Friday, April 21, 2017

On admitting it's ME who is overwhelmed and frustrated...

We are at Friday of spring vacation week.  Tony is taking today off, which is a huge, huge, HUGE relief.  It's been a long week.  Mostly for me, more than Janey, and that is what I'm thinking about.

Last summer when I talked about how Janey's life had little variety, I was very taken with the insight a lot of you gave me---that Janey might not mind the lack of variety, and in fact might like it.  I think you were right.  Janey takes enjoyment in simple things, and she loves having her days follow a pretty predictable script.  She is able to handle changes more than some kids with autism, but she likes it if the changes are within the framework of a general sameness.  With that in mine, I decided this week I would follow Janey's lead, let her set a routine and go with it.

Janey set a routine the first day and without me reminding her or prompting her, she requested it be followed for the next three days.  This is how it went....First, she woke up about six.  I snuggled with her a bit, we had some breakfast, she watched a little bit of TV.  Then she said "Go to the ice cream store?", which, as you've probably heard, is the convenience store near us.  We did the routine of getting dressed for the day, and walked to the store.  Janey loves this.  I got coffee and she looked for a long time at the chips and picked a bag, we payed and walked home.  Then she ate the chips outside while I had my coffee.  

Next, we went back inside for a little more videos time.  Then, Janey asked for a shower.  I set it up and she had one---washing her hair or not depending on if she needed it.  I let her take as long a shower as she felt like.  We got dressed again, a little more videos and then Janey asked for a car ride.  I suggested a place, which didn't really matter, as she wanted simply to be in the car.  We drove, got out wherever I had said, Janey put up with wherever we were for about five minutes, then asked to go home.  

The huge hug when Daddy gets home
When we got home, Janey screamed because the car ride was over.  That's where the routine still was routine, but not a very fun one.  For the rest of the day, until Tony came home early about 2 (he went into work very early so he could come home early), the routine was to scream and ask for Daddy.  As early as I could do it without it being too long, we went outside to wait for Daddy.  When he got home, Janey acted like she was seeing a returning soldier after many long years.  The smiles and hugs were incredible.  Then they went for the kind of car ride she really likes, long and without destination.

By last night, I was in a mood and a half, and I realized something.  As much as I want to be the perfect autism mother, as much as I feel like my own wants shouldn't matter, they do.  And I was bored, frustrated, hurt, tired.  

The ride yesterday was the last straw.  For the ride, I said we could go to Panda Express.  None of us but Janey like this fast food Chinese food, but she loves it.  However, I didn't realize that she had a routine in mind.  There was a line when we got there, as it was lunchtime.  I don't think Janey had ever experienced a line there before (it's not the most popular place, and is right next to a Five Guys and a Chipotle that get most of the customers) and she started freaking out and pushing people.  I got her to wait, we got our food, we sat down and she quickly ate the beef dish she likes, in about three minutes, and she was ready to go.  I had barely had a bite.  She grabbed the tray and wanted to throw it out.  She was rapidly becoming frantic and hysterical.  I gulped down a few bites on the way to the trash and threw out the rest, as the few other customers stared.

Then, Janey wanted to go in the Chipotle.  I realized that probably every other time she'd gone to Panda Express, it was because the boys wanted Chipotle, and Tony took her to Panda Express instead.  Then, they came over to see us at the Chipotle.  The fact that the boys are away at college and Tony was at work didn't matter.  We were supposed to go in the Chipotle and see them.  I got her into the car, screaming and highly upset, and she spent the rest of the afternoon highly angry.

When Tony got home, I started ranting.  I had done everything I could for four days to make it a week that would work for Janey.  Although I fully understand that she has a need for routine, although I know as well as anyone can that she is easily triggered by changes, I was just tired of it.  I was tired of trying so hard to keep her happy.  I was tired of dealing day and night with screaming.  I was tired of....well, all of it.  

And that's the thing of it.  All of us autism mothers and fathers are human beings.  We do our solid best.  But sometimes, it gets to us.  And that is where it gets hard.  Because what do I do?  There is no break from this.  There is no end to it.  There is no day that Janey's needs won't be overwhelming.  This is my life.

Last week I talked about the lack of programs or activities for those like Janey, with high needs autism.  The truth is, Janey doesn't much want outside activities, I don't think.  I do.  I want the break they would give me.  But the few activities that do exist---classes and therapies and so on---require I be there with her.  And that is just harder than no activity at all, and not worth it for something that in my heart I know she doesn't really enjoy anyway.  It's me that needs variety, and a break, not Janey.  

I got over my rant last night.  I am lucky in so many ways, and one of the top pieces of luck is one heck of a wonderful husband, who is taking over with Janey today.  But I keep being struck by that one thought---parents of kids like Janey are people too.  Sometimes it seems like we are supposed to not be. But we are, and sometimes, we are overwhelmed.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

Baby Bubbles

It's hard to explain exactly, but lately we are seeing something in Janey that is new and wonderful.  She is talking a little more, but it's not just that---it's a change in how she seems, in how she connects.  It's not there all the time, and it can be hard to describe, but when we see it, Tony and I look at each other in amazement.

I'll try to describe the latest incident.  Janey came home from school the other day very upset.  It seemed she was in pain---she was grabbing her belly and twisting around a bit.  It looked to us like gas pain, or pain from constipation.  We eventually gave her some Tums, hoping to help her feel better, and after a while, she did seem to feel much better.

As we were lying down with her at bedtime, we were talking about the Tums.  I said to Tony "I think they work by taking big bubbles in the stomach and breaking them down into little bubbles, so they can get out"  I wasn't talking to Janey, or doing what we sometimes do, talking to Tony in terms we thought Janey would understand, so she could listen indirectly.  Doing that often seems easier for her than talking to her straight on---it's like there is less pressure, so she hears without feeling pressured to respond.  But that's not what I was doing right then.

Right after I said what I said about the bubbles, Janey pointed to her belly and said "Baby bubbles?"  She said it exactly like most people would reply, in a questioning voice, like she was looking for confirmation she understood correctly.  Tony and I looked at each other in amazement.

This might not sound like a big deal to someone who doesn't know Janey, but it was something in several ways we have hardly ever seen.  First, she responded with appropriate timing---no delay.  Secondly, her tone was right on---not echoed sounding or sing-song or anything else, but just questioning.  Thirdly, she used a word we hadn't used, "baby" instead of "little"---so she wasn't quoting or repeating, she was using a synonym to clarify.

It's this little kind of thing we are seeing more and more of.  Janey seems to be, for the lack of a better word, tracking our speech more.  She seems to be following what we say and processing it in real time.

Another story---kind of a funny one.  Janey's uncle Joe often asks her "What's my name?"  It's something he did with all three kids when they were little, as a way of making conversation.  With Janey, he's been asking her that for years.  She replies or not, depending on her mood.  However, the other night, Tony was out with Joe and Janey in the car and I got a call.  Tony said "Are you sitting down?  You won't believe this"  What had happened was that Joe asked Janey, for maybe the ten-thousandth time in her life, "What's my name?" and Janey replied "You forgot your name?"

That answer---wow.  We joked that she must have been sitting on that reply for years, waiting for the right time.  It's an amazing reply to us---it shows she understand the meaning of the word "forgot", that she gets that someone would ask a question to get information, and most of all, it breaks away from a script that has been years and years in the making.

For a long time, Janey's speech didn't progress.  Our theories of why it suddenly is---Janey's having a good year of school and a good year of health.  Things have been steady and fairly upbeat.  She has a great team at school---a terrific teacher, an ABA worker we get super reports about, and a speech therapist we met her at IEP meeting that seems to get Janey in a way that we haven't seen in a speech therapist for a long time.  Those elements together, along with Janey herself maturing and learning, seem to have prompted progress where we hadn't seen it for years.

I hope very much this speech and understanding trend continues.  I am not being pessimistic but rather realistic in saying it very well might level off or regress after time---we've seen that pattern often.  However, knowing that she CAN talk and understand in the way she's been showing---it's wonderful.  It will keep us working.

In the larger picture, I want to get this out there partly to give hope to others.  There is so much emphasis on early intervention, on "crucial stages".  There is always a feeling that the necessary therapy has to happen RIGHT NOW, or never.  Janey is the proof I need to say that isn't necessarily the case.  She's making progress now, at age 12, at a rate we haven't seen since she regressed at 3.  It might not be the kind of progress that you read about, the "miracle cures", the breakthroughs, but it's progress non-the-less, and we couldn't be prouder of her.

Friday, April 7, 2017

All Are Welcome---except, of course, when they aren't

As I made a depressing round of calls this week to try to find a source of outside of school speech therapy for Janey, as I once again looked at summer camp opportunities and realized that the Extended School Year program at the public schools was really her only option, as I thought about how restless Janey is on the weekends, I did some thought exercises.  How would we feel, in today's society, to think that activities, programs, lessons, camps, enrichment opportunities, all those things that are "open to everyone" are in fact closed to one small group of people?  How would we feel knowing that we exclude with polite speech and "of course you understand" and "we aren't equipped to deal with that sort of needs" and "we staff for children who can be in a 4 child to one adult ratio" and "we generally deal with younger children with more potential to someday return to regular classrooms (an actual quote)" and "we'd be happy to help you if you could hire a one on one aide to accompany your child" and many, many other such ways to say NO---we don't include your child?  If this were done on the basis of sex or religion or race or nationality, we'd be outraged.  But because the child in question, the children in question, are autistic, labeled as "low functioning", not "able to follow directions"---well, that's just life.

And the thing of it is, I usually accept it as just life.  I am not a fighter.  I was not especially chosen to fight this autism fight.  I accept reality.  I say "of course I understand".

And the other thing of it is, I don't want Janey where she isn't wanted.  She is so sensitive to tone of voice, to the mood of a room, that she often bursts into tears at tense moments occurring on such TV shows as "Daniel Tiger's Neighborhood" or "Clifford" or "Yo Gabba Gabba".  These are shows aimed at toddlers and preschoolers.  If Daniel's mother is annoyed at Daniel, or Clifford upsets Emily Elizabeth, or the Gabba folk have a misunderstanding, Janey will scream and cry and pound the TV.  So how would she do at a program or camp or activity that just plain doesn't want her there?  How would THEY deal with her toileting accidents, or arm biting, or such?  Would she be yelled at, or worse?

Although I might not like it, I can understand why Janey might not be able to attend some things.  In an ideal world, she should be able to go to anyplace "open to all".  But she can't.  But I cannot accept that after making all kinds of calls,having two kinds of insurance for her, being willing to pay,  there isn't even a place that will provide her with speech therapy, or a social skills group.  I can't accept that she can't attend the city's rec department summer program FOR KIDS WITH SPECIAL NEEDS.  I still can manage to get upset that she had to leave the inclusion school we loved.  I hate it that the only respite we are referred to, over and over and over, is a program we tried, where we personally witnessed a staff of two, one working on checking in children, supposedly supervising approximately 15 kids with severe special needs---a program held up as "the best"---one that now does officially say they can't deal with kids that need one on one attention.

I'm feeling angry today.  And I will calm down.  I'll go back to understanding that "everyone included" doesn't mean that.  I'll go back to realizing Janey is a special case.  I already do realize, very much, that we are incredibly lucky she is welcomed and loved and embraced by the public school she attends---that I can put her on the bus each morning knowing she is cared for all day, and there is a summer program for her that does the same.  But in this city, this country, this place with the money to wage wars and send people into space and provide young sports players with equipment and travel, the city that gave my sons so many incredible opportunities, there is so little for those among us with the most needs.

Saturday, April 1, 2017

At the Autism Whatever time of year, challenges, hopes, dreams and love

Over the years, writing this blog, my goals have been a few things.  One is to be honest---to write about how I really feel and how my life with Janey really is---to try my hardest to stay clear of any particular philosophy or approach that will limit how I feel I can express myself.  Another is to be respectful of Janey, to do my level best to represent her in a way she would want to be represent herself, if she were able to write.  And third, to give support and encouragement to others---to let them know that it's possible for things to get better even when they seem impossibly hard, to give them a virtual hand to hold when times are tough and to celebrate along with them when our girls surprise and delight us with their triumphs.

It's that time of year again---the time that goes by various names---Autism Awareness or Acceptance or no name at all because it shouldn't be a day, it should be all the time, or whatever.  It always makes me think I should write some kind of summing up post, some kind of meaningful conclusion post.  I had some things in mind, but today turned out to be a tough day.  Janey is not happy.  There's a lot of screaming, a lot of crying.  I am feeling discouraged, and that always makes it hard to stay positive...it makes it feel very fake to stay positive and upbeat, at least in the short run.

Where are we today? Overall, in a fairly good place, despite today's mood.  We had Janey's three year re-evaluation IEP meeting on Wednesday, and it was a good one.  She is making progress in ways she hadn't been for a long time---with talking, with learning skills, with expressing her needs.  Tony and I were very happy, as we almost always are, with the level of caring and understanding those working with Janey showed.  It's an example of this that one area she'd regressed a little in was "attention seeking", and her teacher remarked that is probably because she is almost always getting attention without having to seek it---that she knows more people in the school than most the teachers, and they all want to interact with her---that she draws people in.  That made me very happy, and it's something Janey really does do.  She's got an engaging personality, and we are seeing more and more of who she is as she gets older.

The biggest challenge I see for the next three years, if we look at Janey's life in three year blocks, is providing her with an interesting life.  At one point today, while crying, Janey said "I'm so bored!"  We've never heard that before, and I think it was a quote, but as so many of her quotes, it was used in context.  I asked her "Do you wish it was a school day?" and she said "WISH IT WAS A SCHOOL DAY!" very firmly.  Sometimes it can make me cry to think how limited Janey's life is.  She is nearing thirteen.  When I was thirteen, I started high school.  I had friends and crushes and homework and activities and hobbies.  I worked, babysitting and helping in my mother's store.  I wrote letters and diaries and read hundreds of books.  I walked for hours on the shore.  What does Janey do?  She goes to school and she comes home.  She watches videos.  She eats.  I need to expand her life.  We need to find activities for her, not busywork but activities she will really enjoy and be able to participate in.

Longer term, we need to start thinking about what Janey's life will look like as she becomes an adult.  How do you plan a life for someone like Janey?  At the IEP meeting, it was mentioned that sorting things was good training for sheltered workshop type work.  I have to say---that's not a goal of mine.  If you measure Janey's intelligence with any standard method, I know it would look like it should be a goal, even probably a rather ambitious goal.  But I don't think you can measure Janey with standard measuring tools.

I used to believe that people who said things like "There are many kinds of intelligence" and "IQ is just a meaningless number" were, well, I don't know...not correct.  But my thinking on that has changed radically.  Janey is very, very smart, in ways those tests can't measure.  She is smart in her own ways.  I can honestly say she has intelligence that can't be measured with tests.  She shows it with the song connections she makes, with the quotes that perfectly match situations, with her sense of humor, with her dancing and organizing and sophisticated palate.  I don't look at her, ever, and see a person with limited intelligence.

So---what do I hope for Janey?  I hope she has joy.  I hope she finds a way to pursue her interests and use her talents.  I hope she is able to find the care that she needs for the areas that she needs help with.  I hope she is always surrounded by people who love her and find her interesting.  I hope that she can rid herself of some of her demons, of whatever it is that makes her so unhappy often.  I hope she never encounters cruelty.

And what do I hope for myself?  I am realizing that's fair to ask, also.  I hope I can balance Janey's needs with my own.  I hope I value myself enough to do what I need to do to be healthy, for Janey and for myself.  I hope I am able to pursue my own interests and dreams without that hurting Janey.  I hope for a balanced life, one where of course my most important role is mother---to Janey and her brothers, but that I also am able to enjoy my own passions---that I can garden and read and travel and laugh with friends and have a life that is happy without that taking away from Janey's happiness.

I don't know what to call this time of year.  But whatever you choose to call it, I wish those with lives touched by autism happiness and love.

Monday, March 27, 2017

Screaming, Shopping and Sleeping (or not)

On Saturday morning when Janey woke up, Tony was working on our state tax returns. Therefore, he wasn't available for the regular Saturday morning routine.  We hadn't really been aware of how much Janey counted on that routine, but she let us know, that's for sure.

Usually, on Saturday morning, Tony makes Janey bacon.  Then he has his coffee and she "steals" it---a game they've played for years.  He says "I hope Janey doesn't steal my coffee!" and then sets it down, with a little black stirrer straw in it, and she does indeed grab it and steals it.  Then he cries, a huge exaggerated cry.  This goes on for a long time.  We've had her her own coffee (hey, she's twelve, that's pretty late for an Italian to start on a lifelong coffee addiction), but she prefers the stealing method.  She and Tony can make a full morning of coffee, bacon, and then cooking whatever else she asks for---"soup" (which is boiled greens), toast, home fries, whatever.

This Saturday, I tried to hold Janey off until Tony could finish.  I wasn't even able to get started before the screaming started.  I was determined to give Tony the time he needed---he was on a roll.  It was a hellish hour or so.  The screaming...wow.  I write so often about Janey's screaming here, but unless you have heard it, I don't think anyone can quite picture it.  It's truly ear-piercing.  I do think both Tony and I have lost some of our hearing from it. And despite many, many different methods I've tried to reduce it, nothing works consistently.  It's Janey way of saying that the situation is just plain unacceptable, and it really doesn't stop until the situation improves in her eyes.  I finally got through the time by her taking an extended shower---she screamed right up to getting in and screamed as soon as she was out.  Once Tony was done, they did their routine, and Janey was quite happy.  It's times like that that result in us usually just doing what Janey needs done.  We are all happier that way.  But we can't always, always do that.

On Sunday afternoon, after a decent enough weekend when the screaming was past, we took Janey out shopping.  That is something we almost never do, except for quick grocery shops.  She has learned to do very well in the grocery store, as long as she knows she'll soon be eating the food she picks out.  But this was a shop to A.C. Moore (a craft type store) and Five Below (a store where everything costs five dollars or below).  We weren't shopping for any real reason---we just both had the urge to browse around.  And lo and behold, it went quite well!

In the ACMoore, I walked around with Janey for a while so Tony could look around, and it was actually fun---not something I've never really found when shopping with Janey much.  She was interested in a lot of things in the store---some decorative feathers, some plastic models of animals, a wooden heart, a letter "J" to decorate----quite a few things.  I asked her a couple times if she wanted to buy things, but I don't think that's a concept she truly gets except in the grocery store.  It makes her cheap to shop with!  She sees the store as a museum of sorts---a place to look at and sometimes touch things, but not take them home.

While we walked around, I thought to myself "You know, I don't think people are staring like they usually do"  So I started taking note, and yes, they still were staring.  The thing is---I don't notice it much any more.  That's a huge change.  I used to be very bothered by staring, and now, I'm so used to it I don't even see it.  I think that goes along with a general shift in our thinking about Janey.  I'm comfortable enough with her just being who she is that I don't really much care most of the time if other people find her stare-worthy.  If I do notice them, I think I often assume (without really thinking, just letting my mind wander about) that they are thinking she is cool, because that is how I am seeing her.  Or I think "it's great she is educating them about the existence of people like her, autistic older kids and adults" (because she looks fairly close to an adult now)  Whatever it is, I'm glad it happened.  We all live in a world partly made up of our own perceptions, and I like living in the one that doesn't notice or mind the staring.

Janey wasn't too interested in the Five Below, but I bought a few things there, including some ChocoTreasures eggs.  I love Kinder Eggs, chocolate eggs with toys inside, but they are illegal in the US, so I'm happy to have discovered there are similar eggs that are now legal.  I bought a few, ad in the car on the way home I did something stupid---I opened one of them.  It was stupid because Janey and chocolate, after noon, don't mix.  She saw the chocolate right away and asked for it, and instead of saying no, I gave her a little, little piece---about the size of my thumbnail.

And then we re-learned a lesson we should have learned long ago----if Janey has chocolate after noon, she doesn't sleep.  I think it's so hard for me to grasp because it just seems not to make sense.  How could that little an amount of chocolate keep her up?  I think it's especially dark chocolate, which this was.  Usually, Janey is asleep by about seven.  Last night, although she was cheery and happy and willing to stay in her bed, she didn't get to sleep until about 11:30.  Which meant, of course, one of us had to be up too.  Tony has to work in the morning, I don't, and it was also me who gave her the chocolate, so I did most of the duty.  Janey watched her iPad and sang to herself and asked me for cheese and generally just did her thing while I lay next to her, fighting sleep until she finally drifted off.

In thinking about the weekend, a fairly normal weekend, I am struck by something.  So much of how Janey does depends on what we do---whether we follow routines, whether we let starers bother us, whether we stick to rules we've made ourselves about chocolate.  We are all happier if we make Janey's life predictable, relaxed and sleep-at-night promoting.  It's a feedback loop---the more we can do that, the happier she is, and the easier it is to enjoy her and keep her happy.  We can't always get it right, because we are human, and we aren't completely in control of all aspects of life, but we can do our best, and when we do that, instead of expecting Janey to be something she isn't, life with our girl is better for all of us.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Sticker Book

Recently, after being amazed by seeing Janey be tested as part of a research study, and after some surprising, great talking she's done, several thoughts are in my mind constantly.  One is how bored she might be.  Because her talking is limited, I think we often limit what we talk to her about.  Quite frankly, it can be hard to think of conversational topics when your conversation partner rarely talks back or brings up anything new.  So I've also been thinking about ways to expand her knowledge, to give her new ideas and facts and interests.

Puffy stickers
Janey is absolutely an auditory learner.  That seems to be rarer in autism than being a visual learner.  So much of what I read as advice for teaching kids like Janey assumes they are visual learners---picture schedules, communication devices that use pictures, choice boards with pictures---all that.  Janey prefers words.  She's made this quite plain, as plain as she is able.  I am the one that needs to figure out how to help her learn in an auditory way.

So---my inspiration for making a sticker book seems strange.  What are stickers if not little pictures? But when I had the idea of the book, I had a feeling I'd hit on something.  The trick is---the stickers are for ME.  I'm the one that loves them, I'm the one that learns well visually.  I'm the one that needs new ideas for talking.

And I love stickers.  There, I've admitted it---I'm a middle aged woman who adores stickers.  I always have.  So the idea of making a huge sticker book for Janey appealed to me very much.

Some Kawaii stickers!
I got started by ordering a sketch pad and a couple lots of stickers from Amazon.  I ordered a big pack of puffy stickers---sheet after sheet of different kinds, and a pack of stickers of the kind you put on cars, all assorted.  Then on Etsy I discovered something called Kawaii stickers.  I thought at first Kawaii was a brand, but it's actually Japanese for a concept much like "cute".  There are a HUGE amount of kinds of Kawaii stickers---I've since found a few online stores that sell them very cheaply, and I don't think I could ever run out of different types.

An animal themed page
I had a lot of fun sticking all the stickers I had so far in the book.  And then I gave it a try...I showed the book to Janey, picked a page at random and then a sticker at random, and showed it to her, and talked about it.  Talked about it in the way we've come to figure out she likes best---in a silly and highly enthusiastic way.  Several of her breakthrough sentences lately have been ones asking us to play various verbal games with her---pretending to sneeze, making high squeaky "monkey" noises, things like that.  The sticker I first hit on was a ghost.  I said something like "There's a ghost!  It goes WHOOOO HOOOO in such a creepy way!  See that silly ghost?"

A little bit edgy and weird for my near teen
Janey loved it.  We played with ghost noises for quite a while.  Then I switched pages and asked her to touch the sticker she wanted to talk about.  We were in a page of Shopkins stickers, and she found a picture of corn with eyes.  I talked that up a lot "That's so silly!  Corn never has eyes!  We eat corn!  It comes in cobs.  You like corn.  Let's find some more corn pictures!"  We found some more on that page, and some on other pages, and that led to other topics---one of the corn pictures featured a rainbow, and I started talking about colors, one had corn next to some other food, holding hands, and I talked about how they were friends...things like that.  Before I knew it, half an hour had gone by---a full and fun half hour.

Camping, cooking and Frozen
Since then, I've pulled out the sticker book every day, and Janey seems to be looking forward to it.  She finds her favorite stickers quickly, but is also open to new stickers.  I feel like I've increased how interesting and varied our talking time together is by a huge amount.  And...I have an excuse to look for stickers to add!

In the broader picture, the whole sticker book idea brings up a couple lessons I've learned along the way.  One is that Janey knows if we are enjoying what we are doing and are engaged in it.  I'm going to stick to a way of teaching that I like much more than one I don't, and with Janey's extreme ability to read tones of voice, she picks up on the fact I'm having fun, and she joins in.  Another lesson goes along with that well-used phrase "You've met one kid  with autism, you've met one kid with autism" All the visual schedules and picture-based AAC programs in the world don't change the fact that Janey learns by hearing.  And that I don't, and that I need to figure out how to bridge that gap, how to respect what she is learning every day a little more how to tell us.  If that allows me to indulge in a long-buried sticker passion---well, all the better.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

"I am angry, Daddy"

A few nights ago, when Tony had just come home from work, Janey went over to him and spoke the words in the title---"I am angry, Daddy".  It's hard to describe, but I think many of you are familiar with what I'm talking about when I say those moments are sort of like miracles.  They make you feel like you are in a dream, or living another reality.  For Janey to just go over and say that, and not reverse the pronouns, and state clearly how she felt---well, it's something amazing.

When I think about it, it's also something we have worked hard on, and so has her school.  Both the school and we have worked for years on helping her identify emotions. But still...to have her suddenly say something like that, it always feels unexpected.

I used to read a lot of books about kids with autism, before I had such a child.  Call it premonition, or something.  Now I realize many of those books were selling a bill of goods, not intentionally, of course, but still, they often showed miracle type cures, or else cures that came about by parents so devoted that no-one in the real world could ever copy their methods.  And I know, now, that some kids do change radically.  I'm not saying they don't change as a result of help from those around them, but other kids can get that same help and change much less, if at all.  You aren't going to grow a sunflower from a marigold seed, even if both get the same care.  And getting a marigold is great, not bad, but if you write a book about how you grew a sunflower from a tiny seed and anyone can do that, even those with marigold seeds...you are not quite getting it.

In those books I read about autism, I would often hear of moments like the one where Janey said what she said, and I'd think "There!  They did it!  Problem solved!"  Those of us who have now lived the life now that's not how it works.  Doing something once doesn't mean it will happen again right way, if at all.  I don't expect Janey to suddenly clearly state every feeling she has.  But it's wonderful to know she CAN.

After Janey told Tony she was angry, he did one of the twisted sentences we often do.  He said "What Daddy can do to make Janey feel less angry is....", leaving the sentence open for her ending.  We do that to sort of pre-populate a sentence, so she can fill it in.  And she did.  She said "say 'Achoo, A Sneaker, A Sandal, God Bless You"  That might not sound like it makes a lot of sense, but it does.  Janey lately loves to have us pretend to sneeze, and then to say "God bless you" to us.  And Tony often pretends to sneeze by saying "a shoe, a sneaker, a sandal..."  So, we played that game for a while.

A few days before Janey's big statement, her brothers were here working on their financial aide forms, and Janey was very upset.  I took her aside to calm her down and did some guessing, saying "Janey is angry because Daddy is busy" (he was helping the boys).  Janey repeated but changed what I said, saying "Janey is angry because William is busy"  And indeed, when I let William know she needed some attention, she was much happier.  We are realizing that often what she seems angry about is when we aren't paying her enough attention.  I think we usually used to guess she was angry about more physical things, like feeling hungry or tired or in pain, and it's so wonderful to better understand what she needs from us.

We'll keep on working on feelings.  I want to thank you, Janey, for giving us that great sentence to let us know how you feel.  Whenever you are ready to tell us anything, we will be here to listen.