Friday, February 27, 2015

IEPs, Stimming, Side Effects & More


Right now we’re in the land of IEP assessments. My youngest is currently going through assessments and this week I put in a request for an IEP assessment for my oldest after I found out that he’ll lose his current support when he goes into high school next year.

Honestly, I find the whole IEP process irritating. After filling out pages and pages of questions with the clinical psychologist to have my youngest son evaluated and later diagnosed with autism, I found myself filling out the same piles of forms for the school district. What I find frustrating is that the school is conducting their own assessment in areas that have clearly been evaluated by an expert. You would think that our licensed psychologist’s 19 page report about my son would be sufficient for the school district, but instead I find myself answering on at least 4 different surveys with hundreds of questions what appears to be the same exact questions. How many ways can a parent explain that their child prefers to play alone?

The thought of doing that again for my oldest son tires me.

In the meantime, my youngest was suspended again. It was a long meltdown that started with his realization that the long division math problems will now use three digits instead of two. “It’s going to take too long!” he screamed. In the end, he ended up ripping up his work, damaging a school book, running out of the classroom, climbing a fence to leave school property, elbowing a student and hitting another student in the head with a cardboard box.

When I asked where we go from here, they didn’t have an answer.

Not only are we in a holding pattern at the school, but we have yet to start therapy since we’re still stuck in the referral process with the insurance company.

In the meantime, my youngest has started a new stimming behavior. He’s now doing a unique eye gesture, turning one eye to the side with a half squint. I think he’s also blurring his vision as he does this. Anyone familiar with visual stimming?

As for my oldest, he appears to be doing good with his addition of Wellbutrin. When I asked him if he thought it was working, he said, “Yes, I use to get so stressed out over my homework, but now I don’t mind it so much, it doesn’t feel like such a big deal.” We can all tell he seems more at ease around the house now.

On the downside, I got a call from his psychiatrist telling me that his latest lab work showed that his thyroid levels have dropped too low and he now needs to see an endocrinologist to be evaluated for hormone replacement therapy. I was told that this was most likely due to his Lithium, it’s a very common side effect (up to one third). At first I was really devastated by this news, worried that the Lithium had permanently damaged his thyroid, but I was reassured that the thyroid is not damaged but instead the Lithium is acting as a blockade. I was told that if Lithium treatment was removed, the thyroid would return to normal function.

With this recent news, it got me thinking... Was the Wellbutrin even necessary? Is it possible that the depression was a result of the low thyroid level? Was it possible that once the thyroid levels were brought back to normal, the depression would have lifted without the help of more medication? I wish we had this information before starting Wellbutrin.

I know some of you may be thinking... Stop the Lithim now!

It’s a fair thought, but it isn’t so easily decided. If the Lithium wasn’t helping him so much it would be easy to stop it, but Lithium continues to be the best medication to date. And it’s not just my opinion, but my son’s.

My son is now a teenager, he’s no longer a little boy looking to me for all the answers. As he gets older he can communicate much better and make judgements about what’s helping him on his own. His opinion matters more than ever.

When I told him about the recent tests, he of course was disappointed at the thought of adding on another medication for his thyroid, but when I asked if he would prefer to stop the Lithium it was an astounding, “NO!” Instead he asked, “Can I try to quit one of my other medications so I can add on the thyroid one?” (Great idea by the way!) With determination he proclaimed, “I’m not going to stop Lithium!”

I admit one of the blessings in my kids getting older is that they can help advocate for themselves.

I’m certainly sad about my son having to take on another medication, this never gets easier—ever! But I can’t sit and wallow in it, I have to keep moving forward with where we’re at.

As my husband reminded me, “We knew side effects were a possibility when we started medication.” This should’t be a surprise to us now that we’re facing it. We can’t ignore all the “good” medication has brought. Our son is a thriving teen, we didn’t think that would ever be possible before he started medication.”

I have to keep that in mind.

It’s easy to forget how bad things were when things are going so good now. Medication continues to help my son so it’s important that I don’t let my fear stop him from experiencing a good life.

I’m learning once again about how I have to lean on my faith, acknowledge that we are doing the best that we can under the circumstances and continue to hope for the best.

Taking it one day at a time...


Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Horse Therapy for Kids


Today I have a special guest post from a friend of mine who, just like many of you is raising a twice exceptional child with a mood disorder. Through her journey she has discovered the benefits of horse therapy and has gone a step further in becoming a riding instructor herself. Enjoy her story and if you too have experienced the benefits of horse therapy, please share in the comment section below!

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My name is Heather, and I started volunteering at a PATH therapeutic riding center in 2012. I am now currently an Instructor in Training going through the certification process to become a Therapeutic Riding Instructor. I volunteer and do my student teaching at R.O.C.K. I grew up riding, training, and showing horses; and having a practical application for my horse skills is very rewarding. I turned to therapeutic horseback riding because I too have lived with the frustrations that Mama Bear describes.

My son is 14 and has a bipolar diagnosis (after collecting many others including ADHD, ODD, and possible Autism.) He is also 2e (twice exceptional) having both the bipolar diagnosis and is identified as intellectually gifted. Medication has made a world of difference for him. My father-in-law is 72 and lives with our family. He also carries a bipolar diagnosis that came late in life amid many other consequences of untreated mania. Again, medication allows him to peacefully enjoy his retirement. My husband recently sought out treatment for anxiety. So far the only thing my daughter has to cope with is being intellectually gifted, which means frequently being bored in school (and being a pre-teen). But I love having a wild and creative family.

Just from giving my own children rides on my horse, I noticed that the horse paid attention and was more easy going for the smaller less experienced riders. Horses are very sensitive and this makes them very good as therapists. Though not every horse can become a therapy horse. It takes a very special sort of horse to be calm enough and at the same time sensitive.


Meet Dude. Dude is 27 years old, which is old for a horse (he’d be in his late 80s as a human), and yet he is eager to work with the clients who come to see him at the Ride On Center for Kids in Georgetown, TX. Dude works with young kids on up to Veterans with physical and/or mental-emotional disabilities. Don’t let the word “Kids” fool you in R.O.C.K.’s name they have clients in their 80s as well. Dude is one of about 20 horses at R.O.C.K., and among thousands worldwide, who work as therapists. As a physical therapist the movement of Dude’s back acts just like walking does on the human pelvis. Horseback riding strengthens core muscles, and prepares the spine for the weight bearing of walking. But even more importantly, the movement of Dude’s back is soothing: it calms emotions and improves focus.

Where horses like Dude really shine is improving social relationships. Horses are naturally social creatures and they seek out friendships with humans as well as other horses (dogs, goats and other animals too).  But the secret to a friendship with a horse is they can’t speak, so everything they say is non-verbal. This makes them excellent at reading body language, deciphering moods, and providing feedback. They can be a touchstone for someone who is non-verbal themselves, and frequently therapeutic horseback riding has given non-verbal children words. But they are also great teachers for people who struggle with reading non-verbal cues and interpreting social situations, because horses don’t care if you are awkward by human standards, and will listen patiently to a non-stop monologue about any subject. What horses care about is being treated with kindness. They instantly react to aggression, fear, and anger. Clients learn fairly quickly that horses will retreat unless riders learn to control those emotions.

The third factor to therapeutic riding is the support. There are a lot of people involved in it too—so a client is not just developing a relationship with the horse, but with the support team as well. Most therapeutic riding instructors are PATH International (Professional Association of Therapeutic Horsemanship) certified. PATH certified centers must have at least one PATH certified instructor on site. The PATH certification process stresses safety, and knowledge about horses and disabilities. Along with the instructor each rider will have a horse handler, who can control the horse on an as needed basis. So the client doesn’t have to have to start therapeutic riding with any riding skill to get the benefits. Additionally there can be up to two side walkers. Side walkers walk beside the horse and assist the client in staying on the horse and staying on task. Horse handlers and side walkers are all volunteers and they get almost as much out of their work as the clients do.

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PATH International http://www.pathintl.org/ has a list of 
therapeutic riding centers in the US and world wide.

R.O.C.K. http://www.rockride.org/