From the time Xander was moved into the toddler room at daycare the reports of misbehavior began. He hit, pushed, and bit children seeking his own justice when others took toys from his hands or pushed him. At eighteen months of age this is typical behavior, but I was concerned as my oldest son had never done these things. Yes, I know children are different and eventually I accepted my two boys were as opposite as night and day. He grew very close to one of the teachers. If she was absent his behavior would escalate. Using consistent time outs, the aggressive behavior decreased.
When Xander started preschool another round of reports began with Xander hitting and pushing other children in retaliation. He was never the instigator of the issues, but he was quick to answer a push with a push back. Now this was a difficult issue to solve because our personal parenting views and the school rules conflicted here. We taught our children to stand up for themselves and we did not punish for fair retribution. After all, it’s human nature to remember someone who pushes back rather than someone who tells the teacher.
Soon enough the pushing and hitting notes were replaced with concerns of not following directions. Relieved the physical contact issues had resolved, initially I dismissed not paying attention to his age, but after several months I began to wonder if I was wrong. Xander often continued to play after the class transitioned into instructional time. When I shared these notes with family and friends they assured me Xander was just “all boy.” He was three years old, so I wanted to believe his behavior was typical for his age group.
Always striving to be the best parent I possibly could, I greedily read every parenting book available at the library. I was such a normal fixture at the library that they did not even ask for my card when I checked out, they knew me by name and face. In each book, I could find at least one solid piece of advice that I could implement. One of the most useful tips was taking ten minutes each day to spend with each child one-on-one. Xander seemed to respond very well to this time together. We often spent our time together playing trucks in a pile of dirt outside the front door. He had an imagination that was vast and varied. We rarely repeated the same scenario.
The second year of preschool (Pre-K) was an incredible improvement. He was selected to be a “typical” developing student in a classroom with eight typical and 4 four atypical students. The idea was the typical students would help acclimate the atypical students to the classroom environment before Kindergarten. Xander flourished in this class, making fast, lasting friendships. The teacher remarked at his progress and noted he was a leader in the classroom. With these reports, I thought that Xander had outgrown many of his challenges.
At home, we noticed that Xander never stopped. He moved from one activity to the next constantly. Playing hard, always doing something, never idle. He often strung toys from one end of the house to the other. It was a never ending job of helping him clean up. For hours, he played with his trucks, transformers, or army men. Wrapped up in the world of his own imagination, he was self-reliant for all his entertainment needs.
Half-way through Kindergarten, Xander’s teacher reached out concerned about some behaviors she was seeing in class. Often times with writing assignments when he came to a word he did not know how to spell he would shut down, refusing to complete the assignment. The behavior became more frequent and I began to look for help in the way of books again. I stumbled upon a book about perfectionism. Many of the behaviors aligned including risk avoidance and severe emotional reactions to failure (shutting down in the face of a challenge).
His teacher was wonderful with keeping me regularly updated. Together we implemented some of the techniques from the book in the classroom as well as at home. This included lots of positive reinforcement, encouragement to try new things, and reinforcing that failures were the best way to learn. These strategies helped some, but were by no means an answer to all his struggles. The most effective technique had been allowing him time to cool down before engaging him when something had been difficult for him.
Difficulty Finding Things
A big struggle at home was losing things. Shoes, favorite toys, his companion stuffed animal–he was always forgetting where he had left things. When looking for these misplaced items it was almost as if he was blinded. The lost item could literally be right in front of him and he could not see it. I’m not sure if his feelings overwhelmed him, making it impossible to focus or if there was another issue at play. This was a major frustration for everyone.
The summer between Kindergarten and first grade was laid back and full of fun. It seemed as though Xander had grown out of many of his struggles. He rarely had emotional melt downs, he seemed more calm and more able to focus his energy. We continued to read every day, but he spent most of his time lost in his imaginative world of pretend.
The notes began to come home from the teacher the second week of first grade. Xander was having trouble staying on task, finishing work, and was talking to his friends at inappropriate times. After a long talk with my husband, I convinced him it was time to seek out help. I had researched exhaustively, tried to implement strategies I found, but I was out of answers, my toolbox was empty. By pure chance, I was able to get an appointment with a Behavioral Counselor within a week. Three visits and one questionnaire later we had our diagnosis, multi-symptom ADHD. Finally, I had a place to start looking for answers.
I was initially surprised by the diagnosis of ADHD. I had never suspected ADHD because he could sit quietly for hours with his army toys, guns, or even electronics. He was capable of quietly entertaining himself for long periods of time. After some research and discussion with the counselor I learned that ADHD has a spectrum and no two children present the same way. Xander is on the lower end of the spectrum and at this point can be treated without medication. To have a name for all the struggles we had been dealing with for the past seven years was an incredible relief. Now we could move forward with solutions. Now I could learn how to parent effectively and help the teacher with my son.
This journey has taught me a great deal. It has been an uphill battle to get to this point, but I am beyond grateful for the incredible people who have encouraged, accepted, and loved us along the way. To our family, friends, daycare, teachers, principal, and counselor: thank you. We could not–I could not–have made it this far without your help. It does take a village and I am thankful to live in such a richly compassionate one.
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