Friday, May 23, 2014

My journey with my son ADHD, ODD, Sensory Integration & the Unexplained Behavior Issues of a Kid

This is a post that will be continued and updated, so let's start simply with the beginning of our journey. Not an easy thing to write and reflect on as we are still a work in progress. 

From ages 2-5 with constant problems in preschool. We are teachers, well read, and cannot figure out what is going on with our child. He doesn't act Autistic, appears ADHD, but has lots of other issues that were not explainable so we ruled out ADHD. My doctor, friends and family wrote it off as "he's too smart," "he's not being challenged," "the preschool isn't doing their job," and "you are great parents." However, despite being "great" we couldn't shake the feeling that there was something wrong with our son. We explored different programs, read websites and blogs, read books, attended counseling, and the like. Nothing worked for long. If any of this sounds familiar to you, you are not alone. A friend pointed out it wasn't behavioral and that is why all the behavioral programs didn't work, even the infamous Nurtured Heart program which I loved. Our sons problems stemmed from misfiring neurons in the brain; and they were right.

run and bolt frequently
run under table to hide
cover his ears
yell and scream during music
have difficult behaviors in structured classroom environment
randomly hit a kid for no reason
Couldn't fall asleep for hours after bedtime
hitting and biting when he didn't get his way
didn't transition well
had difficulty making and keeping friends 
loved to run, crash, jump, and fall down
high pain tolerance
couldn't transition in class
argue with adults-always had to be his way
didn't take naps in preschool and wouldn't be still on cot during quiet time

Diagnosis after pushing, gathering evidence, and requesting more testing:
ODD (oppositional defience disorder)
Sensory Integration Disorder

When asked which of these 3 stands out as the main issue, the answer is Sensory Integration Disorder. So much of the behavior listed above is tied his sensory issues, which also causes symptoms that look like ADHD (although ADHD can be a separate factor too).

Current Treatment: Age 5
Low dose of medicine (extreme mommy guilt when we started this)
Occupational Therapy (through Kaiser)
Music Therapy (Advancedbraintechnology) (through Stowell Learning Center)
QRI (Quantum Reflex Integration) (through Stowell Learning Center)
CORE learning skills (through Stowell Learning Center)
Gluten free (decreased behavior problems even though he does not have Celiac's disease)
No red and yellow food dye- high link to ADHD behavior
Counseling as needed (through Kaiser)
Now testing my middle child since he has similar issues with sensory and ADHD
Headphones as needed to reduce sound (through school and home)
Weighted vest as needed to sensory needs (through school and home)

Changes in Behavior:
No more bolting
Doesn't hide under desk
Doesn't scream and yell with music (still covers ears)
Has several friends at school
Met all his goals for his IEP early so we are revising them again
Doesn't argue as much with adults
Doesn't randomly hit people
Transitions faster and better than before
Falls asleep 30 minutes after being put to bed

I wrote to all his previous preschools, even the one he was kicked out of, to let them know of his diagnosis and thank them for their feedback. They were all supportive and glad to hear my son is doing better. Our journey is far from over, but for the first time, my husband and I see hope and  light at the end of the tunnel. Our hearts are still tender and we still tense up when we get calls from school, but they are rarely about behavior now. We have been accustomed to expect the worse, but we are in this through thick and thin and have a strong family network to support our journey. I would never have believed we would have come so far in a year because I thought, nothing was going to change, no one understands, everyone is going to think we are crazy, and we would forever be "that family who doesn't know how to raise kids." Thanks for reading. I hope it brings you some peace if you are struggling with the same unexplained behaviors as we did/are.

Different Tools for Focusing During Homework

 Stowell Learning Center offers tools for focusing during homework.

We're getting to that time of year when 2 important things are happening:

  1. There are more distractions and disruptions than any other time of the year

  2. There are more fun, outside-of-school activities.
Both of these factors work against kids wanting to sit and do homework.  Getting their bodies to keep still and stop moving does NOT mean their minds are really focused on getting homework done.
Below you'll find a couple of ideas to help get kids "zero in" on their homework, despite the number of "more interesting" things that might be on their minds.
Remember, these are young, immature minds (yes, even the teenagers).  Just telling them to do things isn't always enough.
Here's to having the best school year ever,
Make it Fun, Physical, or Novel
Having trouble keeping "on task" and focused on their homework?  Here's what one mom told us:
At eight years old, my son was an excellent hockey player and a pretty good reader.  But when we studied his sight word flashcards, he'd get very upset if he didn't get the words right.
To make practicing the flashcards more fun, and help him lighten up a bit, we made a big deal of throwing all of the words he missed into the "penalty box."  (Actually, I just tossed them over my shoulder and made a lot of noise).
But it made him laugh and gave us the opportunity to practice the words again when they "came out of the penalty box."
Kids love to be silly or do things in a different way.  If homework is becoming drudgery, try making it fun, physical, or different.  There are LOTS of ways to do this...Let your imagination run wild.  Here are 3 suggestions:
  • When studying spelling or math facts, try using a white board or sidewalk chalk on the cement to make it different and fun.

  • Set up little contests - "You got 3 right all by yourself in this row.  Do you think you can beat your score on the next row?" "You finished this section in 6 minutes.  Do you think you can beat your time on your time on the next section?"

  • Act out ideas, characters, plots or events to help with understanding and remembering information.
By making it more fun, playful, or physical ( or all three!) students are more willing to get their work done, especially during this time of the school year.

Graph paper to the Rescue for Learning Math

Graph paper to the Rescue for Learning Math

For some students, math is a BREEZE!  They just seem to "get it."  (Others struggle until you put a $ next to the numbers and then they seem to get it.)
But for some kids, it is a constant struggle.
There are many reasons for math struggles.
Below, I'll share with you a simple technique that will help students get their numbers organized on the page.  While it won't solve every math difficulty, it will at least give you a "fighting chance" to get the answer correct. A helpful tip for Stowell Learning Center.
Graph Paper to the Rescue!

Many students struggle with math because they simply don't understand or can't manage the organization of the numbers on the page.

In math calculations, there is a very specific place where each number belongs in a problem.  When numbers get shifted to the wrong column, errors and confusion occur.

When numbers are in the wrong column or wrong place in a problem, the problem must be redone.

If you're frequently the bearer of this bad news, you know how frustrated and angry a child can get when he has to constantly "re-do" a problem he feels he already completed.

Graph paper provides a simple solution.  It comes in all different sized squares to accommodate a student's graphomotor (writing) needs and maturity. 

Teach your child how to put one number in each square and help him notice how the numbers all line up.  Graph paper can turn a math disaster into an organized, easy-to-look-at, and more correct math paper.


Studying for Tests with Coloring Books, why not try it

Studying for Tests with Coloring Books, why not try it? Great for memorizing anatomy, geography, maps, physiology, vocabulary, graphs and charts. Tip from Stowell Learning Center.

Studying for tests can be boring.  Boring, boring, boring.

And when it gets boring, it's much harder to remember what was studied.
The exercise below is sure to make it easier for your child to remember more of what he's studying.  And it makes it more fun.  It is anything but boring!
BEWARE - At first this might seem a little juvenile.  But just know that college and graduate level students are now using the techniques.
Give this technique a try and watch as memory expands...seemingly without effort!
 Some of my students find it helpful to write or unerline their vocabulary words with different colors. When we studied the pathway of the heart in my class, I used different colors to represent different parts of the heart and the pathway. Students always ace this part of the test :)
Coloring Books as a Memory and Test Study Tool

Studying for tests and remembering important facts (such as the muscles in the body, the parts of a cell or plant, the location and shape of the states) can feel like endless (and pointless) memorization to students if they don't have a good mental picture of what the words they are studying connect to.
Try using coloring books to

  • Make studying more interesting
  • Add understanding to vocabulary and content
  • Increase retention
  • One innovative student took this idea even further.  When studying various organs in the body, she laid down on a giant piece of paper and had her friend trace around her.  Then
  • they drew in and orally labeled all of the organs that would be on their test.  The girls had a lot of fun while studying productively for their test!  
  • Another student memorized the states and their location by remembering each state and the color it was on the puzzle map. 
  • What things would be easier to remember in color?  What kind of coloring book or sheet could you make that would help you remember?  Without too much extra effort, your student can begin remembering things more easily without it feeling like a lot of extra work.   

Studying for tests with concept diagrams for science and history

Tools for studying for content based tests for science and history. Another useful tip I'm using in my classroom for my middle school students. Sign up for more tips like these from Stowell Learning Center.
Teachers tell students to study for the test.
What they don't often tell them is HOW to study for the test.
And most students have no clue about effective studying.
In fact, most students use one of these strategies:

  • Read the chapter over and over, hoping it will sink in
  • Ask parents to read the material and quiz them
  • Hope (not really a strategy but it is what they do!)
Have you ever felt your student knew the right answers but then failed the test?

Typically that can happen when students work hard to memorize their study guides or practice questions word for word.  They think they know the material, but when it appears on the test, stated in a different way, they don't recognize it as being what they studied and end up being disappointed in their grade.

Below you'll find a strategy for studying for content type tests.  When you need to know the material, this will work well.
Concept Diagramming Makes Studying More Fun and
Test Grades Better

This strategy takes a little bit of time up front, but helps students really understand the material and makes studying much more interesting. Test grades improve because students are really thinking about the information instead of just trying to "ingest" it by rote.

It's called Concept Diagramming and is great for use with content areas such as history or science. It is a good tool to use when studying in groups or with a partner (or parent).

What to do
The student should:
  1. Put important events, dates, vocabulary, and names on 3x5 cards.
  2. Organize the cards in some logical way, and then orally explain why it makes sense to group the cards in that way.
  3. Then mix the cards up and group them in a different (still logical) way.  Again, orally explain the new organization / connections.
This process may show students that they don't really know the material. Memorizing a date is not the same thing as understanding a date and why it's important. If the student really does understand the material, it will be fun to come up with multiple ways to organize/group the cards.

After each test, save all of the cards, labeling them by chapter or section so that they can be used again to study for unit tests and finals.