Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Dope Show

Sometimes it's hard for me to admit that my six year-old son has a psychiatrist. I go to a shrink once in a while. My wife does, too, but we're adults. We choose to.

Jack's psychiatrist is fantastic. We were having a particularly bad stretch at the beginning of 1st grade this year (well documented through these blogs), and needed to open the dialog about pharmaceuticals for the boy.

Jack was diagnosed a little after his 3rd birthday (Nov 2009). We instantly threw him into ABA home therapy, OT, Speech, and pre-school. Things were going well. He was improving, for the most part, every day. We had beat the system. We had beat the disorder. And, as everyone around assured us, "we were going to be fine".

And we had done it all without drugs.

Until things changed. Jack was becoming increasingly aggressive, rage-filled, and, to be frank, violent. He spent little time in the classroom, if any. He spent a lot of time in the principal's office. And, I spent a lot of time there, too. Not a one of us had a clue what to do.

I've always seen pharmaceuticals as an "easy way out". I didn't want to "dope" my kid. The images of McMurphy in the Cuckoo's nest asylum. The Thorazine clinics of sedated patients in our public health system. The hypermedicating craze of the mid 90s. The College kids abusing Adderall story I had seen on 60 Minutes. None of these were for me. They weren't Jack's future either. Most importantly, I didn't want to tell anyone about it. Selfishly, I'd be embarrassed to have my friends and family know I was medicating my child. They were all telling me "everything would be fine", and I didn't want to let them down. So, you can see my concerns, even my disdain, for pharmaceuticals.

But Jack's behavior and aggression were starting to give me few other options. If he couldn't control his aggression, he wouldn't be allowed to continue at school... too much a danger to himself and others.

So, I called my insurance company and got a referral to a pediatric psychiatrist. That's when something amazing, maybe even magical, happened. The second name they gave me was a friend of mine from High School. I didn't go to High School in Los Angeles, so this was pretty amazing. I had a friend that could help. And help she did.

Turns out, I had no idea how pharmaceuticals work for ASD (or ADHD, OCD, PDD-NOS) kids. All of the things I would be "ashamed" of weren't true. It was my own ignorance and judgement that were holding me back.

Jack started Ritalin. Jack has not been pulled from class in the last 8 days (counting today). Jack has not had any aggressive/violent episodes in the last 8 days. Jack has only said "fuck" once at school in the last 8 days (and he mumbled it quietly to himself).

More importantly, Jack has done all of his schoolwork. He has participated in classroom activities. He even will talk to a classmate once in a while.

I believe in the merits of ABA therapy. I believe in the merits of Occupational Therapy. I believe in the merits of pharmaceuticals. But I also believe (as many of my fellow professionals and parents do not) that these things are NOT mutually exclusive. They compliment each other beautifully.

This is my point. Drugs will not work for all of our kids, but don't make those decisions without learning what they are first. I got lucky. Perhaps it was fate that I found Jack's psychiatrist. She's brilliant, kind, empathetic, and professional. My son loves her (he calls her the "talking doctor" since she doesn't give shots), and we love her, too. Thank you for walking us through this.

I didn't want to medicate my son because I was worried what other people would think... and that's a terrible way to live your life.

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

When I Paint my Masterpiece

I'm not sure if you can tell from my blog or not, but I am a professional writer. The other afternoon, I was working on the computer and reviewing a few feature film pitches I've put together. Jack comes in the room to ask me what I am doing.

On a side note, Jack knows how to make an entrance. He doesn't simply walk into a room and say "hello", he explodes into a room. It always reminds me of "Cosmo Kramer" from Seinfeld. Anyway, Jack explodes into the room and asks what I am doing.

"I'm working on some movie ideas"
"What's that about?"
"Well, Jack, this one is a science fiction movie about a world where-"
"You should write my movie." This really catches my attention.
"A movie about you?" I ask.
"No. Make a movie I want to see."
"And what movie is that?"

So, throwing it out to the world. Here is Jack's idea to Hollywood. I will present it in pitch form, because there would be way too many (sic)s if I quoted him verbatim. It should also be noted I asked him a few follow up questions to fill in the holes in his story.

My son told me to write a movie for him... the anticipation was killing me. What the heck would he want to write about.

Capitol Baby - by Jack Capell - a six year-old child "on the spectrum"

The good people of Iowa (his favorite state???) accidentally elect a baby to be President. So, the baby is forced to lead the Nation, and mayhem ensues.

We worked through a few of the details. Maybe there was a write-in candidate with a similar name. Maybe it should be a Senator instead of the president. There's the problem of minimum ages of elected officials to get around, but as Jack said, wouldn't it just be funny to see a baby being president?

He exploded out of the room.

I sat and thought to myself... it's not the worst idea I've ever heard.

A smile came across my face as I thought, and realized, that somewhere in the twisted network of firing neurons he calls a brain, was the true thing that makes us human, the thing that make us superhuman, the thing that make us (ahem) neurotypical...

Original Thought.

I think the first draft of Capitol Baby will be in his Christmas Stocking... and coming soon to a theater near you.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Incredible Hulk

Jack has recently told us that his favorite superhero is The Hulk. I worked in comic books for many years and have had many a debate with Jack about which superheroes he is allowed to emulate. He can never be Superman, Spiderman, or the Hulk, because they are mutated or alien. Exposing yourself to that many Gamma Rays would more likely give you cancer than super human strength. Batman, Iron Man, Rorshach (one of The Watchmen) are human beings that have overcome adversity to become superhumans. You could be Batman if you worked hard enough (and had enough money as well). But he likes The Hulk.

The Hulk is a conflicted dude. My son is a conflicted dude.

One of the things that Jack is working on with his Occupational Therapist is energy awareness. His "engine" is running red (too fast, rage, overstimulated, etc.) or green (level, calm yet not sedated) or blue (low energy, tired, unfocused).

He was tasked to make a meter for his "engine" and this is what he made:
It's important to mention that he chose to use The Hulk. He could have used smiley faces (which most kids chose) instead.

It got me thinking. The Hulk is a character that is conflicted. Bruce Banner turns into The Hulk when he cannot control his rage or anger (in the later comic book mythos, he has learned to, but let's not start that debate... although I would love to have it with you). So, enraged, he turns into this hulking beast that can destroy anything. A hulking beast that has the urge to simply destroy for the sake of destruction... ever heard "Hulk Smash!"?

So, I get the red section. The green section contains something interesting... friends. The Hulk is social enough to have them. In the sticker Jack chose, he is surrounded by them. Jack sees the "proper energy level" as a social situation. To enjoy others company, and be enjoyed.

The blue section is troubling, or at least sad. He didn't choose a picture of Banner. He chose a picture of The Hulk alone... solemn. Sadness and solitude are the same thing to my boy. Even more interesting is he sees solitude as the opposite of rage.

Jack struggles so much with social norms. It goes with the territory, I guess. However, he sees having friends, conversations, or simple interactions as the level he desires to maintain Who knew an art project could be so revealing about a child's entire psyche?

This was his Halloween costume this year:
Trick or treating with his gothic vampire Betty Ross. The one person who can keep The Hulk mellow, or "in the green".

I get it. I understand why you want to be The Hulk. Because In the end, with the right guidance, you are indeed incredible.

Monday, November 5, 2012

More Than Words

In the interest of full disclosure, this blog will contain profanity.

"Fuck" is a great and versatile word. Seen here:

Fuck is not so great and versatile a word from a six year-old. So that being said, our house has been infused and inundated with the word "fuck". We're not sure where he picked it up, but he's got it. He's learned that it gets a great reaction... especially at school. It has become deeply troubling and embarrassing to us as parents. Now we are those parents. We've got that kid. This started about a week and a half ago, and is fading out (thankfully), because we simply ignore it now. No reaction at home drives the boy crazy. I wish we had tried that at first rather than drawing so much attention to it the first few days thinking punishment, guilt, or misunderstanding would help. 

So here's the anecdote that will make you laugh, warm your heart, and appall you at the same time.

On Thursday morning, the day after Halloween, Jack decided it was a great idea to strike up a conversation with one of his classmates about the amount of candy he received. Back and forth conversations not guided by an adult are rare, but do happen once in a while. "Sally" is a sweet girl that has always taken a liking to Jack. She's one of those "what can I do to help?" six year-old girls that every class has. Thank Heaven for little girls indeed. As an added bonus, she's the only blonde in his class. Daddy approves. Sorry, Baby Love (There are no red-heads in his class like his mama).

I digress. During this wonderful interaction about the candy another little boy walked right into the conversation and hit Sally. Yep. Socked her right in the face (this is a Gen Ed class, full inclusion contains some awesome characters, doesn't it?). Sally started to cry and the aide instantly dealt with the little boy. So, as Sally is crying, Jack, my boy, asked her why she was crying. 

"Johnny hit me"
"Are you sad?" he asked. Hooray! My son recognized an emotion in another!
"Yes" Jack placed a hand on her shoulder, sweetly. Yes! Joint attention and empathy!
"You want me to fuck him up?"

Yep. That's what he said. She tearfully shook her head "no". 

I don't think Jack knows what "fuck him up" means. I think he's scripting, but not sure. 

But I do know he recognized emotion in a classmate, I do know he felt empathetic, and I do know he problem-solved. Take the word "fuck" out of the equation and it was the greatest conversation he's ever had. Guess what? I was silently proud. Yep. I was. 

We're working to get rid of the word. We're also working to get that level of connection to a friend.

I told my wife and she thought the story was appalling, yet funny. She said she was also proud of our chivalrous son in a strange way. I don't recall Malory or De Troyes writing about Lancelot offering to fuck up Modred for the love of Guinevere in their tales of courtly love, but I get the connection.

It is absolutely inappropriate for a six year-old to drop the f-bomb at school. 

But this was his reward the next day:

The entire way home.

And nobody had to get "fucked" up on the way.