Thursday, July 14, 2011

Environment Helps the Pendulum Swing

This is our first summer with Hope's diagnoses in our back pocket. When last fall we decided to pursue an evaluation based on our knowledge that Hope had been prenatally exposed to alcohol, we were at a desperate moment in the swing of the pendulum. After living with her for five years, I guessed that if we could just grit our teeth and manage to get through that rough patch triggered by our trip to Korea, her pendulum would swing back.

I ought to stop there and observe: Great Mercy. FASD can be unremittingly hard for some kids and families. But Hope is not as severely affected as some exposed kids are. And God saw fit to re-direct our parenting from "this is a typical child who will not" to "this is an atypical child who cannot" a full three years before her diagnosis confirmed why she could not.

As we've become savvier in ways to support Hope, we've found that at this stage in her life, the effects of her PAE (prenatal exposure to alcohol) are not incessantly difficult. Rather, there's a tick-tock of better-worse to her behaviors.

One powerful thing that helps swing the pendulum toward "tick" (easier to live with) is environment. On a very basic level, it is the fit (or lack of fit) between a behavior and the environment that determines whether it is appropriate (acceptable) or not. It is perfectly appropriate to fall asleep in bed at night. But it is dysfunctional to fall asleep at the wheel on the highway during the day. Running, shrieking games of tag are welcome in the back yard or at the park, but not in the living room while daddy is working downstairs.

At six years old, Hope's ADHD is perfectly at home at summer day camp, so much so that even unmedicated, it was a non-issue. Every single child in her group was distracted by the tiny baby frogs on the path to art class and the counselors were not governed by watches. She was far from the only one who picked up a stick to drag along the ground in a sensory fix. Every activity was new and interesting and the transition between each was a good ten minute hike through the woods. Beyond trekking from class to class, there was lots of physical activity: dance and drumming; tae kwon do; swimming. Hope even slept better than usual because she was physically exhausted.

Unfortunately, I can't run our home school quite like a summer camp --which may be a good thing. Life doesn't operate like a day camp either. But I understand a little better why, for now, home is such a good school environment for Hope. I quickly figured out last fall that calling a 15-20 minute outdoor recess --I guess we might  call it large muscle sensory activity --was a simple way to sharpen her attention for a subject that requires some focus, like math. I don't care if she starts math at the table and finishes it on the floor.

Our experiences at summer camp have given me pause to reflect. I'm not one of those who home schools because I love it. I do it because this is a learning environment well-suited to Hope's needs. I suppose it is not unlike my friends who cook GFCF. It isn't because it easier or less expensive or because everyone else is doing it. It is because it is what their kids need.

And now if you'll excuse me, a stack of books and laminate are calling out the librarian in me. One more summer camp to go. Then in a few weeks, school begins.

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