Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Progress, not perfection

Here’s a quote I like from an inspirational book by Martha Smock called Halfway Up the Mountain:

“Do you know that the word mediocrity comes from a Latin word mediocris meaning ‘halfway up a mountain’? Somehow this puts a whole new slant on this idea of mediocrity. It is not something fo be disdained or to be ashamed of. Rather, it is a halfway mark. And it does not necessarily indicate that this is as far as you can go. It says, ‘This is as far as you have come.’”

So we’re managing these days. We’re making progress some of the time, and just trying not to move too far backwards at others. None of the problems we were facing a week or a month ago have really been solved or gone away. Nobody has made any really exciting accomplishments lately. Some new challenges have arisen, and some things have even gotten worse. But we’re still here, and we’re doing OK, and that’s something.

The car that I’m not driving has needed to be jumpstarted for the past three mornings, although it did finally start today. Hubby says it’s because I just wasn’t taking no for an answer. 🙂 And he sort of fixed one of the non-working seatbelts in the back seat. Problems with extended family are not all resolved, but there have been real improvements, and after a couple of months that subject is no longer something I struggle with on a daily basis. I lost some weight and haven’t gained it all back, I’m exercising just a bit, and I am gradually making my way through the last couple of books I started. None of these things is just where I’d like it to be, but I’m still hanging in there and moving forward when I can.

The guinea pig that has been Simon’s roomate for the past five years passed away two days ago. He wasn’t showing any signs of illness – maybe just slowing down a bit – so I’m choosing to believe he went peacefully, which to me is a good thing. Simon was upset enough to spend two hours in bed, but we worked through things, and he finished his homework that night and was back at school the next morning. He talked through things very appropriately, and I think he found some of what I said to him helpful. He hasn’t asked about getting another pet, which is just fine with me. We still have three cats, one remaining guinea pig, and a dwarf frog, so I’m not looking to make any new additions. Where we are is just fine for now.

Simon is finding the Robotics club he’d initially been so excited about a bit frustrating these days. He says a lot of it is because of the noise level making it hard for him to follow what’s going on, which is something they really can’t reasonably fix during the build process. He’s still attending – just not as often and not with as much enthusiasm. He’s learning about hanging in there and working through some difficulties, and there are still parts of it he finds enjoyable. It’s not perfect, but it’s something.

Simon also got a bit freaked out about his new Computer Applications class this week, because he hasn’t practiced the typing component before – despite my repeated attempts to remind him of this and to facilitate the process – and he just happened to be sitting next to a junior his first day who was apparently already a very good typist. We got past his initial panic and frustration, set some more realistic expectations (which is in itself a difficult thing for him), found him some games at home that work on typing skills without being too boring, and he’s doing OK with it. He’d already gotten past one challenge just going into the class, since it’s being taught by the tennis coach whose team Simon decided to quit after just a few weeks during the summer. Nice guy, but I can tell he’s not exactly used to relating to kids who get so overwhelmed by things, so he’s getting to have some learning time, too. Overall, the class will be a good experience, even if it’s not exactly what either Simon or I had in mind at the start.

I’ve been getting lots of resistance recently from Alvin and Theodore – and occasionally from Simon – to following some rules I’ve been insisting on in order to take some of the drama out of life around here. I absolutely hate and shy away from conflict of any kind, so having a constant state of conflict in my home is especially draining. This is another area in which things aren’t all better, but we are making definite progress.

As an example, after years of trying to create the perfect system that would eliminate daily conflicts over electronic devices – taking turns, limiting time, multiple games and programs interfering with each other, being able to transition to some other activity, etc. – I looked back and discovered that some of what I had been doing had actually worked. None of it completely solved the problems, which was why I kept trying to find something else, but some things were definitely better. Once I got past how ridiculous all this must look to someone outside our family and the fact that we still keep making mistakes, I could observe some changes which seemed to have a positive effect and combine them into something useful.

I noticed that recording the beginning and end of each child’s turn greatly reduced the conflicts stemming from individual feeling like they weren’t getting their fair share of time, because it was all written down. Recording the times and using a timer also helped them transition out of the activity more easily, which is a significant challenge for all of them. Getting a parent’s initials on the same roster before being authorized to take a turn reduced the incidences of kids playing without permission, again because there’s a record. Now nobody has to rely on a questionable memory or conflicting reports. Lots of trust issues going on around here. 🙂

Having each authorization go through a parent for every turn has reduced the kids’ conflicts with each other over somebody taking too long or getting too many turns, which in the past have frequently escalated to arguments, meltdowns, and physical altercations. This has also allowed me some opportunities to plan better, because I can look ahead to what we have coming up – dinner, homework, scouts – and make a better decision about whether or not a turn is appropriate and who ought to take their turn when. It’s not fixing everything, but it’s helping.

Requiring everybody to close out whatever they’re doing aids in transition and helps prevent accusations of other people shutting off a child’s program or losing their accumulated progress on a game, because each child saves and shuts his game off himself. Only allowing one individual at a time in the basement where most of the electronic devices are located (except with special permission) helps reduce conflicts over siblings commenting on each other’s games, and it provides a natural limit on how many electronic turns can fit into a given period of free time among three individuals.

The best thing about all of this is that having a plan and having things recorded has helped me to feel more in control of the situation, which has helped me to relax and be more effective when problems do come up. When someone is running over time or freaking out about something – which still happens frequently – I am better able to be flexible and to work out a solution we can all live with. When there is a question about whose version of events is correct, I can remain objective and not have to take sides or question my own memory.

Each of these strategies has initially been tried separately, and each has prompted a lot of resistance at the outset. We’ve also had plenty of experiences of each of us just plain forgetting what we were supposed to be doing, suffering the natural consequences, and having to start again. But by focusing on progress, rather than perfection and being willing to make changes as we go, things are definitely better, and everybody is a just a bit more relaxed. Gradually the kids are becoming less resistant, and Hubby is doing his best not to derail things when I step out of the room for more than a minute. 🙂 This has helped build my confidence that we can handle other issues, too, and I’ve already got some other works in progress.

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Comments on: "Progress, not perfection" (10)

  1. Wow! You are super-organised! What a methodical system, not only fair but seen to be fair. No wonder there’s been progress 🙂

    • You are so sweet.

      It’s all out of necessity. I have frequently lectured my children on the fact that all of this would be completely unnecessary if everyone just treated each other nicely, asked before assuming, and spent more time on things that didn’t involve a video screen, but all to no avail. To them I sound like all the adults in the Charlie Brown cartoons – “wah wah, wah wah wah wah”. 🙂

      I think I try so hard at being organized outwardly because it’s too hard to keep things in order in my head. My husband is just the opposite. He can keep lots of things straight in his mind all at the same time and is good at finding things, but the physical space around him is always a disaster, and he’s always running late for things. After almost 20 years, we’ve both moved a bit in each other’s direction, but having such different mindsets creates problems for each of us and makes getting along a challenge at times. I keep trying to explain to my boys that they have a choice of what methods to adopt for themselves, but if they don’t have their dad’s gift for keeping track of things in his head (which so far, it doesn’t appear that they do), they had better start adopting some different strategies in order to manage. For now, I need to make some choices for them in order to maintain my own sanity. 🙂

  2. I’m also incredibly impressed with your turn-taking and timing systems. I think as my kids get older I’m going to have to try something similar. I’m frustratingly (to them) wishy-washy and inconsistent when it comes to rules. They can’t argue with the fairness of this approach though!

    • Thank you. It’s really all out of necessity. Three boys – four if you count my husband – is really a bit much for one household, and it takes a great deal of energy and effort to maintain any semblance of sanity. It doesn’t help that they are all extremely bright and do their best to find any loopholes they can. I feel like I should have studied to be a lawyer 🙂

  3. What you wrote here:

    “But by focusing on progress, rather than perfection and being willing to make changes as we go, things are definitely better, and everybody is a just a bit more relaxed.”

    I say YES!! I have such a hard time remembering to do that, that is one of the reasons I was really happy to find my journals. I forget the progress, seeking to reach a perfection, that can never be obtained.

    I think that is a great idea about the roster, I need to start that now with my young ones. We already have the problems with electronic devices and the “sharing” time. I get so overwhelmed sometimes with everything that I begin to slack in time limits, this may be a good thing for me as well.

    I am happy that you are able to focus on the progress, it makes a huge difference. I find when I focus on the progress, the other stuff that usually consumes my mind will go away…..a little bit. 🙂

    I hope everything continues to do well and you find resolution, peace, in other things also!!

    • Thanks for your encouragement. It’s a constant struggle here. When I slack off, the conflicts escalate, so there’s really no way to have any peace except by taking on the role of peacekeeper as a full-time job. It’s hard for me to summon enough energy to manage that a lot of days. I am continually amazed at the number of ways three boys can find to be in conflict with one another. On some level I think they seek out a certain amount of it, then they get overwhelmed when they can’t turn it off. I can’t envision reaching a place where I’m actually comfortable with the situation anymore, so focusing on progress in this and other areas is the only thing that keeps me going.

      I hope things move forward in a positive direction for you, too. If you can find routines that you all can live with – even if they aren’t pretty or perfect – it saves on a lot of stress for everyone.

  4. Diane,
    You are amazing! I tried charts and white boards to schedule just our two and somehow they never worked so well for us. Finally we got a lock box for the TV that had a parental code and TV allowance codes for each kid. This really helped. I can’t imagine having to juggle three.

    Celebrating the baby steps is a must I believe and every time things aren’t going well, I remind myself of how much worse they have been. I love the explanation of being half way up the mountain. You are doing a great job Mom! 🙂

    • You are so sweet. We’ve tried lots of different approaches, and we still run into trouble most days with this one, but I’m finally starting to see that small amounts of progress are worth something. Thanks for the encouragement.

  5. Sounds like you’ve got a great system going. Good for you! Sometimes, it just helps to keep trying different strategies until you find the one that works best for everyone.

    • Thanks. Well, it’s not so much a great system as something that seems to provide enough noticeable benefit to make continuing worthwhile. The big challenge for me is to appreciate benefits in things that aren’t complete or perfect. It’s all a work in progress 🙂

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