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.

Wait, he wants to do what now?

First off, I have to acknowledge Three’s a Herd just hit 725 followers!!! I have to thank each one of you for reading, and clicking that follow button. I know I haven’t been as consistent in writing posts this year, but y’all have stuck with me. When you put your life, your thoughts, your words out there into the world, you wonder if one person will care enough to read, much less continue to want to read what I have to say. It’s humbling to say the least. I know I’m not some amazing blogger with a gajillion followers, but it makes me smile, makes me feel our experiences are making a difference (or making you laugh at our hot-messedness) every time I see someone new has clicked that button. So THANK YOU!

So, my carpool partner texted me Monday to let me know her oldest son would be trying out for the running team on Wednesday, so Little Man would be a little late getting home as she wouldn’t pick up til tryouts were done. No problem, and I thought, “Wow, cool, a running team at the middle school! Awesome!” and then I put it out of my mind….until Little Man was frantically digging in his backpack, looking for a form I needed to sign THAT NIGHT so he could tryout for the running team on Wednesday. Uh, what? He wants to what?

Even before we knew of his autism, we knew Little Man was not really an athlete. Oh, he’s perfectly physically capable (three evaluations with the adapted PE teacher reinforced this idea), his other stuff holds him back. And he just doesn’t really care about sports. He played Little League for three years. He played soccer for five seasons. Then we were done. Peace out. Not for him. He was fine with it. We were tired of fighting the battle, and, as I’ve mentioned before, it became something of a safety issue.

Now, he will run in PE at school. He’d rather do that than participate in any group activities. He’s not fast, but  he will do it. I just never thought he’d do it willingly, outside of the PE requirements for school. We’ve fought over PE with him since kindergarten basically. If I recall correctly, at least one of his IEP goals is strictly regarding PE participation. So when he said he wanted to try out for the running team, I was stunned. Maybe I shouldn’t have been…he had already surprised me recently when  he agreed to play soccer this fall. But still….running….on a running team….with running practices…and races against other students….Soooooo out of his normal realm.

Maybe this is just more evidence of how far he’s come over the last couple of years. Maybe I should stop being surprised when he says he wants to do something he’s pushed away for years. He’s changing. He’s maturing.

He did text me early yesterday afternoon, saying he didn’t think he wanted to do the tryout.  I asked him why. He said he didn’t think he would own up to it. I told him he had to stay anyways to wait for his friend to finish the tryout, and the carpool pickup. I also told him I thought he would surprise himself. He reluctantly agreed to do the tryout.

Who knows if he will make the team. He isn’t fast, unless he really wants to be fast. On one  hand, I don’t care if he makes the team….he tried out. That’s a huge win right there. If he does make it…..oh lordy…..it will be so good for him, such a learning experience. And it will prep  him for high school in so many ways. For that, I do want him to make the team. It would boost his confidence so much. It would give him another outlet. It would take him away from his screens for that much longer, expose him to another social world, push his envelope.

You  know the best part? His behavior….his changing who I thought he was is normal teenage behavior, whether he realizes it or not. Regardless, it’s a win. We’re kickin some autism ass this year.  Amen.

The Year of the Choice

I remember this point three years ago, when Little Man had just started his last year of elementary school. I remember the anxiety I was beginning to feel, knowing we would have to make the decision during that year where he was going to go to middle school. He was in a pretty good place that year, but I was terrified of what was coming, terrified of messing up and making the wrong decision, terrified of the new big bad world he would be facing and its potential for total disaster.

Sixth grade was BRUTAL. We knew it would be, no matter where he ended up. The magnitude of change moving to middle school guaranteed stress, anxiety, meltdown, regression.  I don’t doubt the decision we made as far as where he goes to middle school – it is the perfect place for him. We’ve watched him thrive in the last year, and feel confident he will continue on that path this year. That’s not to say he’s without issues.  He’s been pushing back on doing his work, and on doing his work to his full ability (he’s a brilliant boy).  He’s gotten a little lax, a little lazy.  And, I’m not gonna lie, he sometimes uses his ability to manipulate to get out of things, or delay. So we’ve brought the hammer, because we know we have to prepare him for high school and the expectations that come with that level of education.

I’m trying desperately to stay in this moment, to just relax and enjoy the good place he’s in. But I can’t help the thought from hovering…..we will have to make a choice at some point this year where he will be going for high school. Thinking about any of the options brings a rise in anxiety level for me.  The school the older two go to is huge, and it is traditional….moving classes, big campus, PE for Freshmen, homework loads, etc. I fear the potential for bullying is too big. I get palpitations thinking about him going from class to class, much less making it through every class every day (they block, so Tuesday – Friday, classes are 90-ish minutes long). I panic when I think about him even knowing what his homework is, much less getting it done. And don’t get me started on PE – that’s been the bane of his existence since first grade.

The PBL/math and science high school would be a good fit, but it’s different. He wouldn’t be with his siblings.  And its location requires navigating morning rush-hour traffic in addition to the usual drop-off/pick-up mess. Yes, that one is on me – it’s SUPER inconvenient. Then there are the other options – Classical, Charter, home school (which, quite honestly, isn’t really on the table at all). So. Many. Choices. So much pressure and anxiety.

He goes back and forth between wanting to go to the math & science school, and going to the school down the street with his brother and sister. His class will do high school visits around town in October or November. We have his IEP in November, and a representative from his “home school” will be there.

I feel like I need to meet the special ed teams at each school on the table. I need to know we can work together, that they will have his best interests at heart, that they will protect him, that they will help us get him to the goal of a full diploma with as few disasters along the way as possible.  We  need a school he will keep receiving the services he needs, and that will accommodate him in his particular form of special.

See, this is where I spiral. I’m really trying to focus on the fact he’s in a good place right now, and not stress about what’s coming next year. At the same time, I know how quickly time passes, and that we will need to start these discussions with his teams sooner than later. We basically have about two months to live in the now. Then, we will have to face the year of the choice head-on.

You can’t leave home without it

My bestie and her kids were here for a visit a couple of weeks ago. One of her daughters truly speaks Little Man’s language. They live on the same autism planet. They get each other, which is awesome. It also means we spread all kinds of autism awareness when we’re all out together.

We were out at lunch one day. The two of them sat at one end of the table, lost in their own combined world. BFF and I maneuvered them through food and drink choices, ordering, keeping them calm at the table, and getting through the meal. At one point, BFF looked at me and said, “There’s no vacation from it.” Yep, there’s no vacation from autism.

These babies of ours take it with them every day, all day. When we go out, when we shop, when we vacation, when we sit around the pool, when we go anywhere, autism comes with us. We can’t leave home without it. We can’t take a day off. We can’t simply forget to put it in the suitcase like that bottle of sunscreen that was left behind. Some days, some hours, that sucks more than others. Some moments, it’s perfectly fine.

We had highs and lows over the course of the week. It comes with the territory. I think my favorite part was their simple excitement of seeing each other, talking about their shared interests, and when he pulled out his sketch pad and pencils after she brought hers to the kitchen table. I feel blessed to watch them together, their particular bond.

We took them to a baseball game their last night here. They both rocked it, their way, which was completely fine. iPads, headphones, and phones in hand, they were fairly oblivious to the game, but they were there with the rest of us. Baseball the autism way.

We can’t leave home without autism, but we can see something people who don’t live it can’t see…we can see the purity of their wins, their strengths, their particular abilities.

Summer Camp

When the kids were little, we started putting them in summer day camps – typically at the Y, and mostly to keep them occupied, surrounded by other kids, learning to learn from other adults, and, to be quite honest, to give me a few hours of respite from three toddlers. As the years went on, summer camp became tied up in whatever sport they were involved in at the time….soccer, golf, dance……Last year, Big Man went away to Mammoth for a few days with the cross country team to train at altitude. Two years ago, the Princess spent two weeks in Orange County at a summer dance intensive.

We’ve had a much more difficult time with Little Man as far as summer camps go.  He did the Y one year I think.  Once he was diagnosed on the spectrum, I struggled with putting him anywhere. We had a disaster of a Lego robotics camp a few years back. I ended up pulling him out a couple days before the week was out. The instructors just didn’t have it in them to deal. I lost patience, and a bit of faith.

Last year, we found an amazing camp nearby. Well, one of my close friends found it online and sent me the link. Right away, it sounded perfect for our guy.  It’s was a coding camp…five days, six hours a day, of working with technology, generally through gaming. I won’t say he had a perfect experience – autism did still rear its ugly head a few times. But the director and instructors were willing to work with him. Not to mention, he wasn’t the sole high-functioning kiddo there. We were super impressed. Much more, he made one  very good friend he still keeps in touch with.

I started getting emails for this summer back in January. Originally, they weren’t going to have any sessions at the college nearby (a ten minute drive), but rather down in San Diego (45-60 minutes each way, depending upon traffic). I didn’t think we were going to be able to manage the logistics.  But then a few months ago, they did open sessions at the nearby campus and we signed him up right away.

This is the week of camp. He was anxious but excited yesterday morning.  He was talking about the programs he thought they might be using, really looking forward to learning.  But when I picked him up, the director said he’d had a bit of a rough afternoon. It is a LONG day – 8 hours to be exact. That’s a lot for him. Little Man wouldn’t even talk about what he’d done all day until a few hours after he got home. I do think he ran out of fuel, and lost the ability then to self-manage.  He was happy to go back today, waking at 6:30, and announcing, “Day 2!”.

I texted the director a bit ago, just giving him some hints and tips for dealing with Little Man. He responded right away, letting me know things were going well today, and that he was appreciative of the input.  Again, I’m sure our son isn’t the only spectrum kid they’re dealing with. He can’t be. But if you know one kid with autism, you know one kid with autism. They’re just as different from each other as anyone else.

I’m not picking him up today, as I have a work event, but I’m still anxious to hear how his day went. He is doing something he loves, so hopefully that keeps the issues to a minimum. And on Friday, we’ll get to meet his instructors and classmates, and see what he’s been doing all week.

Once Again

I’m once again faced with the situation of Little Man having  new friend – one who has invited him over to hang out, and to go to the zoo at some point this summer. He went to this friend’s house for a birthday party yesterday, and even over an extended afternoon, seemed fine. But I find myself faced with the dilemma/decision/choice of telling this friend’s mom about Little Man’s autism.

Maybe she knows, or at least senses something. She didn’t say anything yesterday when I picked him up, but she has to wonder why a 13 year old chooses to hang out with a 10 year old. She said my guy waits for her son by the gate at school each morning too, and I know they spend hours facetiming, talking all things video game.

I haven’t had to struggle with this issue in a few years. What do I tell the parent of a new friend, when do I tell that parent? What’s best? What’s right for all involved?

If you didn’t know he’s autistic, you may just guess he’s either a lot younger than his chronological age, or just very immature, unless you have the pure pleasure of seeing him in meltdown or tantrum mode. Then you know for sure something is different. I don’t even know if his friend realizes he’s autistic.

I think part of me just wants him to be able to engage with friends without having Autism hanging over his head, part of me wants his life experience to be “normal” and me not have to consider this decision. But then am I being fair to that parent by not giving them fair warning, especially when they are going to be in charge of my child for a few hours? Sigh…….

What would you want to know about your child’s new friend, and when would you want to know it?

It Just Seems to Happen

I was talking with my sister (mom of two girls, age 19 and 17) last night about our beautiful teenage daughters, and our own high school/teenage years. I’ve not hidden the fact my beauty has been going through it in recent months. My sister and I compared our high school, and pre-high school, experiences, which were very different as far as friendships were concerned. Even though we had those different experiences – I had a bff from 7th grade all the way through high school, while my sister did not, but rather bounced each year from group to group, never quite finding her tribe – we both suffered massively from horribly low self-esteem and very poor self-image. We both had issues with food. We both struggled severely with our own sense of worth and value.  Now I know the source we both point to, but I found it interesting that even with those different friend experiences from an early age, we both ended up in the same insecure boat.

When I found out I was going to have a baby girl, I was immediately determined she would never, ever for one minute question her worth, her value, how much she’s loved. I didn’t want her to ever suffer insecurity, self-doubt, or unhealthy self-esteem/self-image. I for sure never wanted her to deal with an eating/exercise disorder, or any of a host of  stress-induced illnesses. I’ve tried to tell her every day (sometimes I wondered if it wasn’t too much) how very loved she is, how much she’s needed, how proud of her we are, reinforcing all her strengths, encouraging her. I saw her, until a couple years ago, as a strong, independent, courageous, brave, outgoing girl who always stood up for others as well as herself. She’s incredibly smart, goofily funny, amazingly talented, and also happens to be beautiful.

But it just seems to happen to teenage girls, no matter how they’re brought up, no matter who they’re friends with, no matter what activities they’re engaged in. Teenage girls all seem to suffer insecurity – often debilitating – they doubt their worth and value, particularly amongst their peers. If there are any struggles with friendships, they find the fault within themselves all too often. They are struggling to figure out who they are, and where they fit  in, at the same time hormones are ruling their bodies and minds. Add to that anyone who may be threatened by them, and boom, perfect storm.

I thought I could keep her from going through this – I well and truly did. I’m finding you really can’t shield them entirely. Each girl has to face it – find her worth within herself, learn to accept herself, learn to be okay with who she is, find a peace with herself within herself, learn to be happy with herself. We just have to love them through it, and pray the effects aren’t long-lasting. Lord knows it took me YEARS to recover, same for my sister. I wish I could minimize and fast-forward the process, because when your child struggles in any way, you struggle.