Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Sliding into Summer Break with Big Changes

Phew! We made it to summer break! Honestly, I didn’t know if we would make it all in one piece. There’s been a ton of changes over the last few months and a lot of stress to say the least. It feels like we’re sliding into summer a little bruised and weary, but we made it!

Just to get you up to speed, we moved. This was a long dreaded decision, but after our job loss and thankfully new employment, my husband and I both agreed that we can no longer afford our home. I wish I can say that I handled this change with grace, but it was really tough on me. I cried a lot when the kids were asleep, mourning the loss of a home where I raised my babies.

During that time, my oldest son went into some serious depression after his long-term girlfriend broke up and his circle of friends told him that he could no longer hang out with them after the break up. That, along with moving, caused him a lot of stress, he shared that it felt like his world ended.

Before we knew it, he was failing a lot of his classes, he simply stopped taking notes and doing homework. Of course he failed most of his tests. He spent the last 2 1/2 months of school alone everyday. At lunch he would sit by himself and he started to lose all interest in life. His love of programming no longer filled the void left behind after the break up and he wanted to drop out of school all together. Some days he wanted to end his life.

Leading up to these months we made a big med change that we may soon reverse. We stopped his Tenex medication thinking he had been so stable for so long and may not need it with his maturity. At first we saw a positive shift, he seemed happier and more engaged. Even he commented on how much easier it was to step out of his comfort zone socially. However, I saw another change that was unsettling. He would crack up laughing for no reason. Like “throw your head back” kind of laugh that you can’t stop. I would ask him what was so funny, but he would responded confused, “I have no idea.”

Then we had an unexpected rage. It was scary and terribly unsettling. I have never been so scared in my life. There was a moment during the rage where I wasn’t sure if my son was even present in his mind. It felt like a stranger was holding me hostage. Even for my son, who thought the rages were a thing from the past, was very disappointed that it happened again. A rage in a teenager takes on a whole new meaning, it was a game changer to say the least.

Our first response was to test his Lithium levels and get him back into therapy. We were happy to see that the levels had dropped below therapeutic range, “happy” is a strange word in this instance, but still appropriate since it meant that we had a positive step to take (increasing the lithium) and an explanation for the rage. 

Then in an interesting twist, that many of you might not be surprised if you have followed my oldest son’s story through the years, is that his new therapist thought he might also have Aspergers (like his younger brother). It makes sense when you take into account his severe need to have routine and his anxiety that occurs over the slightest change, his sensory issues, his black and white thinking, his preferred all encompassing interest in computer programming and his social challenges. He admits that he doesn’t know how to make friends and doesn’t have the social skills to pursue it, which explains why he has spent the last 2 1/2 months alone at school, even though it was hurting him. (and breaking my heart as well.)

So next month he goes under evaluation for Autism Spectrum Disorder. A part of me believes that he doesn’t have enough features to qualify for a diagnosis, yet another part of me is praying that he gets it. After seeing the support and therapies offered to my youngest after his Autism diagnosis, I am convinced that it would definitely help my oldest.

As school came to an end, we tried to get an IEP, and once again, they denied it. With only a few weeks left of school and a lot of work to make up from his period of depression, their solution was weekly check-ins. As you can imagine, this was a joke. Now that my son was off Tenex, we discovered that he couldn’t organize his workload let alone his thoughts. He lost all ability to focus in class, take notes and study. Since the school offered limited help, I jumped in full board, working with him daily to help him get caught up while preparing for all of his finals. It was an ugly, painful process and made harder by the fact that my son now lost all interest in life. He could care less about school, graduating, getting the programming job he once desired, even respecting his parents. He just wanted to drop out and end it all.

How do you make someone care about their own life?

School came to an end and now we anxiously wait to see if he passed his freshman year. I feel encouraged that he may have. But now we face a big decision. Do we enroll him back into our local high school next year, or do we try something completely different? We are thinking about pulling him out to home school through a certified organization. I swore I would never home school him since he’s so resistant to me hovering over his homework, but what we’re doing now is not working. 

Our current high school is lacking the supports that he needs and the assignments are hard to get access to and track, so he can easily fall behind again. My hope is that by homeschooling he can sleep in longer, allowing his brain to be more alert for learning and give him some control and ownership over his education. We also hope by going with this organization, he will have support through one teacher that can support his needs and help organize his workflow (along with my daily check-ins), helping to reduce all the variables that his current school has. We also hope that by removing the social challenges, he can study with less stress and have a better chance of getting his high school diploma. 

As for his social development, we’ll have to look outside of school for that. As of now, being in high school isn’t helping him grow socially, since being alone in a crowd tends to make you feel more lonely.

I obviously don’t have it all figured out yet, but maybe you can help. I would greatly appreciate feedback from any parents or teens themselves who have stepped away from the traditional high school to study at home. Please share your stories!

In the meantime, I’m happy to share that summer is starting off pretty nicely. Our new house is feeling like home much faster than I ever imagined and the boys are enjoying a break from school. I wish you all a great summer, I know that for many of us, this is a stressful time as many kids struggle with the changes and being around their siblings all day can be treacherous. Remember to take it one day at a time—and never forget... you’re not alone.


  1. Consider keeping him in a "real" high school -- ideally a very, very large one, i.e. so he's not the only kid with a severe mental illness. My sister (early onset severe mental illness) and I attended a huge high school where she wasn't not the only student who had an incident that warranted calling the mental health transport unit to pick her up from the school cafeteria. It sort of normalizes it.

    Thinking everything (breakups, bad grades, friends who dump you, etc) is the end of the world to every teen -- and its 1000x worse for one with a mental illness. Perspective isn't a strong suit.

    Staying in a regular high school provides the kid with actual, tangible evidence that the world does not cease to spin on its axis due to the breakup, friend dump, etc. Telling said kid that the world continues to spin on its axis is meaningless - they won't believe you. Having actually survived it (miserable as it was) = tangible evidence.

    To paraphrase Winston Churchill, the best way to get through hell is to keep on going!(with whatever supports are necessary to get through it). Self-esteem comes from doing hard things - like putting one foot in front of the other in high school. Homeschooling means your son gets to avoid doing a hard, scary thing (and maybe that's the right thing for him at this time, but maybe not).

    Mental illness runs in my family and my baby sister inherited one severe enough to warrant a psychiatrist, meds and the occasional in-patient stay starting in grade school. Her home away from home in high school was the psych unit at the friendly local pediatric teaching hospital (that also treated our mom as a girl).

  2. I think you know your family best. I have 2 kids that are homeschooled and 2 in public school. They are each in the perfect placement for them. What does your gut say? Sometimes having the stress of traditional school removed allows a person the ability to do the healing they need. If you take him out of school it doesn't mean he can never go back. It also frees up time for therapies, etc. There are so many things to consider though because there are certainly going to be cons to homeschooling. It's definitely not an easy answer or a one size fits all answer! I'll be curious to see what you decide.

  3. I think whatever you choose, unless it's actively detrimental in some way (which you will find out soon enough if it happens), the most important thing is support from loved ones and the medical team. If homeschool doesn't seem to be working out you can try the local high school. If the high school doesn't seem to be working you can try homeschooling. There may also be alternative schools in your area worth looking into. But whatever you do, you're doing your best for him and he knows it, and I'm sure that is more important than any specifics!

  4. You know your son better than us.

    Choosing homeschooling vs local school is not irreversible. If homeschool doesn't work, you can enrol him at school and vice-versa.

    As an adult, I don't want to go back to a traditional school again. I prefer my online studies.
    I don't have much socialization, but it was already so at school. School doesn't have the monopole of socializing, no matter what "experts" say.
    Socializing at school is not true socialization : school and a real job are completely different. Of course, most know jobs as 9-5 M-F in an office or a factory.
    But actually, the professional world changes so much that a 9-5 M-F becomes the minority.
    So, don't listen to people who think that "your sons will never be able to hold a true job" : rubbish. Otherwise, why would you have only 130000 job offers vs 5 billions of unemployed people where I live ? If being a good student and a good person was enough to be gainfully employed, you would not find so many desperate people for a job.
    Being a social butterfly and a straight A student with college education is, sadly, not enough to find a job.
    Paradoxically, there is hope. Help your sons find their own niche, good mentors and support their entrepreneur spirit rather than desperately trying to fit the mold. Because no matter how hard you try, your sons will never fit the mold. It would be too easy to fit the mold by hard work only : actually, it doesn't work this way.

    The best education is the one that work for the children you have.
    Not the education that work for the child you wish you had.

    So, if homeschooling works, go for it. And naysayers don't have anything to say because they don't raise your children, even the experts. Experts are experts in illnesses, but they are not experts of your children because they don't live daily with them.

  5. Love you all so much. ��