Saturday, October 24, 2009

Unexpected wins and special needs

I’m reasonably good at predicting what two of my children will like and do.

I’m much less accurate at predicting the interests and abilities of my most exceptional son. Sometimes I guess high, but more often I guess low.

When we started playing baseball, I never thought he’d be a competitive and eager ballplayer. His recent soccer playing was completely unexpected. Yes, he is the weakest player on his school team – but he continues to go to practices.

He’s learned more math than I expected he would. I’m glad I listened to the advice of the mother of a girl with Downs syndrome. She told me her daughter got more out of sitting in mainstream history classes than she’d expected.

Today, though, he really surprised me. We’ve had great struggles with him getting off the computer when his earned time has ended. This is where multiple disabilities meet; the limited effectiveness of any punishments or of delayed rewards, frontal lobe dysfunction, ADHD, time perception, limited flexibility, frustration, lock-in, planning issues, and typical adolescent maternal/son power struggles exacerbated by all of his disabilities.

These challenges had led to a rule that both parents had to be present for his computer use; mostly so I could be the enforcer.

A difficult situation, but these challenges are also opportunities. He’s fighting over something he wants to do, but it’s extremely hard for him. It tests his weaknesses. To succeed he must develop new skills and strategies that will work in many life situations. The prize is worth the struggle.

His younger sibs don’t have the dual parent constraint. For my son, this indignity was the last straw. He was ready to deal, and he knew we had a strong position. Nine years of living the Greene approach have made him a seasoned negotiator.

The deal was that he’d use a countdown timer on one of our phones. He had to stop use immediately on the alarm with no parental words at all (it helps this is an iPhone alarm – tasteful and elegant). He had to do this five times in a row. If he succeeded he would revert to having the same privileges as his siblings. I wrote out the rules and five checkboxes and put it on the kitchen wall.

He succeeded on his first run, somehow managing to earn 5 wins in 3 days. (It hadn’t occurred to me that he could take his computer time in shorter segments, thereby shrinking his trial period. I’m intrigued by his intuitive ability to invent strategies like this – without being able to verbalize them.)

So he’s back on the same routine as his sibs – though he’s obligated to forever use the timer. Timer skills, of course, are very helpful for ADHD children and adults. As we’d planned.

Of course I expect he’ll regress. We’ll be back to the struggle again, and he’ll have to earn another five checks in the row. (As I wrote this, however, he completed a 10 minute segment brilliantly – stopping a game in mid-move. I’d have bet $40 he wouldn’t do that.)

Whatever happens now, victory is ours. We now know he can do this, eventually we will win. We, as in he and us.

This afternoon we try mainstream hockey. Another giant challenge. He has many more challenges in his life than I do.

Ok, maybe not many more. Comparable, anyway.

Update 2/18/2010: We still struggle with the computer, but we've definitely made progress. I'd forgotten we used this program (my own disabilities - aging brain) and I might try it again. He did succeed in the hockey program -- really better than I thought he would.

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