Article

December 7, 2011

http://www.iecaonline.com/blog/2011/11/29/8-reasons-why-boarding-school-is-a-good-choice-for-difficult-kids

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Back to School and New Career!

September 12, 2011

We took Abe back to Hampshire Country School yesterday. He had been home since June- it was wonderful to have him home, but it was equally as difficult. It’s great to know he is back at school where he thrives.

Over the past year I began my career as an Educational Consultant, helping other families with children like Abe find the right schools and programs.

I invite you to look over my website and please get in touch should you need my services!

http://www.ConsultingForSpecialNeeds.com

Tonight’s the Night

February 10, 2011

My  nightly ritual last year was to sit in front of the computer, pour my heart out and cry. Tonight I felt compelled to reread some blog entries and so here I sit, tears streaming down onto the keyboard. But it’s not a nightly ritual anymore. I can’t even remember the last time I’ve cried. What a difference a year makes. Amazing.

Abe turned 11 last week. We were up at his school the weekend before and celebrated. Before we left Abe told me that he was going to try not to cry when we left this time- and he didn’t. And I didn’t (well, not that anyone saw anyway!) You see, Abe’s school isn’t a punishment- it is a gift. They aren’t “training” him to return home one day; they aren’t giving him “therapy” to make him “better.” They are accepting him for who he is and nourishing all those wonderful things about him. They are giving him music lessons -on demand! They are going skiing. They are building snowforts and practicing plays.

Abe was recently home for a three week winter break. I would love to say it was blissful- but what 3 weeks with an 11 year old boy can be described that way? There were definately challenges. But the challenges were sandwiched between such a wonderful time with him. And next time there will be less challenges as we all learn how to cope with our new schedule.

It’s hard to explain, but it feels so normal for him to be away at school. So normal, in fact, when I mention it for the first time to people I often forget it’s not how most families live. I usually catch myself and try to explain it- but I’m still working on that one. The best I’ve got is that Abe loves to keep busy around the clock and needs to be academically challenged in a small setting.

Report cards just came:

“Abe has been displaying a higher level of focus in class during the second trimester. This has been most apparaent during math class. It is exciting to be a part of his increased excitement for this subject. ..He continues to be a very enthusiastic student. He seems to really enjoy school and works very hard in my classes…”

Science A-

Social Studies A-

Math B+

Reading B

Writing B+

I have a new nightly ritual now. I think of A and smile ear to ear, my heart sings. It really does. My mother used to say this too. It must be a mother thing.

A Picture Is Worth One Thousand Words

November 2, 2010

Hampshire Country School Fall Family Weekend 2010

The Light At the End of The Tunnel

October 5, 2010

We made it. Somehow I always knew we would. A is ok. He is more than ok. B and H also. D too. Me- well, I will be ok. It just may take some time. A is at his new boarding school- all reports are fabulous he is enthusiastic, engaged, even popular. He misses home, but has already asked us to register for next year.

B is like a new boy. I don’t know if it is his age and he is hitting some developmental milestones, or if it that A isn’t taking up all our time, or that B isn’t living in reaction to his big brother- it’s probably all three. But to me it is like seeing him for the first time. Getting to know all these really cool things about him. Like he is really great, maybe even gifted, at math, that he is really sensitive and carries a lot of responsibility on his shoulders. He’s quite meticulous and very driven. I am amazed at his active social life– I never knew that boys did this. Everyday at least one friend is over-usually more. The phone rings and the emails come in- everyone wants to play with B, to show them their new toy, to go to the library with him. A was a one playdate limit- after the first one, they didn’t come back.

My favorite part of the day with B is bedtime. He is desperate to fix his articulation problem and we practice saying “rat” and “rain” over and over- I’m sure a speech therapist would make headway much quicker, but, of course, our insurance doesn’t cover articulation issues, and we can’t afford to pay $150 an hour. So B and I have decided to do it ourselves. We watch youtube videos of lips making the “R” sound. I read articles to him about articulation problems. It’s probably not working- I think I MAY have heard the right “r” sound last night, but not sure. But, we have so much fun lying in his bed repeating “rain” “rat” “rrrrrrrrrrr” (or his version “wain, wat, owwwww.”) He eventually settles down and quietly sucks his thumb- the last vestige of babyhood. Just before he falls asleep he mumbles, “I wuv you,” and I find myself thinking I hope he says “wuv” forever.

H. Wow. I always hated the word “blossomed” when it referred to a girl. But she really has blossomed. She is still a tomboy- but so feminine. She’s our soccer star. We travel near and far for her games every weekend. She too has loads of friends. She’s getting 100’s on all her tests and homework. Reading tons. We giggle so much together. I love how sensitive she is and sometimes worry she takes on too much responsibility for her little brother. She can get teary very quickly and I am told to brace myself for the next few years. I’m ready…

D and I have a sitter now. We go out together and have the opportunity to be alone- to unwind, talk. It’s so “normal.” He works hard but manages to still help out after school when he gets home from a grueling early shift at the ferry. We play board games with the kids. We go to family functions. We all clean the house together. And everyone says, “YES.”

I never knew parenting could be so easy. It doesn’t even feel like parenting. It’s like the four of us live together and do what we need to do in order to keep our house, routines, school and work running smoothly. Everyone (for the most part!) is respectful and responsible and eager to please. I knew it had been hard, but I never really knew just how hard and what I was missing out on.

I am struggling though. I pass the drugstore where A threw everything off the shelf once. I take  one of the kids to the pediatrician. I see his old teacher. All these bring up such horrible memories. My mind goes through scenes of what happened to A, to us, last year and I cry. It all seems so unfair. I don’t know if I am angry at god, at life, at child psychiatry in America, at our educational system. I’m just so angry. A never really got to be a fourth grader. He spent 4th grade in locked psych units. In treatment centers. In our basement with the lights dimmed and animal planet playing for 24 hours a day. H and B were traumatized by what they saw and about the promises that “this time” their brother would come home and be “regular.”

I have so many people to blame for this. I don’t know how to let the anger go. I don’t know how to forgive a doctor who insisted my son’s brain was sick and he had to take the meds I knew are at least contributing to the “sickness.” Or the doctor who reported to our school district that A behaved in a “socially appropriate manner” after I spent the entire office vist restraining A while he flailed and cursed and bit. And the blame- all the doctors and therapist who blamed us. Who, in the name of help, told us how we SHOULD be doing “it.” How we needed to change our parenting, our rules, our schedules… Family who wanted to come over and teach us the “right way.” Or the family member(s) who felt they couldn’t give advice, but simply didn’t do anything. Not a phone call. Not a hug. Not a lunch date.

But there were a few “heros.” Dr J who would take my calls at all hours of the night and day- the voice of reason when everyone else around us was crazy.  It was because of Dr. J that A eventually was stabilized.

My mom and her husband. Whenever we were going to stop the fight because we couldn’t afford yet another new med, or a plane ticket across the country, they made it happen.

Aunt and Uncle who taught me never to give up and to always have hope.

The other parents whose weary faces in waiting rooms, visiting areas and support groups, grew familiar to me and helped me know that even when I was feeling so alone, I wasn’t.

And A. No matter how many doctors we took him to, how many hospitals, he never stopped trusting me. My heart broke leaving A in Texas when I had told him we were merely “checking it out.” Yet, just a few months later he got in the car with us to “check out” his new boarding school. We weren’t lying this time, but he didn’t know that. He just trusted us. He is so brave. He spent so many nights in unfamiliar surroundings with unfamiliar, sometimes scary, people because of decisions I made. But now I  get these great  letters from school, “Dear Mom, Everything is wonderful here! (But I miss you a lot) Don’t forget to send me a package. Love A.”

I’m more than thrilled that A has found a second home at Hampshire. I know now that A’s potential is limitless. He can become a veterinarian, if that is what he still wants to do when he gets older. He will learn how to be studious, how to relate to other kids. I relish the thought of him, the boy who couldn’t write one legible word last year, writing for the HCS newsletter with gusto!

But, every once in a while I let the darkness in. And I cry. I cry because my beautiful boy can’t live at home.

Back Home

July 19, 2010

We arrived at the farm mid morning on Friday. What a great place! www.east-hill-farm.com Our first day was spent discovering the different animals — the cows, horses, sheep, rams, goats…but most importantly the chickens. A loved the chicken coop. Love may actually be an understatement. A became OBSESSED with the chicken coop! He repeatedly checked the little boxes for eggs. Occasionally he was rewarded with one and it was saved for the next day’s breakfast. Lots of swimming, bingo and eating too.

A and I were up at 5:30 am with the roosters- time to check  for more eggs. None. But there was a cow on the loose! A took charge and kept the cow in sight while he sent me to find help. He loved the excitement of the farm!  Our “real” purpose of being in NH, however, was to visit the school. I spent the morning wondering how on earth we were going to get A into the car. We prepped everyone- “First we are going to milk the cow and goat, then make friendship bracelets and swim. After that it’s lunchtime and then we are getting into the car to go visit the school.” Lunch came and went and we announced it was time to load up. Amazingly, A got into the car with limited issues (he had to check from eggs first, but that was it.)

We took the short drive and as we drive up the driveway I am unsure what to say or do. I blurt out, “I didn’t notice the climbing wall before.” We had just watched the HBO documentary on Temple Grandin- she attended Hampshire Country School when it was a coed school. A thinks I meant I didn’t see it in the movie. “Its the 21st century mom, some things have changed.” We did tell him David and I had visited a few weeks ago, but the movie is in the forefront of his mind. He told me it was an amazing movie- that he was very similar to Temple in many ways.

When Bill greets us at the main house, he immediately introduces himself to A and tell him he has seen A’s website (abesanimalmission.org) “One question though. The picture of you with a black wrinkled dog- what breed is that?” I breathe a sigh of relief and A is off on a tangent about sharpeis and other dog breeds. Bill knows his stuff.

We all go into a large comfortable room with tables, chairs, books and board games. “I bet you would love this game A,” Hannah points to a spy boardgame. “Or this one- it’s a farm one!” Ben and I play bookstore while Bill and A discuss the options of what to do during the visit. I am amazed at how every book I pick up would be a book A would love. There is a book on Indian sign language, books on specific animal species,history books- everything right up A’s alley.

A and Bill are involved in a discussion about Temple Grandin. A can’t believe that Bill has met her. He gets to hear how she designed her squeeze box at Hampshire Country School and what some of the changes in the movie were. A hangs on every word.

We are taken on a tour of the grounds- the goats, the rock climbing wall. Then the chickens. They have chickens here! A is very excited and quickly uses his new skills to gather 12 eggs, which we now have to keep fresh and transport safely home.  Most of our time is spent at he school’s lake. We are warned that while there are some fish, it’s often tough to reel one in. They havent met A. Over the course of the afternoon, he catches 7 or 8- a large mouth bass- bigger than anything ever caught there before!

One of  the dorm parents is at the lake with her 8 year old son. They live in one of the dorms and her son attends public school. He comes back to Hampshire Country School in the afternoon and does all the activities with the other boys. The woman tells me how she is known for all the hugs she gives and how she gets up in the middle of the night to settle a middle of the night waker back to sleep. I really like her.

B gets to canoe. H swims, A fishes. Even our dog is with us and having a great time.  Bill and I steal away to talk about how to approach A and let him know that he will be attending in September. “Tell him we are very impressed and are confident he will do well here. Tell him you and D need a few days to ‘research’ and make sure you agree. Then let him know you re sending in his registration paperwork.” I tell Bill I am worried that A has a whole summer to be anxious over this. He tells me it is better to have “manageable” anxiety knowing he will be going, rather than anxiety because he doesn’t know if he is or isn’t. Makes sense.

Bill tells us we should wrap things up, end them on a positive note and let A want to come back for more. As we leave A asks if he was accepted. I proudly say “yes! They were very impressed by you!” A grins ear to ear! “WOW! I was one of 20 boys picked out of the whole world!” He hesitates and then says, “But, I’m not going.” I smile and tell him D and I need to research it more to makes ure this is where he will do well. A asks what kind of research I will do- I tell him I plan to call parents of boys who are students at Hampshire Country. A tells me he wants to hear what Temple Grandin thinks about the school.

We spend one more day at the farm and then head back home. There isn’t much talk about the school, except for the occasional, “Am I going?” TO which I reply that D and I need to make sure he will do well there and we will know in a few days.  A mentions to someone that he visited a boarding school. I interrupt and let them know that A was one of only 5 boys this year selected to attend and it is incredible that he qualified. A tells me he thinks he wants to go.

I sent an email to Temple Grandin with a little about A and how much he enjoyed her movie and identifies with her so much. I tell her that A wants her opinion on Hampshire Country School. I hit send and wonder if she will ever even see the email. I immediately get a reply from her secretary that Temple is out of town until Wednesday but she will email A then and also send him a card! She tells me that Temple loves to correspond with kids like A. I feel giddy!

D and I are 100% sold on this. Even if A becomes horribly upset I feel ike I will soldier on. This is what is going to make all the difference in the world.

Cat’s out of the bag

July 15, 2010

We are leaving tomorrow for a long weekend getaway with the kids– to a “farm resort,” where you stay on the farm and help with milking the cows, collecting eggs, etc. The kids are really excited. Tonight we told A that on Saturday we will also be stopping in to visit a boarding school that is near there. (This is actually the purpose of the trip, but we wanted to take the focus off of the school visit.) His first reaction was to tell me that he wasn’t going to visit it and he isn’t going to boarding school. I told him, as per the school’s director, that visiting doesn’t mean he will be going there. He seemed ok with that at first, but started talking more about it and wanted to know what the chances are of him going there in September, etc. And adamantly telling me he was not going to boarding school.

I am trying to down play it and tell him we don’t know much about the school and will all find out more on Saturday, and that we would never send him unless it was a fabulous place. I am hoping to get him to visit without much of a struggle.

A few weeks ago David and I took a drive to New Hampshire to visit two schools- The Hunter School and Hampshire Country School. We ruled out Hunter, as the students seemed lower functioning, and the administration didn’t seem to have a solid position on much. “Maybe you can skype with him- we never did it but I don’t see why you can’t.” “We are thinking of starting a horseback riding program.” “We have a points system now, but maybe that will change.”

A two hour drive to the Massachusetts/New Hampshire border brought us to Hampshire Country School (www.hampshirecountryschool.org)  I prepared myself to rule out this school too, but instead, we were greeted by six of the most enthusiastic, energetic happy 10 and 11 year old boys I had ever met! We were brought into their classroom where they all jumped up and started talking at once when D and I entered. They wanted to show us a Mad Lib they had been working on. I expected the teacher to reprimand them for standing up, talking out of turn, etc. Instead, she gave a big smile and joined in on their excitement. D and I looked at each other and we both knew this was it. A would fit right in.

We spent a long time speaking with the director, Bill Dickerman, about the school and about A. We were so happy to hear that a Hebrew tutor could be arranged, and that there were other boys also studying for their Bar Mitzvahs- and some even have them at school! Bill told us more about the school’s philosophy –if A were to rage and break things and tear Bill’s office apart, they would work through it. If A tried to sneak cigarettes into school, he would be on the next bus home. “We set the bar high here. At a typical special needs school the bar is very low and the students reach it. At a typical college prep program the bar is very high and students are expected to meet those demands. Here we have high expectations, but we know the boys won’t always reach them.” “A will probably always be a difficult kid. He will always have slow processing. But here he will flourish. He will be recognized for all his strengths.”

There is no therapy. There is a full school day where traditional subjects are taught in non-traditional ways. They are structured but flexible, taking the time to adjust for lack of attention or someone going off on a tangent about their special interest. After school the boys play on the rural 1500 acre campus- there is canoeing, farm animals, strategy games and FISHING. Lots and lots of fishing. We are told that what goes on after school is at least important as the school day.

The school accepts middle school boys who have a higher than average IQ who, for reasons related to ADHD, NVLD and Asperger’s, are unable to be successful in a traditional classroom setting. Abe’s psychiatric history is typical of  the boys as well.

There is no medication. I was initially scared, but realize that the stability we have gained was from the structure of therapeutic environments like Meridell- not necessarily the medication. In fact, all the meds have had such negative side effects, I now look forward to the day that A will be med free- for the first time in almost 4 years.

I have spoken to a few other moms:

“This was our last resort. I wish it would have been our first.”

“My son has FAR exceeded our expectations in just one year.”

I heard the story of one boy who has a history, like A, of school refusal. One day the boy decided he wasn’t going to go to school while at Hampshire. First he spent about an hour in the dorm. Then the headmaster came in and invited him to have breakfast. After breakfast the teacher and the boy’s classmates came to the dorm and declared, “If you aren’t coming to school, then school is coming to you!” And the lessons were taught in the boy’s room until recess. After recess the boy forgot he wasn’t going to school and returned to the classroom! This is what we dream of for A.

We have had to contain our enthusiasm for a few weeks. We didn’t want A to know about it until we were leaving for the visit. Now he knows. On the one hand I am so excited for him –this is an opportunity of a lifetime. On the other, my heart breaks for him. He is only 10. He wants his mommy and daddy every night. It feels like a fast way to grow up. Bill has reassured us that Abe’s dorm parents will read to him at night and will comfort him when he is sad. He also told me that A’s attachment to me is actually a great sign that he will soon LOVE his new school and become very attached to people there.

The car is packed and we leave at 5am…

A New Beginning

July 7, 2010

Twelve days ago A and I made the trip to North Carolina- we left at 4:30 am from Newark Airport. It was  familiar f flying alone with him. But the feelings were different. I wasn’t worried about how to keep him safe on the plane ride, I wasn’t worried about how he would react to me leaving him in an unfamiliar hospital. This trip was different. It was exciting anticipation. We talked about what the trip would be like- what it would be like to take care of a llama, to trek through the wilderness, to go rafting down a river. At one point A snuggled up against me and told me he would miss me. “I’ll miss you to. I can’t wait to hear all about the trip when you get back! Just twelve days!”

We rented a car to drive from the Ashville NC airport to base camp. Enroute, we made a stop at Target to replace the sunglasses he fiddled with on the plane and popped out a lens. A must have been having similar thoughts to me on this trip. “Mom, have you written in the blog lately? I mean, have you finished it yet?” I told him I hadn’t but really needed to. “Well, you should write. And you should tell everyone I am okay now.” Wow. He was okay.

The trip to Target was a little unnerving as he tried every pair on, dismissing each as too big, too small, too tight or too loose. He was on edge, but held himself together. Finally he picked a pair. We paid for it and approached the exit door and he cried “They don’t fit either!” So we returned them and started over. A eventually found a pair- the same exact pair we just returned, but I didn’t tell him that- and I rushed us out the door before he could discover something wrong with this pair too.

We had an exciting car ride on the Great Smokey Mountain Highway and then what seemed like off roading for a few miles to base camp. We were greeted by smiley 20-something year olds so happy to see us. We had an in-brief session discussing A’s goals for the trip, his meds and an overview of the experience. Then we had a tour. We met a boy in A’s group (only 4 kids in a group and 3 counselors!) Interestingly, A really hit it off with this boy, who was a little too friendly, spoke a little too much and was very active. Peas in a pod. After our brief tour the counselor asked A how he was feeling about saying goodbye to me. With a slight wave of A’s hand I was dismissed.

We received two letters while A was trekking:

“Dear Mom, I miss you so much I cry for you everyday. Love A”

“Dear Mom, When I get home I don’t want to go to sleepaway camp. I will tell you why when I see you. Love A”

We had a few phone calls from staff letting us know A was doing great- a few days of really bad homesickness and then he was terrific.

A and D are on the plane flying home now. I’ve heard from them throughout the day and can’t wait to see A’s face and hear all about the trip. He says he has a best friend (the first boy we met there.) Asked if he could do the Florida trip next year. And told me he can’t go to sleepaway camp because as much as he loved his experience, he just missed home too much.

So the plans for the rest of the summer are up in the air. Friday A and D leave for a weekend fly fishing program. The following weekend we all go to New Hampshire to a “farm resort.” While we are there we will be telling A the plans for September. D and I will decide then about sleepaway camp.

Our boy is okay now. He told me to tell you.

Something in the works…

June 13, 2010

It’s been awhile since I have written. Things have changed dramatically for us– not necessarily A’s behavior, but my outlook and philosophy. I can’t spill the beans just yet, because we need time to get A involved, but I am happier than ever right now.

I am tired of therapy- tired of my little boy spending his afternoons at appointments to talk about his feelings and his medications. No more sticker charts and rewards– although he does like working for specific items, so we are keeping that up– he just earned a new CD for attending school 5 days in a row!

A is off the amantadine now. He’s pretty hyper, but I think it is a big step in the right direction where meds aren’t controlling him– a busy, structured envrionment is. Our plan for the next two weeks is to keep him very busy and active. In two weeks A leaves on a 12 day program for kids with ADHD– he will be white water rafting, rock climbing and also go on a llama trek! We are all really excited! (www.soarnc.org)

He’ll return for two weeks of day camp and then off to 4 weeks of sleepaway camp at http://www.roundlakecamp.org/

The rest, my friends…I can’t say yet ;o) But it’s good. Really good!

Smooth Sailing

June 2, 2010

We’ve managed to string together lots of good days. We went away for a Memorial Day Weekend- camped in upstate NY on a river- A was in all his glory. He stayed at the river, mesmorized, casting and reeling it in for hours. We went on a rafting trip down the Delaware River which was beautiful- but being in a small raft with three kids -and one being A- could stress anyone out! Everytime someone would suggest a rock, an island, a patch of sand to picinic at, A would say, “no.’ Finally H chimed in “You never agree to anything!” She is right. To get A to go along with the program it takes constant manipulation and tricks.

We have restarted the amantadine at a lower dose (50 mgs 3x day.) Seems to be a great balance of controlling the hyperactivity and not messing with his mood (and as an added side effect, it controls bed wetting!) But, toward the end of the trip A is getting irritable again. Dr J says my idea to paly aroudn iwth dosage and times is a good one- “trial and error is how it is done.”

I feel like there are so many horrible scenes that are forever etched in my mind that I am determined to counteract them with happy ones. On our way home, we stop at The (famous) Roscoe Diner for lunch. It is probably the best eating out experience with three children I have ever had. Everyone is smiling, a little dirty from three nights in the woods, sun tanned. A is perfect. Everyone takes a turn playing charades trying to get each other to guess what their favorite part of the trip was. H loved the tent and the hammock. B loved watching A catch a frog and loved the tent too. A loved making H scream when he pretended to push the raft off the shore with just the two of them in it. He seems like a regular big brother.

Today he went to school with no hesitation. He came home and did his homework right away, without me even asking him to. He got more and more irritable as the afternoon wore on though. But, he was out of the house for baseball for most of the early evening so things were pretty good.

I am obsessed with the thought of boarding school. I watch his every move and each interaction and wonder if it is a “good” sign or a sign that he can’t live at home. I picture telling him that he will be going away. I picture visiting him. I picture being home with just D, H and B.

I cannot predict how this will play out. If there were a school within an hour from us I would send him with no hesitation. If there were a day school that could meet his needs, then I would do that instead. But neither is our reality.

I am also concerned about sending him to a “residential treatment center,” vs. a “therapeutic boarding school.” I don’t know if it is my denial that makes me think he is more appropriate for a boarding school, where the focus is on academics and recreation, rather than an RTC where they will monitor his medication and focus on his mental stability.

On Friday we are meeting with an educational consultant who will discuss with us what schools are a good fit, as well as the benefits and drawbacks to sending him now versus when he is older.

I look at him and try to take him all in. I want to make very minute with him right now count. I realize that while I am so preoccupied with doing so, that he is doing pretty well- actually so well. The horrors of a few months ago seem far away- I could almost convince myself they didn’t happen. He is finally, for the most part, stable. I can breath a sigh of relief.

Now I guess it is weighing how much we can take on. A needs constant attention afterschool. Otherwise, left to his own devices, he is either watching tv non stop or annoying his siblings, or creating some sort of mess/experiment. He constantly uses inappropriate language/tone. He gets physical with H and B, but not liek he used to- its a push or a kick. It’s so hard to judge what is “normal” for siblings. I know this isn’t quite normal, but we are getting closer and I’d hate to make the decision to send him to boarding school just when things were getting better.