Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Sleepovers

We had our first sleepover....

I was so nervous to ask. What if this boy says no? What if he was just being nice to Liam at school, but had NO intentions of striking up a friendship? What if he says YES? Then what?!! 

I wouldn't know unless I asked.

For months, Liam had been talking about his friend, Zach, that happened to be in band with him. Liam talked about how cool he was and how he was always getting "first chair" in band-playing tests. Because, with Liam, everything is a contest. I have never met someone more competitive than my child. I don't know if it's better or worse that his mother simply doesn't care about winning per se. I just don't have a competitive bone in my body. So, maybe we cancel each other out? - or, maybe his competitive nature makes me want to drink...not sure.

But, in his talking about Zach, there was a longing. A longing to have a friend. He saw his brother have friends over and spend the night out- why couldn't he? And, I don't have to remind you of all the years I have been writing about birthday parties. Birthdays are painful reminders that he, more often than not, doesn't always get those invites. 

So, I prayed. I have been praying this prayer for a long time actually. Lord, just one friend. That's all. I would love it if you just provided one person that would see Liam for who he is and accept him-nay, ADORE him the way we all do. 

(Now, I don't want to freak this kid out. I mean, I'm sure more than one friend will come along....hahahahahahahaha...seriously, though, will you be his friend???!!!)

So, needless to say, his mom said yes, and (gasp!) that Zach was really looking forward to coming over! 

When I told Liam about this, he was beside himself! Pacing, eyes staring off into space as his wheels turned thinking about the possibilities of the slumber party events. 

I imagined his thoughts were something like this:

"First, I'll show him my video games and how I like to play them. I will win every game we play. Then, we will go outside. Then, he will watch me play a computer game. I will win all of those as well. The end."

The whole back and forth thing hasn't been nuanced quite yet in our house. He would prefer if everyone just did exactly what he wanted to do the entire time, no questions asked. We're still tweaking that one.

(hmmm...sounds like a few adults I know as well...)

So, in an effort to have a back up plan in case Liam sat in front of a screen for 6 hours while his friend twirled his thumbs, I decided that we needed a destination. 

"Where do you want to go with Zach when he comes over?"

"Chuck E. Cheese".

I panicked. Do 13 years olds still think Chuck E. Cheese is cool? Doesn't Charles du Fromage (what we used to say in order to "hide" it from the kids) peak around age 9-10?

I reluctantly agreed. 
Yes! You are!! 


The day came for Zach to come over. Zach rode the special ed bus to our house like a champ! Didn't even bat an eye! He earned major friend points in my book for being willing to be seen on the not-so-short bus. (I don't know about your school, but the SPED bus at ours is SWANK! It is not short, and it is really nice!)

He walked in, confident, but not too much. He was great with Liam. He was patient, kind, funny...do I sound desperate? Because I totally am. I had to tell myself to quit asking him if he was having a good time, or if he needed another snack, or if I bought the right snacks, or if I needed to pay him money to stay. (Okay, I didn't ask that, but I thought it!)

The thing of it was, that I think Zach really DID want to be there. He knows that Liam is different than he is, but it's not a deficit to him- it's a bonus. He totally thinks Liam's ways of doing things are funny. And, he gets a kick out of seeing him excited about a video game, or an 89 yard touchdown on YouTube. 

He also knew when to set boundaries with Liam and when to let the small stuff fly by! He knew that Liam would be anxious about what time they would be going to bed (there would be no improvising or playing "outside the scale" on the schedule!), so Zach said, "you know what Liam, let's play one more round of USA Soccer on Xbox and then go to bed at 9:30"! 

I have to admit, I was high-fiving myself at that point!! 

Call it what you will, but as much as people my age want to complain about the new generation coming up as being emotionally stunted from technology, or having issues with socialization, or even being exposed to too much too fast, I have to say that there is a new wave of compassion and empathy that my generation missed out on. 

These kids have been exposed to children of special needs from the get-go. No longer are the SPED children sent to another building to be "dealt" with. Kids with autism, Down Syndrome, cerebral palsy, and other neurological disorders are included in the mainstream classrooms. Kids today most likely have seen a child with autism have a nervous breakdown in the middle of class, or watched a child in a wheelchair struggle to move around a classroom. And, because of that exposure, they are not intimidated by differences- they embrace them. I do not think I would have been that patient or kind as a middle schooler. I was much too impressed with myself to give unconditionally to others with differences. So to now see these kids getting involved and helping their peers is so very inspiring!!!! 

Now, I do know there are sad stories of bullies and mean-spirited kids who have taken advantage of this inclusion of SPED children. I do not pretend to believe that there will never be someone who will be mean to my son. But, the overwhelming sense that I have gotten from all the classrooms my son has been in is that once his peers know what is going on with him, they are ready and willing to help him along. And Zach is a great example of someone willing to go the extra mile! 

His dad picked him up the next morning, and we have seen this family several weekends this fall at various school events. Zach even plans to have Liam at his house this weekend, Lord-willing! :)

The other day I asked Liam about Zach and his friendship with him. Liam replied, "Sometimes Zach disobeys me."

(Sigh)

Like I said, little tweaking here and there.

Baby steps. 

My hope is there will be more steps, and more friends like Zach. 

And maybe, just maybe, this journey won't be so lonely after all.




Thursday, August 14, 2014

Wild At Heart

This week has been especially hard.

The news of Robin Williams showed up on my phone just as I was leaving a meeting with a friend. It felt like a punch in the gut, as I'm sure it hit most everyone the same way. How could this man, so full of life, leave just like that? How could he not know how much we all loved him? How could he not know the blessing that he was to our lives?

Over the next day, I watched as tributes and dedications poured in to the news networks and twitter-spheres. Celebrities, stunned, shook their heads and openly weeped for a man so full of heart and passion. From all accounts, he was everyone's favorite guest on the talk shows, as they never knew where the interview would go. Robin was wild and unpredictable, yet warm and inviting. Wherever he was, people forgot about their problems. He made people belly laugh until they cried. Robin Williams took them to another place.

When the final report on how Robin Williams died came in, my heart broke. I began to sob and I knew that this was touching my own story in more ways than one. It was, once again, time for me to grieve my own loss.

I lost my first true love to suicide.

Will and I were married when I was very young. We had our two boys, one of whom this blog refers to all the time- Will's namesake, Liam. Our marriage lasted for almost ten years before, sadly, ending in divorce.

Will was not unlike Robin Williams. He was passionate, larger-than-life, hilarious, warm, caring, crazy, silly, talented. His highs were wild and it was all I could do to keep up. But, his lows were low and there was a tragic theme of self sabotage and destruction always lurking around the corner. He could flip on a dime-keeping all of those around him guessing as to which person they would get.


His talent was undeniable- an artist's artist. Musicians still talk about his record, his guitar playing, and the way that his music made them feel. He made you love music. I mean, really love music. He would make you sit down in a chair and listen to whatever it was he was working on. You would grin ear to ear because he would "air" play every single part of the song as if he had a thousand people in front of him. He would so lose himself in the moment that he didn't care how he looked. He wanted to convey THE SONG. That was all that mattered in that moment.

He could tell the best stories. His imitations of people were so spot on that you would be crying with laughter on the floor. He was so animated while he was talking that you couldn't help be enamored with whatever story he was telling!

My sisters and I would laugh at him because anytime he would come in to the house it was like a windblown whirlwind. He was like Kramer on Seinfeld! He couldn't just walk quietly in the house- he and his presence would come in and overtake the room.

And then, one day, just like that. He was gone. He took his own life. And, even as I type this, I still cannot believe it. How can someone so full of vitality be gone?

Yes, there were the signs- depression, anxiety, but I never pictured life and the world without Will in it. It just wasn't an option in my mind. He was too big-it would never be something he chose. Never.

But...it did. And in one act, his seemingly endless light was extinguished. Such a profoundly dark ending to a life so full of light.

It is no wonder that I have been deeply affected by the events of this week. The accounts of Robin are so similar to Will's. But, I hope that writing about it will move me towards the necessary pain of grief and loss. As a mentor once said, if you try to get over pain, you end up underneath it.

And so the onion gets pulled back another layer. Another step towards the pain of grief.

I miss you, Robin.

I miss you, Will.

The world will never be the same without you.


Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Italian Siesta

I came home yesterday the same way I do most days. Armloads of Trader Joe's bags, exhausted and wiped out. My body felt so tired and depleted, I had to lay down for a quick power nap.

Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for me. I was recently diagnosed with something called Hashimoto's disease, which is a type of hypothyroidism, or Japanese for "no more happiness". Actually, I don't know what Hashimoto is named for. Maybe it was for the Japanese god of narcolepsy. I don't know. What I do know is for the millions of people who have this disease, it is crippling. The symptoms are unending tiredness, hair loss, weight gain, and endless tv watching.

I have always been tired. An unpopular personality trait in a world that says that napping is an abomination and being tired is equal to weakness. Our culture frowns upon siestas, while the rest of the world naturally shuts down their businesses between the hours of 2-4 to rest, (I'm looking at you, Italy!!) cook their evening meals, and catch up on life. Quality of life is not taken into account in our fast pace, "gotta strike while the iron's hot" way of existing. It is of no wonder that our adrenal glands are screaming at us to slow down!!

And, us mommy's of autism? FUGET ABOUDIT!!!
This actually looks good to me right now.
I would go so far to say when there is anything "extra" in life that you have to deal with in the hustle and bustle of life, it is exhausting. Mothers and fathers dealing with other special needs, learning disabilities, health conditions, ADHD, even a child with emotional instability, can be that extra thing that pushes you over the proverbial edge. A friend of mine has a child that has difficulty just getting along with other children-it is something extra that she has to deal with on top of the other children in her family-and it is exhausting!


And we hate to begrudge our "extra heaping helping of hard" child, but sometimes we do...let's be honest!

 As I was laying in bed, life was still happening around me. The groceries needed to be put away, phone calls kept coming in, Liam was coming in and out from playing outside, Walker was studying and doing homework. I felt guilt for not exactly knowing where my child with autism was. I felt shame for not really knowing if my teenager was really studying or playing video games. And, I felt irresponsible for not remembering if I put the milk away or not. But, I quickly shoved all of those pesky emotions down for a few prized moments of sleep.

I woke up groggy and out of it- the worst feeling at the bewitching hour of 5pm. (see Bewitched!) I began researching essential oils that would help with hypothyroidism, exhaustion, and crankiness (funny, they don't have one for the that!). I began to think about all of the other supplements, oils, and holistic medicines that could help my kids. I started down a rabbit trail of research for autism, and alternative medicines used for attention and focus. Fifteen minutes later, I was overwhelmed thinking about adding something else to our already full routine.

And this is when it struck me: I CANNOT HELP MY CHILDREN WHEN I AM DEPLETED!!!!

I CANNOT GIVE TO THEM THAT WHICH I DO NOT GIVE MYSELF!!!!

Isn't this our plight? We spend so much time thinking, loving on, and doing for our own fold when we have nothing to give. I must be willing to research things that will help ME, so that I can, in turn, give to those I love the most.

It's the old, "put the oxygen mask on yourself before you put it on your child" mentality. If we are sucking for air, we cannot possibly be any good for those around us.

As Brene Brown said recently, we all wear exhaustion like it's a badge. We can all one-up each other with stories of our heroism and valor of staying up all night to bake cookies, holding down 4 jobs, stirring dinner, and sewing Suzie's ballet costume, but we cannot tell you the last time we actually felt good.

My son's therapist told me recently that in all of his years of practicing, this is the most anxious group of children he has ever seen. They are all medicated because we expose them to adult-like pressures of having so many balls in the air, that they cannot manage.

IF I AM DEPLETED ALL OF THE TIME, HOW CAN I TEACH MY CHILDREN WHAT IT MEANS TO BE RESTFUL AND PRESENT???

If I am overextending and not paying attention to my own exhaustion, how can I teach them to listen to their bodies?

It's time to stop. It's time to rest.

I closed all the tabs of my computer, and opened one window to ask questions about my own disease on a forum. I got helpful responses, and now it is up to me to take the plunge and try a few things that may work.

I think it may be an uphill battle to introduce the 'Italian siesta' into our culture. We are pretty stuck in our ways as Americans. But, I can introduce that concept of balance and holistic living in my own corner of the world. It begins with me.


Thursday, March 13, 2014

Gladness

The weather is FINALLY warming up after a brutal winter over most of the United States. Even people in LA have experienced torrential downpours that are out of the ordinary for CA. (don't worry, I do NOT feel the least bit sorry for them!) The weather in Tennessee is bipolar at best. It is often said if you don't like the weather, stay until tomorrow. Because it does so often feel like that. My birthday was a few days ago and it was a wonderful 75 degrees, only to wake up this morning to a cool 28. It will make you crazy as you get excited for spring around the corner- only to be disappointed that you have to bundle up again.
This picture sums up our weather experiences down here!

Speaking of bipolar weather, the mood of my preteen has been an unpredictable map of highs, lows, sunny skies, rain clouds, tornadoes, and spring delight. Each day I wonder which one I will get. The one thing that is consistent is the spring delight rarely shows up. 

Now, I am not naive to think that this is not normal behavior. I do know the stats on preteens. But, it doesn't make it any easier to navigate. 

The truth is, I long to connect to my son. There, I said it! He has autism, and as my oldest pointed out, if you look up the diagnosis in the DSM "connection" and autism are not in the same paragraphs. If they are, the words "lack thereof" are some place close by. 

This is difficult to me, as this is probably the most important thing in my life- my connections. I cherish them. They are my life-force, in many ways. That is just the way God made me. So, not having a connection to my offspring is a little difficult for this attachment junkie. 

Sadly, he is growing up. So that means he is pulling away. Before, he would ask me to tuck him in the bed or read to him. Even if it was slightly 'robo-tronic', he still asked for ME specifically. And, that connected us. 

Now, he has his after school routine of playing alone outside or playing video games alone. Or, he searches alone on the computer for his latest obsession, whether it be funny lines from Sheldon on "Big Bang Theory" or a long touchdown run by an Alabama player. I can always know his thought process when I look up his Google search history. 

But that is where it remains. Google history. 
The key to my son's heart. 


He doesn't want to share with me his thoughts about friends, life, love, and hurt. He shuts me down when I ask how his day was or probe into his middle school brain. And by probe I ask him what friends he has in his class. 

Now, some of you reading this will be tempted to "normalize" things and tell me that I am simply dealing (as stated earlier) with a preteen. Preteens are known for their sudden distaste in all things parent related. 

I like this picture for Denial.
I would tell you that you would only be partially correct. And, not to mention, shaming. This is not just your average preteen mood swing or distaste- this is a pattern, not an event. And, being the parents of these children, we know this in the back of our minds. We know that this is a pervasive pattern and not a 2-3 year 'season'. Our hearts are all too familiar with the disappointment and letting go that has to occur with autism. And, please, don't be one of the "those" people who say "well, at least he..." (see Brene Brown's brilliant take on that phrase in this clip). 

There is not much to say to make things better. I must grieve this part of autism- otherwise I live in complete denial. As I have said many times in this blog, life is not easy, and the sooner we can accept, feel, and face this reality, the sooner our true JOY can be felt. 

Then when he does do something out of the ordinary, it is absolutely felt. When he sees me, or touches my face, or hugs me without prompting- those are the joy moments. Those are the times when I am touched deeply in my soul. It does not take away the pain, but the pain gives way to true gladness. 

TRUE gladness. It is a rare gift. But, it is something we all long for in our hearts. I believe the desire for true gladness was put into the very fabric of our being. 
Gladness




When I look at this photo my dad took this year, I see Liam enjoying true gladness. He absolutely loves tossing the football up and making "touchdowns" over and over again until he can barely stand up. It reminds me of my own desire and the places where I am able to gain access to this rare gift. 

But most of all, it reminds me that some things will change. It will not always be cold or rainy or unpredictable.

One thing we are promised. 

The spring will come. 


Saturday, March 1, 2014

New Normal

Life has changed quite a bit at our household these days. I have begun working.

I am currently in the beginning stages of my internship at school. I am seeing clients a few days per week in the counseling center of the college I attend. I have had the privilege of walking with college students in the throws of reality. It has been a blessing to see these brave students wrestle with who they are apart from their family of origin, and the fear that comes with not knowing who they will become. I remember that season of life very well, and really didn't figure out the answers to many of those questions until recently. Change that...I am still learning.
This room is very similar to the room I meet clients in!! Very calming!

But, it has definitely changed the pace and routine of life around the house. I am not as emotionally capable as I was before. I am not as attentive and present as I have been in the past. Sometimes, my oldest has to come and push me when I am catatonic on the couch after a day of seeing clients in order for me to 'come to'. Okay, not exactly. But, there have been many conversations lately that go like this.

"HEY MOM!"

"Oh, hey, honey. I'm sorry. I'm a little out of it. How was your day?"

We are still trying to figure it all out. What is the balance? How do I self-care, yet be a mother?

As most therapists will tell you, we have a different type of exhaustion that sets in. No, I am not lifting a pile of bricks every day, or running around on the floor of the stock exchange, OR even saving lives in the back of an ambulance.  I am sitting. In a chair. All day. In a room. Alone with one other person.

But, the thing we have to do that is not required of many other jobs is that we have to sit and be perfectly present with another one's story. My ONLY job is to hold a sacred space for the other to come and sit in their pain. And, I cannot waiver from this in that hour. I cannot "check out" and look at my phone or get up and walk around. I am looking straight into their eyes and tracking every single word they say. And I am trying to honor their life story in (hopefully) a way that is healing.

Now don't get me wrong, I do love this work!! I am, quite honestly, so honored that someone would allow me to come alongside their journey. It is remarkable to see people be so brave as to look at their pain dead in the eye!

But, when it comes to the end of the day, I am, many times, flat as a pancake. Our professors have been harping on something called 'compassion fatigue'. And, they are correct! As therapists, we must be balanced in getting enough sleep, good nutrition, breaks, self-care, emotional support, etc, before we can help other people.

And so begins the evenings with my guys...

Bless the genius behind this place!!
They are having to get used to this new way of being. As their mother and only parent, they rely on me to meet their needs that are largely emotional at this stage in the game. (and physical, if you live with two boys, you understand the messes they leave behind!)

So, we have a lot of Trader Joe's frozen, heat-up-and-eat meals. Thank heavens for TJ's!!!!

As my sweet friend calls it, the "Working Mom's Grocery Store". I am really sorry for those of you reading this that do not have access to TJ's. God love them. They make wonderful prepared meals that ACTUALLY have somewhat natural ingredients, are priced reasonably, and taste delish!!!! And, if you have some "study" that says that TJ's actually has GMO produce or their freezer food is laced with carcinogens- please keep that information to yourself. Thanks.

So, many of you mama's reading this will say, "What else is new? I've been working since my baby was two days old!!"

And, you would be right to say that.

This is just new for us. I have been working different part-time jobs, music stuff, singing, and performing this whole time. But, the work has been sporadic, and I have had the blessing of being able to, for the most part, be at home when my kids got off the bus every day. I have not taken it for granted one second. Because, in this day in age, my story is the exception. Most families are two income families. And, it is unheard of that single mama's get to stay at home. I have scrapped and saved to make that work because I knew it was the best thing for MY family. Not anyone else's story. Only mine.

So, things are different. And change is always hard.

But, this is the part of the blog when I say, HOW DO YOU ALL DO IT???????

How do you single, working parents juggle it all????????

I realize this may be the scariest picture of all time!



Seriously, how do we all make it work? I think that being a working parent has gotten so normalized in our society that it is often seen as WEIRD if you don't work. I remember my son asking me one time why I wasn't employed full time. I had to work really hard not to forcefully grab his collar, pin him up against the wall and say, "I DO WORK FULL TIME!!! LOOK AT THE FOLDED LAUNDRY, EXCEL SPREADSHEET BUDGET, AND FROZEN DINNER BEING HEATED UP ON THE STOVE!!"

No, no, I didn't do that. I slapped him across the face and demanded that he go get a job in the coal mine because he wasn't 'pulling his weight around here'.

Okay, okay, I didn't do that either. I simply said, "You'll understand one day."


I guess what I really want to say is, I want those of you who are doing this alone to stop and think about all you juggle. It wasn't supposed to be like this. No, I am not suggesting that women shouldn't work and should stay in the kitchen. NOT EVEN A LITTLE BIT. It's just that it wasn't supposed to be this hard and complicated. In a perfect world, we would all have energy to love our kids, love our work, and have fulfilling lives in between!

It is hard stuff. And, don't let the culture tell you it's just what we do. Stop and take care of yourself. Feel your feelings and let yourself cry over the pain of not feeling like you're enough. Because you are not, and you weren't supposed to be. Let go of the expectation of being together and perfect! We are all so hard on ourselves and harbor such self-hatred over the comparisons we make to other people.

Say it with me:

It is okay if my child plays on the iPad for an inordinate amount of time.

It is okay that we are eating something out of a box.

It is okay to say this is hard.

As my spiritual director, Gail, says almost every time I see her, "Be gentle with yourself."

Even though you are fighting a big battle, put your weapons down for a bit, and let this tired warrior catch a breath. For when you do this, you are giving yourself a little more to give with each breath.

This is very counter to our culture of "Go big or go home" in America.

We aren't built to do it all.

But, once you give yourself that nod of acceptance, a crazy thing happens. You find you do have a little gas in the tank left to give to someone else. You can play that silly game with your kids, or have a serious heart to heart about girls, or go throw a football.

And, when they have their own kids, they just might get it. Maybe.

One can only hope.

Friday, December 6, 2013

As "Iron (Bowl) Sharpens Iron"

***Many thanks to Kristen for reminding me why I do this blog! Thank you for writing and getting me back on the horse!!***

I have not fully accepted that winter is quickly making it's comeback. The weather is indeed frightful outside with a big ice storm on its way, so today is a perfect day to get under a blanket and write this blog. This southern girl does not do well in the cold. 

Since the last blog, I am happy to report that Liam has settled in nicely to middle school. I have made great sacrifices to stay in the county where we live because the school system here is amazing! All of my support network and family lie one county over, so it can be difficult when the stuff of life happens. But, it has been well worth it when I come to an IEP meeting and his teachers give me good reports and seem truly invested in his learning. He is independently walking to each class and has minimal support in the inclusion classrooms. He is only pulled out a few times during the day for individualized teaching- which is HUGE! We are putting him in different arenas of extracurricular activities to see which one "sticks". I can report that while being the water boy for the middle school football team over the summer and early fall was an honor, I think he likes knowing the stats of the game rather than the manual labor required to actually fill the bottles up and take them to the players. 
The Water Boy!

To my horror, players and coaches were many times desperately yelling for water while Liam was too busy staring into space and adding up the yardage gain in his head from the previous play. I had to stop going to the games because I would get more stressed out about his lack luster performance than he would! 

I don't believe I have fully explained Liam's obsession with football on this blog. He just so happens to be one of the biggest University of Alabama's fans. And, unless you are just completely unaware of anything sports related, Bama has been consistently on top for the past 5 years. And, unless you live under a rock- there was a small (really tiny) game played this past Saturday that rocked Bama's hopes for a 3rd National Championship in 4 years under the reign of head coach, Sir Nick Saban, or "Lord Saban" as he is referred to in our house. And, this game may have been our fiercest rival ever. And, the last play of the game before inevitable overtime, may just have been played and replayed countless times on every single network on every single channel in the entire nation. Our beloved team lost. Our championship dreams dashed by a "miracle" play that some are calling the greatest end to a football game in history. 

Lord Saban with his team!
We were in shock. 

To work so hard to get to this point in the season-only to lose in one moment was gut-wrenching! I act like it was me on the field playing the game, but this is SEC football! We live and die football down here. 

As my mind stared blankly at the screen, my family members all muttering sighs of disbelief, a familiar sound came from the bedroom next to us. Liam had wisely given himself time-outs through out the game if the score was too close for comfort. He would emerge from the bedroom, check the status, and quickly go back in and close the door if he knew his blood pressure couldn't handle it! But, the sound I heard was one of angry screams of rage, things being thrown, and walls being punched! 

I had been preparing for this day all along. It's pretty remarkable that Alabama has won as many games as they have. They have been the team to beat for several years and there was talk of a dynasty occurring. So, in the mind of a child with autism, winning becomes a routine. And, I know I have talked on this blog about the futile nature of trying to explain winning and losing to him. 

Then, to make matters worse, another family member raged at the fact that Liam was raging...

We were all grieving, and none of us knew what to do but to go to our default modes of coping.

When I finally made it in to Liam's room without having things thrown at me, he was lying down, breathing deeply, hands close to his face, and eyes closed. I scratched his back and we both sat in silence for a while.

When enough time had passed, he looked at me wide-eyed and said, "Mom, MY 'play of the game' was the 99 yard pass that AJ McCarron threw!"

AJ McCarron is Alabama's QB that threw an incredible 99 yard pass for a touchdown in the 
Few QB's have as many Championship rings as losses!
same game that Auburn won. It was indeed a great play and probably would have moved AJ's chances of winning a Heisman- if Bama had won the game. 

But, it was not the pass that stood out to me. It was Liam's ability to bring it back around to a memorable moment of joy in the game. To me, this was a giant leap for mankind!!! (okay, maybe just our family)

Liam was able to recall a good moment and let that be his comfort. He could have easily dwelt on the loss for days and days on end. But, instead, he focused on the positive- something that he has never been able to do very well (if ever) up until this point. And, something that is very difficult for him given his unwavering obsession with all things Alabama sports. 

The Auburn-Alabama game is called the Iron Bowl every year for historical, and some more obvious, reasons. With Iron-Bowl-like strength, Liam managed to kick the walls, throw a few items, and tear things up. But, miraculously, he used that same strength to dig deep and find a ray of light in the midst of heartache. 

The lesson here is that things are moving...things are changing...he is progressing...and the struggles we have dealt with for so long are finally moving more and more in to the past. And in the meantime, he teaches ME the stuff of life. He is teaching me to focus on what went right instead of what went wrong. 

Proverbs 27:17 "As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another." 

He continues to "sharpen" me every day! I love this, and I love that little guy! 

Oh...and Roll Tide Roll!!

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

The Dreaded Transition

I very much apologize for such a long hiatus from this blog! Summer time has, unfortunately, not given me long periods of down time. In addition to being the only parent, I am currently in school right now finishing a master's degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. I figure since I have been through, what feels like, about four lifetimes, maybe I can help someone else. I have another year and a half before I walk down the aisle with cap and gown. All told it will be about 3 1/2 years of extra schooling. So, you can imagine my disdain when I see claims of getting a "few weekends course" on becoming a therapist! There is a method to the madness, and I look forward to the day I can hang a shingle and begin seeing clients. 

I may even see myself helping families with a new autism diagnosis. Those first couple of years after the initial "drop" into autism is a daunting one at best. You are, on the one hand, relieved that there is a name for all of the craziness that you have felt, and on the other hand, you are completely overwhelmed and thrown into an unknown world of doctor and therapy appointments, school meetings, diet changes, medications, THE WORKS! 


A dear friend from childhood just sent me a message through Facebook to tell me that she believed that her son was on the spectrum. She gave me the list of 'symptoms' and all I could do was shake my head and say to myself, "yes, I believe she is right." My stomach dropped as I read her plea. I remember those first years and how freaking hard everything was. Nothing made sense. I was exhausted and depleted at every turn. Mind you, I am still tired, but life has a different pace to it. My hyper-vigilance is not quite what it used to be. But, I have a real empathy for those just now finding out. 

This same friend asked me to write about transitions. Aren't these the hardest??  I can't say that transitions are not still the number one thing that sends Liam through the roof. 

Here are a few tips I have learned (the hard way):

1. Keep a schedule
This may come very natural to some of you. I, however, prefer to float aimlessly through my day. I love to see what adventures may arise out of the blue. I love to slowly waltz from one activity to the next. This. Does. Not. Work. With. Autism. I repeat, you may not be a creative-type without a plan. Free-form does not exist in the world of autism. I have learned that there is at least 85% less whining and freak outs when there is a visual schedule. What is a visual schedule, you might say? (Oooohhhhoooohhhhhooooo, your world is about to change!!!!)

PECS stands for Pictorial Exchange Communications System (now you're smart!)
When Liam's therapists began giving me all of these pictures of things that he liked or things that he did during the day, I just sort of stared at these them like, "um, yea, how is this supposed to help me not kill my child?" They just looked at me and winked, and seemed to say, "just give it time, you'll be using these like crack- and, oh, we know what we're doing and you don't." Turns out, they were right. Even a toddler at 2 years of age can see what the pictures represent. For whatever reason, this satisfies the autistic child's need for order and predictability. And, now that Liam is older, I can just write out his schedule without using the pictures. I even schedule his down time (shoot me!) like: 

1. Eat breakfast
2. Watch tv
3. Play basketball
4. Snack
5. Computer time
6. Massage mommy's shoulders 

Do not do what I did which was to ignore the PECS for several years. Go ahead and start using it today!! 

2. The Great "If-Then" strategy:

Let's just get this right out of the way. You will be doing an inordinate amount of bribing with your newly diagnosed child with autism. You will say, in the beginning, that you will not partake of such parenting shenanigans, but, alas, my friends, you will.  The "If-Then" board gives you a nicer name for your shenanigans than that nasty "B" word.  

This is self explanatory, but you simply have a laminated sheet of paper that has an IF column and a THEN column. I used to have this paper with pieces of velcro so that I could put the visual symbol I wanted to under each one. (I can't seem to find a good example of one online)

For example: 

IF:                                                   THEN:

CLEAN TOYS                                EAT COOKIES

When you are yelling maniacally at your child trying to reason with them as to why they should obey you, they do not get what you are saying. Stop talking, and start pointing at the chart. Remember the KISS method which is "Keep It Simple, Stupid". Anything more than the 'IF, THEN' turns to white noise! 

3. Give them a LONG RUNWAY:

Much like an airplane that needs a really long runway to take off, a child with an airbus size tantrum ability needs a long runway to prepare for these transitions. You cannot expect a child sitting with the iPad on the couch to gently move to the carseat in 5 seconds time. You could with your other child. You CANNOT with this one!! When you foresee a transition coming up, you need to begin the countdown at LEAST ten minutes ahead of time, if not more. I even would do transitions for the end of a favorite book! (Okay, we are two pages away from being finished, then bed time...don't hit me.)

4. Try to do all of this without emotion

Now, I realize that even while I am typing this, I am clenching my jaws and yelling at my children to go to bed. There is hardly a good way to not show your annoyance when your child is screaming bloody murder and hurling themselves on the floor. But, I can attest that much of my son's tantrums and antics were to push my buttons. Yes, he has sensory and transition issues, but there is nothing quite as good as getting your mama's goat! Also, these guys need to be given credit where credit is due. They know that screaming gets the job done!! Everyone hops to it when Johnny Junior is having a meltdown. So, the key is to remain calm, grab your "IF-THEN" board and continue to point to the board until they respond appropriately. It may take you 20 times in a row. It may take you twice. But, once you have remained the calm one, you are actually modeling for them what normal behavior is. When you are not responding with chaos and emotion, the fun gets taken out of all the bad behaviors. 

5. Pray



6. Drink a glass of wine. (or three)



7. Share your journey with others

Unfortunately, most people will not get it. But, it won't hurt to try. You cannot shoulder this alone. You need friends, family, therapists, pastors, and anyone else who can be there for you in a significant way to help. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There will come a day when you won't need as much. There is an end in sight. But, until that day, you have to invest in relationships that give back.

And, once you have done all seven of these steps, you will go to bed. Sleep as much as you can, and do it all over again the next day. 

Power on! You are stronger than you think.