October: A Difficult Month

While Autumn officially starts in September, here in Michigan, we don’t start to feel the weather change until October. During October, we find our high temperatures drastically drop from 70 to 50 and it rains about half the time. The high temperature can change dramatically each day to the next, leaving a lot of with that “ha blah blah…” feeling. We feel tired, sluggish, blaming it on the grey skies and the sun setting earlier. However, there is more to it than that.

Some people are more sensitive to changes in barometric pressure than others. People with Fibromyalgia and arthritis will usually feel “flare ups” during weather changes, especially with low barometric pressure. Those of us with migraines are also very sensitive to changes in weather and weather patterns.

I have also found out that Caleb’s behavior follows these patterns. I have two theories that are not mutually exclusive:

1) Caleb is experiencing a migraine but doesn’t feel the pain due to the migraine preventative medication he is on.

2) Autism and behavior control can also be affected by changes in the weather.

This month has been a real struggle for Caleb. Our biggest fight is every day, 3 times a day, when we ask him to take his medication. He refuses to swallow pills, so we dissolve his medicine in Gatorade, even actually adding extra sugar or Gatorade power. We have tried so many times to “Plan B” the situation, and not just emergency Plan B either, and it is going no where.

Caleb is also in a huge defiance mode. He constantly is telling my husband and I what to do while insisting that he is able to do whatever he wants. I cannot figure how to get over this hump. It is so hard to fight every day, especially when my migraines have been as bad as they have been.

I know that I need to have patience with Caleb considering that he is dealing with a lot physically and emotionally. I also know that I need a vacation that includes hours of silence.

Time on Task

Somehow, between June 18th and September 4th, my son changed. Some of the changes I could see unfolding right in front of my eyes; other changes happened instantaneously. Caleb is more self-reliant,  polite, controlled, and has dramatically reduced his defiant behavior. He walks with my husband and I without running off. He actually seeks out approval by asking to help me. I’m not sure what created the change, but I have some ideas.

First of all, for the first time, I made sure that Caleb and I did “study time” every day for about an hour and a half a day. I theorize that for Caleb to truly know something, he has to practice it for longer than his neurotypical counterpart. Caleb needs to strengthen his neural pathways with repetition, and once those pathways are forged, that information is locked in. (I want to say that I agree with those who say, “if you have met one autistic child, you have met one autistic child.” All I am say is how I see Caleb and how I respond to what I see.)

Another change we made was his token economy system. Instead of just earning stars which can be traded in for books from Amazon, we have allowed him to also save up cash; this money is then used for large trips with the grandparents, such as to the aquarium or zoo.

Finally, we started expecting more from Caleb. He now has to groom himself every morning; we help him, but he cooperates now. I mean, yes, Caleb is going to complain every time I brush his hair, but it is just a verbal complaint. No hitting, no screaming, no falling to the floor. He also participates in chores; he is in charge of picking books up and putting them away because otherwise the puppy likes to chew on them.

Whatever the reason, the change is incredible. It gives me such hope for the future.

I remember having to digest that I had a son with “severe autism.” We didn’t know if Caleb would ever speak, let alone be able to lead a “normal” life. I remember the tears and the fear and I just wish I could go back in time and tell myself that everything would be okay. Back when Caleb was first diagnosed, I read horror story after horror story about autistic children being violent and having to be institutionalized. I knew nothing about autism, other than it was a dream wrecker.

For those of you who are just going through the beginning stages of autism-acceptance, please take heart that it can be okay if you put in the work. There are many studies that show that the greatest indicator of success is time on task. Want to be the best piano player ever? Practice every day for as long as you can. Want to be the best writer, the best rollerblader, the best hot dog eater? Time on task.

Temple Grandin, who is a goddess, suggests that autistic children get somewhere between 20 – 40 hours a week in therapies. Obviously she doesn’t mean that a child go to Occupational Therapy 40 times a week; there are plenty of therapies we parents can do at home with our children. Everything from core exercises, to art projects, to playing games – every exercise has a lesson to learn. How to hold scissors, how to wait for your turn, how to follow instructions – all of these are important lessons beautifully hidden in fun time.

To be truthful, many of my attempts to teach Caleb have failed. It has been through sheer force of will that I have been able to get through all the rejection I felt and still try to help Caleb be happy and interact with the world. It is time on task for us parents as well; I don’t blink an eye when Caleb has a meltdown in public. I attend to his needs by sitting down next to him and telling him I love him (which is what he asked me to do when he has a meltdown), but I also do not give in and let him have whatever sparked the meltdown. I am loving but strict, and I believe you can be both. I am strict about him using the potty or eating well; that said, I don’t regulate his electronic time except for when it is electronics’ bedtime. For me, finding that balance has all been time on task.

I cannot speak as to how other autistic children work or feel or anything – I just know what has worked for Caleb and me. I hope that maybe what has helped us can maybe help others as well.

P.S. I am not a behaviorist, I just sound like it.