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…..

FullSizeRender(12)

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.

IMG_5405

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

Running through Water

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…

View original post 228 more words

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…

View original post 217 more words

Day 10 2016:J is for Just Ask

IMG_4894

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 often times they 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”….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?  Yes. 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.  A lot of times people don’t realize we need help.  For those of us who have kiddos who don’t have a tremendous amount of trouble in the community, many of us 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 and can 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…..they are not getting asked often 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…..which means more work.  If there were an emergency, they are not enough of a trained listener to know what he 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 need to 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 or 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……

5 Pros and Cons of IDEA: What Every Parent (and educator!) Should Know

IMG_4868
This tower is 4 years total of educational paper work for 2 kids and represents approximately over 300 hours of meetings, evaluations, reading and combing over data….JUST AS THE PARENT

I is for IEP, IDEA and Inclusion.

These three “I” words have forever changed me as a person.  If you have a child in special education, you probably just had a shiver run down your spine just by reading those acronyms in print and may be thinking the same thing.  All of these things serve as a blessing and a curse to our kids…and also to the educators and administration serving them.  Back in the day, the Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) was enacted to refine and replace what few laws there were to protect children with disabilities within the education system.  It was meant to also focus more on the individual rather than on the disability itself.  IDEA has been re-written several times since 1990.  There are several things it does both in a good way and also in not such a good way:

  1.   It provides a free and appropriate public education (FAPE) to all kids regardless of disability at public expense.  The key word here being APPROPRIATE. The downside: There is a pretty decent chance that what you and your child’s test scores say and what you know is appropriate will be very different than what the district thinks is appropriate.  And most likely because of that other key word….FREE.
  2. Evaluations:  This law makes sure that children with disabilities are evaluated in a way that makes sense.  We don’t want to use one specific test to decide if a child needs special education services.  That way  discrimination is prevented and ideally, these evaluations serve as a tool to know exactly what they will need educationally. The downside:  Evaluations are only as good as the people trained to administer them….and only as good as the educator who can recognize an issue in the first place.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): These are legal documents that establish goals, accommodations and modifications to the general curriculum and access to qualified professionals to ensure that a child with a disability is learning at the right pace and to his ability within their environment.  These plans level the educational playing field for those with a disability.  The heart of special education.  There are 13 categories under which a child may qualify: specific learning disability, speech and language impairment, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, visual impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, autism, multiple disability, other health impairments, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability,  The downside: Because they are legal documents and may be audited and are monitored on a quarterly basis, educators may have a very high self-preservation incentive to make certain your child is meeting his goals….at least on paper.  The more savvy the parent, the more tricky this can become.
  4. Least Restrictive Environment (LRE):  This ensures that your child is placed in an environment that meets his needs as independently as possible in an educational setting that is appropriate for him.  The goal is to work toward the LRE.   The downside:  For those of us with kiddos with Autism, this is not always cut and dry.  Especially those who are cognitively intact but perhaps have a language impairment or another issue which may stand in the way of independence.  An emerging issue in the field is for those kids who are considered “twice exceptional” such those who are intellectually gifted but with severe behavioral issues.  And what does “least restrictive” mean anyway?  My kid who needs 1:1 to learn can totally sit in a regular classroom to do that.  However, I believe my district interprets LRE to mean that he be in a contained classroom without a 1:1 because then he might have more physical independence in that room.  Who is right?
  5. Protections for your child…..protections for you as a parent:  Because of IDEA, there are procedural safeguards in place to make certain that your child is receiving the services the school says they will provide and a protocol to follow if you believe they are not.  Additionally, these protections allow for parent participation and child participation as an equal member of the child’s school team. The downside: Let’s face it…if you are not an educator…or even know where to go to get what you need, you will never be an equal member of your child’s team.   Procedural safeguards and parent participation are ultimately only as good as the questions you know to ask, as your attorney and your bank account.  The catch-22 if you do live in a very good school district?  There is a good chance that anything that goes to due process is going to take a LOOOONNNNNGGG time.  And think about that for a second.  If there is a FAPE violation and it works its way all the way up to a due process hearing doesn’t that seem counterintuitive for your school district to allow little old you to go to court with them?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem as it would be much cheaper and less time consuming to do so?  It’s not.  At least not to them.  Because no matter how much the school doesn’t want to throw money at something they can still probably afford to pay a better attorney for much longer than you can.  And besides…the year and a half it could take…perhaps that child won’t need what it was you were asking for by then…or make your life complicated enough that you will break and succumb.   That seems like a pretty good gamble for a district.  And then it doesn’t set a standard for other families to ask for the same.

The last 25 years have been interesting ones for the education system as a whole.  When the parents who walked before us clawed and fought and struggled for these laws it was at a time before the internet, before all the revisions, before standardized testing existed in the way it did, before No Child Left Behind and before Autism was 1:68.  IDEA is necessary no matter how you slice it, however it exists in a very different system than it did in 1990.  At this point I know a lot of the law like the back of my hand and the parts I don’t know I am now educated on how to find those rules.  I have a list of socio-emotional goals for almost every developmental issue at my finger tips and I have an entire community of people going through the same struggles I am at the click of a button day and night.  All of this has been achieved through this tiny-huge world we have online.  I know exactly the gap closure between special education kids and regular ed kids not only for my district, but for my school.  I know the 6 payment tiers that exist and the formula used to calculate how much extra funding my district for each of my kids for using special education services.  I know what belongs where on all 13 sections of the IEP and how to make a goal measurable. And I know when I am being BS-ed by my district.  I don’t know all of this because of my training…I know it because I live in 2016 and any parent with a computer and the desire can learn the same.   In 1990, my school district certainly was not expecting 1 out of every 6 children attending (or 15%) to have some sort of developmental disability….or for the Autism rates to be 600% higher.   My child’s elementary school currently has about 700 students and about 100 IEPs (last I heard)…all while serving about 29% of their students as English as a Second Language with limited proficiency.  Teachers are stretched thin. Inclusion and LRE are so important for our kids future, yet most regular education teachers were not taught the basics on how to include and teach special ed kids in differentiated instruction or how to manage a classroom where there are multiple children with conflicting accommodations. (ie:  When Johnny gets stressed, he can crumple paper…but Jimmy’s auditory sensory integration issues make it impossible to keep it together when he hears paper crumpling….).  Parents are communicating, educated and knowing the legal hoops to jump through if their children’s rights are being violated.  It is a system that cannot hold itself up and still serve our most vulnerable children to be the most successful they can be.  Parents…please keep fighting for your kids….keep learning everything you can.  Educators…please do the same.  I do not have the answer….I am just hopeful it is found before my children have to move on from the “protective bubble” of IDEA and there are no grown up IEPs.

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

FullSizeRender(5)

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

IMG_2885

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.

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.