At The End Of The Day….

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There 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 that poke at my side and wake me breathless in the middle of the night that were now tugging at the straps of my mom-suit on sunburned shoulders. I see the young women in their bikinis, laughing and hanging off of tattooed boyfriends and remembered a time where wondering if my thighs were firm enough or if my mascara was running were my biggest concerns. And at the time they really did feel like big concerns.

There are days….just like every other chubby middle aged mom, I just miss my youth.

I watch other moms read their books and drink stealthy mojitos next to the pool as their kids run to them at rest time asking for a hot pretzel. The lifeguards are there to protect theirs while I stand knee deep in freezing water wondering what would happen if I tried to do the same.

There are days….like every other mom of little ones, I wish I could lounge near a pool instead of  being on high alert waiting to save my kid from drowning.

I see the moms with wee-ones on changing tables and laugh as I remember being in the same predicament with a wet, slippery cherub in a soaking wet swimmy full of poop and trying to carefully slide it down over a squirmy tushy, not realizing the sides rip off for easy disposal. Today I am trying to find a dry floor free of clumpy toilet paper wads since my guy is now too old to place on a changing table.

There are days….like every mom of little ones, I just wish we were out of the diaper stage.

Once I shook the delirium of the midday sun and made my own mojito at home I felt less like I was crawling toward a mirage in the desert only to be disappointed by more sand.

I feel conflicted by my own selfishness.

I know the bottom line is if he is still oblivious to his differences and is still filled with joy doing what he likes to do whether it suits me or not, then we are still golden. And yet I can feel like I have received a sucker punch to the gut when I watch pubescent girls walk quickly in cliques past him whispering and giggling. I don’t know if my child worries about the same things I do or if he has crushes on girls or if he sometimes grieves his differences. I hope not. That way I can keep my selfishness where it belongs…to myself.

But here’s the thing.

Don’t ALL moms go through this? 

We have a sacred ground that feels like it is being broken if we say it out loud or admit to having a bad mom day.  Special Needs bad mom days and Typical bad mom days have a different script but definitely the same plot.

  • No.  I will never worry about my kid having a psycho girlfriend.
  • I will never worry about my child’s heartbreak of  being socially brushed off because he is wearing the wrong logo on his sneakers.
  • I will never worry that I did not raise him with morals or respect for adults.
  •  I will never worry about whether or not weed will be his gateway drug to heroin.

Those things are equally as important even though there are days I would rather worry about those things. Somehow it became not OK to admit to worry or heartbreak or disappointment for fear of being seen that we somehow don’t appreciate our children. I hesitate to share on these days I must sit quietly for a little too long and think about things a little too much. I am weary of feeling somehow missing our old lives or having a twinge of disappointment over “what could have been” cannot possibly coexist with loving our children with all our souls or appreciating their uniqueness in all their flappy, pool water drinking ways.

See…because you know what I miss too some days? My flat stomach with a belly ring that didn’t look like it was a way to deflate my abdomen. I miss not checking moles and worrying about skin cancer. I miss not having to hire a crane to hoist my chest up in a bathing suit. I miss drinking beer all afternoon in the sun and flirting. I miss working full time and then actually being bored in the evening when I couldn’t find someone to go to the coffeehouse to see some local guy playing acoustic.  And I dare anyone reading this to NOT feel like they miss those things too sometimes and that they too would consider trading their situation in to go back for just one day only to realize there would be no way in hell.  Because we will never be the same and for that the world will never be the same. This is the backward legacy that our kids give to us….as we gave to our parents.

I often wonder what kind of mom I would be in an alternate universe….and feel very selfish on the sad days. But ultimately, autism or not, I really don’t think I’m so much different from any other mom.

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.

 

 

 

 

 

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)

Running through Water

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 4 2016: D is for Diagnosis

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D is for Diagnosis

By the time my oldest was 18 months old, I knew he had Asperger’s….but no one else seemed to know except for maybe my husband.  He spoke like an adult yet seemed confused whenever anyone asked him something directly.  (“He’s a genius!  Listen to him talk…he’s just busy thinking about other things”).   At Mommy-Tot class while all the other babies would watch with wonder as technicolor bubbles floated by, he was finding his way across the gym to open and close the door over and over. (“He’s a genius!  Bubbles are beneath his intelligence!”) And yes, he loved to go to the park….but would decide which park based on what kind of public toilet was there and then would spend the majority of his time in said toilet if allowed….and I would often have to threaten him with a consequence if he didn’t go and play (“He’s a genius!  He’ll be an engineer one day…he just wants to know how it works!”).    While he also never hugged or kissed me, he would let me do it to him.  I said “I love you” any opportunity I had but he never said it back.  He would let me sit down to play with him, but his back would soon be turned and he was playing on his own again.  His conversations often consisted of repetitive phrases over a video he watched over and over for months at a time.  The list could go on and on….but the fact was that he was not particularly disruptive, he was functional and he was so cute and tiny and spoke so well people mistook him for a quirky genius.   What was difficult is that we lived far from family and friends so when they saw him for brief periods they would just tell us we were worrying too much.  They would see the quirk for a few days at a time….not hours on end like we saw.  So when my youngest got to be about 8 months old and clearly had serious medical issues all concerns we had about A1 went to the way side.  My concerns were still there but again were also pushed aside by the pediatrician when I would bring them up (“Some kids are just persistent” “Drooling has just become a bad habit”)  It wasn’t until he was 7 years old that I had him tested and really, it was only because he was floundering at school.  I was being told that “some kids are average to below average”….the same kid just 2 years earlier everyone was telling me was a genius.  I had to see if he had a diagnosis in order to get him the assistance he needed at school…And sure enough….psychoeducational testing by a licensed psychologist showed what we always knew.  ADHD and Asperger’s Disorder.  A few years later I actually got a second opinion from another psychologist…and guess what….same outcome.  On standardized testing. Across settings.  Again.  He is definitely not a genius…but he is also definitely not below average.  A1 is the fall-through-the-crack kid.  His rigidity can be seen as defiance.  His poor social skills makes him look like a loner.  His attention issues make him look lazy.  And as the person who lives with him 24/7 I can tell you he is no more of those things than any 12-year-old.  He is a people pleaser and when he thinks he has failed at that he kicks himself over it.  Overall, A1 is going to be fine….but I believe it is because we have recognized the thing that makes him different…but not less.

A2 was not diagnosed until the age of 4 despite my husband and I and everyone around us knowing something was very wrong.  What was troubling was that when he turned 6 months old and I started him on solids…everything else stopped.  Except for the worst constipation I have ever witnessed.  He stopped growing.  Stopped.  Completely.  At one year he was about the same size and weight as he was at 6 months old.  He stopped developing but did not lose any skills.  At 12 months he was the same adorable little nugget he was at 6 months.  Was it possible I willed him to stay an infant?  What also did not change was his inability to stay asleep for more than 90 minutes at a time.  Down for 90…up for 2 hours.  This went on for 2 years and one day I got the flu and was out of commission for 10 days.  I had to let my husband get up with him through the night.  When I got out of those sweaty sheets after 10 days….it occurred to me that I was not clinically depressed as I believed I was up until that moment my body became an achy, hot mess….I instead emerged a new woman.  A rested woman forced to sleep by a virus.  A2 had already been diagnosed by a fresh muscle biopsy at the Cleveland Clinic with Static Encephalopathy with Mitochondrial Dysfunction….we got a scary letter to take with us everywhere we went.  We were told not to let his blood sugar drop too low.  We were told to keep him cool in the summer.  We were told to have a very low tolerance for fever and dehydration.  We were told he had an uncertain life span.

At about 2 years old when he started crawling he found that rubber stopper thingy  behind a door. Thhhhwwwaaaang! He’d whip his head to the side and roll his eyes.  Thhhhwwaang again.  Again with the head thing and eye rolling.  I remember my heart dropping to my stomach.  I remember thinking “oooohhhhh shiiiiittt”.  I knew that was a stim (self-stimulatory behavior). For the next 2 years I watched A2 develop at 20% of the speed of the rest of his peers.  He went from being the most social baby of the group and as his peers developed speech I watched him realize he was not part of the group…to standing by the group and watching everyone play….to standing out of the group and not paying attention to everyone.  To this day I believe it is not because he didn’t want to…but because he knew he couldn’t.  He flapped.  He screamed.  He stopped eating all solid food. He had no language other than the vowel sounds of babbles of a young infant.  But he was still sweet, and loving and laughed heartily.  He was finally diagnosed at 4 years old with Pervasive Developmental Disorder-Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS).  The diagnostic version of “your kid has Autism…mostly…”.

What’s in a name? Autism, Asperger’s Disorder, Pervasive Developmental Disorder Not Otherwise Specified, ASD, HFA, On-The-Spectrum, Neurodiverse, High functioning Autism, Severe Autism, Non-Verbal Autism.  You may have heard any and all of these used when hearing about someone who has Autism Spectrum Disorder (the now official diagnosis to describe all of the above as of 2013).  We will likely intuitively still call Autism all of these terms because as we have all heard “if you meet one person with Autism…you have met ONE person with Autism”.  The criteria was narrowed and Asperger’s and PDD-NOS were eliminated from official diagnosis.  In my private practice as a therapist, I now see children who come through my office with a list as long as my leg (I’m only 5 feet tall, but you get the picture).  Oppositional Defiant Disorder, ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, Dyslexia, Social Pragmatic Communication Disorder, Bipolar Disorder……all in one child.  Why??  Because we have eliminated Asperger’s Syndrome from our vernacular.  My children have both been reclassified as Autism Spectrum Disorder (as they are supposed to be due to consideration of prior history and diagnosis).  But they could not be any different.  With hard work that would make your head spin and a hard-core bitch of a mom they continue to improve in terms of working toward being independent, contributing members of our community.  But they could NOT be any more different.  This is autism.

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.

Day 1 2016: A is for Advocacy

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A is for Advocacy .

Today is World Autism Awareness Day.  Coincidentally, it is also the day that I will be speaking in front of a very large audience at a Tedx Event stealthily addressing the first step necessary in tackling the mountain for disability advocacy as whole in society. About a year ago I realized that I was advocating my way to an early grave.  The individual battles, bureaucracy and other professional’s personal agendas were getting to be insurmountable.  So I stopped.  I don’t think I have looked at a piece of paper with either child’s name on it in almost a year.  I did it out of self-preservation….I did it as a life insurance policy because I have to live one day longer than A2.  My real life insurance policy runs out in 7 years so I either needed to up the ante and increase my red meat consumption to run out my clock or back away.  I chose back away.  And during that time a metamorphosis occurred.   I realized that it may be much easier and much more impactful to change the world around my children through advocacy rather than to fight the good fight one arduous and marginally successful battle at a time.  And if you know me personally, I think you saw it happening too because people are believing in my movement…quickly.  Very, very quickly.  It’s working already.

Advocacy for those with Autism and other developmental impairment is  becoming a trickier and trickier thing.  The landscape of Autism has changed significantly in the last 25 years.  The prevalence rate has hopscotched up from 1:2500 to about 1:68.  That’s a 600% increase.  One reason may be is that as professionals become more familiar with ASD it has been more frequently diagnosed.  While this is true, conventional wisdom tells me that this is only a small part.  Let’s face it…how many non-verbal, incontinent pre-adolescents did you know growing up?  Because at one point in the last few years I had 2 living on my cul-de-sac.  This is not counting the other 8 with varying degrees of ASD who live within a 3 block radius.  The prevalence rate has risen at the same time computers became a common household item and paying for the internet became yet another utility bill.  For the first time ever, previously isolated families and those with disabilities had a way to connect with a community and also gain information about treatments, supports and advocacy.  I have learned more about what to do for my children through the Internet than any professional has ever taught me.  People who were diagnosed (or perhaps misdiagnosed) 20 years ago are finding each other and forming a neurodiversity movement.  It is for these reasons that I believe the disabilities rights movement has the potential to be the swiftest civil rights movement in history.  However, I also believe that it could be one that never fully comes to light for the same reasons.  Advocacy and fighting for individual rights are actually very personal experiences.  We all have our stories…and some frankly would make most people’s ears bleed to hear them.  What is right for one individual may not be whats best for another…and the reasons vary.  Mix this in with hypervigilant parents, hypervigilant self-advocates, a fragmented healthcare system and school systems who may have been better equipped to deal with IDEA at a time when they might see 1 kid with ASD in their whole district rather than 20 just in one grade and we have a recipe for a whole system collapsing in on itself with the casualties being the very people we are advocating for.  (**Internet Troll Disclaimer:  REEELLLAAAXX…..I’m not talking about YOU specifically….I have included other hypothetical situations…as well as many I did not….).  As a group, I am challenging everyone  to think about the common threads rather than the details.  Go talk to an anti-vaxx parent…and then go talk to a pro-vaxx one.  Have a chat with a parent who paid for 40 hours a week of ABA therapy that was ultimately successful for their child…but also talk to an adult with ASD who had ABA back in a time we called it Lovaas and there was no such thing as “errorless learning”.  Talk to the retirement aged parent you don’t see because they are trapped in their house on lockdown with their adult child who is severely affected with Autism, violent, self injurious and an elopement risk but there is no funding to place them in a safe environment.  Then go talk to the Autistic adult who wants people to accept that people first language is harmful and ASD is not something to cure.  Ask them all to talk about a time they needed to advocate for themselves.  And listen closely.  Self preservation and love are both innate.

It’s Autism Awareness month.  Let’s raise the RIGHT kind of awareness shall we?  We can be a united front even when we have our own agendas.  He HAVE to be a united front even when we have our own agendas.  The future as society as a whole is depending on it…..

26 Days of Autism Awareness from A to Z

Day 23In honor of Autism Awareness month in April of last year I started a project to raise my own awareness on my small little corner of Facebook by lettering each day A-Z and sharing a little bit what autism is and what autism isn’t. I have two beautiful boys both with Autism. They couldn’t be any different and while each have their unique challenges they also each have their unique strengths. Given how differently they present I thought it might be worthwhile to talk a bit about how Autism can manifest, issues facing individuals with disability and how Autism is a family systems issue.  My boys don’t just have Autism.  We are a family living with Autism.  Initially without telling too much, I shared how things might look a little behind closed doors along with a personal photo to my friends who might not otherwise get that glimpse.  But as the days in April passed and I became more comfortable with the safety of Facebook, a change took place with my friends on my page. Instead of the usual 20 or so likes I would get per post, I started getting hundreds. I also started to understand that perhaps the wrong kind of awareness exists. Friends and colleagues began to approach me to let me know just that and thanked me for my efforts. Acquaintances stopped me to ask questions. I had others quietly ask me for advice since they weren’t “out” yet with their concerns about their child.  And yet others were even apologetic telling me they wanted to help in some way.

Somewhere around “K” in the A-Z tale, my husband who is a private person changed as well.  Between the “likes” my posts were getting, the kinds of questions and comments being asked and he too was being stopped by supportive members our community he had a change of heart.  For the first time, he let me know that he was proud of us as a family and that he believed I was changing for the better through the process of writing.  I had not changed. I finally felt I had permission to be open.  The more he saw he could trust that I would still protect some of the more personal aspects of our life while still being honest, the more open and honest I could become.  The process was cathartic for both of us.  I asked my 12 year old to read and approve every post or blog pertaining to him and allowed him to be his 10 year old brother’s voice of approval as well given he does not have the voice to approve. My slow-to-warm, seemingly uninvested Aspie now looks forward to reading my writing and even asked to attend a large and lengthy public speaking engagement where I will be presenting.  Though I started with something on April 1st…26 days later I ended with something else.

April is Autism Awareness month…something that is like some weird little carrot in our world where every day is Autism Awareness Month. I erroneously thought “we don’t need any more awareness…unless you have not interacted with the world at all in the last 10 years…everyone has heard of Autism…everyone knows someone with Autism…enough already with the awareness….”. We need to DO something to help.   But as I found, most people who don’t live with Autism don’t understand it even though they thought they did.  And they certainly don’t hop on disability mom blogs to understand more. I don’t fault them for that. I would not either.  I am a mother of two beautiful boys. We live with Autism and other impairments here and apparently I was doing a wonderful job of walking through the world making it look like any other parenting…..and their differences looking like any other differences a child might have.  Though their Autism defines them about as much as their big brown eyes,  this projection makes everyone around us more comfortable but ultimately it becomes the elephant in the room.  Not just for those who want to ask questions around my silent insistence things are “just the way they are” but by letting my kids think that they are just like everyone else…when they are well aware they are not, leaving them wondering why their feelings are incongruent with the reality we try to portray.  So this year I will again start one more blog A-Z.  Its not everyone’s journey in Autism, but it is ours and it has been healing for all of us to say it out loud.