Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Special Kids, Special Needs

My family is unique. We're unique for many reasons.

  • Matt and I grew up together. Our parents set us up together 16 years ago. Obviously, we clicked. We've been happily married for almost 13 years.
  • We had the American Dream--nice home that we owned, two cars, two kids.
  • Then we adopted three older kids from foster care.
  • Now we have four girls and a boy, two minivans (one is so old and scary that we call it "The Can"), and we rent a home that is currently too small for us, and is about to be way too small for us.
  • We're having our 6th child, which makes us the object of much rubbernecking, the target of snarky remarks, and frees people up to remind us "how that happens." As if we didn't know.
  • We will soon be driving a "church van." I don't want to. I like my Honda Odyssey a whole lot.
  • All five of my children have special needs.
There are other things that make us unique, too, but these are the most obvious. Each of my children is really unique, too. Because of their special needs, it is very easy to get overwhelmed and to see only the blaring needs. I want to take a few minutes to post about each child. This is an exercise for me, and exercise in "seeing" my children. Read along and enjoy if you wish.

Snapper. 11 years old. 6th grade. 4'9" and 78 pounds. Dainty and delicate. Long-legged and big-footed. Yes peeps, she's just 11 and wears a ladies' size 9 shoe. It's quite a contrast with the little girls' size 6 undies she still wears! TMI? Probably! But don't worry...I asked her if it was okay to share that and she said yes because she thinks it's funny that her 5-year-old sister has a bigger bum than she does. Snapper recently stopped her competitive swimming. GASP! She had gotten too good to remain on her current level, but the level she needed to advance to required way more time than Snapper wanted to commit to swimming. With a tear in my eye, I allowed her to stop. This is about her pursuing her interests, not about the years we have invested in swimming. She is throwing herself wholeheartedly into karate, which she's just as good at as swimming. She has a lovely voice and wants to take voice lessons. She's a straight-A student taking all honors courses at her college prep school, and hoping for Pre-AP next year. She just won a speech contest and was selected to compete in a regional spelling bee. Snapper is friendly, outgoing, and bubbly. She loves people and has no enemies. She's compassionate to a fault, and gives her love freely and deeply. She struggles with fear, and might be the worse over-reactor in the world. Her tendency to be anxious is magnified by ADHD. Another manifestation of the ADHD is impulsiveness, and a tendency to act younger than her ago. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Snapper is her heart for God. She has such deep thoughts for one so young, and she has a vibrant relationship with Jesus. Oh, that my own faith would be as pure and faithful!

Bubbles. 9 years old. 3rd grade. 4'7" and 74 pounds. Solid and strong. Short-legged and long-waisted. I would never share her undies size because she would most likely fall over dead of mortification if I did. Bubbles takes karate, too, and runs on the cross country team at our neighborhood school. She is naturally athletic and would be very good at both if she would just decide to put out some effort. She's far more interested in running with her friends, and in keeping her hair tidy than she is at excelling in either sport. Bubbles is a struggling student, due to severe learning disabilities. I'm homeschooling her right now, which she has thoroughly enjoyed. She's the hardest-working student I have ever met. It's her work ethic that has carried her this far. She has reached her limits, though, and we're in the process of having her tested to find out what special supports she will need in order to progress further. Thankfully, she does not struggle at all with math. She has Sensory Processing Disorder. Bubbles is happy, boisterous, and loud. She has a great sense of humor and really appreciates a good joke or prank. She loves to be silly and keeps us all laughing. She loves people, but struggles with social skills. This is due to her rocky early childhood. She amazes us with her determination to learn and her efforts to develop her people skills. She is warm and affectionate with my hubby and me, and has stolen a big place in our hearts. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Bubbles is the blossoming she has done in the 18 months she has been our daughter. Oh my goodness, she is a different kid! I marvel at her growth in confidence, transparency, and her ability to give and receive love. She's amazing!

Piper. 8 years old. 2nd grade. 4'2" and 50 pounds. Slim and girly. This little girl has no desire to do any type of sport or activity. We have her in karate right now, whether she likes it or not, to empower her. She experienced horrific abuse in her past, and the karate is building her confidence. Piper also does cross country at school, but she does it because we make her do it. Her desire is to live a sedentary life in the lap of luxury, and we are insisting that she be active in some way. Piper loves to sing and has the potential of having a beautiful voice. She's looking forward to being in 4th grade so she can do chorus at school. Her learning needs are not as severe as Bubbles', but she does struggle with expressing herself. This shows up in a very juvenile vocabulary, poor spelling, and complete inability to write her thoughts. It makes me sad because she has the best imagination, and is capable of creating wonderful stories. We're working on getting some testing done to see if we can get a name for this difficulty Piper faces. Like Bubbles, she has no difficulty with numbers, and excels at math. She has a great memory, too, and is reading really well. Piper has ADHD and receives services for it at school. When we're consistent with her treatment plan, she does really, really well. When the plan is disrupted, she is very difficult to live with. She also has Sensory Processing Disorder, which we believe is responsible for her reluctance to participate in physical activities. Piper is a little lady. We started manners lessons with her when she came to live with us, and she soaked them up. She has an amazing imagination, and is the best of all the kids at playing by herself. She's kind and helpful, generous and loving. She's very affectionate and loves a good snuggle. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Piper is her courage. Like I already said, she has been through a lot. Hell actually. Watching her transition from being ruled by fear, to being able to express her fear, to now boldly facing those fears and slamming the door in fear's face--it's breathtaking. I'm so proud of this little girl!

Pepper. 7 1/2 years old. 2nd grade. 4'5" and 47 pounds. Skinnier than a beanpole. Yes, he is. Long-legged, long-fingered, long-footed. Pepper enthusiastically participates in karate and cross country. Both are difficult for him because he has extremely poor muscle tone and limited stamina and energy. But he wants to do both and pushes through the difficulty. Pepper has a beautiful, beautiful singing voice, a fact I just recently discovered when he was singing Frozen karaoke when he didn't know I was listening. I think he's going to do musical theater with his daddy over the summer. Pepper is academically brilliant. Brilliant. The problem is, he responds to being bored by being stubborn and obnoxious. This year he is bored out of his mind at school. Any guess how he behaves? You've got it...he's stubborn and obnoxious. His grades are affected by it. He's capable of straight A's with almost no effort, but he has a B (and four A's) right now because he refuses to do his work at school. While earning a B in Reading would mean celebration for Bubbles, earning a B in Reading is not acceptable for Pepper because the B came solely from laziness and incomplete assignments. He has that B because half of his classwork assignments are listed as incomplete. Sigh. We're in the middle of a whole battery of testing with Pepper. Suspected: ADHD (pretty much a fact already), some sort of neurological dysfunction, fine motor delays, possibly dyspraxia. On our agenda: physical therapy, occupational therapy, and ADHD treatment. Yikes! Despite his difficulties, Pepper is one of the most delightful, wonderful kids ever. He is tender-hearted, gentle, sweet, loving, generous, and super forgiving. He's also FUNNY! His brilliance shows up in his massive vocabulary. It's hilarious to hear 10th grade vocabulary coming out of a 2nd grader. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Pepper is his loving nature. He is the sweetest little soul, and he daily endears himself to me.

Sunny. almost 6 years old. Kindergarten. 3'9" and 44 pounds. Solid and stocky. And very strong. Sunny is not currently taking karate due to violation of dojo policies regarding use of force to initiate harm of another person. 5 years old and expelled from karate. It's hard to use cross country to damage other people with, though, so she runs on the cross country team. Daddy's assistant coach, too, so he's there to keep an eye on Sunny. She is fast and strong, but does not excel because she's more interested in doing the opposite of what the coaches tell her to do. If they tell her to run hard across the finish, she'll stop and walk, or even crawl. If they tell her to run for 30 seconds without stopping, she'll count to 10, walk for 10 seconds, and then run for the last 10 seconds. And such is life with Sunny, my Oppositional Defiant child who was made so by the people who were supposed to love, nurture, and protect her during the first three years of her life. Every now and then I'll get brief glimpses of the real Sunny. She's sweet, funny, and cute. The real Sunny is affectionate and generous. But right now the Sunny we see is ruled by the fear that she just might not be in control, and to not be in control means being in danger. This need for control impacts every single area of her life. It is the destroyer of relationships. It drives her to manipulate and hurt others. It drives her to destroy the things that others have that she wants. The life she makes for herself is a hard one, and I really, really hate that for her. At this point in Sunny's life, it is hard to list positive qualities because honestly, they are not currently visible. 98% of the time we're seeing her mask. In that rare, precious 2%, we see a loving, kind, teachable little girl. I long to see more of her. For me, the biggest thing to celebrate in Sunny is her effort in school. As she gets older, she will end up being diagnosed with similar learning disabilities as Bubbles. All the signs are there. Everything that Sunny is able to learn comes by hard, hard work. If a typical child learns a letter sound after 20 repetitions, Sunny only retains it after 200 repetitions. She works hard for her learning. But she's really, really trying. Last year she wouldn't even try, so seeing this great effort from her is something to celebrate indeed!

Unique. Precious. Needy? YES! In fact, their special needs consume most of my time and energy. Would I change it? Yes and no. If I could change anything, it would be to ease a bit the burdens of their struggles to learn, or to lessen anxiety. But would I really change things? No. Probably not. The struggles that these children are going through are going to produce character in their lives. The lessons they learn from their struggles are part of who they are, and are instrumental in who they will become. I love these five kids so much. I love their special needs. I love these special, special kids. 

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