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Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Yes, no, the water---talking and not talking

One of the oddities of Janey's speech is that there rarely seems to be a time when she is using both "yes" and "no".  She'll use only "yes" for a long time, then only "no", then swing back---the idea of having both as an option seems to elude her, or seemed to.  Lately, we are hearing both, and it's wonderful.  "Yes" is still far more common than "no", but there are "no"s now and then.  Janey's teacher told me about one, realizing they are fairly rare.  He asked her to carry a communication sheet to breakfast with her, and she said no.  He was surprised and pleased, and respected the no.

It's interesting to me that what she refused was a communication aide.  It reminded me of a time when I talked to Janey about ways besides speaking she could use to communicate.  That led to one of the most striking and surprising moments ever with her.  I wrote about it here. (link)  Janey told me, clearly and firmly, "I know how to talk".  She said it twice, in a way she very rarely speaks.  That, and many other times she has refused very strongly to use AAC or iPad speech programs or anything of the like, has given me her strong opinion.  I love to know how she feels about issues, and I respect her opinions.  But I do wish I could help her better use her talking to communicate.

Here's an example.  Janey loves to take showers.  Our shower is jury-rigged in such a way that only the cold water works to change the water temperature.  You have to turn the cold water faucet in tiny increments to get the water hotter or colder.  We have it set on the hot water heater so it's never dangerously hot, but it can get fairly hot.  Janey likes the shower almost, but not quite, as hot as it goes.  She has seen from observing how I adjust the temperature.  Since she will often want a shower that's half an hour or more, I get out after washing her hair and just supervise.  While she's in there alone, she constantly tries to fix the water to be just the temperature she wants, and she constantly overfixes it.

When the water gets too hot or too cold, Janey says, every time, "Want to get out?"  And so I hold out a hand to get her out.  And she refuses.  And then I ask "Do you want me to fix the water?" and she repeats that in confirmation---"Do you want me to fix the water!"  And I do.  And then a minute---again.  And again....  The other day, I figured while I was standing around waiting for her to ask for help, I might as well try an experiment in getting her to say what she meant.  I said to her "Janey, you always ask to get out when you mean you want me to fix the water.  When you want the water fixed, can you say 'Mama, fix the water?' or something like that instead?"  Minutes later, of course, "want to get out" And so I played dumb and tried to get her out.  When she didn't get out, I pretended I didn't know what she wanted, and finally, she said "fix the water!"  And for the rest of that shower, she said it.

So---a breakthrough, right?  Wrong.  The next day, we were back to square one, asking to get out.  I reminded her, but this time, she just screamed and screamed.  I finally made her get out.  The next day, she cried before even getting in the shower, and didn't ask for the water to be changed---just stood there in water that had gotten too cold.  In the days since the first try, over the course of about maybe 20 showers, she has once said on her own "fix the water!" Now, when she asks to get out, I just say "You want me to fix the water" and do it.  When she's ready to get out, she gets out without asking.  In her eyes, problem solved.

That's a long example of a problem that comes up over and over.  It's extremely, extremely hard to get Janey to regularly use any new speech.  She KNOWS the words, she CAN say, she UNDERSTANDS them, but she doesn't use them.  She uses a few phrases for almost all purposes. Years and years and years of school speech therapy have not helped to talk more at all.  They have been, I can say pretty strongly, a complete failure in that department.

I don't know what to do about this issue.  I'd be thrilled to communicate with Janey in any way.  If she would use a speech program, or sign language, or typing, or writing, or anything, I'd move heaven and earth to work with her.  But she doesn't want to.  If I could find a kind of speech therapy that worked for her specific speech issues, I'd drive anywhere, pay anything (although our insurance would most likely cover it, IF I could find it) to make use of it.  But I've never had anyone seem to know how to help her use her verbal speech more.

So, for now, we accept what she can say. The shower talk attempt taught me something.  If I know what she means, I will go with that.  It does little good and sometimes much harm to try to force her to speak in a way that more people could understand.  It's more important for me to connect with her than to try to change her way of talking.  Still---there is the bigger world.  There's the thought of her without Tony and me, someday, the black hole, the staring at the sun, the thing we can't think about but which always is there in our minds anyway.  I hope she always finds someone to understand her, and I wish so much I could help her make that possible.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

If Janey had her way about holidays...

This morning, Tony left very early to go to New York State to get Freddy and his friend Cheryl and bring them home for Thanksgiving.  This was a change in routine, as I got Janey ready for school and got her on the bus on my own.  Janey never says much in the morning, but today, she said even less.  She went through the stages of getting ready fairly cooperatively, but she kept looking at me with a confused and wary look.  I explained to her as best I could that Daddy was getting Freddy, that he'd be back later, that her brothers were coming home today, that school was going to be shorter than usual (they have a half day), that we'd have a nice big meal tomorrow, that school would start again Monday---all that.  And I thought, as I've had many times, that Janey would prefer there to be no holidays at all.

I don't know that for sure, of course.  But I strongly suspect it.  Holidays, to her, are upsetting changes in the regular routine.  They involve Mama and Daddy doing things they don't usually do, and not being available when she expects us to be.  They mess up the school days and weeks.  They have people trying to get her to do odd things, like blow out little fires on pastry, hang socks up at night, go through many steps to open up something she doesn't want or care about, dress up in odd costumes and go to houses and ring doorbells---a lot of weird stuff.

I think sometimes if Janey was an only child, we'd pretty much have birthdays and Thanksgiving and Christmas be much like any other day.  There are parts she likes, of course.  Christmas music is one of her favorite things on earth, and in fact "Frosty the Snowman" got the only smile out of her this morning I could get.  She enjoys a good cake as much as anyone.  And she'll be glad to see her brothers.  But overall, holidays stress her.  But she isn't an only child, and even if she was, Tony and I are people too.  We'd want some holidays in our lives.

The combination of autism and holidays, or Janey and holidays anyway, bring on two big feelings for me---guilt and sadness.  The guilt comes on, strangely, when I do things to make holidays less stressful for her.  If I don't get her more than a token gift for Christmas, because she hates opening presents and has no interest in 99% of anything material, I feel guilty that she has nothing under the tree.  If I don't take her trick-or-treating, as I didn't this year, I feel guilty that she is missing out on something I loved as a child.  The guilt is foolish, I know, but it's there.

The sadness---that is on me.  It is my sadness.  Janey is not sad that she doesn't fully get and enjoy holidays.  But I am.  Holidays, in a lot of ways, are for parents.  We look forward to seeing our kids pull treats out of the stocking, gather huge piles of candy and sort them, blow out candles as we wipe away tears and think about how fast they are growing up...holidays are the Hallmark moments of parenting.  And I admit---it makes me sad, in a completely selfish way, that Janey would prefer to skip so much of what I want to experience with her.

Thanksgiving is one of the easier holidays.  It involves mostly eating, which Janey certainly does like.  It starts the season of Christmas music, which can never start too soon for her.  She even sometimes likes the parade on TV a bit.  So, we'll try to keep the day as routine as we can for her, while sneaking in bits of the parts she will at least tolerate.

Happy Thanksgiving 2016 to all of you.  I am incredibly lucky to have found this community, and I am thankful for those who read this blog, extremely thankful.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Annual physical and a surprise sentence

Janey had her annual physical yesterday.  She's had a fairly healthy year, so we hadn't seen her pediatrician since last January.

The tough part of the visit was the wait.  We were in the waiting room for about 45 minutes.  That's quite unusual, but I guess they were very busy. In the past, this would have been a recipe for extreme disaster.  As it was, it was hard but not impossible.  Several times, Tony took Janey for a little walk, staying near enough so I could call him right back if we were called.  As the room cleared out, and we kept thinking surely we would be called any second, we stayed in the room and entertained Janey as best we could.  It struck me that although part of what's different than the past is that Janey has matured, part of it is that Tony and I just do what we have to do now, without caring how it looks.  For a long time, we sang and danced with her.  I sang Christmas songs, quietly but not silently, and I didn't care if people stared.  And people did stare---especially kids.  I don't like the stares, but they don't stop me any more.  I know Janey confuses kids sometimes. It's hard for them to figure her out.  I less like the stares of the parents.  I want to say to them "Have you never seen a child with disabilities before?  Is is really that shocking to you?  You know, she's a lot more interesting than your little snobby brats!"  Not nice thoughts, but when you've been trying to hold it all together for as long as that wait seemed, you get nasty sometimes in your mind.

Once we got into a room, it was much easier.  We really like our pediatrician a lot.  I'm glad we made the change about a year ago.  The pediatrician that saw the boys was right for them, but I don't think he ever felt comfortable with Janey.  I am pretty sure he saw her as a tragedy.  That is not the attitude I want in someone treating her.  The new pediatrician seems to delight in her, while still understanding the challenges she presents.  She listens well, and she talks directly to Janey.  She did a good exam, and Janey looks healthy.  At the end of the appointment, Janey got a flu shot, which we were not sure how she'd take, but she took it extremely well---not a single protest or scream.  You never know with her.  Hopefully, she won't get the flu this winter as she did last winter.

After the shot, as we were putting on Janey's coat, she said, plain as day, "Can we go home now?"  Tony and I looked at each other in amazement.  That might not seem like a remarkable sentence, but it's the type that is extremely rare with Janey.  Her speech is rarely that direct.  The usual thing she'd say in that situation would be "Want to take the big girl for a car ride?"  or "Listen to music in the car?" or "Do you want salami?" or something else that means basically the same thing, but doesn't come out and say it.  A sentence like the one we heard, direct and grammatical and appropriate and succinct, is very, very unusual for her.  It was wonderful to hear.

As the years go by, we measure success with Janey on a scale that isn't the same as most parents might use.  It's her own scale.  We headed home feeling that we are indeed making progress.  And by we, I do include Tony and me.  We are making progress in being Janey's parents.  And she is making progress in being herself.  And that is a good feeling, something to be thankful for.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Day after the election thoughts

Okay, the presidential election didn't go the way I would have preferred.  However, I am finding this morning I can't muster up too much emotion.  That's because I don't think anyone in a position of power has any idea what life is like for people like Janey, and the families that love people like Janey.

Why is this?  Quite simply, because we can't run for office.  We CAN, legally, but who would have the time?  When would someone raising a child with significant special needs ever have the time to launch a campaign?  Who would watch our kids while we were out there pounding the pavement?  Who would be changing the pull-ups, fixing the meals they will eat, taking care of our pre-teens and teens and adults that need the same level of care as a toddler?  And I hope I'll be forgiven for saying that Janey will never be able to run for office herself. That is not at all to say there are those with autism that might be able to run a political campaign, but those are not the people with the kind of needs I'm talking about here.

The problem is we don't need rhetoric.  We don't need philosophies.  We need help.  We need respite.  We need housing.  We need education.  We need recreational opportunities.  We need health care.  We need adult day programs.  We need equipment.  We don't need "awareness".  We need HELP.

I wish anyone running for high office would spend a day with Janey, a day in her world and ours, or a day with any of the wonderful families I've met on this journey.  I wish they could see how hard underfunded public schools work to educate her.  I wish they could see what it's like to care for her day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year, without any respite besides the school.  I wish they could understand what it's like to be up all night with a child who is crying and can't tell you why.  I wish they had spent time as a "boarder" in a hospital waiting for a seat at a psychiatric ward for their child.  I wish they knew what it was like to wake in the night, terrified, thinking about my health, not for myself but because I don't want Janey ever to be without parents.  

I'm a one issue voter.  I would love to have the luxury to think of it all in a theoretical way, to debate the philosophy of it all.  But I don't.  Tell me you are going to put money into direct services for the disabled, and you have my vote.  People on high seem not to understand why many just don't vote, but I get that, more than I ever would have before Janey.  Why vote, I wonder sometimes?  It doesn't seem to matter who gets elected.  I was furious that Trump mocked the disabled, but then again, Obama mocked Special Olympics.  I might have preferred that Hillary won, but if she had, I very much doubt my life would have changed much over the next four years.

The truly voiceless are people like Janey.  I see a lot of people on Facebook talking about how they are going to explain this election to their children.  Janey didn't know there was an election. She doesn't know what an election is.  No-one is courting her vote, or future vote.  She doesn't know who Trump is, or Hillary, or Obama.  But more than almost anyone, she's at the mercy of those in power.  I'm not a prayer, usually, but God help her.

Monday, November 7, 2016

Five years ago, but it could be today

Just now, I read the blog post I'd written about Janey five years ago, The Patience of Job.  It wasn't an especially mind-blowing post, or one about anything major.  It was about how much patience it took to get through one morning with Janey, one where she woke up at 1 am and I had to get through until school started, which at the school she went to then was about nine
Janey five years ago
.  I was curious how other years had been around this week of the year, as this was the week that two years ago Janey wound up at the psychiatric hospital.

What struck me most about what I read was how very similar to today it seems.  Janey's speech, her interest, her little has changed.  She still asks for the same things, with minor variation.  She asked for baths then, now it's showers, she was more into Kipper and Barney then, which she still does watch, but more often Scooby Doo or Courage the Cowardly Dog.  She still constantly asks to snuggle on the bed.  She no longer asks for bottles (babas), which even then really meant just milk in a glass, but she still asks for cheese and cabbage a lot.  Her sleep is better than then, but there are still sleepless nights now and again.

Janey's lack of progress in many areas is one of the things that has been getting to me lately.  Speech is the biggest area in which she, if anything, has regressed a little.  She talks pretty much exactly like she did five years ago.  What has been hitting me all the time lately is that she speaks far, far less than she did ten years ago, when she was two.

Over the years, I haven't thought about Janey's big regression that much.  Mostly, that is because I can't bear to.  I have consciously put it out of my mind.  I don't know why it's sneaking back into my mind lately.  But until about Janey's third birthday, she talked a lot.  Her speech had some oddities, but it was good, even very good, for a two year old.  She was followed closely by Early Intervention, and she never had speech therapy---I even remember them joking about how little needed it would be.  It bothers me some how little I can even remember of that fluent speech.  It would jar my memory to watch the few videos we made of her, but I can't do that.  I have tried, maybe twice, and simply fallen apart and turned them off.  But I know she spoke well, well enough to tattle on Freddy for showing her a scary Sesame Street parody "on the internet", well enough to talk non-stop one day about how much she wanted to go to the playground, as I remember timing it sitting here by the computer and noting she had talked for five minutes non-stop.  Enough to tell a friend's daughter that they would be "best friends forever"  And I have to stop remembering now, because I'm crying.

Most of the time, I don't get caught up in "why".  It's useless.  But something has hit me lately that I am thinking "why" a lot.  Why hasn't Janey progressed, when so many kids with autism do?  Why did she regress in the first place?  What happened?  WHY?

I'm not going to talk politics here, although of course tomorrow is Election Day.  It's been a depressing election season, and that hasn't helped my gloomy feelings.  But whoever wins, at whatever political level, I wish they could meet Janey.   It is ironic that people like her are the least able to speak out about what they need and want from government, but are perhaps the most affected by the whims of government.  I am terrified of my own aging, because I am terrified of a world where Janey doesn't have parents to protect her.  I'll close with a picture I took of Mayor Thomas Menino's gravestone.  He was a politician of the best kind, and the quote on the stone is something I wish all politicians took to heart.