Tuesday, 22 November 2016

Decor by Crazy

Watching interior decorating shows always makes me wonder what the designers would make of our little palace in the suburbs.

We went with a theme of "easy to clean" and "not likely to break" with a colour palette of "doesn't show dirt".

The furniture is classic "hand me downs from the parents" with Ikea accents, professionally distressed by pets and children. Window treatments in the "came with the house" style and flooring in "we can redo it when the kids are older".

Family room decor is mainly "children's arts and crafts" with accents of "put it on a high shelf" and vintage heirloom  "OMG if you go near that I will take away your iPad for a month".

The children's bedrooms, are of course, individually decorated with a carpeting of Lego, naked dolls, broken toys and food scraps, with the TVs we swore (before we had kids) that we would never put in our child's room. Loose clothing and unidentified smears and stains add a lively joie de vivre to the walls and furniture.

The master bedroom is carefully arranged to give a restful "I will fold the goddam laundry tomorrow"  vibe, and scattered books, half empty cups and cat vomit give a bit of  casual personality to the room.

The bathrooms are equipped with modern fixtures in the "chipped, stained, and cheap contractor installed" motif, with mildew accents and "WTF is that smell?" throughout. Toothpaste, wet towels, dirty clothes, handprints in "please don't let that be what I think it is" on the doorknobs and walls liberally scattered to give it that homey, "whose turn is it to clean" feel.

The kitchen is beautifully outfitted with crusty counters and slightly damaged appliances, "not too breakable" and "cheap to replace" kitchenware and "bought it on sale" accouterments. Whimsical "last holiday's theme" linens add to the playful atmosphere, as do the paper, half eaten art supplies and half finished projects.

In all, a "shabby not so chic" style unifies the whole house with a large amount of pet hair, scratches and bite marks (cat, dog and child), random bits of paper and food wrappers throughout.

We are design savvy.

Thursday, 10 November 2016

Weak and weary

Rough week for America.

A man who legitimizes rape culture, homophobia, misogyny, racism, sexism, violence and hatred has been elected to the presidency.

So many Americans that I love are hurting. People wondering if their marriages will be valid tomorrow.  People wondering if their identities will be respected. People afraid that their religious affiliations will lead to loss of citizenship, freedom and safety. People who are disabled in some way are afraid that their basic needs as humans will not be met, that they will not be able to get appropriate health care, education, or housing.  People who are not white, straight, cisgender male, or Christian are afraid for their quality of life, their rights, their very right to exist.

I am a Canadian, so this will not be my leader. I am still traumatized by this election.

I watch as a man who has been accused of sexual predation and assault is put in one of the most powerful positions of leadership in the world.

I watch as a man who is used to coercing, manipulating, bullying and buying prestige, power, and privilege is given exactly what he wants.

I am autistic, as are my children. I am female. I have been bullied most of my life.  I have been the victim of molestation and rape, as a child and an adult. I am not a fighter. I am weak and frightened, and tend to use gentle words and avoidance as my strategies to avoid being hurt. I suppose I am a coward in many ways. My fear tends to paralyse me. I am pretty calm in an emergency, but will break down soon after, and violence terrifies me. I am physically and emotionally weak and vulnerable.

So, according to the kind of man Trump seems to be, I am of little value, a thing to be used should he care to do so (although I suspect I am too fat and old for his tastes), but then discarded, disregarded and degraded.

This is why this election has been so very terrifying, so very triggering for me.

Because I have experienced a great deal of bullying and abuse, and the one thing I had tried to forget about that experience has been shoved into my face again and it is not okay.

That one thing?

That the bullies always win.

Friday, 15 April 2016

Service (or not)

Is it too much to ask that a service provider put my child before their convenience?

Yesterday we finally had a meeting to discuss my daughter's services. They had been put on a 6 month "break" because her home aide was suddenly not working for them anymore. No explanation given, no transition, just a call that she was no longer working there, and that they had no on to replace her. Kitten spent weeks waiting by the door for her after school, crying, "My L---e. My L---e has disappeared!"

At that point, we should have went looking for a new service provider. But then my dad got the news that his cancer is back. Then, just before Christmas, my mother died suddenly of a heart attack. So I let it go. We were reeling with the news, making new plans to drive the 11 hour trip to be with my dad and I just couldn't deal with the paperwork. 

We have already made plans to visit Dad again this summer. Now they are telling us that if we don't start services with them now, they can't guarantee a worker for her in the fall. Plus, they want us to commit to a full summer of 3 hours a day with the worker for the bullshit "family centred" approach, which means I have to be present and involved for every session, and the therapists teach me to administer therapies to my child, essentially. 

Then they gave me their take on why they made us wait that six months, yet won't commit to providing services for Kitten now. They feel that I am not ready to commit to the process, and they don't want to put stress on ME. They keep talking about me being "ready" as if my daughter is just going to stay in stasis while she waits.

She is 5 now. She is going to be in kindergarten in the fall. She has almost no functional language, is not potty trained, is barely tolerant of parallel play with her peers, and is a risk for elopement because classrooms cannot be locked. How is she supposed to develop speech, life skills, safety awareness, social skills, if she can't get therapists because the provider wants to wait until I'M ready? 
No question, I hate the exclusively in-home therapy, family centred approach, but I will endure it for my child to get the help she needs. 

We will now look at a new service provider. Again.Time doesn't stop for us to catch our breath.  I'm still not happy, not optimistic about the prospects, still grieving for my mother, but Kitten can't wait. 

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

On awareness

Last week at the bus stop, I talked to another mom as we stood there waiting for the first child to make it off the bus. That child is autistic, with what is clearly SPD and is always crying and throwing his backpack, noise cancelling headphones, and finally himself at his mom as he exits the bus. She is likely trying to break him of the habit of expecting her to carry him off the bus, and I feel for her. He is probably 60+ pounds and nearly 5 feet tall, and she is quite tiny.

The mom I was chatting with looked slightly appalled as the usual routine crying and screaming took place. I noted that it could be hard sometimes as our children get older and bigger. That was when she replied, "Well, there is obviously something wrong with him. She should drive him to and from school in her car."

My son stumbled off the bus (his coordination is still problematic), and I commented, calmly, "He is autistic," as I steadied my son.

She replied, "Well, yes, you can see that he has problems. His poor mother."

I replied, "My son is autistic too."

She was nonplussed. I don't know what she was thinking. She did not, to her credit, tell me she was sorry for me or my son. She finally said, "Well, okay, I see." Then, "I know now. Good."

Her daughters jumped off the bus, giggling like mad, and we parted ways, but it left me a bit out of sorts.

This was the same lady who tried to talk to my daughter earlier that week, and when I told her Kitten is non-verbal, gave me a blank stare, then babbled a bit about how some children are shy and only talk to their parents, and I just let it go because I didn't want to get into it, and the bus was arriving.

This isn't the worst kind of person I have dealt with. My "favourite" is still the woman at Monkey's gym and swim who, upon learning that my son was autistic, asked, "Your son has autism? Are you sure that he should be in a class with kids who don't have autism?"

It isn't that folks are deliberately mean. It is just so discouraging that "awareness" is still lacking with most people.

I have to remember that most people, while they might know someone with an autistic child, or be related to someone who does, they are not immersed in non-optional autism awareness 24 hours a day. I forget that the terminology, the jargon of autism isn't common knowledge. For most people, autism awareness is barely on their radar, if at all.

That is why I don't agree when people say that the message should be "autism acceptance" or "embracing autism" rather than "autism awareness". For the parents, caregivers, teachers and professionals who are involved with autistics, we need to go beyond awareness, certainly, but the general public really does still need that basic education about autism that we find so familiar and simple. It is hard to accept, embrace or celebrate what you barely understand.

Tuesday, 1 March 2016

Social Worker's Month

It is, I am told, Social Work Month.

A lot of special needs parents and adults have had interactions with this group of overworked, underappreciated professionals. This is one of mine.
My son was 4 when we started him in an early intervention program. At that time, he was non-verbal, had a lot of SIBs, was inclined to dump everything in the kitchen into large, disgusting piles, and he was a frequent fecal smearer.
As I have mentioned before, all government funded therapies for early intervention are in-home.
We had a few rough spots with our first service provider, although at the time I mostly blamed myself. My housekeeping was never up to their standards. (see I have failed)
We bought, with my mother-in-law's help, a small carpet cleaner, used disinfectant wipes, swept, vacuumed and mopped multiple times a day, and I was hopeful that it was enough.

It wasn't.

One day I got a knock on the door, and a pleasant middle aged man was at the door. He presented identification, and told me that there had been a call to child services about conditions in our home. That he was there to investigate this.

I honestly don't remember whether the house was at its best that day or not. Probably not. It was in the afternoon, while the Monkey was at his preschool, and Kitten was still a baby. I must have been polite, let him in, spoken at least somewhat coherently.

He went to each of the rooms in the house. The bedroom where Monkey had only the night before defecated and played with his toys in the feces. The bathroom where we cleaned him up. The living room with its hand-me-down cat scratched furniture and scattering of random toys, clothes and baby stuff. The kitchen, which I still hadn't managed to entirely rid of the soya sauce/formula/coffee stink from the Monkey's latest successful infiltration of the pantry.

The social services worker was quiet, patient, and pretty thorough in his inspection. I was in a state of shocked panic. All my doubts about what kind of parent I was were slamming through my brain. I remember trying to apologize for the mess, when I mentioned Monkey was autistic, and admitting that he smeared, and that I tried to get everything cleaned up but I didn't know, I might have missed something.

And then he stopped me and asked, sounding irritated, but not with me, "Hold on. Your son has autism?"

"Yes. He is at his special needs preschool right now."

"Somehow the reporter failed to mention that." And he sat down, and talked to me.

He said that even not knowing my son was autistic, he had found no grounds for concern in our house. The fact that there was a bit of a mess of toys and household stuff just told him that we cared about our kids and gave them an enriched environment. The report had mentioned the smell of feces and unpleasant food smells, but he couldn't smell any fecal odors, so we must have done a very good job of cleaning up, and the food smells didn't smell like rot or garbage, and there were no insect problems present, so there was no concern on his part there.
In fact, he had no concerns at all about the fitness of our home for our kids. He was clearly annoyed on our behalf as well as his own, that someone had called about this, without informing the office that we had a child with autism. He offered to give us a list of services available and help us find assistance for Monkey, but when I told him what we were doing and what we had applied for so far, he told me we were doing everything he would recommend, and it looked like we were doing a great job.
He still had to get my husband to come in with Monkey for a brief interview, but he saw no reason that when that was done, that they wouldn't be closing the case with no further action required.
He told me we were doing a great job.
It was the first time anyone had ever said that about my parenting.
That I wasn't failing.

Since then, I have met, online and offline, a lot of social workers. I have been delighted to discover that the worker we dealt with was not an exception, but one of many good, compassionate people who do a job that is not in any way easy.
Their clients include lot of people who have been put down, marginalized, and abused until they lash out at these front line workers who are there to help. Social workers handle these attacks with compassion, humour and astonishing grace under pressure.
They are criticised for not being perfect, for the flaws in the system that make their jobs insanely complicated and sometimes nearly impossible. 
They get frustrated and upset and angry, but they are professionals, and handle themselves as professionals.
The majority of social workers that I have known are dedicated, caring, and determined people who are genuinely interested in helping.

I want to say thank you, to the worker who investigated the call against us, and made it an ultimately positive experience. To all of the workers who deal with terrible situations and difficult people and still retain compassion. Thank you.

Monday, 1 February 2016

Positive notes

Looking over the past few weeks, I have been in a morass of depression and anxiety. My mother died the Monday before Christmas, triggering a massive low that I can't seem to shake. So, I have been trying to dig up some positive emotion to help me through.

I have been griping a lot about people being ignorant, thoughtless and clueless about autism, and treating my kids (and me) like freaks or weak vessels. The details of those aren't important, and I need to stop dwelling on them. But for every incident of that sort, there is a balance of positive encounters with people who are more kind and genuinely compassionate. So, here are a few to thank.

The lady at the Burger King in the long skirt who didn't flinch when my almost eight year old decided to duck under it like he does with me (he calls it his tent), but laughed with him, and smiled with genuine warmth as I stammered out an apology and explanation. She made an awkward moment into no big deal.

The guy at the Tim Hortons who offered my sad, stimmy boy a TimBit to cheer him up when I ordered my coffee. He wasn't put off when Monkey didn't make eye contact or thank him, he just said, "I hope it helps him feel better." For the record, it really did help, for me and for my son.

The older fellow working at the Wal-Mart who allowed my son to talk his ear off about Skylanders for 10 solid minutes, and who smiled and nodded in all the right places, which is better than I can do most days. And then headed for the breakroom. I hope he got to finish his full break, but he delayed long enough to really make the Monkey's day, when he really didn't have to.

The little girl at the park in North Delta, who, upon hearing that the Kitten didn't talk, said, "That's okay, we can still play," and proceeded to play with my daughter until she had to leave. A lot of kids are put off by Kitten's silence and her tendency to wander off unexpectedly. This girl wasn't phased. That says a lot for me about the people who are raising her, too. Good on you. I wish you lived in our home city so we could arrange playdates.

There are so many encounters with people over the course of our lives that leave us upset or angry or just sad. I just wanted to remind myself that there are strangers who accept, who are kind, who care that other people are okay. Who might not know why our kids act as they do, but who accept them as they are, without judgement.

There is hope.