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.

12 Times my Kid Was Way, Way Cooler Than North Carolina

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A1 got off the bus last week and immediately came to find me.  This is unusual as it is typically the other way around.

I hate riding the bus.  I try to keep my headphones on so no one will bother me….but they even make fun of that” he blathered.

A1 is not one to seek out trouble, but he has no ability to not verbally respond to it when it comes his way.  Impulsiveness and rigidity.  Such is the way of  ADHD and Asperger’s and as he gets older, he gets more and more aware of this but doesn’t seem to have the impetus to make it stop.

It wouldn’t be so bad if even one kid stuck up for me or was on my side. B was making fun that I couldn’t run all the way around the track in gym“.

He went on and on. And I nodded imagining A1 trying to explain at length why his Keens rubbed against his heels or how he was out of breath….stoking a fire that he did not know was smoldering.  I did not hear much else until the end.

“….and then B said to me ‘at least I’m not a transgender.”

I stood for another moment gathering my thoughts and wondering what A1 was thinking as I just stared at him floundering to find something to say.  I took a slow, deep breath, “and what did you say when he said that?

I told him ‘If you think I’m cute, you can just say so…..’”

Bam.

He didn’t deny it.  He didn’t admit to it.  He didn’t give the other boy the power to use that in a way that would have inadvertently bullied anyone else in earshot.  He shut that shit down.

I am sure if my child had the ability to remain quiet, he would.  However in that moment I have never been more proud of him.   He is potentially the coolest person I know and possibly not as vulnerable as he feels….and it’s not because he is 12 and has shoulder length black hair with Manic Panic lizard green tips.  He ultimately understands what it means to be transgender….to be different in a way no one gets.  He also doesn’t understand what the big deal is and why “adults can’t get over it either”.  He had several options of comebacks and told me he recognized that given the slurs thrown his way there were many cruel things he could have said but chose not to.  A1 is confused for a girl a lot.  Though we talk about it, he tells me he is not transgender nor does it bother him when people think he is a girl. He says he knows it goes with the territory of having long hair.  My Aspie tells me he is lonely, he tells me he knows people think he is weird…but he lives his life being true to himself, doing his own thing, wearing what he wants…and unapologetically giving zero f’s. And one day…when adolescence has passed him by I am certain he will come out the other side being a better person for it.

So North Carolina…in light of your clamoring last week to pass the adult equivalent bill of bus bullying LGBT people…my 12 year old with developmental issues gets it…why don’t you?  While we are at it…here are 12 other ways he is cooler than you:

  1.  He has mad Etch-a-Sketch skillz

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2.  The element of surprise

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3.  He also sets his own agenda.  But way better than you. 

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4.  Visual cues for piano practice?  He scoffs at those….

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5.  He tells it like it is.  And obviously is learning something in language arts on occasion.

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6.  He expects quality.  And he will wear it wherever he wants.

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7.  Oh.  He’ll do his homework alright…

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8.  This

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9.  Sure, he’ll write your silly story….

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10.  years and years of fashion….(not to mention his real dad is Tommy Lee)

 

11. Upper hand.

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12.  Discussed. 

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Why we do the things we do. The trauma edition.

-font-b-Handmade-b-font-mini-kraft-paper-font-b-envelope-b-font-5-8x9cmThere is a large manila envelope still sealed sitting on my desk. No matter how much I stare at it, it doesn’t:

1. Spontaneously burst into flames

2. Disappear

3. Take care of itself.

It does not contain a subpoena, a warrant for my arrest or an eminent domain letter. It was not delivered certified mail or by official messenger. It was hand delivered by my 6th grader because the teacher very graciously contacted me ahead of time to ask me how I would like the prior written notice papers from the last IEP meeting delivered so I could sign and return them in a timely manner to the school. It has been sitting and judging me silently for over three months now as it sits untouched. I am reduced to a Pavlovian dog, except my bell is an envelope and my saliva is anxiety. A crippling-can’t-get-any-thing-else-done anxiety. And I rationally know there is likely nothing in that envelope that should really cause this kind of response. But that’s the thing with phobias or irrational fears and trauma response.

Yes…I said trauma response. 

Often times prior experience attaches itself to something innocuous and we then pair our previous response with a neutral stimuli and generalize it over time. Caller ID with the school prefix, email and now apparently manila envelopes have become the manifestation of years of battles, blockades and having my already fledgling parental competency called to the carpet.

For me….my defining moment were words uttered in a meeting 7 years in….but 3 years ago:  “Its not fair for one (A2) to get more just because of your parental advocacy”  (which was agreeable…but in a whole different way given we were discussing data collection that was reportedly correct, not collected by me…and concerning). 

It is silly I suppose if you are the one who stuffed the envelope and have no knowledge of my defining moment or my other, more academically impaired child. She certainly must be wondering about the warning likely issued by the elementary school about my hypervigilance, because the experience she is having is the opposite. A parent who is late to answer emails yet bizarrely will parse apart data collection in an IEP meeting….and be spot on why it was taken incorrectly must mess with her own schema of special needs parents.   I have learned to become a very hands-off parent in hopes of preserving my own life in the last year.  I have a double-decker weekly pill case that houses my capsules of life extending medications that would impress most of the AARP crowd.  Yet I am not yet even 50.  Years of sleep deprivation and external stress can only wear so long in a genetic cesspool.

So there it sits….but not without words. It screams to me every day over the din of my responsibilities. But I am strong and I can withstand long term, unfocused wailing.

So I leave you with 3 truths….

A. I am human.

B.  I love my child more than anything I could have ever imagined.

C.  I am preparing for an uncertain future in a time that I will no longer be here to advocate in a world that does not see my child as perfect as I do.

…and there are things that get in the way of of the co-existence of Notions A, B and C.  

Sorry about the envelope.

Autism Awareness Month. X is for X-Ray.

Day 24

Sensory differences are a common symptom of autism. Often kids on the spectrum can become overwhelmed by these differences. A1 tells me that a public toilet flushing sounds like a bomb going off and for several years he avoided public restrooms. A2 flaps his arms and locks out his knees whenever he is filled with anxiety….kind of his virtual rocking chair….or else he is just hoping to fly away from the dentist/barking dog/hand dryer. As autism-folk we try to build awareness by creating overwhelming scenarios to get NTs (neurotypicals…yes, we have a name for you) to sympathize the plight of the kid flicking his fingers in front of his face as a way to stop having his eyes taking a million pictures at once or the kid who is pacing because he can’t tell where his body is in space. But sometimes, I am fairly certain that some of those sensory integration differences are not experienced in a negative way and sometimes there are common things that just look, sound or feel like something not of this world…..if I could only take an x-ray of A2s little mind and see what he could for 10 seconds….. (…and feel free to smile at this picture….)

Autism Awareness Month. V is for Village

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Because we are so immersed in this world of autism I have erroneously concluded that everyone who lives outside of this Village is already aware of autism. However, there is a secret sorority that exists…one equipped with a secret handshake and password. I am in that sorority yet have no recollection of agreeing to join. Autism is funny like that. The Village of Autism parents is a unique one. We are a motley crew of individuals whose path may have never crossed otherwise. We meet each other in waiting rooms and lobbies of doctors offices instead of in the PTO. We have closed blogs and Facebook pages instead of casual phone calls. We learn more about the newest treatments and resources from each other than we do from professionals. We talk about how well our child is pooping quicker than we will discuss how well they are doing in school. Though we are typically the least able to, we are often the first responders to others in the Village because we are more likely to reach out to one another than we would outside of the Village where no one speaks our language. And we find each other….everywhere and all the time. Today while sitting on the floor in the middle of the children’s shoe department feverishly tearing inserts out of shoes and hopelessly attemping to shove A2’s newest orthotics into them with no success I broke down and cried. Just sat there in the middle of the floor, surrounded by ridiculous shoes with flashing lights on the soles and sobbed like a toddler might who couldn’t find the shoes she liked. At that same time, I peered up to see a woman pushing a cart with one hand while calmly using her other to push her much-too-large child who was humming loudly down back into his seat. We made eye contact for a single moment and silently nodded–her nod seemingly said “Yes….I know those orthotics were made wrong twice before in 7 months and represents 6 visits to the clinic over that same time. Yes…..I realize this is the 3rd store you have been in today that absolutely does not carry shoes your 9 year old can wear with the braces he must wear on his feet. Yes….I realize that your tears are really about your kid and the pain and blisters he will probably have again that he can’t communicate or the weird, white 1960s Frankenbaby shoes the orthotics company will recommend that look nothing like what his school friends will be wearing. Yes….I see you….and I know you see me….” V is for my Village. The quiet, connected Village where my family lives.

Autism Awareness Month. T is for Teachers and Therapists.

Day 20

 T is for Teachers and Therapists

112. A2 has had a total of 112 different teachers and therapists in his short 11 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 105,000 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 on my entire family’s lives and for all of them, I am grateful.  When reading this post today–please help me help a few whose lives are difficult right now–Debbie Jo Pierce (pictured above) was one of the first paraprofessionals to work with A2. She has given most of her life to helping others and is ill with cancer leaving her unable to work and without income. Please consider today to donate to a Gofundme account started for her to help ease her burdens. Also, if you are of the praying sort, please like the FB page for Pray for Rachel. Lauren Sullivan, a favorite home team therapist of A2 15 year old sister Rachel is in Nationwide Children’s Hospital being treated for cancer. Rachel is her heart and soul –a child of strength and character. I am only one person–Christmas gifts and thank yous always seem so trite in the face of what we ask of the professionals who help us. Can you help make an impact for 2 of them today?

**This post has been updated since the original post  in April 2015, Debbie Jo passed away..taken too early in this world, yet someone must have felt her job here was done….and what a job she did in a quiet world where her time impacted so many.  Rachel Sullivan has made a full recovery and is enjoying school, family, sports and her community.

Autism Awareness Month. S is for Skeletons

Day 19

S is for Skeletons

(edited and reposted from 4/2015)

In a way we are luckier than many in that when you meet A2, it is clear he is generally sweet and happy. It is also clear that he is a 10 year old with limited language and an intense fascination with things like dangling light bulbs and garage doors. This combination is like a free pass since it would be weirder to not acknowledge it, I get to talk about it.

But just a little bit.

It’s not exactly like airing dirty laundry. It’s more like airing dry cleaning–the-sort-of-dirty-nicest-silk-dress-in-my-closet kind of laundry. Let’s face it, there are socks and skivvies in all of our hampers we wouldn’t dare let hang out on the line in the backyard. For us, in the best of our worst case scenario of autism, A2 can make autism seem almost ethereal. And he IS inspirational. Despite his challenges he plows through life with a joy and wonder as if even the slightest thing is something he has seen for the first time. When we hire aides to work in our home, I warn them in advance that their work space is located in the darker cubicle of my life. While it can be a place full of love and ideas and fun, it is also the space where anxiety, anger and compulsiveness roll up like dust bunnies in the corner. They are invited into that laundry room to watch me fold those things we can’t hang outside to dry. They get to see the worst of the best case scenario and of course are free to form opinions or quietly judge. These young women know more than my “inner circle” of friends and it is not a comfortable place to be, but I let it happen for the benefit of my child for whom alone I could not be successful.

Why would I focus on this today when I have shared more about what it’s like on social media than I ever intended? Because we are “out” and wholly connected with the special needs community. There are revolutionaries who have adult children and walked with a yoke of all the things autism brings around their shoulders before anyone knew what autism was and never got the help they needed, so they created it for us. There are families you may know who can’t take their children in public for fear they won’t be safe to themselves or others. There are those who walk among us invisible–who closely protect their tangled criss-cross of laundry lines for fear of being judged, or worse yet, for their child being judged over something beyond their control. These are the people who might need to be seen and understood the most because they are not likely connected to a community who will understand. This is also autism.

Awareness is not just about what we do see, it’s also about what we don’t. If you are a revolutionary or an invisible family, reach out to me…tell me you are here….and if you are feeling brave, let me tag you on this post.

Autism Awareness Month. R is for Relationships

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 he could. He is just as likely to enthusiastically greet a stranger in a public bathroom as he would a child at school he knows well.

A2’s splintered play skills had to be taught like you would teach a typically developing child how to read. And he has missed many steps in this such as building with blocks and representational play. This spectrum of deficit in social interactions makes it much like I am raising 2 only children.

A2 wants nothing more than to play with A1, but has no idea how to engage in some of the more rigid independent activities he is playing.

A1 wants nothing more than to play by himself because he has no idea how to model the back and forth necessary for that interaction to work if it is not an activity of high interest.

I believe they love each other…but much of the time it is like they are drifting in separate rafts in a tumultuous sea of desire for one another’s companionship without oars the to paddle over to each other. Sometimes their boats coincidentally bump. It is those moments as a mom I see a glimmer of typical sibling antagonism, tattling and sometimes even a game of Connect 4 and hope that they both hold on to each other’s rafts and paddle to shore together one day.

Autism Awareness Month. Q is for Quirky

Day 17

“Why does he do that?” A common question for parents of children with autism. There is no easy answer for that in a global sense given each child with autism is as unique as any child without autism. Many times it’s because the wires are crossed neurologically causing some kids like A2 to perceive things in the world differently. Licking a basketball before he shoots it, flapping his arms whenever he is excited or anxious or hooting loudly when he sees something interesting….try thinking instead taste sometimes is like balance, repetitive movements are calming to the body and noise is quicker that coming up with words. Sometimes the quirk comes because the part of the brain responsible for things like memory, the time it takes to process information and the ability to take another persons’ perspective has a blip and experiences the world in the same way much like A1. Someone just said to me “I always thought he just marches to the beat of his own drummer”. And he does. They both do. My kids are as they are and as they should be but at the same time they do need to be functioning and hopefully contributing members of society. Sometimes though, to watch the struggle of loneliness because others don’t understand is painful and hope that I am projecting my own anxiety and that they are more resilient than I give credit for. This unique and quirky nature of autism makes my guys who they are…..and they are perfect to me. Perfect…and different, not less….

Autism Awareness Month. N is for Night

Day 14

This photo was taken over the Scioto River in broad daylight, but thanks to filters it looks like a cross section between day and night. When sleep is elusive for our children with autism and days roll into nights roll that into days… that sultry blanket doesn’t seem quite as enchanted and that line between light and dark not nearly as defined. I’m not certain that A2 has ever slept through the night in his life. For the first several years of his life he was up every 90 minutes or so. I was told to let him cry it out. So I did. And then abandoned the wholehearted attempts after 11 weeks. We have it easier than many. A2’s nighttime visits do not include damaging the house, self harm or escaping, but is instead marked with fitful wandering, bed hopping, laundry for diaper leaks and sometimes a sneaky visit with The Wiggles on the DVR. We wonder if his slow cognitive development and behavioral issues are exacerbated by exhaustion and we try to have patience in our own exhaustion recognizing that if he could sleep, he would. There is no simple answer for the underlying etiology of lack of sleep for kids with autism and hope that my guy doesn’t feel tortured by sleep being just a visitor passing through. In the still of darkness I wonder if I am the only one awake in the world. Shadows turn into demons of an uncertain future and the quiet becomes a deafening blare of anxiety that the hustle and pace of the day drowns out. Perhaps even if A2 could have restful sleep, I am fairly certain that I still would not.