It Could Have Been Really Bad

This morning, the cat escaped as The Man and The Boy left to go to Grammy’s.

He’s escaped before, but usually sticks close to the back deck, or just circles the house, allowing us to follow him.  Today, however, there was a rabbit involved, and the hunter in Raffi burst loose.  When the man went to retrieve him from the back ditch (between our lot and an overgrown field behind our house), Raffi actually hissed at him and bared his teeth.

Rather than risking a hand to the monster, The Man decided to drop The Boy off, and return to see if he could get him back inside.  But when he returned, Raffi was nowhere in sight.

He called me at work, and all the possible outcomes ran through my head, and remained in the back of my mind all day.  When I ran home after work to change, I looked all over the property, making smoochy noises, purring, and chirping as I went.  Nothing.

I started to think he was gone for good.

And I started to wonder what I was going to say to The Boy when he asked if Raffi had come back.

I prepared him as best I could, explaining that he may come back tonight, or sometime in the next few days, but that if he didn’t come back in about a week, he may be gone for good.  He processed this, and seemed ok, but when we got home and Raffi was still not around, he began a negative cycle, which was not going to end well.  How do you tell a kid to be patient when he is worried he’ll never see his cat again?

After about an hour of the pacing, the self-talk that started to get louder, including phrases like, “He’s NOT coming back,” I heard The Man’s truck pull in.

And then I heard a small kerfuffle, and The Man saying, “Open the door!” to The Boy, who was outside pacing the deck.

And Raffi was back.

Tired Boy

Raffi was visibly tired after carousing the neighborhood, or ditches, or the neighboring golf course… who knows where he went (we are contemplating a go pro for his head in case he pulls this stunt again, because we are that curious).  The rest of us were incredibly relieved, and impressed he could find his way home. And The Boy was happy not to have been abandoned after all.

Take the Time

numbers-time-watch-whiteThe other day, I answered a phone line that I don’t typically answer because my co-worker got called away from her desk a few moments before.

The woman on the other end began to ask about the size of the boats we use and ended by explaining, “My son loves the water, you see, but he’s terrified of boats.  He’s on the autism spectrum.”

For a split second, I had a choice.  I could identify myself as someone who could sympathize on a very real level, or I could answer her question simply, and get off the phone quickly to answer another call.

“I totally understand,” I said.  “My son is on the spectrum, too.”

Come to find out, she had recently moved to the area with her family, and was looking to connect with other families, specifically with the aim of working to expand services for our kiddos in our area, because they really are dismal.  We chatted for a good ten or twelve minutes, and exchanged phone numbers.

Since then, we’ve friended each other on Facebook and connected again via text. I hope to meet her and her family soon, and introduce them to some of my friends and their families so she can start making some connections in the area.

I know that sometimes we get tired of carrying this mantel of “autism mom,” and sometimes we just don’t want to see another news article about a possible cause.  But I’m glad I made the choice to identify my true self.  Two years ago, I was where she is now, freshly moved to a new state and trying to find a new community of support and advocacy.  If we don’t take the time for each other, who else will?

A Bigot and a Bully

slowLast year, the landlord and owner of the mobile home park where my parents live approached The Man and told him that we needed to “keep (our) retarded kid inside.”  He used the r-word several times in reference to The Boy, even after The Man asked him not to use the word.  He then went on to make wild accusations about The Man, and at the time, I was very proud of my husband for not hauling off and beating the pathetic excuse for a man, because I’m not sure I wouldn’t have gone ape$#!! on him.

Fast forward a year, almost to the day, and this pathetic excuse for a man writes a letter, knocks on my parents’ door and hands it to my mother, saying, “Read this.” He then took a few steps off the porch and said, “I’m sorry but that’s just how I feel,” and walked away.

The letter explained that he had several complaints about The Boy playing in the park roadway, jumping out in front of cars, and lying down on the roadway, as well as using his scooter in the roadway.  He requested that The Boy be supervised at all times while outside.

Let me start by saying that the “speed limit” in the park is 5 miles per hour, with a sign saying “Slow, Children Playing” above every speed limit sign posted in the park, and that new signs were erected within the last two months.  Let me also add that there is no sidewalk in the park, nor is there a “recreation area.”  In addition, other residents and guests of all ages ride their bikes and walk their dogs in the roadway.

My son is thirteen years old, and knows to get out of the way of an oncoming car, even if it is only going 5 miles per hour.  He does not jump out in front of cars, nor does he lie down in the road. But my son is “different” than all the other residents and guests. And that is the basis for this discrimination and harassment.  That is the basis for how this pathetic excuse for a man “feels,” and not any fabricated “complaints.” You kind of give away your “tell” when you call a kid “retarded.”

I have spoken with an attorney, drafted and sent a letter, and copied it to the sheriff’s department as well as the state Attorney General.  This pathetic excuse for a man has not only violated the Americans with Disabilities Act, but also a state act that was passed to protect the rights of those with disabilities. We also plan to make an appointment with the sheriff’s department to take The Boy there and meet with some deputies, alert them to the situation, and educate them a bit about The Boy and his autism, just in case.

There really are people out there like this pathetic excuse for a man, folks.  They exist and they think they have the right to say and do what they’d like, as well as dictate what those who are different can and can’t do.  They are so wrong, and this good ol’ boy, pathetic excuse for a man is gonna learn how wrong he is.

What’s Been Going On

Hello, Friends!

This is high season at work, so working a few hours extra is not unheard of, and there’s a lot going on at home, too.  I just wanted to write a quick little post to say “hey!” and to give you an update.  It seems everything happens all at once, and unfortunately, it’s not the right time to write about these things in detail, but…

  • We don’t want to jinx it, so The Man doesn’t want me to write about it yet, but things are looking good in the selling-of-our-house arena
  • This ugly situation has reared it’s head again, and this time, we are speaking to a lawyer…
  • Camp will work out after all, for The Boy, but he’ll have to wait until the end of this month, which happens to coincide with the only week his dad wanted him this summer.  If you follow the page on facebook, you may remember that the ex’s dad has been diagnosed with stage 5 Alzheimer’s and he asked for The Boy the same week camp started, as well as a family reunion we are attending out of state, so I told him we could do another week in July, and have yet to hear back from him.
  • Some friends and I are looking into Rising Tide Car Wash in Florida to see if we can replicate something like that in our area for our kiddos.  We are excited!
  • I answered one of our phone lines at work and connected with a local mom who just moved here. “My son is on the autism spectrum…,” she said, and so the conversation began.  I love it when that happens!
  • Did you know it’s almost the 4th of July? Where did the summer go??

Thanks, friends, for listening and sticking around.  It’s been a tough summer so far, but how do we manage?

Simple. We Just Do.

;)

Desperation

A friend sent me a tragic news story about a father of a young man with autism, who had been caring for him alone, and had health problems of his own who had ended up taking the young man’s life before taking his own.

Sadly, this is not uncommon.

Murder and suicide are never the right path, but in order to prevent this type of thing from happening, and in order to make it extremely uncommon, you have to look at why it happened. And you have to look at it compassionately.  To condemn someone who is so desperate that they will end the life of someone they love dearly, as well as their own is too easy.  “There but for the grace of God, go I.”  The human mind is a mystery, and the only part of the human body that still has a stigma attached to its treatment.

This is not new.  Anyone who has read Thomas Hardy’s book Jude the Obscure, for example (or really any of Hardy’s books), knows that people have been making desperate choices when no other options are afforded for centuries. The problem we have to address is the lack of support and resources.

The 1 in 68 are rapidly becoming young adults aging out of a public school system that exits them with virtually nowhere to go.  Any programs or services available are largely hit or miss, or are so abominable, no one would place their child there for a minute.  If you’ve ever scanned the want-ads, you will often find job listings for personal care providers paying minimum wage.  What type of people do you think are attracted to a part-time minimum wage job?  Desperate people. And then we’re back to where we started.

We need a robust plan for our autism community that includes meaningful employment for all on the spectrum, adequate housing opportunities, and comprehensive assistance for families and caregivers who often suffer right along with their children due to lack of sleep, anxiety, and post-traumatic type symptoms. What we have now is not enough, and we cannot expect families and caregivers to endure without tragedies continuing to occur.

How many times will we read the same headlines before we do something?

Being “On Call”

I’ve seen reports from studies that indicate that those of us who parent a child on the spectrum often suffer from similar symptoms as those with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, and does anyone really wonder why?  We are in a constant state of alert, listening and watching for any signs of anxiety and stress that are in a state of escalation.  As some of my fellow bloggers have written, we know our kiddos littlest sounds and know every bit of that language.

We were at the convenience store the other day, and we stop so often that the woman behind the counter, who really means well and tries to understand, takes it as a personal accomplishment if she can get The Boy to say hello. He happened to begin stimming and galloping toward the door, and she said, “Oh no! What’s wrong!” I calmly explained that that was his “happy noise,” and we finished our purchase and left. I realized that most people wouldn’t know that.  Most people also wouldn’t know that the “errr” that has bit of an edge to it and comes quickly after a question is asked is a sign of irritation and disagreement that could escalate, or that pounding either on the floor or any hard surface often is a precursor to pacing, at the very least, and a meltdown in the worst of times.

Listening, watching, and being “on call” for these little noises and behaviors 24 hours a day, 7 days a week can be exhausting, and why I so appreciate our weekly date night.  For one night, I can stop listening and just relax.

on callIt’s also another reason my current job just isn’t working for me.  Even though I don’t get paid much, I am expected to answer texts, emails and phone calls even when I am not at work.  Do I have to?  No, but the expectation is there (and believe me, I’d be in the dog house at work for quite awhile if I just ignored it), which means I can’t even have a weekend where I’m not jumping at every notification from my phone.

A big reason I left teaching was because it took too much from me, and I didn’t have enough left for The Boy when I got home. Now, it seems I have jumped right from the frying pan into the fire. I’d love to only have The Boy to be concerned with, and not other people’s ridiculous concerns about lunchmeat and plastic leis.  The Boys crises I have come to expect, know, and understand.  Anyone else’s seem assinine in comparison, and it’s that that is getting old.

What’s in Store for Next Year

Well, I guess I didn’t need all that battle gear for our IEP.  Apparently I had made my wishes clear in the email I had sent to The Boy’s teacher specifying that I did want him to have access to his general ed peers, you know, as in, least restrictive environment?? But there are changes coming for next year.

The progrIEP documentationam teacher will now only be at The Boy’s school part time because they will be spreading her autism knowledge throughout the county, now. In other words, they are no longer funding the pilot program, and don’t want The Boy’s middle school to become a magnet school for kids on the higher functioning end of the spectrum, so they are spreading her too thin to try to knock some sense into the teachers at other schools who act as if they’ve never seen a kid with autism before.  My God be with her, because that will be a Sisyphean task.

In the meantime, The Boy’s day will not look too much different except that his social skills class will be a pull-out from his electives, and combined with the pull-out for speech, he could potentially be pulled out of his elective classes four days out of five for a half hour.  That’s a recipe for some negative behavior, if you ask me, but they didn’t, so The Boy (and they) will have to deal with it.

I mentioned that we will be  building a house in-district, to which they responded very happily, and made it clear that if we were not residing in said house by the time 9th grade rolled around, The Boy would be placed in his current home high school.  NOT GOING TO HAPPEN.  Even if we are not in said house by then.  But I will fight that battle if and when I need to.

I’m crossing my fingers for these plans not to change too much between now and August. I’m pleased I didn’t have to fight, and encouraged by the team in place. Now to get the house built…

Zondle: A Great Tool for Summer Learning

One of The Boy’s deficits in his learning has been multiplication tables. As with most math concepts, he really has no interest, ergo, no motivation to learn these, and it is now hindering him from getting further (i.e. up to grade level) in his math class.  “We’re doing algebra!” he reported a few weeks ago, yet he struggles without a printed chart to reference.

I asked him if this was something we could practice this summer, and surprisingly, he said, “That sounds like a good idea.” Maybe he is feeling unprepared for what’s next, and would like to feel more confident – who knows! But since he agreed, I’m going to run with it.

So along with all of our other summer plans, I am going to expect him to practice some multiplication facts every day.  How? Using Zondle.

The Boy loves his iPadZondle is an online tool that teachers use to get kids excited to practice skills on the computer.  While they practice, the opportunity to play some games pop up as a reward for correct answers, and it seems like it was made for kiddos with attention issues, and who need motivators to complete work. The best part is that you (the “teacher”) can keep track of your “student’s” progress. Did The Boy practice his 8s today? Well let me just open up my online gradebook… Why yes!  Yes, he did.  And he got them all right!  It even builds in an additional reward system. You can award badges, and even”zollars” which they can spend on whatever reward you’d like to offer.  Three days in a row with zero mistakes? You earn 300 zollars which means we go for ice cream after dinner.  Or whatever!

You do have to sign up as a teacher (but we’re all teachers, aren’t we?), and you do have to set your child up with an account if they don’t already have one at school.  Then you have to put your child in your “class”, but once you have that set up, you are golden.  You can browse other assignments submitted by teachers so that you don’t have to re-create the wheel, and you can even modify them to fit your needs.

I encourage you to check it out if you’re not familiar with it.  I’m finding it a great resource, one that teachers and parents can both use, especially those of us who will not be home with our kiddos this summer!

Conversation Starters, Spectrum Style

Our kiddos on the autism spectrum need practice with social skills.  I tend to let The Boy relax when he gets home because I know he’s worked hard all day, staying quiet when all he wants to do is make silly tuba noises, paying attention when all he wants to do is draw, and doing his best to get his work done all damn day.

But, neither does he get a free pass.  We still have homework to complete and projects to do at home. And summer is not a free pass in this house, either.  Especially if there is no camp.

I have always taken summer as a wonderful opportunity to target areas in my own learning, or develop new ways of doing because we run out of time during the school year.  This is so ingrained in me, that I’ve been planning with The Boy for all of the areas we can practice skills because we just don’t have time, and The Boy does not have the energy or patience after a long day of school.  I was reading a blog post on Momastery.com I found through Pinterest that looked like an activity that had potential not only for social skills and conversation practice, but could also provide an opportunity for me to get inside The Boy’s head a bit. The Holy Grail for autism parents.  But as I read, I realized it wouldn’t quite work for us, because open-ended questions often do not get answers from The Boy.  There are just too many possible answers, and he freezes.  He needs selections to choose from –  multiple choice, if you will. And then I remembered this other game of question and answer, a get-to-know-you game where possible answers are provided…

We’re pretty used to modifying activities and assignments around here, so I’m sharing with you an activity (free printable) I developed, “Planting the Seed – Conversation Starters for Kiddos on the Spectrum“.  Check it out, download it, tailor it to your own kiddo and then come back and let us know what you thought and how it worked.

dandelions_black

Escalating the Situation at 30,000 Feet

aircraft-airplane-flying-2105If autism is on your radar, you are now aware of the recent forced deplaning of a family of a girl with autism by a United Airlines flight crew.

From the reports I have heard, including the mother’s own statements, it didn’t need to go down like that.  The way it was handled increased the stigma of those on the spectrum, and created fear where there wasn’t any previously.

I think Mom, already in high-anxiety-panic mode, and trying to avert a meltdown tried to get some help, and used a poorly phrased warning to encourage the unhelpful and apparently untrained flight staff to be proactive. Unfortunately, it may have sounded like a threat, and anyone who flies with any regularity knows that any possible threats are “handled” immediately, with questions only asked after the fact.

And let’s not even go there about her being unprepared. Autism moms are not machines, and there are times when we are caught unawares by our kiddos. It seems that she did the best she could with what she had at hand. And asked for some warmed up rice.

I think the flight staff who is trained in how to de-escalate situations utterly failed in this instance. Maybe Mom came off as “that” mom, the demanding one, and they responded with what many of us in the service industry do when customers start to get snippy and demanding. We slip into, “I’m sorry. That’s our policy,” because we can, and we take a secret glee in being unable to help someone who is so clearly trying to abuse the system.  But they failed to recognize that this was not an unhappy and demanding customer, this was a mom making a plea for the sake of her daughter and the comfort of the other passengers.  They failed to listen when she said her daughter was autistic.  They failed to do their jobs and do what they could to diffuse the situation.

They brought her the rice and probably immediately went to the captain, reporting a threatening passenger because they could, and because that would teach her to be demanding and make threats on a plane.

And the captain, trusting his staff, made the call.

But even he failed to do his job and investigate any further before making that call.

The flight staff failed all of their customers. They failed to listen, they failed to be compassionate human beings, they failed to diffuse the situation.  But more than that, they violated this young person’s rights.

So my personal take is that yes, this flight crew needs training about passengers with special needs, as well as training in disability rights.  (Many flight crews do – I can tell you stories about the many, many flights I’ve taken with The Boy by myself.)  But they also need to go back to square one and be retrained about their primary job in that airplane – de-escalating any potential situation.