Work with me, please.

Archive for February, 2011

The Week of Mondays

I need a weekend.

Hubby and I had our follow-up, or feedback, visit with Dr. Mike, the neuropsychologist who evaluated Mae two weeks ago.  His finding is that Mae shows enough characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome to be diagnosed as such.  The strongest characteristics she exhibits are (1) difficulty in recognizing and responding appropriately to social cues, (2) lack of flexibility and (3) difficulty inhibiting herself verbally and behaviorally.  In addition, Dr. Mike told us that, during the testing, Mae had trouble with planning and organizing, which has not been a major issue in real life.  At six years old, she has not had much planning and organizing to do.

Dr. Mike asked how Hubby and I felt about the Asperger’s label.  We told him that we were not surprised, and at the same time, we had noticed that there are many occasions when Mae does so well socially that it didn’t seem the characteristics were pervasive enough to fit the Asperger’s or any other label.  Dr. Mike responded, yes, she is borderline.  He advised, however, that the label can be useful in making Mae eligible for certain interventions and support, and helping teachers and educators understand she is not simply being oppositional.  As I see it, it’s a matter of using the label with wisdom.

Dr. Mike recommended that we continue with social skills training and work with a behavioral therapist to help Mae learn to better recognize and control her feelings.  For example, a behavioral therapist can help her develop strategies for what to do when she feels herself becoming upset or frustrated.  We also discussed educational placement,  such as public vs. private school; balancing academic environment and availability of resources to assist with the Asperger’s characteristics; and summer camp with like vs. typical peers.  Dr. Mike was well-prepared.  He had researched and had ready information about therapy services and legal entitlements, and he had particularly looked for resources close to our address.  Once again, I felt confident in his knowledge and abilities and grateful that we will have him as a resource.

Dr. Mike described Mae as gifted and motivated, and said that he is confident she can improve her social skills and learn better self-regulation, perhaps to the point where none of the Asperger’s characteristics will apply to her.  The written report that we’ll receive in another two weeks will have more detailed recommendations, and we’ll give due diligence to following up.

On a brighter note (not that I consider the Asperger’s diagnosis bad, just a lot to process), when I arrived home from work, there was a letter informing us that Mae meets the eligibility requirements for the county’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) program.  This is good . . . I think.  We will not know until after March 18 whether she has been selected through the lottery system for a space in one of the county’s TAG centers.  Meanwhile, I could start researching other options for gifted programs (what’s funny is that Dr. Mike handed us a page about the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, the $34,000-per-year program that is an hour away).

Whew.  It’s been a week of Mondays and there is still one more day before the weekend.  Both Mae and Jay have been fighting colds.  Hubby just came in from an urgent care facility, and says he needs a nebulizer.  I have been getting to know our car insurance company intimately since I had a minor four-car accident yesterday morning.  Oh, and then there was the breast surgeon visit, which I actually did twice on Wednesday because I had been scheduled for the wrong doctor in the morning and had to return in the afternoon to see the correct doctor after I picked up my own films from my last mammogram because the doctor’s office forgot to request the films in advance, and scheduling the next mammogram visit for next week.  And, one of my co-workers didn’t come back to work this week because her baby decided to be born a whole month early over the weekend, and although we had agreed that I would cover some of her responsibilities, I have been afraid to go into her office because I am not quite ready to stretch my brain, and even if I were ready, I do not think I would be able to do it this week.

I am sure I will have an opportunity over the weekend to clear my head.  Maybe I will bake this weekend; baking makes everything better.

Greening the Boy

Newsflash!  Jay has expanded his diet from three vegetables to five just within the past three weeks.  He will now eat green beans and spinach in addition to broccoli, white potatoes (mashed or fried), and sweet potatoes (mashed or roasted).  He tried collard greens yesterday.  Although he clearly was not a fan of the greens, he took a few bites and I was proud of him for making a show of trying to like them.

Hubby and I would periodically put something new on Jay’s dinner plate and encourage him to try it in exchange for a mickey (our token economy whereby the kids earn recycled bingo chips for doing good things and use the chips to buy TV/computer time, treats, McDonald’s, etc.).  One night recently, Jay shocked us and ate the spinach.  I think he even surprised himself when he realized that he liked it.  A few nights later, he ate the green beans.

Fortunately, Mae has eaten green vegetables well since her high chair days.  Spinach, broccoli, asparagus, green beans, kale,and collard greens are regular in her diet.  Pretty good for an almost-seven year old.  Getting her brother up to speed means less time on meal preparation.  Some nights, we have had three different vegetables, or three different meals altogether.  Hubby kept saying that we should cook one meal, offer it to the kids, and then . . . oh, well!

I admit that I have been a total wimp and enabler in this area, especially with regard to the three and half year old.  Some things I would not readily tell a pediatrician or child psychologist:  I have

  • prepared multiple dishes for one meal in order to accommodate the differences in our preferences;
  • placed on the back burner dishes that Hubby and I enjoy, thinking that “one day” we’ll get to eat them again;
  • fed Jay his dinner, as recently as tonight, because he eats more and faster if I feed him; and
  • read to him while feeding him and fed him in front of the TV so that he is distracted and likely to eat more.

He is not a skinny kid (maybe it is the starch in his diet), and he will surely not starve if he misses a meal or two.  However, what he will do — or would do until very recently — is claim at bedtime, just as a hand is on the light switch and lips are set to say goodnight, that he is hungry.  It would take a banana, slice of bread, or extra cup of milk to get him to settle down.

I remember clearly what my siblings, cousins, and I were told if we said we were hungry after dinner time when we were kids:  “Go to bed.  If you go to sleep, you won’t be hungry.”  End of conversation.  Really.

For some strange reason, that does not work in my house.  One night, this past November or December, Jay woke up at approximately 2:30 am whimpering and asking for a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.  I thought he was talking in his sleep, which he does sometimes, and I tried to soothe him with, “You’ll have a nice breakfast.  Go back to sleep.”  I went back to bed.  Well, Jay kept saying that he wanted a sandwich and the whimper turned to a full-on cry.  I thought, “no way” and decided not to budge.  Finally, Hubby gave in and took the kid downstairs and made him a PBJ.  Hubby left him alone at the kitchen table and returned to bed.  I couldn’t see Hubby’s face in the dark, but I imagined that his eyes and mouth were pulled unnaturally close to his nose.

Even when he likes the food on his plate, Jay can take up to an hour to finish dinner if left to eat at his own pace.  He gets up.   He sits down.   He is on his stomach in the chair.  He is under the table, walking around the table.  He plays.  He sings.  He leans back dangerously in his chair, or worse, falls back in his chair, scaring us all and making knicks in the wall behind him.

Nowadays, the goal is to send Jay to bed on a full belly of at least a partially nutritious meal, and do so within a reasonable amount of time (i.e., before he claims that he is too tired to take a bath).  I am pleased that he is opening up to new tastes, and we will keep putting a little of this and a little of that on his plate.  Tonight, he ate rice for the first time in over a year!  (Yes, I know that white rice has limited nutritional value.  However, I am a SC girl and white rice is culturally important to me.  I have great food memories associated with white rice.  For one, it reminds me of my father’s mother.  I spent a lot of weekends with her as a child, and she cooked rice every weekend I was there, and probably more often than that.  I used to beg her for a plate of hot rice, nothing else.  I would add butter until the rice turned yellow.  Mmm, mmm good.  Even though I rarely cook it anymore, I plan to keep it in our diet.)

This afternoon, I sent Hubby a text that I need to have a mammogram and ultrasound next week for a closer look at a lump I found a couple of weeks ago.  He texted back that we should go vegetarian, or mostly vegetarian, because meat consumption has been linked to breast cancer.  My first thought was that vegetarianism would complicate our meal planning just as it is finally starting to improve.  I’ll have to think on that one.


“Single-minded” is how one of Jay’s preschool teachers described him today.  Ms. Anne told me that Jay went over to a group of older boys and asked if he could play football with them.  After they told him “no”, he came crying to her.  She offered to play catch with him and he stopped crying.  A little later, the older boys asked Jay if he wanted to play football with them.  Ms. Anne said she expected him to run at the opportunity, and Jay said no and turned back to playing catch with her.  She said that he’s that way, “single-minded” about what he wants to do.  She said that he is not a follower, and when he gets focused on something, that is what he sticks to.

Yep, that’s the boy I know.  When he was still in the womb, I wondered if he would be able to assert himself as a second child, especially being second to one with a big and strong personality.  And, people say that you get opposites.  Fortunately, Jay has shown again and again that he is willing to do his own thing.

How Do You Spell Relief?

I spell it s-c-i-e-n-t-i-s-t.  Mae announced tonight that she no longer wants to be a rock star.  I held my breath.  Would she go closer to the edge, or back away from the cliff?  She said, “I want to be a scientist because . . . .”  My mind trailed off to this past summer when we paid for a month of guitar lessons that somewhat held her interest.

Hubby and I were supportive of the rock star dream.  Heck, why not?  I began looking for guitar lessons when she was 4 years old, which is when she began talking about becoming a rock star.  Her 5th and 6th birthday parties had a rock star theme, and we generally encouraged the idea in the way that parents are supposed to encourage their kids to be whatever they want to be.  At Disney World in December 2009, Mae told every worker in the park who called her a princess that she was not a princess, she was a rock star.  Princess Tiana put her hand to her chest and gasped — in a wow-you-go-girl kind of way.

Well, despite her proclamations, Mae did not want to practice at home in between guitar lessons.  When we told her that lessons would end if she didn’t practice, she was nonchalant.  Later, she began saying that she would play with a band in the garage (that is, the garage of this home for which Hubby and I pay the mortgage) and give away CDs for free.

Truth be told, we have no reason to believe that Mae has any natural musical talent.  She is, on the other hand, pretty good at making up songs.  Last night, it was a song about the alphabet.  Part of it went, “We have to show the alphabet peace, love and kindness.  Letters come in all shapes and sizes.  They help us make words.  What would we do without them?”

For now, I can set aside the visions I had of her coming out of the American Idol audition room dejected and without a yellow ticket, returning to her childhood room that never stopped being her childhood room.

And (bonus), maybe this new ambition will convince Hubby that four weeks of math and science camp at $600 per week is a worthwhile investment.

Fingers crossed . . . .

Sleepless Indefinitely

We had a great weekend.  No basketball scheduled for Jay + Playgroup canceled + No birthday parties =  Free weekend!  Of course, more sleep would have been nice.  Jay flipped up our light switch at 6:37 am on Saturday.  Even though he clearly was not rested himself, he insisted that Hubby and I get up.  He wanted someone to play with him and he wanted breakfast.  Mae slept a while longer, but once one of them is up, the day has officially started and there is no reverse button.

So, we got ourselves together and went into the city for lunch at Ollie’s Trolleys and a visit to the National Aquarium.  The kids enjoyed the aquarium and both behaved well enough to earn an item from the aquarium shop.  Even though we’re only 12 miles deep into the suburbs, Mae and Jay become embarrassingly excited about being in Washington, DC.  Every glimpse of the Monument draws an excited mention.  And, somehow a McDonald’s tucked into the ground level of an office building seems to have a different impact than a drive-through with landscaping or a playplace.  Mae even said on our last trip in, only a month or so ago, “Look at that cool street cleaner” as a man in uniform picked up litter.  I put my chin down to my neck and prayed he didn’t hear her.

While grocery shopping on Saturday, I picked up these clever cereal-and-milk cups, foldable spoon included, thinking we had a solution that would allow the kids to fix their own breakfast on the weekends and give Hubby and me some extra time.  The kids loved the cups!  Mae read the instructions and then demonstrated for Jay how he would unscrew the cereal container to get to the milk and then lift the lid off the cereal bowl to pour in the milk.  She showed him how to unfold the spoon and how to put the pieces back together when he’s done.  She was her best and most patient big sister self, and he listened intently.

Well, I took more confidence from the darned cups than I should have.  We let both of the boogers stay up way past their weekend bedtime.  I was too focused on baking German chocolate cupcakes for my baby sister’s 27th birthday, and I didn’t want to break my flow to put them to bed or help Hubby put them to bed. (Comedians and pop culture commentators can say what they like about Martha Stewart; she knows how to put together a darn good cupcake recipe and I ain’t mad at her.  I admire her creativity and her ability to make a living out of it.)

Jay flipped our light switch at 7:27 this morning.  He didn’t seem to remember the cereal cup at all or that he was supposed to bypass our room and take himself downstairs.  On most weekend mornings, he and Mae are up within minutes of each other because they tend to wake each other.  And some mornings, if Mae doesn’t get up with him, Jay will lie quietly with us or go downstairs to watch TV.  This morning, he insisted that we get up with him.  As for Mae, she slept until almost 10 this morning, by which time I’d already finished at the gym and grocery store.

Thanks to my baby sister, Hubby and I were able to go out and celebrate Valentine’s Day this afternoon.  As I reminded the kids that Dad and I had a date, Mae told me, with disgust or disbelief or both in her voice, that moms and dads do not go on dates, teenagers go on dates.  Little does she know that the point of the mom-dad date is to act like teenagers.

Although Mae and Jay told their aunt that she would not be allowed to watch TV or use the computer, it seems that they had a peaceful co-existence for the few hours Hubby and I were out.

I’m blessed to have a great family and it was an appropriately sweet weekend, despite the lack of sleep.

Answers on the Way

So, Mae took the local school district’s Talented and Gifted (TAG) test on Saturday, February 5, as planned.  Kudos to the public school system for running a smooth process — they were organized and on time, for which I’m grateful — and to Mae for being patient and well-behaved throughout the morning.  She even described the two-hour test as “kinda fun.”  The test results will be mailed to us in about three weeks, and then we wait another three weeks to find out if Mae has been selected in the lottery process for the public TAG school near us.  I think it will be easy to the wait for the results because I’m not looking forward to having to decide whether we should actually transfer her to a new school.  Going from an environment that we know and trust into the unknown is a scary thought.  As I chatted with two other moms who were waiting for the test to finish, one said that she is trying not to think about the money she’ll save if her child transfers from private to public school.  Realistically, I think it is scientifically impossible to prevent thoughts of a new car (in her case) or new kitchen (in my case) from entering one’s head.  Ultimately, I am confident that Hubby and I will make a decision that will best serve our family over the long-term.

Yesterday, we took Mae for the neuropsychological evaluation that I scheduled back in October 2010.  The full-day evaluation assesses attention, concentration, memory, behavior, personality, social skills and intelligence.  It can be used to identify autism spectrum disorders, Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, developmental and behavioral disorders, learning disabilities, etc.  Talking to various teachers and other professionals, and reading and researching in an effort to find explanations for Mae’s occasional defiance, meltdowns, and impaired social skills has at times seemed like opening a series of boxes only to find that the label on the box doesn’t quite describe what you’re holding.  We hope that this evaluation will give us a better understanding, if not a label, for what we have.

After the appropriate introductions and rapport-building small talk, the psychologist, Dr. Mike, explained to Mae that she would take some tests that would help him understand how her “brain works.”  Then, she was carted out for two and a half hours of testing while Hubby and I stayed with Dr. Mike for the parents’ interview.  Despite having filled out no less than four questionnaires prior to the appointment, the doctor managed to think of another 100 (or at least it felt that way) questions to ask.  After a lunch break, Dr. Mike spent the last hour and a half of the evaluation interviewing Mae.  Once again, she was a real trooper and came out of the interview energetic and smiling.

Dr. Mike was personable, focused, and thorough.  He explained at the beginning of the parents’ interview that he is a postdoctoral fellow working under the supervision of another psychologist.  During a break, Hubby and I talked about how our first impression had been that he looked too young to be a doctor.  I would not place him a day over 25.  However, his questions, explanations, and manner conveyed sound knowledge, professionalism and sincerity.

Dr. Mike had actually impressed me before we arrived for the evaluation.  He’d called me a week before to ask some background questions.  And, I thought, “Wow, someone who looks inside a patient’s chart BEFORE seeing the patient!”  So, I think we’re in a good hands.  Hubby and I will meet with Dr. Mike again on February 24 to go over the test results.  And so, we wait some more.  It is at least good to know that some answers are on the way.

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