Oh No! I Forgot to Socialize the Kids!

The title of today’s blog is taken from a T-shirt slogan (my T-shirt will be winging its way to me from the States as soon as my birthday cheque from my mum clears).

When it arrives, I will try to wear it whenever I have to come into contact with  health visitors, doctors or other so-called experts who are liable to believe that my children will not ‘learn social skills’ because I’m not sending them to school.  This week, I was informed by an early years visitor (kind of like a health visitor but a bit more…something, I dunno) that unless my children had the ‘opportunity’ to do ‘group work’ of the kind that happens at school, they will be ‘missing out’. However, she didn’t seem to know what they would be missing out on.

I could hazard a few guesses. Based on my memories of group activities at school, they will miss out on the following sequence of events:

1. Group stares blankly around at other group members for five minutes after the instruction is given.

2. Group half-heartedly tries to decide who is doing what, and it becomes apparent that the group size is too large for the number of resources available.

3. Group realizes that there is only 2 minutes left to complete the activity.

4. The ‘clever’ kid in the group takes over everything out of sheer despair, or the bossiest kid in the group takes over out of sheer bossiness, or the group activity is forgotten because everyone’s too interested in last night’s football results/X-Factor/Facebook chat.

5. Teacher collects in work, or assigns people to present the work from each group.

6. Students are left with a nagging feeling of futility and boredom.

7. Repeat ad nauseum for eleven years (thirteen if they go on to college).

Ummm…yeah. I can see what you’re so concerned about there. Heaven forbid that any child should miss out on being given a pointless, mind-numbing task to do by an overstretched teacher whose true talent for teaching has been squashed lifeless by endless, drudging bureaucracy. It is unthinkable that any child should grow to adulthood without knowing what it is to mill around aimlessly before falling back into the same old role they’ve always taken in this kind of activity, whilst the actual educational value of the activity passes them by. And it would be criminal to deny the child who actually does the work for the group the pleasure of being called a ‘boff’ by the other kids for evermore. Or to prevent the ones who find it actually impossible to conform to this crap from being labelled ‘bad students’ or ‘troublemakers’ by the adults in charge.

So, taking all that into consideration, I think I’ll pass on ‘socialization’, thanks, and just settle for teaching my kids how to be sociable instead. It seems that there is a difference. One is about conformity and the other is about genuinely getting on with other members of the human race. It’s amazing how many people in English society seem to have a problem with children doing the latter…

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Pro-Smacking/Anti-Smacking – A Duality of Discipline

This post comes to you courtesy of an experience I had at a home education group recently. My son, who is two in a couple of months, had ignored my repeated instruction NOT to put in his mouth the random bunch of keys that had been left on the table. Whatever you may think of 22-month-old kids’ ability to remember and obey instructions in general, this particular 22-month-old has shown himself capable of both on a regular basis since he was a year old. Obviously in this case, my verbal warnings weren’t enough on their own to induce him to stop (all hail the power of shiny objects). So I resorted to a LIGHT smack on the back of the offending hand, alongside the repeated “No”.

He looked a bit stunned for a moment. Had a bit of a grizzle. And then he toddled off and found something else to play with that WASN’T germ-infested metal with pointy bits on. Five minutes later, he wandered back to me with a wooden toy lorry.

“Brmm, brmm,” I said, wheeling it along the floor. He giggled. Then he climbed up onto my lap and we had a game of Row Row Row Your Boat. After that we did some counting together. And then we went outside and had fun climbing up the grass bank.

If I were to relate this story without telling you about the bit about giving him a smack, it is likely that you wouldn’t have a problem with my parenting style so far, or with the quality of my relationship with my son. It’s when the physical discipline comes in that people start getting all argumentative. And so I wasn’t entirely surprised when, at the end of the group, another parent approached me.

“Excuse me,” this person said. “Could I just share something with you?”

“Sure,” I said. Sharing is a good thing, yes? We were all taught that in our formative years. So I listened.

“It’s just that…when I saw you smack your son on the hand, I felt such pain. And I didn’t feel I would be true to my own self if I didn’t share this with you. So I wonder if you might consider using an alternative form of discipline in future. And I do hope this won’t make you afraid to come back again.”

Er – EXCUSE me? Who the hell are you? I don’t even know your name! You don’t even know MY name! You certainly know nothing about me, my children or my reasons for making that choice. So butt out and leave me alone!

Was what I wanted to say. Especially given that whilst giving me this pretty little speech he fixed me with a glare that could possibly compete with Medusa’s, belying the affectation of ‘sensitivity’. But to give way to this impulse, I reasoned through my initial outrage, would probably mean just reinforcing any view he might have formed of me as a total psycho. And I am trying to practice Buddhist teachings in order to control my anger. So instead I nodded and said, “Thank you for sharing. Obviously you have your philosophy and I have mine. I’m not afraid of anyone, and I always try to do what I feel is best for my children. Thank you, and goodbye.”

It took me a few goes to get all of this out, because this individual kept interrupting me with descriptions of how ‘traumatic’ the sight had been and wouldn’t in fact let me leave until I very pointedly turned my back and walked away. Now that I have been through the emotional rollercoaster bit, I am in a position to relate this experience to the wider perspective of the smacking debate in our society.

I frequent a lot of parenting blogs and forums, and the issue has basically been done to death with one side insisting that any form of physical punishment is ‘child abuse’ and the other side insisting that it ‘never did them any harm’. According to parents who don’t smack, parents who do are abusively violent, unloving and only do it because they don’t know any other techniques, and their children are bound to grow up as crack addicts, criminals and sexual deviants. According to parents who do smack, parents who don’t are all limp-wristed, touchy-feely New Age types whose children are bound to grow up as crack addicts, criminals and…you get the picture. We’re divided, and it seems we will never find the Buddha’s ‘Middle Way’ on such a contentious issue. At least, not as long as we keep viewing each other as ‘proponents’ of this and that rather than members of our own community who, like us, are imperfect.

See, I believe that now and then, up to a certain age (in my opinion, my 4-year-old daughter is too old for it now) and within certain limits, smacking can work. I have done it in anger in the past and ended up being too heavy-handed, much to my extreme chagrin, so nowadays if I feel I’m getting to that point I will put distance between myself and my son, either by handing him to his dad or putting him in his cot whilst I calm myself down. But if it’s done mindfully, rarely and without excessive force, when the relationship between the child and parent is one characterized by love and trust, it can be the thing that works when nothing else has. In this case, it stopped my son from putting a potentially dangerous object into his mouth and helped to reinforce the rule about respecting other people’s property.

I am not a believer in ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’. I don’t blame a lack of smacking for the degenerate state of society or anything like that, and I am a firm believer in trying everything else first. I also take off my hat to parents who can effectively discipline without ever using smacking. But I have to say, the passive-aggressive attack I came under fire from on Monday was confusing and frightening, and if that is how he deals with challenging behaviour from his own kids then I feel sorry for them.

I’d rather someone’s anger was out there, in my face, not pretending to be something it’s not, and that it blew over quickly. This guy was clearly angry with me. VERY angry. But he couldn’t admit to it. Why? Possibly because he feels that he has to be seen in a certain way in order to be acceptable – in order to fit in with the preconceived idea of what a non-smacking parent ‘should’ be like. Possibly because he was afraid that I would lash out at him. Who knows, really? Does he even know? I doubt it.

The point is, he doesn’t conform to the stereotype of his stance any more than I do to mine – and he seems entirely unaware of how incongruent his words are with his body language. So, instead of writing him off as an interfering, holier-than-thou hippie type who probably lets his kids run amok rather than risk damaging their oh-so-fragile self-esteem (my initial impulse), I am attempting to see him instead as just another suffering being in need of compassion. After all, it was probably a fairly brave (albeit stupid) thing to do – although I do note with interest that his emphasis was on his own hurt feelings rather than the welfare of my son. Perhaps that speaks volumes about his priorities – but perhaps it also shows that, underneath all the protestations, it was in fact abundantly clear that my little tap on the hand was very far from being child abuse.

 

 

Saved by a Random Map Lady

Hello, readers (or possibly reader). Here is another of my infrequent blog postings, this time on the topic of getting lost.

I got lost yesterday. This is not a surprising thing. It is certainly not a new occurrence. I’ve become less used to getting lost since being on medication, but it still happens from time to time. The thing that made it particularly embarrassing was this: I had made this journey dozens of times and I still get lost about 50% of the time.

It’s the journey between Worthing train station and my mate’s house. A walk that should take about ten minutes at most and, if I’m left to make it without another responsible adult  alongside me, ends up taking about three-quarters of an hour. It’s a good thing my daughter is a good walker, although her remarking that “I thought we were on the wrong road, Mummy” didn’t exactly do wonders for my mood. (i.e. I ended up shouting at her. Doh.)

Eventually I came across a lady. Not a particularly remarkable lady on first sight; just a lady. But this lady had a map on her, printed from an online one, and when she saw how hideously lost I was she let me keep the map. She will probably never know just how helpful that was, but in case you’re reading this blog, Random Map Lady, thanks for that. You are a total life saver! With map in hand I was able to navigate our way to the station in double-quick time (I was only about 2 minutes away as it turned out).

I would take a picture of the map and post it to this blog, but I have the horrible suspicion that it’s still in the pocket of my jeans…which are at this moment swooshing around my washing machine on the coloured cottons cycle.

ADD, ya gotta love it…

 

 

Open Letter to Employers of ADDers

Feel free to use this letter as a template for writing to your own boss, or to the boss of someone you know with ADHD.

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Dear Boss,

This letter is designed to help you understand a bit more about my brain, how it works, how it DOESN’T work – and how to get the best out of me as an employee.

My energy, focus and ability to co-operate pretty much run on a battery lifespan. When I’m fully charged, you’ll find me efficient, productive and co-operative. When I run flat, I need to recharge. This means stepping away from the work situation, or doing something different for a while, or just having a bit of a cry. Occasionally it might mean taking a day off work for the good of my mental health. If you take account of these needs, and don’t misinterpret them as laziness or taking the piss, you’ll find I come back brighter and stronger than ever, with a renewed vigour for my work and a loyalty to you that is near unshakeable.

When you say “don’t take this the wrong way, but…” before giving me feedback about something, it makes me feel like you are immediately MAKING me and my reaction ‘wrong’ before I’ve even opened my mouth. I am incredibly sensitive to the words you use. In fact I’m very sensitive full stop and I would like you to respect this and make allowances for it; my sensitivity is a strength at least as much as it is a weakness. And when you tell me “don’t take it personally”, you might as well be telling me to stick my fingers in my ears and say ‘la la la’ very loudly whilst you’re talking. I can’t listen to what you’re saying and NOT take it personally. You are talking to me, about my work, and I am a person – therefore it is personal. To ask me not to process your words in the only way I know how is an impossible request (and don’t get me started on how patronising it sounds!).

Also this job, for me, is not just a job. It’s a minefield of fuck-ups waiting to happen. It’s a whole bunch of rules that the rest of the world seems to ‘get’ and I just don’t, no matter how often I read the rulebook. It’s a game that I don’t know how to play. I find it practically impossible to be good at one aspect without messing up a different one; I can turn out a great quality of work, OR have excellent attendance and timekeeping, OR great working relationships – but not all of them at once. And heaven forbid anything should happen to distract me when I’m focused on a task. Yes, doing that one thing out of the ordinary might take “two seconds” for you, but for me it takes two seconds plus however long it takes to get back on track with what I was doing before.

None of this has anything to do with my intelligence or my dedication to the job. I do genuinely want to do well, to prove that I can fit in with the ‘normal’ folk – and I really don’t want to get on your nerves or cause you extra work. This is why I sometimes might not be entirely honest about the way things are for me (well – that and pure forgetfulness or not knowing how to put it into words). It’s why I try to hide my disgruntlement, my restlessness and my overwhelming and irrational desire to rock the boat for any reason I can muster. This is why I try to smooth over my mistakes without bringing them to your attention – and why I panic when you fail to take charge of me. I NEED a strong leader. I need someone I can look up to and emulate; someone who will give orders when my initiative is offline. Don’t be afraid of me. I may be emotional, strong-willed and a bit blunt in expressing my opinion at times, but I’m actually surprisingly malleable if I feel I can trust you.

Please don’t just write me off as ‘difficult’. Managing me effectively could be some of the best management training you’ve ever had. If you’re prepared to try and make this work, then so am I – it may not be an easy ride, but I promise you it’ll be a worthwhile one.

My thanks in advance,

Your ADHD Employee

 

Oooh, new blog!

Starting new things – that’s what we ADHD types are best at. New beginnings are awesome. Keeping it all going after the initial buzz of starting a new project, however, can be tough. So if I post twice a day for the first week and then once a fortnight if you’re lucky after that, I apologise in advance. It wasn’t anything you did…it just means I got sidetracked by another new thing, or lost the ‘oomph’ for a while. But, no matter how long the gaps between posts may be, my aim is always to come back eventually. So please be patient with me!

I called this blog ‘Shiny Things’ because the stereotype of the ADHD person is that we’re constantly being distracted by anything that reflects light. “I’m ADHD…oooh, shiny!” is the running joke, I’ve noticed. It is true, in a sense, although what appears ‘shiny’ to an ADHD person is not always shiny in the conventional sense. The thing in question could be colourful, unusual, or just something that resonates with us at that particular second in time.  You’d be surprised at the things that generate the ‘ooh, shiny’ type of reaction. The first time I saw the place-name Peacehaven, my ‘shiny-ometer’ went off because it struck me as a lovely, harmonious-sounding word. However, I have also been known to succumb to the charms of a stray thread on the cuff of my jumper (resulting in a much longer stray thread and a partially unravelled jumper). It really doesn’t matter what ‘it’ is. You could show me the biggest glitter ball in the universe, but if my brain’s caught on to a a slightly wonky painted line on the road it’s likely I won’t even register its existence.

Anyway, I’d like to tell you a bit about me and about my condition. I’m an English woman in my 20s, with two young home-educated kids and a lovely husband who is probably far more patient with me than I deserve. I work full-time at a job, tutor a dyslexic student in English once a week, and I’m studying towards a degree from home too. I’ve written a novel – as yet unpublished – about a young woman with mental illness, and I write other bits and pieces too. I’m also massively into board gaming; our collection stands at over 50 games. I first started to suspect that I had ADHD around 3 years ago, and finally got my diagnosis and methylphenidate prescription in November 2010. And I’ve just changed (as in literally today) from standard methylphenidate (perhaps better known to you as Ritalin) to Concerta, the slow-release, once-a-day version (far easier to remember one pill than two). So watch this space for how that works out.

So how on earth did I, an adult woman, start thinking I had ADHD? Well, ironically it was a tangent I went down whilst reading up on depression. One of the articles I read mentioned that adult ADHD can be the cause of recurrent depression, a problem I’d had nearly all my life.

“Adult ADHD?” I thought. “How intriguing.” Like many other people I’d always thought that ADHD only applied to hyperactive little boys. So off my mind went on a new quest, and after some extensive reading (which turned out to be like reading my life story!) I found an online ADHD screening quiz. A score of over 70 on this quiz indicates a high likelihood of adult ADHD.

I scored 108.

After some more reading, buying of books and joining of online support groups and the like, I felt that I’d found the answer to why I had struggled so much my entire life – with relationships, with money and with generally getting on in life. So then it was a case of finding a doctor who (a) would take me seriously, and (b) was actually qualified to diagnose me. I was put on a succession of antidepressants and mood stabilisers, one of which brought me out in hives and several of which made me suicidal. Finally, after many frustrating hours explaining my findings to sceptical medical professionals and trying to make head or tail of the highly bureaucratic system of NHS mental health team referrals, I found Dr K, who very matter-of-factly said that if I felt I had ADHD I should try ADHD medication and see how it worked out. And let me tell you, now that I’ve had medication I can see how badly I was struggling, and can appreciate exactly how strong I must have been to get through it at all, never mind in one piece and free of a criminal record as I have.

You will find a lot of info on the internet about what ADHD is and how it affects people. Here is my version, GCSE essay-style (but maybe a bit more informal):

ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a disorder believed to be neurological and/or hormonal in origin. Contrary to the beliefs of many doctors and patients alike, it affects both males and females and we do not magically outgrow it on our 18th birthdays. In fact, for many who have managed to ‘coast’ through the education system due to a high native intelligence, adulthood is where the problems really begin. Increased responsibility, less structure imposed by authority figures and moves towards independence can all place great strain on we ADHD sufferers and make previously mild symptoms much worse.

Symptoms fall under three main headings: hyperactivity, impulsivity and inattention. Hyperactivity is often associated with ‘climbing the walls’ style behaviour, but actually it can encompass habits such as fidgeting, toe-tapping, constant humming or whistling, pacing, hair twirling and even nail biting. Even many ADHD people who don’t display it outwardly say that our thoughts are hyperactive – they race around and bounce off one another and generally cause mental chaos and confusion. Impulsivity is the tendency to act on ideas without thinking them through fully enough – for example, reckless spending on a credit card or having unprotected sex with a stranger. It can also involve more ‘everyday’ behaviours such as blurting out inappropriate thoughts or butting in on conversations. Inattention can mean that our minds cannot stay focused on one thing for long – but it also has a flip-side, often referred to as ‘hyperfocus’, where we become very zoned in on something and cannot tear our attention away. In fact, I would argue that ‘misplaced attention’ is probably a better way of describing what goes on in an ADHD mind. We are people who need to be hooked into something instantly – if the initial attraction isn’t there, it can be downright impossible ever to fully appreciate that thing again.

“But everyone has these symptoms to some degree,” I hear you think. Well, yes – but not everyone has them to such a degree that their day-to-day lives are seriously, negatively impacted by them. That, boys and girls, is the difference between a personality quirk and a diagnosable disorder. And if that sounded patronising, then feel free to have a whinge about it in the comments…I welcome all feedback (except of the severely trollish kind).

As you can imagine, these problems impact every area of our lives. ADHD can wreck educational achievement, romances, friendships and careers. It costs money (in under-earning, sick leave for mental distress – and often in late fees!) and time (setting out super-early to allow for getting lost is a prime example). It makes us appear lazy, careless and unmotivated. It can cause low self-esteem, depression and a host of unhealthy coping strategies such as drug abuse, risky sexual behaviour, comfort eating and self-harm. It’s not all bad news, though. ADHD people are frequently dynamic (when we’re not burnt out), optimistic, creative, spontaneous, generous and take chances that others might not. We see things differently and often come up with surprising solutions to problems. We are most definitely not boring. We have a huge variety of interests and a wealth of esoteric knowledge. And when we’re hyperfocusing, we can outstrip ‘normal’ folk for dedication, efficiency and productivity.

So there you have it – me and my ADHD. In posts to come you can expect to read a number of rants and philosophical meanderings on various topics, as well as some entertaining (hopefully) and amusing (in hindsight) ADHD anecdotes. You may laugh, you might even cry…and with any luck you’ll put my blog in your Favourites lists or subscribe to it or whatever, and keep coming back to read and respond to what I have to say. Thanks for staying with me this far, and may you have a truly shiny day!