Anxious Time

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To know Liam is to know a mostly calm, kind, quiet young man.

But not during finals week.

Between last week, with final projects and essays due, and this week, with studying and a changed schedule, Liam is feeling stressed.

What does this look like? A kid who is not happy. His face is clearly showing me his displeasure with this time.

What does this sound like? Some raising of his voice to his brother and expressions of self-doubt.

What does this feel like? A lot of hugging and fighting with/hitting of his brother. He is also extremely hungry.

What do I do about it? I give him words to help him process through his time and activities. I tell him it’s okay how he is feeling, but that he cannot take it out on others. I tell him that this will soon be over and he will get some new classes that he is looking forward to.

So, while I usually have a calm, easy-going kid, I have to show extra patience and support during this stressful time.

Changing Things Up

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Kieran is currently taking his annual holiday break from his meds. He was taking breaks every weekend throughout the fall without his doctor’s permission or our knowledge (until he caved and told me)… he feels that the medication is keeping him from being taller.

Kieran off meds: a bit frantic, happy, eating, sleeping, walking away mid-task to do something else, a bit obsessive.

He says he feels more creative off his medication.

Kieran on Concerta: angry, restless, focused, having difficulty with some physical symptoms (don’t want to mention due to embarrassment), growing, but possibly more slowly.

Because of the anger and physical difficulties (which I was proud that Kieran had researched himself), we have decided to change up his medication starting in the new year.

I did some research and read some blogs about side effects of this new medicine: Vyvanse.

It lasts only 9-10 hours, so parents seemed pleased that their child was able to fall to sleep. If not, melatonin was recommended.

Appetite was definitely decreased.

Something I had never thought of, was having the child take the medicine around 5 a.m., fall back to sleep, then have it “on board” for the morning routine.

Kieran has nixed this idea. It would also mean no medicine for homework.

We shall see what the new year brings.

I’m glad that Kieran is a part of the conversation and process now.

He has a voice.

Standing Up

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This past summer, Mea started to go to camp at her new elementary school to get to know a few kids before she started attending in August.

While Mea gets along with most anyone, one kid was different.

He had trouble getting along with all of the other kids.

Mea was no exception.

One day, she came home wanting to talk.

She said that during a playground game, this kid said to her that she couldn’t get him “out” because she was black.

This was the first time that anyone had negatively commented on her race before.

This was a big moment – I searched in my head for words that would help her and let her know how wrong he was.

I asked, what did you say?

She had said, first, I’m brown. Second, you’re out anyway.

Wow!

I was so thankful for her strength and that all of her talking back was paying off.

We talked about how she felt and why that boy might say something like that, and that no matter what, he was very wrong to have said it.

I asked if she had any questions and if she was okay.

She said that she felt good for not letting him get her down.

Good girl!

Liam Does Get Mad

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Liam is such an easy-going, compliant child, that it’s hard to imagine that he gets mad.

But it happens.

I’ve learned to help him through such times, as his emotions often come on intensely.

He will fly down the steps after Kieran says something insulting to him (mostly because he is not doing what Kieran wants).

He will fling his hands to his face and crumple to the ground if he gets yelled at for a reason he does not understand.

Sometimes, he cries – he is so upset about what has happened.

I use logic to bring him back into balance.

I guide him to breathe – to focus on something other than what happened and what he has heard.

I ask him: What are you feeling?

What do you want to say?

Sometimes, I even ask him to show forgiveness to a situation or person who didn’t realize they were being mean.

It doesn’t happen in public – he saves these emotions for his safe place – home.

Maybe it happens at home more often because this is where he is more likely to take things more personally or show us his honest feelings.

His quiet and calm exterior does not mean that he cannot be hurt.

Or that he does not have moments of, what the boys call, “rage” when he has been wronged.

Dicipline that Works

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With Kieran, positive reinforcement is key.

He really does not respond to other types of discipline, especially tough love.

I remember one time that I said how disappointed I was with a choice he made.

He proceeded to cry and share how unloveable he was.

I was stopped in my tracks.

I took it all back.

I wound up apologizing to him.

Not only had he taking my words seriously, he took them too seriously.

He did another thing as well.

He noted my response…

The next time we were in a similar situation, even though I tread lightly, he immediately brought out the “unlovable” argument.

He was manipulating me!

I learned my lesson.

In sixth grade, I also learned an important lesson about what doesn’t work with my child.

My tipping point of defending him, instead of acknowledging his mistake.

One of his teachers, frustrated with his behavior (and rightly frustrated), asked Kieran in front of the class if he needed to be brought to my office (which was located adjacent to his school) in order to listen.

Not only was this lesson and his behavior lost on Kieran, he was so embarrassed that he wound up losing trust in the teacher for a while.

He literally saw red when he explained to me what happened.

If he had been approached privately, he might have been penitent.

I learned that when I need to address Kieran, I will have more success in redirecting his behavior, appealing to his logical mind, or asking him for a favor.

Tough love is too tough for this sensitive kid.

Happy 8th Gotcha Day!

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(one of my all-time favorite pictures of Mea).

Eight years ago today, we officially became Mea’s parents.

She became the final, essential part of our family.

Some adoptive families call this “gotcha day.”

There’s even a song! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LBpnfYmDbY4

A colleague who is adopted was sharing with me yesterday, that when he was only in first grade, he got into trouble for telling his classmates: your parents had to have you; my parents chose me – with pride in his voice.

I love how strongly he felt about being a part of his family.

Just two days ago, Mea and I were not seeing eye to eye. I shared with her that I knew that God chose me to be her Mom, so I was going to do the best job possible, not slack off like she was hoping I would.

Yes, “gotcha day” can be seen as sad.

It is a day of loss for another family.

A mom or dad who permanently gave up their child.

At the same time, they loved her so very much that they gave her a family and a life that she otherwise might not have had, with education and health, and possibilities that might not have existed for her otherwise.

And for that, we are extremely grateful and will celebrate Mea today.

Best Therapy: Jazz Band

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In eighth grade, Liam tried jazz band, which required him to play a tenor sax (he plays the clarinet).

This was the first “stretch.”

His incredible band director then asked him to play an improvisation solo during one of the songs.

This was taking a huge risk on Liam, as it was a competitive jazz band.

Initially, thinking about the solo was stressful for Liam.

His brain doesn’t easily improvise.

It imitates exquisitely, but that is not exactly how to play a solo in jazz band.

His band teacher did recommend imitating, to give him a “mentor text” to follow.

He said if you have nothing else to play, use “happy birthday.”

Liam started off tentatively and grew more comfortable with this type of playing throughout the spring.

It was yet another first for him – showing that he can learn and try to be creative, even if he was not initially wired to be that way.

Improv and jazz are good for the mind and soul.

The Group Chat That Made His Year

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About mid-way through sixth grade, Kieran was added to a group chat made up of boys from his math class.

Boys!

He hadn’t had a friend that was a boy since about third grade.

Not consistently anyway.

He was a little obsessed with the chat at first.

We talked about how to “be cool.”

He didn’t always know what to write.

We practiced when and how to say (write) something, when to reply with an emoji, and when to not write anything at all.

Sometimes, the chat was inappropriate; they are sixth grade boys. It was mostly silly, harmless stuff. No bullying.

We talked about how they were including him, so he needed to keep these friendships “alive” during face-to-face times:

Choose to work with one of these boys in a class project.

Talk with some of them during band.

Run with one or two during cross country.

While he still hasn’t been invited to hang out and still sits at a lunch table with all girls, he has made inroads with the sporty boys.

He has more friends, thanks to a group chat.

Finally, an Answer

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After two more incidents with Mea during her third-grade year that really surprised us and almost rose to the level of being reported to the school, we took her to talk with someone.

The therapist was able to share with us that Mea does talk about us a lot – that we are her people, so to speak.

But her seeming unaffected-ness after making poor choices, her ability to become best friends with anyone, even after a short period of time, and her skill (which we can see is a coping mechanism) of “resetting” after a negative experience – almost forgetting it occurred, sounded like disinhibited reactive attachment disorder to the counselor.

I’m sort of obsessed with putting a name to everything. Yet, this term allowed me to learn (like I had done so many years ago with both boys), about how to better respond to Mea’s behaviors.

Most importantly, it has helped me not take what she is doing personally, which was my reaction.

I can say that this past summer all of the way through to this current time has found us parenting her more appropriately, and differently than we do the boys.

While I cannot say that the behaviors have stopped, it feels like we have longer periods of rest between episodes. I think (and hope) that she feels more loved and supported by the consequences as well.

We don’t feel torn apart as a family after she makes a mistake.

And she seems to be learning along the way.

Proving Them (and me) Wrong

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This is a memory that showed up in my social media feed: “I’m remembering when we first learned about Liam’s Autism and his 3-4 yr. daycare placement told me they would not move him in with his age peers because he didn’t have all the necessary skills; he’s the only brown belt in class today with jr. black belts and black belts and he’s soaking everything up, learning a ton of new moves, and his teachers are guiding him and not holding him back. So proud of him right now – he’s trying hard and not giving up.”

Moreover, in his 8th grade year, the only math he had the opportunity to take was over at the high school. In the fall he took Honors Algebra II; in the spring, Honors Pre-Calculus.

The principal at the time said, he would really need to understand how hard these classes would be at the high school.

I was worried that he would: not understand the schedule, get lost in the hallways of the high school, somehow have something terrible happen to him while he crossed the street over to the high school, be bullied, not have friends, etc., etc., etc.

And he proved us all wrong, once again.

He even started to inform both sets of teachers (MS and HS) when his schedule would be changed (instead of them telling him). He only forgot to go over one time. As soon as it happened, he sat in the MS guidance office to complete his work, after emailing an apology to his teacher.

Another time, he patiently waited in the high school guidance office while the building was on lock-down (while I panicked in my office across the street).

We owe a ton of thanks to his incredible counselor and seminar teacher for figuring out how to make the schedule work.

I am in awe of this kid who constantly exceeds our highest expectations for him.

P.S. – The picture is of him from this weekend performing three, three-hour concerts in five different ensembles, with 13 different songs.