Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Living with a shunt, age 10

A triplet mom emailed me last week asking some really good questions with respect to how we are handling Anna's learning affected by her shunt.  As I was thinking of my reply, I decided to post the information here.  I know other parents of children with spina bifida and hydrocephalus are often directed here and also, in general, I feel it's good information to get out there.

So as to not repeat background information, here's a post I wrote in 2012 with a ton of information on spina bifida and hydrocephalus.  Here is a more recent post from two years ago discussing some of the learning issues that may arise as a result of hydrocephalus.

In summary, an individual with a shunt may:
  • Process thoughts in a different manner
  • Have difficulty with math
  • Be disorganized 
  • Lack fine motor skills
  • Have messy handwriting

There are plenty of people in this world who don't have hydrocephalus or a shunt but have some of characteristics I've listed above so sometimes it can be difficult to ascertain the root of the issue.

In Anna's case, when it comes to math and processing thoughts, it appears that ordering or keeping track of multiple steps can be difficult.  Anna's a bright girl.  Her teachers have commented on her mature sense of humor and how she can pick up on things other kids her age don't.  Her ability to spell words is amazing.  She can read anything and automatically pick out the misspellings like it's her job.  She's had her fair share of A grades on math exams but there are some areas of math where she may struggle.  For example, multiplying two digit numbers together 34x12.  Why?  Because you need to complete multiple steps in order to solve the problem. 

We are far from shunt experts here and still very much learning as we go, so I'll share with you what has worked for us.

Support system at the school
This is an important one and hopefully one you don't have to fight for.  You'll want the school administrators (principal, vice principal, etc.) who make decision impacting your child to completely understand the needs of your child.    

Organized/structured teacher and classroom
Because kids with shunts tend to be unorganized, it would be best if she is placed in a structured classroom setting.  Our school system is quite large with more than 10 classrooms per grade so there are options.  I understand that if your school system is small, this may not work for you.  We've found that Anna performs better in this type of setting. 

Teachers who understand your child and her needs
When Anna is scheduled to leave the classroom to visit the nurse this year, she does not miss any math.  It's been interesting to see how teachers in the past have handled when she has had to miss the beginning of math.  One was good about making sure she was caught up; one had a plan, but it didn't really works so well.  In my opinion.  I don't think she truly understood Anna's personality and the guidance she needed.  Teamwork is needed in order for your child to succeed and teachers are very much a part of that team, along with you, your child and others in the school.

Organized/clean house  
This one can be tough as my house isn't always cleaned up but it does make a difference.  If you have papers cluttered around, it's easy to lose homework.  Believe me, it's happened.  More than once.  

Establish routines
When the girls arrive home from school, the first thing they do is pull their binders out of the backpacks and complete their homework.  They are then suppose to place their completed homework sheets back into their binders and then the binders go in their backpacks so they're ready to go in the morning.  Sometimes someone leaves her binder or homework out and about.  This means that the next morning, there's a chance her homework may not make it to school.  Which leads to my next point. . .

I would love to go through and clean out Anna's binder on a daily basis.  I would love to constantly remind her to do this and do that.  I can't, well sometimes I do, because we've got that independence struggle going on.  I do back off a bit because I know I can't do everything for her.  She doesn't want me to do everything for her now anyway and I'm not going to be there when she's an adult, at college or working.  She needs to learn to do for herself.  She needs to learn what routines work for her.  The girls' school has really pushed independence this year in fourth grade.  If you forget to bring in your homework, you stay in at recess and redo the homework.  Students are told that it is their responsibility to remember to bring their homework to school and they aren't allowed to use the excuse "my mom forgot to put it in my backpack."  

I've been at home for this entire school year and there has definitely been a shift when it comes to homework.  Anna used to be hesitant to ask for help.  She would never exactly say why but I gather she viewed it as a sign of weakness, that maybe she wasn't smart because she had questions.  Thankfully, we've moved past that and she will come to me with questions when she's stumped.  All three of the girls will.  As a parent, you have to find that balance where making suggestions is viewed as helping and not nagging.        

We are in a unique situation with Anna having two identical sisters.  Identical doesn't mean that everything about them is exactly the same, but they are very similar to each other.  Anna definitely has some differences which can be attributed to her shunt.  Not that we want to compare them against each other - and I'm very hesitant to do so.    

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