Not on a Plane, Sorry

The ex called last week, talked about putting The Boy on a plane with an assistance program, and promptly promised The Boy that he would see him around New Years, and that he would be flying on a plane.

*sigh*

aircraft-airplane-flying-2105

He presented this idea as basically the only way he could see his son. He intimated that this program was free (which it’s so totally not). Not that I would be paying for it, but this is evidence of his lack of research. He admitted that the people probably have no knowledge about autism, “but who knows, we might get lucky! Sometimes they are former teachers!” Not the thing to say to me when I have a tentative meeting scheduled with the school principal and counselor who not only know nothing about autism, but didn’t even know who the county autism specialist was.

I started to think about actually allowing him to put The Boy on a plane. I tried to imagine him going through security. Sitting in the gate area and waiting. Getting on the plane. The possibility of delays. The timing of medication. The certainty that the flight attendant would tell him to turn off his electronics. The possibility that he might want to videotape the toilet on the plane with his iPad…

Um. No. The answer is still no. And by the way, if you can afford a plane ticket, you can afford to pay down your overdue balance on child support.

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Demands, Airplanes, and Christmas

Text from the ex (summarized by me): Hey, you haven’t told me if I can get The Boy for a week after Christmas, and oh by the way, I can’t do Thanksgiving. And I want him to fly up because I can’t get off my sorry ass and drive.

I can’t tell you the last time the ex has spoken to his son on the phone. He hasn’t seen him since last Christmas.  He’s made one piddly child support payment in the last 60 days, but he is going to text me and all in one breath tell me he’s cancelling his next visitation but wants to put him on an airplane after Christmas and could I hurry up about getting back to him because he has to buy plane tickets.

How about you hurry up and pay child support?  How about you hurry up and call your son?  How about you —

Deep breath.

Only four more years. Putting him on a plane will never happen because it would take money and planning skills, neither of which he obviously has.

smh

Update: Since this was written, I texted him to ask what he had found out about airline assistance programs. He promised to call Sunday to talk about it. Never called.

stress by bottled_void

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?

5 Ways Those that Diagnose Autism Could Better Help Families

If you read any narratives or stories about how children or adults have been diagnosed, you will begin to detect a pattern.  And it’s not a good one.  “Your child has autism.  Have a nice day, and don’t forget to pay the lady on your way out.” The Boy was diagnosed eight years ago, and unfortunately, this pattern does not seem to have evolved at all over that time.  It’s absolutely criminal.

In order to get a bona fide diagnosis (one that will qualify your child for an IEP), you must see a certain type of mental health professional.  Psychologists are doctors, too, and I don’t understand how sending someone off with a diagnosis and little else is aiding anyone’s mental health.  Because there are only certain professionals in any community that can even provide this diagnosis, I suggest that they could be doing so much more, in collaboration with the people and groups that can actually provide services that will help a family navigate a diagnosis of autism.

  1. The Psychologists and doctors who provide these diagnoses need to form a relationship with the local schools, and there needs to be a liaison from the school district that is willing to be the point of contact for parents with questions about how a diagnosis of autism will affect their son or daughter’s schooling.  It is not sufficient to have a list of names and phone numbers on a piece of paper to hand to people, but rather a name and phone number (lists are intimidating and unreal, while a single name is much easier to humanize), and an assurance that this person will be contacting them to see if they need help.  Don’t put the burden on the parent who has never even contemplated some of the next steps.  Put it on the professionals who are in a position to help.
  2. In many states, a student is automatically placed on a social worker’s caseload when the team develops an IEP.  A social worker should also be a point of contact as soon as a child is diagnosed.  Too often, parents not only need information, but they need help processing the diagnosis themselves, and understanding what it will mean for their lives, both short and long term.  There are also inevitably parents who will be in denial, as well.  Having a community of professionals reaching out to you, providing support and information can only help.
  3. The psychologist should also provide more than a pamphlet or business card with the local Autism Society’s number on it.  Again, there should be a liaison from the local chapter of the Autism Society who offers to mentor parents, and again reaches out to the family, even if they don’t make the phone call themselves.
  4. When The Boy was born, the hospital put together a “parenting” group of several families who had had a first child around the same time, run by a more experienced, volunteer set of parents who would host monthly meetings on topics that are commonly on brand new parents’ minds.  Why not form a similar support group for parents of children who are all diagnosed around the same time?  Just like those with brand new babies and no instruction book, parents of kiddos on the spectrum are just as bewildered, and to have a group of other parents who are going through the same things would mean a world of support to these folks.  If our hospital could put it together for new parents, I don’t see why mental health professionals who diagnosis spectrum disorders couldn’t do the same.
  5. Parents should also be connected with an advocate, even if the child is still a toddler.  While it is a great idea to have a personal connection to the school system, one has to remember that schools don’t have much money, and if they can save money by not offering a service, they will.  Indeed many times, parents aren’t even aware of the types of services schools can and should provide.  I worked for a school district that encouraged its special education teachers to gloss over any mention of extended school year services (ESY) during IEPs, and as a result didn’t run any type of an ESY program.  A personal connection to an advocate will begin the process of educating the parents about their own child’s educational needs, sometimes in spite of what the school may say they need.

I think we have found that it really does take a village to raise a child, even more so a child on the spectrum.  Why do we continue to make every parent with a newly diagnosed kiddo re-create the wheel?  The trails left by those who have gone before are there – I know because we made them.  But they need guides to find them, and it begins with the conversation that happens immediately after the psychologist says, “He has autism.” Maybe there are some health professionals already doing this.  I sure hope so.  If their aim is to truly help those in need, one would think they would have already thought of these ways of connecting with others in the community who can provide a support network – ready guides to help parents of the newly diagnosed to find the paths blazed by those of us who have already done it the hard way.

5 Ways to Support the Newly Diagnosed

finding the path after diagnosis of autismI often think back to the day we got The Boy’s diagnosis.  The ex and I went our separate ways – he went back to work, and I drove to a nearby Kmart parking lot to process (i.e. cry my eyes out, hyperventilate, ask myself over and over “What are we going to do?” and eventually call a close friend to talk me through it.  Thank God for her.) The psychologist we had seen had written “Autism Society of America” on the back of a business card, suggested we look them up, and said goodbye.

Once I collected myself, I still didn’t know what I needed, or what our next steps were.  As I think most do, I went to the internet.  Unfortunately, the internet is a big place, and I’m not sure the right tools and support are readily accessible to someone doing their first post-diagnosis search.

So how can we support parents who are new to this whole kit and caboodle?

1.  Support local nonprofits that directly help our kiddos.  The more those groups are supported, the more visible they can be in the community, and the more likely it will be that someone hearing that diagnosis for the first time will recognize the group as a resource they can use.  This means supporting them with money, with attendance at events and workshops, and with your volunteer hours.  Yes, volunteer hours.  It may seem like we have the perfect excuse not to volunteer, but we have to give back if only to our own community – if we don’t, who will?

2.  Make your presence known at the school.  Kids with a new diagnosis will have parents with questions.  They will most likely be asking those questions at the school. If you have maintained a good relationship with staff while dealing with the school, they may just see you as a resource for parents who are new to this whole shindig, and may pass your name along.  Or if there is a group of you parents, even a social group, that goes for you, too.  Schools really do want to help, and may attempt to connect someone with questions to those who may have answers (that’s you!).

3.  Use social media to post “the good stuff” to your friends, and encourage them to share it.  Parents who have questions will inevitably be some of your friends, or friends of friends, and so on.  The more “the good stuff” gets shared and posted, the more people will see it, the more it will be found by those searching for it.  That’s how the interwebs works for good.

4.  When they come to your group, be welcoming.  You may think this goes without saying, but groups are a funny thing.  Sometimes, a group can get an attitude with newbies, and can be judgmental. You don’t have to like everyone who comes to the group for help and support, but the fact remains they need help (and they may need more help than others!).

5.  Respect the process.  People react differently to the news of a diagnosis.  Some will immediately seek out others for help, while others will remain private and need to sort through things on their own.  Don’t be pushy.  Allow them to come to terms with it, and just be a friend.  Just knowing there are others who are going through what you are going through goes a long way, especially at the beginning.

Special needs parents have many, many roles.  One of them should be “guide to others who have just joined the group.”  What would you add to this list?

The Boy is Back

The Boy, still sleeping, catching up from Spring Break at his dad's

The Boy, still sleeping, catching up from Spring Break at his dad’s

The Boy is back and seemingly had a good time.  And I am glad.  I’m glad there were no emergency phone calls asking me what to do because he is having a meltdown.  I’m glad it sounds like they actually spent time together, which hasn’t been the case in the past.  And it’s early days yet, but I’m glad that The Boy seems to be happy to be home, with no lingering ill-effects like cat scratches covering his hands, or a fear of the bathtub.

I am happy to have him back, and I am happy he had a good time.

That does not mean that I trust things with his dad have changed.  While setting up this trip, his dad talked about taking him to Disney in May, because he knows someone who works at Discovery Cove and could get “us” into all the parks for free – you see, he wanted The Man and I to share in this adventure, most likely because he wanted us to drive The Boy down to Orlando to meet him.  I asked him not to mention this idea to The Boy, and told him May wouldn’t work, as The Boy is still in school at that time.  When we met for drop-off, the ex explained that it would have to be postponed, and that the cost of Discovery Cove would be $150 each for he and The Boy, and if The Man and I wanted to go it would cost us $400 a piece, so maybe we wouldn’t want to do that.

So says the ex, who is almost $800 behind in child support.

So you see, I am happy this trip was able to happen.  I am happy The Boy seemed to have a good time.  But not for one second do I think things have really changed.  Not for one second do I believe the ex is done hurting The Boy, albeit unintentionally.  Plans will continue to be cancelled, phone calls left unmade, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera…  Maybe it’s pessimistic, and distrustful, but it’s also evidence-based, and I am too protective a mom to think otherwise.

Peter Pan Keeps Coming Back

Will he never grow up?  Will he never learn to manage his anger?  Will he ever learn that I just don’t play that way?

Cover of 1915 edition of J. M. Barrie's novel,...

Ah, yes.  The Angry Ex has returned, texting me today, all nicey-nice about a couple of favors he needs from me.  The check is in the mail, but will I send a short paragraph to his potential mortgage lender about how he pays child support regularly?  And can I send him a copy of our divorce papers?

Number 1: He doesn’t pay child support regularly, so he is asking me to lie in exchange for money that he already owes his own son.  Number 2: We are divorced, and keeping track of his paperwork is no longer my responsibility (like it ever was?).

When I first spoke to an attorney about the possibility of divorce, the attorney told me that so many of his cases were against “Peter Pan” – guys who just never grew up.  The ex in my case seems to be Peter Pan’s darker twin brother, because when I won’t play along and do what he expects me to do, he gets angry, verbally abusive, and retaliates by not speaking and/or seeing his son.

At first he was fine with me not making copies of the divorce papers.

And then he called.  As soon as I heard my phone (I have a special ringtone, just for him), I knew that I would be asked for another “favor”, and not that he was actually calling to talk to his son, with whom he hasn’t spoken in two weeks, and then only because The Boy called him.  He explained that he was in a “time crunch” and asked if I would scan in the divorce papers and email them to him.  I told him I really didn’t have the time, and he hung up on me.

As if that hurts me in some way.

Nope, he’ll never grow up.

“We won’t grow up!
We will never grow a day
And if someone tries to make us
We will simply run away” ~ Peter Pan

The Angry Ex: Personal Attacks

The ex hasn’t paid child support since November.  I know how the system works, and at the two month mark, I called our state system and asked what we could do.  The lady on the phone initiated action, and told me to expect notification of the action in the mail in four to six weeks.  In the meantime, the promises from the ex rolled in, explaining that he was supposed to get his tax refund, so I should see the full amount owed in the account as of this Friday (and to let him know when it posted).  And then it was, OK, it should be in there this Friday.  And then there was no text or phone call for a couple of weeks (and, funny enough, no money, either!).

Today, a payment of $100 showed as being posted.  I admit I poked the bear, but sometimes I have to tell it like it is.  I texted him, “So, not the full amount, huh?”  I just get tired of the incessant lies, and he did ask me to report about what was posted…

What came next was a barrage of personal attacks and excuses, trying to explain the various payments he claims to have made, and asking me if his girlfriend’s kids should suffer so that I could be more comfortable.  You know one of those “1 of 3” texts.

Oh, I was tempted to respond in kind, but instead, I stuck with the facts.  I reported to him that the money he said he had deposited hadn’t posted, and that we had only seen $100 on our end.

He retorted with even more personal attacks and excuses, and I didn’t respond (but I did take a screenshot of the texts!).

You see, even though the personal attacks were directed at me, they weren’t about me.  He has anger issues, he enjoys conflict, and is quick to blame anyone else besides himself for his situation.  This time it was his girlfriend’s car troubles.  Next time it will be something (or someone) else.  In any case, it’s not my problem.  He has a financial responsibility to his son, and that’s not going to go away.

And I got my copy of the notification of action taken against him today.  I’m so glad I’m not alone in holding him responsible.

Pity and Forgiveness

sad

sad (Photo credit: Kalexanderson)

I’ve been thinking a lot about forgiveness.  As I’ve written before, I find it hard to forgive the ex for the constant disappointment he  inflicts on The Boy.  When he cancels a week of visitation, when he only makes time to see him 4 weeks out of every 52, it is difficult to control the “mama bear” instinct inside of me that wants to thrash him within an inch of his life.  When I have to hold my son while he cries because “it’s too far” for his dad to come and pick him up, forgiveness is probably the furthest thing from my mind.  And I know forgiving him would be healthier for me.  But it is one of the most difficult of my internal struggles.

Today, though, after receiving a text from the ex on Friday saying that due to getting his tax refund back, all of his arrearages in child support will be paid in full as of next Friday, and that he would call The Boy on Saturday (he didn’t)… Today, I find I feel pity.  Pity that the man has a college degree, and is almost 40, but cannot hold a job long enough to prevent this situation.  Pity that his anger sometimes controls his actions, never for the good.  Pity that he just can’t get his sh– straight.  Pity that he just has no clue about what he is missing.

And I suppose pity is closer to forgiveness, right?

But What Do I Do?

I spent some time on divorce forums after the split, hoping to find a community, mostly to help me work through my anger and hostility toward my ex.  I knew it wasn’t healthy for me to feel this way, and I still had some raw emotions, even though we hadn’t really loved each other in a long, long while.  In those forums, people would inevitably post questions about what to do when…

  • their ex didn’t pay child support
  • their ex didn’t show up for visitation
  • their ex yelled at them on the phone
  • their ex didn’t call enough
  • their ex cancelled plans at the last minute
  • their ex brought the girlfriend to parent-teacher conferences

and so on, and so on…

“But what do I do??” they would plead.

After awhile, even I knew the answer to every single question like this:  “Nothing!”

You do not have control over your ex.  You can’t make him (or her) do (or not do) anything.  The only thing you can control is your reaction to his/her actions. (Notice I didn’t say feelings – you can’t control feelings, and anything you feel is natural – let it be).  The ex doesn’t pay child support?  Find a way to live without it, and keep track.  Find out what your state agency will do for you and when.  Give them a friendly phone call and ask for enforcement.  The ex doesn’t show up for visitation?  Have a back up plan (always), and use it.  The ex yells at you on the phone?  Hang up.  The ex doesn’t call enough?  His/her loss.  (This is a hard one, when you know your child may be hurting.  Help them to know how much they are loved, use a backup plan, and know that in the end, your child will learn valuable lessons from this, and love you even more for being there for them).  The ex cancels plans?  Use your resources to cover childcare if necessary, and use your backup plan.  The ex brought the girlfriend to conferences?  In the whole scheme of things, it probably isn’t that big of a deal.  In any case, it’s out of your control, and as much as it is hard to accept sometimes, worrying about things that are not in your control is a waste of energy.  Save it for the big battles.

That being said, you can cordially express your displeasure with the ex about any of these things.  But don’t expect an appropriate, cordial response.  Document everything, know your rights, and if they are being violated (or your parenting agreement is not being met, etc.), step up and say something.  But always ask yourself if you are really just trying to control the situation.  Trying to control your ex will get you nothing but a headache.