Mad Scientist for a Child

At the suggestion of an excellent librarian working in the children’s section at our local library my son has been reading the Franny K. Stein Mad Scientist series, by Jim Benton.

He generally reads to himself but asked me to read to him a bit at bedtime so I did. When we came across the following paragraph in the Attack of the 50-Ft. Cupid

Franny’s mom … might not have chosen to have a mad scientist for a daughter, but that’s what Franny was.

my son asked “Mom, what would you do if I became a mad scientist?”

I answered “Well, you kind of are a mad scientist already, aren’t you?” and gave him a kiss. He smiled. (He has just finished playing with Ooze: The World’s Slimiest Science Kit made by Be Amazing Toys. By the way, Growing Tree Toys has a much better page for this product, with a picture that you can enlarge to see it better.)

We didn’t talk about the paragraph that followed:

And since that’s what Franny was, her mom had spent a lot of time trying to learn about mad scientists.”

I love this paragraph — it rings so familiar!

But my son wouldn’t understand if I tried to explain to him why I like this sentence so much. He doesn’t have any idea how much time I’ve spent already trying to learn about him. And I’m nowhere near being done.

I think I’ll read the other books in the series too.

Yes, it is PDD-NOS after all!

We finally got the neuropsych (neuropsychological testing) results and it is PDD-NOS after all! (See the entry “Autism 101: A basic definition” for more on PDD-NOS.) That may sound like I’m happy and someone might be thinking “Has she gone crazy?” but it’s good to finally have one doctor agree with another (see the first entry “Personal Introduction” about our history of testing and diagnosis. And as far as PDD-NOS goes — we knew it’s a high possibility. It is not the end of the world.

In fact, when I made the same remark in the doctor’s office, she emphatically said “Of course not! Just go and take a walk around the MIT campus!” Laughing out loud, but she’s right, and not just regarding the MIT. I suspect a lot of academics, especially the spacey, absent-minded type ones, have some undiagnosed conditions. I work with academics, so I’ve seen these types often enough to wonder about that myself sometimes.

The doctors haven’t recommended many changes to his IEP, they said they were quite impressed with it being so detailed and with the whole “team” at our son’s school. That was good and comforting to hear.

But they did give us a list of books “helpful in explaining and guiding [...] in fostering play.” We’re supposed to encourage him to “just be a kid.” We’ll try…

Oh, and he may have “challenges with higher-order processes such as executive functions.” (No kidding. We have problems with it too.) So we got a title of a book about executive skills as well.

Looks like I have the reading list all cut out for the next several months. (I’ve also been planning to read all the books mentioned in the “Unwrapping the Gift of ADD” series, and there were quite a few of those.)

There’ll be plenty of material for blogging.

Personal Introduction

My son is twice exceptional — he is both academically gifted and special needs, or the other way around, depending on how you look at it.

There are times when I’m amazed at his intellectual abilities. Even since he was little, he could always figure out very fast how toys are operated and what he has to do to make it move. When he was two he could do quite complicated puzzles, the type for preschoolers. His daycare teachers were borrowing games from the preschool class especially for him. I also noticed he had an amazing memory and could remember events and places for a long time afterward.

Now, at nearly six, he can read fluently, is pretty good at math, knows all the planets in the solar system, etc, etc. Some of his favorite TV shows are the typical stuff that smart, geeky kids like: the PBS shows Cyberchase, Fetch!, Super Why, and Curious George; the Discovery Kids shows Popular Mechanics for Kids and Crash! Bang! Splat!, and Magic School Bus. But he also watches such shows as How It’s Made shown on the Science Channel and Brainiac shown on G4.

The popular belief out there about gifted kids is that these kids’ parents are pushy and “train” the kids to be gifted.

I admit, we have always tried to read a lot to him (if he’d sit and listen). And we have been trying our best to answer the never ending stream of questions he’s been asking over the years, starting from “What does this word say?” to, most recently, “Why are the red blood cells red?” and “What is infinity divided by two?”.

Our son also attended a Montessori preschool for two years and they have wonderful educational materials that, in my opinion, help kids learn how to read, write, and do math much faster than the conventional methods teachers use. I believe that academically he progressed at that Montessori school much faster than he would have at a regular preschool (but he also progressed faster than his peers in his Montessori class).

And yes, if we made him watch the Cartoon Network instead of letting him watch the Discovery Science Channel, he would not know more about the solar system and the universe than I do.

But giftedness, or as some call it “raw intelligence,” is not something that can be “trained” or”taught.” I suppose if we kept our son locked up in a dark cellar he would not know as much as he knows, but I have a feeling he would figure out his way out of there anyway.

When he was two and started daycare, his teachers wrote in a monthly report that he likes exploring the room and that in his explorations he has dismantled the faucet above the kids’ sink. They had not known that the faucet could be taken apart because no other child before had tried to do it.

That ties into our son being special needs.

As much as I love him and admire his gifts, there are times when I’m absolutely sure a diagnosis of ADHD is just a matter of time. He’s always on the go, touching everything, pushing all the buttons he sees, opening all the drawers and doors, or at least trying to do that, no matter where we are, at home, in the doctor’s office, at the grocery store, or anywhere we are. He can’t eat a meal sitting down, he has to stand and fidgets all the time. When he sits down, he still fidgets, and sometimes he falls down and appears truly surprised he fell down. On the other hand, when we send him to the bathroom to brush his teeth, and go in after ten minutes to check on him, more likely than not he is has gotten distracted and is just playing with water, and of course has completely forgotten why he went there in the first place.

There are also times when I’m afraid he will end up heavily medicated or worse, institutionalized. Because even though for the most part he’s a sweet and loving kid, there are times when he licks the back of the seat in front of him, his hands, or the window and does not understand why I am so opposed to him doing it. There are times when he goes in his pants because he is too absorbed in doing something and is “too busy” to go to the bathroom. He also does not seem to understand why he should not do that. And there are times when he just spins or seems to be in his own world, ignoring or not hearing what we are trying to tell him.

And then, not very often, but every now and then, especially after a long weekend full of him being wild and unresponsive, the medication route looks very enticing.

If only I knew what is the right thing to do…

There are days when I am completely exhausted from dealing with him and originally I wrote here that there are times when I wished he were institutionalized or medicated, but I’ve decided to change that. The truth is, even on those days, after he goes to bed and I have had a chance to sit and think and calm down, all I really want is to know how to help him have a happy life.

By the way, our son does not have a clear cut diagnosis. He’s been evaluated by three different specialists, each from a very renowned clinic or center, specializing in child development and various mental, neurological, and developmental disorders. And each of them told us a different thing and recommended a different course of action to help him.

When was three, we were told by an MD, MPH specializing in developmental and behavioral pediatrics from the Developmental Medicine Center at the Children’s Hospital in Boston that he has a Developmental Coordination Disorder. That was also when the tests confirmed he’s gifted.

When he was five, an MD specializing in Autism spectrum disorders, attentional difficulties, learning disabilities and school problems at the Learning and Developmental Disabilities Evaluation and Rehabilitations Services (LADDERS) center said that he has PDD-NOS.

Shortly after that, we were told by a PhD in psychology specializing in Autism and Developmental Disabilities at the Center for Child and Adolescent Development that he’s “just a plain old bright fun kid.”

Both my husband and I are very committed to helping him. We always attend the IEP meetings together. I’ve also been reading a lot of books, scouring the Internet for information. But, as my husband says, it’s hard to help him, if we don’t know what it is we’re dealing with and what the best course of action would be. This blog is intended to be my record of what we’ve tried, what we’ve learned, and any progress (or lack thereof). I can already see it will also be therapeutic for me to write about our son. And if anyone happens to find any useful information here, that would be an added benefit.