Parenting status: exhausted

posted by Jeff | Thursday, February 20, 2020, 9:30 PM | comments: 0

I haven't written about our parenting adventures in a long time, in part because it's really hard to narrow it down to any particular category of action. Looking at it in the broadest of terms, we have this kid being a typical almost-10-year-old while rolling with aspects of ASD, ADHD and anxiety. It's a lot to process, and there are days where I just wish he could be a carefree kid that things come easy to. That certainly wasn't me as a child, so I'm not entirely sure why I would expect it to be true of him.

School this year is sometimes a struggle, though it's not as bad as it was last year. Without having a Type-A overachieving principal (I need to publish her emails about testing that I FOIA'd from the district some day) this year, Simon's homework load is lower, and they're not beating the kids up about standardized testing. He does get some homework, and it's a consistent struggle to get it done. This is where our team and the collective advice was not serving us. Sometimes for ADHD, you need to chunk-up work, which is a logical strategy. However, we were noticing that the ensuing freak-outs about getting it done could be easily diverted, the "squirrel!" moment (familiar if you're familiar with the movie Up). His developmental pediatrician, the one prescribing the drugs, immediately called bullshit on this as typical age-appropriate behavior, not ADHD. He's been working the system so he could do the things that he wants to do.

However, throwing this back to his therapist (which is not at all covered by insurance, we recently learned), she was a little taken aback by this. It puts us into a weird accommodation vs. accountability problem. Sometimes he does need to be granted accommodations, but not always. There's no magic formula for this, because it's completely contextual in the moment. It makes it harder for us and his teachers, who are bound by his IEP.

Then there's the video game problem. Let me first say that I can't in good conscience write off games as "bad." I loved them, and computers, as a kid, and this love was almost always treated as an annoyance or waste of time. I won't do that to Simon. I'm even more cautious now, because I'm finally seeing some level of creativity when he builds things in Minecraft. This was my concern about his Planet Coaster obsession, where he mostly downloaded other people's work, but never made anything. I believe creativity is one of the biggest contributing factors to success, and I want him to exercise these new muscles.

Now the issue is that it's one of the things he most cares about, and it can be at odds with doing homework. A funny thing happened when we said he couldn't play games after school until his homework was done, but he could have a necessary break before doing it. The homework got done in bigger chunks, a little faster. It isn't consistent yet, but it seems to be working. We'll see how that plays out. At the very least, it makes some of the learning challenges a little more apparent. For example, reading comprehension isn't really achieved by scanning for keywords, and he clearly does that. Knowing that, at least we can help.

We've asked the therapist to focus more on social skills and coping mechanisms for difficult social interaction. Simon's social struggles are fairly typical autism things, where he fundamentally doesn't get social contracts. This got him into potentially serious trouble at school when he joked about something inappropriate. You can imagine how that rolls for a kid who is under the impression that being funny is what makes people like you. Then throw in the random thing where kids say they aren't your friend for no particular reason, and you know how that goes. He desperately wants to have close friends, but at the same time can engage in really antisocial behavior. He is me, and it took me years (and a lot of therapy) to figure that out.

We're also in the midst of drug switching, again. The ADHD meds seem to be working OK, but we took him off of the anxiety drug because it clearly wasn't doing anything. The doctor replaced it with Abilify, which is used to treat a wide range of more serious conditions, but in his case, it's intended to even out his moods and help keep the anxiety in check. So far, it's hard to say if it's working, but it's definitely making him tired. Fatigue becomes yet another variable to consider, and then you're not sure if we're making progress. I suspect the ADHD drugs will stop working in the next 6 to 12 months too, just because none of them seem to help for a long duration. 

I hate this drug experimentation the most. There are no silver bullets, because everyone is different, but non-scientific me feels like I can't know who Simon really is. I need to get over that, because we know what no meds looks like, and it's a mind that's always racing.

All of that challenging stuff aside, we've certainly had some wins, too. Simon finally figured out how to ride a bike, thanks mostly to Diana's persistence over a few days. We bought him a bike two years ago, and he's finally riding it. In fact, he rides it to the bus stop now, locks it up, and rides it home after school. He is also (or was, before the drug switch) consistently getting himself out of bed in the morning and coming down for breakfast. Given our concern about accommodation that might have been coddling, you can imagine how good it is to see all of this personal responsibility.

While he doesn't generally fit in with many of the neighborhood kids, there are a couple that he seems to connect with at least some of the time. His interests are often about video games, so that's where the connection often is. It's difficult to teach him kindness when little is afforded to him, but we see it now and then. It's a work in progress.

We're a little exhausted. Parenting is not without joy, but I never imagined it would be this hard. Simon is a smart little boy, a little different at times, but I have to believe that someday it will work to his advantage. I find myself worrying less about his long-term outcomes lately, and more about him just having happy times as a child. When he's 30, I want him to believe that we did right by him, to the best of our ability.

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