Making Mommy Proud

Our neighbor’s grandson, J (4), was over playing with B (5) recently.  B asked if he could have him come in to play Lego’s.  They came in and headed downstairs to play.  When J, the other little boy, realized we had loads of Thomas trains, he no longer had any interest in playing with B.  B thinks he is too cool for trains, so they were just both doing their own thing.  After a while, J asked B why he wasn’t playing with him and B reminded him that he didn’t want to play trains.

I was just staying in the background watching their interaction instead of facilitating social communication and play at this point, when the most wonderful thing happened!  The following conversation was initiated by B:

B: “Hey J, you know what I like to do? I like to squish down in the box with all these balls, it feels really good.”

J: …looks at B like he is crazy! 😀

B: “So J, what do you like to play?”

J: “I just want to play trains.”

B: “Do you want to squish in this box with me?”

J: “No thank you.”

B: “So J, I know you like to play Thomas, but what else do you like to play?”

J: “I like Pokemon.”

B: “We don’t have any Pokemon.  You could go in that box over there?”

J: “No, I don’t think I would like it.”

B: “You know J, sometimes we have to try things even if we don’t think it will be fun.  You should try it, you might find out you will like squishing in boxes.”

J: “I don’t think so.”

Then B disappears into his box, A comes over and wants to get in with him.  They are laughing and having a good time.

J: “Do you think I could fit in that box with you?”

B: “Sure, come on in.”

These are the moments when I so clearly see how important intervention is.  It was so cool to see him using the social communication that he has been learning from us, in his social skills groups and in school in a real life setting.  A year ago, if this same scenario would have been happening, he would have remained completely oblivious to the other child, or would have thrown a holy fit because J didn’t want to do what he was doing.  Seeing this progress makes it all worth it!

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Graduation Week!

This is a week full of graduations for our B.  On Monday, I attended his preschool graduation and today he is graduating from his Autism Day Treatment program.   It is bittersweet.  He has come so far that I am afraid to let go of the amazing people in his life that have helped him to grow and learn so much during the past year.  Below is an email I sent to the staff at his Day Treatment program today.

I wanted to email to express my thanks for all of the hard work that you have put in with B over the past seven months. However, to just say thank you does not even begin to show the gratitude that we, as a family, feel towards all of the great people at F_____.

It was just over a year ago that we received B’s “education autism” identification. In that moment, I could not see the future. My heart was completely broken. I could not imagine what this would mean for us. B had always been so “ahead” in so many aspects that when he started falling behind in some areas it was completely foreign to us; we were totally blindsided. But, we knew we had to pick up our chins and get him the services he needed because there was just one short year until kindergarten started.

When we went through the process of having B evaluated at F_____, one of the recommendations was attending Day Treatment. For us, it was a no-brainer. After hearing about the program from the evaluation team and visiting the Day Treatment facilities, we could see that this would be a great opportunity for B to work on his skills.

Fast forward one year, to the date, of receiving B’s education autism identification and I am sitting at a kindergarten transition meeting getting one of the best compliments I have recieved as a parent. B’s preschool case manager began the meeting by describing B to the transition team. She started by telling the team, “…I literally get goosebumps when I talk about B because he has made such amazing progress this year.” Wow, talk about a proud parent moment.

We could not have got to this point without the help of the staff at F_____. You have helped B learn and refine so many great skills. The progress we have seen at F_____, in preschool, in our home and out in public is astonishing. He has grown and learned so much. I can see the future now and I absolutely know in my heart that B is going to succeed. He is going to succeed in school, he is going to succeed at making friends, he is going to grow into the wonderful, caring, funny young man I always pictured him to be. It will always be work, but it is going to be OK. No, it is going to be great!

So, thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. You have changed our lives so much in such a short period of time. You will all be missed very much, but you will not soon be forgotten in our house.

I am shedding many tears today.  Happy, joy filled tears.  Today is a good day.

What a Difference a Year Can Make

As the month of May settles in, I am finding myself becoming a little emotional.  At this time last year, the A word was just creeping into our lives.  We were filling out paperwork galore, answering never-ending questions, attending evaluations and having our eyes opened to a new world.  A world that we had been living in for years without really knowing we were there.

In three short days, we will hit the one year mark of receiving B’s diagnosis.  That awful day in May when I got the call from the school psychologist.  She said the words to me that no parent ever imagines they will hear, “your child is on the autism spectrum.” I froze in my desk chair, hot tears streaming down my face.

Autism? What did that mean for his education, his future, his life? What changes were we going to have to make for our family?  Is he ever going to make friends? Is this what  a broken heart feels like? Oh my gosh, my husband, how am I going to tell my husband? What will our friends think?  Will our family support us? Does insurance cover treatment? How am I ever going to put one foot in front of the other and continue moving?

The questions were whirling through my head.  I wrote down some dates of when we would need to meet next, but I was no longer listening to the voice on the other side of the phone.  My world had just been rocked.  Thinking back to that day last May, I would have never imagined we would be where we are now.

In the past our family has received the following diagnosis:

B: Asperger syndrome, Sensory Processing Disorder, near-sighted vision accompanied by tracking issues;

A: Multi-System Developmental Disorder, Sensory Processing Disorder, Sleep Myoclonus;

Me: Depression, Anxiety.

We have gained the following services:

B: Early Intervention preschool services through the School District, Day Treatment services through a local autism program, Medic-Aid through the State, a community based grant through the State.

A: In-home early intervention services through the School District, pubic health nurse services through the County, Day Treatment services through a local autism program, Medic-Aid through the State, a different community based grant program through the County.

Me: A wonderful counselor that talks to me twice, monthly.

It has been a long year full of countless changes.  It has been difficult and taxing and emotional, but I wouldn’t change a bit of it.  Why? Because we have also experienced some huge, amazing, wonderful changes as well.

Last year during our spring preschool conference, B was having a very difficult time.  Academically, he was able to keep up and was even complaining of it not being hard enough, but he still needed a lot of support.  He was having difficulty with his peers, he was having a hard time sitting with the group, he became unruly during gym time and overall was requiring a lot more one-on-one assistance than the other children in his classroom.

This years spring conference was like night and day.  During the school year, through trial and error, we have found a combination of supports that have ensured that almost every day at preschool is a great day! B is now playing with friends during free play time, is able to stay with the group during large and small group activities, is no longer over-stimulated by the gym and is able to be a lot more independent in the classroom.

We are also experiencing some amazing changes in our home.  Again, through trial and error, we have found things that work to help B be more independent in his activities of daily living, he is sleeping better and is just all around better adjusted.  He is a healthy, happy five year old boy with a few extra supports.  That is all.

A has also made some amazing changes.  Through the help of his EI team, he has weaned from daytime nursing, is putting together multiple words in sentences, is moving away from always talking in scripts and is also just so much more well adjusted than six months ago.

Life threw us a curve ball a year ago.  We could have watched that ball go by, but we chose to swing for the fences and baby, it was the best decision we ever made.  My boys are growing and changing every single day for the better.  I can only hope that the next year will be half as amazing.

Our family was forever changed that day last May, but my heart is healing and my feet are moving, one step at a time.

Tears in my Chicken Soup

I cried last night.  I cried hard.  I cried like I have not cried in a long time.

I cried over a bowl of chicken soup.

My two picky little eaters have taken a liking to a certain brand of canned chicken noodle soup.  Although I am able to buy it in bulk, the spot on the shelf for the soup empties weekly.  In an attempt to save some money and offer a slightly healthier alternative, I decided to buy a few rotisserie chickens, carrots, celery, onions, rotini noodles and chicken broth.  My dad (because my time is very limited lately) graciously offered to make us a bunch of soup and portion it out so we could freeze it and easily serve it for lunches to the boys.

The soup arrived last night, and I excitedly warmed up a bowl for the boys to try.

It was a huge failure.

B took one bite and refused to eat anymore because, “the broth tastes different and the chicken is kind of….oodily.”  The soup was not exactly the same and therefore, he did not want it.  I got down on his level and acknowledged his feelings.  I let him know that I understand that he likes things to be the same and when they are not that makes him uneasy.  We talked about that we might not always get what we expect, but that we will be OK.  I asked him if he thought the soup being different was a big deal or a small deal, a technique we are implementing in day treatment and at home. He responded, with tears in his eyes, “It is a big deal.”  I gave him a questioning look and the tears started rolling and he said, “I know you say it is a small deal, but it is a big deal to me.  I makes me feel like I have lots of energy because it isn’t the same.”

I couldn’t respond in that moment.  I was so proud of him for being able to acknowledge those feelings, but so sad that he was having such big feelings about something so small.  I gave in to him and popped a bowl of oatmeal in the microwave and moved on to feeding A the soup.

He got a big smile on his face, pounded his little fists on the table and yelled, “Soup, soup, yummy!” He took one bite and quickly cringed and spit it out.  Second bite, same result.  He tried one more time, and started whining and saying, “Icky, soup icky.” For him it was the fact that the chicken was shredded up and sticking to the carrots and noodles.  His oral defensiveness does not allow for multi-textured foods to pass his little lips.

He became mad and I became even more sad.  Why does something as small as a bowl of soup have to be such a big deal?  Why do I have to see these little guys constantly becoming anxious and upset? Why does it have to be so hard, all the time?

After everyone was asleep for the night I sat down and my mind began replaying these questions over and over.  My heart was heavy and the tears started.  Slowly at first, but as the questions kept replaying in my mind and I pictured the anxious looks on my boys faces when the soup hit their lips, the tears turned to sobs.  My whole body shook and my tears stained my cheeks.

Once the tears subsided, I felt a little better.  I stopped and reassessed the situation and marveled that B was able to articulate so well why he didn’t want the soup and that A was pairing words together.  I decided that just because they didn’t eat the soup, didn’t make it a failure.  They still showcased some other really great skills that we have been working so hard to achieve. They did well.

I am becoming more at ease with this stuff most of the time, but every once in a while, it will hit me like a ton of bricks.  And boy do those bricks hurt.  I do wonder if that will ever go away, or if there will still be tears in my chicken soup twenty years from now.

Cha Cha Cha Changes!

I am hesitating writing this post out of fear that I am about to jinx a good thing.  But…. we have been seeing some really amazing changes in B recently.  I am talking BIG changes. Things that, if they continue to happen, are going to let me breathe a sigh of relief, but more importantly, let B have more enjoyment in life.

B began attending an autism day treatment program, 2 days per week, a few months back.  The first week he thought it was great.  During the second week, he figured out they had high expectations for him and he starting fighting tooth and nail about going.  For the next few weeks, we were persistent in getting him there and his teachers were persistent in following his plan.

Now, only months later, he is a changed little boy.  We cannot believe the things we are seeing.  And now because I am a proud mama, I am going to share a few examples.

Example One

At his mainstream preschool, his special ed teacher fills out a sheet with him at the end of each day.  There is a box for each activity, along with little pictures of the expectations for good behavior for each activity.  For the past 4 class sessions he has received smiley faces for all activities, save two days when he received straight faces at arrival time.  That is a huge success for him, and gives me hope that he is going to be OK next year in kindergarten.

Example Two

We also receive a note each day from his day treatment program.  On that note, B circles an emotion(s) about how he felt that day, and the activities he did in each area for the day.  The teacher also provides a short note at the bottom about his day.  Yesterday she wrote that B requested a sensory break during hello group because he was feeling too excited.  Another huge success!

He recognized his feeling and realized it was not appropriate for that setting.  He left the room for a few minutes with a room helper to give his senses a break and he had a great remainder of the day.

Example Three

B loves going to the indoor play areas.  Since we live in a cold environment, it is a good escape during the winter months.  Recently, we figured out that going to the PlayLand at McDonald’s is much more enjoyable during the breakfast hours.  There are fewer kids, less noise and no happy meals, thus no toys.

Last weekend, after a week of pretty brutal cold, we decided to pack up the kids and have some McDonald’s breakfast at PlayLand.  When we arrived we did not get out of the car before explaining our expectations for behavior.  We reminded B of the rules and also reminded him that first we would eat and then he could play.

We got in the building.  E went up to order some food and I took the boys in.  B went and picked a table, took off his jacket and shoes and sat down.  Without a single reminder.  He sat nicely at the table waiting for food.  During that time there were two moms, each with two boys, eating in the PlayLand.  The boys were all acting awful and the moms were just yelling across the room instead of actually disciplining them.

There were a few moments when I saw B’s eyes change and I thought I was going to lose him, but he held strong! No behavior modeling, no complaints about eating first, nothing.  I was amazed! He ate a great breakfast and then played nicely, using an indoor voice, for over an hour.  He needed a few reminders, but quickly corrected his behaviors each time.  I had to double check that I had the right child!

I am so proud of my boy.  He is going to be OK.  There will still be tough days, no doubt, but we are turning a corner.  My husband and I have found ourselves giving each other that look with mouths agape in amazement and our hearts swelling with pride a lot lately.  We are changing and change is good.

Climb Up and Walk On

During the months leading up to and following A’s diagnosis in December, I hit a very low spot in my life. It has been coming on for quite some time now, but this was a breaking point for me.  I slipped into a dark place.

I am trying to climb up and walk on.

At the end of December, I started seeing a therapist for me.  Did you hear that? That is right, I said m-e, ME.

She is a wondering, caring, insightful woman who has special needs children of her own.  She is helping me to climb up out of the dark place I slipped into.  It is not a quick process, nor an easy process.  I am being helped along by a good new friend of mine, Zoloft.

During the past year, and especially the past six months or so, there are many areas of my life that have really taken a beating.  My home, my marriage, my job, friendships.  I could continue, but I won’t.  The important thing is I am working on building those things back up.  I am climbing up and walking on.

One of the things I am working on with my therapist is working on these things for me.  Her theory with me is that I am so busy taking care of everyone else that I have totally forgotten about me.  Not an uncommon thing to have happen to a mom of two young children.  Probably even less uncommon for a mom of two young, special needs children.

That being said, there is not reason to neglect me.  My husband, my children, my family, my friends and my coworkers all need me to take care of me.

There was a time in my life when I worked hard to find ways to get my husbands head to turn.  More recently, I quickly find my ugliest pair of sweatpants in hopes that at the end of the day he won’t want anything to do with me and I can just be left alone.  In the past I prided myself on always being responsive to my friends and family.  Now emails and phones calls often times go unanswered.  My job used to be a very important part of me.  I was always proud of my work because I worked hard to make a good product.  Lately, I find myself doing the bare minimum and spending a good part of the day just staring at my computer screen not knowing what to do.

I need to shine again.  I need to be a good wife, a caring friend and a successful worker.  Not because it is the right thing to do.  Not because someone told me I need to.  I need to do it because it is part of what makes me the person I am.  It is what makes me happy.

Going forward I am still going to be an awesome mom and a huge advocate for my children.  I will do anything to make their lives a little bit easier.  However, I am going to keep reminding myself to be me, to make myself happy too.

I am climbing up and walking on.

 

My Everest

Recently, my husband, the boys and I traveled to my in-laws house for a birthday dinner for my niece.  During the drive home, my husband and I had a wonderful conversation about our life and how it compares to that of our childless friends.

A few nights previous, one of my husband’s close friends, who happens to be childless, started talking about how he wants to do more with his life.  He feels like he needs to be accomplishing and experiencing life more.  For purposes of this story, we shall refer to this friend as Dan.

Dan works as a fire fighter.  Dan apparently has an array of talented coworkers. He was telling my husband tales of one coworker that is an amazing skier.  He works for 9 months of the year, and then spends 3 months in the winter skiing in Veil.   He stars in many videos about skiing and has managed to send every non-skier friend that has come to visit him, home with a broken bone.

There is another fire fighter, in his department, that is a professional cyclist.  He has a bike that he purchased for something like $30,000 and bikes to and from work every day.  In the evenings, he takes the scenic route home, that is 75 miles long.

I guess being around people such as the men above is making Dan feel inadequate.   He was asking my husband what he thought he could do to experience life more.  They talked about snow-showing, hiking, vacationing to exotic place, climbing mountains and many other things.  When Dan asked my husband if he would want to join him, he had to stop and try to explain to Dan what our life is like.

He said to Dan, “You have to understand, my boys are my Everest.”

There has never been a truer statement.  Since becoming parents, our experiences and accomplishments have been based upon what we can do and are doing to make their lives better.  Our success, as a whole, is so heavily weighted by the happiness of our children.  Their future is off in the distance, atop that great mountain.

On the day that we found out we were pregnant with B, we looked up that treacherous piece of rock, unsure what path we would take or if we would ever make it to the top.  But climb we did.

At the beginning, we took baby steps.  Our footing was unsure.  We didn’t trust our equipment to break our fall.  We weren’t used to the climate and the air, but we were trying.

As time has gone on, we have become more confident in our climbing skills.  On good days, we are able to navigate this mountain pretty well on our own.  On more difficult days, we are learning to rely upon the help from our village.  We have trail guides, Sherpas, medics and other climbers who help us on our journey.

Our climb has changed dramatically during the past year.  It is still changing every day and I imagine will continue to change on a daily basis for the rest of our lives.  The 2010 calendar year has proven to be the toughest leg of our journey since becoming parents, but I wouldn’t change it for the world.

I have days were I look down and just want to retreat to the bottom of the mountain and call it a day.  I never do though.  Instead, I look at my two little boy and find the strength to take another step.  They give me strength to be the best mother in the world; to find my way to the top of the mountain.

Getting an Asperger diagnosis for B was like getting a trail map.  Before the diagnosis, while we were very familiar with our son, there were just some things we didn’t understand about him.  With the diagnosis we are starting to learn.  We have a map, we have tools, we are slowly finding our way on this journey.  And it is an amazing journey.

I don’t need snow-shoeing or exotic vacations.  I can live without a fancy bike or skiing trips to Veil.  I get to live an amazing journey everyday.  I have my Everest.  It is a difficult climb to get where we are today, but boy is the view beautiful from where I stand.

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