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?
We have had a really fun and enjoyable weekend. I got to spend it with people I love and we had lots of our favorite foods. The pace was slow and I was able to savory every second. Even got to see a movie with my Dad, my hubby, and my youngest son. We saw Wrath of the Titans. We just don’t have enough of these weekends!
We dug out the bunny decorations and fake grass we have used for years. The Easter Dinner table was set…
And we were ready to eat! Shortly after I snapped the picture below, my youngest son completely filled his plate with carrots, cherry tomatoes, and broccoli. That is all he ate. Considering all the other good stuff on the table that is pretty darn weird!
As is customary for us on Easter, we had prime rib. Nom, nom.
For dessert we had organic, primal carrot cupcakes with creamy dreamy, cream cheese frosting. The recipe came from Make It Paleo. YUM!!!!! And they are so healthy… carrots, coconut flour and coconut oil, nearly a dozen pastured eggs, cream cheese, dates, and pure maple syrup.
How was your holiday?
Leading up to Valentine’s Day you are likely to read articles about gift ideas, ways to make it magical, or perhaps what candy and chocolate is the most ethical and healthy. You don’t typically see articles about what to do if your kids came home from school with a metric ton of candy and sweets and you don’t actually have the heart to confiscate it. That would be me. I don’t buy any Valentine’s candy his time of year. Not a single piece for me or the kids. When we have to send the kids to school with Valentine’s we either make our own cards or go with ones that have little toys, bookmarks, or pencils instead of candy. But it is understood that when they come home from school they are going to have a paper bag full of Valentine’s Day booty. Since they don’t get candy very often I don’t worry so much about it, but then again I don’t dismiss it either.
Valentine’s candy is actually pretty bad for our children’s health. That is the just the truth of it. It is loaded with immune suppressing sugar and other junk ingredients like artificial dyes and additives. Consuming all that candy is literally putting their immune systems under a form of attack and during a time when they are already vulnerable… few sunlight hours available, activity can dwindle, and cold and flu bugs are going around like party favors.
If you want to get creative and trade the candy for money or other treats go right ahead. That actually worked with my youngest son this year. My daughter would not be swayed. Rather than let it bug me I just decided that it is a grand opportunity to teach my kids how to take care of their bodies after they have had a lapse in judgement. Giving them insight into how their body works when we eat junk and how we can nurture ourselves in the aftermath is just as important in my mind as teaching them about healthy eating. They need to know how to heal themselves when their healthy habits take a detour.
You might decide to try and ration the candy so they don’t go crazy and eat it all at once but that is actually not a good idea. Let them eat up all the candy. It just extends the immune suppressing abilities of all that junk so it’s best to get it gone and start the healing. Whatever they don’t eat that afternoon/evening might even magically disappear. Give me the rest of that candy and I will take you to a movie on Saturday morning, deal?
Here are some other ways that we give our family an immunity boost after gorging on candy. These tips work for Valentine’s Day or any candy centric holiday (ie Halloween and Easter).
Broth – Once that candy is gone we go into a week long spree of nourishing, nutrient dense, broth based soups that are heavy on the veggies, garlic, onions, and ginger. My dutch oven get a mighty workout all week long.
Hydration – The drink of choice after Valentine’s is good old fashioned water and I make sure it is alkaline as well. No natural juice, smoothies, or sweetened teas right now, just water.
Fermented Cod Liver Oil – Very nutrient dense and helps boost immunity and sleep. This brand is especially good because it is fermented, unheated, and it retains the natural vitamins and enzymes that are destroyed in the processing of many other brands.
Garlic - It has strong antiviral and antibacterial properties and can help ward of illness. I will often use an entire bulb in our soups after we have had excessive candy exposure.
No White Stuff or Grains - Sugar is one of the white things to be avoided but also white rice and flour. Make pancakes with coconut flour or give them a cereal of just chopped almonds, pecans, pine nuts, and shredded coconut. It is especially important not to eat any white stuff after a candy binge but grains just convert to sugar in the body too so it is best to avoid them.
Ginger - Ginger warms you up so fast you think you might be having a hot flash. That is of course why it works so well. It raises your body temperature and fights off viruses and prevents them from replicating. It is also anti-inflammatory and it supports our immune system.
Elderberry - This amazing herb is an anti-viral and it helps to fight viruses by warming your body temperature. It also has strong antioxidant properties that boost the immune system. You can make your own or you can buy it in the form of Sambucol.
Exercise – Take the kids out for evening walks, dance while you do chores, and go on some weekend hikes. Exercise boosts immune function.
Whole Foods Vitamins – Give your kids vitamins sourced from whole foods (ala apples, mango, etc), not one with synthetic ingredients.
Plenty of Rest – After an event like Valentine’s Day we send the kids to bed earlier so they can get plenty of rest… their little bodies need it. All week long they are required to hit the sack an hour earlier than usual and this gives their immune system a chance to recover from the shock of all that sugar.
How will you keep your kids healthy after Valentine’s Day?
Looks like I have some new games to add to my mammoth post on green board games. Educational Insights was kind enough to send me a trio of their educational, green games for my children and I to play with for Earth Week and beyond. All 3 games are printed with vegetable ink on recycled paper. They have wood and paper pieces, no plastic and they are really rather sparse in gadgets and “stuff” overall. They are very much minimalist games. Another plus is that all three have a nature theme going on.
Number Hunt – The game board is a jungle. The object is move through the jungle using the wooden die to roll numbers. You add the number on the die to the number on your current space, do the math, and move along the path to the finish line. Some spaces have no number. Instead they have a collection of bugs that need to be counted so you can figure out the number value of that space. It is great for preschool age kids (like my little guy) who are working on counting and my 7 year old enjoyed it as well, even though the math was a little to young for her. My kids also like that this game and one of the others uses the same paper “pieces” so they could be the same character for both games. My youngest son was the fox and my daughter was the owl.
Reading Roundup – As the name would suggest this game encourages reading and word recognition. My ten year old son even played with us because the overall theme was fun for a more advanced reader too. Each player gets five cards that lay face up in front of them.
Each card has a word on it and you move through the game board trying to land on spaces that have the matching words. The spaces with words are attached by lassos but you have to move in one direction. It is strategic because you need to plan your moves ahead so that you can hit all your words and turn over the corresponding card. Once all your cards have been turned over you need to follow the lassos back to your home base, each player (up to 4) has their own. It is easy enough for younger kids but the strategy part might need to be learned. Taking your words out quickly, while moving on the board as little as possible, is really the key. Very enjoyable though! I even liked playing this one.
Woodzy Words – This game is much like Pick Up Sticks, everybody remember that classic? Well these sticks are bit more substantial and they have words on them but the principle is the same. When you successfully pick up one of the sticks you read the word aloud and when you are finished you need to make a sentence with all your words. Continue to play until you bump another stick or get stuck on a word. The player with the most sticks at the end of the game wins. The cool part is that the words are 30 Earth-friendly vocabulary words like habitat, ocean, soil, etc. We really enjoyed playing this one as well.
All 3 games rock but I would LOVE to see advanced versions of the first two… because I do think they are phenomenal for education and learning during play. They get an A+ here.
Over the weekend I dived into the book Throw Out Fifty Things – Clear the Clutter and Find Your Life by Gail Blanke. It is not so much about minimalism as it is about taking the beginning steps to decluttering. The idea is to have the concrete goal of getting rid of fifty things in all the main rooms of your house. Items of the same type count as one… so 5 pairs of shoes is only one item in your overall fifty.
I started reading it on Saturday morning and by noon I was knee deep in decluttering my bedroom , which is the first room mentioned in the book. Our closet was still full of boxes I never bothered to unpack, clothes I haven’t worn because I don’t like them, and full of kids clothing and possessions. Someone, who shall remain nameless, likes to make only one stop when putting away clean laundry and thus my walk-in closet is the catch all for everybody’s stuff. It took about 3-4 hours to completely clean that room. I ended up with 4 large boxes of giveaway stuff and all the dust bunnies were swept away, even the ones under my bed. And of course I had some serious “talks” with my kids about things like rotting banana peels thrown under there. No more eating in mom’s bed is a new rule.
I really thought we were very “decluttered” after two moves but I still had quite a bit of old clothing I no longer wear. My youngest son and my daughter had lots of clothes they have outgrown, and sorry but toys abandoned in the back of my closet weren’t being missed, so out they went. After the bedroom you follow the author threw other rooms until you have your fifty. I have held off on finishing because my trunk is full of stuff I have to donate and I want to get rid of that first. But afterwards I will tackle those rooms with gusto. The author also recommends the process be about two weeks in length.
The last chapters are all about clearing out the mental clutter and it has lots of good advice for that too. By far my favorite thing about this book though is the personal stories told about decluttering, they were quite funny. There are also green tips sprinkled throughout for how to recycle many of the items you may donate.
Anyone else feeling that itch to spring clean even though it is still winter?