Closer

Spouse and I have been married 19 years today. Go us! We have, as all other long-term married couples, been through it…ups, downs, sideways. We’ve had our share of not being even close to the same page. We’ve had seasons we were both so exhausted with just living there wasn’t energy or time for anything else. We’ve struggled, we’ve fought, we’ve battled our way through. He still makes me laugh. Still loves me. Still seems to find me somewhat attractive. And we both still choose each and every day to do what it takes to keep us, our family, together. He matters to me.

Parenting is rough on a relationship. We both bring our own upbringings to the table of parenting. We both bring our issues and insecurities to the parenting table. We bring all our wins in life, and all our regrets and wish-we-hadn’ts. That’s just the way of life. We do have different parenting styles…I am for sure the tougher, hard-ass parent. But then I’m around the babies more, thus I’m forced to be the enforcer.  When the kids were toddlers, he was very much the “let them eat dirt and cut each other’s hair off” parent. I was the rules, structure, routine, solid nap and bedtimes parent. We had lots of conversations about what to do, when we should allow the kids to do certain things, and so on. I didn’t think of it as a cornerstone of our relationship however. We just did it.

You think just having kids itself is a game-changer, and it is. But – and I’ve said this before – it’s nothing compared to parenting teens. Now that is a serious game-changer. I’ve seen it tear apart more than a few relationships. It is so hard (unless you don’t care about your kids, who they are, and who they’re on the road to being….then I guess it wouldn’t be that hard). There are so many bigger things to worry about, think about, deal with, face when your kids are teens – driving, friends, parties, boyfriends/girlfriends, phones, social media, not to mention those big scary possibilities of drinking and drugs.

I’m going to say this….parenting three teenagers has truly brought Spouse and I closer. We talk more. We have to talk more. We continually check in to make sure we’re on the same page. We keep each other in the loop. We discuss how to handle each new thing that comes up. As difficult as parenting teens is, it has had this side-benefit for our relationship.

The other thing we’ve realized is we have more time for us. We now have two full-fledged drivers in the house, besides us. We’re no longer spending hours and hours every weeks getting kids to and from. We also don’t need sitters. They’re even savvy enough to go get their own dinner at a local restaurant if we leave them money. It’s so freeing! And we realize it is very important for us to spend more time on our relationship, because in a few years, all three will be out of the house and off to college or life, and it will be just the two of us again. We need to know how to do that.

Yeah, closer. That’s the way it should be, isn’t it? Happy Anniversary to us!

Of Epic Proportions

Little Man had his last soccer game of the season last night, a playoff game. He was doing as well as he does out there, running and attempting to be a help to his team. But then a ball glanced off his hand and the side of his face towards the end of the first half, and it went to total hell from there.

He dropped like a rock. The ball didn’t hit him that hard. I wasn’t worried at all about concussion or anything. It really had been more of a shave of the ball across the upper side of his head. But he went down, and wouldn’t get back up. I was about ten yards away from him on the sideline. I could see he was starting to cry. Spouse ended up hauling him off the field.

Little Man was crying. I’m sure he was angry and embarrassed, the actual pain minimal. He flopped to the ground when he reached the sideline.  I made him move as he was in the way of the sideline ref. He was pissed. A meltdown of epic proportions ensued.

It’s been a long time since he’s been that bad, in a public place. He screamed at me to not ask him stupid questions like where did the ball hit him and if he was okay. Oh yeah, I got mad right back. He didn’t stop there, moving on to yelling about being useless and worthless (speaking of himself). I just wanted it to stop. The parents around us were trying to not hear, were looking anywhere but at us. It sucked. It was mortifying. I needed him to stop yelling. I could feel my heart racing.

I felt bad for him, but I felt bad for us and everyone around us. If they didn’t know he was different before, they definitely realized it last night. I managed to keep my voice low and calm, but I did tell him he needed to just stop talking right now. It was awful. The yelling mostly stopped, but the tears continued, loudly. While I wanted to take him in my arms and hold him close to help soothe him, I also wanted to run away, wanted to be anywhere but there in that moment.

It felt like forever until he stopped. It was probably five minutes long in total, but time slows in those moments. He did end up going back into the game in the second half, and was laughing and talking with his teammates by games’ end (they lost so playoffs are done for them). I was a little bruised and it took me a bit longer to recover, aided by some wine when we got home.

In times like last night, I really hate what autism and all its accompanying diagnoses, does to my little boy. It sucks to see him hurt so much. It sucks to see the stares, or the attempts of others to avoid staring, like we’re a car accident they’re driving by. I hate how it wraps through his brain, making him think and say the worst things about himself. It makes me fearful, sad, and so angry.

Therapy

Little Man had intense, one-on-one therapy for over a year when he was first diagnosed on the spectrum.  He reached a level the services at school were sufficient and we were moved to an as-needed basis with his therapist. He hasn’t seen her in nearly five years. But given the changing social dynamics he’s encountering, the fact high school is looming, and because of his heightened anxiety and thoughts of self-harm the last month or so, we decided it was time to add his private therapist back into the max.

We saw her this morning. I’d forgotten how calming she is. Her voice and manner put me to ease immediately. She’s the perfect level of letting him wallow in his opposition, while at the same time insisting upon certain behavior. She remembered him, remembered our family, and while not happy for the circumstances, was happy to see him again and hear how he’s doing. He refused to talk or answer any questions initially, but about twenty minutes in, we were talking about high school and he joined the conversation. It was fairly easy for her to dialog with him after that.

He asked to see his school therapist once as week in addition to his outside therapy. That’s not something he’s expressed before, but hey, if he wants it, I’ll ask for it. We have his IEP meeting next week – he is required to become part of that process now – and we want him engaged, accountable, and to contribute by stating his needs and wants. This was a good first step towards that end.

His therapist asked why we were there. I told her the discrepancy between his social and emotional skills and that of his peers has widened to a very obvious place once again. We want to help him bridge that gap. Also, the anxiety and depression levels have risen in the last couple of months – we’re seeing a return of the anger and tears to a place we haven’t dealt with in a long time. And then there are the thoughts of self-harm. He needs an outlet, a safe place to talk. Therapy gives him that. Thank God for good therapists.

So we’ll add this back into our routine, once a week, for a couple of months and see where that puts us. I just need to know my boy is okay, and on a good path, with good tool in his toolbox that he’ll actually use.

 

When you take it all away

Little Man has been struggling of late….nothing new….it’s part of his journey, normal for him. As I’ve written recently, he’s been avoiding going to class, which results eventually in falling grades. With high school looming, we’ve had to incorporate some tough love into the routine. Teachers and the principal are on-hand to track him down if he doesn’t show up to class. We are notified if he misses a class.

At the beginning of the week, when we were alerted the extent of the problem, we took his phone and computer away. We took it all away. Caveat – he does have his phone at school. He listens to his music when he’s getting overwhelmed…I give him his phone as he gets out of the car to go on campus, and take his phone back as soon as he gets home.

The first couple of days sans devices, he was fine. He even seemed happier, less amped, less stressed, less reactionary.  I thought, “Hey, maybe this is actually a good thing for him.” Yesterday, he hit a wall. He was pacing. His breathing was elevated. I saw all the signs of high anxiety levels in him. He still has three more days after today without his phone and computer. Who  knows how that’s going to go.

He has had to be more creative. He created a paper character to make a stop-action film. He’s been drawing more. He still isn’t outside much. And he really wanted to talk with his friends last night (he typically texts or facetimes them every afternoon). He had something of a meltdown when he realized he wasn’t able to do that.

It pushes him when he doesn’t have his devices. That’s both good and bad. Those devices are his way to decompress, but then he becomes reliant upon them, to the point of tuning out the world. I think he needs to tune out the world for a little bit when he gets home from a 7-hour day of school where he has to be “on” and mentally/emotionally working the entire time. He is tapped out. But if allowed, he will ONLY be on his devices, watching YouTube videos and playing video games. It’s a very difficult fine line to find, much less stick to.

Wish us luck this weekend. It could either be great, or a complete nightmare.

His Perception

I had an impromptu meeting with Little Man’s principal yesterday afternoon during after-school pickup. It was positive – I know they have LM’s best interests at heart. As the principal put it, they’re “all hands on deck” for him, particularly now, given what’s gone on the last few weeks.

Little Man hasn’t been going to class. Lord knows what he has been doing, but he hasn’t been in his classrooms. We’re working to fix that. The problem is he’s sure anytime anyone laughs when he’s nearby, they’re laughing at him, making fun of him. His teachers, SAI, and the principal are trying to catch it in the moment so they can help him see it is his perception, not reality.

Little Man has always had this thing….if one “bad” thing happens during the day, then the entire day is the worst day ever. If something bad happens during a certain activity, then he’s sure it’s going to happen every single time he does that activity. If someone laughs at him once, then every time that person laughs, he’s laughing at him. That’s his perception, skewed as it may be. Our job is to help him see that’s not the case. It’s tough work.

We have to help him overcome his fears and worries. We have to help him understand his perception isn’t always the way it really is. We have to move him past this hurdle. But this is part of his autism. his reality. He perseverates, gets beyond anxious, then does everything he can to avoid whatever situation he’s worried about. In the meantime, his grades fall and he loses friends. It sucks.

He has to be ready for high school….moving between classes, staying in class the entire period, managing social situations that are unavoidable. We have to help get him ready for that, so we’re all utilizing some tough love to get him past this current hurdle. We’re back in a phase of being on high alert nearly every minute of every day.

As for Halloween, he had probably his best yet. He went out with his friend across the street. I was not with him. Normally, he taps out after about the fifth house. This year, he was out for over an hour, and made it all the way around the loop. Then he sat in the kitchen with Big Man and a bunch of high school boys, interacting and talking. At one point, he did get a bit overwhelmed. He just looked at me and said, “I’m getting anxious…it’s too much.” I got him to a quiet space for a few minutes, but he recovered quickly and then was right back, re-engaging, laughing and talking. Huge wins, all night long, for him.

That’s not how this works, friend

So, we have a chore chart in our house. It hangs on the fridge in the kitchen, and kids’ jobs rotate every week. They do everything from feeding the dogs and taking out the trash to sweeping the pool and helping with dinner. They earn points for each chore completed, and, if they earn enough points (we have three levels), they get rewards. We’ve had this chart forever. What is changing is the enforcement for Little Man, and oh, he is so not happy.

I will admit – I’ve let him slack on a lot of stuff. I try to be tougher, but sometimes it’s just easier to do it myself than deal with the battle. Here’s the thing, though….after three full IEP evaluations, which each have included testing for PE as well as time with the occupational therapist, we know he is fully physically capable of everything his siblings are capable. He can do it all, he just doesn’t want to.

Last night, we had a full-blown battle over putting dinner away. He and Big Man got into it. I told him, under no uncertain terms, he is fully capable and therefore is fully expected to complete all his chores, unassisted and without accommodation anymore, no arguments. He threw a fit. It didn’t help Big Man was kind of being an instigator, but when Little Man said something derogatory to me, the discipline came down hard. Oh, he was so not happy.

Here’s the problem with high-functioning autistic kids…..they are entirely too smart for their own good sometimes. He can, and he will, manipulate. Now, every time he says he wants to hurt himself, we take his words seriously, within context. So last night, he used those words again, even texting his friend – with whom he knows I’m friends with his mom – that he was going to hurt himself. Multiple texts later, I was angry. I knew he wasn’t going to hurt himself. He was using that as a threat to get me to give in. I called him on it, and said never again will you use those words unless you seriously mean them. I let him know that under no circumstance was he to use that to manipulate anyone or any situation ever again.

I will not allow him to use his autism as an excuse to get out of anything. I’m sorry, bud, but you are totally capable, mentally and physically, of feeding the dogs, cleaning your room, emptying the trash, unloading the dishwasher, clearing dinner, sweeping the pool, and helping put groceries away. And when you do something wrong, willfully, you WILL get in trouble, and you will take the consequences without threatening self-harm.

I will not allow him to manipulate to get out of doing things he doesn’t want to do, or to get us to cave on consequences. Is it a fine line? Certainly….because we know there’s so much co-morbidity between diagnosis for people on the spectrum, anxiety and depression are just part of life. And we do know he HAS meant those words before. And I am absolutely terrified that someday he may hurt himself. But I still will not let him put that in his toolbox as an avoidance or manipulation tool. That’s not how this works.

This may sound harsh. Trust me, I’ve done battle with myself enough times over it already. What is comes down to is, yes, he’s autistic and that means he has a certain level of disability. But we won’t let him use that as a crutch to get through or out of things he is fully capable of doing.

This Familiar Place

We’re almost two months into this school year. For the past week or so, I’ve noticed some regression in Little Man…..more tears, more outbursts, a couple of full-blown meltdowns. His anxiety level is up.  He’s pushing back more. Then we have that situation I wrote about last week. He’s not really interested in going back to that particular class. Friday and yesterday, he spent significant time in the nurse’s office complaining of a bad headache. Friday, I ended up bringing him home. Yesterday, I took him ibuprofen at 9:30, but then got another call two hours later to come get him.

He’s fine. No other physical complaints, just the headache that only appears at school.

Here’s what I think, having done this school thing with him a few times before. I think he’s maxed out. Does that make sense? He just reaches a certain capacity to tolerate it all, and then hits a wall. We typically see this happen six weeks or so into the school year. It doesn’t even take me a few days or weeks to catch on to what’s happening. I just  know, as soon as we see this regression start it’s because he’s tapped.

I can’t pull him out of school just because he’s reached a wall. I can’t let him skip doing his work just because he has little left in  his tolerance tank.  I can’t let him just escape. I do give him a little space where I can, but we can’t allow him to retreat completely.

It’s so painful to watch him struggle. It hurts my heart. The world isn’t always kind to everyone, much less those with different needs. Every time he goes sideways, I mentally go back to that night he told us this was too hard and he didn’t want to do life anymore. I’m terrified….that is my biggest fear for him, always. Once your child says those words to you, you will never get over it. It’s always there in the back of your mind. But then there’s a fine line between acknowledging that’s there, and pushing him through situations because that’s what he has to do.

We are where we are. We’ve been here before. It’s a familiar place. Even knowing it’s probably coming doesn’t make it any easier once you notice you’re there. But we dig in, we love him through it, we keep fighting. That’s just what we do.