Thursday, September 20, 2007
Mom-Not Otherwise Specified
I haven't written for awhile about my son and autism, Mainly, well everything is going great and I am just living the same life that most SAHM's of two elementary kids live.
Homework, school pictures, packing lunches and snacks, reading at night, trying not to develop a rash when you hear Hannah Montana or Drake and Josh or Oswald ot the Upside Down Show for the *#!! , OH whose counting, time, sending money for this and that, catching the bus.Not being too worried when you let bed time slide an hour or so back on the weekends and let them have a Diet Caffiene Free soda twice in one day. Ya know, normal Mom stuff.
My son is doing great, yes he is still a child with autism ,but he is doing great. He talks so much and saying so many new things that I am considering asking his speech teacher, Miss Bicky, to try and tone it down a little if she can. In fact, I am hoping she give me a two for one deal with decreasing the verbal accuity and volume that my two lovely children generate. She keeps telling me she doesn't work in that direction. I tell her she needs to branch out.
He LOVES his teacher this year and LOVES his classmates and other than those two times at the beginning of the year, he has happily pranced onto the bus each morning. Trust me, any day I don't have to pry his teeth off my arm, his fist out of my hair and peel his 60+ lb. body off of me and into that bus is a banner day. But to see him skip happily into the Cheese Wagon each morning is not something I will ever take for granted.
It seems each day gets a little better for him and a little easier for me.
I may be misguided and many parents of children with autism may disagree but I think that I have reached an AHA! moment where I am not on a quest to cure my son's autism .I am just trying each day to help him reach his fullest potential and to find ways for him to learn to live with this very peculiar set of issues and , most importantly, to live happily and fully.
I recently read some really good advice in a book by Jonathan Levy " What You Can Do Right Now to Help Your Child with Autism".
Some of the most common sense I have ever read or most usable tips.
1) Don’t react
This is something that I already have mastered. Every utterance, every act, every behavior does not require a response and quite frankly , he usually isn't asking for help or a translation of his behavior or anything at all. He is happily involved with himself, Thank You very much. My husband has a much harder time tuning all of this out. Which is funny because he is very good at tuning me out sometimes.
2) Make eye contact a priority
Also something that we have always done and have created somewhat of a monster with because if my son wants my attention or he thinks he doesn't have my full attention, he has no hesitation in turning ,quite forcefully, my head toward him and saying "Eyes" to me. Which was the keyword we used in getting his attention. A little taste of my own medicine.
3) Join the stims
I have been know to flap my hands, join in "Tickle Bugs Faster Scared" which is a game of his own making or his own personally invented stim that translates into tickle me and then holler and try to scare him, which he thinks is uproariously funny for some reason. So that is now a Freeman Family Game. I can also jump around crazily and all sorts of other things I participate in doing in the privacy of my own home. OK ,occasionally out in public but unless it shows up in YouTube, I'll deny it.
4) Coping with crying
His or Mine? He doesn't really cry anymore than any other kid and I don't cry any more than any other mom so we break even on this one.He is a actually pretty laid back and it a happy mood most all of the time.
5) Give the child as much control as possible
I think that this is good advice for any child. Say No as little as possible, give them as many choices as you can and choose your battles wisely. I use this the same with my neurotypical daughter as I do with my son. For what it's worth, good advice to use in regard to your husband also. I don't try to make my son "act" normal, for the most part he acts as normal as any other child under the age of 10, if there is such as thing as normal in regard to kids.
6) Focus on attitude
Mine, his and the world's. I find all three usually follow my lead or mirror my own attitude. If he gets upset, I keep a calm, cool, happy and non stressed exterior. If I show how happy, proud and non plussed I am about my son's autism,then it seems that others catch on and act the same.I don't care if he can write words but not sentences, as long as he is happy and proud when he writes a word both he and I can read. I want him to be proud when he accomplishes something, no matter what that something is. And when he struggles or can't quite get it, I want myself and him to be positive about the effort if not the outcome. This is whether he is reading, letting the dog in or out, bringing his dishes to the sink or saying Please and Thank You. And if he goes to school without letting me brush his hair, Big deal.
7) Work one-on-one in a non distracting environment
This is something that we have learned by trial and error. When is comes to homework. Off goes any and all TV's, radios, dishwasher and sister. She is banished from sight and usually me too. It seems that my son, who is such a Mommy's boy, thinks homework or school work is A man's work and Dad does a great job.
8) Be dynamic with the child
This goes back to attitude for me. My son thinks that he is the most fabulous, funny, smart, helpful, loved and adored kid that ever was. He thinks he is my favorite child. (Luckily my daughter thinks that she is the favorite).I hope if I give him nothing else in life, that he never for one second thinks or feels that I am tired, despondent, stressed,disappointed, frustrated or at the end of my rope with him.I hope at the end of my life his eulogy for me will be that I was the most fun, positive, energetic, non stressed, laid back, supportive,proud and loving mother that God could have given him
9) Go directly to language
It's funny if you have a child with no language issues, communication is not something you every really put much though or effort into. But have a child that is language challenged and your whole life suddenly becomes about that and just a small success in that area can mean huge things for your child. Just answering Yes or No , can change a life. Just expressing I want apple juice instead of orange, or a Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwich instead of chicken or that it's the seams in my socks that are making me freak out not my shoes or going to the store.And as speech improves, so does everything else. Get them talking, keep them talking and make that a priority. And talking can be verbal speech, or sign language or pointing to a picture. Communication is vital and should be numeral UNO on the to do list.
10) Make sure food isn’t part of the problem
This can be defined in different ways.
Some professionals, layman and parents believe that along with autism comes some food sensitivities or inability to process certain ingredients. Gluten, casein, dairy, additives and food coloring are among the most common or most popular.
These negative interactions can or may cause an increase or magnification of certain behaviors. I haven't seen any evidence that any of these cause autism or that the removal of them can "Cure"(sorry Jenny McCarthy) autism. But may be worth looking into for some. I don't think that any of them have any negative influence on my son.
But we have had other issues with food due to his Sensory Issues. He is fairly picky but really no more so than some kids I have met. He will on occasion surprise us and add something to his list of foods. And not because of any directed effort on our part, it has to be his own idea and initiative. So in this way we don't make food an issue.He likes what he likes and as long as he is healthy, getting a good balance ,then that is good enough. So he may never like ice cream and will only eat blue Popsicles or Red/White/Blue bomb pops, so what if he prefers crunchy foods, hates cold foods, not too keen on mushy and an orange or lemon is the only fresh fruit he will sorta eat and corn the only undisguised vegetable to pass his lips.
Since age 2 he has never had a sick child visit at the Doctor, never had an antibiotic and we can always find something to eat no matter what restaurant we are visiting, so all is good.
So I have pretty much given you a slice of our life and I am happy to see that at least one expert in the field agrees with our approach.
It ain't Rocket Science but in this house
I am a researcher and my son is my ongoing project.
A better use of my time I cannot imagine.

Monday, September 17, 2007
A Change is in the Air
Finally after a long hot, dry, hot, did I mention DRY summer, I feel like fall is finally arriving.
I am one of those people that prefer to live in shorts and flipflops and here in the South I get my wish about 7 or 8 month out of the year.But that doesn't mean that I am not ready for the change of seasons. Maybe because it means the start of the holiday season, which I love and most certainly not because of the inevitable: Do I still fit in my jeans from last winter mystery?
I always loved the fall and winter holidays. Even before children, I decorated our house for Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas to the hilt.But now that I am Mom, the excitement has multiplied by a thousand. Last week, upon the urging of my daughter, we got out the Halloween decorations............and the Thanksgiving. OK, so I keep them in the same box and since the color scheme is similar and my daughter insisted on it-Our ghosts and Jack-O-Lanterns are happily coexisting with our Pilgrims and Turkeys. And our Indians don't seem to be bothered by their close proximity to the lighted spiders.
This years Halloween theme is "Pirates" brought forth by
1) My daughter wore a very cute Pirate costume in her dance recital
2) thus saving me the expense and time consuming decision of a costume by same daughter
3) My son loves Pirates
4) We went on the Pirate Ship cruise while on vacation so it is still fresh in their minds.
5) I am sorta tired of all the Princess stuff.
6) I need some different Halloween pictures for my scrapbooking. After 3 years of Princess and Prince Charming, I have reached my scrapbook limits of a fresh way to present it. And when they are older I don't want to have to answer why I "Made" them wear the same costume for 3 years. They will of course forget that it was them who insisted upon the repetition.
We always go and trick or treat with their cousins and those cousins cousins, so we are a marauding pack of 9 costumed kids being herded around by 6 adults and 2 infants in strollers.
We are never home to give out treats, so the candy I do buy is strictly for our own consumption. I mean ,who can resist those big bags so cleverly containing a mix of all your favorites.
Halloween also involves two of my favorite rituals-Visiting the Pumpkin Patch and picking the favorite pumpkins(more Kodak scrapbook moments) and then deciding on the face of the pumpkin- carved by Pumpkinmaster-Daddy B Free.
Then the science project of seeing exactly how long the pumpkin can sit on the front porch, dutifully light each night before it collapses into itself in a rotting heap.
And still can I stop and enjoy Halloween , which is still 6 weeks away.
I am already scanning magazines and websites for the perfect Thanksgiving dishes.
And Yes, my Type A momness has already starting buying some Santa Booty and decided what the Big Red Guy will be dropping down the chimney.
A man's work ends with the sun. A mother's work is never done!!!!!!!!
Now excuse me while I start thinking about this year's Christmas Wrapping Paper Theme.
What???????????Doesn't everybody do this????????????

Tuesday, September 11, 2007
The Squirrel is back.

Climbing the Mountain
Today is the 6 year anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.
It is also the 6 year anniversary of the day we received the call from Russia about our daughter.
It is a toss up which was more shocking or life changing.
Both events defining moments in our life.
As I watched the second plane implode into the building, my phone rang. It was our agency rep. calling to tell me to pack up we had a referral of an infant girl to go and meet. She was calling from New Jersey and had no idea what was transpiring just across the water from her office.
As the horror, fear and trepidation set in around us, we were preparing to do what so many thought unthinkable. Climb aboard a plane and fly across the ocean to a foreign country that had an uneasy past relationship with the United States. Many neighbors would not even venture across town to the mall much less excitedly and joyfully pack a suitcase for 17 hours of flying.
But I think our adoption travel coinciding with 9/11 was a gift.
It strengthened our decision to adopt a second time.
God knows we had plenty of reasons not to. We weren't that young, 41 and 46 when we adopted our daughter. Our son was not quite 3 and did have some issues in language and sensory and we were well aware of the extra time and attention he would need from us. We weren't wealthy by any means and paying for two adoptions within a two years span took lots of financial creativity.Not to mention I had quit my job to be home full time.
The attacks of 9 /11 could have been the final straw to us remaining a family of three.
The gift of 9/11 was that we finally understood why it was so right and needed for us to add a daughter to our family, to complete what we felt was our path and to fully feel that even though we had not even met our future daughter, we would already risk life and limb for her. That our love for her was stronger than our fear. That while in the future she would give us love and laughter and joy, the first thing she gave us was courage.
The terrorists took many things away from our country that day-lives, futures, security.
But they gave us back the renewed connections to our families, they put our priorities back in the right order and we learned to not take a second of our lives for granted.
Life lessons worth learning.
OK , on to more recent happenings.
Last Thursday I turned 47.
Anyway you slice it-creeping up on a half a century.
Ok I just scared myself with that one.
My bestest friend, Chris, sent me a Birthday card and reminded me I was almost over the hill.
How can I be almost over the hill,when I haven't even peaked yet- or
reached the figurative
Top of the Hill!!
I'm still climbing the mountain.
I am not winded or short on oxygen.
No leg cramps either.
I figure by 50 I will just be reaching the summit. Then I should have a good 10 or 15 years of enjoying the view from the top before I start back down at a leisurely pace.
I have never been one to lie or fudge or be evasive about my age.
I didn't want to stay 21 or 25 or 35.
The most monumental or milestone or life changing birthday I think I had was when I turned 16 and got my driver's license and the keys to my Orange and White Pinto with the Orange and Black checkered seats.
Look it was 1976 OK.
30 was no biggie and even 40 hardly made me blink and even 45 went by with a whisper.
I have to admit that 47 left me somewhat melancholy or rather reflective.
I think I am now feel like a grown up. Most days.Well, is some areas.
I think the next year will witness some changes.
I'm not going to the require so much of myself when it comes to being the extended family negotiator, planner and compromiser.
I am not going to have expectations of others, only to be disappointed.
I am not going to Do unto others, I am going to wait until they Do unto me , then respond in kind or not so kind, what ever the case may be.
If I don't really want to go out of my way to do something , then I won't.
What I spend my time and energy and attention on I will for the intrinsic value and feeling it gives me and not for any altruistic reasons or feedback or return from anyone else.
I am going to put my husband, my kids and myself first all the time, I mean really first. And not worry about what others may say, think or feel about that.
I know on the surface all of this sounds really selfish or self centered and in some ways it is.
I think at 47 I have earned a little of that.
One of the most important things I have learned in my many years is that you have to think of yourself as a savings account. If you don't regularly deposit time and attention to yourself , then you have less of yourself to give to others.
You can't operate at a deficit and whatever you put into yourself only grows with interest that compounds daily.
Because there are a lot of people and events and emotions standing in line for a daily withdrawal.
I plan on having a lot more birthdays and I don't plan on spending them bankrupt.
Not in Body.
Not in Mind.
Not in Soul.
Not in Spirit.
Now excuse me while I go wash this dye out of my hair because
Not in Gray either.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007
Talk Soup

Give voice to , speak ,vocalize , utterances , proclaim , articulate, epiphany, enunciate, pronounce, emit, murmur, croon, parlance, oration, recitation ,say ,yell , address, lecture, harangue, sermon, tirade, salutatory, soliloquy, mouthpiece, gift of gab,state your position, on the tip of your tongue, from the lips...............................
My house is a daily smorgasbord of all of this.
We are not a silent, contemplative, keep it to yourself, silence is golden family.
I grew up in a house where my parents encouraged lively discussion and no topic or thought was off limits.
My husband came of age under similar tutelage.
Even though we have been together for 28 years, we have yet run out of things to discuss.
Road trips rarely lapse into silence
Years of Speech therapy have transformed my once silent son into a virtual motor mouth.
My daughter is the gold medal winner by far of the Talk Olympics around here.
We consider the desire, willingness and practice of communication and verbalization to be a virtue and coveted assets in our family.
Apparently the school doesn't quite share our enthusiasm for this.
My smart, precious , social and vocabulary gifted daughter is having a few talking issues at school.
Did you know that in First grade you get points deducted for saying Hi to a friend or answering a questions asked of you by a classmate?
Neither did I, but apparently the Golden Rule is now Silence and not Reading, Writing and Arithmetic.
Believe it or not, my former Elementary teachers mentioned on occasion in that tiny space allotted for comments on old school report cards that
"Kim is an excellent student, always gets her work done and a joy to teach, she just needs to talk a little less in class."
No points taken off, no conduct cards pulled. Lots of positive reinforcement of the good stuff with the negative coming by the way of a little footnote.
My parents chalked it up to my nature, my intelligence and good breeding. I cannot recall it every being an issue because that was what my parents encouraged us to do. We got points added at home for being outspoken, opinionated and verbal sharing.
Enter 2007, where 1st grade looks like 3rd grade used to.
Tow the line, walk the walk but don't talk the talk.
The problem is that these are still 6 years old.
I don't expect the quite ones that can go all day with out uttering a word to become class orators , nor can I expect the ones that have mastered the art of communication to easily become mute.
So I struggle daily on what approach to take with my daughter.
Oh, how she tries each day to stuff down her automatic responses of the verbal nature.
We practise ignoring classmates that want her attention and words.
We emphasize that behavior i.e. talking is as important as how great she reads or writes or does math.
But my heart aches when I see her leave each morning for school not as excited about what she will learn as she is anxious about whether she will earn that coveted "Green Smiley"Face for the day that means she kept her lips locked through out the day.
And this bothers me.
It bothers me a lot.
It bothers me to the point that I am now more focused on that

Damn green smiley

than what she learned that day. And I hate that.

We visited my parents this weekend. As per family tradition, my Mom and I never run out of things to talk about. Mind you, we talk everyday on the phone. Saturday night we stayed up until 3:30am talking. Eventually I brought my parental quandary about my daughter's talking at school.
My mother laughed.
I asked her what she did about my talking in school when I was young.
Nothing, she said.
Nothing, I repeated.
She said it was just my nature and if that was the worst I was doing at school then no biggie.
I was always ahead academically and they had encouraged and nurtured us to be very expressive children.
So they did nothing.
Now, they did teach us to be respectful, not to talk when others had the floor and that our teachers were in charge. They also taught us that we were responsible for our own actions and the consequences those said actions may incur.
My step Dad is a school superintendent. He has had almost 40 years of dealing with discipline and teachers and students and parents and every issue imaginable from conduct to curriculum to custody to clothing. He is also on the fence about daily conduct grades, pulling cards or sticks or red light/green light and the emphasis and singling out of young students for such small infractions or age appropriate behavior. His advice was pretty much the same as my Moms.
Help my daughter understand why such a minor thing can become major.
Why one child talking is different from 20 kids chatting it up.
But not to go overboard, not to water down her academic achievements or the thrill of each day at school with the occasional talking offense.
To accept and embrace my daughters passion for communication and expression.
She not only loves to talk, but to read and to write. All of which are related.
After all ,it is a family tradition.
Passed down from generation to generation.
Our family crest is a Book, a pen and a mouth.
My grandfather was an evangelist.
I could tell you family history for days from stories that were passed down by great grandparents ,grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles.
By nature and by nurture.
When you have a child through adoption, you thrill and celebrate those habits and characteristics that your child shares with you.
My sweet girl and I are identical in our outgoing personalities that include much verbalizing of pretty much every thought we have or at the very least writing it down (blog in point).
If we are not talking or writing, or listening to someone else's stories and words on TV then we are reading.
Communiction on every level feeds our souls and minds.
The hunger is constant.
But the verbal entrees or desserts are what we crave.
It is something that is the extra cement in our bond as mother and daughter.
Tht invisible thread between us that is made of breathe and steel and forever connects us.
How can I punish her for that very thing that I adore about her.
The very thing that my Mom and family and friends so often comment that makes us so much alike.
And she and I both love to hear that comparison.
SO thus is my quandary.
To follow my instincts and my heart and do as my mother did and her mother and her mother, let her flourish as she is.
Or do I tow the parental line and teach her to do the same.
I'm partial to her constant chatter,
Music to my ears.