Abe, Temple, Jekyll, & Hyde

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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.

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Letter to Cameron’s Teacher

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Nearly every year since Cameron started school, I’ve written a letter to the teacher about what to expect from him. This is the first year that Cameron is starting the year with an IEP though, so I thought this year’s letter should be a bit different. As a teacher, I totally understand that it may be overwhelming if every child’s parent decided to write me a letter like this, but as a parent, I want my child to be somewhat understood. To match the “theme” of the past few entries here, I’m really trying to focus on positives. One of Cameron’s heroes is Dr. Temple Grandin (if you don’t know who that is, you should Google her right now), a Ph.D. who has autism. My favorite quote from her is the one you see above, “There needs to be a lot more emphasis on what a child can do instead of what he cannot do.” So this year’s letter is focused on that. I’m posting it because I’m sure there are other parents who are looking for some way to try to help your student succeed from afar this school year- without too much help, without too much drama, with a bit of teacher flexibility. We’ll see how my new approach works. Feel free to copy and change what you need to!

Dear Teacher, 

While I know that this is a crazy time of the school year, I think it’s important that I get in touch with you about Cameron before he shows up on the first day. I am well aware that the special education teacher who is assigned as his case manager will let you know of the accommodations listed on his IEP, as well as his strengths and areas of struggle. What an IEP can’t tell you, however, is who Cameron really is.

I have spent a lot of time trying to figure out Cameron (Why does he argue with everything? Why is he so sensitive?), trying to make sure he receives the accommodations he deserves, and trying to help him fit in to a school day in which he struggles. This year, however, I am asking you to try to focus on what Cameron can do, which is a lot.

Cameron can read much better than his tests show. Yes, typically he reads better when it’s something that he is interested in, but I’m pretty sure all of us retain and comprehend better when we’re interested in something. Cameron loves to read and will spend hours reading and discussing his favorite books. He feels confident that he can read better than kids in the “highest” reading group, but he laughs it off and doesn’t really care that he’s in a lower group. When he reads, Cameron is incredible at learning facts; with some guidance and support, he is able to apply the facts in whatever way you are expecting.

Cameron is good at math- in his head. He may become overwhelmed by the number and/or size of math problems on a page because his handwriting prevents him from working out problems on paper, but he can do basic problems in his head more quickly than I can.

Cameron is a pleaser. He really does want to do well. He may become discouraged and frustrated easily, but with appropriate encouragement and trust in him, he will try his best to make you happy. He’s a rule-follower, and will take any job you assign him very seriously. He is a natural leader (perhaps “dictator” would be a more appropriate word), but does need to be reminded that he needs to worry about himself.

Cameron is an incredible self-advocate. He can tell you what he needs and how he needs it. While I don’t doubt he sometimes takes advantage of some of the accommodations we have in place for him, I feel like the fact that he struggles with things that others don’t warrants him a bit of understanding here. He needs breaks, he needs to move, he needs to be reminded to follow directions, and mostly he needs a teacher who understands this and who sees his capabilities.

My husband and I place high expectations on Cameron. However, I feel that many of his struggles are due to the fact that the way children are expected to learn isn’t necessarily how Cameron learns. With that said, I don’t expect special treatment of him, just accommodations for him so that he has a better chance of being a square peg trying to fit into a round hole.

My hope for this school year is that Cameron continues to self-advocate and that you will do your best to see his strengths before his struggles, and use those to help him learn as much as he can this school year.

If problems arise, do not hesitate to call or email my husband or me.

Thank you for your time. I appreciate you taking your precious time to read through this!

Sincerely,

Katina

Happy 10th Birthday!

10th Cam

Guess who is turning 10 today? Cameron… He’s 10! What a long road it’s been so far, full of long days but really short years. For his 10th birthday, it feels appropriate to list the top ten things I love about him (in no particular order).

1. I love what an amazing reader he is. He’s a faster reader than I am and reads things I would have thought to be super dull when I was his age. When I was 10 it was all Judy Blume and Beverly Cleary. He’s all Abe Lincoln, JFK, Civil War, and Temple Grandin with a side of Roald Dahl and Harry Potter. Also, his ability to recall the information found in the books is something rarely seen in real life.

2. Cameron is so smart (probably from all of his reading) that he constantly puts us to shame with his knowledge of weird, random facts. He’ll tell you how Lincoln’s dad died a minute after he schools you on which spell does what in the third installment of Harry Potter. Now if we could just get him to apply the facts to real life situations!

3. Cameron is compassionate about things and people he loves. He is a loyal (albeit bossy) friend and an incredibly loving son. He’s compassionate about history, science, Tom Petty, and the Packers. When he loves, he does so with all of his heart and he doesn’t hold back.

4. While at times, it can be overwhelming, I love that Cameron is a sensitive soul. When he was a newborn, I worked with a lactation consultant and physical therapist to work on some of his sucking issues. In the end, we determined he had acid reflux and was also sensitive to dairy. The physical therapist said typically babies with milk issues grew into sensitive people. She was right. Cameron doesn’t like violence in movies or video games (but can tolerate factual violence when reading about wars—of course it’s not as graphic when it’s in his head instead of on a screen). He cries easily, hugs often, kisses on the lips, and attaches himself to people who show him love.

5. This one is a good one… Cameron is totally accepting of his NLD/SPD/ADHD, and is not afraid to talk about it. He is a great self-advocate and has learned what he needs to help him get through his days. I teach students with hearing loss and am constantly trying to make students understand that if they can talk about their needs and their hearing losses, other people will understand better. Cameron just gets this! Sometimes he gets it to a fault like the time a new kid moved into the neighborhood a few years ago and Cameron showed him is room, then casually mentioned the fact that he still wet the bed. That kid never came over again. So, we’re working on the filter, but proud that he’s so willing to talk about his stuff.

6. I love that, with advance warning, Cameron will almost always roll with whatever our crazy schedules bring our way. He’ll try waterskiing without an issue, he’ll go to new restaurants, visit new places, and stay in new environments. He doesn’t care, as long as we’re there with him. For a kiddo with some pretty rigid thoughts, he’s able to go with the flow better than expected.

7. Cameron’s sophisticated taste in foods is something I adore. He loves blue cheese, jalapenos, goat cheese, hot sauce, black olives, egg rolls, and I’m pretty sure he’d like sushi but I keep offering and he’s not quite there with me yet. That’ll happen soon, though.

8. Thank goodness Cameron has a good sense of humor. If he didn’t, I’m certain that someone would have called Child Protective Services on me by now. I tell him I’m going to “cut” him if he doesn’t stop fighting with his sister sometimes. I recently told him that I should probably not say that, since it’s totally inappropriate. His reply was, “I think it’s funny.” Whew! You may be currently judging me about that, but he doesn’t!

9. When Cameron is away from home, his manners are impeccable. People are constantly telling us how polite he is.

10. Lastly, I love that Cameron is an old man in a 10-year old body. He’d be perfectly happy listening to his favorite music (which includes Tom Petty, the Beatles, Bob Marley, Michael Jackson, Dave Matthews, or Imagine Dragons) or reading a book outside with the dog at his feet. He enjoys identifying birds in the backyard and watching nature shows on TV. Before we know it, he’ll be talking about the weather and how he knows it’s going to rain because his knee is acting up again and how at least he’ll catch the 7:00 news after his 4:00 dinner at Denny’s.

I’m lucky to say that I get to be Cameron’s mom! I can’t wait to see what the next 10 years bring. Happy Birthday, Cameron! xo

SensoryBlogHop

Success!

 

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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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I’m Sad.

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I need to start by saying we’ve had a change in our family. Not an actual change, but a label change. Our son with SPD has become our son with NLD… If you haven’t heard of that, don’t feel bad; I hadn’t heard of it either until my son was diagnosed with it, and I’m in the field of special education. NLD is Nonverbal Learning Disorder (or Disability), and it’s very similar to Asperger’s Syndrome (AS). The way I’ve been trying to explain it to people is that NLD and AS are the same soups with different spices. Both soups have the ingredients of attention issues like ADHD and sensory issues like SPD, but where kids with AS typically have good visual skills, kids with NLD typically don’t. When we told Cameron about what his neuropsychologist said, which he was begging to know, we explained first what Asperger’s is, since he has a friend whose brother has AS. After that, he said, “Oh! I think I have Asperger’s! I have four out of the five things you just listed!” We explained NLD is similar, but not the same, although in my reading it seems to depend on who diagnoses the child as to which label he/she will receive. Other deficits that we’ve discovered with the help of our most amazing neuropsychologist is that Cameron’s information and visual processing are s-l-o-o-o-o-w… I mean slower than my free college dial-up Internet slow… Also, he lacks in motor planning, executive functioning, and working memory. I could go on and on here, but I think my story today needs to be less about what to call him and more about who he is, which honestly can be a struggle to accept sometimes.

But who is Cameron? When you first look at your newborn baby, you think of how much love you have for this person you just met (at least I did). When you hold him you may think about the teenage years when he may hate you and it’s going to be really hard, but you don’t think about all the struggles you may have beyond that, which is all I’ve been able to focus on lately.  It doesn’t really help that Cameron has started struggling with behavior at school, his handwriting has actually not improved at all since first grade (according to one of the many assessments), he argues with us about everything (Love & Logic is great, but doesn’t work for all kids all of the time), and he is, at times, painfully socially awkward. Watching him in a group of kids and seeing their reaction to him, knowing that he doesn’t pick up on their cues, is pretty much terrible. I was always the quirky “weird” kid, but I knew that other people thought I was weird so I tried to avoid those people. Cameron just goes in for more and more without ever realizing that A) They are annoyed; B) They are a bit weirded out; C) The arguments that may or may not ensue are partially, if not mostly, his fault.

So to answer my own rhetorical question, with a cliché answer, Cameron is Cameron. I don’t know anyone else like him. He is an avid reader (even though reading is typically difficult for kids with NLD) who loves History but gets so overwhelmed by too much on a math paper that he cries and is literally unable to do it. He is a very, very sensitive and affectionate person who loves tickles and snuggles and hates change to his routine. He is a smart kid with an extremely disorganized brain that reflects his desk and closet. He is a hoarder of things he cherishes, which is almost anything, and these things muddle up his room, which seems to muddle up his brain even more. He is a loving but extremely bossy brother and a sweet but extremely argumentative son. And because he’s a mix of so many juxtapositions, he’s hard to figure out and very hard to parent. There isn’t a baby book that tells a new mother that her new baby boy who talks so early and seems so smart may not be able to write so anyone can read it by 4th grade, even if he can give facts verbatim from a book he’s read. In What to Expect When You’re Expecting, there isn’t a chapter on how a seemingly typical child can still be atypical in his neurological development. I’m pretty sure I never read that you may expect to give your nine-year-old step-by-step directions on how to brush his teeth properly every single time he brushes his teeth.

And as Cameron’s mom, sometimes I struggle a lot. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with the fact that he will seem to be doing better, arguing less, listening more, having fewer meltdowns, needing less direction. Oh my gosh, maybe we’ve turned a corner! Maybe we’ve finally figured out what works! Then BAM! HaHa. Nice try. We’re back to square one. Which, clearly, is where we’re at right now. And you know what? I’m sad. I am constantly feeling guilty for feeling so frustrated about our family’s struggles, when I have so many families I work with who are parenting children with much more significant struggles. But today I’m giving myself permission to feel sad about it. Just for one day. It’s really, really hard to put so much time and effort into teaching strategies and going to therapists and changing diets and reading books, but still not feel I am doing any better at parenting and accepting Cameron exactly how he is than I was three years ago. So just for a few hours-just this once-I’m letting myself cry for the things I can’t change no matter how hard I try. I will cry for the strain these struggles put on my marriage, to the most loving and amazing husband in the world, who is equally as frustrated. I will cry at the ineptitude I feel on days when I hit a wall and let things crash down around me. I will not give up, but I will let myself feel. Just until I have to put on my big girl panties and get my amazing boy off his school bus, where he doesn’t really fit in, and I can bring him home, where he does. 

Apples and Oranges

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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.

Happy, Healthy, Productive, and Able to Spread Jelly on Toast

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from pinterest.com

Everyone has similar hopes for their children. I think most everyone would say they want their children to be “happy, healthy, productive adults.” We all want them to do something positive in the world and to be happy. Whether they go to Yale or to a local community college or just graduate from high school, I think most parents would agree that happiness (with a big side of being a good human) would be the most important piece of their children’s’ futures.

Honestly, that is what I want for Cameron too. I want him to be happy! But there are a slew of additional things that I would like for Cameron. These things come to me as I’m doing everyday things that I know are currently very hard for Cameron to do. While I was putting jelly on my toast today, I thought about how difficult that task is for Cameron. While driving past a city bus yesterday and watching carefully to make sure it didn’t pull out and there was no one around it, I realized that driving safely is going to be very difficult for Cameron; there is no way he’d think about the bus, he’d just barrel past without noticing it—well that would be if he was driving today, but we have about six or seven quickly moving years to get him to pay attention to the world around him before he gets behind the wheel.  Which brings me to what this summer has been about for our family—The Summer of Cameron.

Cameron will be nine years old in less than a month. We’ve been looking for ways to help him for at least two years, and not much has changed; he still has similar, if not exactly the same, struggles he’s had since birth. So this summer has been about therapy to help with self-esteem, swimming for sensory input, and more occupational therapy to help with those everyday things that are hard for him, in addition to just trying to let him be a kid and enjoy his summer. Not to be cliché, but time really does fly! Summer is more than half over (for me, anyway), he’ll be in middle school in only two years, and each year that he struggles with the stuff that we all take for granted, he gets further behind his peers, which will make it more difficult for him to make and keep friends, which will be detrimental to his self-esteem, which will all make it very difficult for him to lead that happy, healthy, productive life I talked about earlier.

So, while going to all these appointments that yield similar comments from professionals including, “What a neat kid!” “He’s so personable!” and the inevitable, “That [fill in behavior here] is not that typical of a child who also does [fill in another relatively contradictory behavior here],” I can’t help but feel a little bit defeated. And crazy. I feel crazy too. He’s so great with other people, and he is so very smart, and perhaps some of the behaviors we see at home are typical of other kids…but my gut (and my husband’s) says otherwise. His personality, and the fact that he’s adorable, and girls his age stare wide-eyed at him with dreamy eyes full of the crushes that I remember having on boys in my 3rd grade class, are his saving graces. And my saving grace as his mom is the fact that his “with-it-ness” is so compromised that he has literally no idea that the girls are looking at him like that.

While I do feel quite defeated lately, I am also very grateful. I’m so grateful for the fact that Cameron really likes all of these appointments that his crazy mother has lined up for him. I’m grateful that he is cute and kind and compassionate and personable. I’m grateful that he is an active and athletic kid, which in our culture may help him gain friendships in the future (take it from the tallest girl on the basketball team who was asked to work as the “manager” because I just wasn’t good enough to play- being good at sports seemed to make things easier for other people I knew). I’m grateful that Cameron is mine, because I think I learn something new from him every single day, whether it’s the name of a president I didn’t know existed (notably Millard Fillmore), or how to more consistently use deep breathing before letting myself say what is in my sarcastic brain.

One more thing I’m grateful for today? That Cameron and his sister are spending the day with their grandparents and this crazy mom gets a little breather. A day off makes it easier to do that deep breathing I was just talking about.

My Frenemy, Guilt

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Guilt is a powerful thing. Being raised Catholic, Guilt runs deep through my veins. Guilt has caused me to some weird things like turn myself in for egging someone’s house in high school, while refusing to turn in any of my accomplices. It causes me to be beyond honest, at times, feeling like I owe the world the truth about every little thing (hence this blog). Guilt is such a normal emotion for me, that I don’t even know I’m feeling it anymore; it’s part of who I am. While everyone may have his or her own opinion about guilt, I feel as if Guilt and I have a bittersweet relationship. It’s Guilt that helps me get things done. I feel guilty if I sit for too long, if I don’t play with my kids enough, if my kids or I watch too much TV, if my kids don’t eat a fruit or vegetable with every meal, if I don’t give them undivided attention, etc.

We had an incident at our house recently that has put Guilt in my pocket like my Burt’s Bees lip balm. It’s there always, and if I forget about it for a minute, I feel it with me again, reminding me to take appropriate action. You see, I was so frustrated, I told Cameron to shut up. Did you see that? Guilt made me cross it out because I can’t believe I said that, but Guilt also made me write it because if I didn’t tell the whole truth, Guilt would grow. Before you judge me, know that Guilt has had me judging myself from the second I watched those words cascade uncontrollably out of my mouth.

Cameron has a tendency to interrupt when we’re trying to redirect him. He sometimes yells at us, he cries uncontrollably, and he does not listen, even when we’re trying to help him, which is most of the time when he starts to get out of control like he was the other day. It was during this escalated period of me trying to help him and him refusing to stop talking/crying that I said it.

That Guilt doesn’t work alone, you know… With it, it brings a flurry of other Guilt that you may have forgotten about. So with the Saying-a-Terrible-Thing-to-Your-Child-Guilt, the Guilt that I don’t lose my patience like that with Cameron’s sister came in to the mix. That Guilt brought the one that reminded me that I spend too much time looking at the negatives and leave out the positive things that Cameron does. Even when I do look at the positives, the negatives are sitting back there in my mind, waiting to surface.

As previously noted, Guilt and I have a love-hate relationship. I mean, I’m very used to it hanging around in my life, and I’ve come to accept it, even though I think it shows up unnecessarily much of the time. Some people may think that Guilt does nothing and is a waste of time. I disagree. For me, Guilt allows me to reflect on my actions and how they affect Cameron. When I think about the other day when I said those terrible words to my little boy, Guilt makes me think about what I could have done differently, and how we could have avoided the “incident” in the first place. The last incident was started with obscene amounts of stuff in Cameron’s bedroom, all of which was misplaced by Hurricane Cameron, a category 5 mess-maker. His little SPD brain could not begin to organize that mess and keep it clean. Also, I’ve been inconsistent with brushing him, with vitamins, and he was exhausted, since he’d just been to his first (Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers) concert two nights before, and had stayed up until midnight. So Guilt makes me stop and think about what Cameron needs and what we’re doing wrong. Don’t get me wrong, there is definitely accountability on Cameron’s part too, but that’s still an area that is shady for me; at what point is his behavior just due to bad choices or due to over-/under-stimulation?

So, well played, Guilt. You’ve made me think about how to make some positive changes in our home for Cameron. In my Guilt-induced reading of my go-to guide, Raising a Sensory Smart Child: The Definitive Handbook for Helping Your Child with Sensory Processing Issues by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske, a passage spoke to me:

“…if you do not observe [your child’s] behavior for subtle clues as to what’s up, listen to your child to learn what really makes him “go off,” and let him know he is loved and supported no matter what, all your sensory recipes and techniques will not have their full effect. Compassion, patience, and unconditional love are the real magic ingredients for working with any child, especially one with sensory issues.” (102)

So true! Thanks again, Guilt!

Beautiful Mama Blog Award!!!

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I am so excited, flattered, and honored to be nominated for the Beautiful Mama Blog Award. Thank you so much to Jennifer from The Jenny Evolution for this unexpected surprise. I feel so honored that my release of writing and sharing my (at times, brutally) honest stories and insights have inspired other families. I’m so grateful that people read my stories, which honestly are written to help other people gain insight to their children, as well as a release for me.

As part of this post, I’ve been asked to share three things I love being about a mom.

1. I love seeing the wonder in my kids’ eyes when they get to experience something new. It’s like I’m experiencing it for the first time just as they are, and it helps me to appreciate the little things like sunrises, flowers, birds, and even multi-colored shoes.

2. I love always having someone to join me in a dance party. It’s awesome to have live-in dance partners who are full of uninhibited dance moves, fun, and laughter. If I’m feeling down, I just put on some music and watch them magically appear in the living room from wherever they were. I feel like the pied piper, only my little “rats” are coming to bust a move with their audience of one (or two, when Jon is home).

3. I love watching them grow. Every birthday is bittersweet, since saying good-bye to the last year means that year is gone for good, but there is always a bit of excitement in thinking about all of the possibilities of the year(s) to come. Sure, they may not let me hold them like a baby for more than a few minutes anymore, but I get to watch them learn how to ride bikes, see joy in their faces when they do something nice for other people, watch them sing at school concerts, and see them learn and learn as their sponge-brains take in anything and everything they can.

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mothers (and fathers, grandparents, aunts, uncles, etc. who may be acting as a mother to children in their lives) who continue to nurture their little (and big) nuggets. Thank you for reading!!

I would like to nominate the following moms for The Beautiful Mama Blog Award, whose inspiring blogs make me remember that I’m not alone:

Sensory Speak 

Jen at The Runaway Mama

“Gravyhonk” at I Made a Human, Now What?

  • Click the above award image, save it and use it in your acceptance post.
  • List 3 things you love about motherhood.
  • Nominate other deserving mamas; you may choose as many as you like.

The Sleeping SPD Beast Awakens

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I like this picture because he’s sleeping in a hat, he’s holding his book light, and just the fact that we took this picture with flash and he didn’t budge shows how hard he sleeps.

Just when things were looking up, we’re (almost) back to where we started. Sometimes it feels like just when Cameron is starting to “outgrow” his SPD symptoms (does that even happen or is it just wishful thinking???) he ends up right where we left off.

Let me start by saying that things in our house have been out-of-sorts lately. My husband, Jon, is in a part-time, yet intense, Masters program, Cameron is in swimming two or three nights weekly, Jon is working extra nights and weekends to make up for time missed for his Masters program, and I am going crazy trying to become an extreme couponer by taking advantage of double coupon days and clipping more than I ever have (no worries, though… I’m not hoarding cases of aluminum foil and toilet paper anywhere in my home), working full time more than 30 minutes from home, planning a trip abroad for my students, helping with an extracurricular club at school, exercising, flossing, reading to my children, trying to be a good friend, sleeping, cleaning, and the list goes on. I’m not complaining, I’m simply explaining what has been going on around here to cause the SPD behaviors to come back in full force.

One of the first resurfaced SPD behaviors is his speech. When Cameron talks to us, but naturally not to anyone else in the world, he struggles to get his thoughts all the way out. Seriously, Jon and I think we are crazy because no one else experiences Cameron’s laborious task of speaking like we do. It’s been something we’ve noticed for quite awhile, but it is getting worse. Every sentence he tries to say to us stops four or five words into it, takes a 5-10 second pause (it doesn’t sound like a lot, but try counting that out while you’re talking to someone), starts from the beginning, pauses again… Repeats process. I am so frustrated for him, and I asked him if everything is okay because he is having such a hard time talking, but he didn’t have any reasons for it (duh, Mom, my life is upside-down).

While he’s always bossy with his sister, Cameron has become so incessantly bossy that I literally cannot stand the sound of his voice because all that ever comes out of it is negativity. If he isn’t bossing her around, he’s complaining about anything and everything. And when his complaining doesn’t get him what he is so clearly entitled to (which it never has and never will, but still this seems to be a giant shock to him each and every time), he cries. And then he keeps crying.

While all of our house changes are clearly causing Cameron distress, they are doing the same to me. My coping skills and patience are nearly non-existent. Which leads to the straw the broke this camel’s back.

Accidents. The kind found in underwear. They’re back. To be completely honest, I do not check every pair of underwear that I throw in the laundry because I am scared that I’ll see what I don’t want to see. I know there are some accidents thrown in here or there, but they are minor enough to ignore. I have dealt with so, so, so many accidents, that I simply cannot deal anymore without getting emotional about them. Case in point, when I found a surprise while doing laundry recently, I was quite angry—not because of the accident, but because I found it when I went to pick up clothes to throw into the washer. Ick. Then later the same day, when a strong smell hit me in the bathroom where a certain bather’s clothes were, and I asked if there had been an accident, receiving the good old, “I don’t know… Did I?” as a response, I was even angrier. However, I did not share this with the bather, I simply explained that I also didn’t know if he’d had this potential accident, because the underwear in question were boxers, and I couldn’t tell if there was an accident or a self-care issue at hand. I calmly walked out of the bathroom, shut the door, and swore like a Marine raised in a trailer park of truck drivers.

Then I cried. This seems to be a theme in these blog posts. This time I cried because I feel like I did back on his very first day of life. See, breastfeeding was so excruciatingly painful for me that every time I held my beautiful baby boy, I was forced to recoil in pain literally almost as bad as the labor I’d gone through to bring him into this world. But every time other people held him, they were given the gift of being able to goggle at him with adoration and love that every baby should have, without thinking about what he was about to do to them. I started to resent this innocent being because he was torturing me. That’s when we switched up the feeding plan a little so I could love him without fearing him. The way I felt then is the way I’ve been feeling lately. Grandmas and grandpas are prevalent in our lives, and they get to see him for the incredible kid he really is; they get to have his snuggles, his humor, his passionate nature, and his love. I get to nag him. I feel like all I ever do is nag that kid, and I feel horrible.

This week, when Cameron brought home eight pages of math with corrections to be made and one page to be completed (he had been distracted in school, so his teacher sent home what he wasn’t doing there), my husband asked the question that I was thinking. “Do you think we should get him on meds?” Neither of us want this. We will try anything before we do this, but his behavior is starting to affect his schooling, his relationships, etc, and frankly, we don’t know if it’s all SPD or if there is ADHD mixed in with it, after all.

Well, instead of calling up the doctor to get a prescription, I ordered a new book I had recently read about, Cure Your Child With Food by Kelly Dorfman. I started reading it immediately, and opened to the chapter about SPD, only to find a checklist of behaviors typical of children with SPD, in addition to nutritional suggestions. It said that if your child has three or more of the behaviors on the list, he/she may have SPD. I read the list to Cameron, and we both laughed pretty hard at the fact that he had 11 out of 12 of the behaviors that I read to him. It is always reassuring to read about more kids like Cameron with puzzle pieces that don’t necessarily fit together so perfectly.

So, what are we going to do now? Well, the book says that kids like Cameron need supplements: Omega-3 Acids, Vitamin E, and Phosphatidylcholine. We do give Cameron Omega-3, but we ran out a while ago, and I just keep forgetting to buy more. This could be another reason why we’ve seen the spike in SPD behaviors. Other than that, we plan to start Occupational Therapy again, but we need to wait for summer to add anything more to our plates. I also made a flow chart of weeknight expectations so he won’t be surprised; it seems to be helping.

Tomorrow will be a trip to the store to buy the supplements that may help him. I’ll keep you posted on whether or not they work. Until then, I’m working really hard to fix my own attitude by reading up (more) on SPD with the book Raising a Sensory Smart Child by Lindsey Biel and Nancy Peske and by reminding myself of how to be a happier parent with one of my favorites, Raising Happiness by Christine Carter. How do I find time to read right now? The dishes don’t get done and the laundry doesn’t get folded. And I’m not sorry about it.

One more thing… It turns out that the bather mentioned earlier did, indeed, know he’d had an accident in his pants that time, and had lied about it. Lying seems to be the first response to any question asked these days. It also doesn’t seem to show up on any of the checklists for SPD. Hmmmmm. Suggestions on stopping this unwanted behavior are welcome!