This is probably not "politically correct" and you aren't supposed to compare, but you know when you have more than one kid, one is always....more....difficult? More intense, more full-on, just harder.
That has always been my son.
Well, this week we got a bit closer to unravelling the mystery that is Video Boy. And that is a good thing, because with understanding, comes acceptance.
To bring you up to speed, here are the highlights of a young life:
- Dreadful sleeper as a baby. Seriously - he was asleep for those blissful first couple of weeks when babies get over the trauma of coming into the outside world and then he woke up. And stayed awake. And if I did manage to cajole, wrap, carry, rock, white noise, ignore him into a nap, it lasted precisely 45 minutes. By the time the evenings came, he was so overtired, he was a blabbering mess (or wait, was that me). The early days are a bit of a blur of post-natal depression and extreme sleep deprivation. No one tells you how soul-destroying it is to spend 20 out 24 hours in a day trying to get a baby to sleep and failing.
- Amazing melt-downs as a toddler. I was on that parent helpline quite a few times because I was at my wits end on how to deal with this child who had lost the plot and didn't know how to find it again. Those were some dark days!
- A sense of being "different" from the other kids. As I dropped him off to preschool so I could go to work, I had an overwhelming sense of him being sent as a lamb to the slaughter. I figured I was just over-reacting, but then preschool teachers started waving Aspergers checklists in front of me and I was concerned. Turns out he is not on the Autism Spectrum at all. So, that meant he was just "strange".
- This kid could argue as soon as he could string two words together. Times haven't changed!
- Whilst other kids were riding bikes, playing soccer, mine was reading Dragon Rider and asking questions about time.
- When school started, I was so proud of his reading and maths. Not so proud of him being kept in because he refused to put pen to paper. Repeat for about 7 years.
Obviously there lots of lovely things about Video Boy growing up (or I may done something drastic). He is an affectionate, funny, smart kid. But life wasn't always rosy. Just so you know.
So, when he was 7, having ruled out Aspergers, we took Video Boy to have his IQ assessed by a psychologist who specialised in gifted children. She preferred Stanford Binet 5 - it has less timed questions and is more appealing to gifted kids who get bored easily. He did really well and turns out he is exceptionally gifted, with major over-excitabilities and a slight weakness in working memory, which a lot of gifted kids exhibit.
That answered a lot of questions! Now all we needed to do is get him appropriate educational options to address that giftedness and things would fall into place! Yep - we were on the right track now. Except after about six months, that gifted kids club was no longer functioning and we were still having meetings with Video Boy's teachers about his lack of written out and "not showing us his potential", despite him having a wonderful sense of humour and great general knowledge.
Outside of school we tried to interest him in swimming lessons, tennis lessons, martial arts, and gymnastics. None of these were a resounding success, with him struggling to match other kids his age and losing focus when he had to wait his turn. Sport at school was something that was endured, rather than enjoyed. The search for friends who had similar interests to him was limited to 2 kids (one in the year above him).
We moved him in Yr 5 (age 10) to a public school, hoping he would soon get off the waiting list and into the gifted class. Behaviourally, things took a turn for the worse, with increased teariness and anxious behaviour in the classroom (which quite frankly, bordered on scary), which attracted the attention of the school counsellor. He was also assessed at this time by the school's occupational therapist. She concluded that he had Developmental Motor Dyspraxia. OK - so this answered more questions! The bad writing, the clumsiness, the disorganisation.
We took him out of school and homeschooled - best thing we've ever done! I am able to extend him in his areas of strength and try to support the writing issues and disorganisation as best I can. But it's still very frustrating.
I've read up of giftedness (I now have my Certificate of Gifted Education), read up on dyspraxia and sensory integration problems. I've read up on executive functioning and working memory and underachieving gifted kids. We've tried eliminating additives and preservatives from our diets. I've tried instructional scaffolding and assistive technology.
And yet, I still find myself increasingly frustrated with my beautiful, bright, charming boy. And worse, he is frustrated and getting angry. And as the teen years loom ever closer, this is not how we want to be functioning!
And so we have found ourselves investigating Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (perhaps the more inattentive type). ADHD. Scary stuff - the media has not presented this well. Kids out of control, parents with poor parenting skills, medicating half our youth unnecessarily. It's enough to make you think twice. However, I actually read the medical and scientific literature, and when you back away from the hype, this is a condition which exists - just like epilepsy or diabetes or autism and is something that can be treated with great success - bringing wrung-out parents and their frustrated children back from the brink. And contrary to the media reports, is under-diagnosed, particularly in the gifted population where their ability can mask the disability (usually until they start high school, where executive function requirements increase dramatically).
So this week, after waiting 7 months for an appointment, Video Boy and I went to Sydney to see a developmental paediatrician. Armed with all our previous reports and a checklist, we/he answered questions, had a quantitative EEG, did the WISC-IV iq test, did achievement tests in spelling and writing, and did distractability tests. We also trialled a small dose of Ritalin and then did the distractability test again. It was a long day! The examiner noted he was very talkative (duh!) but increasingly de-motivated, restless and inattentive as the testing wore on (also duh!) and ended up at one point lying on the floor (can you imagine the school classroom! Gah!).
The paediatrician is not comfortable using the label of ADHD, but did say that Video Boy would be considered Gifted Learning Disabled (GLD or twice-thrice?- exceptional), which sounds counter-intuitive, but explains a lot. We will be trialling stimulant medication soon. I am really hopeful that this will settle those slightly abnormal brain patterns down enough to start to learn some good academic skills and settle his emotions down. Then we can start to see Video Boy really shine. The paed explained he is like a Ferrari, but stuck in second gear. On medication, we won't suddenly see him pour out 2000 word essays, but the subtle positive changes should make life easier for everyone, importantly including Video Boy himself. He also thinks there is a good chance that he will mature and the impacts of the condition will lessen, but that developing those fundamental executive skills in the teenage years is crucial for his self-esteem and positive family relationships as he grows.
Video Boy himself is relieved to know he is not a scatter-brain on purpose and there is not much he can do to fix it himself - "it's the way my brain is wired". He is positive about what the future might bring now.
So we start on new adventure. It will be fascinating to watch and observe and if we are on the right path, then it will be amazing to be a part of a blossoming of a boy. I thought about staying quiet on this one, but it's our journey - warts and all, controversy pending. And maybe, just maybe, things will work out and maybe, just maybe, someone else may be helped by our story.