Posted in Adult Homeschoolers Series, Parenting Ideas, Uncategorized

Homeschool, Public School, and the heart of Socialization

Socialization: if ever there was a polarizing issue in the homeschool movement, it is this.

I was homeschooled from 1st-12th grade in a time when parents, like my own, were forging a new education path for themselves, their children, and for future generations.

So much has changed in the homeschool movement (Example: I just read a novel where the main character was homeschooled and it was a NORMAL thing, not some fringe, weird, reinvent-the-wheel movement. WHAT??? Incredible!).

However, so many of the attitudes and beliefs within the homeschool system remain the same, especially ideas about socialization and the negative influence of public schools.

I read a blog post recently about this issue. The author is a homeschool mom who wrote about the negative socialization issues that her children are avoiding by being homeschooled. Here’s an excerpt from her post:

 Yes, my kids are missing out on being socialized in a schooled environment. And you know what else? I’m extremely happy about it!
I do not want them socialized to conform, fit in, gossip, bully, compete, and lose their compassion and individuality.
I want them socialized to have empathy and understanding for others, to be helpful and cooperative, to be friendly and accommodating.
Putting a group of kids of the same age and social skills together does not achieve this. We’ve all been there.
If you’re worrying about homeschooled kids being socialized, you’re worrying about the wrong group. We’re doing just fine thanks.

I was brought up to believe and defend this notion myself, the idea that the homeschooled environment of family, education, and faith would “save” me from the pressures and social corruptions that are inherent in the public school environment.

However, while my homeschool socialization was different and positive in many ways, there were still cliques, mean spiritedness, and shutting people out. Human nature is still human nature.

Here’s a sad story to illustrate my point:

When I was in high school, my friends and I wanted to have a party. No, not THAT kind of party—a happy, fun, homeschool kind of party! A GAME NIGHT!

I organized the whole thing, a tournament board game night. We had to have a certain amount of people to make the tournament a success so I chose the guest list with care.
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I only wanted my best friends there, my fun friends (not anyone annoying or weird).
So I purposely excluded one of my friend’s brothers.

The night of the party, my friend confronted me and asked if her brother could come. I actually protested: “We need a specific number of people to make this game night a success. Sorry…”

She was disappointed and frustrated: He really wanted to come. He didn’t’ get invited to very many things. Can he come?

“Fine,” I huffed. “He can come.”

I was in a bad mood for the whole party.

As an adult, I am so ashamed of how I acted. My heart really aches to think of my attitude and actions, as, knowing what I know now, I would guess that this boy was on the Autism spectrum, just like my son. He was very smart, socially awkward, and very, very keen to talk about his special interests. I didn’t know anything about Autism back then. All I was thinking at the time was that he was annoying and awkward and I didn’t want him at my party.
I was mean, petty, excluding, and a snob. I was a “popular girl” who didn’t want to invite the “weird kid” into my group.

I was a homeschooled girl who never went to public school and never hung out with “bad influences” (ie. Public schoolers).

The “Socialization” the author talks about in her article wasn’t a public school vs. homeschool issue.
The way I acted was a result of a selfish, sinful heart.

Many parents, both today and when I was growing up, believe that the homeschool environment will “save” their children from “evil,” social or otherwise.

But this isn’t true.

Bullying doesn’t have to happen in a classroom; it can happen in sibling relationships.
Competition and feeling superior to others happens at kitchen tables, not just in classrooms.
In my homeschool group, full of children who could spout off thousands of Bible verses, “prayer request” was a synonym for “gossip.”
And you all just read my damning story about my own lack of compassion for a boy who I felt was too “different” to be my friend.

As much as we want to protect our children from the world, we, as parents, can’t save them from their selfish, sinful human nature. Ultimately, only God can do that.

I appreciated the desire and sentiment of the mom who wrote the article.  I get it, I really do. I was homeschooled myself and I had to defend my homeschooling experience as “just as good” or “even better!” to every person I met.
However, after growing up and gaining some perspective about my educational experience, and now being a public school parent, I’ve realized that my homeschool experience was simply “different.” And different is great—but it doesn’t make it morally or socially “better.”

Homeschool or Public School both offer gifts and challenges to a parent, and it is up to the parent to shape the character of his or her children with the gifts and challenges presented.

I remember many mornings when I walked my boys to school and we saw a boy getting off the bus. The boy had some special needs and often had a hard time making the transition from the bus to school.

As the boy screamed or flailed, my son frowned and said, “That’s Landon. He screams a lot.”
“Why do you think he screams?” I asked.
“I don’t know. I don’t like him. I don’t like to sit with him.”
“I think Landon has a hard time communicating what he needs or wants. What if you couldn’t tell people what you needed or wanted? How would you feel?”
A pause. “Mad…and sad.”
“Maybe you would feel like screaming too.”
“Yeah, I would feel like screaming.”
“I bet Landon feels the same things you do. He wants to be understood, and he wants a friend. If he makes you feel uncomfortable, I understand. But I always want you to be kind to him. He’s a person, just like you.”
My son nodded. “Okay, Mom.”

Character shaping and enlarging small hearts can happen any time—around the kitchen table learning fractions, or walking to school each morning. But an immature and selfish heart will find it hard to grow when the barriers between “us” and “them” remain intact.
Heart2
It’s been many years since I was that snobby, selfish high schooler. I’ve learned a lot since I’ve had my own children. I’ve learned even more since my own children have been diagnosed with special needs.

I’ve learned that my experiences as a first generation homeschooler were unique and different, yet neither “bad” nor “better.”
I’ve learned that socialization is usually “mainstream” or “avant-garde” but that doesn’t make it right or wrong.

I’ve learned that it is up to parents to teach character, morals, and how to treat others with kindness, compassion, and respect and that, homeschooled or otherwise, it takes effort and patience to instill these Positive Socialization values within our children.

PS. My kids are now the Public School Kids I used to judge
The Day I Taught my son the F-Word

Posted in Autism, Parenting Ideas, Special Needs

Are you making Choice A or Choice B?

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.😀 Read Part 1 here (How to become a Meltdown Prepper).

We were at soccer and my 8 year old son was falling apart. Benji is Autistic and as much as he was wildly excited about indoor soccer practice, he had a meltdown each week, about 10-15 minutes after we got there.

He would get overwhelmed and angry, would storm off, run away from the other kids and coaches, and would not be able to communicate. One time he even ran out of the gym into the parking lot. That really scared me.

I was starting to drown in the panic of “I don’t know what to do,” so “soccer” became a main topic in our sessions with Benji’s counselor.

She introduced us to the “Choice A or Choice B” concept.

This behavior tool was developed for children with Autism and can work well for ages 3-9. Our therapist gave me this short book to read to familiarize myself with this tool.

The concept is pretty simple in theory (a bit more tricky in practice):

Choice A is doing what will make both the child and the parent happy.
Choice B is NOT doing what will make both the child and parent happy.

The child can make choice A and reap the positive consequences
OR
The child can make choice B and reap the negative consequence

The child can also ask for help in making Choice A (asking for help, asking for a break, admitting that he wants to make choice B and needs help to make Choice A).

The theory behind Choice A and Choice be is to REDUCE choices, as too many choices can overwhelm a child, especially an Autistic child.

Benji, like many children with Autism, thinks in a very black and white, either/or fashion so presenting him with “Choice A or Choice B” made sense to him.

Soccer was our biggest challenge at the moment but we had to be creative as to how Choice A or Choice B would look at soccer.

First we had to define Choice A:
At soccer, Choice A looks like Benji participating in soccer drills, listening to his coaches, playing with the other kids, and being a part of the group. This choice will make us (parents) happy, his coaches happy, and most importantly, it will make HIM happy.
Mengs_51-1716401590-OChoice B looks like Benji storming off, running away, throwing a fit, and will have a consequence of not participating in soccer and maybe sitting out in the car for a Calm Down time out. This will make Mom, Dad, and Benji unhappy.

After defining Soccer Choice A and Choice B with Benji, we also came up with a plan for if and when he did start struggling:

If Benji wanted to make Choice B, he could ask us for help (Mom, please help me calm down), or tell us that he needed to take a break.
Our therapist encouraged us to make the break short so that sitting out didn’t become the norm and we could quickly get back to Choice A.

Unlike other tools we had used to try and help Benji, I was excited about the Choice A/Choice B method because it seemed to jive with his personality because it was a simple, black and white approach.

And it really seemed to help.

Before the next soccer practice, we talked a long time about Choice A and Choice B and the tools we wanted Benji to use if he needed help.

“Remember Benji,” I told him as we parked the car at the gym. “Choice A will make you happy because you want to play soccer and have a good time. If you feel like you are starting to make Choice B though, Dad and I will be there to help you. You can ask for help or a break if you need it, okay?”

I crossed my fingers, said a quick prayer, and hoped for the best.
Sure enough, he started out great. Then, whatever it is that caused soccer to be challenging–sensory overload, communication challenges, personal frustrating, motor skill difficulties, whatever–kicked in and Benji stomped off the the edge of the gym.

I walked over to him. “Are you making Choice A or Choice B?”
He wouldn’t look at me and skirted away.
I ran after him, put my hands on his shoulders and turned him towards me. “Choice A or Choice B?”
“Mooooom!”
“Benji…!”
“Ok, Ok! Choice B!”
“Is that making you happy?”
Silence. Then, “No.”
“Do you need a break? I will help you.”
He was struggling. It is tough to work through frustrations and the twisting, aching turmoil that Autism brings. I really don’t even know. I can only guess.
I waited a few heartbeats, a few breaths.
“I want to make Choice A!” he barked, a frown on his brow. “I want to play!”
“I know you do, buddy. I know you do.”

So we talked for a few more moments, about expectations, about kicking the ball to other kids, about how being the goalie isn’t always exciting, about listening.

Then he took a deep breath and ran back to play. He made Choice A because that was the choice that was ultimately going to make him happy.

It made me happy too.
Choice A

Here is another scenario for how Choice A/Choice B might look for a situation like Getting Dressed:
Choice A: If you get dressed quickly, you are happy, Mom is happy, we are not rushed getting out the door, and you get a sticker for your Get Dressed Chart.
Choice B: You mess around, throw a fit, refuse to get dressed. You are unhappy, Mom is unhappy; we are late for preschool and may miss your favorite Good Morning song; you do not get a sticker for your chart.

The Choice A/Choice B tool isn’t perfect. It’s important to note that Choice B is not a punishment, but there may be negative consequences for choosing Choice B (sitting out, not participating in the group, Mom is sad, you are sad, the fun thing we wanted to do is not possible now, etc) .

The important thing about this method is giving the child the power to make a Choice, instead of feeling powerless and out of control.

This tool works better in some situations than others and it requires creativity, preparation, practice, and clear expectations.  We have used it intermittently since Soccer ended. But, ultimately, I really like it because it is simple, it requires personal responsibility, and it clicks with who Benji is as a person.

Have you used the Choice A or Choice B method with your child, Autistic or not?
How did it work for you?
Share you 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! Thank you! 🙂

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).

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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 boys, Christianity, culture, Education, kids, Mom Confessions, Own your Story, Parenting Ideas, public school, Uncategorized

The day I taught my son the F-word

Teachable moments. You know the ones–they come up out of nowhere and scare the living daylights out of you.

“Mommy, is there a bad F-word?”

My heart stumbled. I cocked my head at my first grader. “What do you mean, honey?”

“Some kids in my art class said there was a bad F-word.”

First grade?! Already? Is this what I get for sending my kids to Public School? “Can you tell me the word?”

He smiled sheepishly and whispered, “Fruck.”

Laughter bubbled up, unbidden. So he’s still a first grader. “Well, honey, there is a bad F-word, but it’s not ‘fruck’.”

“So, what is the bad F-word?” He asked, sticking his pencil in the corner of his mouth.

“Uhhh…”
scarterstudios M018I paused, my heart tripping over itself once again. Is this what the Teachable Moment looks like? Wide-eyed, innocent, and 7 years old?

While my pause was calm and calculated, the tension I felt inside twisted tighter until it was a palpable ache: I wanted to preserve his innocence. I wanted to tell him, “It doesn’t matter. I don’t want you to worry about bad words.”
But as much as I mentally chided myself about the “bad influence” of public school kids, I knew that was a non-issue.

Public school or not, my kids were going to hear things and learn things from others as they grew up, public school, private school, homeschool, or Sunday school. I can’t control the moments they are not with me.

But he was here with me right now. This moment, at our kitchen table, in our home, was a safe, teachable moment.

If not now, when?

He was asking me for truth. And the truth was, “asking Mom” wasn’t always going to be his first choice.

So I took a deep breath and said, “Well…yes, honey. There is a bad F-Word.”

I told him what it was. I said the word and he repeated it, making sure he heard me right. I tried not to cringe at the profanity coming out of my baby’s mouth. Instead I pushed forward, plunging down this new path.

“Sweetheart, I’m telling you this because I want you to know the truth. But with knowledge comes power and just because you know this word doesn’t mean you should say it or teach it to anyone else.

It is not your job to tell kids at school that you know this word. That’s their parent’s job, not yours. I am very serious about this. Do you understand me?”

He nodded, his eyes wide. “Yes, ma’am.”

I looked at his face, at the soft, smooth skin on his cheeks, knowing that they wouldn’t always be soft and smooth. I would be kissing stubble on my firstborn’s face before I knew it.IMG_4869I pulled myself back to the present, savoring his innocence and openness and the questions that he asked without fear or embarrassment. That precious door was wide open and I wanted to keep it that way.

“You know, sweetie, sometimes kids talk about stuff at school. Kids think they know stuff. But that’s not always true. But Mommy and Daddy—we do know stuff. So if you ever have questions about anything that kids talk about at school, you can come to us and we will tell you the truth.”

“Okay.”

“Okay.”

And then I helped him do his homework.

It was such a bittersweet conversation.

As much as I want to plant goodness into every corner of my children’s lives, the fact is that the world is full of hard, nasty, evil things. I want to shelter them from that darkness. But I also want to help my sons grow to be men who will be lights in a dark world. And if I am going to teach them to be lights, I can’t ignore the darkness.
F-wordI I have to be proactive.

So, when he asked, I taught my son the F-word.

Should I have told him that we would have this conversation when he’s older? Perhaps. Maybe it was too early.

But at 7 years old, his first instinct was to come to me.  As he gets older, that instinct will fade.

The conversations we have now about language, what’s right and wrong, about light and darkness are forming his very soul.

The Teachable Moment is terrifying but, for me, being keeping the door open in order to teach my children the truth is a gift that can’t wait.

PS. House Church, Cussing, and ASD (teachable moments that DO NOT go as planned!)

How do you navigate these terrifying Teachable Moments?
Have you taught your child something huge and scary? How did it go?
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! Thank you! 🙂

Posted in boys, Encouragement, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, twins, Uncategorized

Sour and Sweet: The Power of a Stranger’s Words

This past week, I’ve had two different interactions with two different strangers concerning my four boys. Both women made short, passing comments to me about my sons. Both comments altered my attitude about sons and my day–if only for a moment–but not the the same way.

On Saturday afternoon, we went on a walk/bike ride in our neighborhood . Benji was riding his bike, Silas was on his trike, and I was pushing Eli in the stroller. Micah decided to walk/run. It was more fun for Micah to chase his twin down on his bike, yelling, “You’re under arrest!” while hitting him with a plastic sword.

At one point, the “you’re under arrest” game was getting a little too serious: Micah had caught Benji and was trying to throw him off his bike.

“Boys! BOYS!” I hollered down the sidewalk. “You need to SETTLE DOWN!!”

Right then, we passed the mail lady doing her daily route. She smiled and shook her head. I caught her eye, hoping to share a smile about the shenanigans of raising crazy kids.

“It only gets worse!” She quipped, walking briskly to the next mailbox. “I have a 12 and 13 year old…mmm hmm! I know! It only gets worse from here.”

My heart sank, and as much as I tried to shake off her words, they sank into me, like little burrs, irritating me with every step on the rest of our walk. I was in a foul mood when I got home (it didn’t help that my twins tried to throw themselves and the bike into the street–while cars were coming–at one point).

She didn’t have to say that. I’m not sure why she did. But it affected me.

This morning I took all four boys to the Dollar Tree. It’s the first day of Spring Break and we were in dire need of some Essential Items.

We loaded up with sidewalk chalk, jump ropes, bubbles, water guns, and other plastic crap, and made our way to the check out.

Bags in hand, I made an attempt to herd my little kittens out the door when a clerk caught my eye. “Are they all yours?”

11539035_10102113386324218_888264570455143371_oI always smile when people say this, hoping that my smile will make them think Happy Thoughts! towards me, but I braced myself for her response. “Yes! They are!” I said, a little too cheerfully.

“You were blessed with four boys! That’s amazing!”

I smiled again, this time genuinely. “Yes, and four adorable ones at that!”

“That’s the truth!”

We started toward the door but suddenly, I turned back to her. “Thanks for saying something encouraging. So often people…don’t.”

She didn’t have to say that. I’m not sure why she did. But it affected me.

It takes the same amount of energy to say something sour as it does to say something sweet.
Words have power and encouragement is a powerful thing.

Let’s use our words and power for good. You never know how your words will affect someone.

Has a stranger ever said something sour to you that ruined your day?
Has a stranger ever turned around your day with a kind word?
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! 🙂

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.

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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!”).

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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, Autism and Church, Christianity, Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, Special Needs, Uncategorized

Benji’s Story: Pokemon is saving my Sunday

My son Benji is on the Autism Spectrum and he hates church.

My husband and I can’t quite put our finger on exactly what bothers him about it.
Maybe it’s the change in routine (it isn’t like school)
Maybe it’s the music (he does have auditory sensitivities but they are inconsistent)
Maybe it’s the sitting still.
Maybe it’s something else.

Disciplining and outlining my expectations of age-appropriate behavior were not working for him or for us as parents. I kept waiting for him to grow into church, to become more mature, to become more disciplined, to change, but it only got worse. We needed to try something new.

But what was “new”? My bag of parenting tricks was empty.

One Sunday, not long ago, Benji dissolved into a silent, furious meltdown in the service. While the music played, he threw himself on the ground, or buried his head in the padded seats, his bum in the air, refusing to talk, refusing to sit next to me. He forcibly pushed me away, only communicating through grunts and puppy-like whines.

I don’t know what to do.  I can’t help him. This is never going to change.

I felt myself falling into the familiar panic and despair, but before I did, I plunged my hand into my purse, hoping and praying that I had some toy in there to distract him out of his funk.
FullSizeRenderA toy train. That was it.

This? I held it up, my eye brows raised, as the congregation sang, the people unaware of the fierce struggle happening in the back pews.

Something clicked, but not in the way I expected. His eyes latched on the the toy; he grinned, but instead of reaching for the train, he flung himself across my lap.

I knew what he wanted, and slowly and firmly, I ran the wheels of the train over his back. He was allowing me to touch him when he was upset!  I was stunned, and pleased and I went with it.

This. This was something I could actually do to help him. It was amazing, rare, and empowering.

Back and forth, back and forth. Ten minutes passed, my baby in my lap.

Then, he sat up.
The fight had left his eyes. He took a deep breath and smiled at me. He went to Sunday School soothed.

The train now lives in my purse. It isn’t magic though so I’ve added a few more tools to my worn-out parenting bag:

One is a small therapeutic brush, given to me by his Occupational therapist. It works a lot like the wheels of the car; by brushing it over the skin, it soothes frazzled sensory input.  Weird, right? but I’ll take all the crazy voo-doo if it helps my son.

Finally, Pokemon  has joined Project: Good Sunday.

I’m going to be honest. Pokemon drives me crazy. I don’t really get it. It is awkward, repetitive,  has way too many characters, no plot, and is all about “battles.”

But Benji loves it. He loves it so much that I save Pokemon for Sunday’s only (otherwise, I go a little insane because I can only handle so much Pokemon monologuing).

If Benji participates in Sunday school with no meltdowns or fits, then he can watch one episode of Pokemon after church.

There was one Sunday a few weeks ago where he did not have any meltdowns or fits but he sat on the wall the whole time in Sunday School. He did not get to watch Pokemon that day. He was upset but understood the consequences.
But since then, he and Pokemon have had a standing, Sunday afternoon date.

Taking Benji to church is hard (and he is only one of our 4 sons!). I have been really close to giving up church all together; it has been that hard.

But I’ve kept trying because faith is important to me and my husband and we want to share our faith with our family. Going to church is a part of that for us.

My son has unique needs that frustrate and even infuriate me at times. And honestly, he doesn’t really care about singing, God, or learning about Jesus right now.

In the past, I’ve tried to discipline his behavior instead of trying to soothe his system or to give him incentives to be on his best behavior in a structured setting.

Changing my tactics and focus has helped. When I focused on his heart, seeking to love him and connect to the things that are important to him, Sundays got a little bit easier.

A yellow train, a therapeutic brush, and Pokemon have helped my son to feel loved.

And more than anything,  I want him to think, “My mom loves me” when he goes to church, and my prayer is that someday, by helping him feel my lovehis heart will be more open to a loving relationship with God.

Is Church difficult for you and your child?
What do you do to help your child, on the spectrum or off, feel loved?

Share your story below!

I hope that our story can bring hope, healing, and happiness to others. Would this post encourage someone you know? If so, please share!

Posted in Mom Confessions, Parenting Ideas, Uncategorized

But first, I have to say “I’m sorry.”

I did it again.

I crushed his spirit.

I know he wants to help, and I want to help him learn, but the way he held the knife, and the way he cut great chunks of cucumber for the salad, instead of nice thin slices just grated on my perfectionistic nerves.

I huffed and pursed my lips.
I shook my head, help up the cucumber and said, “Do you think this is good? No!”

I didn’t yell.
I didn’t dole out some ridiculous punishment for badly sliced vegetables.
I tried to patiently explain my feelings (I was annoyed. Sometimes people get annoyed).

But I was acting like a crappy human being.

He is just learning how to chop and slice, and my impatience with the knife skills of an 8 year old reeked of immaturity–my immaturity.

And he was hurt. He cried a bit, and I was annoyed by that too.

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He wants to please so badly

I apologized but it didn’t stick.
We ate dinner and my grumpy attitude was soothed (oh the blood-sugar grumps!) and the evening was pleasant enough.

 

But when I went to bed that night I couldn’t sleep. All I could think was:
He has such a teachable spirit right now and I have to nurture and appreciate it. I can’t crush him. Help me. Help me to build him up and give him confidence to learn and grow.

And the Spirit whispered to my spirit, “Go to your son in the morning and make it right, for real this time.”

So I did.

As soon as I got up I told him I wanted to talk to him. I sat with him on the couch, held his hands, and confessed my sin to my son.

And do you know what that sweet boy did? He put his arms around my neck and said, “I forgive you, Mommy.”

It was healing and our hearts were connected again.

It’s a daily dance we do, back and forth: Hurting each other, shouting, our sin wounding each other. Then–reaching out though all that darkness we just created, searching for re-connection.

But it has to start with me.

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Mama and Micah

Apologizing and asking for forgiveness has not come easy to me in my life. I remember when going to someone I had wronged, family or friend, took so much mental and emotional effort that I would literally shake, body and soul. I had to practice the words over and over and over in my head before I could force them, haltingly, from my mouth.

 

Back then, apologizing was more about assuaging my own guilt than seeking to retie the lines of love that had been cut.

But I’ve practiced saying the words. I’ve practiced listening to my heart and the Holy Spirit.
Guilt is no longer my motivator.
Instead, my desire is to bridge the  profound disconnect I feel after a fight, after the yelling, the ugly words or attitude, to fill the gap created  between me and the one I love.

It’s still not easy. I don’t like admitting I am wrong–who does? But when I weigh my pride and love, I want choose love.

I mess up a lot. But hearing my sons say “Mommy, I forgive you” is the balm I need for my selfish mother-soul. Those three words give me the strength to keep moving forward, to keep striving for connection and relationship with my children.

But first, I have to say “I’m sorry.”

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 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! 🙂