Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Stress Be Not Proud

One of the more frequent occurrences for HSB at this time of year is the fact the he decides that school is over. It’s not over by a long shot, he just decides that he’s had enough and stops doing his work. It has been this way since he was a little boy. Around April, I would say, he has held it together since September, with minimal beaks, and he has come to the distinct conclusion that school is done. He can’t do anymore. He has had enough. He’s finished for the year; the fact that there are two more months of school doesn’t really register with him.

The truth of the matter is that for all of our children the fact that they have to be on for at least 8 hours a day is beyond difficult for them. There is all the sensory input that they can’t assimilate. There are all the new educational skills that take them extra time to learn. There is the physical activity that they may not be able to keep up with. There are the social problems that just get worse and more daunting as they get older.

There is just so much for them to deal with on a constant basis that by early spring, they’ve had enough. You would think that by the time HSB was a junior in highschool that he would have been able to handle the day to day stressors a little better than he did, but I have to tell you it’s been a rough year. I remember collegeman and his junior and senior years. I chalked it up in retrospect to incorrect medication. He had been on meds that in fact made his anxiety worse instead of better. So that made the poor kid suffer even more than he normally would have. But nonetheless, collegeman always strived and worked and drove himself to the brink with his worries about school. HSB is so different. He doesn’t strive and work even harder when he gets overwhelmed he shuts down and shuts down completely.

Now this is different than the previous post about gaming the system. For HSB it is a two tiered situation. He likes to play the game and get extra time when he doesn’t feel like doing the work or makes excuses for not doing the work. But alternatively he also just doesn’t have it in him to do anymore. Unfortunately the only way to parcel out which is the “temper of the moment” is to know that when he plays games with the teachers, it’s about the system, but when he has a meltdown you know it’s about his need to be done with school.

Yes junior year is a biggie in the annuls of school. It’s the first year that the student takes the college boards (unless your child is taking the SAT2, then that can actually start right away in freshman year). You start with that wonderful PSAT that we all know and love in October. It sets you on the direction for the year and what extra studying is going to go into your world. Of course, for HSB he had actually been working on the ACTs for a year, since last summer. Not a lot but every once in awhile and with more of a push when he got closer to the test. Now it did pay off for him, because he got a great score, but it is very stressful.

Additionally most students, not HSB, but others take a myriad of AP classes, which is supposed to get them into a better level of college. It wasn’t really that HSB couldn’t do the work if he had to, but I felt there was no need to add to his anxiety. Regular highschool is sufficient. He can do college level work when he gets to college. I am also singularly alone in my town with this thought. When I tell other parents about HSBs classes they all assume he is taking AP considering he is a junior.

But then that leads me to another point about just children in general. I remember when the boys were young they were scheduled to the hilt. There was something every day for both of them. Now with our children the truth is we are trying to give them some semblance of a “normal” childhood as they also are dragged from therapy to therapy. So in between social skills class, and psychotherapy and OT we also go to tennis lessons, horseback riding lessons, karate lessons and religious school. I can’t tell you how many hours I just lived in my car. No I did not carpool. Not because I couldn’t have used the help, but because I had enough carting my own children around, I had no need to be responsible for the foibles of other people’s children. I am adamant that with all the carpool stories I have heard there is just another level of social crap that neither my boys nor I needed to tell the truth.

So off I would go on my merry way into Mommy Taxi land and make sure the boys were where they were supposed to be. Now that also did not include the fact that they also had homework to do when they did eventually end up at home. Sometimes they were able to take the homework with them and complete it either on the car ride or in the doctor’s office, but there was always just that one little thing left to do.

Now one of the side effects of all this therapy running around was the fact that the boys really did not play any team sports. Well, the truth is that their aspergers made it very difficult of them to understand how the rules of the game are played and how players interact with each other on the field, so team sports were not going to be their activity anyway. What this did was basically sideline them for any and all team sports throughout their education.

I am not sure how it is in your town, but team sports are not just kids in the park anymore. It is a highly competitive, in your face, misadventure with parents being the most type A nasty asshats you would ever want to meet. Of course we all hear every year about the parent that gets thrown out of their son’s (and now daughter’s too) little league game because they yelled at the ump, but I am talking about something totally different. This is competition on steroids. This is life and death to these people. It is not just the trophies and the bragging rights. It is all about the sports that get your child into the Ivy League school (with scholarship of course) so that mom and dad can put that sticker on their car.

Well around here it’s also about just the Ivy League sticker too. It’s why there are some kids that take upwards of 5 AP classes in the junior year of highschool. Talk about stress. Talk about having skewed priorities. Between, sports, volunteer work, hours and hours of homework, and then the internships in the field of their choice, it is not a wonder that these children exhibit huge stress levels. Someone mentioned to me the other day that these kids are expected to have a curriculum vitae of a middle aged person in order to get into a top university. There is no way it can be done without harm to the child. Sorry.

Perhaps it is one of the upsides of having a child with aspergers. We did not get caught up in the go, go, go mentality in such a way that we pushed our children beyond their true limits. The fact is I am still trying to figure those limits out for each boy. I don’t think that all the running around I did when they were little was a bad thing. But after a few years of that I even stopped it, because I couldn’t cope. However, I can tell you we are all really just happy right now with very few afterschool activities and a closer therapist. (OK the therapist is also doing well by them and they both really like him, so that is the ultimate decider, not just proximity. But the proximity really helps too)

I think it all comes to ahead at one time or the other. I had my epiphany about running like a maniac years before the boys entered highschool. Gave them what they needed but also realized that they needed to just do nothing as well. I think sometimes that the idea that they should be bored is seen as a bad thing. I remember when I was bored as a child I actually got to use my imagination and make up things to do. I actually sat down and read a book or even wrote a book on my own.

There is no time for children to just be children anymore. It’s always time to be on. As I said earlier HSB is done being on by April. Of course where school is concerned he needs to be on for about eight more weeks, much to his chagrin. So we push him and we have him work through his need to stop. In life you have to complete what you are doing and truthfully you don’t get breaks to just hangout and do nothing, not anymore. Even on vacations there are ways for people to find you. Brilliant-computer-sis just lamented to me that on a recent flight because the plane is wired and everyone knows it, she had to continue to answer client emails instead of just sitting quiet and being left alone for a few hours. It just doesn’t stop. It never stops.

But it has to stop at some point. It has to be reined in. Especially for our children’s sake. This level of anxiety and stress is not healthy. It is not good for anyone to be in a continual cycle of go, go, go. So I am glad that there is very little that we do now after school. There are tutors and there is the therapist, but other than that we really do nothing. When the boys are done with their work, they go exercise and play their video games. They are allowed to be just kids and do “kid nothing.” Perhaps I don’t understand the type A parent mentality because the boys were not destined for Ivy League Universities anyway so many might say I have sour grapes. But I don’t think so; you tell me if you disagree. I think one of the things I learned from my boys having aspergers is that somethings that society may hold dear are truly not that important in the long run. That you need to create a world in which you are happy and in which you are successful at your own pace.

I still remember one day sitting at a tennis lesson and there was a really nice kid there who had just been put on the tennis team. But instead of congratulating him, the boy’s father yelled at him for not winning his swim meet. The boy came in second instead of first. I will never forget the crushed look on that child’s face when that father through the boy’s tennis accomplishment in the garbage. I felt so bad for that child and very angry at that father. The mother even made and still makes excuses for her husband’s attitude always saying it’s the father’s desire for the children to accomplish this or that goal. Never out of these parent’s mouths though, did they ever say, it’s the child’s desire to do something. It really is all about the parents isn’t it.

But in the meantime, I just got a call from HSB’s case manager; he does need to get himself back in gear for the last month of school. She is going to have a talk with him. He may want to shut down but he can’t. I know he has had enough but he needs to buck it up. I know that he needs the summer to start, but it’s just not time. I am making sure that he understands that you need to reach the finish line. Slow and steady wins the race. Slow and steady and then he will get to sleep to noon every day for two months. I think he will need just a little more hand holding than normal. It's been a tough year for him. but we'll help him through it. In truth he has no choice.

Until next time,