Parenting a spectrum of girls

Posts tagged ‘gifted’

Love like only a sister

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M trying to be like her big sister

My goal of writing every day this month was for Autism Awareness (& Acceptance) Month, which is why I have been concentrating almost exclusively on M.  But today, in searching for what topic to write on, I realized that K really deserves the spotlight for a minute.

For one thing, K is amazing in her own right, and also has her own special needs from her high level of giftedness.  She has had an amazing year.  All As and A+s this year, after grade accelerating, being placed into a gifted program, and now accepted into the highest gifted program available nearby due to her SAT scores (she just turned 11). She was accepted as a returning scholar in a scholarship program for academic achievement and humanitarian work, for the 3rd year in a row.  She is part of a small leadership group at her school.  She has continued to work hard and miss little school despite struggling with chronic mono.  Her love of learning in all subjects is amazing.  Today she was excited to share a wealth of information on a number of topics, from her current vulture observations to the properties of Mars to Hieroglyphics to drawing optical illusions and pottery.

But none of this is really what I wanted to share.  Having M as a sister has at times been quite difficult for K.  First of all, she was almost 6 when M was born and didn’t particularly want to lose her status as only child.  Then M required much more than her share of attention over the years.  Also, K just does not understand M, their minds work so very differently.  She has tried off and on to understand, occasionally being a big help with M, doing things with her and teaching her things.

This week, K came home with a new book from the school library.  It was a sort of reference/self help kind of book for kids with autistic siblings.  She wanted to read it.  She WANTED to UNDERSTAND.  She started asking a lot of questions.  What an amazing young woman, to voluntarily seek out a way to understand her sister, and to help herself cope as a sibling, as well.

This has been an extremely bad week for M.  She is starting to show behaviors we have not seen since the beginning of the fall.  Today she even got in trouble at school for screaming at the para pro, whom she adores, and she rarely has problems at school that get a note sent home.  K has stepped in to help her sister when I have been trying to make dinner or complete my own homework.  She has spoken calmly to her and made proprioceptive activities and exercises for M to do to help calm her.  She has not once lost her temper with M this week, in a week where M has constantly been losing her temper with everyone else.  I know she wants to be an oceanographer and geophysicist, but I think she would also make an excellent occupational therapist ;).

I couldn’t be more proud of my girl than when she is helping another person.  And as a kid, siblings can be the hardest people to forgive and help.  I have some pretty amazing kids. 🙂

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Thankfulness- Day 2

For day 2 of my 30 days of Thanksgiving I chose my furbabies:

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Vienna cat and…

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Honey cat.

I grew up with cats…my parents had show cats that they also bred.  (Siamese cats, at that).  I loved my cats and though we later had dogs, I was never much of a dog person.  I like how cats are independent & are content to curl up on your lap & don’t lick or jump on you.  My husband, on the other hand, claims to be allergic (ie he doesn’t like cats 😉 ) 
As you may know, I have struggled myself with depression and anxiety since childhood.  Eventually we both decided that it would be good for me and good for the girls to get a cat, so last year on K’s birthday, off we went to Companion Cats to find an adult female cat that could tolerate our sometimes loud & chaotic home.  There we found Vienna, a sweet 2 year old lady who liked to play and be cuddled.  Vienna (the girls decided to keep her name from the shelter) is THE perfect cat.  She lets the girls carry her around & treat her like a doll.  She always sleeps with whoever needs her the most, and she is the most laid back, sweet kitty there is.  In her picture, she is sleeping on M’s lap after she curled up on our old glider in the basement following a huge meltdown this summer.

Since that turned out so well…about 6 months later I was able to convince hubby to let me take in a1 year old female feral kitty that a friend was trying to find a home for.  She was pretty aloof for a while, but she is finally running freely throughout the house and cuddling on my lap when I sit on the couch.  The girls decided to name her Honey because of her orangey-and-white coloring.  A isn’t brave enough to pick her up yet (she is learning how to be gentle with her claws…we don’t declaw our cats), and K doesn’t play with the cats as much, so she is pictured with M.

These sweet kitties have truly become part of our family, and I am grateful for how great they have been for me and the girls.  M & A used to be afraid of animals, but they aren’t anymore.  In fact, A is the first one to ask to pet someone’s dog.  And my husband has grown pretty fond of them, too…with no allergy trouble.  🙂

Guilt and Progress

One thing all mothers share, special needs or not…our constant companion waiting behind every decision big or small:
Guilt.
Today was a perfect example.  I have not been feeling well all week, dealing with a virus that is giving me painful, swollen glands, sore throat, headaches, body aches and fatigue.  By the time I left work this afternoon I wasn’t sure I could even stay awake another hour.  So, I decided to take a nap.  M was home from school due to a power outage, so I had her take a nap as well.  A was supposed to take a nap, but I couldn’t drag her away from her baby dolls & didn’t have the energy to try too hard.  But it was a difficult, emotionally painful decision.  The house was a mess after a hectic Halloween, and I felt I should spend the time doing something special with the girls since M was home.  On the other hand, I knew I would be very irritable & even more tired if I chose another option.  And this is how a mother thinks and weighs every scenario in a day.  It turned out fine, after nap we picked up K, ran to the grocery store which was *mostly* a nice experience together & cleaned the house while listening to Christmas  music. (Shhh…don’t tell my husband.  He has a “no Christmas before Thanksgiving” philosophy 😉 )  But I know I will still second and third guess myself next time I try to prioritize, especially if I put myself first.

I also know I am long overdue to update you all, so here goes:

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A: nothing to report, as usual.  She is very happy in preschool.  She did have her 3 year well child, where she was a very big, brave girl and earned her chocolate milk and cheeze-its.  She is in the 87% height & weight (thus why she & M almost share clothes) & the doctor was delighted with her language & cognitive abilities, stating she is right on track for a 4 year old, actually.  (No surprise to me.)

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K:  The mono is still kicking her butt a little, but so far she has only missed half a day of school, though she has to take Ibuprofen throughout the day to dull her awful headaches.  I am praying it is over soon, and that she doesn’t catch any other virus in the meantime.  She is excelling in her gifted program at school, especially science, her passion.  She has a FLL Robotics tournament next weekend, and she is taking the SAT next month to secure a spot in an even more advanced, rigorous program for next year.

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M:  She is still progressing on the meds.  We did end up increasing her dosage a little to twice per day.  She still struggles with changes in routine, some sensory issues and other areas, but overall what a huge improvement!  Everyone who knows her on any level has commented on how different she is.  She is HAPPY.  She smiles and laughs.  She has stopped hissing and growling at other children and plays more, with other children and with her toys.  The biggest thing is, she is more verbal.  Instead of an immediate meltdown she will tell me (in a loud tense voice) “I’m feeling anxious!” So we can remedy it before it escalates. She still stims, but not as often.  She still has her obsessions, but they don’t over shadow everything.  I can listen to something other than Taylor Swift on the radio!!  🙂  She still has not given me that hugging-me-and-telling-me-I-love-you-Mommy moment, but she has given me a couple of kisses & lets me hug her somewhat more often.  Today there was unexpectedly no school, and I got that sick in the pit of my stomach feeling that comes when I know she is going to lose it.  She was fine!  Overall a bit more tense and anxious today, but not terribly.  She was happy to get to wear whatever she wanted today (they have uniforms)!  Her therapist even noted the enormous difference, and said she had never seen anything like it before.  It proved that it was not lenient parenting (she had been pushing for me to be more strict) & she noted how remarkable that one thing in her brain was so far off that this medication could transform her so.  The brain is such a mysterious thing!  She even finally won her BeyBlade…a reward we put in place over 3 months ago for a week of good behavior!

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We had a great Halloween trick or treating for the first time, with Kaity’s best friend.  There was very little anxiety from M.  She was amazing.  So was A, for being only 3!  They won’t eat much candy but it sure was a fun experience!

Thankfulness- Day 1

I am so sorry that I have not posted in so long.  It’s been one of those months where life just happens.  I will have 2 posts tonight…and I plan to post at least once a day this month, with my November Thankful list.

Today is day 1, November 1st, so I chose the thing I am very most thankful for in all the world…
My children.

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Maybe not profound, but they have each changed my life and made it better in so many ways.  My life would not be complete without each of them.  In fact, I am sad and feel the loss when one of them is spending the night with Grandma!  (A trip A has not made yet, M has made a couple times, but K spends the night away from home on occasion.)

K:  My first born and enormous blessing.  My mom said that K saved my life, and maybe it’s true.  Although I was an unwed mother & ended up raising K alone until I met my husband 4 years later, I think she was a specific gift from God.  I was at a rough place in life and did not care about myself…but He knew I would care about my baby, which made me take care of and look out for myself as well.  I loved our time just the 2 of us, and we continue to share a special bond today.

M:  The child we tried and prayed for for so long.  The answer to prayers.  And a child who has taught me about different kinds of beauty and to see the world in different ways.  She has taught me so much, and watching her overcome struggles and working harder to do some things that come so easily to others has made me so proud of her…it has also taught me how to fight for what I believe and to fight to help others, even when others can’t see the problem.  Slowly she is progressing and I am still hoping for the day when she will hug me and say “I love you Mommy”.  That will be the best day of my life.

A:  Another unplanned blessing.  I think God gave me A to show me I was not a bad parent, and as a calm place when times got rough with M.  She is my sweet, loving, easy going child who freely gives hugs, kisses, snuggles & tells me I’m her best friend.  She has been a great companion for M and has helped teach her how to play.  She makes me laugh and is a joy.  She is my only child who doesn’t require special attention for special needs, which cqn be a relief.

My girls are amazing, each one of them in their unique, wonderful way.  I thank God for them every day.

The “other” dirty word

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K on her first day of 6th grade

Shhhhhhh.  Don’t say it.

At least, if you have to say it, don’t use it to actually refer to anyone.

Or, at least not anyone you know.

Certainly don’t say it in public.

You know, the “g” word.

No, not the “G” word, that’s ok, just don’t talk about the “g” word. 

It’s offensive.  You might make someone feel bad.

But, it needs to be talked about, so here goes…

My oldest daughter, K, is gifted.  Actually, I’m going to get really outrageous.  She’s profoundly gifted.

We can talk about special needs all day long, and despite the fact that there is still a lot more ignorance than we would like, most people at least kinda get it, are accepting and agree that students with disabilities deserve an education that meets there needs.

But when you start talking about the other side of special education, that children who are not just smart but truly gifted, who need and deserve a different type of education and programs to meet their needs, you hit a lot of resistance.  People think children who are gifted are already at some sort of advantage.  Or they misunderstand what gifted means and think all that’s needed is an extra assignment, like an honor’s course or something.

And when you tell people that your child is gifted, the response is not usually helpful.  I usually hear things like:
“You’re so lucky”
Or
“Well my kid’s smart too”
Or
“There’s no way she’s actually THAT smart, right?”
Or
“What did you do to make her so smart?”

Even the teachers and administrators at her elementary school didn’t really get it. They tried their best to dissuade me from advancing her a grade (she did 1st semester of 1st grade and 2nd semester in 2nd grade to complete 2 grades in 1 year) but the fact that they told me it was ultimately my choice proved they knew she could handle it. They told me it would mess her up socially and she wouldn’t make new friends, and that of course I didn’t want to rush middle school where she would clearly be a target for all kinds of problems because of her younger age.

For one thing, I knew my kid and they were so wrong, and I couldn’t have lived with myself if I didn’t advance her a grade. She is profoundly gifted academically, but also advanced socially, emotionally, creatively and in leadership skills. She is tall for her age and talks with adults, like an adult. Her friends always were older, anyway.

But having (or being) a gifted child is not easy. And the more gifted you are, the harder it can be. Sure, we’re not worried about her getting accepted into college, or paying for it for that matter (she already has 2 scholarships at age 10). Right now she is in a program for academically talented youth that I have a lot of confidence in and hope for. But it was very painful for all of us to get to this point. So much work at home to keep her learning and interested, trying to educate teachers who insisted she must have ADHD that she was, in fact, simply bored out of her skull. And there is a hyperactivity and a lot of things that do honestly look like ADHD until you study it…these are also symptoms of giftedness. Gifted kids are not easy kids. Smart kids, yes. Gifted kids, no. They are…different.

Then of course the dreaded kindergarten (Michigan has ridiculous laws like it is illegal for kids to enter kindergarten for any reason if they will not be 5 by 12/1 of that year), and pulling teeth to get her advanced a grade. A year after that advancement she was extremely bored again and we though about moving to a large southern city near other family where an appropriate program could be found for her. Fortunately we found the REACH program here, at Battle Creek Public Schools. Even then, last year she struggled with not being challenged in some subjects. She is a perfectionist and has a hard time working in groups. Most people do not think the way she does and she has a hard time explaining her work. It is difficult to find reading material on her level that is appropriate for a 10 year old to read.

It also takes a while for new people, even the gifted teachers, to see and believe what she can do at times. I laughed so hard at her middle school open house. Her principal from 5th grade was there and told me “they’re really going to have to challenge her, even in this program. But I guess they’ll figure that out pretty quick!” 😉

And don’t dismiss being bored. Yeah, it’s boring to review material. But when you’re gifted and being held back, it’s like being bound at the starting line of a race you have been dreaming about running. It is painful. And it’s not right. Maybe someone would have already found the cure for cancer, but instead of having their curiosity nurtured and been asked to perform their best they had to do “age appropriate, grade level work like everyone else, no ‘special’ treatment”, they got bored, dropped out of school and ended up doing nothing but goofing off. Sound extreme? It happens a lot more often than you would think. Gifted education is an important part of special education that needs to be talked about. Dare we dream that one day it become mandated and at least *partially* funded?

Oh, and while I’m using “the word”, I may as well break it all out for you…

I’m gifted too. I pretty much never say it, it’s embarrassing …like you think too highly of yourself. But if you take the false stigma off it, it’s a clinical diagnosis just like autism. And I was diagnosed gifted and given special pull out classes as a kid. So I guess I can say it. I’m no K, but my mind works fast and I get bored easily. I love to learn and I am gifted in language arts and sciences…but I have a lot of difficulty with math.

So, there it is. I have more to say about giftedness and the skewered way Americans view it and treat it, but I need to get to sleep. Maybe next time. 😉

September…aka torture for special needs parents

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Our family this weekend in South Haven, MI

                                    

Ah, September.  Apples, Leaves turning colors, crisp fall air and my favorite…Pumpkin Spice Lattes.  And, of course, school.

I have always loved back to school time.  It comes during my favorite time of the year, and just the smell of new pencils and wearing new school clothes is exciting.  I loved school growing up…not the social part (I didn’t have a lot of friends and got bullied a lot), but learning, after school activities and talking to teachers were always things I loved.

The year my oldest daughter started school I was a little sad to see my baby growing up, but she shared my enthusiasm for school and learning.  Due to her high intelligence she really needed to be in school as soon as possible, and she was also very social so she couldn’t wait to be a “big kid” and make new friends.  This year that same “baby” is leaping to another milestone and starting middle school as a 6th grader.  😥  She is ready, though!  She is in the advanced program and they will work with her at whatever level they need to.  She was ready for something more.  I am nervous for her, though.  I still have nightmares of being late to class because I can’t open my locker or find something in there I need.  I also know she likes to joke around and it borders on disrespect or sassiness, and that she gets super excited and talks too much.  Hopefully none of these things become an issue, and I’m sure the teachers expect that the incoming 6th graders will take a little training on the new, higher expectations.  I am grateful that I can check up on all of her grades and assignments online, even though I am sure that will not be an issue.

My youngest is much like my oldest.  She is starting preschool this year and is super excited about it.  She is laid back, very intelligent and extremely social.  While I am sad that she is old enough to be starting preschool (especially since she is the BABY!!!)  I have no worries about her at all.  She could charm the rattle off a snake and has enough intelligence to make her dangerous 😉  She, like my oldest, needs to be in school and is going to the same wonderful preschool the other started out at.  My only regret is that I can not drop her off at the classroom tomorrow morning since I promised my middle daughter I would stay with her.

Yes, M.  The middle child and source of 90% of my back to school anxiety.  Poor M has had an awful summer as those of you following my blog or FB page know.  She has been extremely anxious about starting Young 5s Kindergarten.  Unlike her sisters, she attended preschool as part of her day at daycare at the same center she attended since she was 8 weeks old.  (And for the record, it was the perfect place for her.)  I am glad she felt so safe in her cocoon of daycare, it made our life (and hers) much easier for years.  But venturing to the world outside daycare was a terrifying idea for her.  Then we found out her Y5 teacher was leaving a few weeks before school started!  We followed all of the ideas for preparing your child with autism for school.  We made multiple visits to the school, played on the playground, met the office staff, did social stories…none of it helped.  She insisted she was not going to school.

Then we were notified that a new teacher was hired, and off we went to meet Mrs. H.  She was amazing!  A special needs child’s dream!  The previous teacher left the notes I had provided on M (bless her!) And Mrs. H read them and greeted M right off with knowledge of her home life and preferences like “this must be your sister A, I heard you guys are best friends!”  She asked me questions, asked if I had questions, showed M around the room and concentrated on things M is interested in (like fire trucks and Junie B Jones books) and let her choose where she wanted to sit.  When we left I said “M’s new teacher is wonderful and so nice!” And M shook her head yes.  I asked her if she was excited to start school and she said yes, except she’s still afraid to learn to read.  We can work with that!  She now goes back and forth saying she is or is not excited for school to start but it’s a big improvement and if asked she always agrees that she really likes her teacher.  At open house (where we were only able to stay about 15 minutes because we had to rush to K’s open house) she enjoyed finding things in the classroom, but her behavior was very typically autistic.  She did not acknowledge that there were (many) other children and adults there.  You would have thought there was no one else in the room!  She did, however, frequently run up to Mrs. H and interrupt someone to tell her things or shove something in her face for her to look at.  She is not scared of her teacher (yay!), but she is obsessed with her (uh oh!)

Tomorrow will be interesting for M.  She picked her outfit (within the uniform type dress code), packed her bag and lunch and we are even bringing snack for everyone, so the surprises should be kept to a minimum.  She has her headphones, chewys and fidgets packed and her sleeping bag for nap.  I am dropping little sister (whose class starts at the same time) off early to daycare so I can stay with M until she gets settled (or until the teacher shoos me away), and I have the day off just in case I get “that” call that all us special needs parents anticipate and dread.  Today has been very rough.  I think she just wants to get the first day over with.  I just hope she doesn’t run out of the class or threaten to break anyone’s bones (like she threatened A with yesterday).

And I too am starting back on Wednesday, after a month off between my summer and fall classes.  I usually look forward to school myself, but this semester I am taking 2 requirements that are going to be easy and boring, but I just have to get them over with.  The professor might be able to make Communications fun, but I don’t think there’s much they can do about Intro to Early Childhood (especially when I’m already half through with my ECE degree!)  And of course we are also starting Robotics for Kaity and Dance and Soccer for Margaret.  Welcome back, busy schedule!  😛

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