Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘friends’

Letting in the light

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

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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.

Processing

I’ve been really flustered lately. And now I’m up at 4:30 in the morning, because I was having a weird dream – I rarely remember dreams unless I wake up in the middle of them – and then I needed to use the bathroom. Now my thoughts are spinning, but not in the usual negative loops. It’s just been a weird and busy few days so far, and I seem to have a lot to process. So instead of lying awake in bed running through all of it randomly over and over again, I’m going to give a shot at typing it out in order to process it all a bit and see how that goes.

My kids are on a week-long break from school, and that’s always a bit of a challenge for me. We started out the break with a visit from my parents who live about four hours away. My dad and I both have birthdays this month – mine was on Saturday – so that and my parents’ anniversary last month were excuses to celebrate with ice cream cake and a dinner out as a family. We fit in some euchre and board games, my dad and Hubby fixed a couple bothersome things in the house, I baked some bread and some brownies, and my husband grilled out in the middle of a blizzard.

That last bit probably requires some explanation. There was a big shift in the weather for the weekend after Hubby had already bought these little steaks he was all geeked about, and Theodore had a Cub Scout requirement about helping to prepare (not actually doing the cooking part) a meal cooked ( not necessarily eaten) outdoors. It was humorous enough for me to call various family members over to see at different points, but sad enough that I didn’t take any pictures or videotape, because I felt sorry for miserable snow-covered Hubby.

Back to my winter break. So, nothing momentous happened over the past few days, but a lot of things have just felt weird and have been accumulating. I turned 43 on Saturday. (I had actually been getting a kick out of 42, because it’s supposed to be the answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything :).) My three boys have been absolutely bouncing off the walls and each other, which stresses me out even when my parents aren’t around to watch. I’m having a very hormonally challenging week, too – probably TMI, but that’s been having an unusually large effect on me in the past few years. And there was a full moon on Saturday. Hubby keeps bringing the car home almost out of gas. Hubby also had to go in to work three different times during the weekend. My own car keeps needing to be jumpstarted. Water has had to be shut off in different parts of the house to accommodate the repairs Hubby and my dad were doing. The weather got lovely and warm for a couple days, and then we had enough snow the morning my folks were leaving that we had the whole family out taking turns with our two shovels, the brushes/scrapers for the cars, and the rock salt before they could get on the road. Theodore had his eight-year-old twin friends over to visit for about four hours yesterday. And Simon has been particularly out of sorts lately for a variety of reasons.

I appear to have actually been successful at pushing Simon to get all of his winter break homework done at the beginning of the break, when he still remembered what assignments to do and how to do them. And he made plans on his own for a friend to come over, which almost never happens. Good things, but not the usual for us. On the negative side, he made a complete fuss over a missing Nintendo DS stylus that he likely misplaced himself and for which we have several replacements. He also got too overwhelmed to make it to the last several meetings of the robotics club. And he got completely stuck when asked to make a birthday card for me – a task he does for various people several times a year with no problem, and that he managed for his grandpa just fine.

I had to obtain a replacement stylus before Simon would budge for our family meal out, which made me a cranky dinner companion. I also pretty much told him what to put on my birthday card, just so he could fulfill his dad’s requirement three days after the fact. I talked him through options for handling his friend’s request for sharing something on a videogame that was making him uncomfortable to share. He got to bail on the robotics thing even though he really didn’t have anything else to do. And I let him pretty much avoid everyone for the four hours the twins were here.

It all sounds pretty wishy-washy on my part, but it just felt on an instinctive level like he was in a bad place and needed some accommodations. Alongside the accommodations I’ve been insisting he still do his morning jobs and keep up with his typing practice and that he get a modicum of exercise. I’ve also been having him make a fair amount of his own food. I asked him to ride home with his friend who had been over to visit on Monday and to talk on the phone (eek) when another friend called to make plans to get together. Yesterday I took him to the store to buy Yugioh cards when he made a request, but then I asked him to go look for them on his own while I shopped for groceries. He looked and sounded ready to balk at that part. Apparently he had wanted to go with me to avoid being asked by his dad to do things like this on his own, and I was messing up his plan.

I didn’t insist, but I started a conversation about where he wants to be a few years from now and what small steps we can take in a positive direction. I’m not sure if he changed his mind or just wanted to get out of the conversation, but he headed off toward the trading cards on his own. I was just texting him to see how things were going when he showed up behind me with his mission accomplished and looking pleased with himself. He then helped with the checking out and offered to push the cart, and at home I asked him to bring in the recycling containers and make our salad for dinner.

While Simon and I were out shopping, Alvin and Theodore actually played Legos together for an extended period without fussing or fighting with each other. I honestly can’t remember the last time that happened. They built a Lego town of their own design and both seemed very pleased with it. Alvin was also a big help earlier in the day keeping an eye on Theo and his little friends who were visiting and heading off signs of trouble before anything could turn into a big problem. It was definitely an unusual day.

Later last evening Simon started a conversation with me that rambled all over the place from what were the first signs I had noticed that he had autism to why he isn’t yet feeling interested in dating. He asked lots of questions. He even started reading a part of Tony Attwood’s book on Asperger’s that I handed to him partway through the conversation. It was strange, but very cool.

So now it’s 6:30AM, and my family will be up in a bit. My own car is almost out of gas and will likely need a jumpstart. I have no idea what we’re going to have for dinner, and Theodore needs a present for a birthday party he’s attending today. Alvin will need a ride home from his sleepover at a friend’s house. I think I’ve cleared my head enough that I may be ready for a nap. As for the rest, I guess I’ll find out when it happens. 

Helping each other

A few months ago I was at a local support group meeting for parents of kids with Asperger’s Syndrome. It was started by a couple friends of mine with kids on the spectrum, and we’ve been meeting about once a month. One of my friend’s daughters agreed to come and speak to the group to share her thoughts and experiences as a young woman with Asperger’s. I was impressed with how well-spoken she was and with her bravery in being willing to speak with the group. It made me realize that someone being poised and articulate and performing well in school didn’t necessarily eliminate the possibility of that person being on the spectrum, and that led to more exploring of my own life experiences. Starting out on that path has led me to meeting many wonderful people who have helped me to understand that I am not alone and that who I am is really OK.

Soon after reaching the conclusion that I was probably an Aspie myself, I was presented with the opportunity to help this young woman in exploring her own life. She had decided to write a research paper about having Asperger’s Syndrome, which was a huge step for her, and I was asked if I would agree to be interviewed as an older woman who was self-diagnosed. In typical Aspie form, and because of difficulty arranging both our busy schedules, we handled the interview by exchanging emails rather than in person. It was an interesting experience for me and served to reinforce my realization that I’ve spent my whole life using my mind to figure out strategies for coping with situations that didn’t feel natural to me.

This week we had another support group meeting, and my friend read the very eloquent conclusion to her daughter’s 25-page paper, in which she had expressed how much better she was feeling about herself and her future after having worked on this paper. I asked my friend for permission to share the email she sent to me after the meeting and offered to change their names to initials to protect their privacy:

“Hi Diane,

You have no idea how much hope you have given me for L by revealing your suspicions about having Asperger’s. When you first emailed me and said you think you have it – I thought no – you’re outgoing and friendly and socially appropriate and a great mom… you don’t appear to be on the spectrum. But after reading articles about girls and Asperger’s, well, it’s very different than for boys. Girls can hide it so much better or like L says – “fake being normal.” The more I learn about it, the more I see it in two of my sisters and my mom and my grandma.

Your advice to L not only helped her to write a great paper, but also to learn how to tackle her own personal issues. She has used your “cognitive therapy” approach to talk herself down when she is anxious and she says it helps. Knowing how well you have turned out – you have given me hope that L WILL eventually drive, she WILL go to college, she WILL get a job, get married and hopefully be a mom, too. So thank you for trusting me enough to share this information about yourself.

p.s. I liked our quiet little meeting where it was just the three of us!

p.p.s. L is gone for a whole weekend on a Youth Group Retreat and I didn’t have to force her to go. 🙂

Take care,

B”

This absolutely made my day, and I wanted to share J We really can make a difference in each other’s lives.

 

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