Sunday, June 30, 2013

Summertime and the living is ...

... not easy exactly, but easier, in that we don't have that panicked rush out the door in the morning so that kiddo doesn't miss the bus. Not once all year did we miss the bus, incidentally, and for that I want a medal, or a gold star, or perhaps some sort of grown-up Girl Scout badge.

Kiddo of course is loving the fact that he doesn't have classwork or homework and gets to stay at day care all day and run around on the playground. Because he has no idea how many workbooks I'm going to be making him do, not to mention the school-mandated typing program (which was not working this morning, dear school, can you get on that?) or all the books we'll be reading, not least because I signed both kids up for the library's summer reading program. This made me nostalgic, because I always did those programs when I was growing up, and (nerd alert) loved them. Because I would've been reading all summer anyway. These days you don't even have to fill out the book titles; now you just fill in a little circle for every 10 minutes you spent reading. Technically I suppose you could count reading the goofy stuff on cereal boxes. Fortunately I am an honest sort, and already know (thanks to a similar exercise during kindergarten) that the average picture book takes five minutes to read out loud, so I told kiddo we'll fill in a circle for every two books he reads. This gives us a reason to go to the library once a week, which kiddo loves because he can play games on the computers in the children's area. Not exactly the point of the library, but it's typing practice, right?

He's staying on medication this summer. One of the big points of contention in ADHD circles is whether to give your child a "drug holiday" during summer and winter vacations, and sometimes also on weekends. The Child Mind Institute in New York has a pretty good summation of the issue here. Sometimes the side effects of a particular drug are tough on a kid; sometimes the kid doesn't grow or gain weight the way he should. Sometimes (I think) parents feel so horrible about medicating their child just so he'll survive school that they look for an excuse to quit, even temporarily.

It was never in question that kiddo would stay on medication. For one thing, we haven't noticed any side effects. For another, he's more even-tempered and able to listen and follow instructions -- just as relevant at day care, karate class and at home as it is at school. Social development is all the time, not just during the school year, and socially and behaviorally are where he needs the most help. Academically, not so much.

Look, if you're on medication for a specific issue, that issue likely isn't situational. A favorite example in the pieces I've read is diabetes medication; if you need it, you need it every day. Kiddo doesn't stop having his alphabet soup of ADHD/ODD/OCD just because it's summer. He's been frankly a bit of a nutbar this past week or so anyway, in the transition from day care plus school to just day care -- running around, getting the other kids wound up -- and I can't even imagine how much worse that would have been unmedicated.

In retrospect, I can see signs of issues in him going back to age 2 at least. Easily frustrated, temperamental, constantly running, strangely agitated by things that shouldn't be upsetting (for instance, the Defcon 1 meltdown he had at a breakfast event once, because the bagel was pre-sliced; he called it "broken," dissolved into tears, wouldn't touch it). No concept of personal space, to the point where kids were biting him at day care because he got in their face and they didn't have the words to tell him they didn't like it. Total inability to listen, to the point where you could look him right in the face, tell him to do something and honestly, truly, he didn't hear you.

He's much improved over this past year or so, but you want to build on successes, not ignore them. And therefore he stays on medication. ADHD isn't just a school thing. It's a life thing.

Anyhow. I am unlikely to post again before the holiday, what with work and cleaning and cooking and possibly filling in the new garden bed I dug this morning (and not a moment too soon, since I have veggies overgrowing their pot), so I'll just say now Happy Fourth, and may your burgers be perfectly grilled, and if you -- unlike me -- live in a state where fireworks are legal, may you please be careful with those things. 

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

The state of kiddette

I thought we could pause a moment and consider kiddette, or as I occasionally call her, Miss Thing (say it with attitude), since she's been largely ignored on thishere blog lately and well, I do have two children.

She is, as one colleague who's met her puts it, "quite a character." She's 3 going on 10. She's already perfected the art of running into her room, slamming the door and throwing herself on the bed, meaning I already know what her teen years will look like. She has no problem being utterly rude to boys if they're in her way, or if they're annoying her, or if she feels like it. She can already write her name -- legibly -- and she draws constantly. One drawing featured her and her brother inside, and then the two of them outside, in the snow, with mittens on. That I believe constitutes drawing a sequence, which is a pretty big concept, artistically. (Still stick figures, of course.)

She picks the most dangerous, age-inappropriate part of the playground -- whatever involves climbing -- and runs right for it. I stand beneath her just in case she falls. Probably I should shoo her toward the swings instead, but I hate to discourage her spirit of adventure, and I'm usually curious as to whether she'll make it. She usually does.

She especially likes to pretend she's whoever she was just watching on TV. Interestingly, she always picks the main character on a show, even if that character is male. Example:

Kiddette: "I'm Jake!" (Of the Never Land Pirates, if you've so far managed to escape that show.)

Me: "Hi, Jake."

Kiddette: "Say, 'Come on, Jake!' "

Me: *sigh* "Come on, Jake."

Kiddette: "Okay, Mommy Jake!"

There's a girl pirate named Izzy, but she never plays Izzy. Only Jake.

She likes to get out of bed after we've tucked her in and turn the light back on. Sometimes I catch her "reading" a book to her stuffed animals. We've found it's best to wait until she's asleep to turn the light off again, because otherwise she gets right back out of bed and flips the light on. Even after she's out, sometimes she wakes up just enough to turn the light back on, then goes back to sleep, and we don't notice till the morning. Thanks for the electric bill, kiddette.

She sits perfectly still for haircuts and then chases her brother around the house. She wears fairy wings and then roars like a dinosaur. She's this fascinating blend of "girl" and "not so much." She semi-routinely gets in trouble for talking back. I find her exasperating and hilarious and occasionally I'm a little in awe of her, because no one is pushing this kid around. That'll be great when she's a grownup. Less great now, but what can you do?

One of our friends, who has two sons, was asking me what the difference was raising a girl. I said, considering our girl, that I really didn't see a difference. Our friend seemed skeptical until kiddette ran by, gleefully yelling, and launched herself at the most age-inappropriate part of the playground. And then hopped on the huge ride-on electric kiddie car that she wasn't even remotely big enough for. And then our friend said, "You're right. There is no difference."

Well, with kiddette there isn't, anyway.

Monday, June 17, 2013

School buses are supposed to be safe, aren't they?

Not if a child falls asleep and gets left on the bus because the driver and the bus monitor apparently had selective vision problems and couldn't see him sitting there. This happened to cousin E. last week. Cousin H. first got word when she got a call from her carpool family saying her son -- who, like kiddo, has ADHD -- hadn't been on the bus. The best part is that the monitor tried to tell E. it was his fault. For, uh, falling asleep I guess. Because no kid ever falls asleep on a moving vehicle. Never happens.

The monitor was disciplined but for some unbelievable reason not fired. And cousin H. says the school is considering the matter closed. Nothing to see here, move along?

Except no. Because this is not what you would call an "isolated incident." Would you like to know how often special needs kids are abandoned on their buses? All. The. Time.

On April 23, an 11-year-old boy with autism was left on his bus in Oregon for eight hours. The driver and the paraprofessional who left him there were fired, and the district instituted new guidelines on transporting special needs kids, including student checklists for the employees to follow, which is such a smart idea it's a wonder no one thought of it earlier. No, really. Why didn't anyone think of it earlier?  

On April 22, a 4-year-old boy with speech and other issues was left by himself for 11 minutes on his school bus in Arizona. He fell asleep and, according to surveillance video, was not noticed by either the driver or the aide. But here's the best part, according to the ABC affiliate that got hold of the video: He woke up a few minutes into it, confused, and:

After several more minutes, a third school worker can be seen entering the bus, spotting [the boy], but not getting the boy any help. Instead, the employee walked to the back of the bus and continued working.

Oh, clearly the small child just felt like hanging out on the bus all by himself and missing school. No, don't trouble yourself, Bus Employee. The small child all by himself is clearly not your problem even though you WORK FOR THE SCHOOL DISTRICT.

 On March 11, an 8-year-old boy with a genetic disorder was left on his bus in the company lot for five hours in Jersey City (oh, way to represent, Jersey). He fell asleep, he woke up by himself, he hid because he was scared, and the bus driver and aide didn't realize their giant oopsie until they came back for their afternoon run. They were fired and charged with endangering the welfare of a child and endangering the welfare of a disabled person.

On March 19, an 11-year-old boy with autism fell asleep on his bus in Manhattan and the driver and aide -- oh, oops! -- forgot to check the bus before leaving it, police said. He was on the bus for more than two hours, in the cold. When he was finally discovered, his blood pressure was so low the school called 911. Driver and aide were arrested, charged with failing to exercise control of a minor, and suspended from their jobs.

On Feb. 5, a 6-year-old boy with epilepsy and a sensory disorder was left on his bus in North Carolina for an hour-plus while his mother waited at the bus stop, not knowing where he was. He suffered a seizure a few days later, which his mother thought might have been from the stress of the incident. No word on what happened to the driver, who was apparently a substitute.

On Jan. 14, not only did the driver leave a 4-year-old with special needs on the bus in Michigan, but the boy then got off the bus and started to wander around the neighborhood. Neighbors saw him and called the police. The driver, who should be forever and ever grateful that the boy did not get hit by a car, was suspended; the boy's parents opted to start driving him to school themselves.

On Nov. 27, 2012, a 4-year-old boy with autism was left on his school bus in Washington, D.C., for about five hours until the driver and aide got back on the bus for their afternoon shift and realized they still had an undelivered passenger. Seems the aide was sitting up front instead of in the back, where she belonged. Also, she and the driver had disabled the buzzer alert that would've forced them to walk to the back of the bus to turn it off, thus also forcing them to check for children. Isn't that amazing? They had a buzzer to remind them to do their jobs and it still didn't work. Both were fired, charges were supposedly in the works but I don't see an update on that.

 On April 16, 2012, a 3-year-old girl with special needs in New York state was left strapped in her car seat for more than two hours and required hospital treatment for mild dehydration. The driver and the aide were charged with endangering the welfare of a child and were fired.

In December 2011, a 3-year-old girl with special needs was left on her bus in Florida for about five hours, until the driver came back for the afternoon shift and found her. The aide was charged with child neglect.

In November 2009, a 3-year-old boy with developmental and speech delays and asthma was left strapped into his car seat on the bus for six hours in Florida. With, obviously, no asthma medication. The temperature inside the bus was reported at 80 degrees. The driver and monitor were charged with child neglect and quit their jobs.

Lest you think this is a peculiarly American form of incompetence, on June 5, a 5-year-old boy with autism was left on his bus in Ireland. It's unclear how long he was by himself, and an investigation was reportedly under way. And on May 2, a 5-year-old boy with autism fell asleep on the way to his school in the U.K. and was left on the bus for two hours. The driver was reprimanded, the assistant was fired, the school said, hey, the kid's been sick lately, who knew he'd actually show up that day? *ahem* I may be paraphrasing.

Would you like to know how long this extensive research took me to do? About .5 seconds on Google. That's how often this happens.

It boggles the mind. How, oh how do you park your bus for the morning and not notice that you're not the only person on it? Did you somehow think you were transporting sacks of potatoes and not children? Would you rather kick back with a magazine and let the kids drive instead?

If only I had a school bus driver to ask about this phenomenon. But wait, I do! Let's call her Mom.

My mother drove a school bus for our district for about three years. She is equally appalled by what happened to cousin E. (and all the other kids). When she was a driver, she says, she always walked up and down the aisle and checked all the seats to make sure nothing and no one had been left behind. That was district policy. And aides, she said, were supposed to sit in the back of the bus specifically to help check on things at that end. Break the rules, lose your job, end of story.

She thinks privatization is a factor here; districts outsourcing their transportation needs to an outside company that doesn't know the kids or the neighborhood and is most interested in getting the job done and going home. She left her job shortly after the district outsourced, and, she says, the sense of family was gone. Drivers weren't allowed to talk on the radios anymore unless it was an emergency. Drivers weren't sent out for periodic refresher training anymore. The knitting club disappeared. That sort of thing.

Is that the reason? Could be. Drivers who don't know the kids they're transporting probably also don't know how to handle special needs kids, and training costs money, right? (I would also like to blame basic incompetence.)

I really, really don't want this to happen to kiddo. And I even more don't want another child left on a bus long enough that their health is in danger. Because at some point that will end in tragedy.

Is it really so hard to just get up and walk down the aisle and make sure all the kids got off the bus? Really?

Sunday, June 9, 2013

First grade encroaches

One of the things I like about our school district is the relative level of levelheadedness. For instance, the fact that there does not appear to be a kindergarten graduation ceremony in the works. I'm all for celebrating the end of the school year -- and the kids are having a party in class -- but I'm not convinced "graduating" from kindergarten is a moment that requires a gown-and-mortarboard ceremony. Sure, I'm delighted that he can read and write sentences (more or less) and seems to do well with math and does homework with a minimum of fuss, but I don't feel like he's gone above and beyond in his academic striving or anything. There was no colored-pencil thesis paper involved. He didn't conduct an in-depth academic study of the psychosocial undertones of storytime. Graduating kindergarten is just the thing you should do. By the time you're graduating high school and college, things are a little harder. Just my opinion. I'm sure we'll take him out for ice cream or something, and that should do it.

I am of course concerned about next year. It's a full day of school, not a half-day, and the work will be harder and who knows how understanding or proactive his teacher will be. I've read enough online from other parents to know that getting a teacher who "gets" ADHD is a bit of the luck of the draw. Sometimes you get teachers who say things like "Well, I think all first-graders have 'ADHD'" or "He would do so well in class if he would only apply himself" and completely not know, or not care, that a classroom setting is the wrong place for an ADHDer to excel, and that they have to do it in spite of themselves. People think it's a moral thing, not a neurological thing, even though studies keep coming out that prove otherwise.

Like I said, though, it's a nice school district, and they've been pretty good about accommodating us so far, so I might be worrying for nothing. I just really liked his teacher this year, and felt like she "got" kiddo and was willing to go the extra mile to work with us on him. She emails constantly, and she's called us on the weekends when she had concerns about things.

It probably helps us that kiddo is such a likable kid. Sure, I'm biased, but he is just ridiculously sweet and charming and friendly to everyone on the planet. He has this lovely desire to be helpful, whether it's helping kiddette get her shirt on or helping me pull the weeds out of the patio. Granted, he then stacked the patio bricks up and jumped over them, pretending he was Super Mario, but that's to be expected. (Aside from: How does he know who Mario is? Is he sneaking off to 1980s arcades when we're not looking? Does he have a secret NES setup in his room? And should I introduce him to Tetris next?)

So he might be OK next year. I guess. I hope. In the meantime, we're supposed to spend the summer working on his sight words and keyboarding skills -- yes, really, the district set up a program we're supposed to be logging him into, meaning one of us is going to have to share our laptop with him all summer -- and we'll keep reading to them all summer, obviously, so he'll be prepared academically, theoretically.

Incidentally, don't read "The Secret Garden" to your 6-year-old boy unless you'd like to have a long, in-depth discussion about cholera. Not actually the part of the book I was hoping he'd focus on.

... and the children have grown tired of playing Buzz and Woody in kiddette's room, and would like breakfast.