When he was growing up I never thought of my son as having special needs. Oh, that’s not to say we didn’t go through our share of all the rest: ear infections, food allergies, speech therapy (I still smile when I remember when he said to us, “AH-hoo pie”. Priceless!) and asthma. We took it all as part of growing up.
He had few friends in grade and high school and he loved hanging out with them. He was either with them or on his computer or, later, building something for his electric guitars. But he was the oldest of two and by more than five years. It was easy for him to have solitude when he wanted it and a lot of the time he would disappear into his room and into himself.
He loved high school, especially the sports and his part in West Side Story. On his first St. Patrick’s Day he wore all green and painted his face green as well. He started out enthusiastic and strong, but as the high school years went on that excitement waned. We saw him start to shut down. He was straining under the stress of the classwork. He wasn’t cutting classes, but there were assignments he just wouldn’t hand in. There weren’t a lot of clues to pick up on. He seemed generally happy but reserved. He could get surly from time to time, but he was such a good kid I just let that go.
With college things were more free wheeling. It was the first time he had roommates, two of them, and the chemistry was not explosive, it was corrosive. They were big time partiers and he found them impossible to live with. His sleep cycle became a mess. Many nights he spent studying late and then sleeping in the computer lab. He missed a lot of classes. He landed in academic probation and one of his roommates flunked out. We called it a rough year where he had a tough time getting acclimated. In the end he managed to pull up his grades and even took extra classes because he wanted a double major so we figured this is just what he does when the going gets tough. He stumbles. Then he gets up and he pulls himself through.
Looking back, that should have been a warning sign. A pilot will tell you any landing you can walk away from is a good landing, but there is a good reason every crash landing is completely examined. We should have looked deeper.
He was in a rather strenuous program and the work was getting to him. He was a good student which is why he was invited to do interesting intern work and be part of a special program in California the summer of his junior year. At the same time he could not get his sleep pattern regulated and had a great deal of difficulty concentrating.
Fast forward to graduate school. The pattern of exuberant beginnings followed by over work, stress, poor sleep habits, inability to concentrate, depression and then not being able to get out of bed hit him as surely and squarely as the passing of the seasons. The difference here is that he didn’t have the core of friends he had in college and high school.
We didn’t realize how hard a time he had coping with everyday tasks until he showed up one Spring morning with the tax forms we had asked him for along with a shopping bag full of unopened mail which included overdue bills. He was more than willing give us access to his accounts so that we could pay the bills but he couldn’t deal with them himself.
A short time later he had to replace his car but was overwhelmed with the paperwork involved like applying for car loans and insurance because he couldn’t concentrate. Again we stepped in to help
The point of intervention here is that we try to maintain his independence and responsibility while at the same time not allowing these situations to spiral out of control. That is a delicate balance. First, it means including him as much as possible in all the decision making, It also means doing the legwork involved with bill paying and researching options. The last part is making sure that he follows through with finding and getting any additional help he needs. This part is key. Just doing things for him or helping him make decisions won’t get him where he needs to be. He isn’t struggling because he hasn’t learned time management skills. More, it is because he needs to better handle the stresses that block him from doing these tasks and achieving his goals. So what’s the payoff? He is facing his issues, actively seek out the help he needs and sticking with the program. We help handle the miscellaneous paperwork.
What doe this mean in terms of Curi™ our family health management tool? It will be nice to have a way where my son can journal what he is going through and pick up for himself clues about his stress level. If he chooses he can schedule his tasks and workload across the month to help avoid one thing after another from becoming everything at once. Perhaps most importantly, he can choose to have one of us ‘in the loop’ as a minder, someone who is notified if tasks stop getting done—or to give a ‘You got this!’ when things are going well. In the end it is about peace of mind. You do whatever you need to do to help your kids. I’m a dad. That’s my job.