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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:



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!

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.


Summer summer summertime….

I love that song.  It reminds me of being at least a decade younger than I am now, enjoying the simplicity of summer.  My main concerns in the summer were as follows:

getting tan

hanging out with my friends

having enough money to hang out with my friends

balancing the earning of said money with hanging out with my friends and getting tan

It was a tough life.

Things have changed a bit in the last ten years.  Or more specifically, things have changed a lot in the last 3 years.

These days summer isn’t the time of relaxing at the beach and sleeping in late that it once was.  No, instead Connor and I are up every morning at 7ish, which is earlier than when we get up during the school year.  Connor has summer school, swim class, behavior therapy, speech therapy, and gymnastics.  We are BUSY!

The shortened school day also means that I have just enough time each morning to eat, do some cleaning, exercise, and shower before going to get Connor from school at noon.  My blog writing has suffered, and my novel-writing is essentially non-existent.  Unlike Stephanie Meyers who famously thought out Twilight while watching her kids in swim class and then wrote after they’ve gone to bed, I am utterly exhausted after bedtime.  I can barely keep a straight thought in my head, no way can I write a chapter.

I could sacrifice exercise for fiction, but I’ve really been making an effort to get to classes regularly so they become a habit.  It’s not fun, but more on that tomorrow.

Oh well.  Fiction will just have to wait until the fall.  Until then I’ll be driving Connor all over place, slowly sucking the relaxed vibe out of the summer.  It’s a good thing he doesn’t know what he’s missing.  It’s too bad that I do!

To Swim

I’ll keep it short and sweet today.  I’ve finally come up with a plan for Connor’s summer swim lessons: two sessions of private instruction followed by two sessions of preschool group class (to be modified as needed).

Why did it take me so long to come up with this seemingly simple plan?

Because I’m a worrier.

Because I’m conflicted as to whether personal instruction or group interaction would be best for my somewhat challenging child.

Because my cousins have put their children in the Mommy and Me class and I want to be with them but Connor is too old!

Because I also procrastinate.

But now I have a plan!  Or at least a very loose semblance of a plan.

We’ll be going to Golden West College for our swim lessons.

It’s were I learned to swim, where my sisters learned to swim, where my cousins learned to swim.  It’s only makes sense that the new generation would return there for their own swim lessons.  It makes me feel a bit old taking my own child there, but I have such happy memories of my time there that I’m willing to bear a constant reminder of my age to have Connor make his own happy memories there.

I’m excited just thinking about it!

As a child it was one of my favorite things about summer!  I practically lived in the water during school vacations.  There is something so freeing about swimming that even as an adult I love to do it.

Actually, it brings out the kid in me.  I want to start doing hand stands in the shallow end, to play Marco Polo, to race underwater.

I’m pretty confident that Connor has the same love for water.  Yesterday at my mom’s Connor displayed his already intense love for swimming, but floating in a swim ring and kicking across a tiny spa for several hours.  He was as happy as a fish in water (hehe)!  Seriously though, I kept waiting for the joy of the experience to diminish over time but Connor was as happy at hour two as he was at minute five!

Hopefully this love of swimming will translate into swimming lessons given to him by a stranger.  I’m hopeful that the joy of water will over-ride the hesitancy of interacting with a person he doesn’t know.

We’ll see though, nothing to do but try!

If you’re in the North Orange County area, I highly recommend the Golden West College swim lessons program.  They have many instructors who have worked with special needs children before, and as a group are very conscious and considerate of interacting with the special needs community.  Hurry, though!  Space is filling up fast and it’s a pretty inexpensive program ($50 per class session) so there few remaining spaces are sure to be filled any day.