Friday, September 30, 2011

Early Thanksgiving

Although there's still another week until the official Canadian Thanksgiving weekend, Steve, Jonas and I are going to celebrate it this weekend before our big family gatherings. It's been a rough week and we need to remind ourselves of all we have to be thankful for. Our struggles sometimes get the better of our attitudes but we have so much to be grateful for.

While we struggled with our daily battles this week, my cousins Kelly and Brent mourned the anniversary of the loss of their son Ian, a few short days after his birth in 2006. A friend lost her dad after a hard fought battle with cancer and another friend lost her life to a heart attack. These sad occassions stir memories of the loss of our son Owen at his birth seven and half years ago. In a split second, it felt like all of our hopes and dreams for the future were snuffed out. As I know those other families have been, we were devastated.

That loss was something that Steve and I may never have gotten over if we didn't have Jonas and Tasha. In the weeks after Owen's funeral, we took Jonas on an aimless trip around the Canadian East Coast. It was the life bursting out of him that gave us the strength to come home again and try to put our lives back together again. Knowing that we had two other children with full lives in front of them gave us the strength we needed to get through the loss of Owen and embrace life again.

Jonas joyfully toddling on a beach in Nova Scotia in 2004.
Through our daily struggles we need to keep in mind how blessed we are to have those challenges to overcome, how grateful we should be that they are not worse, and how blessed we are for all the wonderful moments we are graced with. So, this weekend we'll roast a turkey and veggies and sit down to count our blessings.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

A Ray of Sunshine

It's been a frustrating week. There's not any one thing in particular, just a myriad of little things that don't let up. After a morning of constantly repeating myself to Jonas about the same things we have to repeat every morning, I started to feel the pressure of the cloud that sometimes seems to hover around us. Then a ray of sunshine poked through. There are lots of them, of course, but they are sometimes hard to see.

I wish I was one of those parents with infinite optimism, patience and understanding. Jonas is a wonderful kid. He's caring and thoughtful, intense and sensitive. He's creative, inquisitive and expressive. He's funny, persistent and joyful. Sometimes though, I fear that all his positive personality traits might not be enough to help him succeed in school or in life.

My Sunshine
Jonas sporting his new "faux-hawk" haircut
My favourite analogy of ADHD is that it's like having several radio stations playing in your at once, making it hard to tune into just one. Repetition, volume, rewards, consequences... It can feel like nothing is able to penetrate that static. Understanding that reality doesn't always help with you're dealing with it on a daily basis. I get scared sometimes that he's going to get lost in that static and not learn what he needs to to get by in this world.

Back to the ray of sunshine...

Before we left for school this morning, I wanted to take a few minutes to review his collage project. I was so frustrated with breakfast, getting dressed, teeth brushing and backpack packing that I almost skipped it and let him and his teacher work through it at school. Then I remembered how I felt on Tuesday when I realized that we hadn't helped him stay on track with this project to begin with. Letting him sink or swim at this point isn't fair. What we need to do is to help him learn the skills and develop the habits he needs to succeed. So, I took a deep breath and sat down to talk with him about it.

He was all over the place and it didn't seem like he could focus on anything. Then he stopped me to ask "Mom, why does this page say "an urban community" and the other one says "a rural community"? Just when I was ready to give up again, he came up with a question about one tiny detail that I never would have expected him to notice. We didn't talk about vowels and consonants for very long. It wasn't on topic and it didn't really help him to prepare for his presentation. I could have thought of it as another distraction but instead it gave me hope and made me smile.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: 3.5 Hour Homework Session

The assignment: Discovered in backpack on Tuesday morning.
Note that it should have came home a week ago and was due back yesterday.
No notes in the agenda about it except  one last week that said "bring paper".

Cut and paste took about an hour and a half, even with three of us helping to rip out pages of magazines
so he could find and cut out the pictures he wanted a little easier.

We interrupted homework for dinner and it wasn't any more pleasant. than homework time.
Meal time has become another battle front for us, not because of picky eating but because of lack of appetite.

Time to write a description of the pictures he cut and pasted to make his collages.

3 hours later, including a dinner break, and they were done.
We didn't worry about spelling or handwriting.
It was enough for one night.
Finally it was time for one of our favourite parts of the day:
Independent reading and story time.
Dr. Seuss and Scaredy Squirrel made it fun tonight
Demonstrating Scaredy Squirrel's fail-safe back-up plan to play dead.
Three different reading locations and one acted-out scene later, and all's well that ends well.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Earning His First Cub Scout Badge!

Jonas went to his first Cub Scout meeting last night
ready for testing on two of the badges he worked on over the summer.

He almost earned his Handicraft Badge, but forgot one step in his structure project.
Though he was disappointed, Mom was very proud of herself for letting him learn an important lesson.

He proudly showed off his collection of bottle caps...
And proudly earned his first Cub Scout Badge!
He will recieve his Collectors Badge once he is Invested in the Pack.
(Then he'll take one step closer to his Family Helper Badge by sewing it on his sash.)

UPDATE: October 24, 2011

Jonas completed that last project and earned the Handicraft Badge he was working on!

Monday, September 26, 2011

A Mom's Heartache

This past weekend's Cub Camp was one of mixed emotions for both Jonas and I. We made great memories but there were a fair amount of tears involved too - for both of us. The amount of time he spent getting along well with the other kids seemed to be counterbalanced by the times when he struggled to fit in with the other kids. After a day of mostly fun on Saturday, for example, he cried himself to sleep because he and his tentmates just couldn't get along. Even though those moments were only a fraction of the weekend, his smiles and laughter were almost overshadowed by them. It's not the first time and I know it won't be the last.

Jonas is different from most of the other kids. He thinks differently, speaks differently and acts differently. While there's nothing wrong with that, it makes his social relationships difficult. There is so much about him that is wonderful and amazing but other people don't always understand him. With that confusion can easily come frustration, anger and ridicule. As his mom, I struggle to find a healthy line between letting him find his own way in his world and his relationships, and stepping in to proactively make teachable moments out of those struggles. It's a fine line to walk. Kids tune us out if we talk too much, and a child can get labeled quickly - and miss out on important life lessons - if his mommy is always running to his rescue.

It can be tough to know where the line between healthy and unhealthy peer pressure is sometimes. Emotions can run high and it's hard to know when and how to intervene, especially when it's your own child who is in emotional distress. I felt like the worst mother in the world as he cried on Saturday night. It broke my heart to hear him in the tent beside me, whimpering "Nobody cares about me" and then quietly whispering "God, please just let me be a good boy."  Every instinct in my body was telling me to go to him and comfort him. 

I didn't need to because Jonas and I are blessed to be with a great group that recognizes that he and I struggle with this. There is always another leader there to help Jonas, leaving him and I to have mother and son moments in private, non-Scouts time. We're not the only parent-child combo in our group and we all step in to help each other deal with our own children. This takes some of the emotional confusion out of it and also avoids to appearance of a leader reverting to parent to protect their own child. It's the best of both worlds really. I can be with Jonas in Cubs as one of his leaders, but also build memories with him as his mom at the same time.

That's one of the things I love about Scouts. It allows kids from all walks of life to find a place where they belong. Welcoming everyone and them feeling welcome is not always an instantaneous process. This is true at school and any other group they come to be a part of. We have youth in our group from all different socioeconomic, family and health backgrounds. ADHD and Autism are but two of the life conditions we are faced with and it takes time for everyone to understand and respect each other. As leaders, teachers, and parents, it's our responsibility to work together to help these kids to feel welcome, to build their self-esteem and their self-confidence. A huge part this is educating ourselves and the other youth to better understand and accept their differences, and to respect each other for them. This is something that Scouts does very well and I am so grateful for that.


Sunday, September 25, 2011

Scouter Mom Goes Camping

When I told a friend that I was going to Cub Scout camp this weekend she looked at me like I had three heads. "And you're looking forward to this?!" she sputtered as coffee shot out her nose. Yup, I was. Now that I'm back I can truthfully say that I'm glad I went and I'm looking forward to our next camp next month.

I was one of three leaders who took twelve kids and one young Leader in Training to Dorchester International Cub Camp this weekend. Jonas was one of the 12 and ours was one of 62 groups, made up of about 700 youth, who slept in tents and used port-potties, on a September weekend that started with torrential rains on Friday. It was great.

There were a couple dozen events for the youth to experience on Saturday, including leatherwork, rope  making, zip-lining, rappelling and a huge army-type obstacle course. We also had hot chocolate,  marshmallows and campfire songs at night. The best part for me though, and I suspect all of the kids involved, was a HUGE, impromptu, completely kid-led, light saber battle during their freeplay time.  (The theme for the weekend was Star Wars.) There must have been at least 70 kids battling on either the "Foam"  or "Plastic" teams, playing a game that seemed to be a hybrid of light saber fighting and freeze tag.  (Our Pack was on the Plastic team because they had plastic light sabers.) They must have played for an hour and it was all smiles. Nobody was injured, no feelings were hurt and everyone came away feeling like a winner. Although a few of us old folks watched, no adult intervention was needed. It was very cool.

That sort of thing is one of the reasons I love being a Scout Leader. It's so rewarding. Helping to guide a group of youth, even when I'm just observing, is pretty amazing stuff. I met most of our Cubs a couple of years ago and to see them grow and develop is incredible.Watching them create an event like that out of their collective imaginations, and be able to manage themselves so smoothly  was something I'll never forget.

Being a Scout Leader can be pure pleasure, like watching that battle or teaching them a new skill, but it's not all easy peasy though. Discipline is tough. At this age, they're still learning self-regulation. Our job is to help instill a sense of responsibility in them, to teach them about respecting themselves and others, and to encourage them to do for themselves. We also have to provide clear boundaries and rules for them. The consequences get a little steeper as they get older but they don't always think or care about them. It's a little like being a parent.

Actually, separating the leader in me from the mom in me is my toughest challenge. It can be heart-achingly difficult sometimes. We have a few youth in our group, Jonas included, who demand extra patience and understanding. In fact, they all have their moments. There's a fine line between allowing kids to be kids and learn from each other, and throwing them to the wolves. Group camping is one those life experiences that teaches us all a little more about ourselves and each other, and I wouldn't have missed it for the world.

If I had of, I would have also missed the flip side of one of those painful struggles I just mentioned.  As I tried to restrain myself from being overprotective and intervening prematurely, one of the girls tried to comfort one of the boys when he was struggling. I smiled when she put her arm around him, and had to try not to laugh when she told him to "close your eyes and imagine you are wearing your favorite pink dress and playing princesses with your best friend." Kids. They're incredible!


Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Life's Little Battles

Reading out loud is tough for Jonas, especially tongue twisters.
Dr. Seuss and our "you read to me and I'll read to you" strategy makes it fun.
He says it makes him feel like he can do anything.
I love fishing but ever since I was scared by a muskie as a kid, I've had a fish phobia.
With the help of my friends, I face my fear every year.
Holding one I've caught makes me feel like I can do anything.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Great Meeting with the Teacher!

Wanting to start the year off with good communication with the school, Steve and I scheduled a meeting with Jonas's new teacher on Thursday after school. We originally set-up babysitting so he and I could go alone but his teacher asked that he attend as well. We had mixed emotions about that. We want him to be an equal partner in his education but by 4:30pm his meds are wearing off and he starts to go off the rails. Steve and I were both worried that we'd spend the meeting trying to manage his behaviour instead of talking with the teacher.

With a lot of deep breaths, we headed into the school not quite sure what to expect. The fact that he came home with a note saying that he got very little done in math class that day made me really start to dread hearing what else she had to say. Sitting at the little table in the back of the class in those tiny chairs flashed me back to waiting outside the Principal's office when I was a kid.

We needn't have worried. It went really well despite that fact that he was bouncing off the walls - and slithering around on the floor like a snake.

His new teacher is Mrs. G. We were immediately put at ease when she told us that she did her Masters Degree in Education on kids with ADHD, and that her now 24 year old son was diagnosed with ADD with he was 6. We were also relieved when she said Jonas's behaviour that night was not something they usually see in school. Phew! He does have his moments but she's not overly concerned with his behaviour as long as we all work together to monitor it and help him learn to self-regulate.

She met us with a highlighted copy of our letter in hand. We went through it together, adressing each issue point by point, elaborating on many, as well as touching on some that weren't covered in the letter. She had a lot of great ideas and suggestions for both school and home. Here are the main ones:
  • He's allowed to stand up at his desk to do his work, as long as he's not distrubing the other students.
  • She keeps a huge staff of sharpened pencils at her desk so he doesn't need to get caught up with the pencil sharpener.
  • She loves free time and hates homework. She'd rather cut a little play time during the day to get things done so that it doesn't have to go home. She will only send uncompleted work home if he wastes an excessive amount of time that will really impact his freetime. His only regular daily homework is 30 minutes of independant reading.
  • She doesn't like spelling lists. She prefers to catch spelling errors in their every day work. She doesn't correct their errors but teaches them to use a dictionary to look up the words. (If they're really off, she'll give them the first three letters.)
  • She is starting a "Homework Club". Jonas and a few other kids who are having a hard time with the notes in their agendas will meet with Mrs.G for five minutes afterschool every day to review and make sure their notes are clear and they understand what they mean.
  • She's going to remind him to get his water bottle and put it on his desk every morning when he gets his agenda out. He can also have a Boost/Ensure on his desk instead of his water bottle. (Her son had dramatic appetite issues so she gets it.)
  • An afterschool tutoring program should be up and running in a few weeks, and he's also going to join the home reading program again as well.
  • He can read anything that interests him during independant reading time, as long as it's actual reading and not looking at the pictures and making up stories to go with them. She also gave us a new on-line reading comprehension program to try out.
  • They practice telling the time anytime he leaves or arrives in the classroom. (i.e. washroom breaks)
  • Jonas is going to join the cross country and guitar clubs, which happen before school and at lunch time.
  • Together we're working on teaching him personal responsibility so "The ADHD made me do it!" isn't a valid excuse for anything and neither is "She made me do it!" If he breaks the rules, he loses his star for the day, even if he "was only talking to her because it's rude not to acknowledge when somebody talks to us".
  • She has grouped the ADHD students together in the class. (There are 4 of them.) I was worried about them distracting each other but she says it's easier for her to manage their behaviour without drawing attention to them when they sit together. She can simply walk by and place her hand on the desk and all four snap back to attention.
  • They are working on code words to help him refocus when he's having a tough time. "Focus" is one that he likes.
  • She uses the same techniques to help manage his speech issues as we do and is very sensative to how the other students precieve him. She treats anything that comes up on her watch as a teachable moment and she doesn't tolerate bullying. If anybody gives Jonas a hard time about the way he speaks, he is to tell her so that they can deal with it together.
  • He can use a computer at school or at home for homework as long as he keeps practicing his handwriting too.
  • She uses a Star Program: A good day of rule following nets them a star at the end of the day, which they can trade in at the end of the week for rewards.
  • We're starting to think about the Ontario EQOA Testing in May. He's already nervous about it and there's no way he'll get through it without some formal strategies in place.

We covered a lot of ground in that hour or so. It was so refreshing not to walk out feeling defeated or frustrated. Jonas left the meeting knowing that mom, dad and Mrs. G are a team and on his side. Steve and I left the meeting feeling very relieved that he is in such good hands. Phew!


Monday, September 19, 2011

Thank You Fish N Chix!

Fish N Chix weekend was great!
It was exactly what I needed to refocus, re-prioritize and re-charge my batteries.
I feel ready for life again.

I am blessed with amazing friends. The Fish N Chix are 5 of those amazing women. No matter what life throws at us, we are always there for each other, strengthening each other, and reminding each other of our motivation to keep trying. We may not see each other for a while, but that bond is always present. I always come away from our Fish N Chix weekend ready to tackle life and all it's challenges. Or rather, I always come away from it believing that I can tackle life and all it's challenges.

It hasn't been an easy year. We've had to deal with a cancer scare for one of us, the cancer of a spouse, career turmoil, personal health issues, buying a first house, going back to school, starting a new business, unemployment, financial distress, relationship issues, parenting and a major paradigm shift in one of our friendships. It's been an epic year for all of us. Turning 40 was a minor blip in the face of all that and this year's trip took on added significance as a result.

Fish N Chix weekend is peaceful. It's quiet when we fish. (Except when one of us lands a fish, that is.)  Every woman is thinking her own thoughts. Far from paying the bills and weekly meal plans, common consensus is that we think much more basic thoughts than that: cast, "ooooh don't hit that stump!", reel, jerk, , set the hook and "GET THE NET!" One of the reasons Fish N Chix is the ultimate in relaxation is because it takes us to a completely different, more basic, place than our every day lives.

Conversely, our on-shore life during the weekend is peaceful in a different way. There's always music singing the stories of our lives, and we're constantly talking about every day life. We don't talk about our challenges every second but, we don’t ignore them when they come up either. We acknowledge them, talk them through, and find hope and strategies to try to make things better. We find comfort in finding ways forward.

Fish N Chix weekend, for me, is all about peace. It's about fortifying myself and helping to refortify my friends. It's a vital part of facing another year, and hopefully making it a little better than the one before, despite the obstacles in front of us. The older we get, the more intense those challenges grow, and the more important this weekend becomes.

Our friendships are so vital. I am reminded every year of just how much. I'm also reminded each year that I don't have to be perfect - as a mom, as a wife, or as a friend. I'm not always the person I want to be and my life doesn't always go to plan, but I know that no matter how much I may fail in those idealustic goals each year, I have safe harbour with the Chix. They are a vital part of my village. We believe in each other and from that I take great strength.

I will shine the light.
I will shine the light.
I will hold you in my arms,
until everything's alright.
I will shine the light
When your worries, they won't let you sleep,
and rob you of your days..
And you've looked in all directions but you
still can't find your way.
When you just need someone to remind you that it's
all gonna be ok, I will shine the light.
I will shine the light.

-"I Will Shine the Light" by Sugarland

Thanks girls!


Thursday, September 15, 2011

A Weekend for Mom

There is one weekend every year that is just for me. It is immovable no matter what else is on the family calendar. This is it - the third weekend in September. My annual Fish N Chix weekend.

The Fish N Chix
The Fish N Chix are a group of amazing friends who get together every year for a fishing weekend. I tell people who ask that the weekend is one part fishing, one part enjoying good food and drink, and a year's worth of relaxing. It nurtures our souls. It started as a weekend getaway after the busy summer and kids going back to school, and before the craziness of  fall and winter activities begin, and it has become a cherished ritual.

The rules are simple: You have to fish. You can nap when you want to. No boys or kids allowed. (The dogs aren't even allowed to come this year!)

I've never looked forward to it more than I do this year. I hope you have a great weekend too! Be sure to take at least a few moments and do something just for you.


Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Wordless Wednesday

One broken tent - It lasted less than 24 hours in the backyard with the nijna boys.
My ninja boy
One cup of coffee in my favorite mug - mom's cup of calm.


Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Lego: The Power of Play

I loved Lego when I was a kid and I love it even more as a parent. In my mind, Lego is a super toy. It embodies invention, transformation, creativity, experimentation, engineering,'s great for teaching patience, organization and fine motor skills and, when more that one child plays with it, it's also a great training ground for social skills. Pretty awesome stuff.

Jonas has recently stopped needing help when putting together Lego kits!

One of the flip sides of ADHD is something called hyper-focus. That's when Jonas can concentrate on something so thoroughly that it's like everything else in the world disappears. There aren't many things that will capture Jonas's attention like this. He can play with Lego for hours, making things out of his own mind and coming up with elaborate scenarios to play out with them. It can be a pretty powerful transformation, expecially when we harness it towards something that can be so good for him.

One of the differences between Lego now and when I was a a kid, is that it seems that most Lego now comes in pre-designed kits You can still buy boxes of blocks, but these kits take it one step further. They have characters, themes and directions. You name it and there is probably a kit out there that will let you make it out of Lego. (Lego Star Wars, Nascar and Ninjas are three hot items in this house.)  The idea of following directions when playing with Lego seemed all wrong to me when Jonas first started playing with it. Mom and Dad had to build it and that's not the point of Lego, in my mind. Also, it could take us hours to put something together that would be broken in two minutes. When tears flow from parents and child it's not a positive toy endorsement.

Jonas loves Star Wars, especially Darth Vadar. It must have taken two hours to put together.
I'm not sure who cried more when it broke - the boy or the dad.
I've come around in my thinking over the past year or so. Jonas is now able to follow the directions on his own to build the kits. This is a really important developmental step and we're thrilled to see Jonas make it. He's only recently stopped asking for help when he's building stuff. It's pretty cool to watch. On the other hand, creativity is also important and it's great to see that not get stifled...

Mutant men trying to save one who's fallen in quicksand.


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Knowledge is Power! Understanding Speech Disfluency

Jonas stutters. My Grandfather did and so does my Aunt. I do sometimes as well. There is no one cause of stuttering. Current research indicates that many different factors, including genetic inheritance, the child’s language skills, the child’s ability to move his or her mouth when speaking, the child’s temperament, and the reactions of those in the child’s environment play a role in the development of stuttering. Whatever the cause, the resulting social and educational impacts are a significant concern for us.

As the kids were playing in the backyard yesterday, one of the new boys in the neighbourhood kept asking Jonas why he talks the way he does. I never heard Jonas answer him so I asked him about it this morning. He said he just ignored it and sometimes ran away. The boy wasn't making fun of him, as some of the other kids do, but he said it made him feel a little embarrassed.

How he deals with other children is something that we are working on together. One of the ways the adults in his life can help him is by having a better understanding of speech disfluencies and the strategies we can use to help him. With a belief that knowledge is power, I thought I'd share some of the insights we've gained since Jonas started speech therapy a couple of years ago. 

What Is Stuttering? 

Stuttering is a speech/language impairment characterized by disruptions in the forward flow of speech (or "speech disfluencies"), such as repetitions of whole words or parts of words, prolongations of sounds, or complete blockages of sound. (Jonas has each of these types of disfluency.) Speech disfluencies may be accompanied by physical tension or struggle, though many young children do not exhibit such tension in the early stages of the disorder.

Stuttering is highly variable – sometimes a child will stutter a lot and sometimes the child will be very fluent. Factors influencing the likelihood that stuttering will occur differ from one child to the next, but might include:

Who the child is talking to
What the child is talking about
Where the child is when talking
What time of day or year the child is talking
The child’s emotional or physical state (e.g., excitement, fatigue, illness) while talking
The length and complexity of the message the child wishes to convey
Other factors that are more difficult to identify

Many times, children experience fear or embarrassment because of their stuttering. As a result, they may learn to hide their stuttering so it does not show. They can do this by avoiding speaking in certain situations or to certain people. They might also avoid saying words they think they might stutter on or refrain from talking altogether. If a child begins to avoid speaking in order to avoid stuttering, the disorder can have a marked impact on his or her social, emotional, and educational development.

Sometimes, older children and adolescents become so adept at hiding their stuttering that other people may not even know that they stutter. Although this might sound like a good goal, it typically is not. Hiding stuttering takes a lot of emotional and cognitive effort and results in significant shame for the person who stutters. This, in turn, often limits the child’s ability to participate in life activities at school or in social settings. The best way to deal with stuttering is not to try to hide it, or to hide from it, but rather to face it directly. 

What can we do to help?

We try to help Jonas help by: (1) providing a model of an easier, more fluent way of speaking, (2) reducing demands on him to speak, particularly demands to speak fluently, and (3) minimizing the time pressures Jonas may feel when speaking. 

Modeling. Jonas tends to be more disfluent when he or the people around him talk more quickly. This is due partly to the increased time pressures he feels and also to Jonas’s own attempts to speak more quickly in order to keep up. We try to be aware of our speaking rate and make a conscious effort to speak more slowly.

Beyond reducing our own speaking rate, we can model for Jonas an easier, more relaxed way of speaking. One way to do this is by reflecting Jonas’s sentences back to him, using a slower speaking rate, then expanding Jonas’s words when responding to his questions. For example, if  Jonas says "I want to play outside now," we can respond using a slower speaking rate, saying "You want to play outside now? (pause) Okay, that would be fine." This gives Jonas an immediate example of how to speak more easily and more fluently using a slower speaking rate. 

Reducing Demands. Often, people feel uncomfortable when Jonas stutters. There is sometimes an irresistible urge to try to help him by telling him to "speak more slowly" or to "stop, take a deep breath, and think about what he wants to say." Although this might sound like good advice, it does not help, and only serves to make him more self-conscious about his speech. The same is true about finishing his words or making seemingly supportive comments about his fluency (e.g., "you said that so fluently"). Although such statements seem positive, Jonas interprets them as corrections since he typically doesn’t know what he did differently to make his speech fluent.We find that it is best to avoid any such corrections or demands on him to speak fluently. In treatment, Jonas is taught how to make these changes in his speech, and we learn ways to respond to his fluent and disfluent speech in a supportive manner.

Children are more disfluent when they use longer or more complex sentences. When Jonas is disfluent, therefore, it is helpful to limit our use of open-ended questions requiring long or complex answers (e.g., "what did you do at school today?"). Instead, we try using closed-ended questions requiring shorter, simpler answers (e.g., "did you have fun at school today?" or "did you go outside during recess?"). We also try to encourage Jonas to talk without asking any questions at all. We try to comment on his activities (e.g., "I wonder if it’s going to rain while you’re at school today") and give him an opportunity to respond. The key is to manage Jonas’s speaking situations carefully – at times when he is speaking more fluently, we feel comfortable stimulating his language development by using more open-ended questions. 

Minimizing Time Pressure. One of the most helpful ways we can reduce the conversational time pressure Jonas may feel is to model and use a slower speaking rate as described above. Another useful technique is pausing, one to two seconds, before answering his questions. This gives him the time he needs to ask and answer questions, and it helps teach him not to rush into responding during his own speaking turns. Finally, this technique shows him how to take enough time before speaking to formulate their answers more fully.

Another important benefit of using pauses is that it helps everyone learn to take turns when speaking. The normal flow of conversation involves turn-taking – only one person speaks at a time. If two or more people are competing for talking time, or if one person interrupts another, there is a tendency for the rate of speech to increase and for the speakers to feel pressure to get their message out quickly. This is particularly difficult for children who stutter, so it is best to take turns when talking—each person gets an opportunity to speak without fear of being interrupted and without the need to hurry. We demonstrate this in our own speech by not interrupting Jonas (a part of pausing between speaker turns) and by managing the talking turns of other children so each child gets their turn to talk.

We also try to reduce overall time pressures by reviewing our daily routines to make sure Jonas’s schedule is not so busy that it does not leave time to talk about his experiences in a slow and unhurried manner. It is certainly good for children to have full and active lives; however, Jonas benefits more from participating in fewer activities that are enjoyed at a slower pace. 

Listen to Content rather than Manner. Stuttering draws attention to itself, so it is not surprising that we might be more likely to hear Jonas’s stuttering, rather than the message he is trying to convey.  Jonas quickly becomes aware of this, and it can increases his sense of shame or embarrassment about his speech even further. To reduce these negative feelings, we try to focus on and respond to Jonas’s message and to "talk about what Jonas talks about." 

Respond to Stuttering in an Accepting Manner. No parent would want their child to have a stuttering problem; however, it is important that we convey complete acceptance of Jonas, including acceptance of his stuttering. Jonas’s self-esteem and self-acceptance are highly dependent upon the acceptance of others, particularly us. If we convey the message that stuttering is bad, or something to be ashamed of, then it is more likely that Jonas will believe that he is bad. As a result, his shame will increase. Importantly, it is Jonas's negative reactions to stuttering that determines whether he will be handicapped by his speech, not the number of disfluencies he produces. In treatment, Jonas learns to be more fluent; however, he will not be successful if he developes negative attitudes about himself and his speech.

Some Helpful Tips

Speaking More Slowly and Using Pauses. Learning to speak slowly can be quite challenging, both for children and adults. Many people are accustomed to a fast rate of speech, (I'm guilty of this) and we slower speech feels unnatural. The best way we've found to practice slower speech is to begin just 5 minutes per day, during a simple structured activity such as reading a child’s book. (Dr. Seuss books are our favorite.) The key to talking slowly is to use pauses, between words and between phrases. For example (the dots indicate pauses approximately 1 second long):

" One fish…….two fish………red fish…….blue fish."
" Mr. Brown can moo………Can you?………He can go "MOOOO."

After practicing a slower rate and pausing when reading, we can begin to use this strategy in conversational speech. One of the best examples of how to do this is Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood. Watching Mr. Rogers on television can also help us become more comfortable with a slower speaking rate.

Managing Turn-Taking. Another challenging strategy is learning to use structured turn-taking. We help everyone learn to take turns when talking by playing simple and familiar games such as "Go Fish" or "Hi-ho Cherry-O." By highlighting the way that players are taking turns, we can gently direct Jonas’s attention to turn-taking rules that will facilitate his fluency in conversational speech.

Treat Stuttering Like Any Other Behavior. People are often confused about what to say when Jonas stutters, particularly following a tense or long disfluency. We were initially told not to draw attention to Jonas’s stuttering for fear that this will make the stuttering worse. We feel that a better approach is to treat stuttering just like any other difficulty Jonas may experience when learning a difficult task (e.g., learning to skip or ride a bicycle). We use his own style to encourage him and to build confidence about speaking. This also helps bring stuttering into the open so Jonas will feel more comfortable talking about it and expressing his own feelings of fear and frustration.


Saturday, September 10, 2011

A Great Day!

I'm thrilled to say that Jonas had a great week at school. 4 days, 4 smiley faces from the teacher and a reward from her "Great Week!" basket of goodies. Phew! As a reward at home, he got to play video games on the Wii for a hour or so this morning before we headed out.

After a week of being on edge, we all needed some down time today so we didn't schedule anything except picking up some groceries. After a trip to the local Farmer's Market and the grocery store, we had lunch and then sent Jonas outside to play. The sun was shining and it was the perfect day for him and the neighbourhood kids to make their own adventures. I spent the afternoon sitting in our big comfy chair, listening to them and taking the occasional picture.

Here is a photographic recap of what Jonas calls "A great day"

They started with a bike ride around the neighbourhood.
(Mom even got "cool" points for putting a chain back on all by herself!)
Then went to the store to get rootbeer and donuts
for "The Cool Boys Club",  which apparently meets in our backyard.
When they were done they built a fort using lawn chairs and a blanket.
The fort wasn't big enough for all of them so they put up the old tent in the sandbox.
Then they moved the donut feast there.
(The Scouter in me can't resist reminding everyone:
NEVER camp in a tent that has ever had food in it!)
Since the are boys after all, it didn't take long for them to start wrestling in the tent.

When the play-fighting got a little out of hand, they moved on to playing on the swings.
Next they divided themselves into teams "Skins" and "Shirts" and had a neighbourhood water fight.
The water fight got a little broad so they start chasing each other on their scooters,
as Dad tried to read his book while BBQing dinner.
They finished their day together by begging for a sleepover in the tent.
We said we'd do that another night but agreed to leave the tent up for tomorrow.
After the sun went down and the street lights came on it was time to come in.
Jonas's best four-legged friend, Macaroni, was waiting, after watching him through the window all day.
Finally it was time for my little ninja to and get ready for bed and read with Mom.
Those socks were brand new this morning. Boys!
My favourite part of every day!

What a great day!

Friday, September 9, 2011

"Welcome to Our Child" - A Letter to the Teacher

Normally we receive a questionnaire from the school around this time of year, asking us to give them our personal insights into Jonas, to help the new teacher get to know him better and help her understand the classroom accommodations we’re looking for. A big transition like back to school throws many things out of whack and it’s back to the drawing board in some respects. We haven't got one yet and we have a meeting with her next week, so I wrote a letter to the teacher last night, introducing her to the world of Jonas. For the benefit of any reader who’s new the world of ADHD or speech disfluency, I thought I’d share some of the highlights here. It might also help those of who know and love Jonas to better understand his world and his challenges. We’re pretty new to all this as well, and we're still trying to find our way.

The Challenges

Jonas was diagnosed with speech disfluencies at the end of Kindergarten. He was then diagnosed with ADHD in November 2010. He has had the signs and symptoms of both since he started Kindergarten, and they began to impact his school experience beginning in Grade One. We've worked closely with his teachers to try to find ways to manage these conditions more effectively so that he can learn better, fit in better socially, and not be a disruption to the other students.

Jonas’s speech disfluencies can be a tough social challenge for him, especially as he gets older. He has participated in speech therapy through the School Board, as well as privately, and we are hopeful that he will have another block of speech therapy though the Board this year. There are also several strategies that we use at home and at school to continue improving his speech. The other kids seem to get a little less compassionate as they get older. He's starting to get picked on a little more and becoming increasingly self-conscious about how he speaks. 

Jonas’s ADHD symptoms include hyperactivity, inattentiveness and impulsiveness. His fine motor skills are delayed, his handwriting needs a lot of work, and he can also be overly emotional and argumentative. As you can appreciate, these can have a big impact on his learning. For example: He isn’t organized, his non-stop movement and chattering can be a distraction to the other students, he misses important instructions, word problems can be hard for him to follow, and homework time is very often spent in emotional turmoil.

Jonas knows that he has different challenges than a lot of the other kids and it does impact his self esteem, particularly as he gets older. We have worked hard to figure out strategies to manage his speech and ADHD better and to help him fit in with the other kids. There are a million ideas out there and we’re always on the hunt for better ones.

Our Strategies So Far

Medication: Jonas has been on stimulant medication since Christmas break 2011. We find that this medication makes a big improvement in his behaviour, but do have some concerns with it so monitor it with his pediatrician. (We’re committed to keeping the school in the loop if anything changes.) We’re also aware that it is not a magical pill. He’s still an eight year old boy with a lot of academic, social and emotional development in front of him. We explain the medication to him by saying that it helps him be able to stop, think and make smart decisions, but it doesn’t do the stopping, thinking or decision-making for him. That’s up to Jonas, but we’re all here to help him learn how to do that.

Sleep: Thankfully, we are in the minority of ADHD families that do not have sleep issues. That may change as we adjust his medication going forward but for now, we'll take it!

Diet: One of the side effects of Jonas’s medication is that it has decreased his appetite. He also forgets to drink throughout the day. (These may account for some of his emotional responses.) We pack him a healthy lunch, snacks and water every day for school but he often arrives home after school with a full water bottle and a lunch bag that has barely been touched. His teachers have always agreed to let him keep his water bottle on his desk, for example, but I don’t think he ever remembered to do it. We've also asked for his teacher's support in reminding him to eat at snack and lunch time.

Stress Ball: Another thing that helps him control his emotional responses is a stress ball. When he gets emotional at home, we encourage him to squeeze it while taking slow deep breaths. We include one in his school pencil case, and hope that he’d be able to use it at school again this year. (He knows it isn’t a toy and will be taken away if used as one.)  He’s still learning how to use it and benefits greatly from reminders when he’s really upset.

Managing Transitions: Jonas doesn’t do well with transitions. Whether it’s back to school, moving from math class to gym, or the end of the lunch period, he manages best with a clear schedule and reminders that transitions are coming. Letting him start something that he obviously won’t be able to finish in the time he has can be tough and last minute changes like a new teacher or postponing an event or reward can cause upset. We have a daily schedule posted on a the fridge at home. His daily schedule at school is also posted in the classroom.

Learning Breaks and Distractions: Chunking work into sections and allowing him a break between them works better for Jonas that trying to force him to focus on something for a long time. Jonas is now taking a doodle pad to school, to use when he’s completed his work and ready for a break or for when others are not yet finished. It will help keep him from distracting the rest of the class when he’s done. (Caution needed here: Racing through his work is a problem and isn’t something we want to encourage.) He has a hard time staying on task but an even harder time when he has no defined task. Using the creative side of his brain is also a good break for him while doing more analytical work.

Daily Agenda: Another tool we love is the daily agenda. It helps him to organize what needs to be done, take ownership of his responsibilities and it helps us understand what is required of him so that we can help him with reminders. (The pocket in the front is also a great way for us to send paperwork back and forth!) Sometimes he needs just a little more detail in the notes he writes in there though. For example, this week there has been a note every day about a book for independent reading but it wasn’t clear to us or him what that meant. By the time he got home, he forgot what it was he was supposed to do. Was he supposed to bring a book home from school to read at night, read any book at home at night, or bring a book from home to read at school during the day? He couldn’t remember. We know that the teacher won’t always have time to write individual notes but if there is any way she could help him put more detail in his notes, we’d be eternally grateful.

Individual Education Plan:  One of the things that worked very well for Jonas last year was an IEP, or individual education plan. Although we don't want to change the curriculum, we need to recognize that the format of teaching and testing doesn't always work for his learning. Two of the biggest factors were changing his testing format and combining homework.

Changing his testing format from written to oral in non-writing subjects like math was a huge help. Before we made the switch, he was falling behind in subjects not because of the concepts but because of his handwriting. We do a similar thing with homework sometimes, allowing him to type things out on the computer when he's already had a big day of writing. We don't want to avoid handwriting, just not overwhelm him with it and allow it to hold him back.

Combing his homework has also been very successful. Last year, his reading homework, for example, was always related to his other subjects. He read about the human body, for instance, to reinforce his learning in Science class. We also do extra work at home every day on his fine motor skills. Practicing his weekly spelling lists or doing cut and paste for art class are great ways to do this so we can skip the other FMS work on the days when he’s got that kind of homework for school instead of increasing the time he spends at the homework table. This one-thing-with-multiple-results really helped to reduce the workload last year and that REALLY helped us at  home.

Homework: We think it's important that the teacher know that homework is an on-going struggle for us. He does independent reading every morning and we read to him every night. This usually goes very well and is one of our favourite parts of the day. Homework time, on the other hand, is definitely our least favourite part of the day. He loves doing creative and scientific projects, but anything written is often a battle right from the mention of it. A 10 word spelling list can become an hour long saga some nights, for example. We’ve tried many strategies and have yet to find one that works consistently. We’re not giving up though. Any suggestions she might have are welcome!

Extra Homework: We don’t want Jonas falling behind in school. We understand that if he doesn’t complete something during the day it may need to be sent home. One of his big challenges is long word problems in math and reading comprehension. He simply loses the plot if he can’t stop and reinforce each step of the way. There isn’t time for this in school so we end up doing extra work at home. We hope that the teacher will understand that it may not be a simple task to work in the additional homework. We will do our best, though we’re praying that he’ll be able to complete most of his work in class this year.

One-on-One Help at School: We also love this school's Home Reading Program! It was a great help to Jonas last year. Any extra one-on-one attention he can get to improve his academics is very much appreciated! If an opportunity ever comes up for a tutoring program, we’d be very interested in that as well.

Goals and Rewards: Jonas responds well to having clear goals with rewards at the end.  15 minutes of solid homework time is rewarded with an equal amount of play time, for example. A good week at school means he can have some video game time on the weekend. Doing well on a spelling test can earn a different type of reward. There’s got to be something in it for him that he appreciates or he’s simply not going to be motivated. He’s just starting to understand the bigger picture rewards of doing well in school but he doesn’t have enough appreciation for it yet for us to leverage it.

Physical Activity: The more physically active he is during the day, the more manageable Jonas’s symptoms are. One of his previous teachers took away his recess time as punishment for poor behaviour in the class and it backfired. Instead of learning from the consequences, he became more restless and unfocused. Last year, his teachers started using verbal cues to keep him on-task, and also added regular movement breaks throughout the day. This seemed to have much better success keeping him focused in class.

We know that a teacher's job isn't easy. Managing a classroom full of kids, each with their own personalities, must be very challenging. We think of our family and the school as a team! We hope that we can continue to work together this year to make it a great year for everyone involved!


Thursday, September 8, 2011

"I'll be a good boy, mom. I promise!"

There's a new battle looming on the Blanchard homestead. When I ask Jonas to take his ADHD medication in the morning he starts to cry. "I"ll be a good boy, mom. I promise!" It breaks my heart and makes me wonder again if we're doing the right thing.

Somehow, he got it in his head that he has to take this pill because he's a bad boy, like it's a punishment. Sometime during the summer, he started thinking that these challenges he has can all be resolved by mind over matter and, when he doesn't control them, it's because he is making a choice not to.

That's such a load of #%&*!!

Yesterday, and again this morning, we talked about why he has to take his medicine. I explained that what the pill does is allow him to be able to stop and use his brain to think things through so he has a chance to make smart decisions. The pill doesn't do that thinking or make those decisions for him. That's up to him. All of us have to learn to think things through, to predict and weigh consequences so we can make wise decisions. Isn't that a big part of what childhood is all about?  Wisdom comes with experience, right?

He has to learn through experience and teaching, as all kids do, but ADHD means that he doesn't get a chance to go through that decision-making process or absorb those lessons. When he's not on his medication it's as if his brain is a race car, stuck in drive with the pedal to the metal. He doesn't make bad choices. He doesn't make any choices at all. Most things get lost in a blur of hyperactivity and impulsiveness. Like touching a hot stove over and over, he doesn't absorb the experience and he doesn't remember the lessons, so the same things play themselves out again and again. It's frustrating for everybody and leaves him thinking that there's something wrong with him.

That's not ok with me. I'm not the kind of mom who lives wearing rose coloured glasses. I'm an optimist, yes, but I'm also a realist. I want Jonas to learn these life lessons. I'm not trying to protect him from them. I'd just like to give him a chance to learn without having his self esteem beaten to a pulp in the process.


Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Wordless Wednesday: Self-Inflicted Injuries

 This is what happens when... you want to go for a walk BUT you have a blister that makes it impossible to put on your running shoe without crying BUT you're determined not to give up and let a potential good habit fade into memory. (OK, maybe it wouldn't happen you, but it did happen to be me. Thank goodness I only go at when it's dark out.)

 This is what happens when...  you tell your 8 year old ADHDer that he can use the Scooby Do plaque rinse
BUT forget to tell him to wait for you so you can supervise and he goes ahead and forgets to use a cup. (I couldn't take a picture of him or he'd have gone to school today looking like a potential member of the Blue Man Group.)