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The Same But Different

with Susan Wagner

Susan Wagner is a freelance writer and editor, an avid runner and a mom of two boys. She's tentatively navigating the teen years with her oldest son, who has ADHD and an anxiety disorder (because puberty isn't hard enough already). [Insert blog name here] chronicles her efforts to balance science homework, basketball practice and panic attacks without completely losing her mind. Follow Susan on Twitter and Instagram (@workingcloset) and at her personal blog, The Working Closet

The Reading Hour: Why This Childhood Ritual Worked For My Kids

Categories: children, family, parenting, special needs kid

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The first thing the doctor tells you when your child is diagnosed with ADHD is that structure and consistency are incredibly important. In our house, this translated itself into specific family rituals that were designed to keep everyone focused and calm and functioning. Like reading together as a family.

When my kids were little, bedtime was a big deal. I had read somewhere, after Henry was born, that it was crucial that the baby have a consistent bedtime routine, every night, although I can’t remember now what that was supposed to do. (Promote good sleep? Maybe, but Henry was a terrible sleeper, always, despite all the routines in the world.) Bedtime was sacred at our house. And an important part of the bedtime routine was reading.

My husband and I are both big readers; we just took for granted, from the beginning, that our kids would be, too. We have always had books in our house, and one of our favorite family outings is still the bookstore. When the boys were very small we read picture books — our favorites were the now-out-of-print “Toot and Puddle” books, about two pigs who lived in rural New England. As the boys got older, though, we started reading bigger books, and we quickly learned that many of the chapter books for young readers are terrible. My kids loved the Magic Treehouse series, and while I appreciated how well-researched they were, the bad writing was painful to me. Too many incomplete sentences. There had to be something better.

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No Excuses: Explaining My Son’s Disability

Categories: family, special needs kid, support system

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I spend a lot of time explaining Henry’s disability to people — teachers, coaches, other parents. I try to do this proactively, before there is an issue or a problem, because I want to be sure that everyone understands that I’m not making excuses for him. He occasionally needs specific accommodations in order to succeed, but beyond that, I don’t want anyone letting him off the hook just because he’s different.

But it can be hard to distinguish an explanation from an excuse, and Henry and I are both having to work to see the difference.

The summer before sixth grade, we took Henry back to the psychologist who initially diagnosed his ADHD (when he was five) for another round of testing. This time she gave us a slightly new set of labels to work with: generalized anxiety disorder, disorder of written expression (or dysgraphia, if you’re old school like I am), ADHD (again) and sensory processing disorder. Taken together, she told us, it added up to Asperger syndrome, and she gave us some recommendations on ways to talk with Henry about being an Aspie, as well as resources and strategies for helping him connect with other kids like him.

We had known two things going into this round of evaluations: the first was that we would need to talk with his teachers about his quirks and how they affected his ability to function at school, both socially and academically. The second — and in our minds, the more difficult — part was going to be talking to Henry. Because the last thing any kid wants to hear, particularly in middle school, is that he’s different from his peers.

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Why My In-laws Don’t Get a Say In How I Parent

Categories: family, mom guilt, parenting, support system

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It takes a village to raise a quirky kid — or at least to keep that quirky kid’s parents from losing their minds — and my husband and I are fortunate: We have a wonderful support network of friends and family who are there for us, all the time. And while it would seem that there would be no down side to that, there occasionally is, particularly when we talk about people who are super invested in our son and his life, and who have strong opinions about how we should be raising him.

For example, the grandparents.

We’ve always known that Henry was different, but it’s only been in the last few years that we’ve clearly identified what is different about him and begun to find strategies that really work for him. When he was younger, we would talk with our parents about how hard it was to raise him and how much we were struggling. And they were always there with a sympathetic ear and a suggestion.

My mother-in-law thought we were just too hard on Henry, too strict, that if we would just relax a little, we would all be less stressed. My dad, on the other hand, recommended that we push him a little harder, make him do more things, challenge him a little more. Their suggestions, while always thoughtful and well-meant, often left us feeling even more defeated, because we had tried all those things and nothing worked. Clearly we were failing at parenting — everyone could see it, even the grandparents.

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Expect the Unexpected : Because There’s Always Something Unexpected

Categories: children, family, parenting, special needs kid

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In the very wee hours of this morning, so early that it was really still night, I found myself up and walking around my house. I am often awake in the night, but this time I was surprised to see a light on in my 11-year-old’s room. Charlie is my good sleeper, so why was he up? What was he doing? Should I be worried? What was going on?

Charlie was in bed with his headlamp on, doing homework. He woke up and realized he hadn’t finished his reading questions, so he crept downstairs, grabbed his book and his folder, got back into bed and went to work.

In the middle of the night.

Charlie is my second child; I’ve already done fifth grade with my older son and I thought I knew what I was getting into. Nothing about the curriculum or the schedule has changed in the last two years —
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