Biting My Tongue

My fingers are itching. Itching to write a response to an email. I’m refraining. It’s a Herculean task, but I’m managing.

After two days of just trying to keep my kid in the school building due to his raging anxieties about the absences of his teachers and friends, I get an email from the-special-ed-teacher-who-has-no-clue. “Up until today, he has consistently missed class since spring break due to stress,” she writes. She says she and the aide have been “unsuccessful in getting him to complete anything in class.” She ends with, “Please continue to encourage him to come to class and just do his best. I keep reassuring him he will not fail class as long as he is showing up and doing his best.”

Have you seen the funny videos where husbands and wives text each other, but you get to see the various things they’d like to text before they are deleted and something more appropriate gets sent?

Yeah.

“Damn skippy he’s not going to fail…”

“Do you even know what fight-or-flight is?…”

“That’s right – YOU’VE been unsuccessful…”

“HE HATES SCHOOL BECAUSE OF YOU…”

“Do you even have a working definition of autism in your tiny little brain?…”

Nope. Nope. Nope. Can’t send any of that.

That’s why my fingers are itching. She’s gonna be my kid’s teacher for another 3 years and 22 days.

Not gonna reply.

Heaven help me.

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Why I Love That The Boy Plays Video Games

This past weekend, The Man and I took The Boy to Myrtle Beach for a mini vacation. Overnight, to be exact. We hadn’t been in a long while, and there’s just something about it that we adore. Grammy and Poppy had already made plans to go down for a long weekend, so we hopped in the car on Saturday morning and were on our way.

As The Boy has grown, he has developed a deep and abiding love for Myrtle Beach because of the overabundance of arcades. He has found his favorite games in several arcades, and indeed, we spent a good portion of our time Saturday following  him around and playing a little ourselves.

One of his absolute favorites is Galaga, a throwback to the 80s. And I love watching him play. You may think it a bit odd, that one of the things he does that makes me proudest is play an old video game, but here’s why: he wins.

He does well, he has developed his own insanely smart strategies that I’ve never seen anybody use in that game or elsewhere, and he often gets his name on the high score board as a result. And if he doesn’t, he’s completely ok with it, and has no real sense of failure.

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What can we take from this? Predictability helps him learn and develop strategies. The norms of video games (that you learn by doing, over and over again) allow him to learn and develop at his own pace. And by giving him just those two pieces, he has a high level of success.

One of the most-shared autism memes goes something like, “I wouldn’t change you for the world, but I would change the world for you.” We get a lot of resistance sometimes when we ask for modifications and accommodations. But two simple structures in place in that game are all it took for The Boy to become an expert, devising complex strategies and showing actual results. This is why we fight to get what he needs.

Reasons Why & Moving Forward

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Why haven’t I been posting?

At first it was because I was working hard on my novel, because writing is my thing – the thing you would do if you won the lottery and could do anything you wanted? I know, counterintuitive that I stopped writing to pursue writing, but time, man. There just isn’t any when you work 9 to 5.

Then it was the election. I shook with fear as the results rolled in, and my fears were not unfounded. This country is really going in the wrong direction (to put it much too mildly), and this election will have direct, negative impacts on my family, the most important of which are threats to The Boy’s future, and the safety nets that are supposed to be there for him.

And then the horror that is second semester, freshman year tiptoed up behind us, tapped us on the shoulder, and whispered, “Surprise!”

I’ve said before that we have been quite lucky since The Boy was born. We’ve had many good teachers, and wonderful members of our tribe support him in such a way that even though he has his moments, we have not experienced anything “severe.” Until now. And I’ve hesitated to write about it, not because I want you all to believe we live in some fantasy land of “easy-autism”, but because I didn’t want to invade The Boy’s privacy. I know I wouldn’t like it much if my mom had a blog and told the world about all of my problems.

So we’re struggling. I’m struggling. Mostly underneath the surface – we manage pretty well most days. But there are some days where my fears and anxiety about what is happening with him (and his fears and anxiety in general) make it difficult to function. It can be paralyzing.

In honor of this month of Autism Focus, I’m coming back. And I’m going to share with you what we’re going through as best I can without oversharing.

We still have beautiful moments. Yesterday, The Man was putting some pavers down in our yard between our new porch and the driveway, and I watched The Boy fill a wheelbarrow with sand, push it across the lawn and dump it like he’d been doing it for years.

And then this morning, he rampaged through the school office, tearing two plants to pieces, pushing books off a table, and overturning a chair.

This is autism. How do I deal with it?
Simple. I Just Do.

Facing Reality

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The Boy is 14, and will be 15 in two months. Old enough to take driver’s training. I don’t think there’s much out there that he would like to learn more than how to drive for real. He “practices” in the passenger seat often, rides the riding lawnmower without assistance, has driven go karts, and in general very much looks forward to the day when he can drive his own car. But will he?

I’ve talked briefly to him a few times about how his high school track will work out, how he will get some work skills, and concentrate on learning how to become an employee. But he still wants to be a band director. I think he still wants to go to college. And I know that in the strictest sense, he will not go to college as he envisions it.

He has dreamed about getting a blue Chevy Sonic to drive when he gets his license, but I had to break it to him the other day that it wasn’t going to happen, and that he needed to start saving if he wanted a car at all. A new car of his choice is just not in the cards.

When your kiddos are little, this all seems so far away, and the last thing you want to do is limit their dreams. But when it comes time to face reality, then what?

These are the things that keep me up at night as a mom to a teenage boy on the spectrum. It may not be all that different from being a mom to a neurotypical teenager, except that reality sometimes doesn’t make sense to a logical, autistic mind.

A Perfect Storm

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Yesterday, The Boy left his bag on the bus. Not his backpack, like he originally tried to tell Grammy when he arrived to their house. His “electronics bag” which he carries everyday and contains his iPad, his 3DS, his games, and all of his chargers. Cha-ching.

As soon as I arrived (after 5 o’clock), and determined what was really missing, I contacted The Boy’s teacher, who had contacted the vice principal who deals with transportation. He emailed back to say he would look into it in the morning. *sigh*

Remarkably, The Boy was not overly agitated or anxious, although when his laptop finally ran out of juice around bedtime (because his charger was in his bag left on the bus), he let loose a few loud and angry epithets, and I had to snuggle up next to him to calm him enough to sleep.

I also found out yesterday that his special ed teacher would be out today due to dentist appointments that she had forgotten about for herself and her two children. Ok. We’ll manage, I told her.

And then I received two texts from her classes (math and English) reminding us to sign and return a movie permission slip for today. Guess what? No permission slip was in his backpack. So who do I email? Weren’t we doing this dance a couple of weeks ago?

Finally, after emailing his elective teacher to explain that we would need one more night for a project, he emailed back to say it was no problem (yay!), and to explain that The Boy had a quiz today (wha?).

So today, The Boy has an absent teacher (check), a missing electronics bag (check), no permission slip (check), and a quiz (check). Everything will be fine, right?

Did I mention that we might get hit with Hurricane Matthew this weekend, and everyone is buying French Toast supplies (milk, bread), water, and generators at an alarming rate?

Everything will be just fine…

End of the Week Cha-cha

stairs-man-person-walkingThe Boy’s special ed teacher has been out since Tuesday this week at a conference. We prepped him for it, he met the sub the previous week, and we did what we could. And he did well. Until the end of the day Wednesday.

At home, we heard rumblings about having to leave school early again to catch the bus. With no special ed teacher to email Thursday morning about his anxieties, I emailed the principal. In the meantime, he had told the sub he was getting a ride home with me, and emailed me about “everyone being absent”. It resulted in two administrators being involved (the one I contacted and the one the sub contacted), and the TA being asked to send me an email, cc’d to a list of people about how he was just fine, and how they had adjusted to his needs.

M’k…

Today, just before 10 (middle of 2nd period), I got a call from the counselors office – The Boy was there and was a little agitated about all the people who were absent and wanted to chat with me. We chatted. He seemed better and we hung up. An hour later I got an email from him saying they were closing many schools due to the weather today. Again, I tried to reassure him. After 3rd period, I received another email from the TA (cc’d to a shorter list of people) saying he was fine in 1st and 3rd periods, but did go to the counselors office during lunch. Oh, and he was insistent that the football game tonight was cancelled and Monday would be a holiday.

I could go off about the TA obviously not having a clue about anxiety or anyone being “fine”. But I won’t. We obviously took some steps back this week, and may miss out on his second marching band performance if he’s still anxious this afternoon after school. But…

  • He vocalized his concerns, both at home and at school – self advocacy!
  • He made his own way to the counselors’ office when he was overwhelmed with anxiety!
  • He feels comfortable enough in his special ed classroom that his anxieties seem easier to manage there!
  • And the staff was responsive and patient with The Boy.

So while it pains me to see him struggling, he is making great strides at the same time. I am proud of him, and grateful to be in a school that seems to, for the most part, be willing to give him what he needs, even if it’s plenty of time to calm down.

A Few Changes

Like I tell The Boy, change isn’t necessarily bad, but it is inevitable.

I’ve done lots of thinking over the past couple of weeks about this blog – you may have noticed my “radio-silence”. SimpleIJustDo has provided me a great place to share and vent, a small community of support, and lots of self-reflection. As The Boy gets older, I am starting to feel like he is becoming the steward of his own story, and although this has always been a place for me to write about me and my experience being a mom to him (and never meant to replace his own story), I feel like I need to take a step back.

Let me be clear: This blog isn’t going anywhere. I will continue blogging.

But, I’m going to concentrate on quality over quantity. I need to balance my need to share and vent, and The Boy’s right to privacy and self-advocacy. I may post less and try to interact more via social media (if you aren’t following on Facebook or twitter, now might be a good time to look me up).

This will also allow me a little bit more time to focus on my long-term writing goals, too, which involves novel-writing aspirations (wish me luck!).

I hope you’ll hang on and bear with me through this adjustment period. We still have lots to share. But we may do it in a little bit different forum or format. As always, thank you for showing interest in our story. I’m still amazed at how far across the globe my voice can go!

Much Love,

~Annie

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Not goodbye. We’ll see you soon!

Back to School

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The blog has been quiet this week, and I’m sorry for that. It’s a busy time of year, and I’m sure that most of you are experiencing some of what we are, too.

Most autism households are experiencing anxiety and behaviors right about now, too. Mama Fry from Autism with a Side of Fries is experiencing this in spades right now, and I read her posts and think, “Is there any doubt that our kiddos need ESY?” Come IEP time, I wish we could show the team video of what we experience at home these first few weeks of school. At our house, it includes perseveration about fire alarms and drills, fixation on the time the bus leaves school, and the fact that his middle school email address no longer works. There’s a lot of pacing, and more than a few angry outbursts. And in our case, lots of emails from The Boy at school to me at work, explaining his plans to fix all of his imaginary vehicles because they have all broken down.

In a word, anxiety.

So that when the district insists that he doesn’t qualify for a program to provide him continuity, we can say, “But this is what happens after break. Autistic kids need consistency, and if you offered year-round school, we’d be the first to sign up.”

Good luck to all of you tribe members. It’s a tough time of year.

 

Perspective & Paradigms

I had dinner with a new friend the other night. She has been a friend to me in several ways this year, but we actually met for the first time that night. She is a mom to three boys between the ages of 13 and 18. And they are all neurotypical.

We talked about the apparent lack of student support for The Boy and his friend in the marching band. She carefully and respectfully defended kids like her son who are more than happy to interact with a peer on the spectrum at home, but not necessarily at school, where peer pressure can be a hard thing for any kid to overcome. She said in middle school, everyone is trying to fit in, and in high school, everyone is trying to get out.

After 17 years teaching at both levels, I get that.

But to my ears, it rang as old-fashioned as the tired phrase, “Boys will be boys.”

Of course, I understand and fully believe how difficult it can be for middle school-aged children to look beyond themselves to see others who need help. It’s Child Psychology 101 – at that age, as you may remember, they see themselves as the center of their own universe. Remember thinking everyone would laugh at you for that zit on the end of your nose, or the bad haircut, or the crazy sweater your aunt bought you? But they really didn’t (unless they were mean kids, anyway), because they were too busy worrying about their own zits, and haircuts, and sweaters. Indeed, some people never grow out of this psychological stage, but that’s another post.

Most of us do grow up, and realize it’s in the caring for others that we find ourselves.

And what we need to realize is that our kids need assistance in growing up and out of this psychological stage. Yes, it’s normal, but we don’t want them to stay there. Just as we taught them to walk and tie their shoes, we need to teach them to be their own person. We as parents need to help them understand that “different” is not inherently bad, and we need to expose them to “different”, whether it be people, foods, cultures, or ideologies. Seeing and learning about differences is how we figure out and find peace with ourselves. What a gift it is to learn that we are not alone in our weirdness! Who wouldn’t want to help their children find that awareness??

Yes, it’s hard for typical middle schoolers to break out of their comfort zone and befriend someone perceived as different in front of other middle schoolers. But what a teachable moment, rife with lessons! Pick up the baton, parents, and show them the way.

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An Unexpected Hiccup

Friday night was supposed to be The Boy’s first performance with the marching band. It didn’t happen, or rather, it happened without him. One of his friends-who-are-girls had some sort of allergic reaction and couldn’t perform, so he quickly decided his eyes had puffed up, as well, and he needed to go home to rest.

Last year, when he was to perform with the high school band as part of the 8th grade class, he had the worst anxiety attack I had ever seen. This year, he has attended band camp and a few rehearsals, and seemed excited, but this unexpected hiccup sent him off the rails. And no one was attending to him. They were barely paying attention as he paced and perseverated, become more aggravated with each step, his voice getting louder and louder.

I’m not very impressed with the resistance we’ve met upon joining the group. No kids go out of their way to help The Boy participate, and the assistant director who is The Boy’s former middle school director seems somewhat hostile at times, most likely because he had advocated against The Boy being in the high school band.

Before the meltdown, this same former teacher of The Boy’s approached me when I was dropping The Boy off that night, and began to tell me what he needed to show me, and what The Boy needed to do. Um, no. I am the parent, and I am dropping off my kid. Do you ask other parents to assist their children in finding their instruments and getting fitted for a uniform? No you don’t. I am not your aide or your paraprofessional. Get a staff member to assist,or get a drum major or responsible senior to assist. It’s almost as if he was saying, “Well, you wanted him here…”

And yet, The Boy still wants to participate, still wants to belong. He doesn’t see or feel the resistance. The Man was upset the whole weekend because no one there was “looking out for The Boy”. At what point do we consider pulling the plug? At what point, do we ask ourselves if he should even be here if he’s seen as an aggravation rather than a member? I just don’t know.

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