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.

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.

Finished

Finished – that word applies to so many things today. It’s been the word on my mind most the last few days. Finished. We are finished, we have finished, we will finish, we have yet to finish. Sigh….I’m in a funky place.

Big Man and P finished their school year Friday. P said she actually didn’t want the year to end. Wait, what? From my point of view, it’s been an exhausting, mentally and emotionally draining, dragged out, up-and-down/high-and-low year. I was not sad to see the door close on this one for them.

I am proud of Big Man – he pulled it together enough to have an almost-respectable GPA for the semester. It was a near-miracle, considering how deep a hole he’d dug himself. But he did it. We did have to push, and check in almost hourly to make sure he was doing what needed to be done, but he did it. Oh trust me, his final report card for the year wasn’t amazing, but it was nearly as ugly as it had been. For that, we say “Thank you Jesus!”, and heave a sigh of relief. Pray God he’s figured it out and we won’t have to face these same issues next  year.

After a long season of training (for me anyways  – Big Man didn’t really train at all), we ran the Rock-n-Roll Half Marathon yesterday morning. I was really worried about this one, as my training was cut short due to various injuries. My last 11-mile run was five weeks ago. My last run of any significant distance was three weeks ago. My last run was a week and a half before race day, and that just 4 miles. I spent 10 days gently stretching, icing, heating, and praying it would come together and I’d be able to push through. I had a 2-hour massage. I went to the chiropractor. I faithfully used my foam roller.

Race morning arrived. There was a LOT of frustration early – parking was an unmitigated disaster. It took us nearly an hour to get into the lot from the time we arrived downtown, then we had a mile walk to the shuttle busses. We got on our bus at the time we should have been arriving at our corral. We were in the bathroom line when our corral started, and ended up crossing the start with a corral 9 behind our assigned corral. I’d decided with my training partner to just push for the goal we’d trained for – a 2-hour finish. I knew 2 miles in I wasn’t going to be able to maintain that pace – the three weeks without any significant running had killed me. I slowed to my old half marathon pace and regrouped. Three miles later, my IT bands started tightening and my knees started to hurt. I pushed on, with short stretches of walking, until I hit mile 7 when I knew I’d have to just let go of this race. It became a matter of finishing, and nothing else. I walked when I needed to – which was quite a bit – and ran when I could. There was a downhill at 9.7 that almost did me in. But I pressed on. My training partner finished (I was getting texts for her and for Big Man) – I was at mile 10 I think. Then  Big Man finished. I was closing in on mile 11. I was frustrated, in pain, tired, and so disappointed. At mile 12, I started running again, determined to finish the race running. I knew there was nothing structurally wrong with my body – just IT bands that like to knot up and make it feel like there are knives going into the side of each knee – and so I pushed, and crossed the finish at 2:41 – my worst half marathon time ever, by 16 minutes. I headed to the medical tent and had my knees wrapped in ice.

My training partner had a PR, under 2 hours. Big Man didn’t meet his time from last year of 1:58, but he really didn’t train at all (oh to be 16!). He finished at 2:09. But we finished. The race is more about the culmination of training – a cap to a season. I’m trying to let it go, the disappointment of a bad race. Training had been going so well. I’m trying hard to focus on the fact I ran my 8th half marathon and not everyone gets to say that. I am so proud of Big Man – there were 114 boys on the course in his division. He finished 51st of those 114. That’s pretty awesome, isn’t it? Out of 30,000+ people running (between the full, half, and half-relay), only 114 15-17 year old boys were running, and one of them was my son. I love that I got to share yesterday with him. What’s really fun  is being able to talk about it with him, remembering miles and sections like a football player will remember a play, a golfer will remember each hole on a course, a pitcher what pitch got launched out of the ballpark by which hitter. I love that shared experience. I’m proud of the fact he fought when things started to hurt; he didn’t give in when the course got rough, when he knew he wasn’t going to match his time from last year, when he got tired and wanted to quit. He finished. We finished.

Eleven more school days for Little Man. Then we will be finished completely with this school year. He’s hanging in there. He has had some increased anxiety – it’s so typical of this time of year for him. We will fight through, and then breathe another sigh of relief. It is so weird to manage two out of school and one still in, especially for the significant amount of time 2.5 weeks is. We’re almost finished.

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.

One. More. Day.

Little Man starts school on Wednesday – yes, a full ten days after his siblings started. Let me tell ya, it’s been a LONG eight days. He thought it would be so cool to still have a week and a half left of summer. Yeah, not so much. By day two, he was crying by early afternoon, wanting his brother and sister home. It didn’t help I was busy with work and couldn’t cater to him all day. Blessedly, his besties have still been on summer as well. He figured out quickly it isn’t awesome being the only one home all day.

I’m ready for him to go back. Yes, I dread the fact they’re all three growing  up so quickly, and I miss the early days of preschool and school. But he needs structure back. I need those six-point-five hours a day to maintain my own sanity. I love summer – beach trips, vacations, time with family, the break from routine, the lack of homework battles, the later, relaxed nights. But I know I am a bit better mom when we all have some time away from each other during the day.

Little Man has been struggling the last week or so. Impending routine change will always do that, and I don’t know why I always forget that  until we’re well into the tears, meltdowns, and outbursts. All of the sudden, a lightbulb will go off in my mind, and I think, “Oh, yeah, routine change is coming, which means anxiety and stress for him.” As much as I knew I needed to warn his teachers towards the end of the school year, I needed my own warning towards the end of summer.

We have one more day. He will do okay the first few days, maybe the first two weeks. Then the wheels will fall off, until he’s fully adjusted back to the school routine. Every year I pray it will be different. Who knows….maybe this will be that year. But we have one more day to get through first. And trust me, tomorrow will totally suck.  Sleep will not come easily tomorrow night. There will be battles and tears most of the day. And once I drop him off Wednesday morning, he and I will both breath a short-lived sigh of relief.

Summer, Unmedicated

I’ve been asked frequently lately how summer is going for Little Man. My fast response is, “Great!” but then I usually end up qualifying. I decided, about a week into summer, I wasn’t going to fight it. He had a miserable year much of last school year. We’re both exhausted. So he’s pretty much been allowed to do what he wants to do each day, which involves a lot of screen time.  He isn’t just playing video games, nor watching YouTube videos of other gamers playing video games. He’s been making his own videos, and creating a lot on Minecraft and Lego Create.  And he’s not by himself – our house has been boy-central most of the summer, with two particular friends hanging out nearly every day. So he’s engaged, and he’s happy. I do force him out of his comfort zone on a fairly regular basis, but I haven’t rocked the boat much. We’ve spent five days in Palm Springs, gone to the movies to see Dory (more on that later), taken a few beach trips.

He asked to go off his ADHD meds for the summer. I didn’t think too long about that one. His ADHD is completely different from that of his brother, so it’s not a huge deal to leave him unmedicated when he isn’t expected to focus on classroom schedules, rules, and activities. He’s at a critical growth point, too. Taking him off the meds leaves his appetite at that of a normal 12-year-old. He is more outgoing, engages in more conversations, unmedicated. We’ve had multiple comments on it. That kind of hurts. Here’s why – when he has to focus for hours on end on something other than his screens, he is incapable without his medicine. Also, what most people don’t see is his struggle to maintain his emotions without his medicine. Yes,  he’s more outgoing, talking more, but there are also more tearful sessions, more angry outbursts. He goes swings from one end to the other on the emotion scale within seconds. I see it, because I’m with him 24/7.

So his summer has been pretty great, 90% of the time. He’s had lots of sleepovers (all here, though as he still doesn’t like to spend the night at someone else’s house). He’s had a ton of friend time. He’s in his element – and I have computer parts and screens and cables ALL OVER my family room. But  he’s happy, content. I’ll take that. In a few weeks, we will have to start re-focusing and preparing for the new school year. Until then, he eats, he plays, he talks, and he’s unmedicated.