By way of example…

How do you really explain what it’s like to live with and parent a kid with autism? As you know, if you read my blogs and if you have a kid with autism in your life, it is not easy to explain. I often get questions like ,”does he understand ….?”, “is he high functioning(whatever that means)?” “how does he express himself?”  So I decided rather than try to describe what it’s like I thought giving every day examples might be more illustrative. Of course Bryan is one kid with autism and his presents itself in its own unique way. One thing that I have always found interesting are the growth spurts. Not height but functioning. It never seems that one thing happens, but rather a cluster of good behavior, a cluster of good language, or a cluster of independence.

Here goes with the examples, I divided them into categories to keep my train of thought more organized:

Language-When we were getting ready to go to Disney, I talked to Bryan about the rules for the trip. He does well when he knows the rules and I guess managing expectations really works well for everyone. I told him there are 3 rules: 1. No hurting Jason or me, 2. No screaming-side note-Bryan’s most favorite thing to scream is “I love you”. That poses a huge challenge-do you want to say please stop telling me I love you? No but at a lower decibel would certainly be appreciated. Ok and finally, and most importantly to manage anxiety, 3. You do not have to go on any rides you don’t want to. The last one, while conceptually easy for him, from a language standpoint was very tricky. You see, I ask him to tell me the rules, the first two are very easy for him to repeat back. The third one presents all sorts of pitfalls. He has to get the order of things correct and the pronouns, etc. It usually ended up as “If I don’t have to go if I don’t want to on a ride” or some sort of jumbled up version. Hmmm, what am I an amateur here? This needs simplification. The replacement I gave him was “I can choose my rides” or “I don’t have to go on any rides.” Much better, much easier and less stressful for him when I pose the question. It’s more important he understands the concepts, but I do like to know he can articulate them too.

Also with language there are triumphs, while on the outside looking in may appear so small, so insignificant, yet are so huge when language deficits are present. Last night Bryan said he wanted to take a bath. I said “ok, are you going in my bath?” He said, “no I like my bath better than yours”. OMG I had never heard such a thing before. He made a true comparison and used the right language to do so. I almost called his speech therapist but then more kept coming out. He was putting away his laundry and he found some underwear in the pile that belonged to Jason. He took the underwear and went into Jason’s room and said, “Hi Jason, these underwear are yours, not mine, put them away Jason” (ok he’s a little bossy, where does that come from?) Another great use of language. So small, yet so great. I was in our laundry room and folding more laundry and just peeked around the corner to catch Jason’s eye. He gave me that twinkly knowing glance; the one that let’s me know he loves Bryan too and gets it.

Today I was driving with Bryan home from seeing my mom. I was really tired today and a little irritable. Bryan had been sort of bugging me with lots or repeating language and he knew he was making things worse. It’s tough because the more upset I am or annoyed the more anxious he gets which leads to more frustration for both of us. So we left my mom’s place and we were driving home. Bryan said ” I feel overwhelmed”. NEVER have I heard anything like that. I asked why he was overwhelmed and he said because you’re upset with  me. So I thought to myself that I was never so happy to be annoying him if annoying him revealed such a great use of language. However, I did feel like crap that I was stressing him out. We drove a little further and then he said “what is autism?” At this point, I looked at him and said “why are you asking this Bryan? What do you think it is?” He said “I think it’s when I laugh too much.” Not really a wrong answer. Bryan is known for seriously inappropriate laughter. If Jason is mad or I’m angry he starts to giggle. And then starts to really laugh. Sometimes it’s good and makes us laugh too sometimes it’s maddening. I then explained a lot of stuff to him about what I thought autism is, but truly his definition was pretty damn close.

Independence-On any typical day, Bryan will unload the dishwasher. When they are home with me we have to run it practically every day. When they are at camp for 6 or 7 weeks I think I ran it twice! However, the level of effort Bryan puts in is amazing. Last night he loaded dishes from the sink into the dishwasher and went to put the soap in. He brought the almost empty container and said, ” we have no more dishwasher soap.” I told him we did and that it was in a green container and he proceeded to put the soap in and then take the old container out to recycling. He then emptied our kitchen garbage, replaced it with a new bag and took out the rest of the recycling. All of this was done properly, and without my asking. He then made his lunch and yelled at Jason to take his lunchbox out of his backpack and for Jason to clean the litter pan. I had already asked Jason to do this about 3x. It’s almost hilarious, but it is so truly joyful to watch him do these tasks so freely, effortlessly and with great pride. love.

Behavior-I think this may be the hardest category to show examples of that will resonate. If you can imagine that your kid truly cannot be quiet and that will drive you insane, even though you know language is so important. It used to be I could ask Bryan to be quiet for a few minutes and he would last about 3, then about 5, then about 7. We are up to about 10. I  bet you are thinking this is nuts, but it really is just the nature of the situation. To live with someone who is constantly talking and talking about stuff from 3 years ago or stuff that is so out there, you can get frustrated. He will tell you things like “I said something mean to grandpa 4 years ago” out of nowhere. Or so and so is old or so and so was mad at me on Sept 28. The good is the control we are now seeing to be quiet when needed and to reel it in.

Just a bunch of examples to let you peek through our window!

 

Always two there are, no more no less. A master and an apprentice.

So I’m quoting Yoda. Does that make me a Star Wars geek? I guess maybe, but I’m really not, I just dig his quirky  little backward way of talking and his intonation. His sayings are clever and provocative. They make you smile just as you say them.  Star Wars has  a significant place in pop culture and I can respect that, for sure.yoda

I am forever the apprentice, never the master, particularly as it relates to Bryan. Recently I had a conversation with a case worker that assists in navigating benefits at work. This man is an Occupational Therapist by education and practice, but he is also a trusted advisor to me. I have been speaking with this man, approximately 2-3 times per year for the last 7 years. He knows all about Bryan, his challenges, his needs and his progress. Another example, for sure, that it truly takes a village to raise a kid with autism. So this man helps me to navigate the available benefits and based on our discussions and his probing, we talk about what Bryan may or may not need for the upcoming year and he translates that into credible recommendations for assistance. One of the benefits of this benefit (ha!) is that this man really tries to understand who Bryan is, although they have not and will not meet, and tries to understand my philosophy in parenting Bryan. He can gauge progress by asking pointed questions the answers which reveal  growth or deficiencies. He forces me to not only think about what we are focusing on now, but the 3-5 year look ahead. Both are necessary and practical, yet stir emotions. Bryan will be 17 this month (there must be a math error) and it’s exciting to see what he can do now and where he can go. So I was describing to this man all of the independent functioning Bryan is doing and all of the great things he can do at home, at school etc. However, and this is the great part, there is always more. Always more to be done, always more to implement, always more to learn. He made two great suggestions. He knows Bryan is very visual, as are many kids on the spectrum, and I told him that Bryan likes a written schedule and also loves his phone and ipad. He suggested we add all of his plans on a google calendar. Duh, I use it all of the time, why didn’t I think of that??? Bryan will love that. So easy, so simple, yet so smart.

Another thing he and I talked about was Bryan’s use of money. At school he has personal finance aka math and he loves it. My caseworker suggested getting Bryan a prepaid debit card so he could pay for things and learn how to use the debit/credit machines. Another fantastic idea, all geared toward independence. My most favorite thing about talking to people who work with or are parents of kids on the spectrum are just these little tidbits we can share. It’s never the big things; we don’t miss those, but those small incremental wins are so fruitful. The student, grasshopper, apprentice in me is awakened by these suggestions and now I’m focused again on the possibilities. Bryan came home from school a few weeks ago and told me he is now going to FAU on Thursdays, “with the big kids”. He was very proud of himself and I knew based on his sense of urgency that the school told  him to make sure he told me. It’s not the rate of progress that matters, only the direction. So much behind us, yet so far ahead. Two weeks we went to Disney, a request by Bryan in celebration of his upcoming birthday. I like Disney but have been there many many times (incidental benefit of Florida residency) and he used to have tremendous anxiety there, even though he loves it. He was not anxious at all. He was over the moon. Jason and I shared a few quick “look how happy he is” moments when observing Bryan. So we decided to go on the Speedway at the Magic Kingdom. You know, those seriously old cars on a metal track. Jason went on his own and I went with Bryan. In my head I really wanted to see how he could navigate the car. He was fine with the driving part, as I knew he would be, but he was so distracted by people; nope not ready for real driving  yet. Years ago I would have panicked that this means he won’t be able to drive. Now I know it just means he will not be driving anytime soon because he’s not mature enough to focus on the road without the distractions. Bryan’s sheer presence reminds me that there is always plenty to learn if you are willing to be a student.