Tuesday, January 14, 2014

The Frustration Wonder of Children

Our son that is in high school is and always has been a remarkable individual. While he certainly regularly demonstrates many of the faults that are common to young men, he has always had a certain goodness of soul.

Still, this son has always been, well, a bit different than the mainstream. From the time he was tiny he has approached life differently than our other kids and from most kids we know. After spending part of a summer working at a Boy Scout camp, the camp director told me, "That one marches to the beat of a different drummer. But it's a good drummer."

This child has always been curious about things, forever asking questions to which I don't know the answer or that are not easily addressed. When he was still in elementary school my father gave him a book about quantum physics because Dad was convinced that our son could grasp such principles. Nowadays when our son asks deep questions about scientific matters, I tell him to research it for himself.

We have called this son our wandering child. It is common for him to become so interested in something—often something that might not catch the attention of most people—that other matters (that we sometimes think ought to be more pressing) seemingly disappear from his active cognition.

From the time he was mobile, this son has regularly wandered off to explore something that has caught his interest. This means that he has gotten lost more than the rest of our children put together. It's difficult to explain the sheer terror of losing your four-year-old in a sea of 10,000 people at a parade. Now that this child the tallest member of our family it's easier to keep track of him. Sometimes he will even answer his phone if we can't locate him.

Given my lifelong involvement in scouting, my sons have been involved as well. This son is my Mr. Reliable when it comes to scouting needs. He is also my go-to family member for hiking. Nobody else in the family cares much for hiking. We have pictures of this son and me on each of the major mountain peaks in our area. It is difficult to explain the emotions I felt when this boy instigated our last major hike in October.

This strapping boy is musically gifted. He regularly demonstrates finesse and nuance far beyond the average pianist his age when playing classical piano compositions. He can play the euphonium and is quite good on his ocarinas. He composes and records electronic dance music. But his favorite instrument at present is his voice. He has a good range for a bass. But it bothers him that he doesn't have perfect enough pitch to always precisely hit the note at the very outset. He can adjust within a fraction of a second, but he wishes for perfect pitch. He fantasizes about going into voice acting with his marvelous speaking voice.

Mr. Music was asked to prepare a musical number for church a few weeks ago. But he didn't do anything about it. Finally a week before the performance I pulled him to the piano and offered some options. Among other things I offered to dust off a piano duet we had played a while back. He seemed indifferent to all of my suggestions.

I finally pulled out an arrangement of Come Thou Fount (purposefully selected for its easy accompaniment) and insisted that Mr. Voice sing while I played. Here is where a well practiced voice that has often sung before audiences comes in handy. After reviewing the piece a few times he was ready to perform with beautiful tonal quality and well placed and wide ranging emotional emphasis.

We all get sidetracked on diversions once in awhile, but this seems to be more the rule than the exception for our smart and talented son. My wife and I are nearly apoplectic about how we're going to get him to graduate high school. It is not uncommon for students to have difficulty managing their assignment load. But our son has always had organizational challenges. He does fine with assignments and activities done together as a class, but he just can't seem to get organized when it comes to individual (or even small group) tasks, regardless of whether they are to be done at school or at home.

It is already clear that our son is going to be doing summer school again this year, despite our best efforts to prevent this outcome. We are working with him to implement some additional measures that we hope (beyond hope) will limit the amount of work he will have to do this summer. We have considered clinical interventions, but I'm not sure that I want to medicate the uniqueness out of my child.

Kids can be so wonderful. Kids can be so frustrating. Sometimes simultaneously. Sometimes simultaneously in the same kid.


Michaela Stephens said...

Medication gets a very bad rap in certain circles, yet if his problems fit a profile for particular disorder that responds well to medicine, you will do your son a favor if you get him started taking it.
If someone hints to you that your son might be have ______, it is to your benefit to check out some books about _____ to see if your son exhibits many of the symptoms of ______. The more symptoms you can pin down with a particular known disorder, the closer you are to a solution. It gives you an excellent starting point of conversation with a doctor or counselor.
If medication is involved as a solution to what you find, know that it may take time to find a medication that is right for your son. It will take time to find the right dosage as well.
The right medication will NOT remove the uniqueness from your child. It will allow your child to develop in ways that seemed nearly impossible before. Think about eyeglasses; they don't remove a person's unique way of seeing and responding to the world. They enhance and focus perception. The right medication is like eyeglasses for the brain.
Whether or not medicine is involved, counseling and coaching will be good for helping him become more aware of conditions that will bring out his weaknesses and help him find ways to cope and use his strengths so that he can become more successful.

I'm talking about this coming from a perspective of having taken medication since high school for ADD. I've had to figure out a lot of coping techniques to deal with my tendencies, and medication has helped me a lot.

Scott Hinrichs said...

I appreciate your perspective. We have learned quite a bit about mood/behavior altering drugs, having worked very hard to try to achieve a proper treatment regimen for our son that has Asperger's Syndrome and some related issues. (That's still a work in progress.)

We would never want to deny any of our children proper treatment for physical or mental health issues. But none of the assessments our son (that is the subject of this post) has had indicate any recognizable disorder or any treatable malady. So it would be inappropriate to seek drug treatment at this point.

And, for the record, I do know people that have had some of their beautiful uniqueness medicated into submission. A professional that deals with mental/behavioral health treatments tells me that it's as much an art form as it is a science, and that it can be very challenging to achieve a functional treatment. Even those that are deeply familiar with these drugs often do not know why the do or don't work for a patient. Even with his years of experience this fellow admonishes caution in pursuing and administering these types of therapies.