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Wednesday, September 9, 2020

Frustration with the schools (not the teachers!)

 Over the years, I've been a big cheerleader for the Boston Public Schools.  I am a fan of public schools in general, and I've always tried to let people know it's very possible to get a very good education in Boston without feeling like you have to send your child to private school or you have to move out of the city.  For those of you not in Boston or near it, the Boston schools don't have the greatest reputation.  I've felt for many years that poor reputation is not justified.  My three children, all very different from each other, have been for the most part well served in Boston.  

My feelings haven't changed when it comes to the teachers, or the therapists, or the paraprofessionals, or the principals.  I can truly say in all my years, which add up to 23 years now, of having my children educated in Boston, I've only encountered two or three teachers, out of literally hundreds, that I would not happily have teach my child again.  Indeed, I've had far more than my fair share of absolutely amazing teachers, of therapists that care deeply, of paraprofessionals that I would trust with my children's lives without a second thought, of principals that took a personal interest in my kids.  

But the school system in general?  The upper management, the central office, the bureaucracy?  Well, I'm not too happy with them.

Nobody can be blamed for COVID-19 existing.  It's a virus.  You can't be angry at a virus.  But I am angry at how the whole crisis has been handled in Boston, quite angry really.

I've talked through Facebook and by phone to many, many other parents in other parts of the US and world, and overall, it seems like most school districts are finding a way to educate kids like Janey.  At the very least, most districts seem to have used the summer to make plans, to find a way to  bring the kids that just don't learn well at home into the schools as safely as possible.  Some parents have chosen to keep their kids home anyway, and that is certainly understandable.

Technically, we were given a choice with Janey---remote learning or a hybrid method, 2 days a week at school.  But after talking to her teacher and hearing what those two days a week would be  They would be in one room, with masks on, never leaving the room, teachers not allowed to touch the kids at all, much of the teaching taking place by Zoom meeting even in the room, as teachers would not be circulating. That isn't a classroom model that would work in any way for Janey, or for most kids with autism.  So we chose home education.  Janey's amazing teacher understood that Zoom meetings don't work for her, and she is going to provide us with weekly materials (which she had to do a funding drive to get money for---no thanks to Boston there) to teach Janey with.  

Janey's room at school has no opening windows, none at all.  She rides a bus for an hour each way to school and back.  She will wear a mask for short times, but I'm quite sure she wouldn't leave one on all day.  She lives for walking around the school, for field trips and swimming and dance.  It would be both unsafe and deeply unsatisfying for Janey to go to school as it has been set up.

I attended a big Zoom meeting for Boston parents of special needs kids.  I won't go into it in detail, but it was awful.  A politician was allowed to grandstand for a long time, an ABA specialist took up a long period of time during a meeting meant for PARENTS to ask questions (she had good ideas, but at least 50 parents had questions that there was no time to answer during the too short meeting), and most disturbing to me, a school official outright lied.  He was asked (several times) if teachers were going to be given adequate PPE (personal protective equipment, like masks, shields, etc.)   He said emphatically "Yes!  Absolutely!"  Well, as of last week, I have been told that such equipment is not only not being given to teachers, it hasn't even been ordered.

Even if we had chosen to send Janey to school, school isn't starting in person until October 1st, or at all, even remotely, for another two weeks.  I don't see any other district anyway that isn't even having any school this September, basically.  The schools had all summer to prepare.  This didn't all come out of no-where.  But from what I can see, infighting and attempting to please every politically powerful faction took up the time that should have been spent on one big goal---finding a way to safely educate the kids of Boston.

I know that the powers that be would argue they just can't find a way to safely educate Janey and her peers.  But I wonder---why, elsewhere around the country and around the world, are so many other kids like her back in classrooms already, safely, with teachers that have the equipment they need to be safe, with classrooms that are ventilated, with few enough kids in a room for it to be safe, without a mask requirement for children whose special needs just make it impossible for them to understand why they need to keep a mask on?  

Boston school buildings are underutilized.  Janey's high school has a population far, far smaller than the school was built to hold.  All the time, attempts are made to close some of Boston's 125 school buildings.  Surely, somewhere in the city, there are enough classrooms for kids like Janey, the highest need students, to safely attend school, and surely, there are enough teachers that, if given the proper tools, would feel safe teaching the classes.  I don't want any teacher that doesn't feel safe or supported to teach.  Many teachers have small children, or medical conditions, or the like.  But if only teachers who felt safe teaching were to teach the high needs kids, as is happening what seems like virtually everywhere else, and if Boston could be flexible and open classrooms in buildings that have good air circulation and opening windows, even if that required Janey and others to temporarily go to a different school---well, you would really think a city like Boston could do that.  And you think they would be shamed by seeing that everyplace else pretty much in the world is finding a way to do what they can't seem to do.

We're fine, ourselves personally.  Janey is 16.  Although it's not what we want, truthfully she could stop going to school now and it wouldn't be a tragedy.  I was prepared to have her drop out if the schools had been rigid about Zoom meetings for her schooling.  But there are so many young kids with autism in Boston who desperately need schools.  And although we are managing, Janey is regressing in a lot of ways.  Her toilet training has been, well, set far, far back.  She is talking less much of the time, and lately, especially after seeing her teachers outside in a socially distanced meeting---which was great---she seems to be upset she's not in school.  She can't express that directly, but it's fall.  She knows fall, and she knows that is when you go to school. 

One of the things that was said at that infuriating Zoom meeting for parents, when a parent poured out her heart about how hard this all has been, and how she didn't feel equipped to teach her young child with autism, was that there are many social service agencies in Boston designed to help the special needs community, and "we are going to work with them to get services and help for kids who need it" (not the exact words, but along those lines)  I think of all of this, that makes me almost the angriest.  You are GOING to?  Why hasn't that been happening right along?  Why are there untold numbers of agencies that I know have a mission and funding to help kids like Janey, and that are I am sure are well-meaning, but that don't work with the schools, or each other, that don't ask parents what we really need, that hold endless workshops and support groups and make up nice fliers but don't provide ANY respite, ANY after school programs, ANY direct help, except maybe to a small number of people that know exactly the right way to ask for it and have the means and personality and connections to access the help?  Why can't help be OFFERED to those who truly need it?

I'm angry.  I'm angry that the overpaid, overstaffed, underworked bureaucracy of the Boston Public Schools is failing the children of Boston, and the teachers of Boston, and the everyday citizens of Boston.  I don't get angry easily, Boston.  It took me 23 years to get this angry.  But I'm angry.

Monday, August 10, 2020

How would we have done it?

One phrase that I think most families with special needs children don't like is "How do you do it?", sometimes phrased as its twin "I don't know how you do it!"  We know the phrase is usually meant in the kindest of ways, and that it's an acknowledgement of some of the struggles our families can face.  But it can feel hurtful in a couple ways.  One is that it makes it seem like our child has created a situation so difficult that others can't even imagine what it would be like to live our life.  Another is by saying, in a way, that we ARE doing it, by making us somehow separate, set apart, somehow as a family unit handling it all ourselves, and not in need of help, due to our superhero status.  Both views of our families are untrue and unhelpful.

That being said, lately I've been thinking a version of the "How do you do it?" myself.  It's in the form of "How WOULD we have done it?"  How would we have handled this pandemic, this lack of school, this isolation, during what I always think of as the Tough Years---approximately from when Janey was 5 until 10?  Those  Those were the years in which an inclusion school which aimed to include all special needs students realized they were not up to including Janey, and then, while in the autism program she moved to, she was so unhappy and angry that the day came that I got the call that she wasn't even safe to go home, that we needed to come to the school to go with her by ambulance to the emergency room, the start of an ordeal which include six horrible days at Children's Hospital and 3 weeks of Janey being in a psychiatric hospital.  Those years featured many, many days where Janey screamed all day, literally, days when she bit herself hard, days when she cried heartbreaking tears for hours, nights of her fury and sadness that seemed like they would never end.  But during those years, there was school.  We had about six hours a day when we could sleep (or often, just I could---Tony was working, most of that time at a job an hour from home, and how he ever lived through those years I'll never know), recover, breathe, know that she was cared for.

But what if the pandemic had been during those years, and there was no school?  I think about that all the time, and I truly wonder how we could have done it.

Of course, the thing is, lots of other people with children with severe autism are living through those tough years right now.  And I think about them, all the time.  I think about how it must feel to have a child so desperately unhappy, and to be trying so very hard to help them, and having absolutely no respite---no school, no activities, no nothing.  I think of them trying to think of ways to fill the days, and to get some rest.  I think of the siblings, trying to learn at home in a household that might be often filled with screaming or hitting or crying.

If COVID-19 had happened during the Tough Years, I have to say honestly that I would have sent Janey back to school the second school was open, even if I wasn't sure it was safe, even if I had huge fears about the virus.  I would have sent her because I would have known that we simply had to---in order to stay sane---not just us as parents, but her too.  I would have taken the risk, the possibility of sickness weighed against the absolute knowledge of what more time at home would be like.

This knowledge is why I am not sure how I feel about schools staying closed. If we lived in an ideal world, I would feel sure they should stay closed, but we don't live in that world, and I know there are families out there right now just barely hanging on.  I think about the teachers, with families of their own often, and I know they will be put at risk going back to in-person school, as well as the aides and lunch workers and bus drivers and therapists.  I worry about all of them.  But I can picture most, of course, the situation we have lived through, the child who needs help so badly and the family so extremely stressed by that child's needs, and I worry so much about how they are managing to go on. I know some of you reading this might be living that life right now, and feeling like you are very alone. I wish I could help more. I wish I could come to your house and take care of your child for a day or two, so you could sleep and recover. I wish I had magic.I wish I could fast-forward your life to calmer years.  But right now all I can do is tell you I am thinking of you.

We are so lucky.  Janey, at almost 16, is happy most of the time.  Aside from a period of adjustment at first, and from the days she got upset by Zoom meeting school, which we will no longer do, she has been a champ during this time at home.  We are enjoying her.  Most of that is just her maturing.  Some of it is changes we made, changes in our expectations of her and also changes in our lives.  Tony retired early, which has been a financial challenge but without a question absolutely a right decision.  The boys are older.  We are okay.  We hope that Janey can safely go back to school at some point, because she loved high school, but for now, we are okay.

I hope all those in the places of decision making do give a thought to those who are in the Tough Years of severe autism.  I hope we can find a way to help those families get through this.  I won't say to them that I don't know how they do it.  I know how they do it.  They do it day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute.  They do it because they love their kids, their amazing kids.  But they need help, and we as a society need to figure out how to help them, especially in these extraordinary times.

Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Tough realizations about school

I spent a few months living in a hopeful dream world.  I hoped that school could start in person in the fall, and Janey could go back to the high school experience she loved so much.  She could get on the bus early in the morning, have a nice long ride, spend the day with peers, go to music and dance and swimming, take field trips, be with adults who cared for her and enjoyed her, and then taken another nice long ride and came home again, contented after a full day.  

It's hard to believe the changes the last six months have wrought on the whole world.  

There has been no official words on the status of school in the fall for Boston, except that it won't be full time in person.  But after thinking it out and emailing with Janey's teacher, I finally had to face facts.  Janey won't be going back to school, not at all.  

If she went to school, it would be a school experience stripped of everything she likes about school, and everything that is important to us about her schooling.  Being in a classroom of teens with severe special needs, teens with little or no understanding of social distancing or the importance of masks, she would be behind plexi-glass shields.  She would not leave the classroom all day.  Teachers would not be able to touch her.  She couldn't move around.  

Even under those conditions, if someone got sick at her school, it would be closed, and the little hint, the pale shadow of her old schooling experience would shut down again for weeks.  Her school is very close to the area of Massachusetts the very hardest hit by COVID-19.  It wouldn't stay open much.

The bus would likely be impossible.  It was the weakest link last year, often not showing up, changing drivers almost weekly.  I can't imagine it would work, with older drivers, with kids that would certainly take off their masks often, with social distancing.  If Janey went to whatever version of school was available, we would have to drive her.  In Boston traffic, it's an hour's drive each way to her school.  We'd spend 4 hours of our day in school transport.

So...I finally,reluctantly admitted to myself---Janey isn't going back to school.

And distance learning, Zoom meetings?  It's almost an afterthought in my mind to say "No thanks".  Like so many other kids with Janey's kinds of needs I've heard about, Zoom meeting school simply doesn't work, in fact,more than that, it makes things worse.  Imagine a bored, frustrated teen, and trying to keep them from melting down all day, and then add in an hour or two or more of also trying to force them to sit in front of a screen they don't want to watch, one that seems to them to be playing a video strangely featuring some people they recognize, but one where now and then they are asked to say something on command.  A video that tries vainly to meet the needs of a dozen or so kids with wildly different needs, but all with high needs.  Imagine spending the whole time this video plays trying to keep your teen sitting in one place, waiting for their turn to answer a question they wouldn't be inclined to answer under the best of circumstances.  No, that is not school.

And so, one way or another, we are going to homeschool.  I'm not scared of that. It's not my preference, and I'm quite sure not Janey's preference either,but it's what we are going to have to do.

I think it's human nature when faced with a situation we don't like to place blame.  It's almost comforting to be able to have an enemy, a foe to defeat.  There is one in this situation, but it's not human.  It's a virus.  No-one human has done anything to cause this (politics aside, and that is how I generally try to live my life, with politics aside).  Everyone would like Janey to be able to have school in the way she could last year, but safely, and practically, she can't.

I lie awake nights thinking about how I can best educate Janey.  Sometimes, I admit thinking I might not really try, not to formally educate her.  She will be 16 in less than two weeks, and in our state, I think that's old enough to drop out.  I could just call it a school career for now.  But I don't think that's the best plan.  We had planned on Janey being in school until she was 22.  I am still hopeful that after a year or so, she will be able to go back to school.  

I'll write more in another post about how I'm going to try to set up homeschooling.  For now, I'd love to find out how the rest of you out there will be handling school this fall.  I'm feeling isolated, scared, alone, more than I have in many years.  It's such a house of cards, this life we cobble together for our kids, and it takes just a touch for it all to fall apart.  We have gotten, as a world, something more like a hurricane aimed at our house of cards.  It's going to take a while to build it back.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

The summer of the virus

I'm thinking of all of you this summer, especially those earlier on in the whole autism journey.  Every day, I picture how hard it would have been to have a summer like this one if Janey was still as unhappy as she was for many years, and if her behaviors in showing that unhappiness and pain were still as intense.  As it is, it's not totally easy, of course, as it isn't for anyone on Earth right now, but it's nothing like it could have been.

We chose not to "send" Janey to summer school.  I put send in quotations as summer school was going to be totally virtual, all Zoom meetings, for THREE hours a day.  It was a no-brainer to turn it down.  Zoom meetings quite simply don't work for Janey.  We tried our best during the school year, for the hour a day her class met.  At the best, she would sit still and watch the screen, and perhaps participate with a word or two during that hour.  At the worse, she would scream, cry, turn off the computer, close the screen, run away constantly and then be in a terrible mood for the rest of the day.  Either way, it wasn't in any way worth it.

I don't think Janey understood at all that her teachers and fellow students were at the other end of the meetings.  I think she saw it as a TV show or movie,one that for some reason we forced her to watch, one that sometimes strangely called out her name specifically and tried to get her to respond.  This wasn't the case with all the kids in her class.  Some of them participated eagerly, and almost all the other kids at least were more engaged than Janey.  That surprised me.  But as we all know, every kid with autism is different.  I did think there were more kids similar to Janey at her high school, but perhaps those kids just weren't participating at all.

One thing that struck me is that Janey has much less liking of repetition than the other kids like her seemed to.  Or at least she has less liking of repetition she hasn't herself chosen.  She will watch the same movie day after day after day (Toy Story 1-4 and Coco and The Emperor's New Groove, I'm talking to you!) but that's her choice, and she does move on with movies or music after a while.  She'll eventually get bored and cycle in something new.  But the Zoom meetings featured the same songs and videos day after day---greeting songs, days of the week or months of the year or seasons videos---and Janey was not interested. This got complicated by technical problems when the audio or video wouldn't work well.  I felt for her teachers very much.  They had not signed up to be virtual teachers or educational technologists.  They are hands on, great teachers, and they were being forced by circumstances to teach in a totally different way.  And it just didn't work for Janey.

A typical scene this summer, watching videos outdoors
So---the lack of school this summer feels like a huge relief, truly.  I have no idea what I'll do in the fall if schooling is still virtual.  I don't think Janey will be going to that kind of school if it is, one way or another.  We will have to explore our options.  I also just don't know what will play out if school requires masks all day, and 6 foot distancing.  I know that Janey would not be able to comply with that.  She will wear a mask for very short time frames, just to be able to go to the 7-11 and get ice cream or chips, but all day long---that will not work.  I worry especially about the bus---there is no way it would work there.  I worry about her getting COVID, about her teachers or bus drivers or paras or another else getting it from her or giving it to her. It is hard to picture how it's all going to play out.

How are we at home, aside from all this?  Not bad, overall.  Janey has been fairly happy and content.  She is spending her days like a lot of teenagers do---sleeping in, staying up a bit later than usual, watching a lot of YouTube and movies, eating a lot, things like that.  We actually started having a bedtime for her, not to sleep, as no-one can make you sleep, but to be on her bed at 9:30.  The good thing, in a way, about her not knowing how to tell time is that 9:30 can be a bit flexible.  If we can tell she's not tired, it can be more like 11, if she's exhausted, it can be more like 8.  But the amazing thing is she is actually mostly staying on her bed once we say to.  The result is Tony and I are actually having some evenings mostly to ourselves, to watch TV or talk or whatever.  It's nice.

It's been a little tough this past week, as for the first time since she was 11, Janey actually got her period.  The only other time she has was when we gave her medication under the supervision of a specialist.  This time, it just occurred. She mostly seems fine with it, not really much noticing it, but she has had what I think are cramps off and on.  It's awful to see her crying in pain, and knowing she doesn't really get why it's happening.  I've done my best to explain it to her, but I don't know how much she understands.  We have been lucky that for whatever reason, she usually doesn't get a period.

I hope all of you are well, and surviving this tough time.  I'd love to hear how you are coping.  Is there summer school where you are?  How do things look for the fall?  How is it going with masks, with the isolation, with the general tension a pandemic brings?  I hope very much you are all healthy and hanging in there, and I send our love.

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"Frustrated, Angry, Bored"

Janey has had a tough week.  After almost two months handling the quarentine like a champ, I think she's had enough.  She's been screaming and acting out much of the day, every day, staying up most of the night and sleeping during the days, tossing things around---just not happy.  Last night she had been yelling for hours. Out of desperation, I turned to her iPad's talking programs.  Using the one program she seems to like, Proloquo2Go, I went to the feelings page and asked her to please tell me what she was feeling.  Without hesitation, she picked "hate".  And pushed it over and over and over.  Fair enough.  Then I went to the body parts page to ask her if anything hurt.  She picked "feet", which is something she often picks.  I asked her if she needed a foot rub and she said yes, so we did that, and then she went to the program and picked "legs" and "arms", so I gave her a leg and arm rub too.  Then she exited the program and told me to go away.  The rest of the night was far better---she slept well and didn't scream at all.

So...why don't we use the "talker", as we call it, more?  Because Janey won't.  We've tried and tried.  I've read whatever I could on using it.  I've tried modeling, tried having it open near her as much as we can, tried programming words she might want into it, tried all I can think of.  Most of the time, she strongly rejects it.  She's several times used her limited speech to say "I CAN TALK" when I try to get her to use it, when I've said how it can help her talk.  I don't know why she doesn't like it more.  But I have respected her wishes, partly because trying to force her to do anything is a losing game.  So for quite a while, we haven't even tried it much.

I realized last night that part of why I don't try it more is that I was a little obsessed with using it "right".  I wanted to have her learn to use it for sentences, to move between screens, to try new words with it.  But the times it worked best was when I first went to a screen with a theme, like I did last night, feelings or body parts, or foods or colors or things like that.  She readily chooses when I do that.  I think she can read the words some, and uses them more than the pictures, but I have no way to prove that.  But I am going to try to more often just open a screen for her and let her pick.

This morning, I pulled up the feelings screen again.  Instantly, Janey picked "Frustrated, Angry, Bored" in rapid succession.  Well, that about says it all about life being stuck at home.  I told her I felt the same way, and I wish there was more we could do to help.  The biggest problem right now is masks.  Janey will not wear a mask, and it's the law here in Massachusetts that masks must be worn in public.  There is an exception for people with special needs, and I know we could use that, but the other part of it is that we believe in the masks, and are very scared of getting sick.  Aside from the disaster that Janey getting COVID-19 would be, if she gave it to Tony or me, we could get very, very sick.  So, while the virus is still badly raging in this area, we are stuck.  We can go for car rides to nowhere or play in the driveway, but that's about it.  And who wouldn't be frustrated, angry and bored----especially if you were 15?

This whole virus life is hard on everyone, but especially hard on kids like Janey.  She doesn't have friends to text or FaceTime with.  She doesn't read books.  She can't take walks even right now...if she would wear a mask, there's still the problem of her touching everything in sight.  She is stuck in an endless dull day.  And we are trying, but it's hard to break up the boredom.  I'm surprised it took her as long as it did to get angry.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

Autism Mother Myths and Truths

If I picture, without taking time to think much, a typical autism mother...well, do it yourself.  Just form a quick picture in your head of what you'd think of when you think "autism mother".

It's a strange exercise, because despite being an autism mother myself for a long time now, what I picture doesn't look much like me.  I picture a warrior.  I picture a mother who would do anything, anything at all, to help her child---a mother who fights for her child on every level every day.  This mother works day and night to get her child everything that might possible help them.  She also is completely devoted at home to her child.  She cooks special diets, she fills each day with enriching activities, she is completely accepting of her child while somehow also completely determined to give her child what is needed to live a life as close to "normal" as possible.

That's not me.  It's not anyone, really, or it's very few people.  I've been trying to figure out where the image comes from, and I think it's mostly from books.  Autism mothering books don't seem to be quite the vogue they were for a while, but when they were (I think the heyday was the 1990's), they seemed to follow a formula.  Child is diagnosed.  Mother briefly is overwhelmed and horrified, although of course she knew from the start something was wrong and had to fight to get doctors to see it.  Mother decides on a course of action to "cure" child, and follows that course without rest.  There are some tough days, but then there's a miracle breakthrough.  And at book's end, the child is either completely non-autistic, or they are still a little autistic but only because that autism helps them to have some amazing talent.  Not every book is like that, but a very lot were, and I'm a devoted reader.  Before ever having Janey, I knew just what an autism mother was like, and strangely, all those years later, I still kind of have that stereotyped picture.

What are autism mothers really like?  They are, at least to start, the same as any other mothers.  They aren't specially chosen. 

I can speak best for myself.  I'm no warrior.  I back away from any fight I can, or even any disagreement.  I'm not good at doing anything without rest.  If I knew a way to "cure" Janey, I'd probably be a slacker and not really do it very well.  OF course, there isn't a way to cure her, and that would not be my goal at this point even if there was.  I didn't fight for Janey to be diagnosed.  I didn't want her to be.  I am sure I was in quite a bit of denial, back then, but by the time she was diagnosed, it didn't take a lot of fighting to diagnose her---it was pretty obvious to almost anyone what was up.

However, I would have to say there ARE some traits of autism mothers.  They are traits that we develop, from living the autism mother life.  We don't have them to start, but we have them after some years of raising out kids.

What are they?  Well, protectiveness is one.  We might not be warriors, but we are ever vigilant.  We know how vulnerable our kids are, and we are constantly, every minute of our life, prepared to do what it takes to keep them safe.

Ability to live in the moment is another trait.  We can have a day which most parents not living our lives would consider about the toughest day of their life, and wake up the next morning, and if things are better, we can enjoy the new day.  We've learned things can change on a dime.  I'm willing to bet as a whole we are dealing with less anxiety than most with the whole COVID-19 bit.  We know how to live with uncertainly and stress, for sure.

I'd say most of us have a pretty good sense of humor.  We can laugh at ourselves, and laugh with our kids.  We see life's absurdities, see how what so many people take so earnestly isn't really as important as they think. 

That goes along with the next trait---an appreciation of what's really important in life.  We have come to know that it's not education.  It's not money.  It's not a perfect house, a fancy vacation, an active social life or a high IQ. Our kids teach us that.  The important things in life are the very little things and the very big things.  It's coffee in the morning and a song everyone sings along with.  It's a meal that we all enjoy, it's a movie we've seen a hundred times but still like.  It's running around in the driveway and getting a good night's sleep.  And it's love---loving our kids, loving them exactly as they are, loving them after a day full of screaming or a day full of manic laughter, love filled with pride, love sometimes mixed with tears, but love over all else.

I have to say---the mothers I have met that are living this autism mother life with me (and the fathers too, but in honor of Mother's Day, today is for the mothers) are amazing people.  We have a bond forged by shared experiences, and I would venture to say every one of us is a better person because of our loved ones with autism.  Happy Mother's Day, with much love, to the autism mothers out there.

Thursday, April 30, 2020

Middle of the Night Thoughts

No, Janey's not awake.  It's just me awake.  I've been having a lot of trouble sleeping the past few nights.  Thoughts and worries swirl around in my mind and keep me up.

Every day around 4, the new numbers come out for Massachusetts---how many new cases of COVID 19, and how many deaths in the past day.  Today, the death number was 252----the highest yet.  Somehow, that really hit me.  I kept thinking---what if a tornado, or hurricane, or blizzard, or flood hit our state and killed 252 people in a day?  It would be something we'd never forget, a horror, something we'd still talk about many years later, like the Worcester Tornado or the Blizzard of '78, weather legends in Massachusetts.  It feels in this case like a terror happening off camera.  We hear some stories, but mostly, it's unseen---deaths that are all someone's loved one, someone's parent or child or sister or brother, but that we only know as a number.  It's terrifying.

And of course, I fear most of all that it will hit us.  How could either Tony or I do the job of being Janey's parent without the other?  Or what if Janey got sick? Or the boys?

We don't go anyplace.  Not at all.  Tony takes Janey for a car ride to no-where a few times a day.  We play with her in the driveway.  She hasn't set foot outside our house, driveway or car for over a month.  She would not wear a mask.  She wouldn't wear a mask when quite literally her life depended on it, in the hospital after her appendix burst.  She touches everything---when I take her for a walk, she runs her hands along walls and fences.  It is not safe for her to go out.  Even outdoor places in this crowded state are filled with people, many not wearing masks.  So we stay home.

Janey is still doing remarkably well being at home.  She seems to be thriving.  She watches videos, watches Tony cook, eats all day (luckily, she loves healthy food), listens to music, runs around in the driveway.  Every day is quite similar, but she doesn't seem to mind.  It's a low stress life for her.  She doesn't really understand at all why we are home, and that is probably good.

A few times a week, Janey has a short, maybe 20 minute, Zoom meeting with her teacher or with her speech or ABA therapists.  Janey tolerates this, and even seems to enjoy it for a few minutes at a time.  However, starting next week it's going to be every day, for 2 hours.  I have very mixed feelings about this.  I know it's being done because special education students are not able to access the learning that other students are currently doing---online resources, worksheets, homework.  They need direct teaching.  But I can't picture Janey or most of her classmates doing very well with that much Zoom teaching time.  It's not that she can't watch a video for that long---goodness knows she can---or that her teachers aren't doing a fabulous job working on ways to engage her---they are amazing.  But it has to do with Janey just not quite getting it.  She gets school.  She's been going to school for a long time.  She knows how that works.  But someone on a screen talking to her and listening to her and expecting her to respond?  I think in her eyes it's some kind of enhanced video, one with a cast of people she happens to know.  It's fun for a few minutes, but not for extended periods.

However, it's not like there are really any other options.  School can't be held in person right now, and everyone is doing the best they can with that.  It's not easy for anyone.  In some ways, it's probably easier for Janey than for a lot of kids. Her lack of understanding of the crisis is a protection from worry.  Of course she has peers she likes at school, but it's not like I would have been at 15---absolutely crazed being away from my friends for this long.

What really keeps me up at night is how this is all going to play out long time.  People seem more divided than ever.  Instead of this pulling us all together, it seems to be pulling people apart.  That's crazy to me.  It's not a matter of politics here.  A virus has no politics.  But fear can cause divisions, anger, irrationality.  I can handle that.  But how I fear for Janey, and for all those out there who will always depend on others.  She needs a world that is secure enough to leave people feeling they can help others.  She needs a world that cares about people, not about the latest political feud or scoring points or getting elected or re-elected.  I don't think the extremes on either side of any political rift really understand that.  She literally needs someone to watch over her, and she always will.  And I can't sleep, because I don't think the world sees her, or all those like her, when they bicker and argue while in one day, in one state, over 250 people died.  God help us all.