Children´s Mental Health Conference

I spent two days at a conference for children´s mental health.

I attended as a parent, and as such, I was severely limited as to which sessions I could partake in. Most sessions were for professionals and not open for laypersons.

The books I have found most helpful in guiding my parenting techniques to assist my traumatized children in healing were often referred to or recommended during the conference. I discovered that I am not an auditory learner, I was frustrated that the handouts were merely bare outlines and that I had to frantically take notes in order to retain the meat of the lectures. The books that I have found most helpful are:

The Explosive Child  – Dr. Ross W. Greene

Lost At School- Dr. Ross W. Greene

Transforming the Difficult Child – Howard Glasser

and one that I have never seen referenced anywhere but I find to be a goldmine is

Parenting The Hurt Child – Gregory C. Keck and Regina M. Kupecky

which is billed as a book for adoptive families.

So none of these books are new. I was expecting to find something new at the conference. I ended up feeling validated instead, which I suppose was nice. I mean validated in how I have altered my parenting and the techniques I have used to help my children learn to manage themselves.

Like.. one thing that is often overlooked is how beneficial it is to calm or distract the nervous system to prevent or shorten meltdowns. So it was nice to hear someone explaining it to a room full of three hundred people. When I tell another parent that I flip my kid upside down when they start to throw a fit they look at me like I am crazy. But it works. It works like magic.

Samantha Moe from Mad2Glad gave a presentation in tandem with Kathy Flaminio of 1000 Petals and it was great stuff, to put it all together. But I knew it already, in fact, most of what was being explained to me was elementary. I ought to have been in clinical sessions, I had too much background to be where I was. If you think about the hours I have clocked with special needs children, it makes sense. It is not like I have been doing this blindly. I have been reading and applying methods for years.

So the children´s psychologist has been telling me what works. That is the good news.

Also I stopped by the booth from the Social Security Administration and learned that it would NOT compromise our safety to apply for my son´s social security. I have a few years to decide if I should. It looks more and more like I ought to. I heard it is easier for him to apply when he hits adulthood if he has already been approved in childhood.

He (my Oldest Child) had a very difficult time at the conference. It was in a different city. I got a large and expensive hotel room for the children so that they would be at ease, and have enough space to feel like they could do their own thing. He was okay in the hotel room. He loved having channels on television. But whenever I took him out to eat or play his executive functioning was a mess. He asked the same questions over and over, not because he was clarifying, but because he had forgotten the answer. He was genuinely confused. He would get an answer and then still be muddled on what was happening, where we were going. It was NOT anxiety. He showed no signs of his anxiety, he did not even ruin a single shirt with chewing or poking while we were there. I wish it had been. That would be easier than knowing that a change of surroundings can so thoroughly confound him. I have been sitting on the fence about whether he needs life long care or not, and lately he seems to be showing signs that he will. Hard for me to accept, that his brilliant mind and outgoing nature is not enough.

My middle child did fantastically well. He attended every session with me. He was the only child in the sessions. He sat quietly and played games on my phone for each session, and he complained not at all. He had insisted that he wanted to stay with me instead of the sitter who was playing games with the other kids in the hotel room, and he was so well behaved that I thought it seemed incongruous to be attending sessions on how to manage his behaviour when he showed no sign of any issues!

So though I did learn to keep doing what I am doing, I don´t think these conferences are for me. I would rather have a book recommendation. If someone is talking at me I don´t learn as much as when I am reading what they say.

My criticisms of the conference: many of the speakers had practices that were not taking subsidized health insurance or Medicaid, which renders them inaccessible to an incredible number of special needs kids and their parents. It also means that they are referencing an entirely different pool of clients in their talks than what is really out there.

And: There was barely any diversity at all. It was usually a sea of white women. I saw representation from three minorities, no more than the fingers on one hand. I don´t know if that means that most social workers and therapists are white women, or if it means that the agencies outreaching to minorities with minorities haven´t the funds to send representation, or if it means that the agencies employing minorities thinks the conference is a waste of time.

Whatever the reason, I found it depressing. What I always loved most about the major cities in this state was the diversity. This was a state conference. We have a sizable refugee population, currently on the second and third generations that we need to reach and also learn from.

The kids had their very first vacation experience, I managed to figure out that camping is better than hotels (no matter how expensive), and I learned that I do NOT have agoraphobia despite my severe reluctance to leave town for the past four years. All good lessons.

 

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What Regression Has Cost Us

My oldest son has forgotten how to take a bath. He does not turn off the water and the tub overflows every time he takes a bath now. I can no longer put him in the tub and then remain in earshot.  I have to turn off the water or go in and instruct him to do so. He had learned how to wash himself from start to finish just this year and I was working on teaching him proper drying and lotion. Now we have to start from earlier in the process and keep trying.

He has forgotten how to brush his teeth, he has been chewing on the brush and then swallowing the paste as if it were food. I floss his teeth and brush them for him again, especially now that he is complaining that his gums itch. Luckily I do not see any signs of gingivitis- I hope I can keep it that way.

On the bus last week his seatmate (yes, I did request he have assigned single seating on the bus- but the principal never sent a letter to the bus company to that effect) did not want to play a game my son had made up regarding Garfield and Odie and my son was very insistent. So the boy slapped my son, who then pummeled him into tears.

My son of course neglected to mention any of this to me, so the principal called. I have cut him off of his lifeline, the computer, for a number of days. I have also explained to my child that he may not use ¨self defense¨. I have been trying to teach him, for a year, to walk away or be quiet when someone states they are not interested or looks upset. He cannot recognize people, he cannot read faces, and I am at a loss on how to help him implement this most important skill.  He lacks the theory of mind required to understand that not everyone thinks Garfield is the coolest cat around. Of course I called the bus company, again.

I am beyond afraid that he will grow up to be a tall autistic man who insists on someone interacting with him in the way he expects them to. Mistaking someone for a dear friend and then pushing them to share a joke or a coffee or whatever. He would be jailed for that. He would terrify people.

If he keeps forgetting how to care for himself I had better set up a trust for him. If I had money to put in it I would be quicker to do so, but if he is going to need care all his life I had better plan for his needs as best I can. Regression is a contrary brat and I hate it. A few months ago none of this was an issue.

I don´t understand how his drawings of Garfield improve while his self care deteriorates.

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I Love My Neighbors

Today the most adorable little girl in town, a two year old with a halo of white blonde hair and a bright pink dress was running through our neighborhood carrying a replica of a machine gun and laughing her head off. Her bare feet were just winking in and out and she was the happiest kid ever. There was a button on the gun that made it go rat tat tat and she wouldn´t let any other kid try it. She kept it by yelling wordlessly at anyone who got close as she pointed it here and there and made it fire.
I turned to my neighbor and I pointed out this girl and I said ¨That right there is a local girl. This is exactly what girls are like round here.¨
My neighbor, female, who grew up here, watched her for a minute and then said to me ¨Oh yeah, when I was a kid I never had shoes on, either. Never. My dad used to yell at me.¨

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Bullying- an inborn human trait?

Today we had a visitor to our neighborhood, a very large boy with a very bad reputation. I first saw him as a neighbor yelled at him out her window. My son was standing around with other children and I called him away from there and told him that when an adult is screaming at a child, and that child is not him, he needs to vacate the area and find a safer place to play.

He helped me with laundry for a minute, and I let him play. I was doing things here and there, in and out of the house and yard.

I passed by another neighbor, who is never away from her front door and she informed me that she was there to watch this boy who had come back, armed with a huge Nerf gun. She said he was viciously mean and she wanted me to stay and watch the kids with her. I did, for quite some time, until mine were away and her husband came to stand watch in her place.

This boy was threatening or talking mean to our kids, and our kids all sat together and seemed to oppose him, though not in a mean or inappropriate way. They just stuck together and disagreed with what he said, or corrected him.

My friend had joined us, and we had been commenting on how nice it was to see our kids sticking together and standing up for what was right. I mentioned how last summer when they all starting fighting I tried to remind them of how much fun they had had together and how much more they could have if they worked together and got past their issues.

This is where my friend said:  ¨Well, you can have your kids do that, but mine is going to stay by herself, thank you very much.¨ I wasn´t sure what she meant, I am not good with negative comments and it always throws me for a loop. But the mother who had been standing watch said ¨What? Well thank you very much, that is not a nice thing to say.¨ My friend then commented ¨Well, YOUR kids have never been in a fistfight with mine.¨ I puzzled over that one for a bit, I couldn´t figure out what she was referencing and then I realized to my shame that she was talking about my children.

Two weeks ago my son was playing keep away football with two older boys, aged ten. He was getting frustrated because he is just turned seven and these boys are much bigger. He was getting creamed and it was hurting instead of being fun. He left the game and they begged him to come back in. I said I would rather have him stay out, so they all negotiated and modified the rules so that it was not so violent.

Then my friend´s daughter joined in, who is thirteen. She was knocking my son down and kicking at him, telling him ¨You can´t do this to me, but I can do it to you.¨ Because she is recovering from a concussion and she is female. My son got angry, because it was not part of the game, he did not have the ball, and she would not listen to him when he tried to explain it to her. So he said to her ¨If you can do that, I can do this!¨ and he punched her in the neck. She came and got me immediately and I pulled him inside and kept him there. He said sorry, even though he was mad. I think he was hurt, because he thought she was his friend and it did not seem as though she was acting like it. No matter what, he is not allowed to hit girls, and he is not allowed to hit at all. So he was wrong. I did tell the girl I was sorry this had happened to her, and I was glad she had come to get me. I am lucky she was not injured from this, as she was already concussed. My friend would have filed a police report. She filed one for the concussion her daughter got last year, when a six year old threw a plastic sword up in the air and it knocked her daughter out on the way down.

I had watched them when they changed the rules for a bit and everything seemed okay. I trusted my kid to leave the game again when he needed to, as he had done it before. I really thought he was learning control. So I did not see the violence after she joined in.

But really this is my fault. I need to stand there and supervise him. I should never water plants or go back in the house or anything. I have to watch-close enough to hear. I am so embarrassed, now, to know that my friend thinks of us as people her daughter is not safe with. No wonder we have not seen her lately. She is a lovely girl, and I have missed her.

Every time I think my kids are doing well and I am parenting properly I find myself mistaken.

I talked to my son about it again today and he insisted he had the right to defend himself. I tried my best to explain it again, that girls cannot be hit and one must run and tell an adult when one is being hurt- not fight back, even if the perpetrator is wrong or bigger. He says he understands but I don´t think he does. I keep explaining that when he is big he will be able to break bones by hitting and that he has to act now like he is the big man he is going to be, by refraining from using his strength in such ways. I tried to explain that women have different bone structures and there are good physical reasons for this rule in our culture. I went over bullying, too. Again.

When does he get it? This is what the psychologist told me to track. She wants him on those antipsychotics. I am so depressed.

 

 

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REGRESSION

There is an R word in the special needs community that people rarely say and it is not the one you are thinking of. It is regression.

Regression is a contrary brat. You teach your child the skills they need to hold a conversation, play in the sandbox with others, make friends, get through an entire tightly scheduled school day, and to plan their homework. They learn these things and you have a great year. A great six months, a great super long span of time and you think this special needs parenting thing is not so bad. You got it.

Then one day you realize one or more of those things are not happening now the way they used to, that children are being bullied by your child and homework never makes it home and your child is throwing fits at you as if he were three and yesterday he pinched his sister.

This is the fault of regression. Your child no longer has the skill or skills he once had, and you have to go back to square one and start over on teaching him.

Then in your spare moments you rack your brain trying to figure out if your son had a recent trauma that would cause such behaviour. You date his last fever and you call the school and the daycare providers and ask if his regression dates from within two weeks of that day. Because that could be mitochondrial issues, necessitating very invasive testing. You think about seizures and diet and f*@#ing everything, desperate not to get the skills back, which you know is a lost cause, but just to get your kid back on some sort of level playing field so he can be ready to learn all over again.

On the phone with the school they describe the behaviours you have not seen in about two years and you die inside. The school thinks he is being difficult. You explain this is a medical issue, he is AUTISTIC. They insist he learn to love the drag on a pencil and you explain he has sensory issues, that in fact he has SENSORY PROCESSING DISORDER which you have explained until you are blue to everyone at two schools and finally someone says they will let him use marker. So the pencils and the crayons don´t hurt his brain anymore. He can use marker after his one sentence in pencil and you thank the gods for small favors.

But really your kid is just autistic. There are a hundred comorbid disorders that could be diagnosed later in life, but that brat regression is not going to finger anything specific for you. You have to find a pattern. You need the right mind reading supernaturally insightful doctor. You find a story that matches yours so exactly that you start asking questions based on the diagnosis of the kid in that story. One question to the right medical professional might pan out. You fumble around, lost, trying to help your child learn to survive in an unsympathetic world and you just pray that somebody, somewhere, understands that he is not ¨being difficult¨. He is REGRESSING. It is not part of his learning process. It is his neurology.

You start the education back at square one, you alert the medical team and you wait. Because you are helpless. Because regression is not a fight. You just lose. You lose.

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Children: Natural Hackers

At my son´s school they let them have ¨free time¨ on tablets. I assumed tablets maybe linked to a LAN and certainly with teacher approved apps. I never thought they were tablets hooked up to internet, unfiltered.

The teacher assured me there was a security filter over the internet gateway. The principal told me they did not know how my son bypassed their security and received results from typing the phrase ¨g boob¨ into YouTube.

All I know is that my oldest son is always coding, in the most primitive form, and my youngest son is merely watching videos of people playing videos. My seven year old is not a hacker. But he did it.

So they talked to him. They kept him in at recess. Which is actually pretty devastating to him, though it does not phase his brother.

I advised the school keep him off the tablets from now on, for liability´s sake. I suggested books instead. I gave him restrictions lasting six months regarding electronics. I told him he cannot go to a friend´s house for probably the same amount of time, as I cannot trust him to follow the rules I give him when he is outside the house. I advised his doctors of his indiscretion and then I forced him to attend a half hour class on female anatomy- taught by me. I also reminded him that he did NOT have permission from the women in the photos to view them, that whether they be in bathing suits or scanty dresses it is impolite to stare and he may not, without consent, ever. But that at a certain age, he may, with consent. Because doing so is damaging to his development – and illegal in this country.

Then I internally cursed the culture I live in, which has failings as all cultures do, but seems to be particularly handicapped regarding sexuality and the body.

His reactions? He was contrite with his teacher. He cried the morning he was due to see the principal and couldn´t eat. He tried to get out of attending class on anatomy and he begged me not to tell his doctor (child psychologist). But I explained to him that his curiosity was normal and I was relentless. I told him that if he finds breasts so attractive that he might be one of those who is attracted to girls more than boys. I told him this is normal, that he will have strong feelings about attraction all his life and it is like that for nearly everyone. I hope that taking the mystery and stigma out of the equation will make him less interested.

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The Children Meet My Ex

Two Sundays ago we went to the zoo. We met one of my oldest friends there at the entrance, and had barely got down one trail when I saw before me my ex-husband´s new wife. I had only seen her in pictures before, but she had a sweet and distinctive face and I knew it was her. Especially because my ex-husband was standing next to her, or rather, leaning over a stroller.

I had not spoken to my ex-husband since about 2003, when he divorced me. I did not want a divorce, so I tried to negotiate anything but, though in the end I did not fight him because I do not believe in trapping people. I was so angry after that divorce that I could not speak to him. I lost my future and my entire family in one fell swoop. Which is silly of me, to view it as a loss. Because obviously his family did not miss me, or they would have contacted me. And it was my own folly to put them through school and neglect my own education. No one to blame but myself that I did not get a turn to attend university.

I have missed them all terribly, my in-laws. I managed, during some of the worst times, to put them out of my mind, but I still regard them all with affection. They were my siblings and parents and I loved them more than my own. Then I had the love but had not the family and it was a deep wound that I tried to fill for years. Now I know better. Now I understand that the pain is a part of me, nothing can fill it- but time and perspective can make it shallower, less painful.

When I look back at it I realize that most likely no one in the family believed that I truly loved them. I assumed that hard work and gifts would make it all apparent but nothing can convince those who see only fault. I had not grace nor diplomacy. I had not culture. I had experienced homelessness and I did not come from a good family. I was barely good enough for them, especially in light of my social awkwardness and the mistakes I make in conversation,  all the fifty hour work weeks and tuition payments and cars would not guarantee me their love nor their respect.

I was doomed but I was so happy I never saw it coming. I held absolute faith in my marriage and my family. It was eternal in my view and so it was a comfort to me. This self delusion was the happiest time in my life.

So we are at the zoo. My children like to keep going. They like to complain and they like to keep going. So we walk and walk at the zoo and what I hear is ¨My legs hurt, I am hungry, is it lunchtime, my legs are tired, are we at the park yet, can we go see the fish..¨ The children love the zoo, I know, but while we are walking the trails (my favorite) they turn into little complaint machines. My ex-husband sees my friend and comes over to give her a big hug. I go to his new wife immediately and introduce myself, so we can skip the awkward scene where he has to explain I am his ex-wife. They show us an adorable new baby and a sweet little girl who looks as I always imagined her to look, all my adult life. Very lovely little girls, and of course, neither of them complain about stopping or going or anything. It was all very civilized on the part of the adults. My children wanted to be doing other things and of course they wanted my attention, which is normally theirs, so they were not very civilized. His new wife is lovely and funny and everything I would want for his family and children. He tells me he is working at a company where I used to work, where we met, actually. His wife asks me if I used to work there, and then we have the awkward scene where he explains I am his ex-wife. She hadn´t understood when I introduced myself, just who I was.

I did not ask about my former in-laws. If they wanted me to know how they were they would have reached out long ago. I did not look much at my ex-husband, it is not respectful in his culture and old habits die hard. I did not speak much to him, either, for the same reason, though I did answer his questions. But I really liked his new wife. She comes from a great family and she is established in the community and she is well traveled, cultured. She works at jobs I would have liked to do, myself. Best of all, she is funny. I just love humorous people.

After maybe ten minutes we excused ourselves and said goodbye and I waved to the adorable little girl who was hanging onto her father´s leg and jumping up and down, she had never said a word though I tried to talk to her about her aunt, who she resembles closely. She looked as I had always thought she would look, even seventeen years ago when I bought a little red and white dress for my future daughter, I had imagined such a face above the ribbon.

I explained to my boys who we had been talking to and they were as stunned as I. But I am afraid that surreal feeling stayed with me all that day, whereas they were over it in a few minutes. They had a great time at the zoo, even though the parks were closed. We played in a giant sandbox and we bought souvenirs and we made plans to go back. On our way home we drove through neighborhoods where I used to live and love with their own father and talked about how he used to be, before they were born, before he got so sick that we had to leave.

Losing a family is hard.

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