In November I wrote the post “Dropping the Ball on Thing 3 (not to be confused with dropping the hammer).” At the time, I thought this struggling fifth-grader who had previously been a straight A student, was slipping because The Grinch and I hadn’t paid enough attention to him, and suddenly he was exhibiting characteristics of an ADHD (without hyperactivity) child. How had we missed this?
At the time, I also thought that I had dropped the ball when it came to staying on top of Thing 3′s writing difficulties (something he has struggled with since kindergarten), because trying to string a few coherent sentences together into an organized paragraph was utterly impossible for him this year. His spelling was also atrocious and in order to get a decent score on a spelling test required daily studying for 30-45 minutes at the least, and even that didn’t guarantee he would remember the words for the test. And math, his usual strong point, was becoming more and more difficult for him. Why? Was fifth grade that much harder? So we had him tested in December to see if he was indeed ADHD and/or had some sort of writing learning disability by a psychologist. We were sure the testing would supply us with the answers we had been looking for.
Instead, a week after the testing, my mother, Thing 3 and I sat in the psychologist’s office, my mouth wide open, dumbfounded that the scores indicated that he was capable and (in many cases) functioning at a seventh grade level or higher. That is, except for spelling that was a few months behind. Great, but these results clearly weren’t adding up to how Thing 3 was functioning in school.
Then we moved up to the test of executive functioning results. Ah ha! Executive functions are the management function of your brain. The part of the brain responsible for organization and prioritizing tasks; focus, maintaining and shifting attention; alertness and processing speed; regulating emotions; working memory and recall; and monitoring and self-regulating behaviors. Many of these functions (specifically planning, attention and organization) were severely impaired. Because we could find no other definitive reason for these difficulties, it was recommended to try Thing 3 on ADHD meds and make some accommodations in the classroom to help him in these deficient areas — but his pediatrician disagreed.
“He’s never had these difficulties to this severity before, right? Something else is going on.” That’s when I shared, to steal a term from Oprah, an Ah-ha Moment from a few days before. Frustrated once again around Thing 3′s inability to some basic homework assignments and remember basic properties of math that he used to be able to do in his head and now couldn’t even put down on paper with two of us helping him, I looked at The Grinch frustrated and said, (not very calmly) “It’s as if part of his brain has been erased this year!”
I paused realizing what I had just said, the implications of my statement hitting me in the gut like a jack hammer. I had seen this once before almost two years ago — when Thing 2 was sidelined and attending school for half-days because of a concussion. Thing 2 had complained of headaches since the fall, but he had been sick with major sinus issues since about October so I hadn’t thought anything of it. Then I remembered him complaining for an entire week about not feeling right, asking the question several times “Do you think I could have a concussion?” I only wish now I can remember when that was.
Now you’d think since we were so well-educated after Thing 2′s concussion that we would have taken this a little more seriously, but Thing 3 was so versed in concussion terminology that, unfortunately, we hadn’t taken him seriously. Lucky for us, upon hearing this, our pediatrician did. He immediately set up an appointment with the neurologist, and a few days later Thing 3 had been yanked from every athletic, physical and mentally taxing activity he was a part of. The only thing he was allowed to do still was to participate in the 10×10 New Play Festival he was cast in (for some reason the part of the brain that could remember lines was unaffected. How? I have no idea).
You see, the doctor believed that Thing 2 had indeed suffered a concussion in the fall (and possibly another some time during the current basketball season). Combined with his three-month illness, she believed that the concussion could have been healing but the illness taxed his brain and now he was experiencing “Medical Fatigue.” Basically his brain was exhausted and shutting down. Thing 2 now was relegated to early bedtimes, naps after school, limited screen time and a 504 plan had to be put in place to modify some of his schoolwork while he healed.
This plan was put in place in time for February School Break. Thing 3 took the week to chill and rest his brain. He slept in, and vegged for three days, playing video games on and off and taking naps. His thought processes seemed to be on, and he didn’t seem as dazed and confused as he had previously after a full day of school. He even mentioned that he thought his concussion was getting better.
But then he returned to school this week, and man do I see a different kid. He is EXHAUSTED and can’t hold a normal conversation when he comes home. Homework takes forever and he can’t possibly get through it all. Math, forget it. The normally adept math student couldn’t figure out that if there were 16 ounces in a pound, then how many ounces were in 348 pounds. It took nearly 30 minutes for my husband to work on this problem with Thing 3 and even after the two had come up with the answer, Thing 3 still looked dazed and confused. Who was this kid?
Yesterday, he came home and couldn’t even hold an intelligible conversation. He looked as if he was constantly struggling to find the right words. He had forgotten the majority of his homework (a relative first) and told me how the math had been explained to him three times yesterday and though “I knew I knew how to do this because I had done it before, I still didn’t understand what to do,” he told me sadly.
So, it’s back to the drawing board. I have a call into the neurologist, because after school this kids brain is totally shutting down (if not while in school), so perhaps half-days is the solution. I definitely know his assignments need to be modified and reduced because after napping/resting for an hour after school, his entire evening is spent doing homework and that’s not even getting through the entire list of assignments in his agenda book.
Yup, we dropped the ball on Thing 3, but not in the way we originally thought. Now it keeps bouncing all over the place and we are struggling to pick it back up and begin again. Hopefully the neurologist will have some answers, because currently I don’t, at all. And that pretty much sucks!
* The neurologist called today with no answers except to say the MRI was questionable, one doctor thought there was a blood patch on the brain, she and two others didn’t think so. So we now are headed to a pediatric neurologist. When and where is anybody’s guess. . ..