Failure Is Always an Option

There is a group I follow on Facebook for parents of 2E kids. The other day, a post on that page struck a chord. This mom said:

“I feel like a jerk sometimes for “forgetting” that my child has a real and genuine disability. So often, I’m ready to rip out my hair and scream, “You are EIGHT years old and you have an IQ in the 99.998th percentile! You shouldn’t need me to brush your teeth and tie your shoes!”

I *know* she has a disability but so often, I just think of her age and her intelligence and find myself feeling angry that she still needs help with these things. I know it’s unfair and it’s something I’m always working on as a parent, but it’s hard sometimes.”
Twice Exceptional Children (2E) on Facebook

I know exactly what she means. I feel this way quite often, raising feelings of guilt too. Our Mr. E is now almost 10, Mr. C is almost 7. They are always asking for me to do this and do that for them. “Seriously, you can’t figure out how to put bread in the toaster?” “Can’t get up and get yourself water?” “Can’t figure out how to turn on the shower?” “Ahhhgggg! I have things to do, figure it out!”

However, on the flip side, I do way too much for them. We were at the boys’ therapy session last week and I took a few minutes to connect and discuss a game-plan with the therapist. After talking with her for just a few moments, I had an A-HA! Moment: my boys can’t do things because I do everything for them! My life is made ten times harder because of my own issues with needing it to just get done now, not in a few moments.  Or, like the old adage says, “if you want it done right, do it yourself.” I think that I have allowed their limitations in some areas affect all areas in their life.

For example, I’m pretty sure that they both could operate the toaster but, they are afraid of getting burned though, so they don’t use it. Instead, they expect me to drop what I’m doing and make them toast. The A-HA! moment came from me explaining to the therapist that I still cut up their waffles in bite-sized pieces for both of them. What? My kids are afraid of getting cut, so they are nervous of knives. This leads to them taking ridiculous amounts of time to eat unprepared food and lots of mess while they struggle to figure it out. I have no patience for that. I hate seeing them struggle with it. “Ugh! just give it to me and I’ll do it!” So I just do it. I haven’t given them a chance to try. Oh, the guilt!

Yes, these boys have special needs that must be considered but, I have allowed them way too much freedom to exploit their parents’ kindness and love. Time to put the foot down. “You’re thirsty? You have the ability to get a cup and fill it. If you spill, oh well. Now you know how to pour.” “You want toast” Then put the bread in the toaster and turn it on. I’m happy to help you pull it out when it’s done, but you figure out how to put the butter on.”

How many of their issues are my fault? I still, occasionally, feel responsible for their issues anyway. I work constantly on not connecting the autism or sensory processing to something that I did or didn’t do while pregnant. It’s so easy to take that blame. It is not my fault. It just happened. But now? Now, I think I legitimately caused some delays because I’m a hoverer, I’m a doer and yes, I’m a mom who loves “helping” with projects… probably too much. I’m a helicopter parent.

The full weight of this came crashing down on me this week. I spoke with the hubs about the therapy visit and my epiphany, and explained how we need to let go of some of this work. Help the boys learn for themselves. He’s on board. So, now, we instruct them to do what they need to do or help them work it out, but they do it.

Meanwhile, we’ve had a full moon and some heavy winds at our house which always cause the fuzzies. Their brains are less clear. They feel unwell, scattered. They are loud and bouncing off the walls until asked to do something. Then they need time to rest. This is normal crazy-time in our house as the weather changes to unpredictable fall weather. This is the worst time of year for us. Along with the unpredictable weather, we get unpredictable children. Children who are already struggling to fit back into a school schedule. Struggling to attend classes or therapies at the school despite being home-schooled most of the time. Children who spend days in their PJs, refusing to leave the house. This is the normal fall crazies.

Now, this week, we are adding a little more tough love: making them do more for themselves. We are already seeing the results in anger flare-ups and meltdowns. The boys fight more and whine more. Sleep is more difficult. They appear lazy but, really, are overwhelmed with the change. It makes for days like today, when I ask myself if it’s too early for happy hour! I’m stressed and struggling to teach them; to keep their attention and keep the peace while trying to run the rest of the house. This was never the plan. My brain is resisting – I’m cranky too. To E, I find myself saying, “You’re almost 10! This should be so easy for you!” I find myself forgetting that he has so many issues to deal with…

Now C starts into one of his epic meltdowns; most likely over something that seems like nothing to me. The other day, it was because he kept messing up the alphabet letter he was writing. It wasn’t perfect, so the pencil was thrown down and the arms folded, holding his head while he sobbed – actual tears this time. “Wait, what? Why are you crying over that? That’s so ridiculous! Just take a breath and try again. That’s why we use a pencil: so we can erase. What is the matter with you?” Oh! That’s right, the meltdown is the end of his struggle to contain big emotions and feelings. He cannot control this. He can’t explain why he’s upset but, there is no doubt that he’s done for the day.

These are the moments when I blame myself. I feel like a failure. Now I’ve lost my cool. I’m not patient anymore. These kids, that are the loves of my life are driving me crazy. There are times that I can’t stand to be in the same room as them.

So, while I am not to blame for their disabilities, I am to blame for much of their lack of basic life skills and knowledge. I’ve made our lives harder by trying to make them easier. It sounds strange to say that but, it’s true.

It is time for me to let them go a bit more. To stop treating them like small children and help them realize that they can do more. Maybe, just maybe, by doing this, while, for now, things may seem more difficult, more of a mess and take longer, maybe life will get easier.

It’s like my son’s fortune cookie last night said: “You will never succeed without learning from failure.”

Advertisements

#JudgeyFace

In the past week, we have been away from home at least half the time; doctors that are too far to travel to in a day and so on. One thing of major import in my world, is that our little C is finally going to get some assessments and we are going to finally know what we’re facing. We had our first visit with his new doc. On the first visit, he meets with just the parents to find out what we hope to accomplish and so on with his help. I know we don’t need labels on our kids. I know we won’t treat him differently, except everything will be different. When he’s running down the sidewalk cartwheeling his arms and legs out to the side as he goes, we’re not going to be as frustrated with him if we know that he’s not being crazy, he’s self-soothing. I mean, in some ways, we already treat his oddities this way. We’ve learned from working with his brother that these are the ways that he fills his sensory needs, but it is still really hard to act like everything is fine when he’s running away from you, bumping into other people or sitting upside down in his chair at the restaurant. He’s a wonderful, loving child who seems very ill-behaved at times but really isn’t. We are tough on him. We make him earn his privileges and so on. However, for those not in the know, he often comes off as a wild child.

Today, while trying to eke out a little bit of school work from him, he sat on the table, with an elastic tie around his head and used the tip of the tie to point to the answers as I scribed them out for him. He kept saying that his brain wasn’t working; he couldn’t think but, as soon as I took over the writing, we got a few pages done, as long as I allowed the odd tie situation.

So, something that made me happy: we finally got into this new doctor. Even though it was just one session, I already feel completely validated in some of the hard choices that we’ve had to make about C over the past year. Things like pulling him out of school because it was just too much for his sensory processing. Things like choosing to sit in the cafeteria at a spiritual assembly we attended, rather than the auditorium because the boys could not handle sitting in a room with almost 1000 people, and sitting at a table was easier for them to keep busy than sitting in a row of chairs all day. Fewer eyes on them if they have to move and so on.

Many do not get it, however, and we get the looks. You know, the look. It’s the look that is on the faces of so many strangers who have no clue what you’re dealing with. People, who look at us parents and think that we need to reign in our kids or make them sit more still. “Why does you kid have giant headphones on? Shouldn’t he be paying attention to the program?” You see the questions on their face. They can’t help it and they just don’t get it.

I recently came across this post by Louise Williams: No One Likes a JudgeyFace. She perfectly expresses a parent’s feeling when they get the JudgeyFace. As a parent that sees the face often, I think this is a brilliant article.

“…whilst at the pool when James wasn’t even being that crazy I saw it. The expression people pull when they are making instant judgements about James and I.

JudgeyFace.

Yep. The face that people display when they are appalled by what they see. They were appalled by my amazing son. How dare they?…”

“…They are judging us. They are judging him, for being a bit unusual and me for not doing something about it…”

It’s a known quantity for parents of quirky kids. No matter what you’re facing with your kid, there are people out there that will judge you or your child for not meeting their/society’s standards of “normal”. We just have to find a way to move past it; let it roll off our backs like water on the proverbial duck. (Does water roll off a duck’s back? I don’t know but, it seems like it should so, I’m going with it.)

That is a challenge though. We are fighters for our kids. We want them to have the same opportunity to have a happy, carefree childhood that other kids have. They are most likely oblivious to the looks but, we parents are not. We see it. We feel the judgement and we break a little inside for the lack of understanding, for the lack of normalcy that we don’t have. We could just as easily have a NT child (NeuroTypical = average) and the get the JudgeyFace anyway, and maybe we’d even deserve it. Or would we? As I sit here with my quirky kids, I realize that no one deserves it. No one really, truly knows what another parent is going through if they aren’t living in that family. Sometimes, even our spouses/partners don’t fully get it, because they may be working outside of the home every day. They see a few hours in the mornings and evenings and then on the weekends, but not the daily struggle of the stay-at-home parent. I know my guy tries so hard but, in some ways, he won’t ever be able to get it because he’s not here during the day. Besides, even when he does see it, he doesn’t get it from my perspective because we are totally opposite personalities.

In the post I mentioned earlier, Louise refers to a video called Too Much Information. I love this video! It’s a very short film done by The National Autistic Society that puts the viewers in the shoes of a boy with autism. It breaks my heart and yet I want to keep watching it. I want to be reminded what sensory overload can feel like because it can help to give me the patience that I need to help my boys work through their overloads.

We should be less quick to judge; be more sensitive to the variety of situations that could cause whatever issues brings on that face. Please watch the video and maybe you will feel less like making a JudgeyFace the next time the opportunity arises.

I shouldn’t still… but I do.

I should be used to this by now, but I’m not.

It should not break my heart anymore, but it does.

I shouldn’t still… but I do.

Last night was another example of what we deal with all the time but, is rarely seen by the outside world.

It has been a strange week of “off” behavior for E. If he were a girl, I would wonder if it were the time of the month. Mood swings, anger out of the blue, silliness, hyperactivity, intense food likes and dislikes. I’ve mentioned before that I, personally, have been dealing with hormone imbalance issues, and I’ve always thought that E was strangely in tune with me and my moods. Maybe that’s why it was such a rough week. A bad week for me means a bad one for him. It’s like the old saying: “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” (Sidebar: I hate the word ain’t!) It’s true for us, but in a totally different meaning. If something is bothering me (or even, sometimes, Dad) then E reacts in a less-than-desirable way, and everyone in the household is upset by it.

Last night, C was having some “bathroom” issues. There aren’t a lot of polite ways to talk about the “bathroom” things that we deal with in this house but, I’ll try. A few months back, C had gotten so backed up, that he was in horrible pain and couldn’t even go #1. He asked to have an ambulance called and ended up having to be flown to the hospital to be taken care of there. Now, we are dealing with months, even years, possibly, of monitoring and assessing him to make sure that he’s regular and that things don’t hurt. Last night, he needed to “go” but couldn’t. The pain got bad enough that he couldn’t relax to go #1. The stress of the parents goes through the roof. Do we have to rush him to the hospital again? Can we fix it at home?

Our baby is in distress, and so are we. Dad rushes out to the pharmacy just as they are closing, and makes it in time to buy the products we’ve been instructed that will help the situation. I stay and sit on the floor while C is moaning on the toilet. When he’s ready for a break, we get him into a bath of warm water and Epsom salts. He calls this a “relaxing bath” because he won’t have to wash himself (which he hates). He lays in the bath for a while and, between that and patience, he was able to go. Victory! We are able to deal with the situation at home. No ER visit this night.

Meanwhile, I should mention that it’s dinner time and we are trying to feed the family. E starts vacillating between being out-of-control hyperactive and panicked over his brother’s distress. He is very empathetic in some ways. Of course, he has had his share of ‘bathroom’ issues as well. E had chronic constipation from infancy all the way to age 7. He knows well how difficult this issue can be. His stress at the issue at hand has caused him to get out of control and demand attention of his own from mom and dad. Attention but, not positive attention. This makes him angry and he starts slamming doors and yelling. He likes to screech these high pitched noises that hurt the ears. He also tends to pick one person to vent his anger on. Usually it’s me.

Trying to keep the peace, Dad and I take turns helping Caleb, eating our own dinner and trying to help E stay calm. The evening progresses, C starts feeling better, things get moving and he finally is tucked in bed with Dad reading to him. E decides to try to be defiant and refuses to get ready for bed. He starts fighting, yelling at me. He slams his door only to open it and start yelling that he hates me; I’m the worst (mother). Over and over. Meanwhile, I’m sitting as still as a statue, trying not to react. This is what he wants, what he craves. This is his driving force.

I know in my head that he does not hate me. It’s his out of control mind talking. He may not even realize what he is saying at this point. But it hurts. My chest is tight and I’m trying to hold in the tears. I calmly sit there, pretending to ignore his outburst. He throws things. Yells some more. Now he’s even more upset that I “don’t care” that he hates me. Any comment I make causes a reaction so I continue to sit and just say “okay” to everything that he shouts at me.

After a long, drawn out process, Dad is able to finally to get C to sleep, despite the noise. He goes into E’s room and informs him that he will come in and read him a story once E has calmed down. It takes a while, but we hold firm. E calms enough for Dad to go in and deal with him. They talk. E apologizes. He was out of control. He didn’t mean any of it. He listens to his story, goes to sleep and peace descends once again in our home.

I knew he didn’t mean it. I knew he would feel sorry for how he acted. I’ve seen this before. I shouldn’t let it get to me, break me, make me cry but, I do. I cry for the pain or confusion or whatever else my dear sweet child is dealing with. I cry for the “normal” child we didn’t have. I cry for myself, for stress release, to lament all the feelings inside. Then I go and comfort myself with a huge bowl of dessert. The night is over and the new day will be different.

It’s Not Autism.

To a parent of a “Quirky Kid,” those words can be a huge relief, knowing that something has been taken out of the equation. A weight has lifted off your shoulders because you know that it’s not this one thing. By contrast, it can bring another type of stress and emotion to the table. It’s great that it’s not this but, it’s something else. Now you have a bunch of referrals to other specialists so that you can narrow down just what you are dealing with. By this point you are emotional. You want to cry because you are happy that it’s not autism or, maybe, you want to cry because, wouldn’t it be easier if it was? At least you’d know the enemy that you’re facing. “Better the enemy you know, than the one you don’t.”

As mentioned before, we have two beautiful, brilliant children. Our oldest son deals with High Functioning Autism (ASD), which unfortunately took until he was six or seven years of age to diagnose. Now at almost nine years-old, we are managing things better than ever before, despite the “downs” that always come with the “ups,” and continue on our educational journey with him.

Our youngest son has been high-maintenance for a while, but not out of the scope of “normal.” We did our research, knew that there was a chance he could be facing similar issues as his brother, and so we wait and watch. We (myself more than the hubby) watch like hawks for signs, symptoms, indications that might mean something. Does he have autism? Should we worry? What struggles is he going to face?

I know every parent spends more than a little time worrying about their children’s health. Maybe it’s before they are born, worrying that they develop properly. Maybe they’ve gotten sick for the first time with something really bad. You worry; it’s in the job description. I tend to be “blessed” with an overabundance of worry. I am a worry-wart. I know better but, there it is. My mother-in-law, many years ago, gave her husband a little cross-stitched plaque that says, “Worry is like a fast getaway on a wooden horse.” I love that. It’s brilliant and simple. Worry gets you nowhere while using up your energy. Still, I tend to worry more than I should. That being said, I think that when a parent’s child has an issue of any sort (ours having ASD for example), that makes you prone to worry about the other children you have.

In our life, E was diagnosed later than most. We have dealt with guilt over not seeing the signs sooner, not getting help sooner, feeling that we did something to cause it… and the list goes on. Now we are facing issues with child #2 and every little detail about their achievements, or lack thereof, is scrutinized. Oh, he knows his alphabet before all the other kids in his preschool class. Should I worry? Look! he’s writing his name but doesn’t want us to know. He hides his intelligence. Is this an indication of a problem? He’s doing advanced math in his head, just like his brother. Should I worry? He’s doing this or that, should I worry? It’s really unfair to both the child and the parents. We are at a disadvantage. We have no knowledge of what having an average child is like so, we have no way to determine if C has issues or not. Everything is filtered through the lens of our experience the needs of our first “quirky” child. However, there are times when the scrutiny pays off. You may catch wind of an issue before it gets out of control.

About a year ago, we decided to see if we should do the ASD assessments to see if C was also affected. At the time, the professionals didn’t feel like he qualified to be assessed but wanted to do a follow-up in a year. Recently, we went in for this follow-up. He, again, didn’t qualify for the autism assessments. However, the doctor did agree that we could use some help in figuring out his “quirks.” She had a “no duh” type comment with considering sensory processing issues and recommended an Occupational Therapy Evaluation. Due to the fact that he almost never answers direct questions, a Speech Therapy Evaluation was recommended. Now we move on to his toe-walking. He has been wearing (or at least he is supposed to be wearing) foot braces at night when he sleeps and a different pair for the daytime. These are supposed to prevent his foot from going up on his toes, and train him to walk flat-footed. He doesn’t wear them often, the nighttime ones make him too hot and the daytime ones prevent him from running, skipping and jumping, which he lives for. He still walks and stands mostly on his toes, so we are referred to a Physical Therapist who will better evaluate if the braces are enough or if we need to try serial castings, or even surgery to help him walk flat and avoid any growth development issues as he gets older. It was also recommended that we see a psychologist to get an official ADHD diagnosis and to learn about the best way to help him cope with that, as well as getting an extensive IQ test done that might help to pull out which processing functions he may be struggling with. There is suspicion that, while he is a very brilliant child, he gets frustrated and confused when trying to voice what he is thinking; which could be why he get frustrated when trying to explain something and gives up, or never wants to answer questions.

It’s almost an overwhelming amount of knowledge to take in. There is a huge ball of emotion that is now in my lap. I’m happy that we don’t have another child having to deal with ASD. Or at least I should be. I almost wish it was ASD. Then we’d have an answer that we know how to provide help for; a step down the right path. Instead, we have more questions, with only one question off the table.

It’s not Autism, but it is something.

What do we do now?

IMG_1607One of the things that has really been difficult in our house is having the older child have a myriad of special needs. I mean, I know it would be hard either way. What I’m referring to is doing all the work and research about all the issues E has (refer to my first post for a list), learning all the symptoms, all the ins and outs, then adding a second child to raise on top of that.

You start seeing signs and symptoms in all the second child’s actions. Are they in need of help too? Do they have special needs? My child hangs on me every waking moment, is that a symptom? Every decision you make is second-guessed. Every action the child takes is second-guessed. Is that a sign or did they just pick that up from watching big brother do it? It’s near impossible to tell and they sure as heck aren’t going to tell you.

From the beginning, E was different. He never slept, he was extremely fussy, he achieved milestones early, but not so early as to raise a flag. Then he was reading at age 3. From then on, my mother’s intuition would nag me. It’s like, I was proud of him, yet, when other people talked about how wonderful what E did was, or dad talked about how he read at an early age too, I felt like it just wasn’t the same thing. Still, I accepted that I had a smart son and maintained the status quo. He went to preschool, made friends in class and seemed to do just fine. Sure he had regular meltdowns at home or he could do math in his head. So what if he preferred school workbooks to toys from an early age. He was smart and just loved to learn. No biggie. “But, but…” my mind kept saying; and I kept ignoring it. I’m a worrier by nature. I over react. That’s all. He’s just super smart. Maybe he’ll go on to do great things with is life.

Kindergarten starts. Academically, he is the top student in his class but, the teacher isn’t happy with how he interacts with his peers. He always plays alone at recess. I’m thinking, “So what? Dad says he was the same way. He was a loner and didn’t really care about having tons of friends. He turned out fine.” Still… Conference after conference and it’s a problem. Finally, the school psychologist analyzes him. Our GP refers us to a specialist. He gets the ADHD diagnosis. And the downward spiral begins, so to speak.

We start figuring things out as more and more issues start manifesting. The guilt sets in for me. “I knew something wasn’t right. Why didn’t I push harder earlier? I could have helped him sooner.” I’m sure every parent goes through some sort of self-blame game. The thing is, we didn’t know. But, now we do and we are helping.

So now we move to our younger son, C. He has always seemed “average.” He played normal with toys, made friends, was very active and so on. He then goes to preschool and does great. He makes friends and get along with everyone fine. So what if he knew his alphabet before the other kids. So what if he could count so much higher than most kids his age. He’s smart too. He learned a lot from his older brother. Right?

Towards the end of his preschool experience, he starts having meltdowns at drop off. He doesn’t want to go. It’s a battle, but we get thru it and he graduates to Kindergarten. The public school does a screening process for new kids coming in. C tests out great but, he has a few “red flags” that they will watch. I don’t even know what those things are, but they didn’t seem like a big deal at the time. We take him to the autism clinic that his brother got his diagnosis from, to be assessed for any issues. Again, he tests out fine with a few ‘red flags’ but he’s too social for them to officially test him. “He’s fine.”

Now he’s in kindergarten and it’s happening again. He often complains about not feeling well. He doesn’t like how long the day of school lasts. He’s exhausted at the end of the day. We are having meltdowns all the time over the smallest things. He has started asking for tags to be cut out of more and more of his clothes or, he refuses to wear certain things because of how they feel. He is more vocal about what foods he is willing to try and gags at the smell of some (SPD flags!). He is in constant motion. He is never, ever still! He “forgets” what he did in a day at school. He struggles pushing through something he finds hard, preferring the tossing-it-aside-and-crying-about-it method (ADHD flags!). He uses his “outside” voice all the time. He knows how to read, do basic addition/subtraction and even some multiplication, but he doesn’t want us to know that he knows how to do these things.

There is no longer a psychologist at the school. The teacher thinks he’s just an emotionally sensitive kid who may need a bit more time to develop in some areas but, academically he’s fine. So, do we push and fight to “pin a diagnosis” on him? Or do we let things ride a while longer and see how he does? What if he really does have special needs and we don’t help him right away? What if, what if what if…?

What do we do now?

%d bloggers like this: