Monday, May 26, 2014

Teaching Sydney (or TRYING to)

Impulse control. You probably have not thought much about how important it is to people unless you are close to someone who has very little self-control. The frontal lobe of your brain is the part that helps you stop yourself from doing or saying the inappropriate things that you think about. Believe me, impulse control is extremely important. Without it a person will constantly be in danger. They will break rules and laws. They will lie. They will lose friends as fast as they make them. THEY DO NOT LEARN FROM THEIR MISTAKES.

The frontal lobe of a person’s brain is damaged when they are exposed to alcohol in the womb. Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is 100 percent preventable. A huge percentage of the people in our prisons have FAS. It is no wonder. When you have FAS you barely stand a chance in our society. Sure, many of the children are adopted into homes with good parents. But, mom and dad can keep a child safe for only so long. They do grow up and they still have FAS. They still have no impulse control and they still need constant supervision.

Sydney’s lack of impulse control affects us every day. It shows up in so many ways. Sometimes it is funny but usually it is not. This morning I told her to stay in her room until 9:00 while I showered and dressed. She came into my room at 8:55 and said, “It’s 9:00.” Me, knowing I had five more minutes said, “It is?” She responded, “No, not really.” Then she asked me where her popcorn was from last night. I told her it was in the kitchen. She said, “I just looked.” I said, “So you left your room?” She said, “No I didn’t leave my room but I went into the kitchen to look for the popcorn and it wasn’t there.” She tattles on herself quite often and then talks in circles trying to fix what she uncovered, contradiction in every sentence. Sometimes I think she believes I am an idiot. Sometimes it is hard not to laugh right out loud when i should be scolding her too.

A few days ago she had lifesavers and was trying to open the packaging. She was with her daddy in his truck. He asked what she had and she quickly responded, “Oh, you wouldn’t like these” trying to convince him that she shouldn’t have to share. She forced the package open and dropped the first one in the floor. She said a word that society would not consider a curse word but one our family does not use. Shawn frowned at her and shook his head saying, “We do not say that.” She immediately tried to convince him that he heard wrong and what she REALLY said was “I’m missing out on that one.” He managed to keep a straight face, barely.

Doctors have told me that Sydney will not learn from her mistakes and I have seen that consequences do not really teach her much but I keep trying. A few mornings ago I told Sydney she could go upstairs and play Nintendo in her sister’s room if she did not wake her brothers who were asleep in their rooms close by. She assured me she would be as quiet as a mouse. She went upstairs and two minutes later I heard her singing at the top of her lungs. I told her she could not play Nintendo for a few days. She can tell me WHY she cannot play Nintendo and she can tell me she won’t do something like that again but she will. I know she will.

Sydney loves flip-flops. Flip-flops are almost as important to her as the air she breathes. The winter months when I hide them (yes I have to HIDE them) are torturous to her. A week before school was out we had a cold rainy morning. Sydney was very upset that I wouldn’t let her wear her flip-flops. I insisted she wear socks and shoes and take a sweatshirt. She asked if she could take her flip-flops in her backpack. I told her she could not. She asked why. I explained again that it was a cold day and I wanted her feet to be warm. When I picked her up at the end of the day, she was wearing flip-flops. It didn’t even occur to me she would have snuck them into her backpack. I have watched her do things like this for nine years and it still shocked me that she would openly disobey like that and not anticipate any consequences. I took all her flip-flops and put them up for a week. I believe it was the longest week of her life and she cried about it several times. Will she learn from it? Well, I know she will REMEMBER it but I do not think it would deter her from doing it again.

This past weekend we went to a little rodeo in a small town nearby. There was a fenced-in play area with four of those big bouncy houses and slides next to the arena. Five dollars got you a ticket to come and go all evening. Several times throughout the evening I allowed Sydney to go jump for five or ten minutes. The medication she takes for ADHD had long worn off and sitting in the stands was asking too much of her. (See? I’m a reasonable person.) It was hard to keep track of her among all the kids coming and going out of those houses but I managed. The last trip in, I watched as she ran over to a mom with a toddler. Sydney LOVES babies and I predicted quite accurately what I was about to witness. I was not close enough to intervene before it happened though! The mom was helping the toddler bounce on a corner of one of the play sets. Sydney crowded in between the child and her mother and tried to take over as caregiver. The mother was so surprised she actually turned the toddler over to Sydney for a few seconds before she realized what she’d done and regained custody of her baby. I grabbed Sydney and was too flustered to come up with words. This time I asked her Dad to explain what she had done and why it was inappropriate. He did. She listened but I honestly do not think she understood a single word about why it was not okay to walk up to a stranger and try to take their baby away from them. Sigh.

At the rodeo
Last evening I witnessed her doing a similar thing but it was not with a baby (thank goodness). A friend of ours was over and playing a hand held game when Sydney came over and crowded right it. She began touching the screen and intervening in the game without an invitation. If I had not stopped her she’d have had that video game in her own lap or been in the lap of our guest with her own body between that game and the owner. I can explain and explain but she just cannot help herself. If she sees something she wants, there is no willpower for her to use against those desires. I can only imagine what her teen years and adult life will be like. It is a constant worry for me.

I know Sydney can learn rules and abide by some of them but I’m not sure why some are easier for her to obey than others. We have a pool and she never goes near it unless she is given permission. She is able to behave herself (for the most part) during worship services. She doesn’t hit other people or tantrum. She is polite most of the time. Her ability to abide by some rules and not others has to have something to do with her ability to plan. There is that frontal lobe again. Being able to think ahead to the consequences of your actions based on past mistakes is controlled by that frontal lobe. Impulse control is managed by the frontal lobe. Rules seem so much harder for her to obey when there are other children involved. She can go a long time without getting into any real trouble but add a peer and she is going to find all kinds of ways to make that kid holler. She’s quick at finding ways to push their buttons. She invades their space. She plays much better with children younger than her. A six year old is almost perfect, but only one, not two. Although she is ten, age six is about the level she functions at herself. We are so lucky in that we live out in the country. A neighborhood full of children (and adults) would have brought so many challenges with it and so many dangers. Sydney’s playmates are her family members. Oh, and a dog, several cats, two calves, and a gentle old horse. She spends hours outside with those animals and her dolls. Sydney’s imagination is one of the most active I have ever known. Our dog and one of those calves have an amazing bond with Sydney. They do not care how many times she invades their space or how much she talks or how loudly she talks.

Sydney and Pepper
We almost never say “no” when Sydney wants something to eat. Number one: her preferred foods are healthy. Number two: the doctor tells us to push her to eat because she needs to gain some weight. Sydney still tries to hide food and lie about food. I have told her over and over there is no need because she can eat almost anything she wants, anytime she wants. One of the only rules I have is: no food the bedrooms. I often do find food and wrappers and dishes in her room but I do not impose any consequences for it. These issues surely cannot be from her memories of the orphanage when she was probably hungry, because she has no memories of the orphanage. But food issues could stem from anxieties, according to her doctor. I cannot imagine trying to live without the ability to fully control my impulses. What a confusing place the world would be. Trying to understand the rules and abide by them without the damage to your brain is hard enough sometimes when you are little. This little girl has a disability that was 100% preventable. Alcohol to a brain is poison and exposing an unborn baby to alcohol is unconscionable.

Past articles about Sydney: Saturday Morning with Sydney and Life with Sydney

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