Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Archive for the ‘Aspie traits’ Category

Shutting down and bouncing back

It appears I haven’t written a blog post in two months.  I’m not really surprised.  I’ve absorbed a bunch of new duties into my daily schedule, and it has required a lot of extra time on top of that to adjust.  I have managed to visit the occasional blog here and there and even to leave a few comments.  Gradually I’ve been trying to work my way back into things.  I’ve had ideas for several blog posts in the past couple of months that quickly disappeared when some new pressing issue needed my attention.  My kids will be on summer break from school soon, and since that will improve some things and make some more challenging, I really have no idea yet what my schedule will look like or whether I’ll have the time or inclination to write anything.  When I get too overwhelmed, I tend to withdraw and not want to communicate with anyone, and that’s been happening a lot lately, too.  Old habits die hard.  But since I already wrote an extremely long comment in response to this post at Alienhippy’s blog

http://alienhippy.wordpress.com/2011/06/04/i-think-it-is-my-trip-switch/

I thought I’d take a shot at expanding it into a post of my own and see what happens from there.

I was just coming out of another shut down yesterday.  I’ve been experiencing this off and on a lot lately, probably because so many things have been pushing me way beyond anything resembling my comfort zone, which isn’t that large to begin with.  My son was having a shut down of his own yesterday after overloading on what were a very productive couple of days for him  (we have officially survived the biggest part of his Eagle Project – yay! :)), and needing to deal with his difficulty on top of everything I was already experiencing was a bit much.  I was kind of expecting it, but I still wasn’t really prepared.  And it kept coming in waves.  I’d think I’d helped him past something, and then a new anxiety would take its place.  I didn’t know what he needed and just kept trying all the different tools in my toolbox to see what might help in some small way.  I don’t think any one thing actually did the trick, but the combination seemed to eventually move things forward.  It’s like that with me many times, too. Thankfully, we’re both doing better now, but I still feel a bit discouraged knowing this isn’t something we’re likely to ever really get past.

For some reason, I think I feel guilty when I shut down, like I should be able to do better after all these years.  Mostly it seems to come from who I am and what I feel not being compatible with what’s expected of me and of others.  I need more down time, more time to process things, more stim time, more explanation of things, more help, etc., than what’s considered acceptable.  I don’t seem to know what I’m supposed to know or to be able to handle what I’m supposed to be able to handle.  If I’m honest, I usually don’t genuinely feel bad about myself.  It’s more that I’d like the rest of the world to adjust please, because I don’t fit here, and neither does my son, and I happen to know we’re both good people who are honestly doing our best.  I’d like for our best to be good enough, because it’s really all we’ve got.

Being confronted with too many demands on my time, my mind, or my sensory system tends to make me shut down, and being shut down seems to drain every bit of my energy.  It becomes a chore just to wash a dish or walk up the stairs, and talking to people is even worse.  I hide my issues as best as I can, maybe because I don’t want to be evaluated and found wanting any further than I already have been.  I try to sneak off to be alone and fixate on whatever I feel will help me at that moment, and when I can’t because of circumstances or unhelpful people, I become anxious and irritable and have trouble thinking.  When I do come out of that state, it feels a bit like a flood of energy, although I seem to be very low energy in comparison with other people, so that flood doesn’t last too long.  Sometimes I think of it like I’m riding a wave and try to use that energy to get a lot done, because I know I won’t have it later.

More and more these days, I am learning to accept who and how I am, and this allows me to do what I need to do to help myself much sooner.  I know that I have to meet my needs, because no one else will. I need to do whatever I need to do and to indulge whatever obsession I’ve currently got going in order to feel OK again, and it’s better for everyone around me if I just go ahead and do that.  The longer I wait, the worse things get, and I end up behaving in ways I regret and taking much longer to recover.

I tend to shut down less if I keep spending time focusing on spiritual things, and often that’s what brings me back around if I’m not too far gone.  But there are times when I let things go too far, and I have to indulge some other needs before I can approach anything with deeper meaning.  I think those are the times when I start to feel guilty, because I feel like I should have caught it sooner.  Then I have to practice forgiveness of myself and others in order to start over.  I really expected to be much more spiritually evolved by this point in my life. 🙂  Every day just seems to be the same struggle over and over – some feeling more successful than others, but none really fundamentally changing me or my situation.

It’s hard for me to watch my son go through this, because he has much less coping ability at this point.  Then again, he also has me, and much of the time I do seem able to help.  He also has a lot of great supports at school and at Boy Scouts and among our friends.  I sometimes wish I’d had more of the helps that he has when I was growing up, but then again, I managed, and I grew into someone who can help myself and help him.  So one way or another. we’re both doing  OK.

Putting things into words

TED 2010 Temple Grandin

Image by redmaxwell via Flickr

OK, I’m sort of having a little “aha” moment here, and the challenge I’m finding getting the moment into words to share actually relates to what the moment is about.

I’m in the middle of watching a very cool speech by Temple Grandin at the TED Conference, which you can find here:

http://www.eileenparker.com/2010/03/temple-grandins-speech-at-the-ted-conference/

Temple is sharing a lot of information about different types of thinkers, and I realized I usually have trouble deciding what kind of thinker I am. I’ve definitely noticed some tendencies. I can take in information through visual, auditory, or other sensory channels, but I have a lot of difficulty attending to more than one channel at a time. I’m not sure I actually ever do attend to more than one channel at a time – I’m just relatively proficient at switching between them, and I tend to switch frequently if I’m not particularly absorbed by something. If I’m listening to someone speak, I may find after a couple minutes of actually attending to what they are saying that my gaze has drifted elsewhere. I have no idea whether other people notice this about me or not. And if I’m concentrating on something visually, it’s hard to hear what anyone is saying to me. If I’m being bothered by something on a more primitive sensory level, it’s a challenge to attend to much of anything else at all.

I have also noticed that I seem to communicate more clearly in words when I can write and edit and change things around – unlike trying to talk to someone in person or on the telephone. I can have a tendency to go overboard with rewriting and correcting myself sometimes, but with no opportunity to do more than one draft, I really have a hard time getting across to another person what seems perfectly clear in my mind, even thought it’s not in words. It probably doesn’t help that I do a lot of my conversing through the day with children and teenagers, who also have a tendency to have lots of only partially-formed thoughts popping out of their mouths. I don’t get so much practice speaking with adults, apart from sharing the latest adventures of our kids, which don’t usually require much editing – just relating of things as they happened.

I don’t plan what I’m going to say as I’m talking, because I can’t really think and talk at the same time. (That doesn’t sound too good, does it? 🙂 ) It works OK when I know ahead of time I’m going to be dealing with a particular issue and have some kind of script for that in my mind to keep me on track. Otherwise, I can be as surprised as anyone by what comes out of my mouth, and I sometimes learn things I didn’t know I knew by hearing myself say them. I’ve actually had some tremendously cool conversations with certain individuals I trust just by talking and listening that way.

So I had been trying to decide if I was more of a language-based, auditory learner – unlike my oldest, Simon, who has shared with me that he sees in pictures or in pictures accompanied by words and gets totally freaked out if the pictures aren’t there, which has happened before under great stress – because I don’t consciously see everything in pictures and sometimes even have trouble forming a visual for things I hear if I don’t already have an associated visual file for that somewhere in my head.  I think I have a lot of trouble translating things that come into my mind from one channel into some other form.

[ A little digression here: When I read a book, I feel a need to have some actual individual’s face in my mind attached to a particular character or I can’t really connect with the book. It’s very helpful if I’ve seen the character portrayed on film or television, because then my mind just goes right to that actor’s face and voice. That works out well for the mystery novels I read, because lots of novels have the same main characters. If I don’t have a ready reference like that, I sometimes just end up choosing some actor I’ve seen in something that reminds me of a particular personality and use that.]

The truth is, I’m not sure I have a handle on how I actually get the impressions that are in my head. I suspect I’m scanning things from a variety of channels (auditory, visual, memory) and then zeroing in on those that interest me in some way.  It makes me think of the Google reader I’ve only recently discovered and started using to keep up with lots of different blogs – I can see parts of a lot of things all together at one time, then just pick out things I want to focus on one at a time.  But the reader holds onto the other updates while I am focusing on just one, whereas in my mind I tend to lose track of anything not in my current view.  I think where words and language come in is when I’m trying to sort through all the images/impressions swirling around in my mind into something that makes sense and can be retained for future use – at least for me, if not other people.

I have this thing about organizing. I get totally geeked walking into an office supply store. I can lose track of hours organizing books on my shelves or files on my computer without actually feeling a need to read any of them at that particular moment. I do read quite a bit, but it’s a completely separate interest for me from filing away information and sources of information. I’ve stored away so many articles on my computer about autism-related issues that don’t directly relate to my life, because I just like having it handy to retrieve in case maybe someone I hear about might be able to use it. Some info is also for myself and my family, but even that needs to be indexed and categorized, because I don’t seem to have any working or long-term memory to speak of. I see something, decide it has value, and immediately want to put it away somewhere where I won’t lose it – with my mind definitely not being a reliable place for storage. I can scan and re-familiarize myself with something extremely quickly once I’ve read it through once, but without going back through after some time has passed, I have a lot of trouble retrieving any relevant information.

This is reminding me of how my husband assured me fairly early into our marriage that I didn’t need to study to retake a driver’s test for my lapsed license, presumably because I was a good driver and an exceptional student, and because he found the test so easy. I had the study materials in my hand, but I didn’t use them, because I favored another person’s perceptions over my own self-knowledge, which I didn’t feel secure in or able to explain. I then proceeded to fail the written test and had to wait to take it again. Ten minutes study was all I needed, but I NEEDED the ten minutes to access that information and to carry me past over-analyzing the language of the questions and trying to process too many different scenarios from every possibility I could imagine.

Now that I’ve written way more than I intended when I first sat down, the point of this whole “aha” moment is that it’s just dawned on me that my focus on language isn’t necessarily because that’s the learning or means of expression that comes most naturally to me. I think it’s actually because it’s my means of trying to sort through and organize everything in my mind that mostly streams into it raw and unprocessed. It’s analogous to being in a messy room – which happens way too much in my home for my peace of mind – and having to sift through and put things away in order to be able to start finding anything. My outer experience is actually mirroring my inner one, which fits in with my overall personal view of the universe, so it somehow makes sense to me.  For now I suppose “that’s all I have to say about that”. 🙂

Letting in the light

"Kirche Gröben" (big church), Brande...

Image via Wikipedia

So I’m just realizing something. I tend to think of myself as not being particularly creative. I can frequently see new ways to apply other people’s ideas – which I suppose is creative at some level – but I rarely come up with anything original on my own. I’m OK with that. I have other skills. But as I’m looking back through some of my old journals, I’m realizing I was actually making something up – I was trying to put down “nice” things and to paint a pleasant, “normal” picture of our lives fit for public consumption. Not so much in Simon’s toddler journal, because that was really written just for myself. But later on, I started taking some journal entries and emailing them to family living hours away. Somewhere along the line, I started writing with my little readership in mind, and I censored myself accordingly. I wrote what I thought would be amusing or cute to make aunts and uncles and grandparents feel good and feel positively about my own little family. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The grandparents, in particular, seemed to enjoy it quite a lot and look forward to my next installment.  But I had stopped writing for myself.

Then there was the wall my Simon hit in first grade. After we had pretty much convinced ourselves that we had this “recovered” autistic child and were happily patting ourselves on the back, we discovered whole new issues and a whole new level of discomfort. I still remember the first phone call I got two weeks into the school year informing me that Simon “wasn’t adjusting well” to first grade. That started us into a downward spiral from which it’s taken years to climb back up to a place where the future looks promising again, if very different from what we had previously envisioned.

When Simon was little, the things with which he needed help seemed more straightforward to me – talking, turn-taking, sensory issues, motor skills. I seemed to have an aptitude for approaching these things, and more than one therapist suggested I might make a decent therapist myself. And while Simon had enough social anxiety at four years old to warrant putting him on medication, he’d made great progress and had been off the medication and doing fine for months by the time he finished kindergarten.

Then first grade came with a full day of structured activities, more challenging social interactions, and a well-meaning teacher with terrible instincts and no time to listen to me. Simon began to hate school and to see many of the people around him as enemies. We were dealing with school staff who didn’t know much of anything about autism and seemed to need to see their own methods fail before considering any of our ideas – not that we had much clue what we were doing, either. We were in uncharted territory, and we had little in the way of guidance. But we were definitely having more success at home, and we knew there had to be a way to expand that into our son’s school experience.

While all of this was going on, we were still living in the same neighborhood and seeing all the same people we had before things went downhill. We didn’t know how to explain to them that the child who seemed fine when they saw him in other situations was really struggling now just to get through a regular day. For better or worse, Simon eventually started having problems in other areas, too, as he lagged behind his peers socially. My husband took the lead on talking to some of our friends. I mostly did what I do, which is to shut down. I was never very comfortable socially myself, and having a child so different from everyone else’s made that much worse. I stopped talking or writing to people except when I could come up with something to say that was both pleasant and true, and that happened less and less frequently. I was too overwhelmed with the challenges we were facing to care much about that at the time.

I became more and more isolated not knowing how to “fix” everything that seemed to be broken. I didn’t know how to process having a child who was not only struggling but was doing so in such a way as to make people believe he was purposely being difficult. He didn’t cry or withdraw every time he got overwhelmed anymore – now he was becoming angry and confrontational. I’m going to go ahead and give the first grade teacher a big slice of the credit for that development. I eventually started calling her the “High Priestess of Love and Logic” behind her back. It worked with her own kid, so it must be the answer for everyone. My son’s reaction to being continually asked to solve his own problems when he had no tools for doing that was to finally get fed up. And while he made improvements all along the way, I’m not sure he’s ever really stopped being fed up. However, he has started to see the positives in some things and to actually want to do well in school and get along with other kids, and that’s huge.

So the original point of all this when I started writing today – besides distracting myself from dwelling on Simon’s upcoming optometrist appointment – was that the reason many people don’t know much about our lives is because I haven’t actually told them much of anything. I’ve continued to write occasional emails and to make infrequent visits to see family and friends who don’t live near us, all the while trying to look like everybody else. And while I find myself mentioning autism fairly early in meeting folks in our neighborhood these days, they mostly don’t actually see much of Simon – except those who have know him for years and have kids whom he sees at different activities or even, on rare occasions, just to hang out and play games.

It wasn’t a conscious effort to exclude people. It was just that for so long we were the only people I knew dealing with any of this. I only ever talked about things with teachers, doctors and therapists, and my husband. Gradually we’ve let some others in, and we’ve even met a few other families in similar situations. People have been overwhelmingly supportive and understanding – or at least not openly judgmental. No one besides the occasional playground bully or passing stranger has ever been deliberately unkind. Most people want to be kind, and if they don’t, then I don’t want them in my life.

So why do I find it uncomfortable outside this wonderful blogging community to share when we’re having a “moment” or a struggle and it happens to be related to my child having autism? I have no problem mentioning injuries, attitude problems, or things I just find frustrating. I’m sure people I’m friends with on Facebook know more than they care to about the vehicle I currently drive. They all know I “share” items related to autism from time to time, and a few have either asked about our situation or asked for some general information on the subject. I suppose I just have it in my mind that most people aren’t going to “get it” when I share something spectrummy, because that’s not part of their experience. It is, however, part of mine – every day. And maybe people who care about other things going on in my life would like a chance to show that they care about these things, too.

So I posted something spectrummy on my facebook profile today about Simon’s anxiety over going to the eye doctor, and  I’ve gotten several supportive responses already.

“Begin challenging your own assumptions. Your assumptions are your windows on the world. Scrub them off every once in awhile, or the light won’t come in.” ~Alan Alda

(I love Alan Alda.)

As I let little streaks of light into this closed-off room of mine, I can see myself and my life a bit better, and I’m finding myself wanting to let in just a little more.  Sharing through this blogging community has become part of a larger process for me, and I’m grateful to be having this experience.

Regrouping

I’ve got too many things running through my head at once to think out a coherent blog post this morning. But I’m in a happy sharing mood, so I’m just going to babble on for a while and see what comes out.

 My new address:
 

The first thing on my mind is that I’m glad I went ahead and changed my blog address – which also meant changing my user name – especially since it turned out to be a lot simpler than I thought. It was something that kept nagging at me after I unintentionally chose a username with my actual full name in it, which I use for lots of things, and realized that became the basis for my blog address. Goofy, I know, but I often tend to miss details like that. I focus in on one tree at a time, missing the forest and many of the other trees in the process. I haven’t had any bad experiences with my blogging so far, but I’m still pretty new to this, and I’m not ready to share the more spectrummy aspects of our lives with people who know me outside of this community at this point. I also don’t want to do anything to make my kids uncomfortable, which is why they already have pseudonyms here. So, anyway, this gives me a greater degree of comfort.

Simon was reading my blog:

I learned yesterday that my Aspie teenager had been reading a bit of my blog, probably because it was left open on my computer, which the kids end up using more and more for homework. I think for the most part he’s been ignoring it, but yesterday he asked a question about my choosing to put something in all caps in a recent post. He didn’t seem bothered at all by what I had written, and he generally lets me know in a big way when he’s bothered, so I’m happy about that.

We all need a mental health day from time to time:

Yesterday was a bit of a fallout day for Simon. After doing so well with the very intense experience of the robotics team competition, where his team got this special engineering award 

              

which he wore all through the next day :), he had a hard time managing back at school.  The change for Daylight Savings Time really didn’t help, either. (I’ve never been a huge fan of DST, and when we lived in Indiana for two years, we didn’t have to observe it.) Anyway, Simon made it reasonably well through Monday and even the beginning of Tuesday. By reasonably well, I mean he fussed a great deal and made a point of saying “this is insane” and “I really can’t do this” over and over again with reference to waking up, doing homework, etc., but with some help from me, he still got the job done. Then partway through Tuesday morning, he hit a wall.

So apparently somebody decided it would be a good idea to do vision screenings on the entire student population of the high school, and we had somehow either not been informed ahead of time or just missed the information. Simon has only ever had his eyes checked at regular pediatrician appointments, and there’s never been a problem. But these folks told him he didn’t “pass” the test with one eye, and that started a downward spiral. (That’s something we’ll pursue at some point, but he hasn’t noticed any problems, and this just wasn’t the day to get into it.) They did the testing during his second hour class, and he got too upset to make it to his third. I got a call from the teacher consultant saying he was in her office and having trouble. I hope I’ve mentioned at some point before that this woman is absolutely wonderful. Besides doing her job of being an intermediary between parents / students and the teachers extremely well, she’s taken time to get to know me and my son, and she lets him eat lunch every day in her office to decompress.

She and I talked. She passed along my assurances that he wasn’t in any trouble and that I would support whatever he needed to do, because he didn’t feel up to being on the phone right then. She called again later to say he was still having trouble relaxing, and this time he did talk to me on the phone. He decided to give a try at going to his fourth hour class, which wouldn’t be too stressful or require much interaction, and after that he decided he was ready to come home.

Hubby and I agreed over the phone that everyone needs a mental health day from time to time, so we were fine with him coming home. I made my boy some food and sat him in front of a funny television program, after which he played a video game. He never got the nap I was hoping for, but he eventually relaxed enough to face completing some homework and even helping Alvin with some of his.  Today he’s back at school and halfway through his day, and so far everything seems to be going OK. We fall down, we regroup, and we get back up again. Thankfully these days the process usually goes more quickly than when he was little. A lot more quickly.

Sibling stuff:

On a side note, poor Alvin had to do an unusual amount of difficult homework yesterday. Alvin takes a math class two years ahead of the rest of his grade, so he’s pretty good at math. And he has what amounts to a study hall at the end of the day, so he rarely comes home with much homework. Last night, even with help from Hubby and his big brother, Alvin spent two hours struggling through trinomial factoring. Simon became more helpful once I said that I’d give him extra video game time to make up for time he spent helping Alvin. 🙂 Simon is also very good at math and takes a class one year ahead of his grade – they didn’t offer two years ahead when he was Alvin’s age, which is a source of frustration for Simon and entertainment for Alvin. The nice thing about this arrangement is that Simon just had everything that Alvin’s class is covering last year. Later in the evening, Alvin told me that there were things Simon could do in seconds that were taking Alvin twenty minutes. Alvin said it took him longer because he’s not autistic. I think that may be the first time he’s referred to Simon’s autism as an advantage rather than an annoyance. I just told him that with all the challenges, his brother gets to be good at some stuff, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Then and Now: More about signing

 

We did a lot of signing when Simon started showing some interest in communicating but was still not doing much in the way of making different sounds. He would make an “eeeee” sound that changed depending on his mood, but he didn’t make a lot of other sounds. We learned later that he had apraxia, along with his other motor planning issues (which I believe are collectively called dyspraxia) and actually had trouble learning how to form different sounds. At this point in my journal he was about 20 months old and had been in speech therapy since he had been about a year old.

August 3

In the morning Simon took great interest in the cats and played with them by swinging around the “bird” toy in their direction. He laughed while they chased it. He brought me his juice cup to request more juice. Simon also used his index finger to point to the pacifier in the book upon request again. Twice I spent a few minutes putting his hands under the running faucet or handing him a small open cup of water to drink alternating that with saying “water” and moving his hands to make the sign. He seemed very interested.

 August 4
  
Simon let me repeat my “water” lesson of yesterday and even made the sign on his own three times to get more water. The same thing happened later in the day, and he also made the sign for father when his dad brought out a glass of water, asked if he wanted some, and I prompted with the sign. Seemed a little confused about my not responding just to “more” for more water. We need a little practice.
 
 August 6
 
Wandering around looking for something while doing his “more” sign seems to mean he’s looking for his pacifier. Plans to work on a sign for pacifier. Getting much more consistent sign for “water” (still showing him how to make the sign and putting his hand under running water or giving him a glass of water and repeating this several times in a row. We did the little turtle finger play several times, and he wanted to hold onto both of my hands while I went through the whole thing, which was new.
 
August 7
 
 Zoo Day. He was pretty quiet all day – seemed to be taking everything in. Most interested in the sea lions, which moved around a lot and made lots of noise, and the ducks he could chase on the sidewalk. Went up to a little three or four-year old girl and offered her M’s bottle of water. When she didn’t want it, he tried the little one in the stroller. The baby (about ten or twelve months) was very interested, and Simon held the bottle like he does for his dolly at home, and the little one put it’s mouth over the cap at the end. Extremely cute. The other interesting thing was at the playground, which Simon liked very much and didn’t get to spend much time at. He came across what looks like a stand up version of toss across and turned every single one to the “O” side. (M had to point this out to me, and we got a little on tape.) Another kid messed them up a little, so Simon went back and did it again. Lots of “water” signs around the more watery exhibits.

 

Had a wonderful time at the K’s later. K thought he was doing just great and that we were doing all the right things. Said to try just inundating him with communication options, especially pictures on the frig to make choices from and to communicate with people who may not know his signs, and to make sure the picture is always paired visually with the actual word.

Looking back:

I still look back on Simon having to have all the letters matching on that board as one of our early autism indicators. At this point, he still didn’t have an actual diagnosis, other than a speech delay, although we had experienced therapists who could see that there were indications and kept that in mind when working with him.

K is the wife of someone who was, at the time, a co-worker of my husband. She worked for and is now the board president of the Autism Society in our state. I had expressed concerns about whether to focus on signs or on pictures in trying to communicate with Simon. She basically said to do everything and look to build on what was working for him, and to this day I consider that one of the best pieces of advice I’ve ever gotten.

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.

Freaking out

This is the third new post I’ve started in as many days. My thoughts just haven’t been coming together around anything in particular. I think I’ve got something to share now, though.

I was woken in the middle of the night last by a six-foot-tall teenager telling me he was “freaking out” and couldn’t get back to sleep. I have a tendency to freak out myself when my sleep is suddenly interrupted – that really made the baby years fun – so I wasn’t exactly at my best for handling the situation. It seems that what put my already anxiety-prone son over the edge was watching a scary TV show last evening. This is usually supposed to be an issue for younger kids, but it’s not that way at our house.

I hadn’t even authorized the viewing of this particular show, which was, by the way, not one of the scariest Doctor Who episodes I’ve ever seen. But you can never tell what’s going to hit a nerve with another person, and I get that. I personally stopped watching a lot of crime dramas, because that stuff really happens to people, so it does tend to bother me. I’m not so much worried about aliens moving into secret rooms in my house that I don’t know exist or impersonating me while I’m in a coma.

So it’s my fault the show was available, because I mostly record them for me. Hubby is finally watching some with me, mostly because a lot of his favorite shows are into reruns, and there aren’t any compelling sporting events to watch at the moment. So he gave a couple episodes a try and decided it was actually kind of fun. Also, Alvin usually likes a lot of what I like, so he starts watching any time I turn on an episode when he happens to be around. Even the very sensitive seven-year-old Theodore has started being OK with having the show on and not feeling a need to go elsewhere, so I figured maybe we were OK in terms of everybody’s comfort level. And thanks to our new trial DVR setup – which we’ll probably have to give up after the introductory low price runs out – we can watch anything we have recorded on any of the televisions in the house. So while Simon was supposed to be getting his homework finished in the basement, Alvin turned on the episode, and that’s when the work stopped.

Simon actually can’t stop watching something once it’s got his attention. I’ve tried. He’s tried. I can yell right next to him or even walk around in front of the TV waving at him, and he just keeps looking around me, even though he knows it’s going to cause trouble. No matter what is on or who is watching, everyone in the house now knows to respond to the word “pause” where the TV is concerned, so that I can get my kid back. (In a house full of guys with a mom who can only mentally attend to one thing at a time, this is sometimes necessary with the rest of us, as well :)) Even Simon can usually pause the show, but he can’t just stop watching or look away while it’s playing. So it was a bit of a challenge when I came by inquiring about the status of his homework to get Simon back working again. Alvin paused the show, but Simon was hooked in by then, and kept begging me to let him finish. I probably would have gone along if it wasn’t getting so late in the evening and if I wasn’t already worn out from a snow day at home with the kids.

It turned out that there was more than one unfinished homework assignment, and one assignment was missing altogether. So we spent the next half hour looking for the missing assignment while I was supposed to be making dinner, but we didn’t end up finding it. Simon eventually got his other assignments done, and I agreed to let him finish the show – there were only 15 minutes left, anyway. He mentioned that it was kind of creepy, but he smiled as he said it, probably because he really likes the funny bits, so I wasn’t especially concerned. Some things bother him and some don’t, and it’s hard to predict what will be a problem. It turned out that this was a problem.

Simon came downstairs a while after going to bed and was a bit restless. He said he might be a bit wound up from the show, and I asked if he had something more relaxing to read in bed. It took a few minutes, but he came up with his copy of Cheaper by the Dozen – he’s listened to the whole book on CD many times, but this was a paperback copy he decided to try – and things were looking good. It’s a comfort thing for him, and I was pleased that he had come up with the idea on his own. When I went upstairs a little while later, he was already asleep. Problem solved. Not.

So I get the knock on my door sometime between midnight and one. The first thing I tell my son is No More Doctor Who. Then, in my confused and stressed and under-pressure-to-fix-things state, I spend an unfortunate period of time listing all the problems that this has caused and would probably cause in the near future – my inability to get back to sleep, the fact that we both had to be up at 5AM and would both likely be useless then, the fact that he was going to be extra tired while trying to deal with talking to his teacher about his missing assignment and also returning to the new class this semester that already had him so upset that he had to leave class the day before, etc. And I let him know that I didn’t have a quick fix.

When I had started to calm down a little, I found myself talking to Simon about taking control of his thoughts and developing some skills in less stressful moments that he could have ready when he did find himself “freaking out”. I talked about my personal spiritual beliefs and about finding his own beliefs that could carry him through difficulties. I mentioned that sometimes the good in the difficulties we experience is that we are motivated to reach for something better than just learning to live with discomfort – that we can have more than that and are meant for more than that. I also told him that when I wake up on my own once in a while “freaking out”, there are things I read and ideas that I focus on that help to remind me that I get to choose which thoughts to hang on to in my mind and which to send packing -that just because a thought appears in my head doesn’t mean I have to claim it and feed it and make it my own.

I’ve tried having some of these talks before, but because the subject isn’t entertaining, it’s hard for Simon to pay attention for long. That’s always bothered me, because I know what it is to have some measure of these problems, and I want for my son to be able to have the help that I’ve had. He seemed fairly motivated right then, and we didn’t have anything else to work with, so he went along. I got him to work on counting and slowing his breathing – that’s one we’ve practiced before – and I prayed out loud and said some affirmation-type stuff that I’ve personally found helpful, and he started to feel calmer. He even came up with an affirmative thought of his own. I stayed in the room while he went to sleep.

Here’s the cool part. This morning, after we both woke up enough to be somewhat coherent, Simon told me that something had changed for him. He said that before the way he’d always gotten through things was to just put things that were bothering him back in some corner of his mind and try to just move around them or ignore them, but they were still there. He said that in just a few minutes of listening and breathing he was able to feel so much better and like he really could choose different thoughts. I mentioned that he could use some of what he’s learned on his own the next time he’s having a difficulty, and that we’d have a better starting point the next time he wants help from me, since we have an idea what’s working for him. He plans to write some helpful thoughts down at bedtime to keep next to him for when he’s having a problem. If that works out for him, I think I might suggest that being a helpful practice for before problems start.

Once we were both in this better frame of mind, Simon found his missing homework assignment. He even had time to complete most of it before leaving for school. As I keep finding to be the case, we didn’t get to choose the experience we were going to have last night and this morning, but we did get to choose how to respond. We even got to choose again after getting off to a bumpy start. And for us that gave the experience meaning and value.

I’m glad I’ve found a place to share these moments. This isn’t exactly Facebook material. 🙂

Tag Cloud