Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Quite a contrast or intro to Douglas

Douglas and Kendra in Halloween Costumes 5 years ago. Who knew he would be a military cadet in 2008?

Well Annie's dismissal of me from her life only lasted about 12 hours :-( . While I was on the phone again with her last evening I got a call waiting and it was my 17 yo son Douglas. We had missed his phone call on the weekend so I was eager to take it and basically shooed Annie off the line.

Douglas is our adopted son, he is the younger half-brother of Annie and Brooke (whom I have not yet introduced) and he is currently attending a military school at his insistence to finish his high school education. Douglas faces unique challenges in his life as he was born addicted to crack cocaine, he has a seizure disorder related to the cocaine addiction and multiple learning disabilities. We had one professional help us to understand his many issues, by explaining that due to the cocaine exposure in utero his brain has been hardwired differently.

As a youngster he was the ultimate handful, hyperactive to the nth degree, extremely impulsive and very bi-polar with an emphasis on the scary mania. He was extremely aggressive without being mean if that makes any sense, he had no concept of the impact of his behaviors on others, including hitting, pushing, etc. On top of all that he was cute as a button and could choose to be soooo charming that most adults were very indulgent of his behaviors.

I pulled him out of school after he had failed the 5th grade twice and still didn't recognize all of his letters. Despite that, the school system was going to push him through to middle school in a mainstream class because at the middle school level they told me they didn't do pull-out, they only did collaboration. Because none of his issues fit neatly into a diagnosable category he was not eligible for a self-contained classroom unless I wanted to put him in the behavior classroom and he was really not a behavior problem.

I had no idea what I was doing, I had never thought about homeschooling before, I knew no one who did it, had never read up on it and if I had applied any logic to the situation at all I would have run screaming for the nearest padded room. I basically volunteered to spend 24/7 home alone with one of my most difficult children. God was definitely guiding me in that decision because it was the best stupid choice I have ever made. Removing Douglas from the stress of a negative peer environment where he was the butt of the classroom and letting him come home and find his own interests and his own way worked like a dream. With in 3 months of working 1 on 1 with him he had learned to read and then he just took off. His main interest was and still is History.

Not everything was gravy, we still had a lot of difficulties, but we were no longer pressured with outside expectations. We also had the time to address many of his emotional and mental health issues that were impeding his ability to make progress. He had therapy 6 hours a week with 2 different therapists, he had a therapeutic aide who worked with him, initially 20 hours a week, he had occupational therapy, all during "school hours" so that he now had time to participate in "after school" stuff like soccer, archery, ballroom dancing, basketball teams, etc. Because of his therapy demands having to fit in around the school day he had not been able to participate in a lot of those opportunities before we started homeschooling. And within 6 months of leaving school he had calmed down enough that he started making friends in the neighborhood. You have no idea how much my heart welled up with joy when the young boys would come knocking at the door to ask if Douglas could play.

As I said I am glossing over so much, we still had the screaming temper tantrums, the throwing of chairs, the breaking of windows and the very scary attempts to self harm. But now that he was home with me I became so much more aware of his triggers, his needs and his snapping points and I was able to work with him so much better in establishing a set of acceptable behaviors, useful consequences and push him towards self-awareness and finally self-regulation. We had many, many, many conversations that went like this. "So Douglas did you get what you wanted with that behavior?" "How do you think you might get what you wanted?" What is another way you could choose?" and we used a lot of analogies such as bashing your head bloody trying to batter down the brick wall blocking your path rather than developing the skills to climb over the obstacle. Many days I was so exhausted I just wanted to give up the homeschooling but what kept us going was the incredible progress we could see on his self-esteem and his sense of himself as a worthwhile and capable person.

That's a lot of history just to enable you to see why we are so incredibly proud of him right now. Douglas had basically dropped out of life these past two years, he refused to continue working towards his high school diploma, he refused to get a job and all he did was sleep or play video games (when he had the privilege, which was not often) All of us were concerned about his depression but he seemed okay just totally unmotivated to do much of anything. He was not defiant, he did the chores I asked of him, kept himself mostly hygienic and his room within the bounds of decency. If I initiated something social he went along with it, but he seldom called his friends or set up anything. He was just sort of there. And he stayed just sort of there for almost 15 months with no ambition, no motivation, no plans.

Then one day he brought up the idea of his going to boarding school, specifically military school. I was extremely apprehensive because he does have a fascination with weapons, blood, gore, and that kind of thing. He had a plan, he had found out about this Challenge Academy that was run by the National Guard and he had me read up on it. We talked to the admissions folk and my husband and I decided what the hay, let him try it, it is the first thing he has been interested in in a long time.

The first two weeks at the school were hard, he definitely was not accustomed to that intense a level of structure. Nor was he accustomed to some of the rough characters who were at the school also. He had to resist being pushed into fighting, to the point that once he took a beating from one of the bullies but still walked away without having thrown a punch. He wrote us long letters about how unhappy he was, etc. but that he didn't want to give up, that he knew this was something he had to do to prove to himself that he could make it.

Anyway it has been about 7 weeks now and he is having a very different experience. He called last night to let us know how he was doing. He has made honor level 2, 1 of only 5 in his platoon so far. That means he gets 2, 10 minute phone calls a week and lots of other privileges. He has started working with the supply department to earn some money. And the biggest news of all is that he will be starting at the local community college/technical school next week taking a college course that he tested into. He says that the commander complimented him on his marching/drilling and that the Sargent has continually complimented him on his cleaning of the barracks and organization of his own stuff.

His big goal when he comes home on his pass at Easter is to get together with his previous therapist, therapeutic aide and case manager. He wants to take them out for coffee and thank them for all the work they have done with him and all the good advice they have given that has helped him make it so far. He was being sincere in his desire to let them know that they did a good job with him.

This is quite a contrast from the phone call I had been having with Annie. She has gotten herself into a situation that is not positive but she only wants to blame everyone else and she does not want to take any responsibility for the actions that got her where she is or for the actions that she needs to take to get herself to a better place. And then there is Douglas right now, not only accepting the discipline of his chosen environment but learning to work with the system to get ahead and to take advantage of the opportunities provided. I am so incredibly proud of his maturity. And thankful that I got a happy phone call from one of my children.

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