Time for the Truth

It’s common in the autism community to hear that as our kiddos get older, the challenges just change. They’re no more difficult or less difficult to handle, they are just different. That’s what you hear, and it’s supposed to be reassuring, I guess.

And maybe that’s the truth for some people. Maybe even most.

But I can’t say that’s been our experience. Things are harder now than they’ve ever been.

And maybe that’s not all autism’s fault. I’m sure the fact that I keep marrying losers who leave doesn’t help, and moving to a state that has substandard resources and a less than stellar educational system contributed. But at the end of the day, autism itself isn’t what has made things so difficult. It’s the anxiety.

Anxiety often shows up on the coattails of puberty, waving at you with a smug look on its face, saying, “I’m moving in and taking over now. Take a seat.” It shoves you down on the couch, flexes its muscles and commences to shattering and dismantling progress you’ve made, trust you’ve built, and your sense of safety.

The Boy is on medication for anxiety in addition to the meds he’s taken for a long time to help him focus at school. The medication helps. Most of the time. But there are times when the anxiety is too strong, and it combines with the confusion caused by being wired differently, and the roller coaster ride sets off. Every three minutes, a wild mood swing, sometimes accompanied by erratic behavior and lashing out, physically and verbally. And you just have to hang on for dear life until it ends, which is sometimes hours, sometimes days. And by “hang on,” I mean worry as hard as you’ve ever worried about your kiddo before.

And when things have calmed down, you find that you are a special kind of tired you’ve never been before. Physically and emotionally, a bone-weary tired that makes you fear going home because there might be a turnstile at the door, with another roller coaster ride waiting for you.

I’ve heard in the autism community that the anxiety lessens as they get older. And maybe it does for some people, maybe even most.

But what if it doesn’t for us?

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Dances, Dodgeball, and Decisions

The Boy is in 8th grade and has never been interested in any of the school dances – go figure. This past week, however, his school band had a Friday night “Bandathon” fundraiser, which was followed by dinner (pizza) and a dance.  Several weeks ago, I asked The Boy if he might be interested in staying for the dance…

“I’ll think about it,” he said.

In Boy-speak, this usually means no, kind of like when your mom said, “We’ll see,” back in the day.

When I brought it up again, I offered to chaperone if he wanted me to, and at that point he said, “I think I’d like to do that.”

!!!

I had no idea what type of dance this would be, so I thought I had better cover my bases, and ended up showing him how to slow dance with a girl in middle school, just in case the opportunity arose and he might want to ask one of his friends-who-are-girls to dance.

After the performance, and the pizza was inhaled, the band director spent the first hour of the “dance” reading off ticket numbers for prizes that had been donated for a raffle. He then turned on his computer, and played three or four songs over the speakers (a la “Cupid Shuffle”), started a game of dodgeball (??), and returned to calling off ticket numbers. That was the “dance”.

Dodgeball?

The important part was that The Boy had fun.  When the kids danced, he made some herky-jerky movements near them.  When they played dodgeball, he went out on the “court” and wandered around, throwing a ball when it was handed to him.  He got to show some of his hand-drawn pictures to his friends-who-are-girls, and play his DS a bit.  He was a happy camper, and that’s all that matters.

Life Gets In the Way

I wish I had a better excuse for not blogging. I wish I could say I won NaNoWriMo this year.  Unfortunately, life gets in the way sometimes, and, well, we’ve been having a rough go of it lately, behaviorally. It’s hard to write when you have no idea what is going on with your kid. It becomes harder to find time when you struggle to get him to do any homework at all, and really homework is torture for you, as well, and you just need some downtime.

But I’m not one for excuses, except to say that it is what it is. I have missed blogging, and it is something I need to do for my own well-being. Ergo, it shall be done. I may not write every day, but I will write, and I just hope that there are a few of you still out there to read it. If not, that’s ok, too.

Be prepared, though. I’m not going to sugarcoat it. Puberty + Autism = Nothing for the faint of heart. I sure hope puberty is the culprit here, because if this isn’t temporary and transitional… I’m not sure I’ll make it.

Thanks for sticking by me. I’m back on the wagon again.

The Formula

More and more, this school year, I am wondering what the heck The Boy is communicating through all of this behavior.  My sweet little boy is refusing to do work, refusing to go to class, refusing to go to school… like someone has flipped a switch. When we experience a negative behavior (i.e. when all hell breaks loose), after the initial shock (Who is that demon child and where did he put my son?), I am left to figure. Autism parents are familiar with this. Determine the trigger and try to eliminate or decrease it so you can better manage the fallout, and predict when it might happen again. Except when you cannot for the life of you figure out the trigger.  Could it be puberty? That magical ingredient that changes body chemistry and is our current prime suspect? Is it medication that needs tweaking? Is it a virus, which always makes The Boy’s behavior completely wonky? Is it someone at school making fun of him? Is it a teacher? Is it..? Is it..? We are trying to take this thing and try to determine its formula, its ingredients. And it’s a difficult, difficult thing.

Who are you and what have you done with The Boy??

Who are you and what have you done with The Boy??

Shared here at Mama Moments Mondays – check it out!

Baby Steps with Showering & Autism

The Boy hates to shower.  Well, like most kids he actually loves it once he’s in the water, but absolutely hates the idea of a shower or bath.  Compound that with the fact that he is super-sensitive about his body (i.e. can’t take a shirt off in front of me, and wears hoodies like they’re going out of style, even when it’s warm), and we have a constant battle on our hands to get clean.  And when puberty has hit, it is imperative for a boy his age to get clean, let me tell you.

He has also not had the skills to wash his own hair, which can be quite the challenge when he does everything in his power to hide his body from you.  For a few months, he would take his shower, and then I would wash his hair in the kitchen sink with the sprayer.  This became quite the production.

A few weeks ago, I finally decided to show him how to do this, embarrassment about his body be damned.  And I can tell you, he is learning.  The hardest part is getting him to back up far enough in the shower to get his entire head wet prior to applying the shampoo, and again to get the shampoo out.  I stand at one end of the shower, with the curtain held up so I “can’t see anything,” shouting out directions.  “Back up!  Tilt your head back!  Now turn your head to the right!”  I’m sure The Man is just shaking his head in the family room listening to it all, but it’s a learning process, and how the heck else are we going to do it?  I’ve thought about having him put his swim trunks on so I can climb in with him in my bathing suit, but…  Well, I’m not usually up for that after a long day at work, to be honest.  And besides, I think this is working.

I’ve also told him he needs to start taking more showers a week, because that’s what you have to do when you turn 12-and-a-quarter…

We’re getting there with baby steps, like usual.

Girls? Already?

One of the challenges we are working on with The Boy and school is organization.  He’s not getting much help at school, and as a result, a few papers are getting misplaced, and assignments will be finished but not turned in for several days.  Every afternoon, I go through The Boy’s backpack and shake my head at all of the things that were supposed to happen and didn’t.

Yesterday, I was going through his planner, and noticed some papers that had been returned from science (with smiley faces on them!), and behind those papers, I saw a piece of loose-leaf notebook paper.  Curious, I pulled it out and looked at it.

“Grillfriend” it said at the top.  I immediately recognized the handwriting and the spelling error…  It was from the girl who has been helping The Boy in his core classes – the one they use as an aide because they haven’t supplied him with one yet.

It went on to list her “mom’s phon” number, her “edres”, and the days she wanted The Boy to call.

I was at my mom’s house when I pulled this out, and remarked to her that The Boy might have a “grillfriend”.  Unbeknownst to me, he had just come into the room and replied, “She wants to be.”

Grammy and I exchanged amused looks – what a great response!  So I asked,”Did she ask you to be her boyfriend, or did she tell you?”

“She asked me.”

“Is she cute?” I asked, smiling.

“Yep!”

“Is she nice?  Well, we know she’s nice because she helps you in your classes.  What did you say?”

No response.

“Did you say anything back to her?  Did you tell her you’d think about it, or did you tell her ‘OK’?”

“I told her ‘OK’.”

All during this conversation, he was smiling, seemed a little embarrassed, but kind of proud – completely typical responses.

I wasn’t expecting this so freakin’ early.  I guess we’ll have to re-read that section of the puberty book to review what’s appropriate, and we’re going to have to talk about how to treat girls. GIRLS!  I’m surprised but also delighted at how The Boy is reacting to all this.  It’s all so stinkin’ cute.

Eleven and a Half

Twenhofel Middle SchoolEleven and a half is such a strange age.  He seems like a giant, adult-like person from a distance, and then I get closer (sometimes only when he’s sleeping), and he seems like such a little child, albeit in a body that is almost as tall as mine.

And his actions and emotions are equally dichotomous – sometimes very mature and sober, and others toddler-like and silly.  I’m sure I have a wistful, “Where did my baby go?” face, because he catches me looking at him and puts on his, “Mom, you’re looking at me weird” face.

The specter of Middle School is hitting me, because I am going to attempt to register him today.

Am I ready for this?  Is he?  It doesn’t matter because it’s happening whether we want it to or not.  He wants it to, and I…  I just want him to be happy and productive.  How many middle schoolers does that describe?  How many people want to re-live the good old days of middle school?  Very few.  I have a bit of experience with it after having taught there for almost half my life, and it is a struggle (at least in some fashion) for the great majority of the population.

I worry.  And I miss my baby.  And change is hard.  But he and I are strong people, and together with The Man, we’ll get through it.  Somehow.

Paranoia and Autism

Privacy keyboard

Privacy keyboard (Photo credit: g4ll4is)

One of the issues we have been dealing with increasingly since The Boy hit puberty is his over-the-top need for privacy.  He could be watching Spongebob videos on his iPad, but he just doesn’t want me to see what he’s doing.  Every time I open the door to his room, he scrambles to hide what he is watching or working on.  If he is drawing something (usually a Sonic-related cartoon), I cannot see while he is working on it.  Not until it’s finished.

The other day, The Boy wanted to print from his new-ish netbook, and it didn’t have our printer added to its list yet.  I knew this was a simple fix, but The Boy was adamant that he knew what I was up to, and didn’t want me to access his computer.  I assured him repeatedly that I wouldn’t open his current program, I just wanted to go to the settings panel and add the printer.

He turned into a cornered animal, raising his voice, escaping from me (I wasn’t trying to hold him anywhere, but I was trying to talk to him in one spot), with a few threats and name-calling thrown in for good measure (I was a “liar”).  I dropped it for a bit, allowing him to regain his composure, all the while talking to him about the best ways to deal with his anger, and that name-calling was always mean.

And then the switch inside his head got flipped, and he handed me his computer and all was well.  Total time invested?  About 20 or 25 minutes.  I’m glad it ended well, and I can only hope that these episodes will decrease once I prove that I am not a liar, and can be trusted not to invade his privacy.  This ultimate need for secrecy is a tough one to get used to, though.  I’m still trying to wrap my brain around it.

Baby Steps to Adulthood

Tonight, I had everything prepped for Hummus-Crusted Chicken, went into the fridge to get the hummus, and… no hummus.  How can you salvage that recipe?  Um, you can’t.  I know I bought some on the previous grocery trip, but somewhere along the line, the hummus jumped ship.  So what to do?  I needed to run to the store.

I offered to The Boy the option of staying home, as I have a few times before.  He has always said no, a little afraid of the responsibility, and convinced he isn’t old enough.  But tonight, he was contentedly watching Spongebob videos, and responded that, yes, he would like to stay home, while I took five minutes to run to the store and back.  I reminded him that he could face-time me from his iPad if he needed anything, and I took off.

The whole time, I felt like I had a weight on my chest, but I drove carefully, moved quickly and efficiently into and out of the store, and face-timed him on the way home.  “How ya doin’?”

“Fine.”

“What’re ya doin’?”

“Watching Spongebob.”

“I’m on my way home.”

“OK, Mom.”

“See you in a minute!”

“OK, see you in a minute.”

“Bye!”

“Bye, Mom.”

Movin' On UpAnd a minute later I was home.  “Are you home?” he said when he heard me come in the door.  I responded in the affirmative, told him how proud I was of him for being so mature and responsible, and he was visibly excited and proud of himself.

Will I be taking off by myself to the movies anytime soon?  Hell no.

But this is a proud mama moment for me.  This is a baby step toward adulthood for my little man.

Puberty: Review

GuideWell, The Boy and I just read through The Boys’ Guide to Growing Up by Terri Couwenhoven and I think it was a success.  I didn’t prep him too much, just told him I had a book I wanted to read with him.  We sat down on the couch and I showed him the cover, and we started reading.  At first, he was a little uncomfortable (what 11 year old boy wouldn’t be, reading about puberty with his mom?), especially at the illustrations, but as we kept going, he seemed to absorb the information, and be more comfortable talking about it with me.

It was a lot of information all at once (it took us about 20 minutes), and I know we will have to review a few times, but we did hammer home the difference between public and private, as well as who are the people in his life who are OK to answer questions about this type of thing.  These two things are the most important of all, I think, and this book does an excellent job explaining, as well as creating opening for discussion in both of these areas.

In my last post about this book, I mentioned that it doesn’t talk about sexuality, and it doesn’t.  However it does talk about having a crush, or sexual feelings toward another person, and what signals that person may give if they do not feel the same way.  It also talks about ways to manage these feelings, which I think is appropriate to add in a book like this.  I prefaced this subject with The Boy as being further down the road, in high school, maybe.

I felt like we had a successful conversation about the changes he is or is about to go through, and I feel like both of us are more prepared, which is about all I can ask from any book of this type.  I highly recommend this book as a way to start the conversation.