Saturday, January 16, 2010

Paleolithic Metallurgy School

Trying to advocate for kids with learning and behavioral challenges is a study in acronyms. In the past year or so I have come to be very familiar with terms such as FAPE, IDEA, IEP, ASD, CAM, ADHD and PDD thanks to a number of MDs, PhDs, LPs and LicSWs. I don’t mind all of these shorthand terms, but it’s very hard for me when my 10-year-old daughter says in frustration, “I wish there were no such thing as ADHD. What does it even mean, anyway?”

How would you feel if a couple dozen authority figures in your life insisted upon referring to your personal frustrations by an acronym that included the words “deficit” and “disorder?” Eiledon is only now able to remember what the letters actually stand for. I’d rather she forgot again.

When I was an adolescent and young adult, I was regularly plagued by another acronym: PMS. It wasn’t all in my head, as medical practitioners contended for years rather than having to address the issue. My cramps, moodiness, food cravings, fatigue and volatility were all real. I wasn’t just blaming my emotional and behavioral challenges on a convenient medical term so I didn’t have to deal with them. I dealt with them. Every stinkin’ month.

At one point in high school or college I was sitting around with my brother, Pete. I must have been in the throes of PMS—weepy, tired, ravenous, miserable. He felt bad for me—he really did. Pete’s an amazing friend to me. He suggested coming up with alternate meanings for the acronym PMS. We pulled out a piece of paper and started making up completely ridiculous phrases with the same initials. Within a short period of time, we were laughing hysterically and I could focus on something other than how lousy I was feeling. Sadly, I remember only one of our new meanings: Paleolithic Metallurgy School. It was Pete’s creation and it appealed to me on so many levels, nonsensical as it was.

I don’t get PMS as badly anymore (unless I eat beef chock full of hormones—then I’m positively homicidal). But now and then, I still think of Paleolithic Metallurgy School and it makes me smile.

I thought a similar exercise might be in order with my frustrated and shame-filled daughter. She forgot to go to her in-school flute lesson yesterday and the two other girls who go with her absolutely refuse to help her remember. She didn’t notice they’d gone and she missed the lesson completely. She came home from school embarrassed and dejected, furious at her “mean” classmates, but determined to apologize to her flute instructor in person on Tuesday. I was proud of her for that.

This morning, before Gavin woke up, Eiledon and I sat together in the big blue chair and I told her what Pete had done for me all those years ago. How it had made the label ridiculous and more bearable. I’ve been talking a lot with her about how to see the gifts of ADHD, to see the ‘disorder’ as a ‘difference in thinking.’ So she agreed to my suggestion that we got to decide what ADHD stands for in our house.

A partial list follows:

Astronaut Dinners Have Dumplings

Any Day Has Donuts

Ancy Dogs Help Drive

Ape Drums Have Dingoes

Astronaut Downers Have Diarrhea

Another Day Hugging Donkeys

Always Do Happy Dances

Awesome Dramatic Hi-Definition

In the end, I pulled together several of our crazy brainstorms to create what I believe ADHD says about my daughter. It says: Astonishing, Delightful, Hilarious & Dramatic. Because she is.