Our life with autism… I don’t talk about this subject much and that is because it is very uncomfortable for me. It means walking a fine line between sharing my life and sharing too much about my children, who deserve privacy. It also means letting my dirty laundry air, so to speak, and admitting to everyone that our family life isn’t pretty. Hopefully I can tread well with this post and not think I need to go back and edit out various parts. ;)
This past week has been a roller coaster ride of emotion for me. I had a very long chat on the phone with one of the school psychologists who will be working with my youngest son during his transition to Kindergarten this Fall. I will also meet with her and some of the others who will likely be working with him, this morning. I think she wanted to prepare me to hear some difficult things but this has actually been a long time coming. My youngest (6) has been in a special needs preschool program for three years now. He has a speech therapist and an occupational therapist. We have not yet sought that official medical diagnosis but I have known for a very long time what the problem is…autism. With a 12 year old autistic son we know well what it looks like. At any rate the psychologist told me that he would most likely be getting an “educational diagnosis” of autism from the school, so that they could plan his IEP and services accordingly.
I was disheartened to hear that he has actually regressed quite a bit this year and it confirmed what I also noticed. The boy who could count to the mid teens last year is lucky if he can count to five now. His hyperactivity has increased and his ability to follow directions has decreased. His temper flares are getting worse even if his social interaction is getting better. He has many, many challenges to face and they are very different than what our other autistic son faces. It was this “new territory” that has made me want to read up on autism spectrum disorders more.
Both our boys have two very prominent common denominators and #1 is social awkwardness. They do not know how to read social cues, pick up on how others are feeling or reacting to them, or communicate and make friends with other kids easily. This makes them the “weird” kid in school. What comes so natural to many kids, the ability to interact and connect with others, is hellish and frustrating. It also means it is easy for them to be either the bully or the bullied. My oldest has been both. My youngest has also been bullied but so far cannot even recognize that he is being persecuted. They are just THAT out of touch with social situations.
#2 is devotion or obsession with certain hobbies and topics to the exclusion of everything else. With my oldest it might be fishing or paintball. With my youngest it is dinosaurs. These are the only things they want to talk about and can do so for hours, literally, much to the frustration of other kids they come into contact with. Because of issue #1 they never understand that give and take requires them to actually talk about other people’s interests too. It just never occurs to them that others may not like these subjects or not want to listen to a two hour lecture about them. As far as they are concerned the world revolves around them and their interests.
There are also numerous differences in their disorders though. My youngest paces, waking back and forth across rooms constantly, for hours at a stretch. He will pace until he literally collapses in exhaustion. My oldest makes wild hand gestures and clicking sounds. He will also emit high pitched screams out of the blue and for no reason. He is often not even aware that he did it. The 6 year old has to micro manage every detail of his day, picking the exact episode of Team Umizoomi he has to watch and the exact food he must eat and will choose not to eat if you don’t have what he wants. The 12 year old has a fear of crowds and will insist on wearing hooded jackets even in summer so he can “hide” from other people in crowded areas. All of this makes daily life challenging but ironically this is the easy stuff.
Our oldest boy has issues with being violent and abusive. He has ODD as well as autism. We have tried counselors and psychiatrists and we even tried medication for a brief spell. I often tell people it is like living with an abusive spouse only it is your child. I have been tackled to the ground in the past but more frequently I am called every horrible name in the world. Asking this child to do the dishes will result in a 10 minute tirade about how I am too stupid, lazy, and disgusting to do anything for myself. In general he seems to have very misogynistic attitudes about women and his sister is also a victim of his horrible commentary.
On the plus side though this kid is wicked smart. Even at 12 years old he can tinker around with electronics and fix them. He recently fixed the mood lighting in our conversion van. He builds amazing things with blocks and Legos and he is way beyond his grade level in science and math. When he is actually interested in something he is also a very hard worker.
My youngest son is a very lovey dovey and prefers women to men. Although I think he has learned a bit too much from his older sibling of late. His quirks are much more manageable in comparison but I think he will ultimately be considered academically handicapped.
How in the heck do you handle two very difficult boys with very different manifestations of this same disorder????? I liked the 8 guideposts from Raising Resilient Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders:
- Teaching and conveying empathy
- Using empathetic communication and listening actively
- Accepting our children for who they are – conveying unconditional love and setting realistic expectations
- Nurturing islands of competence
- Helping children learn rather than feel deflated by mistakes
- Teaching children to solve problems and make sound decisions
- Disciplining in ways that promote self discipline and self worth
- Developing responsibility, compassion, and social conscious
The book has a lengthy chapter to discuss each and they were incredibly helpful. I struggle with finding ways to show that I accept my boys for who they are without also giving them the impression that I accept certain unsavory behaviors or “tics”. I also struggle with empathy when I am feeling attacked, as I often am.
The only thing I would have liked to see is info on how to become more resilient as a parent because I think that is “key” to dealing with children with these kinds of issues. You have to be in a good mental and physical place yourself in order to devote the kind of energy it requires. Two years ago I literally felt like I was drowning with the stress of being a mom to these two special boys. My husband has always worked over the road, or second/third shifts so I have essentially been single parenting for the majority of the week for years. I had a wake up call that spurred me to join a gym and start taking time away for myself more often. I decided it was time to get a bit selfish and demand time for myself. It was literally the best thing ever. Once I felt better, I coped better and I parented better.
Typically I avoid reading autism books because I think I deal enough with these issues every single day but this book really helped me work through some things in my mind and I would like to find more. Do you have any autism book recommendations for me?
When I reserved this book from my library I had no idea if I would enjoy it or not. I don’t read too many parenting books anymore because my kids are getting older. While attachment parenting is a topic near and dear to me I don’t need a refresher on subjects like breastfeeding, babywearing, and co-sleeping so much. Rather I go for books about specific issues nowadays and geared toward older kids. I think I ended up getting it because I really, really like Mayim Bialik. I loved her show Blossom when I was a child, I loved how she gave up acting to get her degree and PhD in neuroscience, and I REALLY loved how she chose to parent in a holistic, natural, green, and attached way. She just seems like the type of mom I would love to hang out with and be friends with. So who wouldn’t want a peek inside at the inner workings of her house and family?
The book, Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way, was such a breath of fresh air and I enjoyed it so much that I had to share. I devoured and enjoyed every morsel of this book from start to finish, even chapters that discussed baby stuff I will likely never be confronted with again until I have grandchildren. Actually this book really had part of me really longing to have another kiddo so I can experience some things I wasn’t that receptive to when my youngins were babes, like elimination communication. Yet by the end of the book I was sighing in contentment because I still have lots of my parenting journey left and we are in a place now where we can enjoy it without the sleep deprivation. ;)
The opening chapters go into what you can expect to learn and why this is such an important issue. Mayim takes her background in neuroscience and shows that attachment parenting not only makes sense logically, it is based in science as well. There are many scientific reasons and many biological reasons to parent this way and often that gets overlooked by those who would claim attachment parenting is too granola touchy, feely or prone to raising dependent brats. The science does not agree with these latter ideas… at all. Lots of good information to be had here for when you run across naysayers.
The chapters on natural childbirth, breastfeeding, constant holding, co-sleeping, potty learning, etc were all a little irrelevant for me, even though I do still have a six year old in my bed. I loved reading these chapters anyway though. I think this book would have been pretty darn near the perfect book for me back when I became a mom for the first time and I will be recommending it to all the moms-to-be that I come across. I also loved that it is a look inside the life this family unit and it holds nothing back. Being an attached parent can be very isolating in the first few years because you are essentially devoting your life to the very valid needs of your child who wants to nurse on demand, be held constantly, sleep in your arms, and otherwise be the center of your world. You also tend to stay away from social settings where others might try to make your parenting values seem bizarre. Getting to read about another mom experiencing all of this makes you feel less alone.
From here the books goes into consumerism and toys, media in the home, medical interventions, letting kids be kids, and gentle discipline. LOVED it all! There wasn’t anything that I recall that I disagreed with. In fact I think I must have looked like a bobble head with all the head shaking going on to show how emphatically I agreed with Mayim’s point of view on just about everything. I also loved how she kept confirming that despite her belief in these things she was by no means perfect in their practice. Many authors remind you that they are not perfect examples of what they preach and that their ideas are not meant to judge in any way but few get that message across as well and as believably as Mayim Bialik, in my opinion.
My favorite part of the book was the section on mommy needs and keeping your relationships strong. As I have said before, attachment parenting can be very difficult where balance is concerned. When you have young babies your time is devoted to them and their needs and it can be easy to forget that other relationships need nurturing as well. I was not very good about keeping this in mind and my marriage almost collapsed a couple times during those early years. Most attachment parenting books don’t even discuss this all import topic either.
I feel that when our children are young THEY should be the priority. That means breast feeding wherever and whenever baby is hungry, co-sleeping even when you’d rather have your husband all to yourself, and never letting my child cry or go without being held because I have “other things” to do. As my kids get older I think they benefit from seeing parents who love themselves, prioritize some of their own needs, make time for each other and the marital relationship, and have varied interests. As they get older they benefit less from having a shadow to meet their every need and more from seeing good examples of others doing and living for themselves. So in terms of priority for the first five or so years of their lives it was all about them. Now the priority list looks somewhat different but during those early years there were lots of things I could have done to make sure my relationship with my husband was secure and attached as well, even if it never involved a date night or even leaving the house. Thankfully I married a great man who put up with me.
So… I give this book a very enthusiastic two thumbs up and will be recommending it all around. It has sound science, great advice, logical answers to challenging questions and issues, and important information about often overlooked aspects about this style of parenting. Check it out when you have the chance!
Beyond the Sling: A Real-Life Guide to Raising Confident, Loving Children the Attachment Parenting Way
This week the Green Moms Weekly Question addresses opposition from family and friends when you take the more granola path as a parent. The question is “What type of topics in natural parenting cause opposition among family and friends and how do you handle it?”
I think this is a really awesome question because it can be very polarizing for some people. Personally though I have had very little negative response to my parenting choices, so I count myself lucky. There are numerous places were ones parenting choices can rub people the wrong way and incite negativity and bickering amongst family and friends though. Here are some of the more sensitive issues in my mind.
Breastfeeding – Natural moms are more likely to breastfeeding exclusively and for extended periods of time. Because breastmilk is at the forefront for a long period of time this means breastfeeding in public is often times just part of the package. Baby needs to eat when baby need to eat right? I was an unabashed public breastfeeder myself and I never once had an issue with anyone making negative comments from family, friends, or even strangers. In fact whenever chain restaurants made the news for being anti-breastfeeding I would often stage my own nurse-ins by making a special trip just to breastfeed in their place of business. I wasn’t trying to be disrespectful of anyone but I did want to do my part to make breastfeeding something that people recognized as completely normal and acceptable.
Vaccines – Lots of natural parents choose not to vaccinate because of the potential side effects and all the horrendous ingredients in the vaccines themselves. I have had no trouble from other moms and my own family totally supports my choice in this matter. I have had trouble with doctors though and I do my best to show them that I am not some patsy they can push around. I am an intelligent mom who is making an informed decision and they will not change my mind.
Positive Discipline and Attachment Parenting– This can be a biggie within families sometimes. Chances are your parents or grandparents may have been raised in a family where the belt handled discipline problems or where children were supposed to be seen and not heard. This can cause issues when you decide to choose respectful and peaceful parenting. It can get even stickier if you have a child with “issues” such as autism, hyperactivity, sensory problems, etc. Those problems were just not around so much back when our parents and grandparents were having kids so their can be lots of misunderstandings. I had few issues but if I did I only had to remember that my husband and I alone were the ones that knew our children through and through. What total strangers or extended family thought was of little consequence.
Homeschooling and Unschooling – This issue isn’t unique to natural parents by any means but lots of attached, green, natural parents are choosing to homeschool. This can be a big problem for some of our family and friends who think we are somehow doing a disservice to our children’s education by going this route. I cannot say I had total support when I chose to homeschool my oldest but in all honesty I can admit he wasn’t being best served by a home education, it was just the best we could do with what we had available at the time. But I feel for parents who struggle with negativity from friends and families about their educational choices because it can be an amazing and joyful experience for parent and child, AND they can get a great education, despite what critics say.
Cloth Diapering – When you tell people you use cloth diapers it is not uncommon to hear “Ew! Gross!” My own mom thought I was a little nuts when I told her I planned to cloth diaper my second baby but she was a quick convert when she saw how easy it was and how cool and modern cloth diapers had become. Plus I ended up sewing my own diapers and starting a very successful diaper business. I even hired her a seamstress on occasion and she became my biggest champion so it all worked out. Still it helps to have a nice diaper on hand when you tell people you cloth diaper so that you can turn those “Ews” to “Aaahs”.
Cry It Out – Mainstream parenting advice seems to favor letting your babies cry themselves to sleep. Of course it does. We live in society where mom’s convenience is prized as the most important thing but I didn’t become a mom to put all my own needs first so I never let my babies cry it out. Whenever someone gave me the advice to just let my baby cry I would tell them I am one of those newfangled “get off your butt” parents. There was little they could say after that one.
Co-Sleeping – This can be sticky too. Many people will advise parents to never let their babies into their bed or they will never get them out. All 3 of my babes slept in my bed and my nearly 6 year old still does. I have few worries (okay, no worries) that he will still be there when he is a teenager. I am not sure why co-sleeping bothers some people but I just laughed it off if anyone made comments to me.
Natural Childbirth – I think I only had one family member comment on my intention to have a natural birth and I think that comment was actually a defense of their own choice to have drugs. I wish more moms realized that it isn’t a competition. If I choose the natural route that doesn’t have anything to do with you and your choices. I say stand by your choices and make your own positive body message be heard but just realize that some will view it as criticism of their choices.
Anyway… your turn! What natural choices have you made that rocked the boat with your friends or family?
Find out how green moms Carrie and Rachel answered this question as well.
What is it about being an attached family that lends itself to a minimalist parenting style? Are you criticized by others wondering why your children don’t “have the hottest new item?”
I hope this post is not too redundant since I have addressed this subject many times before.
My own love of minimalism and going minimalist with kids probably stems from a few different things. First would be my desire to live green. Consumption of less stuff and reusing what you have instead of buying new is green and minimalist. They go together like peas and carrots.
The second reason why I love minimalism… it is liberating! Working tons of hours to afford the really nice house instead of the perfectly sufficient one or working to fund a never ending list of wants from all family members is a form of slavery. You are letting yourself be enslaved by the media and my popular culture. It is amazingly freeing to be able to step outside that mindset and see that you are happier not chasing after that shallow dream. So many people today are like hamsters on a wheel and some of us are fortunate enough to one day stop, get off the wheel, and realize we have no desire to ever get back on. Minimalism is a tool that keeps the important things in the forefront so we aren’t tempted to get back on that wheel.
So how does that work when your kids are being bombarded by media and popular culture.. which tells them the way to happiness is the accumulation of stuff? It is pretty easy actually. Just live your values and explain to your kids why you make the decisions you do.
My third reason for loving minimalism would probably be my desire to make the monumental job of parenting and living as stress free and enjoyable as possible. Parenting is oodles easier when you you don’t live among lots of clutter and you don’t have to work your life away to afford everything the media says you or your kids should have. This is perhaps why AP and minimalism get along so well too. It is easier to connect with your kids when you actually have time to spend with them and you or they are not engaged on some electronic device or some other diversion that society persuades us is important.
Because my two youngest have always been raised pretty minimalist they are very well adapted to the lifestyle. My oldest is a harder sell because he remembers the years we spent running on that hamster wheel and going into debt to buy oodles of useless crap. With him we have to justify our decisions quite often… like over, and over, and over again. We work hard for the “needs” in life and we are quite honest about the fact that we choose not to work any more hours than we have to, to buy “wants”. We want to model liberation and non-conformity so that our kids will not one day think they need to keep up with the Jones’s or go into debt to have the latest and greatest of everything. The smartest way to live IMO is to make the conscious decision to enjoy what you have right now, right here. When you are happy with what you have then the world is abundant, there are no limits, and you are rich.
Okay… so what does that mean literally? Well for us it means having a sparsely decorated home and fewer possessions. When I start having a problem finding a home for kitchen gadgets and utensils I know it is time to get rid of some. When the laundry starts to get overwhelming I decide it is time to pare down and I ask the kids to tell me what clothes they LOVE and what clothes they only wear because they are there. When the toy box gets overstuffed, some toys have got to go. It means visiting the library every week so that the bookaholics in the family are satiated. Gifts are given on holidays and birthdays and that is pretty much it unless we find a deal we cannot pass up (used sports equipment for instance). It means requiring our kids to help out with household cleaning and other tasks and paying them for these services so that they can get used to earning money and spending it wisely. It also means requiring them to use their money to pay for their own expenses… like pet food or blown bike tubes AND not advancing them money for larger purchases because that is like kiddie credit. This allows them to see what it is like to have to budget in the needs before the wants and to not spend what they do not have. It often means waiting until gadgets and toys can be bought used or an older, cheaper model is available.
The goal of attachment parenting is not to keep kids dependent on or too attached to you as they grow but rather to give them the foundation they need to have confidence in their own choices and decisions. Raising them minimalist lends a helping hand by teaching them not to be slaves to media and the ideals of a culture obsessed with consumption.
Books I LOVE about minimalism and simple living:
Living Simply with Children: A Voluntary Simplicity Guide for Moms, Dads, and Kids Who Want to Reclaim the Bliss of Childhood and the Joy of Parenting
What about you? What works for your family?
This is week two of the attachment parenting discussion between Green Moms Weekly… all in honor of Attachment Parenting month. The question this week is: What are some fun, simple, activities that you engage your children with?
I have to admit that I am not terribly great at “play”. I do lots of stuff with my kids and I am a very attentive and involved parents but actually playing with my kids has always been a struggle for me. Sure we play around often with tickling or thumb wars, little stuff like that, but kicking a ball around in the yard, playing catch, or playing dolls or dinosaurs is not really something that comes easy to me. So for me it does take some planning to make sure my kids actually see me being a playful parent. Some of the ways we play are below…
Board Games – This kinda play is a-okay with me. We have lots of games and we play pretty often. It could be UNO or could be an educational game that teaches about medicinal uses for herbs. Its all good! My husband, my two older kids, and I all play online games as well. Hubby plays with our oldest son and my daughter and I often play together as well.
Car Games – Long drives are a great time to play as well… SlugBug (with no hitting), I Spy, the license plate game. We love them, they give us an opportunity to play, and they keep kids occupied.
Nature Play– Every year we do a series of winter hikes put on by our local Metro Parks system. There are usually about a dozen or more and they are a great way to see every park in full winter glory and be together as a family. By playing nature identification games along the way and by encouraging everyone to compete against their own hike times it makes it more fun for everyone. We also go sledding a couple times a year. This year we plan to try a new adventure and go Snow Tubing at Mad River. Can’t wait!! If we can find some good, used equipment we would also like to start cross country skiing and snowboarding.
In the warmer months we play together at festivals and do other organized activities. Indoor and outdoor golf is something we all love. Mini golf as a family and the driving range with Daddy for my two oldest. My husband and son like to attend Big Game Day at a local paintball place too. Despite my aversion to be bruised from head to toe by paintballs, I have decided to attend the next one in the spring with them. It was important to my son to share his love of this game with both parents. So now I have to find some second hand fatigues and it is ON!
This past weekend we took the kids apple picking again and we had a blast running through the orchard rows and lifting the kids so they could reach the highest (and juiciest apples). It was also fun to kick errant apples out of the main walkway so no one would trip on them. This upcoming weekend we plan to push our kids around inside tractor tires at Pigeon Roost Farm.
Indoor Play – We have at least one hard core roller skate/roller blade enthusiast and it makes sense since both my husband and I skated several hours a day for most of of our childhoods and many of our dates were spent at skate parks. Taking the kids to roller rinks is fun for all. We are also lucky to have indoor water parks that can be used during any weather. Spraying each other with water, riding double on the lazy river, going down terrifying water slides and screaming, together … it is what occupied the latter half of this past weekend actually. For any Columbus locals who read, we went to Coco Key Water Resort at Cherry Valley Lodge. LOVED it! We actually live 5 minutes away from the Fort Rapids Indoor Water Park but CoCo Key has frequent specials and group buy deals. We just bought 5 more days passes to Coco Key yesterday (via a group buy site) that we will use around Christmas time.
Affordable Fun – I know some people hate group sites like Groupon and Living Social but we use these sites primarily to buy tickets for events and play opportunities. Water resort passes, tours at historic places, museum passes, mini golf, paintball 2 for 1 deals, skiing passes, etc. It makes it a lot easier to play when you can afford to do really fun stuff and these sites can make that possible for 50-60% off the normal prices.
So, that is how we get our play on… what about you? How do you play with your kids?