I go long stretches where I forget that M is significantly different than other kids. I’ve mentioned this before, but people will often tell me that his issues are normal toddler/preschooler behavior. He is also SMART and quite a sweet and empathetic little guy. It is easy to forget that I need to take great care in choosing my words and actions when parenting M. When I have things managed well, this is absolutely true. Our behavior issues fall within the range of normal. But I often fall back into bad routines where I expect too much, change too many things in our environment and demand way too much of M. Then there is often fall out.
In the past two weeks, we have been kicked out of both dance class and Mommy & me gymnastics. We had a long stretch of success at gymnastics because we were taking a class meant for 18 – 30 month olds and M was already a year older than the oldest other child. M2 was the second oldest. I definitely was starting to feel a little unwelcome coming from the other parents and I talked to the Coach about moving them up to the next level (meant for 2 – 2.5 year olds) and she said M wasn’t ready because he couldn’t sit still or follow directions. Okay, this is true. He can’t. Not in that scenario. She did say however, that she felt that M2 was ready.
This week, I made the mistake of taking them to a make-up session for a session we missed while camping. Well, those babies in that class were all between 18 and 24 months. The stars were misaligned, I got there at 9:10 thinking the class was at 9:15, it was at 9:30. That meant we had to wait a full 20 minutes for class to start. In addition, the little snack store was closed so we couldn’t do our usual routine of getting a crunchy snack to calm nerves (this is a common OT trick). I keep asking myself, why didn’t I just walk out then, before class started and before things were going worse. I knew things weren’t going well. I threatened M that he needed to take some deep breaths and calm his body. I could see him tense his muscles and hold a grimace on his face. I mentioned that his “engine was running too high“* and asked him what we could do to calm it. BUT, we should have left. I know better. There is no coming back from that kind of overstimulation/dysregulation. Class started and within minutes, he wanted to use the rings and some little toddler was waiting patiently to use them while his mom helped out. I moved him away before he had a chance to push the kid off the platform and instead he shrieked and screamed and then punched me in the face. Three coaches ran from their respective groups and stood by as he screamed and flailed in my arms. We walked away and one of the coaches ran up to me and said, “this really isn’t working out. We think its best if you don’t return to class. M is really too old for this class, anyway.” I got home to an email saying we had been “withdrawn” from our usual class.
For dance class, this happened as well just a couple weeks ago. I wrote about not fitting into dance a while back so that seemed inevitable. The teacher was a bad fit for M. She was the stressy/anxious type and that tends to be his worst match. She send a kind but firm email saying we were not welcome to attend any more classes. Saying, “I’ve found that the energy has channeled itself into something beyond my skills.” I agree with her assessment of the situation. But I really wonder that why, since I knew it wasn’t working, did I push it?
I was super sad yesterday feeling a bit defeated. We had a rough few days around the house, too. I was giving way too many “time-ins” and not in a “hey, we need a break together” kind of way but in a very punitive way. That’s the thing, about FASD. It is so much less about the way the child is acting and so much more about the way people around them are acting. If I want M’s behavior to change, I have to change the way I do things. As we in say in the FASD parenting world, you have to think “neurobehaviorally”. This basically means adjusting the environment for success. It also means not punishing/disciplining children for things that they can’t do. For instance, M really struggles with impulse control. It is not my job to punish him when he hits but instead to avoid putting him into situations that allow him to act on those impulses.
I cannot expect him to behave in a overstimulating environment. That’s unfair, he can’t.
My FASD parenting support group had some great suggestions and good support. It turns out group lessons are a really hard thing for many/most of our kids. They reminded me to adjust my expectations and to look for classes for kids with special needs or just to do private lessons.
*The Alert Program is one of the proven intervention for helping Executive Functioning for FASD. It has also been shown to actually help grow frontal gray matter in the brain to practice these skills.
Nash, Kelly Jennifer. Improving Executive Functioning in Children with Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorders Using the Alert Program for Self Regulation®. Diss. University of Toronto, 2012.
Soh, Debra W., et al. “Self-regulation therapy increases frontal gray matter in children with fetal alcohol spectrum disorder: evaluation by voxel-based morphometry.” Frontiers in human neuroscience 9 (2015): 108.