Memory of a Meltdown

14 06 2016

Parenting-Quotes

One thing that may sometimes be forgotten is how having a child with any sort of special needs affects a relationship. Having a child, in general, affects a relationship, but it seems that having a child with unique needs exponentially affects how you deal with a co-parent. Because I handle things differently than my husband, I sometimes feel totally alone. I feel like his approach to discipline is different than mine, and while neither are right or wrong, our general philosophies and/or personalities make it difficult to meet halfway. My husband and I were crazy in love when we first met, and we continue to be crazy in love. But oddly, that crazy-love makes it even harder on the days when I feel alone because he’s the person for me, and we are not sharing experiences in the same way that we usually do.

Last fall we had a pretty big situation. With the new school year starting– a recent move, a new school (middle school on top of that), and the fact that he chose to join cross country and football at the same time, Cameron was beyond overwhelmed. I knew something wasn’t right when he was acting so calm all week during his very first week week of middle school. He seemed so… happy. I mean, he’s a happy kid, but transitions typically lead to supersonic booms; it was eerily quiet and calm. So when he had an emotional meltdown mid-week, I wasn’t at all surprised. However, as I’ve stated before, this was not something found in any sort of parenting handbook (and I’ve read a library shelf full of parenting books); this was fly by the seat of your pants parenting. I’m not sure I did the best thing, but I felt so stuck that I didn’t know what else to do…

When Cameron signed up for football, we explained how hard it was going to be. Cameron becomes mysteriously “injured” or “sick” or “exhausted” whenever anything other than what he wants to do is asked of him. Knowing of his “ailments,” we told him from the start that he would go to football even when he was tired or didn’t want to you. We warned him and warned him, but, per the norm, our warnings went unnoticed. I knew right when he arrived off the bus that day, saying the coaches were mean and swore at him, that we were about to enter a “Sam I Am” situation. You know, will you try them on a boat? Try them with a fox? Try them in the rain? Sam I Am is persistent! Cameron is usually not persistent in completing tasks, but that kid can argue himself out of something or us into something like nobody’s business. He’s relentless. And it is exhausting! I was already preparing my counter-argument to stand strong against “Cameron I Am.” Just as predicted, next he said his ankle hurt, which he had sprained a couple of weeks before. By the way, as of posting this, 10 months after his initial ankle injury, our precious hypochondriac is still milking that ankle injury for moments when he needs an extra boost of attention or rest. After the ankle excuse failed, Cameron said that he was so tired and had a headache and stomach ache. He was full of excuses, which is classic Cameron. I’m always trying to think about future careers for him, and I’ve yet to find one where “excuse-making” is a prerequisite; maybe he has a future in politics? All of his excuses bounced off of my excuse-rejecting armour, as I told him to get his stuff and get in the car.  Cameron’s next line of defense was the ever-popular tears. They started about 10 minutes before we had to leave. Tears turned into sobs, but I stayed strong and made him get in the car. I was proud of how I spoke in my best Mr. Roger’s voice about how stress often comes out in tears, how difficult I knew the week had been for him, how it’s okay to cry about things like this, that even adults get to this point, but we all have to suck it up do what we have to do and then come back and cry it out some more. I even explained how exercising at football practice would probably help his stress. He seemed to be listening, until his sobs became even bigger and more dramatic.

Cameron has been dramatic literally since birth, prompting us to call him “Cameron Dramatacus” early on in his life. Obviously, we now know why he seemed dramatic as an infant , given all of his sensory, attention, and processing struggles, but even putting that aside, Cameron was, and continues to be, a drama-king. This makes it difficult for me to know when he’s just over-dramatizing or truly, truly feeling something. Also, I don’t know at which point to let him not do something he committed to because he truly is overwhelmed; sometimes, in fact most times, he acts overwhelmed only to be “forced” into something that he thoroughly and genuinely enjoys. Just weeks or less before this, I had forced him to go to the dog park when he was crying because he didn’t want to go. He ended up loving it and asking if we could go every week. Due to the fact that I do not possess a sixth sense for reading the brain of my pre-adolescent son, I never know what’s real. This makes appropriate parenting an extremely difficult task no matter how many parenting books I continue to read! In this situation, I went with the odds, which were that he was overdoing his drama. Again. I made him go.

I told him that he needed to go and talk to his coach is about his stress and how he feels. At that point, if he and the coaches decided it would be okay for him to miss, that would be fine. But he needed to be his own advocate; it was not my responsibility. We pulled into the parking lot, and he refused to get out of the car. I went to the field where the kids were practicing and left him in the car, thinking that the car is hot, and he would be joining me shortly. He didn’t come. I waited for about 20 minutes at the side of the field, until I walked back to the car and got a phone call from my husband, Jon. Jon talked to him and told him he needed to go. Cameron didn’t move. So here’s where all I’d learned from the myriad of parenting books just exited my brain and freely floated into the universe. Because at this point, I literally drug him out of the car by his football pads–even though he is significantly stronger than me–and explained to him again that if he didn’t go to practice, he still needed to talk to his coaches about what’s going on. I reminded Cameron that I’d already talked to his coaches about his processing issues and that they were very nice about it. I’ve always tried to teach Cameron that he needs to tell people himself, though, because in the end it is him that will need to advocate for his needs, not anyone else. At this point, Cameron was out of the car and following me like a sad sloth (if there is such a thing– I feel like sloths are perpetually happy animals) while I walked up ahead of him. I gestured to a coach and asked if I could talk to him. “Me?” he asked. “Anyone,” I replied. Then I rambled while holding back my own tears, “Cameron wouldn’t get out of the car he’s upset he’s overwhelmed maybe you heard he has some sensory and processing issues I just don’t know what to do so would you talk to him?!?!?!” It should be noted that at this point in the catastrophic event, I was so overwhelmed myself, that I, the captain of the Manners Police, didn’t even say “please” or any other nicety. I was borderline rude.

The mild-mannered coach sat next to Cameron and asked him what was going on. He spoke to him for quite awhile, sharing that his own son has issues, and that his family has not moved even though they’ve wanted to, because he knew his son couldn’t handle it. He shared that his other son has ADHD and that he learned after 15 years that yelling does not work [insert sad trumpet sound]. He said he knows that parents push their kids, and they should–when it comes grades–but not when it comes to football. At this point, I felt pretty much awful. I yelled AND I was pushing him to go to football! However, I truly didn’t even want him in football, so I was definitely not pushing him to participate in football; I was just trying to get him to follow-through with the commitment he made. I still don’t know when that line of pushing or letting him decide what happens should start and when it should stop. In the end, that coach was amazing. He told Cameron that Cameron’s number one concern should be his happiness, followed by grades, then followed by football, if that’s what Cameron thinks should come next. He told Cameron to take a break– that it’s not that big of a deal, and that it’s okay, and that the coaches won’t be mad at him if he misses a couple of practices because he is feeling so overwhelmed.

In the midst of all of this I realized that I was going to be over an hour late for dinner with a friend. I only realized this because she called me after I was 20 minutes late, making me feel even worse about all that was going on. Then I realized that I had forgotten about dinner for a very good reason, and that was that Cameron needed me there in those moments even if I wasn’t doing the best parenting job in the world. I was still present for him and not preoccupied with the fact that I was late for dinner.

When we got home, Jon was clearly unhappy that Cameron did not stay at practice. The whole night was basically destroyed for the family, as Jon was infuriated while I escaped to dinner with my friend–which I think was probably the best option for us all at that point. It didn’t occur to me until I got home that Jon had been dealing with the aftermath of this on his own. However, while I was unhappy about the meltdown, Jon was unhappy that Cameron didn’t go to football practice. I was also worried about the choice that we had made to move our kids– at that point I was very much doubting whether or not the move was the right choice, even though Cameron hadn’t had a lot going on for him at the old school, where he was frequently bullied and came home crying. I was also just feeling really sorry for Cameron and for my reaction to him when he really needed me to be more understanding. However at that point, Jon was focused on how Cameron spent the rest of that evening walking around “smugly” because he got what he wanted and his coach agreed with him. I didn’t see that because I wasn’t there. Our differences in opinions and perspectives left me feeling like I couldn’t talk to my partner about the most significant situation that had happened in our family– the move and its effects on our children. My frustrations were exacerbating Jon’s frustrations, leaving him to think that I was angry with him when I wasn’t.  The fact of the matter was that this was a big move for all of us, and my emotions about the move–whether or not I thought it was a good move or not– were directly related to my children’s emotions. Because they were having a bad week, I had guilt about it. I can now say this was a good move for our family, but it’s been nearly a year now.

It’s almost football season again. Upon reflection of this awful day, Cameron has decided not to join football this year. He wants to be in cross country too, and he was too overwhelmed when he did both. He liked the football games, where he rarely played, but didn’t really like the practices. It’s a lot of work and he recognizes that he doesn’t want to do it. Whew! We think he’s more of an individual sport kid anyway, although there are other team sports he’d like to try. While this could have been handled better, and while it put strain on the relationships in our family, the positive outcome is that Cameron is able to recognize his needs and make a decision based on them, even when I couldn’t. Cameron I Am persists!

Blog Hop Pic

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!





Confessions of a Mom Who Signed Her Son Up for Football (Don’t Bother Judging Me, I’m Already Judging Myself)

5 10 2015
The football obsession started before his first game in 2011.

The football obsession started before his first game in 2011.

Please allow me to explain myself. Perhaps I’m just trying to make excuses or make myself feel better, but this anti-football (until high school) mother just signed her sixth grader up for football, and I’m still a bit sick to my stomach about it. I’ve read the articles about the dangers of football and passed those articles to my son to read. So why did I do let him play this year when I’ve told him no for the past two years? Honestly, his Nonverbal Learning Disability (NLD), with the Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) and ADHD sprinkled in is why.

This summer, we moved from a place where Cameron knew to a place he doesn’t. He started middle school this school year with not one soul he knows. He does not do well with change, so I thought he’d be the one struggling most with the move, but it turns out his seven-year-old sister was the one crying like I’ve never heard her the night we said good-bye to our house. I should add that we moved only 20 minutes away from our old house, so the kids still go to visit the old neighborhood, sometimes as often as once weekly. I should also add that Cameron’s best and maybe only true friend also moved away from the last district, so Cameron was going to have few solid connections with friends he could trust at his old school.

After the move, Cameron seemed to transition well, although he told me that while he may look fine, he feels like crawling into a ball and screaming most of the time. And he did have some rough days a couple of weeks after the move where he was relentlessly mean to and critical of his sister. He made us promise to never move again, partially because it’s been difficult and partially because he says he loves the new house and he’s happier than he’s ever been. We moved from a tri-level with a one-car garage and close neighbors to a two-story colonial in a small neighborhood with big wooded lots situated in the middle of a country field, and he loves the space. He loves having room to move and run and play. He has even met another kid in the neighborhood and they seem to get along well.

So I signed him up for football because of all of this. I didn’t realize until after I’d done it that this town is hugely into football. This made me very nervous since subcultures freak me out, and I think some parents with kids in sports are dangerously close to a subculture. But I signed him up so he wouldn’t go into his first day blind; he may actually know some kids when he starts school. I signed him up because I know how he struggles with social situations and I want to arm him with everything I can to help him fit in a little. I signed him up because we actually missed the deadline by a lot and he cried and said he knew kids who play sports are more popular and that might help him. I signed him up because someone from the team called us to let us know he could still join even though we were way past the deadline (like by months), and the 3% chance I told Cameron he had to play actually happened. I signed him up because a mom once said to me that her sensory-seeking fifth grader was joining because it was actually a place that he could run into things without being told not to. I don’t have to tell Cameron to keep his hands to himself in football. I signed him up because he is football-obsessed and has wanted to join for years. And maybe the kids on the team will accept him for who he is and maybe even become his friends—even if only one does, it’s a win for our family.

His first week of football, I made a decision. Last year he played flag football and the coaches were really hard on him. They expected him to read a map of plays off his wrist, which works for most kids but not for someone with processing issues. He didn’t know where to go until he actually ran the plays several times, and then he was actually pretty good. The coaches didn’t know how to work with him though, so they were frustrated, as was Cameron. It was painful to watch. This year I made a choice to tell the coaches about how he learns best. When the opportunity arose, I explained his processing issues and that he will learn the plays but may take longer than other kids. I explained that what he has is a “cousin” to Asperger’s and may have actually been diagnosed as such depending on the psychologist. The coach’s eye lit up at this and I felt like I struck a chord. I know that NLD is not Asperger’s but when it comes to explaining it to people who don’t know, it’s easier to say it’s a cousin to it than trying to list all of the things that NLD means to our family. People know Asperger’s; they’ve usually never heard of NLD.

Because Cameron was late to start, he wasn’t allowed to do any contact for his first five practices, which is the norm. This put him right up to the first scrimmage. He forgot to tell us that he had to be there at 7:15 for his 8:00 am game, so we rushed him out the door in 15 minutes immediately after he woke up. Even at 7:15 we were sweating in the sun, watching our recently-awakened son stare into space as the team ran through plays he didn’t know because he hadn’t received the playbook via email because, again, we were so late to sign him up. My husband, Jon, grew frustrated watching Cameron stare at the other teams, the trees, the sky, anywhere except where he should be, so when it was Cameron’s turn to practice a play, Jon actually had to walk away. We heard how the coaches were yelling at the boys for not doing what they were supposed to, and we were prepared for that to happen to Cameron. Natural consequence. Then a miracle happened. When Cameron was up, the coach went to him, looked at him, told him exactly what to do, and said he’d stay there with him while he ran through the play. Cameron caught the ball and had to be reminded what to do next, but was rewarded with “knucks” and a pat on the back from his coach. I cried. I mean not just tears welling up in my eyes, but straight up crying. Who knew such a simple act could conjure up so much emotion? Those little things count so much when you have a child with challenges in any way.

At the first opportunity I had, I thanked the coach and told him how much it meant to me. This is the part that gets a bit hairy… He said he knows Cameron has Asperger’s so he’s going to learn it differently than other kids and some kids don’t respond to his intensity so he is able to bring it down for them. I did not correct him. Literally as I write this, my son is at football practice where they think he has Asperger’s because of me! I didn’t write that on the form I filled out, I wrote NLD, ADHD, SPD. But I’m assuming they didn’t read that. Does this mean I have Munchausen by proxy?

I knew I’d read somewhere that Asperger’s are NLD are interchangeable, so here’s what I found on “NLD on the Web”

(http://www.nldontheweb.org/nldadvancedreading/aspergersdisordernld.html)

       “There is clearly a great deal of overlap between Aspergers Disorder (AD) and Nonverbal Learning Disabilities (NVLD), so much so that it is possible that the symptoms of each describe the same group of children from different perspectives—AD from either a psychiatric/behavioral perspective, and NVLD a neuropsychological perspective. The specific conventions of these diagnoses may lead to a somewhat different group of children meeting diagnostic criteria, but it is not clear that this reflects something ‘true’ in nature. That is, it may only be convention that separates these two groups.”

So that means I’m in the clear, right? It is important to me that he Cameron is accurately “labeled,” but maybe here it doesn’t matter because it’s semantics. Whatever I said to the coaches, they’re seeing it in Cameron and they are helping him grow because of what I pointed out to them.

I should add that the other parents are not a subculture, but rather they sat with their bags of food and sun umbrellas for four hours in the 90 degree heat and watched their sons without saying too much. That made me feel better too. I am so hopeful that the move we made will be a positive one for both of our kids. It was the most emotionally draining, physically exhausting summer ever, which may explain why I had influenza as I wrote this post. So far, uprooting our family seems like a step in the right direction, but it’s too early to know for sure. Cautious optimism…





Patience– Easier Said Than Done

21 07 2015

patience quote

According to WebMD, “Executive function is a set of mental skills that help you get things done. Executive function helps you: manage time, pay attention, switch focus, plan and organize, remember details, avoid saying or doing the wrong thing, [and] do things based on your experience.”

Now bear with me for a paragraph. I have five parenting “guidelines,” if you will, that I feel may be key to helping a child persevere into becoming a productive member of society. In no particular order, they are: 1. Family, 2. Travel, 3. Spirituality, 4. School Involvement, 5. Volunteerism. While I did make these up, and I may have them in my mind, as a family we are not always all that great at following through with them. I am genuinely hoping that this doesn’t mean I’m raising future cat burglars or worse. With that said, I think we’ve got the family and travel guidelines down, and do pretty well with spirituality and school involvement most of the time. We have lacked in our volunteerism. Have we volunteered? Yes. Cameron has worked with us at a church to serve a community meal to anyone who needs it. We’ve raised money for family members in need by organizing a rummage sale at our church and have donated items to Goodwill, the animal shelter, the food pantry, a women’s shelter, and more. So yes, we do okay, but it’s not very consistent. I have been working hard to try to get our kids more involved with helping the community and an opportunity arose one weekend, so I took it.

A mass email was sent out at work, looking for people to help at a local food pantry, just to check expiration dates and sort food. I asked if my seven and 10 year-old would be able to help and was told that the 10 year-old should be able to sort food without a problem, but they don’t want anyone to get hurt since it’s in a warehouse. I heeded the caution and took the kids. Sorting food? No problem! Sorting is a skill my kids have! Their rooms may not look like it, but I have seen them sort socks, sports cards, and Pokemon cards, not to mention the fact that they have recently become interested in finding food expiration dates. This would be an easy way to help the community!

We arrived in good spirits after a great car sing-along. As we pulled into the parking lot, there was an open garage door with the sorters working diligently and very quietly. I mention this “quiet” thing because my kids are anything but quiet, and there was an unexplainably awkward and silent vibe in the room. We were met with stares and silence as we approached the sorting box. I knew only a couple of the people there, but that wasn’t a problem. Someone quickly explained the task and we dove in with little direction, as the task was pretty simple: Take cans out of the giant box in the middle, check the expiration dates, walk to put them in the appropriate boxes surrounding the giant box– corn with corn, Spam with meat, etc. We got to work.

If you’ve ever worked in a restaurant or even with other people in your own kitchen, you know that there is a flow to the movement. You are always moving, as are the people around you, and you are aware of where they are as to not get in their way. Yes, there are always mishaps, but you apologize and quickly keep moving. This was the way the dozen or so people were moving from box to box, quickly and quietly like drones set to do work for the people.

Grab a can, check the date, walk to a box without running into other people. Easy, right? Umm. No… Not so simple for someone without executive functioning skills… It quickly became clear that this did not come naturally for Cameron—he was the Goldilocks of food sorting.  First, he was too fast, checking dates while turning and moving and never stopping to see who or what was around him. He ran into person after person, barely noticing when he pinballed off of them, leading me to offer constant direction and reminders while navigating the warehouse for myself as well. Next, he was taking his sweet time because he kept looking for specific foods that were not easy to find. He sat at the edge of the box, arms dangling in, pushing cans aside while looking for whatever particular unpopular item he wanted in that moment. I offered to help him—he finds the food and I put it away or I find one particular food and give it to him to run back and forth. He did not want this. It had to be his way, and he was soon making it clear that he was unhappy by whining about being thirsty, tired, because he didn’t like it, etc. I felt as if I needed to do double work to make up for the fact that Cameron was more than likely slowing down the operation. We took a break while they brought another box of food for us to unload. Cameron complained loudly enough for everyone to hear, while I tried to explain that this wasn’t something for him, but that we were helping other people.

We stayed for the second box, with Cameron still unloading it absent-mindedly with no attention to others—even those standing directly behind him. An added bonus during the second box, however, was the extra dose of arguing. Cameron’s sister, Amelia, said she wanted to find all of the tuna in the box (which was an easy-to-find item), and other people heard her so they’d hand her the tuna they found as well. Naturally, Cameron decided that he, too, was going to find the cans of tuna and make sure Amelia knew every time so she’d say, “No Cameron! I want to find the tuna!” I’m pretty sure I have the only kids in the world who can argue about cans of food to sort—tuna cans.  Really?

After the second box was empty, I quietly gathered my kids, walked to the car, and imagined the change in energy and flow in the warehouse after my cherubim were gone. Was this a total disaster? No. Was it embarrassing? Slightly. Was it a learning experience? Definitely. This was very hard for Cameron.

What I’ve come to understand more recently is that whatever label Cameron has–ADHD, SPD, NLD– his main “disability” is in his executive functioning skills. Things that I don’t recall being “taught” to me have to be explicitly taught to him. Case in point, this same weekend, I was encouraging him to do the dishes, which is another entire set of difficulties. There’s the sensory issues that cause him to be disgusted with touching food from the plates, in addition to the fact that I literally had to walk him through every step of the dishwashing process, down to the hand he uses to hold the plate and the hand he uses to hold the scrubber. I thought I was being pretty patient walking him through a task for 15 minutes that would have taken me five minutes or less. Apparently, however, I didn’t sound as patient as I thought because he said, “I hope when I’m a grown-up, I don’t have a kid like me.” Heart. Broken. Seriously, I think a tear just snuck out of my eye as I wrote that.

I am not a sugar-coater (unless there’s something that literally is better coated in sugar, then I’ll sugar that sh*# up like crazy), so what I’m about to say may not be pretty, but it is the truth… It is hard to have a kid like him, and he knows it. But I would never, ever change who he is. Also, I don’t think it’s “easy” to be a parent to any child. Every child has his or her own struggles and it’s their parents’ jobs to help deal with those struggles. Everyone has their stuff… it’s what makes us who we are.

As this kid’s mom, I know that there is nothing I can do to “fix” his executive functioning skills, but I can help him excel at things I know he can do and walk him slowly through the things that are difficult so they become more routine. More than anything, I need patience. I need to not expect him to do difficult tasks when we’re in a hurry. I need to realize that if I want him to learn to do certain things, it’s going to take many more times for him than it took for me to learn, and I need to provide him with that time. I need to build up his self-esteem like crazy whenever I can, because he knows about his struggles and they make him feel different.

I hope Cameron does have a kid like Cameron when he’s a grown-up because who better to understand what it’s like to have this particular set of struggles than someone who’s gone through it? Even more than that, I hope Cameron has a child like him because any parent would be lucky have a child as sweet, caring, smart, and generous as Cameron.

Blog Hop Pic

 

Welcome to the Sensory Blog Hop — a monthly gathering of posts from sensory bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Jenny Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about what it’s like to have Sensory Processing Disorder and to raise a sensory kiddo! Want to join in on next month’s Sensory Blog Hop? Click here!





Abe, Temple, Jekyll, & Hyde

11 11 2014

lincoln quote

Cameron loves history. Abraham Lincoln is his hero. When he told me he thought he has Asperger’s (after hearing a general explanation of what it is), I asked what his special interest would be. “Abraham Lincoln!” he replied with certainty. But his love of history spans beyond Abe Lincoln. He also loves reading about World War II, the Civil War, J.F.K, and any other nonfiction he can get his hands on. This is a child who loves history so much that when presented with a Christmas gift of a choice between a trip to Springfield, Illinois to see where Lincoln lived, a train ride to Chicago with a visit to the Field Museum, or a trip to Six Flags, he chose Springfield.

Last year, Cameron needed a nonfiction book for school, so I searched on Goodreads to find that one of Temple Grandin’s books was a top choice for kids his age. I showed him a review from a mom who just happened to have a son with Asperger’s, to which Cameron said, “Oh! I almost have Asperger’s!” and asked me if I’d please buy it for him. I did. He added Temple Grandin to his obsessions by the end of the first day of reading the book.

Upon completing the book, he decided to write a letter to Temple Grandin. Here’s part of the letter:

C's Letter to Temple

 If you can’t read it, this is what it said:

Dear Temple Grandin,

My name is Cameron. I am in 4th grade and I have ADHD (and other things like non-verbal learning disorder). You are my hero. I read about you and your squeeze machine. My school has one of the models. I am bummed that I did not get to see you in Madison, WI. In fact I almost cried. That is because if I could meet any one person who has lived or died it would be you. Even make believe characters. If you ever want to meet, call, or write me my address is—. If you want to call me my phone number is —. If you want to write to me it is —.

I hope I see you Dr. Hear you soon.

Love, Cameron

I sent the letter, and was very surprised that she wrote back to him. It was a short note saying that she’s happy she inspires him, but how incredible is it that she actually wrote back?! His reaction was less than if I told him that I made his favorite dinner… not what mine would have been if my hero wrote back to me, but I know he was inwardly excited, just unable to show it outwardly (which is a weird thing with him—he is sometimes CRAZY excited about things and other times looks bored out of his mind when something exciting happens).

That takes us back to Springfield, where we went to the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Museum, Lincoln’s home, his tomb, etc. While at the museum, we saw a cool show with lights and fog and shaking seats. Cameron was underwhelmed and claimed that the fog made his throat hurt and made him feel weird. This put him in a really weird mood for the remainder of the museum. He could not get passed it, and it felt like we were dragging around a depressed noodle for the remainder of our time there.

As a parent, it makes me wonder if he is having fun, if he likes it, why he isn’t enjoying being the only kid with his parents right now, etc. But that’s the thing about a kid like him; you never know what you’re going to get. I’m certain he was having fun. I’m sure he loved the attention he was getting from us. But when something doesn’t meet, or is different than, his expectations (or in this case was a sensory trigger), his entire attitude can go from “this-is-the-best-day-ever” to “I-want-to-go-home-and-if-you-don’t-take-me-I’m-going-to-make-sure-you’re-miserable.”

When we ask Cameron his favorite part of the trip, he’ll say it was the tomb, the last place we went before heading home. The tomb was where he was walking ahead of us, barely talking, looking over-stimulated to the point where he just zoned out with no affect on his face. In fact, my memories of the tomb barely have him in them. His dad and I talked; he stayed restraining-order distance away from us. I would never have thought that was his favorite moment of the trip.

You never know. You never know what will set him off or whether or not he’s actually having fun. You never know if he’ll like grapes today, even if he liked them yesterday. Parenting Cameron is like an unpredictable roller coaster of incredible snuggles and highs and crazy self-defeating lows that make you feel like you are a complete parenting failure, perhaps even worse than Honey Boo Boo’s Mama June. The switch between these flips quickly and unexpectedly. The only thing we can do is expect that at any moment his mood could change drastically, so enjoy those highs when we have them. It takes a flexible parent to parent a rigidly unpredictable child, and honestly, sometimes I’m a Cirque du Soleil contortionist, and other times I’m as flexible as I actually am—I do yoga but can’t do a backbend.

So what can we do? We can give him space when he’s low, give him attention when he’s high, and love him and hug him during both highs and lows. We can also give ourselves a break—literally and figuratively—because being a contortionist is exhausting.





Success!

10 06 2014

 

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“Success” is obviously measured differently in every situation, especially for kids with SPD, NLD, ADHD, or whatever other label with our without a “D” you may have heard of. Some people are perfectionists and never really feel successful. Some people are constantly waiting for someone else to notice their successes because they don’t feel real unless someone else acknowledges them. I’m a little of both of these kinds of people. This makes it difficult to parent a child with the struggles that Cameron has. I take his ups and downs and my reactions to them very personally, wondering what I did to make that situation happen, what methods of behavior or diet I haven’t yet tried, what books I haven’t yet read that may help, how my tone escalated the situation, how I didn’t spend enough time with him today, how his routine changed and I should have done better at transitioning him… I make myself crazy with all the things I feel I should have, could have, or would have done differently if only (fill in the blank), making it very difficult to stop and enjoy successful moments.

My favorite parenting book, Raising Happiness by Christine Carter, Ph.D, is all about steps for happier parents and kids. The first chapter is about putting on your own oxygen mask first. That is essential for parents with kids who have any sort of challenges (and for those who don’t) because if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re not able to cope well enough to take care of anyone else. This is why I plan one date each month for just my husband and me. This is why I get together with friends as often as I do, even though the over-scheduling I do to myself makes me overwhelmed. This is why I spend more time than I should on Pinterest. This is why I occasionally go to ridiculous dance clubs and dance satirically in the style of 1990’s boy bands.  It’s all to have some semblance of who I really am when I’m not attempting conversations without arguments, making homework modifications at home that really should have been done at school, or watching my son start another argument in the neighborhood without realizing he’s the cause. Without taking care of me, I am less successful taking care of my children.

Today, though, I want to put myself first in a different way– by putting aside my own feelings of inadequacy and congratulate myself (and my husband) on the parenting successes we’ve experienced. One success we had this week was that Cameron was invited to a birthday party for a friend at school. A really nice friend! Score one for Team Cameron! Another success from this week is that he has brought home good behavior notes on his modified check-in sheet he does at school every day so far. Also, there were one or two times this week he admitted he was wrong about something, which is a HUGE success since it almost NEVER happens. Cameron had a really great sleepover with a family friend last weekend, who went on and on about how polite he was and how he was all “PSA” on the kids about why violent video games are bad.

However the biggest success of all, which literally brought my husband and I to tears, happened this weekend. We picked up a new puppy this past Sunday, so spent Saturday preparing for a puppy. We cleaned, puppy-proofed, and visited the pet store, where my husband said it was time to choose a name. You see, the naming of the puppy was a big deal in our house. A slew of names were thrown into the ring, including Frank, Fletch, Mr. Bojangles, Cricket, and Cameron’s very favorite, Klaus. Cameron really wanted a German name (because we were getting a boxer), and was obsessed with the name Klaus. He would not let it go. He told us a million times that “Klaus” was his favorite name. I really didn’t like the name “Klaus” at all and wasn’t a huge fan of most of the other names that made it into the final choices, but surrendered my favorite names and explained that Cameron needed to do the same with “Klaus.” There were tears. Several times. But he did let it go, and eventually we whittled the list down to “Felix” and “Clyde.” Cameron’s obsession moved from “Klaus” to the only other German name on the list:” Felix.” Due to the fact that I’ve not been able to make a solid decision ever (seriously… my first grade teacher even said that’s something I needed to work on), I couldn’t pick between the two names and the vote stood at Felix: 1; Clyde: 2. Naturally, “Clyde” was my daughter’s first choice, so I felt as if I was choosing a favorite child if I picked one name over the other. Eventually, though, in the middle of the pet store, I admitted that I preferred “Clyde,” which left the vote three to one, with “Felix” losing. Tears again. I looked at my husband and said, “See! This is why I can’t decide! I’m going to break one of their hearts!”

To which he responded, “Well, you put yourself in this position! If you would have just decided at the beginning, then the vote wouldn’t be left up to you!”

“You’re right!” I replied. So, we decided to flip a coin. Heads would be “Felix,” tails, “Clyde.” One toss. The coin would land on the floor. Rules needed to be established. Cameron LOVES rules. In slow motion, my husband threw the penny into the air and it landed with a loud “tink! tink! tink!” in the middle of the dog food aisle. And the name was… Felix! It wasn’t until that moment that I realized how much I didn’t want our dog to be named “Felix.” Three out of four family members were not satisfied with the name. We realized the coin-tossing was not democratic and was not the best way to make this decision, but that was that. The coin had spoken. Three defeated family members walked like Charlie Brown towards the tag engraving machine.

And then… a miracle. Cameron said, “Fine. We can name him Clyde.”

I really didn’t believe he said that, so I didn’t react until my husband said, “Did you hear that?! I am seriously almost crying right now!” and it really sunk in. Cameron COMPROMISED! Holy s*#t balls. This news was equivalent to the Berlin Wall coming down! Hugs ensued, followed by Cameron’s choice of new toy for the dog, and ice cream to celebrate the biggest success we’ve seen come from the Cameron Camp in a long time.

Were these good moments sprinkled in with not-so-good ones? Absolutely. But I am really trying to change my perspective to celebrate good moments instead of zooming in on the difficult ones. Like everything else I try, I’m sure it will pass, but I wouldn’t feel at all successful if I didn’t keep trying to make positive change by celebrating Cameron’s successes with him and without him, when I “put on my own oxygen mask” which is actually wine.

Epilogue: Our dog’s name is actually Mr. Clyde Bojangles according to me and no one else in the family. But it’s on the Internet now, so it’s true.

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Apples and Oranges

17 09 2013

Family

Don’t compare your children.  That’s what we are told, we read about it, we know we shouldn’t, but I think most of us–if not all of us–do it. I don’t compare my two kids in the way that I think one is better than the other or should be more like the other, though. On most days, I don’t have a favorite child, but due to the fact that I am a human being who naturally looks for similarities and differences between things, I’d have to be completely disengaged not to notice that my two kids are ridiculously different. In fact, it wasn’t until giving them baths one night that I realized how different they are and also how severe Cameron’s SPD is.

First up in the tub was Amelia, who was about three at the time. I was all set to wash her hair when she asked to do it herself. I squirted the shampoo in her hand, she rubbed her hands together, and she washed her hair independently, only needing some help to wash the longer hair at her shoulders. Then, I was about to wash her body, when she asked for the soap so she could do it herself. Again, I squirted soap into her hands and watched as she stood up in the slippery bathtub, with her mom holding her breath and telling her to be careful, threw her leg up onto the side of the tub, and scrubbed her legs and the rest of her body like she had been watching Zest commercials since birth and was waiting to finally emulate what she had been aspiring to do.

Next was Cameron’s turn. Cameron was about seven years old, and prior to watching Amelia, I don’t think I realized how much he could probably do on his own. I’d always encouraged him, but now I knew that if someone that much younger than him could scrub up like Mr. Bubble, then he should have at least been able to do most of it on his own, even if it wasn’t perfect. He got in and I asked him to hold out his hand so I could squirt the shampoo. He was lying flat with only his little head and monkey ears sticking out of the water. He slowly lifted his flimsy hand out of the water while keeping his body submerged. I squirted the shampoo. He turned his hand so it started to pour out. I told him to be careful not to spill it. He continued lying in the water, now with his ears covered too. “You’ll need to sit up,” I said. “What?” he asked, not considering the fact that he couldn’t hear me because his ears were covered with water. I repeated myself. “What?” I started to help him sit up, which was met with whining. “Nooo… I’m cold.” He slowly began to sit up anyway, only after trying to finagle his body in a way that he could stay in the water while washing his hair. Clearly he had troubles with that, since he had one shampoo-filled hand still held in the air—until he forgot that it had shampoo, and put his hand down into the bottom of the bathtub to help support himself, washing away what little shampoo was left on his limp hand. Taking a deep breath, I squirted shampoo into his hand again, and asked him to rub his hands together. With slow, flimsy hands, he rubbed his hands together like he was rolling a hummingbird’s egg- gently and carefully- with most of the friction happening between his fingers. “Wash your hair,” I encouraged. He took his somewhat shampoo-filled hands and he scrubbed his hair like you’d scrub a sunburn—not at all. But he totally tickled his hair lightly with his fingertips, all while wearing a grossed out look on his face comparable to someone who stuck his hand in a bucket of worms. There have been many moments in my parenting career when I’ve seen Mr. SPD staring at me in the face– this was one of them.

Not long after that little eye-opener, Amelia started to make me wait downstairs during her baths so she could surprise me by doing everything herself, down to cleaning up the bath toys and getting dressed and ready for bed. Cameron did take notice of this, and attempted more independence, as well, although to this day there is still a remarkable difference between the two.

What parent wouldn’t take notice of the huge difference between their children in this situation? As you may expect, the differences don’t stop at the ways in which they bathe; they are different in nearly every way, as well, to the point that when one of them says they like a new food, the other pretty much decides not to like it before it enters their mouth. Cameron likes Tom Petty, Bob Marley, and Dave Matthews. Amelia likes those too, with a generous dose of Katy Perry and Pink on the side (which naturally, Cameron detests). Cameron loves sports, Amelia likes them but prefers arts and crafts (which Cameron doesn’t). The more I think about it, it’s pretty obvious that Amelia wants to be like Cameron and Cameron just isn’t like Amelia, nor does he wish to be. Which is good because I don’t think it would be healthy for him to aspire to be like his kindergartener sister.

Now may be a good time for me to admit that my husband and I were not too sure that we wanted another baby after we had Cameron. Cameron was hard and we’d put in lots of work. The idea of putting in all of that work again while parenting an older child at the same time as a newborn, then toddler, was not appealing. However, as Cameron grew, we decided he needed to be brought down a notch. He (and his grandparents) thought the world revolved around him, and we knew he needed some healthy competition. Also, as he got a bit older he got a bit easier to parent and we decided to see what would happen if we threw our hats in the ring for one more go of this parenting thing. Nine months later, Amelia entered Stage Left as if literally, the world was and is her stage.

Sometimes on Cameron’s really tough nights, Amelia watches his tantrums quietly, or goes to her room on her own, or plays independently, or simply says, “I feel sorry for Cameron.” On those nights, we all work to help him be happier or less emotional or more independent. When the tough nights are over, we are thankful to Amelia because she is so good for him in so many ways. She forces him to not be as rigid—well kind of, because most of the time he’s trying to control her actions, her mannerisms, her chewing, her singing, her breathing (seriously) to be what he wants and expects it to be- but she rarely changes who she is to appease him. She adores him, she plays with him, she makes him feel important and smart, and she loves him unconditionally. The one thing that they don’t differ in opinions about is their love of each other and of our family.

So while I admittedly have times of guilt that I sometimes prefer to be around one child more than the other, I definitely do not love them any differently, and I definitely wouldn’t change who they are. I would not even change the fact that Cameron has SPD because it’s made him who he is- compassionate, tolerant, kind, and caring- and I think it’s done the exact same thing for his sister, as well. So while they may be different in so many ways, they actually do have the same amazing characteristics that make them the incredible people they are.





Wiggle Worm Triumphs Over Homework

27 09 2012

Cameron under the table, where his homework lies in wait while he works his core and cleans up the floor (something he’d never do if he wasn’t doing his homework).

I. Am. Exhausted. Physically, mentally, and emotionally, exhausted.  However, tonight I am also triumphant.  Let me explain.  As I write this I am watching Cameron “do his homework” while Amelia is babysat by the TV and dinner is waiting to be made.  I set Cameron up with a yoga ball to sit on while he does his homework, I brought home some “Reading Helpers” which look like a ruler with a colored, transparent line to use while reading to help with tracking, and I cleared the area of distractions. Now, let’s revisit that “do his homework” thing.  At this very moment, he’s actually under the table, lying with his stomach on the ball, using it to reach for a paper that fell on the floor.  The paper that fell on the floor fell because he was bouncing on the ball instead of sitting on it.  Now he’s switched to lying on his back on the ball while rocking and staring at the ceiling.  If you could hear through this post, you’d be listening to this odd high-pitched noise he randomly makes—kind of like when you stretch and make that noise that comes out of your throat because your mouth is closed. He makes those sounds while he eats, takes a bath, reads, writes… pretty much whenever he isn’t talking.  I just said to Cameron, “I don’t think that ball’s helping you.” He said, “Yeah it is.”  Now he’s kneeling on it, bouncing, and writing.  This should really help with his handwriting issues.  Or at least it will help with his core muscles.

Now he’s making an even higher-pitched noise and I’m trying not to let him see me laugh.  I laugh because if I didn’t find ways to laugh, I would cry.  A lot.  Now he’s panting, talking in that weird high-pitched voice, and adding some more weird sounds.  But he’s content.  I’m not sitting next to him to coax him to write every letter of every word.  He’s not arguing with me, or even Amelia.  It’s a precious moment of peace that I am so thankful for.  Now he’s banging his chin on his wrist while it sits on the table, making his teeth snap together like an alligator’s.  So, yeah, he may have some sensory issues.  Oh, and now I’m fortunate enough to be listening to his ever-so-popular mouth-fart noises.

But, guess what?  He just finished his homework!  No tears.  We had a couple of close calls when I made him fix his mistakes, but I had warned him that I’d correct his work, and it seemed to help.  Yes, there was a bunch of fidgeting on the ball, but I am willing to accept the fidgeting, noises, and chicken scratch for a finished assignment in less than an hour.

How did I do it, you ask?  Well, not only can this mom throw impromptu dance parties in the living room, help with intricate Lego building, read with funny voices, and make Halloween costumes out of nearly anything in the house; that’s right, for my next trick, I will predict the mood and melt-downs of the SPD monster inside of my child and avoid them with pre-planning.  Yes, I beat him to the punch today.  I had him start his homework right away after his snack, before his exhaustion set in.  I made it sound exciting that I had a new “tool” for him to use while doing today’s homework assignments.  He got the ball ready to use before he even started his homework. When he said he was almost done, I excitedly said, “Great! Then I’ll check it, you can fix your mistakes, and then you’ll be all done!” and he didn’t seem to notice that meant he had more time left than he’d thought.  I also got rid of his biggest distraction, Amelia, by placing her in front of the TV, which is in a different room.  And I didn’t even sit at the table, cook, or anything except sit in the chair within his line of vision and type this.

Why can’t I beat him to the punch every day?  Because I’m exhausted.  I work full-time with kids who have special needs, which puts into perspective how lucky I am to have a son with SPD instead of the plethora of other things that can happen to children.  However, by the time I get home, I’ve given so much to my students, and then I’m expected–no required (in a good way)– to give even more to my own children because my motto is “I will not put my students before my children.” But it’s really, really hard.  It’s hard to be “on” at work and at home. It’s hard to bring all of my strategies, tricks, and especially my patience home with me.  I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but I’m giving myself permission to be tired.  I’m tired just from watching Cameron do his homework, but I think I’m even more tired from the tactics I had to employ in order to make it go smoothly.

With that said, dinner can wait no longer.  Lucky for me, I am also giving myself permission to make frozen pizza.








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