April 13, 2011

Boy, That Kid is ODD

I have been struggling with whether to bring up something about our kid. I pondered posting anything at all.  

Have waited three weeks, and today, I decided to just blabber it out.

Because, really, this blogventure is something important.  Maybe some of you will have some good ideas, encouraging words or laughs for me.   Because right now, I don't think alot of it is funny.

Our three year old son, James, is full of baby brilliance.  He's exceptionally smart, often funny, and most of the time....difficult.   If I were to divide up James' areas of expertise, it would be as follows:

20% Fun, Sweet, Joyful.
80% Not.

Shock. Disappointment. How could I say this about my kid?  How dare I?  Yes, I am aware of those numbers.  Not alot of fun times with James.  How could I say this? Well, for starters... because at this moment in 2011....these numbers are true.  But these numbers only apply to me and the Expert. 

For James' teachers, nanny, and grandparents, James is about 90% Fun, Sweet, Joyful and only 8-9% mischievous, and 1-2% evil.  So what gives?

I post alot of things about James, and his funny defiance, his tantrums, his fits.  And sometimes, they are funny.  But in reality, what is behind the scenes at my house:  these outrageous behaviors have been the norm, not the exception.  James is more likely to throw a fit, than not.  He is guaranteed to freak out from putting on his shoes, his shirt, his clothes.  From taking off his shoes, his shirt, his clothes.  From getting in the tub;  from not getting in the tub. He will undoubtedly scream at the top of his lungs when told no, and responds with, "You don't tell me no!" or "I don't like you, Mommy!" which may be followed by a tantrum lasting as long as forty-five minutes. Screaming, throwing toys, hitting his sister, the cabinets, the floor.  Tantrum-a-palooza.  The instant a plate of food is put in front of him, he begins to scream or cry or yell.  No matter if seven seconds before he said, "I want pizza" and it's exactly pizza put in front of him.  The pizza is too big, too small, too hot, too cold. 

It's like freaking Goldilocks around here, and the bears are attacking. 

And really, on and on it goes. Difficult from sun up to sun down.  I can't throw my bag on the counter when I return from work before the screaming starts.

He's three and a half years old. And this is James.  He was a screaming, hungry, insatiable, fussy baby from day one.  And now, over three years later - I just have an older, bigger version of the same exact baby.  Only one that now knows words.  Mostly "no" and "I not" and "I don't care."

Everything about James is a beautiful difficulty.  He is perplexing. 

Again, this behavior is only for me, his father, and sometimes now, his grandparents.   He has only had two outbursts (ever) for our nanny, and two "naughty" incidents at school.  But around his close family, he's a terror on two precious little legs.

I have read books and articles. I have booked and articled myself to death. Birth to toddler age.  Babywise. Sears. Happiest Baby on the Block. Baby Whisperer. Super Nanny. The Strong-Willed Child. The Difficult Child. Nurture vs. Nature.  And on and on.  Blogs, clippings, podcasts, volumes.  

Simple requests for obedience are ignored.  Small issues like, "Let's go to the table and eat," are responded with a screaming voice: "I DON'T WANT to eat right NOW!"  Crazy land.

Time Out doesn't touch him. The Naughty Stool was thrown back at us.  The Naughty Mat was torn to shreds.  Taking away a treat or a toy was laughable.  Mr. Spoon lost his effectiveness very quickly.  And when Operation "Throw that Sh*t Outside" ultimately failed, the Expert and I were lost.

The Terrible Twos were long gone.  The Terrible Threes were halfway over.  And we were looking at our beautiful boy,  who was completely out of control.  Again, only for us.  His teachers, nanny and grandparents saw none of this.

On top of general disobedience, we've noticed tendencies of what Google and I could self-diagnose as obsessive/compulsive and downright nutty.

I started reading some more. I cringed when I watched the show "Parenthood," thinking that some of James' tendencies seemed Asperger-like.  Was it an Autism spectrum?  

After a two month wait list, we wrangled our toddler to a specialist/psychiatrist in the Atlanta area (so many things wrong with this statement, I know, I know).  The Doc listened to us about thirty minutes and said basically that we were terrible parents.  Okay.

Terrible parents. Okay. Maybe I could accept this... if he had some suggestions for how not to be said Terrible Parents ("TPs").   I asked this question out loud.

To which he responded, "I suggest play therapy... for James."

So let me get this straight, DoctorWe are terrible parents, but you are suggesting play therapy for our son?  We are terrible people, but the kid is the one needs the therapy?  Where's your medical license? I need to tear it up.

This was back in December.  The Expert and I were upset/furious/annoyed.  The Expert told me on the drive home from that appointment: "We are not going through that again." I tended to agree.  Oh, and don't forget the peanut gallery in the car seat in the back.  He was also in agreement: during the forty-five minute drive home, James announced his disapproval by screaming the entire ride.

What started the post-awesome appointment screaming, I'm not sure. 

I do know that he had a bag of chips. I had a bag of the same chips. He wanted my bag.  I gave him my bag, and took his - a fair trade.  Nope. That didn't work.  I gave him both bags.  I took both bags. I waved the bags. I hid the bags. I sang a song. I made a joke. I ignored him. I cried. 

He just screamed and cried for the rest of the ride, no matter what I did with the chips. I daydreamed, quietly wondering how bad it would hurt if I threw myself out of the Pilot doing 85 on I-85. 

Christmas and New Year's came and went.  My rope was nearing the end.  James wasn't improving.  My terrible parenting was apparently continuing.  The Expert's was no better.  Clearly. Because to use the cliche "downward spiral" was an understatement.  I ramped up the funny blog posts. I told ridiculous stories to my co-workers, laughing about it all.  Essentially, I preferred being at work to walking in the door to take crazy forms of abuse from a three year old.  The louder James screamed, the more I shut down. The more I yelled. Or both.  Even the cool, calm and collected rope of the Expert was short.  When the Expert also started screaming, I knew it was time for something else.

Time to find a new rope.  To hang ourselves. To start over.  One or the other. Didn't matter at this point.

Enter new psychologist. Three hour meeting. Careful observation. Careful listening.  Slews of questions.  Three solid atta-boy tantrums for the psychologist.  Perfect.

Turns out that we are not actually terrible parents.  We are parents.  We are working, busy, not-know-it-all parents who needs some assistance with how to juggle life, full time jobs, a second toddler, and handle a  sensitive, difficult situation with our oldest.

Turns out James isn't a total social misfit.  Appears that he's just a kid with a behavioral/sensory disorder, the cause of which is genetic, environmental or perhaps fault of the parent. Or all of the latter. No one knows the cause.  After being in this therapy for three weeks, I agree that the factors are most likely a special combination of all of the above.  

Diagnosis: Oppositional Defiant Disorder.  Also known as "ODD."  Thanks for the special acronym, psychologists across the world.  Yes. ODD. 

And yes, the title alone seems like the simple translation of "Kid Who Won't Listen."  And yes, precisely.  That's what we have.  There may be some sensory/OCD/perfection complex issues with James as well, but one bite of the apple at a time.

So ODD.  The typical characteristics:
  • Actively does not follow adults' requests
  • Angry and resentful of others
  • Argues with adults
  • Blames others for own mistakes
  • Has few or no friends or has lost friends
  • Is in constant trouble in school
  • Loses temper
  • Spiteful or seeks revenge
  • Touchy or easily annoyed*        

    *Courtesy of PubMed Health

Bearing in mind that James is a toddler, some of these do not apply as much as others.  But some are dead on.  

And so our therapy began with James about three weeks ago.

And this therapy stuff is so stinking obvious, I could slap my momma.  Maybe not really, but you get the point. Why didn't it occur to me that a stubborn child's behavior is not going to be touched by a stubborn mother's wailing?  

Also known as Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), the Expert and I are working with James in small five minute sessions.  And the program is just as it touts: parent-child interaction.  The therapist provides the Expert and I with specific ways to talk, work, play, discuss, and discipline James. 

The theory behind PCIT is that the therapy will improve the quality of the parent-child relationship and change the parent-child interaction patterns

What a powerful statement: to improve the quality of the parent-child relationship and change the parent-child interaction patterns.  

And I had, in my search for "curing" the "problems", read about PCIT and half-heartedly tried the techniques. I felt so stupid that I moved on to the next cure.  So those of you who feel like posting some BS about how I "should have known about PCIT".... thanks, but I did.  I just messed up the application. Thank you. 

James was barely fourteen months old when Stella was born.  Prior to Stella's birth, I would waddle my huge, pregnant self home in the afternoons, plop on the floor in the playroom, and James would cuddle up next to me. We would read, quietly... play....chatter.  For hours.  He would get frustrated sometimes.  But not all the time. Yes, he still didn't sleep through the nights (until he was 2).  But he slept through some nights.

Enter Stella.  Welcome no-more-time-to-lay-on-floor-and-devote-all-time-to-James.  This was a strike against me, in James' eyes.  Most likely, if I were (again) self-diagnosing this situation, I would say this was a huge turning point.  An unavoidable turning point, as we tried to include him and provide special time. Just as anyone does with a new baby.  But never again would he have the continuous hours of only Mom/James time, each and every day.  It was gone.

James loves Stella.  They love each other.  They are very precious siblings, even when they fight.  But a fourteen month old doesn't understand.  And now, a three-year old still doesn't understand.  James doesn't understand that I have to cook dinner.  He doesn't understand my angry reactions.  He doesn't understand my frustration directed at his complete meltdowns.

All he knows:  tantrums and general craziness lead to attention.  Attention (negative or otherwise) is attention, and he wants some. Simple as that.

And the way to encourage, talk and interact with James is like a cartoon. I have a handout that has 100 ways to encourage a child. One of which includes the phrase: "That's Super De-Duper."  And there you have it.  I am reduced to "super de duper."

So here I am.  And the Expert. In therapy with my three year old.  What a mess.  And technically, one may think "what an embarrassment."

But I don't think it's embarrassing.

Afterall, what's more embarrassing?  Letting this issue/situation grow to epic proportions, or taking steps to resolve it at age three instead of age thirteen (or thirty. Ah hem.)?  Telling all my readers just in case there is one small family out there who can benefit from "you are not alone"?  I am not embarrassed.  I have been the best parent that I knew how to be.  James has been tough from the beginning, and he's been the only kid he's known how to be.  I only brought intuition and past experience to the parenting table.  Both of which were very low for me.  

James, of course, cannot be blamed.  I do think about 40% of James' current situation ("genius" [of course], frustration, humor and temper) is innate, nature, just the way it is.  He's another dog named Rover, an apple falling not far from this tree.  Still. This apple tree was never this difficult.  So.  I think the Expert and I, as parents, are pushing the other 60% of the ODD train (and I am clearly the Caboose).  Therefore, it's up to me (and the Expert) to shape him, build him up, and make our family work.

Our family simply wasn't working.  

But the change in our family after only three weeks is dramatic.  I am learning how to talk to James. I am learning how to un-react.  Un-react is a term I created for myself.  Don't you love it?  Yes, I do not react to James in the same way. I ignore the tantrums, I turn my back physically to the whining (no matter if it takes 45 minutes to stop).  So, the "un-reaction" is actually me not reacting, and working to undo the three years of reaction I have put forward.   He is responding pretty well to the interaction, the techniques. 

Granted. We still have a very (very/very/very) long way to go.  Tonight, we only had one minor tantrum, and I was feeling great.  That is, until the thirty-five long tantrum hit.  Still, that's better than four tantrums.  Or twelve. Or infinity.  

And the psychologist says it's going to get worse before it gets better.  Whoop there it is.  

The kid may be ODD.  But that's may be the partial fault of some overly obsessive, over-worked, serious NERDs for parents (make up your own acronymn) and a whole back chain of OCD/Type A personalities in his blood.

The combo makes for an interesting world, to say the least.

Stella got the calm, hippie genes.  I can predict our own struggles with that free-love, party girl: "Stella. Quit taking off your clothes and put down that beer."


Through all this, I am peeling back so many things about James, about myself.  He is so beautiful.  And smart. And strong.  And strong-willed.  He is funny.  And happy.  Really.  Under all the fits, there is happiness. I see glimmers and glimmers.

I decided. I am just going to scoop all these little things up...and put them in a jar like lightning bugs... to watch each characteristic bang around and shine.  Because while each trait may be a weird little light by itself, the combination of all these lights is the radiant little spirit that makes up this precious boy. 

We'll figure it out.  I am mostly humbled by changes that we all must make to save our little family. And I am mostly grateful for the opportunity to embrace these changes.  A sort of second chance.

Thanks for listening, ya'll.  


Kelly Koenig said...

I love the honesty and the passion behind your writing. I'm glad you are talking about this in the open. And I am soooo glad you guys are working through this now. Kurt's brother was diagnosed with ODD at like 24. His therapy is trying to undo a lifetime of bad reactions. I'm not sure he even can at this stage of the game. Your devotion to your family is inspirational :)

Maeve's Momma said...

Well done, very well done. You and the Expert did great finding some good therapy and ways to change your reactions. And James will benefit hugely from you being so present and hardworking from your parenting, not just writing him off like so many parents do: he's the bad kid. Just think, despite your struggles and frustrations, he will barely remember any of this, and what for you is a vibrant memory of a difficult time will be for him just something he hears stories about when he's bigger. Thanks for your honesty.

Mere said...

Thank you guys so much. :) Hugs.

Lindsay said...

This is the first time I've read your blog. I literally could have written this post almost word for word about my now 5 year old daughter. It's trying, upsetting, confusing, frustrating and exhausting. My daughter was diagnosed with ODD and we never did therapy for her. She didn't get the diagnosis until very recently. When we began to change our reactions to her and shift some things in our lives the difference with her is literally night and day. I guess my long winded comment is just meant to say that you're not alone and you'll get through it and it sounds like you're doing amazing already! Much luck and many prayers,

Mere said...

Thank you, Lindsay! :)Glad to hear you guys are also moving in a positive direction... hugs!

Natasha said...

We went through all of the same with my now 9 year old son. He is somewhat better, but still has a long way to go. Years of therapy, medications, sleepless nights, and shifting him around in the family- but we survived it. He goes back into somewhat normal classes and a somewhat normal school next year. A year ago I never thought it was possible, but so far it is. :)