Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Parenting By Difference

For two weeks, I have been painstakingly (emphasis on the first syllable) working on a blog post about...well, nevermind, I'll come back to that.  Then the tics started again and now my thoughts on parenting and homeschooling are focused on Bean's blinks and head bobs and shoulder jerks.

From the time Bean was about two, it became clear to us and to other adults around her that if we were to seek out any number of diagnoses, we would probably find them.  Teachers and school administrators have suggested occupational therapy, speech therapy and IQ testing.  Take your pick of acronyms or diagnostic labels - many of them beginning with "A" - and it would not be a stretch to picture Bean.  Well, some of the time.  Her periods of equilibrium and disequilibrium have always been extreme.  After eight years as her parents, we know that we will spend half of any given age wondering what's wrong and the other half wondering why we ever thought anything was wrong at all.

This is part of the reason we have never sought out professional help beyond our pediatrician.  By the time we decide that Yes, this time we are really making that call, she - and we- have turned a corner and worked through things.  We come back to our grounding philosophy for parenting her: she is who she is and when we remember Bean 101, we usually work through things pretty smoothly.

Bean 101 is our shorthand - in the absence of any diagnosis - for those things that make her uniquely her and uniquely challenging: loud noises disturb her (unless she is making them); change is hard for her - whether it is an emotion or a place or a person; she is intense at play and rest; she has an unusually strong inner compass; she is persistent, sensitive and has prodigious amounts of both mental and physical energy; sleep can be elusive for her; if she doesn't like the feel of something, it will be an uphill battle that may not be worth fighting to get her to try it once, let alone go back.  She is also very empathetic, intuitive, caring, and curious.  Many of these characteristics have mellowed as she has matured, but will come roaring back under stress (change, fatigue, illness, etc.) for a moment or longer.

One of the reasons we decided to homeschool rather than try the public school system or another private school is that we felt that in the school environment, sooner or later, we would be forced to have her tested for one thing or another.  We have always felt that if we had a diagnosis, we would parent to the diagnosis and not to her own uniqueness.  In our completely unprofessional, but dangerously over-read opinion, we think that if she is anything, it is borderline and we want to keep parenting on that border because, no matter how uncomfortable, it is real.  It would be easier to be in one camp or not: "normal" is far too relative a term, so I will say that the two camps are diagnosable and non-diagnosable (How's that for hedging my bets? I just made up a word.)

And then came an open house at a new gym on Saturday.  We had been talking with Bean for months about taking gymnastics again.  She has taken gymnastics off and on at various gyms since she was three but often didn't like the class environment.  Without a regular outlet for her acrobatic pursuits, our house feels like a Cirque du Soleil set.  Once she started taking private ballet lessons and realized this was an option for gymnastics, we started looking into it.  She was extremely excited about her first trial lesson with a coach at her previous gym, but the coach had her own ideas and it didn't go at all the way Bean or I had intended.  After that disappointment last week, I immediately began looking at the few other gyms in the immediate area and a few in nearby counties.  The newest incarnation of her first gym was having an open house in a new space so we all went.

As Dr. Yap and I stood in the cavernous space, watching from afar as she waited for her turn on the trampoline, Bean looking especially small and exposed in her shiny blue leortard, we realized at the same time that she wasn't merely fidgeting expectantly waiting for her turn: her shoulders were twitching, and her head was jerking forward.

This wasn't the first time we noticed her tic.  Several months ago, she started jerking her shoulders, usually in the evening and at bedtime.  At the time, I convinced Dr. Yap that this was nothing to worry about.  I thought it was just another manifestation of her energy and like earlier bouts of throat-clearing, sniffing, and lip-chewing, this would pass if we didn't say much.  Dr. Yap (who, it should be noted, has neither a medical degree or a PhD, we just all think she's brilliant and have thus bestowed upon her this honorary moniker - but don't tell her it's not legit) didn't like it but agreed to go along with it.  Soon, it passed, and so did her obsession with "catching the 59s" - her term for trying to see the last number of each hour on a digital clock wherever she was.  Just as this habit went from being maddening to worrisome, it passed.

Now, watching under fluorescent lights as two tics take hold of her slender frame, I know I will have a harder time convincing Dr. Yap that it's nothing.  I try anyway (because I am no stranger to persistence myself.)  The tics continued throughout the weekend and were soon joined by blinking.  This was a much more persistent, continuous phenomenon than anything she had experienced before.  We tried to ask non-chalantly if she was doing it on purpose or if she knew it was happening.  By Sunday evening, she was having a hard time talking and said at bedtime that she wished she could stop blinking because it was bothering her eyes.  Dr. Yap insisted that I take her to the doctor on Monday- no matter what any website said about tics being transient and unharmful in childhood.

On Monday, I made the appointment for that evening with her pediatrician and noticed fewer and less intense tics.  I asked her if she felt like it was less and if she was trying not to do it and she said yes.  Last night, her pediatrician agreed with me that the tics seemed in keeping with her intensity, energy, compulsive nature and likely (though unproven by any testing method) giftedness.  He prescribed nonchalance for Dr. Yap and I and suggested that Bean try to talk about things going on in her head.  The pediatrician agreed that she would probably outgrow some of her tendencies and that it was best to continue parenting the kid we have, without the guidance - or hindrance - of a diagnosis. I trust his assessment of Bean because besides being a good pediatrician and the father of three he has witnessed her intensity live and in person over the years.  For good measure, and because he knew Dr. Yap would appreciate it, he also gave us a referral to a pediatric neurologist in the same medical group who happens to specialize in movement disorders.

Tics are not uncommon in young children, and until they have persisted for at least a year, they are considered Transient Tic Disorder, rather than the more familiar Tourette's Syndrome.  Are we now heading down the road of giving a name and label to every aspect of our child, or are we simply being good parents, availing ourselves of good insurance and sound medical advice?

1 comment:

  1. I love you, Nickens, amazing mother of my beloved granddaughter.