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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!  

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Mostly Sunny---a Janey report

Sometimes I miss writing more entries in this blog!  But other times I know I'm writing less because life with Janey is less intense than it used to be.  Still, I plan to continue this blog as long as I'm around to write it.  It's interesting and cool to think of the girls that are growing up along with Janey, ones I met through this blog when she was just three and who now are teenagers or young adults, and it's also great knowing some families with younger girls (and boys) are able to at times get a glimpse of what growing up as a family with an autistic member is like.

So, how are things with Janey?  Mostly sunny!  High school is off to a very good start overall.  We went to an open house a while back, and got time to talk a lot to Janey's teachers.  She has four teachers, with one being her homeroom teacher.  The rooms are all connected, and the kids move from class to class within the connected rooms.  Her teachers all seem incredibly good.  It's just amazing to us always what great teachers Janey has had.  It's wonderful hearing them tell stories about Janey.  You can tell they get her, and that they like her!  That means everything to me.  Lately her homeroom teacher has been sending us pictures of Janey at school along with reports.  I love seeing the pictures!  It's so cool to get to see Janey's days that way.  With the rise of smart phones and having a camera always around, I hope more teachers are sending pictures to parents, especially to parents of minimally or non-verbal kids.  A picture really is worth a thousand words.

A few weeks ago, Janey had a tough week.  She cried all day for about a week, and did the same at school.  Even coming in the middle of a long great run, it was very upsetting.  I think a lot of you can relate to how we flash back to the worst times so easily.  It's not Tony and my default thought "Oh, she's been happy for a long time and she's be happy again soon!  This is just a little glitch!"  Instead we think "Here we go.  It's going to get worse and worse and worse.  She'll probably end up back in Rhode Island (where the psychiatric hospital was that Janey spent time in when she was 10)"  I think it's a kind of PSTD.  It's very hard to take a step back and just think "Let's ride this out and see what happens".  But in this case, after the awful week, Janey suddenly became happy again.  She got off the bus one Friday afternoon and was happy, and has been happy since.  I need to try to remember that!

The other night, Janey wanted to watch a certain Angelina Ballerina.  Hulu and Netflix constantly take Angelinas off and on, and it's frustrating.  To buy an hour long episode often costs about $15---to have it permanently to watch.  Janey wanted Shining Star Trophy, which has been one of her favorites for a long time, but it wasn't available and I didn't want to spend the money.  We are being very careful with money now that Tony has retired early.  So I said no.  Janey threw a fit---screaming and crying and flinging herself around.  This was after the tough time had passed, and she was so sincere in her sadness and anger I thought to myself "What the heck?  What does she ever ask for, anyway?" and I bit the bullet and bought the show for her after having said no.

Janey at school
Later that same evening, a very interesting thing happened.  I told Janey it was bedtime.  She wasn't pleased.  Usually she'll just get up over and over if she doesn't want to sleep, but this time, she looked at me for a minute as if she was thinking something over, and then started to scream.  Somehow, I knew right away this was a different scream than I've ever heard before.  It was fake.  It had a whole different tone to it. 

To be honest, I was thrilled.  It was the first time EVER I have seen Janey consciously throw a fit when she wanted something.  Other times, she's certainly thrown a fit, but it's the much more common fit, one of not having the words to explain, one of pure unhappiness.  This wasn't that.  It was a deliberate thing.  I have no doubt about that.  I said, calmly but firmly, "Janey, it's time for bed.  Turn off the TV, put down the remote and get in bed"  And she gave me another long look, as if deciding what to do, and then did just what I asked, quite cheerfully.  You could almost see her thinking "Well, it was worth a try"

It's so cool to see that Janey is still developing, still learning, still maturing.  It takes her longer than most kids, but she does make progress in so many ways.

High school doesn't require uniforms.  When I see Janey dressed in school clothes, regular teenage girl clothes (although of course ones I pick out, but I do try to dress her in clothes her peers might wear), it sometimes takes my breath away.  It's funny---I can remember 15 so well, and having a daughter that age---it makes me think of how much she is her own person.  Like everyone else, she is different than her parents, not just because of her autism, but just because she is who she is.  I am so proud of her.  I look forward to watching her become an adult.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

My high school freshman

I thought I'd make good use of being up with Janey in the middle of the night to update a bit here!  I can't sleep lately either, so I don't really mind her being awake as much as I sometimes can.

How are things going, you might ask?  Quite well, really.  And I am knocking on wood all over the place saying that.

Janey started high school earlier this month.  I was VERY nervous about it.  She hadn't gone to a new school for many years, and the high school we picked is far away from our house.  But it had the program we wanted, as I've written about. And so far, so good!  The bus has been more reliable than it usually is, despite having to navigate all kinds of complicated Boston traffic and roads to get her to and from school.  We are getting good reports from her teacher, who although I haven't met him in person yet seems great.  We get a page each day, partly self-reported with stamps by Janey, telling us what activities she had, whether she ate much lunch or not, and whether it was a great day, a good day or a not so good day.  There's only been a couple not so good days!  Her teacher (sort of like her home room teacher, as she has several teachers and they rotate around the 4 or 5 connected rooms that are for her program of 40 kids) writes a little note every day and is great at being touch by email, and that makes me so happy.  I love knowing a bit about how Janey is doing each day.

She even has electives!  She didn't elect them, but they were well chosen.  She has dance almost every day, which is just a dream come true.  I've always wanted Janey to get more of a chance to dance.  She has Very Special Arts most days, which is music and art for special needs kids, and she swims several times a week.  Every Friday, there is some kind of outing.  We send in a little money for it.  She has gone to the corner store a few times, and this Friday to the Dollar Tree!  I love the idea of her getting out and about.

Janey has seemed happy at home most of the time since starting school, also.  Her main activity lately is what you might call close watching of two movies---"Coco" and "The Emperor's New Groove".  She watches them both at least once a day, and seems to have memorized them.  She remembers right where she left off if interrupted, and recites the scene she is about to see when she goes back to watch.  As with so many of the things Janey likes, we agree with her taste.  Coco is a fantastic movie, all about music and (this struck me the other day) the power of music to reach those who might not talk much, in this case the title character of the movie, Coco, who is the main character's great-grandmother, who has dementia.  The Emperor's New Groove is just plain funny, and Janey seems to appreciate the humor a lot.  As she got ready to watch it just now, she recited the beginning "I was the nicest guy on earth and they ruined my life for no reason!"  After school earlier, she spent about an hour with nothing on, no TV or music, happily reciting lines from the movies and singing song clips.  I love listening to her do that.  I know it's echolalia, but it's not the kind of echolalia she used to do more of, frantic and unable to stop sounding.  This echolalia is very varied, and seems to just be thinking aloud, a stream of consciousness recitation of what's in her head.  Every now and then, there's a line I think is from school.."Can you guys please come over to the kitchen?" or things like that.

A few weeks ago, my parents visited, and I could tell at one point Janey was in the exact rare mood to show my father something he hadn't seen before, Janey's flash card abilities.  I held up a big pile of picture flash cards, one after the other, and said "this is a...." and she named what was on the card.  ALL of the cards.  The few she got wrong were close guesses, like calling a fox a dog or a tiger a lion.  There were words in there I wasn't sure she knew at all, but she did.  My father was surprised and impressed.

I've been reading more about RPM (rapid prompting method) and it seems like what Janey will sometimes do with the flash cards is similar to what kids do in RPM sessions, from what I can see.  I have to ask rapidly what's on the cards, I have to move right away to the next one.  It almost feels like magic---the way to glimpse what is in Janey's mind that for whatever reason she can't usually tell me.  But it also seems to have the limitations I've heard several people mention about RPM.  It's not really a skill that carries over much into every day life, at least in terms of what Janey readily says.  The words she uses for the cards are not words that are really part of her limited regular vocabulary, and I am not sure how I can make them part of it.  It seems like a lot of the value of the cards is to help people understand Janey's mind, to show she knows more than it might appear. But if she wasn't in the mood for doing it, she just wouldn't, and I wouldn't be able to push her to do so, even if I were so inclined, which I'm not.  I wish, as I have wished for so many years, that I better understood Janey's mind.

On a personal note, I was finally officially diagnosed this past week with Sjogren's Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that among other things causes one's eyes and ears to be extremely dry, and also causes severe fatigue.  I've had the symptoms for a while, and a new rheumatologist I'm seeing gave the official name to it, although it's been tossed around as likely for years.  I mention this for a few reasons.  One is curiosity if anyone else out there has the autism/autoimmune disease connection, for any autoimmune diseases (I have some antibodies showing I might another more serious autoimmune condition or might get it at some point, but thankfully not now, but they all tie together quite a bit).  The other reason is just, well, sort of to talk about how a child's autism interacts with a parent's own health issues.  My tiredness, which at times have made it so hard staying awake when Janey needed me awake that it's part of why Tony retired as soon as he was able to, has along the years made this journey with Janey a bit tougher.  There isn't a cure for Sjogren's, but I am glad to have a reason and an explanation for some of my issues.  And I hope if any of you have symptoms you might be inclined to dismiss as just being part of the stress and tiredness that comes along with special needs parenting, you will seek out a medical opinion and keep trying to get answers.  It took me a LONG time to get really proactive about my own health.

I've rambled here, I'm sure partly because it's 1:20 in the morning and Janey is still going strong, but as always, I've enjoyed virtually talking with you, my friends, my sisters and brothers by means of our shared challenges and joys in life.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

Janey at 15

It's hard to believe Janey is 15.  Some ages seem like a jump to me of more than a year, and 15 is one of those.  It seems a lot older than 14.  14 still seems like part of childhood.  15 feels like definitely teenager-hood, and not that far from adulthood.  It doesn't seem possible.

So, who is Janey at 15?  By 15, I think you are who you are going to be, to a huge extent.  I can remember myself vividly at that age. It's the first age that feels like part of now, like years have gone by but in some basic way, I haven't aged beyond the person I was then.  I don't mean I haven't had a lot of life experiences, or learned a lot along the way, but my personality then is my personality now, to a large extent. 

When thinking about who Janey is, I both try and don't try to separate out the autism.  I can't and don't want to totally separate it.  It's a big part of who she is, and an important part.  But it's not ALL of who she is.  There is a lot of her that I am quite sure would be her no matter what.

Janey is a cool person.  She has strong likes and dislikes.  She likes music, but not just any music.  She loves British Invasion 60s music more than anything else.  She also likes most songs with a very strong beat---disco, some country, some dance type music.  She is not a fan of soft rock or slow songs or most of the country I like.  She likes some Broadway music, but not most.

She loves food, most of all what her father makes her.  They share a deep love for steamed vegetables (something I would not eat on a bet) and for eggplant and Chinese food and cherry tomatoes and raw onions.  She is the world's hugest salami fan.  She's a food snob.  Rarely does a bite of school lunches pass her lips.  Food needs to be fresh or freshly prepared or expensive!

Janey has gotten more into movies lately, particularly just a few movies.  She watches "Coco" and "The Emperor's New Groove" every day, broken up now and then by "Pocahontas" and "Home".  We are glad that a stage she had for a while of watching kids' YouTube videos and rapidly switching from one to another seems to have subsided, but it could come back.  Her favorite kids' TV show right now is "The Cat in the Hat Knows a Lot about That"

Car rides are still one of Janey's favorite things.  If she had her way, we'd spend most of our days driving about on a car ride.  She seems to love more than anything watching the world go by as she listens to music in the car.

Janey has a temper.  When she's told no about something she wants to do, she is extremely quick to anger, to scream.  More than she used to, though, she does get over it.  That doesn't mean she doesn't ask again, a few minutes later, and scream again if the answer is still no.

A sense of humor is one of the best things about Janey.  She loves to laugh with and at us.  She is so happy when we are all happy.  She rewards funny little songs and sayings with a huge smile and hug.

Sometimes I make myself step back and look at Janey from the perspective of an outsider, someone who doesn't yet know her well.  To that person, how would she look?  Well, most people do see her and know that she is not completely typical.  She does some things that look typically autistic, like flapping her arms.  Her speech is not generally in full sentences, unless she is scripting or using echolalia.  It's mostly requests..."Want a car ride?  Want salami?  Want cuddle?"  It's extremely rare she simply comments or states things.  She still bites her arm quite a bit, when angry or upset but also when very happy---it's a sign of strong emotions.  We hold her hand most of the time in public, not because she's a runner but because she is unpredictable.  She can sometimes poke people's stomachs or grab things that are dirty or unwise to grab or decide to take food out of someone's hand she feels should be hers.

Janey has grown up a lot over the years.  We can talk her down from more of her emotional crises, we can understand more of what she needs and wants, we can give her the tools to entertain herself, we can tell her to wait a few minutes (some of the time), we can even get her help with things like bringing us a needed item. 

If you had seen Janey at five or ten, you would probably be surprised at Janey now.  It is why I hope that those with girls like Janey who are younger than her keep up the faith.  My dear friend Michelle told me it would get easier, and she was right.  It did.  Either that, or we changed. 

I don't picture a "typical" Janey much.  A typical Janey would not be Janey.  It would be someone else.  I don't want Janey to be someone else.

But in saying that, I still feel fear.  I fear the world is not ready for Janey and her sisters and brothers in autism to become adults, to live in the wider world.  It's part of why I want the world to know Janey, to know her as a person, to understand that she exists and is as worthy of a life as anyone.  I worry, in my darkest moments, that the world will not embrace Janey, that the worst parts of the world will take advantage of her.  That is what keeps me up nights.  I want everyone to know the true Janey---not just the easy to talk about parts, but what she really needs to be a healthy, included person in the world.  It is why I talk for her.  I feel like I have to let the world know she is part of humankind, just as she is.  Not a sanitized version of her, not a technicolored dream version of her, not a doom and gloom and how tough a lot we have been dealt view of her, but the most accurate view of her possible.

Janey will start high school in 11 days.  I am scared.  I am scared about a long bus ride she will have to take to go to the great program we chose.  I am not scared of the time she's actually in classes, because the Boston schools have been very good to Janey.  I'm scared of the meanness that does exist in this world, of any moment in Janey's life when she is not being carefully watched, of her inability to tell us about her days, of her beauty and her innocence.  I love her so much.

Janey, thank you for being you.  We have been lucky to have these 15 year with you.  I hope we have many, many more together.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Summer Report

Roll out those lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer.  I guess.  I am not a summer person, as people who have read this blog probably know, but this summer hasn't been bad, as summers go.  There was the non-sleep period, which I will never, ever say is over, because I fear a jinx more than anything, but, well, it's better.  Janey has still been often getting up extremely early, but lately, she is into Netflix on her iPad, and watching longer movies, even ones she's never watched before, and it's allowing us to drowse a bit while she's awake.

The big difference this summer, of course, has been having Tony home.  It's wonderful.  I said just before the summer started that it was the first summer I haven't dreaded, and I was right not to.  Parenting Janey is really a two person job, and Tony and I are both more rested, even with the non-sleeping issues, than we were in past summers.  

Another very nice thing has been summer school.  Two years ago, I took Janey out of summer school in the middle.  She was miserably unhappy.  It was the only real time I'd ever seen her crying because she didn't want to get on the bus, and she would come home crying, and I was getting emails from the teacher a lot of the type that say "Do you have any ideas about keeping Janey happy?  Is there something different at home?" to which I always have an urge to reply something like "Oh, yeah, I forgot to mention that we moved because the old house exploded---it just slipped my mind!"  I'm just being sarcastic here, but I do tell teachers if something big is happening at home, and to be fair, I don't get that question often.  So we cut our losses that year, and I was gun-shy last year and decided to just keep Janey home from summer school.  But this year, I thought we'd give it a try again, and she's been VERY happy there.  Her (different than two summers ago) teacher seems great and he stays in touch about positive and less positive things, and he sent me a happy picture of her from Friday, which is something I very much love to get.

Janey is continuing to seem more like a teenager all the time.  Her most used phrase with me is "Want to go away?"  She says this any time I'm in her space, and her space is often much of the house.  I take it with a laugh, though.  It's cool to see her wanting space, and I want to give her as much as I can.  It makes me sad, a lot of times, how little true independence her life is going to have, and I feel like it's important to give her any agency I can about how she spends her time.  It can sometimes get a little severe, though, like when her brother Freddy came home from work and said hi to her, and she replied "NO! Want to go away?" and pushed him.  But I remind myself her vocabulary is limited, and she's getting her point across.

One interesting development is how Janey has been using the TouchChat AAC app on her iPad.  I started with it a couple years ago with great hopes.  Janey has never really used it to talk, though.  She likes it, and she says, many hundreds of times "I don't want to listen to CD" which might sound like it's saying something, but it's what you get if you hit the exact middle of each screen in a row.  I think she likes the way it makes a sentence, and she doesn't ever listen to CDs anyway.  But for a while, when Janey is very upset, I have been pulling up the feelings screen on the app and asking her to tell me how she's feeling.  She usually picks happy first, even when she's very obviously not happy, but then she picks something else, sad or frustrated or angry or tired.  And she calms down.  Like a miracle sometimes, she calms down.  It's like being able to label the feeling helps tremendously.  Today, for the first time ever, when she was upset, she went to the iPad and went to that screen herself, and 
calmed herself down.  I was very, very happy.  I wish she'd use the app more, though.  I use it often around her, and she easily remembers how to get to various screens, and it's always available for her, but she has made plain that's as far as she wants to go with it for now.  And if I pushed her more, I'm 
quite sure she wouldn't be as eager to use it in the limited way she does as she is now---that's my Janey.

Of course, what comes next is high school, and I am nervous day and night about that.  I feel confident we picked the right program for Janey, and I am very happy she can go where we wanted her to go.  But's a new school, and it's a LONG bus ride.  It's on the opposite side of Boston, and if you know Boston traffic, you know it might well take an hour for her to get to school and an hour to get home, on tougher days, and some days, probably more than that.  She loves the bus and she loves rides, or we wouldn't even consider that, but I worry about her needing to use the bathroom while she's on the bus, I worry how she will react if the traffic completely stops the bus for long periods, I worry about other kids on the bus...I worry about everything.  I keep telling myself to wait and see how things go before all the worrying, but that's not my way of doing things, usually.

I was helped more than you know during Janey's no sleep nights by posting on the Facebook companion page to this blog, and reaching out to the other mothers in no sleep land, the ones, as Claire so incredibly well put it, awake at silly o'clock, as those hours in the middle of the night should be officially named.  Thank you, as always, for getting it, all of you wonderful people.  I hope you are having summers that are better than you'd worried they might be!

Thursday, July 11, 2019

The Summer Without Sleep

It's about 11:30 pm now.  Janey is awake, wide awake, watching TV.  Last night, she slept not at all.  This used to be an unusual, shocking thing, that she could go totally without sleep all night now.  It's not any more.  In time since school ended for the year, there's been about six nights without sleep, without ANY sleep.  There was one last Thursday, just five days before last night's non-sleep night.  I hope there's some sleep tonight.  It seems like there would have to be.  But maybe not.

What is going on?  For most of Janey's life, sleep has been one of her lesser issues.  There were always occasional insomnia nights, but not a huge amount, and very rarely ones with no sleep.  Something changed recently.

I don't have a lot of theories.  One of the few I have is that it's just her age.  She is almost 15, and that is an age you start staying up later.  I've read that it's theorized it's biologically hard-wired, because it gives teenagers a time to relate without older or younger people awake, and that leads, indirectly, to the human race continuing.  Maybe Janey is feeling that draw, to be up at night when others aren't.  But while most teenagers might realize not to take it too far, to eventually sleep, Janey doesn't.  She just stays awake.  And she doesn't get the desired alone time.  We can't leave her alone.  If she's awake, we are awake, or trying hard to be awake.

If Tony hadn't retired early, if he had to get up for work each day...well, we'd have dealt with it, because what else can you do?  But even with him home, it's very, very hard.  After missing a night's sleep, even with the two of us trading off, you aren't yourself.  It's hard to explain unless you've had a period of being chronically sleep-deprived.  It feels like you aren't fully alive.  It feels like everything is happening in a daze, a mist.  You can't do anything that requires thought or effort.  It's like your mind tries to half sleep even when you are awake.

Janey started summer school this week.  I don't know if she slept at school today. We have always sent her to school even when she doesn't sleep, as unlike Tony or me, she seems little affected the day after not sleeping.  Even after the day after becomes the night after, she just doesn't seem sleepy.  She often stays up quite late the night after not sleeping at all.

We plan on talking to Janey's psychiatrist soon about this not sleeping.  Right now, we do give her melatonin, as we have for years, for all the good it does.  When I take melatonin, which I do now and then, I fall asleep always in about half an hour.  I don't know if it does a thing for Janey any more.  Her pediatrician has told us it's okay to give her Benadryl on the very worst insomnia nights, but that also now seems to have no effect.  If I ever take Benedryl, I'm knocked out like a light.  So I don't think any other sleep medicine is going to work.  The urge to be awake on the non-sleep nights is stronger than most anything.

It's gotten so we can tell ahead of time when Janey's not going to sleep a certain night.  The main giveaway seems to be her attention span getting extremely short.  On evenings before she sleeps, she changes YouTube videos or songs absolutely constantly, after about 10 seconds.  She watches the same pieces of video over and over and over, separated by little pieces of a different video.  She paces while she does this, and often does her OCD routines---straightening out the remotes on the living room table, turning on and off lights or the AC, doing spot checks to make sure we aren't crossing our legs or arms---the routines we've seen for many a year, but in a more intense way than usual.

The non-sleeping probably affects me almost out of proportion.  When I don't sleep, I feel hopeless and isolated.  It can feel, in the middle of a long, sleepless night, like we are on a little island or planet, completely alone.  It can feel like morning will never actually arrive.  It can seem like Janey will never sleep again, that this will go on forever and ever and ever.  I know my mind plays tricks on me when I don't sleep.  It can make my outlook pretty bleak.

And now it's close to midnight.  Janey is awake, watching a video she has watched many times tonight, one where a woman spells the names of animals after pronouncing their names in odd ways---KAN-grew for Kangaroo.  That, and the one where Mr. Harlow opens surprise eggs, and the three cats called Cutians, and Coco-Melon videos, all the videos on heavy repeat during sleepless nights---well, if I never hear any of them again, that would just be fine.  Let's hope for a few hours sleep tonight, and let's hope the summer someday becomes a sleepy fall.

Monday, June 17, 2019

With love to the school I didn't want

Today is Janey's last day of 8th grade, the last day at the school she's attended since the middle of 3rd grade.  And I am looking back with love on her years at a school I didn't want her to go to.

Janey and her classmates
Until late in 3rd grade, Janey went to an inclusion school.  It was the same school William and Freddy went to, and it was a special place.  Each classroom had a regular ed teacher as well as a special ed teacher.  Kids with all kinds of special needs were included, completely. I loved the school, and I loved the concept.  I loved everything about it, right up until they couldn't include Janey any more.

Janey getting her diploma!
The time of transition to the school Janey is attending her last day of today was very, very hard for us.  It was the time I found out that the phrase "crying yourself to sleep" can be literal.  I had pictured Janey at the inclusion school until she was 22.  I had been involved with the school for 13 years at that point, and I wanted it to be 13 more.  But I know now that it was the right decision to move her.  Inclusion is wonderful, but it doesn't work for all kids.  At the time Janey was moved, she was often screaming all day, lashing out, pulling hair, biting.  She had the love and support of her classmates and teachers, but she was far from happy, and she was (although I know you aren't supposed to worry about this, but I do) keeping the other kids from learning.  She wasn't included, because it wasn't safe to include her, and so an inclusion school for her was not at all inclusive.

So we moved her to her current school.  It was hard.  But from the very first day, we were made to feel welcome there.  It was a different feel of school.  It's a much bigger school, less family-feeling, but it was a place that accepted Janey, and embraced her.

Help when she needs it
Janey's early years at her new school were not smooth ones.  I've never, ever forget the call---the day her behavior was so extreme that she went right from school to the emergency room, and then to many days at a psychiatric facility.  But I'll also never forget the love and caring the school showed her at that time---how her teacher rode in the ambulance with me, how the ABA director drove the long drive to where Janey was placed to see her and talk to the staff, and most of all, how the school welcomed her back.  That is, I can see now, what scared me most.  Janey had already been once cast out for being simply too...autistic.  I was braced for it to happen again, for the school to say they simply couldn't handle her.  But they seemed surprised I would even ever think that.  They were committed to Janey.

Music bonded these two!
Over the years at Janey's school, we have had so many teachers that were simply amazing, in their dedication, skill and love.  Beyond that, the staff---the classroom paraprofessionals, the therapists, the program leaders, the principal---wow. They are all people who have chosen to work with autistic kids, and beyond that, people that very obviously love our kids, people that get them, people that see them as the coolest, most interesting kids around (which they are).
Another wonderful friend of Janey's

Love and a bond you can see
We went last week to Janey's moving up ceremony.  I can't even tell you how many different people made a point to talk to me about Janey, about the special routines they had with her, about her love of music, about what a kick they get out of her.  It struck me so much how they were talking to me about the same Janey I see---a cool, quirky, at times stubborn and challenging but unique young woman.

And so today, again I am crying a bit about Janey and her school.  This time, it's not about her being sent there, but about her leaving.  Thank you from the bottom of my heart to the Joseph Lee School for caring for and loving my Janey.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Freddy's college graduation, and why I'm not there

Today, my younger son Freddy graduates from Skidmore College with a degree in computer science.  It hasn't been the easiest road for him, and I am incredibly proud of him.  And I am also very, very frustrated, because I can't be with him.

Most days, I keep a positive attitude.  It's important to me to do so.  Janey means the world to me.  I love her more than I can possibly express. She has brought us so much joy.  That being said, there are times when the whole autism parenting life is so tough that I am overwhelmed completely.  Today is one of those days.

There is no-one who can care for Janey today, to make it possible for Tony, William and me together to be at Freddy's graduation and celebrate his success.  There is no respite---not on regular days and not on special days. There are several people who would have loved to be able to watch Janey, but that just were not up to the task, and honestly told me so.  I appreciate that.  The last thing I would ever want is someone caring for Janey that would be overwhelmed by doing so.  There are other people who would have been able to care for her but that live far away---I'm thinking of many of you!  But in reality, there is just not any respite.  Even today.

We thought about taking Janey and all going.  But a quick think-through of that killed that notion.  Janey would last about 5 minutes at most at the graduation. Then, one of us would have to take her outside, walk around with her. This would keep her happy maybe for 10 more minutes.  Then, she'd be upset, screaming.  The person watching her would, to say the very least, not be having a good time.  The family inside at graduation would not be able to concentrate and honor Freddy.  They would be thinking about how it was going with Janey.  Or, we could have gotten a hotel room for a few nights, to have a place to stay with Janey.  If that hadn't been extremely expensive (it's racing season in Saratoga Springs, and even a very cheap hotel, especially on graduation weekend, is insanely high priced), it still would have resulted in a long period of time in a room trying to keep Janey happy, and not seeing the graduation.  If one of us wasn't going to see the graduation anyway, it might as well be at home, with the resources we have here.  Tony missed Freddy's high school graduation.  At that time, Janey was in the hospital recovering with many complications from her burst appendix.  So---it was his turn to get to go to the graduation.

And I'm here, at home.  And Janey isn't happy.  She wants to go for a car ride.  I have taken her outside repeatedly to see there simply isn't a car here to ride in.  That doesn't matter.  If she wants a ride, there should be a car.  She is miserable.  There is no explaining to her that it's Freddy's day.  That is not something she understands.  She repeatedly says to me "Put on shoes!"  "Get jacket!"  "Get pocketbook!".  She tries in vain to get me to see that she needs her car ride.  And I am tired.

I've been sick for the last week.  It's a very slow recovery.  But like the car, that doesn't make a difference.  Janey doesn't get I'm sick.  I am exhausted.  And realizing, for the millionth time, how lucky it is that Tony is retired now.  We are broke, and we probably always will be from now on, but there really wasn't a choice.  Neither of us were going to last with him still working.  The years of little sleep and little down time added up.  It's incredible, still, that the two of us at times can sit down and watch a TV show alone, while Janey is at school or asleep.  And if this is life from now on, so be it.  But on days like this, it is hard to not reflect on the toll autism parenting has taken on our lives.  NOT that Janey has taken.  That autism in her particular form has taken.

I don't have solutions.  In thinking about writing this post, I wanted to close with ideas for making things better and easier for Janey and for all of us.  But I don't know how.  It would take an overhauling of our whole society, and at this point in time, that's beyond a pipe dream.

So, I asked myself, why write about this at all?  Why upset those who rightfully might feel that I should not explore the negative side, the negative feelings that this day has brought to me?

And I answered myself---well, why do I read memoirs?  Why do I avidly read about other lives?  For one of two reasons.  I read to hear about a life unlike my own, to better understand what it would be like to be someone else---someone affected by war, or by blindness, someone who grew up in a very different culture or family, someone living a life I'm not living.  I write to share our lives with others.  The second reason I read memoirs is to read about people living a life LIKE my own, to feel less alone.  That is the second reason I write here---because I know I'm not the only one living this life, and I want to be honest about my life to let them know they are not the only one.

All my love today to Freddy, my graduate.  I know you understand why I'm not there, but I hope you also know how much I wish I could be, and how much I love you, and William, and Janey.  Always.

Frederick David Amara, my dear son

Sunday, April 21, 2019

The Easter Bunny Hunt---A Story In Pictures

The quest begins.
 Those of you who have read this blog much mostly know we don't give Janey chocolate, because when we do, especially after noon, she doesn't sleep.  At all.  Whether it makes sense or not, it happens, and it's why I don't discount anyone's food issues or theories.  It doesn't seem like just a little chocolate could have that big an effect, but still, it does.  However, we make one exception.  There is nothing on earth Janey likes more than a chocolate bunny.  She often asks for them at random times, like the middle of the night in the middle of the summer.  So, for Easter, she gets a bunny.  We usually get it on Easter day, not to have it around the house ahead of times for her to find and eat at the wrong time.

Empty Rite-Aid bunny rack!
We set out this morning to get her the bunny.  The first place we went was the Rite-Aid.  It's where we get prescriptions, so we are there a lot.  The pharmacist said a big hi to Janey, and she smiled at him. bunnies!  The Easter area was completely empty of any chocolate rabbits.

Picking out salami
So we moved on, to the grocery store.  Janey and Tony often shop there together.  We picked up a few other things we need before we looked for bunnies.  High on the list, as always, was salami, Janey's hands-down favorite food.  Janey picked out some with Tony in the main salami area, and then ran off to a nearby auxiliary salami area to get another kind she wanted.  After we'd loaded up on salami, we got a few other things, and saw a worker who is always so sweet to Janey, and told her Happy Easter.  She has a grandson with autism, and it's always fun to have her talk to us.

Auxiliary Salami Area
Finally, we went to look for bunnies at the grocery store, but again, no bunnies at all!  It was like there was some huge run on bunnies!   Janey saw some Easter cakes that looked interesting near the cashier, but we resisted them.
No bunnies at the grocery store either!

Some interesting cakes
Salami choosing
 We went to the quickest line, and missed going to the line of a cashier who is yet another Janey fan, but we waved to her, and Janey gave her a smile.  Out by the car, Janey picked which salami to first try. 

We continued our quest at the Walgreens, and there, finally, we hit pay dirt.  We found bunnies!  Janey picked out the one she wanted---not the biggest one, but a smaller sweet little guy.  The cashier there didn't know Janey, but was so sweet to her, talking while realizing she probably wasn't getting a response.  She asked Janey to give her a high five, and Janey did.

The whole quest made me happy.  In our little part of Boston, where Tony has lived all his life, where Janey has lived since birth, we feel included.  Janey is part of the community.  She is valued and treated with kindness and respect.  What more could we ask?  Happy Easter to all of you who celebrate it, Happy Passover to those who celebrate it, and Happy Day to everyone!

Finally, bunnies!
Bunny time!

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Nana and Grandpa at the hotel house

Janey at the cheese and cracker reception time
This past Saturday, I realized how very long it had been since Janey had seen my parents.  I last saw them in October, when I went up there for a few days, but for Janey, it had been almost a year.  They used to drive down here from Maine for the day, a drive that is almost 4 hours each way, but as they get a bit older, and after my father's accident falling from a ladder, they can't make the trip as easily.  On the spot Saturday, I decided that despite all that was keeping us from getting away, we'd go spend a couple nights in Portland, half way in-between us, and have them come down for the day to see us at our hotel (Janey always calls them "hotel houses").

Breakfast, which Janey did not care for
In general, Janey likes trips.  That is, she likes them under her own terms.  It must be her music in the car, music that she wants us to change constantly.  Once we get to the hotel, except for car rides, she doesn't want to go much of anyplace.  Going away with her is not really a get-away or a vacation as just more a change of scenery.  It's great she doesn't mind being away from home.  But it's also harder to keep her happy in a hotel.  At home, if we have to say no, she often screams.  In a hotel, you really can't have someone screaming the way Janey does.  We can't stand our ground unless we want complaints and the front desk calling us to see if everything is okay, something that has happened a few times.  So, we keep her happy.  On this trip, it meant letting her take about 10 showers, having her play her iPad at full blast on YouTube Kids with the same videos 20 times an hour, and working on keeping her calm when she woke up at 2 am the 2nd night.  It was relaxing to come home.

Janey checking out a water feature in the lobby
However, it was worth it to see my parents.  We did manage a lunch out at a buffet, sort of a more downmarket Old Country clone.  Everyone found plenty to eat.  We got pizza from the hotel restaurant at night.  We exchanged Christmas presents, which we had not been able to do any sooner, and we sang some Christmas songs---Janey's favorite part of Christmas.

My parents commented on how clearly Janey sings, in contrast to her speaking, and that made me face something I haven't faced much.  Janey used to speak very clearly, when she did speak.  She doesn't any longer.  Often, no-one can understand what she is saying but Tony and me.  I hate thinking it, but it's become pretty obvious her speech is getting worse over the years.  But the singing---still lovely.  I sang the beginning of lines from carols, and she finished them, perfectly.  Hearing her sing parts of "O Holy Night" brings tears to my eyes every time.

Janey sees Nana, as Tony looks on!
During the car ride back, Tony and I talked about some small changes we are going to make with Janey.  For about 4 years now, we have been pretty much doing whatever it takes to make her happy.  Overall, it's been a huge help in making all of us happy.  But lately, she has become more frantic in her demands, and she doesn't seem happy even when she gets what she wants.  The big thing that has become almost impossible is the music in the car.  Janey will not listening to about 95% of the songs we put on, songs she has previously liked.  She just constantly says "Music please, music!" which means change the song.  This makes it very hard for Tony to drive when he's driving alone with her, because if you DON'T immediately change the song, she screams, sometimes kicks the seat, and makes it very hard to concentrate.  We decided on a new rule.  We'll change music only after listening to the rest of whatever song we are hearing.  We explained this to her, and then put the rule in place, and after not much push-back, she seemed to get it.  She didn't like it, but she got it.

Janey listening to Grandpa!
We decided to put a similar rule in place about putting on TV shows and videos, once we got home.  Again, she wasn't pleased, but she seemed to understand.  We am always balancing her need for control with Tony's and my need for sanity.  We are all in this for the long haul, and we as parents were starting to quite frankly be at the ends of our ropes.

Being away, even for a few nights, can give some new perspectives. They aren't always easy things to face.  We need to try to figure out Janey's speech regression.  We need to take back some control of routines that have started to make our lives very tough.  We need to find a way to see my parents more, while still being around for Tony's brother, who has been in and out of the hospital for a very long time now and who has severe health issues.  We need to take a hard look at our finances, which with Tony's retirement have become much more of an issue, making even 2 nights in a hotel a luxury we can't often do.  We need to have a life that better balances Janey's needs with our own.  None of these are easy tasks.  But they are necessary.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Manic no sleep night

I hope you'll forgive me if any of this blog post doesn't make sense.  I'm operating on very little sleep.

Janey had one of her no-sleep nights last night.  These seem to be happening every month or two, but no matter how often they happen, they are impossible to get used to.

We're starting to be able to see the sleepless nights coming, though.  Yesterday afternoon and evening, Janey was very, very happy and excited.  I put a picture on the Facebook companion page to this blog, showing her huge smile as we left for a car ride. I'm including here three other pictures I took of her.  They all show the look, the look that foreshadows a very long night.   When bedtime came, and her usual bedtime is 7 to 7:30 (her choice, we wouldn't make her go to bed that early, but she gets up early and usually likes a lot of sleep), she was still hyped up.  She got on the bed, watching videos on her iPad as she usually does going to sleep.  But she didn't sleep.

Watching her on nights like last night, there are signs.  Every movement of her body is exaggerated and somehow stiff.  When she moves around, it's with big, wound up moves.  Her eyes get an excited look we don't see other times.  And she has an attention scan at these times of about 10 seconds.  She switches videos on YouTube at a pace that seems impossible.  As I listened last night, it almost seemed like she was using the videos as sound clips in some kind of rap song, switching back and forth and always stopping the audio of each clip at the exact same place to move to the next one, over and over and over.

The hours passed.  We took turns laying down with her, and then both did.  When we got up, she got up, running around the house and asking for things---rides, showers, walks, food, videos.  She'd go back to the bed when we asked, but would get back up in seconds.  If we stayed with her, she'd stay on the bed, but in the hyped state.

At times like this, she constantly re-arranges things around her.  One of the things she tries to re-arrange is my arms.  Somehow, she doesn't want to see my arms when she looks at me.  Her preference would be to have them behind my back, where they are out of sight.  Time after time, she moves them back to where she wants them. 

Around one in the morning, she got a foot cramp, and frantically said "Does your foot hurt?  Does your foot hurt?"  I could see her foot cramped up, and told her to stand up on it to help it.  She did, and jumped up and down for about 3 minutes straight.  I got her back into bed.  She started asking over and over "Angelina?"  Earlier in the night, I had typed Angelina into her YouTube Kids search area, and when some pre-populated choices came up, I had her pick "Angelina Ballerina"  She wanted to do that again.  I did it a few times, but a few times was never going to be enough.  I know I could have done that hundreds of times and she'd have still wanted more, as part of a routine that would include the quick switching of vidoes in-between.

At two, I was no longer able to keep my eyes open, and Tony took over.  She didn't sleep, of course.  She got on the bus happily at 6:30.  She is at school now.

These nights are awful, and we have no idea what causes them.  It's possible she got her hands on some chocolate at school, it being the Easter season.  But it could just be one of her periodic manic times.

We give her melatonin, most every night.  It works well, except when it doesn't work at all.  When she got the foot cramp, we gave her some Motrin, in case she was in pain she couldn't tell us about.  I don't know if it had any effect.  I am pretty sure nothing we could do or say or give her would make a bit of difference on manic nights.  Her own internal demons or angels or hormones or whatever are far stronger than anything external, at times like these.

During the day, when we've slept, we, and I mean the larger "we" of other families living this life, can be the kind of parents that match up with the books, blogs, advice, standards, of autism parenting.  At night, when we would do almost anything to just be able to sleep, we can't.  And that is where I don't think anyone who hasn't spent a night like our last night can really, truly, deeply get this life.  It's the initiation into our club.  It's the shared tribal ceremony.  It's the bonding experience that by its very nature gets experienced away from the others it's bonding us with.  I try to keep in mind, during those endless nights, the rest of you out there.

Please, Janey, sleep tonight.

Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Autism Non-Awareness, Human Acceptance

Today is World Autism Awareness/Acceptance Day.

Last night, as I spent time with Janey as she went to sleep, I thought about this day a lot.  I thought about it, as people most often think about things, from a very personal viewpoint---that of Janey, and how best to help her through the world.  And I realized, in a lot of ways, helping Janey be accepted, in a full way, involves something that is the opposite of autism awareness.

Taking a step back, I'm thinking of my own view of politics, or really, the larger world.  For the most part, I completely ignore politics.  When I don't, I become easily overwhelmed.  There are so many aspects to it, so many personalities and philosophies and emotions and ideas.  And I can affect all of it very, very little.  I vote, and then I probably actually bury my head in the sand.  I do so not out of apathy, but because I know what I can do and I can't do.  I can't change the world, not in my current life.  But I can do the best I can for my own family, and so I look inward.  I try my hardest to be the best mother I can, to have the best marriage I can.  I don't succeed, of course, but I try.

The wider world of autism is in many ways like politics.  It's a huge world, and a huge spectrum.  Sometimes I try to look at it all, and take it all in, and I am overwhelmed.  As I sometimes see little of my own life in political life, I sometimes see little of Janey's life in my views of the wider spectrum.

And sometimes, trying to think about autism as a whole keeps me from focusing on Janey.  I start to feel paralyzed, in writing here and in making decisions for her.  When I look at the media for views of autism, I see little that seems anything like Janey.  The spectrum is so wide that there is almost no intersection between lives like that of The Good Doctor or Temple Grandin and that of Janey.  And I say that not talking about high or low functioning.  I am talking about personality, strengths, interests.  Janey is not part of a group.  She is herself.

What I have found, over the years, is that people who most accept Janey are people who most know Janey, as a person.  In a big way, that includes us, her close family.  I don't look at Janey thinking about autism, 99% of the time.  I look at Janey as my daughter.  Like every other person on earth, she is a mixture of many things.  At times, she is a delight beyond imagining.  At times, she drives me out of my mind.  I can say exactly the same things about her brothers.  Her autism doesn't make her who she is, any more than Freddy's asthma did or William's premature birth did.  It has affected her life, sure, very much so, but it's not the essential Janey-ness of her.

I've had on occasion over the years a telling reaction from people meeting Janey for the first time that knew ahead of time she was autistic.  It's a surprised reaction, followed by them saying "But she's so beautiful!" or "But she is so happy!".  Or, a few times, "But she's, well....(and here they don't use the forbidden terms but say in their own way that she's intellectually disabled)"  These people were, before meeting Janey, what they considered aware of autism.  They had awareness that led them to believe Janey would somehow look different than the norm.  They are surprised when they see a lovely, happy girl.  Then they are surprised she doesn't talk like a doctor or a PhD, that she isn't quoting train statistics or holding court on some focused high level math concepts.  Autism awareness has failed them.

To accept Janey fully, to accept all of our girls fully, and in fact everyone fully, we need to see them with non-pre-aware eyes.  We need to see them as they are.  Janey isn't an example of anything.  Janey is a person.  Like everyone, she has some special needs, in the most literal sense of that word, and her particular special needs are ones that society doesn't readily provide, so we need to help her more than we would others.  But if we look at her with fresh eyes, those not pre-filtered with autism awareness, we see her---a 14 year old girl, one who loves music, loves car rides, loves dancing, loves running around in fresh air.  One who doesn't communicate verbally very effectively, one who needs help with many life skills, one for whom academic skills are at a very low level.  One who delights those around her with her enthusiasm for life, one who is the most adventurous eater I know, one who last night hugged me tight and said "Love you!"

Without the filter of "awareness", without the filter of autism, Happy Acceptance Day!

Sunday, March 24, 2019

A dream of a race

The other night, I had a dream about a race.  In the dream, as often in my dreams, I was a very good runner (in real life, I simply can't run at all).  The race was being held in a Nordic kind of place, on a snowy road.  I was near the lead when we came to a very steep hill.  I told myself I'd get up it fine if I kept my eyes closed, so I didn't notice I was on a hill.  That strategy was going well, but for some reason I opened my eyes, and I couldn't go on.  So I turned around and ran the opposite direction.  I felt unsure about this, wondering just what the procedure was for running a race backwards.  I stayed close to the edge of the road, as to not get in the way of the runners going the right direction.  The dream ended after I got back down the hill, still running.

I'm a heavy dreamer, with almost every night featuring dreams, usually even more complicated than this race one.  But the race has lingered in my mind, and I'm starting to see it as an analogy of my life with Janey.  Not that I think my mind was thinking up analogies in the night, although who knows?

The running with my eyes closed part, to keep from realizing what a steep hill I was on...well, I do that a lot, figuratively.  One way is by not being around typical kids Janey's age much.  Of course, I know that most 14 year olds can talk well, read well, are fully toilet trained, are starting on the path to adulthood.  But by just not thinking about that, I can keep from comparing Janey, and comparing is one of the few things I can say very strongly not to do.  I keep my eyes closed in other ways too. In a way, I also don't compare my life to other 53 year olds like myself.  Maybe of them are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of childrearing.  They are seeing grandchildren, going on trips, looking toward retirement perhaps.  They are able to do such things as eat out for dinner.  They can attend college graduations without needing to worry about childcare.  They are at a different stage of adulthood than I am.  But if I don't think about that, don't compare, my life seems, well, just my life.

When I do open my eyes, at times a despair washes over me.  I feel, like in the dream, that I can't go on like this.  I am overwhelmed.  So mostly, I just don't think about the parts of my life which have so much left the mainstream.

Then---racing backwards.  Being on an opposite path, running the same race but in the other direction.

Life with Janey, as it races on, is often like an opposite race.  We aren't preparing her for college.  We aren't thinking ahead to her life on her own.  We are preparing to care for her for always, and if we look to the end of the race, it's a scary thing.  There is not much of a set path for an opposite race.  Sometimes it does feel like we are on the edges, staying out of the way of the regular racers, the ones heading steadily to the goal.

But in the dream, I recall seeing how lovely the snowy path was, even as I ran it in the opposite direction of the other runners.  That, too, is true.  I've followed the news of celebrity college cheating with a bit of a feeling close to snugness.  I don't have to worry about that.  I read about parents struggling with homework.  Janey doesn't have homework.  I hear about the pain of breakups, the worry about girls out on their own, the body image issues...and I can feel truly glad those aren't part of my life.  Not glad for Janey, missing the highs that go along with those lows, but glad purely selfishly for me, for the more intensive but vastly different parenting she requires.

I often like to search for an image to go with my posts.  I tried and tried to find a picture that looked like the hill in my dream.  I wish you could record dreams---maybe someday soon!  But until then, I'll include a picture of Janey I took this morning.  I guess dreams are like lives.  You never can quite see what another person's dream is like.  You can never quite live another person's life.  We can just live our own, and do our best with the particular path we are following.

Thursday, March 7, 2019

As a tribute to Mad Magazine, Snappy Answers to Stupid (or at least uninformed) Questions!

"Does she go to school?"

This one can still surprise me a lot, especially if it's asked by anyone under 70 or so.  Of course she goes to school.  Since 1975, all children go to school.  Are there still people who think that kids like Janey just have to stay home?

"But she'll live independently someday, won't she?"

Well, no.  She won't.  Unless something very, very unexpected happens between now and adulthood, Janey will never live independently.  And honestly, that's not something I dwell on or get upset about much.  She'll live with us.   She is not going to have the skills to safely live on her own, not at all. It's not a goal of ours.

"Did you take Janey with you on your vacation/weekend getaway/day trip?"

Yes.  Yes, we did.  Unless we do things within the hours Janey is at school, she is always with us.  I get this one more than I'd ever think I would.  There isn't anyone that watches Janey except our family and school.  No-one.  And that doesn't suddenly change because we want to go on vacation.  There isn't some backup corps of people that aren't usually there but will jump in if we are going away.

"But you must get a lot of help/services/respite/money because of her disability?"

No.  We don't.  I am not exactly sure where people get this idea.  Maybe in the past, there was more money out there, or maybe they are thinking of very specific cases, but basically, there is nothing now.  Someday, when Janey is an adult, she might get Social Security.  Some younger kids, if their famlies want it, get a lot of ABA therapy.  But there is no money for respite.  We do have a state Medicare type backup insurance for Janey, that supplements our regular insurance.  Once, for some reason, the state gave us $500, randomly, and we used it to buy Janey's first iPad.  But other than that, outside of school, no.

"She isn't, you know, SLOW?  Kids with autism are very smart, right?"

That's a tricky one.  I do think Janey is very smart, in some ways.  But in traditional ways, or in the ways of autistic people you sometimes see on TV, who are quirky but brilliant, no, she isn't.  She doesn't read, or write, or speak in complete sentences.  She doesn't have special skills, a savant type hidden ability.  She isn't going to college.  She isn't going to get a high school diploma. And that's no big deal.  She's herself.

"Have you tried (fill in the blank here with things like special diets or specific therapies)?"

 The answer is one of two things---yes, we've tried it and it didn't work, or no, we haven't tried it, and we aren't interested in trying it.  You are not going to ask that and get someone saying "Gee, we've never tried that, but now that you mention it, we will!"

"What a tragedy for you!  How do you go on? How do you live with a burden like that?"

The few times I've heard this, my breath was almost taken away with anger.  Janey is not a tragedy. She is our child.  A tragedy is losing a child, having a child die.  I know a few families who  have lost a child, and I can't even think about it without crying every time.  We have Janey.  No child's life is a tragedy.  No child is a burden.  I'm not minimizing how difficult raising a child can be, any child. But there is a difference between something being difficult and something being a tragedy or a burden.

"How do you do it?  I could never do what you do!"

Don't say this.  Don't say it like it's a compliment to us.  Don't say it at all.  You COULD do it.  You WOULD do it, if Janey was your child. You would do it to the very best of your abilities.  Saying that  you couldn't is saying we as parents are somehow specially chosen.  We aren't.  And while we are doing the best we can, making us seem like some kind of superheroes serves to give society a cop-out. Why give help, respite, services to super-parents?  They are amazing!  They are doing something other people couldn't do.  We will admire them, praise them, but we don't need to HELP parents like that!

And here's a few questions I'd like to be asked more often...

"What is Janey like?  Tell me about her!"
"What can I do to help you?"
"What services would be most helpful for the city/state/country to provide?"
"Want some coffee while we laugh about everything and anything, including but not exclusively life with a child with autism?"