Tag Archives: school

Transplant day 96 and snow days

A shot of the snow Monday morning after it snowed all day Sunday. Before this, there wasn't any snow on the ground.

A shot of the snow Monday morning after it snowed all day Sunday. Before this, there wasn’t any snow on the ground.

My phone rang at 5:30 this morning. It was a recording from Omaha Public Schools announcing a snow day. This is the second snow day of the week. Church was also cancelled Sunday. It is snowing. A little over a foot has fallen.

I am trying to decide if this is premature. The parking lot of the Ronald McDonald House has snowbanks 10 feet high where the plows piled snow. And on Monday, I barely got my little two-wheel-drive car to go up the hill on a road with minimal plowing. I’m not sure that this is more or worse snow than we get in Utah. But the roads are less safe for it. They are narrow. VERY narrow. With no shoulders or turn lanes and cars parked down both sides. Also, everything is very hilly. So, while I grew up on the edge of a valley and our hills might trap us at home while the rest of the valley could manage to get around. Here, you might encounter 3 very steep streets within a few blocks of each other.

I don’t blame them for keeping the school buses home.

It didn’t affect us much with Patrick inpatient. We just watched the snow out the window. Snow days have fewer volunteers and more staff that got stuck trying to come in and fewer child life activities. But we are cozy and warm and protected from the weather. We have lots of toys and TV and crafts and books.

The less snowy days have provided ample help. We had 3 volunteers come by yesterday, giving me hours to get away and grocery shop and clean and rest. The day before, child life and music therapy and physical therapy filled in because there weren’t volunteers and I got to go back to the house and do laundry and pack clothes for a few more days. With nurses taking care of the medications and diapers and formula if I happened to sleep through those needs at night, I’ve actually had a chance to mostly catch up on my sleep in the past 2 weeks.

And that’s very good news. Because this morning, Patrick’s nurse practitioner came in and said that adding extra fluid to Patrick’s feeds had caught up his hydration and she was going to recommend discharge. It took a bit longer for rounds to come around, and I still wasn’t getting my hopes up too much. The added volume that giving more fluids required had made Patrick’s belly gurgle and dump during the night again and I had just changed 3 diapers back to back so I was pretty sure they weren’t going to let us go.

They came around for rounds and asked about Patrick’s prograf levels and they were borderline high and I was almost entirely positive, especially since it was a snow day, that they’d want to keep him one more day.

But, they said that since Thursday mornings are lab days, that homecare could provide the same care they were providing and so we could go. I settled in for a long wait, as discharge has taken till dinner the last few times. But an hour later, Patrick’s nurse arrived with some patient belongings bags and a cart for me to pack up our things and by 1:00, I was signing discharge papers.

Moving us back in always takes work. For some reason, discharge and the monthly diaper delivery always come together and that takes a good hour to make room for in this tiny room as I clean out and haul out old boxes.

But, we got everything settled in. We found time to work on a valentine’s craft, even. Patrick was obviously exhausted and overstimulated and couldn’t focus on much of anything.. but we made it through the evening ok. The dinner group let him start eating early when they saw us come down for a snack. Patrick was tired enough that he preferred playing in the room today. And so things are unpacked and put away and the formula is mixed up and medications reconstituted and line cared for and teeth brushed and pajamas on and by 9:30 tonight, Patrick was snoring in his bed.

I really should get to sleep. I know I’ll need to change at least two diapers and Patrick’s formula bag still needs refilled every 5 hours or so.

It is good to be out. And as discouraging as this hospital stay was, it seems we actually made some ground. We found the cause for the random bleeding I sometimes saw and treated the ulcers. And we found that Patrick can eat enough food to have reduced his overall tube feed rate by 10%. That isn’t much, but eating 10% of his calories is a big deal considering how little he ate before and how few foods he is used to eating.

The doctors have assured me over and over again that he shouldn’t still be contagious. They even went so far as to clear him to attend child life activities at the hospital, which is definitely a statement that they don’t see him as a risk. His gut, however, still isn’t back to where it was before the virus. That is going to take time and patience and lots and lots of diapering supplies.

The end of another school year

Patrick woke up crying this morning at 6. Not just a little “I’m sleepy” cry. Out and out sobbing. When I asked him what was wrong, he replied “Push!!” “Push what?” I asked. “Push TAMMY!” He answered.

And I understood exactly what he meant.

“Push Tammy” is code for “I fought with my classmates at school again.” This time it was a dream. But it hits on a really real fear and a very big problem that I’ve been so baffled and busy with that it’s kept me away from this blog for quite some time.

This has been a hard school year for Patrick. My sweet, friendly, optimistic little boy has felt stressed and discouraged and just plain rejected. It was bound to happen one day that his medical issues and his developmental delays and his just-plain-awkwardness would catch up to him and cuteness wouldn’t carry him anymore. At least it started in his last year of preschool with a teacher who knows him and is OH SO patient and willing to adapt and help.

Patrick’s frustrations have manifested themselves in a lot of hitting, pushing, and kicking. Usually it’s subtle and small. Sometimes it’s angry. Some would say we’re lucky that he’s perfecting the art of the tantrum this late in life. The problem is that at age 5, it’s a whole lot more frowned upon. And it certainly is costing him friendships.

So, if you’re wondering what I’ve been doing since I wrote about the IEP meeting last fall.. I’ve been volunteering in Patrick’s classroom, advocating for a behavior plan and better support for him at school, trying to find a good psychologist and then trying to implement what she’s trying to teach me to do.

I’ve also been being humbled a lot as I realize how far I need to go still in developing patience, self-control, long-suffering, flexibility.. and on and on…

Oh, and watching a lot of Mister Rogers and Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood. Because they teach lessons both Patrick and I need to learn.

Now – why am I telling you this? Well, because I am really hoping that I can spend the summer blogging about how Patrick and I are having wonderfully fun adventures together as we explore the alphabet. Patrick’s got just a few days left in preschool. 

So if I tell you now about this struggle, maybe I’ll stop worrying about how to tell you about this struggle and can get on with writing about our lives, imperfections and all.

The rest of today didn’t exactly pan out much better. Patrick’s nap got delayed because of our kitchen remodel (subject for another post soon).. and then I had to wake him early for speech therapy. And he was so tired that he fell asleep in the car for the first time in a year. And the he wouldn’t talk to his speech therapist and threw the flash cards she was using on the floor again. And when that was done, we took him to the zoo to see the new lions. And I’m not sure if he had a good time or not, because he was so sleepy he only cared about pushing the stroller (a tendency his psychologist calls a perseveration, which means something he gets stuck on obsessively). And when we would take it away, it just plain made him mad. And he tried tantrums, and we tried not to give in to tantrums… But when I reminded him he needed to calm down, he took a breath and counted to 4, then asked again in a nice voice. That is actually really good progress for him, and for me.

 

Another IEP meeting behind us.

I feel like a huge weight has been taken off of my chest. Although we have always been very blessed with a caring and cooperative IEP time, hammering out an IEP that meets Patrick’s many needs is no small feat. And this year, with everyone on the IEP team, except the classroom teacher, being brand new to us, I was especially worried.

So I got dressed in my best “I’m competent” clothes, a change from my usual “I’m a special needs mom and you’re lucky I am dressed” wardrobe. I even put on makeup and did my hair. I packed a bag of toys for Patrick and brought along a stack of supporting documents for me. I stopped at the store and picked up some new puzzles for Patrick, even. Then went to Dunkin’ Donuts for goodies since the meeting was at lunch time and I wondered how at least the classroom teacher was going to manage to eat.

Then, as I was sitting waiting for Brian to meet me, I noticed that I’d mixed up my brand new jeans with an old pair of jeans with a hole in the crotch that I’d worn gardening last week. And I crossed my legs and shook it off because I couldn’t let that throw me today.

It seemed like this year’s IEP was all the more important than years past. Before, we were just making goals to help move forward his academic and developmental progress. This time we were dealing with new and worsening behavior problems as Patrick has become aware of his limitations. He wants with all his heart to fit in and make friends, and he just doesn’t have the skills and savvy to do it right. And so he’s taken to hitting, kicking, and pulling hair when he feels frustrated instead.

I had a feeling stress was building. But, I’ll be honest, I’ve been surprised and quite devastated that things got this hard this fast.

As the school year ended last year, I knew that impulsivity was getting to be more of a problem the more Patrick could do things for himself, but still couldn’t be independent. I asked his neurologist for help and he referred me to an amazing program designed to help children with developmental delays and behavioral issues.

But when I started down that path, insurance informed me that the program was through a non-contracted provider. They are a non-profit and we could maybe have made things work, but it was going to cost us more out of pocket than I expected. And, to make matters worse, their wait list was months long… all summer long in fact… just to get an evaluation.

My sweet insurance case manager felt so bad delivering this news that within a day, she’d called around and found a neuropsychologist who they contracted with who could squeeze Patrick in for some developmental testing. I had to fill out a mountain of paperwork. The questionnaire was over 50 pages long. Plus provide a medical/developmental history. (Another 50 pages at least). Then, Brian and I went in for an interview where we talked about all of the things that concerned us about Patrick’s development and behavior. Then it was Patrick’s turn. 4 hours of alternating standardized testing and play therapy and observation. In the end, we got a 25 page write up describing our child. His strengths. His weaknesses. His learning style.

In the end, Patrick was diagnosed as having many physical and cognitive delays stemming from his brain injury. (No surprise there.) And with ADHD. (Also no surprise, though really nice to give it a name we can work with.) The evaluation also included testing for autism and the doctor and Patrick’s therapists and I had a long drawn out series of conversations in which we discussed the way that Patrick’s brain injury sometimes makes him act like he is autistic (sensory processing disorder, social difficulty, quirky little obsessions).. but in the end decided that that diagnosis would only cloud and confuse things for him as it doesn’t exactly fit.

Armed with new diagnoses and 25 pages about how to help Patrick learn (with very specific examples of areas to teach him in), we supposedly had all the makings of a rockstar IEP.

Hence my anxiety over the past month in trying to get things just right. I’ve been e-mailing and talking to Patrick’s new special education teacher (this is an extra teacher who works with him in a regular classroom). I have felt like the super duper stubborn bad guy with my list of unreasonable demands. I really wondered if they were starting to hate me.

But today’s meeting was yet another IEP success. I feel like Patrick’s got a group of very astute and caring team of people working with him. And, in the end, they found a way to give Patrick just about everything we were asking for for him. In fact, a little bit more, even. Like a motor aid to help him in PE. And picture schedule cards for each type of activity in the class. And a more supportive chair for work table time. The occupational therapist offered to work with him on a sensory diet (meaning physical activities to meet his sensory needs throughout the day), which is virtually unheard of in IEP’s in Utah. And the speech therapist offered to build Patrick social stories with him as the main character on her iPad. And, as icing on the cake, they have a written behavioral plan in place for Patrick and are calling in a psychologist to consult and help Patrick learn to control his temper in class.

Of course, the trick now is finding practical ways to make it all work together.. But it is such a relief to feel like we’ve got our feet pointed in the right direction again.

And a big relief to be done with a crazy month of trying to see all the doctors and all the therapists and gather recommendations and write firm but kind “parent advocate” style e-mails that say what they need to, but then have to be trimmed down because, face it, I’m verbose. It will be a relief to be done rehearsing arguments about the IEP in my head all the time.

At least till next fall. Or maybe spring. Or maybe earlier, if things aren’t going quite as they should.

The Orange Rhino Challenge and a whole lot of stars

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Patrick loves school! He is so happy to be back. He is making new friends at a record pace, as well as happily meeting and playing with his old friends before and after school.

But, he’s also been really struggling since school started. At first, the reports were a few here and there coming from the classroom. Then one day, the special education came out to meet me and talk about the problem. Patrick has been growing increasingly aggressive. He’s not picking fights per say, but when he gets mad or feels ignored, he has been using his hands and feet to express his anger. And it’s been getting worse, spilling over into therapy and playdates and church and home.

I loved the conversation with the special ed teacher. (Note, this isn’t the regular classroom teacher. This is a teacher who visits the class a few times a week and, like everyone else, is new this year.) She said she’d heard that Patrick hadn’t had these problems last year in school and asked me if he’d been under any stress at home. I explained that during the first week of school, Patrick had had major, life-threatening medical issues and had needed to travel out of state for surgery. She said, “Well, I know about that. But other than that….” Yeah. She didn’t get it.

Then she asked me what helps at home. I tried to explain sensory processing disorder and how he needs a physical outlet for his energy or he can’t sit still, gets in trouble, gets embarrassed, gets mad, and hits. She told me he gets a regular sensory time once a day. Yeah. She didn’t get that either.

I left the conversation with two clear impressions. 1) Patrick was struggling at school and 2) I was going to need to come up with some answers to help him and/or a better way to communicate with the plan-makers at school because we weren’t going to make much progress otherwise.

I put a lot of thinking and reading and talking and praying into the problem over the next couple of weeks. And I watched as things got worse and worse. It was pretty clear to me that Patrick has been responding to the stress of having his life turned completely upside down… and then having to start school. Not only that, but school twice as many days a week as usual, and in a class that is much younger and more chaotic than last year. He’s feeling overwhelmed and he doesn’t have the words to express his feelings or stand up for himself. So, he’s doing the only thing he can figure out to do. He’s fighting back physically.

And then I remembered something I encountered a while back. An amazing woman who made a goal not to yell at her kids for a whole year, 365 days..  She blogged about the experience and is still blogging and running a Facebook support group to help other parent learn to discipline without yelling, too.

She calls the project The Orange Rhino challenge.

And I realized that I can’t expect Patrick to learn to deal with and express his anger and frustration and overall exhaustion with his situation in healthy ways if I haven’t learned to control my own temper.

But I just couldn’t seem to get there.

And then, a few days ago, I took Patrick to a checkup with his neurologist. We discussed the results of his recent neuropsychological evaluation (a topic that I swear one day I’ll tell you more about, but in a nutshell Patrick was diagnosed with several learning challenges, as well as ADHD) and how to help him learn to work through his attention issues at school, and he offered to have me talk to the department social worker about resources.

That conversation was a lot about how to create a behavioral plan in Patrick’s upcoming IEP. But one thing that stood out was that he suggested using a reward system to encourage the behavior we wanted instead of just punishing “naughty” behavior.

And I just couldn’t get the thought out of my head. Finally, it came to me. And yesterday, Patrick and I had a talk and made a deal. We both need to learn to be gentle when we feel angry. So, any time one of us is going through a hard time and feels mad and chooses to use soft hands and soft words instead, we get a sticker.

I stuck a sheet of foil star stickers in my pocket and away we went.

It was a rough start, with a tantrum first thing in the morning when he failed to earn a sticker by hitting when he didn’t want to take a bath. I thought maybe I was in over my head. But soon, we had our groove.

I took him to school with 3 stars on his head, gave a sheet of stickers to his teachers, and hoped for the best. I picked him up after school to find a dozen more stickers on his head. He was so proud of himself! His teachers reported an improvement, too.

So why am I telling you all this? Well, part of the plan of success with the Orange Rhino challenge is to tell people what you’re doing so that, if you’re feeling weak, you can call out for help. I’m two days in… we’ve had a few almost tantrums from both of us, but we’ve made it so far. It’s easier because we’re doing it together.

My goal isn’t necessarily a year of no yelling. But it is to earn as many sparkly star stickers as I possibly can each and every day.

To know more about the Orange Rhino Challenge, here’s a website: http://theorangerhino.com/

 

 

Back to school

In the midst of all of this madness, Patrick went back to preschool.He was excited, for sure, but talk about a crazy time to send your little boy back to school! He attended his first week. We picked him up from school on Thursday afternoon, flew to Omaha, got a new line put in, came home Sunday, and sent him back to school.

On the one hand, it was nice to have somewhere fun, comfortable, and safe for him to go while I tried to get everything taken care of medically. On the other hand, it’s really hard to have your world turned upside down and come back to a brand new routine.

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I think we’re getting there, though. Finally.

Patrick is super excited to be back in his familiar classroom and we’re both very happy that he still has his great preschool teacher, Miss Catherine. She is great about being aware of all of his needs, but still letting him be a kid.

Both of the classroom aides that he knew and all of his therapists have changed. That has been disturbing to him. Thankfully, one of the aides worked with him in his other classroom last year so he already feels safe with her and she is comfortable with him.

It’s different for Patrick to be one of the bigger kids in the class. For one thing, I can tell that he’s really kind of annoyed at all the little kids who don’t know their names yet and hang their coats in the wrong places and steal the other kids’ name collars. Kinda makes me smile.

He was worried that his best friend from last year isn’t in his class again. Thankfully, we still see Fred before school because he’s in kindergarten and they line up right next to us. I was actually really excited when Fred recognized Patrick and climbed right up into the car next to him to talk to him the first day. These two little boys are really kindred spirits and I’m so happy that friendship survived a summer apart.

Patrick’s also making new friends in his class. He has a little boy in the class named Angel who is in a wheelchair. Last year, Patrick really fell in love with a little boy named Conner in his class who was wheelchair-bound. Since then, when Patrick sees a child in a wheelchair instead of seeing the wheels (which is his natural tendency)… he looks for a friend there. Angel is no exception. Patrick adores Angel. He goes right to him to talk to him while all of the other kids gather in the mornings. At first I worried that he was making him uncomfortable, but I can tell now that Angel is happy that someone comes to him, since he can’t easily go to them.

I had a chance to volunteer at the school after just a few days. I actually had a really great time. It was wonderful to be somewhere where my education in teaching, Spanish and sign language met up with all of the special needs training I’ve picked up over the past 5 years with Patrick. It was awesome to play with all of the kids and I think that knowing them has made it a lot easier for me to help Patrick learn to interact with them in line in the mornings. I can’t wait to go back and help more. But for the next couple of weeks, it seemed that I should probably give Patrick some space. Having mommy in class was fun, but also kind of cramped his style.

Starting the school year in chaos has been hard for Patrick. The transition to busy structured days has been tricky, too. With school most mornings, all of his doctor and therapy appointments fall in the afternoon. After the first couple of weeks, we were both irritable about the new, more demanding schedule.

Finally, this weekend I decided it was time to stop trying to accomplish so much. We took a total lazy day Friday. It took till 10 a.m. before we were dressed and left the house. It was a perfect break and I can tell he’s feeling better already.

Hopefully that will translate into him doing a little bit better in school this week. I hope he’ll feel more at home as he gets to know the new staff and classmates, too.

Patrick loves school and is so excited to be back. And I’m enjoying a little more peace and get-things-done time than I’ve ever experienced before.

And I hope in a few more weeks that we’ll hit our stride and it will feel natural again.

Hooray for preschool!!