Couch-1/2-Tri: Exercise is helping us combat the challenges of Autism

As you will see in previous blog posts, I started running to get over the anger and frustrations I had in learning our son was diagnosed on the Autism Spectrum last year. I ran to let go of all the pent up furiousness and feeling of being completely helpless in  terms of negotiating what we can make happen for our little man.

I couldn’t even get close to running 3km the 1st of January last year. and then we managed through a 5k, 10k and half by October. It’s amazing what a bit of exercise and a new year can do for your fighting spirit.

I didn’t go back to the gym after our half in October. Really didn’t hit it hardly at all throughout the months of November and December, although I ate and behaved like I was still in training. Naturally, the awesome tightness I had developed from all that running went mushy and the weight quickly came back (But I did have one helluva holiday season!)

And so the new year began…full of promise and hope and realization that I will go nowhere if I don’t have a goal to work towards and friends to train with. Fortunately, I have both and my neighbour has agreed to try this one more time. But wait…we’re not just training for a half…NOOOOOO! That would be too easy. We have now decided to join another of our friends to work towards accomplishing a Try Triathalon shortly after the half. An adventure I think it borderline nutty, but one I am excited about conquering.

Getting back into the routine, the better eating habits and the training schedule has felt a bit gruelling..especially as we’ve just returned from a decadent week away skiing, are heading to the south shortly and seem to have a much higher wine consumption interest while hibernating in the dead of winter. I’m not a fan of forcing myself into a cold night either for a run or a swim, in fact it makes me cringe just thinking about it.

Now however, there is something that is pushing me to keep moving forward (aside from my pals). a) I have discovered I REALLY enjoy how I feel once I’ve worked out…getting muscles moving, being more limber, feeling healthier and b) My kids are taking notice that mommy is “doing a great job” of exercising and daddy is “kicking butt” as he ventures off to hockey. We find ourselves looking at exercise as a foundation and lifestyle we are establishing for our kids that will always include physical activity.

Family exerciseIt is so important for both kids- T, who often has a ton of extra energy at the end of the day and exercise helps tire him out in a way that his brain actually shuts down for a bit while he sleeps (You can tell the days he’s active vs not as that’s usually when he’s up at 5am and wants to chat). N, because she’s an energetic lovely little girly girl who I want to grow up in a world where a positive self-image is vital and reflects more so on being fit and healthy than anything else.

This drive for exercise is helping our family and we, as a couple, are growing stronger.  Both physically and mentally. As we combat challenges navigating the world of Autism, it truly does sometimes feel like a never-ending battle. To win..to get the most for T.. to see success, we have to be on top of our game. This is getting us there.

To Oui or Not to Oui?

That’s OUR question..

We talk often about our victories and challenges with our autistic son but we haven’t written a lot on our daughter, N. N is a gregarious, lively, effervescent little 4 year old. She might occasionally be accused of being a bit of a drama queen but her endearing kindness and generosity of heart is something we are so incredibly proud of, we surrender to the “fancy pants” nature of her dramatics and just let her be.

She is too smart for her own good. We have been told more than once that she’s a chatty cathy at school, more so because she’s bored with the curriculum than disrespecting authority. She is extraordinarily creative and is constantly creating her own songs, painting pictures, telling us about the gang of imaginary friends and what they are doing “hanging out” in her room.

All this to say that we are now at one of our first mega cross roads in making a parenting decision that could significantly affect N’s school career and either put her on a path of great success and adventure or have her starting the list of “things my parents did to make me turn out this way”. The decision?

French Immersion.

I know…this is truly not the most agonizing decision a parent needs to make but there are a lot of little pieces to the puzzle that are effecting our decision on this. In part, the decision is being swayed by the fact that N has an autistic brother… very close in age that (over the past year) has really grown into a reliance on each other that I’m not 100% sure we want to change anytime soon.

The Pros

  1. Establishing learning of a new language which could greatly assist in career decisions, travel, and so much more
  2. Learning french at a young age would potentially set her up to be capable of learning other languages easier as she grows up
  3. This could provide her the challenge she needs to keep her engaged and enjoying school
  4. This could be something that is hers…and hers alone. I often worry about her getting her fair attention from us. We are so very cognizant these days of making sure SHE gets big props when she accomplishes something, gets alone time with each parent and even gets disciplined in the same way we treat T.
The Cons
  1. N (as young as she is) has taken on a maternal protection of T at school and helps guide him when they are at daycare together or when they come home having done the same curriculum. Conversely, T adores N and protects her if ANYONE gets upset with her. Their connection as brother and sister at this age is fierce and they truly play and interact almost as if they are twins than 18 mths apart. It’s beautiful and I’m not sure how drastically it would affect both of them if we made this choice.
  2. As much as she is bright, I have heard some terrible stories of how much kids struggle in learning regular subjects in a different language, so much so that if they choose to leave the french program, they are years behind other kids and occasionally have trouble catching up
  3. The daycare and school we have the both of them at right now are amazing and we worked hard with them in the development of assistance for T, not to mention the wonderful friends that N has at the school where she would have none at the new school. This would mean two drop-offs, two pick-ups, twice the school activities

There you have it. My quick synopsis of where we are struggling and time is running out. I ran into another mom the other day and she indicated that they are close to a waiting list at the French Immersion and we had better get a move on. She also indicated that the school is darker, dingier and the staff don’t seem to be AS interested in working with parents on their kids success. Fabulous!

So I am appealing to you, the reader, to let me know your thoughts on whether we should move ahead or stay status quo?

Goals & Autism- It’s all about Changing Perspective

You wouldn’t know our son is Autistic if you looked at him. In fact, you wouldn’t even know if you spoke with him. (Most of the time) But sometimes… when things get hairy, loud, overexciting, you start to see that tiny minute difference creep out in the way he is responding to stimulating circumstances. At that moment, you can almost physically see the switch flip in his brain and slightly cringe at what that means you are about to get next.

Sometimes, its an abundance of energy so heightened that you think he might literally bounce off the wall..sometimes a disconnection to the situation that I often wonder if he suddenly disappeared to a planet all on his own..and sometimes an uncontrollable upset or anger that will take quite awhile to get him back to a calm state. Eventually we do

get him back to calm and move on to the next moment, challenged with figuring out what set him off and what we can do better the next time.

We struggle a lot with how much of the energy, excitement, etc.. is just that of a 5 year old boy and how much of it is Autistic behaviour? As this first year of diagnosis journeys on, I’ve noticed we are becoming far quicker to recognize where the set off points might be and some of the measures we can take to better manage through those potential challenging situations.

A big challenge is when T completely disengages from an activity. At first, we didn’t know whether it was necessary to share t

hat he was Autistic to a teacher, hoping that he was going to be so interested in the activity that it wouldn’t be noticeable. Yeah…no…not so much. We have learned that it is much better to explain than watch them get frustrated with his behaviour, explaining that you need to “chunk” down instructions instead of a quick overview. A simple example would be rather than saying “Get Dressed”, it’s better to say “Put your pants on, your t-shirt on and then your socks”.

Far more successful in solo activities that with team oriented sports (Soccer was a disaster but skiing was phenomenal) my husband and I came to a header this year. Do we or don’t we sign him up for hockey? Every dad dreams of his kid playing hockey but given our experience with soccer, nei

ther of us wanted to endure the frustration and challenges that might come with it. Our comprimise was a Hockey Tips for Tots…it got him out on the ice and learning the technique to play hockey without the actual pressure of the game.

So we took a big deep breath, and bit the bullet. The first practice went about as well as

expected, with challenges in getting all the unfamiliar awkward gear on but then, by the second week, T started asking when he was going to get to play hockey next. We were shocked and pleasantly surprised that he was open to going again. We would watch him as he got on the ice and fall..over and over and over again. But he’d get back up and every week as we continue to go, he can’t wait to get out on the ice and be with his “Hockey buddies”.

Our perspective is totally different than those parents around us. While they want their kids to skate fast and score a goal, we’re ecstatic that T is listening to instruction, managing the drills and willing to keep making efforts towards to getting the puck in the net.We are noticing our “goals” in life are changing but if you saw us watching T out there, so proud of how hard he was working and obviously having so much fun out on the ice, you would have thought he had scored in the final round of the Stanley Cup Finals. And that’s exactly how we want him to feel.