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

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.

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.

Transitions

Little Man has one more year in middle school, but we are already thinking ahead to high school. The biggest decision will be where he goes.  I’ve been trying to live in the land of denial with this one. I’d rather not consider a) three kids in high school; b) his actual transition to high school (because we know how well the transition to middle school went); c) my baby in high school; d) getting to know a whole new IEP team; and e) his last tri-ennual evaluation, set for his Freshman year. All. Of. That.

He will, of course, have a voice in the decision-making process. What brought it all to mind today is that he brought it up in the car this morning. He and his buddies were talking about high school, where they each wanted to go, and – of all things – the possibility of getting community service hours by volunteering at their old elementary school when they’re in high school. Nothing like planning ahead! Anyways, he firmly stated he wants to go to the same school as his siblings. Okay, well, wow.

There is a math and science high school in town, which is much like the middle school he attends. It’s project-based, heavily utilizes technology, collaborative work, and it’s much smaller than the nearby high school. It’s a lottery process to get into the math and science high school, so it would be luck of the draw to get him in. It’s also across town – at least 20 minutes each way with traffic. So while I think it would be a really good environment for him, I’m unsure he will get in, and unsure of the logistics.

I like the idea of him at school with his brother and sister. I haven’t had all three in the same place in nearly five years. And if he does go there, that will give us that many more years of blessing those hallowed halls with our particular brand of crazy. I’m sure the Principal, VP’s, counselor, and school nurse are already cringing at the thought of three extra years with us around.

Knowing he would have his brother and sister on campus to look out for him and help him gives me small peace. I know how frequently Big Man and P see each other at school (hardly ever) during the day. It’s a big school with 2500 students, give or take. I do panic though…..the more students, the more opportunity for some jerk to give him a hard time. And don’t get me started on the PE situation with locker rooms, etc. I can’t even…..

He’s in a good place now. High school will be a new story. He’s hardly had to change classrooms, is used to not having homework, and has plenty of kids similar to him at his school. The kids know him, accept him, know his quirks and how he is. I can’t entirely picture how that’s going to go in high school. We do have other options besides these two. There is a charter high school, Classical, and other semi-homeschool options (although the thought of him being home more during the school day, well, that’s a whole other discussion). He seems bent on going to school where his brother and sister go.

It’s going to be a transition no matter where he goes. Those transitions are never easy with him. Yes, we have another year where we are, but the process has begun.

Oh yeah, IEP time

Little Man’s IEP normally falls the first week in December, smack in the middle of Nutcracker hell week, and right around the time of our wedding anniversary. The coordinator called me late in October, and asked if the week before Thanksgiving break would work. Uh, yep….way better than dealing with it/squeezing it in the midst of all the other madness. I somehow put it in the back of my mind, and it snuck up on me. Heck, this whole year has pretty much snuck up on me.

Sooooo….the Friday afternoon leading into the Thanksgiving break, and 1.5 hours before I was supposed to leave for dinner/drinks and the Sound of Music, I was sitting in the small conference room at Little Man’s school, with his team, for his annual IEP meeting. Joy.

We’d had our concerns this year. I believe I wrote about them earlier in the school year. But, as I’ve had happen at pretty much every single one of his IEP meetings, the team addressed any requests/issues we had before I had a chance to raise them. We are all on the same page, that of keeping him on the good, upward path he’s currently on, and getting him ready for high school. That conversation was a huge part of the meeting – what we need to do, what we need to be thinking about, the goals he has and how they’ll translate, what can be done to ease that transition.

He has two subject teachers this year, as well as a PE teacher, and then whomever is teaching the Elements class he chooses. That means he’s seeing at least four teachers a day. He is moving around from classroom to classroom, albeit in a much smaller setting than he’ll see in high school. I’ve met his teachers before – parent/teacher conferences were last month – but I didn’t really get a grasp of anything beyond his academics, and how much improved he is over last year overall, until the IEP meeting. They are both the perfect combination of compassion and understanding and the tough love he needs to show him the boundaries, limits, and push him a little bit. That was the big thing we were going to ask for – that they push him, get him to stay in the classroom as much as possible, keep him engaged in the lesson/group/activity as much as possible. They’ve already started doing that. He’s up to 99% as far as in-class time. Last year, I think he hovered at 65-75%. They don’t let him push the buttons he did last year to get his way. They’ve learned he will cry to escape a situation. They are both handling him brilliantly. I felt immensely relieved after talking with them and hearing from them in the meeting. They are both exactly what he needs this year.

Another big part of the conversation was getting him to participate in the IEP process. In high school, he is expected to be part of the meetings. They want full buy-in from him on his goals and needs. To get that, he needs to give input. Now, Little Man HATES hearing conversations about his differences, deficiencies, needs. He goes into meltdown, or lashes out, or shuts down completely. We’ve made a plan that next year, he has to come to the meeting with one goal for himself, and one question about high school, the IEP process, etc. Once he’s participated in that much of the meeting, he will be allowed to leave the room. We do know his limits.

Here’s my thing: as much as we’ve been thinking about prepping him for high school, his team has been thinking about prepping him for high school. It is a huge part of the conversation. I was SO relieved to understand they are  on the same page in this regard. They care about him, the whole him, not just the academic him. They know him, what makes him tick, what helps motivate him and keep him on track.

Let’s just wrap it by saying the meeting went really well. I feel they are not just HIS team, but my team as well, that we are indeed working together to give Little Man the best education in the best environment for him. Bonus – the IEP meeting is done before Thanksgiving and all the madness December brings around here. AND I was one time to leave for the show.

Oh yeah…*this* place

We are five weeks into Little Man’s school year. I’m afraid to type this out loud, but it’s been quiet. Eerily quiet. I realized I’m not walking around with my phone in my hand, jumping every single time it rings or pings with an email.  I’ve only had a few logistical emails from his SAI, one of those solicited by me when we were going to see his psychiatrist and I needed her feedback. One of my friends was asking me last Friday how his year is going. I had to think about it, and was surprised to hear myself saying he seems to be doing well, really well.

We’ve heard words like “improved self-regulation,” “an increase in problem-solving,” and “working well in group work.” Oh my gosh, people!! Did you read that? He’s still having some occasional anxiety at home, but he’s sleeping better, having fewer tantrums, not lashing out quite as much. He’s staying in class, and getting his work done.

It’s been almost eighteen months since we’ve been in *this* place, this good place. I can breath while he’s at school. I’m not stressing every second what may be going sideways in his day. This is good stuff. This is great stuff. This is amazing stuff. I’d forgotten what this place was like – dropping my baby off at school in the morning and completely going about my day without the constant worry he’s going to lose it, without the fear of what I’ll see/hear/face when I pick him up in the afternoon (or his carpool ride drops him off).

People promised me we would get back here. I didn’t really believe them. Last year was just so absolutely brutal most of the time. We both entered summer completely tapped out. I hoped this year, being back in the same school – now familiar, with familiar faces, routines, schedules- would make it easier on everyone. He’s been amazing. We still have stuff to work on. Ever mindful we have more to manage than just this year – we must prepare him for high school, for whatever comes after. That’s our job – to ready him to be out in the world. But for now, I’m going to breath, and enjoy this place we’re in, for as long as we’re in it.

Choose

Little Man has a problem. Well, he has a lot of “problems”, but it really came to light during the IEP meeting last week. He wants to have control as much as possible. He wants to do what he wants to do. But he cannot choose when given choices.  It makes him anxious. It makes him shut down when he has to decide.

His mornings have been kind of wonky lately. I finally put two-and-two together this morning. Deciding what to eat for breakfast is overwhelming to him. He paces between the kitchen and family room. He will open the pantry and fridge at least three times each. I hear his breathing escalate. Yes, even deciding what to eat can be too much. But if I put something in front of him, the oppositional/defiant will kick in, and he pushes back. It’s basically  a lose-lose every morning, which is not a great way to get our days going.

We decided at the meeting last week we would not give him a choice what snack he will eat, nor when he will eat it. He will get popcorn or goldfish (whatever we happen to have for him at school that week) at morning recess. End of story. We know he has to eat basically every two hours. Given the choice, he won’t eat at recess, and will then fall apart between recess and lunch.  So, we’ve taken the choice away. He doesn’t have anxiety over deciding what to eat. He doesn’t have anxiety over when to eat, and he doesn’t have anxiety from being hungry. He’s had better days for the most part this week. The only day he had a meltdown was the day he didn’t eat at morning recess.

I try to keep all these things in my brain. It’s hard when you’re dealing with two other kids’ schedules. I hate putting the responsibility of making sure he eats on his brother and sister, but sometimes that’s a necessity.  They  know if he’s hungry, he’s likely to freak out.

We’re all learning, especially as Little Man’s needs are ever-evolving.  This choice thing doesn’t just apply to food, it applies across the board. The trick is getting him to think he’s choosing even when he isn’t. Sound like fun? Oh yeah.