fall, and will continue through until next summer. They wanted him tested after seeing his behaviors at school, and the results of that were that his language skills ceiling age range was 12 (this was a few months before he turned 5), his physical skills all fell between low and high normal, and his social skills are in the 5th percentile. I strongly suspect Asperger's (well, would have been if that was still in the DSM). He is very, very smart. His memory is amazing (he often gets through conversations in movie quotes, but most people don't notice due to his huge store of movie phrases.) He stims a lot (mostly lots and lots of spinning circles on his tip toes, repeating the same word or phrase hundreds of times), he's extremely rigid, he scripts (in his mind) interactions that must go according to his scripts, he focuses in on his topic of obsession until he'll even forget to go to the bathroom, he arranges things in orders, he's got some sensory sensitivities. And then when things get interrupted or go off script we get him hitting himself in the face, hitting others, going into meltdown. He is often extremely clingy, as in literally wrapped around my arm, pressed up against my side. He also has asthma and if it's acting up all of the behaviors are magnified and multiplied.

    This year is scaring me right now. The older two function like a tag team. Occasionally it's an actual conspiracy against me, but mostly it's just their wiring getting in the way. The middle kid has to be managed in his energy levels. I have to monitor him, give him breaks, send him to run laps and come back that sort of thing, but as long as it isn't grammar, if I can work the ants out of his pants, he can do okay with his school work. The oldest will never get anything done without continual supervision. He is actually perfectly content to stare into space and enjoy his own little world for hours on end. He's also a very slow worker. A big problem we've had in the past is that they'll start a shared subject at the same time, and have another one set for a few minutes later (say after copywork). It always ends up with one of two things happening. One, the middle child gets delayed waiting on the oldest (this is time for running, but usually extends way past that). Two, I go on and give the middle child the lesson intro and the oldest gets nothing done, because he is listening in on what I'm telling the middle. If I move him through the subjects all day, he might only complete a couple of words of the copywork, half of a math problem, etc. If I push him to finish (Even in just the core subjects), then it can easily take him 9-10 hours a day.

    It's scaring me that the middle child is going to get entirely overlooked this year and shortchanged. That the oldest is now 13, and in less than 5 years he'll be 18 and if I don't find some way to teach him to do simple tasks without stopping after every minute step to ask what's next then he'll never be able to function well enough to live on his own or hold a job or choose what he'd like to do. And then the idea of dealing with the youngest's behaviors when we try to get him off the obsessions and onto school work on top of it terrifies me that we're not going to get anything accomplished this year. I've heard a hundred different ways, "If those were MY kids, they wouldn't get away with acting like that! My kid knows better. It's all just for attention. Spank them more. There's nothing wrong with those kids, except that you baby them. And on and on"

    Mostly just venting here. I really don't have anywhere else to even hope to get someone that understands, but any kind of time management advice that anyone has to offer would be much appreciated.
    Miah - married to Warcabbage, 3 boys, BS in social work, AS in Electrical Engineering Technology

    Evulcarrot - 18, freshman in college, Medical Technology , mild autism
    Battlebroccoli - 17, lives with grandma, attends a special high school program part time
    Doomsprout - 10, highly verbal moderate autism, anxiety, motor delays, sensory processing issues - SC 4 with R&S 4

    #2
    Miah,

    First, thank you for your post. You have described each boy so well, we can picture your days! Yes, you definitely need a plan for these three young men! No one here will accuse you that your trouble is just a matter of parenting, because your boys have very real needs. Let's take each young man, one at a time.

    The oldest. This one sounds so much like my son, he makes me smile. When my now-18yo son was your son's age, he baffled me by his apparent preference to sit unproductively for 8-10 hours, rather than zip through a list of tasks to earn free time, as his sister did. Even with my daughter's daily modeling of rewarding, enjoyable leisure, there he sat. Like your son, my son's I.Q. tests in the 90's, so his primary difficulty was not low intelligence. His challenges were poor executive function skills, a lack of focus, and the inability to process information quickly. Like your son, mine needed direct supervision, or work would not be completed. He needed to work in the same room with me. As I worked in the kitchen, he needed to be at the kitchen table. If we needed the kitchen table, he moved to a student desk we placed in the living room. I set a timer for 15 minutes, with the instruction, “Complete the next three problems. Then I will check them.” And I would walk away, but never very far. Like you, I wondered how he would ever be ready for “the real world.”

    The good news -- I wish I would have known this at the time – is that even the real world offers varying levels of self-regulation within employment options. For example, my husband is an attorney with his own practice. He manages all of his own appointments, paperwork, court hearings, court filings, and all of the related problem-solving with being a lawyer. If he does not work, he does not receive a paycheck. This is a high level of executive function! Many more people function much better with a “boss” who gives them a work schedule, a predictable paycheck, and fewer responsibilities. Your son may not be able to function in either setting in the future, … or he might. For now, you'll keep cultivating his independent work habits, so his own highest level of independence will be possible one day. In the future, he might need something even more highly structured, supervised, and modified, such as assisted college courses, supported employment, volunteering, or part-time work. Lower-functioning individuals can often find work in sheltered workshops.

    All you need to do right now is help him with his current job: being a student. You want him to be the best student he can be.

    If you have not yet read Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child, I would encourage you to do so. You will find strategies for improved learning, organization, and behavior. You will also find much support for your efforts with all three of your boys.

    In the meantime, it seems to me that you may have reached the point of needing to separate the two older boys for academic instruction. Because your oldest works so slowly, he is receiving too much “power” by holding back the schedule. You mentioned some foot-dragging. This can become manipulative and self-rewarding. Instead, you want his own work completion to affect only his own consequences.

    Despite my son's extremely slow processing, we found that when faced with highly desired activities (phone call with a friend, scout meeting, or a next-door neighbor who suddenly appeared), his work speed increased. Whenever possible, use this to your advantage. If he is like most boys on the spectrum, he wants some screen time. Certainly he should never receive this if his work is not finished by a designated time.

    In addition to identifying good consequences, we found it helpful to identify activities that increased his mental energy. For our son, piano practice alerted his mind, and we noticed that he worked much better when we scheduled piano practice early in the day. Swimming and running jump-started his mind too. You can alternate low-energy activities (staring at his books) with high-energy activities. You will need to schedule these for him. He will likely not know that this schedule works for him. Over time, he may develop insight, as my son has done. One day my son said, “I'm going to work out before I start my schoolwork, so I can concentrate.” That was a huge milestone for us.

    Another tip I found helpful is the use of a planner. When your son does not finish his work by a given time, the work is carried over to be completed another time. He cannot simply sit unproductively without consequence. When my son realized he would be sitting at the table on the weekends, eventually he began to work more diligently.

    Even with these strategies, we also reduced his overall load, because his limitations were real. As you note, these were not mere “behaviors,” but very real organizational and mental challenges. Also consider outdoor-work headphones to help him concentrate during his work periods.

    These are just a few suggestions. Others may have more, and you'll find far more in the book on the strategy chapters on behavior, learning, and organization.

    For the middle son, I think in the end it will be easier on you and better for him to separate him now from his brother. Your middle son's schedule might look much different than your older son's. The middle boy, your little wiggleworm, may need a more suitably structured day to alternate his physical activity with his schoolwork. A sample schedule for such a child might look like this (substitute your own ideas):

    Math
    Running
    Reading
    Yardwork or Indoor heavywork, such as vacuuming
    Writing
    Riding laps on his bike in front of the house – I did this with mine, so I could see them
    Classical and Christian Studies
    Free play outdoors
    History, Literature
    Daily chores
    Free time

    If he knows that he'll be sitting for only, say, 40-minute blocks, he may tolerate it much more happily. You'll feel better, because you will not be overlooking him. Instead, you'll be providing his mind and body with exactly what he needs. He and his older brother can always enjoy their free time together at the end of the day, when the older one earns it.

    For the youngest boy, given the meltdowns, the family history of ADHD/autism spectrum, and his own symptoms such as self-stimulating behaviors and toe-walking, you might want to consider a medical evaluation. Tips for navigating this process, along with recommendations if medication is considered, are also in Simply Classical. For the sake of time, I will refer you there.


    Given your husband's workload and the reality that you are the boys' main teacher, their mom, and their medical advocate (possibly for life, for one or more of them), you'll want a good, strong plan! As always, observations gleaned from an online forum cannot replace direct evaluation by medical and educational professionals. You will want to consult your local doctors and therapists for individualized recommendations. Assembling a strong team of local professionals will help.


    Thanks again for posting. If nothing else, you know that you are most certainly not alone.

    Blessings to you and those three boys! If you want to continue to tweak your fall plan or add to ideas offered here, feel free to follow up.

    Thanks-
    Cheryl


    Simply Classical: A Beautiful Education for Any Child

    Cheryl Swope, M.Ed., with Foreword by Dr. Gene Edward Veith
    www.memoriapress.com

    Comment


      #3
      Cheryl, as always, is a Magi.

      I would add only, you may wish to consider cutting the school work down to the basics for this year or for longer. Having to focus on only your core (math, writing, spelling, phonics, whatever you deem 'Core') will leave you and them less frustrated and overwhelmed. If that is not possible, consider some things to be read and discuss only. Use those audio books for history, science and even literature, if need be. Use the extra time to focus on family care skills: cleaning, cooking, not playing tricks on Mom. That might be an area for Dad to step in. Are you medicating for the ADHD or other issues or going the natural route? Either way, I would encourage you to seek a consult/follow-up. A good diagnosis and plan can work miricles for everyone.

      My other suggestion is to make a good daily routine and post it somewhere. This will eliminate the constant question of what to do next. Checklists are your friend. Make checklists for every task you want the kids to complete. Use pictures for the younger one. When my oldest was younger, I had them posted all over the house-even the bathroom! But it worked and now, a few years later, he remembers what to do when. If you would like examples, let me know. Something else that works here even with my olders is a large chart used for earning stickers. It sounds babyish but it works. The kids earn a sticker for every subject, chore, book read, etc. they do HAPPY and promptly. They earn a reward when it is filled.

      My last thought is The Well-Trained Mind forums also has a very active Learning Challenges/Special Needs board. The forums are free to join. I have found reviews and information about therapies, etc there over the years that have been very helpful. {This is not a slam to MP in any way. The people here are so loving and generous. The materials are some of the best I have seen and used. Sometimes you need a broader base, though.} http://forums.welltrainedmind.com/fo...llenges-board/ {And I hope it is okay to link.}

      I would also encourage you to talk to your husband and pray together (if you are religious) about your goals for each child. This will help give you a focus. Together, you can decide on a path for now and for the future.

      I also wanted to echo Cheryl's sentiment that you will not receive any insults about your parenting. People who do not have to deal with Special Needs kiddos do not understand what it is like. Ignore them and come here. We will always be accepting and try to help as best we can.
      Last edited by Enigma; 07-09-2013, 11:25 AM.
      The Homeschool Grads:
      J- 6/96
      S- 11/98

      Still Homeschooling:
      G- 4/04
      D- 5/05
      F- 7/08 (my only girl)

      Future Homeschooler:
      M- 9/16

      Comment


        #4
        I want to thank you both so much for your replies. I was having a really low moment. Sometimes it all just catches up with me to the point of being nearly overwhelming. Most of the time it's not like that.

        I ordered Simply Classical today. It was very nice to hear that someone else has had a child happy to sit like that. I have never been able to quite pull things 100% together when trying to do lessons myself. This will be my first year to have everything in a pre-made planner, and I am hoping that will give me that organizational edge to keep track of who's where in the lessons.

        We've had a couple of years now with only the essentials. Basically just grammar and math and watching science documentaries (they love those). The middle one has been on ritalin before, but he mostly hates the way it makes him feel, and most of the time we end up with hours of crying and arguing to get it into his mouth. Which pretty much ruins it having any positive effect on the day. He is aware enough to sometimes recognize when he's having a bad day, and is willing to take it then, but being a restricted drug, doctors and pharmacies don't like writing and filling on an irregular basis (and the doctor available through the counselor's office couldn't even bother to remember for the entire two minutes he saw my child to prescribe mind altering, restricted drugs to him which of the two boys in the room he was prescribing these weight based drugs to--there is a eighty pounds difference in their weight.) Most days a cup of coffee gets him calm enough to sit down to work. It's weird how stimulants will let a hyper person sit still.

        I've got to bring the stickers back. The oldest doesn't care (it's really hard to find anything that consistently motivates him), but the younger two both love them. The younger has a behavior jar that he gets to drop big foam beads in when we catch him being good. When it's full he trades the beads for one of the little toys he loves (which we buy for cheap on Ebay). But I think a sticker chart would be good for him for school too, to separate school from not scaring the cats.

        Mostly, just thank you for understanding. I really needed that right then.
        Miah - married to Warcabbage, 3 boys, BS in social work, AS in Electrical Engineering Technology

        Evulcarrot - 18, freshman in college, Medical Technology , mild autism
        Battlebroccoli - 17, lives with grandma, attends a special high school program part time
        Doomsprout - 10, highly verbal moderate autism, anxiety, motor delays, sensory processing issues - SC 4 with R&S 4

        Comment


          #5
          They have new ADHD drugs now that you may want to research that do not have those icky side-effects. One of my brothers (who is a Green Beret) and his son are using them. If the Military will let my brother use the new ones, they must be better. If you like, I can ask him which one it is.

          Gee, that doctor sounds like HE needs some ADD meds if he can't remember something for 2 mins. Scary! I hope you can find a better one. I would still encourage you to seek a re-evaluation.
          The Homeschool Grads:
          J- 6/96
          S- 11/98

          Still Homeschooling:
          G- 4/04
          D- 5/05
          F- 7/08 (my only girl)

          Future Homeschooler:
          M- 9/16

          Comment

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