Autism Watch: 2007

Posts Tagged ‘social skills

Back when BB was newly diagnosed, our social lives took a major hit. At the time, we didn’t care — we were too worried, too overwhelmed, overextended and exhausted. It got better as years went by, with us having a smaller, more focused group of friends and a new idea of what was ‘fun.’ Our priorities shifted and we adapted to the new way of life.

Now that BB is older, we can leave him with an older sibling sometimes. We don’t do it often, but it’s nice to know that there’s the option if something’s a big enough of an occasion, so we’ve got the ‘time out as a couple’ problem covered.

The other problem though, perhaps the bigger issue, is getting the day-to-day, run of the mill, routine errands and outings covered.

Today, BB had a homeschool event. Since we live in a small town, we take advantage of being ‘out in the big city’ to get things done. I had a list in my purse of things I needed to do: another shot at the podiatrist office, Petsmart shopping, a certain candy mold at Michael’s, prescriptions at the drugstore, book dropoff and pick-up at the library, and the gas station. I dreaded the list, so I could totally get that BB would, too, but what choice is there?

As we drove home, halfway through the list (as a few things were here in town), I was thankful I’d been able to accomplish as much as I had on top of the science class, but worrying if I’d be able to finish the rest. They were non-negotiable: books were due, car needed gas, and the prescriptions had been sitting at the pharmacy for days. Each one should have been just a few minutes, but a few minutes here, a few there, and before you know it, you have a kid so anxious and overwrought, you wished you’d scrapped the very idea of taking him along.

Luckily…or maybe because I reminded him that I didn’t push him to stop and have lunch with me so he needed to do this for me and so I wouldn’t have to go back out later…he did fine. Now, fine is relative. It’s “fine” if you think him leaving my car window down and locking it (?) while I was waiting for the pharmacy to fix one of the prescriptions to find me in the store is “fine.” It’s “fine” if you think him yelling at me to hurry while putting gas in the beast is “fine,” and it’s “fine” if I don’t mind him telling me “You know, you could have just dropped your books in the slot and not gone inside.” (Yes, that would have partially worked, but what about the book I had on order? Another autism book, though he didn’t know that part.)

Let’s just say it was successful in that I got my errands done and he didn’t have a meltdown. It was neither fun nor relaxing, and by the time I walked in the door…dogs jumping at me and mail falling out of my hands…I was beat. I piled the purchases, the bags, the purse, the receipts all over the counter as I calmed the Yorkie. Got BB settled in his room. Grabbed a beer…no, not really, but I may have wanted to. Maybe. All the while, I’m feeling slightly resentful that I didn’t get to pick up a decent lunch and that I again had to head home, hermit-style, because BB wouldn’t acquiesce to head into the deli for a sandwich.

I contemplated the resentment as I was balancing the checkbook from the day’s expenses. Maybe not the best time to have a serious thought discussion going on, but I realized that though I’d saved $20 and not endured a miserable lunch out in public, worrying that he wasn’t behaving, I was still having to craft the time around him a lot. Some things are vastly better, and this area is, too, but there’s still a ways to go.

Add ‘Handles social outings with ease’ to my list. Or at least with a semblance of tolerance? How do you do it? How do you meld your acknowledgement that pushing your child too far isn’t fair to him with your need to get out of the house?

 

BB has a new friend. Well, not entirely new — they met each other a year ago in organized sports we’d signed him up for and they’ve seen each other at school here and there, but it has ramped up a lot in the last few weeks as they’ve seen each other for various events, mainly BB’s friend taking him somewhere. Today, we invited his friend over to spend the day, and wow, is it better than Disneyland and the zoo and a computer game store all wrapped into one.

BB has some social skills. Now, that doesn’t mean they’re good social skills, but he’s trying. He plays well for a while, taking the lead, and when he doesn’t get his way anymore or he’s just overwhelmed, he heads back inside to play on his computer. Alone. He wants to have his friend, so after I remind him that leaving him alone out back won’t generate return visits, he heads back out. After a sigh. But I think I made a dent.

His friend is being picked up any minute now, and it’s probably just about time. BB’s mood is wearing thin, the kind of thin where we almost are at a loss and don’t mind if he finds that spending some time in front of his tv watching his DVR’d episodes of Dragon Ball Z and Pokemon is what he wants to do next…for an hour or so. It’s the kind of thin where we’re afraid he’ll offend someone by his impatience or he’ll be rude under the guise of being ‘honest.’ Still working on that one.

Our next step is probably Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, in addition to more advanced social skills training and behavioral therapy at school. And for me? Other parents to talk to, those who can understand what we deal with daily and talk to me without judgment. Oh boy, do I need that…

Monday’s looming large now, and with that comes an early morning. 6am rise and shine and at school by 7:15 in time for his new ‘job’ helping the school on a special project. Just like any parent of a school-aged child, there’s the regular routine, and there’s the feeling of not looking forward to the next five days of rushed mornings, packing lunches, signing notebooks and listening to him vent the entire ride home each day about every.little.thing that occurred. (Who needs a tape recorder when you have BB? I get the perfect play-by-play minus the video, except his explanation is pretty detailed and I can usually envision his stories.) It’s only 6:22pm and I’m already tired just thinking of it. Or maybe that’s just the twitch in my right eye coming back.

As our kids grow, in some ways things improve. In some ways, things get worse. When I can’t hold him and restrain him enough at 75 pounds, what happens at 85? Years ago, I went to a parent support group not long after BB was diagnosed. What I expected was everyone talking about their experiences and people nodding and then going on to the next person. What I needed was being able to hear other moms of kids BB’s age talk about their situations and confirm we weren’t on our own or that we weren’t the only ones who had to make nothing but dairy-free pancakes cut in perfect squares with 3.5 tbsp of maple syrup in order to prevent a pre-school meltdown. What I got was a room full of people all dealing with spectrum kids from severe to mild, sharing their stories while others commiserated, laughed or gave advice. Sounds great, right? It was, until we got 1/4 of the way around the room and reached the parents with kids in high school. Their stories were scary. I was so busy getting through one day at a time that the future hadn’t occurred to me, so when I heard more and more parents talk about how things were just getting worse, how their child wouldn’t get into the car for school (or get out when they did manage to cajole him into getting in) or how their child yelled and they had to call the police to stop a rage, I was devastated. The cookie I ate was boiling in my acidic stomach as my eye twitched a little faster. I think I stopped breathing for a several seconds too long, and I wanted to run to the bathroom, the foyer, the car, anything to get away, except I was in one of the seats that allowed for no escape without disruption. So I sucked it up and let my mind boggle and ‘go there’ while I listened and realized that it was all just beginning.

So many things are better since that day. I have a boy that’s often indistinguishable from his peers for a while, unless you look close, and he’s no longer hurting himself…often. But that doesn’t mean I don’t worry about the future. I know the mantra is to not worry beyond today, as each day brings its own worries, and to let go and let God, but that’s a work in progress. I too am a lot better since that day, but I’m still Mom, and I still have to remind myself that worrying doesn’t help, action does. Each day, more action to attain more improvement, and the end goal? Happiness for BB. And not just on days we visit Disneyland with the coveted passes I’ll be buying within the week we move back, but all days.

Sometimes, when things are good, we can go days without really thinking about it. The word “autism” doesn’t even enter my head on a level where I have to focus on it, because so many days, that’s just how BB is. I don’t see him as autistic or see his odd behaviors or problems as autism, it’s just BB. But some days, it hits you. Bam, the kick in the stomach that reminds you: my son has a disability.

Autism.

It hits you hard and you almost have to remind yourself to take a breath, because you hadn’t thought about it that way in a while. Maybe it’s just me – maybe I compartmentalize and some might say that’s a bad thing. Some might say “Well, how bad can he be if you are able to forget,” so let me clarify — it’s not that I forget, it’s just that I see him as his own person, just the way he is, and I’m so used to his eccentricities, his sensory problems, his OCD behaviors and the meltdowns that I don’t focus on him being a child with autism. I just see him as a child who needs my love and attention in some different ways.

Yesterday was one of those days. On the heels of last week, when BB refused to go into the school in the morning, and he was a stressed, anxiety-ridden little boy who visibly shook when we mentioned school over the weekend, I didn’t figure yesterday morning would go easily, but I also didn’t expect it to go like it did.

Long story as short as possible, we went to school, with the homework the assistant principal had given him, basically a list of all the things that bothered him, things he wanted to discuss and have fixed. It was a well-written list, big words, proper grammar and spelling, but it still wasn’t pretty. He was candid, almost brutal, in his explanation. He doesn’t like it when someone touches him unasked, so he didn’t hesitate to name names of those who didn’t abide by this rule. (But I have to say, if you have a child with autism in your class, you should also know enough to not just touch them unbidden, so I didn’t feel sorry for those whose names were listed. If you haven’t taken time to learn about autism, knowing you have a child with it in your class, you aren’t being fair to yourself or the student.)

BB handed the list to the AP, and turns to head back to the car. Uhm, no, baby, you have to go into the building. All heck broke loose from there. Reminding him, as quietly as possible, that he wants to be seen like everyone else, so falling to the ground and trying to run away will make him stand out didn’t work. Four staff/administrators later, we were still there. Cars had all gone, and this was when it was a blessing that I have no friends here and neither does he. (Small towns? Not always friendly to newcomers beyond the hello, how are you. And if you’re different? The stares and actual “wow, I’ve never seen someone like you before” comments abound. My daughter’s blue streaks in her hair for Autism Awareness month? Mouths would drop open.) Because of our lack of attachment to anyone here, we were just another group of people on the sidewalk thankfully.

However, when we were still there 45 minutes later, BB in the car after us having given up, my stomach was in knots. My left arm had no feeling, as I’d used it mostly to hold him to me rather than running away. The AP doesn’t believe in dragging children into class, nor do I. If he’s going to be miserable outside, what happens inside? Is it fair to him, and if it escalates, we put him into the position where he could get even more in trouble. So back to the car he went.

This afternoon, we have an emergency IEP. Plans for what to do to make him willing to at least go to school for a modified schedule, for social purposes mainly, will be formulated. We’ll be discussing things that will motivate him to go into school, even if it’s computer-based projects or helping someone out. Then we need to work on friends. How to get him to make friends without the adult intrusion he doesn’t want?

Then we get to discuss ABA and social skills services. We aren’t signing anything that doesn’t include both in writing. Now that they’ve seen the good, the bad, and the ugly, they are aware that a lot goes on behind the surface. They realize that while he may look ‘normal’ quite often, there’s a whole new world in his brain. His thoughts and feelings aren’t obvious, but they matter, and we have to not only help him adapt, but we need to teach him to adapt, and make some adaptations for him as well. Medication is a consideration, but if the problem is mostly happening at school, I’m hesitant to biochemically change his behaviors and/or personality when there’s other options to approach first.

Think happy thoughts for us. Not only is our house not sold yet — four weeks and not one showing — which makes me discouraged and sad, being stuck in a place where we have no friends and don’t want to live anymore (for new readers, we’ve only lived here about 14 mths and we have no close family here either) but now our son is showing signs of major regression and I’m just seconds away from developing a tic again in my eye. It’s not about me, and I don’t want to make it about me, but we could really use a break. BB needs help, and he needs love and acceptance. We can shower him with love, but I can’t buy him the acceptance and the help relies on others.

I hate saying “my son has a disability” but yesterday’s issues really drove it home. Whatever else is going on in our life (such as planning a move that we’d hoped to still make this year) can’t be the focus. BB has to be the focus. Kind of a kick in the pants, and maybe we needed it.

My son’s got autism. He is extremely smart, is verbal and can speak clearly, and is in a regular education class, but he also can’t tolerate certain textures in his foods, doesn’t like eye contact, flaps his fingers, can’t deal with loud sounds or sudden changes in his schedule, lacks social skills, has personal space issues and a strong need for sameness and repetition, as well as difficulty monitoring his moods and anger, can’t stand tags in his clothes or seams in his socks, has to have everything a certain way or he could flip out, and sensory issues ebb and flow. Yet, because he can speak and is so smart, the autism isn’t the first thing you see, or even the second. As a result, some people that don’t live with us — those that haven’t seen him lick everything in sight, flip light switches on/off, line up chairs in waiting rooms, drop to the ground and strip, run away with no fear, meltdown from rage that fades into apathy — don’t get our concerns. They don’t understand why we push so hard for services in school, why we keep things on an even keel no matter what else, or why we treat him any different. Well, uhm, he is different, and the reason you can’t always tell it at first glance is because of all that we’ve done for all these years.

There was a couple of years early on that we barely left the house, and if we did, it was rarely as a family, so few people aside from our closest and most supportive friends saw the ordeals. We could show videos of the worst of the worst, pictures of the vacant stare, or reports from the nine diagnosing doctors and double-digit therapists and other professionals who worked with him. But why should we have to?

What do you do when you run into people who insist on him just being like everyone else, as though better discipline or a spanking or taking away privileges/possessions could just fix it? What do you do with those people who feel like you just need to have it pointed out that he’s not ‘that bad,’ or that if you just throw him out there and let him learn, he’ll do just fine.

Or do we really need to do anything at all? Is it their problem, or something we need to work on?

What are your thoughts?

Discipline is defined as “training to act in accordance with rules” or “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training,” or “activity, exercise or regimen that develops or improves a skill; training.”

See the recurring theme there? Training.

So what is training? Is it making a kid take a time out? Lose 10 minutes of recess time? Write a sentence about how he won’t xxx 10 times?

I’d argue that any of that is training.

In my job, when I train someone, I say something like “Part of your job is handling customers that call us. To do that properly, you need to learn how to answer the phone. To do that, you need to 1) answer the phone before 10 seconds, 2) push the F9 button on your computer keyboard, 3) recite the company-approved greeting….” and so forth. I’d give the new hire a step-by-step guide on how to use their computer, when they can take their breaks, how to act ethically and what is consider firing offenses. I’d sit them at a desk to watch someone else do the same job, and explain a lot of the nuances — don’t ever argue with a customer, no cursing on the phone or in the office, no yelling, etc. In short, they are taught beforehand what to do and what not to do. When they make a mistake, I’d tell them and tell them on how they can do better. But, there are two key things: 1) always provide the expectations, so they know what they have to attain, and 2) if those expectations are different, for any reason, tell them ahead of time.

Ahhhh, it seems so easy. Tell them what to do, how to do it, and what not to do. Without that, we can’t fairly expect someone to work up to standards. We can hope they have manners and are reliable, arrive on time and respect authority, but what if they’ve never worked before? What if their family didn’t teach these skills? Assumptions can get you in trouble.

Schools should operate the same way. Provide guidance, ahead of time, on what the expectations are. Don’t assume the children have the skills to meet these expectations, but work with them from day one on attaining those skills. Gauge what skills they have and what they don’t, even if it takes a bit longer with some kids. If you tell them that they are to do xxx or xxxx will happen, don’t  suddenly let xxxxx happen to them instead of xxxx. If losing recess is standard, but you’re dealing with an autistic child who desperately needs that time to make social contacts, don’t take away recess; the ‘punishment’ should always fit the crime.

Discipline in the adult world means one thing; why do we allow it to mean something different to our children?

Check your child’s school and be sure things are handled per your IEP or per the law and common sense. Just because a school says ‘this is how we do things’ doesn’t mean it’s fair or right, or even legal. Schools are run by humans, and we all know that all humans make mistakes. If you wouldn’t want to be punished daily for making mistakes on a task you weren’t taught to do, don’t let your child be ‘disciplined’ for it either; instead, ask for help, and training.

Training. A new buzzword, who’d have thought.

…days ago, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t lie, I promise. I just forgot.

Long story short, it’s going well. The foundation of everything, according to the school (and without any prompting from us at all), is social skills. Let me hear an AMEN.

He’s got a one-on-one still, a social skills aide, and several other social skills programs going on. His teacher is awesome, and she fills me in on how he does eating lunch even. We are thrilled.

As for BB, he likes his class, enjoys his teacher and finds the homework within reasonable amounts. He has a “girlfriend” with sparkly eyes, and he makes it through each day without a problem. He is happy.

So we’re happy.

Yep, another one of those entries, the kind where I share an incident where my son overcame a difficulty but my heart still breaks for him. No tissues necessary.

Waiting at the gate, he’s late coming out. I see the little girl he has issues with walk around the corner sniffing. Finally, I find him sitting on a bench talking to his teacher. That in itself is an ‘oh no, what happened now?’ moment, but do you ever have times where you look at your child and you are so overwhelmed by love and a bit of fear for him, and this overwhelming need to grab this beautiful little miracle and run away to an island? This is one of those moments.

He’s sitting next to his teacher, who is patiently explaining how to better handle something. He’s looking in her direction..at her shoulder or somewhere in a distance, as he’s nodding in response. His eye-contact is nil. He’s wearing a polar fleece ear-warmer on his hand, upside down. (Someone gave it to me.) He’s flapping his fingers, and he’s wearing his ‘weighted’ shoes (aka heavier shoes that don’t quite qualify as casual shoes or dress shoes or boots and are definitely not sneakers), tapping a foot up and down. He looked SO. DARN. CUTE. It was like someone was pulling out my lungs, I wanted to just hug him and never let go. This stupid autism, how dare it mess with the ability for my child to just be a child?

After a little more talking, where I learn he’s not in trouble nor did he cause any, I also learn that the teacher’s working on a way to resolve these issues between two kids that entirely rub each other the wrong way. I try to get ds’s attention, but at most I get a glance to where I’m standing, no higher than waist-high. No pretty eyes for me either, and I live for those pretty eyes. I can see my little boy shrinking inside himself, and my heart just contracts. Does this ever get easier?

Social skills are so undervalued in society. People think that being a loner is okay if the child wants, but what if the child doesn’t want it? What if the child wants to make friends but just doesn’t know how? What if he can’t pick up on the nuances and subtle body language, facial expressions or even sighs?

This morning, I took him to school in the midst of gale-force winds. (Did I mention that winds usually make him anxious?) He sees a little girl he likes (“Just friend-like, Mom, not girlfriend-like, but she wants to marry me still.”) and asks if she wants to play with him. He doesn’t really look at her, just talks in her direction and has this little smile on his face, almost as if he’s trying not to smile and is afraid she’ll say no. She says “Hmmm, what about recess and lunch but not now?” He comments back that he just wants to play with her whenever “if you want to, though.” She agrees, and out comes the rest of the smile, though he was really trying to hide it. Again, my heart just ripped some more. This precious little boy so wants friends, so wants to play and so wants to not have the anger issues that he does. And I so want that for him. I only wish I knew how to achieve it. The island won’t help, I know, but at least he can’t get his feelings hurt there.


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