NEEDED: Space

Previous winter breaks for our little family have been pretty stressful. The change in routine upsets the natural order of our schedules and since it is different, it is to be challenged by J. It’s basically an extended weekend by 14 days but with way more places to go, people to see and things to do. It has more sensory input than any other time of the year. So more behavioral issues, sleep pattern changes and mood fluctuations are to be expected and not to be held against someone with autism, our J.

But this winter break, our J has really shown us how much he has grown in the past year, figuratively but also literally. It may have been more noticeable this year because unlike previous years our winter break was less stressful and more home bound than ever before. J showed us that he has truly become comfortable in his own skin. His personality has been more prevalent than ever before. He’s truly grown into his 8 year old self.

How? He’s been wanting his own space, no more needed or wanted attention from Mom & Dad, unless at his request. He prefers to sit on the couch by himself or at the kitchen table with no company, even escaping to his bedroom when he wants self isolation. All in order to read his books in peace. From one book nerd to another I completely understand.

But for an 8 year old it sounds lonely, doesn’t it?

It definitely took us by surprise when it first started happening. At the beginning of winter break there were days that were a little to quiet as he requested his own space. As the break proceeded there were days that I was going to his bedroom every 15-20 minutes to check on him. Days that Lance was doing every goofy thing he could think of to bring him out of his room. Days that we’d turn music on or keep the TV on with Parks & Recreation to entice him to stay downstairs with us. And it might be just another phase but if not, that’s okay. Like I said before he is growing up and he’s not likely to stop doing that anytime soon, both figuratively and literally.

Luckily we’ll all be getting back to our routine in a day. We’re excited for Jax to have all his daily interactions again with his peers and school support team. We’re looking forward to hopefully having our regular interactions in the afternoon without him escaping to his bedroom. It might start off rough and take some time but again this is a change to the routine he has had for the last 2 weeks.

Change is big for those with autism and needs to be supported & understood, not discouraged or discredited. It’s not a negative reflection on you as a parent when unforeseen personality changes take place with your child. It is a reflection on you as a parent with how you deal & handle it.

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So Beautiful.

I love watching J, whether it’s reading his books or watching his movies. How his face changes so dramatically while he looks, watches, ponders and analyzes what he is seeing. It’s his eyebrows, his mouth along with his eyes that carry all of his emotions so fantastically.

His eyebrows when they are all crunched up or in high arches for what he is pondering or getting excited about. His mouth with a smile or a large O for what is bringing him happiness or from the not knowing what is about to happen. And then there are his eyes that crinkle with myth and laughter which also makes his cheeks go quite round with happiness or when they fill with tears from a mistreatment or injustice that is being done to one of his beloved characters.

His face is truly his communication device; happiness, amusement, excitement, indifference, sadness, tiredness, despair and anger all reside so easily and true without complication on his little face.

There’s also other communication triggers to watch with J that show his emotions so readily. The flapping of his hands, the shaking of his head, the wiggling of his toes or the sprinting from the room because his anxiety about what he is soon to see for the hundredth time gets to the better of him.

There’s also the reaching for our hand to hold, the covering of his eyes or the request for a gentle head squeeze to help him regulate his emotions that may have become too much.

It has taken us years to understand how J’s emotions show themselves and even though we have learned a lot, there is still so much we are learning every day about how he sees the world around him, how he then interprets it, and then how he displays these feelings.

Watching J is a very fun hobby of mine, something that will never get old. My absolute favorite emotion, which no human being should never not be able to smile at, is J’s simple head thrown back belly laughter. It is absolutely contiguous and so beautiful.

Santa?

It’s not that I don’t believe in Santa, I do with my whole heart. I love Santa and what he represents; the spirit of the Christmas season, the joy that comes to the faces of both little kids & big kids, and all the excitement that is to be had for the jolly old man. Yet for our little family, we are on quite a different path of celebrating Santa than most.

J has never been excited for Santa or for him to come Christmas Eve. I’m not even sure he truly understands the concept of the Christmas season, let alone Santa. To him it’s just another day of getting up, getting ready, eating his pop tart & drinking his chocolate milk while watching PBS kids.

J has never wanted to sit on Santa’s lap. He’s never wanted to visit him or to tell him what he really wants for the big day. It’s rather a screaming fit if we go anywhere near the white bearded man.

J has never wanted to write a letter to Santa or has even asked us to help him do so. No North Pole letters coming from our home. No letters explaining how he’s been good or a list of what toys or books he wants this year.

In fact, J has never been able to show or tell us what he’d like for Christmas, or even his birthday (which is also this month). He’s unable to communicate his desires for gifts and again, I’m pretty sure he doesn’t understand the point of presents. It has taken him years to be okay with unwrapping a gift and even now he can only partake so long due to sensory issues. It’s gift bags for us. All I really want is to find that one gift , just one, that when J sees it his faces lights up with excitement. Maybe this will be the year.

So all of this Santa business isn’t J’s cup of tea and even though our Christmas traditions are nowhere close to what we experienced growing up, we’ve tried to make the holiday season special just for us. It hasn’t been easy, but we focus on the aspects J does enjoy instead of the ones he doesn’t. The Muppets Christmas Carol movie is a staple in our household, walking through all the Menards Christmas decorations multiple times on our visits is a must, and enjoying the heck out of our new Christmas Santa clock tower that lights up and plays music is a daily if not hourly occurrence (thank gosh is has an off switch!).

Though we don’t celebrate Santa as I enjoyed doing growing up, our ways of celebrating are just as important & special.

Behaviors, Expectations & Pineapple???

It’s the most wonderful time of the year…Maybe not so much when you’re an autism parent and even more so when you’re an individual on the spectrum.

I’ve noticed the hardships with J a little earlier than normal this year. It started prior to Halloween; aggressive behavior, standoffishness (my new word), needing his iPad like a crutch for self regulation & in social situations, and aloofness. It’s not to say we haven’t had any good or joyous moments, but the others have become more prevalent lately.

Though it’s hard, the best thing we can do is give him his space when able, let him work through his behaviors & emotions without hovering, monitor/control his iPad usage, and just let him be (which includes J voluntarily going to his room for quiet time to look at his books and stem – flap, bounce, and visualize as needed).

Our not so little boy is growing up and some of this behaviors are to be expected as he comes into his own. However, it’s hard when he can’t verbalize any of these emotions to us; to me as I’m the one he seems to be most upset with all the time. I do take it as best as I can and most of the time I’m able to cover the hole in my heart from his behavior directed primarily at me. Yet there can be difficult times and days where I find it hard to smile through the pain and have to focus only on intentional discipline (because a time out when Lance isn’t around is a no go as there’s no way I can get J to his room alone) with a side of distraction and a heavy dose of positive reinforcement.

I’m nervous how things may go in the weeks to come. Will these behaviors stay steady or get worse? Will his attitude jump off a cliff or will regression happen as all the activities, emotions and changes that come with the holiday seasons get into full swing?

Our consistent reminder is to keep J’s schedule (that we can control) as normal as possible which includes meals, iPad time and sleep. We’ve noticed over the past year how much this helps. We also have to remember, though this may be hard on family & friends and hard for Lance & I, that we can’t always participate like everyone else. Mainly, we can’t stay as long as you would like us to (or as long we we want to) because we need to do what is right & best for J and our little family, which is realizing when it’s time to leave. I can understand how expectations are neglected by these actions, trust me I get it, but it’s all for the best for our family’s well-being.

Being a parent of an autistic child, my own expectations have had to be thrown out many times. Though I still have small ones, they are not so big in scope anymore as J’s behaviors and attitude very much depend on how things will go. I know some will say “that’s how it is for all parents”, but it’s just not when you have an autistic child. It’s very much like comparing kiwi to pineapples. Kiwi is soft, fuzzy and sweet whereas pineapple is hard (to get past the surface), pokey (have to be careful when handling), and can have a bite to it before turning sweet. I’ve just realized through this analogy that J is very much like a pineapple.

So as the weeks progress and the holidays (with all their expectations) come nearer, I will take it one day at a time. I will remember that a bad moment doesn’t make it a bad day and a bad day doesn’t make it a bad life. I’ll remember it’s okay to give J his own space and have my own as well. I’ll remember to store those precious moments of laughter, giggles, smiles, cuddles, hand holding and hugs away for those times that can become too much and that those good times are just being hidden away but will come again.

Now wish me luck as I go try to hug my pineapple.

Stimulation & Autism

My sister reached out to me about the GREAT video below (click the link to watch). She said that after watching it she came to understand what Lance & I meant when we state that J is overstimulated. It’s not just about what has physically transpired during the day, but for J it includes all the lights, sounds, smells, people, and places. It’s a whole different universe for J compared to us mere mortals.

If one truly thinks about all the noises they hear throughout the day, they are all sensory simulates and often times a sensory overload for a person with autism. It’s quite easy for a neuro-typical (NT) person to process all these sounds without a blink. But a person with autism processes differently; separating all the sounds out (some sounds may be more acute than others), and some sounds also turn into visual input that need to be sorted through too. This is how some autistic minds operate. It isn’t something to look down on, critique or shy away from; it is something to understand and realize that this autistic person is trying to process our overly complex world.

The worst for those with autism is that most of their struggle is internalized until they can’t process anymore and a meltdown occurs. This is because more often than not, autistic individuals (especially when they are younger and sometimes into adulthood), are unable to express themselves when an abundance of stimulates occur.

I’m not an expert, but I am an expert on our son and his basic functions & feelings. I know when the shit is going to hit the fan, I can usually feel it in my gut. I know when it’s time to call it quits and go home (though I may not personally want to just yet). I know when a meltdown can’t be managed or redirected and physical strength and restraint is used to ensure no one gets hurt.

Over stimulation is is something we have to think about daily with our J. It plays a factor into what we can expect from him, how we monitor his wants & needs and how we analyze his behavior. A busy day at school can lead our boy to be overstimulated whereas a lazy Sunday at home may produce an anxious “let’s go let’s go” boy. We constantly assess his mood and that is why Lance & I always ask each other how J’s day was or how he was with each other. To be in the know helps us and more importantly helps our J.

https://youtu.be/Lr4_dOorquQ

What A Night!

We went to our first Autism Action Partnership event last night, an evening at the zoo. I was so excited to take J for several different reasons that other autism/special needs parents can definitely relate to. All of my excitement was well-placed as we had such a good time.

J was able to run amok if he so chose to. It wasn’t crowded at all and we really got to enjoy our time together without worrying about everything and everyone around us. It not being crowded also truly helped J not have any of the negative effects of over stimulation that usually occur with a day at the zoo from all the people and the noises. The quietness really helped him stay calm and focused versus an assault of elements that can and usually do overcome him during a typical zoo visit.

J was able to look at the things he wanted to for as long as he liked; whether it was the fish and stingray in the aquarium tunnel or the high ceiling and speakers in the dessert dome. There was no feeling of being pushed along by the crowd or being bumped into time and time again to allow J to enjoy what he wanted. We got to flow along with his agenda without interference.

J was able to be himself completely. He flapped, he screeched and yelped a few times, he pointed constantly at everything he was excited about sharing with us, he dictated where we went in the exhibits even if it was to something we had already seen twice. We were able to be and just hang out, soaking it all in.

Being there with other autism families was the best, there was no staring when J flapped or when he let out a high pitched yelp because of how excited he was. There were no looks of distaste or criticism for parents with kiddos having meltdowns or sensory issues. There were lots of smiles, and laughter, and looks of understanding between all the families there, an enjoyable time for all.

One of the things I noticed was the way parents talked to their kiddos. I could definitely tell I was around other autism parents. The slow, patient and soft voices of parents engaging, instructing and coaxing their child or children to see all that the zoo was offering was by far the biggest difference from a normal zoo day.

It was such a great experience, even for only the hour and a half we were there. J signed home and we were able to casually make an exit with no meltdowns of our own. Just a few backwards glances by J longing to go back already. I can’t wait to go back too.

Love My Tribe

I always thought since becoming an autism parent, my tribe would consist of other parents who face the same struggles and challenges, ups and downs, successes and failures like I do. I was wrong. I thought in this tribe we’d have this understanding of acceptance, a feeling of camaraderie between us. I thought they would be the people I would go to for all my trials and joys with J and his autism. I was wrong. After 7 years (5 of those being a autism parent), I have found my tribe. First, I have to acknowledge J’s school team as part of our tribe. They have been great from the start, continue to support, embrace and encourage J everyday at school which in turn carries over to home. We are lucky that there is a trusting revolving door between us where information, assistance, questions and answers live. These loving individuals get it, as much as a non-autism parent who is helping raise our son can. Then there are those in our lives that aren’t part of an official autism group, but they are part of our group and thus for J. These friends don’t have an autistic child, a few have experience with autism but not with a it-resides-in-my-home experience BUT that doesn’t disqualify their understanding and ALL these friends may not exactly get what we go though in our autism world, but not knowing hasn’t stopped them from showing their support, reaching out to us, interacting & getting to know J and wanting to spend time with our family for who and what it is. So yeah, I don’t have what I thought I would have as an autism parent concerning a distinct support group related to our reality. But what I do have is a great group of friends that I wouldn’t change for anything. I so look forward to seeing these people, they have become family. We share hobbies and interests, keep in touch, see each other as often as we can, plan dinners, play games, share books & wine, and always have a good time.I hope I’m not jinxing it all. ❤️I always thought it would have to be other autism parents that were my main tribe, and even though that could be someday, right now it’s our friends with kind and gentle souls, who celebrate in big ways being different rather than looking down on it, who celebrate J with us and our life. I’m grateful that in return they have chosen us as friends and we get to celebrate their lives with them too!