differently wired

Homeschooling…. Here we go!

When Berrik was a baby and the girls were just entering school, I may have said I would NEVER homeschool.  Not because I really had anything against homeschooling per se, but more because I thought I would not have the patience or the ability to do it well, and I couldn’t forsee the need for it.  When Berrik was a toddler/preschooler, I recall saying I would consider homeschooling as a last resort if things were really dire…. I wonder now if I subconsciously knew that Berrik would not experience school and learning in the same easy way the girls have.  He was experiencing speech delays at that time, so there were certainly some signs.

But, even as recent as this past June, when I took a year off of work to ‘help’ Berrik get on a good path for learning (whatever that means…I knew generally what I wanted to achieve, but truthfully I had no real solid sense of how the heck I was going to do it!), I was still thinking he would attend school and I would volunteer frequently in the classroom to provide him support and help reinforce what he was learning.  I actually said, I don’t want to homeschool him… I wouldn’t know where to begin….easier to just volunteer in the school with him…

And then came Sound Connections.  After several weeks of seeing Berrik absorb the material like a little sponge, and respond so positively to the multi-sensory style of learning along with the very ‘Berrik-specific’ methods (ie: using mini-sticks hockey games or any sport with a ball as part of the teaching)  I started to say to my mom…hmmm I wonder if I should homeschool him…he would do so much better this way, we could achieve so much more.  And look how confident he is getting.  This was a huge shift in thinking for me and it took a few weeks of researching homeschool boards, reading literature about learning disabilities, early intervention, homeschooling, and really just soaking the idea into my brain before I could decide.  The tipping point was when I came across the Phoenix Foundation homeschool board.  Their philosophy of learning seemed to match closely with mine, and the resources and support felt like a good fit.  Like so many of my life and parenting decisions, I had that ‘gut feeling’ that homeschooling was best for Berrik this year, and that Phoenix was the school board we needed to register with.  So with that, I drove down to their school and registered.  Done.  That was late in July.  Here is a video that describes my favorite thing about Phoenix – their Creation Studio: Phoenix Foundation  Berrik will attend some classes and participate in field trips with other homeschooling kids…and we will also do a bunch of work at home. Plenty of opportunity to engage with his peers, but the advantage of picking and choosing what will work best for Berrik, and the ability to continuously adapt.

The thing that I think I love best, is how inclusive and supportive this board is.  Perhaps they all are, I have no idea.  But regardless of learning disabilities, cognitive ability, whether kids are on the autism spectrum, have ADHD symptoms or are neurotypical, the school is set up to support kids to success. It’s not a special needs school, but they seem to truly recognize the value of teaching the way kids learn, rather than shoving square pegs into round holes.  High school kids have an option to participate in a mentorship program where they receive training and support, and then are ‘hired’ to mentor kids who may require extra support in the classroom.  This means Berrik can attend classes with some one on one support, and it means he can experience time with his peers, without mom hanging around.  For a kid who typically needs instructions given twice (or more), and who tunes out as soon as he gets behind, having an older teen sitting with him will make a world of difference.  This is what we couldn’t get in regular school.  Teacher plus 27 kids made it impossible for someone to keep tabs on whether Berrik understood the directions and/or followed through on them.  And while I could also do this for him, I feel it’s important for him to have some time independent of me.  Stay tuned to hear how well this works…his first day of ‘classes’ is Sept 13.

This past week all 3 kids took a break from their ceaseless social and activities calendars and spent a week in Oyen with my mom and dad.  This allowed me to plan Berrik’s learning and get prepared for the next few months.  I feel ‘ready’ now and am excited to see where this journey takes us.  As always, the support of my parents is endless and so critically important to our family.  Berrik got in another week of swim lessons, did his homework daily with mom or dad, and the girls even kept up with their math summer work (both girls find math their most challenging subject, and while they get good grades, I wanted them to keep practicing to build confidence – math is one of those subjects that you need A before you can do B, and if you are strong at A & B, then C & D will be easier….). Perhaps most important, the girls got some downtime to just chill and spend time with grandma and grandpa, and with each other.  I hope when my kids have kids, I can be as supportive to them as my parents are to me.

 

 

#learningbydoing

This is a hashtag that is trending in our house these days.  I have been doing so much reading about multisensory learning, and in particular have been focusing a lot of kinesthetic and visual learning with Berrik as those two styles of learning seem to be most effective for him (and conversely, are considerably more fun than sitting at a desk and listening to someone speak).  It’s certainly not rocket science in my mind.  In the real world, everything we experience impacts more than one of our senses at the same time.  Seems logical that we might be better at applying our learning if we learn things using more than one sense…  Literature supports this, by the way.  It’s not just me thinking this.  🙂

Sound Connections, the phenomenal Language & Literacy program that we are doing with Berrik, is multisensory at all times.  We ‘use our whole team’ (eyes, mouth, hands/body) for every activity.  Animals jump across lily pads while we learn syllables or we bounce balls, every letter sound has a physical gesture to go with it, as well as a story and a character to which the physical gesture is associated. When we are printing we describe what we are doing and say out loud the sounds we are printing. Sounding out words using ‘onset rime’ is a mini sticks hockey game.  It’s fun.  It’s engaging.  And most importantly, Berrik is learning and is happy doing it.

In my reading, I came across this article called 10 Essential Strategies for Teaching Boys Effectively.  Very useful strategies, many of which I use with Berrik all the time.  But the strategies weren’t what really struck me.  It was the stat that 70% of learning-disabled students nationwide are boys.  Is it just me, or does that stat beg the questions: Are boys actually learning disabled? Or do they just learn differently and our school systems are not set up for the ways in that they learn?  <insert dramatic sigh here>

Frequently, as I reflect on where we have been with Berrik and where we are going, I get emotional about how lucky I am that I have the opportunity to be home with Berrik, to teach him the way he learns, to watch him gain confidence and feel ‘smart,’ and at the same time spend more time with my girls, who need me at least as much as Berrik does, but just in different ways.

I am learning how to incorporate learning into everything we are doing.  We spend very little time sitting at the table doing ‘work’ (although we have to do it from time to time), and a lot of time playing ‘games’ or just noticing the world around us.  We are a busy family and Berrik needs to hear, see and do things more than once, in different contexts, to really internalize the learning, so we don’t waste much time. I am slowly getting better at being creative with incorporating lessons into everything.  Berrik has noticed this and recently said to me in a very serious, grave voice: “Mom, you make everything about learning.  I need to be more vigilant.”  I wouldn’t trade this time with him for anything.  He is a laugh a minute.

 

There are times when I feel frustrated by the negative comments that people make in reference to Berrik (or ‘kids like Berrik’).  Often it’s not even really intended to be negative… but yet it feels offensive.  (I know, I know, I have a bit of mama bear syndrome, and I may be somewhat hypersensitive – having your child assume they are bad or stupid because of what others have said or how others have reacted to them can do that to a mom!)  Berrik sometimes struggles in social situations.  It’s common in kids with attention issues and learning disabilities.  He can be immature for his age at times.  We have friends  who I can ‘feel’ judging him.  If I can feel it, so can he.  That’s hard to manage.   Luckily we have many, many friends who see Berrik for the sensitive, sweet, funny little boy that he is.  We continue to surround ourselves with those people, so that Berrik can see his own gifts reflected in the support and love of those who know how great he is.  The world is a tough place.  I know this.  I know he will need to learn how to manage negativity.  But he’s seven, and darn it, I’m going to do what I can to make sure he grows up confident with a positive self-image.

This brings me to another resource I came across that I love.  As a family, and with the support and encouragement of our family doctor, we have chosen not to use medication to control symptoms of inattention or hyperactivity in Berrik.  He has improved tremendously with other interventions such as diet, supplements, and changing the way we look at learning.  I’m not anti-medication.  But like any parent, we are doing what we feel is best for our son at this moment.  It’s working fine.  Is it easy?  Nope.  But is any parenting?  And would medication be easier?  Nope.  It’s all hard.  I feel like ADHD medication is like vaccines and breastfeeding. So many strong and judgmental opinions on both sides of the issues.  I support parental choice in these matters.  And I super duper do NOT care if you agree with me.  🙂  But I digress….  The resource I mentioned at the beginning of this rather long-winded paragraph is a chapter excerpt called  Strategies to Empower, Not Control, Kids Labelled ADD/ADHD.  This is similar to my feeling that we need not make kids fit the ‘system’ but rather should allow the system to fit the kids.  If kids can’t learn how we teach, then we should teach how they learn.  Etcetera.

 

Taking time off work…

I’m finding it challenging to put all of the pieces together for this blog, so that it makes sense or so that there is some sense of events leading to other events.  But as everyone has experienced, life happens so quickly and there are so many events occurring on a daily basis that lead to other events and impact the roads we travel.  If it seems like we have jumped from one decision or path to another quickly and without much thought, it is not the case.  I would need a 750 page book to even begin to scratch the surface, and like my good friend Jan says no book that long is worth reading.

In the world of talking about learning disabilities and ADHD, a common language includes the world neurotypical.  I like this word because it gives me something closer to the reality to use when comparing Berrik to other kids without using the word ‘normal’ which would imply that Berrik is somehow abnormal.  For example – Berrik has average cognitive abilities according to assessments (which then add the caveat that the assessments may be an under representation of his overall intelligence due to inattention and speech delay – as an aside, I wonder how useful these assessments actually are), however he learns in a significantly different way than neurotypical kids.  To me, neurotypical means only that you ‘fit the mold’ of the school system and our educational culture.  You can sit in a desk and learn in a mainly auditory fashion.  Both our girls ‘fit the mold’ and therefore find school relatively easy.  Berrik is wired differently.  He has just as much capacity to learn, but the learning has to happen in a significantly different way.  He has had the benefit of great teachers and one less great teacher, but regardless of the skill of the teacher, he is one kid in a large class, and not the only kid who is ‘wired differently.’  The beauty (and frustration) of being wired differently, is that (just like neurotypical kids) each kid is so very different, and has completely unique strengths and weaknesses.  I cannot imagine how daunting this is for teachers with 27 kids staring up at them each day.  I knew that for Berrik, the only way his learning needs could be met is if I took some time off work to focus on learning how he learns and supporting him to reach his potential.  Lucky for me, my boss is the kind of person who understands how important this is for us, and was instantly and completely supportive.

I came across  TiLT Parenting in my constant and never ending research, and subscribed to the incredibly informative podcasts.  Last night I received an email from the creator of TiLT, with a link to the TiLT manifesto.  It describes my thought processes so well that I read it feeling like she was inside my head.   She talks about letting go and stopping trying to fit a square peg in a round hole.  This is exactly what I made the intentional decision to do very recently (more about that in a future blog).  Have a read if you would like to understand what has been going on in my head (don’t worry, it’s G rated…it won’t give you access to my entire thoughts! ;-)).  Her story is different than mine, but the feelings are so shockingly similar.

TiLT Manifesto

 

Test results

Leading up to the urine test, Berrik’s attention and mood seemed to have taken a downturn.  It made for a long few weeks as we awaited the test and the results.  I was exhausted with the pace of life – I was competing in dance that month, and McKenna’s dance competition season was amping up with dress rehearsals and extra practices.  Berrik had been tiring of some of the recipes I was using, so I was attempting to find and/or create new ones.  Add all this to a full time job and a kid who is now emotional and unfocused again, and I was feeling very overwhelmed.  Thank goodness for Avi’s patience with Berrik…she has always been very nurturing with him and because of their strong relationship, she is really great at keeping him busy and happy when the rest of us are running around like chickens with heads cut off – and for anyone who has ever seen chickens butchered, you can really understand how our family was functioning at this time!

So, the results come in and they are really odd.  Many of the results that were issues in the first test had been resolved.  All markers for yeast except one were within normal levels – however the one that was not had increased significantly.  Another marker called oxylates was through the roof, and there were a couple other really strange results.  The naturopath wasn’t sure what was going on and planned to call the doc at the lab to see if she had any thoughts.  It appeared to be very random and nonsensical, particularly when compared to the first urine test.

Never satisfied with not knowing, I took to reviewing the literature about oxylates and yeast markers.  After a few hours of reading, I found out that almonds are a food with one of the highest levels of oxylates, and overeating almonds can cause oxylate levels to rise significantly.  High oxylates can result in one specific yeast marker to rise as well.  And the other odd results were also related.  While I was glad to find the reason for the strange test results, I felt a little sick.  I was essentially poisoning my kid with almonds….  Almond flour is the easiest non-grain flour to work with – so my poor kid was eating almonds concentrated in his morning toast and his daily muffin at school, not to mention eating nuts as an afterschool snack and other more occasional almond flour goodies.  Sigh.

Back to the drawing board.  I slowly weaned Berrik off the almond flour and started looking for ways to bake without it.  I also decided that sticking to more whole foods and using muffins and other baked goods less frequently would be better for him anyways.  I told the naturopath what I had discovered and when she spoke with the lab doc, she agreed with me.  After a few weeks Berrik was feeling better (and so was I….overwhelming mommy guilt on that one!  Good grief. <insert eye roll here>)

At this point we decided to do a stool test to determine with accuracy if there was any yeast left in Berrik’s tummy, and if so, what type so we could treat it more aggressively if necessary. Also wanted to see whether there was good bacteria growing in there, as that will be the key to sustained health for my boy.  It was a three sample test – I’m sure you can imagine – poo in tray, little stick to put sample in little plastic jar – x 3.  Conveniently I was at a dance competition with McKenna when this started <snicker>, so nurse Kevin was on the hook for the poo.  After 2 samples had been collected, Mac and I arrived home from dance and I had one day at home before having to head to Vancouver for work.  Within an hour of arriving home I hear Berrik yell from the washroom, “Dad, I’m going poo in the tray…. want a sample?!”  I offered to collect this final sample, but superdad and uber nurse Kevin declined and marched off to collect.  For any of you wondering how I survive this crazy life – it’s because of Kevin.  He truly picks up all the slack in every area, regardless of what needs to be done.  I often marvel at my good luck, considering we met in a nightclub after a few beverages – I credit my excellent taste and sparkling wit – and perhaps his beer goggles that evening.  <shrug>

Stool test results came back – NO YEAST!!!.  Very exciting results as yeast can be difficult to clear.  We were so very strict with the regimen for almost 5 months and Berrik was SO good with avoiding grains and sugar.  Even at birthday parties he was voluntarily decline the cake and happily eat the ‘cookies’ or other treat I sent with him.  There was no bad bacteria showing up either, but the good bacteria was low, so still more work to be done.

At this point we reintroduced grains, but still kept sugar and yeast off the menu.  Again a downturn in attention and mood.  But we had a celiac test to complete so we stayed with the wheat for about 4 weeks.  As soon as the test was complete, I took Berrik back off wheat (but left the other grains).  Within a week or two, he improved again.  Celiac test was negative, but because wheat seems to cause issues for him, we decided to just keep him off of it for now.  Luckily with all the other grains and no more fruit limitations, Berrik has many more food options and was quickly gaining back the weight he had lost on the stricter anti-candida diet.

In my next post I’ll talk about my decision to take some time off work….