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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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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.

An Abbreviated Break

Or perhaps the title should be “Connor gets jipped.”

Connor’s school schedule has been a little off since the beginning.  As a special education candidate he started preschool just after he turned three, when the school district is legally required to assume responsibility for his education and the majority of his therapy.  One of the greatest blessings in our life has been the early intervention programs Connor has been a part of, first through the Regional Center of Orange County and now through Ocean View School District.  We were lucky enough to live in an area where government programs for the disabled were still nearly fully funded while the rest of the state (and the country, for that matter) struggles to find funds for special education programs, such as early intervention.  But because budgets are such a delicate balancing act, each program is eager to hand over participants to the next program.  Thus Connor started preschool in April, instead of following the traditional school year and entering in the fall.

We had about two and a half months of school, during which Connor was sick probably half a dozen times and missed close to ten days in that time (this is the reality of entering school—your immune systems get tested more than your student!).  By the end of that two and half month period Connor was adjusting to going to class everyday.  He wasn’t even crying most day when I dropped him off.  He’d managed to steel himself for the prospect of separation every day.  In short, Connor had nearly adjusted to preschool.

And then school ended.

The school year officially ended last Wednesday, not to pick back up until September….

Thank God for summer school!

Poor Connor.  If he only knew that he was being forced to attend school while the rest of the county’s students enjoy three blissful months of no class, no work, no teachers.  He would be extremely upset if he knew.  Connor loves all those days of no demands or responsibility!

Thankfully he is not yet cognizant of how the world works!

Because change is such a struggle for Connor, his special education plan ensures that he attends school throughout the summer.  It is also imperative to the early intervention model that Connor receive continuous services until he reaches his communicative and behavioral goals.  What that means is Connor will receive almost constant schooling and therapy until he reaches the level of average kids his age.  Poor Connor gets no summer break.

To make up for the fact that Connor is being deprived of an entire of summer of doing nothing, I wanted to make his five-day summer break great.

So we went to the aquarium, we saw half of a movie in a theater (which I guess is good enough for Connor, because who needs to see the end of a movie really?  It’s all about the set-up!), we went to the park, we swam, we rode bikes, we got a cold.

Ok, so that last one wasn’t on the to-do list.  But we did get a bad cold/flu.  Connor rebounded pretty fast, but I was bed-ridden for 2 of the 5 days.  Not how I wanted to spend “summer break” but hey I don’t have to go back to school today (he he).

We did get to spend one awesome afternoon at the aquarium.  The Long Beach Aquarium, The Aquarium of the Pacific,  might be Connor’s most favorite place in the whole world (outside of my arms of course).  The Aquarium has it’s own icon for Connor’s calendar, so he regularly goes to the calendar, grabs the card, and asks to see “fishies? fishies?”.  So even though we only had a five-day summer break, we had one perfect afternoon.

Connor is fascinated by fish.

As usual, Connor is surrounded by women…and oblivious to them.

“CHEESE!”

Perfect

Grenade

Being a parent of an autistic child is something akin to juggling live grenades.

At first you’re dropping them all over the place.  Explosions keep knocking you off your feet.  Your head hurts from the constant thrashing, banging, and the deafening sounds.  You feel scarred, and scared, unsure of yourself and this whole operation.

Yet, you persevere.  You get back on your feet, shake the ringing from your ears and begin again.

Of course you’ll drop grenades occasionally, but you’re getting better.  You’re managing to go days without an explosion.  Perhaps you even get to the point where you say to yourself, “Hey! I’m getting the hang of this!  I haven’t dropped a grenade in weeks.”

You give yourself a mental pat on the back.

And then when the next grenade hits your hand, it explodes.

There’s no rational reason for this.  There’s nothing you did.  Nothing has changed.

But there is carnage none the less.  Screams fill the air and you’re unsure who they belong to, you or the child.  There is crying, there is blood, there is trauma. And the rest of the grenades fall from the air as you try to stop the bleeding.

And you did nothing wrong.

This has been my last 36 hours.

Connor woke up yesterday just ready to pull the pin.  He was angry, defiant, destructive.  Everything was a battle, from changing his diaper to getting his shoes on to feeding him.  All of which failed.

He refused to let me put a new diaper on, kicking me and screaming for what seemed like hours but was really only a matter of minutes.  Feeling sorry for my obviously unhappy child, I let him go naked.  Later in the day, when I actually managed to clothe him briefly, I should have known that shoes were not going to happen.  All I got for my trouble was a kick the head and a lot of tears.  Food was equally ridiculous.  He refused to eat a hot waffle, screaming at me when I cut it and poured syrup on.  He wanted a frozen waffle, which I gave him, which he promptly placed next to his hot waffle and then ate said hot waffle.

All of which is happening without words.  Connor refused to communicate in any way other than screaming, physical violence, and gesturing.

I gave him a mental health day.  Taking him to preschool in that condition would have been the equivalent of taking one of my dogs to preschool.  The teachers might have actually gotten more obedience from Penny than they would have from Connor.

I figured I’d be a nice mom and just give the kid a break.  Adults need days off, why not kids too?

I let him be naked, eat goldfish, watch Sesame Street.  I took him swimming at my mom’s.  I gave him ice cream after he was such a sweet boy for his Nana.

Yet as soon as we got home, grenades began to fall from the sky again.

I was beginning to feel shell-shocked.

So when he fell asleep at 8, I was relieved; when he woke up at 8:40 and stayed up until midnight, I was unsurprised.  I had hoped that a night’s sleep was all he needed, that a day at home was all he needed to set him back to right.  I had hoped I could hold the grenades in the air today.

Connor treated me to exactly the same type of morning as yesterday morning.

There is only so many times a person can be kicked, hit, and scratched before something inside them snaps. As he lay on the ground screaming, kicking, crying out for me to stop trying to dress him, I lost it. I have never been so abused in my life than I am at the hands of my child.  I flipped him over and spanked him once on his bottom.  The only thing it made him do was cry harder.

I yelled, the dogs cowered, and Connor yelled back.

I pinned him to the floor face down, using my body weight as leverage, to force pants, socks, and shoes on him.

I held him down in this booster seat and buckled him in for a breakfast he wouldn’t eat.

I moved his chair against the wall when he tried to flip it over with his frantic kicking.

I placed cereal and juice in front of him despite the fact that I knew he wouldn’t touch either.

I went about starting the  day, all the while we both cried.

At last he quieted and I sat across from him.  I asked if he was all done.  He repeated all done.  As I unbuckled his belt, he leapt from the seat into my lap, wrapping his arms around my neck and whimpering.

Now he’s at school, after crying pathetically for me not to leave him there.  And now I’m at home, crying pathetically over the guilt I feel for one spank, for yelling, for holding him down to dress him, for screaming at him to stop, just to stop!!

I just want the grenades to stop falling.

This is what parenting my autistic child is: juggling grenades and then feeling guilty for taking cover when they begin to fall.

Sick Children and the Art of Compromise

I feel like I spend a lot of my time teaching Connor life skills. Things like compromise, politeness, sharing, which are all vital to existing (perhaps even flourishing) in our social world.  Obviously some of these skills are harder to master than others.

Politeness, Connor has down pat.  He says please and thank you (though not 100% of the time, but he’s pretty darn close). Sometimes he even catches me unawares by saying thank you for something I didn’t even notice.

Sharing is a skill that has seen vast improvement over the last year.  He now allows children to play with his toys, in his own house or elsewhere (though there seems to be some invisible timer as to how long the sharing can go on).  He even offers other children (and sometimes adults) toys they could amuse themselves with while the plays near them.  Connor has nearly mastered turn taking, especially on the playground.  My heart swells with pride when I see him wait patiently in line at the slide, instead of pushing and shoving as he did a year ago.  Yay!

Compromise….is something that we are working on….every darn day.

Like most children, when Connor wants something, he wants it now!  Like many autistic children he has hard time understanding or controlling his impulses, so if he wants something now and doesn’t get it, the world may truly end.  Or at least for him it feels that way.  There is no later, there is only now! now! now!

To work on this pleasant little quirk of his (please ignore my eye twitching) I’ve been employing the “first…then” technique.  For example “First eat dinner, then you can watch UP for the 4th time.”  “First put your pants on, then we can go for a walk through the neighborhood.”  You get the idea… probably faster than Connor did.

It took him at least a week to understand what I was saying and how easily he could get what he wanted if he just compromised and did what was necessary first.  Ta da!  It was like a little light bulb went off in his head.  He gets it!  Unfortunately he’s not super happy about it.  Now when I ask him to do something horrendous like wash his hands or eat breakfast or clean up his toys, you know the usual mommy torture techniques, he cries through the whole exercise and sometimes after, despite willingly doing whatever it is I’ve asked of him.

It’s pretty pathetic to watch him quietly blubbering at the lunch table in between bites of hotdog.  Poor poor child to be mistreated so.

Of course this last week of whatever plague we’ve been suffering from was no fun.  When Connor gets sick, it’s like every ABA exercise, every therapy moment, every word he’s ever learned just flies right out of his head and I’m left with a crying, snotty mess.  Yuck!  Every demand placed on him is completely unfair and unreasonable!  Why should he have to take a bath?  Why should he be forced to eat?  Why does he even need sleep???

Lots of yelling, lots of hitting, lots of throwing toys.  The dogs and I tried to keep a good 6 feet out of his range whenever possible.  If we could, we simply left him to his own devices and hunkered down silently in the next room, lest we provoke the beast with some sudden movement.

Connor will be returning to school tomorrow and I might weep with joy.

Yet however bad Connor’s behavior got I realized that he’d return to normal and we’d start practicing these life skills again.  And every time I discuss this training with someone I realize there are a heck of a lot of adults out there who don’t practice the same skills I’m teaching my son.  How many people out there know someone who never shares? or says please or thank you? or absolutely refuses to compromise?  (I can think of a few just off the top of my head…)

So do me a favor this week and pick up the cosmic slack while Connor is still grumpy from being sick.  Say thank you to your checker at the grocery store.  Give the last bit of milk to your husband.  Meet your friend for happy hour at her favorite bar and agree to let you pick next week.

Set a good example for the Connors of the world!  And you just might feel better too.