Friday, April 27, 2012

Diary of a rough day

Yesterday was a helluva day. Today is nice, calm and quiet - I almost don’t want to ruin the lull with an outing that was promised. But I promised and so it shall be done.

Yesterday’s routine was jumbled for both my girls. Winnie had a doctor's appointment and Maggie had a field trip with her class. For most kids, these changes would be a welcome distraction from the every day. For my kids, they’re a nightmare of uncertainties.

Like most parents, I’m sure - I try to schedule doctor’s appointments outside school hours so as to not disrupt the day too much - and this time I did as well. However, last week I got a call that the appointment was to be in the afternoon, just before school ended. From then, I began preparing Winnie with the reality that she was leaving school early. And so began the explaining, reassuring, and mini quizzing that goes along with getting her to understand that there’s a change in the everyday, and that she can handle it. So far so good - she seemed to be handling it very well and was excited that I was coming to pick her up from school.

Then of course, the day before the appointment, the doctor’s office calls again - change of plans, her appointment is first thing in the morning instead. As I tried to explain this to Winnie, I could see that she was going to have a rough time with it. There was just not enough time to check and reassure - and she was upset at the potential of missing her favorite school activities. She was going to miss the quiet bus ride to school, where everyone is sleepily saying hello and the bus is too crowded to do much but sit and look out the window. She was going to miss the morning message and song - and, she assumed she was going to miss PhysEd. No amount of me talking to her was going to make this better and she let me know that she was pissed off and freaked.

She tried her best to get her day to go the way she wanted. While I was in the shower, she had gotten up, dressed, packed her own lunch and got her coat and boots on. When I still said she couldn’t go on the morning bus, she tried a different tactic. She wanted to tell the bus driver herself that she had a doctor’s appointment. Believing this to be a reasonable request, we waited for the bus to come. But as she got more and more agitated and anxious, I could see she had more in mind. Asking her a few focused questions revealed that, indeed, she was planning on running onto the bus after she told the bus driver about her appointment. When I explained that she still couldn’t take the bus to school she simply ignored me. When the moment came and she finished her chat with the driver, I had to physically remove her crying, kicking, struggling body from the first step of the bus with the driver watching in shock.

I got her calmed down enough to get her to the doctor’s office - the doctor arriving into work 30 minutes late. Winnie, although complaining about the time, was relatively calm, and quietly scolded the doctor for being late, to which he pointedly ignored. They spoke about Angry Birds and school. When I explained to Winnie later that the doctor said he didn’t think she should be playing video games like angry birds (or anything for that matter) she replied with a quiet “But I like Angry Birds”.

Ms. Anxious Winnie watched the clock the entire ride back to school, complaining about being late and missing things - stiff and rigid in her seat as she frantically counted the minutes until we arrived at school. Running up to her classroom, her shoes were missing from the spot on the wall and  that seemed to be the last straw. Avoiding my grasp, she burst into the classroom and ran to her seat - standing in front of it she began to cry in front of her entire class - breaking my heart and wishing I could have made this day better, I turn to her EA to explain the events of the morning and she frowns down at me “Well if we had’ve known, we could have prepared her..”

Yah, my thoughts exactly.

But then, at the same time, I know I can’t prepare them for everything - it's where adaptability comes in - a skill she’ll have to learn if she’s going to avoid a lot of days like yesterday. I just wish I knew how to teach that another way than the current “sink or swim” method that life throws our way.

Maggie got to see the fire station - she has decided she wants to be a bus driver and a fire fighter. She’s got plans that one. And although the outing was very overwhelming, she did really well and fought her sensitivities and rigidity with plain old sleep on the way home - the notable difference now being increased reactions to things that bother her - more screaming, more tantrums and more crying about the small things.

There were no reports of anything happening at school, and Winnie seemed very happy getting off the bus. Just before supper she let us know the day was rough though - acting out, screaming and being nasty - basically begging for a time out and the quiet alone time she needed. It was satisfying to see her calmly curling up next to her grandma at bedtime - the extremely rough day behind her. And us. For now.

I can’t protect them from everything, I can’t prepare them for everything and I can’t always be there to soften the blow - but I can listen, and learn, and teach the skills that will help them next time.Next time, they’ll have this time to fall back on so that next time will be easier. Next time.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

A Collection of Advice

I had a question from a friend tonight - okay a series of questions - about what to do for a child whom is having meltdowns during various things - transitions, outings, getting dressed etc. And honestly, my reply was a complicated one with various suggestions. It reminded me of a reply I made a while ago to a mom with a similar question on a "Mom website" that I frequent. Although this child was on the Autism Spectrum, the suggestions I had weren't necessarily for only Autistic individuals.

My suggestions will seem like a lot of work at first, but trust me, if you stick with it its very likely that it will help and later you can look back on this time with a sigh and "Remember when it was that bad?? I'm so glad its not like that anymore." Also, I use any suggestions relating to parenting or autism the same as 12 steppers - Take what you need and leave the rest. Not everything is going to work for you, or in your personal situation. Here is a combination of efforts that work at my house.

A visual schedule generally helps autistic children see what's coming. And that's a big deal when you don't understand a lot of what you see other people around you automatically getting. Its a key to helping them be less frustrated. This can include a daily schedule, or even a visual timer of some sort (like a circular cooking timer you can find at your Dollar stores or whatnot. The digital ones with no circle on them generally don't do much. I've even downloaded a timer for my phone so I have one wherever I go.).

Let your child know, BEFORE agreeing to the activity how long they'll have - and stick with it! Its easy to say "oh fine, have 5 more minutes" because they're screaming their heads off... but next time, they'll remember that they screamed and got more time - so why not use the same tactic this time??

Remind them (Verbal or visual prompting the professionals call it) when its getting close to the time they need to be done playing. Make sure they're paying attention to you when you do this. My kids were taught during their early intervention that when I tap my finger to my chin, it means "I'm saying something to you, pay attention and acknowledge me". It only takes a second usually to get them to say "Okay mom, 10 minutes" or something to that effect, to let YOU know that THEY heard you. Because when our kids are doing something they like, lets face it, they can be completely zoned out to you, and you screaming at them about something they're not interested in, is not gonna do a lick of good!

Praise him when he's good! The first time he gets off his game when you ask him to, dance a jig, give him tickles, make him laugh and smile any way you know how. At first he's not going to do what you want him to because it gives him a warm fuzzy feeling to obey you. There has to be something in it. So, if he gets off his game and you have a 3 minute mini celebration... He's thinking "hey... wow... that was pretty nice... I like that better than meltdown... "

Whenever he has a meltdown, try to write it down. This is tracking the behavior so you can figure out what's causing it. If you can figure it out - it will save you potential headaches down the line. Took me FOREVER to figure out that there's something in Blues music that drive my kids insane. They'd be climbing the walls and having meltdowns left and right - I saw no pattern, until I recorded what happened just before, and during, and after the meltdowns or behavoirs. Now, I know that my kids just can't handle some of the sounds in music, but other types calm them - that milk hurts my youngest's tummy and that my oldest gets into the syrups in the fridge because she gets a bath out of it. "UGH! Why are they crying, freaking, getting into things?!" is a common exasperated cry, but by charting it and using a little analaysis, you can avoid things in the future.

Until you figure it out, do your best to ignore it (if its possible, and sometimes, it just isn't!) Generally, you don't want to give any attention to a meltdown until you figure out the cause of it - because YOUR reaction MAY be the reason they're having the issue to begin with. I know from experience that sometimes your reaction can be 'controllable entertainment'. If they freak out, and you make that crazy face that is honestly hilarious to onlookers - that's pretty good entertainment - that they controlled the start of! And seriously, in a world where they don't control hardly anything, they want that control. So, when its a behavoir I'm tracking, I walk away (usually to the fridge where I keep my behavior charts) and write what's going on (Which is also why my handwriting on the forms looks like Satan wrote it, I'm angry, silent and trying to keep my cool!).

Keep your speech simple. I never want to feel like I'm talking down to my children. But at the same time, we have to remember that what is a regular room to us, can be like a flashing loud discotheque for our kids! If you say "Hey, can you go to the door, find your boots, put them on, grab your coat its time to go!" They may have heard one or two things.. which is why they grab their coat and wait at the door for you, and then have a meltdown because you insist they put on their shoes first! They may have actually only heard you say "Hey! ... Get your coat its time to go!" because of all the other distractions going on for them. Its not necessarily that they don't understand as much as... well... frankly they got a lot goin' on!

There are a lot of other things we use in our house too, because it really is a combination of things that tend to work for people. I'm sure I'll post another bit of suggestions at a later date. And sadly, it WILL probably get worse before it gets better. But after that HUGE and TRYING episode, you'll notice that it will get better.

Keep Calm and Carry On!