Sunday, January 18, 2015

It's Not Always Autism Related

   The moment an autism diagnosis is in your hands it is very easy to get sucked into the idea habits or behaviors a child has are autism related. After all in time you notice every single thing your child does is documented and picked apart. Every paper you fill out puts your child under the microscope of a social standard and age expectation, it's overwhelming for any parent. A recent preschool screening made me want to crawl in a hole with hundreds of questions and a result that was 15 pages long picking apart my child in every possible way. 15 pages of people deciding what my child is all about in a very short time spent and it's easy to think they know because they are professionals but the reality is, he is a kid. A kid with funny habits and behaviors that are almost always credited to his diagnosis, especially when we all forget he is really just a kid.

   My son has a habit of sometimes eating a frozen waffle right out of the freezer and because he has some sensory challenges this must be autism related. When I tell people this or they see him eat a frozen waffle frozen everyone assumes this must be an autism effect and up until the two days ago I assumed this too. After school my 16 year old came through the door with a couple of his friends. Typically they grab a snack and head out the door and this day a he brought a friend who has only come around a few times. All of them hungry and when someone mentioned frozen waffles he let his hunger be known. My daughter handed him a frozen waffle and that hungry 16 year old who is not autistic ate the waffle right out of the freezer, the way he likes it. I realized at that moment someone who could tell me why was standing in my kitchen and his answer was simple, "it tastes better that way!"

   I have personally never tried a waffle this way and it's against the way I am programed to eat them because I am socially adjusted to eat them the right way. So socially adjusted I just made a statement that declares the instructions on the box to be the "right way." Shame on me for that! The right way is the way a person likes it and I was elated to see a kid eat a waffle and hear the reason why. Which sounds a little off but when everything your child does is judged a moment like that is a moment your grateful for. It's a moment of clarity and a simple reminder that not everything happening is unexplainably different or a sensory related behavior.

   A child with autism is certainly against the grain but sometimes it's really just because "It tastes better that way!"

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

How The Grinch Nearly Stole Christmas

  
   There is a fine line between an interest and obsession and the Holiday season I forgot about this line. For the past few weeks my son has been watching The Grinch Who Stole Christmas and last night while he was watching again the reality hit me, the Grinch could very much steal Christmas if I allowed the movie to play one more time or I could be to late.

   You see typically a five year old can watch a movie on repeat and carry on as usual just enjoying a favorite but my son is not typical and yes, I forget this from time to time. Scripting is when a person acts out scenes from movie, games, etc and often exactly as they watched it. Word for word and can come out any time over and over. It's called scripting but I call it stuck because stuck is exactly what happens to my son. Stuck in a movie and unable to focus on other events of the day. Last night after putting my son to bed I put the Grinch away and good chance I will never play it again. As I have done with a couple of other movies in the past year because it literally steals my child. This morning I learned a hard lesson once again because I allowed him to watch it way to many times and that lesson came in the form of a meltdown. A meltdown like I have not seen in a very long time and during that meltdown he would have moments of catching his breath quoting the Grinch. No, he did not know I put the movie away and no he did not go into a meltdown over anything that had to do with it, he just lost ability to function. This has happened before with The Little Rascals and if I even mention that movie he begins to "script" again, even months later.

   He likes the Grinch but the line was crossed and repeat became obsession. A tricky element with autism or in our home because like is good but knowing when to back off is even better. A person might wonder what happens when I take something like this way. He is a little boy and typically if you take something away a little boy likes he would grow upset but he does not. What happens is he slowly returns and is able to get unstuck, and it takes only a few days for the scripting to stop. Very much like I have done him a favor and he breaks free.

   I can only write about how autism effects my son and they say no two are alike but I have learned through this journey many kids do really share similar traits, habits, and even health circumstances. Somewhere out there in the online world might be a parent who's child has crossed the fine line of like to obsession and the only talking they hear lately is Pixar scenario, over and over again. If one person can read this and it helps, it's completely worth sharing. Merry Christmas and may the meltdowns be few (hopefully not at all) and the blessings be plenty!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

5 Things My Autistic Child Has Taught Me.

   This morning I woke up to an article about a woman who killed her autistic son by throwing him off a bridge. Heartbreaking story to say the least and instead of blasting this story like the media will I want to point out five things I have learned from having a child with autism that has improved my life and how my autistic son has made me a better person.

1. I am eternally grateful for the patience my son has taught me. He taught me to slow down and pay attention because he needs the slow down to process and stay cool. We all live in a hurry and most of us can process everything around us on sight. We also take advantage of that and miss a lot while rushing through life. I was already a patient person but now my patience is outstanding and necessary. I learned this by stepping back and letting him show me the way at a pace he needed. Life is pretty cool when you slow down and catch the details.

2. The art of saying no and not feeling bad about it. I was never really good at saying no before I had a child who needed me to. By that I mean when others tell you what you should be doing, often the only good answer is no. From the very start I had people familiar with autism telling me what I needed to do to help him. Therapists, advocates, doctors, family, and even friends filling my ears with what they felt to be the right thing to do because of what they knew about autism. It is a hard thing to ignore people and stand your ground because the only person who can guide you is a non verbal three year old, at the time. It is easier to just do what they say but sometimes the word no is more important and easier has nothing to do with it.

3. I am beyond grateful for the lesson of knowing who has your back no matter what. I was fairly comfortable with the people in my life and confident I had there support until an autism diagnosis came into play. It was a bit shocking to me how many people in my life at the time did a complete turnabout when I moved forward with his diagnosis. How some people close to me judged and even blamed me for not doing enough. How many people actually stated "I don't believe it" or "He will grow out of it in time." There is no room for people like this in an autism parents life and especially in my child's life. Clarity and moving on gave us both room for all the right people.

4. I discovered it is totally okay to feel like a crappy parent from time to time who can't fix everything.  In fact it's probably very healthy to feel this, have a cry, and get up and try again. There is no such thing a parent, autism or not, who believes they are an outstanding parent who has it all figured out. That is one thing all parents have in common but most are just a little uncomfortable admitting it because they are always looking for a way to be that. My son forced me to realize sometimes there truly is no answer and that's okay.

5.  Autism is not the worst thing that can happen to you, in fact it's not happening to you. It's affecting you but it's happening to your child. I have been taught by my son to never give up because he is the one who truly lives with autism and I have never seen him give up. Every single day a five year old shows me what it means to be a fighter and he has no idea he is doing it.

   Through all the bad media we see we need to remember and pay attention to the good beyond the struggles. We need to make sure people understand autism parents aren't broken and neither are our children. Affected by autism but not broken and it's important to focus on the right things.

Friday, October 17, 2014

It's okay to not explain.

  
   I was watching this segment of What Would You Do this morning and through the tears it always gives me, there was a moment in the beginning that grabbed me. I have seen it many times before but this moment didn't used to get to me like it does now. It's the moment the dad turns and tells the rude customer the boy has autism.

   An autism parent always finds themselves in a situation people stare or many times people are extremely rude. Thinking a parent isn't doing there job or they just have zero control and well, I can tell you sometimes zero control is exactly what life with autism brings but at the same time a family in a sit down restaurant is taking full advantage of whatever control they have that day and enjoying it. The reason the moment he turned and said "he has autism" grabbed me was because in no way should anyone have to explain this to anyone. I used to tell people who were confused by my son's repetitive behavior or lack of sit still that he was autistic but I don't anymore. Reason being if my son is struggling we owe no one an explanation of any kind and frankly I don't have time for that. No one does.

   Autism is not a rare disorder these days and if someone isn't aware of autism, they aren't from this planet or live more isolated than we have ever come close to. If someone is rude it is not me who needs to explain my child but maybe me who needs to explain a rude person to my child. I have spent way to much time explaining autism to people and way to much time thinking people need to understand and the bottom line is people will either be kind or they won't, depending on what they are made of and according to this segment, most people are kind. Being rude is a character flaw that can't be changed with the word autism and no explanation is going to deter that. I think of my son and consider as he goes through life all the people he will encounter with character flaws and I don't want him to explain himself to them so they will accept him. I want him to find the people who's character is good enough to flow with what he needs, without explanation and that starts with me showing him how.

   I talk about autism with people who I know want to learn or are just kind enough to now they don't understand the big picture, the rest are just aliens from another planet we don't have time for. Isolating themselves from a disorder everyone should be aware of by now. Autism parents, you don't need to tell people why or what is making a situation challenging. Every single time someone has been rude to us, they had no idea autism was factor and I am positive it wouldn't have mattered or made them instantly kind to discover it. Almost every time someone has been kind and understanding they also didn't know autism was a factor. The issue is not autism, it's the character of people and what they are made of. It's a much better way to approach people in public than letting our children hear us explain them to irrelevant strangers. Explain the strangers and how their behavior is not okay, and carry on being a rad parent.

Monday, August 11, 2014

A Not So Complicated Regression

  Repeat and routine used to be an all day long every day way of life. Breaking it was a full blown nightmare and as a parent I had to adjust to a detailed life that almost never changed. I guess you could say it was survival and the only way to give my son any kind of peace. Peace in the details and peace in knowing everything that was going to happen from sun up to sun down. Not an easy way to live but surprisingly not impossible either. I think in some ways we both found peace living so repetitive. People would say to me change is good and they weren't wrong but they didn't understand what change did to my son and as a mother I couldn't put him through it unless it was necessary.

   The interesting twist to this is, over the few months my son has craved change. He grows bored with repeat and routine. Even the thought of repeat, such as heading straight home after therapy irritates him. We pull up to a red light and he will point down a road that either he has not been down or leads away from our house and says "go that way." A total reversal from the way we used to live. Little details still cause some upsets like getting wet or a tiny speck of dirt in his shoe but new experiences are what he is all about and boredom sets in extremely fast. Why the reversal? The number one reason is the amazing ABA therapy he attends five days a week. Easter Seals Autism Center has impacted his life in an enormously drastic way and there is no way he would be this far without them. Number two reason is at some point we stopped staying home and I started a "let's see what happens" state of mind. Thankfully we have some real success with this new approach but we certainly have had some interesting things gone wrong as well that he recovered from without rushing home. Keep in mind the people you surround yourself with when taking this approach make a big difference as well. Tolerant and easy going is important or it won't be easy at all.

   In the past few days something has happened and I would call it a regression, not a drastic one, but his attention span went away, he began slipping much more into his own world and he has been scripting with more slurred speech than usual. Meaning he has been repeating the script of the Little Rascals movie over and over again and his speech had taken such a dive no one could understand him. Even I had a hard time picking up on what he was saying.  He starting watching this movie a couple of weeks ago after not really even watching TV in general and hadn't watched that particular movie in over a year. It's only in the last couple of days he has drifted totally into it and the repeat of the movie has started to take him down. I hadn't realized how bad it had gotten until we went somewhere he loves to go, the skate park. Typically he would attempt to skate and loves watching other kids skate but he spent most of his time reciting the He Man Woman Haters vow and playing in the dirt. He also did something I have not seen him do in over a year. He was given a sticker and over and over he let the sticker go and watched the wind blow it around. Sounds like fun but this was a past behavior not a present one and a huge red flag.

   We came home and I immediately took all of his old movies and put them away starting with The Little Rascals. Every parent likes a little break and putting a child in front of the TV with a cute movie is the easiest way to get one but I would much rather entertain him myself or get out of the house than see him get taken down by repeat. I would much rather see him attempt to skateboard at a park than watch him wander around scripting a movie. I am not sure if he will progress out of this quickly but I do know allowing him to continue watching it is only going to keep him locked in. Life is not what it used to be and maybe he stopped watching movies for a reason I couldn't understand at the time. We don't buy movies anymore and only rent them so if he actually sits down to watch one it is gone quickly with no time to get locked in. This past week he has taught me minimizing how often he watches is very important and new is better. He takes in information so quickly if he is bombarded with the same information over and over that's what he is going to express. Exactly why therapy every day has done so much for him. They push what he needs to learn and they move on when it's needed, that's how progress is made. Makes perfect sense why he became stuck and so grateful he shows me what I am doing wrong quickly because if I couldn't see it by his behavior change I might have kept enjoying that short break and thought it was a complicated autism regression. It's an autism regression but it's not complicated at all. I haven't turned the TV on for him since last night and I can already see a positive effect.

  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Autism Can Only Be Explained Two Ways

     Two years ago my son could barely function. He tested right in the middle of the spectrum meaning he wasn't high functioning or low but right on the edge of both. He had no method of communicating other than body language which meant a lot of screaming and daily meltdowns that often lasted for hours. He ate very little and only drank if I placed something his hands and told him to. Largely due, I suspect, to a mess of a digestive system that caused him debilitating pain. I couldn't take him anywhere and when I did it almost always ended badly and extremely fast. I couldn't leave him with anyone for more than 30 minutes and whoever I left him with was in a state of anxiety hoping I would hurry back. Clothes, blankets, and shoes, all irritated him and just the feeling of a blanket on a cold night would wake him. He barely acknowledged anyone who spoke to him and just simply getting him to look at me was a challenge. He didn't touch anyone other than who he lived with and even hugging mom was few and far between. He was a wanderer to a point I couldn't leave his side because just saying his name to get his attention was irrelevant. He didn't have the ability to respond to his own name and people would ask me if he even knew what his own name was. I would say yes, but I was only 99% sure of that. No indication that he did, I just couldn't believe that he didn't.

  When I describe the state he was in to people quickly I say, he was gone. Just flat out gone and autism had a vice grip on him that I wasn't sure would ever loosen up. I wanted to believe he would break out of his trap but I honestly had nothing to go on saying he would other than time, patience, and extreme faith.  Along with a small handful of advocates who thought he could but I wondered sometimes if they were just taught to say positive things.  I also if I would ever even hear my son say "I love you" because he was completely non verbal.

    Today he speaks. He eats when hungry, drinks when thirsty, and that mess of a digestive system is no longer causing him pain. I can take him places for long periods of time and just know at some point he will have enough of it but it's never within minutes of arriving like it used to be. Meltdowns of course still happen but they are not every day and sometimes we go weeks without. Clothes still come off in the house but he keeps them on in public without an argument and every night he pulls the blanket up to his neck, says "I love you" and falls asleep. He acknowledges people around him and pays close attention to them, making eye contact without stress. He knows, responds, and can tell people his name along with giving high fives and hugs to people he used to retreat from. He has been able to show his sense of humor, his likes and dislikes without screaming in protest. He wanders but I am no longer super glued to his side directing him or keeping him safe every single moment because he has some ability to turn around and come back or follow. The last year has been watching my son slowly introduce himself to us and manage his own autism enough to shove the word aside and live life in a way we are not missing everything. It might be cut short but that is way better than not at all.

   Is he caught up with his peers? No, and two years behind but when I have a paper in my hands full of charts telling me where he is at by comparison, I look it over once and never look at it again. If I wasn't in a room with a therapist when it's handed to me, I honestly might not look at it at all. Does he struggle socially? Very much so but the progress he has made makes it much less of a concern. I still have to be cautious and I help him communicate daily. None of the things above have come easy but they have come and that's all that matters. Instead of fearing a trip out of the house, especially to do something new, I am excited to have the experience no matter how small it may seem to someone else. Like we are both four year olds on a new adventure because being able to break out of isolation is amazing, not easy, just amazing.

    I am not writing this to tell everyone how my son is doing but to make sure a parent out there who has locked themselves in the bathroom for just ten minutes to have a cry knows things change. Knows that stacks of charts aren't going to determine how patience and love will pay off or who your child is in this world. So that parent who has just left a grocery store with tears in their eyes and a screaming child knows one day you might get in the car with a smile giving a high five for rockin that quick trip in for milk. So that parents who can't get their child's attention know one day they might respond and look you in the eye while you speak. So a parent out there believes one day you might hear "I love you" with clarity. Believe just because autism won't let the words come out doesn't mean a child is not fighting every day to say them. So a parent out there who feels consumed by a diagnosis knows it's not the end or even a indicator of what's coming. Yes, it can be hard and yes people can be rude with a lack of knowledge towards autism but none of it matters the moment you see your child overcome something that was predetermined they might not. People will say autism is just a word but it really is a big piece of life and watching a child fight through it can be only be explained two ways...Overwhelmingly heartbreaking and overwhelmingly heartwarming. Somewhere in the middle you have to find a little peace, no matter how small it may be because it moves everyone forward knowing there is so much more to come.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Mystery solved

   My son has had some interesting habits and sometimes those habits are just unexplainable. Sometimes a habit appears to be an OCD symptom or autism creating repetition but the difficult part is knowing or at least trying to understand if a habit is related to autism or if it is not. He can speak but that doesn't mean he has a full ability to communicate so asking why doesn't work. Mostly he will repeat words or use words he has mastered that have nothing to do with the situation so back and forth communication is extremely limited. Not impossible because every once in a while he uses words that let me in on what is going on in his mind and that's when I discover he really is just a little boy being exactly that.

    For the past year he has had a habit that is nothing that worried me or caused any problems but just a bit of an annoyance at times. Suddenly he will run around the house either turning on all the lights or off all the lights. The off hasn't bothered me so much unless It's dark outside and I am in the middle of doing something that requires me to see, like cooking but the on I have to go around turning them all off and sometimes he comes up right behind me flipping that switch again. I have considered unscrewing the light bulbs or just flat out removing some of them to give myself a little more power so to speak on this situation he is so dedicated to. With so many habits I can contribute to the repetitive nature of autism in our home this one seemed to be just another repetitive habit only patience was going to hopefully stop. Although it's a been a year and once a habit sticks it's extremely difficult to get away from.

   Yesterday the lights were all on once again and I was turning them all off once again asking my son "why must you do this Phillip?" with no explanation as I expected. Only this time he sat on the couch and waited for me to turn them all off before turning them back on with his little hands folded in his lap and a sweet look on his face. I stepped into the garage and by the time I came back in all the lights were on. I said to him "we can't have all the lights on, no reason for it." This is the moment a year long mystery was solved and the moment I learned this repetitive habit had nothing to do with autism. Had nothing to do with what I thought was contributing to this never ending desire to light up the house at least three times a week. Also a monumental moment in our journey because he used words not given to him to let me in on this mystery behavior. Sitting sweetly on the couch he pointed up at the light and said with pride "Sun's out!"

   At that very moment not only did I get an answer but I felt a little dumb because it was so very simple. He has no understanding of the sun, he just knows it's a light in the sky and relating it to the lights in the house makes total sense. He is a little boy and small children don't see the world the same way adults do, they are all imagination and we are all reality. I am thinking about the power bill and removing light bulbs while he is just trying to create a little sunshine in house because kids are awesome and sometimes it's just not as complicated or as symptom related as we might think but without those two words I don't know if my overcomplicated, adult, realist mind would have ever figured it out. I will still be working to end this lights on mission but it's no longer a mystery and lesson learned from a four year old to stop thinking so much like an adult and try to remember it's not always autism getting in the way, it's just mom forgetting what's like to be little.