Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Advocate for Your Child

Just when I thought we were free of health woes for our children...

Four years ago, my second little girl was born with a club foot and other joint contractures, which put us on a long road of medical visits, castings, surgeries and rehab. So watching her smile and interact for the first time — let alone start walking at about 18 months — were joyous and poignant occasions. My husband and I could relax our shoulders and breathe a sigh of relief, feel gratitude that this was nothing compared to the experiences of some parents we saw at the children's clinic and hospital.

This year, we finally paid off the last $100 from her latest foot surgery more than a year ago. We are down to one annual check-up. We know that her physical challenges and doctor visits aren't over, but at least we aren't visiting the clinic every week for another cast. She can take a bath. She can run! Oh, and she's quite the comedienne...typical of the second kid I'm sure. "Look at me! Look at me!"

Now this.

At the last parent/teacher conference, more than one teacher mentioned concerns about our older daughter. She is 7. She reads at a third grade level. She has the imagination of Willy Wonka and the vocabulary of an adult. Just today she told me that she learned what "hypothermia" meant...and proceeded to tell me. This evening she dictated a story to me that she intends to enter in a young writers and illustrators contest.

Her teachers weren't worried about her academics. They were worried about her interactions — or lack thereof — with other children as well as some physical facial tics. So I went online to learn more...and freaked myself out. Is my daughter autistic? Does she have Tourette's? Or is she simply lacking enough spinach in her diet?

My husband and I took her to her pediatrician. The ped assured us that it was probably something she would outgrow. And proceeded to charge us $80 above the well-child visit for her referral to a neurologist. God love her.

Our experiences with specialists in the past steeled us against taking the first answer as the only answer. At one point with our youngest, a neurologist recommended that we sedate her and conduct an MRI to rule out any "syndrome" associated with her joint problems. I walked out angry and refused the test. As far as I can tell today, my 4-year-old daughter is as smart as a whip...and hilarious.

This time, we agreed on a simple option. We started our daughter on multivitamins and a magnesium supplement. After a few weeks, the sometimes wild facial tics began to fade to occasional blinking. When she is tired or has too much sugar, we notice them more. But we're maintaining a vigil for a few months before we consider a CT scan.

As for the anti-social behavior, I see myself in my daughter. I wasn't a team player for a long time. I liked being in charge...or being left alone. As I got older, however, my quirkiness turned to shyness and a defensive arrogance as my peers began to avoid me. I was proud of being smart, but didn't realize that I also needed to be open to the ideas of others. It was a painful road to that I prefer to make easier on my daughter.

So she isn't autistic. Just feisty and bossy. I can work with that.

Long story short. Before you panic and take the first piece of advice handed down by a teacher, doctor, a wiki or your mother, realize that you know your child best. Be strong. Be a champion for your child's best interests. You'll know the right answer when you find it.

Stay in touch with teachers and ask them to help you find those solutions. Talk things out with your spouse so you are on the same page. Above all, let your children know that you love them any which way they think, talk or walk. You're a team. You'll get through this crazy life together...with lots of patience.

And the occasional brownie.