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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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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.

Bouncing Madness

It’s been about a week since I last wrote.  There is one reason for my absence: Connor.  He is on a short summer vacation.  The special education summer school program ended the last day of July, giving Connor about two weeks of vacation before the August program starts up on the 14th.  What I should write is that it’s giving me two weeks for building an aneurism that will surely blow once Connor is back in class.

In an attempt to keep Connor both away from the iPad and having fun we have spent the majority of the two weeks trying different fun activities in between swimming, gymnastics, and various therapies.  We’ve been to the beach, to the aquarium, to the fair, to several different parks, etc.  Yesterday I wanted to take him to a splash pad just down in the street in Westminster.  Connor however wanted gymnastics.  Well, I can’t just take him to the gymnastics studio and let him loose.  I figured the next best thing would be an indoor bounce house called Frogg’s Bounce House.

There have been few times in my life that I felt such self-loathing as I did the moment after we crossed the threshold.  If only I could be a lazier parent and not take Connor to do fun stuff.  If only I had never heard of indoor bounce houses.  If only every kid in a five-mile radius wasn’t inside of this building.

It took all of my willpower not to turn on my heel and walk right back out the door.

There were literally screaming children running everywhere.

If you had seen me at that moment I am sure that I looked deathly ill.  While other parents there saw an hour of free time as their child played in a safe, exciting environment, I saw only over-stimulated children running rampant, like a pint-sized melee.  It was as if I was Alice at the tea party and everyone was having a good time, and I was the only one screaming that this wasn’t a tea party, this was actually madness.

Let me give you some background on the children’s asylum…I mean on Frogg’s Bounce House.  It is located in a strip mall near several budget stores and fast food restaurants.  It is warehouse sized, allowing for several inflatable bounce houses to be erected inside.  Only two of these bounce houses are typical to what you might find at a birthday party or church picnic, meaning they are just a large trampoline like area surrounded by netted walls.  The others bounce “castles” involve inflatable obstacles, slides, race courses, etc.  In addition to the bouncing there are several air hockey tables, video games, ride-in cars, toy trains, a play house, and countless other toys.

Children ran from bouncing to games to toys with no apparent plan or thought.  They streaked past other kids in their euphoric haze to try the next great thing!

There are no attendants inside the gates of the Bounce House, which left me feeling eerily trapped inside the mayhem.  All adults are responsible for their own children…which roughly 1 in 10 was actually doing.  The majority of parents were reclining in the overstuffed couches strewn about the room, playing with their phones or iPads, looking very much like the older reflection of their children.  Had this been a play center restricted on one age group or another, I would not have wondered at these parents’ lack of parenting.  But the range of preschoolers to pre-teens had me wondering why no one was actually watching their child!

The unfettered freedom theses children had, along with the endless delights had me feeling like I was trapped on Pinocchio’s Island of Pleasure.  I kept waiting for donkey ears to sprout from someone’s head or to be whipped by an ass’s tail as a child ran by!

Not wanting my own child to turn into a jackass, I kept a close eye on him.  I tried to trust him.  I know his behavior has been improving and he can interact appropriately with children his own age.  I know this and still I knew.  I knew that it was coming.  If tantrums had footsteps, they would sound like the inside of the Bounce House.

So I watched and waited.

This picture was taken in the first 10 minutes of our visit.  Connor is calm but having fun.  Yay!

This was the last time I could get him to stay still.

As he bounced around the various houses and castles, as he chased after children, after he abandoned toy for toy, I could see sanity slipping away from him.  It was like watching his nervous system overload before my own eyes!

His movements became jerky, his running faster, his voice became louder and higher pitched.  He started screaming for joy.  He ran into other kids on purpose.  His laugh transformed from giggles to something truly maniacal.

I knew the time was near.  Tantrum’s hand was on my shoulder, watching with me, waiting to pounce.

I tried to calm him.  Every time I neared him, I held his hand and pulled him near me telling him softly to calm down.  All I got in return was a look that said he wasn’t entirely sure who I was and what the words I was speaking meant.  He squirmed from my grasp and ran off.

I stalked him to the play house near the back of the building.  Two ruthless blond girls had denied him entrance earlier, which Connor had accepted gracefully.  He was apparently back for revenge.  The girls were nowhere to be seen.  An adorable young Asian boy about Connor’s age had taken their place.  He didn’t know he was already standing on the landmine.  The boy let Connor into the house and they started to play together.  It was going well, but alone now, I knew that the Tantrum had possessed my child and was just lurking under the surface waiting to strike.  The other boy tried to leave the house, but Connor closed the door and pushed him back into the house, effectively keeping him holding him prisoner in a plastic faux-log cabin.

Before more violence could erupt, I rushed the house, pulling Connor out and placing him in a nearby bean bag for a quick time out.  Violence is met with zero-tolerance.  The eyes that looked at me from the bean bag were full of defiance and hatred.  I wanted to search his hair for the beginnings of donkey ears.  I never got that chance.  Connor’s tightly strung, relatively calm demeanor shattered into a thousand pieces as Tantrum truly took over.

Fighting off kicks to the shins, I picked Connor up and threw him over my shoulder.  I felt something not unlike rescuing a brain-washed hostage from an enemy camp.  Though he cried and beat at my back, the tears stopped as soon as we left the building.  He whined and cried the entire ride home, but never once about the bounce house.

I think Connor recognized that he was out of control.  He could feel the mania and do nothing to stop it.  Once at home he went to his room and calmed down on his own accord.

And though he never said this out loud, I think he was grateful when I removed us from the bouncing madness and vowed never to return.  If he wasn’t, then he’ll forget it in time and I will not be the one to remind him.

Turning a Corner

Connor seems to have turned a corner in his life.  Or perhaps we’ve turned a corner in OUR lives.

After constantly battling my son over nearly everything since he was old enough to move on his own, I find myself with a mostly compliant child.  I ask him to clean up his messes and he does.  I ask him to sit in his seat, and he does.  I ask him to stay inside and he does!  Sometimes he even does things without me asking, like cleaning up spills, or getting in bed.  And honestly it freaks me out!

Where has my angry, defiant child gone?

Connor happily leaves me to accompany the various adults that rule his life: teachers, coaches, therapists, instructors.  He suddenly loves them all!

Obviously Connor is still a 3-year-old pain in the butt, sometimes.  He still wants his own way, on his own terms, in his own time.  He still wants to sleep in.  He still torments the dogs by pulling their tails.  He refuses fruits in favor of bread.  He loves Cars 2 to the point of obsession.  And though I’ve never been the parent to an average child, I feel like this is pretty average behavior for a precocious preschooler.  (Yes?  No?)

Sure Connor still tantrums in public.  Sure he threw my tomato plant into the hydrangea just yesterday.  And yes, sure he’s resisting potty training with all his might.  But if taken in the context of an average childhood, instead of an autistic childhood, I feel like I could safely label my son as a stinker, rather than worrying about whether each incident indicated some underlying behavioral issue.

We are absolutely a long way from mainstreaming.  We have miles to go on the communication issues, eye contact, and peer interaction. We have setbacks.  We have days of bad behavior.  We have regression when Connor is sick or extremely tired.  We have power struggles and I still want to pull my hair out nearly every day (but what mother of a preschooler doesn’t?).  We still have challenges ahead.

But it makes my heart glad to see the progress we’ve made.  And I can confidently say that for the first time in his short life, I have a happy child.

Apple Muffins

The little man was home sick yesterday, despite appearing to be fine in every way.  sigh. I’m a sucker.

So there were a couple of things that I needed to do:

1. Use the apples that were quickly going bad.

2. Make something I can hand off to Connor in the car in case we’re running late for preschool.

3. Bake something somewhat healthy.

Since all three of these things were easily combined in one quick recipe, I decided to go with Apple Muffins for yesterday’s Sneaky Mommy Eats.

Disclaimer: this is obviously not a home-made, concocted from scratch recipe.  If you are expecting that from me, please, I beg you,….get a dang clue!  I would love to say I don’t have the time to do that, but that’s not true.  The truth is that I just don’t want to.  Why reinvent the damn wheel?

Ingredients:

Betty Crocker Cinnamon Struesel Muffin Mix

3/4 cup of milk

1/4 cup of vegetable or canola oil

2 eggs

2 apples, cored, peeled, finely grated

My love for mixes is three-pronged: 1) I don’t have to mix all the tedious dry ingredients myself, thus 2) I don’t make as big of a mess and 3) save time.

My recipe is easy:

Preheat the oven to 425.  Pour mix into a large bowl, setting topping bag aside.  Add milk:

Add oil:

Then Connor’s favorite step: Add the eggs!

He likes to help crack the eggs and stir them into the mix.

I promise he’s wearing a diaper, it’s just hidden behind the bowl.  He was a very good little helper until he got distracted by the tomatoes and started counting them over and over.  Well actually it was more like he lined the up in a nice row, saying “one tomato” every time he added to the row.  My adorable genius.

Anyways, stir the ingredients together.  And once you’ve grated the apples, which are not called for on the box (that’s why this is “my” recipe), add them in and stir until all mixed.

I promise it tastes better than that picture looks.

Pour the batter into cupcake liner cups or into your greased muffin tin.

And then put this on:

While I was pouring the batter into cups, Connor brought me this headband and said “Pretty?”  I thought he wanted me to put it on him, but he refused, pointed to me and said “Mommy do it.”  OK….apparently Connor is concerned that I don’t look pretty enough when I’m baking.  Well…thank you son for looking out for your old mom.

Back to business:

Using the topping from the box, lightly sprinkle on top of each muffin.

Try to do a better job than I did and actually get some of the topping on the muffin.

Follow instructions on the box and bake for 16-21 minutes.  Then you get these:

Yum! Kid tested….

Kid approved!