Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Education, Special Needs, therapy, twins

Part 2: 10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed

This is Part 2 of my three part series about the “10 signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed” in my son. If you missed part 1, where I discuss sensory issues and motor skills, click here!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I missed these signs with my son. The reality is, I had a version of “Autism” in my head, what I thought Autism looked like. I thought that children with Autism didn’t develop speech (no words by 2-3 years old), didn’t interact with the world around them, exhibited stimming behaviors such as rocking or hand-flapping, or they developed normally for a time and then lost speech and relationship skills suddenly, usually between the ages of 2-3.

All of these things do happen and can be seen in children with Autism, but not always. Benji didn’t exhibit any of these issues or qualities.

His signs were much more subtle, but they were still there. Looking back now, I can see them.

4. Communication Issues

Benji was never diagnosed with a speech delay but he probably should have been.  However, both my twins were slower to speak but I reasoned that this was due to their premature birth (36 weeks) and the fact that they were boys.

However, the older Benji got, the more I realized that his normal speech was not “normal. I wrote more about this topic in this post.

What I didn’t know then was that many children with Autism have trouble communicating, sometimes in their actual speech, but even more so in expressing their thoughts, emotions, and even sequencing their thoughts into patterns that make sense to the listener. My son struggles in these areas due to his Autism.

Speech therapy is an important intervention that Benji now receives.

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There are so many ways to communicate with your child. Look at this smile! What a happy Benji (3 years old).

One “right” thing I did when my boys were babies and toddlers was introduce them to sign language. They were obsessed with Signing Time DVDs and probably learned 100-150 signs. Signing really helped us with the communication issues I wasn’t even fully aware of at the time.

5. Won’t respond to verbal instructions

A few weeks ago, I unearthed a 30 second video of when my twins were 2. In the video I asked Micah, “What’s your name?”
“Micah!” he chirped happily.
“How old are you?”
“Two!”
I then turned the camera to Benji and asked him “What’s your name, little dude?”
He didn’t respond or look at me. I asked him over and over again, “What’s your name, little dude?”
Nothing. I laughed in the video and I remembered how I felt perplexed because I knew he could tell me his name. He had done it before.
I then asked, “How old are you?” and Benji suddenly looked at the camera and said, “Two!”
I remember being pleased, and asked him again, “What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”
But again, he didn’t respond.

At the time, I though Benji was being silly or stubborn because he had answered these questions before. I just wanted to get his cute little voice on video.

But as I look back at this memory, his selective communication, his lack of understanding of one question vs. another, and his detachment from me and my efforts to communicate with him, I now see as evidence of his Autism.

Even now, at times, Benji struggles to understand directions, questions, and instructions. I often have to word things differently and encourage others to do the same, such as when we were at the eye doctor last week and the attendant asked him to “read the letters.” He was silent and I knew he didn’t understand (how could I “read” the letters? Those letters don’t make words!). So I asked, “Benji, can you name each letter on the screen?”

Struggling to interpret and then respond appropriately to the verbal world is a battle for many people on the spectrum.

6. Not “checking in” while playing

A few months ago, this video (What Autism looks like in toddlers) popped up on my facebook feed. One part that really suck out to me was when babies, playing near their mothers, would look back at their moms to “check in” as if to say, “Mommy? Do you see me? Are you still there?”
The mom would smile at her baby and the baby would smile back and go back to playing.

This is normal, typical development for babies and toddlers. They gain independence through crawling and walking but they still want to be connected to Mom and share experiences with her. “Checking in” through a glance, coo, or laugh during play is a way to share a personal connection.

As a baby and toddler, Benji never did this. We had a connection and a relationship but,  as I said yesterday, most of his awake time was spent wrestling with his brother or running at parks. When he was playing he was in his own “world” and he didn’t try to share his experiences with me or “check in” during his play time.

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Benji may not have “checked in” with me when he was a baby but he has special relationships with his two little brothers. Their adoration for each other is mutual.

When I first saw this video, I wondered,  Is this “checking in” thing for real? I decided to observe my baby, Eli, who was about 9 months old at the time.

I watched him crawl away.
Hmm! Blocks! These look fun! He started to chew on one.
My phone rang and I answered it.
Eli turned toward the noise. Then he put the block to his own ear, smiling and babbling.
He glanced up and caught  my eye, and said “Dada!”
See, mommy? Look! I talk to daddy on the phone just like you.

And there it was: “Checking in” (plus pretending. See #7).

It brings me so much joy to see my baby interact with me and the world around him. But realizing that I didn’t have these precious moments with Benji hurts sometimes.

7. Not Pretending

Many people with Autism are concrete, black and white thinkers. Pretending, imagining,  or taking the perspective of another person are often very difficult concepts to grasp.

For example, in a recent therapy session, Benji’s therapist had to reword all her questions to him because they began with “Pretend you are–”
“I don’t do that,” he bluntly interrupted. “I don’t pretend.”

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This was the only time my boys wore these adorable pirate costumes my mom made for them. Playing dress up (pretending) was difficult at age 3.

And it’s true. He doesn’t pretend. A yellow block is always a yellow block. It will never be a banana or cheese for a stuffed mouse to nibble.

Pretending or imaginative play is part of normal development for neurotypical babies and toddlers. I see this type of development in my younger two sons (3 and 15 months) as they pretend that a string is a snake or as they feed themselves “peas” from a green Lego.

But when Benji was a baby and toddler, he didn’t play pretend. Honestly, he didn’t play with toys much at all, except for certain types (more on that tomorrow).

If he does make up a story or play out an imaginative game, the game or story is directly related to something he has seen in a movie or read in a book. His brain builds upon what he already knows; creating a new world, game, or perspective simply out of his imagination doesn’t fit in his black and white paradigm.

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My boys love Wild Kratts, an animal TV show. I made these vests when they were 5 and they loved reenacting their favorite shows.

Did you know that the word “Autism” is taken from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self”?
People with Autism typically relate to the world as it fits into the paradigm of what they already know through personal experience (which can look very different from the experiences of a neurotypical person, especially if an Autistic person has sensory integration challenges).
In order to understand another person’s perspective, to understand different situations, feelings, or even cultures, you have to employ the imagination.

This is why personal relationships are often a struggle for people on the spectrum because taking the perspectives of other people requires the use of imagination.

Fortunately for Benji, he relates very well to stories and especially movies. By relating to the characters in his favorite books or movies, I can often help him see the perspectives and feeling of other people, or even help him understand himself more fully too.

All of the signs I discussed today were very subtle. They were there but I didn’t know what I was looking for…

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Stay posted for Part 3 of this series later this week!

Miss Part 1? Click here!

Want to learn more about our story? Start here!

Is your child on the Autism Spectrum?
What were the signs you saw?
What were the signs you missed?
Share your story below!

 

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow!
Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you!:)

© 2016 thebamblog.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, Special Needs, twins

10 signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed

The average age for diagnosing a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is age 2-3.

My son is 8 years old and he was not diagnosed as Autistic until 6 months ago.

I try not to beat myself up, but at times,  I wonder, “How could we have not known!? Why couldn’t I see?”

The reason is complex.
First, my son has high functioning Autism, and, statistically speaking, most high functioning children (Asperger’s) are not diagnosed until ages 7-8.

But still.  I was a very attentive mother–I was actually LOOKING for the signs because I had this little niggling feeling that something was not right. Plus, he was my first (twins) child–I was in hyper-vigilant mode!

I remember going from website to website, reading lists of symptoms or children with Autism.
I would tick down the lists:
No, he doesn’t flap his hands or spin for hours.
He can make eye contact.
Sure, his speech is a little delayed but he’s speaking more every day.
Awkward social skills? How can I tell?!

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Happy little Benji baby! Smiling, cooing, making eye contact. He never lost skills in his communication and development.

So many of the “symptoms” mirrored every day childlike behavior too:
Dislikes disruptions in routine. Check. Like every kid…
Sensitive about foods or how clothes feel. What 2 year old isn’t?

I tried to dismiss my concerns, telling myself his issues were just due to his premature birth, a quirky personality, and the fact that he’s a boy.

Looking back though, I really didn’t know what to look for. What I didn’t know then was that lists of symptoms on websites like Autism Speaks are very general. Every kid with Autism is different but there are certain signs that I would recognize now if I saw them in my child or perhaps another child.

Here are 10 signs of (High Functioning) Autism that I missed in my son that, looking back, I see were part of his Autistic tendencies:

1. Sensory issues (not just High Energy)

Most boys have a lot of energy. I thought my boys were pretty high energy but figured they were just “being boys.” Looking back, what I realized was not typical was their nearly insatiable need for stimulation (I say “boys” here because it is difficult for me to separate my twins’ behavior sometimes, even though Micah is not on the spectrum. Micah does have ADHD, which overlaps symptomatically with ASD at times).

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Such happy little balls of energy (2 years old)

One of our babysitters once told me that Benji used to run and slam into her over and over again. He would fall down laughing, and then rev up for more. She didn’t mind this game but, now, I understand that Benji was trying to stimulate his sensory system by jarring his body over and over again.

My boys would also wrestle constantly. In fact, if we were in the house, they were wrestling. For a few years (ages 3-pre-K) we left every morning to go to a park, etc. because I couldn’t handle the wrestling.
It was literally the only thing they did.
They didn’t even play with toys!

They would only wrestle.

These are just a few examples of Benji’s sensory-seeking behavior, craving movement and bodily sensations in order for him to “feel” the world or “feel” his body moving and working.

2. Sensory issues (not just Pickiness).

About 80% of children on the Autism spectrum have sensory issues; either their sensory systems are under developed and they crave sensory input (like wrestling, swinging,  spinning, or flopping on the couch over and over again), or their systems are over-developed and sensory input feels like an assault to their systems.

Benji has both. He is a Seeker and an Avoider.

I have written a lot about Benji’s auditory sensitivities at church, but even before that, I remember how he would do things like hold his ears and cry if the plates clattered when I was setting the table for dinner.

He is also super-sensitive to certain food textures. He refuses to eat anything wet and lumpy like cereal, oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt with fruit bits, or the dreaded, GRITS
(In fact, he has described grits as one of his “greatest fears.” That’s real grit-hatred, folks).

Another huge issue for us has been clothing, especially pants and shoes. I cannot even count the number of screaming meltdowns he has had because his shoes or pants did not “feel right.”

For a long time, I thought these things were just typical kid-pickiness. Some kids are just picky eaters and fussy about clothes, right?
I remember hating corduroy pants. My  mom made me wear them to kindergarten one day and I hated the way they felt and the noise they made when I walked. I never wore them again.

The thing is though, that I didn’t throw a 40 minute tantrum because my pants didn’t “feel right.” I just didn’t like them.

Sensory sensitivities can overload the system of an Autistic person to the point where he or she cannot not function or communicate.

Tantrums were part of my daily life. I didn’t know how “not normal” it was.*

Not every child with sensory issues has Autism (Sensory Processing Disorder can be a challenging diagnosis all on its own). However, I include Sensory Issues twice because it is such a huge part of the Autism struggle for many people, and I feel like it is not understood or talked about enough when discussing or diagnosing Autism. For more information on Sensory Issues, I recommend The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz. 

3. Underdeveloped Fine and Gross Motor Skills

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My twins, sitting up unassisted for the first time at 10 months

Both my twins have struggled with gross and fine motor skills. As they got into school though, Benji’s struggles became more evident. This struggle is tied to his sensory issues, often not knowing where his body ends and where an object begins (such as holding a pencil and pressing it with appropriate pressure to write on paper).

It seemed like a very  long time before my twins learned how to use a fork and spoon effectively to eat. They also constantly spilled their drinks; we used sippy cups until they were 5 years old.

However, now, my 3 year old never uses a sippy cup and rarely spills his drink, and my 15 month old can use a fork with ease. I didn’t realize my twins had fine motor issues  because I didn’t have anything to compare them too.

In their gross motor development, after my twins learned to walk, both boys were still very unsteady on their feet. They had poor body awareness and fell down constantly. I found myself finding excuses not to go on walks because inevitably, someone was going to fall down and get a bloody knee–cue hysterical crying…again. They had scabs on their knees for months.

Another example: At 8.5 years old, Micah and Benji just learned to ride a bike without training wheels.
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We are so proud! We seriously wondered if it would ever happen, especially due to Benji’s struggles with balance, sensory integration, and gross motor struggles (all of which he now works on in therapy).

In my research, I’ve found that many people with ASD struggle with fine and gross motor skills, or executive planning (thinking and then carrying out an action with appropriate skill and force). But before his diagnosis and my research into ASD, I had no idea.

The signs were there but I didn’t know what I was looking for…

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…this is just Part 1 of “10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed.”

Part 2 here where I discuss Communication and Listening challenges, Not Pretending, and Not “checking in” while playing

Part 3 later here where I discuss Transitions, Obsessions, and THE MOST IMPORTANT SIGN I missed

Want to read more of our story? Start here!

*All kids throw tantrums, some more than others. However, for us, the tantrums were frequent, over seemingly small things (sensory issues we didn’t realize), excessive, long lasting (20min-2 hours), and my son could not be reasoned with at an age when one can  usually reason with a child (3-4 years old).

Does your child have SPD or ASD?
What were the signs for you?
Share your story below!

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

© 2016 thebamblog.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Posted in boys, Encouragement, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, twins, Uncategorized

Sour and Sweet: The Power of a Stranger’s Words

This past week, I’ve had two different interactions with two different strangers concerning my four boys. Both women made short, passing comments to me about my sons. Both comments altered my attitude about sons and my day–if only for a moment–but not the the same way.

On Saturday afternoon, we went on a walk/bike ride in our neighborhood . Benji was riding his bike, Silas was on his trike, and I was pushing Eli in the stroller. Micah decided to walk/run. It was more fun for Micah to chase his twin down on his bike, yelling, “You’re under arrest!” while hitting him with a plastic sword.

At one point, the “you’re under arrest” game was getting a little too serious: Micah had caught Benji and was trying to throw him off his bike.

“Boys! BOYS!” I hollered down the sidewalk. “You need to SETTLE DOWN!!”

Right then, we passed the mail lady doing her daily route. She smiled and shook her head. I caught her eye, hoping to share a smile about the shenanigans of raising crazy kids.

“It only gets worse!” She quipped, walking briskly to the next mailbox. “I have a 12 and 13 year old…mmm hmm! I know! It only gets worse from here.”

My heart sank, and as much as I tried to shake off her words, they sank into me, like little burrs, irritating me with every step on the rest of our walk. I was in a foul mood when I got home (it didn’t help that my twins tried to throw themselves and the bike into the street–while cars were coming–at one point).

She didn’t have to say that. I’m not sure why she did. But it affected me.

This morning I took all four boys to the Dollar Tree. It’s the first day of Spring Break and we were in dire need of some Essential Items.

We loaded up with sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, bubbles, water guns, and other plastic crap, and made our way to the check out.

Bags in hand, I made an attempt to herd my little kittens out the door when a clerk caught my eye. “Are they all yours?”

11539035_10102113386324218_888264570455143371_oI always smile when people say this, hoping that my smile will make them think Happy Thoughts! towards me, but I braced myself for her response. “Yes! They are!” I said, a little too cheerfully.

“You were blessed with four boys! That’s amazing!”

I smiled again, this time genuinely. “Yes, and four adorable ones at that!”

“That’s the truth!”

We started toward the door but suddenly, I turned back to her. “Thanks for saying something encouraging. So often people…don’t.”

She didn’t have to say that. I’m not sure why she did. But it affected me.

It takes the same amount of energy to say something sour as it does to say something sweet.
Words have power and encouragement is a powerful thing.

Let’s use our words and power for good. You never know how your words will affect someone.

Has a stranger ever said something sour to you that ruined your day?
Has a stranger ever turned around your day with a kind word?
Share your story below!


I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?

If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in ADHD, Autism, Benji's Story, kids, life, Mom Confessions, Self Care, Special Needs, twins, Uncategorized

Part 2: Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD? Answer: Yes

Yesterday I wrote about our experience of choosing to use medication to meet the needs of our son with ADHD.

Choosing medication was a good decision for Micah.

However, I have two sons with ADHD. Here’s the other half of the story.

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Two adorable, sweet sillies!

Benji was diagnosed with high functioning Autism in October. Before the official diagnosis, we did a lot of tests, including tests for ADHD. We turned the forms into our doctor but they kind of got lost in the chaos of the Autism diagnosis and we decided to focus our attention on therapies to help Benji’s Autism challenges.

However, a few weeks ago, when we were in a therapy session, Benji’s counselor brought it up: “Have you considered that he might have ADHD?”

I nodded. “We did some tests for that but we never had a conversation. I would say he has ADHD–”

“–I would say so too.” She interjected, kindly.

“–but we kind of just let it lie.” I paused, thinking. “Micah’s on medication and it’s helping him.”

“I can’t make those decisions for you, but medication may help Benji, especially since some of his major frustrations come from not being able to communicate effectively.”

“Yeah, it’s like, when I talk to him, he has to process what I am saying. Then he has to think his response and then how to put that response into words. By the time he starts talking, sometimes he has forgotten what the original question was. It’s really frustrating for him.”

She agreed. “Talk to Dr. A. He’ll give you some advice.”

I thanked her but didn’t make the appointment for a few weeks. It was the same angst of “do we? don’t we?” all over again.

Medication was the right choice for Micah but it was a difficult decision. We did not make it flippantly or lightly. It wasn’t a cop out, or giving up on parenting. Medication doesn’t work like that.

The way ADHD medication works is to simulate the synaptic processes in the brain, the processes that are not firing in healthy patterns. It is a physical challenge that manifests itself through mental and behavioral avenues (The glory of the human body–it is all tied together).

But just because it works for Micah didn’t mean it would work for Benji. Different kid, different parenting, different solutions.

Aaron and I talked about it a lot. One of the reoccurring themes in our conversations about both Micah and Benji was this: We want to do what is best for our kids. We want to be good parents. If we actively deny our child something that could potential help them, does this make us bad parents?

But”Good” and “bad” aside: This decision ultimately wasn’t about US. It was about our son.

Ultimately though, I made the appointment.

I’m glad I did.

Dr. A. discussed the results of the initial ADHD behavior evaluation: “Yes, he definitely has ADHD.”

But, he did not recommend medication for Benji.

“Would it help his attention? Yes. But I don’t recommend this type of medication for kids with Autism because their brains and bodies work different. Anxiety is a big part of Benji’s every day experience. The medication would help him concentrate, and maybe even communicate, but it would up his anxiety. And then we would be in a worse place than where he is right now.”

It all made sense to me. I trust what Dr. A. said, as he is a developmental MD who is an expert in Autism, ADHD, and a many other challenges that kids face.

Even more than trusting an expert though, I trust my own observations about Benji.

Yes, he does have anxiety, sometime debilitating, and we we have a weekly therapy regimen and a bag of parenting tools to help with his anxiety (and many other challenges).

I don’t want to do anything to compromise his growth.
IMG_7939-2594342979-OSo, here’s the bottom line. I have identical twins who both have ADHD.
One is on medication
One is not.

Choosing medication to treat your child’s ADHD is not a one size fits all solution, even for two kids in the same family, even if they are twins.

Only you, and your team of supportive professionals, can decide what is best for your child, what will help him grow, thrive, and be the best version of himself, and ultimately what will help you both have the healthiest relationship together as parent and child.

So, the question is: Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD?

For us, the answer, not-so-simply, is Yes.

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. Please share your experiences below! I’d love to read a part of your story.

TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

 

Posted in ADHD, Autism, Benji's Story, boys, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, Self Care, Special Needs, twins, Uncategorized

Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD? Answer: Yes

When we were going through the Child Study process and Autism diagnosis with Benji, one of the steps was to “test” for ADHD.

I put “test” in quotes because diagnosing ADHD is not a test, per se. Rather, the diagnosis is based on observations and meeting certain behavior criteria.

We got a Parent form and two Teacher forms from the developmental doctor at the Autism Center and my husband and I answered 55 questions. Here are a few examples:

Avoids, dislikes, or does not want to start tasks that require ongoing mental effort
Is forgetful in daily activities
Is “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
Interrupts or intrudes in on others’ conversations and/or activities”
Is fearful, anxious or worried
Blames self for problems or feels guilty
Rate relationships with peers (1-5)

His regular ed and special ed teachers filled out these forms too.

We turned them in our doctor but they kind of got lost in the middle of the Autism diagnosis and we decided to focus our attention on therapies to help Benji’s Autism challenges.

But while we were going through the questionnaire for Benji, I turned to Aaron and said, “Seriously, Micah (Benji’s twin brother) seems to have more of these issues than Benji does.”
My husband agreed.

But we needed more “proof.” One of the criteria for diagnosing ADHD is that it has to manifest itself in two settings, like home and school. So I printed off a general list of “symptoms” from good ol’ Google and took it to our parent teacher conference at the beginning of the year.

We sat in small plastic chairs at a low table. I pushed the paper over to Micah’s teacher, a very experienced educator with a special education background. “I was wondering, are you seeing any of these behaviors in the classroom?”

She quickly perused the list, smiled a little, looked up at us and said, “Yes.” She then explained that she adored him as a person and loved him as her student. But we knew, as well as she did, that he was getting in trouble on a daily basis for impulsive behaviors.

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The day Micah got a Character Award at school

He would come home, crestfallen because he “lost another letter” that day at school. It became a daily announcement. When I would gently ask him what happened and why he acted the way he did, he just looked at me, wide-eyed and baffled at his own behavior, “I don’t know.”

So, I made an appointment with our pediatrician and we filled out the same forms for Micah that we had for Benji.

In addition to turning in the parent and teacher questionnaires, Micah also had a physical, a hearing test, and an eye test, just to rule out any physical challenges. He was healthy and could see and hear perfectly.

Our pediatrician agreed that Micah definitely showed strong tendencies of attention deficit disorder, as well as hyperactivity.

Next, we scheduled an hour-long, two parent consultation with our doctor about “options.”

The million dollar question was, of course, “How do you feel about medication?”

The whole diagnosis process took about a month, so I had been contemplating this question for about this long…in reality, probably longer.

For a long time, I didn’t really know how I felt about medication. Like a lot of people, I thought ADHD was primarily the combination of strong-willing (naughty?) kids and poor parenting.

And I “treated” my son…and myself accordingly.

But disciplining my son more or even trying creative and alternative approaches didn’t work.

So I looked for other solutions:

More exercise provided a momentary outlet but didn’t help his insatiable energy levels long term (I wished I had a recording of myself hollering “STOP WRESTLING GO RUN AROUND THE HOUSE!”).

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Taking out artificial dyes and greatly reducing sugar in his diet didn’t do anything.

Essential oils helped him to focus on homework some days, but not on others.

Nothing helped him with other challenges:
Listening (I often wondered about his hearing!)
Following multi-step directions (sometimes completing one-step directions was impossible without 4-5 reminders)
Forgetfulness
An inability to play by himself
Ordering his thoughts and speech into coherent communication

These may seem like small issues but, when taken all together, every day, in simply trying to communicate simple directions (let alone having meaningful conversation) the impact was crushing because healthy communication often felt impossible.

But even more than all these exasperating behaviors was the fact that I knew that our relationship was suffering because I was so frustrated.

I confessed as much to our doctor, embarrassed and ashamed.

And his response hit me in the gut.

“Sometimes medicating ADHD is better than screaming at your child all the time.”

He’s right. I thought. Because that’s me.  What we’re doing is NOT working. Something needs to change.

I was trying to do all the right things. I was trying to be patient and loving and give him a healthy, happy childhood. But I had reached the end of myself.

Our relationship was failing. Not because I was a failure as a parent or because he was a failure as an 8 year old boy, but because we needed to address his very real mental challenges with new solutions.

So after much research, many conversations, prayer, consulting with our doctor, and considering what was the Best Thing for Micah and our relationship with him, we decided to fill the prescription.

I’m glad we did.

The medication didn’t turn him into a zombie or change his personality. Instead, it helps bring his state of being down a few notches: Instead of operating on a scale of 8-10 on a daily basis, the medication brings him down to a reasonable 5-7 range.

He and Benji still wrestle, but when I tell them to stop, they stop (most of the time). The manic I-must-slam-my-body-into-something-or-someone is tempered.

When Micah comes home from school every day, the first thing he tells me is this: “No letters lost today!” And he smiles, proudly.
IMG_4389The most significant aid the medication gives him is his ability to capture and order his thoughts and words, to listen and follow instructions, and to be able to attend to a conversation for a productive length of time.

I can actually tell when the medication is wearing off in the evenings (it wears off daily. It is not an addictive substance), mostly because his speech transforms into one non-sequitur after the other. His ability to follow directions (put your shoes away) crumbles too.

Other than a reduced appetite at lunch (at breakfast and dinner he is a hearty eater),  a few days of disrupted sleep the first week he took the meds, and a bit of evening moodiness every now and then, there have been no other side effects.

Medicating our son’s ADHD was not a simple or easy solution. In fact, the way our health insurance works right now, it is crazy-expensive (over $5 per day).

The medication doesn’t replace the discipline, training, redirecting, love and patience he needs every day. It doesn’t control my son or replace good parenting practices.

But treating my son’s ADHD with medication helps me to have a better relationship with him on a daily basis. The end result is more love for this precious boy I’ve been given.

And love is always worth it in the end.

This isn’t the end of the story. Remember those forms we filled out for Benji’s ADHD? We just revisited his diagnosis…with a very different decision.

To be continued…

 

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Benji's Story, twins, Write31Days

Day 22: The Twin Factor: An Impossible Decision

Want to read Benji’s Story from the beginning? Click here!

Today’s post picks up where Day 12 left off….

The school year was coming to an end. “Anxious” was one word to describe how I felt–a nice, mild word.
My mind was spinning with questions, day and night: BiggerButton
What will the results of the Child Study reveal?
Will Benji qualify for Special Education Services?
Is Benji going to pass first grade?

That last question tied my gut in knots on a daily basis. When Benji’s teacher finally set up a meeting with us near the end of May, I was jittery with anticipation. But I was dreading the conversation.

In my heart, I think I knew the answer.

I was thankful that the principal joined us for the meeting. She had been a wise and thoughtful advocate for Benji, and for Aaron and me as parents, throughout this whole process.

We sat in tiny plastic chairs beside a kid-sized table. I felt a bit like Alice in Wonderland–I had fallen down the wrong rabbit hole and was in a strange world, in a situation that felt too big to handle.

We talked a long time about test scores, academic progress, intervention strategies that we tried that year; there were papers, graphs, data analysis.

Usually the talker, I was quiet for most of this meeting, my heart thudding.

Finally, the results:

“We are recommending that he be retained in first grade next year.”

And there it was: The Answer.

…but with a catch.

The principal raised her eyebrows at us, looking over the tops of her glasses. “We don’t do this for many students, but we are going to let you, as the parents, decide whether or not to retain him or promote him to 2nd grade.”

“Because he’s a twin?” Aaron asked.TheTwinFactor

She nodded, “Because he’s a twin.”

Then she added: “I’ve seen some interesting scenarios over the years, with twins. Just a few years ago, we had a twin girls, identical.

“One was struggling and needed to be held back. Then the next school year her sister, who was not struggling the year before, had her worst school year ever. And then she needed to be held back. Really interesting…”

I found my voice. “What do you think it was?”

She pressed her lips together and shook her head slightly. “I’m not sure. But if I was to guess, I would say it was something like…grief.”

The word hovered in the air and I absorbed it, fully, to my  heart and soul.

We had the answer we so desperately wanted–but now we had even more questions, and not just about Benji. 100_4729What about Micah?
If we hold Benji back, what will this mean for his brother?
If we promote Benji to 2nd grade, will he struggle even more to keep up?

What are we going to do?

It felt like an impossible decision.

Posted in Benji's Story, twins, Write31Days

Day 20: The Twin Factor: Smarter, Better, and other Ugly words

Miss a post from Benji’s Story? Catch up here!

When we chose to put our twins in separate classes at school, I thought that we would be shielding them from unneeded and painful comparisons from teachers or classmates.

But as first grade progressed, I was also thankful for separate classes for a different reason: I didn’t want Micah and Benji to compare their abilities to each other.
We had always told them that they had different gifts and abilities and we tried really hard to never compare one boy to his twin in a negative way.BiggerButton

But one day, all my efforts came crashing down.

It was our first Child Study meeting. I shook hands with the many teachers in the room, eager to meet the people on our team.
One teacher was a reading specialist that had been working with both Benji and Micah during the second semester of school. I asked her how Benji was doing in her small group, and her answer shook me to my mother-soul.

“The first time I met Benji I will never forget what he told me,” she said with compassion and tenderness. “He pointed to Micah across the room and said “That’s my brother, Micah. He’s smarter than me.”

I felt like I got the wind knocked out of me.
I was shocked–I had never heard Benji say anything like that before. I didn’t even know he was aware of any difference between himself and Micah.
I thought that the separate classes had created a buffer of safety from the bleak reality that brought us to that Child Study meeting that day.

I struggled through that meeting.
I struggled not to cry.
I struggled with the realization that my son felt he was, in some way, inferior to his brother.
I struggled to know how to address this issue with Benji.

What I didn’t know then was that I would have to discuss it with Micah first.

(This is a hard part of our story to write down–just being honest, ya’ll…)

A few weeks passed. It was homework time after school, that dreaded time of day. As usual, Micah finished his homework first and was anxious to go play.

“Come on, Benji! Are you done yet?”
“No! I’m not DONE!”
“Micah, leave him alone. Go play by yourself for now.”

I tried to encourage Benji to focus, knowing that he really wanted to go play too. Homework was usually the lowest part of our day. We both wanted to be done.

A few minutes later Micah was back, quietly whispering the answers to Benji.
Benji was getting frustrated. “MI-CAH STOOOOP!!!”
“Micah, no! That’s not the way. Go play! Leave him be.”
“Come on, Benji! This is EASY–”

And Benji came unglued.
“IT IS NOT EASY MI-CAH! IT. IS. NOT. EASY. FOR. MEEeeee!!!!!”

There was a lot of yelling, screaming, throwing books, papers, and pencils. Benji ended up in his room, under a pile of pillows.

I tried to talk to Benji for about 20 minutes but he was deep, deep in The Funk. So I went back to Micah.

“Honey, it wasn’t helpful to tell Benji the homework was easy.”
“But it was easy.”
“Not for him.”
“Well, it was for me.”
“I know. But you and Benji are different people.”
“Well, I’m better than him.”
It was a deja vous gut check.  “What do you mean?”
“I’m better than him. I better at the Wii. I run faster. I do my homework faster. I’m better.”
I didn’t want to have this conversation. Not now. Not ever. But it was happening. How do I celebrate strengths, affirm their weaknesses, and still ensure equality? This, right here, right now, was where my Twin Parenting had to get real. TheTwinFactor

“You and Benji are different people,” I repeated, struggling. “You are different, but equal. You are good at some things. And Benji is good at some things.

“And just because you can do some things better than Benji doesn’t  mean that you are a better person than he is.

“What we do, or don’t do, doesn’t determine our value as people. That comes from inside,” I touched Micah’s chest. “Right here. Every person has value. No one is ‘better’ just because they have different abilities.”

It took him a while to understand. In fact, after I had the same conversation with Benji later that afternoon, I was unsure if either of them fully understood the truth I was trying to share.

“Smarter” and “Better” can be really ugly words, especially in a home that has twins.  Comparisons can be so devastating and destructive, especially when they come from within. I tried to shield my boys from these issues by putting them in separate classrooms, but I couldn’t protect them forever.

And as much as I didn’t want to have that conversation with them, or address these issues, it was the right conversation to have, for that moment…and for life.

At this point in our journey, it wasn’t about school, or learning disabilities, or SPD–it was about shaping the character of my sons, and doing all I can do preserve the beauty of their relationship.

Because, ultimately, that’s what’s really important: Character, Relationships, and Brotherly Love.

Posted in Benji's Story, twins, Write31Days

Day 17: The Twin Factor: A Special Relationship

Want to catch up on Benji’s Story? Start here!

Our society is fascinated with twins, but they like to appreciate twins as two halves of a whole.
Just today, someone stopped my boys, asked if they were twins, requested that they stand still, studied their faces, and then pronounced, “Yep! They’re identical!” (Wait…what? Really?!) 😉  100_0682

I don’t mind this attention and neither do Micah and Benji, but from the day I found out I was having identical twins (one of my favorite anecdotes!), my husband and I have taken steps to help them forge their own paths.

We have purposely chosen to avoid lots of common “twin” habits and traditions.

We didn’t choose names with the same letter, or names that rhymed.

We don’t buy identical toys.

However, one time they bought each other identical toys! Last Christmas Aaron took each boy shopping separately so that he could buy presents for his bothers. Micah and Benji picked out the EXACT SAME TOY for each other. It was hilarious–and weird.

We don’t call them “the twins.” –they are two individuals, not the lump sum of their womb-relationship.

We don’t dress them alike–if fact, I rarely buy matching clothes.

100_0592
Ok, sometimes I dress them alike. How can I resist? They are so adorable!

Dressing them alike is adorable, but since I shop 2nd hand most of the time, it isn’t realistic. And actually, dressing alike has caused a bit of trouble for them!

Just a few weeks ago, they wore SIMILAR shirts to school (not even the same shirt!) and Benji came home crying on a Friday because he got in trouble for something that Micah did! Micah readily admitted that he did it and when he went to school on Monday, he purposefully went to the teacher and told her what happened.

“This is probably not the last time this is going to happen, boys.” I told them, laughing and shaking my head.

Being an identical twin has its own joys and consequences.

Most of the time, I don’t even think about the fact that we have twins. We work really hard to celebrate their individuality and unique place in our family.

100_4952However, this past year, as we journeyed through Benji’s struggles in school, the Twin Factor grew to a massive elephant in the room.

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Photo by Sabrena Carter Deal

In fact, the reality that he is a twin was THE most important consideration in the educational decisions we ultimately faced.

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Photo by Sabrena Carter Deal

In the next few days, Benji’s Story will examine the Twin Factor:
1. Why we chose separate classrooms when they entered school
2. When separate classrooms failed us
3. And…the impossible decision we faced when choosing the best educational option for Benji.

Stay posted!

TheTwinFactorDo you have twins? Do they have similar names? Do you dress them alike?
Are you a twin?
What is a special joy that you have experienced?
What is a unique challenge that you have faced?

Posted in Benji's Story, twins, Write31Days

Day 9: Celebrate Benji and Micah!

So, yesterday I said that today’s post would be about “meeting the needs of your SPD child” but…TODAY IS BENJI AND MICAH’S BIRTHDAY!!!

100_0886
My babies’ 1st birthday! How has it already been 8 years?!

I gotta take a day and celebrate my boys! This series has been about Benji so far but I have a whole block of posts coming up called “The Twin Factor.” Micah is such a part of Benji’s life–literally, his other half.

100_4729Parenting twins has been the hardest thing I have ever done.

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This is how I feel most of the time (Photo by Sabrena Carter Deal)

They have transformed me mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically (my belly button never recovered for one thing! We won’t even talk about stretch marks…).

I can still remember what it was like to be pregnant with my twins, to feel four little arms, and four little legs kicking inside me.

We were three heart beats in one.

Here are 8 fun facts about each of my boys on their 8th birthday:

IMG_4424
My handsome sweethearts

Benji
1. Benji continues to  love trains, cars, and all things fast!
2. He loves to run
3. He loves animals, and especially baby animals. He knows so many facts about animals too (Thanks, Wild Kratts!)
4. He has so many “favorite” foods! This morning, I made a meal he adores: Breakfast burritos! (Other favs include chicken pot pie, chicken, broccoli, and rice casserole, and cheeseburger soup). The way to that boy’s heart is through his stomach!
5. Benji is a caring big brother.
6. He has a giving heart and shares willingly and many times without having to be asked (toys, dessert, etc.)
7. He is great at building with Legos, both sets with instructions and making up his own creations too
8. He loves to tell stories (another post coming on this soon!)

Micah
1. Micah loves Star Wars, Ninjas, and all things weapons.
2. He enjoys going hunting with his daddy
3. He has strong opinions and leadership tendencies (sometimes this makes me crazy but I know that these are great qualities to have!)
4. He loves to go grocery shopping with me and is a great helper–he even pushes his own cart when I go two-week grocery shopping!
5. Like his mama, Micah is eager to try new foods at restaurants (he ordered shrimp last Friday!)
6. He is an eager reader and has started to enjoy reading books to himself
7. Micah has a tender heart and is a sweet and sensitive friend to his classmates at school.
8. He loves to make people laugh and works hard to be funny. Here’s a joke he made up (with a little help from Daddy). “Q: Where to Star Wars villains like shop? A: Darth “Mall.”

Thanks for taking a few minutes to read about my special boys. And thank you all who continue to read Benji’s Story. I have so appreciated the love and encouragement I have received from you all, both in Facebook message and in person.

Please come back tomorrow for more of Benji’s Story! (Miss a post? Catch up here!)

Posted in Baby, Humor, My Motherhood, twins

The BIGGEST surprise of my life!

I meet so many people who tell me, “Oh, I always wanted twins!”

Growing up, I never had this thought. Don’t get me wrong: having twins is great (crazy…but great!) but I never wanted twins, basically because I never thought I could  have twins.

“Twins don’t run in our family.” I remember my  mom saying.

And that was it. The end. There had never been…so there never would be twins in our family. Right? (see “Scientific Note” at the end if you are curious about the types of twins that run in families).

WRONG!!

The day I found out I was having twins was the biggest surprise of my life. Want to hear the story? It’s a good one. 🙂

Aaron and I were newlyweds and had just had the “when do we want to have kids” talk. We happily decided that waiting 3 years would be just right.

And God shook his head and laughed.

BOOM! I was pregnant the next month.

We were not happy. There were tears, terse conversations, hurt feelings, overwhelming worry.
We were only 22 and had been married eight months. I was still in college.

Aaron had an especially hard time adjusting to this life-altering news. The “plan” was that I would finish school and then he would be able to finish his degree. Now, that wouldn’t happen.

But, like it or not, we were going to have a baby. My first ultrasound was scheduled at 11 weeks.

“I don’t want to go.” Aaron told me. “The baby will just look like a peanut right now. I’ll go to the next one.”

I was pretty miffed that he didn’t want to go but I wanted to avoid another fight.  So, I sighed and went to the appointment by myself.

For anyone who hasn’t had a baby, first ultrasounds are awkward. I expected it to be like all the pretty ultrasounds on “A Baby Story:” a subtle hand-held monitor gliding gently over the mother’s belly. I certainly didn’t expect a curling iron shaped condom-covered stick invading my private sanctuary.

But the real shocker came when I looked at the screen.

The doctor was so calm. “I thought your uterus felt kind of big. You’re having twins.”

And then my brain exploded. 

April 20 2007: The biggest surprise of my life.

Not really. 

But I went into shock. I broke out in hot flashes and hives laying there on that cold table, covered only in a paper gown.

“I’m having twins?!” I choked.

“Yep. You’re having twins.” Serene doctor said serenely.

(How could she be so serene?!?!?!? How was everyone not FREAKING OUT? I felt like someone should be shaking me by the shoulders and screaming, “HOLY CRAP, GIRLFRIEND!! YOU ARE ABOUT TO BE A MOM OF TWOOOOO BABIES!!!! BECAUSE YOU’RE HAVING TWINS!!!)

And I was. There they were: two little gummy bears floating and waving and punching at each other through the hair-line membrane that separated them. Twins.

Twins!

After the ultrasound, I slowly got dressed, my heart racing and my hands shaking.

“Well, you just got the surprise of your life, didn’t you?” A nurse said when I came out of the dressing room.

I nodded vaguely. I was in a  haze.

Then I started smiling. I was having twins.

Then the smile turned a little twisted. Because Aaron wasn’t with me.
 Heh heh heh. Payback, baby.

I called him, inwardly cackling.

Aaron: Hey! How’d it go?
Me: Great! Guess what?
Aaron: What?
Me: We’re having TWINS!
Aaron: oh, haha! Good one. No we’re not.
Me: Yes. We are.
Aaron: (laughing) You’re kidding me!
Me: I’m not kidding you.
Aaron: (pause. not laughing now) You’re freakin’ kidding me….!
Me: Nope. We’re having twins, babe. I’ve got pictures.
Aaron: (laughing hysterically) [I heard a co-worker in the background asking him what he is laughing about] We’re havin’ TWINS!

I spent the rest of the day in a happy twin-haze. I smiled so much my face hurt. My ears also hurt from the number of people who screamed in the phone after I told them the good news.

It was one of the happiest, most surprising days of my life. 

This picture never ceases to amaze me.

And that, dear friends, is how I found out I was going to be a mother…times two.

So yes, even if twins don’t run in your family, they could still HAPPEN TO YOU. 

Scientific Note (for those who are curious): Fraternal twins run in families, which occurs when the mother releases two eggs.
Identical twins –where the fertilized egg splits–are spontaneous and can happen to ANYONE, although it is rare (4/1000 births are spontaneous identical twins).

And wouldn’t you know? We were lucky enough to get identical twins.