Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A2 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.
I was in a research study recently involving blogging, deciding upon content, deciding upon platform, media, etc. It truly was an interesting experience–I guess no one ever directly asked me to tell my story in such a way before. While they interviewed over a dozen already, many of which where “mom bloggers”, I was the only one interviewed who addressed experiences as a family living with disability.
Their takeaway they volunteered to share with me? Their experience with other parent bloggers did not include the same judicious protection of content/overcontemplation of concern regarding the forms of dignity I discussed, nor did it involve the level of scrutiny that dug as deep as our level can go. And yes, they do blame their kids for tough days or recognize the universal struggles in a laughable or relatable way and are rewarded for that relatablity on social media. No one else struggled in that balance the way we do.
In our world, there is a fine line which moves it’s position depending on who you are talking to. We have a job as family caregivers of disability to be relatable advocates who set the bar for how we and our kids are perceived by the rest of the world. And unfortunately, I do believe it can be at the expense of self care or which ultimately affects they way we cope within our family systems for the benefit of our charge. We are held to a much higher standard out there in cyberworld under much more challenging circumstances than other parents. I forgot about this piece I wrote a few years ago, but it was on a day I had a similar epiphany at the end of a long, hot summer. Sometimes, I want to say funny things about being a mom too. And yep…sometimes I am selfish.
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…
Autism Acceptance Month 2019: C is for Community, Comradery and Common Ground
These words resonate for my own beautiful boy. My own beautiful family. I am an accidental blogger. There are many reasons I am out here….none of which have come to fruition (yet). A morphing book for a few years and when people ask, they are surprised to learn it has nothing to do with me or my child directly. I kept learning how I should be out there to those who would be interested in the content.
But, you see, this is still all very weird to me.
I didn’t want to write on social media because the dissent and judgement within and among communities…the ones I believed were the same, were awful. It seemed to me everyone has ill intention, everyone is ignorant. I have enough drama, thank you very much. Why would I invite more? By not writing at all meant not sharing it, which meant self care.
I didn’t want to write because even in my personal life, very few people get to know my details. Talking and sharing vs. relating and sharing are different. People tend to fade to black in a cinematically predictable way when sometimes those things are just way bigger than one can make them look while out and about buying the groceries and weed killer. Those melodramas occupy enough space, thank you very much. Why would I drag people into that when we maintain so well over here? By not writing at all meant protecting thoughts and ideas which are uncomfortable or inconvenient to others. Ultimately for me too since disappointment tends to hit me like a wrecking ball.
In the end, regardless of where we know each other or how, I am fairly certain, we are looking for the same end result. By not writing, I did not have to debate this.
Having perspective is a little like breathing. We all do it and at the pace comfortable for living to the best of our ability. That breath adapts to our situation even when it changes. Sometimes it is even vastly different than our original irrefutable pace. When I walk up the steps to my room at home, I find myself stopping and catching my breath 3 or 4 steps before the top when just 4 years ago I could perform literal circus tricks in a hot yoga studio. And while my Lululemon tush wouldn’t have said it out loud, it may have not really understood what it meant to need rest before reaching the top of a staircase, because it never had to before. I may have had recommendations on the misguided beliefs about why it meandered its way up at that speed in the first place. And I might have been wrong-ish, but a vague foundation of knowing why. It didn’t completely make me wrong any more than it also didn’t make me wrong for now knowing I now need to rest for a moment on the banister.
The love for our children. The love for ourselves and the life it seems we thought they should live with us. The love for ourselves as individuals doing the best we can and trying to find others who might say the same. We all want the same thing and it seems to always be based in love and dignity and preservation. Even when from a different angle, that does not appear to be the case.
Before deciding how someone else’s world is not just wrong and different, but destructive, I implore you to stop on the 3rd or 4th step up on the way to your room to take a breath first and then decide how to describe how to better take that breath.
It is easy to say this perspective is not about privilege when we have the option of discussing it in the first place. It is easy to say it is not about privilege when we are groundskeepers and spectators of those we are discussing. If we have love in our hearts, perhaps the common ground in our community is to say we are trying to champion and triumph the same fights. And knowing that is when I decided perhaps I should write.
A couple of years ago I was coordinating a party for my child’s 4th grade classroom. 20% of that classroom had food allergies. I gently reminded parents the goal was for all children to be included, be safe and have fun. I was perplexed when one parent refused to change a cookie decorating idea which did not meet these basic criteria.
“Kids who can’t make or eat them can at least enjoy them for how cute they are!”
In what I believed was a teachable moment, I reminded her this still excluded a fifth of the class and also created a potentially dangerous situation. This parent became so incensed that she quit the committee. While I still get as excited about Halloween as the next guy, I was horrified as one of those children was mine.
Another parent was willing to not only exclude him, but risk his safety because she was so excited about her adorable cookie project.
Halloween has become the holiday where those children with differences become the most exposed and have the potential to be the most left out. The numbers of children with food allergies and other differences have risen sharply since I was a child. As a parent with kids with food issues and also autism, it took me many years to figure out ways how to adapt the most super-fun holiday so it was still fun. Turns out, there are lots of ways to do this both as parents and as community members.
Here are some of the top ideas for the “BIG 3” to make Halloween still the coolest holiday ever
1. FOOD ALLERGIES:
a. PARENTS: Sort out the candy with your child to teach his what is ok to eat. Have the “SWITCH WITCH” visit later that night and exchange that bag of candy full of offending allergens with a present. Your child will be thrilled to have the best of both worlds. And hey, there is no rule that says the switch witch can’t give you that bag to stash away and secretly eat after the kids are asleep.
b. SUPPORTERS: If you paint a pumpkin teal and have it on your front porch it will alert parents of kids with food allergies that you have an allergen alternative available. If you are planning a class party, ASK about allergens—be sure to ask about brand specifics and preparation—that can all play a role in safety. Please remember what it would be like to be 8 years old where everyone gets to eat really cool looking cupcakes except for you. If that were easy to do, none of us would ever be on a diet. The willpower of a child with a food allergy is like nothing most of us can ever understand.
2. SENSORY DIFFERENCES
a. PARENTS: Respect your child’s sensory difference. If noise is an issue, avoid those homes that go all out for Halloween. Your child might be in for a “jump scare” that will end his evening of fun. Costumes are not always made out of the finest of materials. Have him choose his own and try a number of options until one feels right. Contact your local support groups for special needs—there may be sensitive Trunk or Treat nights available which may suit your child much better.
b. SUPPORTERS: Teachers and room parents—if you have children with special needs in your class, tone down the scary a bit. Spooky music should not be on full blast and the mulling around of 25 kids in costume might be disorienting. Have a quiet space outside of the classroom where the child knows he can go to escape if overwhelmed. And for Pete’s sake NO BALLOON POPPING ACTIVITIES OR STROBE LIGHTS!
a. PARENTS: Create visuals to help your child understand what to expect at school parties or trick or treat. Try on the costume ahead of time. If your child does not want to participate in Halloween festivities, don’t force them. Throw a small party at your house with old school fun and invite 2 or 3 children he knows for trick or treating. Stick to familiar neighbors homes and buddy up with a child who can model. Sometimes “just a hat” IS a costume with enough thinking on the fly.
b. SUPPORTERS: If a child does not say “trick or treat” or “ thank-you” he may not be being rude. He may not be able to speak or fully understand what is expected of him. Same goes for a child who appears too large or too old for trick or treating. If a child grabs a handful of candy or doesn’t seem to know what to do when you hold the bowl out, give them a prompt of what to do or physically help them. Their fine motor skills may be impaired and the ability to just pick one or two candies from a dish might be difficult. Still compliment an aspect of their costume even if it seems incomplete. This is still their Halloween too!
The anticipation of Halloween is still timeless. As a parent, I find myself still caught up in creating spooky Pinterest fails and contemplating what candy I can pilfer from my child’s treat bag without him noticing. Some costumes are so realistically scary that I am not certain my red meat consumption hasn’t finally caught up with me and am opening my door to the actual Grim Reaper himself. There is a revolving door of Elsas and Harry Potters who could just very likely just be the same child over and over again capitalizing on those homes with full sized candy bars.
Those of us who try to make our kids feel included no matter what can get very good at scooping up the world around, tying it in a different bow and re-presenting it to our kids and Halloween is no different. With the help of our community, little tweaks can make all the difference between Halloween being fun or being truly scary.
Originally Published as The Tail Wagging the Dog 9/2015
Our dog is playful and fun and sweet and well behaved.
Until he is not.
And then, he is a bit of a sonofabitch.
And it always catches us off guard. 30 rounds of chasing the ball and joyfully bringing it back is often followed by a random and somewhat humiliating drive-by where he passes me up, runs 3 yards over and pees on the neighbor’s dog.
The ability to look nonchalant and nonplussed at the same time after your dog just defiled someone else’s beloved pet is something that only the parent of a child with Autism can pull off with Merylstreepworthy street cred.
These times I breathlessly call his name while chasing him in circles with what I believe to be an audible background soundtrack of the Benny Hill theme song, I will often submit myself to the idea of giving him back to the service dog agency. Wally came to us in a somewhat miraculous way. I relinquished the idea of a service dog for A2 years ago when I learned that an application was only the first step in a lengthy and costly fundraising and training endeavor–a cruel (but necessary)paradox for a middle class family supporting a child with a disability. So when I saw a post in a local Facebook mom’s group about this agency’s need for foster families for their breeding program it was a no-brainer. He had been through an advanced training program, came with the bright orange “do not touch” vest (that as it turns out that as a whole people just ignore) and most importantly, neither of my children reeled away from him in fear of barking or jumping. I could get used to having to drive out to the agency on a moments notice for his doggie duty or the fact that as an intact male he has a certain “je ne sais quoi” that at times makes me feel uneasy explaining to groups of gathering and inquisitive elementary school kids.
While this dog is not trained specifically for my child, I had notions of things. Wonderful things.
He would have the gumption of a sheepherding dog and rustle A2 back off to bed at night allowing all of us a full nights sleep. He would have Lassie-like receptive and expressive language skills to alert us if A2 wandered off…or fell in a well….or were lost in a canyon. He would be A2’s best friend and would play ball, endure endless tummy rubs and kiss away tears. But alas, Wally is not trained to endure colossal meltdowns or high pitched screaming. A2 is obsessed with Wally’s nails needing trimmed and is also wholly mortified by his noisy and explicit grooming habits.
It often feels more like they are roommates who met out of necessity on Craigslist.
We wanted Wally to be for A2, but really, we wanted him to be for us. We needed extra eyes, extra sleep and fuller hearts knowing A2 had a friend. But its not looking like this part was meant to be.
The surprise twist here is that I did not anticipate that Wally is here for A1. We didn’t see that one coming at all.
I have watched A1 learn to use inflection in his voice to get him to follow a command or gain his attention. Wally’s presence is forcing A1 up out of his gaming chair to take him on walks or throw a ball or frisbee. He is quickly using perspective taking in a way I have never noticed in questions such as “Do you think Wally likes me? How can you tell?” or “Mom, I feel so bad. I wish I could give him some of my sandwich. Is this how you feel about me with my Celiac when other kids are eating gluten around me?”
My beautiful, slow to warm boy who would rather not touch or be touched is slowly but voluntarily petting, patting, feeding and cuddling Wally. Though it took me years to understand and accept that A1’s needs and worldview are just very different than mine, I have always known that forcing my motherly agenda would only reinforce his discomfort. And in a very rare moment–maybe the second time in his life–just last night while watching TV he scooted closer to me on the couch, leaned in, and rested his head on my shoulder.
So Wally, you are off the hook.
I will humble myself as I once again issue the world’s most awkward apology and assure the neighbors that we have no intentions of keeping their dog since you have clearly claimed him as your own just as long as you keep doing the stealthy, stellar job you were given to do here with us.
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:
Picture a city with 20,000 streets.
Now lets figure out which streets have public mailboxes, one way traffic, standard poodles and single mothers living on them.
Only some people who travel down those streets buy mandarin oranges (not regular naval) and we need to find those people.
(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.
In the most typical of situations sibling issues exist. For sibs of those with significant impairment, these kids are often the invisible bystanders. Their issues and needs sometimes take backseat to the immediacy and reality of their sibling with Autism needs. We ask them to deal with leaving fun events earlier than they would like, let embarrassing situations roll off their backs and stifle disappointment. The rate of having more than one child with neuro diversity is high. Sometimes, the less impaired child is asked to cope and step up in ways that would challenge even the most typical and mature of children.
Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A1 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young…and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.
I sat on the edge of my boy’s bed and ran the back of my hand across his smooth, cherubic cheek. At the same age, my older son’s voice was already changing.
Most nights I wait until I know his door has been closed, the light is off and I hear the dog downstairs rooting around his aluminum dish for nighttime grub. I wait until the heft of daylight is tucked neatly beneath his bed and he has held silence for a few moments as it has held him for the last 12 hours.
The shadows and light cast on the walls of his room in the friendliest of ways–not because of the shadowy reflection of Mickey Mouse ears and baseball trophies, but in the way that my sweet boy has never been afraid of the dark.
“Mooo peeeese” he says more as a statement than as a request. I much oblige and ask if he would rather have space than the moon. He always prefers the moon.
I fumble with a cheap plastic rocket ship on his nightstand. I’m always surprised by just how dark it is and how difficult it is to find. It has a clock that forever blinks 12:00. His internal clock is spot on, so I have never bothered to fish out the manual from the library of lost causes, loose change and plastic ware to reset it. Every night, I push a button to reveal a constellation of stars, or an astronaut or a full moon large enough to beckon high tide thousands of miles away and swallow his room in white foam and ocean spray. While sometimes it is “spaceman” who will watch over him after I leave the room, it is mostly the moon he wants before he says “ready” in his polite request for me to let him drift off on his own. If only he could learn to push the moon button by himself at 2:00am to lull himself back to sleep instead of requiring my semi-conscious presence to be his field of poppies.
I finally find the correct button, and even though one of the spotlights has gone dark over the years, the most perfect Supermoon hangs low and flickering in the rotation of his ceiling fan. Maybe it makes it look like the man in the moon is bidding him a fair adieu with the consistency and persistence he likes to wave goodbye to people who don’t appreciate the value of farewell as much as his imaginary spaceman. Or maybe he likes the idea that someone would wave back.
“Bye Mommy”, he pours out in his child’s voice I believe sounds exactly like it did when he was four. Except he could not say “bye” or “mommy” or any combination of that at four.
That rocketship, with the projection of a perfect Moon has been around about that long. Really, probably as long as he can remember. It is only a matter of time before the remaining dim spotlight shines for the last time on his ceiling. I have a hard time imagining what it will be like to have to explain he already had the final night with his own personal moonbeam when I realize it the next evening. He will keep asking for the moon and I won’t have it to give anymore.
So I fumble in that friendly darkness every night searching for the moon button and praying that God takes the dog tomorrow instead.
But tonight, I went online and ordered the last 8 rocketship moon projectors I could find. Hopefully 50 more years and 18,000 Blue Moons. I don’t know how many of those moons he will have to light up himself, but until then, at least I know he is not afraid of the dark.
There 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
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.