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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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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.

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.

Staples

No, not the office supply store or the mega event center in downtown LA.  I’m talking about the staples you keep in your cupboard.

I got to thinking about this yesterday as I was making Sunday night dinner (slow cooker lasagna=yum!).  I literally ran out of olive oil!  Who ever runs out of olive oil?  I usually have one bottle in use and a back up bottle just in case I can’t get to the store before the first one runs out.  I like to plan ahead.  (I also have two dozen rolls of toilet paper in the garage that I discovered last week after purchasing an additional two dozen because apparently I was concerned we might run out before 2013.)  So when I ran out of olive oil yesterday I was somewhat shocked.

How could I have let this happen?  And we were out of milk too??  Worst homemaker of the year award, right here!

Ok, I exaggerate.  But I did feel a little perplexed that I hadn’t foreseen the shortages in my own home.

In fact I’ve been running through a lot of my kitchen staples recently.  I’m sure it’s all tied to the fact that I’m cooking more than ever in an effort to both more health conscious and budget wise.  I’ve run out of things I never even think of like white rice and salsa.

As I was throwing together a quick casserole for the boyfriend to use as lunches this week, I started thinking about the staples I always have on hand.  Some of them make sense (like flour) and others seem a little random (like canned pumpkin).  So aside from the basics (like flour, oil, spices, etc.), here are just a few of the things I always have on hand:

 

crushed pineapple (in case I need to whip up my carrot cake, this is one of the “secret” ingredients)

frozen corn (I don’t know when I got into this habit, but I always find myself buying frozen corn)

frozen meatballs (you know, just in case some guests stop by and I need to serve an appetizer in under 20 mins)

cannelloni or black beans (I guess because they make a good back up protein to meat, not that this is ever a problem, but just in case)

canned pumpkin (because pumpkin everything is good)

masala sauce (curry is a super easy slow cooker meal that requires little to no thought)

several tubes of biscuits (Connor’s favorite meal is a biscuit with honey. I know, that sounds incredibly nutritious.)

string cheese (I like string cheese but I always forget about it until it’s gone bad and then I’m like “OH NO! We’re out of string cheese! I’ve got to go get more!” then rinse and repeat.)

 

Maybe these aren’t that bizarre, but they seem slightly odd to me and I’m the one buying them!  And when I’m out of any of these things, I panic slightly as if my cupboard was completely bare, which of course it is not.  But for whatever reason, these items make me feel like my kitchen is complete.  Because you never know when you might have to serve carrot cake and curry on the same day.

Total Cluster…What?

Connor was home sick for the last two days, meaning my life came to a screeching halt.  Not that he was a little monster, or even in a bad mood, quite the opposite.  Connor was ecstatic to be home from school!  He was so happy to spend time with me and the dogs, just hanging out at home.  We played outside, we watched movies, we played video games, we went for a walk.  It was a very nice few days.

The only downside was that Connor wouldn’t let me out of arms reach.  So that meant I had absolutely no free time, free will, or freedom of choice.  If I started to use the computer for my own interest, Connor demanded we watch Baby Einstein.  If I turned on a program other than Sesame Street, Connor demanded Too Cute (a show about kittens and puppies).  If I started to sing while I cleaned up, Connor demanded NO SINGING!!  If I happened to use my own phone for my own personal use, Connor asked “phone pease? phone pease?” demanding the phone, after which a chase ensued if I wanted to actually get one last text off before handing it over.

So aside from being at my child’s mercy, it was relatively relaxing.

However, sending him off to school today and trying to pick up all the balls I’d let drop, I expected it to be a total clustercuss.  I had horrible calls to make!   I needed to arrange a makeup therapy session with Connor’s therapist, which usually proved exhausting given our collective busy schedules.  I needed to speak to my insurance, given that the laws in California have changed regarding autism coverage.  I expected this to be a long, drawn out, horrible battle.  I have seldom been so pleasantly surprised!  Not only was it not a battle, it was extremely easy!  My insurance company did the intelligent thing and set up teams of representatives that deal specifically with autism coverage and laws as they apply in each state.  I was flabbergasted!  You mean you have people you have organized and trained to specifically help me?!?!  WHAAAAAAAAT?

Things went on from there to get all the answers I needed from every call and email I had to return.  It’s as if the universe is conspiring to make my day go well.  I am unsure of how to feel in this situation.  All I feel is a constant sense of surprise and skepticism.  When will something go wrong…..

With that thought I’m going to stop calling people and tackle my to do list.  Surely something will go terribly wrong as I try to complete this Herculean list.  It’s inevitable….or maybe it isn’t.  Suddenly there’s a new feeling emerging to take the place of skepticism.  It’s hope.

Schedule smedule

We all have a routine.  We get up, we eat breakfast, we get dressed, we leave the house.  Or maybe in your family breakfast is the last thing you do before heading out for the day.  Or maybe you don’t eat breakfast at all!!  Whatever your routine, you wake up expecting the day to go a certain way.

Connor’s autism manifests itself most often in his own expectations.  It’s clear that Connor has a very precise view of how the day is going to go.  He knows what he wants and when he wants it.  Connor is determined and “passionate” about getting his expectations of the world to line up with what is actually happening.

For example:

A few weeks ago, we woke up early one morning to prepare for school.  Or at least I thought we were preparing for school.  Connor went to the choice board and asked for goldfish.  Fine.  Goldfish crackers for breakfast can’t really be any better or worse than fruit loops.  I handed him his bowl of goldfish and his juice, EXPECTING him to sit in his seat at the table and have his “breakfast”.  Connor had different expectations.  He looked up at me and asked “Lion of Sodor?”  Which sounded a little like “wion of sodo?”  But I knew what he meant.  Connor was referring to a Thomas the Train video that he particularly likes.    I felt somewhat shocked.  What?  Lion of Sodor at 7:45 on a Wednesday morning?  Connor clearly expected to take his crackers and juice into the family room and watch his favorite Thomas movie.

And when I said no, we had to go to school, it was as if I had crushed his tiny dreams!  He immediately fell apart!  Crying!  Screaming!  Gnashing of teeth and pulling of hair!  If he’d beaten his chest and torn his shirt, it would have been a complete Greek tragedy.  Why, oh why was I the worst mommy in the world?  Why wouldn’t I let him skip school for Thomas movies?  Why did he have to sit at a table and eat?  What was wrong with me?!?  Obviously this was all implied and not actually stated, but I got the message loud and clear.

All because his expectations of the morning didn’t match up with reality.

If this had been a year ago the tantrum would have continued for an hour, at least.  But now that he is a mature 3-year-old, with nearly a year of ABA training under his belt, the tantrum ceased after a mere five minutes.  Oh happy day!

Yet, as an adult, I know people (as in other adults) who do not adapt as quickly when their expectations or routine is suddenly thrown off.  And to be quite honest, I’ve been known to pout if someone messes with my routine.

Take this morning, for example .  I typically take the dogs for a walk directly after breakfast.  The exercise and fresh air give me a chance to clear my head for the day.  They also provide me with a meditative space to think of my blog topic for the day, which I write immediately after we get home.  Today I was going to write all about my new adventures in menu planning (exciting right?), but I was completely thrown off by an incident on my walk.

My dogs like to stop frequently to sniff the vegetation and Dodger, in particular, likes to mark his way along the path.  This morning, tragedy struck.  At the precise moment Penny bent down to sniff a plant, Dodger raised his leg to mark the same exact plant. The result: Penny got a face full of pee.

All thoughts of anything other than that my one dog had just peed on the face of my other dog flew from my head!  “These two were getting a bath the second we get home” was all I could think.

No blog topic.  No sitting down to write with ideas fresh in my head.  No leisurely shower alone.

Instead my thoughts were almost like a mantra “pee on head. pee on head.  pee on head.”  My shower is completely filthy, since I wash my dogs inside as they’re both terrified of water and Dodger requires a special allergy shampoo.  This means that every time they get out of a shower, my bed room is covered in flying dog water as they shake themselves dry.  This means my room, my bed, my clothes, smell like wet dog for the next 12 hours.

And I still needed to write my blog!

POUT!!!

Ok, maybe I’m not really pouting, but the dogs seriously threw me off my schedule and it took me at least a few minutes to collect myself and get back on track.   So…congratulations Connor, you’ve reached the same level of acceptance as your mother.  Well done.