Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Gwen: Month Seventy-Eight

Dear Gwen,
Today you are seventy-eight months old - six and a half years.

It’s been an astounding month, and I can’t find any way to write this letter without talking about the truly game-changing news we received this month, which is that you have ADHD. It’s not exactly a surprise, but it has shed a lot of light on who you are and how your brain works. The past few weeks I have been doing a lot of reading about ADHD and your behaviour and abilities are certainly well-reflected in the literature. Sometimes my reading leads me to major revelations, as seen in the following email I sent to your Dad a couple of weeks ago:

Just read online that “ADHD kids have trouble learning from past experiences.” OMG THIS EXPLAINS EVERYTHING.

And now, a short play that has been witnessed in our household approximately seven million times:

Gwen: *exhibits undesirable behaviour*
Me: Man, this behaviour is undesirable! How can we teach her not to do that?
Internet/Parenting Book/Knowledgeable Friend/Family Member/Magazine Article: Just introduce the following consequence whenever she exhibits that behaviour. Believe me, you won’t have to do it more than a couple of times before she gets the message!
Gwen: *exhibits undesirable behaviour*
Me: *introduces consequence*
Gwen: *is terribly upset but refuses to change behaviour*

So, a lot of the frustrations and confusion we have had about your behaviour has been explained. We still don’t know what to do about it, but hopefully all these books and websites I am reading will help.

In the meantime, really, you haven’t changed at all, though our perception and understanding of you has grown a lot and will continue to do so.

Your Grade One year is well underway, and Dad and I were thrilled to learn that a good friend of ours, Kim, is your teacher for the year. She is a great teacher and a lovely person and I know that she will be great at creating accommodations for you. So far your year is going well, although there have been some bumps. We are starting to see some social problems which are upsetting for all of us. Your intensity and need for control, your hair-trigger temper, and your obliviousness to social cues – all of which are part of the ADHD package – are far less tolerated by your peers than they were last year, and you are experiencing frequent rejection. It’s heartbreaking to see or hear about. In some cases, your obliviousness prevents you from seeing that you’ve been rejected – for example, we saw you at your after-school club being instructed by some other kids that your “job” in the game was to run away from them to the farthest tree and then wait there for more instructions. Their game had nothing to do with running or trees – they just wanted to get rid of you. And you complied, enthusiastically, because you are so eager to be accepted. Clearly, we have a lot of work ahead of us.

Your academics, on the other hand, continue to be strong. In fact, your doctor feels that you may well be gifted. I confess that I didn’t understand until recently that “gifted” is a real concept that can be tested and valuated. Unfortunately, we don’t know yet how to go about having this giftedness tested, as the schools do not provide that testing. I am determined that we need to do everything in our power to make sure you are able to reach your potential, which I am convinced is great.   

In your last newsletter I mentioned that you are really enjoying gymnastics, and this continues to be true. I hope these classes are giving you some positive strategies about being in your body and controlling your movements. Your piano lessons have started again, and this year you are in private one-on-one classes with your first MYC teacher, Mrs. H. She is absolutely amazing and you are blooming in this environment. After watching you struggle so hard last year to stay on task and hear the teacher while five other kids (and their parents) provided a constant level of noise and distraction, it is a joy to see you and Mrs. H. work together. The fact that your lesson time is all yours means that Mrs. H. can meet you where you are at and tailor things to suit your needs, without having to “keep up” with anyone else. I’m so very, very glad we took this step. Here are some of the moments from your first month of piano class.

At your second lesson, while sitting at the adult-size piano, you dropped your pencil on the floor and immediately crawled under the bench to get it. Once on the floor, you became interested in the pedals and began to press them. Mrs. H. quickly adapted. While the pedals are not part of the curriculum until you are a few years older, she saw that you were interested and went with it. “Listen to this note. Now hold the pedal down while I play it again. How did the note change?” The two of you spent a minute or so on this and then she re-directed you back up to the piano to continue the lesson. I was in awe! She could have spent two minutes arguing with you, or one minute meeting you where you were and following your interest, then going back to what she intended to teach that day. I was so impressed!

Another tale of success at piano was actually my contribution. Again while sitting at the adult-size piano, I could see your feet swinging around, reaching down towards the floor, which then pulled your torso out of balance and made it hard to play the keys. Having shared a bazillion mealtimes with you, I knew what the problem was: it was bugging you not to have a place to rest your feet (as they don’t reach the floor while sitting up properly). I looked around and saw a small stool by the door, and suggested to you that we put it under the piano as a footrest. This had the extra benefit of preventing you from fidgeting with those fascinating foot pedals. These are the types of accommodations you need in all of your daily activities, and it’s just a matter of us figuring out what they are and convincing the people around you to help us implement them.

Well, I guess that’s it for this month, Gwen. I am fiercely proud of you, entirely in love with you, and so grateful to be your mom.


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