Category Archives: School

Transplant Day 290 and the Back to School Meeting

Today was insane. Brian and I woke up before Patrick, a rare occasion, and were lying in bed talking (we’ve missed each other) when the power went out. And then, a few minutes later we heard sirens. And, well, we hoped it wasn’t but we suspected that a car accident had knocked out the power. We live in a quiet neighborhood, but it’s near some busy streets. And this morning, somehow a traffic accident took down two power poles. Across the street form each other. The power was out all day.

Not the smoothest start, but we pushed on. It was a big and busy day and I needed to make the most of it. So, after sending Daddy off to work, Patrick and I got ready to go do a little more shopping. We still needed some things for school to start. And then we hurried home to meet my sister.

i ended up with 3 big things scheduled today. An allergist appointment, a school meeting, and a speech evaluation. My sister Marcy agreed to tag along for the day to help keep Patrick happy while I did the talking that needed to be done. Patrick doesn’t like us to talk about him.

Well, we got to the allergist and went to check in and they couldn’t find the appointment. Finally they looked it up and told me that it wasn’t until the following day. I explained that I had come at the time told to me and that I couldn’t come the next day because Patrick was in school. They tried to find a way to fit us in.. but with other meetings we couldn’t swing it.

I was disappointed because i really want help sorting out these new allergy test results. They revealed new allergies. They also hint that Patrick might be outgrowing his milk allergy. And I don’t know what comes next. But it had to wait for another day.

We went and grabbed lunch and then headed to a park. Patrick was seeming restless. But we sat down to eat only to discover that Arby’s had put cheese on Patrick’s roast beef sandwich. And with no answers from the allergist, I had to pick out the pieces he could eat. Frustrating.

Anyway – Patrick made a friend and the time at the park was fun enough. And then we went off to meet with the school.

I can’t really describe what school meetings for Patrick look like. This one was packed. We had the teacher, OT, PT, principal, nurse, district special education liason, and two other very big district big wigs over special accommodations in the school. Plus Patrick, me and Marcy.

As I mentioned before, I had talked to Patrick’s teacher and nurse the week before. The teacher and I talked at length about medical accommodations. She was very worried because Patrick needs extra supervision at recess, lunch, and especially with the potty and she just doesn’t have enough adults in her classroom to help with that. Especially since they added 5 kids to the class since last I’d heard. I told her I’d been promised extra help and she asked me how far I was willing to go to make that happen. I started writing e-mails that day. And I got promises that the district would send help to the meeting. (Enter the district big wigs.)

When I talked to the nurse, again, when we started talking about medical needs he said that it sounded like we didn’t have enough support. I told him that we had been promised extra help from an aide and I didn’t know how to make that happen. I gave him some names that I had of people who had made decision and promises. And he said he’d make some calls.

Yesterday morning, I got a call from the district nurse who was helping with Patrick’s school transition. She explained to met that, in fact, she had helped request an aide for Patrick and told me the language to use to make sure that one was provided. And she promised to call around and find specifics.

And so today we sat down and i started to go over Patrick’s needs and I brought up the concern that there wasn’t enough support in the classroom… and the district special resources person told the principal that they had 22 extra aide hours per week for Patrick. Her response was a mix of frustration and relief. Glad for the resources but not so much for needing to produce this extra employee for school to start the next morning.  I can’t blame her for being upset. I’m upset that it took a meeting when I’ve been asking about it for a month. But I’m also partly to blame for taking so long to choose a school.

We went over medical needs. The nurse was really outspoken and trying his best to help. We talked about where Patrick should sit and lunch. (End of the table with friends with safe lunches next to him.) We decided we needed to set a time to train the classroom staff. Only with school starting, he didn’t think we could fit that in right away.  We decided to let Patrick come 10 minutes late to school and miss breakfast. I explained that hands have to be washed with soap and water, not just hand sanitizer which created a fuss about the bathrooms always being out of soap. I offered to provide soap for the classroom. And the district rep jumped in and said I couldn’t do that and promised to remedy the situation.

We talked about potty training. That was one of the teacher’s biggest worries. I don’t blame her. It’s a huge time commitment. Especially with Patrick. I guess there are two kids potty training which makes things even more complicated. Also, the private bathroom I was excited about turns out to be in the school’s “sick room.” I was SO grateful when someone else spoke up and said that wouldn’t work. Not sure that we actually ended up with a resolution, though. They talked about making the school move the sick room. They talked about offering to install a changing table in the bathrooms that are being remodeled, too. We decided to let Patrick wear pull-ups to school while we work it out.

We planned to hold a new IEP meeting in October, once they’ve had a month to get to know Patrick. And we talked about including or re-including some new things at that time like restarting physical therapy and calling in the augmentative team to look at some assistive technology for writing.

And then, after we talked about everything that needs to be done.. the idea was thrown out that Patrick maybe would be better off if he didn’t start school tomorrow. I didn’t know if i was relieved or crushed by that idea. Really, they aren’t ready. Really, I’m not ready. I have felt like I have been only halfway there this year. Not put together. Not giving him time to transition after all the craziness of travel. And so a few more days will let me make his backpack and his lunchbox cute and medical friendly. It will let me train the staff. It will let them try to hire help. It might give me time to figure out this new allergy questions. And to get Patrick back into a routine with eating and potty. It will let Patrick and I have a few more days at home to say goodbye to each other. And to really get him ready for the idea of school.

But I’m kind of sad. It feels kind of like when you’re on a road trip and you finally make it to a rest stop only to find out that the bathroom is closed and you’re gonna have to cross the street to the gas station. It’s only a little further, but it’s the longest, hardest part of the wait. I look around and see so many things that have just been waiting for me to get to them. And they will need to keep waiting.

I feel really bad for Patrick, too. On Sunday, all the other kids will be talking about starting school. And he will have been left a home. Again. He will miss the craziness of the first day of school. But he’ll have missed the specialness of it, too. He’ll be the different kid. The one who came late. The new kid. Again.

They asked if I’d like to come teach the kids about his allergies and immune suppression. I told them about the presentation I gave last year at the start of kindergarten. And I could see they liked the idea. So on Friday afternoon, I’ll be going in to introduce Patrick to his class. And then afterwards, we’ll meet and go over a behavior plan and schedule.

And then Monday morning, he’ll start school. I’ll stay and help the nurse train the teachers. And I’ll maybe stay to help a little more than that if they don’t have another aide by then.

And I know it’ll be good.

I think I’m just a little bit mourning normal. I want back to school to be exciting and happy. This just feels complicated.

But maybe having a few more days to regroup will accomplish that. And meanwhile, we have one last week with the girl who’s been doing Patrick’s respite. And we have a few sweet days where all the kids are in school and we might be able to sneak off and do something awesome without a crowd.

Lots of appointments and planning a new normal

School starts on August 19th. My goal in this month prior to school is to help Patrick work up to a school year normal.

Therapy

That means a few things. First, it means restarting outpatient therapy. I took Patrick back to his occupational therapist a month ago. She was so excited to have him back and eager to start working with him on writing and an learning to manage his sensory processing disorder with a new “sensory diet.” (Since transplant, Patrick’s not nearly as controlled by his sensory seeking behaviors. But that doesn’t mean they’ve gone away. However, he’s a lot more tired so the big physical play that used to help focus wears him out fast now.)

The bad news, though, is that Primary Children’s lost a couple of therapists this summer. They have hired a bunch of new ones. But that means that the veterans are very busy with the transition. Patrick’s beloved therapist just doesn’t have time in her schedule to do the weekly therapist that Patrick seems to need right now. However, she’s been shadowed by another therapist in the couple of visits we went to. And so we transferred care, at least temporarily, to a new occupational therapist.

We also agreed to move back to the Taylorsville Clinic. (I have had some bad experiences with the office staff at that clinic and had decided not to keep going there.) Because it shares space with an instacare, Patrick has to wear a mask on the way in and can’t wait in the waiting room. However, it’s closer to home, has a bigger, cleaner gym.  And we were able to basically pick our time on their lightest day.

Our first session went pretty well. His therapist picked up on all the tools we use to keep Patrick on track: a clear schedule, verbal cues, deep breathing, etc. and I think he was calmer for her than has been his usual. The other nice thing is that I think we can pull off going to therapy at 8 a.m. on Mondays to let him get ready for the week at school.

I’ve scheduled evaluations so he can restart speech and physical therapies, too. And he’ll have his last home health feeding therapy session this week.

Evaluation

Also, to get ready for school, we started a new neuropsychological evaluation. Patrick was SO young last time he was tested. And we know that having a healthy gut has changed a lot of things for him. His sensory processing, focus, and other quirkiness is actually a lot less since transplant, even though he’s having a hard time with sitting still, speaking quietly, and controlling his temper. It seemed like a good time to get a new look at his abilities.

So we did an intake interview and in the first few weeks of school, Patrick will be pulled out for 3 half days so I can take him for some testing. Hopefully it helps.

As I mentioned before, we’re working on a behavior plan, too, with his psychologist.. hoping to have him used to a specific set of consequences and rewards that they can use in class. He always does best in class away from me, anyway.

Transplant follow-up appointment & diet changes

We saw Patrick’s GI, Dr. J this week. It was a long appointment. For one thing, I needed Dr. J to sign all new orders for school again. It’s getting smaller each time, though. This time around was only 8 signatures and 6 pages. Compared to 20 the first year, that’s big improvement.

Patrick weighed in at 24 kilos. That’s just under 53 pounds, and up 3 pounds in the past 3 weeks. They had a new dietitian this time and she pointed out that since Patrick’s eating meats (even if they are just hot dogs, hamburgers and lunch meat) he might be eating enough protein to not need as much formula at night. Dr. J was really concerned about Patrick’s 96% BMI and rapid weight gain. He said we need to get Patrick on a regular meal and snack schedule. And he said we should consider doing less “feeding while he is unconscious.”

So, I ran this all past the dietitian in Nebraska. And she made another reduction in Patrick’s formula feeding. I’m supposed to be keeping a log of everything he eats for the next 3 days so she can evaluate what he’s getting and we can start talking about a plan for all oral eating.

I’m not sure if this means needing to add other foods to his diet. Patrick doesn’t really absorb vegetables well. (Dr. J. says they are “just wood” anyway if you don’t have a colon to break them down in.) He can’t eat fruits. So he’ll need vitamin supplements at least.

Allergies

We also saw Patrick’s allergist, Dr. G, today. For years, every time we went to the allergist, he’d say that we’d need to do a whole new workup after transplant when Patrick was ready to eat. Well, Patrick seems to be more than willing to eat. And so it’s important to figure out what exactly he is allergic to. This is kind of tricky with immune suppression because the same drugs that suppress Patrick’s immune system also suppress his allergic reactions. This is good news. But it means that we don’t really know what the potential for allergies is.

So that was today’s goal. Figure out what Patrick might be allergic to. Allergist appointments are always long. Like, crazy long. We were there three and a half hours today. For an hour, we updated Patrick’s medical chart and gave history to a resident. (Which, in summer especially, is a bit like training a new resident.) And then Patrick’s allergist came in and went over possible allergens. I went through a list of things we could test for an highlighted the things I think Patrick might be allergic to. Then the doctor highlighted the things he thought from past test results Patrick might be allergic to. Plus other foods that he thought it would be good for Patrick to try to eat. We tested for just under 40 possible allergens in all. That was all that would fit on his back.

Some of the results were predictable. Cashews and pistachios, off the chart. Eggs still in a big danger zone. Oats were much higher than expected. And I highlighted peaches, oranges, and strawberries because I’ve had my suspicions. They were very surprised when some of those rare things came up positive. We had other positives for foods that rarely to never cause reactions, like tomatoes and wheat. These could be just because they are a big part of Patrick’s diet and not that he can’t safely eat them. Really, all testing done so far, we don’t know almost as much as we did going it.

Nuts, both tree nuts and peanuts, are still a HUGE no for Patrick. We are still a nut-free house, for sure. So are eggs, peaches, corn, oats. However, he tested negative for cow’s milk, which was a very big surprise. (You can outgrow milk allergies but a year ago, Patrick wasn’t anywhere close to that.)

So the next step is to do a blood test. That will test for a different type of reaction. If the negatives in the scratch test match up with negatives in the blood test, we’ll do a food challenge. (For example, offer Patrick cheese.) If positives match up with positives, then we’ll talk about a strategy to keep Patrick safe but eating as much as possible. They will not be likely to stop him from eating foods that he is currently eating without reactions. He might have become desensitized and we wouldn’t want to reverse that by taking something back out of his diet. But time and testing and trial and error will decide. And if the results conflict, meaning if one is positive and one negative, we’ll probably test again.

This is sounding confusing as I’m writing it. It doesn’t change much of what we have been doing. Just helps us try to figure out how to help Patrick eat as much as possible and keep him safe. Meanwhile, we refilled his epi and got correct dosing on his antihistimines and requested a new letter for school. And we got things started.

Patrick was a champion. It was a long appointment and he was very scared. And yet, he was very patient and helpful. He crashed in exhaustion on the way home.

Choosing a school

Enough medical updates though. I have other news. We also have been planning for school by talking to the school district. I had a meeting yesterday with a couple of district representatives (I was being transitioned from one representative to another because of some restructuring). The goal of the meeting was to finally pick a school placement for Patrick. And I did finally make a decision.

Everyone who has spent time working with Patrick: his home hospital teacher, his summer school teacher, his psychologist and group therapy leader.. they all say that he needs to be in a higher functioning self-contained classroom this year. In a regular class, he’d walk all over the teacher and never get anything done. In a low functioning class, he’d gravitate to the classroom staff and not make friends or learn to work independently. And in either, he’d get bored and then get naughty.

But, as I’ve written before, I was uncomfortable with the classroom that he’d go to by default because of our address. Well, a little over a week ago I got brave enough to ask if there were any other classrooms like that one in other schools. Since, after all, I drive Patrick to school anyway.

It turns out, there are several. And the closest to my home happens to be in the town where I grew up. Across the street from my grandpa’s house. And 5 minutes away from Patrick’s therapy office.

All of a sudden, things seemed to fall into place. The class is indoors. It has fewer students. The teacher has a pretty good reputation. And, even though it’s far from home, that family connection will make it feel like Patrick isn’t going to school far away. It isn’t farther from the other school. And it’s in a place I know. I know the neighborhood. If he made friends and wanted to play after school, I could do that. Grandparents, aunts and uncles all live nearby to help respond when he’s sick. Patrick could even, in theory, choose to walk to his grandpa’s instead of me picking him up. Eventually. Once we’re sure he will actually go there when given a chance.

The district folks seemed to think they’d even be open and excited to have me volunteer in the school. (They have a high hispanic population. It sounds like I can use my talents to help.)

I’m a nervous wreck still. All of a sudden being away from Patrick from 9 to 3:45 every day after all this time together sounds terrifying. I wonder if he’ll make friends. I worry because I don’t know ANY of the staff here. Losing my district rep means that EVERYONE will be brand new to me. And I don’t know what writing an IEP and trying to request accommodations is going to be like. And I’m coming in with a very long wish list that I expect them to take care of.

Also, unlike some other places I’ve looked at… this is a very normal school. No big special needs programs. Just two small little special needs units.

And – I still have to make plans for safe lunch AND breakfast in the classroom. Though with only a handful of students, that should be more doable.

To make things worse, I didn’t bother looking up a school calendar until last week. Our district starts the same week of the year every year and I made plans for that. Only THIS YEAR they decided to change things and start a week early. Which means that instead of having a full week to make plans with a new school like I thought, I’ll have just 2 days. 2 days! To give medical training. To make an allergy plan. To make a behavior plan. To orient a whole new team to our family.

I am overwhelmed and scared. A LOT.

We are going to register tomorrow regardless.

Summer school and still planning for first grade

Well, as I mentioned in my last post, Patrick has started the extended school year program. Extended school year is a funny thing in our neck of the woods. I don’t know if it works like this everywhere, but Utah has such large families and our school district is one of the most established and biggest in the state so they are very efficient in what they do.. that, well, here you don’t get extended school year in your IEP unless you have a really darn good reason for it. I’ve tried in years past and was told that it really is reserved for children whose disabilities are so severe that they wouldn’t make much progress elsewhere.

I didn’t even imagine what that meant until this last week when I dropped Patrick off in his class. Patrick was placed in the amazing medical school in our district for the summer because he is still so newly post-transplant. Unlike the school that he’s been attending which serves children with medical needs but also the local community, Hartvigsen is a dedicated medical school for the district’s most severely disabled students. What an undertaking!

There are at least a dozen buses that bring students to this school. Their teachers and aides meet them and bring them to class. There may be fewer than a dozen crazy parents like me dropping their children off at school. (I prefer to do this anyway, but really had no choice if transplant medications were going to be given exactly as ordered and on time.) I was instructed to walk Patrick into his classroom. His teacher was excitedly waiting.

It’s possible he was the only student added to that class for the summer. He was also the only student who was verbal and not in a wheelchair.

I took a deep breath, a leap of faith, and kissed him goodbye.

Meanwhile, I headed over to the office for a meeting I’d scheduled with the district representative to talk about my concerns for his placement in 1st grade. The buses were late, so my meeting was late. And I got to sit and watch the students and teachers some into the school. And I saw Patrick come meet the office staff. He was very happy.

Now, about the meeting.. I know in my heart that he’s too behind right now to be comfortable just starting in a 1st grade class. But I also have just felt unsettled about the class they proposed putting him into.

So – we talked about it. She was amazing to listen to my concerns and express solutions. I told her that I am incredibly worried about him not being challenged if he’s only taught the goals that we come up with for an IEP. That he often surprises us by mastering things beyond the skills we think he’s stuck on. Sure, he’s struggling writing his name, for example, but I discovered that he can write about 60% of the rest of the alphabet with reasonable approximation.

I’m also very worried about him socially. I know that he behaves best, learns best, participates best and is happiest when he has friends. And so I’m worried that placing him in a class where he doesn’t have typical peers to socialize with.

And as I expressed these concerns, the woman I was meeting with mentioned that she wondered if he’d do better in a different self-contained classroom. They’d suggested that he be placed in a lower functioning classroom because of low IQ test scores. However, she said, there was another class where the students were closer to normal functioning, the class followed more of a typical class schedule, etc. She tried to describe the difference to me, and then offered to take me to tour the schools and classrooms (albeit without teachers or students) in a couple of days.

Tuesday, I had a much delayed appointment with the oral surgeon who helps keep me from grinding my teeth to bits and causing crippling migraines. So Wednesday was the next day I could. Meanwhile, Tuesday I happened into a couple of conversations that proved good reconnaissance on this issue.

For one thing, Patrick’s home hospital teacher, who he has clicked so well with and learned so well from, called to check in. When I mentioned the choice of classrooms, she didn’t falter. She said that hands down, the first placement we had been offered was too low-functioning for Patrick’s abilities. She offered to call around to some of her contacts in the district and then get back to me. And she did.. giving me some names and some specific behavioral strategies that she thought I should have put into Patrick’s IEP to help him. She hinted that she thought he should get into a typical classroom as quickly as possible, too, which made me falter a bit in my thinking.

Then, that evening, I had the chance to talk to a friend of mine whose son with autism is just finishing his 6th grade year in the higher of the two programs we had talked about. She only had good things to say about his experience at the school and we had a really good conversation about transitions and self-contained classrooms. It helped a ton.

I went into Wednesday morning pretty confident about what I wanted. We toured the lower classrooms first. The school was beautiful. I loved the layout of the classrooms. It’s only 5 minutes from home. And as we stood there, I told her that I was hearing from the teacher who has had the best results with Patrick that she didn’t think he belonged there.

Then we drove out to the other school. The one that sounded like the best fit. It was a long drive and kind of hidden in the middle of a windy-road subdivision. I didn’t love the classroom. At the second school, the self-contained classrooms are in portable classrooms, a.k.a. relocatables. The room seemed run down and bare. I could imagine Patrick cowering at the sound of rain on the roof. The classroom had steep aluminum steps and the nearest bathroom is inside the school building and I could just imagine Patrick having to go up and down them in the snow to go to the bathroom every couple of hours. The custodian was very helpful, answering questions about where the kids line up, where the buses arrive, and even the morning routine. He pointed out that they have a breakfast program where all the kids eat a district-provided lunch at their desks. Most parents would be thrilled. With food allergies and oral aversion and new transplant, I’ve been worried sick about lunch. Two meals at school, and one in the classroom, really bothered me.

I’d mention concerns, and my guide would do her best to offer accommodations they could offer to make things work. And I found myself saying, well, we’ll have to do this or that and make it work.

Still as we were leaving, my district representative asked me if I wanted to just start planning for Patrick to attend the more advanced classroom in the second school.. and I told her I needed to talk to my husband and Patrick’s therapist and get back to her.

I think I know that Patrick needs a higher functioning classroom.  But I so wish that I could have him closer to home in a beautiful classroom in a school that used to be the medical hub so they are wonderful at medical inclusion. And I don’t know for sure what to do about these worries. Or if I can really do anything in the middle of summer.

They tell me we can move him if we pick one school and it doesn’t work. I hate the idea of him being continually bounced around.

Meanwhile, after a week in his extended school year classroom at Hartvigsen, the principal called my helpful district representative and asked me if I’d consider moving him into a higher functioning classroom. And when I picked Patrick up Wednesday, they brought me all of his school medical supplies again. He’ll be moving to a new classroom at the school immediately next door to Hartvigsen called Plymouth Elementary. They have one class there. It has 7 students of all grades. But I’ve seen them. (They were waiting for a late bus while I was waiting for my meeting Monday) and he will fit in better there. And learn better there. He keeps asking me if his new friends will have wheelchairs. And he’ll still get to swim on Wednesdays.

Transplant day 215 and the School Placement Meeting

I find I procrastinate blogging when I am having a hard time processing something emotionally. I’m finding this subject hard to write about. This past week hard to write about. And I was kind of relieved by a brief outage in the blog that made it so I couldn’t write. But if I don’t get this down soon, then I won’t get past it to the things you want to know about. So here goes.

I’m behind in blogging and, given how much has happened, have decided to do some belated day-by-day catch-up. So in this post, you’ll be travelling back with me to June 3. The day of Patrick’s school transition meeting.

Actually, let’s back up to the day before it. On June 2, I took Patrick for his end-of-year kindergarten assessment. We got delayed leaving because it was also lab day and so we arrived with breakfast still in hand because we’d just made it. That’s ok. Patrick tests better when he’s eating.

I sat in the corner and read scriptures on my phone and half-listened. I actually feel like the test was pretty representative and that he did pretty well. It also pointed out to me how much he still struggles. He aced letters and letter sounds, starting sounds of words, and read a few sight words. When asked to write words, well, first he is only identifying parts of words. Second, writing is one of those things that his brain injury makes hard. His teacher pushed him to write starting sounds, which I was pleased with. And he showed her that he still knows pretty well. He struggled a bit with sounding out words, too. His speech delays get in the way there sometimes. But I thought he did pretty well, for him. He counted to 26, though he almost forgot 16. He counted 20 objects. And then he avoided the other math questions.

It felt like a pretty good representation of his abilities as I listened. And when it was done, his teacher kind of talked through the results with me. As expected, he’s better with literacy than math and writing is a big obstacle. She told me that she was worried that he was not going to do well in a writing-focused first grade classroom and I started to fear that I might need to think differently about what I was going to ask for in the placement meeting the next day.

Like I wrote before, the week before the nurse had given me a heads up that Patrick no longer qualifies for medical hub services and so he’d need a special exception to attend Whittier. That was my preference, though I wondered if there might be other better options I didn’t know about. I knew I didn’t think he wouldn’t do well in a typical first grade classroom in a school without support.  He is so far behind the rest of the kids in his kindergarten class after this year.

So, Wednesday morning rolled around. We were combining getting ready for our trip to Nebraska that evening with getting ready for this meeting. Brian tried to sneak in a work call and it seemed that we were going to be quite late. How we managed to find time to still go pick up Dunkin’ Donuts I don’t know. But I do know that I was on the brink of a panic attack when I’d imagined doing that and then didn’t think we could. I’m not so good with change.

Anyway, we dropped Patrick with my mom and then met with the team. At first, we went over Patrick’s current abilities. Strengths and weaknesses. Learning style. Kind of went around the table and his teachers and therapists talked about what he’d accomplished in the past month and where he still needs to go.

And then it was time to let the district representative go over placement options. She offered 3: 1) Repeating kindergarten, 2) A regular first-grade classroom with an aide, and 3) a self-contained classroom called a functional academic classroom.

We’ve talked about repeating kindergarten for quite some time now. When we got home from Nebraska, it seemed inevitable. But Patrick has made a lot of progress and he’s already one of the oldest in his class and this just didn’t seem like the right choice for him.

Then the principal explained why she didn’t think a regular classroom with an aide was a good placement choice. (Please note: the principal at Whittier is one of the kindest, most concerned administrators I’ve ever met. So when she shared this, it was full of empathy and a sincere thought in Patrick’s best interest.) She expressed concern that Patrick would get frustrated with being so far behind his peers. That he’d need a lot of pull-out time. And that having an aide hovering would feel limiting and restrictive to him. Patrick’s teacher had pointed out to me that he often stopped and tried to get her to give him answers or help in his test because he is so used to it.

Then they told us about the functional academic classroom. How it provided a smaller class size and lots more adult support so they can accommodate different learning styles. How the school is closer to our home. How it used to be a medical hub, too, so the environment there is accepting and inclusive. How amazing the teacher is. How they have often sent students there to see them thrive. How some of the IEP team also works there so we would have some familiar faces willing to advocate for him.

We also talked about placement at the school by our house. They gave me lots of pros to that, as well, but I knew it wasn’t right. That he’s not ready for that.

I knew as they talked about the other classroom that they were describing what will probably be the best place for him to learn. They reassured me that being pulled out in a self-contained classroom doesn’t have to be a long-term thing. That he might only need a couple of years to make up for what he’s missed.

But then, I started to imagine Patrick and the little friends in his classroom who have loved him so sincerely. How their faces light up when they see him. How they hold hands on the playground. And I started to cry. I HATE that I cry. But, as much as I know that academically this classroom will help him, I don’t want to see him lose that acceptance and friendship. And it is a total leap of faith. (One I am having a hard time making.) to believe that starting all over again in a new school isn’t going to set him back socially. Especially if he isn’t in a regular classroom. All the inclusive activities in the world aren’t the same as being in the same class.

And besides – it means giving up the amazing people at the school Patrick’s been attending. The familiar faces. The rockstar IEP team. The sensory room and PT gym. And my little oasis next door where I’ve been walking and studying and praying while he’s in school.

So – the meeting ran a bit longer because once I had tears on my face, they were trying to comfort and reassure me. Which made me feel stupid because I know my reaction is emotional. The logical part of my brain knows what’s best here. I’m already thinking of that as his new school. But I’ve got to find a way to make sure that all the i’s are dotted and the t’s crossed to send him there. And make sure that my fears don’t rub off on him.

And once the meeting was over, we sent Brian off to a meeting at work and I went and finished packing for Nebraska. And I was completely distracted all afternoon.  And we were up till 2 a.m. for reasons I’ll describe in the next post.

And I’ve stalled writing this blog post because I still feel conflicted and unresolved. And a bit guilty that I didn’t pull off more of a miracle keeping him up with his class. But here it is. And I’m gonna post this and start another right away.

 

Oh yeah.. and last week…

Blogging has been on my to do list for a couple of days. But when I sat down to write last night, I was so full of the thoughts and worries of that 48 hour period that I forgot there were other events last week that I’d meant to write about.

We had a couple of appointment last week. We finally got back in to see Patrick’s psychologist yesterday. Can I tell you how amazing she is? When Patrick’s insurance case manager called me to tell me about a new Autism clinic that she’d seen open at the University of Utah THE SAME DAY THAT SHE CALLED I was pretty speculative. Especially since we have never been big fans of the diagnosis of autism for Patrick. Spectrum diagnoses are tricky and, while time and learning have convinced me that Patrick does have struggles that fit into the definition of autism, his presentation is so atypical that I don’t feel like the diagnosis serves him well. Well, unless you are dealing with someone who really does understand autism spectrum disorders. Which the people at this clinic really do. And for all that I don’t willingly introduce Patrick as autistic, we have found the autism clinic to be a tremendous help for us. I’ve been anxious to get him back.

When Patrick met “Dr. Joo-la” and her “piggies” (guinea pigs) there was an instant connection. I could see that he clicked with her and listened to what she said to him.As icing on the cake, she also saw that with the responsibilities of being his caregiver, I wasn’t going to have a chance to go seek other help for myself. She told me in the first meeting that if we sometimes needed to spend sessions talking about and taking care of me, too, that she considered that an important part of taking care of Patrick.

This last visit, I took her up on that. First of all, she spent a lot of the session reassuring me that Patrick really HAS made great progress. I’ve said before that it doesn’t seem like he is as plagued by constant sensory seeking as he was before. She pointed that out, too. Saying he seemed more focused, more grown up. Of course, his exploding language skills are an amazing step.

She reminded me not to be overwhelmed by after-school meltdowns. Pointed out that we had the same problems last fall, too. And she helped me brainstorm ways to make coming home from school perhaps a little better.

She also reminded me not to feel guilty about not being able to do all my heart says I should be providing for Patrick. She’s been following this blog, so I know that she was aware when she told me that she knew that a lot of days, we are just still surviving the day. She encouraged me to embrace summer school as respite time for me and NOT to try to spend it doing things for him or feeling like I need to save them from problem behaviors. I really need to call and see if it’s an option for me to swim in the mornings while he’s at school. If not, at the least there is a track at the high school on the same campus and I can walk.

And then she reminded me that I need help and tried to help me work up the courage to go and tell some of the people in my support system that I’m feeling lonely and overwhelmed and could use some company, if not some help. I don’t seem to be very good at that. (Does this count?)

Anyway – we talked about some other strategies for summer, for respite, for behavior, etc. We talked about bringing him back to their social skills group. (Which I’m very pleased to have found works well this summer.) We played with the piggies and Patrick tried to trade our bird Max for one. And then we made some return appointments.

That was the happy appointment of the week. The next day, I took Patrick to his allergist and I’m afraid it didn’t go as smoothly.

I learned two important lessons. 1) Don’t schedule appointments immediately following school. Patrick needs time to unwind first. 2) Don’t go to the allergist alone.

Because of his ADHD and sensory processing disorder, Patrick doesn’t do well in new environments and Patrick’s allergist just moved to a big, beautiful new facility. I’m very excited about this because he’s no longer sharing space with a regular healthcare clinic and there’s less risk of catching a virus there. But for Patrick, new spaces have to be explored thoroughly with doors banged, containers emptied, equipment disassembled. It’s a disaster. Also, because of a lifetime of doctor’s visits, Patrick doesn’t like it when I talk to a doctor about him and will do just about anything to get me to stop.

This day was particularly bad. I’d managed to get a tired Patrick to nap the day before, but insomnia kicked in that night and he was up till 12, getting just 6 hours of sleep.

The end result is that Patrick threw all of the flashcards, snacks, magazines, and tissues on the floor. Then ended up having to sit in a chair with all other furniture moved away from him. And then he screamed for most of the rest of the appointment.

I have to give props to Patrick’s allergist, Dr. Gleich. He still smiles, talks to Patrick like Donald Duck, tells me that I have my hands full but am doing a good job being patient, and just gets us through the appointment as productively as possible. He is a very good man.

So while I tried to keep as much calm as possible, Patrick’s allergist and I tried to talk through how transplant might change the strategy for his allergies. Obviously, the ability and need to eat are a significant step. And I wanted to talk about how to safely explore what he can have.. and just how safe it is to be dabbling in some of Patrick’s milder allergies while he is on immune suppressants that are making it so he doesn’t have many reactions.

I wish Patrick had been feeling better so we could have covered more ground. We reviewed Patrick’s last test results. The gist of them is that Patrick’s test results show him allergic to a lot of foods that he tolerates, at least to some degree. We still need to stay far away from cashews, pistachios, peanuts, and unbaked eggs with caution for other foods we’ve seen cause a reaction. He said to keep encouraging Patrick to eat eggs as an ingredient in baked foods as that mild exposure is believed to help kids outgrow allergies. He gave blessing to my efforts in allowing Patrick traces of milk, in extreme moderation. (Goldfish crackers, for example.) He actually was surprised that I was still being cautious about butter and regular cheese, but I pointed out that we see reactions to those foods.

He also took care to warn me of just how serious it is that Patrick’s spleen was removed, leaving him without a major defense against illness. He wanted me to be sure that, for any fever, I know I need to go straight to Primary Children’s. Some things don’t change.

And then, because we weren’t getting much further with Patrick screaming in the corner, we decided to not try additional testing that day. Instead, he asked me to bring Patrick back in July or August for repeat blood and scratch testing. In the meantime, we are supposed to explore and even push a little bit, with epi pen and benadryl nearby, and keep a log of what we discover about Patrick’s tolerances for certain foods.

I find that the further we get down this road the more obscure my question are. Neither Patrick’s allergist nor his transplant team really know how food allergies and immune suppression will affect each other. I don’t want to compromise Patrick’s new gut with a lot of foods he’s allergic to. (Food allergies can cause a sort of rashlike reaction and ulcers in the intestine). But I also don’t want to limit his nutrition and ability to wean off of tube feeds if that’s not necessary. I find myself wishing that I knew of an allergist somewhere who has an interest in transplant and immune suppression. I’m not sure such a person even exists.

Anyway – Patrick was asleep in the car 5 minutes after we left the appointment. Next time, I’ll try to allow time for a rest after school. Next time I’ll try not to go alone.

And maybe over the next couple of months we can figure out a schedule that lets Patrick outgrow naps, like he’s trying to do, without spending afternoons and evenings too tired and grumpy to function.

One other appointment this week, feeding therapy. Inspired by Patrick’s interest at a memorial day barbecue, I decided to work on hot dogs this week. I’m pleased to report success. So long as you cut the hot dog in half so he can fit it in his mouth. And watch him and remind him to take small bites. And maybe let him decide he’s done with the bun. Still, a victory in time for summer for a kid who doesn’t like his burgers grilled.

And speaking of burgers, I’m trying to figure out how to translate Patrick’s love of certain fast foods into a working menu at home. I’ve got him eating ham on english muffins a-la Burger King breakfast sandwich. And we’re working on thin sliced roast beef on hamburger buns as a tribute to Arby’s.

I do have one lingering worry. I’ve realized that if they do decide that Patrick can continue on to first grade next year, that means eating lunch at school. And right now, I mostly have taught him to eat warm foods. He does great with fast food, mac and vegan-cheese, pasta in red sauce, hot dogs, cooked veggies, soups, chicken nuggets and french fries. And this is exactly the sort of food that will be being served in the cafeteria. Except, well, that an elementary school cafeteria is not an allergy-safe place. I can’t expect them to watch for cross-contamination.

So I’ll be packing lunches. But I think one of the conversations we need to have in this week’s school planning meeting is whether or it’s an option to heat up food for Patrick in a staff microwave. (It’s already non-negotiable for me that he’ll need an adult to sit with him in the cafeteria.)

And Patrick’s feeding therapist and I did some brainstorming on cold foods that he might be able to eat if we work with him over the summer.

I’ve decided that we will for sure be frequenting the lunch park at the school next door again this summer. But this time, with the hope and goal of being able to figure out lunches that will work to send with Patrick to school next year. Last year, I was able to follow their menu and pack matching foods 80% of the time. But if those things can’t be warmed up at the school, then we may just have to work on being ok with eating the food you had packed for you, even when it isn’t the same as everyone else’s.

One other item of note from this last week. A family moved in across the street from us while we were in Nebraska. They have a little boy Patrick’s same age. We’ve talked about but not found a way to get them together to play. Until this week.. when this boy came and asked if Patrick could play.

This was a growing experience for this mom. I am trying VERY hard to stop being a helicopter parent now that Patrick doesn’t have IV’s to monitor. But it meant that both of us were a bit thrown by a same-age playmate. I’m not sure Patrick knew quite what to do with him. In many ways, he is like his peers. But in many ways, he still has a lot of growing to do. They drew on the sidewalk with chalk a bit, tried out all of Patrick’s ride-on toys. Then they went across the street and played in his yard, too.

I was doing my best to stay looking busy but also keep an eye on them. And to let Patrick build this relationship on his own without my coaching. Mostly they drove Patrick’s ride-on car up and down the street.

When I picked Patrick up for dinner, he was enjoying a snack of animal cracker. I was grateful they were safe, and I decided that next time I send him to play I need to make sure they know he has allergies.

It’s been a full week. I sometimes think my head might explode trying to hold all of this and have a normal life, too.

Goodbye to kindergarten and the beginning of change

Today was Patrick’s last day of kindergarten. It was over almost as soon as it began. I think it finally sunk into him this morning what I was saying because he was very worried as he got ready. Worried about missing his friends and worried about there not even being familiar teachers in summer school. To help with a little closure, I did a quick google search and found some printable thank you notes he could color for his teacher and aide. And then we were off.

I don’t know much about his day, except that he came out laden with gifts. His special education teacher came out with him at the end, too, which I thought was very thoughtful of her. He was given the “jolly rancher” award for always being so happy. And we had to linger a little bit at the park by the school to let him finish a popsicle he’d been given. Then, we met Brian downtown where we went out to lunch to celebrate the occasion.

It hardly seems real, except that getting Patrick needs several bags of supplies and safe snacks for school and all of that is in my kitchen now.

The last day of kindergarten represents the kickoff of a very big transition week for us. In less than a week, Patrick will have his broviac line removed. I am counting down the end of a week’s worth of those supplies in amazement and a bit of fear.

I’ve had some horrible dreams this week. I dreamed that Brian was on TPN, only it wasn’t available and his blood sugar was crashing. I dreamed I had a line that needed changed to a port and I felt so helpless and out of control trying to convince the nurses in the hospital to follow the pre-op directions I’d been given about my medications. It made me realize just how Patrick must feel, which was kind of crushing. Then I dreamed that Patrick was in surgery for his line but 5 hours had passed. That is really REALLY bad for that kind of procedure and brought back some horrible memories. Have I mentioned that it’s common for patients and caregivers dealing with this chronic illness, especially transplant, to suffer from a form of PTSD?

I’m just trying to push forward and take care of what needs to be done to get ready for what’s coming in the next couple of weeks. It is hard to keep them in the right order when new things keep needing my attention.

For example, yesterday I dropped Patrick off at school and ran to Walmart. The goal was to pick up a fruit for dinner and some entertainment for the plane ride to Nebraska. But as I headed to the checkout, my cell phone rang. It was the district nurse calling to give me a heads up that a group of district nurses had met to review the medical needs of students for the upcoming school year. And they had determined that Patrick no longer requires full-time nursing at school.

This is great news. He’ll still have an aide to help him with his many needs during the day. But it’s kind of bad news, too. It means that he no longer has to attend the medical hub school that he’s attending. And they wanted me to tell them where I want him to attend next year.

That’s not exactly a simple question. The school next to our house is quite small and not really given a lot of resources. Sending Patrick there would be very complicated and require bringing in a small army of people to work with him. I think we’ll be asking for an exception to be granted and for him to be able to continue at Whittier, at least for one more year.

It also means that I need to add making a list of care that an aide needs to be able to provide to Patrick, independent of a nurse. By Wednesday, when we’ll meet to also work on revising his IEP to get him through till the next IEP meeting.

In addition to that, Monday Patrick and I will meet with Patrick’s favorite Child Life specialist to help to teach him about having a port. On Tuesday, he’ll have his end of year kindergarten assessment. I’ve got to get orders for supplies for Patrick’s port ordered and delivered before we leave, and prescription refills ordered before we leave.

And in the midst of all of this, our church responsibilities have us pretty busy this weekend. Especially for Brian.

This is just the beginning for this summer and I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around all of it.

But at least one thing is under our belt. Patrick’s a kindergarten alum. Now if we can just get him caught up a bit over the summer and make the right school plans for next year.

I’m also coming to the realization that summer is coming and that, in the past, I’ve been an amazing mom in the summer with lots of plans for fun and education. I am nowhere near that prepared this year. I am just trying to get through the next couple of weeks. But my mind is starting to hatch some plans and I hope I can make some of our traditional summer magic.

Getting ready for summer

It is disorienting to realize that next week is kindergarten’s last week of school. We only just started and it’s almost over again. I feel really bad to be just gearing up while teachers are working to try to take care of the mountain of things that need to be done for the end of the year, I’m here trying to squeeze every last drop out of the few weeks that we have available to us.

I am amazed at all that they ARE doing for him, though. For example, I noticed that Patrick’s class was at recess every day when we arrived. So I asked and they revised his IEP to allow him to go to recess with his friends every day. He is in HEAVEN getting that extra time with his friends. And I understand that he is doing better in class, too, as a result.

Also, I’ve been working all week with his special education teacher on getting the forms completed for him to be able to participate in Extended School Year (a.k.a. summer school). They hold 3-day weeks on 4 weeks during the summer. He’ll attend in the morning. The goal is to keep up the momentum that has just started again.

They did offer one amazing thing that I hadn’t even imagined as a possibility. There is a therapy pool at the school. And, because by the time summer school starts he won’t have a broviac line, Patrick’s doctors have given him the ok to work in the pool. It feels like this little piece of normal… my son being able to be in the pool during the summer. Even if it came about in the most abnormal possible way.

Speaking of doctors, we had a follow-up with Patrick’s GI this week. His dietitian came in, too. It’s the first time we’ve seen her since transplant. I wondered if she was amazed to watch him eat a kids meal while we talked. His growth charts look amazing. I think it’s the first time I’ve really looked at one post-transplant. He’s growing at a normal rate. He’s in the 50th percentile.

They ordered some labs to check to make sure that his vitamin levels and overall nutrition are still good as he’s learning to eat on his own, but doesn’t exactly have a traditional balanced diet yet.

Also this week, or maybe the end of last week, I talked to the team in Nebraska about Patrick’s next follow-up with them. We scheduled an appointment in June to replace his central line with a port. (This is why he’ll be allowed to swim, by the way. No more external central line.) We will be going out the first week of June and it will be an outpatient procedure.

I thought we’d have clinic, too, but it sounds like they feel we’re doing a great job communicating by phone and don’t need the extra visit.

So it sounds like we have a game plan for our summer. At least the start of it. Patrick’s last day of school is the last Friday in March. June 1, he’ll have end-of-year testing. June 3, we’ll meet with the school to make plans for next fall. That night, we’ll get on a plane and fly to Nebraska. The next morning, he gets his port and we come home that weekend.

The next week, Brian leaves on a business trip to Norway. And the week after that, Patrick will go to his first day of summer school. He’ll have two weeks on, then off for the July holidays. Then back again. Brian has a pioneer trek with the youth in July and another international business trip in August. And before we know it, it will be time to come back to school.

I’m trying to pull together some materials to keep working on mommy school in the down-days. I’ve let Patrick develop some lazy at-home habits this month but, really, we have a lot of ground to cover over the summer. Hoping that the extra respite time while he’s at school will give me a breath of energy to keep up with all the rest.