Friday, January 31, 2014

The IEP Eligibility Meeting Outcome

I am so very lucky because I have a boss who doesn't even bat an eyelash when I tell her I need to take off the afternoon to go to my son's IEP eligibilty meeting. Definitely very, very thankful for that. In that respect I am blessed.

So yes, I had Christopher's Individual Education Plan (IEP) eligibility meeting on Wednesday. I went to the school and met with Christopher's Kindergarten teacher, in addition to the Department head of Special Ed, the school social worker and the school psychologist.

A few thoughts before I get into the nitty gritty details...

In a macro sense, that's a lot of resources that are dedicated to one child. Christoopher has no idea how lucky he is that so much time and attention is being spent upon his every need.

I grew up in a family of eight kids and that has its pros and cons. I always had a ton of siblings to play with and have very fond memories of my childhood. However, I know that stuff affecting my brothers and sister probably got overlooked and it may have been harder for them to navigate the world because they didn't always have a parent advocating for their needs when they might have needed it. I also recognize that it was a different time and that more focus is on kids needs today than ever before. Future generations will really benefit from this level of focus.

Christopher, being my only child, gets WAY more attention than any of my siblings did growing up. And I will fight for what he needs to be successful, end of story. That's because I can. My parents did what they could for our family but I will say some of my siblings fell through the cracks because there were just so many of us and after a while, the parents were just tired.. I may be a working mom but I will always make sure that Christopher gets the best services I can get for him. I love him and he deserves it. I can do that for him.

Anyway, now onto the meeting itself.

As it turns out, although Children's Hospital thought Christopher would qualify for an IEP, in actuality he does not. That is because the medication we got from Children's is working so well for him, that his test scores have gone through the roof. Christopher is actually smart. I mean really, really, really smart. His cognitive skills tested at the 98th or 99th percentile. The tester kept telling me what a joy it was to test Christopher. Because the kiddo is crazy smart. That's definitely a strength he has going for him.

There are lots of reasons he tested so highly. I give myself a pat on the back for giving this little guy the stability and love he needs to feel safe. He's also in a school that is nurturing and supportive, which helps beyond belief.. And I will applaud Boston Children's Hospital, the #2 children's hospital in the country, for providing the medication Christopher needs to be successful in life. Quite frankly I am very lucky to live in such an advanced part of the country.

I wasn't surprised that Christopher would not qualify for an IEP because I see his school work come home in his back pack and it all looks pretty darn good. Plus I hang out with him (obviously) and I get that he's super smart. Honestly some of the math school work surprises me a bit because I thought that this was more 1st and 2nd grade work but in Massachusetts, mastering adding and subtracting is considered Kindergarten-level work. They really want our kids to be able to compete on a global plane and I guess if my kid can keep up, I cannot complain.

I have to say the school has been nothing but amazing in its support. I hear so many scary stories of schools with tight budgets pushing back on parent requests but I honestly have not seen that myself. When we met about the IEP, it came out in the report that Christopher often appears sad or stressed in class. That pissed me off because why did I have to schedule a meeting with all these people to find out that my kiddo is stressed out in school. Do these people know what childhood anxiety can cause in a little kiddo's brain?

Actually the answer was yes. The school psychologist said she would start meeting with Christopher on a weekly basis to ensure that his emotional needs were being met. She told me that she saw Christopher's biggest issues being that he has had so much loss in his life and that's exactly what I see his issues as, as well. She told me that she's been with the Forestdale School for 16 years and that she wasn't going anywhere so she could provide Christopher with the consistency he needs. That made me feel REALLY good. I totally agree with everything she was telling me!

There's still a concern that Christopher could have dyslexia but unfortunately he is too young to be tested for that. Apparently that comes out around 4th grade. Right now the teachers and evaluators recognize that Christopher has behavioral issues but according to his test scores, those issues are not impeding his ability to learn. His report card is solidly "Progressing" and right now he is considered "low risk". I shared my concern that Christopher could fall through the cracks and everyone in the room said that this would not happen. There is a "data room" at the school where they keep all the testing information on each kiddo in Forestdale School. If there is an issue, the data room will catch it. Are our kids being over-tested??? Well that's a conversation for another blog. All I know is, my kiddo who's been through all sorts of crap in his little life, has high expectations expected him but that the school system will provide me with the resources to ensure hat he meets those expectations.

Let's face it. My kid goes to a school that has some pretty mediocre MCAS scores. Based on what we've seen so far, he is clearly crazy smart. If the school provides him with the best resources, Christopher will respond with the phenomenal scores that the school needs. They know this. I know this. And I will use this knowledge to my benefit, trust me.

Monday, January 27, 2014


Craziness ensues in my little corner of the world known as Casa Christopher. This past weekend was no exception.

I'm still battling a cold that seems to have a death grip on my sinuses. So although I'm sick of sitting home and watching dust settle on my furniture going out into the bitter cold Polar Vortex tends to wear me out. However sitting at home isn't all that much better. Thanks to my little 10-lb. dog Rory, my house constantly smells like poop.

My little dog got into the garbage earlier this week and ate chicken that had been sitting in the back of my refrigerator since last October. Yeah yeah, what was I doing with chicken in my refrigerator that was three months old. I think it had gotten wedged way in the back and I had somehow missed it for a while. I did a big cleansing of the fridge last week and that's when I found it. Unfortunately, I didn't realize I was also out of garbage bags so I figured I'd leave the garbage in the kitchen barrel overnight and just go to the grocery store the next day for refills.

Bad idea. My little doggie is both nocturnal and sneaky. He got into the garbage and ate every bit of smelly goodness he could find. How the dog thought it was tasty to eat three month old chicken, I do not know but he sure did. Unfortunately for him, his digestive tract didn't like the chicken  nearly as much as his taste buds did and so it began wreaking havoc on his poor little body. Rory has had diarrhea all over my carpets for the last 5 days, which is just plain GROSS.

My 6-year-old son Christopher is all little boy so of course his favorite word is "poop", only to be followed by "fart" as a close second. He turned my dog's diarrhea into a scavenger hunt game. He'd wander through the house looking on the carpet in his bedroom, or in the dining room and when he struck gold (or in this case brown) he'd yell, "found more poop mama!" He was so proud of himself. I'd follow soon behind grumbling, holding a sponge, a roll of paper towels and some rug cleaner. This week, I went through an entire package of sponges and paper towels and am almost out of rug cleaner now. And frankly I'm considering buying new rugs too.

On Saturday, after three days of this, I finally had the brilliant idea to start feeding the dog boiled rice and chicken which seems to be helping. The dog hasn't had an accident in the house in two days which is a minor miracle at this point. I should have started feeding him that sooner but oh well. Better late than never for my rugs...and my sanity.

Meanwhile hopefully my cold decides to hit the road sometime soon now too. I want to be healthy again in my sweet smelling home again!

How could so much poop come out of one little dog???

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

What Birthdays are Like When You have an ADHD and Sensory Seeking Child

This past weekend we celebrated Christopher's birthday. His actual birth date is December 6th but with the craziness of the holidays, not to mention the fact that I waited too long to reserve a birthday site, we ended up celebrating the big day in January. I rented the therapy pool at the local YMCA and afterwards had pizza, cake and presents in the Big Room. Hey you only turn 6 once so I wanted Christopher to live large!

I don't really know any of Christopher's classmates so I thought this might be a great opportunity to meet the parents and maybe be able to set up some play dates for the future. So i decided to invite his entire class, plus the Kindergarteners in the before school and after school program. That means in addition to my friends and their kids, I had a guest list of 30 kids. That freaked me out a little because all those kids would come with at least one parent and possibly a sibling and the thought of 60+ people at our party was a little overwhelming to me.

What really happened was that hardly anyone RSVPed at first, so I actually started wondering if anyone was going to come at all. So of course that stressed me out. Ultimately we ended up with 10 kids plus their parents so in the end it was actually a really good sized group with some great people. But I was still receiving RSVPs once I had already arrived at the venue so they sure did leave me hanging.

Unfortunately for me, I have been battling a cold for the last week and I woke up the morning of the party feeling really lousy. I didn't want to get out of bed at all. So I didn't until 12:30, when I absolutely had to go shower. I had to make some semblance of an effort to look civilized after all.

Initially I wanted to go to the YMCA ahead of time to decorate the room but I just didn't have it in me. I did make it to the store to pick up Christopher's cake, which looked really awesome. He really does love Angry Birds so the party theme was pretty easy:

Christopher is normally gluten free and artificial dye free but I let him have a "normal" cake for the party because I thought, hey how much could it hurt? Plus he had two friends coming with nut allergies and I didn't want any allergic reactions and ambulance trips at our party. It's funny. You know your own child has a severe sensitivity to gluten and artificial dye but as the mom, you cater to the other kids' needs, even though you know it's going to be rough on your kiddo. And so with that in mind, I went with a marble cake and fun colorful icing. The kids loved it. Christopher was thrilled at the time.

Unfortunately for me, the fun times didn't last. We had about 1/3 of the cake left over and like an idiot I brought the rest home so Christopher could polish it off. Waste not, want not and all that. I figured when we got home from the party, he'd crash hard from all the activity but it was the exact opposite actually. He was bouncing off the walls. Meanwhile, I was the one exhausted but couldn't lie down because I had "play with me play with me play with me" on indefinite loop being yelled into my ear.

You'd think I would have learned my lesson and just tossed that dye-filled cake. But nooo I let Christopher have these "treats" all through he long weekend. And as a result, for the rest of the weekend, Christopher was extremely argumentative, aggressive and all sorts of tantrum-y. I literally couldn't wait to go back to work on Tuesday after a 3-day holiday weekend with the kiddo where he alternately yelled, screamed and defied, in addition to repeatedly telling me he hated me. I walked into work on Tuesday on the verge of tears.

What I've learned is that from now on, we have cupcakes with a butter cream frosting. I can add cake toppers to make them look special and if I absolutely need a fun color, I can buy organic natural dye on Amazon.

Thankfully for us, the majority of kids didn't come so the 10 kids that did show represented a great number. Christopher could handle 10 kids. 30 kids would definitely have been rough on my over-stimulated kid.

Thankfully I at least have great photos so hopefully with time I only remember the good and forget all about the bad with that darn cake. Here is a photo of Christopher's friends singing him happy birthday. He's not smiling because he's just soooo overstimulated here:

In the end, it was a mostly successful party and I am glad I had it at a venue that did the majority of the work for me. If I had had to clean my house and make all the food and organize the kids for a backyard party, I think I would have cried. I do recommend the YMCA as a party venue for the 6 year old crowd and would absolutely do it again, if I were to do the whole day over.

In a nutshell, this is what I learned throwing a 6th birthday party for my sensory seeking ADHD kiddo:

  1. Make sure the venue isn't too overwhelming. I wouldn't recommend Chuckie Cheese's because it's just total sensory overload. Swimming worked well for my son because he finds the water very calming. But some kids with SPD issues cannot handle the sensation of water so well. Make sure you do what works best for your child.
  2. If your child is normally gluten free, casein free, dye free, organic...whatever...make sure you stick with it at the party or else you risk a major meltdown. 
  3. There are GREAT ideas on Pinterest for cakes for the ADHD and SPD kiddo with the special diet, so if you're looking for ideas, I suggest you try there
  4. Cupcakes are a great idea if you need to accommodate gluten allergies and nut allergies. You could make one batch of cupcakes GFCF cupcakes and one batch of "regular". Make sure they all have butter cream frosting though so that the kids don't fight for the "cool colors". Also, make sure that the cupcakes are all correctly labeled so nobody accidentally ends up with the wrong type
  5. Keep the guest list small. Too many attendees means you risk total sensory overload
  6. Do what you can to limit overhead noise. If you don't need blaring music, don't have it
  7. No candy! Unless you want to see a meltdown happen in 5...4....3....2....1...
  8. The party should not be longer than two hours. Anything more and the kiddo would get overloaded
And that's my birthday experience for yet another year. Until next year...happy happy birthday Christopher!

Sunday, January 12, 2014

Massachusetts DCF Endangers Children

In 2012, an independent assessment of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families determined that our state was doing a terrible job of caring for at risk children: Here are some scary statistics:
  • 2011, 40 children died while in state care
  • 1 in 5 children experienced abuse or neglect while in state care
  • More than 50 percent of children in care have been prescribed psychotropic drugs
  • DCF workers fail to make 25% of their required monthly visits to families in care
  • More than 18% of children reunited with parents were removed again due to new claims of abuse and neglect
  • The number of foster placements for one child is extremely high, going as high as 20 placements for one child
Ultimately, Massachusetts is doing a worse job of caring for its at risk children than departments in 40 out of the 50 US states. 

This is not all. In 2010 the state was sued (Connor B. v. Patrick), alleging that children suffer four times higher abuse here in MA than they do in the rest of the country. In 2013 a federal judge found that MA DCF "failed not only to comport with national standards...but also to comply with its own internal policies." Judge Judy Brown actually asked of DCF, "Do you care?" 

So, armed with recommendations from the assessment and under pressure to comply with federal laws, what did the state do? Nothing. The result: Jeremiah Oliver is missing and presumed dead and who knows how many more children have been hurt.

Now of course,  the media is adding more pressure and it's an election year, so suddenly the solutions are coming in. Attorney General Martha Coakley, who is running for governor, wants to enact a Child Protection Agency within DCF to serve the children deemed most at risk. She has finally stated that children's needs have to come ahead of the needs of the abusive parents. This is from the Boston Herald:

“Right now, a child who is the victim of abuse or neglect may not have someone involved in his or her case who looks out only for the child’s safety,” Coakley said. “During my career, I have seen, day in and day out, how the current structure of DCF puts children at risk and overburdens social workers; the creation of an independent Child Protection Division will go a long way towards addressing these issues.”

Of course this is true but I now ask this of Martha Coakley: Why did you wait until Jeremiah Oliver was dead to come up with an actual solution? If you've known this was an issue throughout your career, why didn't you do something sooner? You're the state's Attorney General. You should have done something. Instead you did nothing and now a little boy is (probably) dead. Shame on you.

Meanwhile, as Martha Coakley devises solutions, the current governor pretends that our current problems are one-off experiences. Governor Deval Patrick, says the issue is not systemic however he's now willing to spend taxpayer money on an outside study to assess the current state of the Massachusetts Department of Children and Families. The cost for this assessment: $40,000. Did I mention that this study was already thoroughly accomplished by Children's Rights in 2012? Why do we need another one and why do we need to spend taxpayer dollars on it? Let's instead put that $40K someplace it will do some good. If money needs to come out of someone's pocket, let it come out of millionaire Deval Patrick's pockets.

All I can do is hope that the pressure that the media is putting on this case actually makes some positive change in Massachusetts because if left to our elected officials, clearly nothing happens. The only silver lining to any of this is that we might be able to make things better for kids in the future.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

What a Rough Week!

I am so glad this week is over and I'm sure my kiddo is glad too.

Christopher came home from school with notes every single day this week. Here is a roundup of our less than stellar week:

Monday: Threw pencils at kids across the room
Tuesday: Hitting, biting, pushing and spitting on kids in the after school program
Wednesday: I didn't even read the note
Thursday: Kicked a girl in the head in the after-school program
Friday: Crying in class; Jumped on friend because he wanted the book she had in her hands

Aaahhh the joys of an ADHD former-foster kid.

What happened this week? We had been doing so well the last few months and now it seems almost like we're back at square one again. I do have some theories:

  1. Christopher's therapy is about to end and the therapy team told him on Monday that he was going to "graduate" next week. Christopher has lost two therapists before these two because they had left the practice to get new jobs. Each time Christopher transitioned away from the old therapist to a new therapist, he acted out in ways similar to the above. It makes sense that Tuesday was his worst day because that was the day after he was told he was losing Mary and Mike.

    I asked Christopher on Wednesday evening if losing Mike and Mary was upsetting him and he said yes. I also asked him if he thought he was going to be taken away again and he said yes to that as well. Ugh. So my child is acting out because he's afraid he's going to taken away and put into another stranger's foster home. What a heartbreaking thought. I can't imagine always being afraid that I was going to lose my home and my family but this is the reality for so many kids unfortunately. Thankfully that's not the reality for MY kid though and I reassured him that this was his forever home and that he was stuck with me.

    It's frustrating because clearly this kid needs some sort of help but what do you do when the services your child gets to help him with his trauma history is what is actually causing the problems? I can talk to the therapists but what can they do? They're "graduating" him next week. Then we're on our own. Not really what I need but it is what it is.

    I spoke with Christopher's teacher and she said he could see the therapist at the school if he has an IEP. We are scheduled for IEP testing later this month so hopefully he qualifies and can start receiving services through the school.

  2. After being off school for two weeks, Christopher is way off of his routine. Christopher does not do well at all when he's off his routine. He may need some time to re-adjust to his long days at school and the after-school program again. Lots of kids. Lots of stimulation. And lots of being tired by the end of the day. All those factors can be rough on a kid with ADHD. Hopefully he adjusts next week.

  3. I may have forgotten to give Christopher his ADHD medication on Tuesday. Oops on my part. I too am off my normal routine and with trying to remember so many different things in the morning, I think I forgot possibly one of the most important. After his tough day on Tuesday though, I will never let that mistake happen again.
We'll see if next week is better and I truly hope it is, or else I'll have to figure something out. We'll see. Wish us lots of luck. I think we may just need it.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

A Heartbreaking Story: Jeremiah Oliver

5 year old Jeremiah Oliver

Here in Massachusetts a heartbreaking story has dominated the headlines the last few weeks: the story of little Jeremiah Oliver, who has been missing since September and is feared dead.

The story is horrible all around. The mother lived with a boyfriend who was beating her and beating the children. The family was under the supervision of the Department of Children and Families but the social worker ignored her responsibilities and hadn't seen the children since last spring. The supervisors knew this and not only allowed this but...gave the social worker a promotion and a raise!

The social worker was so, so very negligent. She hadn't visited the children in the better part of a year. The little boy's teacher had also called the social worker to say that the mom told her that the boy had moved to Florida to live with the grandparents. But the social worker never followed up. The little boy was probably already dead by then but there were siblings and they kept getting abused for the rest of the year.

It wasn't until the sister told a counselor at her school in December that she was being beaten and that her brother was missing. Then finally the police got involved. The boyfriend and mom were arrested, the children put into foster care and a search went underway to locate the little boy. He is feared dead. And at this point his body will probably never be found.

It is so heartbreaking to think of what this little boy went through in the last few months of his life. No one even tried to keep this handsome little boy safe. Not the mother who stood by and watched while the children she loved were savagely beaten. Not DCF who really should have known better. Not the extended family who cried on camera to the media after the fact but did nothing when it could have actually made a difference. No one.

When Christopher was still a foster child, I had to have monthly visits with his social worker and she would not allow me to stop, no matter how difficult they were. She told me she had to see Christopher every single month, even if it was just for five minutes, to ensure he was being kept safe. In our case, it was tough because every time Christopher saw her, he thought she was coming to take him away so I'd have to suffer through terrible outbursts for days afterwards as he dealt with all the emotions. I understood though and thought well, if this helped to keep other kids safe then we'll just have to suck it up for now.

Christopher last week on vacation
Christopher looks so much like Jeremiah and all I could think while this was all happening was how this could have been him, if not for the grace of God. Christopher saw a picture of Jeremiah on the news when we were in a restaurant a few weeks ago and he even asked me if that was a picture of himself. I almost cried at the thought.

There are 40,000 children under the care of the Department of Children and Families here in Massachusetts. 30,000 are children receiving services, meaning that social workers are supposed to visit all those children on a monthly basis. We simply do not have enough social workers to manage those levels of responsible care and I wonder how many more children are falling through the cracks because the social worker caseloads are so overwhelming.

My friend who has a pre-adoptive child in the same Fitchburg DCF officed, asked her little guy's social worker about this case. He told her that the caseloads are truly overwhelming but that this didn't surprise him about this particular social worker. Lovely. So just how many social workers are out there like this particular social worker? That's the million dollar question.

I hope Governor Patrick decides to hire more social workers and make sure they are held accountable for their responsibilities. That's the only way cases like Jeremiah Oliver will never happen again. This system is broken and so poorly funded and it's the kids who end up suffering in the worst possible way. Rest in peace little Jeremiah. My heart breaks for you and all the other kids out there like you.

2013: A Year in Review

2013...what a year it was. There were some amazing moments: Like camping with the family this summer, fun with friends and Christopher doing so well post diagnosis.

There were some seriously tough times this year though and I'm not sure I'd ever want to relive a year like that again. Let's just say 2013 was a difficult year to be a working single parent.

Starting off in January when my company had layoffs and we went through a major re-org. My department was hit hard and the rest of my work year was heavily impacted...not always in a good way. I have to admit it was a really exhausting experience having to do the job I was tasked to do this past year. Long hours and lots of stress all year long really wore me down.

Another thing that was tough to deal with was the fact that literally every piece of equipment I own this year decided to break at some point. I had Sears here for both my washer and my over the range microwave. I had to replace the microwave but the washer could be fixed...for now. The repairman said it will break permanently sometime soon though. My car had to go to the dealer not once but twice (an hour away) because the horn wouldn't stop blaring. I had to have AAA out because I drove over a nail and they replaced my tire. I replaced three broken blinds through the house. My boiler had a gas leak and I had to call National Grid, a plumber and an electrician to fix it. And two different plumbers have said I need a new hot water heater. All I can say to all this is...ka-ching. My savings seriously depleted this year. Big time.

Last but not definitely not least, my son's not-yet-diagnosed ADHD became much much worse over the course of the year. Summertime was the worst. His pre-school and therapy office closed its doors so he was missing a sense of structure and routine that he desperately needed. Thinking a nanny for the summer would be good, I spent a ton of $$$ to have someone with him all day at home. What a disastrous choice that turned out to be. On day 2 he threatened to kill her and I had to come home and deal with an hysterical woman I barely knew...and also have to figure out what to do with Christopher for the ret of the summer. I was able to beg her to stay but we had some seriously tough times after that. Like the day she called me in hysterics to say they had been escorted out of the Children's Museum by armed security because Christopher was attacking children with a stick. Sigh...that was definitely a low for us. I called my son's pediatrician after that and almost had him put into a special in-patient facility for analysis because I was so freaked out. I decided not to as I thought that would be too traumatic for him and decided to wait it out because his appointment with Children's Hospital would be in just a few weeks. Thankfully that was the right decision. But I have to admit I really felt over my head on that one.

But now onto the good news. All the broken items (except for the washer and the hot water heater) have been fixed. Christopher finally had his appointment with Children's Hospital and the medication the doctor put him on has done wonders. I mean wonders. Completely different kid and I am so relieved! With work, my huge 2013 project is starting to wind down to manageable levels and I'm not nearly so stressed anymore. Also I was able to get my DCF stipend reinstated and they actually back-filled it to the expiration date, so a sizable, incredibly helpful check came in right after Christmas. 

Also we just got a major snow storm here and so school has been closed the last two days. It stinks because it is SO cold out (zero degrees right now!) but the time home allowed me to spend time de-cluttering my spare bedroom, which had gotten seriously bad. Boxes and papers piled up everywhere! I put a bunch of stuff downstairs into the basement storage, threw out several garbage bags of broken toys and old papers and now my spare room can be used as a spare room again. It feels good to be starting the new year ahead of the curve.

And finally because I've been home the last few days, I've been able to catch up on sleep and it has felt SOOOOO good! I was exhausted all year. Literally...exhausted. The last few nights I got nine hours of sleep as opposed to the 5 or 6 I've had the last few months. I'm loving how I feel right now!

So that said, I'm starting 2014 feeling healthy, well rested and positive about the future. This is a great feeling and I hope I get to stay in this mindset for a really long time.

Happy new year!