Monday, December 26, 2011

Letter to Me: New Years Resolutions

Dear Me,
Last year was kind of a bust. Nothing really happened the way that you wanted it to and you were super stressed 90% of the time. You stopped doing all kinds of things that make your life better and fell into the pit of dispair instead of holding your chin up like you tell everyone else to do. This year, please accept the following as a list of criteria to be met on our next annual review:

Finish reading The BCG Genealogical Standards Manual that is collecting dust on my desk. Its something you're really really really interested in and will enrich your life. With each awesome thing comes a little boring crap.

Yell less. Breathe more.  You stress yourself when you yell - counting to 12 does you wonders. Keep doing that, and add some deep breathing to the mix. It will relax the bunched muscles that stress causes and make you feel *gasp* better. Amazing I know, how do I come up with these pearls of wisdom??

Walk more. Remember - Silas the Awesome Super Trainer says you can - so get off your butt and do it . You used to walk daily - and still can. Walking does not entail walking alone, nor do you need daylight. Take the kids, take the dog, go alone - you'll be surprised at how much better you feel afterwards even though you're panting like a track runner the entire time. DO NOT pat yourself on the back by eating the closest Mars bar. Have a drink of water and smile. That's a pretty good reward actually.

Play the Wii. Its fun. You remember this every time you do it. It also helps give you exercise. Seriously. Play.

Write one article a week. Don't let yourself stay in your writers funk because you're out of practice. Writing more articles on some of the things you belong to can actually give you income. You have a lot to share, you just need to organize yourself and let the words get out. Writing more smaller articles will help. Pick something and GO!

Mentally ground and imprint often - you're missing a lot. When you're overwhelmed you're in your fuzzy patch. You don't remember things, situations, what people say to you and are perpetually on auto pilot. Its bad to do that, and sad too, because you're missing things. Important things, silly things, awesome things - you're missing them. Keep your thought journal again. It will help you to see what you're missing so you can better keep your focus. You can remember every detail of random points throughout your life because you made a point to remember them. Practice that. Don't miss out. You can do this, and you'll be happier for it!

Listen to your doctor - eat less fast burners. Seriously, you don't want to be fat, nor do you want to be diabetic in the near future. The headaches you get when you eat fast burners suck. Your sugar  highs make your mind unstable. You feel better when you eat what you're supposed to eat. Cravings are natural - satisfy them. However, you probably want to stick with eating one reece cup and not an entire bag of them. Take it out, put the bag away and then eat the cup. If its out of reach, you're much less likely to go back for more.

All of these things together will help you throughout the year, but more importantly, they'll help you be more confident in yourself - so that when someone says something negative, or does something that hurts you, you will be better prepared to let it roll off you. Grabbing on to the thoughts that you're a bad person and holding them to you like a long lost teddy bear are pretty bad for you. Recognize that you do that. Recognize that you want to change your life. Once you take a minute to do that, make your plan. Its great for you that I've already done this. Here is your plan for the year, all written out in black and white. Now..

Do it. 

 Much love,                                             


Saturday, December 24, 2011

Searching or Helping?

Its Christmas Eve and I've got something on the brain. Am I a searcher?

I've noticed that there seems to be an increasingly poor feeling towards mothers or families who search out help with regards to their children - whether it be medical advice or otherwise. It makes me sad. It also makes me scared, rethink myself, second guess myself and get myself to believe that my initial "helping" may actually be harming.

But is it?

Its so confusing and hard to judge... I guess the most you can do is get educated about your child, what's "normal" and what isn't.  Which I suppose is why I'm always reading and taking notes and seemingly like a woman possessed.


Because something is "off". Something doesn't "feel" right. My mommy sense is tingling.

Both of my kids have been diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum. My oldest is diagnosed as Pervasive Development Disorder - Not Otherwise Specified. She is now 6 and we've been living with her diagnoses since she was about 4. By completing the therapies, learning how to teach her and how she finds the world, we've been able to signifigantly improve our lives. I have no doubt, by her symptoms, actions, and what we've used to help her, that she indeed does have PDD-NOS. When I look at my oldest, I know that life still isn't perfect, and never will be - but I know that we've cracked the code with her - we can get her to understand us, and us her. We understand what bothers her, how she learns, what she can tolerate and what we can work on to improve the quality of her life.

My youngest was diagnosed shortly after my oldest as out-and-out Autism. At 2 years old you'd think it would be hard to tell, but after a few sessions with her, they came out with the diagnosis of Autism with an expectation that she would "maybe recover, maybe not". She is now 4 and after working with her, I'm still not feeling that calm that I have with my oldest. My mommy sense is still active.

So, I spend my time figuring out, charting, recording, and analysing. I NEED to know how to help her. Maybe there is something about Autism that I am missing.

Generally, after I write something down, I throw the issue into google. "How can I help my child who.. "

  • Is so very happy, until something sets her off and she's suddenly freaking out like its the end of the world... 
  • Likes to just NOT want to do whatever it is that you want her to do. It could be her favorite thing, and she will dig her heels in and NOT do it, JUST BECAUSE YOU WANT HER TO. 
  • Is extremely distracted - unable to pay attention to someone talking to her for more than 3 seconds at a time. 
  • Is extremely hyperactive
  • is extremely impulsive - hitting, touching dangerous things or running away in an instant. 
  • is unable to sit still unless strapped into something. 
  • is aggressive towards others at random
  • calls herself "a bad girl" or a "mean girl". 
  • When sleeping, we're unable to rouse. 
  • urinates at random - wetting on beds, couches or even right at the toilet. Just simply appearing to "not" go even though she is aware of how and has plenty of time and reminders. Sometimes she can potty like a pro, other times it appears she simply chooses not to. 
  • Is bossy with everything and will have a behavoir if things are not done her way
  • breaks everything when mad
  • Will say she didn't do something, when she did and you watched her - basically lies so she won't get into trouble.

This seems like a lot.. but keep in mind I've been watching it for a while, and these things are completely common in my youngest. Its an everyday experience.

While I was researching, my searches seemed to point me in a similar direction... so now I have an idea of what the problem is. My dilema now is... am I searching? Or am I right?

Now that I have an idea of what it may be, do I take it to the Doctor? Will I be ridiculed for pressing for more when she already has another diagnosis of something severe? Do I live with what she has now, or do I press to have her tested for the potential that she has the issue that my gut tells me she has? Will having another label help? Will having medication help or make things worse?

Do I stick with the devil I know, or press on and see what's behind door number two?

Of people I've talked to about it in my close circle, they are of both minds, and so am I. Do I want to give her another label? Am I simply seeing something that isn't there? If I dig will this help or hinder her progress?

I grit my teeth as I say this, but I have made the decision to contact the pediatrician again in the new year and ensure my youngest's follow up appointment - there I will bring up my suspicion and see what he says.
Maybe he'll think I'm crazy. Maybe he'll be willing to run some tests. Maybe he'll agree with me completely. I'll never know unless I ask. I can't stand by with all the "what ifs" when the screaming "what if" is "What if it can help her?".

After all, my hard work/potential paranoia is not for me, its for her and her potential well being and comfort of life. I won't be here forever, now is the only time I have to lay the groundwork for the life she will lead. Helping her understand herself and cope with things is just one step in achieving that. I have to understand her before I can explain her - and she needs to understand that she's not bad - she's wonderful.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Christmas Concert - Winnie's Big Girl Self Help

Winnie is off to school this morning - that in itself is a feat that was so incredibly difficult last year and this year has had some minor hiccups - but today, its her Christmas Concert. She's all dolled up in a very pretty dress, with her plain, but pretty and noiseless shoes in her backpack (no velcro, clips or hard soles to make unnecessary noise when she moves). Her hair is out of her face and her face is clean. She knows her song and will do her very best to make her classmates proud by doing her part - singing loudly, in a pretty (not silly) tone and remembering all the words.

For a child without ASD - she'd be ready! However, Winnie needs a bit of extra planning, and she knows this - so as we wait for the bus, with my hands over her ears because the sound of the distant (and passing by) cars and trucks seem to set her on edge in the mornings, we go over her "sensory plan".

I remind her calmly that today is her concert, and she laughs at me because, duh.. she already knows that! Check that off the list. Then I remind her that there will be lots of people and it may be very loud. Ah. There's that small look of panic that crosses her features. Getting down low and holding her close to me with my hands still over hear ears, I remind her:
"But that's okay. You can do this. Remember what you can do if you get upset.. what can you do Winnie?" and then she begins her own personal checklist of things that can help her when she gets overwhelmed.

Hopefully this little game of remembering will help her in that crutial panic moment later on in the morning. This is what she thought of, all things that help her, and were rehearsed this morning, standing on the side of the road as we waited for the bus.

1) Breathing deeply. This helps calm her heartrate and gives her something else to focus on for a moment instead of the overwhelming sounds, crowds or lights. We've taught her to focus on feeling (or seeing depending on the weather) the breath go in and out of her body and to do this slowly - although when she panics it is considerably faster than in practice!

2) Letting someone know whats going on! - We practiced this little script a few times this morning. It lets someone know that she's getting overwhelmed, why she's getting overwhelmed and what she's going to try to do about it.

"Excuse me, Teacher. Its so very loud in here! It is making me upset. I am going to hum a song. It makes me feel better."

When Winnie gets overwhelmed, she likes to block out all other sounds. Its why when we're in the car alone or after a bad day, she'd like the music as loud as she can get it. If she's not overwhelmed, she wants no music at all - because it gives her less 'interference' to have to tolerate. When she's visiting a friend and she's overwhelmed, we give her a headset and let her listen to songs or videos from my smartphone. When she's at school though, she sometimes has to improvise, and that's where the humming comes in!

Although, the trick here is getting her to let someone know she's going to hum and why, and to hum something that everyone knows so they don't think she's just that crazy girls that hums. Today, it started out as a song from the computer, but we got her to switch to something more popular that she liked as well -  it was "Rudolph the Rednosed Reindeer".

3) Ask for a break - Winnie's teachers are very good about letting her "take a break" when she gets overwhelmed and just needs a minibreak from other kids. By doing this, if at all possible at the time, she can go someplace quite away from others and let herself "regroup" or "recharge" for some more social time.

Big stuff like today our kids shouldn't miss out on. However, they require lots of preparation in advance. Letting our kids practice self help steps so they know what to do, what's appropriate and that just all out screaming their head off probably not the better option, then reminding them what to expect and how they can help themselves tolerate rough situations, is a pretty good recipe for success!

I have my fingers crossed for Winnie, but I'm already so very very proud of my little girl.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

School Motivation and Distractions

I have so much that I want to share, I'm not sure where to start. I've been asked - repeatedly - to write a book. Some from people I know, and some just from people I've talked to with kids on the spectrum. My problem is not knowing where to begin.

There are a few forum websites that I actively participate on geared towards mom's. Some pages that have forum areas specifically for parents of children with ASD. Every day I go on and see if I can learn something new, or share some of my stories.

This morning, someone was having problems motivating their son to go to school. When he did actually get there, he wasn't able to focus and was having major problems at school because of this. It brought me to mind of Winnie at school and the problems we've had.

It was really hard for Winnie to get motivated for school and to keep focused while at school. So far this year though, we've had minimal problems that were easily solved. Here's what we did, and it may help you, or may not. Take its as you will! :)

Getting her motivated to even go was very very hard. It was way more fun for her to stay home where she could have one on one time with mommy than go to school where she had to compete with other kids for attention AND they made constant demands on her. Pfft.. I'd stay home too! That said, we introduced a series of rewards with her which we "shaped up" to the broader rewards we use today.

The first one was getting her to agree to go to school. This started as a daily thing and was given with an easy reward that we could do at home. "If you go to school all day today, you can play your favorite game right when you get home. But you have to go to school all day and if you don't, you don't get your game AT ALL today." - Once she went to school for a full week using this method (switching up the activity so it was still something she wanted to do something she didn't like to be able to get it!) - we moved to "if you go to school all week we can.. " and did small outings with animals or something (here we have a free petting zoo/farm, or we'd go to the pet store to look around at the animals etc). We also use motivators like going to her friends house to visit, going to the park to play on the monkey bars etc. We phased out those rewards for school as well, since now she doesn't have a problem going - its a part of the routine that she likes! Plus we use mini motivators like "Aren't you going to the library today? Don't forget you wanted to look for a book about dragons!" She also used to hate taking the bus. The school introduced a "surprise" motivator. If she went on the bus, she got a surprise (which was a dollar store lizard, or a piece of candy - she'd never know what it was, but was eager to see what it would be that day). If she didn't go on the bus, she didn't get the surprise!

The second thing we had to work on was her focus. This took a bit because we had to figure out what things were distracting her. For this, I still have to rely on the teachers at the school to help me out and they're pretty good about it. My daughter gets very distracted by light, so the teacher makes sure to help with that by closing the blinds on really sunny days and moving things that may be reflecting on the walls. She also noticed that when she would bite on her hair (just put her hair in her mouth while at school) she would be completely distracted and not listen to the teacher. After a note home when this was noticed, I started putting her hair in pig tails and that helped a lot. Now Winnie knows that if she doesn't want pig tails in her hair, she can't chew on it at school - so it lets her notice that she's doing something that distracts herself too!

Having a open communication policy with the teachers at school has helped her a lot so be sure to discuss concerns with them and ask them if they have suggestions as well. Being with our kids 6 hours or more a day, they're pretty decent at suggestions too! We've also used visual prompters too to remind her that she needs to focus on her work. A handheld sign, hand signal or verbal prompt can be very effective. I tap my finger to my chin at home and it lets her know she needs to focus on what I'm telling her and her teacher uses "Eyes up here" as a reminder to her class and it works well for her also.

Life with kids like ours is a lot of trial and error, because what works for some, won't work with others. "Intervention" though doesn't stop when they leave the office of the professionals. Lots of things we'll still have to intervene on to make life a little more comfortable and functional for our amazing little people.