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Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A full life vs. the trifecta

It's the doldrums of winter.  It's hard for everyone, but I'm realizing that it's harder for Janey than most.  I think the next big challenge we are facing is how to give her an interesting life, a meaningful life, a full life.

I think about myself at age 11, or my sons at that age.  Life gets pretty interesting around that time.  You are old enough to have your own interests and passions.  You have made friends---friends that might become lifelong friends.  You go to their houses and they come to yours.  You are starting to be able to be out in the world by yourself.  You are turning into the person you will be for life.

Then I think about Janey's life at 11.  She goes to school.  She comes home.  That's about it.

There are many, many barriers to giving Janey a more meaningful life.  The big one is that she has the trifecta of autism, severe intellectual disability and behavioral issues.  Any one of those alone is tough enough, but the three together cause barriers to almost any organized type activity we might want to pursue for her.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard about a new possible class or program or camp or so on that might work for Janey, only to look into the details and find that it would be impossible, due to one or more of her challenges.  Saturday special needs city programming?  You have to be able to be in groups of 4 kids to 1 adult.  Music lessons for kids with autism?  You have to already know how to play an instrument and have to be able to read music.  So, so many camps?  You have to be toilet trained.  You have to have no self-injurious behaviors.  Hundreds more promising sounding enrichment activities that are "inclusive"?  Inclusive if your child can follow directions, not run away, read, write, not need constant supervision.  Respite houses for the disabled?  Not for kids that need one on one care.

So I say---okay.  We'll do it ourselves.  We will enrich Janey's life.  During recent snow days, I woke with a determination to give Janey an interesting day, a full day.  And every attempt to interest her in anything other than videos was met by screaming, by her biting her arm, by fury, or if not fury, complete disinterest.  I tried---reading books, playing with toys, involving her in cooking, putting on a children's yoga video, taking her out in the snow---I tried everything I could think of.  Janey was not interested.  Part of this, I think, is that in some deep ways, she's a regular pre-teen.  I'm her mother.  I'm not who she wants to hang out with.  And part of it is the combination of the trifecta.  The autism makes her not that interested in new activities.  The intellectual disability makes it hard for her to understand so much---how to use toys, how to hold a writing utensil, how to understand what is read to her.  And her behavioral issues make her prone to lashing out when the first two kick in.  I try to put myself in her shoes.  What is someone tried to get me to do something that I am not interested in and didn't understand?  What if someone proposed a fun day of doing calculus equations?  I'd be lashing out pretty quickly, and I don't have behavioral issues.

So what do we do?  I don't know.  We do what we can.  Janey's favorite activity is going for car rides while listening to music.  She adores doing that, and we do it as much as we can.  Tony takes Janey on many, many car rides to nowhere, with mix CD playing.  It's wonderful to see Janey during these rides.  She has strong opinions about music.  She doesn't like everything, but what she does like, she loves.  We put a lot of time into finding her new music she might like, and it's time we all enjoy.  But we can't always ride in the car.  I put a video of Janey on my Facebook companion page (I can't figure out how to put it here, but you can see it there if you want) asking for a car ride last night.  It was one of the rare times Tony had to say no---he was exhausted and the car was covered with snow. After the part shown in the video, Janey frantically paced back and forth asking to put her coat on and go in the car---for an hour, until she went to sleep.  It broke our hearts.

I don't have answers here.  I don't know exactly how this problem can be fixed.  But I must keep trying.  Janey needs a full life.  I owe it to her to find a way to give her one.


David Fee said...

Not a cheery post but realistic. We recently had an IEP for our daughter who is in a kindergarten special ed class. They asked what our post high school plans were for our kid. The was a downer because they are basically telling us a conventional education isn't in the cards so it becomes more a case of "life skills" classes. That may be realistic but it depressing that her school years have already been played out before hitting the 1st grade. Ok, great we can't really screw up her life because expectations are so low from society. She will be starting in a one-on-one therapy place for the first time since her diagnosis three years ago so it may change nothing but at least maybe at long last she will get the help that is routinely offered in a lot of places in America.

I wonder if she knows that she is outside the mainstream? Does it matter if no one expects nothing of her life so its just some kind of perpetual childhood? School is recess and life is summer vacation? That may sound wonderful to fast forward to retirement by bypassing most of the milestones of life from childhood to old age but I'd have a lot of regrets. I don't know if my daughter will ever imagine a different life from the one she seems fated to live.

MamaBear said...

I am crying, sitting next to my 5 year old autistic daughter while she sleeps.... Finally. I am not quite sure if these are tears of sadness. I don't get to go to the store. Or, tears of joy, that someone out there life. Thank you.