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Thursday, March 26, 2020

So far, not so good

School has been closed here in Boston for almost two weeks.  From what I've read, school is closed almost everywhere in the world, certainly almost everywhere in the US.

How's it going?  For us, not well.  Janey is very, very unhappy without school.  

We've wondered, during the last 2 or 3 great years, with this year up until the pandemic hit being the best of all, what was contributing the most to Janey's vastly happier mood.  Was it just her maturing?  Was it something we were doing differently at home?  Had she been in pain somehow, and now wasn't?  Or was it school, school she loved?  I'm sure it was some of all of those, but I think these weeks have shown the biggest part of it was school.  

For Janey, being social and connecting to people has always been one of her strengths.  This is especially the case with adults.  She forms strong connections to the people in her life.  She has special rituals and routines with each person she is close with, ones that are very different for each person but that she never forgets.  She lets people know strongly how important they are to her.  Being suddenly removed for all the people at school she grew so quickly to love very much is tearing her apart.  It's not that she doesn't love us at home, but honestly---what 15 year old would want to spend all their time at home with their parents?  Not Janey.

We're seeing behaviors we haven't seen in a long time.  Janey is biting her arm all the time, something that never has quite gone away but for years has been more like a gesture than an actual bite.  Now it's a bite again.  She is screaming, a lot, the very loud and anguished scream we knew so well but had heard so much less of lately.  She isn't sleeping. Last night she slept almost not at all, she didn't nap today, and at 10:30 at night she's still awake.  Her OCD has kicked into high gear.  She's obsessed with the pillows on her bed---rearranging them, asking for them and then throwing them, wanting us to lie down with her but then insisting we not have a pillow.  She tries to push her brother William out of the room every time she sees him---not that she doesn't like him, but he has become somehow something that needs to arranged also.  She is falling apart in a lot of ways.

And of course, it's nobody's fault.  There is nothing that can be done.  The schools are doing what they can remotely, friends have asked if there is anything they can do to help, we would buy or get anything that would make this easier for her, if there were anything.  There isn't.  We can't recreate school for her---the dance classes, the long bus rides, the morning meetings, the wonderful people who work with her, sing with her, have fun with her.  

There are resources being put out there for all the homebound kids all the time, but as is so often the case, they mostly don't work for someone like Janey.  She doesn't do academic work.  Online learning is not something she can access in any real way.  She has always rejected any time of virtual visual contact---I've tried any time I've been away for a day or two to Facetime her, and she hated it.  We try to follow a routine, but we run out of things to fill the routine with fast.  A big part of her routine at home has always involved things like going to the grocery store, or visiting her uncle in the nursing home near us, or going to the "ice cream store", the nearby 7-11, or other little local trips.  We can't do those safely or at all.  For a while, I was taking Janey with me each day for a walk to the post office.  But she compulsively touches everything---the walls, the lampposts, parked cars---and without literally holding down her hands, she's going to touch her face.  So we do car rides to nowhere or stay home.   

We will get through this, of course.  School will start again in time.  But what scares me is how easily all Janey's progress can dissolve.  I worry about when she turns 22, and is no longer in school.  I worry about budget cuts or administrative decisions that might change her school experience.  I worry the black hole of worries the most---about us as parents not being here on earth to care for her.

And due to some awful articles I saw and had to stop myself from reading, I worry about how society makes judgements when there are limited resources to keep people literally alive.  I worry about medical care that might not be equally available to all.  I worry about all people that are seen as less than.  I think of all the children like Janey I know through this blog, around the world, and I worry so much.  I hope you are all healthy, most of all, and finding ways to get through this. Love to all of you.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Autism in the time of Coronavirus

The coronavirus pandemic is, by very definition, a worldwide crisis.  It affects everyone on earth. I always try to guard against appropriating issues that are certainly not mine alone.  That being said, there are ways this crisis is affecting those with autism, and to narrow it down more, my daughter Janey, specifically and strongly.

Of course, because everyone with autism is a unique person, and there is no one autism personality, set of skills, collection of challenges, I can only speak only for the person with autism I know best, Janey, and even then, I can speak only as her mother, not as herself.  That being said...

Janey was having, up to last week, the best year of her life, I think it's fair to say.  She loves high school.  Loves it completely, with abandon.  All reports, all pictures sent home, all signs were that she felt she'd found her place.  The time from the start of this school year until now was the longest ever almost uninterrupted stretch of happiness for Janey ever.

And suddenly, that ended.  From one day to the next, there was no more high school to go to.  We know the reasons, but I truly don't think Janey does at all.  Of course, I explained it to her.  I try to always assume competence.  I told her as best I could what was happening.  I don't know how much she understood. Being completely frank, I don't think it was much.  Janey has a pretty significant intellectual disability, and I think the idea of a worldwide pandemic is beyond her.  What she did understand is that for now, school is over.  I know she understood that, because when I told her, she screamed.  And said, over and over, "No!  No!  No!"

I am constantly thinking back to when I was Janey's age, 15.  I loved high school too.  I look at pictures of me from that time, and the smile on my face, the very cheerful look, is so much like Janey's.  I loved the mix of structure and chaos, the feeling that anything could happen, but it was going to happen within a somewhat controlled framework.  I loved being out of the house, on my own but still with a home base.  I loved being with my friends.  And, like many 15 year old girls, I was a bit boy crazy, spending hours writing in my diary about whoever I had a crush on at the time.  At Janey's IEP meeting, I loved in a lot of ways hearing about how Janey had to be reminded we don't hold hands during class.  She is one of the few girls in a cluster of classrooms full to the brim with boys, and she is not unaware of that.

And now, for reasons she doesn't get, she is home.  She is not only home, but we aren't going anyplace fun.  In her eyes, I am sure it feels like we have just decided to take away what she most enjoys.  What bothers me the most is that I think she believes that everyone else is there at school, having the time of their lives, and she is home without them.  I've tried everything I can think of to explain that isn't the case, but I don't think she gets it at all.

Janey has reacted to all of this with a huge regression.  She is biting her arm all day until it's raw looking, she is screaming often, she is crying a great deal.  She is showing behaviors we haven't seen in this intensity for a long time.  And seeing her regress, it all comes rushing back.  We as parents of a child severely affected by autism are living one tantrum away always from fear of it all going to hell in a handbasket. My mind can't help but take me to one of the worse days ever---to a hospital emergency room where Janey is biting and flinging objects and so out of control that there are suddenly police officers all over and I am being walked out out of the room so Janey can be subdued without me.  I would guess many of you have your own scene like that---the scene that the mind has a strange attraction to.

The school system in Boston is doing all they can to help kids get through this time, and as almost always, I am grateful for that.  We are taking Janey every day to pick up breakfast and lunch, a little piece of routine.  Her teacher has set up a Google classroom and today I will show Janey the videos there.  But much of what the schools can do just simply doesn't work for Janey.  The kind of work she does at school at this point really can't be reproduced at home.  We can't give her a dance class full of other kids, or a big swimming pool, or field trips with her friends.  We can't give her a long bus ride through the city, or a big staff of people who love her.  We can only give her our little staff at home, and she isn't happy about that.

For many families like our own, school is our one and only source of respite. With Janey home, that respite is over for now, and that is one of the toughest parts of this all.  Her respite from us is gone, too.  It's much easier to take a step back and work on ways to deal with this crisis when you are getting sleep, which we aren't, when you are getting some time away from the screaming and the frantic demands of a confused and unhappy child.  

Under all this, of course, is the same fear that almost everyone has, that we will get sick.  Tony is a diabetic.  I have quite a few underlying conditions.  If either of us got sick, it could be, well, pretty bad.  It evokes the black hole of fears when you have a child like Janey---the fear that you won't be there as a parent.  As my friend Michelle and I often say, and as many living this life understand, we as parents have to live forever.  The thought of us not being there for Janey....I can't even go there.

I know that not every child with autism is Janey, is like Janey.  For some kids, this break from school, this time at home, is a dream come true.  Some kids and parents will probably look back at this, assuming we get through it and all in the family are okay, as one of the best times in their life, strange to say.  And that too is part of the story of autism at this strange time in history.  

Thank goodness for the internet.  I think that all the time.  Thank goodness we can be with each other virtually.  Thank goodness for that gift from above, Disney Plus, without which right now I can't imagine life.  Thank goodness for being in contact with my autism mother friends.  Thank goodness my son William can work at home, helping to keep Tony and me safe from sickness.  Thank goodness for all that helps us not feel alone.

I would love my Facebook companion page to be a place you can vent, a place that I will do everything I can to keep as a refuge for those who need it.  

I will close with what I've noticed has become the default close in this past week.  Be well.

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

As honest as I can be, to those new at this autism parenting life.

For some reason, tonight as I tried to get to sleep, I kept picturing a parent out there somewhere, a parent who has just been given the official word they have joined our club, that they have a child with autism.  And I pictured what I would want to say to them, if I allowed myself to be completely honest.  Here goes...

First I want to say to you---nobody in this world knows how your child's life is going to look 5, 10, 20 years from now.  That's true for anyone, but from what I've seen, it's especially true for kids with autism.  Maybe your child will start talking if they don't talk now.  Maybe they will never say a world verbally.  Maybe they will learn to read, to write.  Maybe they will go to college.  Maybe they will never progress academically in any way.  Maybe they will have some talent that is incredible.  Maybe they won't.  The starting point, the point they are at right now, seems to somehow have very little impact on the eventual course of things.

And I honestly don't think that what you do, the therapies you get or the interventions you try or the diets you take on or the model of education you choose will make much of a difference.  Certainly many people will say I'm wrong there.  But it seems to me that our kids do what they are meant to do when they are meant to do it.  How we react to them, what kind of people we surround them with, that matters, but just how we try to teach or train or guide them, the methods we use, the resources we can or can't afford, the diets we chose or don't chose to follow, the methods we embrace, the toys we buy...don't worry too much about them.  Worry about surrounding your child with people who love her, who enjoy her, who want the best for her.

Pick your battles. Don't mortgage your future to move to the school district people say you should live in for the "best services".  Don't spend every waking moment pursuing a therapy that others have told you must be done in the crucial, special, essential time frame of "no matter how early you started, it wasn't early enough". But DO fight with the medical doctors when you know something is wrong physically with your child.  Fight to get them to take that temperature or give that shot or examine that stomach.  That is a battle you must fight, one of the few essential ones.

Don't let anyone make you feel guilty for being overwhelmed, for being tired, for being in despair at times.  Every single parent in the world has those feelings sometimes, but the big difference is that we simply don't get the breaks other parents do.  That is the huge difference.  Other kids go to friend's house.  Other kids can play sports or join activities or even just get to be 12 or 13 and be able to stay at home alone.  Other kids don't need to be watched every second of every day.  I don't think, often, it's that our kids are even tougher to parent than "regular" kids  It's that the parenting time we put in, over the years, is far more than with regular kids.  And when you never, ever get a break, it adds up.  You are going to have some very tough days.

Find some friends who get it.  Find them online, probably, because although it's much easier to find support groups for parents than any respite ever, you aren't going to necessarily or even probably meet the parents at these groups with kids like your own.  Autism takes so many forms.  Find someone with a child a lot like yours, and when you do, talk to them all you can.  Call each other often.  Email.  Visit, even if they live far away, if you can.  Use my Facebook group if you need a place to ask for a friend.  I honestly, truthfully don't know if I would have made it without my compatriot friends.

Give up on trying to reduce screen time, if you have a child who loves to watch the screen.  Believe me, I was the parent whose kids were going to play only with wooden blocks, who would live for books and shun TV.  But Janey loves videos.  I can't picture her life without the movies she loves.  They bring her great joy, and frankly, that brings me great joy.

Enjoy the heck out of the many, many parts of being an autism parent that frankly are just plain better than being a regular parent.  I enjoy having a daughter who will never, ever be catty or exclusionary to other girls, a daughter who jumps with joy because we are going to take her for a car ride, a daughter who loves vegetables with abandon, who has never once argued with me about clothes or told me I was ruining her life or in fact ever done anything deliberately to hurt anyone, ever.  Your reasons will vary, but believe me, there are great parts to being the parent of our kids.

Find ways to enjoy life even on the worst days.  Even on the days when Janey literally screamed all day, on the mornings after she didn't sleep all night, even in between changing bedding over and over, or dodging being bit---even on the days I can barely even think about---there was coffee.  There were stolen word game moments.  There were 15 minute naps after begging my sons to watch their sister when I literally couldn't keep my eyes open.  There were ways to live moment to moment to get through days that I didn't think would ever end.

More than anything else, I want to say that although it might seem right now like you've been given the worst news you can imagine---it isn't.  There will come a day when you realize that you can't possibly imagine your child being anyone other than who they are.  Just like everyone on this earth, they aren't perfect, but they are perfectly themselves.

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Lip Gloss and Out of Place Cats

I went all of January without writing a post!  I know I write a lot less than I used to.  I think about posts I want to write all the time, and compose them in my head, but actually sitting down and writing doesn't seem to happen as often as it used to, partly because as Janey gets older, things are more stable.  There is less drama to write about.  But I know that as she is getting older, many of the people who read this also have girls getting older, and I want us all to still share our journeys, so I very much doubt I'll ever stop writing completely!

The title here comes from an interesting insight I got into Janey last week.  Her class went on an all day field trip to the mall, and her teacher asked us to send in some money in case Janey wanted to buy something (and also for lunch).  My guess would have been that Janey would have no interest in buying anything non-food---she usually doesn't.  But when she got home, we found a variety pack of lip gloss in her backpack, from H&M.  We were quite surprised!  Later that weekend, her teacher wrote me a note to say that as soon as they walked into the H&M, Janey picked out the lip gloss.  The teacher asked her a few times if she was sure she wanted it, and indeed---she was sure!  They helped her put some on after buying it, and reports are that Janey was delighted.

I love finding out in ways like that what Janey likes.  I don't wear any makeup and really never have, so Janey hasn't been exposed to much at home.  It's so cool she even knew what it was, and that, as it typical for a 15 year old, she had an interest in it that wasn't something she learned from her mother.  I often think about how much of Janey's life is controlled by others.  I guess at a lot---what she wants to wear, how she wants her hair, where she'll enjoying going---and she lets us know if we are on-base a little, but I think often we only really get a message from her if she dislikes something very much.  I would love to know what clothes she would LOVE, or what activities she would adore.  It's one of the parts of her difficulties in communicating, or our difficulties in finding ways that work to communicate, that makes me the most sad.

The out of place cats?  Janey likes order.  She likes things to be where they are supposed to be---remotes lined up in a row, shoes with the left on the left and the right on the right, unused lights or TVs turned off, furniture never moved.  This need for order extends to living beings. The cats frustrated her constantly with their randomness.  They show up when they feel like it, disrupting symmetry she feels should exist on the couch or floor.  Our older cat, Tommy, spends much of his time now in the bathroom, sleeping.  But tonight he ventured into the kitchen, and Janey immediately noticed him and tried hard to push him back into where she felt he should be.  We stopped her and tried to explain, as we have a million times, that cats do what they want to do, but it's pretty futile. 

We as humans have learned to give Janey the order she needs. It makes things a lot easier.  But at times, as the years go on, it wears us down, to be brutally honest.  For example, the living room, when Janey is home and awake, belongs to her.  It's where she watches her videos and does her routines---rearranging things, checking thing, pacing and jumping and laughing.  But we don't have a huge amount of living space, and Janey doesn't tolerate much intrusion on her domain.  In the car, the music is Janey's choice.  We listen to what she wants to listen to, and change songs when she says to.  What the rest of us want to hear doesn't get heard.

I imagine someone reading that last paragraph who didn't know Janey or who didn't have their own child like Janey would have one of two reactions.  Many people might say "Those parents need to get control back!  They are giving that girl way too much power!"  Or, conversely, they might say "Why is that mother complaining about the small stuff?  Didn't she just talk about how little Janey can say what she likes?  Doesn't she remember how hard things were in the past?"

To those who might say Janey is being given too much control---well, that has been a choice.  We made a choice to do whatever we could to give Janey more happiness.  She was not very happy for many years. This made our lives hard, but far more importantly, it made her life hard.  There is still so much in life Janey can't control, can't completely understand.  There is much in life she isn't going to be a part of.  So we made a choice to let her control what she can control, to let her enjoy those things she most loves, her movies and her music.

But to those who might rightfully ask "well, then, why are you complaining?"---well, I am not a saint.  Sometimes, Janey's needs wear us down.  They wear us down because there are no breaks, no credit saved up.  We can put on the songs she wants a thousand car rides in a row, and then one day we might really, really want to hear something we like, and if we insist, Janey melts down.  Badly.  And once she melts down, her mood can be affected for literally weeks.  It's like her world starts to feel out of balance, and it takes a long time for it to feel right again. 

If you don't have a child like Janey, you might be thinking "She'd learn in time!  She just needs to learn that she can't always have things her way!"  To those hypothetical people thinking that, I invite you to read the blog entries about Janey from about ages 5 to 10.   Those were the years we gave their wise advice a try.  Those were some very tough years.  We tried, for many years.  It was a failure.  Janey was very unhappy, and we were very unhappy. 

So, the conclusion, I guess, is that we as Janey's parents can live with sometimes feeling fed up.  We can stand to put her happiness first.  It's what we have chosen.  However, I'm not going to be afraid to admit it is hard.  I don't think I'm doing Janey a disservice to say that.  I think I'd be doing a disservice to anyone reading here to pretend it's all easy. I know many people have told me they feel less alone knowing that there are others finding this whole special needs parenting gig hard at times.  That doesn't mean we don't adore our children. That doesn't mean we don't value them, or that we won't do whatever it takes until our last breath to make their lives as meaningful and happy as we can.  It means we are human beings, doing the best we can.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Looking back on the decade

The end of a year, and in this case, the end of a decade, always prompts us to look back.  I've been doing that a great deal lately.

If I look at 10 years ago now, when Janey was 5, we were heading into some very tough years, years in which Janey was very unhappy and often very angry.  It's hard thinking about those years.  I wish I had known then that things would get as much better as they have.  Janey still is sometimes sad, sometimes angry, of course.  We all are.  But so much more of the time, she is happy, or at least contented.

In thinking about this, I've been thinking about causes.  What made those years so hard for Janey?

One of my leading theories is that during the worst years, the most attempts were being made to teach Janey academically.  Via ABA and classroom work and also at home by me, she was spending lots of her time working on things like letters, numbers, writing and reading.

These efforts were not successful.  At times, Janey seemed to learn a little, to know a few letters or numbers.  At one point around 2nd grade, she could write her name.  But these skills would fade away quickly if not constantly practiced, and sometimes, even when they were constantly practiced.

For a lot of kids with autism, this isn't the case.  I have seen myself the amazing things many kids in classes with Janey have learned.  And of course, we didn't know in advance that Janey wasn't going to be one of the academic achievers.  But I think it could have been predicted a bit more than it was.  I think of how extremely frustrating it must have been for Janey to have to work so much on things that simply were not something she could or wanted to learn.  When I think about that, it's no wonder she acted out so much.

How could it have been predicted?  Maybe by an IQ test.  And I will stop right here, right now, and say I know that IQ is not the only way to measure intelligence. In many ways, Janey is very, very smart.  But IQ tests do measure a specific kind of skill.  It can be said that Janey couldn't be tested accurately, but that in itself is telling.

Janey's IQ was tested at least three times, mostly through studies she was in. I was never given a number.  I guess people thought it would upset me, or that it was meaningless.  But I know she scored lower than the 1st percentile.  I know her IQ is very, very low.  Again, and importantly, NOT her intelligence, but her IQ---a specific kind of skill set.

From my understanding, IQ tests were first developed to understand potential, to see what kind of teaching and classes would be helpful.  I think we could have known early on,based on tests that were done, that what Janey needed was not academic work, but work on her life skills, and most especially work on helping her enjoy the things she IS good at.  I understand in a lot of ways why schools do keep trying to teach Janey and others like her academic skills.  A lot of it is No Child Left Behind type thinking.  But a big part of the reason is hard to put into words.  Trying to, and being blunt, it's that our society places a low value on people with low IQs, people whose strengths are not at all academic.  We try very, very hard to turn people like Janey into someone we feel has more value.

And Janey suffered because of this.  It was not just the school, but also us, at home.  We tried to teach her many things that were beyond her.  We tried to get her to talk more than she was able to talk, to be more perfectly able to use the bathroom than she was able to, to understand rules and rituals that were beyond her.

In our case, it was a dramatic event which changed things---when we almost lost Janey to a burst appendix.  It's the big dividing line in our heads, when we realized how truly precious Janey was to us exactly how she is, when we stopped putting value on what we HOPED she would do and started putting value on what she CAN do, on who she is.

For every child with autism, for every child without autism, for every child at all, there is a different path.  Until our society values people like Janey, we probably will keep trying to put all children on the same path.

What will the next decade hold for Janey?  I hope it holds happiness.  I hope Janey is content with her life.  I hope that for all of you, and all your children.

Happy New Year.

Monday, November 25, 2019

"Daddy just went asleep"

Early this morning, about 5:30, Janey woke me up by putting a Tupperware container of cheese on top of me.  This means she wants some cheese cut up.  We keep a knife right in the container for convenience.  In my sleepy state, I asked "Where's Daddy?", hoping he could do the job.

We ask Janey questions like that all the time, questions we don't really expect an answer to.  I've tried at times not to, to not to push her to talk when she doesn't want to.  But the questions sneak back, because that's a natural way of having a conversation, and in general, I like to talk to Janey like I would to most people.  It's easier, and it assumes competence, which is important to me.  But that doesn't mean she answers me...usually.

After a pause, I was very very surprised.  Janey said back to me "Daddy just went asleep".

It's hard to really explain how surprising that answer was, but there were many, many unusual things about it.  One is that it was original.  It wasn't echoing something she'd heard.  Almost all her speech that is more than a single word is an echo.  Sometimes it's echolalia that works just right in the situation she's in, but most of the time, it's not.  She'll say lines from a movie, or something that one of us said that caught her fancy.  She'll sing, or obsessively repeat our refusals "I'm not taking you for a car ride right now!  We don't have any salami!  It's time for bed!", things like that.

Janey will also often give yes or no answers (but sometimes mixing up yes and no).  It usually takes a couple tries.  We'll say "Do you want some crackers?" and wait for an answer, and then we'll rephrase it "Do you want some crackers, yes or no?" or perhaps "The food I want is...." giving her a fill in the blank.  And eventually, she'll say yes or not, or repeat "The food I want is crackers"

Almost all Janey's speech that isn't scripting or echolalia is used to express wants.  That's great.  We love knowing what she wants, and we will praise her heavily for saying something like "Want to go for a car ride?" or "Want to watch SpongeBob?", telling her we really appreciate her telling us what she wants.

So---what we almost never heard is speech that is original, speech that doesn't express a want, speech that answers a question, or speech that is a sentence.

When Janey does say something like she did this morning, there is a tone she uses we don't hear any other time.  It's slower, with less expression.  It doesn't flow out like her frequent scripted speech.  It's very deliberate.  And that is how she said "Daddy just went asleep"

Tony had not actually just gone to sleep.  He was in the bathroom.  But often, when Janey wakes up in the middle of the night and wants something, Tony will very justifiably say "I just went to sleep!"  And so, Janey heard my question and understood why I was asking it.  She understood the subtext---why are you waking me up to give you cheese?  Why aren't you asking Daddy?  (Tony usually is awake long before I am.  He's the world's ultimate morning person)

Progress with Janey can be very, very slow.  It can be so slow it appears not to be happening.  We can try to teach her something and see almost no progress for years and years and years.  But she's learning, at the pace she can and wants to.  Today's sentence was a wonderful reminder of that.  For whatever reason, speech of some types is incredibly hard for Janey.  I think the part of her brain that would form answers beyond yes or no, that would form original sentences, just doesn't quite work like other people's brains.  I think that accounts for the very different tone she uses for the rare times we get those sentences.  They require use of some other system in her mind.  It's like if we wanted to solve a math problem using only verbal skills, or wanted to walk without the automatic motor skills.

I don't believe in breakthroughs with Janey.  Having her say a sentence like she did today doesn't mean it's going to start happening all the time.  That's not the point.  In some ways, it's a reminder of why it's so hard for her to talk in that way.  Even in this case, the sentence wasn't quite accurate, and it wasn't quite grammatical.  But it happened, and we need to always remember that Janey had abilities and capacities that doesn't show themselves on a regular basis.

Every day, I am so proud of Janey.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

Anyone else?

I've been wondering lately about quite a few traits, issue, habits and the like that Janey has---wondering if other kids like her share them.  Among the many thoughts I have about the whys of autism is that there is a genetic syndrome of some type that a lot of girls with autism share.  I don't know if that's the case, but even if it's not that, I thought I'd do a post to ask "Anyone else? Have you noticed these things about your child?"  

Lack of strong hand preference

Janey is usually right handed, but sometimes she'll use her left hand for things.  I noticed the other day when she was eating a bowl of pasta, she started out for about the first half holding the spoon in her left hand.  She switched in the middle, but it's not uncommon that she seems to pick a hand at random.  I think it's harder for her to do things with her left hand, but she doesn't always seem to realize that automatically.

Sleep issues that rotate
Most kids with autism seem to have some sleep issues, Janey included.  But we've noticed hers seem to go in waves.  She'll sleep a pretty normal schedule for a few weeks, then have a lot of insomnia for a while, staying up all night sometimes and other nights sleeping only a few hours.  Then she might switch for a while to going to bed very early and waking up in the wee hours, like 1 or 2 am, and not going back to sleep.  After that, she might have a period of sleeping a huge amount---12 hours at night and also taking naps.  Then, maybe going to bed very late and being very hard to wake in the morning.  Each pattern lasts a while once it starts.  

Speech that varies in frequency and clearness widely

Kind of like the sleep, Janey's speech goes through cycles.  We'll have a few weeks where she talks much more than usual, and says things we haven't heard before.  Then she might have a while of rarely speaking, and only using a few set phrases.  In addition, sometimes her speech is crystal clear, but sometimes it's almost impossible to understand, very slurred, or she might leave out parts of words.  The echolalia speech is off and on too.  There are times she quotes videos almost all day, and other times she does that not at all.

Lack of menstruation

Despite seeing specialist and having lots of tests, we still have no idea why Janey doesn't get periods.  She had one, at about 11, and a few other very very light ones around then, but since then, not at all.  She has developed normally otherwise, and looks her age if not older, but she just doesn't get periods.  I haven't really heard of other girls with autism having this issue, and I'd be very interested to know if others do, or if this is just a totally unconnected issue.

Odd eye movements

Once in a while, Janey's eyes roll up in her head, and she stares at the ceiling, and doesn't seem to be able to stop doing that for a spell of 10 or so minutes.  She sometimes gets very upset when this happens, and screams.  We have taken her to a neurologist, who says this is not a seizure---a seizure wouldn't involve both eyes.  This seems to happen more in the evening, when it's getting dark but isn't completely dark.  

Very healthy or overwhelmingly sick

For the most part, Janey very, very rarely gets sick.  She can go whole school years without missing a single day due to illness.  She doesn't seem to get the colds or stomach bugs that are going around.  However, the few times she has gotten sick, she's gotten VERY sick.  One time was the awful burst appendix, after which she got pretty much every complication possible and was in the hospital almost a month.  Another time, she got the flu and pneumonia, had extremely high fevers and was in the hospital for a few days.  At that time, some doctors said they wondered if there was something odd with her immune system, something that fought off most all illnesses but caused the few that did get through to be quite severe.

There are other things I could list, but I'll stick with those for now.  I'd love to hear from anyone about these!