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Thursday, February 11, 2010

Which would you prefer?

I know I haven't written much about Yonah lately.  For those new to this site, Yonah is our six year old son who has faced a few challenges in his short life.

I won't bore long-time readers with the details (since I've posted about this many times in the past), but thanks to a fairly routine surgery to remove his adenoids and tonsils (which allowed him to hear and breathe properly for the first time in his life), Yonah began speaking, responding to the world around him and basically developing as a normal healthy child should.

Yonah has spent a few years in special nurseries getting an incredible range of therapies (speech, occupational, play, music, etc.) thanks to the incredible educational / medical system here in Israel, but he has finally been 'mainstreamed' into a regular kindergarten... and is positively thriving there.

Despite all this wonderful news and the sense of incredible euphoria and relief it has caused in our family, there are still a few lingering issues.

First of all, there are still some sensory issues that Yonah will likely have to contend with for the rest of his life.  If you can picture the way an itchy tag inside the neck of a new shirt might drive you a little crazy... there will always be certain things (certain noises, touches and other stimuli) that will put Yonah on edge (to say the least) and for which he will have to find a way to soothe himself.

All kids/people have these kinds of things on a small scale, but kids with sensory issues have them in bigger doses, and have a harder time keeping them from taking over their lives. 

The best way I ever heard this explained was when someone described a simple sensory stimulus as holding a glass of water out at arms length.  This is something that most people can easily do for up to a minute without too much trouble.  After 5 minutes the muscles start to tremble.  After half an hour the pain is almost unbearable.  An hour would hospitalize most people.  A whole day would be unthinkable.

People with sensory issues often have to carry around such 'glasses of water' throughout their days that the rest of the world can put down after a few minutes.  This is where the self-soothing comes into play... and sometimes it can just become too much.

Here's where my question comes in.

Up to this point we've noticed that, with the exception of the occasional fairly age-appropriate temper tantrums, Yonah is able to maintain exemplary behavior in public (i.e. in school, restaurants, at his grandparents, shopping, etc.), and can usually wait until he gets home to really 'melt down'.

On the one hand, this shows us that he is making conscious, mature decisions throughout his day to be on his best behavior, and to some extent has found coping mechanisms for filtering most of the stuff that bothers him.  That's a good thing. 

But on the other hand, it's frustrating to know that he is capable of good behavior, but see it reserved mostly for his time outside the house and with 'company'.

Given a choice, I personally would rather have things this way than have an angel at home and get reports from school, grandparents and neighbors that he is evil incarnate.  But I'm curious which some of you would prefer (not that we have a choice in the matter).

The comment board is open.

Posted by David Bogner on February 11, 2010 | Permalink

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I remember being told how well behaved my kids were when they were at friends, and them being complete heathens at home. Frustrated, I asked a much older and wiser parent why that was. She told me that they are comfortable at home that they are loved by all around, and are therefore free to be who they really want to be. There is no need for them to put on a persona. They know that nothing they can do in their own 4 walls will make you love them any less. You have given the child an immense sense of security.

Does that help?

Posted by: Hadassah | Feb 11, 2010 4:44:09 PM

I can echo what Hadassah says. At times the positive reports I'd get from friends about my kids' behavior would leave be baffled - they couldn't really be talking about MY kids, could they? But yeah, they had learned to put on their best behavior for when they were out of the house.

But it wasn't always that way. When my eldest was in elementary school, he used to behave very badly in school as well, which impacted his education AND his social life. Once he learned to keep it at home, he did much better.

Posted by: Russ | Feb 11, 2010 5:16:48 PM

Same here. My parents took us to Disney World last summer. Most of the time they were with my parents and I was with my brother, his fiancee, and my aunt (my wife was home with the new baby, the trip was booked before the baby was conceived). My parents kept commenting on how well behaved the girls were. One day we spent the day together, and the girls were cranky, complaining, whiny, etc. I was getting frustrated. My parents said it was all normal, the kids want their parents' attention more, etc. Makes sense, but yeah, would be nice sometimes if they were great at home. (not that they are always cranky, fighting, etc., they do have stretches of great behavior as well).

Posted by: JDMDad | Feb 11, 2010 6:07:38 PM

I can also echo what Hadassah said. Before my son was diagnosed with a learning disability we would see terrible temper tantrums at home. The teachers all had the greatest things to say about him and told me to relax that kids just learn at different rates but that no one tries harder than he does. One day, feeling overwhelmed I asked him why he can t behave as well at home as he does at school, he looked at me and said, "You don t know how hard it is to be so good in school all day and not yell or cry." He needed to be able to release his frustrations at home where it was safe. Things improved as he learned to manage his disability. But, looking at all of my kids I firmly believe that they think that manners come in limited supplies and they have to be careful not to waste them. : )

Posted by: Lisa | Feb 11, 2010 6:19:41 PM

Thought provoking post for parents for ALL types of kids... nice.
And i agree with Hadassah's comment... it's safe and it should be, at home with family.

Give Yonah a hug from his aunt for being such a big boy at his new school!

Posted by: val | Feb 11, 2010 8:13:32 PM

It's easier to deal with a problem that's close at hand.

Posted by: Karl Newman | Feb 11, 2010 8:39:08 PM

Would definitely prefer an angel out and trouble at home.

I'm so glad Yonah has improved so much after his surgery. Photos? :)

Posted by: zemirah | Feb 11, 2010 10:39:08 PM

My youngest daughter is 12 and in some ways sounds very similar to Yonah. As she got older, smarter and more self-aware I was able to talk to her during non-tantrum times about her behavior and how to "cope" with difficulties and how to use words to express herself. This helped alot, the tantrums decreased as she got older, although they still are there occasionally. I have become adept at handling them, although I (shamefacedly) admit that when I am tired, cranky or distracted I scoot down to her level and let's just say it's not pretty.

(Am bracing myself for the peak of puberty and her teen-age years. Sigh.)

Posted by: Baila | Feb 12, 2010 1:08:03 AM

I've dealt with this issue quite a bit. My daughter had serious sensory integration issues when she was younger. She began outgrowing them at age 5, and now, at 11, they are mostly gone (but not entirely). Also, I'm a special ed teacher and many of my students had/have sensory integration disorder. At age 6, Yonah may have made tremendous progress (yay Yonah!)but he still needs a few more years to shed most of the symptoms of sensory integration disorder. It is entirely typical that he feels the need to let go of his frustrations at the end of the day, but he CAN be taught more "appropriate" ways to do that. Try some of these ideas:
1)Let him change into more comfortable clothes as soon as he comes home, if he wants to.
2)Let him have a small snack as soon as he comes home. (Hunger is unbearable to a kid with sensory issues)
3)Set up a quiet corner in his bedroom where he can engage in self-soothing activities when he needs to (coloring, listening to music, books, Legos, etc.- whatever quiet activity he enjoys). Explain to him that this is his "calm down" spot and he should go there when he feels overly upset. Present this positively, and not as a punishment. (BTW, TV and video games are NOT self-soothing activities!)
4)Teach him some basic relaxation techniques, like deep breathing, counting to 10, and relaxing his muscles. Teach this when he is calm- not during a meltdown- and reinforce it from time to time. Help him implement these techniques when he does start to meltdown.
I know I'm writing a lot here, sorry about that, but I have 2 more suggestions:
Even though Yonah has been mainstreamed, he should still be getting occupational therapy at least twice a week. Look for a therapist with experience in treating sensory integration issues, or a clinic/center that has a sensory gym. Therapy should not end until the problem has actually been resolved or further alleviated.
Also, every parent with a sensory child should read "The Out of Sync Child" by Carol Kranowitz and Lucy Jane Miller. (Link: http://www.amazon.com/Out-Sync-Child-Recognizing-Processing/dp/0399531653/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1265947224&sr=1-1). Easily the best, most understandable and helpful book ever written on the subject.
Sorry for going on and on. I hope some of this helps you!

Posted by: Raizy | Feb 12, 2010 6:06:40 AM

Interesting. We were just talking about this sort of thing in class. We were talking about the importance of kids to be able to self-regulate, etc.

Posted by: Erachet | Feb 12, 2010 7:55:04 AM

Interesting post and comments. As a teacher, I'd say that a kid who knows to behave outside the home has already won the most important battles, at least for the time being. I found Raizy's tips useful to pass on to other parents.

Posted by: Ilana-Davita | Feb 12, 2010 10:02:47 AM

As promised, Dave, I waited 'til 2day to comment....

OH! The irony of it all! At the very moment this post was publishing, I was running errands with Yonah who had his first public tantrum in a looooooonnnnnnngggg time.

But. Was. It. A. Doozy!

So much so, that it prompted a rather smug and unhelpful gentleman to comment on how "big boys shouldn't still have tantrums."

Yeah. 'Cause I didn't have enough on my plate.... [grrrrrr]

Hadassah, Russ, JMDdad, Lisa, Karl and Zemira: FWIW, I agree with all of you. I'd much prefer that if the child is going to fall apart that he do it at home. While his tantrums are quite difficult to endure, we don't at all blame him -- rather we empathize with how hard he works to 'hold it together' during the learning/social part of his day. It is just really hard to watch your kid come completely unglued due to sensory overload....

Val: Kiss, hug, and love all passed on to a very receptive nephew this morning! :-)

Baila: I commiserate with you! It is very hard to not lose your cool when your kid is spiraling! And let's face it -- the longer the duration, the more difficult it becomes to stay on an even keel. After an eruption, I feel like a tuning fork that has been struck overly hard -- every fiber of my being simply vibrates with nervous tension....

Raizy: Thank you so much for taking the time to provide such a comprehensive comment! I refer to The Out-of-Sync Child as my "child-care bible!" I <3 that book! I second your recommendation of it to any readers with sensory kids who've not yet read it!

I especially appreciate your suggestions with regards to deep-breathing and self-soothing behaviors! Most of the occupational therapy we've been focused on has been more physical release of energy and deep tissue pressure.... I think that he is at the perfect age to start your suggestions -- he is slowly becoming more aware of the 'breaking point' and where I don't think he could have implemented these suggestions even 6-weeks ago, I think your timing is perfect! So: THANK YOU!

Erachet and Ilana-Davita: After a particularly rough episode, I often wonder if we've made the progress we think we've made.... His teachers have been soooooooo encouraging this week -- he is really thriving in his new environment, but it is hard to picture because we've had the inverse experience.... Again, we are not blaming him -- my heart actually breaks to think about the kind of stress he is under to 'measure up'.... So it is especially reassuring to have you both point out how important a milestone it is that he knows the difference between school and home! This very exhausted Ima thanks you both! :-)

Shabbat shalom to all! :-)

Posted by: zahava | Feb 12, 2010 12:37:04 PM

yes, medcine here in israel is pretty good, and doctors really care about patients, so its much less stressful. when i got here in hospital i was 23 yo and just did aliyah-i did not really speak hebrew. i was amazed by great care, true one and what is more i got fine in very short time. i hope your kid is ok now, tihye bari ve shabbat shalom.

Posted by: caleb@israel | Feb 12, 2010 6:08:09 PM

It is a classic clinical idea among psychologists that children bottle up their tensions from the day to release when they get home (much as adults do). It is considered a positive coping mechanism. I think you should praise him for keeping it together so well out in the world.
I have one like that myself.
Larry

Posted by: Larry | Feb 12, 2010 11:23:00 PM

Zahava, been there, done that. :(

Here’s a link to the rest of my "Park your ego at the door--on raising a child with disabilities," in case either of you find any of the information helpful.

Posted by: Shira Salamone | Feb 15, 2010 7:05:55 PM

My son was diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome when he was 6. After learning how to redirect his tics and vocalizations, he could control them when out in public. When he came home from school it was like he didn't have to be totally self-conscious and did not have to try to suppress it or try so hard to redirect it. Some days it was like watching a marathon runner finish the race and have the luxury of relaxing.

Posted by: shira | Feb 15, 2010 11:56:12 PM

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