Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Parenting Ideas, Special Needs, therapy

Parenting your Autistic Child: 6 Ways to become a Meltdown Prepper

A friend asked me, tongue in cheek, if I would write a 600 part series with advice about parenting her SPD/ASD daughter. I gulped and laughed. I wish I had that series myself. I am NOT an Autistic Parenting Expert by any stretch of the imagination. I am new to this journey and am figuring it out as I go along.
However, I want to help and encourage others in their parenting journeys so I told my friend that I had three ideas for posts about techniques that work for us…sometimes. 😀

Have you seen those shows about people who prep for DoomsDay/Zombie Apocalypse? They self-identify as “Preppers.” These people stockpile underground bunkers with food, ammo, and daily necessities to help them survive, what they believe to be, impending Doom. I watch these preppers in fascination…as I roll my eyes..

However, as much as my eyes are permanently stuck in the back of my head at the idea of being a “prepper,” I’ve realized that preparing for worst case scenarios is something that I do on a daily basis as I raise my 8 year old Autistic son. I come to realize that prepping is essential for my son’s daily well-being (and our family’s well-being too!).

Because many ASD people build their reality around personal experiences, encountering new experiences can very scary, can cause anxiety and panic, ultimately leading to a meltdown.
Sensory overload to daily events (crowded playgrounds, mom using the vacuum or hand mixer, new clothes, etc) can also cause meltdowns.
Feeling secure and safe is important to all people, but because the world is a scary and unpredictable place to many autistic people, preparing your child for daily encounters (even if you do the same routine every day) is important for emotional and physical security.

The techniques listed below are things that we have learned from our therapist, as well as practices that I have learned and applied through trial and error. We have had more success than failure with these techniques but they don’t work (ie. prevent a meltdown) all the time.

6 ways to become a Meltdown Prepper

1. Prepare for every situation 

With our son, we have learned that if we talk through scenarios that seem threatening to him (like a doctor’s check up) or situations that may trigger a meltdown (like a play date) before they happen, it helps him “experience” the situation, therefore making it less scary.

Church has been a huge struggle for us and I was especially dreading the Easter Service  because there is lots of music (sensory trigger for my son) and it is a family service (no Sunday School). I wanted to avoid a meltdown so here are some ways we prepped for this stressful situation:
-We talked about the Easter service a few weeks to prepare him for the new format
-We spent an entire counseling session with his therapist talking about ways to cope
-On the advice of his counselor, we role-played potential tricky situations and how Benji could respond if he felt overwhelmed or anxious (Me: What do you think you could do if you feel anxious or upset during the service? Benji: I can ask you to roll my back with the yellow train.)

FullSizeRender
That yellow train is a Church Essential. It lives in my purse, along with the white Therapeutic Brush in this picture.

To me, the prep for Easter felt excessive (and Benji even started saying, “Mooom! I know!“) but it paid off.

We had a very smooth and happy Easter Sunday. Benji asked for what he needed; we were able to comfort and help him; and, best of all, no meltdowns! To quote Benji, “This was the best day EVER!”

2. Anticipate Triggers

For us, a key to avoiding meltdowns is to to anticipate the changes that could cause anxiety in our son. Obviously, preparing for every worse case scenario is impossible (plus, who knows why kids throw fits sometimes!) but if you see a pattern in your child’s life, try to  pinpoint the trigger; then address the trigger before it happens so you can prevent the meltdown.

For example, my son is very sensitive to hunger. He gets a fruit or veggie mid-afternoon snack at school but sometimes he comes home, starts homework, and dissolves into a “mood.”

While several factors may be in play, the first question I ask is, “did you eat your snack at school today?” If not, I feed that boy ASAP!

Taking care of his physical needs is essential to helping him regulate his emotions.

3. Practice “Calm Down” techniques when your child is calm

Have you ever tried to tell your child to “Calm down! take a deep breath!” when he is in the middle of a full-fledged fit? How did that work for you?
Yeah, me too. It doesn’t.
When kids are out of control, they lose the ability to cognitively calm themselves if the “Calm Down” habits are not established.

Our therapist encouraged us to practice “Calm Down” techniques when Benji is calm and happy. That way the technique is associated with the calm mood, not the meltdown. Also, practicing creates a habit-path so that the child can more easily reach the calm place during a stressful situation.

Some calm down techniques we’ve used include:
-Deep breaths (5 at most) (“Blow away your angry feelings!” or “Blow out the birthday candles!”)
-Squeezing a stress ball 5 times
-Placing your hands on your thighs and squeezing for 5 seconds, then relaxing for 5 seconds.
-Guided sensory imagery to a ‘Happy Place’ (close your eyes: what do you see/hear/smell/feel?). This exercise “resets” the emotional state.

We have had varying degrees of success with practicing “Calm Down” techniques. The habit seemed to work for little upsets but not for huge meltdowns. However, I think if I was more consistent in making my son practice, we would probably have better results.

4. Give transition warnings

Transitions are a huge meltdown trigger for my son, especially when he was preschool age. I had to start giving transition warnings for every activity:
“In 5 minutes we are going to stop watching TV and eat breakfast”
“In 15 minutes (then 10, then 5, then 1) we are going to leave the park”
“Right after this show is over, it’s time to go potty and take a nap. Do you understand?”

As he has gotten older, he hasn’t needed the transition warnings as much. However, when I forget to give a verbal transition warning, especially if he is doing something he enjoys, like playing the ipad or watching a movie, he gets very upset and it’s hard to “reset” him without great effort on my part.

Picture schedules have worked really well for us in the past too–that way your child can look at the schedule to see what is coming up next, therefore feeling more autonomous (and so you don’t feel like you are losing your mind by giving the constant transition warnings).

100_4792
A (blurry…sorry!) picture of our picture schedule from a few summers ago

5. Remove sensory triggers (or remove yourself/your child)

Sensory triggers can be baffling to someone who doesn’t have SPD. I finally realized that I can’t “logic” my child out of his sensory issues (::facepalm::); I just have to accept them, anticipate them, prepare for them, or remove them.

Benji’s pants have to have elastic in the waist. For a while, I tried to buy “slim” pants that still had the tight feel he craved.
It didn’t work. Thinking about the “pants meltdowns” we’ve had still makes my heart pound.

It isn’t worth the battle. He needs elastic pants? He gets elastic pants!

Same for food: If I’m serving applesauce to the rest of my kids, I just cut up an apple for Benji (or give him another type of fruit or veggie). Applesauce type foods are a no-go. (Thankfully, he does eat a wide variety of foods. Many ASD children do not).

There are some sensory issues you can control as a parent; there are others you cannot. If your child cannot cope with sensory input and he or she is starting to meltdown, the best thing to do is to remove your child from the situation, even if that means going to sit in the car with her while she holds a favorite toy or blanket until she calms down.

You can’t “tough” your way out of sensory issues, though you can prepare for challenges if avoidance is impossible (see 1 and 2 again).

6. Remember that a bad moment doesn’t mean you have a bad life.

Sometimes the prepping pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. You can prep, and anticipate, and prepare for weeks, days, hours, and minute by minute but you can’t prep the Autism out of your child.
Meldowns happen (or insert your word of choice here).
Sometimes you just have to ride it out, talk it out when it is over, hug your baby, and start over again when the storm subsides.

If you have a prepper mindset, it’s easy to see “DoomsDay” around every corner. It’s the same for meltdowns. I have experienced seasons in my life where my own anxiety of “when is my son going to meltdown next” was almost debilitating.
MeltdownPrepperI had to change.
For one, I started being more consistent in helping to avoid meltdowns.
Secondly, I had to start thinking long term. Prepping myself and my child is more than just preparing for the next meltdown. It’s really is about preparing my child to successfully navigate life in a healthy way.

Eventually, I want him to be able to anticipate life changes, transitions, sensory triggers, and autonomously utilize ways to calm down.

Until then though, I have to help him because he can’t help himself. He needs me to come along side him when his body, emotions, and world feel scary and out of control. I need to be his rock, his safe, secure place.
I’m his bunker.

Yep, I’ve become a Prepper.

Are you an ASD “Prepper”?
What helps you and your child navigate through challenging situations?
Share your story below!

I hope that my story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share via your favorite social media! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Special Needs

Part 3: 10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed

Welcome to part 3 of my mini-series on the “10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed.”

In Part 1, I discussed sensory issues and motor skills.
In Part 2, I gave examples of communication issues, listening struggles, lack of imagination, and not “checking in” while playing.

So many of these signs of High Functioning Autism (as opposed to what I “thought” Autism looked like [see intro in Part 2] mirror common childhood challenges. But, in children who are on the spectrum, these challenge are greatly intensified and often cause great stress for the child and family.

8. Transitions

I have a vivid memory of when my twins were around 3 years old. We had been playing at an indoor playground, one of our favorite spots, and…it was time to go.
My boys lost their minds.
I can still see myself, walking calmly out of Kids Cove, my chin in the air, with one screaming, thrashing child under each arm.

I may have looked calm but my heart was racing and my face was beet red. The “time to go” tantrum was a common occurrence. But even more than that, whenever we moved to new activity, visited a store or restaurant, etc, my boys acted like it was the first time they had ever been confronted with that situation (NEW STORE???? MUST RUN! MUST TOUCH ALL THE THINGS!!! GO NUTS!!!).

To cope, I started verbally narrating our entire day (First, we are going to eat breakfast; then we will get dressed and you can watch ONE show…), and I gave the same speech before we entered any and every store or restaurant (How do we act, boys? Good. What does it mean to be “good”? Don’t run, don’t wrestle, listen to Mommy….etc). If we had to go to Target and Walgreens in the same 30 minutes, I put them through the same catechism each time.

Most importantly, I gave them warnings before we were going to leave at 15 min, 5 minutes, 1 minute, then TIME TO GO!

It still wasn’t perfect but the transitions got easier over time. However, I still use all these techniques on a regular basis for my 8.5 year old twins (as well as my 3 year old).

100_4792
A bit blurry but an example of our visual summer schedule a few years ago: Transition schedule personified.

Before we even knew he was on the spectrum, I knew that Benji really struggled with transitions. He has a hard time understanding time and he struggles with short term memory (long term memory is a steel trap!) so giving him repeated reminders helps the transition to be less of a surprise (he HATES surprises).

I do know that routine is extremely important for my son, as well as other Autistic people, and the expectation of transitions by giving him updates and warnings of impending change helps to reduce his daily anxiety.

9. Obsessions

I have a love/hate relationship with Benji’s obsessions. Well, “hate” is a strong word. I get bored with his favorite topics after  few months but I’m learning to delight in what he delights in.

Fixation on certain topics, interests, or ideas is often a hallmark of people on the spectrum. Often, these “obsessions” can lead the person to become an expert on certain topics and, if guided properly, it can even help in getting a job one day.

Benji’s first honest-to-goodness obsession was Thomas the Train. He had trouble saying “Thomas” so he called the little blue engine “Tallah!” He would wander around the house, hollering repeatedly, “Ohhhh Tallah!!”

It was like a call to prayer…for trains.

He couldn’t get enough Thomas. He knew the names of every engine. He wanted every train set. For several years the only toys we bought him for Christmas and his birthday were trains and tracks. In every package there is an advertisement paper with pictures of every train ever made. He would carry around the paper until it was falling apart, telling us 50 times a day which trains he owned and which trains he wanted.

100_2308.JPG
Our potty chart. Thomas + Benji = Love

He could practically recite “Misty Island Rescue”–and we didn’t even own that movie. We borrowed it from the library a handful of times.

The intense Thomas obsession faded around age 5 but we still have a huge bin of trains and, if I get them out on special occasions, Benji still eagerly plays with them. He also still loves to watch Thomas on Netflix, much to the chagrin of Micah, who rolls his eyes.

FullSizeRender
Benji’s choice of Netflix show this afternoon

I love that Benji still loves Thomas.

When he was little, I didn’t see his love of Thomas as a sign of Autism. I thought Autistic children were obsessed with things like counting toothpicks or lining up cars.

However, Thomas was literally the ONLY toy Benji played with and, for a long time, the only thing he talked about. It was more than just his “favorite toy.” It was a genuine obsession, and a strong fixation on a singular topic or interest is often a sign of Autism.

Are fixations bad? Not necessarily. I look forward to seeing how Benji’s “obsessions” develop and I am going to do my best to guide his chosen interests toward future career choices.

These days, I do get a little tired of hearing about Pokemon but my son’s interests are a gateway into his heart and mind and I am trying to do my best to enter into his world and learn to love (or at least be interested in) what he loves. Plus, did you know? Pokemon is saving my Sundays.

10. Not trusting my instincts

At the beginning of this series I posed the question concerning my son’s late Autism diagnosis, “How could we have not known!? Why couldn’t I see?”

There were so many signs that I missed because I didn’t understand or didn’t  even know about certain Autistic tendencies.

However, I think one of the biggest and most important signs I missed was in myself: I didn’t trust my maternal instinct that something wasn’t quite right.

I had my doubts. I remember feeling perplexed. I researched and read articles about milestones and early childhood development. I perpetually wondered, “Is it…Autism?” But continually dismissed my concerns.

I tried to pass the buck to others:
If my pediatrician says something, then I’ll pursue it.
If the preschool teachers (and later, his elementary school teachers) say something, then I know I’m not just making things up.
After all, they are professionals. They know what to look for.

But, the truth is, I am his mother. My God-given instincts were telling me something but I was too afraid to listen.
I felt foolish.
I felt confused.
I wanted answers but I didn’t know where to start.
I mostly felt like a defunct mother because, truly, it couldn’t be him. It had to be me. If I was only a better mother then I would be able to meet his needs, help him communicate, soothe his tantrums, and discipline him more effectively.

I just need to be better.

But instead of trying to muscle my way towards perfection, I needed to let go of the preconceptions I held about special needs kids and my expectations of raising my son, and acknowledge my own heart-knowledge: Your son needs help. You need support.  Start somewhere. Ask for help.
IMG_4419
When I stop ignoring my gut, we stopped spinning our wheels and started moving forward.

It was the most important sign, the first piece of the puzzle that I put in place.

What was the first sign for you?
What piece of advice would you give to parents who are just starting their journey to help meet their child’s special needs?
Share your story below!

Did you miss Part 1? Click here!
Did you miss Part 2? Click here!

PS. If you think something is wrong, Trust your Gut

Want to read our story from the beginning? Start here!

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?

If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

© 2016 thebamblog.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

10SignsAutism

 

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Education, Special Needs, therapy, twins

Part 2: 10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed

This is Part 2 of my three part series about the “10 signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed” in my son. If you missed part 1, where I discuss sensory issues and motor skills, click here!

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I missed these signs with my son. The reality is, I had a version of “Autism” in my head, what I thought Autism looked like. I thought that children with Autism didn’t develop speech (no words by 2-3 years old), didn’t interact with the world around them, exhibited stimming behaviors such as rocking or hand-flapping, or they developed normally for a time and then lost speech and relationship skills suddenly, usually between the ages of 2-3.

All of these things do happen and can be seen in children with Autism, but not always. Benji didn’t exhibit any of these issues or qualities.

His signs were much more subtle, but they were still there. Looking back now, I can see them.

4. Communication Issues

Benji was never diagnosed with a speech delay but he probably should have been.  However, both my twins were slower to speak but I reasoned that this was due to their premature birth (36 weeks) and the fact that they were boys.

However, the older Benji got, the more I realized that his normal speech was not “normal. I wrote more about this topic in this post.

What I didn’t know then was that many children with Autism have trouble communicating, sometimes in their actual speech, but even more so in expressing their thoughts, emotions, and even sequencing their thoughts into patterns that make sense to the listener. My son struggles in these areas due to his Autism.

Speech therapy is an important intervention that Benji now receives.

scarterstudios M038
There are so many ways to communicate with your child. Look at this smile! What a happy Benji (3 years old).

One “right” thing I did when my boys were babies and toddlers was introduce them to sign language. They were obsessed with Signing Time DVDs and probably learned 100-150 signs. Signing really helped us with the communication issues I wasn’t even fully aware of at the time.

5. Won’t respond to verbal instructions

A few weeks ago, I unearthed a 30 second video of when my twins were 2. In the video I asked Micah, “What’s your name?”
“Micah!” he chirped happily.
“How old are you?”
“Two!”
I then turned the camera to Benji and asked him “What’s your name, little dude?”
He didn’t respond or look at me. I asked him over and over again, “What’s your name, little dude?”
Nothing. I laughed in the video and I remembered how I felt perplexed because I knew he could tell me his name. He had done it before.
I then asked, “How old are you?” and Benji suddenly looked at the camera and said, “Two!”
I remember being pleased, and asked him again, “What’s your name? Can you tell me your name?”
But again, he didn’t respond.

At the time, I though Benji was being silly or stubborn because he had answered these questions before. I just wanted to get his cute little voice on video.

But as I look back at this memory, his selective communication, his lack of understanding of one question vs. another, and his detachment from me and my efforts to communicate with him, I now see as evidence of his Autism.

Even now, at times, Benji struggles to understand directions, questions, and instructions. I often have to word things differently and encourage others to do the same, such as when we were at the eye doctor last week and the attendant asked him to “read the letters.” He was silent and I knew he didn’t understand (how could I “read” the letters? Those letters don’t make words!). So I asked, “Benji, can you name each letter on the screen?”

Struggling to interpret and then respond appropriately to the verbal world is a battle for many people on the spectrum.

6. Not “checking in” while playing

A few months ago, this video (What Autism looks like in toddlers) popped up on my facebook feed. One part that really suck out to me was when babies, playing near their mothers, would look back at their moms to “check in” as if to say, “Mommy? Do you see me? Are you still there?”
The mom would smile at her baby and the baby would smile back and go back to playing.

This is normal, typical development for babies and toddlers. They gain independence through crawling and walking but they still want to be connected to Mom and share experiences with her. “Checking in” through a glance, coo, or laugh during play is a way to share a personal connection.

As a baby and toddler, Benji never did this. We had a connection and a relationship but,  as I said yesterday, most of his awake time was spent wrestling with his brother or running at parks. When he was playing he was in his own “world” and he didn’t try to share his experiences with me or “check in” during his play time.

74ea3-100_4173
Benji may not have “checked in” with me when he was a baby but he has special relationships with his two little brothers. Their adoration for each other is mutual.

When I first saw this video, I wondered,  Is this “checking in” thing for real? I decided to observe my baby, Eli, who was about 9 months old at the time.

I watched him crawl away.
Hmm! Blocks! These look fun! He started to chew on one.
My phone rang and I answered it.
Eli turned toward the noise. Then he put the block to his own ear, smiling and babbling.
He glanced up and caught  my eye, and said “Dada!”
See, mommy? Look! I talk to daddy on the phone just like you.

And there it was: “Checking in” (plus pretending. See #7).

It brings me so much joy to see my baby interact with me and the world around him. But realizing that I didn’t have these precious moments with Benji hurts sometimes.

7. Not Pretending

Many people with Autism are concrete, black and white thinkers. Pretending, imagining,  or taking the perspective of another person are often very difficult concepts to grasp.

For example, in a recent therapy session, Benji’s therapist had to reword all her questions to him because they began with “Pretend you are–”
“I don’t do that,” he bluntly interrupted. “I don’t pretend.”

5f141-100_2906
This was the only time my boys wore these adorable pirate costumes my mom made for them. Playing dress up (pretending) was difficult at age 3.

And it’s true. He doesn’t pretend. A yellow block is always a yellow block. It will never be a banana or cheese for a stuffed mouse to nibble.

Pretending or imaginative play is part of normal development for neurotypical babies and toddlers. I see this type of development in my younger two sons (3 and 15 months) as they pretend that a string is a snake or as they feed themselves “peas” from a green Lego.

But when Benji was a baby and toddler, he didn’t play pretend. Honestly, he didn’t play with toys much at all, except for certain types (more on that tomorrow).

If he does make up a story or play out an imaginative game, the game or story is directly related to something he has seen in a movie or read in a book. His brain builds upon what he already knows; creating a new world, game, or perspective simply out of his imagination doesn’t fit in his black and white paradigm.

0fe35-100_3975
My boys love Wild Kratts, an animal TV show. I made these vests when they were 5 and they loved reenacting their favorite shows.

Did you know that the word “Autism” is taken from the Greek word “autos” meaning “self”?
People with Autism typically relate to the world as it fits into the paradigm of what they already know through personal experience (which can look very different from the experiences of a neurotypical person, especially if an Autistic person has sensory integration challenges).
In order to understand another person’s perspective, to understand different situations, feelings, or even cultures, you have to employ the imagination.

This is why personal relationships are often a struggle for people on the spectrum because taking the perspectives of other people requires the use of imagination.

Fortunately for Benji, he relates very well to stories and especially movies. By relating to the characters in his favorite books or movies, I can often help him see the perspectives and feeling of other people, or even help him understand himself more fully too.

All of the signs I discussed today were very subtle. They were there but I didn’t know what I was looking for…

10SignsAutism

Stay posted for Part 3 of this series later this week!

Miss Part 1? Click here!

Want to learn more about our story? Start here!

Is your child on the Autism Spectrum?
What were the signs you saw?
What were the signs you missed?
Share your story below!

 

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow!
Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you!:)

© 2016 thebamblog.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, Special Needs, twins

10 signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed

The average age for diagnosing a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder is age 2-3.

My son is 8 years old and he was not diagnosed as Autistic until 6 months ago.

I try not to beat myself up, but at times,  I wonder, “How could we have not known!? Why couldn’t I see?”

The reason is complex.
First, my son has high functioning Autism, and, statistically speaking, most high functioning children (Asperger’s) are not diagnosed until ages 7-8.

But still.  I was a very attentive mother–I was actually LOOKING for the signs because I had this little niggling feeling that something was not right. Plus, he was my first (twins) child–I was in hyper-vigilant mode!

I remember going from website to website, reading lists of symptoms or children with Autism.
I would tick down the lists:
No, he doesn’t flap his hands or spin for hours.
He can make eye contact.
Sure, his speech is a little delayed but he’s speaking more every day.
Awkward social skills? How can I tell?!

100_0596.JPG
Happy little Benji baby! Smiling, cooing, making eye contact. He never lost skills in his communication and development.

So many of the “symptoms” mirrored every day childlike behavior too:
Dislikes disruptions in routine. Check. Like every kid…
Sensitive about foods or how clothes feel. What 2 year old isn’t?

I tried to dismiss my concerns, telling myself his issues were just due to his premature birth, a quirky personality, and the fact that he’s a boy.

Looking back though, I really didn’t know what to look for. What I didn’t know then was that lists of symptoms on websites like Autism Speaks are very general. Every kid with Autism is different but there are certain signs that I would recognize now if I saw them in my child or perhaps another child.

Here are 10 signs of (High Functioning) Autism that I missed in my son that, looking back, I see were part of his Autistic tendencies:

1. Sensory issues (not just High Energy)

Most boys have a lot of energy. I thought my boys were pretty high energy but figured they were just “being boys.” Looking back, what I realized was not typical was their nearly insatiable need for stimulation (I say “boys” here because it is difficult for me to separate my twins’ behavior sometimes, even though Micah is not on the spectrum. Micah does have ADHD, which overlaps symptomatically with ASD at times).

100_2081.JPG
Such happy little balls of energy (2 years old)

One of our babysitters once told me that Benji used to run and slam into her over and over again. He would fall down laughing, and then rev up for more. She didn’t mind this game but, now, I understand that Benji was trying to stimulate his sensory system by jarring his body over and over again.

My boys would also wrestle constantly. In fact, if we were in the house, they were wrestling. For a few years (ages 3-pre-K) we left every morning to go to a park, etc. because I couldn’t handle the wrestling.
It was literally the only thing they did.
They didn’t even play with toys!

They would only wrestle.

These are just a few examples of Benji’s sensory-seeking behavior, craving movement and bodily sensations in order for him to “feel” the world or “feel” his body moving and working.

2. Sensory issues (not just Pickiness).

About 80% of children on the Autism spectrum have sensory issues; either their sensory systems are under developed and they crave sensory input (like wrestling, swinging,  spinning, or flopping on the couch over and over again), or their systems are over-developed and sensory input feels like an assault to their systems.

Benji has both. He is a Seeker and an Avoider.

I have written a lot about Benji’s auditory sensitivities at church, but even before that, I remember how he would do things like hold his ears and cry if the plates clattered when I was setting the table for dinner.

He is also super-sensitive to certain food textures. He refuses to eat anything wet and lumpy like cereal, oatmeal, applesauce, yogurt with fruit bits, or the dreaded, GRITS
(In fact, he has described grits as one of his “greatest fears.” That’s real grit-hatred, folks).

Another huge issue for us has been clothing, especially pants and shoes. I cannot even count the number of screaming meltdowns he has had because his shoes or pants did not “feel right.”

For a long time, I thought these things were just typical kid-pickiness. Some kids are just picky eaters and fussy about clothes, right?
I remember hating corduroy pants. My  mom made me wear them to kindergarten one day and I hated the way they felt and the noise they made when I walked. I never wore them again.

The thing is though, that I didn’t throw a 40 minute tantrum because my pants didn’t “feel right.” I just didn’t like them.

Sensory sensitivities can overload the system of an Autistic person to the point where he or she cannot not function or communicate.

Tantrums were part of my daily life. I didn’t know how “not normal” it was.*

Not every child with sensory issues has Autism (Sensory Processing Disorder can be a challenging diagnosis all on its own). However, I include Sensory Issues twice because it is such a huge part of the Autism struggle for many people, and I feel like it is not understood or talked about enough when discussing or diagnosing Autism. For more information on Sensory Issues, I recommend The Out of Sync Child by Carol Kranowitz. 

3. Underdeveloped Fine and Gross Motor Skills

100_0788.JPG
My twins, sitting up unassisted for the first time at 10 months

Both my twins have struggled with gross and fine motor skills. As they got into school though, Benji’s struggles became more evident. This struggle is tied to his sensory issues, often not knowing where his body ends and where an object begins (such as holding a pencil and pressing it with appropriate pressure to write on paper).

It seemed like a very  long time before my twins learned how to use a fork and spoon effectively to eat. They also constantly spilled their drinks; we used sippy cups until they were 5 years old.

However, now, my 3 year old never uses a sippy cup and rarely spills his drink, and my 15 month old can use a fork with ease. I didn’t realize my twins had fine motor issues  because I didn’t have anything to compare them too.

In their gross motor development, after my twins learned to walk, both boys were still very unsteady on their feet. They had poor body awareness and fell down constantly. I found myself finding excuses not to go on walks because inevitably, someone was going to fall down and get a bloody knee–cue hysterical crying…again. They had scabs on their knees for months.

Another example: At 8.5 years old, Micah and Benji just learned to ride a bike without training wheels.
IMG_5341
We are so proud! We seriously wondered if it would ever happen, especially due to Benji’s struggles with balance, sensory integration, and gross motor struggles (all of which he now works on in therapy).

In my research, I’ve found that many people with ASD struggle with fine and gross motor skills, or executive planning (thinking and then carrying out an action with appropriate skill and force). But before his diagnosis and my research into ASD, I had no idea.

The signs were there but I didn’t know what I was looking for…

10SignsAutism

…this is just Part 1 of “10 Signs of High Functioning Autism that I missed.”

Part 2 here where I discuss Communication and Listening challenges, Not Pretending, and Not “checking in” while playing

Part 3 later here where I discuss Transitions, Obsessions, and THE MOST IMPORTANT SIGN I missed

Want to read more of our story? Start here!

*All kids throw tantrums, some more than others. However, for us, the tantrums were frequent, over seemingly small things (sensory issues we didn’t realize), excessive, long lasting (20min-2 hours), and my son could not be reasoned with at an age when one can  usually reason with a child (3-4 years old).

Does your child have SPD or ASD?
What were the signs for you?
Share your story below!

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?
If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

© 2016 thebamblog.com ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

Posted in Autism, Autism and Church, Benji's Story, Christianity, Encouragement, Mom Confessions, Uncategorized

God, Autism, and the Fruit of the Gospel

When I was growing up, verses like Matthew 7: 18-19 both baffled and scared me:

A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 

I wanted to be a good tree: But how did I know if I was bearing fruit? And, furthermore, how did I know I was bearing GOOD fruit?

It was all very metaphorical and confusing.

Of course, the fruit that I wanted was the fruit of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness, faithfulness, and self control (Gal. 5:22).

Those were Good Fruits. They had names and actions attached to them. Easy, right?

But I fell into self-doubt over and over again. How did I know if the fruit I was bearing was actually  Good Fruit? What if my efforts at love, peace, and patience were just my human attempts to muscle my way towards Good Moral Character?

If I took a deep breath and didn’t yell at my kids when they spilled their milk on my freshly mopped floors, was I producing Patience?

How could I know if I was actually bearing fruit?

I believe the answer lies within the very nature of fruit itself.
FullSizeRender[1]The defining characteristic of fruit is that it has seeds.* You can’t grow fruit without planting seeds, and all fruit has the ability to reproduce itself because it contains seeds within.

With this foundational nature of fruit in mind, my questions shifted:
Am I planting seeds?
Is the fruit that is growing reproducing itself?

The first question is a bit easier for me to answer. Yes, I am trying to plant seeds. In fact, I’ve been thinking a lot about seeds lately since it’s been a year since I published this post about planting seeds.

When I published this post, I had no idea that a little over a month later, we would be sitting in the kitchen eating breakfast and Micah would ask me, “What does it mean to believe in Jesus?”

So I talked to him about about what it means to make Jesus your king and follow him with your life.
“Do you want to follow Jesus with your life?”
“Yes, I do!”

And Micah made a decision to follow Jesus on May 15, 2015.

I think, for Christian parents, we rejoice in our child’s decision to follow Christ, but we still wonder, “Is this real? Does he really get it?” (Am I alone in my doubts?).

I wondered how I could know that my son’s faith was genuine and not just a child’s attempt to please his parents or go through some sort of religious ritual.

But looking back at this first year of Micah’s faith, I don’t wonder if it was real or not. I know it was real because I’ve seen growth.

He is sprouting all over the place!

I specifically remember one day where he was furious at Benji, mostly because of some of Benji’s Autistic tendencies.
“Benji is such a selfish JERK!” Micah cried.
We had had “a day.” I couldn’t disagree. But what could I say? I dug down deep and found the truth, growing in my heart.
“Honey, sometimes it’s hard to love people, ever brothers. But Benji needs love–he needs you.”
“I don’t want to love him!”
“I know. And I can’t make you love him. But I would like you to think about it and pray about it. Pray for him and ask God to help you know how to love him. Can you do that?”
Micah shrugged and gave a half-way nod.

The next morning he came into the kitchen and said, “Mom, I’m feeling a lot better. And I did! I prayed for Benji! I prayed and asked God to help me love him and understand him. And I do love him. I do!”

IMG_5341.jpg
One loved Benji

And there it was: Fruit. Luscious, juicy, ripe, wonderful, delicious fruit that was full of seeds.
It was fruit from my life, seeds of love that I asked God to give me for Benji that I then planted in Micah’s life.
The seeds germinated and grew in his little fertile heart, a heart that said yes to Jesus and yes to growth.

Micah’s faith is real. It’s growing and producing fruit, with lots and lots of seeds.

I’ve seen his tenderness toward Benji in other ways too.

In January, we joined Awana. Micah has soared (In fact, he just finished his first Sparks book–in 3 months!!)
Benji has struggled.

But there are so many weeks that I hear my twins earnestly conversing in the back seat of the car on the way to Awana: Micah patiently helping Benji with his verses.
“Ok, Benji: Repeat after me.” And they practice together, over and over again.

Week after week, Micah celebrates Benji’s small victories, even accepting less praise over his impressive scripture memorization in the light that “Benji said one verse tonight!”

Last night, as we drove to Awana, the boys practiced again in the back of the car. But the conversation shifted away from the verses Micah was helping Benji memorize to seed scattering.
“Benji, if you believe in God, you will have life with Jesus!” Micah said.
“I do believe in God, Micah!”

I listened intently. I was amazed at Benji’s confession. His Autistic mind is so fixed on the concrete; I honestly wondered if he would ever grasp the abstract concept of an invisible God who loves and cares for him. Coupling his lack of abstract thinking with his hatred of church, I seriously doubted if he would ever come to know and love God.

But for months I have prayed, “God, you made my son. You know how his mind works. I know you can reach him. Help him to come to know you.”

“You do, Benji?” I asked, looking at him in the rear view mirror at a stop light.
“Yes, and I believe in Jesus too! I want to tell God I believe in him and I want to follow Jesus with my life.”
And he did.

I asked him a lot of questions, my heart overflowing, but still tinged with doubt: “Is this real? Does he really get it?”
FruitI have faith that it is.

Benji received new life yesterday. God answered my prayers–I don’t know exactly how but I kept trying, I kept talking, I kept listening, I kept accepting him as he is, and I kept praying. And now? A seed has sprouted and I am going do to my best to cultivate this new growth with love and faith.

Every seed starts with faith. We put it in the ground and bury it, having faith that something will happen if we do. Sometimes seeds grow. Sometimes they don’t. But we have to keep trying because it is only by planting a seed that the fruit has a chance to grow, and in growing, multiplying in others to produce a good, good harvest.

*As opposed to a vegetable, where we eat the root (carrot), leaves (lettuce) or flowers (broccoli).

PS. Some other fruit stories:
The Other Side of Despair
Searching for Beauty
When Holy Desire and Motherhood Collide

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. TheBamBlog is trying to grow!
Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know?

If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in ADHD, Autism, Benji's Story, kids, life, Mom Confessions, Self Care, Special Needs, twins, Uncategorized

Part 2: Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD? Answer: Yes

Yesterday I wrote about our experience of choosing to use medication to meet the needs of our son with ADHD.

Choosing medication was a good decision for Micah.

However, I have two sons with ADHD. Here’s the other half of the story.

IMG_7866-2594328906-O
Two adorable, sweet sillies!

Benji was diagnosed with high functioning Autism in October. Before the official diagnosis, we did a lot of tests, including tests for ADHD. We turned the forms into our doctor but they kind of got lost in the chaos of the Autism diagnosis and we decided to focus our attention on therapies to help Benji’s Autism challenges.

However, a few weeks ago, when we were in a therapy session, Benji’s counselor brought it up: “Have you considered that he might have ADHD?”

I nodded. “We did some tests for that but we never had a conversation. I would say he has ADHD–”

“–I would say so too.” She interjected, kindly.

“–but we kind of just let it lie.” I paused, thinking. “Micah’s on medication and it’s helping him.”

“I can’t make those decisions for you, but medication may help Benji, especially since some of his major frustrations come from not being able to communicate effectively.”

“Yeah, it’s like, when I talk to him, he has to process what I am saying. Then he has to think his response and then how to put that response into words. By the time he starts talking, sometimes he has forgotten what the original question was. It’s really frustrating for him.”

She agreed. “Talk to Dr. A. He’ll give you some advice.”

I thanked her but didn’t make the appointment for a few weeks. It was the same angst of “do we? don’t we?” all over again.

Medication was the right choice for Micah but it was a difficult decision. We did not make it flippantly or lightly. It wasn’t a cop out, or giving up on parenting. Medication doesn’t work like that.

The way ADHD medication works is to simulate the synaptic processes in the brain, the processes that are not firing in healthy patterns. It is a physical challenge that manifests itself through mental and behavioral avenues (The glory of the human body–it is all tied together).

But just because it works for Micah didn’t mean it would work for Benji. Different kid, different parenting, different solutions.

Aaron and I talked about it a lot. One of the reoccurring themes in our conversations about both Micah and Benji was this: We want to do what is best for our kids. We want to be good parents. If we actively deny our child something that could potential help them, does this make us bad parents?

But”Good” and “bad” aside: This decision ultimately wasn’t about US. It was about our son.

Ultimately though, I made the appointment.

I’m glad I did.

Dr. A. discussed the results of the initial ADHD behavior evaluation: “Yes, he definitely has ADHD.”

But, he did not recommend medication for Benji.

“Would it help his attention? Yes. But I don’t recommend this type of medication for kids with Autism because their brains and bodies work different. Anxiety is a big part of Benji’s every day experience. The medication would help him concentrate, and maybe even communicate, but it would up his anxiety. And then we would be in a worse place than where he is right now.”

It all made sense to me. I trust what Dr. A. said, as he is a developmental MD who is an expert in Autism, ADHD, and a many other challenges that kids face.

Even more than trusting an expert though, I trust my own observations about Benji.

Yes, he does have anxiety, sometime debilitating, and we we have a weekly therapy regimen and a bag of parenting tools to help with his anxiety (and many other challenges).

I don’t want to do anything to compromise his growth.
IMG_7939-2594342979-OSo, here’s the bottom line. I have identical twins who both have ADHD.
One is on medication
One is not.

Choosing medication to treat your child’s ADHD is not a one size fits all solution, even for two kids in the same family, even if they are twins.

Only you, and your team of supportive professionals, can decide what is best for your child, what will help him grow, thrive, and be the best version of himself, and ultimately what will help you both have the healthiest relationship together as parent and child.

So, the question is: Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD?

For us, the answer, not-so-simply, is Yes.

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you. Please share your experiences below! I’d love to read a part of your story.

TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

 

Posted in ADHD, Autism, Benji's Story, boys, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, Self Care, Special Needs, twins, Uncategorized

Should I medicate or NOT medicate my child’s ADHD? Answer: Yes

When we were going through the Child Study process and Autism diagnosis with Benji, one of the steps was to “test” for ADHD.

I put “test” in quotes because diagnosing ADHD is not a test, per se. Rather, the diagnosis is based on observations and meeting certain behavior criteria.

We got a Parent form and two Teacher forms from the developmental doctor at the Autism Center and my husband and I answered 55 questions. Here are a few examples:

Avoids, dislikes, or does not want to start tasks that require ongoing mental effort
Is forgetful in daily activities
Is “on the go” or often acts as if “driven by a motor”
Interrupts or intrudes in on others’ conversations and/or activities”
Is fearful, anxious or worried
Blames self for problems or feels guilty
Rate relationships with peers (1-5)

His regular ed and special ed teachers filled out these forms too.

We turned them in our doctor but they kind of got lost in the middle of the Autism diagnosis and we decided to focus our attention on therapies to help Benji’s Autism challenges.

But while we were going through the questionnaire for Benji, I turned to Aaron and said, “Seriously, Micah (Benji’s twin brother) seems to have more of these issues than Benji does.”
My husband agreed.

But we needed more “proof.” One of the criteria for diagnosing ADHD is that it has to manifest itself in two settings, like home and school. So I printed off a general list of “symptoms” from good ol’ Google and took it to our parent teacher conference at the beginning of the year.

We sat in small plastic chairs at a low table. I pushed the paper over to Micah’s teacher, a very experienced educator with a special education background. “I was wondering, are you seeing any of these behaviors in the classroom?”

She quickly perused the list, smiled a little, looked up at us and said, “Yes.” She then explained that she adored him as a person and loved him as her student. But we knew, as well as she did, that he was getting in trouble on a daily basis for impulsive behaviors.

IMG_4386
The day Micah got a Character Award at school

He would come home, crestfallen because he “lost another letter” that day at school. It became a daily announcement. When I would gently ask him what happened and why he acted the way he did, he just looked at me, wide-eyed and baffled at his own behavior, “I don’t know.”

So, I made an appointment with our pediatrician and we filled out the same forms for Micah that we had for Benji.

In addition to turning in the parent and teacher questionnaires, Micah also had a physical, a hearing test, and an eye test, just to rule out any physical challenges. He was healthy and could see and hear perfectly.

Our pediatrician agreed that Micah definitely showed strong tendencies of attention deficit disorder, as well as hyperactivity.

Next, we scheduled an hour-long, two parent consultation with our doctor about “options.”

The million dollar question was, of course, “How do you feel about medication?”

The whole diagnosis process took about a month, so I had been contemplating this question for about this long…in reality, probably longer.

For a long time, I didn’t really know how I felt about medication. Like a lot of people, I thought ADHD was primarily the combination of strong-willing (naughty?) kids and poor parenting.

And I “treated” my son…and myself accordingly.

But disciplining my son more or even trying creative and alternative approaches didn’t work.

So I looked for other solutions:

More exercise provided a momentary outlet but didn’t help his insatiable energy levels long term (I wished I had a recording of myself hollering “STOP WRESTLING GO RUN AROUND THE HOUSE!”).

IMG_7866-2594328906-O
Taking out artificial dyes and greatly reducing sugar in his diet didn’t do anything.

Essential oils helped him to focus on homework some days, but not on others.

Nothing helped him with other challenges:
Listening (I often wondered about his hearing!)
Following multi-step directions (sometimes completing one-step directions was impossible without 4-5 reminders)
Forgetfulness
An inability to play by himself
Ordering his thoughts and speech into coherent communication

These may seem like small issues but, when taken all together, every day, in simply trying to communicate simple directions (let alone having meaningful conversation) the impact was crushing because healthy communication often felt impossible.

But even more than all these exasperating behaviors was the fact that I knew that our relationship was suffering because I was so frustrated.

I confessed as much to our doctor, embarrassed and ashamed.

And his response hit me in the gut.

“Sometimes medicating ADHD is better than screaming at your child all the time.”

He’s right. I thought. Because that’s me.  What we’re doing is NOT working. Something needs to change.

I was trying to do all the right things. I was trying to be patient and loving and give him a healthy, happy childhood. But I had reached the end of myself.

Our relationship was failing. Not because I was a failure as a parent or because he was a failure as an 8 year old boy, but because we needed to address his very real mental challenges with new solutions.

So after much research, many conversations, prayer, consulting with our doctor, and considering what was the Best Thing for Micah and our relationship with him, we decided to fill the prescription.

I’m glad we did.

The medication didn’t turn him into a zombie or change his personality. Instead, it helps bring his state of being down a few notches: Instead of operating on a scale of 8-10 on a daily basis, the medication brings him down to a reasonable 5-7 range.

He and Benji still wrestle, but when I tell them to stop, they stop (most of the time). The manic I-must-slam-my-body-into-something-or-someone is tempered.

When Micah comes home from school every day, the first thing he tells me is this: “No letters lost today!” And he smiles, proudly.
IMG_4389The most significant aid the medication gives him is his ability to capture and order his thoughts and words, to listen and follow instructions, and to be able to attend to a conversation for a productive length of time.

I can actually tell when the medication is wearing off in the evenings (it wears off daily. It is not an addictive substance), mostly because his speech transforms into one non-sequitur after the other. His ability to follow directions (put your shoes away) crumbles too.

Other than a reduced appetite at lunch (at breakfast and dinner he is a hearty eater),  a few days of disrupted sleep the first week he took the meds, and a bit of evening moodiness every now and then, there have been no other side effects.

Medicating our son’s ADHD was not a simple or easy solution. In fact, the way our health insurance works right now, it is crazy-expensive (over $5 per day).

The medication doesn’t replace the discipline, training, redirecting, love and patience he needs every day. It doesn’t control my son or replace good parenting practices.

But treating my son’s ADHD with medication helps me to have a better relationship with him on a daily basis. The end result is more love for this precious boy I’ve been given.

And love is always worth it in the end.

This isn’t the end of the story. Remember those forms we filled out for Benji’s ADHD? We just revisited his diagnosis…with a very different decision.

To be continued…

 

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.
TheBamBlog is trying to grow! Did this post encourage you or would it inspire someone you know? If so, please share! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Mom Confessions, Own your Story, therapy, Uncategorized

We do therapy because someday he’ll be on his own

It was our testing day for Speech Therapy. I sat in a child’s chair at a low table, Benji on my right hand side.

The therapist prepped him: “I’m going to ask you a series of questions.”
And we began.

“You and a friend want to watch TV. You want to watch Ninja Turtles but your friend wants to watch Space Racers. What’s the problem?”

“I like Ninja Turtles!” Benji said enthusiastically. “But Silas doesn’t. He’s three.”

My mind raced. He had rarely, if ever, watched TV with a friend. But he watches TV with his brothers! “Well, let’s say you and Silas wanted to watch Super Why and you wanted to watch Octonauts. Why would this be a problem?”

“But I like Ninja Turtles, but I like Space Racers too. We can watch Ninja Turtles and then watch Octonauts.”

The therapist concluded the segment. “And why would that be a good idea?”

“Because I like them,” Benji answered.

She went on. “You and a friend want to ride bikes. Your friend wants to go to the school play ground, but you want to go to the park. What’s the problem?”

Pause. He had twisted in his seat and was staring at the colorful posters on the walls.

“Benji?” I prompted. “Did you hear what she said? If you need her to repeat the question, just ask.”

He turned around and asked. She repeated the question.

“We can both ride bikes.” Benji replied. “I got a new bike! And I have an Angry Birds helmet!”

“But your friend wants to go to the school playground and you want to go to the park. What’s the problem?”

He didn’t answer he question about “the problem” but I knew what a problem was: He thinks “playground” and “park” are the same thing.

“Benji,”  I interjected. “I know a lot of times we play at the school play ground but it is different than a park.”

The therapist looked at me and said gently and respectfully. “I can’t have you jump in. If you prompt him, it will distort the results of the testing.

Blood rushed to my face. I nodded and swallowed hard, chastised. But I understood.

So I watched and listened. At times, I don’t know who was squirming more: Me or Benji.

A realization washed over me as I sat in agonizing silence as Benji struggled to interpret and answer question after question (in 15 “what is the problem” questions, he could not identify even once that the problem was “we want different things”).

It is second nature for me to jump in and help him communicate. I know when he is confused, which words trip him up, when I need to repeat a question, or when I need to interpret his feelings for him or reinterpret a scenario so he can understand it more clearly.

It isn’t a perfect science; in fact, we probably have a 60/40 success/failure rate with our communication but over the years, I’ve forged tools to help us both cope.

I knew that our session today was just a test, a baseline. I knew we were in a safe, controlled environment, but I felt completely helpless.

I bit my tongue, at times, literally because it was so hard for me to not jump in and help him. My own back ached with the stress of seeing him carry the burden of his inability to communicate.  The disconnect, without all of my normal prompts to hold him together, was so hugely real that it brought tears to my eyes.

I pressed my lips together. This is what it’s like for him, when I’m not around.

This realization reverberated through me, its concentric rings pulsing, widening, until I could see my son as an adult, and my heart broke as I saw him still struggling with communication and relationships, far beyond my everyday aid.

No! I can’t let this happen.
IMG_4432
No. I’m not going to let this happen.

I blinked away my tears, and was back in the present. I put the pieces of myself back together because I knew the truth.

I’m not always going to be around. Someday, I really won’t be able to jump in. He’ll be on his own.

So that’s why we were in this room, this test, this therapy session right now when he is 8 years old.

I can’t help him on my own. That’s why we do therapy: It’s our bridge to Someday, the Someday when he’ll be on his own.

Yes, he struggles right now, and so do I, but each day, with the right tools and strategies, we are making the choice to get stronger, both for today and tomorrow too.

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, Christianity, Encouragement, life, Mom Confessions, Special Needs, Uncategorized

Amazing Grace in the McDonald’s Drive-Thru

I was already on shaky emotional ground when I left to take Benji to therapy. It’s never a good sign when you break down and cry on the phone with your Health Insurance agent.

Why is insurance so freakin’ hard to understand?
Can you please explain what you are saying in plain English?
Why are they not covering these therapies for my son?
Why am I having to choose between helping my son and paying our bills?

My thoughts ran ragged but I tried to be polite on the phone, “I’m not annoyed at you…it’s just this situation…” I told the agent.

I found a roll of toilet paper on my night stand, tore off a wad and swiped my cheeks and nose.

Crap. It is 10:37. I have to pick up Benji at 10:40.

I rushed out the door.

When I got to school, I realized that I forgot to pack him lunch and because his appointment is over the lunch hour, he would miss school lunch by the time he got back.

I texted my husband: #failfailfail

He tried to bolster my spirits: Try not to stress. Just pick up food on the way home.

Armed with a stack of papers bills and insurance statements, I sent my 8 year old to therapy while I waited my turn to talk to the billing woman at the Autism Center.

She was kind and encouraging but I didn’t get any answers today. Soon. (the story of my life. This saga needs to end soon).

A misunderstanding when Benji came out of therapy sent him bolting outside. I had to chase him down the sidewalk; I didn’t even get a chance to hear  how his appointment went from his therapist.

“How about we get lunch out? McDonalds?”

And he was all smiles; his bad mood floated away. If only the pressures of motherhood could melt away so easily.

The clock was ticking down. I had 23 minutes to get food for Benji, then drive to the other side of town to pick up my 3 year old from preschool by noon. It was going to be tight.

I quickly ordered a Big Kids chicken nugget meal from the drive through, breathing a sigh of relief that there was only one car in front of us in line.

Then I reached in my purse for my wallet…

…and remembered that it was on my bed at home, my insurance cards strewn about on the bedspread.

No. no no no no. Wait! Checkbook. Please, please take checks!

I pulled up to the window. “Do you take checks?” My voice was shaking, falsely cheerful.

“No, we don’t.”

And everything crumpled: my shoulders, my head, my whole body sagged and I burst into tears.

“Oh, oh! Don’t be upset!” The young woman in the drive-thru window exclaimed.

“I don’t have any money!” I sobbed. “I don’t have lunch for my son! I left my wallet at home…it was the insurance…I was on the phone with them and…and this is just the worst day ever!”

I was blabbering like an idiot, tears streaming down my face.

“Hold on, hold on!” She dashed away from the window.

All I could do was hold my temples between my thumb and forefinger and cry.

She was back. “I got this. We got this. Don’t worry about paying today.”

Oh….

The tears fell harder. “Oh…no…! No! Please, you don’t have to do that…! I–”

“Now, then! You are going to make me cry! I have kids too. It’s ok. You’re going to be ok. Today is going to get better, you’ll see.”

I pulled forward and my wet, streaming eyes were met by another women’s, whose face held compassion and tenderness as she handing me a Happy Meal box and a bottle of chocolate milk for my baby.
FullSizeRenderThank you,” I gulped, my voice cracking. “Thank you.”

I pulled out of the parking lot, my eyes still blurred with tears as I turned my heart-gaze heavenward:

Thank you.

It was a gift of amazing, unmerited, overflowing grace in the McDonald’s Drive-Thru.

Posted in Autism, Benji's Story, boys, Expectations, kids, Mom Confessions, Uncategorized

You are exactly the right mother for your child (and why you should believe it)

 “You are exactly the mother that your child needs.”

Since I became a mother, this phrase has grated on my nerves because I have struggled to see myself as the “right” mother for my children. If I hadn’t ushered them into the world (I was there, I promise!) I would really wonder if they were mine.

They don’t look like me (God bless those strong Daddy-genes!).
They don’t act like me.
Most days, they don’t want to do the activities I want to do (see FB post from 2011 below, when my twins were 4).
Screen Shot 2016-02-23 at 7.54.24 AM
Even deeper than activities, looks, and actions though is that, in my struggle to connect with my sons, particularly my twins, I constantly came up short.

I felt like we were two magnets, pressed together at opposite poles, something invisible keeping us apart.

When we got Benji’s Autism diagnosis, the felt disconnect made more sense, but it was replaced with a rush of “I-don’t-know-if-I-can-do-this?” insecurity. Many days, I feel a profound hopelessness, my bag of parenting empty as I keep trying to connect with a little boy whose brain works differently than mine.

Benji and I don’t have a lot of things in common. I’m not an “activity person.”Even physical connection is hard sometimes.

My connection with Benji is especially tenuous because I am a words person.
I thrive on language. But Benji struggles to communicate.
Talking exhausts and frustrates him…and many times, because it is so difficult for him to share daily events, tell me about his feelings, and sometimes even make sense, I get frustrated too.

My strengths don’t translate to his needs.

The other day, Benji had a meltdown at school. His primary teacher wasn’t around when it happened so I had to piece together what happened. Our conversation went a little like this.

“Benji, what happened at school?”
“I was really angry.”
“What made you upset?”
“I was upset because I was angry.”
“I understand. But what made you angry in the first place?”
“I was just really upset.”
“Can you tell me what happened?”
“Mom, did you know that the fire Pokemon can shoot fireballs?”
“I did not know that. But I don’t want to talk about Pokemon right now. Tell me what happened at school when you got angry.”
Pause. “I didn’t want to play the game.”
“Ok. What were you doing when…wait! Come back in here! We aren’t done talking!”
“Hey check out this Lego rocket I built! Pretty cool, huh?”
“Very cool. So, why didn’t you want to play the game?”
“Because I threw the cards.”
“Ok, so why did you throw the cards?”
“Because I was really so mad!”

And so we went on. For twenty minutes I probed, pushed, use different word combinations, asked different questions, pulled him back to the topic, and finally, finally realized that he got upset because he didn’t understand the directions.

“So, when you didn’t understand the directions, did you ask your teacher to explain them again?”
Pause. “No, I did not.”
Ah! A lightbulb! “Honey, I understand why you got upset. Sometimes I get angry too when–”
“Like Anger! Graaaaaaahhhhh!” he screamed. He loves Inside Out. “I went down the Anger Path!”
“It’s true. But when you feel confused, you don’t have to go down the Anger Path. Instead, you can ask your teacher to repeat the directions. You can ask for help.”
“Can I go play now?”
“Did you hear what I said? You can ask for help. I want you to try that the next time you feel frustrated…”
And he was gone. Like most of our conversations, I wasn’t sure if this one stuck.

But the next day, he came home from school and said:
“Hey Mom! I did what you said. I was confused and I started to go down the Anger Path. But instead, I asked her to say the directions again. And I went down the Joy Path!”
“Benji! I am so proud of you!”
“One Anger orb, three joy orbs.”
“So you were still a little frustrated.”
“Yeah, but I asked for help and I was happy!”
“Good! Good!

It was very Good. I was amazed, actually. It is not often that I see a tangible result of a conversation we have, especially so immediately.

I was relating this conversation to my mom on the phone a few days ago and she said, “See, Brittany? You are exactly the right mother for him!”

All of my old insecurity, doubt and failures rushed upon me when she said that jarring phrase.

But before I could protest, she went on. “Remember when you  were a little girl? Oh, how you made me laugh when you said, “Mom, I like to think!”
And you still do. You are creative and you thought about the way you think and the way Benji thinks. You knew the words to help him communicate and find his words. And see? It worked. He did it.”

I thought my strengths didn’t translate to his needs, but I’ve realized that my strengths are not just in words or communicating. They are in rolling around in another person’s thoughts, in seeing the perspective of another mind and soul, and in really thinking through the heart of the matter.

It’s one reason why I was a stellar English Major. But all those “English skills” are now helping me parent my little boy.

A little bit of faith has crept into my insecure soul, faith that God knew what he was doing when he put me and Benji together.

Right Mother
photo by Sabrena Deal

Being the right mother for your children doesn’t mean that it will be easy. It just means that you–with all your talents, skills, personal history, and strengths–are the right person for the job.