What you can’t see

I took the kids to have their Christmas pictures done the other night. I’ve taken them to a portrait studio for Christmas pictures every single year since Big Man was a year old and the Princess a small infant. It’s just my thing…..I get pictures done. There are tons of photos of them all over the house.

I posted their silly picture to Facebook yesterday. Everyone was saying what a great photo it was. Here, I’ll let you see for yourselves:

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I think the thing about it that everyone loves is that Little Man just looks so happy. What isn’t in the picture, what you can’t see, is that ten minutes before this particular shot was taken, he was on the verge of a full meltdown, and had already kicked the wall twice. What you can’t see in this picture is that the Princess was really pushing back on having pictures done at all, much less the total lameness of Christmas pictures with her siblings, with a color scheme. What you can’t see in this picture is all the sighing and eyeball-rolling that had been going on for over an hour just before this shot was taken. What you can’t see is my stress, frustration, and worry. What you can’t see is me reminding Little Man to NOT make the creepy smiling face the photographer didn’t seem to notice in any of the other shots, like this one:

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What you don’t see, most of all, is me struggling to hang onto them being my babies for just one more year, for just a little bit longer. What you can’t see is that no matter what people post on social media, no matter how perfect a photo might make them look, there is life behind that photo. There are meltdowns, attitudes, general mayhem, arguments, sighing, anxiety.

I kind of shook my head at all the comments. How could they not see? I am THANKFUL for the comments. It is a great shot of my Herd. And I do love the photo. I just know everything that happened while obtaining that photo. I don’t mean to sound like a complete Grinch, nor that I can’t accept a compliment on a great photo of my three. That’s not my point at all. It was just a good reminder for me that no matter how amazing the photo, what you see in a snapshot of a single moment, isn’t all there is to the story, for anyone.

And just because I’m a shamelessly proud momma, here’s the one we had printed.

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Is it fair?

I was talking with a friend the other day about where Little Man will go to high school and how it might be if he goes to the same high school his siblings attend. I have a huge hangup over putting responsibility on them to take care of him and look out for him. They’ve had five and six years of being at a different school, without him impacting their school days, who they are at school. They didn’t ask for a special needs sibling. And I just get scared of putting too much on them where he’s concerned. But my friend said, “He’s their brother. It isn’t too much, it just is.” And then we both started to cry.

They’ve had freedom for a while…freedom from being the autistic kid’s sibling while at school. How will it affect them to have him on the same campus, especially when  he goes sideways (because he will), or decides to hide rather than go to class, or he starts crying in class, or runs out of class, or gets bullied? I won’t be there to buffer nor to manage him.

I don’t even know if this makes any sense, my fears and concerns. On the one hand, I would be so relieved to know he has people who know him and love him there on campus helping to keep an eye out. But on the other hand, ugh, the responsibility. They’re teenagers. They have enough on their plates without having to help him through each day at school. Would it kill their social mojo? Distract from their own priorities?

He has been around some of their friends. Most seem to take him in stride, but he can sometimes be a lot. He’s been fairly manic lately, swinging in seconds from really up, to really pissed off or sad. He’s loud. He’s  intent upon talking about what he wants to talk about. He still struggles with social cues. He wants to be part of things, but he doesn’t always know how to do that, and then sometimes being part of what’s going on is overwhelming to him no matter how much he wants it. Sometimes he is just the annoying little brother, which is normal, but which is also a little bit more difficult for him to understand.

I do, since Saturday, keep going back to what my friend said, “He’s their brother. It isn’t asking too much. It just is.” Sigh….would that this were all easier, and I didn’t have to even have much less process these worries.

IEP processed

Little Man’s annual IEP meeting was almost two weeks ago. It’s taken me a bit to process, mostly because I had other things going on…work, a trip to see my parents, Thanksgiving….I had to process it all anyways. I had to go back through the details, not in-the-moment.

Someone asked me about it, what happens, how did LM handle being in the meeting. I explained, “You spend the first five minutes hearing the ways your kid is amazing and how he’s improved. You spend the next hour discussing all his deficiencies, and making plans to help him.” Truth. That’s what goes on. You know what? I almost hate those first five minutes more than the rest of the meeting. Look, I know all the way he’s amazing. I have to make myself focus on those amazing qualities in the moments he’s completely falling apart, or pushing me over the edge, or having the mother of all meltdowns on the sideline of  his soccer game. He is amazing, brilliant, beautiful, witty, funny, empathetic, entertaining, cuddly, loving, and just….amazing. I’m his mom. I know this. I know they know his abilities, his strengths. It just always makes me feel like I’m holding my breath waiting for the “but…..”

So yes, he’s doing better with his collaborative work, although he still needs work. Yes, he’s very creative. Yes, he’s gotten better at communicating his needs. Yes, he has become a mentor to kids in younger grades working with the 3-D printer. His writing has improved. Can we please get to the hard stuff? The stuff we really need to talk about? The things we need to work out?

I knew he’d avoided going to class for some time when he was dealing with some bullying and then his perception of everyone around him – and their actions – went sideways. I didn’t realize he’d hardly been in class for nearly a month. His grades suffered accordingly – but WTH? Nearly a month not going to class? This is a small school with a small campus. There isn’t really anywhere for him to hide. I do know we dealt with the headaches and stomach-aches for over a week. I know he spent a good amount of time in the nurse’s office. But really, nearly a month hardly being in class, because he wouldn’t go. He ended up with two F’s, three C’s, and one A on his report card. My kids have NEVER gotten an F, much less two, on a progress report much less a report card.

The adaptive PE teacher on consult for him told us she’d have to hunt him down most days when it was time for PE. Again, WTH? They shouldn’t have to go look for my kid. He’s 13  years old.  He’s an 8th grader. The school is small, the campus is small, but you had to go look for him? Then he wouldn’t cooperate nor participate much of the time. So our PE goals remain intact. Get to PE, and participate to a percentage level.  He has a new sheet he has to fill out in which he earns points for showing up, participating in the activity, or running.

Most of his goals remain the same…..working cooperatively and successfully in groups, getting his work done, staying in the classroom, self-management, responding appropriately, stating verbally his feelings and needs, and showing up for and participating in PE.

I do feel like it is a team. We all want what’s best for him, and to best prepare him for high school and beyond. Then we had to start talking about the transition to high school. No, we haven’t decided where he’s going. We have narrowed it down to a few schools, one of which is very difficult to get into, one of which is lottery, and one of which is down the street.  The rep from the traditional school down the street was there towards the end. We had to talk about what potential issues he might face at that school.  PE is a big issue. I get massively twitchy when I think about it. I can’t picture him having to dress-out, in a locker room with a bunch of other, neurotypical 13 and 14 year old boys, can’t picture him participating, or possibly even showing up. I worry about him showing up for any class after the way this Fall has gone.  We won’t even discuss homework, or him staying in class, or him even looking like a typical student.  I just can’t.

I wasn’t entirely impressed with the HS rep. Her responses to some of our requests, and some of his particular issues, almost made it sound like she’d never had to manage or process a kid like mine. Didn’t give me much confidence. I know she won’t be directly involved in his day-to-day if he does go to that school.  We asked about preferential period selection for PE. She’d never heard of that before. We asked about supervision or a different changing location, or only changing his shirt rather than his entire outfit (he wears sweatpants most days anyways), and she responded as if no one had ever presented those options before.

Here’s the deal – he WILL get a full high school diploma. He’s capable. We will not settle for a certificate. That’s going to stand no matter where he goes to high school. Maybe that’s a lofty goal that is going to take a ton of work, a lot of meetings, and a billion emails and phone calls. Whatever it takes, it is going to happen.

So, back to the IEP meeting…..I left kind of numb. There was too much to think about, too much to process. There are many good things he’s done, many great ways he’s improved. There are many things he needs to work on. There are things to be concerned about. My stress over the high school selection, and how he does in high school is straight up through the roof.

One day at a time right? Be where we are, deal with where we are. What’s next will happen when it happens. How do I feel about this IEP meeting? Well, I’m good with the goals we set. I’m not sure how much success he will have achieving those goals within the next seven months, but that’s not really the point, right? The point is that they’re goals for him to work on, for us to help him work on, goals to help make him successful in school, in life. Good did come of it in that it led to good discussion, and Spouse was involved. We have had multiple discussions with Little Man.  He is mostly staying in class. We’re working on the rest. He’s a brilliant boy, with a brilliant mind. Someday, the world will be built for him, he will find his people, his corner of success in his way.

We have things to think about, more meetings down the road, particularly once we decide where he’s going to high school. For now, I’m going to take a deep breath, and be happy I don’t have to think about IEP’s for a little bit.

Almost forgot….How did Little Man do, participating in his own IEP for the first time? He didn’t want to go, and he did push back all the way up to the point of walking into the conference room. He didn’t say much, and we did have to tell him a few times to sit up, get his head off the table, but he was there. He didn’t yell, he didn’t complain, he didn’t growl.  He was there until we started talking with the high school rep and released him to go hang out with his friends at the lunch tables. He did it.

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.

The First Boy

It feels appropriate to re-post this, as it seems that first boy might be imminent…

To the boy who will love my daughter first:

Young man –  you will be her first love.  Make it good. She will remember you her entire life, sometimes fondly, sometimes with hurt or anger. Give her more reasons to recall you with kindness and nostalgia. In other words, don’t screw it up. Don’t screw it up for every other boy who will follow you, for while you will be her first, you very likely won’t be her last.

Take your time, and give her time. She is just figuring out who she is, her place in the world. That’s a scary thing, but more terrifying is someone trying to define that for her, or take it away from her. Don’t try to command her friendships, do support her time with her friends. She will be a better, more whole person for it. Don’t try to be her everything – that’s not what she’s looking for.  The harder you chase, the more quickly she may run.

No one besides family has loved her before.  The idea of someone who doesn’t have to care about her caring about her is difficult to trust. She may doubt, she may wonder why you care, she may not believe you really care. Be consistent but not overwhelming.  If you remain calm, she may come to believe it. In the meantime, there might be a dance of moving forwards and backwards. Trust me, she’s worth the wait if you’re willing to be patient.

She has priorities……School first, then family, then dance and cheer. You come in somewhere after that. Don’t attempt to mess  up that order. You’ll hear from us if you do. And she will probably set you straight before we even have to step in.  She’s kinda tough-minded that way.  She has big plans for her life, and if she feels like you might try to sway her from those plans, you’ll likely be shown the door. Heaven help you if you start shifting your plans for your life – kiss of death right there.

The heart is easily broken, so that first relationship is the most difficult, mostly due to fear of how it will end, and how you will deal with heartbreak. One of you will hurt the other. Most likely, you will hurt each other. There’s a lot of angst involved in that first love. There’s a lot of learning involved in that first love.

If you play your cards right, you’ll both learn, love, and grow, and someday, she will find all the notes you’ve written each other, come across an old photo or the first gift you ever gave her, and she will smile fondly in remembrance of her first love.

 

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.

 

Let the Research Begin

Little Man is rumored to have done well on the high school tours field trip yesterday. I’ve had two good reports, and he was all smiles and conversation when I picked him up from school. So, yay for that. And now, the research begins.

He did like the Math & Science high school. He would like to put his name in the lottery for admission. I’ve reviewed their website and the paperwork they sent home. One thing caught my eye – Special Education support programs will be limited. I’m not exactly sure what that means. Do they not take IEP kids? How would my kid navigate their campus and curriculum if they don’t have the supports he needs? They have a few informational meeting dates coming up, so we’ll go to one of those and get some answers. While the school sounds fairly similar to where he is for middle school, I won’t give up the supports he needs. That one little line on the informational packet makes me say, “Hmmmmmm.” He also liked the school down the street that his siblings attend. He said they had the best presentation, and he got a flower from the agricultural department during their tour, which he was super happy about and proud of.

We do have a lot of options available in town. I just really haven’t wanted to think about this process. I’d love to stay in denial-land just a little bit longer. Unfortunately for me, the application periods are opening, and we don’t have forever. So let the research begin. Sigh…..