Friday, November 18, 2011

Munchkin Joins the Four-Eyes Club

Munchkin got glasses tonight.  I took him to the eye doctor after his teacher told us he says he can't see the board.  I always knew this day was coming...I started wearing glasses in 2nd grade.  My hubby's been wearing them since 1st.  Squirrel got hers in 3rd grade.  And so genetics dictates that Munchkin was bound to have his turn sooner or later.

Eye exams are their own unique kind of torture.  They don't hurt, necessarily (unless they put those awful numbing drops in that feel like liquid fire for about 30 seconds before making your eyes feel like they belong somewhere other than in your head.)  Those of you who wear glasses know how it goes; for those of you fortunate enough to have been blessed with 20/20, let me explain.  You sit in a chair in the semi-dark room and the doctor puts a thin rectangle of light up on the opposite wall, and asks you to name the letters you see.  And you squint and stare and try to make out a letter among the black spots in the middle of that orange square of light.  Then he puts this big machine over your eyes, and starts spinning dials asking, "Can you see anything yet?"  Followed by, "Is it better now?"  And you sit there going, "Uh, I don't know?  Is there a right answer?  They both look kind of the same.  Maybe that one's a little blurry...Oh, that one's definitely blurry, yeah, that's better..." until somehow he figures out what prescription you need.  You basically feel like a moron for awhile because you can't even read your letters and your sure you are failing this test somehow.  Then he takes the big machine away and tells you to stare at the letters while he shines a light in your eyes--and blocks the letters with his head which is mere centimeters away from yours.  And you meanwhile hold your breath and pray he can't smell the onions you had on your salad at lunch.

Well, an eye exam with Munchkin was complete and utter hilarity!  He climbs in the chair with his hand down the back of his pants, talking a mile a minute about his itch on his butt (I wish I was kidding) and then about his friend Jason at school who has glasses and how he likes to play with legos now because Jason likes lego ninjas and did you know that Angry Birds is actually my favorite game and...  Meanwhile, I'm trying to tell the doctor why we're here and that (in case you can't tell) Munchkin is on the autism spectrum and has some sensory issues with lights and also some tracking issues, so...good luck!

He was awesome.  (Turns out his nephew has Aspergers and he knew lots of ways to focus Munchkin enough to test his eyes.)  He told him to sit back in the chair and read the letters.  They were too blurry, and Munchkin blurts out, "Hey!  Those aren't letters!  Unless someone messed them all up!  Did someone mess up your letters?"  It was immediately obvious to me that he couldn't see worth a darn because he read every other letter wrong.  Then the doctor covered each eye in turn with his paddle and asked Munchkin to read the letters.  He kept trying to turn his head sideways to read them, trying to figure out how to see around the paddle.  And he kept a running dialogue the whole entire time.    "Wait!  Why are you putting that spoon on my eye?  How am I supposed to see with that spoon in the way?  Only one eye works when you do that!"  (I really don't think the child stopped talking from the moment we entered his office until we left.)  But he did try to read them!

Then the doctor put the machine on his eyes and Munchkin says, "Hey!  I can't see a thing!  Hey!  Only one eye can see!  But it can't read any letters!"  And as the doctor turns the knob to clear it up, Munchkin suddenly yells, "I can't see I can't see I can't...Whoa!  I can see it now!" and starts spouting off the letters.  The doctor kept turning and asking, "Can you still read it?" (Yeah!  Yeah! Yeah!) until he got a "No!"  He then turned back and Munchkin would say "Hey, I see it again!"  And so he was able to decide his prescription.  (Turns out he's significantly near-sighted.  Just like the rest of us!)

Then he tried to look into Munchkin's eyes with his light.  You aren't supposed to move your eyes, but of course, Munchkin kept looking all over the room--at the light, at the ceiling, at the machine, at the light,at his face, at the light, at the wall, at the light...So he put some pictures on the wall and told Munchkin to keep looking at the pictures.  But of course, he has to get right up in your face to see your eyes, therefore blocking your view of the wall where the pictures are.  And Munchkin yells out, "Hey, I can't see the pictures!  I can't see through you!  What, you think I have super powers and can see through you?"  And when he turned the pictures off and turned the light back on at the end of the appointment, Munchkin said, "Hey!  Your pictures disappeared!  Do YOU have super powers?"

I don't think I've ever laughed so much at any kind of health-related appointment before!  Between laughing at Munchkin, and watching the doctor try to stay focused and not crack up himself, I was seriously amused.  What a fun way to spend time with a doctor!

Well, until I had to pay the bill anyway.  This little Munchkin cost me $200 tonight!  But, with any luck, his glasses should last--they are completely bendable and flexible, with scratch-resistant lenses, and a strap to hold them on his head (which he so far refuses to use, because he's afraid it will "choke his brain.")  And a one-year warranty on the frames AND the lenses.  Which I fear we'll use probably more than once.  (sigh)

He can't wait until Monday to bring his glasses to school for Show and Tell.  He doesn't quite get that he'll be Showing these off for the rest of his life!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Missing My Kids

I started working full time again this month.  Hubby's out of work for the season (don't feel bad for happens every winter, and we're used to it now.  Money gets tight, but we'll be fine!) so it's time for him to play stay-at-home-dad and for me to be the bread winner.

I've always loved work.  I love my job, especially the new challenges I have there now.  After 16 years (really?  16???) in the classroom teaching everything from toddlers to kindergartners, I am now in a mentoring position where I work with all 15 classrooms in our center and help them in the day-to-day running of the class.  I do a lot of in-room training, a lot of modeling for the staff, and a lot of consulting for everything from behavior issues to trouble meeting a requirement to screening for special needs to improving a program component.  I am really enjoying it, though it is quite a bit more stressful than teaching ever was.  I have to be the bad guy a lot of the time.  And I have to practice way more patience and tolerance with the adults in the building than I've ever had to practice with the children.  (I'm not sure that's the way it's supposed to be?!?)  But I really do love it.

I haven't worked full-time since Munchkin was in preschool.  I forgot how utterly exhausting it is to come home from a 9-hour day at work (after starting my day 3 hours earlier than that to get kids to school appropriately dressed, fed, and ready for their day) and throw yourself right into the dinner preparations and homework time and baths and eventually bed.  Granted, it's easier now with Daddy at home to at least get the homework started (unless there's 4th grade math involved--then they wait for mom to come home).  And Daddy does a  lot of the running kids to therapy and dance and all that fun stuff too.  So when I do drag myself in the door, all that's left for me to do is cook supper, and maybe a little homework stuff before bed.  And in all fairness to Hubby, he'd gladly make supper if I got it started or left him detailed instructions.  I just haven't managed to get myself that organized or that on-the-ball yet!

But what I especially forgot is how much I miss my kids when I'm not with them.  I really enjoyed picking them up from school everyday.  I enjoyed spending a little time hearing about their days while they had a snack.  I liked touching base with their teachers each afternoon and seeing their friends.  I enjoyed hearing them play together (at least when they weren't fighting) and I enjoyed--well, no.  I did not enjoy homework time.  But I liked everything else about being with them.

Now, I come in the door and Munchkin runs up to hug me, then heads back to the computer where he's engrossed in a game.  Squirrel's usually buried in some activity and doesn't even realize I'm home until I hunt her down.  They've both already had their conversation time with Daddy, and now they're both in their shut-down mode that finishes a school day.  The upside to this, of course, is that I'm getting time to actually sit down and visit with my hubby each day while the kids veg, and that is something I've also missed out on all summer while he worked crazy hours.  So, for that I am grateful.

But I do miss my babies.  By the time we eat, it's 7:00 at night and time for baths and bed.  I used to beg Hubby to take the bedtime routine, because after a day of staying home with the kids, I was done being Mom about an hour before they were done needing me.  But now, he'll tell Munchkin it's bedtime, and I'm the one begging for 5 more minutes!  Just one more story with my boy; a few more minutes of a video with my girl.  I found myself actually wanting to stay in bed with Munchkin tonight just so I could cuddle him until he fell asleep.  He is, of course, too big for that now in his opinion.  He told me, "You can go now Mom.  And close my door all the way when you leave."

I can't wait until March comes along, and I get to cut my hours back down and be the one to do the after-school pickups, and eat snack with my kids, and cook dinner together, and play outside before starting homework, and fit in some lego time or a board game while we wait for daddy to get home.  But not homework time.  Ugh.  Daddy can keep that one.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Reevaluating Autism

We're coming up on the two-year mark of our journey into Autism.  In 2009, two very nervous and exhausted parents met with a highly-recommended developmental neuropsychologist to discuss the strange behaviors and developmental delays in their four year old child.  We were concerned and scared and tired of feeling out of control in our own home.  We were mentally and physically exhausted with the daily stress of meltdowns between every moment of endless movement and energy.  We were troubled because we couldn't communicate with our son when he was out of control (which was much of the time) and because we didn't feel like we could connect with him when he was calm.  And--having finally let go of that thin thought that he would grow out of these behaviors--we were holding on to the last thread of hope that maybe, just maybe, this would be the person who would finally see the things we were seeing in him and offer us some help.

And we were not let down in that regard.  Hours and hours of evaluations stretched over the next weeks led to a label and a reason for his behaviors.   And lots of suggestions on how to help him, and how to help ourselves as well.

But I've never been completely comfortable with the diagnosis.  When we first started this process, I researched my little heart out.  Every waking moment during the weeks of testing was spent on the computer or in the library, trying to prepare myself for whatever the doctor was going to say.  When we went into her office for that fateful meeting where she was going to tell us the diagnosis, I was pretty sure I was one step ahead of her and knew what she was going to say.  I had already self-diagnosed my boy with Sensory Processing Disorder.  When she started talking about his global delays (meaning, delays across many areas of development) with huge delays in social and communication skills, warning bells went off in my head.  These were not delays I had read about in conjunction with SPD!  After 20 minutes of telling us the results of his tests and what the different therapists on her team had observed, we finally got that label...PDD-nos.  And I drew a blank.  Nothing in my research had mentioned this!  It was several minutes of stunned processing on my part, trying to still my beating heart and the noise in my head to hear what she was still saying, when the word "autism" broke through.  I remember saying, "Wait!  He has autism?"  And she explained about the spectrum being like a bowl, with some people being at the top of the bowl on one side (low-functioning, or Classic Autism) and some being at the top of the bowl on the other side (Aspergers Syndrome), and Munchkin falling into that large area in the middle of that bowl that they called PDD-nos, meaning he had "Global Developmental Delays with Autistic Characteristics."

We went home and I immediately got back on the computer to research this.  As I read about the signs of autism, I realized with a sinking feeling that Munchkin really did display a lot of these things.  He avoided eye contact with others.  He often went into his own world and ignored everything around him.  He didn't play with toys appropriately, but preferred to line them up or to lay on the floor and move his trains back and forth in front of his face.  He obsessed about things to the point that nothing else mattered.  He would play alongside other kids but seemed oblivious to their presence, unless they interrupted his process--then he melted down or lashed out aggressively.  But for all the red flags he DID display, there were just as many that he DIDN'T.  He didn't flap his hands, or spin the wheels on his tractors, or stare at patterns and designs on things, or rock his body back and forth.  He didn't have speech delays, and talked a mile a minute!  He made eye contact with me and with his teacher at school.  He was affectionate, almost to a fault with the way he lunged his body at you for a hug and squeezed the air out of you.  And he was smart--practically a genius!  How could anything be wrong with the brain of a child who could recognize all his letters and numbers at 15 months and spell and read many words by age 2?!

But over time, the autistic behaviors became more apparent.  He didn't flap his hands, but he did spin in circles a lot.  Ok, too much to be considered normal.  He talked a mile a minute, but always about Thomas the Tank Engine.  In fact, he knew everything about Thomas, had even memorized whole episodes of the show!  And he didn't always respond to your questions, or maybe if he did, his answer didn't make sense.  Like when I asked him what he wanted to eat, and he said, ""  But when I asked again, "Do you want waffles or cereal?" he said "waffles" (which, coincidentally perhaps, were in a blue box).  He made eye contact when he initiated it, but refused to do so when you asked him too.  He did have a fascination for patterns, always watching the way the sun played across the wall, or driving his trains on the lines of the tile floor, or having to avoid the lines in the tile at school and jump from square to square.  And my little genius (for he truly was incredibly smart in many areas, testing at a 7- and 8- year old level in many higher functioning areas of the brain, like puzzle-solving and reasoning) couldn't do such basic tasks as getting himself dressed or holding a crayon to scribble.  Over time, I embraced his diagnosis and we began working with therapists and with the school district to help him overcome his delays.

There is no longer any question in my mind that my child has "autistic-like" qualities.  Here we are two years later, and he still displays many of them, though he has overcome many of them as well.  He now makes eye contact in a fairly typical way--unless he's distressed or overwhelmed in some way, in which case he avoids it still.  He still spins--a lot more than what would be considered typical, especially now that he's six--and he's actually picked up the habit of soothing himself by rocking.  He still lags a year or two behind his peers in social development.  He will play with other children now, and sometimes he even initiates it, but he doesn't have the skills that most six-year-olds have in play.  He doesn't take turns, or let others lead the activity, or allow for any variation from the rules as he understands them.  This makes it hard for him to join others in a game, because they get mad at him for being so rigid and for not playing fair.  And he doesn't have a clue why they're upset, so he just thinks they're being mean to him.  He still doesn't understand emotions or read facial cues well, but he has started making and understanding jokes in his own way.  He doesn't understand sarcasm or some of the strange idioms in our language, and he's still a very literal and visual thinker.  And he still obsesses about Thomas--though he's branched off now to Angry Birds and Hotwheels as well.

I no longer wonder if he's really autistic.  I still maintain, though, that many of his issues are more sensory-related--which definitely falls into the spectrum, but doesn't define it.  Almost all the things he does can be explained with an SPD diagnosis--but all of them can be explained by autism too.  Ultimately, it doesn't matter.  Having an autism diagnosis allows him to receive services through the school district, which, at this time in our life, is the only therapy we can afford to give him.  It also allows insurance to cover at least some of his therapies when we do pick them up again, because they'll allow for Occupational and Speech Therapy under the autism category, but they won't even recognize SPD.

I do wonder where we'll be next year, when he'll have to be reevaluated in order to continue services at school.  Will he still be "Autistic-Like" enough to qualify?  Will he keep his diagnosis or will it change?  Will he ever reach a point where he can be considered "neurotypical" and we no longer deal with this?  I wonder this one a lot--I've accepted that this is our son's life, that he will always have Autism and will always be working at the things that his brain doesn't want to do.  But I wonder sometimes if a day will come when his delays will be gone and his development will catch up to his peers.  It's a possibility that I don't put my hope in for fear of disappointment if I do, but also one that I can't quite give up on.

Like I said: Ultimately, it doesn't matter.  Munchkin is who he is, regardless of what we label it.  The label doesn't define him--he defines it.  Him, and all the other kids out there who are on the Spectrum, wherever they lie in that bowl.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Looking Back to Move Forward

Sometimes the smallest, most insignificant things can have a great impact on your life, if you just keep yourself open to the possibilities.  This post is a far cry from other things I've written--this one comes from a place inside of me that I don't often look into.  But I think God wanted me to do some soul-searching this week, and I'm glad I listened.

I follow a handful of blogs, some for information, some for support, and some for pure humor relief.  The other day I was reading one about Michelle and JimBob Duggar's announcement of child number 20.  I don't care one iota how many kids that family wants to have (though I do have an opinion about parents parading their children about on TV!)  I was reading the comments to this blogger's post because they were almost as funny as her article itself, when I stumbled upon one strongly-worded comment criticizing the Duggar's lifestyle from someone who had been raised in a similar lifestyle. This reader also made reference to the recent children's deaths attributed to Michael Pearl and his teachings. She referred to another blog, and, fascinated, I checked it out.  And was subsequently introduced to a lifestyle I had only vaguely known about before this!

It's referred to by several terms--this blog refers to it as Quivering most of the time, though it's formal name is Christian Patriarchy.  Let me say up front that this blog is not at all singing the praises of the Quivering philosophies--in stark contrast, this is a website where women who have gotten out of this lifestyle are telling their stories as part of their recovery from the emotional, physical, and spiritual abuse they endured while living it.  Now, I don't want to bash anyone's lifestyle without knowing more about it than what I've read in one blog, but I will say this:  I am drawn to these women's stories like someone is drawn to the scene of a car crash.  I am sickened by what I read, yet can't wait to read more!  I want to reach in and pull these women out of the mess they're in, and at the same time I want to shake them for allowing themselves to be in this place at all!  If you want to read some of this for yourself, this is the website I was reading from.

I actually know people who follow this lifestyle in part or in whole.  I know a family who has embraced it fully and lives it out exactly as these women describe it in this blog.  I know a family who follows large parts of it, but rejects some of it.  Having been raised in the church, I have heard of many of the books, publications, and training materials referred to in these stories.  I even have homeschooling friends that subscribe to many of them.  I also know people who embrace some of these teachings and are not anything like the people I've been reading about--families who have many children and "trust God to plan their family," or families who homeschool their children.  So, I make this disclaimer: I lump no one into any kind of stereotype, nor do I criticize the lifestyle of anyone I know.  I certainly aim to offend no one here!

So why does it fascinate me so?  Because of one of the first stories I read when I clicked on it.  This woman told of meeting a man who seemed like the perfect Christian man and the ideal husband.  She told of how he wooed her and made her fall in love with him, and slowly began changing her by convincing her that "the Bible says..." And how, being in love and wanting to please him, she changed for him.  First little things--how she wore her hair, or how much makeup she used, or the clothes she wore.  Then later, she let him influence who her friends were (people he approved of--people that were "good Christian role models" for her).  And then she let him convince her that all the people who loved her were sinners and were dragging her down into the pits of hell with them.  He alienated her from her family and her friends, moved her far away from anyone she knew, and convinced her that he alone could take care of her, meet her needs, and guide her down the right paths.

Sounds insane, right?  Except that I lived this story out myself, and when you are in the middle of it, it's not so insane.  Until that brain of yours starts thinking for itself again, you just allow yourself to be pulled into this trap, and you truly start to believe that you are better off with this man than you ever could have been yourself!

This writer went on telling her story about how, once this man had alienated her from everyone he didn't approve of, he married her.  And when she didn't live up to his unrealistically high expectations, he punished her.  Over and over, the cycle repeated itself.  She'd mess up, he'd hurt her and degrade her--all in the name of love, of course, and all because he was trying to shape her into a more Godly woman--then she'd feel horribly guilty, repent of her sins against him and God, and they'd live happily for awhile.  Until the next time she messed up.

Again, been there, done that.  The difference between her and I was a small one--my husband got caught cheating on me by the husband of the other woman.  This situation, and the backlash of it all, was enough to wake me up and make me start using that brain of mine again.  I got out before any children could be brought into our marriage.  The woman I was reading about had many children and only got out when she almost died from the abuse of her husband while recovering from the birth of her last child.

As I read her story, I realized that I had been sucked into this Patriarch lifestyle when I met this man.  While he didn't embrace it as fully as some people have, he definitely embraced many of its main tenants and he certainly thought he had the right to physically and emotionally abuse me, and completely control me, in the name of his religion and his God-given duties as husband.  I remember his aunt giving both of us some of the publications this movement produces--his aunt and his grandmother were very strong influences on his thinking.  I think that if someone had fully introduced him to the Quivering lifestyle, he would have embraced it whole-heartedly and I would have followed along, willingly allowing him complete and total control over my life and the children we would have. He already had me pretty brainwashed--it wouldn't have been a big step to cross the rest of the way over.

I don't know if he actually turned to this lifestyle later in life.  I filed for a restraining order the year after our divorce when he continued to threaten me and verbally abuse me.  Years later, he sent me a letter with a photo of him and his new family.  The photo showed a perfect little wife who looked very much like I did, once he had finished molding me.  He had several children, all stair-steps apart in age.  And they all looked happy.  I prayed at the time it was true happiness, not the fake smile-for-the-world-to-see happiness I always portrayed when we were together.

I harbor no ill-will toward him, but reading this blog really reminded me of how far I've come, and of how much further I could have fallen.  It was a dark time in my life, and it took me a long time to heal from the pain of it.  But I have put it behind me, and I have learned a lot about myself, God, and other people through this.  I've always maintained that God protects those who are devoted to him, and that He will use even the most painful situations we endure.  I know He protected me in ways that I only this week truly grasped!

I guess you never know where a simple thing (like a humorous post about an extremely large family) will take you if you let it.  Sometimes healing doesn't happen all at once, but rather in small increments throughout the course of a lifetime.

It's Conference Time!

Parent-Teacher Conferences.  Does the term stir up dread in you?  Or is it something you look forward to?

I remember these days as a kid.  A day off of school.  Waiting all morning with a mix of excitement and dread for it to be time to go to the school.  Sitting in a chair in the hallway with my siblings while mom talked to each of our teachers, one at a time.  I'd sit there with butterflies in my stomach, swinging my legs against the metal folding chair and wringing my hands in nervous anticipation of what was being said in that room.  I was never too worried--I aced every test, answered all the questions correctly, handed in my homework on time, and raised my hand to talk in class.  I was quiet and calm when I needed to be, smart and articulate when the situation called for that, and stayed out of trouble.  But you never knew what the teacher was going to throw out there that might not be taken so well by the parents!  I'd sit in that hallway reliving every moment of the last quarter, wondering if each little incident might have been one that would get me in trouble, until Mom finally walked out with a smile on her face and I knew I could relax.  Yeah, I was a pretty good kid.  I didn't ever have anything to worry about, but I worried all the same--guess I've always been that way.

Now I sit in the parent's seat at these conferences.  And I enter them with the same mixture of excitement and dread.  I can't wait to hear what level Munchkin's reading at, or what a magnificent writer Squirrel is.  I love hearing which subjects are their strongest ones, and which ones really give them a creative outlet.  Like myself at that age, Squirrel doesn't give me much to worry about.  She's intelligent and articulate and creative.  She aces her tests and answers all her school work correctly.  This is Munchkin's first graded year of school, but he's following in his sister's footsteps--every test paper he's brought home so far this year has a big red A+ on it.  Yes, I'm a proud momma.  And no, I don't worry about their academic performance at all.

So what do I dread about conferences?  For some people, it's the unknown--not knowing what the teacher might throw out there as a problem or concern.  For me, though, it's a combination of the unknown and the known.  I KNOW what problems will be thrown on the table for both my children.  What I don't know is what new way this is manifesting itself in now?

Squirrel's fabulous school lets me come in and visit anytime.  I speak to the teacher several times a week at pick-up time, and I am welcome to stop in and see her any morning before school if I have a question or concern.  So anything that's going to come up at a conference has already been addressed.  There probably won't be any surprises there--but you never know for sure!

Now, Munchkin's school is another story.  In writing, they say they welcome visitors.  In reality, you must sign your life away to step past the office!  I've been to his classroom exactly one time during the school day since he started there last year--and that was because I insisted on walking him to class one day after a very rough and late start to our day.  So I don't know what goes on in his school.  What I do know is that Munchkin brings home a Behavior Book everyday, where the teacher lets me know what "color card" he was on (the cards are coded for behaviors).  He's been on red or black (the lowest colors) a lot this year, so I know his behavior is far from perfect.  But finding out why has been quite an ordeal!  What he tells me rarely matches what the teacher tells me, but I'm starting to get a clearer picture of how his explanations of the scenarios leading up to a red card actually mesh with the teacher's explanations.  And what it basically boils down to is sensory overload that is not being met--which means, his IEP is not being followed.

I am prepared for Parent-Teacher conferences today, though.  I have a notebook full of articles and checklists on Sensory Needs and how to meet these needs in the classroom.  I've highlighted ideas that address Munchkin's specific needs as I know them to be.  I just found an excellent book on this too, which I printed the title and author of and will be giving to the teacher as a recommendation for her to use in the classroom.  Will I offend his teachers?  Possibly, though that's certainly not my intention.  My intention is to help my Munchkin succeed in school, and his "behavior" seems to be holding him back from that success.

So, yeah, I'm going to Parent-Teacher conferences this afternoon with a combination of eager anticipation for the glowing academic reports, almost overshadowed by fear and dread of the unknown and known social and behavior reports.  Wonder if all parents feel this way today, or if it's just those of us with special kids?  I'm guessing we all do!