Autism’s Lost Text Message

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One night as I was plugging in my son’s iPad, I noticed he got a text.  Many parents lose sleep over whether or not to invade their preadolescent’s privacy by looking at personal messages, but not me.  My child at 11 years old is completely illiterate and he had never gotten a text before.

I glanced around as if nervously waiting to get busted for reading it, but the truth was my stomach was in butterflies out of joy and excitement.

Hi A2.  This is Ryder

Are you in bed?????

If you aren’t what time do you go to bed???

Maybe I have been wrong!  Maybe school has been helping him truly cultivate and explore friendships after all! Real ones!  A2’s class picture was on the refrigerator and I ran to it to ask him which one was Ryder. I recognized several of the boys in his class but didn’t know anyone named Ryder. Unfortunately, my son has a severe language disorder called Childhood Apraxia of Speech in addition to Autism so I had no way of knowing for certain which one Ryder was because A2 enthusiastically would answer “yeh!” to every child I pointed to.

Could he be a child from the resource room?   I could not know that either because  the school will not tell me the names of any of the children in that room due to “privacy”.  The kids with whom he spends the majority of the day.  The kids who also probably never get or send texts or receive invites to play. The kids who can’t just ask each other and then come home and tell their moms.

My husband and I were feeling almost hypervigilant over where we would know this child from since the area code was from a city we lived in many years ago.  A2’s real name is an unusual one, so clearly this is meant for him.

How did he get A2’s number since A2 doesn’t even know it?  Does this child comprehend that A2 can’t read? Could this be an adult?  A teacher?  A predator?!

My joy was quickly turning to irrationality as my husband texted back to give this Ryder person a piece of our mind!

As it turns out, Ryder was trying to get in touch with A2.  Just not MY A2. 

Ryder was in 6th grade and had just moved and had met a new friend at his new school (not ours) that day, exchanged numbers and did what every 12 year old does when making new friends.

A2 was contacted by a ghost. An illusion of a promise of the world to come.

The coincidence lacked the sparkle of serendipity and sent a gut punch that made the butterflies swirling in my tummy fly out of my mouth and away into the sky out of reach.  One three lined text of 19 words, 57 characters, 6 question marks and 2 happy face emojis sent me into a 10 minute emotional tailspin ending in a disappointment.

While my reaction may seem dramatic and my sweet boy was oblivious, man alive, I know he would have LOVED for that text to be his if he knew. You see, that would mean someone wanted to tell him that they got a new skin in Minecraft, or ask him if he wanted to ride bikes to the park or see if he’s allowed to see that Jason Bourne movie. It would mean that someone might be sneaking him a You Tube video he isn’t allowed to watch at home or asking him if he thought the new girl was cute.

It would mean that someone was thinking of him right at that very moment. It would mean he had value to people other than me and his dad.  It would mean he was growing up.

Before this whole parent thing came along and made me loopy with worry, I used to help families move their loved ones into nursing homes. One particular instance, I helped take inventory of a man’s belongings and I asked him to give me his wallet so I could start a resident account for him to keep his $10 bill safe. He refused and his wife asked to speak privately with me in the hall.

“I know he has no need for money here, but is there any way you can make an exception to let him keep it with him?”

I’m certain I did not handle the situation with sensitivity or understanding because she replied, ” We were never wealthy people but he was proud of the fact he always put food on the table or could hand his sons money when they needed something. That money in his pocket makes him feel like a man. And that, child, is all he has left to feel like one.”.

I let him keep the money and have contemplated since then what the last material thing I would hold on to would be and why.

I just didn’t realize that it would come earlier in life and be a random text message that was not meant for my child.

These things.  These little things that give us a perceived sense of value–that we anchor to other things and make them into something more.  Ultimately, the text itself was probably meaningless to A2.  He however does very much care about all those things that receiving a text implies.

Having a way to communicate with the world makes you a part of it and a rolling digital scroll of blue and white messages are like the receipt to prove it nowadays.  My friend’s daughter left her phone at home while she was at overnight camp and powered up when she returned home to 1022 unread text messages. I never did ask if she read them all.

I do know that A2 will never experience the betrayal that can come with adolescent friendships and are exacerbated by text messages.  No girlfriend break up text.  No secret texts between friends who are standing right there with him, exploiting his trust.  No anxiety over the three dots or “read” receipt.

No.  None of that.

While I am disappointed that Ryder misdialed and reached out to the wrong A2, just for a moment I thought about grounding A2 from his device because he knows he shouldn’t be texting so late.

Random Acts of Dignity: The Ultimate Advocacy for My Disabled Child

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Dear Donna, Cashier at Wendy’s,

My 10 year old and I stopped in for lunch today on your shift. I could see after you asked him how he was doing today that his jumbled answer might have caught you off guard. You shifted your eyes to me and then back to him as he continued…something that happens all the time in our world. So I looked down at him and as his 24/7 speech and language coach I said “You can say, ‘I’m good!'”.

But then you caught me off guard. Instead of looking to me for his order, you asked him.

He answered you.

You leaned in and said “I think you said you want a cup of water. Is that right?”

He nodded.

“Aren’t you getting anything to eat?! What else?”

After he excitedly spit out a string of jargon you asked him to slow down and try again. So he did.

“Fuhweyes” he said.

What size?” you asked.

Mee-yum.

Great….anything else?” she asked, glancing quickly in my direction.

I shook my head as my son clearly said, “Nope!”

What you didn’t know as we held up the line is that my son has Childhood Apraxia of Speech, but the name of his disorder didn’t matter to you. What mattered to you was making sure you got his order right.

You didn’t “let” him be an equal patron at your restaurant…he just was.

You let him be his own expert.

You presumed competence. Not your version of competence, his.

You allowed him the dignity of time.

You asked him his name to put on the screen for his order just like everyone else and checked out to see if you said it right. You even asked him if he knew how to spell it for you. So he did.

Through this act I am certain you are not expecting a newspaper article or local talk show segment. You weren’t trying to be noticed or given kudos or wanting to be called a hero because you took a moment and tried a little harder. You wanted a 10 year old at your counter to order lunch just like any other 10-year-old might on a Friday afternoon.

Advocacy and inclusion are tricky things. When they come from a place of equality, empathy and understanding they are wonderful things. When it lacks authenticity, it can still have a place but can also be humiliating and damaging to an already fledgling movement. By “letting” my child be prom king, shoot the last basket in the last 10 minutes in the last game of the season, by being so kind as to “be his friend” , well meaning people are inadvertently continuing to marginalize him. No one has assumed that he was worthy of the crown on his own, able to make that basket without help or that maybe he makes one heck of an awesome friend and that perhaps HE is the kind one.

So you, Donna your authentic advocacy is the kind that will change the way we as a society deal with disability. Thank you for lunch with a side of hope.

Sincerely,
A2’s Mom

The Tail Wagging the Dog: Tales of a Therapy Dog by a Bone Tired Mom

Happy National Dog Day! (And Happy 6th birthday to our Wally-Woo…King of all Dogs. Master of Me). What would we do without you?

Running through Water

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Originally Published as The Tail Wagging the Dog 9/2015

Our dog is playful and fun and sweet and well behaved.

Until he is not.

And then, he is a bit of a sonofabitch.

And it always catches us off guard. 30 rounds of chasing the ball and joyfully bringing it back is often followed by a random and somewhat humiliating drive-by where he passes me up, runs 3 yards over and pees on the neighbor’s dog.

The ability to look nonchalant and nonplussed at the same time after your dog just defiled someone else’s beloved pet is something that only the parent of a child with Autism can pull off with Merylstreepworthy street cred.

These times I breathlessly call his name while chasing him in circles with what I believe to be an audible background soundtrack of the Benny Hill theme song, I will often submit myself to the idea…

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At The End Of The Day….

I was in a research study recently involving blogging, deciding upon content, deciding upon platform, media, etc. It truly was an interesting experience–I guess no one ever directly asked me to tell my story in such a way before. While they interviewed over a dozen already, many of which where “mom bloggers”, I was the only one interviewed who addressed experiences as a family living with disability.

Their takeaway they volunteered to share with me? Their experience with other parent bloggers did not include the same judicious protection of content/overcontemplation of concern regarding the forms of dignity I discussed, nor did it involve the level of scrutiny that dug as deep as our level can go. And yes, they do blame their kids for tough days or recognize the universal struggles in a laughable or relatable way and are rewarded for that relatablity on social media. No one else struggled in that balance the way we do.

In our world, there is a fine line which moves it’s position depending on who you are talking to. We have a job as family caregivers of disability to be relatable advocates who set the bar for how we and our kids are perceived by the rest of the world. And unfortunately, I do believe it can be at the expense of self care or which ultimately affects they way we cope within our family systems for the benefit of our charge. We are held to a much higher standard out there in cyberworld under much more challenging circumstances than other parents. I forgot about this piece I wrote a few years ago, but it was on a day I had a similar epiphany at the end of a long, hot summer. Sometimes, I want to say funny things about being a mom too. And yep…sometimes I am selfish.

Running through Water

bunny hillThere are some days that my heart breaks selfishly a bit.

Days like today.

As A2 gets older there really are no more play dates. While kids are generally kind, there are limits to their patience. It’s hard to figure out how to play with another kid who wants to stand at the bottom of the water slide flapping rather than going down. His peers are now preteens and the adults that are close by interpreting for him, ensuring safety and cuing socially reciprocal behavior are going to inhibit his peers age appropriate wing stretching.

Today, as I sat entering in my second hour in direct sun making sure my guy didn’t keep going past the “do not pass” sign at the base of the water slide, I couldn’t help but notice the world around us. I had nothing else to do but try to clear my mind of things…

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Autism and A Gun By Any Other Name

I vowed to share this every time there was a mass shooting. But since writing this article, there have been over 800.

Not 800 people. 800 instances of someone taking a gun somewhere and there were 4 or more casualties.

My child can’t process what he knows, fears or even experiences with me without any nuance. This creates a different level of parental paranoia over his safety in which to be judged. He will never, ever, ever be the “good guy with a gun”–the only argument–and a wildly circular one at that, about how to fix this problem.
None of this is ok for any of us. Autism or not.

Running through Water

img_4970My brother and I were sitting on the couch chatting about politics last winter when I showed him a segment from the Daily Show.  It was a humor bit about calling a Wyoming elementary school to find out if they had a gun in the event of grizzlies. There was a laugh track and a brief photo of a gun, so it was odd to me when A2 gasped loudly, stood up from the couch waving his hands and both tearfully and fearfully begging, “No gun!  No! Shoot, no!”

We are not hunters nor are we gun enthusiasts and neither are my friends. As far as I know, A2 has never seen a gun in person or on TV, given 100% of his viewing includes Barney, The Wiggles and NBA.  He has never heard a gun shot. Neither he nor his brother ever pretended things were guns.  He has…

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Yes, My Disabled Child Has Chores

Many years ago, one of our first home providers was working with another family who had an older teenager. The provider and the client were only a couple years apart in age. (Don’t worry, -the provider maintained confidentiality the whole time!).

One day, I asked what kinds of things she did in her job with the client, to which she answered,

“Mostly, I help her do chores. There. Are. So. Many.

Given A2 was only about 4 years old at the time, I was simply curious about what life at home with a teenager with a disability would look like without actually considering what life with MY kid as a teenager would look like. We didn’t know our own long and winding road at that point, of course my child would have chores! Didn’t the provider have chores? (As it turns out, possibly not, since knowing far more teenagers now that my kids are teenagers themselves–this parenting philosophy I have might be a bit of a new millennial enigma.)

What happens if a teenager doesn’t have tons of independent leisure skills and has difficulty with self-direction? Do we still teach them how to play with toys? No. If they have not enjoyed this activity as a younger child, then probably not.

Do we leave them alone to wander the house with their iPad? Well…yeah…admittedly sometimes. Especially if they enjoy doing that.

Do we plan on living forever to take care of ALL their needs? Yes, yes we do, but until we figure out an actual way to do that, that is not an option.

The most basic of basic skills must be taught to A2 in an explicit manner. He learns all sorts of things, just like everyone else, but at a snails pace. By not teaching him how to care for his surroundings and belongings, I would be stealing from his adulthood to bank roll a leisurely adolescence. Those processes start NOW so he has a chance for a modicum of independence, the ability to have options and choices and self-determination as an adult. Learning to fold a washcloth may take a typical child 20 minutes to learn and an hour to master. The same washcloth skill might take a year to learn and 3 years to master. Really.

At 14 years old, he is in his evening of the day–the last leg of time being on his side before he is an adult.

A schedule that includes daily expectations gives A2 a sense of peace because he understands how his time will be filled. This summer, with a skeleton crew of help, Momma has been on the case to level up on these skills, scaffold independence and watch him enjoy and take pride in these “activities”. He verbally perseverates less. He comes to me beaming and says things like “Wook! Do it all by yourself!” as he surprises me with a made bed or silverware put in the proper drawers. He is generally, well….happier with chores.

Chores a narrative of dignity and self determination.

Caring for our surroundings gives us a sense of control, a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility and yes, ultimately a sense of community. If he has to do his chores just like everyone else in the house (ok…maybe not just like everyone else…he actually does his much better many times than his brother!!), I am sending him the message, “You matter as much as your brother and are an equal member of this family” and I am showing his brother equity and fairness by saying, “We are all capable of contributing in the ways we can to this household–A2 is no different”.

I am not a mean mom (most of the time). I like to think of myself as the same kind of mom who makes her sick kid take icky medicine when he doesn’t want to, knowing it will make him feel much better. Not giving the medication makes me feel better because it is easier and I don’t have to see him cry. At least in the moment.

Chores are a pain in the butt. I DEFINITELY have chores I will still whine through, procrastinate doing or forgo altogether. While being an extremely Type A personality and capable of high levels of organization, I am also extremely messy and it happens FAST! I do remember how this unfortunate dichotomy affected college room mates, though at the time, I absolutely did not see the impact. I had to learn that the hard way.

One of my current chores is digging up the patience and consistency to make sure I am teaching A2 how to put his plate in the sink, start his laundry, or wipe down the counter. These tasks are the insurance plan for a future that probably will not include me. As scary as that is to consider, I certainly hope one day it is because he looks at me and in the most apraxic adult way possible says,

“Mom, I don’t want to live with you and Dad anymore. Don’t worry, I have already cleaned up my room and packed my suitcase.”

Autism Acceptance Month 2019: C is for Community, Comradery and Common Ground

Autism Acceptance Month 2019: C is for Community, Comradery and Common Ground

These words resonate for my own beautiful boy. My own beautiful family. I am an accidental blogger. There are many reasons I am out here….none of which have come to fruition (yet). A morphing book for a few years and when people ask, they are surprised to learn it has nothing to do with me or my child directly. I kept learning how I should be out there to those who would be interested in the content.

But, you see, this is still all very weird to me.

I didn’t want to write on social media because the dissent and judgement within and among communities…the ones I believed were the same, were awful. It seemed to me everyone has ill intention, everyone is ignorant. I have enough drama, thank you very much. Why would I invite more? By not writing at all meant not sharing it, which meant self care.

I didn’t want to write because even in my personal life, very few people get to know my details. Talking and sharing vs. relating and sharing are different. People tend to fade to black in a cinematically predictable way when sometimes those things are just way bigger than one can make them look while out and about buying the groceries and weed killer. Those melodramas occupy enough space, thank you very much. Why would I drag people into that when we maintain so well over here? By not writing at all meant protecting thoughts and ideas which are uncomfortable or inconvenient to others. Ultimately for me too since disappointment tends to hit me like a wrecking ball.

In the end, regardless of where we know each other or how, I am fairly certain, we are looking for the same end result. By not writing, I did not have to debate this.

Having perspective is a little like breathing. We all do it and at the pace comfortable for living to the best of our ability. That breath adapts to our situation even when it changes. Sometimes it is even vastly different than our original irrefutable pace. When I walk up the steps to my room at home, I find myself stopping and catching my breath 3 or 4 steps before the top when just 4 years ago I could perform literal circus tricks in a hot yoga studio.
And while my Lululemon tush wouldn’t have said it out loud, it may have not really understood what it meant to need rest before reaching the top of a staircase, because it never had to before. I may have had recommendations on the misguided beliefs about why it meandered its way up at that speed in the first place. And I might have been wrong-ish, but a vague foundation of knowing why. It didn’t completely make me wrong any more than it also didn’t make me wrong for now knowing I now need to rest for a moment on the banister.

The love for our children. The love for ourselves and the life it seems we thought they should live with us. The love for ourselves as individuals doing the best we can and trying to find others who might say the same. We all want the same thing and it seems to always be based in love and dignity and preservation. Even when from a different angle, that does not appear to be the case.

Before deciding how someone else’s world is not just wrong and different, but destructive, I implore you to stop on the 3rd or 4th step up on the way to your room to take a breath first and then decide how to describe how to better take that breath.

It is easy to say this perspective is not about privilege when we have the option of discussing it in the first place. It is easy to say it is not about privilege when we are groundskeepers and spectators of those we are discussing. If we have love in our hearts, perhaps the common ground in our community is to say we are trying to champion and triumph the same fights. And knowing that is when I decided perhaps I should write.

Allergies and Autism and Sensory Overload, Oh My! How to Make Halloween Inclusive

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The Grim Reaper takes a break to ensure his safety while the ill-prepared firefighter keeps his distance just in case

(originally posted 10/2015)

A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents the goal was for all children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change a cookie decorating idea which did not meet these basic criteria.

Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are!”

In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her this still excluded a fifth of the class and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified as one of those children was mine.

Another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable cookie project.

Halloween has become the holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent with kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members.

Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever

1. FOOD ALLERGIES:

a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy with your child to teach his what is ok to eat. Have the “SWITCH WITCH” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS:  If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available. If you are planning a class party, ASK about allergens—be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation—that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old where everyone gets to eat really cool looking cupcakes except for you. If that were easy to do, none of us would ever be on a diet. The willpower of a child with a food allergy is like nothing most of us can ever understand.

2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES

a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Your child might be in for a “jump scare” that will end his evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials. Have him choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for Pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!

3. AUTISM

a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating. Stick to familiar neighbors homes and buddy up with a child who can model. Sometimes “just a hat” IS a costume with enough thinking on the fly.

Freddie Krueger
Freddy Krueger as a child…before all the drama. He just wanted to feed everyone cereal and soup.

b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!

The anticipation of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent, I find myself still caught up in creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Harry Potters who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes with full sized candy bars.

Those of us who try to make our kids feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids and Halloween is no different.  With the help of our community, little tweaks can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.

#autism, #halloweenparties, #halloween, #sensoryprocessingdisorder, #PTO, #specialeducation, #community, #inclusion #dignity #parenting #foodallergies #celiacdisease #specialneeds

Moving Forward on Parental Instinct for Your Child with Special Needs

I posted this 5-Minutes-In-The-Water video about parental instinct on my social media pages back in May.  It is time to talk about it again as a teaser to introduce you all to something new we will be doing with A2, since it looks like it really, really is going to happen.

A2 on paper looks very cognitively, socially and intellectually impaired. A2 in person, looks like the prom king. He is adorable, social, friendly and seems to understand ways of the world which elude the rest of us.
My ultimate goal is for him to be happy, as independent as he can be and to rise to his highest potential to be a contributing citizen. Just like most people want for their child regardless of circumstance, right?
The thing is, he has to be able to learn. He can sit still long enough to learn. He is compliant and yet his learning is minimal, basic and cannot seem to transcend across settings, losing learning over time. If something is being reinforced at school, it is unlikely I will see him do it at home. Such is the nature of his apraxia and autism.
Yet I never had the sense that meant he couldn’t learn.
It just meant we were not teaching him in a meaningful way. We weren’t tracking where he learned the best and how (except for once circumstance…and it literally became the thing he could do well everywhere!).  I found it odd that I had to convey the concept of generalization across settings. It was interpreted, “He can do it with Mrs. X in the resource room, gym and speech room”. My point was that if he couldn’t do these things at home or in the community, it didn’t matter.
It would be like saying I was fluent in Japanese, but only when I was in my kitchen and only when my one neighbor came over. Would it matter if I couldn’t speak it in any other circumstance?
However, last school year, the behavior support person in my school district spoke a bit about a ‘newer’ program called PEAK Relational Training System. She described what I had been trying to convey for years about how I think A2 learns and how to track this through cumulative data collection across multiple settings. I hopped a plane to the west coast and got trained for a Level 1 certification.
Being I have been the only consistent “team member” in A2’s entire life, case managing ALL OF THE THINGS educational, therapeutic, medical, religious and social…coordinating consistency, training, communicating across all settings.  And like everything else, I can go figure out the best thing in the world, but unless I have a dedicated and well trained home team, have education professionals who are critically thinking , while also making them believe I need to play a tighter role and having that happen ALL AT THE SAME TIME, well, it is like waiting for a Super Moon on a Leap Year before the Jubilee.
So I spend most of the time doing a very, very crappy job for my child, or at least feeling that way because I cannot do any of this if even one element is missing. Sometimes that element is me–thus my hypervigilence in learning whatever I can to help. What I don’t know, I don’t know, and I am the physical consistency for him.
And here we are.
All the elements are in place, at least for the moment.  He has been assessed and we discussed preliminary plans. Watching the behavior person’s eyes light and hearing her espouse the same mantras about A2’s ability with the right programming along with her sense of urgency to get moving has sparked a motivation I had forgotten when it comes to parental instinct. So, I move forward with cautious optimism. Stay tuned…..