Monday, February 27, 2012

No Means No

It has been another one of those days when I am counting down the minutes until bedtime. At the end of a long week, I just wanted to sit down and relax with a good book. The girls were all doing their own thing, so I snuck away to read a few quick chapters. Then she found me. Katie came marching in, wanting to make plans for the next day. I have told you before about Katie and her plans, but this was going to be the first Saturday in months when we had nothing on the schedule. No practices, no games, no parties, nothing to get me out of bed early to run out the door. I have been looking forward to this weekend, Looking forward to doing nothing important.

Katie decided that she wanted to have a friend over. I am happy that Katie has friends, and I am overjoyed that she wants to be social, but I was actually planning on not getting out of my pajamas until dinner time. I have never done that before, and probably wouldn't actually follow thorugh with it, but it would be nice to have that option. If Katie had a friend over, I would have to do the whole routine of calling the parents, driving around to pick them up or drop them off, entertaining them and feeding them, and patrolling the party to make sure it was successful. Playdates with Katie are a little more work than your average get- together, and I normally wouldn't mind, but sometimes a mom needs a break. I know that sounds incredibly selfish, but it is the honest truth. Raising Katie is exhausting sometimes.

I told Katie that she couldn't have a friend over. That didn't go over very well. First she wanted to know why not. Then she said that her sister always has people over. Then she tried the "but I am autistic" line that she uses when she isn't getting her way. Then came the tears. She was killing me, I felt so guilty. At some point I have to look at the situation and the bigger picture. She can't always have her way because she cries and whines about it. She can't always have her way because she is autistic. No means no, and sometimes it hurts to have to stick to my guns. I need to raise her just the same way I raise her sisters, because what message would I be sending to any of them if I caved in every time she cried? I have to consider my other daughters and their feelings, I don't ever want them to feel less important, or less worthy of my time, or that I raise them with different standards or different rules.

Now Katie is upstairs in bed, crying to her "pretend friends", mad at me and mad at the world. I am not sure if I am doing the right thing. I am not sure if this will ever be easier, or if I will ever know that I am raising her the right way. But for now, we are not going to have any Adventures in Autism tomorrow, because I am taking the day off.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Worn Out

You never know just when it is going to happen. The moment when enough is enough, the moment when the meltdown occurs. Sometimes you can predict it, sometimes you can strategically try to avoid it, but sometimes it just creeps up on you and bites you in the butt. Katie was looking so forward to our mini-vacation, our weekend away. I packed so many snacks, I planned for every possible bump in the road. But you can't plan an antidote for exhaustion.

I am sure that many parents of toddlers can relate. I am sure that all parents, if they think back hard enough, can remember the feeling of helplessness. Unfortunately, Katie never outgrew the "meltdown" phase of life. I don't know if it is Autism playing it's funny little games, or her medication, or both. When she is tired and worn out, there is no turning back, no amount of reasoning or pleading or bargaining or bribing that will stop her from the tears and fits that she will have. I tried to make a deal with her tonight. "If you just stop crying until we get back, you can call grandma". Sometimes she just needs to have a plan or something to distract her for the moment. So she calmed down to call grandma. That lasted until she got off the phone, then the tears started back up.

The thing is, I know it is all our fault. We run with her all day, wake her up so early for our plans, drag her here and there, interrupting her routine. It's no wonder that she is a crying mess. I can't get mad at her or frustrated with her for something we did, but it is soooooo hard to! I have to take a deep breathe and just take it step by step until she is finally tucked into bed and I can breathe again. Once she is safe, and comfortable, and calm, that is when I can finally relax.

Sometimes I try to put myself in her shoes. Obviously there is no way I can actually figure out what she is thinking or how she is feeling, but it helps to consider what she has to deal with. Exhaustion, overstimulation, her brain going a mile a minute......I don't know how I would handle it. It gives me a headache just to think about how overworked her brain must be. I guess sometimes our Adventures in Autism are a little too much to handle, and we all get worn out.

Monday, February 13, 2012

"What If....."

At some point, when parents learn that their child has a disability, the majority ask themselves many different questions. "Why me?"  "Why them?"  "What did I do wrong?"  "What could I have done different?"  "Is it my fault?"  "How am I going to get through this?"  "What will happen to them when I am gone?"  The questions go on and on, and can be all consuming.  After the intial shock of a diagnosis wears off, it becomes a little easier to compartmentalize the questions, to deal with them one at a time, as the issues arise.  Some questions are never answered, most questions are never answered.  Some questions are  avoided or ignored.  Some questions are just too painful to admit.  A question that I know alot of these parents face, if they want to admit it or not, is "What would they be like if they were normal?" or "How would my life (and their life) be different?"  This is the most difficult question, because on one hand it forces the parent to visualize what they can never have, and it also insinuates that they do not love their child enough to accept the life that they ended up with. 

I do not think in all honesty that any parent wishes for a child with disablities.  It is true that there are all different levels of acceptance, but to acutally wish for, and dream of, and plan for a disability is really probably rare.  However, you can picture a mother praying for a little girl to dress up in  ribbons and bows, maybe two little girl sister princesses.  Or a father praying for a son to throw the football around with.  Maybe the parents plan together for a boy, then a girl, an older brother to watch over his little sister.  They might envision dance recitals, or championship football games, college scholarships or planning weddings, and grandchildren.  When they get the diagnosis from their childs doctor, however, those dreams come crashing to a halt.  Now, I am not saying that the childs life is over, that they can't accomplish great things and live a fullfilling life.  But it is hard for a parent to imagine any of their own dreams for that child being realized, when they are now facing a lifetime of "different".  Different abilities, different challenges, different achievements, different friends, different milestones.

When I found out that I was having my second daughter 2 years after I had my first, I had all kinds of plans.  Sleepover parties, sharing prom dresses, make-up and nail polish, fighting over boyfriends and the bathroom mirror.  Then, 2 years later, I was expecting another girl.  The "girlie" plans went into overdrive with all of them being the best of friends and bridesmaids, stealing each others clothes and gossiping late into the night.  I never planned on Autism.  I never thought my youngest child would talk before Katie.  I never thought that my girls wouldn't all go to school together.  I never thought that Katie might not go to the prom, or have a boyfriend, or want to wear make-up.  I never thought........

But that is the tricky game that we play.  I have cried myself to sleep many nights, wishing for the dreams that won't come true.  Sometimes it hits when I least expect it, from seeing someone her age achieveing a milestone that she won't.  Sometimes it is on her birthday, and I think of what she "should be doing" at that age.  Sometimes it is when I see a group of sisters, and they are so close to each other, best friends. 

This feeling isn't the same for everyone who have children with Autism, or any other disability.  Some are very accepting from the beginning, and just plow down whatever path they are given.  I don't see that reaction a lot, however.  I think this whole feeling of "what if" is rather taboo.  People don't want to admit that they feel that way, or think that way.  They don't want to give the impression that they don't love their child, that they don't accept their child unconditionally for who they are.  I was told once by a family member, "I wouldn't change Katie at all, I wouldn't want her any other way."  I completely agree with that.  I love Katie more than I can even describe.  I love her so much that it hurts my heart.  I would not change a thing about her, ever.  I would not trade her in for that little girl I had planned for.  That other girl doesn't exist, and never will.  I love the girl that was given to me and can't imagine life without her.  That being said, I will be honest and admit that those early dreams of mine pop up from time to time.  They make me sad but  I don't want the life that they represent, because it is a life without Katie.  It is a life without all the wonderful people that Autism has brought into my life.  It is a life without wisdom and compassion and experiences that I never knew existed.  I have learned something from every challenge that Katie and Autism have presented, and it has made me a better person. 

At some point we have to realize that those dreams we had for our children are just that, OUR dreams for them.  They are not their dreams for themselves.  Any parent can be disappointed by a path that their child follows, if it is not the path that they had chosen for them.  What if you wanted your son to be a lawyer, and he wants to be an artist?  What if you want your daughter to cheerlead like you did, and she is a star softball player?  It is nice to have hopes and dreams for our children, to imagine what they are going to be like when they grow up, but we have to learn to support them in what they decide is their future, or support them in learning and growing to be the very best that they can be.  On the other hand, you should never give up on your child because you don't think that they can handle something.  Don't sit back and cry over the stars that are your dreams unreachable, lift up your child and help them pick out the stars they want.  You never know, someday our Adventures in Autism just might find Katie being crowned Homecoming Queen.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

The People She Has Touched

I am absolutely blown away by the affect that Katie has on people.  I obviously love her, by virtue of being her mother.  I would love her no matter what, and so would her family.  The Katie Fan Club that she has created, however, has no obligation to her, but is crazy about her anyway.  Katie had me wrapped around her finger from the time she was a baby.  She was always very happy, and very loving, even if she did not talk for 5 years.  A large number of Autistic individuals have difficulties socially, but that has never been the case with Katie.  Socialization has always been one of her greatest strengths. 

No matter where we go in the community, there is always someone who is calling out to her.  "Hey Katie, how are you?", "What's up, Katie!", everywhere we go.  Church, the grocery store, the mall, the park, at her sisters games and practices, she will always run into a friend.  Sometimes it is kids her own age, sometimes it is former teachers or paraprofessionals, bus drivers, classmates, kids from her bus.  What is amazing to me is that they are all so very friendly and so excited to see Katie.  They don't have to say hi, there is no one around telling them to be nice to her. 

I was telling someone about the kind of treatment that Katie receives from people, wondering why they were always so nice, and I learned a life lesson.  I was told that people love Katie so much because she loves everyone just the way they are.  No one has to pretend for her, no one has to worry about what they are wearing, or what their hair looks like, or what social group that they are in.  They don't have to be embarrassed about not fitting in, or about something that made others laugh at them.  They don't have to try to impress her, or worry about making her mad.  Katie always sees the best in people, and gives them such a positive reception.  Who wouldn't want to be around someone that loves you no matter what?  That thinks you are nice and pretty and smart and funny.

I hear from Katie's former teachers on a regular basis.  They all want to know how she is doing, what kind of progress she has made, and what she is involved in.  I started sending out regular emails to them, and I told them that they all had played a special role in her life.  I told them that "it takes a village to raise Katie, and you are all the village people".  I am hoping that one day they will all be able to celebrate with her at her high school graduation party. 

There are other people who are crazy about Katie as well.  There is a family from my older daughters sport team from a few years ago that still email and ask about her.  Her great aunts call and email her on a regular basis.  Her uncles and aunts fight over who she calls her favorite.  Her great grandmother brags about her at the grocery store.  Her friends moms keep her favorite snacks in stock at their house.  A former bus driver just dropped off a care package at our house, full of snacks and toys for her. 

All of these people love my other children as well, but it is just different with Katie.  I don't know if it is because they know she needs the attention, but I do know that not a single one does it because they feel sorry for her, or take pity on her.  She is just fun to be around.  And she makes you feel good about yourself.  How can you NOT love it when you talk to her, and she is inviting you on a Disney vacation within 5 minutes of the conversation?  When she is planning a party in your honor, planning your favorite foods and going to sing your favorite songs?  Who does not love emails that simply say "I miss you", or "I love you", or "Call me so we can play".  If someone so genuine hero-worships you, how can you NOT hero-worship them right back? 

Katie has had so many people following her progress since her Autisim diagnosis over 10 years ago.  They have watched her go off to doctors appointments, attend speech therapy sessions, board a school bus at 3 years of age, struggle to learn to talk when everyone her age was already reading, go to school 5 cities away, go through sensory integration therapy, struggle with general education teachers that didn't want her there, succeed in math and struggle in writing, embrace technology that opened a whole new world for her, change school districts and enter the general education classroom, create friendships with "regular kids", and start middle school with her peers.  I think that they all feel invested in her success, like they played a role in her achievements.  That her triumphs are their triumphs as well.  And they are absolutely right.  Katie belongs to everyone, and just like a mother watching her own child, they feel the same pride in watching her grasp for the stars, and reach them.  When Katie sets out in her "Adventures in Autism", she has so many people following behing her, cheering her on.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Under the Weather

Kids get sick on a regular basis.  When your child is sick, it is very worrisome, very heartbreaking.  You want the best for them, you hate to see them suffer.  You will do anything to help them feel better.  Sleep on their bedroom floor, drive in the middle of the night to get medicine, miss important meetings at work, buy any kind of soup or popsicle or gatoraide they want, just to get something in them.  Sometimes you find yourself holding your breath as you listen to them struggling to breathe.  Sometimes, all times, you wish it were you that was sick, instead of them. 

Katie is sick.  She has a bad cold, with a runny nose, hacky cough, and sore throat.  Now this isn't the worst cold in the world, and she has been much sicker before, but when Katie is sick, she is good for nothing.  When she has a runny nose, she will pinch at it and rub it until she looks like Rudolph or Ronald McDonald.  No amount of scolding can keep her away from her nose, and it gets so raw.  If you give her a tissue, she will use it, then chew on it, or shred it until you find a million snotty pieces all over the ground.  If you give her a handkerchief, she will chew on it until it is soaking wet.  I am not sure which is grosser, but they are both pretty nasty.  One of her "autistic flaws" is a short attention span, so she doesn't really listen to the constant reminders to her to throw the tissue away.

When her nose gets runny, and she is wiping it, it makes her lips chapped too.  Once they get sore, she will lick them and scratch at them until she looks like she is wearing lipstick outside the lines.  I will chase her around with the lipgloss or vaseline, trying to make her more comfortable.  Sometimes I will even put some on her at night when she is sleeping, hoping that they will heal a little. 

The worst part about Katie being sick is that she gets so lethargic.  She takes medication for her Autism, and if she is run down, or not eating because she doesn't feel good, the combination of her medicine and her illness seems to completely drain her of all her energy.  She will get whiny and teary so quickly, and will want to go to bed.  This is so out of the ordinary for her, that people get surprised when they see her like that.  If I have to give her more medicine for her cold or a cough, the combination completely knocks her out.  The only word I can use to describe her is "pathetic".  She is droopy and mopey, and just plain sad.

 Yesterday, when Katie got home from school after not feeling well, she sent out an email  to everyone in her contact list.  I will quote it directly, " i am sick.... you guys get cards".  I didn't know about it until the next day, when Grandma came over with a card and a "get well" package of tissues, bath gel with a sponge, antibacterial hand gel, a dollar, and a bagel from Tim Hortons (Katie's favorite).  Then the calls and emails started coming in from concerned family members.  They know Katie, and they know how hard colds hit her.  Her Great Aunt even called from the airport she was flying out of to pass on her best wishes. 

I know all kids get colds.  I know there are much worse illnesses out there as well.  I know parents struggle with severe health issues every day of their lives.  I have 2 other daughters who get the same colds too, but I also know that every single ordinary situation and challenge and illness, is complicated when it is happening to an Autistic child.  I know there are other conditions much more severe than Katie's, both more challenging, more heartbreaking and more stressfull.  I am thankful  that Katie is such a wonderfully original Autistic child, and her difficulties are not as severe or complicated.  But after saying that, I do have to say that Katie with a cold is no ball of laughs.  It changes her totally and completely.  My heart breaks a little each time she gets sick, and I don't feel complete again until she is laughing and jumping and breathing and singing and eating and healthy once again.  If you choose to join us in our "Adventures in Autism" this week, bring some tissues, and a card for Katie.