Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Christmas with the Crazys: a holiday card letter

The holiday season is still a special time of year, even for an atheist like me. We do a Christmas Eve supper with friends, lots of presents for the kids, and this year we even have our own house, and our tree was up before the 20th of December! (personal record since the Monkey was born) Granted, I have trouble with the whole garland thing. This year it looks okay on the tree, but the stuff I put up around the house looks more like Christmas Creeping Kudzu.
Anyhow, we have been trying to establish some holiday traditions and memories for our little family that don't involve poop, pregnancy or pets destroying the decorations. I like the concept of family traditions. I am not exactly terrific with the execution, but I do my best.
The one tradition I just can't get behind is the Christmas letter. The purpose behind these seems to be threefold:
1. To brag to people you hardly ever see about how incredibly awesome/talented/brilliant your children are, how successful/nurturing/amazing your spouse is, and how God just loves you a little more than most people.
2. To subtly imply that everyone else should feel just a little cheated that their lives are not nearly as incredible and full of JOY and LOVE and SHINY THINGS as yours. Also, you are a better person, with more interesting and meaningful hobbies/jobs/friend than theirs.
3. To give the impression that life is just great, when in truth it could be a stinking pile of feces.

I have nothing in particular against the first one. I can brag with the best of them, when I have something to brag about. As long as you are doing it with the motivation of making someone else feel happy for you, or sharing your happiness. Mostly that doesn't seem to be the case. The letter becomes a kind of "Haha, my life is better than yours is!"

This year, I have decided to write my own letter. Yes, I know it is last minute, and I am not gonna get anything more than eCards out at this point, but dammit, last minute is how I roll.

Dear Friends, Family and Whoever has a Sh*t left to give,

It has been an eventful year, here in the Crazy household. From a summer vacation in exotic Vancouver, to moving house without use of sedatives, it has been non-stop excitement!
 Thrilled to report, Kitten got her official autism diagnosis for Christmas!  She has been flapping and spinning for some time now, but we haven't been sure that it wasn't just "typical" toddler behaviour. So great to know that our darling girl isn't merely "typical". I have cut screen time down to 8 hours per day, and as challenging as it is fill the extra hours with non-Dora related content, the increase in destructive use of toys is SO worth it. I have been coping getting along with tolerating enjoying the intrution visits of Monkey's therapists and so look forward to adding Kitten's to the daily routine.

And speaking of special, Monkey hasn't smeared poop on the walls since August, and is almost always peeing in the potty, just in time for his 6th birthday! He has just blossomed this summer, what with the speaking in sentences that don't quote Cars (tm)! When I can pry his iPad from his hands, he has even been known to say full sentences, like "Get out my room, Kitten" and "Want my iPad NOW, Mumum!"

Hubs switched jobs, and no longer has the  excuse  reason  burden of a long commute to keep him from the bosom of his loving family. The children just shower him with affection when he gets home, sometimes even acknowledging his presence within less than a half an hour, even when they haven't had a potty accident!

Even the cats have been contributing to the joy of our household, considerately confining their malicious accidental peeing and defecation to the kid's play area, where there are easily discarded floor mats and stuffed toys to piss on!

 Me, I have just been busy, busy, busy, with providing enriching opportunities for the kids and cleaning up  the debris. With my med change is coming up,  I am just so excited for this new opportunity! Now I can use all the money spent on self medication with alcoholic beverages to replace the crap the kids have destroyed!

 Merry Christmas! Happy non-denominational whatever!
Stay at Home Crazy

 What do you think? Totally full of spirit and inspiration, right? A new tradition in the making!

Saturday, 26 October 2013

My house, their rules

I think I have figured out why I am hating the home-based therapy model required by the government agency that provides funding for the Monkey's therapies. It has been bothering me for a while, and while Monkey has made amazing progress and enjoys most of the sessions, I have been feeling more and more resentful as the weeks wear on. I feel guilty about it, of course. What is my problem? After all, this isn't about me, this is about him.
Well, it isn't, but it is.
The point of requiring therapies for pre-K and Kindergarten special needs students is, according to the funding agency, to help parents to develop coping strategies and methods of accommodating and working with their special needs child in the home. It is about educating the parents to deal with behaviours and challenges. All goals are supposed to be more "family focused" than "child focused".
I get this. The whole educational system is designed for the child. The therapies in the home are supposed to support the family centred model as a way of making sure the child and his siblings are in the best possible environment to learn and interact.
So it is about me. And I hate it.
I hate having to be fully alert and ready to deal with people first thing in the morning. Petty, maybe, but I have never been a morning person, and I resent having to be nice to people I don't care for before I am fully awake. I know his kindergarten is in the afternoon, so they have to do the therapies in the morning, I just wish I didn't have to have them in my house.
I have having to make sure the whole house is clean and tidy and organized every day, to the standards of the therapists and their bosses. I hate that when I miss a last vacuum of the kids' rooms in the evening, or if my little crumb factories have toast for breakfast, and I don't manage to sweep it all up by the time his people get here, I get snide little remarks, or those oh so helpful "just so you know, his carpet has food all over it" or "there is a sticky spot on the floor over here" type of comments.
I hate most of all that I have to welcome a parade of strangers into my home, as if I wanted to have every aspect of my decorating and housekeeping and parenting on display for people I don't particularly like, but have to tolerate. I have to be polite and even kind to them, even though I don't want them here.
It isn't even that I dislike them in particular. Most are nice enough, and mean well. But I don't get a choice. They are rarely people I would choose as friends, and certainly not as people I would invite over every damned day when I am at my least social.
I feel guilty and a bit ungrateful for these thoughts and resentments. I'm happy my little monkey can get the help he needs without it being a major financial burden in these early years. I just wish it didn't have to be at the cost of making my home the therapists' workspace.

Wednesday, 2 October 2013

Sometimes I forget

Sometimes I forget.
Day in, day out, I get used to the way things are.
I forget that "most kids" at his age don't line their toys up in patterns all over their room, and cry real tears of anguish when they are accidentally disturbed.
I forget that "most kids" don't howl, flap, jump and run circuits of the house when they are excited about the show they are watching.
I forget that "most kids" at his age can hold a pencil, use a spoon, pull a lever, push a button, squish play dough in their hand.
I forget that "most kids" at his age can kick a ball, run without stumbling, carry something without crushing or dropping it.
I forget that "most kids" at his age can sit and eat in a restaurant without climbing under the table of the booth beside them, can wait for their food without keening in distress and punching the seat.
I forget that "most kids" at his age don't deliberately poop their pants, then play with their toys in it.
I forget that "most kids" his age can talk easily, in full sentences, to almost anyone.

Then we go to the playground, or the mall, or a restaurant, and I see the other kids. Kids smaller and younger, who do all the things kids their age usually do. Kids who seem to be listening to their parents, enjoying a snack, playing appropriately.
Then I remember. He isn't quite like them. He can't do what they do. He doesn't act like they act.
He isn't "most kids".
It is always a little shock, that "normal" exists most places. But not in our house.
In our house, normal is therapists, accommodations, precautions, damage control. It's always being careful, vigilant, aware. Never careless or resting without consequences.
Sometimes I remember.
Some days that is okay with me.
Some days it hurts to see him not fit in.
Some days I am just too tired or busy to think about it.
Most days I just wish I could forget "normal" is out there, and is not always a welcoming place for me and mine. I know I am not supposed to want him to be different, to be anything other than who he is, where he is right now.
Most days, I just want to be normal. Whatever that means.
And on good days, I forget.

Friday, 6 September 2013

What I see.

I tried not to write this. I tried to just let it be. I watched as my friends (my fellow autism parents, my companions in mental illness, some on the spectrum, some not) discussed, argued and mourned the actions of a mother in crisis.
She made the wrong decision. She not only decided to end her own life, but that of her teenaged daughter. That was unequivocally, undeniably wrong.
 I am angry at her. I am angry at the systemic destruction of her ability to cope by an unfeeling, unforgiving bureauocracy. I am angry at the knee-jerk reaction of the haters, those who immediately use this as fodder for their hatred and an excuse to vilify all parents of autistic children. I am angry at my own guilt and shame and frustration.
I am also sad. Deeply, inexpressibly sad. For all of this. For Issy. For Kelli. For their family and friends. For my communities of support. And yes, I am even sad for myself.
See, I have attempted suicide. I have been at that point of guilt, and depression, and despair. I can't speak to why Kelli did this, except that she was obviously at that terrible place. It isn't a state that makes for clear thinking or logical actions. She made the wrong choice, the wrong decision. SHE WAS WRONG. I don't question that at all. It is unbearable that Issy has to suffer for this, but I know that Kelli will be punished, and she deserves to be punished for her terrible action.
I mostly need to know why. What happened? Kelli is an incredible fighter, a good mom, a compassionate person. She has advocated, suffered, and laboured to see her daughter reach whatever potential she has. She is also a murderer, a suicide, a coward,  a person who gave up on herself and her child. Issy is a violently aggressive, autistic teenager with poor control, and has physically attacked her mother countless times. But Issy is a fourteen year old girl, who by all accounts loved and trusted her mother. A person who did not deserve to be hurt, and who does not deserve to die.
When I ask the question, how can we stop this from happening again, the answer from the haters is "Don't kill your kid!" Gee, why didn't I think of that? By not killing my kid, I can assure myself that no child will be harmed by their caregiver, ever! This kind of thinking is deadly. How do you prevent this situation from happening again? How do you protect the vulnerable, while making certain that parents won't come to the point of seeing this as the only course of action, to kill themselves and their child? This isn't the case of a monster, or a psychopath, or a violent criminal killing someone out of hatred, no matter what the haters see.
See, I don't hate very well. Maybe I just use up all my hate on myself. I have too much empathy, sympathy, whatever the fuck it is that lets me put myself aside and see where other people are coming from. I don't hate the haters, because I can feel the pain and terror and rage that drives them. I don't hate Kelli, because I can see the despair and helplessness that drove her. I just hate that it has to be this way, when everyone wants the same outcome, that no child is harmed, that no human being gets to the place where harming their child seems like the only recourse. So while the haters scream their anger to the world, and call for the most brutal of punishments, the most merciless of actions against Kelli, I will continue to look for that why. I will be as great a support for my fellow travellers as I can be. I will do what I can, because this wasn't the heartless act of a monster. It was the desperate, destructive, terrible act of a human being. And I can't bear to see it happen again.

 Real Husbands of Autism on Facebook

Wednesday, 28 August 2013

Say what?

Big confession here: I swear around my kids.
I even swear about stuff my kids do. I have on rare occasions been know to swear AT my kids. That is usually followed by loud giggles from the little monsters, and why do these kids never take me seriously anyway?
3 tbs of pudding + one Kitten = OMFG

So, a few days ago we had one of THOSE days. Those days that make me count the hours until the school year starts (next Tuesday. 146 hours.)

Yeah. That might get Mr. dump-all-my-toys-and-scribble-Sharpie-on-the-walls-then-take-mommy's-mixer-apart out of the house for a precious few hours a day, but darling little Ms. eat-the-tip-off-ballpoint-pen-then-smear-it-all-over-the-furniture-and-herself will still be here to make my life. way. too. interesting. I think I shall sell them for medical experiments. Then the husband gives them cheese puffs to add orange to the decorations on the couch. Maybe I sell him too.


But I digress. I may have used some unfortunate words to express my reaction to the day's creative activities. I may have even repeated myself a few times. But really, why should my children have to learn to swear on the street, or the playground, when I can teach them properly, in the safety and nurturing environment of our home?

 There are times when having both children with speech delays is actually a good thing. Sort of.

By the way, can you think of anything that I can use to cover the phrase "cocksucker" with? When the Monkey says "Goddammit" it sounds a bit like "got them". He doesn't pronounce f's very well, so we have fuck you covered with "thank you". But this sounds like "coatsutta" and I can't quite come up with an "oh I think he is saying-" type phrase. I am not ashamed, mind you. Not me. 

Monday, 29 July 2013

Let him be

This is for my father-in-law. He won't read it, which is probably why I feel I can share this here.

 To his Grampa,

Today I was a coward. I watched you with your grandson, my little Monkey, and didn't interfere. He adores you, you know. He has been looking forward to this visit with growing impatience, and is thrilled to be here.

You sat with him while he watched TV. You sat, he did his own thing. He was really enjoying the show, Scooby Doo, I think, and began his usual exuberant run back and forth from his seat, flopping down to watch, jumping up in flapping, hooting excitement, running to the hall, running back to flop down again.

This is what they call in the autism world "stimming". Monkey's stims tend to be vigorous and physical, and a bit noisy. If you had a bouncier couch, he would probably be jumping on it like he does at home.

Every time he did this, you told him to settle down. When he didn't sit quietly to your satisfaction, you changed the channel. You did this, you said, because he was "overstimulated" and perhaps another program would be less so. Each program change was greeted with whimpers and protests from the Monkey, but he liked the next program you chose, so he settled to watch for a few seconds, before resuming his stimming.

Then you changed it again, same reason given. And again. Monkey grew increasingly confused and agitated. When the last kids' program you could find didn't "settle him down" you turned it to the news. Monkey broke down in tears. "Please my shows, Grampa" he pleaded. You said, "No, you are getting too hyper." "Sowwy, not do it again", his usual phrase when he knows an adult is displeased with his behaviour, whether he knows what he did or not.

I bit my tongue and didn't say what I was thinking. What I am writing now.

Let him be. Yes, he is excited. Why is that bad? He is not screaming or breaking things. He isn't slamming his head into the tiles hard enough to bruise. He isn't interfering with your enjoyment. He is being himself, with exuberant, unselfconscious joy. He does NOT need to settle down, relax, be quiet, be still. He needs to run, to laugh, to hoot, to flap and jump. He feels happy with his whole body, and his need to express it in an unusual way is not a problem.

We are working on "appropriate" behaviour. We try to make him understand that sometimes he needs to be quiet so as not to disturb others in their enjoyment of, say, a movie, or a meal in a restaurant. Yes, sometimes he needs to control himself.

But not here. Not when it's just him and his grandpa in the living room, watching a show he chose because he loves it. How can you not see the pleasure and joy in his stims? How can you stomp on the expression of pure excitement? He has plenty of time and places to practice fitting in, being respectful, being calm.

This isn't the time. This isn't the place. Just enjoy the moment. Watch him light up with happiness at watching a show with his grampa.

Just let him be.

Thursday, 18 July 2013

Let's talk poop (or at least pee)

So, I am still a little nervous about saying it out loud.

I don't want to jinx it. Yeah, I know that's kind of dumb, but really, I am freaking out and holding my breath, and trying not to disrupt this latest development...

The Monkey is using the toilet.

On his own. Out of the blue, pretty much. He runs into the bathroom, pulls down his pants, undies and pullups, sits down on the toilet and pees.

Sure, we have been working on this for almost 4 years, and yes, we have bribed, encouraged, applauded, bribed, celebrated, cajoled and wheedled, set up schedules and toy boxes and iPad time and did I mention bribed him with promises of Hotwheels as a reward for a day of successfully keeping his pants and carpet dry. Nothing worked before. For a while, he would sit on the potty for half an hour with his iPad, then go to his bedroom to pee on the carpet. He would drop his drawers in the middle of the living room and watch with interest as puddles formed about his feet. We went through months of him screaming his head off at the mere mention of sitting on the potty.

There was a really fun interlude when he would lead me into the bathroom, sit on the toilet for a second, then jump up and pee on my leg, while laughing his ass off. It was at that point that I gave up for a while.

 Then a few days ago, he started just...going. On his own. Like it was no big deal. He would tell me of course, because by golly, he wanted his "stars" on the heretofore neglected potty chart.

He tells me "I pee" when we are in the supermarket and goes in the public toilet. He holds it until he gets there!
Okay, he still has his moments. He mistimed it a couple of times, and peed on himself and half the bathroom floor before he got into position on the toilet. But when he did this he was upset, and let me know. He has NEVER been honest about whether he has peed before. He isn't one of those ASD kids who can't lie (not to say he is all that good at it; he's still five). Now he is letting me know he has had an accident.

He still plays with his poop on occasion. He is not really interested in pooping in the toilet. (why waste good play material, right?)
But this. Potty training himself. This is huge.

Maybe there is hope for us as parents after all.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Writing and life, not necessarily in that order

I used to really enjoy writing. I would write in a journal (yeah, like on paper. I am old.). I would write little stories and poems, short essays on whatever I was thinking about, that kind of thing. In my second attempt at college, I really enjoyed writing for my history class, philosophy papers, short assignments. I loved words, and while research could be a slog, I liked some of the stuff I came across. It made me think about the things I was learning in new ways, from new perspectives.
Later, when I finally entered the final phases of my university degree, writing lost its appeal. Trying to produce precisely arranged essays, by rules that seemed entirely arbitrary and stifled creativity kind of sucked the joy out of words. I still read for pleasure, but reading for coursework made my time for actually seeking out things I was interested in reading shrink, and other than a novel here and there, my pleasure in the written word was considerable diminished.
I was pregnant with the Monkey when I graduated with a BA in history (only 20 years to get a bachelor's degree...go me!) and at that point had far more time to read, but only wanted to read easy fiction that wasn't terribly taxing, and certainly I had no desire to write anything for myself.
Then three years later, I had the Kitten, and the following winter, Monkey got his diagnosis of autism.
It was time to read again, all of the books on autism, articles on the net, reports and evaluations, and then, fortuitously, I chanced upon my first autism blogs.
At the time, I had just weaned myself off Facebook games (farming games, aquarium games, restaurant games...yeah, I played em all to excess) and was trying to concentrate on Monkey and Kitten and all of the things that needed to be done to get our boy the help he needed, and to understand how to make it happen without losing my mind even further.
Homestyle Mama (with a side of autism) was one of the first blogs I read that really spoke to me about the real world experience of raising an autistic kid in an ordinary (more or less) family. She talked about the frustrations, hopes, challenges, anger, joy, even the mistakes. I will admit, I was a bit awestruck at the concept of writing about personal experiences with that kind of honestly, with humour and style, and useful information for other parents on their own journeys. I connected with her on Facebook, and with her help and encouragement, started my own page, and blog. I don't have anywhere near her dedication to her writing, her advocacy, or her talent, but I do have a voice, and her encouragement to me to share what I can has been instrumental in getting me back to writing. Through her I have "met" and befriended a network of incredible bloggers and advocates, autistics and parents of autistics and other special needs kids.
I don't know where I would be, mentally, without this amazing group of people. The last year and a half has been exhausting, with moments I wanted to give up, quit, collapse, and die. This amazing group of online friends has supported me, and accepted my support, with an openness I have never before experienced.
And I am enjoying writing again. That is so incredibly important to me, and it was my online supports that made it possible.
So a heartfelt, sappy, and grateful thank-you to all of my online friends. And especially Homestyle Mama. Thanks, Mac, for helping me find my writing voice again, and telling me it was worth reading.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Tea and bitterness

All of the end of year stuff at Monkey's school is happening, with really mixed emotions for me. It has been a difficult year in some ways, though Monkey himself has been fairly oblivious to the problems, which is as it should be, really. He has made good progress this year, especially in language and communication. With the increased ability to express himself, his self injurious behaviours have decreased both in frequency and in severity. He is a happy boy most of the time. There are still many challenges, of course, and he still gets frustrated and angry and loses his speech now and again, throwing things and banging his head, kicking, biting and scratching when he is especially angry. Most of the time, though, he is able to tell us something is upsetting him, even if it isn't always clear what that something is.
Most of the problems have been grownup stuff, to do with funding, his school, which is also his service provider, and his bus driver. It hasn't been disastrous, just grinding and stressful. We will be moving this summer, and finding him a new service provider, which means renegotiating with the government agency that funds his therapies. That is not going to be fun, but is necessary. There have been issues with trust and expectations with how his therapies are administered. The SP at one point called child protective services, due to concerns about "hygiene and safety" surrounding his ongoing fecal smearing. I won't go into detail here, suffice it to say, the CPS worker found no concerns, nor reason to open a file. The SP still refused to move Monkey's therapy back into the home, citing concerns about the risks to his therapists, their employees. Funding here is contingent on home based therapy. In the end, the funding agency agreed to allow his therapy to continue on site at his school until the end of this term (June 27th), after which we will have to find a new provider, given that no amount of cleaning, negotiating or reassurances has changed the mind of the SP on coming into our home.

This has, as you might guess, left some feelings of betrayal and disappointment. He has done very well with the current SP, but they can't be bothered to accept his level of challenges.
We will be moving this summer, and finding him a new service provider, which means renegotiating with the government agency that funds his therapies. That is not going to be fun, but is necessary.

Meanwhile, the end of year festivities are a little bittersweet for me. The parent appreciation tea was yesterday. The kids did a little singing show and there was cake and a slide show of the children in his class. I almost didn't go. I didn't want to be civil and polite to the people who had been so adversarial and dismissive of me so recently.

But for Monkey's sake, I bundled Kitten and myself into the car, and was at his school at 10:18, three minutes late, but we made it. For all the misery this year has brought me, the look on his face when he saw me in the audience was worth everything. The fact that he still sat through the show and didn't jump up and run immediately was incredible. But he just kept grinning and pointing and singing now and then, and not until the last note of music was played did he leave his seat and run up to hug me. He was so happy to see Mumum at his school, so pleased to show me the pictures and take me to say hello to his teacher, aides and therapists. He participated. He showed self control. He SPOKE to people. He was amazing.
I am really am glad I went. After all, this part isn't about me. This about celebrating our kids, and all their hard work. I couldn't be more proud of my little Monkey.

Monday, 20 May 2013

When the unthinkable happens.

Every parent I know has the stories. You know, the terror moments, the turn your back for a moment and where the hell is my kid moments. Some have many, many stories, but there is always one that plays in the mind like a looped video, that pivotal moment of pure panic.
For us, it was an incident while camping.
Last summer, the Monkey was four. He was entirely non-verbal with strangers then, although he had a few words for us and a lot of scripting of TV shows. He couldn't swim, but we were working on it. He had more of a fascination with the public toilet building than the lake, but he generally stuck close to the campsite. We stuck a bear bell on him as a tracking device, and with 6 adults and a teenager present, we didn't really think there was much chance of losing track of him. His 18 month old sister, Kitten, was content to play in the mosquito shelter with rocks and sticks, and just had to be watched so she didn't consume as much of the great outdoors as would fit in her mouth.
I was digging in the car for lunch stuff, when I noticed that Monkey wasn't in sight. I didn't worry at first, I just called out "Where is Monkey? What is he up to?" No answer for a moment. "Who has Monkey? Who can see him?" A little apprehension growing. I stood up to look around and didn't see him. Kitten was in the shelter. Hubby was watching the fire. Various other members of our group were hanging around, reading, talking, doing what you do on vacation.
Monkey wasn't there.
A quick survey, and it was clear that no-one had seen him for a few minutes. NOW I was starting to panic. Our spot was right across the parking lot from the lake, and while he couldn't swim, Monkey was fascinated by water that wasn't confined to tubs and sinks, and he loved playing in the sand.
The group mobilized to search. Two headed for the beach, which was crowded and noisy and hot, and I couldn't see him going into the water alone, but...I couldn't rule it out. Two more headed towards the toilet building he found so interesting. The teenager and another adult checked the lightly wooded area around the campsite.
I stayed at the site in case he wound up back there, but also because I was nearly immobile with panic at that point. I couldn't hear his bell. I couldn't see his neon yellow t-shirt. I had yelled at him for wandering off too far the last time I had seen him. I hadn't kept an eye on him the whole time. I hadn't been careful. I hadn't been a good mom. What if he had gone into the lake, or fallen in the woods and got hurt, or picked up in the parking lot by a stranger, or fallen in the outhouse (yeah, I was panicking all right).
I am told that it was a little less than 30 minutes when the teenager came back with him. It felt like forever. It felt like I was stuck in a whirlwind of fear for hours.
For the record, he had managed to ditch his pants (that the bell had been attached to), crawled up just under a jacked up truck in the parking lot, and was playing with his Hotwheels. A lady was found with him, talking to him, trying to get him to tell her who he was with, where mummy and daddy were, trying to get him to come out. He was not responding at all, of course, just humming and rolling his cars along the inside of the truck's running board. She was a little annoyed and frustrated with him at this point, and her raising her voice was what led the teenager to them.
So much hindsight here. Should have put a tag or medic alert bracelet on him. Should have made sure someone was assigned to watch him, with an alternate to be tagged when the watcher had to do anything else. Should have found better ways to block him from getting out of the site. It could have ended very, very badly. If he had headed for the lake. If no one had noticed him, and the truck had pulled out with him under it, so close to those big tires. If he had fallen and hurt himself, and couldn't tell anyone who he was or where he had come from.

Honestly, though, nearly every parent I know has a story like this. A child who wanders off in a public area. Who dashes into traffic. Who takes off out an unlocked front door, an unlatched back gate, around the corner of a building. Most of the time, the child is found, rescued, or retrieved. Most of the time, parents just internalize the fear and guilt, keep a closer watch, or put more locks and safeguards in place, and vow that it will NEVER HAPPEN AGAIN. But it does happen again. And we live, learn and cope.

Or the unthinkable happens. A child is kidnapped off a playground - falls in a creek behind the house - suffers from exposure - and is found too late.

Three times this past week I heard of a child that wandered with that unthinkable result. Whether someone in a moment's inattention, thought someone else was watching, or that the child was safe where they were playing, or a door was left unlocked, those parents now have to live without their child. And live with the guilt of what-if and why-didn't-I, and what-could-I-have-done.
And there are plenty of people who will encourage that guilt and vilify the grieving families for not watching their kids closely enough. For taking their children to places that are "risky". For being careless. Especially since these were all special needs kids, autistic children who were always more at risk. Journalists and bloggers, strangers on the street and the internet, judging these parents as guilty and responsible for the death of their precious, irreplaceable child. The "well, you should have watched her more closely", "you should have known he would do something like this, and been more careful", "why did you take her/leave her there when you knew she might wander off?".

But you know, these are the same people who point and snicker at a child who is acting differently from the other kids in the mall. The same people who sneer at my son's harness (why do you treat him like a dog?), or his stroller (why don't you make the lazy brat walk?), or shake their heads at stories of kids caged, locked in their rooms, confined to their houses, tethered in their yards and say, why do people treat their kids like that? Not that any of this is okay, but really, you walk a fine line as a parent, especially when your child is not typical. You don't want to restrict your child's life, or limit their opportunities to experience the world, or spoil them with overprotective measures, but you are always afraid for them, wondering what you should do, what you can do to keep them safe in a world that doesn't understand them.

I get it. I know that fear. I wish I could keep my children 100% safe all the time. I wish I could be sure that they were supervised and monitored 24/7. But I have to sleep, use the bathroom, cook, keep the house at least minimally clean and liveable, and sometimes I look away for a minute or two. I can only hope that the measures I can and do take to keep them safe will be enough. And on those days when they aren't enough, that there isn't a tragic ending.

To the parents who have lost someone so precious and loved, I grieve with you and for you. No parent is perfect, don't listen to the guilt mongers and blamers.  I hope you can get through this, and hold on to the hopeful and joyful memories of your child. Know that for every person who doesn't get it, there are hundreds of us who do, and who are out here knowing how easily it could be our child next.

And to those self righteous assholes who think they could have done so much better, who jump on stuff like this to get people to read their blogs and articles, SHUT THE HELL UP.


Monday, 29 April 2013

Broken eggs

I made brownies yesterday. Those who know me well know exactly what that means. I am a stress baker. I do my best to bake stuff that I don't like, because I am also a stress eater. When I make stuff like fudge, or brownies, or cookies, it means I have given up, given in, and am going to have a 10000 calorie day because I suck and I am going to be old, fat, and miserable.
Yeah, that kind of day.
To avoid more massive meltdowns and to keep him under supervision, I had the Monkey helping me. I do try to have fun with it a bit, even if his help mainly consists of adding extra flour and sugar to whatever I am making while I attempt to block, or flapping and hooting with mad joy when I turn on the mixer. This time he added egg cracking to his repertoire, and I picked shells out of the batter. Good times.
I sent him off at last with a beater (Yeah, I know, raw eggs, sugar, all that crap. He licks the floor next to the toilet at the mall too. He is building up his immune system. Shut up.) I cleaned up and put the pan in the oven, poured another cup of coffee and licked the other beater, and bawled my pathetic stupid eyes out.
I always wanted to bake with my kid. I loved it when I was little, and I love the picture of me and my mom baking cookies and making a mess. I love the memories of licking bowls and beaters (apparently they didn't have salmonella or e coli or whatever the hell else we risk these days).
The picture falls a little short of the reality with Monkey. He doesn't hold still that long. Given a chance he will dump all the containers of flour, sugar, milk and whatever else he can get a hold of into a big messy pile. He will eat handfuls of margarine and butter (ugh) and crush eggs in his hands.
 That's my little sensory seeker.
On good days, I can clean up the mess, even smile at his flour covered self and take a picture. Yesterday wasn't such a good day.
He had already had a shower and two baths because he kept removing his diaper or underwear to urinate on his carpet and roll in it, and he had a poop smearing incident that the hubby caught just in time, while it was still confined to just the carpet and himself. It was disheartening after a relatively promising start to his ongoing toilet training regimen, peeing in the toilet with very little encouragement that morning. That was the last cooperative moment of the weekend though.
I can't explain why this hit me so hard yesterday. I just wanted to enjoy the moment, but I couldn't pull away from the frustration and pain.
I know springtime is a frustrating time with our ASD kids, I'm told that regression in behaviour is "normal" in the spring. I just feel so helpless. It feels like any progress we make is pointless, and some new unpleasant or dangerous impulse is immanent even when he is having a good time. He is head banging and punching tile floors again, the bruises and scrapes break my heart to see. He kicks and hits and head butts me until I sport the same bruises and scrapes. Then he just repeats "sorry mummum lub you mummum, sorry mummum" over and over as he huddles under his blanket.
How do I parent here? How do I keep him safe from himself, and keep his sister and me safe from him? How do I watch him closely enough that in the 3 minutes it takes me to change the Kitten's diaper he doesn't somehow shed his undies and spread feces on every toy and surface of his bedroom?
Never mind, I have lots of advice on solutions and strategies and goals and charts and all that to look at. I have tried and crossed off the list many unsuccessful methods, and failed to be consistent enough with others. Sometimes I wonder if I am even close to capable of being a mom, especially to a special needs kid. I want to be the best mom I can be, but maybe my best isn't enough.

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Yeah, it's me

So, having wallowed in the stinking pit of depression for a few weeks, I have been trying to dig out of the hole and into the fresh air again. I swore that this month I would try to be more positive, more active, more connected. I would support my online friends, be more fun with my kids, be affectionate with my husband and stop obsessing and bickering about stupid stuff.
I don't know how well I was doing. I would like to think I was handling things pretty well. I wrote a post for autism awareness, did some paperwork that had been waiting for a while, tried to comment on friends' blogs and be supportive and sympathetic.
There were bumps in the road of positivity. The Monkey's service provider is being a PITA, the government bureaucracy is being bureaucratic and we are house hunting, on the premise that our landlord is planning on selling this place. I handled it. I am handling it. I did not explode or break down. I got angry, sure. I am frustrated with how things are going, and how little I can affect it all, but I am coping. Or at least I was.
From last night to now, I have been crying off and on, feeling down, useless, rejected. And over what?
A Facebook incident. Yeah, that's right, social media. Why do I do this?
The incident in question involves a member of a group I belong to, who has exercised her right to block me entirely. I can't see her posts, I can't private message her, I can't see her pages. The reason she has done this is apparently an annoying habit I have of "liking" too many posts and comments. The groups and friends we have in common tend to specialise in long, hilarious threads. They can run into the hundreds of comments. So, when I "like" a lot of the comments, it blows up people's notifications.
Honestly, I can't blame her, it really is me. But although I can't see what she posts, I can, on those threads, see other people's replies and references to her posts. And every time I do, it hits me like a punch to the gut. The worst part for me is that I like her. I appreciate her wit and humour. I feel like I have been excluded, shunned, rejected by someone I respect. I can't even apologize. And I hate it. And I can't change it. And I seem to be letting it drag me down into the pit again. And it is my own stupid fault.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Puzzled and blue

Autism awareness. I can't say that I am overly pumped about the day, month or whatever, but I, my husband (the special needs teacher) and my kids are wearing blue t-shirts and we have the blue light bulbs. I have my puzzle piece necklace. I am writing for the first time in over a month. But mostly, I am parenting my kids, and trying not to stress out over the events of life.
 I feel like I have been phoning it in lately.
I feel like I need to explain what the symbols of awareness and acceptance mean to me. People get angry and upset over symbols that they interpret and associate with various causes and organizations.
Light it up blue: This campaign was begun by an organization that is controversial in the autism community and frankly detested by many, Autism Speaks. I don't endorse them. I don't like their negative and cure oriented mission, and I don't like that they exclude those who don't agree with their mission, including autistics themselves. They have served the purpose of raising awareness, but their fear mongering and focus on catastrophising the condition is unacceptable. Their endorsement of unproven and dangerous treatments and "cures" is appalling.
That said, I think that blue is as good a colour as any, and if someone asks why I have a blue light at my front door, it has served its purpose as a beacon for opening the discussion of autism, why awareness is important, how acceptance is best demonstrated, what autism is for my family.
If the colour blue is not for you, the rainbow is a great alternative to represent "the spectrum" but really has multiple associations with other groups and causes, the most notable being the GBLT community.
Four Sea Stars is a fantastic blog. You should check it out.
Puzzles and puzzle pieces: I'm not entirely clear if this originated with that same organization, but I love the puzzle piece. My take on it is this: the world is a puzzle, and all of us are pieces, we all fit somewhere, but some pieces are harder to find a place for than others. This isn't their fault, and they are still a part of the whole, absolutely necessary to complete the picture. They belong, and we can help them find their place.
I make and sell these in my Etsy store here:
(shameless plug)

I have no quarrel with those who eschew these symbols, or embrace others, like the butterfly, rainbow, and so on. I don't want to argue the symbolism. In conversation, or in your space (blog, Facebook pages, what have you) I will refrain from discussions of these symbols if they offend you.
Still, I want what the awareness and acceptance message hopes to achieve: a world where everyone's child is accepted for who they are, what they are. Where disability is just different ability, and accommodation is just the status quo. Where having traits and behaviours that are unusual but harmless is no big deal. Where help is available for everyone to achieve their ambitions and potential. Where assisted communication devices, weighted vests, ear protection and other useful assistive technologies are readily available, not notable, but as ordinary as cell phones, eyeglasses and umbrellas.
I am tired of being attacked or disdained for my use of symbols, and the way I chose to promote the cause. I really feel that my message is clear as I can make it. I am not attacking anyone with my love for my kids, my respect for their differences, my compassion for their struggles, my admiration for their successes.
So celebrate difference, accept people, help those who need it, accept help with dignity when you require it.
And if you have any questions about my blue t-shirt and light, my puzzle piece necklace or my son's behaviour, let me know. I am always happy to help one more person to understand autism, in as much as I understand it myself.

Monday, 25 February 2013

Autistics Should: How do I learn what autism is, anyway?

I have been on this road for about two years now. Oh, I felt there was something going on with the Monkey long before that, but the process really started moving along when he turned three, with little or no language, no interaction with other kids, odd play, unusual reactions. The process of referral, assessment, diagnosis, referral for funding, applications, and so on and so forth is ongoing, but the bulk of it was completed more than a year ago now.
So I have made an effort to learn what I need to effectively parent this boy. I love him more than I thought I could love anyone, and I want everything for him. I have talked to and read blogs and books by other parents of autistic and special needs kids. I have talked to and read experts in the fields of education, medicine, psychology and therapies. I have talked to and read the blogs and books of autistics of all ages, from the 3-5 year olds in the Monkey's classes and soccer team to a five year old novelist (yep, five and writing books, though as yet unpublished), to teenaged bloggers and students, to adults who have been through the system or have been left undiagnosed until adulthood.
I have been educated, confused, enlightened, appalled, insulted, ashamed, disturbed and frustrated with the materials that are out there. Blogs and web based information have been both my best sources and some of the most uneven and terrifying stuff I have read. There is a "flash blog" going on right now because someone checking the search engine on Google found that the auto-fill for most searches for autistics came up like this:

This was my result. I felt queasy when I saw it. What if I was a parent trying to understand my child? Or a young person or adult trying to find information on a friend or family member's condition? Or, and this is the most terrible of all, what if I were a person looking for some information or support for my own diagnosis, and this was the crap that they were given to deal with?
I know more about autism and autistics now than I knew when I started. I can look at this stuff and say "NO". Not everyone can do that so easily. It cuts to the quick because the first place people often go for information is the internet. It might not be the best place to find answers, but it is fast, anonymous and has a huge database of information and misinformation to choose from. Today I am spending some time entering some more positive searches into that bar, in the hopes that when someone types "autism" or "autistic" looking for a way to understand, they are not assaulted with hateful, negative statements.  I hope you will too. Some examples: Autistics should be respected. Autism is not an illness. Autistics are good people. Autistics are family, friends, neighbors. Autistics should be heard. Autistics should be listened to. Autistics can love. Autistics should be loved.
That's a start.

* Note: if you put the identical search too many times from the same computer too fast, Google counts it as spam, so try a bunch, and do some every day, until we can be sure of some positive results.

**Here is the masterlist of blog posts for the flashblog   http://autisticpeopleshould.blogspot.ca/p/postroll.html