A Quick Guide on Redshirting for Kindergarten

Kindergarten.

For many families, this is a day that many kids and parents have been looking forward to for a long time. There might be a few tears on both sides, but in general, it’s a big step towards growing up for a child.

Some parents, however, hesitate at this idea. Nine percent of kindergarten-age children are “academically redshirted” each year, according to Very Well Family

This is the decision to hold a child back a year, even if they are the correct age for school. The cut off is different by state, and even by county. For example, the cut off in Jefferson County, Kentucky is now August 1. It was still October 1 when Lily went to kindergarten in 2014.

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The School Debate

Cameron and Lily have January and February birthdays, so they are among the first to have birthdays in their classes. Cameron finds it hilarious that when he turns 15, he will be one of the first freshmen to do so. Lily will be 12 in the middle of her 6th-grade year. Julian, however, has a July birthday. He is usually one of, if not the youngest, in his class. He will graduate at 17, which he thinks is great. However, I almost redshirted him.

Julian has always been small for his age, even before the Vyvanse stunted his growth. That wasn’t a concern, because he can most certainly take care of himself. If not, Cameron is a good backup.

When Julian was about to start kindergarten, however, he had not yet been diagnosed and I wasn’t sure he was ready- socially. He is a very smart kid, but he was aggressive, hyper and destructive. I was afraid kindergarten would be a disaster. His second year of preschool was not going well- we got notes once a week about his behavior, and most of them were not great.

At home, he was so aggressive towards his siblings that they wouldn’t even play with him. This was a huge change from the boys getting into things together. Lily couldn’t talk well, but she knew to stay away.

I debated for months on whether to send him to kindergarten or not. I went ahead with it because I didn’t want whatever issues he had to further hold him back. I thought that he would get worse if I held him back. Plus, I didn’t think a third year of preschool would go well if that was even a possibility.

Julian was enrolled and I hoped for the best.

He hid under the cafeteria table at kindergarten orientation. I have never forgotten this. I was embarrassed, horrified and anxious at the same time. I had to peel his small hands off the table legs to get him to go with the teachers and other kids.

Kindergarten was as rough as I had anticipated, complete with meltdowns at school. He did get a full neuropsychological evaluation in November 2011 and thankfully was diagnosed with ADHD (combined) and autism (at the time, Asperger’s, now referred to as High Functioning Autism).

He was also medicated for ADHD. This helped a lot. His school helped by creating a 504 Plan, which assisted with behavioral issues. He later received an IEP in the 5th grade.

Am I glad that I sent Julian to school on time? Yes. Had we held him back, I think his issues may have gotten worse. He would have been bored, and that would have created a lot more problems for everyone.

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Do You Need a Red Shirt?

Of course, this is an individual decision, and it’s not an easy one. Let’s look at the pros and cons of redshirting a child.

Pros:

  • Less likely to need special education services
  • Less likely to be singled out for negative behavior because they had more time to work on social skills at home/preschool
  • Better motor skills
  • Increased social confidence
  • Reading and math are usually at or above where their peers are

Cons:

  • In the adolescent years, difficulty making and maintaining friendships
  • losing a year of special education services (if needed) due to starting school late
  • May mask learning issues
  • Another year of preschool tuition

Questions to ask yourself while debating the issue:

  • What are the other factors, besides age, makes you feel that your child isn’t ready for kindergarten?
  • If your child has been to preschool, how is that going? Does the teacher feel that your child is ready? Are there concerns?
  • What does your district expect your child to know before going to kindergarten? You can look on their website for this information. Some, like JCPS (Jefferson County Public Schools), have kindergarten readiness programs during the summer to make sure kids are ready.
  • If your child does sit out a year, what will they do during that time to be ready for kindergarten next school year?
  • Does your child have any delays or other developmental issues? If so, can these be addressed once they are in school?

There is so much to consider before sending your child to school, and this may add to the anxiety. This topic is becoming more popular among parents of young children. Take time to think about it if you need to, consult with outside professionals if necessary. Most of all, do what is best for your child.

Did you redshirt your child? Did it go well, or did you regret the decision? Let me know in the comments!

Pics courtesy of unsplash

Information courtesy of Very Well Family

Adjusting to a New World

Many parents, myself included, envision parenting as this wonderful adventure in which kids develop at the pace they should, play instruments and/or sports, learn to drive, go to prom and all that great stuff.

But what happens when those things are altered because of a special needs diagnosis?

Cry a little

The Big Change

Some parents find out about their child’s diagnosis before or right after birth, in cases of Spinal Bifida, Cerebral Palsy and Down’s Syndrome. I know parents of kids with these diagnoses, and it has been life changing for these families. All of them have other kids without any special needs.

The adjustment is hard. I cried my way through Lily’s evaluation for First Steps the day before her first birthday, even though I knew something was not going right. I knew she needed more help than what I could give her. That story can be found in Special Needs Round Two . When her diagnosis of global delays was given, I was even more devastated. The blame game began. It took a lot of talking with Lily’s speech therapist, Denise, to realize that it wasn’t my fault that she was developmentally delayed. We are in the process of getting Lily re-evaluated. At ten, she is still showing signs of issues that we thought she had grown out of. Cross your fingers for us- we may need it.

In Julian’s case, it’s been a tougher road. His psychiatric nurse practitioner, Ann, once said that we have adjusted wonderfully as a family to Julian’s needs. I almost hugged her. I explained to her that it has not been easy and it remains a somewhat rugged path. My question is: Why not adjust? Julian is wired differently and that’s okay. If we didn’t adjust, he would feel badly about himself and I couldn’t bear the thought of this. It would also cause so much chaos for him that he doesn’t need or deserve. It would do the same for the rest of us. Why do that?

He needs the ability to feel okay about who he is, quirks and all. We’ve enjoyed watching him grow and finally develop a sense of humor. Every kid needs that, with or without a diagnosis. In a home with medical issues, this is a necessity.

I have made many mistakes in raising Julian (and his siblings). Even after reading up, trying many different things, therapy for both of us, getting Matthew on board and lots of burnt dinners in the process, things remain interesting. Julian is now 12 and puberty is kicking in.

Learning that your child has a medical and/or physical special needs diagnosis is complex. Some parents grieve the life they feel their child “should have had”. This is a rough one for me, as I’ve never done this. I can see this happening with kids with severe medical problems. A high school friend of mine has a child with spinal bifida and she lives a full life. Instead of being devastated and staying in a hole as some might, Shelly and her kids go out and do all kinds of neat things. Ryan is eight, and she is one of the coolest kids ever. She’s a tiny fighter. Some parents, like myself, are devastated and are not sure where to go next. Some fall into the “research pattern” and find all kinds of information to know exactly what to do.

This can be a great thing- I have read up a lot on Julian’s diagnoses and it didn’t hurt to work with kids with similar issues. (It did physically hurt some days, but that’s another story. I learned a lot from that job.) Some parents, sadly, go into denial. This can be damaging to everyone involved, and I highly recommend seeing a therapist, church member, or another trusted person. If it’s your partner, this can get really bad quickly, and I definitely know the pain of where it can go. Please do what you can to change that path. Talking can help. Easing your partner into information, appointments, and other things can help. Just don’t force them, because that can make things worse.

I recommend reading up, asking questions, and getting all the help from the medical community you can. The more information you have, the more empowered you feel to help your child. Julian’s been very lucky- he has had a great team from day one, because I wouldn’t let him have anything less. I’m a proud mama shark.

Never give up

It’s okay to feel different things- don’t let anyone make you feel different. Julian was diagnosed almost seven years ago, and some days I still feel overwhelmed. As of writing this post, I’m about to battle it out with his school over his IEP because it’s currently not being followed. Some days are better than others. Some days are absolutely great, some are so bad that you want to devour a liter of Cherry Coke, a bag of salt and vinegar chips and call it a day. (Okay, maybe that’s just me. I didn’t do all of that, but I considered it.) If you’re overwhelmed, write it out. Get someone to help you sort out your feelings.

Making The Best of Things

Daily life also changes. Depending on the diagnosis, your child may need assistance with everything, or nothing at all. This can become time-consuming and require an overhaul of your routine as you knew it. Food may need to be altered due to sensory issues- I live in a house with two kids with sensory issues, and I gave up on those battles years ago. Julian won’t eat french fries if he can see the potato skins or if they aren’t super warm. Lily won’t eat anything that resembles soup, any pasta that isn’t spaghetti, mainly because it looks different. Julian actually had a meltdown once over the shape of pasta my father in law used for dinner. These changes can be irritating to make, but they are necessary for the world our kids live in. I’ve learned to look inside Julian’s mind a bit, probably because of my work, and try to see the world as he does. It can get hard, but it’s worth it. Explaining this to others can get even harder, even your partner.

Small steps

It takes time to adjust- it won’t happen overnight. It takes time to learn how your child’s machines work, or how to get the wheelchair to fit in your van. Give yourself space to make those mistakes. I completely screwed up Julian’s 12th birthday party by inviting too many people, which cause him to shut down at the end, but I’m pretty sure he still likes me. He used to get mad at me when I would hold onto him with a death grip in parking lots and large stores, but he had a bad record of eloping. It was terrifying to have to run after a very fast 5 year old, especially in a parking lot. He was seven before I let him walk more than a foot or two away from me. (I never used a leash because I hate those things.)

If you’ve got a kid who takes things literally, you have to change how you talk to them. For example, I once told Julian to drop the jar of jelly he was holding after he was told not to eat anything. I was making dinner and he didn’t need to eat so soon before.

He dropped the jar.

Major mom fail.

Thankfully, the jar was plastic. That would have been an awful mess otherwise. Matthew and I have had to re-think things before we say them, because Julian thinks differently, and so does Lily, to an extent. We are still trying to figure out her thought patterns. She doesn’t quite think on a 10-year-old level, so we have to tread carefully.

Super parent

Final Thoughts and Tips:

If you have to buy things to keep your house, kid and car safe, do it. You’ll thank yourself later.

It really does take a village. I have friends that have kids with all kinds of physical/ developmental disabilities. A few have kids with autism, and they have been so helpful when I’ve needed them.

Being a parent of a special needs kid will make you a different person. I’ve fought for Julian since day one. Lily’s issues haven’t required so much of a fight, but I would do the same for her. It makes you tougher and less likely to take people’s crap.

Breathe and find something that makes you laugh. Comedy will get you through anything.

Get a binder and organize all of your kid’s paperwork. Julian and Lily have their own binders.

You are not alone, and get help if you need it. Take time for you, because your kids need Mom at her best. If you’re tired, sad and cranky, that’s not your best.

If you have other kids, let them be involved in adjustments. It’s not easy to be the sibling of a special needs kid. My kids have been pretty good about Julian, but it can get hard for us as parents. Cameron and Lily have a post about this in The Siblings’ Turn

Allow your child to live their best life. If they can do it- let them. My friend Laura Leigh’s son, Levi, is seven. He is in a wheelchair due to Cerebral Palsy, and he is an awesome kid. He smiles for days, gives his younger sister Presley wheelchair rides and loves school. I let Julian run cross country in the fifth grade and he loved it. We have a rule that his diagnoses aren’t excuses for not behaving. He does have bad days, but he doesn’t get to say, “I’ve got autism, so I get to act like that”, “I forgot my ADHD meds, that’s why I’m like this today”.

Most of all, love and accept your child the way they are. It might sound weird that I wrote that, but it is saddening that many parents don’t. Acceptance and love matters- it’s everything.

Quotes courtesy of Pinterest

Recommended Reading: The Spark: A Mother’s Story of Nurturing Genius

Twin Mummy and Daddy

Medicating ADHD: Pros, Cons and Alternatives

My mom once told me that had ADHD been widely known about when she was a kid (she’s 61) she would have most likely been diagnosed. This, in part, explains why she and Julian get along so well. She understands him more than almost anyone else in the family. My mom is the oldest daughter of four kids (she has an older brother, a younger sister. Her youngest brother died when I was nine.) and was constantly in trouble as a kid. She hated school and had problems concentrating.

I asked her if she had been diagnosed, would she have been medicated?

“Probably not. It was the 60s, so I’m pretty sure my parents wouldn’t have thought about it.”

The medication debate continues 50 years later.

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The Julian Perspective

For the record, Julian is medicated. He was diagnosed with ADHD (severe, combined) when he was 5. He was very aggressive and destructive- his siblings wouldn’t play with him and he almost broke my nose while headbutting me during what I now know was a meltdown. He also barely slept, and for a 5-year-old, that can cause a lot of issues.

It was a tough decision for me- my husband barely gave input, so I made the decision on my own. I did a lot of research. I didn’t want to make Julian a “zombie” but I did want him to stop tearing my house apart and be able to play with his siblings again. It broke my heart that Cameron and Lily were afraid of him. I was also worried about his education- he was barely able to sit in school long enough to learn anything.

Vyvanse didn’t go so well- it did what it was supposed to, but it also stunted his growth. He was off it in six months. Julian barely ate, and as a result, he didn’t grow at all. This medication also irritated his stomach. Even now, at 12, he’s still small for his age.

At his last checkup, he weighed 101 lbs and was 4’9″. Don’t let the small size fool you- I feel terribly for the first kid that tries to mess with him at school. Julian watches wrestling and is strong for his size.

We also tried Tenex for sleep, and this worked for a couple of years until it caused an uptick in aggression, which it is known to do in kids on the spectrum, so we switched to Clonidine. He has done wonderfully on this and is currently taking it. He takes it nightly and everyone is glad to see him sleep. A cranky Julian is not fun. When he’s cranky, he’s more likely to have more behaviors, and I know it’s not his fault.

After Vyvanse, we tried Concerta but never got to a dose that really helped him. I didn’t like the side effects that he might have faced if he went up to the next dosage (increased aggression, decreased appetite, etc) so we chose to try Ritalin LA. This is what he is on now. He seems to be doing well on this, so he will remain on it.

I’m really picky on changing his medication and dosage. I won’t change the dosage unless I see major changes, or he’s hit a growth spurt. We just increased the Ritalin over the summer because he hit a major growth spurt. I don’t want to mess with what works.

He takes his medication daily- he knows this is not an option. I’m hoping he doesn’t start fighting me on this as he gets older as I hear some kids do. He’s been on medication for so long that I don’t think this will be an issue, but it’s in the back of my mind.

Julian has missed days on his meds- sometimes we forget by accident or he’s been sick, but if we somehow forget, he knows he is still expected to try his best to have a good day. ADHD and autism are not an excuse for bad behavior. Things happen, meltdowns do occur, but it doesn’t give him the golden ticket to do things on purpose. (This is what happens when Mom works in a mental health facility for four years with kids with developmental disabilities.)

When he is on his own, in college, or when he moves out, I can only hope he is either off meds by then or is responsible enough to remember on his own to take his meds. This will be a goal to work on in high school.

Putting Julian on medications was a difficult decision, but it was one of the best things I have ever done for him. As my mom put it, we got Julian back. I have nothing against parents who don’t medicate- every family is different. Every family has to make that choice.

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Pros and Cons of Medications

ADHD meds come with their own set of side effects, like some that I mentioned. They can also include heart issues, upset stomach, shakiness, sleeplessness, headaches, tics, and more. I highly recommend researching and talking with your child’s prescribing doctor (pediatrician, psychiatrist, psychiatric nurse practitioner, etc.) before starting any medication.

Pros:

  • help with the most challenging symptoms like: inability to concentrate, impulse control, low frustration tolerance
  • can be taken once a day in small doses
  • fast-acting in severe cases

Cons:

  • Side effects can be severe (as in Julian’s growth issues)
  • Can be abused (in some situations, like in college students)
  • Are not recommended in children with heart conditions (stimulants) but there are non-stimulants available

This is just a small list of pros and cons, please consider your child and family’s situation before deciding on medication for your child. There are many different medications on the market for ADHD- including pills, patches and liquid medications.

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Treating ADHD Without Medications

ADHD can be partially treated with medications, if that is your choice, but to get a full treatment experience for your child, there are other options to explore. I’m not a fan of the many different diets that I have been told about, because Julian’s a picky eater and I have two other children to feed. It would spell disaster.

I am, however, a fan of therapy. He sees a psychiatric nurse practitioner monthly and spent a year in group therapy for social skills. It was a great investment. Please check with your child’s insurance carrier to see what is covered and if needed, pediatrician, before starting anything new.

Behavior Therapy- This is a structured strategy that teaches new behaviors to replace old ones. This can be effective for kids under 5 and older kids. Cognitive Behavior Therapy can also be helpful- this helps change irrational or negative thoughts that get in the way of getting things done or even staying on task.

Supplements- Please discuss this with your child’s pediatrician before trying this. There are many vitamins and other supplements that have been found to help kids with ADHD. Every child is different, some may work, some may not. Iron, Zinc, Omega-3, Vitamins C and B6 are a few to consider.

Brain-Training Programs- These are relatively new, and they help improve working memory. Some even help increase attention and reduce impulsvity by simply playing games. The games are designed to make parts of the brain that may not be working at their best work a bit harder.

Mindfulness- This helps decrease stress, develop positivity, and strengthens self-regulation. These can be very helpful in kids with ADHD. There are many videos on YouTube to get started with, and can help decrease anxiety.

These are not the only ways that ADHD can be treated without medication, there are many others. This journey is an interesting one, and parents have to stick together.

Were you judged for medicated for medicating or not medicating your child? Leave your thoughts in the comments.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash

Information courtesy of Additude Magazine

Smart Kids with LD

The Aftermath of Abuse

*Trigger Warning: this post discusses emotional abuse. If this is something you have a hard time processing please feel free to take time to do self care and/or come back to this post when you feel you can.*

I wrote The Reality Check to discuss my own issues with emotional and verbal abuse within my marriage. I didn’t, however, discuss the aftermath. It’s not pretty. I had to work on it in therapy. I had to relearn self-esteem and self-worth. I’d lost both. Jake had helped me regain my self-respect- I learned a lot about what I was willing and not willing to take from someone.

Those two things aren’t easy to learn, much less a second time. The decision to stay wasn’t an easy one. I stayed up many nights wondering if I’d screw myself, and more importantly, the kids, over, by staying. Did I? In a way, yes. Things have happened that I didn’t forsee and changes are ongoing. If I’d known these things would happen, I’d have left in 2015.

I was guarded. I didn’t trust Matthew to not hurt or leave me. I wouldn’t let him in, talk to him about anything major. Bills and kids? Sure. Anything else? Forget it. I ended up walking around with all kinds of thoughts and feelings.

The Thoughts that Echo

What if he goes back to being who he used to be? This stays with me daily. I think it always will. Matthew has made so much progress, but even my former therapist said this is a legit fear. I believe her.

If we get into an argument, is he going to blow up? Therapy helped me learn tools for this- arguing can be done in a healthy way. Taking breaks is very effective.

It’s okay to talk to him..right? I’ve got to try to trust him. This remains a daily struggle. Even with therapy, I’m not sure I’ll ever fully trust Matthew, much less any man, again. I know it’s okay to trust people, but I don’t want to ever be broken again.

I need to make it all look okay.. I didn’t know it then, but everyone around me knew what was going on. Even his dad knew. I withdrew a lot from everyone. I was severely depressed.

Am I going to mess up again? Is this going to be the day everything goes to hell? This has gotten better, thanks to a lot of self talk, progress and therapy. There are bad days but I am able to get through them a lot easier. This is also known as “walking on eggshells”, when you feel everything you do might upset your partner. This is a terrible frame of mind to live in.

The Drinking Years

I do not blame Matthew at all for my drinking. That was my own decision. The situation we were in, however, crushed me. I could have stopped drinking. I just liked it too much. It was a fun escape, but it got a lot worse after Jake died. My former therapist almost sent me for an inpatient evaluation. As of this post, I’m almost 20 months sober. Many abuse survivors do turn to some sort of substance abuse and that’s a sad fact. It helps dull the pain for sure, but it’s right there the next day.

My liver took a hit, and I’m forever grateful to my primary care physician because she might have saved my life. I’m pretty sure I would have ended up drinking my way into rehab otherwise. It may take years for my liver to return to normal. I damaged my own body because I let someone else destroy me. Let that sink in.

I drank to forget all kinds of pain- the pain of being what I thought was a horrible mom, definitely not a great wife, and the crumbling of my marriage. I kept drinking to forget the pain of losing the future I’d planned. I’m so glad I stopped.

What Happens After?

Abuse, in any shape or form, is wrong. I chose to cover emotional abuse because it’s not discussed nearly enough. What happens after needs to be looked at so much more.

The effects can last for years, even if the survivor is able to move forward and find a loving partner. The scary thoughts remain in the back of their mind. Some, like me, always have a backup plan just in case the nightmare comes true- they end up where they never thought they would be again. Some avoid relationships altogether for a long time out of fear. Some, sadly, end up in a chain of abusive relationships.

No matter how things turn out for you, please remember that the abuse is never your fault.

Pics courtesy of Unsplash and Pinterest

Resources:

Curejoy

Healthy Place