My Reflection

This morning, pulling out after dropping The Boy off at Grammy’s, I actually thought, “Why do we always have rough mornings when I am the most stressed?”

I must be new here.

Autism knows no time schedule. It doesn’t take a break because I have a million things to do between now and this weekend, and not enough hours in the day to do them. Nor does it sit back and say, “Your right. This is completely irrational and poorly timed.” It is what it is, whenever the hell it wants to be.

But there’s more to it than that. The Boy doesn’t get upset and wound up in spite of my stress. He gets upset and wound up because of it. There’s no lack of empathy – that’s a complete myth. There is an overabundance of it. The Boy picks up on my stress, nervousness, anxiety, and mirrors it right back to me.

For some reason, this is a lesson I find myself having to re-learn again and again. Someday I’ll catch on.

stress by bottled_void

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Today is the Day

Today is The Boy’s last day of 8th grade, of middle school, of being anything but a teenager. He’s excited. I’m excited. We’re all excited. And a little wistful, too. Even The Boy exclaims, “How did we get here?” and “How did this happen?” I tell him time flies, and if you blink, you miss it. I tell him all those old cliches, those that have been around so long they must be true. It sure feels that way.

Where is the 5 pound 6 ounce baby I was holding in my arms yesterday?

Where is the toddler who got away from me in the department store and hid in the middle of a clothes rack?

Where is the preschooler who couldn’t wait for the water to warm up to get into the small pool we had bought, and whose smiling lips turned blue?

Where is the 2nd grader who kicked his classmates?

Where is the 4th grader who sang the Star Spangled Banner at the high school football game with his choir?

Where is my 7th grader who began to have crushes on girls?

Who is this extra man in my house who is taller than me, requires shaving at regular intervals, and has hands and feet bigger than his dad’s? Who can barely fit on the couch if he stretches out on it? Who “practices” driving every time we get into the car?

Ah, yes. He’s my son, even though I can’t possibly be old enough for it to be true. My son. And me over here? The one with a bit of dust in her eye? I’m one proud mom.

finding our own path

 

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? 😉

The Handoff

A co-worker asked how my weekend was, and I think I responded something like, “Meh.”  Because it was a nice weekend, and The Man and had a tiny vacation, but I had to give up The Boy, so there’s that.  The truth is I hate giving him up, but I have an undying hope that he will be able to salvage something of a relationship with his dad at some point, and so I know this is good.  Or has the potential of being good.  But having him gone is like not having an arm for a week.

And so, while the weekend was a nice little getaway, and I could do nothing but smile at The Boy’s insistent questions (“How much longer?  Are we there yet?  I wonder what kind of lights Dad’s new car will have…”) and statements (“I can’t wait to see the new puppy!”), it still just sucks and my emotions are a little raw, a little closer to the surface.  I will (and already do) miss being a mom, at least in the active sense, this week.

Here’s to hoping it goes by quickly, uneventfully, and as painlessly as possible.  Tomorrow’s another day.

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There’s This Mom

I’ve joined an autism society group in our community, and made quick friends of the few that are the do-ers (every group has a few people who do everything, while the majority… well, don’t).  Recently we had a “support group” meeting, which has been more like a friendly get-together at someone’s house, and we also set up a group Halloween event so the kids could trick or treat in a friendly neighborhood.

These were the first encounters I had with one particular mom, who has a teenage daughter on the spectrum.  The daughter is incredibly sweet, but is overly demonstrative, which can make people uncomfortable.  Her mom reminded her that shaking hands is more appropriate than hugging people when you first meet them, but she continued to hug everyone, multiple times.  No big deal here, and it cam off as rather sweet.

Mom, however, also veered into inappropriateness at the meeting, describing her daughter’s voice as screeching and unbearable, and voicing many times how she would just like to get away from her.  Now these are things we all may have thought at one point to ourselves, but not voiced aloud.  In any case, I worried for her while she rubbed others the wrong way that evening.

Key

Key, zebble

On Halloween night, things took a turn for the worse.  The daughter attempted to hug every person who gave her candy that evening, leaving the dads from the group (who had volunteered to take all of the kids out) at a loss for what to do, surreptitiously calling and texting their wives for advice.  The mom who had stayed behind with the other moms was oblivious, I think.  A group of kids (her daughter included) returned to hang out inside the house, while the moms continued to hang out on the porch, chatting and passing out candy.  While the daughter continued her inappropriate displays of affection, now centered on an 8th grade boy on the spectrum inside the house, the mom continued to make her bizarre and inappropriate statements on the porch.  At one point, the daughter went to change clothes, but found the car locked.  She called to her mom that the car was locked, and her mom yelled back for her to “come get the damn keys.”

The mom who was hosting us that night took note of that exchange, and also took note of the PDA happening in the house, because the 8th grader happened to be her son, and finally pulled the mom into the kitchen to discuss the behaviors we had all witnessed.  I’m not sure what happened in its entirety, but I know she did it with tact and care.  I believe the mom and the daughter left shortly after that.

Here’s where I get uncomfortable.  I completely support the hosting mom’s actions.  To ignore the behaviors would not help anyone.  And I firmly believe she did it in the right way.  But this mom clearly needs help and support, for her daughter’s sake if not for her own.  A mom voicing thoughts like that is very near a breaking point, I believe, and maybe it’s not within the realm of this group to help someone that has reached that point.  But maybe it is.  Maybe we do a disservice to her and those like her by being so informal in our approach, by assuming friendship with everyone.  We shouldn’t have to like her to help her.

What do you think?

Blended Boys

Blending families is an ongoing journey, even when you only have one school-age child.  Differences in parenting styles become apparent fairly quickly, and when your child has special needs, it can be even more challenging.  We have been lucky — The Man and I dated long-distance for several years, which gave us an opportunity to glimpse each other’s parenting styles and transition to a blended parenting style over time.  To say that it’s a finished product would not be right – it continues to evolve, but it’s functioning, and a positive thing for The Boy to have two parents in our home.

The Man continues to learn about The Boy and his challenges.  It can be unfortunate sometimes to have a disorder like autism, because it isn’t oustwardly visible, and people who don’t know will judge, while even people who do know will forget, myself included.  Not forget that he has autism, but forget The Boy’s struggles and needs, even if momentarily.  This happens with The Man from time to time, but we continue to communicate and progress on our journey.

The Man is a natural-born dad — he doesn’t know it, but sometimes I almost burst into happy tears at his small gestures towards The Boy.  He doesn’t even realize that he is doing things for The Boy that have never been done for him before.  And I have found that the one best thing for their growing relationship has been to force them together without me for awhile.  I have had to leave for work for a few hours on each weekend, and they have gotten to hang out a lot more this month.  And you know what?  We’ve had fewer meltdowns from everyone involved.

Yesterday, The Man pulled into the yard, home from work, and immediately grabbed our knock-around bike from the shed to go join The Boy who was riding around the neighborhood with some other kids.  And I watched, with those happy-tears in my eyes.

The Boys

5 Tips to Being the Best Mom Ever

I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I did have the best mom ever, so I have some familiarity with the subject.  This list is from the perspective of a mom of a tween, so bear that in mind.  I still think it applies at many levels of development (both yours and his):

  1. Never stop showing them how much you love them.  I’m lucky that The Boy still allows me to hug him, kiss his face, and cuddle him from time to time.  He even holds my hand sometimes!  I tell him I love him when I wake him up, when I say goodnight, and any other time I feel like it.  To me, it never loses its meaning.
  2. Try to remember what it’s like.  The Boy is in middle school, and unfortunately, I remember middle school.  No one wants to re-live it because it’s not a fun time for anyone.  When I can remember this, I am much more compassionate towards him.
  3. Put down the phone.  Step away from the TV.  I still struggle with this, and truthfully, he does, too.  But we have so much more fun, and make so many more memories when we spend time together, often outside, doing stuff.  And that’s what builds relationships.
  4. Make him a priority.  Notice I didn’t say the highest priority.  But moms need to be involved and know what’s going on in a child’s life.  If you don’t know every teacher’s name, and who he gets along with best, you’re behind.  You don’t need to be a nuisance (like I am becoming, albeit for very good reasons), but you need to show through your actions that you are present, to both your child, and the school.  Education works so much better that way.  Trust me.
  5. Try not to take it personally.  When he gets snippy or disrespectful, doesn’t want to hold your hand, or seems aloof, it isn’t you.  He’s figuring it all out, so give him the space to do so, while realizing that every kid does this.  He still loves you, and may even like you 😉  Conversely, when his behavior needs to be corrected, take the personal out of it.  Pretend you are the teacher (you know — the one that can’t scream back at a kid or curse) calmly trying to teach him a lesson about life… Because that’s exactly what you are.

As I said, I don’t claim to be the best mom ever, but I’m the best one The Boy’s ever had 😉  I’ve seen a lot of good moms during my time in the classroom, and I had the best mom ever growing up.  The biggest thing to remember is this:

No one is the best every day.  Just keep trying.

Your kids will love you for it.

Winter at the Beach

Reflections on an IEP Meeting

Our IEP meeting was Thursday, and I felt like we accomplished something, but I’m reserved in my enthusiasm…  More of a wait-and-see attitude about it all.

The good:

  • They agreed to implement his IEP as it came from our previous state, to the best of their ability
  • They agreed that training for the teachers in modifications and accommodations was necessary immediately
  • The teachers seemed to support his need for an aide
  • We finally fixed his schedule so that he would no longer have two math classes
  • They will be adding ASD-specific life skills to his schedule to replace the math
  • They will be looking for some sort of computer for him to use for assignment
  • They will begin to actually implement his IEP, and the ASD specialist commented several times that this was overdue

The not-so-good, of the “shake my head” variety:

  • The teachers kept bringing up common autistic traits, “He won’t talk to me,” or “He won’t do his work, even after being directed”
  • The principal asked me point-blank, “He won’t verbalize it if he needs something??”
  • They are going to do more testing, including a psychological and intelligence (IQ) test, even though he was thoroughly evaluated this spring in his old district, simply because the new state requires these other tests
  • My concerns about organization help and communication were not addressed as specifically as I’d like them to be
  • They included a note about following his IEP “to the best of their ability”

I think I was heard, I think they have a better idea of what needs to be done, I think I’m not “that woman” anymore.  I don’t know to what extent they will follow through on their promises, and they have a great deal to learn about autism in general, and my son, specifically.

I hope we accomplished something.  I hope…

IEP documentation

Amidst the Angst, I’m Really Thankful

I know lots of people do “Thankful Thursday” posts, but I wanted to pause in my week-long rant/neurosis/panic attack about The Boy and our concerns with his current schooling situation to express how really lucky I am.

  • I’m so happy that we’ve moved.  We have a very, very nice home that is paid for – no mortgage, no rent.  This has allowed me to avoid panicking about still being virtually unemployed.
  • I’m so happy to be married to my husband.  We waited a long time to be together on a daily basis, and now that we are, I still have to pinch myself from time to time.
  • I’m so grateful to have a partner to help me with the daily routine.  He’s still learning about The Boy, especially now that we are all in such close proximity, but it’s not all on me anymore, which was a heavy burden to bear.
  • I’m so happy that we are so close to my parents.  They are some of my closest friends on the planet, and having them 15 minutes away is something I haven’t had in a long, long time (and The Boy hasn’t ever had!).
  • I’m thankful that I have enough in the bank to lean on until I start getting paid regularly, and until I find a more meaningful, full-time position.
  • I’m really grateful that I have the time, background, and fortitude to do what’s apparently necessary for my son’s education.
  • I’m so thankful that my son had such a good education up north, which has shown us that he is capable, and that he has this solid foundation on which to build in middle and high school.
  • I’m happy that my son is apparently enjoying middle school, even if he isn’t getting everything out of it that he could be right now.
  • I’m really glad to have a fledgling support network down here: even though I don’t know many people, I have hooked up with some great people in our local Autism Society chapter who have been so helpful to answer questions and offer support.
  • And I am so thankful for my boy.  He makes me laugh just about every day, even on the days he makes my head spin, and my eyes roll.  I don’t know where I’d be without him!

Deep breath.  I have a lot to be thankful for! 😀

Happy at the Beach

First Day

The backpack is packed, and the clothes sorter is full.  The new fake glasses have had their lenses popped out.  New shoes, men’s size 8, have been purchased, and as far as I can tell, we are as ready for The Boy’s first day of 6th grade, first day at a new school, as we will ever be.  I know what time I want to leave tomorrow morning down to the minute, and I know the times for everything on our agenda up to that point.  And I know what time to be at the school for pickup to avoid traffic in the parking lot.

I just don’t know what will happen in between drop-off and pickup.

I hope it’s a bunch of patient people, friendly faces, compassion, competence, and good experiences.

Good luck to all the students and teachers heading back to school, and to the helpless but hopeful parents left behind!

The Boy's self portrait

The Boy’s self portrait