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Category Archives: Preschool

A New Experiment

As I’ve noted before, I often feel like I’m conducting experiments in  how I raise my child.  Connor is not typical, nor is there any clear way to treat autism.  Thus much of how I parent is based on trial and error, collecting data, and performing experiments.

The new experiment for this summer is trying out a typical preschool.

Observation: Connor has entered a stage in his development in which he is mimicking classmates and other children he comes into contact with.

Problem: Given that Connor spends the majority of his time with other special needs children, he has begun to mimic symptoms and problematic behaviors of these other children.  His language also stopped developing, keeping it on par with classmates.  Connor has displayed frustration and displeasure in attending his regular special day class.

Hypothesis: Being around neurotypical children will encourage Connor to use more language and develop typical social skills, while reducing problematic behaviors.

Proposed Method of Research: Connor will attend a typical preschool, with a developmental program, two days per week.  Connor will also engage in extra curricular activities with typical peers, such as swimming lessons, play dates, and unstructured social environments (ie playing with unknown children at parks, beaches, etc.).  Connor will continue to attend special day class two days per week, as well as participate in a reduced ABA schedule, regular speech therapy, therapeutic horseback riding, and physical therapy/gymnastics.

Findings: TBA

Obviously when I was mulling over the problems and possible solutions in my head, my reasoning was not so clear and scientific.  In fact, I distinctly remember telling Connor’s psychologist that a large part of why I wanted to conduct this experiment during the summer was that I had “a gut feeling” that this was the right thing to do for him.  I’m hoping the science will back me up!

For the most part, at least in the most current research, the benefits of inclusion seem to outweigh the possible problems, but there are still causes for concern, still reasons to worry.  The recent research encourages me that this is right move for Connor, who is on the high functioning end of the spectrum.  And so far, Connor seems to be loving his new school! In class he isn’t speaking to much, and he has had a few frustrations, but at home I can already see some positive effects.  Just in the week since he’s started, Connor is using full sentences and spontaneous language more often than before.

Now maybe this is just a conincidence, and maybe it’s not.  Only time will tell.

Here are some articles on the benefits of inclusion:

Why Inclusion Benefits all Kids:

http://www.parents.com/blogs/to-the-max/2012/11/06/uncategorized/why-inclusion-in-classrooms-benefits-all-kids/

Benefits of Inclusion:

http://www.ehow.com/info_8656410_benefits-inclusion-preschool-children.html

Maryland Department of Education list of Inclusion Benefits:

http://olms.cte.jhu.edu/olms2/3841

 

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Summertime Schedule

Ah, summer! A time for fun! A time for relaxing! A time for chaos!

When you are autistic, the unorganized, seemingly endless days of summer can appear as a nightmare!  Sure, the first few days of sleeping in are great.  Then the trips to the beach, the park, the theme parks all seem nice on the outside, but something deep inside starts to go a little haywire.  By the two-week mark, circuits are as fried as all the yummy summer food you’ve been eating!

Or at least that’s how life appears to be for my son.

Connor fights school.  He whines about the appointments.  He complains about having to do all the non-recreational stuff he has to do for his ASD diagnosis.  “No school today!” is a common refrain at our house in the mornings.  He usually follows it up with “maybe tomorrow”, as if he’ll be more prepared by then to buckle down.

What he may not consciously realize is that every time we have a prolonged break from school (and thus a break from routine), his world starts to spin out of control.

There are too many options, too many fun things to choose from that he eventually suffers from choice paralysis.  When his days are structured and ordered, we have a clear, limited number of choices because our “free choice” time is limited.

To a child this may sound like torture! Only having an hour or two of free time each day! During the summer!!! This woman is a fascist!  But for the child with autism, the structured day is the mental equivalent of eating your vegetables.  You may not always like them, and I can dress them up to taste better, but they will in the long run make you healthier and stronger.

Since school let out two weeks ago, I’ve watched my son’s behavior slowly devolve from happy, compliant and self-contained to needy, angry, and defiant!  Tantrums went from 1 or 2 every other day to 2 to 3 every day.  Time outs tripled.  Bad behavior, we had happily curtailed, reemerged.  Anger was always near the surface.  Hitting, kicking, throwing things, all behaviors we had worked on diligently for the past year and had successfully disappeared from his repertoire began to take shape again.  Perhaps worst of all, his language began to disappear.  Words were replaced by screams and grunts.

The de-evolution culminated on Saturday when we were driving home from my sister’s house.  Connor was in the back pretending to be The Amazing Mumford.  When I chimed in with his magic words “A la peanut butter sandwiches” something in Connor snapped.  He took his seatbelt off and lunged at me.  Thankfully we were close to home but for those few minutes in the car there was a violent struggle as I tried to fend of the little demon that had replaced my child and drive at the same time.

That night I cried, Connor cried.  I drank wine while Connor drank juice and was put to bed by my husband.

The next day my precious child had no recollection of the event, but I still felt scarred by it.  I avoided him all day, leaving the parenting to my husband.  I busied myself with groceries, cooking, gardening.  That night we left Connor with my parents so I could have time out of the house and away from my child.

By the time I returned I felt better, more centered and ready to face the daily struggles of parenting an autistic child.  When I picked up my son, he was so happy to see me, so happy to hug me and kiss me; I wondered at the seemingly dramatic change in him.

But when summer school began Monday morning, and we began our routine, my happy child reemerged.  Sure, he didn’t want to go to school that morning, but by the time I picked him up, he was happy, compliant, and eager to get on with his schedule.

While all children benefit from consistency, children with autism seem to need it to function.  And though Connor enjoyed his first few days of freedom, I have a feeling, he’s secretly happy to be back in school

If you’re interested, here is some more information on why consistent schedules are important for both typical developing children and for ASD children:

Autistic Children Need a Consistent Schedule

Norrin’s Story of Schedules

The Importance of Schedules

Ready, Set, Routine!

Conducting the Home Orchestra

On days like today I always feel like being a stay-at-home mom is something like conducting an orchestra.

When I was a full-time working single mom (which according to Romney might drive Connor to engage in gun violence–sorry for the politics, but come on! that’s funny!) at the library and Connor was at day care I didn’t so much conduct as scramble.  Every day was a challenge to get things done.  And many days things just didn’t get finished.  Laundry piled up, dinner was composed of various take out orders, the household disarray grew larger daily, to-do lists grew longer instead of shorter.

Now that I’m stay at home I try to keep on top of everything.  The laundry is done when the bins are full.  The pantry is always well stocked.   Home-made food fills our fridge.  Being at home full-time with Connor in school full-time actually gives me time for projects of my own…sometimes.

After saying all that I want to clarify that things don’t always go so well.  Having an autistic preschooler means that there is a lot (A LOT) of chaos in my life.  Whether it’s getting no sleep from anxiety fueled nightmares or having to constantly rearrange our daily schedule to fit in all of the ABA therapy sessions, speech therapy, mandated parent education, etc.; life is still pretty hectic.  Plus I volunteered to be Connor’s room-mom and I spend way too much time on Pinterest late at night, meaning I think being room-mom=being Martha Stewart (if only!).  That’s all on top of trying to run the house like it’s my job, because well it is my job!

I’m a librarian who is currently a stay-at-home mom.  If I’m not making sure my house is being run darn near perfect, then I feel like I’m failing at my job.  I don’t earn a paycheck so I feel like I have to earn my keep by running this house like it’s going to be in Better Homes and Gardens next month.  Ok, maybe that’s a bit of an exaggeration.  Mostly because my house is older than I am and has never been remodeled.  I don’t think Better Homes and Gardens is going to do a piece on my nearly counter-less kitchen and ancient oven!

But I digress….

In order to achieve my goal of having my home run like a well-oiled machine I need to do a lot of work.  Gardeners, housekeepers, handymen, all need to be directed to fix/clean/maintain various aspects of the house.  Errands and chores have to be coordinated to maximize efficiency.  Meals are planned way ahead of time, recipes researched, preschoolers duped into eating healthy things (sometimes).  Dogs are walked, fed, cared for.  Fiances are well fed, well dressed, well-loved.

So sometimes I feel like I’m conducting like this:

Good days

Like today! I coordinated a new housekeeper, discussed winter and spring plans with my gardener, met with a sprinkler inspection, dropped off 12 pumpkins, 12 trick or treat buckets, and 12 glow sticks for a preschool project, and managed to get some shopping done!  Boom baby!

Other days tend to go like this: they start out well but somehow slip out of control and you’re just happy to be at one piece at the end!

Here’s hoping we have more well conducted days than days like Merlin!

 

Bad Day Made Better

Last night was yet another night of nightmares, anxiety outpourings, and early morning wakeups.  Since returning from vacation Connor has been plagued by bad dreams.  Though he can’t communicate to me what these dreams are about, the fact that he clings to me, crying, whimpering my name clearly communicates that these dreams focus on my leaving him again.  It breaks my heart.

So this morning is not going well.  I’m exhausted.  I have a headache.  I’m downing enough caffeinated beverages to replace my blood stream.

But there is no amount of Tylenol and Diet Coke that can help me be the mommy I need to be.  I just have to muscle through and keep my unraveling patience in check.

To make this bad day better I’m taking a little me time, just a little.  In between doing the dishes, folding laundry, replacing burned out lightbulbs (which is oddly one of my least favorite chores, I don’t know why, but I really hate it), and various other household tasks, I’m taking a few minutes to sort myself out.

Here are my top three treats for today:

 

I ordered this dress on sale about a week ago and it came today.  Yay!  It’s a little dressy for running errands, picking up Connor from preschool, and sitting through therapy, but it makes me happy.

I bought the new Jason Aldean record.  It literally came out today.  It’s a little predictable, a little run-of the mill, but it’s familiar like slipping on an old sweatshirt.  I’ve been listening to it on repeat.  Country music makes me smile.

I booked a ticket to Chicago to see my little baby nephew, Baby N!  And because I had a voucher from American for screwing up my vacation, I could afford to book my return flight in first class.  FIRST CLASS!!  Oh yeah!

Well, my alone time is almost done now, so I’m off to get my baby boy and enter the whirlwind of preschool emotions.  But I already feel better.  And I know we’ll survive today.

Anxious, Anxiety, Panic

As I’ve mentioned before, one of the most difficult parts of raising an autistic child is his inability to communicate with me.  What makes this even harder is that I know it is just as frustrating for him as it is for me.  Being unable to communicate how you’re feeling or what you want, must be incredibly difficult and confusing.  One of the main tenets of therapy (and Catholic confession) is that saying something out loud helps you to become unburdened of it.  Giving voice to a problem is often the first step towards rectifying that problem.  Unable communicate (or perhaps even identify) what the problem is can only cause more pain and frustration.

My vacation has caused Connor no end of anxiety, a feeling he is unable to properly identify or explain.  Instead he has shown me through his actions how he feels.

It began with him being a little anxious.

When we returned on Friday night from our brief vacation, Connor was already asleep in his bed.  It was no surprise to me when I woke up Saturday morning to find him snuggled up next to me.  I would have been surprised had he not been there!  In fact, I was prepared for some clinginess, some whining, etc. all that day.  But it never materialized.  Sure, Connor didn’t want the fiance to go to the grocery store without him.  And Connor hugged his legs as he stood in the hallway.  But all I got were some lovely smiles and hugs, and then Connor was on his merry way.

I should have suspected that Connor was not as ok as he seemed given that he was having an overwhelming number of nightmares.  Crying in the night, he’d run into our room yelling out “Mommy, mommy!!” searching for me in the dark.  Then he’d pull my arms around him, tighter and tighter, as if there would never be a point that we could be too close.

Still, everything seemed fine during daylight hours.  And when Monday morning rolled around, Connor was happy, even excited to go to school.  We talked about school all morning and Connor animatedly ticked off which of his friends he was going to see that day.  Hurrah for school!

But by the end of the school day, that anxious feeling that haunted Connor’s dreams had blossomed into full-blown anxiety.  When I picked up him, he was cranky and eager to see me.  At home he stuck pretty close to me for the rest of the day, alternating between happiness to be home and whining that he didn’t have my full attention.

It wasn’t until the next morning that we had our first panic attack.  Sitting at the breakfast table Connor began to sob, hot tears rolling down his little face.  “No school! No school….” he repeated, sounding more and more like a plea than a demand.  His sobbing only increased as I tried to tell him it would be ok and his friends would be there with him.  Connor just worked himself up more and more to the point that he ended up making himself sick.

And while I know that school is important and maintaining a regular schedule is important, I’m not about to send my child to school when he is that upset.  I don’t care how important education is, one day of emotional and mental health is far more important.

As I told him he could stay home, his face relaxed but the tears took quite some time to stop.  Connor then asked to go to bed, to go to sleep, which is so very unlike him that I began to worry that there was something physically wrong with him as well as his overwhelming anxiety.  My own anxious feelings began to rise as I worried over my little child.  His distress was palpable.  And there was nothing I could do to reassure him, other than hold him in my arms as we lay in bed watching Thomas and Friends episodes.

Throughout the day we had periods when Connor seemed absolutely fine and periods when I couldn’t even use the bathroom alone.  Having someone come into our house for his ABA therapy sent him into a tailspin, but going to see his Nana and Grandpa made him happy and giggly.  Playing a game was beyond him, but going for a walk settled him down.

I didn’t know what would comfort him and what would set him off.

So yesterday we consulted a variety of our team members (I call them team members because all of us, parents, teachers, therapists, psychologists, family members, etc. are all in this together.  We’re all on Team Connor.) about what we should do to help his anxiety.  Sadly, the answer is there is no quick fix.  There are a lot of steps we can take to make sure this doesn’t happen in the future, or at least his reaction to my absence isn’t this severe, but there’s no switch we can flip to make it better now.  We just have to live life like normal.

For five days of vacation, we’ll have to spend at least double that amount of time trying to repair the damage our absence did.  And like any good Catholic girl, I feel incredibly guilty over this.  If Connor could yell at me or be angry at me, I would find that easier to bear.  It’s the despair that I left him and the fear that I’ll abandon him again that is killing me.  When he clutches to me, with tears rolling from his big eyes, I want to join in!  I want to promise that I’ll never leave again.  I want to promise that everything will always be ok.

But I can’t do that.  I can’t stop living my life.  That would not be healthy for either of us.  I can’t fix everything for him.  I can’t protect him from everything.  I can only prepare him.  Even if it hurts me to do so.

Sickness

Nothing quite says back to school like getting sick.  For whatever reason, Connor seems especially susceptible to the various germs flying rapidly around the preschool.  I’ve been told that preschool is the worst because it’s their first time in school, surrounded by other children, essentially changing the classroom into a cesspool.

And I don’t know about any other mothers out there but I feel especially guilty (I saw especially because I seem to have a pretty consistent level of guilt running through me at all times) when the school nurse calls me to pick Connor up from school.  This has happened three or four times since he entered school last April.  The call always starts with whatever is wrong with Connor, which immediately terrifies me, and then manages to somehow imply that perhaps this illness/rash/horrible diarrhea was happening before I sent Connor to school that morning.  I am then racked by self-doubt.  WAS IT??  Did I simply miss the signs????  Or even worse, did I ignore them????  AM I THE WORLD’S WORST MOTHER?!?!

(Granted Connor’s autism makes it impossible for him to tell me if he’s feeling sick, but that never factors into my guilt level.)

I always end up driving like a bat out of hell to get to school, plagued by the belief that I purposefully sent my sick child to school and therefore imparted a miserable day on everyone involved with him.  I curse any red lights or pedestrians that get in my way! I silently stew over the injustice of traffic laws!  I wonder if the nurse is timing me in my trip to school…Am I being judged on the amount of time that passes between phone call and pick up?  And before you say anything, just because it’s paranoid, doesn’t mean it isn’t true.

I usually jog across the parking lot, trying not to look like the hot mess that I feel.  Bursting into the office, the school secretary has to remind me every single time to sign Connor out of school.  Every time!  I’m sure this makes me look even crazier.  The signing in process is also time stamped, just one more reminder that it took me eons to get there.

By the time I get back to the nurses office, I’m frantic.  But every time I find him there, Connor is sitting placidly in a tiny blue chair, playing with trains, and waiting for me.  Sweeping him up into my arms, the nurse begins to tell me what is wrong, what happened, etc.  I usually only hear about a third of what she says as I’m too busy looking over my boy to pay attention.  I nod me head, mutter uh huh a couple of times, and make a bee line for the door.

My raging guilt provides Connor with whatever entertainment he desires.  My poor child is sick and I, his monstrous mother, forced him to go to school.  I’ll make it up to him with endless episodes of My Little Pony and popsicles.

The aftermath of these sick from school days is always a lingering self-doubt.  He seems fine, do I send him to school?  Am I capable of judging at this point?  To assuage my guilt-doubt combo and please my little boy, I keep him home.  Sure, he’s tired and cranky, and maybe there are some lingering symptoms, or maybe they’re all in my head.  I just don’t know.  I JUST DON’T KNOW!!!

At this point if the fiance hadn’t stepped in and announced that Connor needed to go back to school, I think I may have just kept him home indefinitely.  Finally someone with a clear head and an even emotional keel made a decision.  I was only too happy to abide by it.

And wouldn’t you know it, when I dropped Connor off at school this morning, there were no tears, no whining, no trembling lip.  He simply walked up to his classroom aid, took her hand, and waved goodbye.

I’m pretty sure that if motherhood doesn’t drive my crazy in the next few years, nothing ever will.

Happy days are here again

I’d like to personally thank the Lord for helping me survive this summer!

Three straight months with very few days off and weeks on end of just me and the boy.

Man do I love him. I mean I really really do. Cause if I didn’t I would have strangled the little life right out of him or just walked out the front door and not come back for a very long time.

Of course there were things that helped: the fiance, swimming lessons, a few hours of summer school and many hours of therapy.

Actually, the amount of time Connor spent doing his behavior and speech therapies this summer, as well as the concentrated time I spent working with him, have made a noticeable improvement. And to prove that it’s not my imagination and that his behavior is truly better, his teacher stopped me after school yesterday to tell me how well he’s behaving in class.

For a minute I thought she might be talking to someone behind me. I looked around quickly. Nope, no one standing near me. I think I then eloquently said “uh…what?”

The kind woman that she is, she slowly explained that Connor is complying with requests and sitting quietly at his desk, focusing on the task at hand.

My child? My Connor? I mean he’s been better at home but I expected the settling in to the new school year to take at least a couple of weeks. I in no way expected him to start showing off his new and improved attention span the very first week!

This makes me hopeful for other milestones we achieved at home to start cropping up at school:

potty training!

speaking in full sentences!

accepting no for an answer!

waiting his turn!

not hitting me everyday!

Ok well, the last one he can’t really display at school but it makes me damn happy.

All in all, if Connor actually shows all the progression he’s made this summer, he should be in pretty good shape for an excellent school year. Hopefully he’ll be more confident that he looks in this picture…I know I am.