Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Questions, Quirks and - SQUIRREL!

Written and published with Sweetie's permission...


So. It's the end of the school year. Sweetie's 8th grade year. Done with middle school - on to high school! I cannot believe it. Houston, we have a Freshman.

Mind you, this is not the end of any ol' 8th grade school year. This is the end of 8th grade at Sweetie's new school! The public charter school, listed as the 44th best public school in the U.S., that Sweetie gained entry into only last July, just weeks before the academic year began. It's a fantastic school and she loves it. Hubby and I, as well as Sweetie, truly believe it's the best education for her, and she absolutely belongs there without a doubt.

But. That's not to say her successes this year haven't come without a fair amount of struggle.

Whenever anyone asks us how Sweetie is doing at her new school and how she's liking it, we say she's doing great and loves it... but she's definitely having to work for her grades, like she's never had to before. No more "easy A's" for sure. She works and she tries and she does her very best for every grade she's received, and they're not necessary all A's this time around. But we're super proud of her. We know the determined effort she's put in and have watched her question, cry, struggle, and succeed. She's doing her best and that's all we ask. The effort has surely paid off.

But, in watching her question, cry, and struggle... in watching her get perfect scores on some things and really not so perfect scores on other things (like the important things - tests and quizzes), we really began to wonder what was going on. Trying to figure out why there's such a disconnect. She knows this stuff. She's a smart kid. She can do this! And yet - she hasn't been able to. Not very consistently, at any rate. She's not always been able to show what she knows when really called upon to do so.

She says she doesn't know how to study. Okay - fair enough. Her old school, and younger grade levels, have just not required her to work as hard to achieve success. Not as much has been expected of her as is expected of her now. Yes, she's "just" in 8th grade - middle school - but her new school truly is like a high school in what they expect of their students from 7th grade on up. So, yeah, I really do get that she's never been taught how to or been expected to really hunker down and study for any big tests, before this year.

But I know how to study. Heck, I've tutored study skills to many, many students in my day! I know what to tell her to do. I can help! And I have - several times this school year. She seems to be listening to me. She seems to understand how the tips I have for her could be helpful. And yet... she either doesn't follow through with utilizing my tips, or she's at least not utilizing them in an effective manner. Sigh... what to do....

And then there's that other aspect... Sweetie has always been quirky. Unique. "Weird" in the most awesome of ways! She, and we, have always completely embraced her unique, weird, quirky ways. Sweetie is awesome! Sweetie is great! Sweetie is smart! And... Sweetie is quick-tempered, highly sensitive, easily distracted, and not often the best judge of either understanding others' tones, words and/or behaviors, or able to accurately expressing her own thoughts and feelings.

Both teenager-hood and her new educational environment have made all of this much more apparent over this last school year.

Putting this all together - the disconnect with her grades, her studying frustrations, her quirky "personality" and behaviors - I finally decided to actively look into just what may be up with Sweetie. Is there something more - something we can actually help her with? So I sat down at the computer to do some searching. And, since the only "quirky" thing/condition I could even really name was Autism, that's where I started. But I was very quickly redirected to something else that seemed to describe Sweetie to a T.

Yes! Oh my gosh! This describes her so incredibly well! THIS is our answer!

Once I discovered how many traits of this condition jived with Sweetie's life experiences, I told Hubby what I thought. He was, at first, definitely not as on-board with my eagerness to pursue a diagnosis as I was, but he pretty quickly came around to realizing that it all actually seemed to make a lot of sense.

I wrote to Sweetie's guidance counselors. I wrote to her doctor. I asked, how do we figure this out? Hubby and I were directed by her doctor to a survey to fill out, and I handed over the teacher version of the survey to her school as well.

Then I told Sweetie what we were looking into for her, since I didn't want to be doing this all behind her back, and I knew her involvement would be key as we made our way towards finding some answers. I told her by simply stating, "You know, I've been thinking about you a lot lately, Sweetie, and I think I figured something out. I think your brain works a little differently than most others' do."

And she cried. "What do you mean?! I don't want to have a mental illness!"

I assured her that this was just my opinion at the time and this is just something she might have. I could in no way diagnose her myself. But we really should look into this. We are looking into this.

I told both her and Hubby about an awesome online magazine I found that has a ton of great information. Check it out here.

And in the next few days after that?... Sweetie seemed to come around. She was randomly asking me a few really great questions. What were some symptoms? Could I show her that magazine? and is it true that, if she does have this, she'd be able to get some help for her struggles?


Since then all three of us have learned a ton more about what may be going on with her. And we've enjoyed learning from a lot of great resources - key among them being this Youtube channel. Jessica, this channel's host, is awesome and really informative. We've loved watching and learning from her. She's taught us a lot, made us laugh, cry, understand and even relax. It's all going to be okay.

In the last couple months since we've filled out the surveys, gotten back the teachers' responses, and scheduled and waited for Sweetie's appointment with her doctor, Sweetie has really pulled a 180 in her attitude towards the possibility of diagnosis. She had gone from "I don't want to have this!" to "I don't see how I can possibly not have this!"

And we agree. It all added up to a big, fat, "DUH!"

Sweetie's new attitude was one of excitement in the possibility of diagnosis because, if she's diagnosed, she now has answers for why she is the way she is and - better than that - a path to getting some help. She knows how sensitive she is. She knows she can have a very quick temper over very little things. And I know she hates this. Any help to curb this - and other personal struggles - would be a great blessing for her.

But still... now I had gone from "person in the family who brought on this unpopular idea to look into" to "person (along with Hubby) who was now worried Sweetie wouldn't receive that diagnosis like she expected to get." I mean - what if the doctor doesn't agree with us? I mean - the surveys from her teachers did not seem very telling at all. She's good in class. She's smart. Nothing appears outwardly alarming about her behavior, as described by her teachers. All we really have to go on, it seems, is our own survey and our examples of bad/quirky/questionable behavior. Was that going to be enough?

Well - we recently had that appointment, in early June. And...basically, Sweetie's doctor is amazing. She saw how the teachers' surveys actually were noteworthy, in that there were noticeable inconsistencies in how her different teachers see Sweetie/what her classroom experience is like from class to class. Sweetie's been seeing this doctor for several years now - she knows Sweetie! She's personally observed some of her quirks. And she listened to us. About how she behaved this inappropriate way in Kindergarten. How her 3rd grade teacher observed this about Sweetie's motivation level. How she recently reacted when this happened. How this past school year and hormonal changes seem to have made her life-long "quirky personality traits" more prominent and obvious. There's something about these quirks and inconsistencies that just all adds up to....something, right?


Diagnosis: ADD and Executive Function Disorder.

Well then. Good. We all agree and can move forward from here. Starting with some daily supplements for Sweetie to take to help with focus, and immediately working to put in place a 504 Plan for the next school year, based on some suggestions for accommodations from Sweetie's doctor.

BUT - Sweetie's doctor also wants her tested for possible High Functioning Autism or Asperger's Syndrome. (there is a difference between the two, but only really in how they manifest. With High Functioning Autism, the young child struggles with language development. This was definitely not Sweetie's experience, so I'm leaning toward Asperger's, if anything.) The process to get this diagnosed is quite lengthy, and it means making more appointments for testing with doctors and psychiatrists who schedule out several months ahead. But it's a process we'll go through to get it all figured out.

This suggestion of possible Aspergers was/is surprising to we 3... but, I don't know... maybe not that surprising. I guess what we see in Sweetie as manifestations of Hyperactivity (impulsivity), and her lack of great understanding of social cues, among other things, is what's leading Sweetie's doctor to make this suggestion. She's definitely not H - she's clearly not hyper. But have you ever considered High Functioning Autism or Asperger's?

Everything we listed from there on out - Sweetie's poor time management skills, her literalness, her quickness to temper, her extreme sensitivity, her preference for structure, her sometimes troubles with transitions - all seemed to be another check mark in the Asperger's column, and maybe not so much a symptom of her ADD (or ADHD, as we had self-diagnosed.)

But, with the warning that we would be looking at at least a year-long process before getting any diagnosable answers on the Asperger's front, we knew we wanted and needed some sort of immediate help for Sweetie to grab hold of her challenges in the present. The ADD and Executive Function Disorder diagnosis, starting daily DMAE supplements, and a letter to her school requesting accommodations, function as just that - immediate help for some immediate issues.

I know there must be readers out there who think, you know, maybe it's just that this new school is too much for Sweetie. She can't handle it, shouldn't have to handle it, and would be better off in a less academically challenging environment. I mean, it's just been this year that she's been struggling under all the pressure of so many difficult assignments and much greater expectations. But I say, absolutely not! And Hubby and Sweetie agree. We know this is where she belongs. She does love this school. She just has a whole new world to try to navigate that she's never had to make her way through before. And it's difficult. Because she legitimately has some differences in the way her brain works. And now we know. And now we can move forward with greater success.

I'm actually extremely thankful for these challenges from this new school, since they helped bring to light some issues Sweetie has always had, yet has until now been able to fly under the radar with. Girls just don't present with ADD/ADHD like boys do. Boys with ADD/ADHD get diagnosed way more often than girls. Smart girls with ADD/ADHD especially can easily get by in the elementary years. But as soon as the stricter, more academically challenging middle or high school years hit, then everything starts to break down for girls with ADD/ADHD. Sweetie can no longer manage her time like she once could fake her way through, she can't afford to daydream, process the onslaught of rapid new information, manage trickier social cues, etc., etc., etc.

Imagine! If Sweetie had stayed at a hometown public school throughout high school, she likely would have continued to breeze on through, relatively easily earning her A's and high B's. And then? She would have gone off to college - probably a noteworthy college where perhaps she may have even earned an academic scholarship or two - and... flailed. Badly. So - yeah. I'm super happy that this has all been figured out now, so she can get the accommodations and other helps needed to get herself back on track, increasing her self confidence and helping her studies improve. If she can acquire the necessary skills, techniques and accommodations today, she'll be ready to tackle the world head on tomorrow.

Yes, Sweetie's got quirks. She's always had them. This "new development" is not the "fault" of her new, tougher school, nor is it new, really, at all. She's a smart, conscientious girl who has always loved school, has always treated her homework like her job - a job she has no choice but to do her best on and complete in the timeframe given. No complaining, no issues. She just has always done her work and gotten great grades, the end. So when that wasn't necessarily happening this year, and her quirks seemed to be getting quirkier, and she just didn't seem to be maturing socially/behaviorally like her friends and peers, we knew it was turning into something that needed exploration, not dismissal. We were no longer able to comfortably say, "yeah, we don't like it, but that's just the way she is. It's just her personality." Well, you know what? It is the way she is, but there's good reason behind it. And the good news is, it's something for which she can get help!

Sweetie is still Sweetie. Nothing has changed. Just because she now has a diagnosis doesn't mean she now has an excuse, or a label, or a reason to feel defeated. Heck, no! Just the opposite! If anything, she now knows that the difficulties she's experiencing/has experienced her whole life are due to a real medical condition. She's got nothing to feel bad about. It's nothing she's personally done, nothing we've done (or not done) in raising her, that has created the struggles she's been dealing with. Her brain just works a little differently than others'. And! There are accommodations that can be made to help her succeed again. Medication (if needed), supplements, techniques, and support. We've got answers. And with answers there is learning, growth, and - best of all - thriving.

The only real difference for us as her parents, as her family, is that now we too have answers and understanding. We see how she needs us to be more understanding of her quirks, and less angry when she's not able to do something the way we think it should be done. When she doesn't "get" something "so easy", now we know it's not because she's just being stubborn. She really does need help seeing things in a different, clearer way for her. A way that makes sense for her. It's okay. She'll get it, if we just give her time and help show her the way, in a new way.

Understanding leads to success. That's the name of this game. Set up the board -we're ready to play!