Too Much

As I’ve said, Little Man has been struggling as of late. We have one more day of school. One. More. Day. He’s battling, but we’re seeing behaviors we haven’t seen in months. His toolbox is completely out the window. It sucks.

Yesterday, for Father’s Day, we went indoor cart racing. I was a little nervous about it, but didn’t really think it would be a big deal. It wasn’t ridiculously loud, and he would have a helmet on anyways. We watched four or five races. He seemed okay for the most part, although he was lashing out and had a bit of temper tantrum – more from being hungry and having to wait than anything else. We fed him, and waited for our turn.

When our race started, I hung back, not going too fast. I’m not much of a speed queen anyways – afraid of crashing or spinning out. I did pass him, and he seemed okay. But then people were passing  and bumping him, and he got stuck in a corner. He worked to get out, but couldn’t manage it. They had to stop the race and help him. He decided he was done, so they guided him off the course. Yes, we are that family that has to shut the place down. I was reminded of our ski trip last year when they had to stop the lift twice for us. He and I decided to ditch our second race.

We should have known. We should have seen it coming. We should have realized it would be too much for him – the speed of the people around him while trying to drive his own cart, his inexperience driving a cart, the noise, the anxiety of racing itself….too much sensory input, too much performance anxiety, too much stress. We should have seen it would happen. But he’s been doing so well, has come so very far.

I have to give him credit – he tried something new, something he wasn’t sure of. He did it, even if for just a brief period of time (I think he made it through three laps). We told him we were very proud of him for trying, because we are so proud of him.   While I felt defeated in a way, it also felt like a win, because he did try. Autism won for a moment, but it didn’t win the day. He may never drive a race cart again, but he did it.

Last Days

Oh lordy, but we are struggling through these last days. It seems an insult to have to carry on with regular school activities for one kid when two have been on their summer break for eleven days. My brain is totally not on reports, Open House, report cards, morning routines, nor on signing field trip/dance permission slips. This momma has checked out, and I do apologize to Little Man’s teachers and team.

He is having a rough go. They had a field trip yesterday. He wouldn’t say what happened, just that it was “horrible.” That may mean one small thing went awry, or it may mean he had a full-blown meltdown. Who knows, and I’m afraid to ask. There’s a dance at school Friday  night for the 5th-7th graders. We haven’t even discussed it. I have to keep reminding myself his Open House is Thursday night (can I send a surrogate, or would that be frowned upon?). I got an email from his SAI earlier today he has completely pushed back on being in the classroom for the 7th grade health class. While I feel the curriculum is important, appropriate, and not beyond his abilities/understanding, I don’t have it in me to fight him right now, nor deal with the fallout of pushing his boundaries. We’re both toast. My response to her was I was fine with him sitting this one out.

His anxiety is elevated. He’s done. He wants nothing to do with getting out the door in the morning. He has asked daily to take his plushy  to school (I’m still saying no to that one). He’s forgetting necessary items. He’s basically pushing back on almost everything. While I know he will have another adjustment period once summer does start for him, we are both so ready to be through this process of the end of the school year.

I looked back through my end-of-year posts through Timehop on my phone. So many of them reiterate this feeling – he’s over it, he’s stressed, he’s anxious, he’s ready to be done but he’s also afraid of the change of routine/lack of routine that comes with summer. No matter how much he matures and grows, change in routine and structure is an achilles heel for him, and it likely always will be. His tool box is forgotten by this point, and we all just hang on for the ride. It’s a bit brutal, and these are the days I would do anything to make this all right and better for him. This is when I raise a certain finger to autism, because it makes days that should be full of fun and excitement stressful and anxiety-ridden. Add to that fact his siblings are swimming, hanging out with friends, sleeping in and enjoying summer while he sits in a classroom, and you have a boy (and a momma) who is just over it. #bringonsummer

He’s Back

I”ve mentioned an uptick in Little Man’s anxiety as the end of the school year approaches. Much as we know it’s coming, the expected change in routine, the difference between scheduled and unscheduled, and even the differences at school as all the end-of-year activities come up throw him off. His anxiety shows in different ways – he’s harder on himself, he cries more easily, his outbursts are more frequent. He’s much better than he used to be, but the anxiety is part of him, part of who he is, and all his triggers are in play this time of year.

It’s been months since he’s come into our room during the night and snuck into our bed. He’s been sleeping better for a long time, and I contribute that to a growth spurt and hormone change. He’s also been in a much better, more relaxed and confident place this year. Whatever the causes, better sleep for him is better sleep for everyone.

He’s been in our bed, or tried to get in our bed, four nights in the last week. I woke at 3:30 this morning to a clicking sound. I initially thought it was Spouse getting a drink of water. Then I realized it was the familiar sound of teeth grinding and jaw-clicking. Spouse does not grind his teeth, and in my middle-of-the-night stupor, it took me a minute to figure out it was Little Man in our bed, grinding his teeth away. Sigh…in my bed, and grinding his teeth – a sure sign his anxiety is at a high level.

He has 10 more school days. We will have the inevitable fallout of him adjusting to the summer routine/non-routine, so I figure I have about a month of him crawling into my bed most nights. I’d just gotten used to him staying in his own room and sleeping soundly all night. That anxiety-fueled, teeth-grinding, flop-around-on-the-bed insomniac is back. Dang it all anyways.

Your Guess

It’s been pretty quiet on the autism front in the Herd household this year, thank the good Lord. I said it earlier this year, but it’s worth saying again….we desperately needed a quiet, drama-free year for our Little Man. Last year was dreadful, draining, overwhelming, awful. But you know in the wonderful world of autism, there are lots and lots of roadblocks, speed bumps, dips, turns, and storms. They’re not unexpected, but still disappointing when they happen.

Little Man has almost five weeks left of school. Good golly – that just sucks, especially as the bigs are out in two weeks. He knows the end is near. They’re in the middle of the standardized testing. He wants it over with quickly. Routine has been busted a bit at school because of the testing, but he’s also aware the end of the year is coming,  which means an even bigger routine bust. He does not do well with changes in, nor lack of, routine. I see his anxiety levels rising. I see some old behaviors returning. I see less tolerance and patience from him.

I’ve had a couple emails from his SAI at school letting me know he’s pushing back on work, he’s spending more time out of the classroom again, he’s pacing, his breathing is elevated. She wanted to know if I had any clue why this  might be happening. Uh, nope. Your guess is as good as mine. I could point to any number of things, but there doesn’t seem to be one thing we can say, “Yes, that’s what’s making him behave this way right now.”

We keep reminding him of his tools. We keep reminding him what he’s capable of. We keep reminding him the many successes he’s had this year. None of that changes whatever’s going on in his head, nor how he deals with life. So we do what we can at home. They do what they can at school. We pray this is just a blip and not a sign of long-term struggles.

I know better than to borrow trouble, but next year is his last year of middle school. There’s a new building with classrooms for the 8th graders. They will do things a bit differently for 8th grade than he has in sixth and seventh. He will have to participate in his IEP meetings. And the transition to high school will start. He knows it’s coming. I can’t help but think that may be hanging over him a bit, even though it’s in the distance. I know it’s hanging over me.

So we hang on for the ride the remainder of this school year, hoping this is just a temporary dip. But as for what the root cause is of this particular dip, your guess is as good as mine. And thus goes life on autism street.

Limping toward the finish line

We are, literally and figuratively, limping toward the finish line of this school year. God, it’s been a rough one. I thought last year was bad. Apparently this year saw last year and said, “Here, hold my beer.” This Herd is DONE. Toast. Finis. Exhausted. Drained. And oh yeah, I am limping.

You see, two days after the Bigs finish school, Big Man and I will run the Rock n Roll Half in San Diego again. My training was a bit derailed last week. I headed out for a four-mile easy run Thursday. I immediately felt pain in the left side of my left knee, and my left Achilles tightened up too. I tried to work through it, slowed down, and then stopped to stretch, but it just hurt. I made it all of .88 miles before I caved. At just over four weeks til race day, I wasn’t going to risk injury. And it really freaking hurt.

I hate when I have to stop a run because of pain. My whole day goes downhill. I was able to get out and finish four miles on Friday morning, but it wasn’t easy. There wasn’t any pain, but there was discomfort. I had to mentally fight to the end. Same happened on this morning’s 5-mile easy run. I was super slow, my muscles didn’t loosen up until mile 3. I will admit, I was tense, afraid the pain from last Thursday would return. I’m so not where I want to be mentally and emotionally with running right now. I’m afraid for this race, afraid I’ve put too much pressure on myself. I’m a little scared.

As for school…we’re usually beat up by this point. That’s nothing new. What is new is the level of being drained we are all at. It’s bad. The Bigs have four more weeks of school – 18 more school days. Big Man just finished the second of two AP exams this morning. The Princess has hers this Friday. In a few weeks, they face final exams. Blessedly they don’t seem to have the level of end-of-school-year projects they’ve had in recent years, thank the  Good Lord. It’s been a brutal year for both of them – academically for Big Man, socially and emotionally for P. We’re all ready to be done, to put this year behind us, chalk it up to life lessons and growing pains, and kiss it goodbye. Don’t let the door hit ya on the way out, 16/17 school year.

Little Man has 6.5 weeks of school. Yep, you read that right. He isn’t out until June 20th. I can’t remember when my kids were in school that late – past my birthday this year. Insanity. That’s 18 days AFTER the older two finish. Utterly ridiculous. I’ve been whining about it since the calendar was released last year. Then, get this, because they are aligning the middle and elementary school calendar with the  high school calendar, he will have just eight weeks of summer, as opposed to ten or eleven. Again, absolutely ridiculous.

He’s struggling right now, again. His SAI sent me an email the other day he’s back to leaving the classroom quite a bit again, spending a significant amount of time in the great room rather than in his class, doing what he’s supposed to be doing. She said he seems more stressed but he can’t express why. We have seen an increase in his anxiety level at home. I have no idea what the source is for his stress. He does tend to go a little sideways the closer we get to the end of the school year, but who knows.

I have no energy. I’m tired. I’m over the morning routine and homework battles. I’m tired of thinking about carpools, 6am cheer, and test scores. The kids are tired too.

You know, some years we come sliding across that finish line with a bang. We’re beat up, but we fight to the end. We might make it by the skin of our teeth, phoning it in on whatever we can. But this year, we’re limping. It’ll be a close thing. I know we’ll get there, but it ain’t gonna be pretty.

Our Little Corner on Autism Street

I finally brought myself to watch the 60 Minutes segment on the new Sesame Street character, Julia.  Julia is an autistic girl. As seems to be par lately, I sat there watching, with tears rolling silently down my face. This is our world. I couldn’t help but wish Julia had been around ten years ago or more. It may have made his life a little easier if kids had had the chance to learn about autism before he spread his own version of awareness in his classrooms. I hope Julia helps kids, and even  adults, understand autism – that it isn’t something to be afraid of, to turn away from, or to bully.

Here’s the thing – his autism is real. It isn’t ever going away. It is a lifelong diagnosis. There’s no curing it. You don’t take antibiotics for ten days and recover from autism. It is him, it’s part of him.

What does our little corner on autism street look like? Well, take this morning for instance (which mornings aren’t his favorite anyways). Big Man accidentally made too much noise while getting ready for school in their shared bathroom, which woke Little Man up twenty minutes before his usual wakeup time. Anyone can be cranky in the morning, but for us it meant Little Man yelling at pretty much everyone, slamming doors, stomping around upstairs, and just generally letting everyone know he was not happy. In a word, he threw a tantrum. This is not the tantrum you think of with a spoiled or over-tired three year old. It’s something he can’t control. His emotions overwhelm him, and this is his reaction as he can’t process it out, or put words to his feelings. This happens any time something unexpected happens, there’s a change in his routine, we run out of his favorite food, or the battery runs out on his iPad when we’re at a game/event/dinner out. He’s improved ten thousand percent in the last few years. His tantrums are fewer and further between, but they are still part of life.

Meltdowns are also part of life, although, again, there are fewer, and his recovery is much quicker than when he was first diagnosed. Meltdowns usually happen when he gets hurt, or there’s a sudden and unexpected loud noise. Lord help us if a siren goes off he’s not expecting. It’s even in his IEP he have advanced notice, if at all possible, of fire/lockdown drills at school because he will lose it if that alarm goes off and he isn’t expecting it. When we take him to movies, he will use the excuse of needing to go to the bathroom when the sounds get to be too much, or there’s too much action. He’s been known to leave the theater five times during a 2 hour movie, although lately we’ve been able to get that down to two or three trips out. The odd thing about this is, if he chooses to listen to something, he has it turned up SO loud!

He still travels with his favorite stuffed animals. He will be thirteen in a few days. Yeah, that. You should see him watch them go through the security scanner in airports – his face anxiously watching from the other end to make sure they come out safely and don’t get stuck in the machine. We tend to pre-board airplanes because standing in line, and having to get into his seat quickly when there’s a line of people behind us, makes him very anxious and overwhelmed. And  you can bet I  make sure to have all his favorite snacks packed in his airplane bag.

Speaking of food – when  your kid is autistic, you can almost bet his food choices are going to be minimal, and you’d better make sure you don’t run out of more than one of those minimal choices at any given time. I have been known to, in a panic, rush to the grocery store before going to after-school pickup just so I have what I know he will eat. Our restaurant choices tend to be based around whether they have pasta, chicken strips, or burgers on the menu.

He has a weighted blanket, and a weighted hoodie my mom made for him. What a godsend! That blanket has really helped not only his sleep, but when he’s really in full meltdown mode, he gets under it and calms pretty quickly. I can’t even hold the blanket – it makes me claustrophobic, but it’s a comfort for him to be under it.

He does have his obsessions – currently YouTube videos of gamers playing his favorite games, Plants vs Zombies, paper crafting his favorite characters from his favorite video games, coding, and video game music.

He seems much younger than his siblings did at this same age. He seems much younger than many of his peers.While chronologically thirteen, he is emotionally and socially about the level of a 7 or 8 year old. He’s intellectually the equivalent of a high school senior, if not more. It’s an interesting, frustrating combination, particularly when he can’t articulate his thoughts and feelings.

He has very little tolerance of anyone talking down to how old they think he is. Quickest way to get him to be as rude as possible is to be condescending to him. He will light you up, or he will refuse to speak to you but will let you know with his glare exactly what he thinks.

We don’t go anywhere without some kind of screen and headphones for him. It’s that simple. Yes, we frequently get those judgemental looks in restaurants, etc when he pulls out his iPad or phone, puts his headphones on, and completely disengages. Trust me – you don’t want to deal with the alternative.

He does flap his arms a bit, get over-excited, sit in odd and contorted positions.  He has his tics, for sure. We’re used to them, and I don’t think about them much, unless we’re out or around someone new and I notice the glances and staring.

He does perseverate. He doesn’t like to try new things. He doesn’t want to do anything he thinks he can’t do successfully. He pushes back on things he thinks he can’t do. His anxiety causes sleep issues, especially when he’s out of routine.

So that’s our little corner on autism street. That’s not his entire story though. He’s utterly brilliant, witty, loves puns, incredibly creative. He’s amazing, he’s mine, he’s autistic.

I told myself not to get comfortable

If you have any experience with an autistic child, you know it comes with its ups and downs, backwards and forwards, twists and turns. I wrote a couple of weeks ago that we were in, and had been in for awhile, a good place. Well, yeah, I told myself not to get comfortable, and for good reason.

I’ve had two emails from his special ed teacher within the last week. I might be saying some bad words to autism right now. He’s pushing back on work. He doesn’t want to try when it’s hard, or if he thinks he can’t do  it. He’s giving up. Yesterday, he left the classroom for twenty  minutes (we’d had him down to less than five minutes, and usually staying inside the classroom, for months), couldn’t tell the teacher what was wrong nor what he needed. Gah!

Essentially, he’s not using any of the tools he’s been given, and he’s backsliding. It happens, but it’s frustrating and gut-wrenching every single time. I told his spec ed teacher I’m grasping at straws trying to figure out what may be going on. Who knows what’s triggered him this time. It could be he’s had too long without a break from routine (but then we know breaks from routine also set him off). It could be something as simple as his brother getting his driver’s license, thus setting off a change in his “normal”. It could be the cold he’s fighting. It could be the trip we have coming up. Or it could just be a normal autism blip.

I needed him to stay in a groove. I’m dealing with a ton with the other two, and his status quo was helping me stay sane. But such is the way of parenting life. Just when you think you have a handle on one thing, something else comes up. Every week seems to bring something new. difficult, agonizing.

We do have a trip in a few weeks, over Spring Break, and I can’t wait. We need a family huddle break – an insulated, away-from-it-all escape. It will be just the five of us. I’m bummed our friends can’t come with us, but at the same time, I’m looking forward to it just being us, creating new memories, enjoying new experiences, seeing new things, and reconnecting.

We’ll get Little Man back into his happy place. This too shall pass. The sunshine will return, and the rainy day will be a memory again – one more blip, one more hurdle overcome.