Friday, March 9, 2012

happy endings and optimistic beginnings

Let me tell you about what happened this week. It's been a big one for us.

I've mentioned before that our oldest son was diagnosed with nonverbal learning disorder (NLD) back in the 4th grade. General testing began in preschool in Los Angeles, when an amazing group of dedicated teachers took notice of a special little boy who needed a little extra help. But it was only after years of testing and agonizing and trying to follow our parental intuition that we finally stumbled on the right therapist who finally nailed the right diagnosis.

NLD is kind of like ADHD minus the H, mixed in with a little mild Asperger's. In our case it sounds a little more dramatic than it really is; NLD kiddos are in a mainstream classroom, sometimes with just a Section 504. The day I was told about it, I went straight home and Googled it so I could read more about the symptoms. I'll never forget that day, as I sat in front of my computer screen and cried like a baby. The realization slowly settled in that finally - finally someone had been able to tell me why my son was struggling, and was going to be able to help.

Therapy, meds, and a new school have worked wonders. And it has become increasingly clear, as we'd guessed early on, that he is a creative soul. He will always be an artist. But...there's that pesky issue of academics. With the ADHD/NLD came great struggles in the classroom. He is a very bright boy, but always had real challenges with any kind of long term or sustained assignment or project. He couldn't plan ahead; he couldn't wrap his head around the organization it took to pull it off. He got overwhelmed. And although it's textbook NLD, and it's good to have that perspective and understanding, getting through these assignments was still tedious and riddled with unexpected challenges. As a parent, and as an educator, you have to learn and live in the fact that that these kids' struggles are not because they are lazy or don't want to do the work. It's because, on a certain level, they simply can't do it. You have to adapt to their abilities, to their way of thinking; and that is difficult in a traditional classroom, especially in junior and senior high with hundreds of students. And it's difficult at home as well.

... fast forward to today.

I am not sure I've ever seen my son as proud as he was today. And I'm not sure I've ever been more proud of him. He won second place in his Freshman class on his Science Fair project, and gets to take it to the state competition. And, most importantly, he did it, 100%, by himself. 

He picked his subject, worked with his science teacher, and made every single assignment deadline - sans parental nagging. Larry helped him in the very beginning to narrow his topic and show him how to get better results on a Google search; and I showed him how to plug all his research data into a spreadsheet on Excel, because he'd never used it. But other than that - we did not touch a thing. He pulled the whole thing together, printed photos, created graphs, and put it on the display board. He struggles with fine motor skills and handwriting, more textbook NLD symptoms; so his writing was a little shaky, and his stick-on letters a little crooked. But, by choice, I did not touch it or offer assistance - I knew he'd tell me if he wanted it. But he clearly wanted to do this all on his own. And to this mom, it was the most beautiful project he'd ever done. I was so proud of him when he finished it; he even turned it in a day early for five extra credit points.

And then he won second place. We're gonna spruce it up for the state competition, but the original is going in the family archives.

Really, I don't think I can adequately express what a huge deal this is. And huge, huge kudos to his science teacher, Mrs. Sims, who was instrumental in helping him develop and execute his project. One of those above and beyond teachers who helps change kids' lives. I realize that the other kids probably had super slick presentations, via the help of their parents; but we felt it was so important for him to see this through on his own. The self confidence. Finally. That child has SO earned his moment in the sun. He's had it on the stage - now he finally gets in the classroom.

Just look how far he has come.

So it's ironic that, just two days earlier, the journey began for his little sister, who was diagnosed with ADHD and began medication for the first time. She definitely has ADHD with the H. Another blog for another day - meds can be so controversial, but they can also change lives, I believe; and ADHD is much less common, or at least less diagnosed, in girls. But for now, I am going through the grieving stage, where you have to face up to the fact that your child has an issue that makes her little life more difficult than you want it to be.

And even though you can go into an office and run a battery of tests and the professionals come back with a neat, tidy little diagnosis and a list of things to do - as a Mom, you still have that tiny, relentless nagging in the back of your head...did I do something wrong? How did this happen? We are undoubtedly embarking on an entirely different journey with her; and we set out, optimistic, full of love, eyes wide open and well-educated from our previous travels. But still a little nervous, and unsure of what lies ahead.

I've always believed things happen for a reason. Griffin worked so hard and earned every inch of that huge red second place ribbon; and Larry and I have to take comfort in knowing that we have helped G on his journey the very best we could. And while we aren't perfect, and there are things we'd do differently, and moments we aren't proud of, all in all, we know it's going to be okay. He's going to be okay. More than okay. We think he's a superstar. 

And his timing could not have been better, as we now face the first few steps of what will surely be just as long and hopefully rewarding a journey with his beautiful, spunky little sister. As the uncertainty of what lies ahead for Olivia makes us, as per usual, constantly question our decisions, analyze our parenting, look for answers, and pray for her peace and happiness - we know that there's a light at the end of the tunnel. Thanks Big G. xx

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