Tuesday, September 20, 2011

The Post I Don't Want to Write

I've started this post four times and can't seem to get it written, or get it right.  Either I, or a sneaky Boo, accidentally published a few errant sentences last week that slipped from my fingers a few weeks ago. I've written snippets here and there on Google Plus, in Facebook messages to friends, and on replies to other people's problems on message boards.  What I haven't done is write about Bean's diagnosis here - it's all still in my head.

The biggest surprise about her "official-after-way-too-much-money-reams-of-forms-and-six-hours-of-testing" diagnosis is that there is a diagnosis.  In that secret place inside my head, way more secret than a Facebook status or the confines of this blog, I really thought the nice neuropsychologist would tell us that Bean is just fucking brilliant and that gifted is not a diagnosis.  

This is not what she said.  Not by a long shot.  She did say that Bean is very bright, gifted even.  She also said that Bean has Asperger's Disorder and ADHD, combined type which is often attendant with Asperger's but is not the main show in town.  Clearly, Bean is high-functioning to be sure, but firmly and squarely on the Autistic Spectrum, not hovering at the edges.

I know, this shouldn't be a surprise.  I mean, I already blogged about it, so it must be true, right? Honestly, until we received the results from the testing, I didn't really believe it.  I was sure I was wrong and that her pediatrician who's known her most of her life wasn't qualified and that the neurologist didn't really talk to her long enough or examine her thoroughly enough.  I was sure that all my well-meaning friends who think she's lovely were on to something and I was just asking for trouble.  (Because she is lovely - if she doesn't wake up after daylight breaks, and you're not rushing her, or using abstract explanations, or trying to get her to do something in a specific way, or clapping near her; or if you're another kid who doesn't really want to hear about dentistry, or doesn't understand why she's thowing her bike across the park because she can't figure out how to peddle the damn thing, or thinks she's standing a bit too close or holding hands or planting a kiss when it's really unexpected, or letting out the odd whoop on the play structure; or when she's had a half-hour too much social interaction for the day and she's getting manic, or melting down, or just drifting off out of reach, like a radio not quite tuned to the right station setting).

I always avoided reading the literature about Asperger's.  I read about giftedness, which seemed kind of, but not totally right.  And I read about ADHD, with similar feelings.  Or I read about the autistic kids who were middle to low functioning and non-verbal, and clearly that wasn't right.  But when I sat listening to the neuropsychologist, who was lovely in her own right - except when she said, "It is definitely Asperger's, every area of deficit, is related to Asperger's" - and when I cracked open the book I smuggled out of the Amazon box before Bean could see it, "Helping Your Child with Non-Verbal Learning Disorder or Asperger's Disorder," I knew this was right.

The biggest surprises of the diagnosis all went hand in hand with each other and with Asperger's: there are no learning disabilities, only poor working memory, slow processing speed, and very little ability to predict outcomes or make inferences.  Well, I'm no expert, but I think this is a working definition of the cognitive aspects of Asperger's that give rise to the social complications.  These issues contribute to Bean's below average reading comprehension skills, despite having decoding skills above the 95th percentile.  Her Asperger's tendencies are also to blame for poor handwriting and persistent dysgraphia - she's insisting that her stronger left brain that doesn't put up with abstractions stay in charge of the operation.  Even her striking attention deficits are more a partner in crime of Asperger's than a stand alone diagnosis.  The results explain why even though every teacher she ever had could tell she was bright, they were confounded by her difficulties with understanding instructions and why she dances beautifully at home, but stiffens up and stumbles over which foot is which in a class setting where there are too many kids for her to concentrate and the instructions don't make sense. (Bean tearfully ended fours years of ballet instruction last week because her beloved teacher is about to give birth and her previous teacher uses terms like "carmel legs" that make no sense to Bean, instead of "real" terms.)

Nearly three weeks later, Dr. Yap and I have finished the late night rehashing of the results. We're starting behavior modification at home (if I had known putting a nickel in a jar labeled Dentistry School Fund would get Bean to wear underwear or do a multiplication problem, or write a sentence - I might have tried it long ago).  Bean has begun meeting with a chid psychologist who specializes in working with kids with Autistic Spectrum Disorders, though she knows it as "friendship coaching." Down the road, when the final written report is in hand (warning to anyone headed down the diagnostic path - these things take months) Bean will start working with an occupational therapist on fine and large motor skills, and sensory issues.  We'll look for a tutor or tutors to help with reading comprehension and the boring math Bean hates.  And maybe, we'll even look for a school placement some time in the future.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Back to the Books

When I first saw that The New York Times Parent's Guide to the Best Books For Children, had separate sections for Picture Books and Story Books, I thought they were really hanging their hats on semantics.  Because this is my beloved NYT Guide, I gave it a chance and looked closely at the introduction to the Story Book section which states, "Younger children can frequently listen to the text...with pleasure, but they are best suited for children in the early grades." (p. 107)  So far, Boo has borne out this statement, with startling accuracy.  Every once in a while he listens to one of the stories (such as The Adventures of Maxi Dog) with the same attention he reserves for an episode of Blue's Clues, and he is sometimes distractingly interested in the illustrations (the pictures of Joan of Arc with her armor and sword piqued his curiosity to the point that I just gave him the book and moved on to another one).  Overall though, I can draw a quick timeline of when he became glaringly uninterested in read-alouds during our school day and it starts right about where this section begins.

The Accident
Written by Carol Carrick and Illustrated by Donald Carrick
We didn't actually read The Accident, which is the middle of a trilogy of books about Christopher and his dog Bodger.  Truthfully, I was grateful my library didn't have this one because after being introduced to the boy and his dog in Lost in the Storm (which is exactly what happens to Bodger, but there's a happy ending), in The Accident, Bodger is hit by a truck and killed.  No parental hand-wringing or decision-making was required to check out Lost in the Storm and the final book, The Foundling, in which Christopher bonds with a stray despite his grief over Bodger - however, I did a quick pre-read in stacks before it went in the bag.

The Adventures of Taxi Dog
Written by Debra Baracca and Illustrated by Marc Buehner
Boo and I read one of the sequels about Maxi, the Taxi Dog while sitting on the floor of our favorite children's consignment shop.  He enjoyed it, but not enough to take it home, and I only remember wondering why it wasn't placed in the Picture Book section of the Guide.  I must confess that I was left with such an overwhelming feeling of being underwhelmed, that I never sought out the original, even though I must pass by it all the time at the library.   One day, if it makes itself glaringly obvious on my trajectory through the children's section, I'll rectify my judgmental ways and bring it home.

Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day
Written by Judith Viorst and Illustrated by Ray Cruz
There is something utterly dated about the illustrations and characters in this and other books about the curmudgeonly, elementary school misanthrope that I adore.  I think I identify more strongly with Alexander than Bean does.  In fact, I don't think she identifies with him at all, but she doesn't mind reading most of them; the exception being I'll Fix Anthony, whose revenge theme is a bit un-PC for her sensibilities.  Alexander, Who Used to Be Rich Last Sunday is a cautionary tale mentioned in homeschool tomes as a good resource for beginning financial management.  Alexander, Who's Not (Do You Hear Me? I Mean It!) Going to Move takes young readers on a full venting journey, before he finally comes around and faces reality in the end.

All About Alfie
Written and Illustrated by Shirley Hughes
The Alfie books are one of those nice surprises that endears me to the Guide and keeps me pig-headedly glued to my quest to force feed - I mean force read - I mean read with no coercion what so ever- as many of the books as possible to Bean and Boo.  The stories are pleasant tales about Alfie and his little sister Annie that don't knock you over the head with purple prose, life lessons or cleverness, but I love the illustrations and the setting, which I presume is in Yorkshire or some other naturally bucolic corner of the UK.

Always Room for One More
Written by Sorche Nic Leodhas and Illustrated by Nonny Hogrogian
Absurdist fable alert!  Not only is it absurd in the most hilariously ridiculous way that even Boo thought was a riot, it is set in Scotland, which means you get to read it with your best bad Scottish brogue.  I for one, look for opportunities to use my best bad accents.  If you don't, your kids are really missing out on opportunities to be either extremely tickled or extremely embarrassed - both of which are good for them.

The Amazing Bone
Written and Illustrated by William Steig 
I actually considered writing a whole post on William Steig because both Bean and I run very hot and cold and are very much in agreement about his books.  This one is in the cold category.  It's just plain weird, and not in the pleasant way that I seek out.  I wanted to like the story about Pearl the pig who found a talking bone that had fallen out of a witch's pocket, but I just couldn't.  Neither could Bean or Boo.

Amazing Grace
Written by Mary Hoffman and Illustrated by Caroline Binch
Yay for girl power books!  Yay for girl power books with girls who defy all the naysayers and have good illustrations to boot.  This book is especially good for kids whose interests break the mold or kids who are interested in the theater .(P.S. This book isn't just for girls.)

Annie and the Old One
Written by Miska Miles and Illsutrated by Peter Parnell
I love Peter Parnell's evocative line drawings, which immediately transport the the reader to the southwest - even if you've never actually been there.  (He also lends his very distinctive style to the illustrations in all of Byrd Baylor's books, with similar results.) Annie and the Old One is a touching, but not overly emotional story about a girl realizing that her grandmother is close to death.  Rather than sitting in grief or anger, the story follows the little girl as she learns to let go of her grandmother.  The family is very obviously Native American and I think this serves to make the story powerful, but not necessarily upsetting for kids.  Because it is set in a different culture young listeners can separate themselves just enough for comfort, but slightly older kids who've been introduced to this culture already will recognize lessons about the cycle of life and get even more out of the story.  Annie and the Old One is beautifully, sensitively written in a way that does not read "BIBLIOTHERAPY."

Annie and the Wild Animals
Written and Illustrated by Jan Brett
I personally love Jan Brett's rich, colorful illustration style and how the pictures literally tell a side story on the edges of the page.  I don't know how authentically she captures the various cultures that her stories embody, but I love them just the same.  Checking out this book, along with The Mitten, Berlioz the Bear, The First Dog, and Fritz and the Beautiful Horses, gave us a reason to have an overdue Jan Brett fest in combination with other titles we had at home.

Art Dog
Written and Illsutrated by Thacher Hurd
Art Dog is a perfectly silly caper with nary an artful illustration or lesson in sight.  This tale of a security guard turned vigilante art rescuer is good fun for both Boos and Beans, but the Boos (2/3) in the group won't get the inside art jokes that the Beans (7/8) might.

Arthur's Nose
Written and Illustrated by Marc Brown
I find it interesting that Bean likes watching the television series based on Marc Brown's supposed aardvark and likes reading Arthur's Nose and the other original Arthur books, but she doesn't care for the books based on the TV show.  It's fascinating because the Arthur of Arthur's Nose, Arthur's Eyes, Arthur's Tooth and Arthur's Glasses actually looks like an aardvark, albeit an anthropomorphized version.  The Arthur of the TV show looks more like a gopher or chipmunk, or some other nondescript member of the large rodent family.  The whole premise of the original book was that a young aardvark was learning to accept his prominent proboscis.  The irony is completely lost on Bean, who until very recently was often confused by the difference between fiction and nonfiction on non-animated movies and TV.  Maybe Arthur's incongruous nose and message don't bother her because the show is animated and therefore automatically outside the realm of the possible.  When I asked Bean if she thought it was odd that his nose was one way in this book and another on television, she basically gave me a regurgitated response on the differences that manifest when a book becomes a TV show, which sounded almost exactly like what I told her that last time this inconsistency (in what book/show I don't remember) nearly sent her over the edge.