Finding Ourselves on the Autism Spectrum

Posts tagged ‘robotics’

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Try, try again

Busy weekend. Alvin went to a movie and sleepover birthday party at one friend’s house and now has another friend over to play video games after seeing a different movie with him. Theodore went to a friend’s laser tag birthday party. He was supposed to have a second party to attend after that, but the second friend isn’t feeling well today, so they had to reschedule.

Simon is off without us at an all-day robotics event. He left the house at 6:15AM and won’t be back until after 6:00 this evening. He went on his own with his robotics team, a cell phone, and some cash for lunch. For most kids, it’s pretty carefree day of fun. We’re just happy Simon sounded OK when we last spoke to him on the phone. This is actually the second day of a two-day event, and the first day wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.

Our boy has come such a long way. The idea of him being able to attend any function at all on his own is a relatively recent development. He has a parapro with him all day at school, and my husband and I have generally been with him everywhere else. Occasionally he can be at a friend’s house when the parents know him pretty well, but we still make sure to be on standby and listening for the phone. His dad still takes off work every year to attend various scouting functions and goes with the boys to summer camp for a whole week.

In seventh grade Simon finally found a club where he was comfortable. It was a strategy game club, and that year it was being run by a friend of ours who knows him very well. Simon loves strategy games and is annoyingly good at them, so he really enjoyed the activity. Plus they had snacks. Come to think of it, pretty much every activity I’ve been able to get him to attend without having to twist his arm has provided him with food on a regular basis. Whatever works. 🙂

This year Simon started high school, and he’s tried quite a few different activities on his own. He’s had issues with at least half of them, but he’s also found a few keepers. One is the game club, which not only offers strategy games, but now Simon finally has people with whom he can play Yugioh without having to enter an official tournament. And he loves GO club. GO is an ancient game involving little black and white stones placed on a board to try to gain and take over territory, and Simon is developing a reputation for his playing ability. Hubby is annoyingly good at most games, too, but he can’t beat Simon at GO, and it pisses him off.

Simon also joined the school robotics team. This is much more of a time commitment, plus it involved some financial investment. Simon has had some problems with frustration over tasks in which he is less interested (he mostly likes programming), dealing with people who don’t seem to know what they are doing some of the time, and – since the build season started – sensory overload from all of the noise. Though he’s been attending fewer of the meetings, he’s hung with it, and he decided to go to two of the team’s regional competitions, the first of which started yesterday. He got to take the day off of school, which was a plus. He still has to do all the homework. And he still had to get up at 5:00am yesterday and today to ride the bus an hour away.

We weren’t sure Simon would be allowed on the bus yesterday, because he hadn’t attended the last meeting, which we found out later was supposed to be mandatory, and because he hadn’t been there to receive his team shirt. But they gave him his shirt and let him on, and we let him go. There aren’t any parapros for optional team trips, BTW. Hubby said he’d be available to go retrieve the boy if needed, and I made sure Simon had a cell phone to call me. We knew the noise level would probably be a sensory nightmare, but Simon’s tolerance has increased over the years, and we hoped the promise of food and hours of mechanical competition would be enough to compensate. It wasn’t. At least it wasn’t yesterday.

The teams took a break for lunch around 1:00pm, and I got a call from Simon saying he was feeling like he’d had enough. The place was an hour away, so I needed for him to hang on for a bit. I did my best to try to find out what was happening and how I might be able to help while I also contacted his dad, who had really been hoping to not get this call. It was hard to hear while trying to have a phone conversation with Simon through all the background noise, so we started texting. Over the course of the next hour I got messages from him saying he was exhausted, he couldn’t concentrate, he couldn’t find the food, and he couldn’t think clearly. At least he could still text. In between bouts of kicking myself for letting him go in the first place, I sent back messages suggesting he find some water, asking if he could see anyone he knew, and finally just asking where he was so his dad would be able to find him.

Turns out Simon didn’t do badly at all. Besides having the sense to call and ask for help, he stayed with his group and did his best to remain calm until help arrived. He also lost the money we sent with him and his new team T-shirt, but at least he kept the cell phone. 🙂 His dad and I decided the best plan would be to try to help Simon find food there and experience some recovery before talking about leaving. Hubby helped Simon to get food (which was on very large tables right out in the open that Simon was just too stressed to be able to see) and taking him out to the car for a quiet place to eat and regroup. Hubby did such a good job being flexible and supportive in the face of his own frustration. They discussed options, and a now fed and calmer Simon decided on his own to go home and try again in the morning. By this time, it was about 3:00 in the afternoon.

This time we sent Simon off with a backpack containing a water bottle, plus some extra cash in case he lost track of what we’d given him in his wallet (the loose cash from the day before never was recovered).  We also sent along two sets of earplugs to help him manage the noise level.  I couldn’t reach Simon during the morning today, which wasn’t making me happy in light of yesterday’s difficulties, but I also knew he might not be able to hear his phone, and he doesn’t always notice it on the vibrate setting.  He called at lunch to say he was doing fine , and he seemed in good spirits. No mention of wanting to leave early. He found out where his missing T-shirt ended up, and he knew where to find the food. I’m having trouble reaching him again, but by now the event should almost be over. So now I’m just waiting to hear.

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It’s after 8pm, and my boy is finally back home.  Simon said he had a great time even though his team got eliminated in the quarter finals  and that the medal he is now sporting around his neck is a special engineering award given to his team.   He was talking on the short drive from the school back to our house about underdog victories and mascots and other things he found very entertaining.   Now he gets to relax and stuff himself full of ravioli and garlic bread here at home.  He’s a pretty happy guy and very glad he decided to give this another try. 🙂

 

 

 

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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