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?!

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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).

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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

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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.
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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…

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…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

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Posted in boys, Learning Disabilities, Motherhood, Reading, Uncategorized

We read Harry Potter!! (and why it’s a big deal)

Once upon a time there was a girl who loved stories. She loved them so much that she “wrote” stories before she even knew how to write (her drawing abilities were not as amazing has her story telling skills but her mother didn’t let her think otherwise).

Her mother loved stories too and she and the little girl spent hours upon hours of her childhood snuggled on the couch reading books together.

The little girl grew up and her love for stories grew up too. She decided to throw all practical thought to the wind and major in reading stories (also known as an English major) not only for one college degree, but for TWO!

Although the girl was woefully underemployed after college, she had big dreams for her future. She dreamed of sharing her love of stories with her sons, who surely would love to read just as much as she did.

Alas, this was not to be.
The little boys she birthed were very different from their mother. They did not like reading.
They did not enjoy sitting still.
Listening was hard for many, many reasons.
They were not interested in words.
They were only mildly entertained by pictures that did not move.

What they really liked to do was wrestle.

The mother felt confused, sad, and, as the years went by, she teetered on the edge of hopelessness. She wondered if she would ever be able to share the same love of stories with her children that she shared with her own mother.

It was a deep, deep desire of her heart.

One day, not very long ago, the mother stood in front of a shelf at the library.
Should I? She asked herself, her hand hovering over a book. It was one of her favorites. Maybe…maybe? Maybe this time…

She decided to keep trying.

She checked Harry Pottery and the Sorcerer’s Stone by J.K. Rowling out from the library.

Her boys were not as eager as she was. But the mother used her magical mother-ways to convince them to read, “just one chapter.”

At the end of the chapter, her heart racing with delight, she turned to her sons and said, “Well…? Should we go on?

“Nah,” they replied and started to wrestle.

But the mother did not teeter into that pit of hopelessness. She had become strong in her years of trying. She simply put a bookmark in the book and made them sit down and read the next night. And the next. And the next.

And slowly, slowly, they asked for two chapters. Then three.

The mother felt wickedly delighted in denying their pleas, telling them “No, it’s time for bed. But we will read more tomorrow!” knowing that they were hooked.

And so the boys grew to love Harry, Ron, and “the girl.” They hated Snape and wished to turn him into a toad. They were terrified of Voldemort. (They couldn’t remember who Neville was, and referred to Malfoy as “the bully” but the mother let those details slide).

And last night, they finished the WHOLE BOOK, A WHOLE CHAPTER BOOK.

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It bears repeating: The girl who loved stories was able to share that love with her sons and they read a WHOLE BOOK TOGETHER. And the boys loved it too.

In fact, as one of her sons said, “That was amazing! And now we can read the next one.”

And the heart of the girl who loved stories was very, very full.

The End.

Posted in Adult Homeschoolers Series, Autism, Education, kids, Learning Disabilities, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, public school, Uncategorized

I love my children enough not to homeschool

I was homeschooled and I loved it. My mother was passionate about homeschooling and viewed it as her chosen vocation when my siblings and I were growing up.

All my best friends were homeschooled by women who were as passionate and dedicated as my mother.

Although I don’t remember it being said in so many words, I somehow gleaned this message in my growing up years, a message about motherhood and truly loving your children.
It went something like this: Good mothers homeschool their children. If you really love your children, you will homeschool them.

After all, my mother really loved us and she really loved to homeschool. And I loved being homeschooled. It was just logical.

I loved to learn and I loved everything “school.”
My children would too.

But my twins were not like me.

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Beautiful, boundless energy (photo by Sabrena Carter Deal)

I had to bribe them to sit and listen to me read; they hated coloring, and could not care less about the “Letter O” worksheet. Trying to teach them to write their names usually ended with somebody crying. They struggled to hold scissors and were bored with clay and play dough.
Frustration and impatience ruled my days.
But I was determined. I would be a good mother. I Just needed to be more creative.

I made crafts for them, sewing, pasting, and folding unique and educational toys. But it was almost laughable how quickly they lost interest or ripped apart (usually accidentally) all my carefully planned projects.

I grew a thicker skin but deep down I doubted my abilities to teach them. So, I dug down even deeper and tried harder, harder.
But it didn’t work.
Nothing worked.
They resisted me at every turn.
I finally gave up. I reached an all-time educational low and I was so fed up that I didn’t even care: I resorted to a DVD to teach them phonics (LeapFrog Letter Factory) and what do you know? They loved it–and it worked.

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How I felt most days (photo by Sabrena Carter Deal)

All I could do was shake my head and say, “Whatever. Whatever.
But it hurt because I realized a DVD was doing a better job than I was.

The year they turned 5 I reached a terrifying crossroad: Homeschool or public school?
The pressure was crushing:

Good mothers homeschool their children.
If you want the best education for your children, you will homeschool.
If you really love your children, you would want to homeschool.

But I had tried and tried and tried to do all the right things and at the end of the day, it was just too hard. I did not want to homeschool. I tried to put on a brave, happy face but I felt like a failure.

They loved public school.  It was a good fit and we were blessed with amazing teachers.

Maybe my boys learn better from other people, I conceded.

The summer before first grade I was determined that Kindergarten would not fall out of their brains so I made them practice their new-found reading, math, and hand writing skills each day.

And most days, it was awful. Sure, we had some good moments, but overall, the frustration, head-butting, and fights over those stupid summer lessons, chip, chip, chipped away at my mother-worth.

Pretty soon, the thought that I would ever be “that mom” was  laughable. I can’t even do summer worksheets with my kids without losing my mind–homeschool?! Bahahaha!

I felt like I wasn’t enough. If I was, then I would homeschool, because that is what good, dedicated, passionate, creative mothers did. And I knew–I knew–I was all of those things but the disconnect between myself and my sons infuriated and baffled me.

The first week of first grade, my wounded soul came pouring out at a ladies church group.
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I burst into tears. It was the angst of back to school, of doubting the public school decision again, and the fact that 9/10 of my personal friends homeschooled their kids: why couldn’t I?

“I don’t feel like a good mom…because I don’t even want to homeschool!” I wiped my cheeks and shrugged. “But, I mean, really. If I homeschooled my boys, I would kill them!” A laugh bubbled out and everyone at the table joined me.

A wise, older woman–a mother, grandmother, and teacher–quickly quipped, “Well, then–there you have it. You love your kids enough not to homeschool.”
Homeschool

I laughed at her cleverness but the truth of her words shocked me. A peace slowly began to sooth that long-forged wound.

The peace grew deeper when we learned that Benji has a language processing learning disability.
Then my hindsight sharpened to 20/20 when Benji was diagnosed with high-functiong Autism and Micah with ADHD, just very recently, as they are both now in 2nd grade.

Slowly and suddenly, all our struggles from all those years just made sense.

My sons’ needs are complex, both as individuals and twins, but their needs are being met in their separate classrooms with their great teachers and support staff at their public school. Someday, our situation may change, and another schooling option may be best. But for now, public school is exactly what they need.

It’s exactly what I need.

I have finally accepted the truth:
I love my children, but I don’t need to homeschool to prove it to them…or myself.

Posted in Autism, Christianity, Learning Disabilities, life, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Special Needs, Uncategorized

How do you define patience?

“God, give me patience” is a prayer that I refuse to pray.

Why ? Because I’m not stupid.
I know if I pray for patience that God is going to give me situations that require patience, and I don’t need any more of those. 😉

But God doesn’t buy my reverse psychology. Life is complex and “situations” abound.

I used to think, “Once I get through the ‘terrible threes,’ my life will be easier” or “Someday I’ll have more patience.”

I would look at mothers of special needs kids and think, “Wow. I could never do what she does. She has the patience of a saint.” Then I would sigh wistfully, and think, I will never, ever be able to do that.

I never stopped to consider how a saint acquired such virtue.

But now I have kids with special needs and I’ll tell you the secret, though it isn’t very glamourous.

How do you become more patient? You have to be willing to suffer.

Kind of a gut check, isn’t it?

Most days, I spend a lot of energy avoiding suffering. It’s why I  made my twins use sippy cups until they were 5 and why naptime is non-negotiable for my 3 year old.
It’s why I stern-facedly warn my boys,  “DO NOT SPLASH IN THE TUB” before every bath…

…because i just don’t have the patience to deal with spilled drinks, whiny children, and flooded bathrooms.

But then there are the big things, like communication breakdowns, learning disabilities, sensory meltdowns, and Autism.

A lid, a nap, or a warning won’t “fix” these problems. They are complicated, unpredictable, and difficult. They are constant and pervasive.
And, yet, they catch me off guard, and destroy my attempts at patience at every turn.

It’s the big things that cause real suffering, for both me and my children.

I need patience, but for a long time I operated on the understanding that patience was just holding it together until I eventually snapped.

That’s it!
I’m done.
Mom is done.
Patience is DONE!

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Mary Engelbreit asked me to be the model when she drew the picture of this mother

And yet, I fervently desire the perseverance James talks about:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds,  because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. (James 1:2-4)

I want to be mature and complete, but can I be honest? I don’t want the trial.

I want the fruit of patience (Galatians 5:22-23) but I balk against the idea of “long-suffering.”

I constantly feel my own failure. I wonder how I can even say “I love you” to my sons, when I constantly fall short of the first definition of true love: “Love is patient.” (I. Cor. 13:4).

So I stopped praying for patience (Little good it was doing anyway).
I prayed instead for other things:
I prayed that I could understand how Benji’s mind worked.
I prayed that my heart would be tender, instead of hard, toward my sons.
I prayed that I could love them unconditionally.

And slowly, a new definition of patience formed in my mind.

Patience: def. The willingness to suffer.

Simply redefining patience, (or really, coming to a true understanding Biblical patience) has helped me to step away from my own grit-your-teeth patience, and into an others-focused Love for my children.

Because, let’s face it, motherhood is full of suffering, and in many moments, there is a choice: Either I am going to suffer, or I am going to make my children suffer.

I can say, “It’s ok, honey. Just get a towel. I’ll help you clean up the milk” and absorb the suffering of the moment.

Or I can make my child suffer with my impatience by scolding, huffing, and berating his clumsiness.

With Benji, I’ve learned that when I yell, he falls apart; he can’t listen to me and he just shuts down, sometimes for a long time.

Homework is one of our constant struggles. When he gets stuck on a problem or word, he often takes his frustration out on me. He balks, throws things, breaks pencils, growls, screams, shouts “NO” repeatedly, and refuses to move forward.

It’s really hard.

I have blown up so many, many times when this happens. I lose my cool, my sanity, my patience. And then we are in a worse place, with a broken mother and son, a huge, angry wedge in our relationship, all over a subtraction problem.

But instead of manufacturing my usual “Patience Bomb” (tick, tick tick, BOOM!), I am trying to focus on him, on us, on our relationship. While I don’t let him disrespect or abuse me, I am trying a different way.

I say, “I know it’s hard. Would you like me to help you?”

Sometimes I step away, so I don’t slip into scolding and shouting.

I dig down deep, in the place where prayer resides, breathe to calm my racing heart, and tell myself, I am willing to suffer in this moment, for the sake of my son, for the sake of our relationship, for the sake of love.

There is no perseverance without the trial.
There is no Spirit-fruit without suffering.

It is the willingness to suffer that opens the gateway to that saint-like patience I so desire. And it’s worth it, because relationship is my goal, and Love is the foundation, the means, and the prize.

Posted in Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, Motherhood, My Motherhood

When the Learning Gates are Closed: Searching for Answers

This is our story of discovering how to parent and educate our son in the best way possible. It is scary to write about this topic because it is intensely personal and it concerns my child, whom I always want to treat with respect. However, my goal in writing down our story is to give other families hope and direction. If you need hope and direction in your parenting journey, welcome. I share our story for you. 

You can read Part 1 of Benji’s Story here.  

After I talked to the teacher at the Back to School night, I wavered between feeling unsettled and proud of myself for “doing the right thing.” I DID do the right thing–I said something to the teacher. The ball was in her court. She would observe and make recommendations as the educational professional. I looked forward to hearing her thoughts at the Nine Week parent-teacher conference.



Nine weeks passed.
I left the conference feeling confused and irritated.
I had talked, shared my concerns, again….but I didn’t feel heard.
I had asked questions…but didn’t get clear answers.
I had requested her opinions about my son…but she never “got around” to sharing them.
She wanted to “wait and see.”

I had thrown the ball. She was supposed to throw it back, right? But I realized after the meeting that she had not caught my concern. The ball was still in my hands.

I didn’t want to wait. I needed to search for answers myself.

First I wanted to rule out any physical problems. We took Benji for an eye exam. He had a slight astigmatism but he didn’t need glasses. I checked that off my to-list.

But what was the next step? I literally felt paralyzed. I needed answers but I didn’t even know what questions to ask. Finally, on October 4, 2014, I wrote a facebook post in a private moms group I belonged to.

“Moms, my husband and I have been concerned about our son (now in 1st grade) for over a year that he may have a learning disability, such as dyslexia. I have spoken to teachers, etc. and we are monitoring but I am leaning toward trying to get him officially tested. Someone recommended Hutcherson Early Learning Center as a testing location but this resource seems like it is just for pre-school children. Can anyone offer some direction for me? I can’t ignore the signs or my intuition on this.” 

Information came pouring in. Some recommend this testing center or that service. Others shared their stories of how they went through special education testing. One mom gave me a link to the Virginia Special Education Guide. I clicked through but was so overwhelmed that the only thing I grasped from the handbook was that I needed write a formal letter to the school if I wanted them to conduct testing. 

I felt like the school was ignoring my son (this actually wasn’t true, but it was how I felt last school year) since the teacher wasn’t seeing what we were seeing. I needed another way to get answers before I wrote any formal letters. 

One mom said she had her son tested by a woman in town who was a “lay-expert” in dyslexia. She had traversed these waters with her two sons, both severely dyslexic, and now her sons were grown, in college, and successful! I got her information and wrote her a message on Facebook: 

Hello Ms. _____ I am sorry to contact you about a formal issue in such an informal way as facebook but your name was given to me by several mom friends about testing for dyslexia. I was wondering if you still do official testing for learning issues such as this.
My husband and I have been noticing issues with our son, Benji (1st grade) since last year such as: 

1. Inverting numbers/letters when writing
2. Sounding out words backwards or from the middle letter
3. Writing words backwards Writing words of a sentence completely out of order
4. Not being able to read common sight words, even after just seeing the word Etc.
Benji is at ________elementary school. I have spoken to teachers but have not gotten the information, ideas, or support about how to help him with these issues.
I would love to speak with you more, if you have the time. Thank you!

I wondered if I was crazy sending that message. I wondered if I was just making things up. I wondered if I was doing the right thing. But in the middle of all my self-doubt, I took the first step.

She contacted me within a few days and we set up a meeting for testing on October 20.

The testing was very interesting and actually fun for Benji. She had him read and write for her, as well as repeat strings of words, directions, and re-tell a story. He did balancing exercises, eye tracking, and threw a ball with his right and left hand, as well as other tests.  We spend almost two hours with her.

“So, do you think he is dyslexic?” I asked, as Benji played Angry Birds with one of her grown sons on his iPhone.

Her eyes and voice softened. “It isn’t that simple. Dyslexia is actually difficult to diagnosis and I am only an expert on my own children. One of the formal marks of dyslexia is “being behind two grade levels in reading.” Since he is only in first grade, it is difficult to know…or assign terms.” 

Then she talked about Learning Gates. She used this term to describe how the brain responds to four different avenues of learning:  visual, auditory, writing, and spatial (how one’s body moves in a given space).

Her initial assessment shocked me: “From the tests, it seems to me that most of his learning gates are partially, if not fully, closed.”

“What does that mean?” I asked.

“It means that the right and left sides of the brain are not communicating with each other through wide open pathways. His pathways, or gates, are shut. When something is blocking that gate, learning cannot happen.”

I nodded, taking it all in. It was like trying to swallow the ocean.

She wrote up an official report so I could share the results of her assessment with his teachers, etc.

We got the next 9 week report card: The results were not good. So many U’s. (Unsuccessful). My heart was breaking for my little boy.

I scheduled another meeting with the teacher. Again, despite all my best communication efforts, I felt like we were not on the same page. She seemed nervous and intimidated. She didn’t hold my my concerns with the weight that I held them. I felt the strange need to soothe her during our meeting, when in reality, I was one who needed to be reassured. I told her that I would email her a copy of the testing results.

I forgot to send the email. By now it was late autumn and I was very pregnant with our fourth son. The holidays pounced and consumed my time and thoughts. My belly grew larger and my due date crept closer. 

I tried to carve out the mental space to think about Benji. I unearthed the Virginia Special Education Guide and read about how to request formal evaluation: I needed to write a letter and give it to the administration. 
I read about my legal rights: After my formal request, the school was required, by law, to refer my request for evaluation to a special education team. 
The team was required to contact me within 3 days to let me know if they would evaluate my son. Once they decided to evaluate, we would be on a 60 day time line for the testing.

I decided to write a letter.

To be continued….
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More Posts about our Journey

When Silence is Full of Words
It Means You need to be Strong and Brave: Telling my Son about his Learning Disabilities
Reading Sucks

Posted in Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, Motherhood, My Motherhood

If you think something is wrong, trust your gut

This is our story of discovering how to parent and educate our son in the best way possible. It is scary to write about this topic because it is intensely personal and it concerns my child, whom I always want to treat with respect. However, my goal in writing down our story is to give other families hope and direction. If you need hope and direction in your parenting journey, welcome. I share our story for you. 

I remember conversations I had with my husband last summer, 2014.

“He’s really struggling. I tried having him read to me today. It was miserable. He has to sound each word out, even if we just read it two seconds ago. Or he keeps starting with the middle sound or the end sound. He gets so angry.”

“Is he still doing the reversals?”

“Yeah.”

“I noticed that too, but when we were doing some number stuff last night.”

“Do you think I should say something to his new teacher?”

“I don’t know. Maybe.”

I didn’t really know what to do. I knew that lots of Kindergarten, and even 1st grade, students have trouble with reading and reversals at times. But I had that little niggling feeling.

And this time, I decided not to ignore it.

I say “this time” because I have had that feeling about my son in the past, a feeling that made me knit my brows and say “hmm…I wonder…” Other times I would throw up my hands in frustration and wonder which one of us was riding the crazy train (probably both).

 Even when Benji was two years old, my husband said, “There’s just something…I don’t know. That kid’s unique.”

We talked about how Benji lived in his own little world. We described him as “quirky,” “zany,” and “his own person.” We joked with him: “Which planet are you on today, Benji?” And he would answer us–in great detail! Oh, his little sense of humor!

But I struggled to understand him.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve covertly googled “Autism symptoms,” “Learning disabilities,” and “Dyslexia.” I’ve scrolled through dozens of lists, articles, stories  but have always come up short: “No. He doesn’t fit that list…not quite. We fine. He’s fine. Besides, if something was really wrong, someone will say something.”

I mean, he was in day care and preschool off and on from age 2-4. Someone would say something if something was really wrong.

Right?

We chalked his struggles and behavior issues up to his age:
Well, he’s only 3.
His teacher will say something if there is something going on.
LOTS of preschoolers act like that!
Well, he IS a boy! 
He’s so young.
Lots of kindergarten students do that.

And suddenly, he was almost 7 and I was running out of excuses.
Yet…not one of his teachers or caregivers ever said anything to me.

And that meant nothing was wrong. Right?

I placed so much of my trust in other people’s professional opinions that I stifled the growth of my “mother’s intuition.”

Sure, I had learned to trust intuition in the past–and it had been right. But my intuition had been about physical, medical problems.

This…this had no name. It was something I couldn’t see, couldn’t put my finger on. It changed, morphed, disappeared, and then violently resurfaced. Some days we were fine.

Other days, we were…not fine.

So I decided to stop ignoring my gut.

I sat down with Benji’s first grade teacher at the Back to School night in early September and told her of some of our concerns. I asked her to keep an eye out for some issues we were seeing.

When our conversation was over, I was glad I talked to her…but I didn’t feel any better.
Did she believe me?
Did she think I was being “that parent,” the hovering, over-indulgent, coddling type?
Did she even take me seriously?
Would she see what we, as parents, saw?
Of course she would! She was a professional educator. As a professional, she would be able to tell us if something was wrong.

Right?

I didn’t get any answers that night; in fact, taking my concerns out of my head and talking about them just added more questions and worries to the situation.

But, that night, something important happened: I stopped ignoring my gut, even if my intuituion was about something that I couldn’t see, or quantify, or even describe very well.

Something was going on with my son, and I was going to discover what it was.

To be continued….
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Are you ignoring or listening to your gut? 

Following your intuition often leaves you with more questions than answers. But if you think something is wrong with your child, trust yourself. You know your child better than anyone. No “professional” can ever know or love your child as well as you do.

Posted in Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, My Motherhood, Parenting Ideas

Read with your child in 48 [Hard] steps!

For some kids, learning to read is not as easy as 1-2-3! It’s more like climbing a very hard, tall, rocky, frustrating mountain.

Maybe you’ve climbed this mountain too.

The 48 Steps to reading with your (struggling) reader:

1. Call child. Tell him that it is time to read.
2. Call child again when he refuses to come.
3. Give yourself mental pep-talk (you can do this!!)
4. Let child choose book.
5. Child chooses book.
6. Child throws book after getting stuck on the third word.
7. Child chooses 2nd book. 
8. Child starts screaming at you after you tell him to “sound out” 7th word.

10. Tell child to calm down.
11. Child runs out of the room
12. Tell child to come back.
13. Child refuses.
14. You realize that child needs to “reset brain.” Insist your child run around the house.
15. Child screams at you and refuses.
16. Suggest Jumping Jacks.
17. Repeat steps 14 and 15.

18. Take a break to nurse the baby.

19. Go find your child. Fight anxiety that your child has actually run away instead of running around the house.
20. Find child in the backyard. Breathe a sigh of relief.
21. Chat calmly with child about how he needs to work through his “brain funk” by moving his body.
22. Child decides to “move his body.”
23. Give enthusiastic praise as child spins on swing, jumps on trampline in a a circle, and hangs from the top of the swingset like a monkey.
24. Child feels better.
25. Go back inside.
26. Child chooses 3rd book, one that he has read before.
27. Open book. Realize that there is an “Instructions for Early Readers” page.
28. Read page quickly to yourself and realize you have been doing everything “wrong” with your early reader.
29. Feel lots of guilt.

30. Child starts reading.
31. Resist urge to correct.
32. Resist urge to say “sound it out” every 2. 5 words.
33. Say GREAT JOB!!! every time you finish a page.
34. Give high fives!
35. Laugh with child at the funny parts.
36. Say “that’s a bossy ‘e'”
37. Say “sound it out.”

38. Wait calmly and silently while child screams at you and then buries head in the couch.
39. Wait some more.
40. When child resurfaces, repeat steps 36-39 twice.
41. Say, “You’re doing great!”
42. Say, “Only 2 more pages!”
43. Turn the page. Realize you lied.

44. Repeat steps 41-42.
45. Repeat steps 38-39.

46. Finish book.
47. Give high five!
48. Take five deep breaths and make yourself a cup of coffee.

Helping your struggling reader is no joke. Hang in there, mama. I’m right there with you.

Posted in Benji's Story, Learning Disabilities, My Motherhood, Special Needs

"It means you need to be strong and brave:" Telling my son about his learning disabilities

“MOOOOMMM!” He yelled. “STOP!”

“I’m sorry! Sound it out. h-h-h–“

“MooOOOM!” His voice took on an even angrier edge, his eyes flashing irritation.

“Benji, just read it. Sound it out. Start at the beginning.”

“This! THIS!”

“It’s not “this.” There’s no ‘th.’ Sound it out, Honey. “h-iiii–“

“GAHH! MOM!!! I don’t WANT YOUR HELP!” He dropped to the floor and flung his arms around his knees, making himself into a ball, a position that is all too familiar to me.

I was losing my temper and trying not to. We had been at this for twenty minutes.

One Bible Verse: Twenty minutes.

“Stand up! Get off the floor! Let me help you–“

“I don’t want your help!!!!”

“BENJI!!!!”

“No! NO NO NO!”

And we were fighting…again.

I knew I needed to calm down. We have deep ruts down this path, the path of fighting, struggling, pressing forward and falling down…deep down into relational brokenness, all over reading.

But it’s more than reading troubles. We just learned some new names for it: Language Processing Learning Disability and Auditory Processing Disorder.

It affects so much of my son’s daily life: listening; processing sounds, words, and their meanings; understanding requests and direction; remembering instructions; basic, daily communication; and the ever-dreaded reading.

And here we were again, in the same deep, frustrated, angry, miserable-mom-miserable-son, RUT.

“Let’s breathe,” I said. And we did.

He pretended he was a balloon, squeezing out all of his angry air.

I decided to take a step into unknown territory, to forge a new path.

“Look at me, buddy. I want to be a team. Can we be a team?”

“I’m only teams with super heroes!”

“Well, can we be a super hero reading team?”

Then I held him on my lap, my little-big bony boy and spoke quietly into his ears, so sensitive to noise that listening to music in church causes weekly meltdowns.

“Benji, you know how you have trouble listening, and understanding words sometimes? How it’s hard to follow directions and read? Well, it’s because you have something called Auditory Processing Disorder.”

He turned to face me, curious.

“You know how you have pathways from your ears to your brain? Well, sometimes those pathways go…um…” I made a noise that sounded like a cross between static and clearing your throat, because he likes noises. “CHXXXTCH! and the message doesn’t meet your brain in the way it came through your ear.”

He stared at me, his head cocked to one side and said, “CHXXTCH!”

“That’s right! So when the CHXXTCH! happens, it’s hard to listen and follow directions. And it makes reading hard.”

“I do not like to read.”

“I know, baby, I know. How about I read it to you, and you just listen?” So I read his memory verse again. “How ’bout I read it one more time?”

“No, mom! I’ll read it.” He said enthusiastically. And he tried again, he tried so hard.

We stumbled to the last word. “Faithfulness.” I prompted.

“Thankfulness.”

“No, faith-ful-ness.”

“Thankfulness”

“Th-th-th.”

“F-f-f-f”

“FAITHFULNESS.”

“THANKFULNESS.”

And then I saw it, a rare glimpses into my son’s world.

“Benji–do “faithfulness” and “thankfulness” sound like the same word?”

“Yeah.” Duh.

“Ok, I see.” I nodded, reveling in the clarity of this moment. “They really are different. Here, put your teeth on your lips: f-f-f.”

He tried: “f-th-th-f. ffffffaaaiiinkfulness. faaaiiinthnnkkfullness.”

He tried. He tried over and over: “Fainkfulness. Thaithfulness. Faithfulness! MOM! I DID IT!”

“You did it!

“Faithfulness! Fainkfulness!”

It didn’t matter. He was smiling, his brow free from his debilitating frustration. We did a special fist-bump-high-five combo.

He read the verse one more time, halting, stopping-starting, mis-reading, mis-interpreting, pushing through the overwhelming CHXXXTCH in his brain. We finished together.

“One more time?” I asked.

“No.”

I smiled. “Good job, B.” I prompted him to look in my eyes, another task he struggles with.

“Listen, honey. I know this is hard.” I hesitated. Should I go on? “You know, people learn in all different ways. And because your pathways get messed up sometimes, it can be hard for you. It’s because…because of your learning–“

My brain said disabilities but my psyche recoiled. After a year of struggle, worry, testing, research, specialists, fighting, pushing, and so many, many tears, we finally got a name. We have a name for his struggles. But I just couldn’t choke out the word.

“…because of your…uh learning challenges. But that’s ok! Learning challenges just mean you need to be strong and brave.”

“I’m super-strong and brave!” He showed me his muscles.

“I know you are, B. I know you are.”

And I’m learning to be strong and brave too. 

Because this is just the beginning of our journey.  

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If you were wondering what this post was about, my story today is my first time writing about this topic.

Posted in Autism, Learning Disabilities, Mom Confessions, Motherhood, Parenting Ideas, Self Care, Special Needs

You don’t have to enjoy every minute to be a good mom

When my twins were babies, I was consistently bludgeoned with this advice by well-meaning people: “Enjoy every minute.”

I hated this phrase…mostly because I was going through one of the most difficult experiences of my life. Just keeping up with the daily care of two infants was hard enough–and I was supposed to “enjoy every minute” too?

I felt like a failure.

One of my favorite bloggers, Modern Mrs. Darcy, wrote an article the other day about marriage, called “What makes a relationship work?”

This line stuck out to me:

…I’ve been warned by older and wiser friends not to panic if we hit a rough patch—strong marriages have bad weeks, months, even years

We seem to accept the truth that “strong marriages have bad weeks, months, even years” so why does this truth seem harder to swallow when applied to parenthood?

The thing is, our kids are people too, complete with little personalities, big attitudes, funny quirks, and loud opinions. And just like a strong marriage, our relationship with our kids requires work and daily maintenance.

In my seven+ years of parenting, I have come to realize that relationships with my children can and do go through difficult times that are frustrating, irritating, exhausting, even soul-crushing–trials of growth and times where I literally pull my hair out and think what-the-heck-am-I-doing?

There are so many times I have thought “I am a bad mom” or “I am not doing my best” when really, I was just going through one of these trials of growth. And growth is uncomfortable and painful and….not enjoyable.

The truth is, you don’t have to enjoy every minute to be a good mom, despite the little old lady in the grocery store who sighs “it-goes-by-so-fast,”  and the “soak-up-every moment / enjoy every stage / be-the-perfect-parent-today-or-screw-your-kids-up-for-tomorrow” social pressures that we are inundated with on a daily basis.

Parenting is hard because we are in relationship with tiny humans, and all good, lasting relationships have hard times. The key words there are “good” and “times,” because there are good times too–seconds, moments, days, and years that are good, and should be soaked up and enjoyed.

Those are the times where we feel like good parents.

But the reality is, whether in marriage, or friendship, or parenting, or any relationship, feelings can be fleeting. It’s the sticking through the hard times that spells commitment, the “I-will-do-my-best-no-matter-what-because-I-love-you” that is the true marker of a “good” mom.

Is motherhood enjoyable? I think the answer to that question depends on the mother and the moment you ask.

But if the litmus test of a “good mother” is how much we enjoy it, we will always be sentimentalizing the past or wishing ourselves in a less difficult parenting moment (naptime, anyone?).

We need to release the expectation of “enjoying motherhood” and focus on the reality of growing our relationships with our children, and all the good, bad, infuriatingly messy, ugly, and beautiful aspects that relationships with people bring to our lives.

I hope that this story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to you.

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