New Member of The Boy’s Tribe

The Boy adores his new summer day camp. They go swimming at the community pool three times a week, he has friends from school who attend, and they play Wii bowling – what’s not to love?

He also has a new member of his tribe. The camp director is a high school special education teacher from another school in the community, and she is amazing. Wanna know how I know? The Boy gets a huge smile on his face when I mention her, and he doesn’t do that for everyone.

wood-lighting-creativity-paper

As I mentioned yesterday, he’s having some anxiety over absences again, exacerbated by one of his close friends being ambivalent about camp and intermittent with his attendance. Not only did the camp director figure out a way to entice his friend to come to camp (allowing him to do a few magic shows at camp), she has figured out a strategy to alleviate some of The Boy’s anxiety. She reasoned that his anxiety stems from not having control over whether or not others are absent, so why not allow him a little control over something else?

She said he is always letting her know when supplies are low (which is great because the staff does not), so she could have him do a daily inventory of supplies (and even campers!) with a clipboard. By allowing him input in tracking, it may alleviate some of his anxiety.

This, THIS, is the sign of a great teacher. One who actively thinks about her students and their needs, even outside of school (or camp) hours, and devises needs-based strategies to help them with their daily functioning and emotional state.

So, welcome to the tribe, Camp Director! The Boy can spot the good ones a mile away. Now we just have to get you to come over to our high school 😉

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And Then

Yesterday, I wrote about the huge meltdown The Boy had on Thursday night.

And then…

On Friday, I was a mess. After the boys left in the morning, I took a deep breath and then began to cry. I journaled, because writing usually helps. I cried off and on the whole time I was getting ready for work. And I can usually talk myself down, saying, “Ok, you have to go to work now, and you can’t cry at work, so time is up. Dry your tears, and let’s get going.” That did not work on Friday, and there were a couple of moments I had to use a paper towel on my desk to wipe my tears. I texted a friend about how awful I felt.

black-and-white-person-woman-girl

It’s like the hangover after a binge. It’s inevitable, you can’t control it, and you really can’t make it go away until it’s ready to go away.

This is why people say that parenting a chid on the spectrum is like having PTSD. I think in my case, it’s more accurate likening it to chronic stress. Either way, it’s not a good thing, and we who deal with it have to be real careful not to ignore it.

To myself and others who deal with this kind of thing:

  1. Take the day off, if you can. It adds more stress to try to be “on” for others and shut those emotions out, and if you can give yourself a day to recover and process, then please do it.
  2. If you can’t take “the day after” off work, at least take it easy, and find something to take your mind off the meltdown. Replaying it over and over in your mind doesn’t usually do much good.
  3. Pat yourself on the back for doing the best you could under the circumstances. You and I both know people who would not be able to do what we do.
  4. Plan some sort of treat for yourself during the day. Something to look forward to, and something positive.
  5. When you have time, express it somehow. Journal, paint, talk to loved ones and friends who get it. Write a letter to yourself and send it, or burn it. Do something with all of that. If you don’t do this, it will fester.
  6. Make sure you are taking time for yourself somehow in your daily life. I know how difficult it can be, but even if you lock yourself in the bathroom for half an hour a week to read magazines, you just have to find some time for yourself to get away from the relentless needs of your child. I think this step helps us find strength when the big ones hit, too.

This is just my advice, from my experience. It’s not an exhaustive list, and frankly, I’m working on many of these, too. Meltdowns are difficult for the kiddo, and the parents, and aftershocks can be felt for days, weeks, and months afterwards. They’re not going going to go away, but we can mitigate the effects with a plan in place. That’s what we autism parents are best at, right? Planning? 😉

Under the Surface

Kiddos on the spectrum process emotion differently than us neurotypicals.

“Duh,” you might say. And I would agree, but sometimes I forget how deeply this runs through my own kiddo.

Last week, I got notification from Fantastic Babysitter that they were most likely going to have to put their kitty down.  She was getting old and not feeling well, and not getting any better, and she was worried about The Boy.  I was too, because sometimes the death of an animal seems to hit him harder than the death of a human being, which is typical for those on the spectrum (“kitty” was his first word, after all).

One of our old kitties who is in kitty heaven now

One of our old kitties who is in kitty heaven now

I approached the subject with him and let him know that the kitty in question would probably be going to kitty heaven soon.  He asked why, and I explained that as animals and humans get older, their bodies fail them, and they start to get sick.  Sometimes, when animals get so sick, we put them to sleep so they can go play and run and chase mice with their friends in kitty heaven.  We talked about how it would be cool for Fantastic Babysitter’s kitty to go play with our old kitties in heaven, and that she would be happy there.  He had some questions, and I answered them to the best of my ability.  He seemed a bit bothered, but also seemed to handle it with grace.

I reassured Fantastic Babysitter that The Boy was ok, and we were sad for her. It’s never easy to let a pet go, but we had been through it a couple of times, so it shouldn’t be too Earth-shattering for The Boy.

And everything seemed ok.

But then, some other things went wrong in The Boy’s world last week, and the death of the kitty seemed to come back up to the surface and tip the scales, sending him off the edge.  You see, taken by itself, the absence of his friend-who-is-a-girl on Friday would have been upsetting, but not on-the-verge-of-a-meltdown all weekend.  But add the death of the kitty (which obviously affected him more than I could tell on the surface), and it gets to be too much to process.

Everyone is leaving him, he thought.

And for a kid that actually has been left behind by a parent, any dumba** could see the potential for meltdown.

I’m glad I have enough perspective to be able to understand in hindsight what contributes to his frame of mind. Maybe someday I’ll be able to predict a bit better to help him head off some of these catastrophic feelings.

Always a process, always learning.

Tightly Wound Today

I’m aggravated.  Today was A MONDAY at work, and the boss was aggravated, making everyone else aggravated.  And I keep spelling aggravated wrong… seriously.  It has been A. DAY.  I am so glad it is almost over.

So how do you let go when you get wound up?  It’s not fair to your family to sit and seethe all evening long.  The whole reason we work is so that we can support our families, but if we don’t also get to enjoy them, it isn’t worth it.

Here are some things that work for me:

  1. Breathe.  You think you are, but you’re not.  You are taking little tiny shallow breaths that don’t even come close to filling up your lung capacity.  Try it.  Take a deep breath and let it out slowly.  Amazing how much better you feel, huh?  Our brains need oxygen, and they feel better when they are getting a good and steady supply.  Those tiny little breaths we slip into just don’t cut it.
  2. Take a moment to un-clench.  Many, many times when I do this, I can only imagine what I looked like before taking deep breaths and un-clenching – my shoulders must have been up around my ears!  No wonder I get killer  shoulder/neck/headaches…  I read somewhere to think of yourself as an unwinding spool of thread when you want to unwind – go figure!  Try it.  It works for me.
  3. Laugh.  Go back and look at the photos you’ve taken with your phone, go to a funny website that has been proven to make you laugh out loud (damnyouautocorrect or cakewrecks work for me!), or watch something light and funny like AFV (America’s Funniest Home Videos).  After you’ve been giggling for a bit, you will find yourself naturally breathing deeper and un-clenching, i.e. letting go of the stress.
  4. Treat yourself well.  Tell yourself it’s OK to be aggravated (nope, still spelled it wrong) or stressed, but that whatever’s on your mind can wait until you get back to work (or the aggravating situation).  And then eat a piece of chocolate, give yourself a mini-hand massage, or close the door and be by yourself for a few minutes (always a treat in my house!).  You work hard, and you deserve to be rewarded for it.
  5. Talk about it with your spouse or a good friend.  Getting support from the people who mean the most to you will take the sting out of your stress, I promise.  But don’t dwell on it.  Let it out, and let it go.

These are already helping me, tonight.  What works for you?  Let us know in the comments.

Yes, please...

Yes, please…

Is it Time to Call a Spade a Spade?

I described the ex’s latest cancellation the other day, and The Boy’s reaction.  I am always the one who has to relay the news to The Boy, and I am the one left to field questions to which I have no answers.  I am the one to deal with the acting out that quite often happens after one of these cancellations.

The ex will never change, but does that mean I shouldn’t try to show him what he’s missing, and what he is doing to our son?

English: : A mirror, reflecting a vase. Españo...

Time to hold up a mirror so he can self-reflect?…

I’m thinking of sending him a text (he doesn’t even access his email, and I don’t want to get into it with him on the phone) to point out that he hasn’t seen his son in eight months, and to ask him to imagine not having his own dad around for that long a time period.  Explain that I understand money is tight, and that he has a hard time taking work off, but that if he saved a bit out of every paycheck, and told his boss months in advance (instead of days), he might be able to swing it.  Ask him to stop “trying” to make plans and only tell The Boy he will see him when he is sure he can.  Point out that his son is sad and angry at him, and that he deals with this by acting out, often at school.

He will undoubtedly get angry and not speak to The Boy for months after I send it, because that is his MO.  But I feel I have the right to ask someone who continually hurts my son to take a moment to realize he is doing it, and to please stop.

I know he won’t change, but there’s a chance he has simply not given a thought to the effect of his absence and broken promises on his son.  And if there’s a chance, it’s worth trying, right?

Non-Warrior Pose

I’ve been in Warrior Mom mode since yesterday, sending emails to the school, rapid-fire (pew, pew, pew!), making phone calls to the county social services department to make sense of the mailings they sent in the wrong order, spending over an hour to modify an assignment for The Boy to do last night, and making an executive decision to skip Tuba practice as he fell asleep while doing said assignment.

And then the special soup I bought for dinner was gross, so I basically had cheese and crackers for my evening meal.  And I had to wait for the boys to use the microwave for their own dinners, and mine was last and turned out to be yucky anyway.

And the ex emailed with more promises to call later this week (yeah, right).

And then the cop directing traffic this morning looked at me funny…

and I burst into tears.

I sent another email this morning, and had planned to do some medical legwork since I didn’t get anyone from the county to answer my questions yesterday.  But I’m thinking I may just not.

I may just take a day to not fight the world.

I may do some yoga, may attempt to draw some more Zentangles.

I think I need to heed my own tears, spend some time in the sun, stop communicating with the sources of my frustrations, breathe, cry if necessary, but slow down and take a day with no anger or fear guiding my actions.

Sounds good, doesn’t it?

Golden Gate Tea Garden

Doozy of a Meltdown

Yes, we had a doozy the other night.  That tends to be the pattern with The Boy – really great for long periods of time, but when we have meltdowns, they are of the knock-down-drag-out variety.

And yet again, I don’t know that what happened the other night could be classified as a meltdown, but it sure left all of us reeling, and thankful it was over in the aftermath.

It started when The Boy’s netbook froze, and in his terms was “broken”, and couldn’t be fixed.  He would not allow me to look at it (go figure), even though I knew it was probably a quick fix.  He moaned about his computer for quite awhile, continuing to get ramped up.  Then he apparently attempted to facetime Grammy, and was unsuccessful, so he threw his iPad…

Yup.  Threw it.

The Boy loves his iPadThe screen already had a hairline fracture from when he accidentally dropped a piece of fiestaware on it several months ago.  This latest assault was much more aggressive, and caused MUCH more damage.  To the point I had to hide it, because I didn’t want The Boy to get hurt from the glass shards…  Bleh.  When it happened, he began wailing and screaming, as if his best friend had died.

Needless to say this went on for yet another while (past bedtime), and for many hours, we went through the cycle of me desperately trying to calm him down, getting him calm and leaving the room, and then hearing wailing again after 15 minutes or so.  We were doing this until after midnight.

It was important not to get upset with him for breaking it.  The last thing he would want to do in the world is break his iPad, so he clearly didn’t understand what would happen if he threw it (or didn’t realize through his haze of anxiety and anger until it was too late).  The iPad being damaged and out of commission for the time being is consequence enough.  I don’t need to throw my disappointment and additional punishment on top of that.

He is a much happier camper now, as I have given him a clear timeline on how we are going to solve the problem, and have been repeating it to him consistently.  It will take a few days for Mom to do research about the details of getting it fixed, no one is throwing it away (he is very scared of this), and then we will make some decisions about how we are going to go about it.  He will be working to pay for at least half of the repair, and I have told him that, as well.  Never hurts to throw in a lesson about the value of a dollar. 😉

I’m glad he’s feeling better, because my heart hurt for him the other night.

Eye Contact – Not His, Mine

English: 0I’ve noticed that on bad mornings, or during and after a public meltdown, that I avoid eye contact with pretty much everyone I come into contact with.  Some would say that reaction is a clear indication of embarrassment, I guess, but it isn’t — I’m not at all embarrassed by my son and his autism.  That’s who he is, and it isn’t going to change.  It’s nothing to be embarrassed about, because we can’t control it, we can only manage it to the best of our ability.  And sometimes that’s not enough to avoid disrupting our lives and those around us.

I think this natural reaction of mine is so that I can avoid reading other people’s emotions about it.  Whether they are anxious, judgmental, sympathetic, or they pity us, I don’t really want to know.  I don’t have time to care about their feelings about the situation.  I have to make sure The Boy is OK, and then keep it together until I can process my own feelings in a private environment, so that I can go about my day and do what needs to get done.  I don’t want to have to deal with them, too.

Maybe that seems harsh, but it’s a method of survival and coping that has developed naturally.  I can’t take care of everybody else.  My son and my owns self are my first priorities.