I would rather___________ than go to curriculum night.

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Many years ago when A2 entered the public school system, we moved him from a private school with a peer program and an ABA focus.  He is so influenced by his peers we thought maybe it would be a good time to bring him back to our school district while he was so young.  It was no small decision and perhaps ultimately made under the haze of Xanax. 

I waltzed into school on curriculum night, notebook in hand, mascara and lipstick reapplied. I waved and smiled at other parents I recognized from the neighborhood. We chatted about the end of summer homeowners association picnic and how nice the tennis court was looking now that they repainted it and we absolutely should get together for tapas sometime (how has that not even happened yet?!)

The desks were so small and facing each other.  Tidy containers of crayons divided by color, posters on every square inch of wall space, shelves that housed bin after bin of books. Mobiles hung from the ceiling.  Not at all what his ABA classroom looked like…way too much to distract..but it was all good.  He will learn to adapt to this no problem. The neighborhood kids are all here!  Someone took the time to take all the crayons out of the boxes!  

I found A2’s desk and it had a paper name plate with cartoon pictures of pencils and school buses just like everyone else. 

There was an envelope on his desk with all the “getting to know your child” papers like everyone else

There was a tidy blue folder with the agenda for the evening waiting for us just like everyone else

Sure, my mother hips were hanging over both sides of the tiny chair. And sure, the middle aged teacher greeted us and held her gaze with my husband much longer than she did with me, but that’s what we do here in public school!

Normal, regular people stuff. 

Then the teacher started talking.  And talking.  And asking us to turn pages in our packets.  And telling us what our kids can already do walking in the door on the first day and where we could expect them to be when they walk out on the last. 

The road map to get there sure as hell was not the road map to get to Italy or even Holland for A2.  Nope. Flyby right over Europe to the heart of Syria (which I hear is really, really nice this time of year….really nice. Hot.  But it’s a dry heat.).

I did not see the person who punched me in the stomach. I didn’t even know that a sucker punch was possible in a mainstream classroom. Before I could find out if a bitchslap was next, I gathered my things and walked out.  That teacher never did follow up with me to find out why I left, or if I was ok or if my husband liked her new back-to-school-sleeveless-blouse. 

A2’s intervention specialist saw me in the hall and gently said “..come with me to the resource room where he is a rock star. I’ll show you around.”  She meant well, but he could be a rock star at his other school. 

I decided right then that the only way I would ever cope in another curriculum night was if I could sit at one of those tiny desks with a Big Mac and a bottle of Stoli while listening to other parents ask questions like, “What if my child is above the standard for reading?”  or complaining at the lack of computers in a room he won’t actually get to be in. I might be able to get away with the Big Mac, but the vodka would probably be  frowned upon at the administrative level.

Don’t misunderstand…my boy is perfect in most ways to me (sometimes he is a bit of an asshole…no one is 100%) I don’t fit a mold and when I realized I was going to be a mom 13 years ago, I had no expectations my kids would either.  I embrace the weird and inappropriate and many days it takes all of my will to push my monkey brain back into it’s cage before it starts flinging poo. 

I’m ok with all that

What is hard is that the rest of the world generally is not. 

While he gets the desk and cubby just like everyone else, he doesn’t get to have sleep overs, or bathroom privacy or even a way to ask  other kids if they will Facetime or text him later. 

Due to “confidentiality” the helpers assigned to him are not allowed to tell me the names of the kids he would probably want to ask anyway. 

He doesn’t get detention for talking out of turn or showing up to class late. 

He doesn’t trade carrots for cookies with the kids at lunch.

The bins of books must still be read to him and doesn’t get excited when he hears about the release of the newest Harry Potter book. 

And curriculum night?  Well…all those things are written in the blank spaces between the lines on the syllabus.  The syllabus that is only visible to certain parents.  Not just like everyone else.

The tiny desk is like a mirage.  Those things don’t happen because those are not the things that are important to the people who spend 7 hours a day with him.  Goals are set to reflect the things A2 CAN’T do rather than what he CAN, whereas the curriculum for the rest of his peers are focused on what they WILL do.  And not just at 80% accuracy in 4 out of 5 observed opportunities.  I spend my life cherishing the tiny accomplishments inching along unseen by the naked eye or letting hurtful comments roll of my back like water off goosefeather by people who meant no harm. I can sit through all of that, but it reminds me my child is lonely. 

And I won’t sit through that. 

So tonite, the very last curriculum night of elementary school for me ever….like a pro,  I went in, signed my name on the volunteer list, eyeballed the room of parents , took 2 tums to settle my stomach in anticipation of the Big Mac in my mom-bag and walked out.

The bottom line is I would rather have heartburn and a hangover than go to curriculum night.  What would you rather do?

The Mending Wall

IMG_6047These wildflowers grow on a narrow strip of grass between someone’s property up against a century old stone wall and a city sidewalk near my home. There is a handwritten sign on a stake stating simply PLEASE DO NOT MOW OR SPRAY WILDFLOWERS. THANK YOU. While seeing them in full bloom one might wonder why someone would do that even when instructed to.

Today we were shaken again to our core. Today we were reminded again that nothing should be taken for granted. I am angry that again I feel afraid for my children when they leave the comforts of home.  I am conflicted because A2 is sick and at a time I should be saddened for 50 families and frightened at the fact that laws continue to exist that allow for permits for individuals to decide the fate of 50 people in one rain shower of shots. People who were given the right to exist with equal love are gone and we are all reminded there is still an opposing view.  But A2 is the kind of sick that makes his father talk in circles and makes me stone faced and logical. The kind of sick that sinks our instinctual fears as parents until the wind kicks up again and fills our sails to let us know it’s smooth waters soon. I can’t fear all things at the same time.

So I can stop to show you these flowers I saw today. And you can stop to see them. And we can all appreciate that someone stepped up to make sure that they bloomed to their full beauty for all of us. Please see them. Just for this moment. ‪#‎onepulse‬  

On the Eve of Your 11th year…..

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Your brother saw the ocean for the first time about a month before we knew you.  The expanse stopped him in his tracks leaving him silent and still.  The moment you were born 11 years ago today you cried and screamed and when they held you up for me to see I instinctively whispered your name.  You stopped crying, found my eyes  and you were silent and still and you took my breath away.  Your presence in our lives has been like seeing the ocean for the first time–beautiful and tumultuous and every day is like seeing the world in a way no one else gets to.  I feel lucky I get to be your mom.  Happy Birthday sweet A2…….

The Gorilla in the Room…..

There have been so many news stories, articles and commentary on social media about the tragic situation over the weekend that at this point I am fairly sure you would have to live in a cave to not have at least heard about it.  In case you do live in a cave, here is what I know about the situation with the little boy who fell in the Gorilla exhibit in Cincinnati:

  • He fell 10 feet into the moat
  • He fell 12 feet into the moat
  • He fell 15 feet into the moat
  • He was seriously injured but with non-life threatening injuries
  • He came out without a scratch
  • The gorilla rushed him but did not hit him
  • The gorilla approached him cautiously only after hearing him splash in the water
  • The gorilla did not intend harm, he almost seemed to be protecting the boy
  • The gorilla violently was dragging and throwing the boy in the water
  • It took 10 minutes before anything was done by rescue team
  • It took 15 minutes before anything was done by the rescue team
  • The boy had his hand in his mother’s back pocket to stay close and in a flash he was gone
  • The boy’s father crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
  • The person who filmed the footage crawled out onto the ledge to jump down into the moat
  • Eyewitnesses say she was on her phone and not paying attention until they saw him in the water
  • Eyewitnesses say the boy was gone in an instant and he was seen crawling out onto the ledge and was pursued immediately by family and spectators alike

From reading up….here is what else I know:

  • Jungle Jack Hanna supported the zoo’s choice to kill the gorilla because there was no other realistic option
  • A large part of the community did not support the choice to kill the gorilla and sees the tragedy of killing an innocent endangered animal because there were other options
  • A large part of the community ponders how in the world the zoo could have such an unsecured area that a child could breach it that quickly
  • PETA did not support the choice to kill the gorilla OR have him in captivity in the first place for our entertainment
  • A child slipping away from a parent can happen to anyone in an instant
  • The mother is completely responsible for the death of that gorilla, is a neglectful parent and clearly was not watching her child and should have him removed from her care to be raised in foster care.
  • The mother has received several death threats
  • A gorilla is dead and a boy  is alive

And lastly….here is what else I know:

  • A 4 year old boy is alive
  • NOTHING.  ULTIMATELY, I KNOW NOTHING.  AND NEITHER DO YOU.

Yes, its a tragedy no matter what.

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Not gorillas…..I know….but I own the image.

 

 

 

 

 

It’s Not Your Mother’s Mother’s Day

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To my children on Mother’s Day:

You did not ask to be born.  You did not ask to walk this earth and you certainly did not create your own realities and struggles….at least not yet.  You did not get to choose me as a mother.  I can guide you in ways that I think will ease your journey but ultimately your external successes and failures will be YOUR successes and failures.  You get to have those on your own and I will rejoice and celebrate and swell with pride as if I created those monumental moments but I do not get to take credit for those.  I will feel guilt or shame or sadness in your failings or perhaps I will distance myself from them for those same reasons, but ultimately I don’t get to take credit for those either.   Whatever respect or love you have for me through each stage of your lives is created, taught and fueled by me and  while those things feel like an expectation when it comes to a mother, in every other situation those things are earned….I will assure you it is the same in our case. It is not my expectation that you celebrate me today.  If anything, the onus is on me to celebrate you.  You made me a mother and by proxy after 35  years I was given the gift of the ability to feel love unconditionally.  I don’t choose to love you…..I have no choice.  What I do with that part is up to me. You do not owe me for being attentive to your needs, by making you a priority.  That is my contract with you regardless of circumstance.

So on this Mother’s Day, I celebrate you both.   The loves of my life.  May you:

–Never feel as if your existence was a burden to me.

–Always feel like a joyful priority, even when I have forgotten to appreciate that myself

–Recognize that you are separate from me….that my sadness is not your sadness…my expectations should not be your expectations, my disappointments are not your disappointments.  If I am doing this right, I will not feel like your obligation.

–Know that in my humanity the above might not feel that way because nothing makes me feel more joy than your joy….nothing makes me feel more worry than your worry…and unfortunately there is not much I can to about that.

–Never feel less because I acknowledge your differences.

–Always feel safe in telling me your thoughts and ideas no matter what.

–Know that when I don’t understand your needs that you may not be able to change that but you can ask me for more patience

–Always feel the love and respect I have for you and I hope that I have done my job in teaching you how to have the wisdom to distinguish and create healthy distance as you grow when others are not treating you with love and respect who should be.  Including me.

–Know that if I am feeling selfish or if I cannot manage something when it comes to you I will protect you from that by being honest so you never misunderstand my intentions.

If I am raising you right, for me every day should feel like the holiday we are told is Mother’s Day.  But for today, I celebrate and thank you for being given the privilege of being your Mom. Now let’s get to the Zoo.

xoxox

 

 

 

Day 21. T is for Teachers and Therapists.

Day 20 2016: T is for Teachers and Therapists

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Day 20

Day 20:  T is for Teachers and Therapists

97. A2 has had a total of 97 teachers and therapists in his short 9 years. Some were hand- picked….some chosen by fate and luck of the draw. Some were published…lauded recognizable names….some were quiet presences of whom I cannot remember their names. Some have been with us for the majority of his life. Some have only jumped in for a blip of time in his almost 80,000 hours on this planet. Some were stellar….life alterers….some just showed up because they had to. Some interpreted my coolness or seeming indifference to them as being non-caring. Some recognized that I always had my child’s best interest in mind all the time and understood it was important for me not to be too attached for fear of losing perspective and not holding them accountable should his learning derail. All have had a permanent impact…

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Day 18. R is for Relationships

Day 18 2016: R is for Relationships (originally posted 4/2015)

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Day 18

“Are you sure he has Autism? He’s so friendly…”. While there are more nuanced aspects now to the criteria, failure to develop peer relationships appropriate to developmental level is one of the defining and most obvious diagnostic identification for children with autism. Interest in people in general, desire for friendships and loving behavior can muddy the diagnostic waters and confuse people about what autism is and what autism isn’t. Disconnectedness, aloofness and lack of desire to be touched does not always translate as a lack of desire for relationships. The desire is there, the understanding for how that happens is not. It can just be easier to be by yourself. A1 can tell you that. Indiscriminate friendliness, hugs and kisses to those he loves and the compulsive desire to be around a lot of people doesn’t always coexist with developmentally appropriate social skills. A2 probably would tell you that part…if…

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Day 10 2016:J is for Just Ask

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J is for Just Ask

When I sat down every day last year to do this A-Z project, my biggest take away was the candid responses from friends and acquaintances.  Many of whom told me they wanted to reach out, but didn’t know what questions were ok to ask.

I understand that on a few levels:

  1.  As an inhabitant of this earth, when we see something we don’t understand or is different, we feel compelled to want to know the “why” or the “what happened”. Perhaps its part of the survival instinct-  A primitive way to avoid something that is contagious or preventable.  So, often times when it’s not thought about and someone approaches me and says, “what’s wrong with him?”, my instinct is to say back, “rude people are what’s wrong with him”. When I shift my schema and recognize that even in those awkward moments there is the possibility to make it teachable, I can have a lot more empathy for the individual asking.  After all, I am not sure I am that much more comfortable with a stranger asking me a more direct question either. (ie: “why is he making that hooting noise over and over?”when really I might have absolutely no f-ing idea myself in the moment but I would very much like it to stop).  Parents–whether we like it or not, we are the conduit to bridging our children with this society Many of us are their voices. Even if one person out of 10 who ask are asking to be nosy or rude, if we do not respond as an advocate, we make the assumption that all people who ask in that way are being nosy or rude.  So, instead of “mind your own business” or “whats it to you”, maybe try, “I think what you meant to ask is that you notice that he can’t talk.  This is his speech generating device, would you like to see how it works?” or “My child can understand everything you say and the way you asked that in front of him makes me uncomfortable.  There is nothing wrong, but it seems like there is an aspect of his behavior that you would like to know more about.  He has Autism and maybe one of us can tell you more”.  Pollyanna much?  Sure, but the only way we will change the asker’s behavior is by gently alerting them to the problem, offering a solution and giving them a reality check.
  2. On occasion, people want to ask how they can help. More times than that, people don’t realize we need help.  For those of us who have kiddos who don’t have a obvious trouble in the community, we move along to normalize our experiences. I have been told that I give off the air of having everything under control and that I don’t need anything.  Part of this is for my kids benefit. No one wants a hot mess of a mom in public.  Another part of this is because as my job as a therapist in this close-knit community, I feel like I need to maintain a balance of vulnerability and strength. The hot mess part needs to ride in the back seat to ask “are we there yet?”.  There are other parents whose kids CANNOT safely be in public places.  So, you just don’t see those people.  Their life behind closed doors is like an invisibility cloak and they are not getting asked what they need for those reasons.  Frankly, many of us have NO IDEA what to tell you about how you can help. My family comes infrequently enough, that to dole out a honey-do list also requires having to walk them through where things are, etc. Ultimately, this means more work.  If there were an emergency, they are not enough of a trained listener to know what my child needs if he tells them.  When a friend asks if they can watch my kids so we can get out…well, I still haven’t figured out exactly how one explains that you can’t imagine asking them to change a 10 year old’s diaper ….or telling them they probably won’t get to sleep through the night and must keep one eye open when they are sleeping.  Sometimes people ask to help but they just don’t want to do what you do need. Their perception becomes that you are unreasonable. It is your own fault you are not taking their help.  All can serve as barriers to asking the right questions or giving the right answers for assistance.
  3. People make assumptions instead of asking at all.  Just the other night, a young woman I work with asked me for advice in a situation about a member of her not-for-profit youth group. This teenage girl has Autism and when the entire group is together she tends to get very dramatic and will end her tirade by running out of the room.  This young woman sighed and said, “She only does it in big groups. Obviously attention….we are thinking of ways to let her know that maybe this group isn’t a good fit for her. It’s not-for-profit, so we can’t tell her she can’t be part of it.” We discussed the fact that perhaps they were misreading the function of the girl’s behavior.  The consequence is what sustains the behavior– if no one is rushing out after her, what is the likelihood that this behavior is to get attention and not escape or something internal due to the stress of being in a large group?   She wondered aloud if they should contact the girl’s mother to try to figure it out.  I wondered aloud what would happen if they just asked the girl herself, since she is her own expert.  Use the time and energy to find out what she needs to be a part of the group in a way that works for her rather than using that energy to figure out a way to help her move on.  We cannot help but to look at others using our own lenses.  But sometimes our lenses are smudged, are rose colored or even broken.  By not asking in this kind of situation, others assume they know what is best.

Lets face it. It’s uncomfortable to ask about people who are different than we are. 

We may be curious, afraid of coming off as rude or misread other’s cues.  We may not want to know the answer, we may not want to change our own ways.  We may already have assumptions and think we are right, we may be uncomfortable due to our own scripts about social norms, or frankly, some of us…we may just not care. 

For those of us being asked, we may be offended, we may be hurt, we may not want to talk about it.  We may not know the answer, we may not want to admit to an issue or call attention to it or we may not want to be reminded.  We may not want to be rejected. 

So let’s all agree on something. Asking and telling can suck at the outset.  Let’s move past it.

Those of us who are Autism Families…we ARE the awareness. How you choose to let that manifest is up to you.  In my world, however, if you ask me, I promise to tell you.

Autism Awareness Month. G is for Genetics (and Guessing)

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G is for Genetics

I get asked often what I think caused my child’s Autism.  I believe it is completely counterproductive to even consider it until such a time that there is solid evidence.  They are here now. I love my kids fiercely. Our struggles would be the same whether or not we knew the ‘why’ part.

Infection in mother during pregnancy, vaccine accidents,  overweight in mother during pregnancy, gestational diabetes, inadequate iodine, diagnostic ultrasounds, prenatal stress, advanced paternal age at time of conception, pesticides both before and after gestation…I’ve read those all.  And they all have the same message:  “Dad….Mom (but more likely Mom)…you did something…IT’S YOUR FAULT.”   These theories are also part of what drives the Neurodiversity movement.  That is, that individual differences and biological diversity are a normal and natural part of evolution and Autism is no different, so it is not something to be treated. Behavioral disruption is misunderstood communication and all the comorbid conditions such as GI/bowel issues, intellectual impairments, mental health issues are just that. Something not related directly to Autism (a whole other can of worms within our community….).

Regardless of your belief system…there is only one thing we know for absolutely certain: NO ONE KNOWS WHAT CAUSES AUTISM.

To demonize parents who make decisions you would not necessarily make is also counterproductive. 

As parents we have an instinct to protect our children. When a parent watches the baby she knows slip away into a world of of silence or pain in front of her very eyes and no one can tell her why or really what to do..well….just take a moment to let that sink in regardless of your parenting/political/medical stance. I don’t have to agree, I just have to have empathy.

Here is what we do know.  There is a genetic component to Autism and it is likely paired with an environmental trigger.  Just like Type 2 Diabetes. You can’t develop this unless you have the genes.  You make it far less likely to get it if you get your butt up off the couch, exercise regularly and do not eat like a regular American.

We just are not 100% certain what that common genetic component or the environmental one in Autism.  I am not going to even pretend to know anything about genetics. The best I can do is tell you:

  1. Picture a city with 20,000 streets.
  2. Now lets figure out which streets have public mailboxes, one way traffic, standard poodles and single mothers living on them.
  3. Only some people who travel down those streets buy mandarin oranges (not regular naval) and we need to find those people.
  4. (But what about the naval orange buying people!? Those are a lot like mandarins!)

That is what it is like trying to figure out the common genetic factor and environmental trigger together. When I had a discussion about this with a pediatrician 12 years ago she said to me: “Autism is caused by a genetics. Period.  To consider anything else is ridiculous.”

I sat for a moment and thought about that.  I then I wondered out loud, “Can you tell me another genetic epidemic in history that unfolded like Autism?” Crickets. I’m a pretty moderate parent…however it is no wonder that many parents are suspect of the medical system with that kind of definitive statement when the bottom line is WE DON’T KNOW.

Does it mean my husband and I have Autism? No, not necessarily…but who knows?  If we do carry that genetic material and we combined it….we no more caused the autism than we “caused” their big gorgeous brown eyes or fact that they may need to wear glasses one day. Their eyes could have almost just as easily been blue instead all things considered.   And if environment did play a role and all the Fruity Pebbles I ate during pregnancy kicked those  genes into overdrive as the environmental trigger, there is not a damn thing I can do about that now.

I have never felt the “shame of blame”…and I don’t think any parent should.

We are wired to procreate and continue population.  We can just hope that this kind of information will one day find the link that allows children who suffer in silence or physical or emotional pain to grow to be independent and happy…just like all parents want their kids to do.

Day 2 2016: B is for Behavior

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B is for Behavior

All behavior serves one of 4 functions:

To gain attention

To escape a situation

To gain access to something (usually tangible)

or

A response to an internal stimuli such as hunger, illness or exhaustion.

Seriously.  Just 4 reasons anyone does anything.  Think about it–you won’t come up with a 5th. I have tried.

Of course, if it were that simple we would all live in harmony.  However, there are some times it gets tricky.  For instance, when a behavior is triggered by something internal, it can be incredibly difficult to identify.  So if a child with autism likes to clap his hands near his ears is it because he likes the sound?  Or is it because he likes how his hands feel when he claps them together?  Or is it because it creates a little wind near his face which he likes?  To make matters even more complicated…a behavior can change function midstream and without warning.  So that same kid who liked hearing the sound of his own clapping next to his ear and his parent rushes over to him and holds his hands and tells him “stop!  Lets play instead”….her reaction may have just inadvertently changed the function of the child’s behavior from internal reasons to external. Perhaps it becomes a great way to get his parents’ attention now too.  Such is the nature of human existence…including humans on the Autism Spectrum.  It is easy to judge others without understanding when looking at their behaviors through our own lenses.  So next time you see a child having a tantrum in public or seems out of control, bear in mind that the function of his behavior may not be attention like you might be used to from a bratty kid. He may be responding to sensory overload and needs to leave or perhaps if you hang out long enough you may come to find it may be screams of joy because he has no other way to express it.