A Peak Inside

January 12th, 2012 § Leave a Comment

I just watched this video from ABC News that I believe aired last spring. It’s the story of a severely autistic girl who, as a teen, begins communicating through typing and pulls back the curtain on what’s going on in her mind, and body. Fascinating and moving. Watch if you can.

The Nature of Regressions

January 7th, 2012 § Leave a Comment

With my son, regressions are like an extreme sport. They might not be dangerous per se, but like extreme sports, they involve high levels of speed, physical exertion, and spectacular stunts. Oh yeah…and they’re never boring.

Like any child, our son experiences regressions for any number of reasons. He could be on the verge of some cognitive or development shift or going through a transition or change in his daily routine. It could be a holiday season, such as Thanksgiving, Halloween, or Christmas. It could be a full moon. And it could be….just because.

Now that he’s seven, we are starting to understand the causes of his regressions and even expect them. For example, we happen to know that mid-spring, for whatever reason, is a difficult time for our son. So knowing that, we can gear up, warn the teachers, batten the hatches, and get our strategies in place. Those preparations usually help—at the very least, they allow us to not be caught off guard and surprised when our son starts exhibiting behavior we happily bid adieu to six or twelve months earlier.

But the thing I’m still guilty of doing when we’re in the throes of a regression, which we are right now, is waiting for things to go back to “normal.” This is something I usually desperately want because regressions are usually preceded by periods of really great regulation and behavior. In fact, before the regression strikes, we may be experience unprecedented compliance, flexibility, easy goingness, and social connectedness. This makes the regressions especially sucky because my husband and get a taste of how good things can be, how smoothly life in our house can run. And we want it back.

But as I was lamenting the loss of this smooth household just yesterday, I remembered that it’s never going back to the way things were. Sure, the regression and its unfortunate accompanying behaviors will subside, but what things will look like after that is uncharted waters. It’s always new. Because our son is always evolving and changing and acquiring more information and developing in his own interesting and unique way.

So I need to let go of the hope that things will go back to the way they were and be open and hopeful for where things are going to go. More than that, I think I’ll just try and be present to what’s happening today. That’s the only thing that really matters anyway…

Symptom or Behavior?

January 2nd, 2012 § Leave a Comment

Anger and frustration is one thing. Rude and obnoxious is another.

I never know with this kid…what’s a symptom of his neurological deficits and what’s just plain old bad behavior?

This is the question my husband and I are asking ourselves as we are nearing the end of a VERY LONG holiday break, one in which we shared our house with a kid who, for the past few days at least, hasn’t been acting like a nice person.

We’ve long ago taken the Big Nate, Calvin & Hobbes, and Garfield books out of his room because we noticed they seemed to have a direct correlation on the frequency of his disrespectful back talk and general wild behavior. But yet, here we are again, dealing with a 7-year-old who completely ignores us if he doesn’t like what we’re saying, flat out refuses to do something if it’s not to his liking, and generally acts like, for lack of a better word, a little snot.

My husband and I are at a loss, because, once again, this behavior seems to have cropped up in the past three days out of nowhere. And it leaves us wondering: Are we not being strict enough? Are we somehow encouraging this behavior? Are we letting him get away with things that are truly behavioral? It also leaves us wondering, how can we change what’s going on here? And lastly, which is it? Symptom or behavior?

We don’t know the answers. We only know that something has to give. And perhaps the most frustrating piece of this puzzle is that tomorrow morning our son could wake up and be the sweet, fairly flexible, joyful boy we’ve enjoyed so much over the past year. And that would be that. But then again, maybe he won’t. Maybe this isn’t a brief regression. Maybe it’s the new normal?


December 31st, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s day 14 of winter holiday break and I just gotta be honest here – I’m really starting to get tired of my kid.

I know I can say this, because I know you won’t judge me. (That, and I’m writing this blog anonymously.)

I’m ready for routine. Schedules. Out the door by 8am. Quiet clean house all day. No one yelling at me. A whole lot less drama.

That is all.

Mood Changes

December 19th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Well, the angry boy is back. I realize this shouldn’t come as a surprise, considering that a number of things have transpired in the past few weeks that create the perfect disregulation storm for my son, including: 1. Being told he’s changing schools after the break, 2. Saying goodbye to school friends, and of course 3. CHRISTMAS. But still, it stucks. Because…

The angry boy throws things.

The angry boy jumps to conclusions.

The angry boy blames me for everything he deems is unfair.

The angry boy makes random demands and then freaks if you don’t acquiesce.

The angry boy can disguise himself as the joyful, silly boy, only to lash out when you least expect it.

The angry boy wreaks havoc on the energy of our house.

The angry boy is a glass-half-empty kind of boy.

The angry boy is unpredictable.

The angry boy might stick around for a while.

So, that’s what we’re dealing with this week. My husband and I are dusting off strategies we’ve clung to in the past from Ross Greene’s The Explosive Child and digging deep to respond to our raging child with empathy, compassion, and a problem-solving spirit.

Wish us luck.

Moving On

December 17th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Today was the last day of school before the holiday break. It also happened to be my son’s last day at the school he’s gone to for the past year and a half. In anticipation of today, I had this idea that walking into the school for the last time to collect my child would provide some cathartic relief…that I’d feel this tremendous weight lifted from my shoulders knowing I’d never have see the fake smiles of one particular unhelpful administrator or my son’s first grade teacher ever again, and that my son would no longer have to spend the greater part of his day getting the message from his teachers and peers that he is different…a problem…disruptive…bad.

My son? He feels relief. He is visibly lighter…has been ever since we told him the news this past weekend that he wouldn’t be returning to his school come January. Sure…he is sad to say goodbye to some friends, especially the one delightful little boy my son bonded with this fall. He also noted his disappointment with the realization that his new school doesn’t have a computer lab, nor do they throw an annual festival featuring bouncy houses and carnival games. But beyond that? He’s good to go. In fact, he’s better than good. He’s practically euphoric at the thought of not having to deal with a teacher who was, in his words, “so judgmental.” So that’s him.

Me? I’ve had a harder go of it. One of my dear friends who has been supporting me and our family throughout this whole ordeal can’t imagine why I would feel sad about leaving the school. “Fuck them!” she said. “There’s nothing to be sad about. You should feel great about it because you’re taking care of your son!”

And I hear her. But still, this week has been tough. And I’m not exactly sure why. I do have some theories though, so here goes. For starters, I think I’m still hurt. I’m hurt about the way our family was treated and essentially bullied out of the school. People weren’t honest with us. People weren’t respectful to us. People didn’t treat us in a decent, compassionate way. And I just don’t get that. Of course, as thought leader Byron Katie says so eloquently, “When you argue against reality, you lose, but only 100% of the time.” Clearly, me thinking the school should have treated us better is one big old case of arguing against reality. I suppose that means it’s time to let it go.

Another reason I think I’m struggling is a little more convoluted, but I’ll do the best I can to explain it. I think that in some way, knowing my son had been accepted into and was attending what is known to be one of the best private schools around meant something to me. It wasn’t a status thing…I could care less about that. But, to me, the fact that he attended this school somehow put my son’s “behavior,” or rather, his quirks and oddities and often unusual way of being, into context. So when other people would find his habit of blurting things out, flying into a rage at the slightest inconvenience, and being oblivious of other people’s personal space inappropriate or, worse, jump to the conclusion that his behavior was a reflection of my bad mothering, I would pull out the school card. As if to say, No, he’s not an out-of-control, badly behaved kid…he’s just gifted. Get it? After all…this school wanted him. That counts for something. I think in many ways, I used his acceptance into this school as proof that he was actually normal, at least in a super-smart-kid-normal kind of way. But, as has become abundantly clear, especially in the past two months, my son isn’t “typical.” And his way of being in the classroom, even on a good day, is probably outside the norm. I knew this, but yet, I guess I wanted to believe otherwise. And so, once again, I suppose that means it’s time to let it go.

And then there was today. A day of lasts. Last morning drop off. Last spelling test. Last experiment of the week. Last recess. Last time sitting with his classmates. My heart went out to my son, as I imagined how difficult today must have been for him…the anticipation of saying goodbye, the hugs from classmates, the heart-shaped goodbye notes from others, the special hug from his beloved Kindergarten teacher. It was all I could do to hold it together for him.

But as it turns out, he didn’t need me to hold it together at all. He is fine. And not just fine in a he-must-be-in-denial way, but in a genuine way. That’s who he is. He is hopeful. He’s optimistic. And he trusts us that our decision to switch schools was the best thing for him.

I was thinking about this as I went for a run today, hoping I could shed the baggage from the past two months in the course of a 4-mile run. And as I was running, I remembered something author Martha Beck once said when talking to another mom who was having a hard time dealing with something painful her child had experienced. Martha said, “It didn’t happen to you…this is your daughter’s raw material for the life she’s going to create. It’s her journey. Your job isn’t to feel her pain for her. It’s to say ‘are you troubled? Then stay with me, for I am not.'”

And that’s when it struck me. This is my son’s raw material. His journey. My job isn’t to project my own emotions on him…it’s to stay with him. It’s to support him. It’s to love him. And that I can do.

Give and Take

December 9th, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Last night around 5:30pm, my son and I were on the front porch while I dug through my purse in search of house keys. We’d just gotten home from OT, and an 8-year-old boy from down the street, one who plays with my son from time to time, had also just arrived home from school. The two boys had had a playdate last week that had gone well, and I’m guessing that’s why the other boy came over to say a quick hello.

My son returned with a “Hi” and, in his classic style, proceeded to talk “to” his friend, telling him what he’d done that afternoon, showing him the shield and helmet he’d made in art class. The neighbor boy is used to these one-sided conversations, and listened to my son’s “Guess whats” and responded with interested “Whats?” with impressive patience.

Then there was a pause in the dialogue.

And then my son came out with these four magic words: “How are you doing?”

All on his own.

Might not sound like a big deal, but for a child who rarely considers or notices how other people are feeling or even acknowledges they have their own emotional experience, it was breakthrough.

While I wanted to jump up and down and praise my son for this amazing social step, I stuffed down my excitement as the other boy replied, “Good!” and let their conversation unfold, two little boys checking in, figuring out how to be with each other. A little give and take. A little piece of normal.

Cause and Effect

December 8th, 2011 § 1 Comment

It’s been an interesting week. We’ve got T-minus seven school days left at the current school (although neither the school nor our son knows this yet), and I’m trying to keep things all “business as usual” until we share the news with the necessary parties.

The week is interesting because following our meeting last week with our family therapist and the entire teaching team, the faculty has begun implementing a “system” designed to help our son stay more regulated at school. It’s not exactly the system we discussed at the meeting – that one was strictly a positive reinforcement system that rewarded our son for staying calm and for cooperatively participating in the moment – but it’s a system nonetheless. In each class, our son has the opportunity to earn points for both staying calm throughout the entire period and for doing his classwork in an “appropriate” way. So every afternoon, I’ve been getting emailed reports from the various teachers telling me how many points he earned in their class that day. I see these emails pop into my inbox between 2:30 and 3:30, a window into my son’s day, complete with detailed descriptions of what he did that precluded him from earning the maximum.

The interesting thing is, he’s been doing pretty well. There have been minor blips, like the way he sometimes switches out the words to songs sung in class to something he finds much more entertaining or the way he loudly shares his POV on whether or not he deems an assignment to be interesting, but there have been no explosions, no outbursts, no visits to the dreaded “red zone” as we like to call it.

Stay with me here…I know this was the purpose of the points system being implemented in the first place, but my hunch is there’s something else going on. Sure, I think the system is helping in that it’s giving him more frequent reminders to stay regulated and all the teachers are finally using the same “language” in how they communicate these goals, but I think that what’s having the biggest impact is something less obvious. I’m convinced it’s all about my husband’s and my energy.

Before we made the decision to switch schools, my husband and I were in a state of constant anxiety – what would happen today? Would we get a phone call? Would he do something serious enough that we’d have to pick him up? Would he make enough improvements that they’d want him back at the school next year? Mix that kind of grasping energy with a child who is incredibly sensitive to other people’s energy, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Or disregulation, at the very least.

So now, our energy is more peaceful. It’s more hopeful (albeit mixed with a touch of “the school can go to hell”). And suddenly, things seem to be going smoother.

Coincidence? I don’t think so.

A Decision

December 3rd, 2011 § 1 Comment

So, we’re not stuck anymore.

The past few days have been an emotional blur, full of stomach-clenching conversations, sleepless nights, occasional and unexpected burst of tears. But as challenging and draining as things have been, we’ve also gotten some clarity on the whole situation with my son’s school. We’ve taken back our power, and that feels good. And my husband and I have come to consensus on a few key points:

  1. Feeling low-level anxiety every morning you drop your child off at school is a sign that can’t be ignored.
  2. Dreading phone calls and emails from our son’s school is no way to spend a day.
  3. Our son deserves to be celebrated for who he is.
  4. Some things – like having the trust between a school and a parent be broken – just can’t be undone.
  5. When we follow our gut, things always work out.
  6. Supporting and advocating for our son is the most important project we will ever take on.
  7. Change can be scary, but it’s where growth and possibility lives.
  8. We have a strong community of friends and family who support us.
  9. We are grateful to have options and be in a position to make the choices that are best for our son.
  10. Every little thing is gonna be alright.

So, what does that all mean? It means we’ve decided to pull our son out of his school in two weeks when things shut down for winter break. And we’re grateful to have found, with the support of a dear friend who knows and loves my child just as he is, a spot for him at a small, private school whose focus is social and emotional development. And frankly, that’s what he needs to work on. Things like participating in classroom discussions. Like seeing something from someone else’s POV. Like learning to be more grounded and connected. Like feeling good about himself.

As another friend said, “We don’t need him to be any smarter. We need him to learn some of the social skills that are creating trouble for him.” True that.

Funny, I think I thought that once we came up with a plan, once the unknowns had been determined and a course of action set, the anxious knots in my stomach would go away. But they’re still there. I’m still hurt. I’m still confused. Like any bad breakup, I’ve got some wounds to heal. But I also know this breakup is best for everyone involved. We’ll all move on, find something better, eventually forget the bad times and fondly remember the good.

But for now, I’m still in it. There are still conversations to be had, breakup speeches to deliver, and most importantly, one amazing little boy whose world is about to be turned upside down.

A Draw

December 1st, 2011 § Leave a Comment

Conversing with my son’s teacher and having it become abundantly clear that he isn’t emotionally safe in her classroom = fail.

Listening to my son’s uncontrollable belly laughs as he and his dad work on their homemade video game = win.

Some days are just a draw.

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