Friday, February 09, 2001

How I booked my flight

High up on the desk in the corner of my bedroom, I keep stacks of books I'm meaning to read. The stack of light, fun reading stays pretty static, because I never get to it. The stack of serious books on neurology and child development gets higher and lower as I buy new books and plow through them. It's been stacked high lately because man, some of these books, brimming with good content as they are, are murder to get through. The ones written with parents in mind fly by, but are often so fluffy you wonder if you're missing some heavier content. But the ones written for professionals have such heavy content that it's often hard to pick yourself up off the chair afterwards. Sometimes this is because you are asleep.

On a recent plane trip sans kids (and have I mentioned how very pleasant air travel is when you don't have to spend the entire time entertaining and shushing small persons?), I was able to knock two books off my pile. Well, not really; I knocked one book off the pile, bought two new books, and read one of them, for a total transition of one additional book.

But I did read two. The westbound choice was Ann Streissguth's Fetal Alcohol Syndrome: A Guide for Families and Communities, which is one of those volumes that leads you to shout "Yes!" periodically, to the dismay of your fellow passengers. I'm happy to recommend it to anyone dealing with FAS/FAE, or contemplating adopting a child who might be affected, which for my money would be just about any child in Eastern Europe. The great thing about the book--and the thing that's hardest to find in literature on this subject--was that it held out hope that the secondary effects of fetal alcohol (prison, teen pregnancy, drug abuse) could be ameliorated by early diagnosis and intervention, forthrightness about the disability, and an understanding that things like consequences and cause and effect will always be difficult if not impossible for these individuals to grasp. Realistic expectations and a willingness to head off problems before they start are key. I can do that for my little FAE guy. I have been for a while, and it's good to know I'm on the right track.

And helpful in that mission would be a book like the one I read on the way home, The Explosive Child by Ross Greene. The author posits that, just as some kids with neurological or other challenges may be delayed in speech or motor skills, they may also be delayed or inmpaired in their ability to handle frustration. And kids who can't handle frustration will get stuck and not be able to find a reasonable way out of a frustrating situation. So the pressure builds and builds until they explode. Parents of these kids, Greene suggests, will do better to head the problem off early, before rational thought becomes impossible; adding to the pressure by discipline and demands only makes the crisis worse, and reasoning with the child when the incident is over does no good because reason isn't something the child can access during an implosion.

I can sure see the wisdom in this approach. It's fairly similar to the one in Raising Your Spirited Child, one of my all-time faves in special-needs parenting. My son doesn't explode so much as freeze, like a computer that's stuck on one page and won't get off no matter how many keys you pound or curses you shout. I've definitely learned that heading off problems is hugely more effective than trying to deal with meltdowns once they've started. If that's a new concept to you, or if your child is having problems with aggressive behavior (as seems to be a trend now on so many of the mailing lists I belong to; is it the moon?), check out Greene's book. I read it in one sitting, but of course, I was thousands of miles away from my own spirited kids at the time.

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