Update

Happy New Year!

It’s been a while since I’ve checked in here. We’ve all had the crud/flu/colds — not as bad as some people have had, but bad enough to put a wrench in the works. At the same time I’ve been busy with work, holidays, computer problems, and all in all, I’ve had my hands full.

On the Bouncy Boy front, we filled out the paperwork to change our insurance, and I set up the neuropsych eval. The earliest appointment we could get is for next March (!) but we’re also on the cancellation list, so it could happen earlier. Right now I’m not feeling particularly urgent about it, either. Our little guy is doing great these days. He is so much calmer than he was earlier in the fall. He got a fantastic report card and much praise from his teacher. And best of all, he is doing so well with his little violin. He is thrilled to be learning Twinkle and he practices every day without (much) complaint. His attention span has increased enormously since the fall. Our practice sessions last about 20 minutes now, and he stays impressively (for him) focused throughout.

And, I made a decision. This blog is way too negative. Daily grind? Explosive child? It’s all about what’s wrong with my child! No wonder I haven’t felt like writing here in so long. If I really wanted to write here, I would, despite my excuses in the first paragraph. Ok, call me wishy-washy (maybe I have ADD!), but I’ve started a new blog for the new year. It’s burgoo, it’s now my primary blog, and I hope to see you there!

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Next steps

Yesterday Hubs and I met with the psychologist, Dr. Sharon. She wanted to share her impressions and recommendations after the two sessions with Bouncy Boy. I am so glad we went to her. She really gave us a different way of thinking about our little guy. Here’s what she said:

  1. Bouncy Boy probably does have ADHD, or something “quirky” in his wiring. Yes, he was incredibly well behaved in her office, and she didn’t see any of the high-energy, distracted, bouncing-off-the-walls type of behavior that we see at home. However, she said, his hyper-focus on the Legos is also consistent with ADHD. Hyper-focus and distractibility can be flip sides of the same coin.
  2. He is not an “angry kid.” When he lashes out at people (verbally or physically) it is because he perceives that he is in danger. There is an anxious, defensive quality to it that feels like a “fight or flight” response to stress rather than some deep-seated hostility towards the world. He has been loved and nurtured all his life; he is not recovering from any traumatic experience; his demeanor in the office, the way he played with Legos, and the pictures he drew for her are totally normal and age-appropriate. His underlying issue looks a lot more like anxiety than anger management.
  3. The reason he wrongly perceives that he is in danger is because of his quirky wiring. Whether he is in hyper-focus mode or bouncing off the walls mode, he is not picking up on all the cues because his attention is elsewhere. So he perceives danger, he lashes out in response, and then feels terrible afterwards.

Dr. Sharon’s interpretation feels soooo right to Hubs and me. I think she is absolutely correct that he is anxious, that he is misperceiving situations. When I think about all the times I’ve talked with Bouncy Boy about the difference between “by accident” and “on purpose” — and the way it never seems to stick — well, it makes perfect sense now.

So, here’s our plan. We are changing our insurance (open enrollment could not have come at a better time!) to one that will cover at least some portion of a neuropsych eval. I will call on Monday to start that process. I suspect it will be a couple of months at least before we can see the doctor, but that’s okay. We will use the interim time to work on giving Bouncy Boy a conceptual framework and vocabulary for discussing these issues. We will continue to see Dr. Sharon, because even if/when his “quirky wiring” gets fixed (medication? diet?) we will need her help to boost his self-esteem, poor little guy, and help him perceive and interpret those situational cues correctly. Not to mention figure out ways for his siblings to deal with him more constructively, too.

It wouldn’t have felt right to me to go directly to the neuropsychologist without taking this step first, but now I am eager to move forward. Thank you Dr. Sharon!

One step forward, two steps back

On the whole, I’ve been feeling fairly optimistic about Bouncy Boy lately. I’ve seen that he wants to improve his behavior, and I’ve seen him working on it. I’ve seen him bite his tongue instead of deliver a put-down. I’ve seen him remember to use polite words. I’ve seen him be gentle with our pets. I’ve seen lots of good stuff lately.

— — —

Yesterday at the playground he whacked a kid on the back with a great big stick. A third grader, no less, whom he barely knows. I didn’t see what happened. Another kid came up to me and told me Bouncy Boy had “hit Jason with a stick so hard that Jason was crying.” (And I happened to be talking with Jason’s mom at the time… add embarrassment into my mix of dismay and concern… ) So Jason’s mom and I went over to find out what happened.

“I hate him! He was mean to me,” said Bouncy Boy, still brandishing the stick.

“I was not,” sobbed Jason. “I didn’t even say anything to you. You just came up behind me and whacked me!”

Bouncy Boy relinquished the stick, but I had to threaten him with “a great big punishment” to get him to apologize. I reminded him for the millionth time that it is never okay to hurt people, whether or not they say something mean to you. I apologized profusely to Jason and his mom; I explained to Jason that Bouncy Boy is still learning this lesson; and I told them that we were leaving the playground right then, because of the incident.

Bouncy Boy’s outright refusal to do as I asked (in this case, apologize), in public, in a situation where not doing the thing is absolutely unacceptable, happens pretty often. Unfortunately, the threat of “a punishment”  is the only thing I’ve found that works. I always use the word punishment, not consequence, I say it fiercely, and I refuse to specify what the punishment would be. Anything short of a dire threat has no effect on him whatsoever. I hate doing this. It feels so wrong! But again, not apologizing is simply not an option.

As we walked home Bouncy Boy desperately wanted to know what the “great big punishment” would have been if he had not apologized. I was at a loss, because I didn’t have anything in mind. He was very persistent, and I finally caved and said something about no screen time all weekend — screen time only being allowed at our house on weekends, anyway.

I wish I hadn’t said that. Depriving him of something on the weekend as a punishment for something he did on Tuesday is ridiculous. Not to mention that screen time has nothing to do with what happened on the playground. I was still upset, myself, and I couldn’t think of a better response. I should have stuck to my guns and simply said that I was glad he had decided to apologize so that we didn’t have to worry about a punishment.

— — —

Bouncy Boy’s defiance disturbs me deeply — much more than the hitting.

Temper tantrums, I can understand. We all lose our temper every once in a while. Hopefully not too often, but I’m sure there isn’t a person alive who hasn’t lost her temper at some point. I can understand losing it. I can understand forgetting the rule about using your words.

Attention issues, hyperactivity, impulsivity… well, I can understand those, too. I can understand a chemical imbalance in the brain (if that’s what it is). I can understand being bored in school, not paying attention, feeling antsy. I can understand acting in haste and repenting at leisure.

But when he says no? Often, to an adult whom he barely knows? Not to mention his parents? I cannot imagine a reality in which I would ever say no to an authority figure the way he does. Cannot imagine it. Cannot imagine either of our other two kids doing it either. Sure, they’ll argue till they’re blue in the face, but fold their arms across their chest and simply refuse? They would never.

I wish I could have empathy, but I don’t.

“Sweetheart”

For their first session together, Dr. Sharon and Bouncy Boy spent the entire hour sitting on the floor, talking and playing with Legos. I sat on the couch and mostly listened. Here are some of the points they touched on.

  • Bouncy Boy never feels a little bit mad. His mad is all or nothing. There is no in-between.
  • Things that make him mad? Being teased. Someone hurting him. Being told “no.” Transitions. Changes in plans.
  • When he is mad, he feels it in his heart. And it has a color. The maddest is red, slightly less mad is grey. Calmer is blue, and the calmest is green.
  • You can make your body feel calm, even when you’re angry, by taking deep breaths. Inhale from your diaphragm, exhale slowly with a sigh.

— — —

“Is there anything that helps you to keep your temper?” Dr. Sharon asked.

“Yes,” said Bouncy Boy. “Sometimes I tell myself that I have to keep my temper so I won’t get in trouble. And sometimes my mom says, ‘sweetheart, don’t lose your temper.'”

“Okay,” said Dr. Sharon, writing it all down. “So… sometimes you remind yourself, and it also helps when someone else reminds you.”

“No, no,” Bouncy Boy clarified. “It helps when my mom says ‘sweetheart, don’t lose your temper.’ She has to say sweetheart or it doesn’t work.”

“Ohhhh. So it’s not the reminder that helps. It’s the gentle, loving words from your mom that remind you how much she loves you. When you feel loved and safe, it’s easier to keep your temper.”

“Uh-huh,” said my sweet precious boy, not even looking up from the Legos.

Doctor Sharon

“Bouncy Boy, guess what? Daddy and I met a lady named Dr. Sharon, whose job is to help kids learn to keep their temper—”

Bouncy Boy gasped in amazement. “Can I see her?”

The urgency in his voice almost made me weep. It totally confirmed what I already believed: that kids “do well if they can.” That Bouncy Boy wants to be well-behaved. That he is aware that something is not right with him, and he’s suffering because of it.

“Yes,” I said. “You can see her.”

— — —

Dr. Sharon is a child psychologist. Hubs and I met with her for the first time earlier this week, and we liked her right away. Of course there is quite a bit of back story to our decision to see a psychologist rather than a psychiatrist (who could prescribe meds) or neuropsychologist (who could evaluate for ADHD, autism, learning disabilities, etc.). One of the factors is our crappy health insurance. Another factor is that there is hardly a therapist around that isn’t connected to my family in some way or another, I kid you not, because my dad is a professor of clinical psychology right here in town. (This has ramifications on many levels, as you might imagine, and I’m sure I will write about this aspect of our life more in the future. Dr. Sharon has connections to my family too, but at least she wasn’t at my wedding, for goodness’ sake.)

Another thing. Although I have tagged many of these posts “ADHD” and “Oppositional-defiant disorder,” we don’t actually have an official diagnosis. Do we want a diagnosis? I don’t know. If a family therapist can help him with anger management, maybe the impulsivity will take care of itself. Maybe not. As I have said before, I am not opposed to the idea of medication. But I would rather start with a more conservative approach. And I think our whole family could use some help dealing with our little guy. Artist Boy and Bookworm Girl were very interested to hear about Dr. Sharon too.

— — —

So, anyway. Bouncy Boy met Dr. Sharon yesterday morning and it was amazing. I think I will have to write about it in a separate post, though, because the kids are waking up and I need to get this day started.

Parent-teacher conference

It’s that time of year: parent-teacher conferences. In fact, Hubs couldn’t come with me because he is a teacher himself, and he had to meet with his students’ parents at the same time. Anyway, Bouncy Boy’s teacher said she has seen a lot of progress in the last few weeks. He is keeping his temper and reining himself in much more than he used to. She no longer takes each day hour by hour, hoping he will make it through without another outburst. It’s been ages since the last time he stood up on a chair and cussed her out at top volume in front of the whole class.

Huh???

I have heard other parents complain about this teacher’s poor communication skills — poor with parents, anyway. She seems to be great with the kids, but she barely even makes eye contact with adults. Even so, I can’t believe I had no idea about the extent of his difficulties at the beginning of the year. Yes, she told me at one point that some kids didn’t want to play with him, but I had no idea it was that bad. Hourly tantrums in school? Cussing out the teacher? And she didn’t even tell me? I must confess, on one level I’m kind of glad she didn’t; I don’t know what I would have done with the information besides feel like shit. But still.

Anyway, I guess it’s moot now, because she says his behavior is much improved. I asked her what she thought might have caused the improvement and she wasn’t sure. Maybe he has tested her to his satisfaction; he knows she will stick to the rules and he feels safe. Maybe it’s just general maturity. Maybe he’s better adjusted to getting up early for school. Who knows.

At the same time, she had told me at the beginning of the year that other kids didn’t want to play with him because of his volatility. That was a huge and extremely upsetting red flag for me. I’ve been worrying about it all this time, and I wish she would have told me sooner that his social life was improving.

Oh, and academically? He is right on target for first grade. He doesn’t always get his work done because he’s so chatty, but when he puts his mind to it, he has no problem doing it.

So… good news from the teacher, but I wish she was better at communicating. Makes me wonder what else she hasn’t told me.

A tough one

I like to think of our house as cosy, but really it is just small. We have about 1,400 square feet for the five of us, and although the house suits us just fine and the location is perfect, sometimes we do feel like we’re on top of each other. Yesterday Artist Boy suddenly decided he wanted to do some composing at the piano, and given the layout of our house and the central location of the piano, there was really no way to escape the sound short of banishing oneself to the basement or an upstairs bedroom.

Needless to say, Bouncy Boy wanted to be playing in the living room, where his Legos are. And he didn’t want to hear Artist Boy’s noodling on the piano. He really, most emphatically, didn’t want to hear it.

This is something we’ve been working on with Bouncy Boy a lot. He is a very noisy boy himself, and it seems like we are constantly asking him to be quiet because he is hurting our ears. So, on the one hand, I really wanted to respect his wish for peace and quiet. We should all try not to hurt each other’s ears, right?

On the other hand, Artist Boy was simply working out some (lovely) chord progressions. All three of our kids play musical instruments and it is a big part of our family life. I want Artist Boy to compose at the piano!

Bouncy Boy often responds pretty well to empathy (more about this in another post) and I tried to talk him down out of his high dudgeon by commiserating and suggesting that he take his Legos to another part of the house. Bouncy Boy did calm down enough to propose another solution: maybe Artist Boy could borrow Bouncy Boy’s little toy electric keyboard and use that instead, since it’s portable and has a volume control. What a good try! Of course Artist Boy didn’t want to use a little toy electric keyboard, nor did I blame him, but it was such a shame that Bouncy Boy didn’t get a reward for his excellent attempt at problem solving. The incident ended with Artist Boy still at the piano, Bouncy Boy yelling rude words and stomping off to his room, and me feeling sad and frustrated.