When is it Worth the Fight?

My father gave me two pieces of advice that I will always remember. He sat me down before I went off to college and he told me: a) you may win the battle but lose the war, and b) never ever mix your drugs. (I’m serious. That was our entire conversation.)

When dealing with people, I tend to be results oriented; I tailor my behavior in order to get the desired outcome. For instance, if my goal is to be on good terms with a person, I will let things go because it isn’t worth the battle. When dealing with Caleb, being results oriented has been very helpful.

When I think about what I care about, it really boils down to me wanting Caleb to be healthy and happy. I also want him to grow up and be a good partner to someone he loves. So, I want to raise a healthy, happy gentleman.

How do I do this?
First of all, this is something that I thought about while Caleb was still in my belly. I never told him “no”; I always said, “no thank you.” I try to always use my manners with him and with other people so that I am modeling the kind of behavior I want him to emulate (see: Bandura). Caleb doesn’t think about being polite – it just comes naturally to him because we have conditioned him to use his manners.

Setting Caleb up for success is something that is constantly on my mind. This involves identifying and removing obstacles that can negatively affect Caleb’s goals. One way we do this is by buying Caleb pants that have a stretchy waistband because he has trouble unbuttoning his pants when he needs to use the potty. Or we transition to the family bed 45 minutes before bedtime, so we are getting in the mood for sleep.

But what happens when I cannot control the situation? What happens when Caleb is demanding something that I don’t want him to do or have? One of my main methods is a twist on The Passionometer Protocol. Basically, if Caleb wants something more than I don’t want it, then I give in. Exceptions to this rule is when Behaviorism comes into play. If Caleb is acting out and then I let him have his way, I am teaching him that in order to get his way, he can just throw a fit. It is so important to watch for unintended consequences when using positive reinforcement.

This weekend we are having a garage sale. This is very difficult for Caleb as he feels a true emotional connection to everything he owns. He even wants to keep clothes that he grew out of years ago. I have to figure out a way to stay firm and expose Caleb to some of the these parts of life that will be difficult for him, but also not push him off the cliff into Meltdown Land. I have let him take 5 or 6 small toys back, but I also said “no” to quite a bit. Caleb is exhausted because this process is mentally taxing for Caleb. I need to remember that and set him up for success by making sure he goes to the potty every 45 minutes, eating and drinking, and trying to not put one more piece of straw on that camel’s back.

Sometimes the battle is not with Caleb; sometimes it is for him. I have to constantly butt heads with our school, Lanigan Elementary in Farmington Schools. His special needs coordinator is super nice, but the principal and I do not get along. Lanigan does not have an ASD classroom; I refused to have Caleb go to a different elementary school because he has the right to go to school with his neighbors and friends. I finally had to send a letter to Lanigan cc’ed  to the superintendent office asking for them to test Caleb across all academics. Caleb is at a 3rd grade level in math and reading. Caleb also has anxiety, and just the idea of the tests makes him nervous. Caleb says that he will not take the test without me next to him. The superintendent’s office said that I could be in the building but not next to him. Am I supposed to battle my child into taking a test or do I stand up for my child? I mean, obviously, I have to stand up for him.

Do I look forward to fights I have ahead? Not at all. I hate fighting. I hate tension. I’m the person that just wants to walk away from a fight. It is exhausting, emotionally and physically. But, I have to be a Mama Bear and protect my cub. When I talk to other parents of special needs children, I hear horror stories about schools not supporting them enough. So many special needs kids we know go to private schools, but truth be told, there is no way we have the money for that.

I really wish schools would change their way of thinking, but I’m not holding my breath. So, these next coming weeks, I will be looking into the law on Michigan education, specifically with special needs children. I have found that having facts is much more important than having a strongly held opinion. One more thing – I can be a hot head sometimes, but my husband is always cool as a cucumber. When I am nearing my boiling point, I tell my husband our code word, and he knows to take over. In order to truly be results oriented, I can’t go around pissing off administrators. I have to be an adult. I have to be mature so Caleb can be a child.

That said, I really really want to show up for our IEP meeting wearing a Xena outfit. 🙂

Family Bed

I mentioned recently that at our house, we all sleep in the family bed. Well, not all as the puppy is still being crate trained. It isn’t easy to add a new dynamic into your sleep routine, but I’m actually very happy with our results.

When I was young, I developed insomnia. I was in elementary school, so it is not like my life was so stressful. Sleep seemed like my enemy; I had to beat it into submission. Or, at least I tried. Every night, after staring at the ceiling for what seemed like forever, I would get out of bed and complain I was tired. My father thought I was trying to get away with something; to be fair, I was so nervous when I left my bedroom that I was always smiling. I was sending mixed signals and my father wasn’t invested enough to try and help me.

Basically, I look at what my parents did, and then I do the complete opposite. He is often an equal partner in our lives.

From October 2016 to June 2017, Caleb would wake up in the night and craw into bed with us. Then when my husband’s family took us on a trip to Chicago, Caleb slept with us. After that, he was hooked. And now, so am I.

Caleb also has trouble sleeping, so we have a bedtime routine at 8:00pm. It is common for autistic people to have sleep issues, and I completely understand how frustrating it can be.

After Caleb is cleaned up and into pajamas, we turn off all the lights, put away electronics and watch Gilmore Girls while all 3 of us are cuddling (4 if you include our dog, Eli). There is n pressure on him, so we are able to remove the anxiety about falling asleep.

I would recommend a family bed for anyone with a child on the spectrum or just has sleep issues. It is so important to Caleb; he can’t handle even the threat of sleeping in his own bed. And the sweet sweet cuddles are all worth the kicks to the face you will happily endure.

 

 

Are Parents of Autistic Children More Likely To End Up Divorced?

Easy answer: no.
Real answer: it is complicated.

This post is not a particularly easy one to write. I like to look like I have it all together, I know how to handle anything that comes my way; the truth is that I have my struggles, just like everybody else.

Everyone in our house has their issues:
*Caleb is autistic
*My husband has ADHD
*I have chronic migraines and baggage from my childhood

The divorce rate for couples when one partner has ADHD is about twice that of “normal” couples; mix that strain with the added complications with having an autistic child, and you can lose your darn mind. And I do. Don’t get me wrong – there are days when I have to ask my husband to take over because otherwise I’m going to lose it. To be fair, there is no evidence that having an autistic child leads to divorce; in fact, the divorce rate of families with an autistic child was about even with families who have neurotypical families. This is explained by 1) couples with autistic children tend to be older, and 2) stressful situations can actually cause families to be closer together and weather the storms together.

I know that I married my soulmate. I know that Caleb is one of my two favorite people in the whole world, and I think he is my soulmate as well. Hell, I think my best friends and my dogs are my soulmates, so I may be overly sappy. I try to remember the love that I have for my husband and son, especially in the tough times.

When I turned 30, I decided it was time to do something that I had wanted to do for years, but was always too scared to do: get a tattoo. I’d known what I’ve wanted since I was a teenager, but over the years my ideas matured and I ended up getting a sort of trinity on my back – a trinity of what is important to me: “honor” (right shoulder), “trust” (left shoulder), “love” neck, “lifeboat” (under “love” on neck).

My family is my lifeboat. Together we sink or swim. Together we can survive the bad times and then revel in the good. I try to treat others with honor, love, and trust, but especially my family.

One thing that my husband and I are really working on (and I will probably repeat this a lot) is giving each other the benefit of the doubt. He didn’t answer my phone call? He must have not heard it or he is very busy. He didn’t mow the lawn? Maybe he isn’t feeling well. We have been working on this concept for about a year, and we are still trying to remember it. It is so hard because in the moment, I have real feelings that I want to express. I need to remember to check myself.

For instance, today, I totally chewed out my husband for not picking up his phone when I called him a couple times. This is a trigger for me because my husband has a tendency to not pick up his phone. He worked from home today, so I knew he wasn’t in a meeting. I got cranky. Turns out, I forgot to take my afternoon migraine pills. And it was 4:30pm and I hadn’t eaten yet today. I was tired, hungry, and in pain.

When my husband finally put his foot down and demanded that I take care of myself, I did. And then, boy oh boy, did I feel like a jerk. Gosh, why did I overreact so badly? Why did I forget to eat? And I forget to eat a lot. I have alarms that go off when it is time to feed the dogs, my son, my husband, but not myself. I need to remember to take care of myself so that I don’t become an irrational, crazy B.

All 3 of us sleep in a family bed because of Caleb’s sleep issues (which I will get into later), so my husband and I can’t really be romantic a) in our own bed, and b) until Caleb has fallen asleep, which is around 9, 9:30pm. My husband and I use the spare bedroom as our little love shack (dear visitors: I promise to put on clean sheets.). It is really important to take time out to be affectionate with each other. And I am not just talking about the dirty stuff. Sometimes we just cuddle and talk about our days. The dirty stuff is important, don’t get me wrong. But, it isn’t everything. Staying connected with my husband emotionally, intellectually, and physically are all very important for us in order to have a strong family bond. When my husband and I are happy, we are such better parents, and then Caleb is happy too.

We are building relationships that are going to last our lifetime; something so important deserves special care and attention. I think Jackson from Gilmore Girls said it best:

JACKSON: You know what I love about farming? The commitment. [Chris nods in agreement] No shortcuts, no quitting. You have got to be there for your crops morning, noon, and night. I mean you can have the greatest soil and perfect seeds, but if you are not 100% committed, you might as well pave over those 32 acres and build yourself a strip mall. You know what I mean.

CHRISTOPHER: It’s a lot of responsibility.

JACKSON: It sure is.

CHRISTOPHER: It sounds like you really love farming.

JACKSON: I do. Sookie and I, we both do.

CHRISTOPHER: Me too.

Why “Autism Happy”?

autismHappyPost

One day, my husband was working with Caleb on saying nice things about people. Caleb said what he liked about daddy, mommy (me), and himself; he said that he was smart, a good helper, and autistic. I had always seen autism as something that Caleb has to overcome; I never even stopped to think of it as a good thing.

I love that Caleb embraces his autism. We talk about it all the time, and talk about some feelings he may have and how we can deal with it. For instance, I asked my son what I should do when he has a meltdown. It wasn’t until he was 6-years-old that it dawned on me to simply ask my child how I can help him. Why did it take me so long? Btw, Caleb told me that he wants me to sit down next to him and tell him that I love him. Boom. done. easy. yay!

Caleb sees autism as “a great thing.” He doesn’t want to be neurotypical. When I first learned about Caleb’s autism, I mourned the loss of the son I envisioned having. I quickly moved into “fix it” mode; my husband and I did everything we could to help Caleb “catch up” before he hit 5-years-old. (For some reason, after 5-years-old, the brain isn’t as efficient at learning as it is from newborn to 5. So, getting the right information and seeing the appropriate behavior before 5 is so important). I am glad that I helped him as much as I did. Well, we did. But, I think I like Caleb just the way he is as well.

I think I like his autism. I’m not sure, and I am okay with that. I don’t dislike it. I mean, yes, there are days when I am going to pull out my hair and curl up in the fetal position until help arrives. But most of time, my relationship with Caleb is downright lovely. He is next to me right now. I am double-checking with him on some of the specifics of the post. He knows all about this blog and reads it.

I need to be the mom that Caleb needs, and that is a mom who is a proud autism mom. And I am. Trust me, ask any of my friends and they will let you know that I am super proud, if my jewelry and bumper stickers don’t tell you first. And honestly, I have no idea what I would do with a neurotypical child. I have only one child, Caleb, so parenting a neurotypical child is completely out of my wheelhouse. I love keeping a schedule, I love planning ahead, and I love the stuffing out of my son.

So, yes, we are autism happy.
I hope you are too.
🙂