A few of you know my situation- I have four kids. Xander is 9. Juliana is 8. Vaughn is 5. Paisley is two. We've been struggling a LOT with our 9 year old lately and I've had a hard time finding anyone who would listen. I didn't want to talk about all these small issues in front of my son, in fear that he would think that I was talking bad about him or didn't notice that it was in an attempt to help. When I had approached the subject with his last pediatrician, I was pretty much told that our issues were a parenting problem. We ended up switching Dr's because this new one is a behavioral therapist. In an attempt to figure out what on earth is going on, I wrote this and sent it to him, asking him to review it before our appointment coming up. I've shared it with a few people and had the feeling I should share it publicly, just so people, if they are interested, can see what life is really like at our house. It's super long, though, so grab a snack and put your PJs on!
My goal as a mother is first and foremost to help my children know, without a shadow of a doubt, that they are loved. I love them, their Daddy loves them, and their Heavenly Father loves them. In my home, I want my children to feel safe, protected, and happy. My husband has done an amazing job caring for all of their physical needs. They have all the things that keep them safe and healthy. Together, he and I are doing everything in our power to care for our children's emotional needs. Somewhere, however, we are doing a terrible, terrible job.
My little boy, Xander, has always been very hyper, very lively, and very challenging. If he was bored for even 2 minutes, he was causing. And everything he did, he did in extreme. Even hugging him hurt because he would jump into my arms unexpectedly or plow me down in a full on run/hug. “He's just a little boy,” people would tell me. But I have watched children for my entire life. I have been around more children more often than I ever spent around adults. He ran circles around other little boys. Literally. I'd watch other moms call their children over, have to repeat their names two or three times, and then their child responded. Not my son. I'd holler his name eight or ten times, he would run over to me at full speed, run around me and go straight back to what he was doing without giving me a chance to tell him why I called him over. I didn't understand the joy of being a mother. While he spoke early and learned quickly, he was HARD. One of my friends suggesting cutting out red dye. After doing a lot of research, I decided it wouldn't hurt. We tried it and saw a drastic change. Still to this day we have banned the stuff. Every now and then I think that perhaps it's all in my head and we let him have red jello. I regret it for two days.
Alexander was diagnosed with ADHD one third of the way into first grade. We were aware of his condition long before his official diagnosis, but it wasn't until we had plenty of teacher complaints and emotional breakdowns that we finally were able to show it on paper. He started with Vyvance, but after only a few days, he developed a severe tick, clearing his throat sometimes every 3 seconds. We called his pediatrician and had him switch meds. At that point, we went to generic adderal. Things improved IMMENSELY!!! He could finally, FINALLY think before acting! He would clean his room after only asking him two or three times instead of throwing a fit on his floor for 6 hours because I asked him to pick up his books! He learned quickly that there were rewards to helping out and I often found him doing his chore without being asked because it finally clicked that after your work, you get video games or tv or mommy time or whatever the prize of the day was. Life was SO GOOD!!! At least compared to what it was before.
To be honest, we had very few problems the rest of first grade. How much of that was me ignoring any problems because let's face it, this was HEAVEN compared to before and how much of it was true, honest, improvement- I don't know. But first grade was a GOOD year for Xander. Then second grade started. We were blessed with amazing teachers for both first and second grades. Teachers that understood that Alexander behaved better when he was busy, teachers that took the extra time to encourage him and praise him when he had the opportunity, and teachers that communicated with me. Two of my closest friends hand little girls in Xander's class. Partway into the year, I started getting phone calls from my friends asking if Alexander was ok after events of that day. They'd tell me that so and so pushed Xander off the swing or this little boy blocked my son from playing dodge ball. The events upset these little girls enough that they came home and expressed their concerns to their mothers. When I would ask Xander about it, he would say, “Oh, they are just being my friend,” or, “They were just teasing, it's the way we act.” As a mom, these were HUGE red flags. Side note- he was invited to exactly two birthday parties that year and one of them I know for a fact was because the whole class was invited.
Then the complaints from his second grade teacher started. She didn't want to discourage him, but she knew how important it was for me to be aware of what was happening. Standards in the school changed and, at least in this classroom, the teacher was not allowed to move onto the next unit in a subject until the entire class caught on. Alexander has always been very gifted with his intelligence and he could just not handle this. Unfortunately, he started taking it out on the teacher. At one point, heeven said to her, “You need to stop talking,” when she was explaining a lesson for the umpteenth time. I was MORTIFIED. I had tried his entire life to teach my son respect, esp to adults and those in leadership positions. While I fully understand that allowing him to call my friends by their first name was a big mistake in that area, I didn't think it was THAT damaging. Always, from the beginning, when presented with a misdeed, there have been nothing but excuses, “it's not my faults,” and blaming others, if not flat out denial and lies. Tensions ran high in our house as he came up with lie after lie after lie, followed by a million and a half excuses of why nothing was his fault and life wasn't fair.
I can only explain the definition of fair and give examples of fair so many times before I start to break. Here I had this incredibly intelligent child who refused to think. After much discussion, prayer, and asking questions of others, we decided that SOMEthing had to change. I had many a friend who after dealing with somewhat similar challenges, decided to homeschool. We looked into different programs and felt comfortable with the k12 program, through Utah Online School. Without the support of my siblings (except one), we jumped in on August 1, 2012. Suddenly, my child loved to learn again. There was no fighting or arguing to get him to work. He was still on adderall and we learned quickly not to start schooling until it had kicked in. He changed! Xander was finally the child that I always knew had been in there, hiding. I quickly learned exactly HOW gifted he was, how creative, how funny, and how talented he was. To supplement socially, he still went to church, started attending scouts when he turned eight. He didn't have any close friends, just a couple he'd play with when I got together with my friends, but he found a couple that would play chess with him and that helped. I admit that I was in a little bit of a honeymoon period and overlooked a lot of things. Our relationship had vastly improved and I clung to that with every fiber of my being.
This year, my daughter decided she wanted to homeschool as well. So, I am homeschooling two children, have one in kindergarten at Harris, and I have a two year old. I babysit twice a week (sometimes more), and have enrolled Xander in piano. He still attends scouts. With this dynamic, I have started seeing some more major red flags with my son. Aside from still no close friends, despite plenty of social activities, I have been acutely aware of his serious lack of empathy and most emotion. Things I had attributed before to growing up and learning as he went were very unsettling to me. I firmly believe, at this point, that there is more to my son's condition than ADHD. I promise that I am not trying to create more problems, only to find how to best help him. If I am wrong and these are all parenting mistakes, then I need to be directed on where to go where I can learn to be a better parent. If these are actual issues with my child, I need to know how to help him. I'm at the end of my rope here. I don't have anywhere else I can go for answers. I will outline the biggest red flags here and give examples. I don't want you to think any less of my son for he is one of the most amazing, smartest, most loyal people you will ever have the opportunity to meet, but I feel like I am failing him.
Dishonesty- Xander's first instinct is to lie. Perhaps it's because I'm so in the habit of asking, “Did you,” instead of giving him the opportunity to fess up first. We have made it very clear in our house from the very beginning that if you make a mistake, you'll have a discipline, but if you're honest, we'll be lenient. If you lie, you have twice the discipline.
Ex: A couple of weeks ago, Xander was doing his math on the computer downstairs. I was upstairs and my 5 year old, Vaughn, asked me why Xander was playing Harry Potter. I asked Xander if this was true and after he denied it, I made an effort to look at his screen more often, but never saw anything but math. After finishing his assignment, I asked him abstractly if he really had been playing. He assured me he had not. When my husband came home from lunch, he went downstairs and opened the browser history. Sure enough, there was Pottermore. We explained to Xman that if he had been honest about playing it, we would have grounded him from computer games for 2 weeks. However, because he had TWICE been given the opportunity to tell the truth, we chose instead to delete his account. That was the first time in over a year and a half, that my son cried because he was sad.
Range of Emotion- Alexander has three emotions. He's happy, upset, or angry. I can count two times that I can remember him feeling sad. He does not feel guilty ever. He rarely ever expresses fear. Occasionally he will be content. But generally, he's happy or angry. He gets annoyed extremely easy, especially if someone acts to him the way he has acted to them. He has a quick temper and has been shown to be mildly violent. Of all of these, the most worrisome to me is his lack of empathy. He feels justified if he hits back or retaliates and sees absolutely nothing wrong with acting out if someone did it first.
Example: December 30th, 2013, we went to the Tooele Gymnastics Academy with a group. The kids were excited, I was excited. Finally, an opportunity to do something fun and not at the house!! One of Xander's incredible talents is his climbing ability. They have there a rope to climb. When you get to the top, you ring the bell. I LOVE watching him climb it. I even took video this time because it blows me away. I can't even HANG on a rope for more than ten seconds!! I'll interject here to say that I did used to allow my children to watch America's Funniest Home Videos until my 5 year old said one day, “It's not nice to laugh at people getting hurt.” It wasn't until then that it clicked that watching that show was doing NOTHING to teach the empathy I was so incredibly frustrated that my oldest lacked. We stopped watching it RIGHT then and have had many discussions since. Ok, back to the story. There were a LOT of people there the day we were. At one point, I saw Xander standing between two BIG boys- remember that Xander is tiny- his head met their stomachs and Xman had this GLARE on his face that he gets when he is really REALLY mad. The site was not a comforting one. The big kids were kind of poking at him, but they had looks on their face that seemed to me to say, “Really, kid? Go away, we don't want to beat you up, but if we absolutely have to, we will.” Alexander saw me and came over to me. I looked around to see what the others were doing and suddenly, my son went and PUNCHED one of these big kids in the stomach. I saw it and immediately put him in time out while I rounded up the rest of the kids because we were leaving RIGHT THEN as this was completely inexcusable. Then Xander told me the rest of the story. Apparently, one of the times he went to the rope to climb, the knot had hit him in the privates. These boys laughed. Xander got mad, punched one in the face, and then the other kids had come to tell him to stop. That's where I saw things. After apologizing to my son that these boys and laughed, telling him that I was sorry he was hurt, I then reminded him that he used to laugh at that very thing on AFV. I then told him he needed to apologize to the rest of the family because his actions of punching were the reason we were leaving. I don't know how MANY times we've talked about violence never being the answer. Let me make this very clear. XANDER WAS NOT SORRY. Not for making people leave. Not for punching the other kids. Not for anything. In his view, it was all these boys fault. He took NONE of the blame for himself. None. This is NOT the only time we've dealt with this.Response to change- I have learned to always give my kids warnings before we make big changes like leaving a place or ending video game time. I have learned this because if I just change something, Xander has a melt down. I am even careful about not telling him exact times because of the panic that follows not being exactly on time. If there is an unexpected change, Roger and I have to think very fast and come up with a plan B. If we do that, things are ok
Example 1: A few weeks ago, we told the kids we would take them to the movie. They worked hard all morning earning it. When we went to get our tickets, we found that our gift certificates were not valid at the Tooele theater. We instead agreed to get a redbox, popcorn, and soda. The kids were a little bit bummed, but excited to get popcorn. All was well.
Example 2: A friend asked me to watch her kids and have them come to pack meeting with her. They didn't come, didn't come. I told Xander to go get ready for pack meeting. There, on the stairs, my 9 year old dropped and had a full on tantrum because his friends hadn't come. Two days later, a different friend asked me to watch her little boy (also Xander's friend) until 10:00 PM. She finished early and came at 7:00. Repeat of the tantrum.
Response after rewards- My absolute favorite thing about being a parent is rewarding my kids when they have behaved well or accomplished something. I try to do this often in all kinds of small ways, but sometimes, they get to do something MORE fun. It is a rare, rare occasion that Xander is asked to go to a friend's house. I like the break, the peace and quiet, the lack of arguing, the being alone! However, we must all pay the price for Xander being rewarded. Even with a warning, even with the knowledge that friend time will be over, after he comes home, it's AWFUL!! He's mad that he had to come home, mad that he has to get back to real life, mad that he has siblings that don't let him play with all of their toys (even though he doesn't share his with them), mad at me for parenting. It doesn't matter the friend or the duration of time at their house, he is miserable from the minute he has to come home until bed. This rings true also when we do family things. Also, at bedtime, if we let him read for 20 extra minutes or make bedtime fun, guaranteed, he will repay by sneaking some sort of flashlight & staying up even later. Combine that with the fact that, also guaranteed, every single night he all of the sudden has to go to the bathroom SUPER bad just after you tuck him in or if he can hear the TV and you don't tell him what you are watching. I've tried bedtime passes. I've tried putting the next night's reading time on the line. I've tried simply asking nicely. I've tried yelling. I've tried removing all of the tempations from his room. Only two things have ever worked. Once, I threatened that he would not have TV for a week if he came out that night. The other one, I held a bunch of legos ransom.
Example: For Xander's school, they have an end of the year party at Hollywood Connections. This includes ALL the rides, a ginormous slice of pizza, putt putt, and roller skating. We spend a good two or three hours there. I warn the kids when the time is coming close to leaving and give them an opportunity to go on one last ride. Then we get in the car and it is nothing but arguing, crying because they are leaving, and full on fits. This happens after ANY family fun time, excluding the last time that Roger took the kids to the movie.
Arguing- ALWAYS arguing. My son, for all his intelligence, will argue till he's blue in the face. He has to be right 100% of the time. In his defense, 98% of the time he IS right. When arguing starts up, we try to diffuse it by asking, “Does it matter?” but it hasn't really ever helped. He must have the last word, no matter the expense. He also doesn't see that it is ever ok to be wrong, despite multiple conversations and examples of times when we've been wrong and it's alright. We've tried to teach him that it does not change his intelligence level to be wrong every now and then and that it is simply a part of the learning process.
Being the parent- I love that Alexander wants to help. I love that he wants to take an active role in being an example to his siblings. When, however, I am standing right there and he is telling them what they are allowed to do (or not allowed to do) and threatening punishment for misbehavior. This is NOT a rare occurrence. If I had five cents for every time I had to say, “You are not the parent!” or, “Please let the parent handle this,” or “Raise your hand if you're a parent! Oh wait, it's just me,” I would have a dollar a day!
Repetitive Behavior- I so very wish I could say that the previous two struggles were things that we had to deal with now and then or even just a few times a week. They aren't. We have the SAME discussions, the SAME talks, the SAME arguments, the SAME answers to the SAME questions Every. Single. Day. We have a few set things in our house. For example, you don't have to ask to eat fruit. You can't play video games or watch TV until everything on your to-do list is done. If your shirt is not filthy from the day, you can wear it to bed. If you didn't eat all your dinner, you don't get anything else the rest of the night, except the rest of the dinner. If I'm talking to somebody else, please wait until I'm finished. And yet, inevitably, I hear questions regarding those issues every day. Every single day.
Stutter- I mentioned earlier that when he was put on Vyvance he developed a tick. When we switched meds, it mostly went away. More and more lately, however, if Xander is trying to speak while still forming a thought, or thinking lots of thoughts at once, he stutters TERRIBLY. I have attached a video (your smart phone can take you straight to it if you have a Bar Code reader- or you could type in the link) The stutter is not an issue if he is reading aloud.
Non-observance- As I have said before, Alexander is INCREDIBLY intelligent. He remember almost every fact he reads. He retains details like you would not believe! However, his powers of deduction are non-existent. It's like it doesn't occur to him to think about something- to figure it out. It's gotten so bad that we have made “Figure It Out” our family motto for the year and I plan on doing a lot with Sherlock Holmes and even introducing the show Psych so that observing will seem exciting and like something he wants to do. Just asking him to “figure it out,” still doesn't seem to be enough sometimes.
Example: Xander's chore is to clear all the counters in the kitchen and sweep the floor. The other day, there was an empty glass coke bottle on the counter. He brings it to me and asks, “Is this clean?”
My response, “Figure it out.”
“I can't tell.”
“What do you do if you're trying to decide if something is dirty?”
“Uh, smell it?”
“Yes, smell it. Does it smell dirty?”
“How else can you decide if something is dirty?”
Silence. I kid you not for a whole minute.
So I ask, “What would something LOOK like if it were dirty?”
He says, “There'd be stuff on it.”
“Does it look dirty?”
“No.” Then he sticks his finger in the opening and rubs it all around, but it FEELS kind of gritty.”
“Well, NOW it's dirty because your germs are all over it.”
Attention and Eavesdropping- My sweet, talented, funny son MUST be the center of attention at every moment possible. He can go two hours not noticing a single other person in the room, but if his sister decides to dance and I start recording, he's there, in the camera trying to steal her thunder.
Example: Last time I decided to record Juliana, I asked Xander nicely to let her have her moment and to stay put where he was at instead of dancing right in front of him. He decided instead to be SUPER noisy- sighing, yawning loudly, or stomping his feet to make sure that the world knows that HE is on camera.
I feel like I can't even have a conversation with my husband if the kids are around because all of them interrupt like nothing else. I'm sure this one is just a parenting issue, but honestly, after 9 years, you think he'd at least OBSERVE that Mommy is in the middle of a sentence to somebody. On the other side of the coin, he eavesdrops with EVERYthing. He won't listen to a word I say if I'm looking at him and start by saying, “Xander,” but if I talk to someone ELSE, oh then he hears every word. He'll ask me to repeat stuff if he didn't catch it the first time or he'll ask for more details. I feel like I'm constantly reminding him that it was not a conversation with him. But then when I DO try to talk to him, he's in his own little world and doesn't notice it a tiny bit.
The last thing that is of gross concern to me, that I don't know if it's me being a crappy parent or if it's something inside him not working correctly, but he does not understand the golden rule. He does not give respect, save it be to a VERY select few people of his choosing (I am not one of them), but he expects respect. Everybody is expected to treat him like royalty, but he is allowed to treat everyone else like dirt.
Example: Xander does NOT allow Vaughn in his room. He doesn't want his Legos broken or his things lost and I try my best to respect that, so long as he tries again and asks his brother NICELY (which is NEVER his first instinct). But, on the rare occasion when Vaughn does not allow Xander in his room- you guessed it! Tantrum, fits, meltdown. I try to explain that because I give Alexander the same right, I will give that right to Vaughn and all hell breaks loose. Suddenly, nothing in the world is fair. Everybody is out to get him. Xander has decided that he is ALWAYS the victim. Always.
Please do not think that my son is a bad kid or rotten or anything like that. I am so blessed to be this little boy's mother. He has taught me so much, both about him, about the world, and about myself. When he CHOOSES to be, he is kind and thoughtful. He is loyal. He is incredibly creative. When he DOES put his brain to use, the things that result are astounding. His memory is amazing. When he puts his mind to something, he will put his ALL into it and he WILL achieve it. I don't worry about him academically or once he gets in a career. My fear for him is that he will end up alone. His behaviors push people away. I just want to help him. Please help me figure out how to do that.
If you read all of that, you are a saint. Thanks for letting me interrupt this little blog of mine to get it all that. I hope that some way, it may have helped someone else. I'll post updates if/when I get some answers.