Tag Archives: autism

Taking Off The Parenting Hat To Go On A Date

22 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

The last time I saw a movie with my husband – a real movie, in a movie theatre, with a giant bucket of popcorn to share – my firstborn son was about a year old. Because we just had the one child back then, and because one-year-olds who aren’t yet fully mobile are easier to manage than hyperactive eight-year-olds, my ageing mother-in-law was able to babysit.

We have gone out on other occasions, of course. We are regular patrons of a nearby dinner theatre that’s run in a barn – if once or twice a year can be considered “regular”. We go to the annual Christmas gala organized by my employers, and on the odd occasion, we’ll go to a party or a wedding.

For the most part, though, our outings include the kids. We frequent parks with slides and swings, and we go to restaurants where the waitstaff bring paper cups filled with crayons along with menus that the kids are allowed to draw on.

I am always hearing and reading about the importance of a couple going out on their own to spend time just with each other. I fully subscribe to that idea, and from time to time my husband and I make a commitment to have a date night once a month. But the logistics are so difficult.

People often assume that living with my mother-in-law gives us a built-in babysitter whenever we need it, and while that may have been true to an extent at one time, it’s not anymore. My mother-in-law is almost eight years older now than she was when we went to the movie that time, and instead of having one one-year-old, we have a six-year-old and an almost nine-year-old.

Finding a trustworthy babysitter is hard enough for any parent. There’s something very frightening about entrusting the most valuable things in our lives to people who usually aren’t old enough to vote. And when one of those valuable things is a vulnerable special needs child, the angst about it increases ten-fold.

Most babysitters do not know how to handle a special needs child. We have to find people who have some understanding of autism, are quick on their feet, and have the physical strength and presence of mind to restrain a child for his own safety. If it’s someone who can take the time to actually get to know the child while I am home, so much the better.

Usually, it’s just easier for us to not go anywhere by ourselves at all. But then our relationship definitely starts to take strain, because we are not paying enough attention to nurturing our relationship. Eventually, because of our increasing levels of stress, it starts to take some kind of toll on our parenting, in spite of all our efforts to the contrary.

Last night, we had the opportunity to go out to a concert – meaning that my husband had free tickets – and we had to scramble for a babysitter. The free tickets had come about unexpectedly, so we hadn’t exactly planned for an evening out. I desperately said to my husband that I didn’t even know who to ask.

My husband came up with the perfect solution. He asked M, one of the guys who works for him, if he would be willing to watch the kids for the evening, and M willingly accepted. M has kind of become a friend of the family. We invite him to the kids’ birthday parties, he came over for Easter dinner, and we eat out with him from time to time.

We completely trust M with the kids. He is so used to George’s autism that he doesn’t bat an eyelid when autism-related things happen. George knows him and likes him. James downright hero-worships him, and when we told him that M was babysitting, he practically pushed us out the door so he could hang out with his idol.

Safe in the knowledge that our kids were safe and happy, and that they might or might not tie M to a totem pole by the end of the evening, my husband and I headed into the city to see a live performance by Paul Weller, former member of The Jam and Style Council.

The music was every bit as good as we had hoped it would be, and my husband and I felt that buzz of happiness that you get simply from being with someone you love. M didn’t get tied to a totem pole. The kids behaved like model children. They were like the kids on those reality TV shows after the Super Nanny has whipped the family into shape. M said he would babysit for us again anytime we needed him to.

Last night, my husband and I renewed our intention to have regular dates nights to connect with one another, enjoy each other’s company, and just be.

How important do you think it is for couples to spend time together away from the kids? Is it something you manage to do regularly?

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

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I Survived A Stressful Week Without Going Completely Insane

19 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

This last week has been fraught with stress. Along with almost everybody in my department, I spent the first half of the week waiting to hear whether I still had a job. I work for a large corporation, and they do these organizational shuffles from time to time, and invariably not everyone survives these. While we knew that this reorganization was underway, no-one was telling us anything. Throughout Monday and Tuesday, several familiar faces quietly disappeared. And those of us who remained were wondering who would be next.

On Wednesday, the new organizational charts were finally released. I had a brief moment of panic when I couldn’t immediately find my name, but located it under a new manager. I was not thrilled about that – I loved my previous manager – but at least I was there, doing more or less the same work I’ve been doing.

On the same day, I received notification that I had been accepted into the Professional Writers Association of Canada as an associate member. This was big news indeed: it gives me access to all kinds of tools and people that could help me in my quest to get a foothold in the freelance writing business.

While all of this has been going on, I have been trying to resolve some technical issues that have been preventing the upload of my new website. Last night I had to log onto a couple of sites, and click a couple of buttons that would finalize the transfer of my domain name to a new registrar.

My website broke.

I went into emergency fix mode, calling customer support lines and harassing my long-suffering website developer. I was able to put in place a band-aid fix, which will work just fine until my new website is uploaded after the weekend.

Then my email broke – the email that’s associated with the domain name.

It didn’t take me long to figure out what needed to be done. I had to kill off the email address in one place and recreate it in another. Which meant that I first had to sift through the emails in the old place to figure out which ones I wanted to keep. And we all know that nobody keeps their inboxes nice and tidy, right?

Sheesh.

I got the email address set up in one place, but now it would appear that I didn’t succeed in fully killing it off in the old place. So the Internet thinks the email address exists in two places. While I’m getting most mail in the new place and none at all in the old place, there is the odd message that simply doesn’t get delivered. Kind of like lost snail mail.

I am trying to muddle through and sort all of this out while coming down from a week of stress.

And deal with an autism meltdown that happened this morning when George couldn’t find his box of DVDs.

All of this is happening as I go a bit mental leading into the final week before my half-marathon.

At least everything that’s happening is, in some way, a step in the right direction. I still have a job. My writing career took a big leap. The infrastructure is in place for my new website, and I can always change my email address.

Even George’s meltdown was a positive thing, because he was able to communicate what the trigger was.

I am ready for a relaxing weekend, and I hope that anyone reading will relax right along with me.

Autism And The Art Of Conversation

17 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Every night, I give my older son George a piggy-back ride to bed. These days are numbered, of course. George is almost nine and he’s all arms and legs. Someday soon, he will too tall and heavy for me to cart around on my back. For now, though, I treasure these last days of being able to pick up my son.

We get to his room, where I dump him unceremoniously on his bed. He tucks himself in while I turn off the light, and then I lie down beside him. For the next few minutes, it’s just him and me, alone in the entire world.

We talk. I ask him questions. He answers them.

Who does Mommy love? She loves George.
Who does George love? He loves Mommy.
How do you feel? Happy.
Did you have a nice day? Yes.
Where did you go? School.
What did you do there? Math.

Always the same questions. Always the same answers.

I follow this ritual for the sense of closeness between me and my son, because it’s a comforting part of our time together. I also do it to help him practice the art of conversation. His verbal communication skills are worlds behind those of typical kids his age. He knows how to talk, how to make requests and the occasional joke. He is starting to make the odd remark for social purposes, and not just when he needs something.

But he does not know how to have a conversation. So I am teaching him.

When George was first diagnosed with autism, he did not know how to point. Over a period of eleven painstaking months, during which I followed the same routine every single night, no matter how futile it seemed, I taught him how to point. I still cry when I think of the first time I was rewarded with him pointing independently.

If I could teach him how to point, surely I can teach him how to have a conversation. After all, they are both forms of communication, right?

From time to time, I switch up the questions during our nightly routine, and ask him something else. When I do that, he never answers the question I ask. He gives an answer to the question he was expecting. I don’t mind. It just shows that he’s not yet ready to move to the next level. There’s no rush. I can wait. It will happen when he’s ready for it to happen.

It’s OK that he has memorized the sequence of questions and answers. Children learn to read in much the same way, rote-repeating sentences that they have heard many times, before making the connection with the printed text. There is every reason to believe that George’s relationship with conversation could evolve in much the same way.

While I’m helping him learn a skill that will be of value to him for his whole life, I am treasuring those nightly moments we spend together.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Guest Post: Animals And Autism

15 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V11E-N2pK_o (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/animal_assisted_therapy/continuing_education/prweb9261001.htm)

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.

A House Full Of Love

14 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today is Guest Post Exchange Day! I am honoured to introduce you to a fellow special needs mom, who is not only an awesome blogger, but also an awesome friend. Mimi has not one, not two, but five children with special needs. That would sound daunting to anyone, but Mimi wouldn’t change her life for anything.

Hi!  I’m Mimi, mom to 5 great kids, all with special needs, but we don’t focus on that.  We focus on their achievements, their triumphs and the love that they have for each other.  Sure, they fight just like any other siblings would fight but at the end of the day the love is still there for each other.  My oldest daughter is 24 and diagnosed with PDD-NOS (a form of autism) and is an unmedicated bipolar by her choice.  My next daughter is 22 and was born with Down Syndrome, hydrocephalus, PDD-NOS and acanthosis nigricans, she’s my spit-fire child.  Next is my soon to be 16 year old daughter who was born with spastic diaparesis cerebral palsy, she also has Asperger’s Syndrome, bipolar with psychosis, anxiety disorder and an eating disorder.  Next are my two boys, my first son is 10 (11 in June) and for some unknown reason he is cognitively impaired, he too has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.  My youngest son is 9 (10 in June) and he was born with Fetal Valproate Syndrome, static encephalopathy (due to a traumatic birth), he has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.

Raising special needs children has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anything the world has to offer me.  My children are the reason my world rotates on its axis.  Some people call me a mother polar bear because I am so protective of my children, but who else is going to protect them besides me?

My boys are the best of friends, they are great playmates for each other and I hope and pray that the bond between them stays forever.  It’s similar to the bond between my 2 oldest daughters.  They are close because when they were young girls, I was a single parent by my choice, so it was just us 3 girls against the world.  Until I met my husband in 1994, Bethany was 6 and Lauryn was 4 and Jon has been their daddy ever since.

What entertains my kids?  Different things…  My boys are video gamers with their dad, they each have either their PSP’s or PSP Go’s or in Jons case his PSP Vita, but they all three will gang up on the bed and be gaming, ignoring everything else that’s going on, whereas Maurra my (almost) 16 yr old loves doing research on various things, which is very common for children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, right now she’s focusing on historical events.  Lauryn is crazy for Justin Bieber and loves to watch horror shows in her bedroom.  Bethany is my crazy football fan – well I’m pretty crazy for our Green Bay Packers also, so we tend to watch football together and we DVR the games so we can watch them through the week.

Our social outings look a little different than most.  First of all, my 3 youngest kids can’t handle car rides very well, so our trips have to be short in nature, and there has to be a reward at the end of the trip.  Lauryn enjoys going to her adult day program 4 days a week, but that’s about the extent of her traveling comfort.  She loves to dance in the truck which is fun and the cars around us seem to be her audience.  Bethany (my oldest) and I tend to do mother-daughter outings or she will go with me if I have to run errands.  It’s hard to break things up so the kids can handle everything, but in the end it’s for the best for them.

The boys are getting ready to start their 3rd year playing Miracle League baseball, which is baseball strictly for children who are disabled.  I volunteer my time with the league as the team coordinator and absolutely love watching all of the kids play the game.

Like I said before, I love having special needs children, and now we are looking into adopting a special needs child because there is more room in my heart for more children, but I can’t have them myself anymore.  So we are looking into a special needs adoption.  I hope it all works out for the best.

Well, thank you for letting me share my family with you.  Have a great day!

And thank you, Mimi, for sharing your family with us!

Mimi has a great blog at Wife… Mom… Writer… All Blessings. She can also be found on Twitter @Gigi_S.

You Think You Know…

8 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today, I am also participating in the WEGO Health True Life Tuesday Blog Party, in which participants start their posts with the phrase, “You think you know, but you have no idea…”

You think you know, but you have no idea.

You look at parents who have special needs kids, and you contemplate the things you think they are doing wrong. Thinking you know better, you utter sentences that start with the phrase, “If that was my child…”

Until you get handed a diagnosis of autism and realize that, wait a minute, that is your child. You find yourself facing the same challenges as all of those parents you used to be quick to judge, and you find yourself responding in very similar ways.

You have no idea what special needs parenting is like until you are wearing those shoes.

Yes, my child has sometimes been the kid having a very loud meltdown in a grocery store.
Yes, I am the mom who has occasionally snapped needlessly at her kids in public, because she was just so overwhelmed.
Yes, I sometimes let my child play on the computer for longer than is considered ideal, because I am so desperate for time to take a shower.
Yes, I do want to get all available services for my child, but that is way easier said than done.
No, I don’t invite my son’s classmates over for playdates to encourage interaction. They are all special needs kids, and seeing each other outside of school is too weird and overwhelming for them.
Yes, my son’s hair is tangled and unruly. He is terrified of having it either washed or cut, and I just have to do the best I can. I know it doesn’t always look great.
Yes, I vaccinate my kids. I think the autism/vaccine link is pure bumph. I respect anyone who does believe in the link and I expect the same courtesy from them.

And no, I had no clue what special needs parenting was all about until I woke up one morning and discovered that I was now one of them. Many things have surprised me about this journey. There are things both good and bad that I did not expect. Being a special needs mom has taught me a great deal about myself and about other people. One of my biggest surprise discoveries is that I have far bigger reserves of patience than I thought. For the most part, I can stay calm in the face of a meltdown, and do what I need to do to see myself and my son through the storm.

Last week, I used my social media channels to ask other moms the question: just what is it about special needs parenting that has surprised you the most? I got responses that were both poignant and uplifting. Many of them I can relate to myself.

Here’s what other special parents have found surprising about their journeys:

  • The apathy of most people. If it’s not affecting them personally, they don’t give a crap or they say ” Why should I? It’s not affecting me” (Leigh)
  • It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. (Jacquie)
  • How much energy it takes at times…like mid-meltdown… (Lucette)
  • The lack of community support. I was also surprised by my reaction to that – one of passion and action! (Amy)
  • How ignorant the NT’s can be (Ron) (For the uninitiated, NT means neurotypical, a fancy term for “typically developing”)
  • How strong it can make a mother! (Mimi)
  • How screwed up my idea of success was. (Jennifer)
  • How uncaring the rest of the community is and how much energy it takes to keep on fighting for acceptance. (Susan)
  • The fact that we have to fight our school systems for EVERY support and service that will help our kids in the future. (Barbara)
  • How hard it is to accept offers of help, and how much better it works for everyone when I do. (Ruth)
  • How strong I’ve become, physically and emotionally…well, most days anyway. 😉  (Megan)
  • How after a while you stop seeing the special needs, and just see the child. It’s only ever other people who make you notice the special needs again. (Freya)
  • How hard but rewarding it is! (Hike. Blog. Love)
  • How much you truly learn from them! And I now know the real meaning of determination. (Vera)
  • How I have forced myself to re-evaluate some of the values I had about life. Some people will always do “bad” things, our faith in a Higher Power should be our motivation to forgive those people since we ask forgiveness from “Above” and HE forgives indiscriminately (Naadia)

Reading what these parents have to say should send a very clear message that even when there’s a common diagnosis, like autism, everyone’s journey is unique. We all have our own sets of challenges.

So next time you think someone is falling short of what they could or should be doing as a parent, just remember that you’ll probably never have the opportunity to wear their shoes.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/libookperson/6187904322/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Affection, Empathy And Autism

5 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Several years ago, my mom volunteered at a “Riding For The Disabled” program. She would help a child with cerebral palsy or Downs Syndrome onto a horse, and then lead the horse around a field. Many of the kids she worked with would be on the edge of meltdown at the beginning of the designated hour, but after five minutes on horseback they would be completely calm.  My mom, always an animal-lover, adored the horses, and she loved working with the children.

There was a little boy with autism in the group, and although my mom didn’t love him any less than the other kids, she did find him a lot more challenging to work with. He was a highly intelligent child with severe communication deficits and some intense behavioural issues. Once settled on his horse, he would jab at the horse’s neck and tug at its mane, and any attempts by my mom to stop him would lead to meltdown. She swore that he deliberately kicked her as he was getting down from the horse after his turn. More than once she returned home with nasty bruises on her arms or legs.

Although this was all in the day before autism became a more direct part of our lives, my mom was sufficiently aware to know that the child’s behaviour was a result of his autism, and not a personal vendetta against either her or the horse. She believed, though, that he was not remotely capable of either affection or empathy. And because people form generalizations based on what they know, for a long time we subscribed to the commonly held belief that people with autism are not able to have meaningful connections with other human beings.

In fact, when we were waiting for my own son’s diagnosis, in our ignorance we pretty much ruled out autism in our own minds.

“He’s so affectionate,” we would say. “It couldn’t possibly be autism.”

Now, of course, we know better, and we are able to gently correct the people we come across who follow the same stereotype.

My son George may not ever be a great talker, but there is nothing wrong with his ability to feel and express love. All I have to do to know this is come home after work. My husband and sons watch for me from the front window, and as soon as they see me walking down our quiet street, my husband opens the door. The kids dash out and race each other to me. And then, with looks of pure joy on their faces, they launch themselves at me so hard that the force of their love knocks me off-balance.

Sometimes, when I am working on my laptop at home, George will  come up to me and somehow arrange his lanky eight-year-old self on my lap. And he will wrap his little arms around my neck and hug me, oh so fiercely. Then there are the times I wake up in the night to find him snuggled up to me, sleeping peacefully with one of his hands curled around a strand of my hair.

Admittedly, there was a time when I worried about what seemed to be a lack of empathy towards his little brother, James. About a year ago, I told a member of George’s therapy team that whenever James was crying, George would laugh hysterically at him. I expressed concern at the lack of empathy and the apparent joy that he got out of his brother’s pain. The therapist smiled at me kindly and said, “He’s a seven-year-old boy. That’s what seven-year-old boys do.”

While most other people have to be educated on the behaviour of special needs kids, my husband and I frequently have to be told how typical kids behave. It’s a little bizarre, but there it is.

The truth is that although George can be a typical pain-in-the-ass brother, just like any other brother, it is clear that he adores James. He is never comfortable with James’ absence, and his demeanour takes on an air of tenderness when James is sick. There are times when one of the boys will go in search of the other one during the night, and I will find them in the morning, curled up together, with George’s arm thrown protectively over James’ shoulders.

When I think about George’s future, there are many things I worry about.

His relationship with his brother is not one of them.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)