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Saturday, December 31, 2016

As 2016 ends...

2016.  A lot of people seem eager for this year to end, but for us, and for Janey, it was overall a good year.  It held far less ups and downs and dramas than the last few years---no burst appendix, no psychiatric hospitals, far less days of crisis.  It feels mostly like the legendary prophesy I've always heard, that life with a child like Janey gets easier in time, has come to pass.

What caused this?  Much of it is just Janey growing up, and in a way, us growing up too.  After the years of crisis, we made a decision, unconsciously, to change instead of asking Janey to change.  It's not like we woke up one morning and suddenly became radically into total acceptance, but we somehow realized that everyone is happier if we let Janey be Janey, if we embrace the things she loves and minimize the things she doesn't.

There are other factors too.  She is in a stable school situation.  I think the change of schools when she was in third grade had a huge destablizing effect for a couple years.  It was probably a necessary change, but I am not sure if I had it to do over knowing how much it would throw her off, I would have agreed to it.  But now she's been in her new school for years, and it feels familiar and comfortable to her.  The medication she is taking seems to be helping, too.  Her brothers are away at college, and although we all miss them hugely and love it when they are home, she is essentially an only child when they aren't, and she loves the undivided attention. 

I'd be amiss if I didn't give credit to music, too.  Music is such a huge part of Janey's life.  She knows what she likes, and she is an extremely interactive listener.  When she hears a song she loves, you would have to be devoid of any sensory input to not know how much she loves it.  She rocks and rolls and screams in delight and asks to hear it over and over and simply shows joy that I wish every performer of the songs she loves could hear---it would be a tribute they wouldn't forget.  Her tastes are eclectic.  She loves Christmas hymns and Twisted Sister and the Beatles and banjo music and the occasional Chipmunks and too many others to mention.  There's much she doesn't like too, and she lets us know in no uncertain terms---when a song comes up that she hates, she said "I want MUSIC!", letting us know that whatever horror we are playing doesn't deserve to be called music.

I need to be honest, though, and say at times, I feel a lot of sadness over the equilibrium we have reached.  I wish I didn't, but I do.  Janey talked less in 2016 than she did in probably any year since she first regressed at 3.  That was hard to take.  Her speech has slowed down.  She uses familiar phrases and simple requests, mostly.  The other day, I was remembering a time when she was two, when we were in a waiting room and there was an old lady there, and Janey said "I don't like she!"  The lady heard and it was of course hugely embarrassing, but the thought of her expressing an opinion that directly and easily---I suddenly started to cry very hard, thinking how she can in no way do that now.  I was driving and had to pull over.  I accept Janey's speech, I am glad she talks as much as she did, but still, I must admit, I feel a huge amount of sadness and anger over whatever took her speech away.

At points this summer, I thought we might actually have the whole toilet training thing down.  But we don't.  That area has regressed badly.  Sometimes I am ready to simply admit Janey might never be trained fully.  It would be a relief to admit that.  She manages at school in underwear, but lately she comes home and immediately soaks herself, and I wonder if she is working very hard to hold in urine at school all day.  At home, although we take her to the bathroom endlessly, she very often, very very often, has "accidents", and I am starting to feel that even just thinking of them as accidents instead of just her doing the best she can do is doing her a discredit.

With all this being said, what I most wish I could portray with words is how much joy Janey brings us, what a wonderful person she is.  When she is happy, she is the happiest person you can imagine.  She makes everyday little things feel like the world's biggest treats---shopping for salami, hearing a great song, snuggling, sneaking a drink of coffee, giggling over nothing.  There are times Tony and I look at each other and smile, and we are both thinking that few typical 12 year old girls would love their parents as unabashedly and exuberantly as Janey does.  As I was writing this, Janey made her most common request---"Snuggle on Mama's bed?" (the bed is hers, not Mama's, but the phrase doesn't reflect that!)  As I snuggled her, I asked her if I could take her picture.  Here's that picture--messy hair and all---which might give you a little idea of the joy that girl's face can show.  

Happy New Year to all, and may 2017 bring you all joy.  

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Thoughts during the calm

Calm Janey
My friend Julie said to me recently that it seemed like life with Janey was evening out as time went by.  That struck me as a very good way to put it.  The last year with Janey has mostly been a year of evening out.  Her lows are higher, her highs lower, and she spends more time in the middle.  There's still tough days, and still amazing days, but most days are..days.  Which is good.  Which is very good, actually, compared to some of the hard times. Whatever it is---her getting older, her now being essentially an only child as her brothers are both away at college, the right combination of medication, a stable school situations, our changes in attitude and strategies---life with Janey is much smoother than it was a few years ago.

That's why it seems strange to me that more than I have in years, I have been thinking about tough questions.  Why is Janey autistic?  Why, unlike so many kids with autism, has she made so little progress with speech and academics?  Why is it so hard to get help with her?  I guess when we are not in crisis mode, but also not being blinded by exciting new things Janey is doing, there is time to sit back and think, and sometimes the thinking is hard.

I never used to dwell much on why Janey is autistic. A lot of that is because there is no shortage of potential reasons.  Pretty much every time a new idea comes out as to what causes autism, it is something that applies to Janey.  I had a terrible pregnancy with her, with a severe allergic drug reaction at 12 weeks.  Tony was, at age 42 at the time of her conception, an older father.  Genetics can't be ruled out, and auto-immune disease run rampart through both sides of the family.  We live near a busy street, and pollution certainly could be a factor.  I could go on and on.  But still, I wonder. Was there something I could have done differently?

As for why Janey has progressed so little, that's harder to say.  And more heartbreaking.  So, so many little kids that start out at the same place as Janey make so much progress.  They have the same resources and teaching Janey did, and now they can talk easily, can read, can write, can function at a hugely higher level than her.  I love Janey just the way she is, but for her, I wish she had made the leaps some kids do.  The evening out applies to her progress, too.  She talks less than she has at times, her toilet training has regressed to less than it was, she is in some ways more affected by autism than she was at 6 or 7.  I don't know why.  The same question comes up here---was there something I could have done differently?

And why, WHY, is it so hard to get help with Janey?   Why does it seem that those charged with helping children with special needs don't understand children like Janey, children whose needs are fairly extreme, and because of that, children in families that need help so badly?  As an example, over and over this holiday season I've heard about ToysRUs and Target and so on having special "quiet" shopping hours for kids with autism.  And although it probably sounds petty and mean, I think "Bah Humbug"  That is an example of the kind of help that is no help at all to someone like Janey.  She would not be quiet for a quiet shopping time.  She doesn't understand shopping for toys.  She has no desire for toys.  And most of all, taking her shopping is NOT a source of help for us.  It's more stress, not more help. What would be a million times more helpful is if the stores somehow arranged for someone to actually watch kids like Janey so Tony and I could shop.

I know there's money out there to help kids with autism.  I've talked with people working for various agencies.  But the money seems to go into a couple fairly useless areas. It goes into "awareness", or it goes into "family events".  Well, if you have a kid like Janey, you are pretty darn aware of autism.  And if you have a kid like Janey, just getting out of the house with her is tough enough.  It is really not any help to have some kind of event to go to with her unless it is catered to kids LIKE her, kids with high need autism.  And even if it is, that's not respite.  That's not a break.  It might be fun, like going to the Lego playland or the Autism Eats Out events, but it's not really help.  Quite simply, help is RESPITE.  Help is someone else taking care for Janey for a while.  It's that simple.  It's that simple to state, but it's very, very hard to find.

Having the time and energy to think about the larger autism issues is a luxury. I am very grateful things are calmer than they were with Janey, and I knock on wood to hope they stay calm.  Progress or no, respite or not, reasons  known or not, she is a remarkable, wonderful girl---my sweet precious Janey.  I am lucky to be her mother.

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Daytime Bedwetting, Crying, Guessing...

Toilet training.  I'd say I'm an expert on the subject, having been training Janey for about 10 years now, but that's a case where the longer you've worked at it, the less of an expert you probably are.  

My dear friend Michelle and I talk on the phone quite a bit.  Her amazing daughter Lindsey is five years older than Janey, and I can't even start to tell you how wonderful it is to have someone to talk to that has blazed the trail we are taking with Janey.  She said something last week that struck me hard---that she will never say that she is done with the whole "training" process.  

I used to think that there would be an endpoint with the whole potty-training deal.  There was with the boys, and there is with most kids, but with Janey, and I would guess with others like her, there just isn't.  It's not something I talk about a huge amount, as it's not one of the more picturesque parts of autism. But it's a big part of it.  

Right now, at age 12, Janey almost always uses the toilet for bowel needs.  That is wonderful.  I won't get into what everyone with a child like Janey probably is already too familiar with, but let's just say that the times Janey came to me covered with what was not chocolate, and further investigation showed that this same issue had affected huge areas of the house....well, you know how wonderful it is that she is trained in that way.

For urine, Janey uses the toilet in some circumstances.  She wears underwear to school every day, and rarely has an accident there.  Out of the house in general, she does very well.  On our weeklong trip to Ohio, when she was in the car for long hours, there was barely an accident.  Part of this was her enjoyment at telling us she needed the bathroom, because it caused us to stop and get to see some lovely highway rest areas and fast food joints, but hey, whatever it takes.  At home, though, it's much more of a chancy thing.  I'd say she uses the potty about 50 percent of the time for urine at home.  it's the other 50 perfect that is very, very tough.

For whatever reason, Janey wets the bed most of the time she doesn't use the toilet at home.  I'm not talking during sleep here.  We put her in two pullups at night, and we probably always will.  I'm talking when she's awake.  She will go over to the bed and wet it, in the daytime.  As you can well imagine, we are not huge fans of this.  We have tried everything we can think of to discourage this behavior.  We take her to the bathroom on a very regular basis, and try to get her to go.  We do everything we can to keep her off her bed when she might need to go.  We talk to her about it, tell her social stories, beg her, and yes, at times, we have given into to despair and yelled at her about it.  This is usually when we've just taken her to the bathroom, begged her to go, and she hasn't, and then she goes directly to her bed and before we can stop her, wets it.

This week, both Tony and I gave in and got upset with Janey for the daytime bedwetting.  We are bone tired of changing sheets, washing blankets, spraying odor control things, trying desperately to keep her bed a place you'd want to sleep.  I don't like speaking to Janey sharply, but I have to say, I'd challenge a saint to not sometimes get a little annoyed after literally years of this.

Coincidence or not, Janey has been doing a fair amount of crying this week.  She cried a lot after school last night, and she woke up crying this morning.  Nothing was helping, until I said "are you upset about the bed, about peeing on the bed?"  Janey echoed "WERE YOU UPSET ABOUT THE BED!" And I had a flash of thought, thinking "this isn't worth it.  Would I rather keep dealing with the bedwetting, or would I rather have Janey tense, upset, crying, over something that for whatever reason she seems unable or unwilling to stop doing?"  The answer was clear.  I'd rather deal with the wet bed for a million years than have Janey hysterically upset, biting her arm, crying.  I don't know why she does what she does with the bed.  But I know that I can control how I react to it.  I can keep doing the positive things---taking her to the bathroom a lot, praising her for using the toilet, encouraging her.  But if she does do the daytime bedwetting, I can deal with it in a matter of fact way.  I can keep myself from getting angry.  I can just accept that for now, that is how things are.

I told Janey "I'm sorry I got upset about you peeing on the bed.  I like you to pee in the potty, but if you forget and pee on the bed, we'll clean it up.  You don't need to cry about it.  It's okay"  Janey gave me one of the looks I live for, the look of understanding and connection, the look that says I've hit on something.  And she smiled, for the first time of the day.

I wondered, after Janey went to school, if I was doing the right thing.  Then I stopped myself from the worrying.  I reminded myself, as I've learned to do, that there is no right way with Janey.  There's no book that tells how to parent her.  I'm writing her book.  I don't know how the chapter on toilet training will end.  It might never end.  But it's not the most important chapter of the book, and keeping that in mind, we'll do the best we can, both Janey and us.