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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:

Benefits of Inclusion:

Maryland Department of Education list of Inclusion Benefits:



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.


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.

Room Matters

Have I mentioned that I’m “room mom” for Connor’s class?  No?  Well I am.

I think there’s something wrong with me.  I honestly don’t know why I volunteer for everything.  I don’t mind being room mom, not at all.  That’s not the point.

The point is that as soon as I have some free time I seem eager to find a way to fill it!  Not that the responsibilities of being a room mom for a preschool class are all that pressing.  (I’m not even allowed to help out in class since Connor has separation anxiety issues and would want to spend the whole time I’m there glued to my side.)

I’m just amazed at my driving need to volunteer.  I think in this case I volunteered to be room mom the first time I met Connor’s teacher!  I casually mentioned I’d be happy to help and she casually mentioned they didn’t have a room mom.  The next thing you know, bam!, I’m room mom, like I’m some over-zealous school girl waving her hand frantically in the air to clean the chalk boards or collect the books.  OH!! PICK ME! PICK ME!!  I WANT to help!!!

In fact, I did this as a school girl.  I was always eager to be teacher’s helper.  Or helper to anyone actually.  Need some kickboards stacked up after swim class?  I’m your girl!  Need help grading spelling tests?  I’m on it!  You’re throwing a shower/party/wedding? How can I help?

See?  It’s not even that people even directly ask me to help.  I volunteer!!

I think it’s a sickness.

The sickest part?  I like doing it!  I like helping.  I like being the person someone else can count on.  I think I also, not so subconsciously, like that pat on the head when I’ve done something nice.  I think my twisted little heart likes being thanked, enjoys the approval of others.

This disturbs me.

I don’t want to be that crazy old mother who one day screams at Connor, “After all I’ve done for you, this is the thanks I get?!?”

Nothing about that would be good.  So how do I keep eagerness to please from turning into a driving need for recognition?  How do I stop myself from playing the part of the martyr?  How do I continue to help out without losing my sanity?

I’m not really sure.  I need to keep reminding myself that what I do is no different from millions of other parents out there.  I need to remember that I’m not the first mom to make crafts for her child, flyers for the classroom, cupcakes for friends.  I just need to keep in mind how very average this all is.

That’s right.  I’m just a mom, nothing out of the ordinary.

So how can I help you?

Hotdog Dujour

Hot dog? Hot dog?

That’s the refrain I hear every day, although when Connor says it, hot dog sounds more like “hawk gog”.

And while I appreciate and occasionally enjoy one of America’s greatest contributions to food and baseball, I worry that my boy takes his patriotism a step too far.

Certainly there are other foods preschoolers enjoy, if only Connor would eat them! We regularly cycle through chicken nuggets, cheese pizza, quesadillas, grilled cheese, and once in a blue moon, that other American delight, the hamburger.

French fries, goldfish crackers, peanut butter and crackers all make appearances along with that healthy list of “entrees” above. If I’m very lucky he’ll eat applesauce or banana slices along with his serving of carbohydrates and processed meat.

Unfortunately for Connor none of those meals travel very well in a lunch box. the idea of eating a cold, uncooked hotdog for lunch is pretty revolting.

So he gets the one lunch item that can be served room temperature, and that graces millions of lunch boxes, the almighty peanut butter sandwich! And I don’t want to brag or anything, but I make a mean pb&j. Sometimes I even switch out the jam for honey! Shocking, I know, but true all the same.

And while I’m sure Connor loves having the same lunch everyday (Because really, who doesn’t?), perhaps I should switch it up some. But what to substitute, that is the question!

Toddlers, preschoolers and autistic children all share one thing in common: they are notoriously picky eaters! My doctor told of an autistic patient who ate virtually nothing aside from French fries! This child had grown in to a tall healthy young man despite his limited nutrient supply, but I’m not confident the same will be true for my child.

I do my best giving him vitamins and sneaking fruit or vegetables into baked goods. I vary his juices, I make sure the foods he will eat are primarily whole grain, organic, kosher, low sugar, etc., whatever I can do to limit the bad quality of those highly un-nutritious foods.

I guess my point today is this: help me. Help me please! Send me your recipes or your tips. Share your stories of pick eaters. Please reassure me that he’ll grow out of this.

Man surely cannot live by hotdog alone.