4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B

4C, 4 Momma, 4D, 4A, and 4B
Most of the Four me (and you) fam

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Chores

Someone recently solicited advice on chores. Oh my! I fear I'm the LAST person to give advice on this one. It's only been in the past year or so (with children ages 8, 6.5, 4, and 1.5 years) that I've seriously attempted this daunting task.

I would read blogs or magazines or books about getting kids to do chores and snidely laugh my ass off. Get them to do chores? Are you f*cking kidding me?! I can't get my Aspie to eat, toilet, or dress without hours-long tantrums, and you think I'm gonna get her to help with the dishes or laundry?!? Same problem with these articles that I had with that first ill-fated preschool....include her in more daily activities of life, my ass. Just didn't fit my reality. Not even close. And, I just didn't feel right about making the others do it if she wasn't capable. Like I need that headache.

So, for a year or better now, I've tried a few systems. I did a system for awhile where they could opt to do chores or not. If they did opt to do them, then they earned stickers. 5 stickers got them a grab bag (a brown lunch sack that I filled with a piece of candy; a quarter; a little toy; a homemade coupon for a fun activity, like a jack-o-lantern manicure by mom or the like; a printable paper doll set or maze or the like). The middle two LOVED it; the eldest, in typical fashion, could've given a shit.http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

I also tried chore bucks. Same result.

I tried adding tokens for chores to build onto our regular token jar. Same result. (And I'll post about the token system later.)http://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gif

I triple <3 the "Love and Logic" series, and I use a lot of those strategies generally. I plan to use a LOT of those techniques when the kids are a bit older...having a family meeting to map out the chores it takes to run our household, set a deadline, pay not for their own but for doing someone else's, etc. For now, I like the control of telling them what to do when with limited choice.

So, for now, this is what we do.

I follow an AWESOME blog of an amazing lady who homeschools 7 and has great ideas for managing a houseful. Jessica Fischer at Life As Mom. Definitely worth a look: she's revolutionized meals and housekeeping around here. Thank GOD!

She uses a "high-five" with her kids, including this super cute printable. That printable bombed over here; it's for babies, didn't you know?!? But the concept rocks.

Basically, I have five tasks that I like/need them to do every morning and every evening so that I don't lose my shit while trying to get two on the bus, one to preschool, and keep a baby quiet. You'll use whatever five are meaningful to you, of course, but these are what I use.

Morning High 5
(1) make bed (meaning pull the sheets roughly up to the pillow)
(2) put jammies on pillow
(3) get dressed
(4) lay out tomorrow's clothes
(5) brush teeth.

Evening High 5
(1) unpack backpack and hang on hook (which includes taking lunchbox to sink)
(2) put shoes in bin
(3) finish homework by 6:30
(4) do a kitchen chore
(5) clean up "spots" (their "spot" on the couch and seat at the table where they dump and dump and dump all their junk, leave their laundry, spill their crumbs...you know the "spot").

No allowance for these High 5s; they are just the basic price of admission to get free room and board around here. But, if the kids don't do them or don't get them done in a timely fashion (before 8 am when bus panic starts or before 7 pm when my desire to get them to bed intensifies exponentially), they lose a privilege (screen time at the next available opportunity, book and songs, whatever is meaningful to the particular offender).

For the kitchen chore in the evening high 5 and for any extra chore a child wants to do, I give a sticker. Looks a little something like this. Although 4A's are in a notebook because she's terrified that her troop mates will see it at Girl Scout meetings, which I hold in our home, and think she's a baby. Kids can put stickers on, you can put them on...who gives a shit really as long as the chores are accomplished, right?

Kitchen chores around here look like this:
(1) spray and wipe counters (we use Method antibacterial spray, but you could do wter and white vinegar for little ones)
(2) spray and wipe table
(3) sweep or dustbuster the kitchen floor (or hold dustpan while someone else sweeps)
(4) empty trash and recycle (this is kind of a drag; they like to do it, but it requires a lot of help from me)
(5) wash pots and pans (this is a huge favorite of theirs)
(6) pack lunches (4A won't let anyone pack hers because she's afraid the smell of Doritos or bologna that the others like will transfer to her food)
(7) wipe the trashcan down

And, sometimes, when they're looking for something different, I'll assign them something I noticed was super dirty or something on my never-ending to-do list for the week. Some examples of these are dusting the banister, wiping fingerprints off the bathroom door jam, cleaning his or her chair at the kitchen table, wiping off the washer or dryer doors, wiping down the front of the dishwasher or oven or fridge. The key for us is variety. When I've tried to make a list of chores they need to be responsible for in a week, it's a mess; I spend too much time reminding, and they spend too much time whining. Neither is fun.

We try to have homework done before 6:30, and then we do these kitchen chores right before we go up for baths or showers at 7. If we're in a super rush, we'll do "one wipe" chores, meaning I assign them something they can accomplish with just one Clorox wipe. They LOVE these. I've also had them run each other's baths, give the baby her bottle, read to a younger sibling, entertain the baby while I make supper, fill a diapers or wipes stash...anything it takes to make my life more manageable. And, on Saturdays, we don't do chores. Everyone needs some R&R.

For each sticker, the kid earns a certain amount of money. BUT, on payday, they give 1/2 the money back to us for their savings account. I've taken way too many kids to Target way too many times and watched them get the thing they had money for but not what they actually wanted, so this is my attempt to help them learn the power of saving. And, we don't have a set pay schedule; we usually try to do it before a family trip to the mall or Target. And, 4C almost always uses her money to buy presents for friends. It's about the sweetest thing imaginable, and I have no idea where she got the idea or why she does it, but I LOVE that about her!

I must say that two solid months into it now, it's working like solid gold. The chores are a part of our daily routine, I'm not getting a single complaint about doing them, often times they're looking to do more, and I find them much more willing to pitch in generally.

And, here's a little unsolicited advice...try not to care too much if they don't do it right, and BY ALL MEANS, don't redo what they've done, even if they've half-assed it. If it's something you really care about, either do it with them the first few times to show them how you want it done or just don't let them do that particular task. Who needs the aggravation? I am a purposefully non-fastidious housekeeper, and I intentionally chose to let a LOT of things go. If that's not your style, then limit the types of chores that you give them. The whole goal here is to get them helping and get you chilling. Whatever it takes, my friend; don't turn this into a chore for you or them.

Gimme a break!

Phew! I have been inundated with autism these past couple of weeks, and it's starting to take its toll. That stupid circa de 1980s Kit Kat commercial has been running through my head at a rapid pace. And, I need another Kit Kat like a hole in the head, thirty pounds that I need go lose.

Everything autism collided at once around here. Working on the blog (which I LOVE) has dragged me back to places I had put away. The emotional toll of that is catching up with me. Digging back through old resources, looking at older photos, and calling up all those memories have made for a very heavy heart for me. Not that I haven't appreciated (and dare I say enjoyed?!?) the journey, of course. But just that those are phases we've already done, and I like that they're done because they were NOT easy or fun.

We're also putting together our annual bake sale to benefit Autism Speaks. We held our first annual last year and raised $746 in three hours! Bigger and better this year, so the story goes. But, MAN! I had forgotten how much work it is to get ready, physically and emotionally. Folks generously donate to the cause and usually have questions about autism or want to share a story or hear ours or they know of someone who needs some help. Blessedly exhausting, I tell you. But, it's tremendously important to this family to fundraise for that organization. We're tired of paying for treatments out-of-pocket that should be covered by our insurance, we remember how much support we needed in the beginning, we realize how lucky we are to have such a mild form of ASD. We will ALWAYS contribute to making the world a better place for families living with autism.

And, 4A has hit the first quarter bump that we experience every year. She coasts the first few weeks, and then she kicks her testing into high drive. Did you really mean that I have to bring that folder every day? Did you really mean that I get a behavioral ticket if I don't listen on the first try? She told her classroom teacher that she didn't really have to do her work without talking unless the teacher said no talking every time. Smart lady that she is, that teacher made 4A an all-the-time no talking work rule. I like this teacher; she catches on quick, and she and 4A have matching wits and smarts. Good fit, which always helps.

4A is in the enrichment reading group, which is where we struggle EVERY YEAR!!! So much struggle. She's got the acuity and intellect to be in there, but she is not a self-starter, as those enrichment readers are want to be. One year, she was labelled a reluctant worker. This year, we've already gotten the "inflexible" label. Sigh. It's so difficult for folks to understand all things Aspie. But, lucky me, I don't have to do it or worry because Dr. Steve is a genius. 

And, 4A, as difficult and smart and oppositional as she is, is, at her core, my baby. I love that girl with a fierceness that is different than the way that I love my typical babies. There is a LOT of work and money and time wrapped up in my first baby; we've been through a lot, and not much of it easy, with that one. I too often expect those who work with her to be right up to speed with where we are now. To intuitively know how the Aspie mind works. To know where we've come from and how hard we've worked just to get the basics down. In some ways, it backfires to start early and do a lot of hard work up front. When you go that route, your ASD kid can appear "normal" to folks. While that's the ultimate goal, I suppose, that ASD kid still has that ASD brain even though most of her ASD behaviors have been reduced or managed. Because she has no markings of a disability on the outside, there's an expectation of normalcy. When that normal-looking, -talking, -acting kid displays a true ASD trait or neurological response, there's a lot of frustration and labeling and judging that happens. And, that, then, becomes a head and heart ache for that parent who has been busting his or her ass.

No one's fault of course. And, that's an insanely good and easy problem to have, don't you think?

But, too much is still too much. I feel a bit like 4B who's got his ASD sister at home, sits with a kid who's suspected of having ASD....feels like he can't get away from the damn thing that makes his life such a pain in the ass.

He and I cuddled up after his sisters were asleep last night and read some way-cool boy books and talked about life. I am so grateful and blessed to have all of these babies in my life...the easy ones and the hard ones, the hard times and the easy times. But, that Kit Kat is still soundin' mighty fine.

Friday, September 23, 2011

"Journey to DX" series, part 2, Early birds and worms and other such cliches

I suppose part 1 of this series about our journey to diagnosis begs the following question: why early?

Research shows that early intervention is an ASD kid's best chance of recouping lost development and managing her/his symptoms in a way that allows him/her to function in socihttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifety. 
Research and professional experience are also now showing that most ASD kids are diagnosable between age 18 months and 3 years that the interventions work best during those very early years. 

So, why are parents waiting?

First, I think signs of high-functioning autism may be easier to ignore or "live around" than those of lower-functioning autism. A whiney, screaming, or constantly crying kid is much easier to deal with than the non-verbal one who's off flapping and stimming in a corner. 

But, that really isn't it, if we're truly honest. And we're ALWAYS honest (but NOT judgmental) here, my friend.

Every family has to find their own way, and this is something that we'll talk about later in this series. But, I opine, without judging, that the second and more important or real reason that parents wait is fear. They're scared that something really might be wrong. Scared that folks will judge their parenting prowess. Scared that people will be mean to their kid. Scared of "labeling" their kid. Scared of their kid. Scared of how hard and costly it'll be to find an answer. Just plain scared.

And, that ASD waiting game is extremely seductive if you're scared. Oh, you know the game.... "He's a kid. He'll outgrow it. We don't want to label him."

For a kid with autism, there aren't really worse words than these. These words are gonna rob him of the best shot that he's got at a "normal" life.

So, good, methodical lawyer that I am, let's take 'em on one by one. If we can unscare even ONE parent here, we'll be doing good.

Kids are kids. They are all different. Yep. Parents of typical kids will tell you that kids do tantrum and cry and obsess but that they also pretend and have fun and laugh and want to cuddle. These parents will tell you, if they're honest, that the tantrums (or impulsivity or not listening or crying or whatever the behavior) are fairly infrequent and diffuse pretty easily but that the parent is sometimes inconsistent and that the tantrums (or whining or crying or impulsivity or not listening or crappy kid behavior) don't get worse even with that occasional inconsistency. They'll also know (but often times can't express) that their kid is developing organically and spontaneously, just the way s/he's supposed to develop.

That last one can be a stumbling block for parents of typical kids. Often times, we, as parents, like to take credit for how our kid behaves. They're patient or good listeners or calm because we, wonderful parents that we are, molded them into that wonderful child. Well, that's fine if we then also take credit for the booger eating, sister strangling, and back talking. Can't have one without the other, my friend.

Having had the privilege of watching both typical and atypical children develop, I know that development happens in spite of our best (or worst) parenting. 4B always (and still) wants cuddles when he gets hurt. I didn't teach him that. 4C used to call for me in her crib when she woke up and give me a HUGE smile, wave, and "Momma" when she woke up. I didn't teach her that. 4D picks up any object even resembling a phone and pretends to chat or text (YIKES!). I didn't teach her that. These kids developed these attributes of their personalities or personhood in the daily fold of our lives.

An atypical child also lives in the daily folds of that same life but develops quite differently. Mine, for example (because if you've met one kid with autism, you know how it goes, you've met one kid with autism), never sought comfort when hurt or scared. Mine never pretended with that phone. Mine never sat up in her crib until a physical therapist taught her how. I "did" all of the same things with her as an infant (probably more because she was the first) that I did with the others. The other three developed organically. 4A did not. Instead of playing with that phone or waving when she saw me, mine knew EVERY single color, shape, and letter by age 14 months. Instead of having separation anxiety like all 18-month-olds do, mine recounted, from memory, every single SOLITARY word of the 24-page "Corduroy" storybook and flipped her shit about where my hands were on the page when I held the book. Weird shit. Not normal shit.

So, kids are kids. But weird is weird.

That leads us to the second seductive point of the ASD waiting game. And this one is super, luxuriously seductive. "He'll outgrow it." Really? Every single parent of an ASD kid can trace back every single ASD behavior to that kid's infancy or toddlerhood. Every single one. If that toddler is insanely rigid and ritualistic about where his cars go on the carpet and what color cup he uses, he's gonna be that SAME way later in life. Not about cars and cups but the big stuff.

This "outgrowing" business is tricky if you're just starting your ASD journey. Because you SO want it to be true. Because you don't have a crystal ball. Because you are so scared. I do have hindsight now, and I can tell you this...it does NOT get easier. Right now, in those early toddler-y, exhausting, maddening years, you have a LOT of control over a LOT of stuff. You also have the upper hand in terms of strength and size. Hand-over-handing a toddler to put on shoes is a HELL of a lot easier than doing it with a 5- or 10- or 15- year old.

So that brings us to point 3 of the ASD waiting game..."We don't want to label him." I have really, REALLY tried to understand this one. Really. I think that parents mean that they don't want their child treated differently or set apart as different. 

That kid (mine again, for example) tantrums and is oppositional/pissed off 23 out of 24 hours a day because you didn't wrap the woobie the same way around the Barbie that you did yesterday or because you took her to story time at the library or because you told her to wear shoes at the playground or because you told her she looks "pretty" when she thinks she's beautiful, and you think that a teacher or peer will only treat her differently because they know she has autism? Get real, please.

Nope. That kid IS different. People are going to notice that or treat her differently because she is different. Not because she has autism.

Moreover, you don't have to tell folks (or her, for that matter) that she has autism if that term bothers you so much. We are going to talk about this one later in this series, but for now, you ain't gotta tell nobody, my friend. 

This also ignores the obvious, that your child DOES need different treatment. The typical parenting tricks you've tried haven't worked so what makes you think that the typical friendship rules or typical classroom instruction are gonna work either? If your goal is for this kid to be or look "normal," that isn't going to happen without modification. That "label" of autism will allow that modification so that your kid can "look normal."

And, of course,  you know that there is no such thing as normal, right? Every single one of us is different, and we're ALL going to receive different treatment some day or other: because of our gender, who we chose to love, where we went to school, whether or not we believe in a higher power, what clothes we wear, what zip code we live in, what color our skin is, what accent we have, you name it. So it's happening whether you call this autism or not, my friend.

Someone who loves 4A and I very much once told me that teachers were going to treat 4A differently because of the label we had given her. I wasn't really capable of responding at that point in my life, but if ever presented with that statement again, I would say something like this. Yes, they are, and thank goodness they are. 4A objectively developed in a way that was different from other kids. Some of the very best autism doctors in the country performed the very best, gold-standard tests to determine 4A's neurological capabilities and deficits. They have decided, in their best professional judgment, that 4A has autism. The treatment for her autism includes things like behavioral supports, individualized instruction, medicine, and extreme consistency. Her teachers have no obligation to give her these things UNLESS they know she has autism. We, as her parents, would like her to be present in her life and to be able to function in a socially and age appropriate way in her life. She will only be able to accomplish this is she receives treatment. The only way to get treatment is for her to have that "label."

If one of my babies starts experiencing severe joint pain, I'm taking him or her to the doctor and getting a referral for a specialist. When that specialist tells me that we need Xrays and MRIs, I'm giving my permission. When that specialist finds juvenile arthritis and tells me that my baby needs medicine and surgery and physical therapy, I'm signing on the dotted line. And fast. Right? It's really no different.

So, does the early bird really catch the worm? Sure. That bird is up early, not because she wants to be, but because she must be in order to survive. And, she's going to eat that disgusting, miserable, dirty worm because doing so will let her live. Yep. That about sums it up.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

""Journey to DX" series, part 1 (just as Ms. Andrews sang, "Let's start at the very beginning, a very good place to start")

If I had a dollar for every time I've been asked how I "knew," what I "did," my kids' college tuition would be paid for. 

So, I'm starting a little "series" here on Four Me and You called "Getting to DX." When most parents start that journey to diagnosis, they aren't even sure they wanna get on the bus. We've all read a zillion times that having a child with special or different needs is a journey that requires the passing through of severahttp://www.blogger.com/img/blank.gifl stages, almost like those stages of grief. 

I'm planning future posts in this series about finding the "right" doc, gathering supports, collecting data, managing your child's care, managing your child's family and friends, the "holy grail of DX," and the like (and I'm also planning a future post on how best to help a friend who is experiencing autism), but here I want to start at the very beginning.

And, that beginning goes something like this...in the very pit of your gut, the very core of your being, you "know." Either you're the shittiest parent ever or something is wrong with that kid. Others around you may or may not see it. Chances are, if they see it, they either make vague "parenting" comments or say that all kids are different or just ignore it.  We're going to talk about this more later on in this series, but for now, just focus on that core/gut feeling.

This kid that you have is not ____________ (fill in the blank: "normal," "okay," "what I thought a kid would be like," "like other kids his/her age," "what you wanted as a parent"). Whatever. However you describe it, you know. For me, I wasn't experiencing the same things that parents of other kids my child's age were experiencing, and I also knew that 4A was just...off. Different. Weird. Hard.

That, and I feared that it was my fault. Something I was doing wrong. Some flaw in my parental character or skill. This, too, is something we'll talk about in this series, but go back to that gut/core feeling that something is just NOT right with that kid. 

So, you've accepted in your gut that something isn't right. Some parents will tell you that after accepting this gut instinct, they then want to help their child. Not me, my friend. I wanted someone to shut her up, to make her stop, to fix her....for ME, not for her. Because I was either going to kill her or myself or lose my mind. Those were honest, true feelings that I had, and we'll talk later in this series about how to handle those.

From here, when you've accepted what you know in your gut to be true, there are a couple of good places to start. 

Now, a word of disclaimer or warning....I can not possibly know, writing here in a vacuum as I am, who you are or what's going on with your kid. I don't know where you live or what resources are available to you. Use your common sense and trust your gut. TALK TO OTHER PARENTS. Not the regular ones, but the ones with other weird kids. Parents of spectrum kids KNOW EVERYTHING! You will learn more from them than any professional you'll encounter...about how the system works, about what resources are available, about who the good docs are in your area, all of it. Don't rely on me to figure this out for you.

That being said, there are two sort of easy places to start when you've accepted that gut/core feeling that something is amiss: your pediatrician or your local early intervention office.

Now, we're going to come back to these two resources again because they are NOT the place to go for diagnosis. But, as a first stop on your journey, they're easy and free.

A good pediatrician will listen to you without judgment. A really good one will have been waiting for this talk, knowing that something is wrong. That's the kind, by the grace of God, that we got. If your pediatrician doesn't listen without judging OR if s/he brushes you off, march out of that office and find another one. This is NOT going to work if your child's primary doc doesn't have your back. 

Yes, boys talk later than girls. Yes, all kids develop differently. Labeling is never a good idea. Agreed on all counts. But, you are this weird kid's parent. You KNOW in your gut. You are right. Period. It's really not negotiable. Don't debate it or accept a different explanation. You are about to embark on a REALLY long and hard journey (Oh, and it's a trip alright...wink, wink) where you will be your child's primary advocate and case manager. YOU will do ALL of the work. There is no doctor or educator or professional out there who is going to do this or figure this out for you or your child. YOU are going to be SOLELY responsible for that. Get right with that notion quick, my friend, and cast off anyone who isn't on board. Plus, you're going to rely on this pediatrician A LOT as your sounding board, your confidant, you safety check for information, and a whole lot more. So, she's gotta be on board and on her game.

A good pediatrician will direct you to your local early intervention office without hesitation. Any doc who has worked with a kid on the spectrum can tell you that parents are always right, that they always know. So, you should leave that visit with the number of your local early intervention office. Anything less than that isn't really acceptable. Parenting books, waiting a little while longer--those things aren't going to help. And, for the record, we started our journey to DX with 4A when she was 14 months old and probably could've started it a bit earlier than that. It's NEVER too early, but it's frequently too late.

So, this gets us to our second "first option" on the Journey to DX: your local early intervention services office. Where I live, our state government has created offices in each county; it might be different where you live. Google "early intervention education" and your town, state, or area. Or, call your state or county government offices and ask for the number. 

When you call, be forewarned....you're going to be on the phone for HOURS! They will ask you questions of intense minutiae starting from the moment of conception. Answer as honestly as you can, and if you haven't started data collection yet (that's another future post in this series), you're gonna wanna start NOW, both written and video.

Most likely, the early intervention office will set up a screening, sometimes in your home, sometimes at a school or office. Sometimes, the person you first speak to will want to present your child's "case" to the office team to see if a screen is warranted. Go for it. Be prepared to wait. But, it'll be worth the wait.

You're going to do a LOT of waiting on this journey. A LOT!! You're going to wait to get in with a doc, you're going to wait for results, you're going to wait and wait and wait. I remember feeling so irritated. We had finally started towards THE answer (which for me, at the time, was the DX), and I had to hurry up and wait. Wait for an appointment for the screening. And then, after that, wait some more for results. Every ounce of waiting turned out to be REALLY worth it because we now have a very credible, respected, accurate DX for 4A.

So, to recap, here's where you are. (1) You've accepted or trusted that gut feeling that something is wrong with your child. (2) You've talked with your pediatrician and/or early intervention services office. (3) You're waiting.

While you're waiting, I'll keep writing. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

First day of preschool, the way I had originally dreamed

4C, our exuberant, enthusiastic girl, started 4 y/o preschool this week. She had been asking every day for a month when she would get to start, asking for homework when her older siblings did theirs and pestering with the kind of ansty anticipation that only a child in need of school can.

Our kids do preschool at a local church, which is of a denomination not our own. Years ago, I would have SWORN to you that no child of mine would ever step foot in a religious school of any kind, but life with a child on the spectrum (or any child, for that matter) has a way of of chilling your ass out about the little stuff. 

About five years ago, we made an ill-fated choice to enroll 4A in a private Montessori school which is often touted as the "best" in our area. It was a disaster of epic proportions. To be fair, no preschool would have worked for 4A before meds, but this particular school didn't even really give it a half-assed try. They negotiated with her during tantrums, had the arrogant audacity to tell us that we need to include her in more life activities at home, and generally just made things worse. When our beloved Dr. Steve suggested that we pull her out just a few months after starting her first year there as a 3 y/o, we, of course, did because that man's word is law in our house...we'll do ANYTHING he asks. Well, when I asked this great school if they would take her back the following fall, assuming 4A improved, they said no.

Holy shit was I pissed! At them, at 4A, at myself. I was mad, mad, mad for a LONG time. And, then I was sad, sad, sad for an even longer time. It was shortly after this withdrawal/dismissal that Dr. Steve referred us to Dr. G, our beloved pediatric neuropsychiatrist, and 4A's autism got manageable to a level that behavioral supports actually did work, but that's a story for another day. 

After the first preschool disaster, I called EVERY SINGLE SOLITARY preschool in our county. Every single one, candidly explaining the situation and asking them if they'd consider taking 4A on if we hired an aide to send with her. Out of the 30 or so places I called, only two said yes. Two.

So, with a tremendous amount of skepticism, trepidation, and hope, we enrolled 4A in what our kids call Ms. Patty's school. (Around these parts, folks don't call grownups Mr. or Mrs. Sir-name; that would be rude. Instead all grownups go by Ms. {pronounced "Miss"} or Mr. First-name.)

When I took 4A there that first day four years ago, I walked in with nerves of steel, determination, and months of HARD work under my belt. I had met with her aide (which was, thankfully, supplied by our county's early intervention program), met with the preschool's director and teacher and the aide with Dr. Steve by my side, prepped and revised and revised again the preschool behavioral plan with Dr. Steve, prayed, cried, made social stories, and on and on and on. HOURS of preparation were behind that walk from the car to the front door of that preschool.

That 42-second walk was gut-wrenching. Thoughts of the first failed preschool attempt, thoughts of dreams that never came to be, fear of whether or not Ms. Patty and her crew could really do things "right" by Dr. Steve. I don't remember feeling a single one of those happy, bittersweet, or parent-y moments that you hear first-time preschool parents so lovingly describe. I was nervous, sad, anxious, and terrified. The stakes were REALLY high...if 4A failed here, chances of a traditional school were not looking good.

Fast forward a couple of years with 4B. Typical kid that he was, he started at Ms. Patty's school as a 3 y/o. It was so cool to take him there and just drop him off. No work, no prep, no fear. Just dropped him off, the way regular parents do. He did (and still does) beautifully. But he was a boy, and it just wasn't the same. He walked closely to me that day for those 42 seconds to the school's front door. Never one for much excitement (JUST like his dad), he just went because it was his time and did well there because he was supposed to.

Now, this week, I took 4C there. That usual 42-second walk took about 7 seconds. She ran the WHOLE way, giggling with anticipation and excitement about school, finally being a big kid, and having her own place to go. Those seven seconds went WAY too fast. All those things I had dreamed about that day I first became a momma...they all happened spontaneously in 4C, easily and without any work on my part. It felt all the more sweet, I think, because of the first time I made that walk. And, just like those first-time preschool parents describe, it was bittersweet, time did feel like it had gone too fast, it was fun, and it was just had I had dreamed all those years ago.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Typical is tough, too

Oh my! My boy, 4B, is having such a tough time adjusting back to school. He's in first grade this year. Not one of his classmates from last year is in his class. He's always been my socially slow-to-warm-up one, and while he's very popular with his peers (that was at the top of his kindergarten teacher's comments last year), it can take him awhile to make good buddies.

He had been concocting every ailment under the sun to get out of school, bitching about every chore and meal, stomping his feet up the stairs at bedtime, and generally being a pain in my ass.

He is the kid (thank GOD) who does what a grownup or teacher expects of him because he likes to please. It's a wonderful organic quality to have, and as a mom of an Aspie, I appreciate that quality immensely. But, I think I may be quick to take it for granted.

Because he's typical and because he's easy, I can tend to just expect him to get "it" already. I have to really slow myself down and remember that he's not the black-and-white, one-and-done kid that my Aspie is.

Not to mention that he has the double burden of being her brother. I know it's hard for him, as it is for me, to understand her sometimes, and I know he gets the short of end of the stick a times because she's so needy.

He is exactly 17.5 months younger than her. I wasn't intending to have him so close to her, but the birth control pills I was taking while nursing failed. And thank goodness they did! I needed to see a typically-developing child so badly to ease my angst about my role in my eldest's autism. I needed a boy who LOVED to cuddle, who looked to us for comfort, who was happy. I will forever be grateful to my sweet boy for healing my heart as a mom.

But there has been a cost. His infancy and toddlerhood, those glorious months of discoveries and cute sayings and firsts, are an absolute blur to me. I barely remember them because 4A was in the worst of it then. He missed my attention and encouragement at times during this early years because his sister was so needy and so hard. He got the brunt of my frustration and tears...I was constantly on edge, and I know he absorbed that. He had to go without so that she could have treatment.

We all turned out okay, better than okay, of course, but that doesn't mean that it didn't suck. He and I can't get those months back. We're very close, he and I, and he is still my rock, my escape from the hardness of 4A. 

While he's amazingly accepting of his sister's autism and incredibly wise about it, he's not a fan of autism generally. One day, he told me that he's so hopeful that 4D doesn't have autism because he loves her so much and couldn't stand for her to ignore him the way his spectrum sister does. Another time, we had a young boy to the house who is suspected of having autism and that boy threw a block right in 4B's face. That night, I told him that the child probably has autism, so it was hard for that child to understand not to throw the block when he was mad. My sweet, soulful boy said, "Oh, okay. I get it now. Mom, you know? I really hate autism. It's not fun." Well, isn't that just the understatement of the century?! 

Being kind, thoughtful, generous, and responsible comes easy to him.  He has the capacity to be happy and content organically. Seeing those traits develop spontaneously in him (and later in his two younger sisters) has been AWESOME to witness. But, because those things come easily to him, I often don't have the patience I should with his bumps and troubles along the way.

Here this kid is going to school every single day, heartsick for his buddies from last year and his beloved kindergarten teacher, quietly and appropriately doing all that's expected of him academically, socially, and behaviorally while there, and I'm bitching at him about whining in the morning about having to go to school? Exactly where do I get off?

He's an awesome kid. A good boy. A smart boy. A kind soul. He has paid the highest price out of all of them for 4A's autism. He's lost things he can't ever get back, like my time and patience and encouragement. 

I suspect he's entitled to his bit of age-appropriate, typically-developing angst.