How Women In Biz helped me open up about Autism

I had the pleasure of attending the Women In Biz Network Conference in Toronto last week, reuniting with a number of “old” friends and meeting new ones. #WIBN has a very soft spot in my heart as it was through Women In Biz that I truly figured out Twitter and via their networking events, have met dear wonderful people who I truly count as amazing friends now.

It helped me realize how very much I am not alone in the world of solo/mom/entrepreneurship and that many of the challenges I face are very similar to what they are going through. What I love about the Women In Biz Network (perhaps because so many of us are moms) is that unlike posturing at other conferences, there is a group of highly motivated, intelligent women, willing to talk about those key challenges and brainstorm together how to help one another. What I have also found was a group of kindred spirits in moms (who are business owners/bloggers) who have children with special needs. They have been a tremendous source of encouragement, comfort, laughter and that much-needed nod of understanding when you are detailing some of the latest challenges you’ve had with the school board. Their experiences mirror my own and help me get through the moments I struggle with.

It was during one of those candid conversations, as we laughed about some of the judgemental looks we’ve gotten at the grocery store,┬áthat I realized how much we have changed habits/behaviours within our life to accommodate Autism into it. None of it is really a big deal but when you start adding it up, you realize how many changes we have made to help keep things on an even keel and keep our family strong.

A few changes..

-We haven’t eaten pasta in god knows how long. We used to get upset with T when he would gag out the spaghetti he was eating (thinking he was being overdramatic) until we discovered that texture can be a major issue for Autistic kids.

-My mother loves buying really awesome outfits for the kids but even she is starting to recognize that T just won’t wear jeans and depending on the day, really hates collared shirts (sometimes he will so there is always hope!) His favorite attire, pajamas (you can find him in them at any given time of the day) and he also can be found wearing a long sleeve shirt in the middle of a heat wave. Again as we looked further into this, jeans can feel like sandpaper to a kid with sensitivities and sometimes the long sleeve shirt is a response to his heightened reaction to stimuli. The funny thing is is how often before we better understood this, that those were a root of frustration/anger/impatient arguments in trying to get T to do what he was told.

-T goes through obsessions. First it was Thomas, then Lightning McQueen (Cars), then onto Super Mario. We are used to it. The kids at school patiently say “Yes, we know T…Super Mario and Luigi say ka-pow…as they roll their eyes cause they have heard it every day X10 for the last 2 months”, other people are not, and we see them annoyed/confused/amused by his repetitive conversations or simply stuff like “Welcome to the Thomas and Friends DVD Experience. Please press play to start the movie” We roll with the obsessions and often use it as a reward for good behaviour. Trying to fight it has proven to just not work for us.

-We have become quieter in our house. We’ve realized that yelling or loud voices is one of the worst things for him. We use a lot of non-verbal charades to help slow his brain down and get him to focus on looking at us to accomplish tasks. We also recognize that after a while when there are a lot of kids over playing that he will disappear to go play on the computer. Yes, it’s rude but it’s how he copes and we are totally ok with that.

-We work on patience (my husband and I) daily. We try more now to figure things out. See what’s not working..decide whether its T being a 6 year old boy, Autistic or both. We still have some really sad days (usually after an incident at the playground or after talking to the school board) but we know that if we don’t work together on all of this (as many reports show) we won’t make it. Bottom line.

This journey has taken us sharp left…and it is definitely an interesting adventure. Obsessions will change, behaviours will differ, life is ever-changing and we are learning as we go how to work with it. That’s Autism. A different puzzle (or piece to the puzzle) all the time.

Original source: http://www.theshirtdudes.com/monopoly-change.html

Autism Diagnosis – 1 year later…It gets better

We’ve officially just passed our first year with an ASD diagnosis.

It’s sometimes hard to believe that it was only a year ago that we first got sucker-punched with the announcement that our 4 yr old son (at the time) was on the spectrum. This year became a test of everything. A test of our patience, a test on our marriage, a test on our ability to learn, to cope, to support, to stay positive, and ultimately to keep laughing.

For those of you new to a diagnosis, here is a snapshot of what might happen within the first year of discovering your child has Autism. (NB: I’m being brutally honest here in hopes to pass on a realistic viewpoint and let you know that you are not alone)

First 2-3 months: Feels like you’re in a foggy haze. I have seen people react many different ways to a diagnosis. Self-pity, frustration, anger, heartbreak. As much as I tried to be positive, there were still moments I felt like I wanted to scream. I couldn’t comprehend why us, didn’t think he was really that far off from regular kids to be defined as Autistic, embarrassed by how often when someone asked me about it I couldn’t hold it together. There will be many tears, often from frustration as you fumble through trying to figure out what you are supposed to do (especially when it comes to finding support and school). You might feel useless, overwhelmed, sad, disappointed and still completely (if not more so) madly in love with your child.

A dear friend gave us a copy of The first 100 Days by Autism Speaks. It helped. Although my husband and I are both Do’ers- I’m an event planner and he’s a project manager and we didn’t get the sit back and process mode, instead stupidly tried to project manage the Autism right out of our little guy.

100 Days of Autism Diagnosis

Source: etsy.com via Jennifer on Pinterest

 

The next 4-8 months: Once we finally got to the realization that indeed our son was Autistic, that this was going to be a lifelong venture and we needed to start adjusting the how to’s in managing his success, we (or should I say I more so than my husband) had a really difficult time informing people of T’s ASD diagnosis. It felt often that people were a bit stunned and didn’t know what to say..choosing to say something like “well, he doesn’t seem Autistic to me” (hated that)..or gave us that dreaded pity look (hated that more). Then there are those friends who say something brilliant and just help you get through. Best examples of peeps we love and their originality that helped so much..

J- Simply said “Oh..so he’ll be an engineer” That matter of fact..like ASD would help guide his career path to a place where other socially awkward folks might hang out..that there was a pre-existing destination that would be completely accepting of the way he functions

G- Who sent a lovely email with “I don’t know what to say” (love her honesty) and that she was there..on call…standing by if we needed her.

T- Who let me just bawl and agreed it sucked and let me rant to her more than once and asked me how I felt…that rarely happened and I would rarely talk to anyone how I was feeling but T and I are that kind of veritable friend soul mate..who can call you out, ask you tough questions and you love them for it

W-Who is one of the most generous hearts I know and also has had a ton of experience in Autism given that she has family who are as well. She was the greatest listener and advice giver ever. Having a ton of wonderful matter of fact conversations that helped me better understand what Autism is all about.

School

In this time period, we also felt the massive and crushing experience of “working” with the school system to get T some help. It blows my mind how often we heard “the squeaky wheel gets the oil”…and they’re right. Chris and I are both very much sit in the camp of you get more bees with honey but this is one example I can truly say, YOU GOTTA FIGHT! FOR YOUR RIGHT…to have your children supported in school. Many parents who went before me with the an ASD diagnosis, kept telling me to advocate for my son. I truly didn’t know what that meant until dealing with his education. It felt like a battle from the word go.. and we have to say we are incredibly fortunate to have a principal we feel supports us and lucked out with an EA who T and another boy share. The key issue..budget. There is 4X as many Autism diagnosis than in 2002 in our province and yet they have not changed the budget significantly to manage how many kids are needing help.This is something I plan to go on a crusade about once we get our lives in order.

Help

Another key change we did was coordinate help. We went to the Triple P parenting class offered by the Geneva Centre for Autism, which I highly recommend for a number of reasons. 1) You get to talk to other parents who are having similar struggles at home 2) The videos might be a bit hokey but they give you great foundations to work with not only your special needs children but parenting in general 3) You start developing a series of strategies for managing through the day to day to keep your spirits high and your energy focused on the positive. We also worked with an Occupational Therapist to look at ways to help him manage (we discovered he is a deep sensory kid and that a really big squeeze hug will help often when he gets overwhelmed). It also explained a lot why he doesn’t like certain textures..(right now jeans are on the outs) as the OT explained for him, its more like sandpaper than comfort..and why he gets really excitable in loud scenarios (his hearing is super sensitive as well) One of our worst moments was in the midst of a fire alarm. A situation I will never forget. The most valuable we are finding is working with a Speech Pathologist. She has made incredible strides with T in making eye contact when he is talking, taking time to think through what he is saying and learning how to be quiet and not talk..something I didn’t realize how important until we started using this as a technique at home. When he is really excited, we put our finger to our lips (for quiet), gesture for him to focus on what we are pointing at and wait quietly while he accomplishes the task. I tell you, getting dressed went from hellish to happy simply by using that strategy.

8-12 months: I think it wasn’t until then that I was actually able to get out the words Special Needs without cringing at the response I was about to get from people. We still get the pity look but I now realize that its simply because they don’t understand. Who I did feel totally got it was all the teachers in my life. One, an old friend from high school, Jamie M simply asked was kind of savant quality had and talked about the 5 kids he has in his class (this makes total sense as he is an absolute ham and would completely “GET” an Autistic sense of humour). The other, my cousin, shared a beautiful poem with us about truly understanding Autism in the form of the Night Before Christmas. It made me cry but also ┬ámade me realize how she and many others are part of that quiet strength we have in our corner. Friends and family are what you need to help you get through sometimes. Talking is good.

Marriage

Speaking of talking, the one thing I can’t stress enough is to keep the dialogue open with your spouse. As I was initially researching Autism, I came across a stat that 80% of marriages with special needs end in divorce. It freaked the crap out of me. So a key thing we concentrated on was keeping our relationship strong to be able to stay strong as a family. We set up and maintained date nights, met at the kitchen table for wine, tears and conversation, banded together to fight the school system. We are (what I would say) one of the strongest “teams” around and even then we faltered on occasion- getting frustrated at each other because of being frustrated with the system or bottling up the heartache we had that life wasn’t going to be ordinary in certain ways. That T might or might not do well in team sports, social situations, school..but talking about it and sharing our struggles made sure that neither of us felt alone in this journey. Check out Our Son Destined for a Team for our perspective on sports.

One Year Later

Life is moving forward and we are seeing some great progress in T’s development.I was starting to feel like he was really behind in the way he interacted with kids but he is starting to integrate a ton better and we are working on social situations. In speaking with his support team at daycare/school, turns out he has lots of friends and in that beautiful way that kids are, when he starts getting upset, they somehow have figured out strategies to keep him relaxed throughout the day. (They gave us a great example of T starting to get agitated and one little girl coming over and handing him a train to hold onto…seriously, I turned into a mushy mess in the middle of the meeting).

To anyone out there who might have recently received an ASD diagnosis, it will get better. You will learn to adjust to the changes in your life and the grieving period will start to subside. You might be surprised by how much of a protector, fighter, lover, or comedian you will become. It will likely change you somehow. If it does, be sure to figure out what you need to get through. For me, its been exercise and laughter and an invaluable support system behind us.

Make yourself strong. Mentally, Physically, Spiritually…so that you can help your kids have the best adventure of their life.

Source: etsy.com via Christine on Pinterest

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?