Sunday, May 9, 2010

Lean Green Behavior Machine

Let me start this off by saying that I've known for a long, long time that Thomas is special. By special I mean he's some bizarre cocktail of quirky and brilliant and ruthless and compassionate and annoying and precious and beautiful and moody. And he's all these things to the Nth power, and he's all these things all the time.
For instance, see this image on the right? That's Mr. Krabbs and SpongeBob made from dominoes. While the rest of the 2-year-olds in his preschool napped, ours made this. Lest you think this was just a one-time thing, I have a basement full of proof to the contrary. Illustrations, books, scripts, paintings, posters, sculptures ... you name it, I can show you boxes full of it, and it all shows sophistication well above what his age should allow.
When he was 3 his preschool teachers gave Thomas some puzzles to work on to keep him busy. They were intended for ages 11 and older. He finished them in 10 minutes. He now builds 3-D puzzles in mere minutes as well. He also remembers every line and nuance in every movie he's ever seen, even if he's only seen it once. He draws in perspective and understands vanishing points. He is a pretty smart little fucker. Even his teacher agrees.
So when his teacher asked to have a guidance counselor present during our last parent-teacher meeting, we were a little puzzled. Something about the way she careened through the list of his positive attributes, and I could just tell that she was looking through her sites for a place to drop the bomb. Sure enough, after the requisite "good news" she told us that he had a hard time focusing. He was squirmy. He would burst out laughing for no reason. He would yell. He would look at how the legs connected to the desk while she taught her lessons. He would interrupt her. And while she admitted he wasn't a distraction to the other kids and that he tested very well on the lessons (even if he appeared not to be paying attention), she seemed to say the most by what she didn't say at all. As if she silently begged us to decipher some code that she'd been forced to use. Like in those movies where the hostage has to answer the phone at gunpoint and make like nothing's wrong. Like does anybody know the semaphores for ADHD? Well, sorry but I don't speak winking, gesticulating inference very well.
In our kids' school, there's a color-coded behavior monitoring system: Green days are days without incident. Blue days, you had one warning. Yellow days, you're on double secret probation. Red days, you miss recess and purple days you get sent to the Principle's office and she calls your parents. This is tracked visually on a colored bulletin board that hangs in the front of the classroom, the child's name affixed to a magnet that they themselves must stand up and slide from color to color. The color on which your name lands at the end of the day is recorded in your folder and sent home each night so that your parents can monitor behavior in near-real time. After this meeting we paid more careful attention to Thomas' colors. Was it normal that he was bringing home yellows and blues and reds nearly every day? Was there something wrong? Did we need to take action? One thing was for sure: if his teacher had any opinion, she wasn't talking.
So we raced home to look up ADHD. ADD. Autism. Asperger's. Gifted. Ed Zachary Disease (your kid's so ugly, his face looks Ed Zachary like my ass). Anything we could find. And while Thomas exhibits some symptoms of nearly everything we looked at (except for Ed Zachary and boy, did we breathe a sigh of relief on that one because you can get better from the other stuff), nothing seemed to fit exactly.
And this is the part of the story where I wish I could tell you that it ended up just being some grand misunderstanding. That his teacher had squirted a grapefruit into her eye that made her wink uncontrollably all day. That we all whispered "kittens" down the lane and it came back "barbed wire." Wish I could, but that's not what happened. We're in a very odd place right now, trying to seriously and objectively evaluate what we have in front of us. Is this some developmental hiccup? Something more serious? Do we test for any of the popular acronyms or is his teacher just a mean and bitter cow? Or is this just the universe taking yet another shot at my balls?
Which reminds me, I totally should have titled the last post "Ball's Well That Ends Well." Guess I dropped the ball on that one. What, you didn't think I was going to make it through an entire post without mentioning them, did you?
In all seriousness, if you happen to have any input or ideas or expertise or whatever, please reach out to me either via e-mail or comment on this post. One thing we have learned is that there is just as much misinformation as there is information on the internet.


On another note, I took the boys to Ten Thousand Villages (Sandi's favorite store) to buy, among other Mother's Day gifts, a necklace. We were standing by the necklace display area when a young lady asked if we needed help. Thomas put out his hands and violently mock strangled some imaginary person in front of him. Then he stopped and with his fingers still together in mid-strangle pose, he raised his hands and said, "Yeah, we need a necklace about this big."
Kids, if that's "special needs" then I never want to be mainstreamed.

"I like to figure things out and solve problems." -- Temple Grandin


  1. Didn't see how to email you on your site- so here's my email-
    I could be a helpful resource to you. I hope.

  2. My oldest boy is 12 and we are told every year that he is fidgety and distracted and disorganized and has sucky handwriting. It's been implied that he has ADD, and my husband (who has been diagnosed with ADD as an adult) agrees with this, although no one will ever come straight out and say, "Your kid has ADD." We even had a teacher hint that he had some sort of palsy, he fidgeted so much. That said, the kid gets straight A's, and his math teacher said that his brain makes logical progressions beyond his age. He got the 99th percentile with a little asterisk denoting "maximum score" for vocabulary on the standardized tests this year. His doctor says he's fine. So, I choose not to medicate him for ADD, since I am not convinced that there's anything wrong with him. My completely non-medical diagnosis is that Thomas does not fit in the nice little pigeon hole the system wants to squish him into. But that is true of all brilliant people. Talk to his doctor and keep the lines of communication open with the teacher.

  3. Now I have to say that those color coding crap is over rated. I think your son sounds awesome. He has just the right kind of humor going on.

    I hope that you get things figured out, but in the mean time try not to stress about it.

    I know easier said than done. Hang in there.

  4. I have worked with kids with ADD as a social worker and unless there is a negative impact on your son I would not worry. He sounds exceptionally bright and that can cause lots of problems for kids that can look to be ADD, you might see an educational psychologist who can do a good evaluation. You can also try and see about a type of school where he can learn on his own pace, lots of charter and montessori schools are good at dealing with very bright children where they are free to excel and be themselves.

  5. @ Everybody: First, thanks. My soul is a little lighter knowing that we're not alone.
    Second, I think the nature of my conflict is that he's obviously bright, but a bit hard to handle some times. He's that way at home, too -- a real patience tester -- which makes me wonder if my organic reaction to his behavior (yelling like a drill sergeant) is the right reaction. I mean, if his behavior has a physiological root and is beyond his control, then I may be doing more emotional harm than good. At any rate, looks like we'll be having quite a few discussions in the future. Pediatrician, principle ... anybody who will listen.

  6. email me. Like mashuga mom I don't see yoru email. I, too, maybe be able to give some support and/or help. I could explain better by email.

  7. I unequivocally recognized that domino arrangement to be Mr. Krabbs and SpongeBob. How old is Thomas? He sounds absolutely perfect.

  8. Thomas is 7. 7 amazing years old. And thanks to all who offered your help. I think we have what appears to be a solid plan of action that will help us find ways to help Thomas and, most importantly, will avoid stigmatizing him.

  9. Kids don't fit into boxes.

    Our 8 yr old's teacher said mysteriously that she thought we should "have him tested," but then couldn't tell us for what.

    Feed them healthfully and let them play wildly. Monitor the inputs and encourage the beautiful outputs.

    That's what *I* think.

  10. I'm no parent. But, that kid sounds cool.


Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.