Olde Orchard Pediatric Dentistry – A Review

Like most autistic kids, Caleb has always fought us on the tooth brushing. We tried when he was very young, but at that point, we had bigger battles to fight. We were trying to figure out why Caleb lost his language skills. Then came the onslaught of therapies, one after another after another. I was basically a chauffeur for my son and his many therapists. When I finally got home, my energy was dwindling, but still, we did even more therapy together. Families that are still in that circle of exhaustion have no time for precious teeth issues. I know it sounds crazy, but it is true; people who are on the outside looking in don’t understand the burnout that comes with autism.

Thankfully, Caleb is in a place mentally and socially that we can take care of his hygiene. That includes regular bathing (kinda regular), but also brushing his teeth and hair, and cleaning and moisturizing his face twice a day. Caleb has keratosis pilaris, so we use a Burt’s Bee’s facial cleanser and we are just now trying a new serum: Serious Serum.

When we first started brushing Caleb’s teeth, we noticed there was blood in his spit. We checked out his mouth, and yup, he needed a visit to the dentist. His pediatrician suggested we go to Olde Orchard Pediatric Dentistry, and I am so glad that we did.

When you first enter the building, you notice how airy the waiting area is, with a domed ceiling and tons of natural light streaming in. In the middle were these large tree booths that were comfortable, but also gorgeous.

To the right was a smaller waiting room with just chairs and books. To the left was another small waiting room, but this one had a large flat screen television mounted on the wall, interactive toys, and Duplos, as well as more children’s books. Everything was clean and well taken care of.

Caleb had a meltdown the whole ride to the dentist, and then while we were inside the waiting room. The staff didn’t bat an eye – they deal with autistic children on a regular basis and know how to deal with the kids. The staff offered help when I was at the desk, but they let us deal with Caleb until we asked for help. It can be tricky for people to know what to do, but they were really good about knowing when they had an opportunity to help; when the receptionist heard that Caleb loved My Little Pony, she jumped up and put the My Little Pony movie on the television.

Caleb was still crying and whining as we were greeted by the dentist’s assistant and led down the hallway. I have never seen a prettier hallway. Seriously, they even had beautiful wooden tree cutouts with the room numbers on them. Each room has two doors, one for us, and then a slightly smaller door that the assistant and slip in and out of.

We were greeted by Dr. Maxwell, and she was totally chill. She knew how to talk to my husband and me and then how to talk differently to Caleb. She let him touch almost everything, and explained what she was doing as she was doing it. Within minutes, a previously scared and crying Caleb was happily lying down with his mouth open while Dr. Maxwell did her exam.

First of all, they are gentle. Even better: they are super fast. Dr. Maxwell knew how much to get done in a single session in order for Caleb to have a somewhat enjoyable experience; the last thing we want is for Caleb to hate the dentist and dig his heels in even farther.

Not a problem.
Caleb actually asked to stay. He didn’t want to leave the dentist.

Yes, Caleb has cavities, but I didn’t feel judged. I feel guilty, of course, but I also know that I am a good mother and I try really, really hard. Like, really hard. I also didn’t realize how easily Caleb can get cavities; my teeth have extra enamel on them so while they are a little yellow, I have never had a cavity in my life. My husband, however, has worked hard to keep his teeth in good condition, but he has cavities as well.

Dr. Maxwell created a schedule for us in order to come in so that Caleb can have his teeth treated. We opted for 4 short visits using Nitrous Oxide so that Caleb doesn’t feel pain and is more compliant.

After Dr. Maxwell finished her evaluation, Caleb was able to pick out a gift. He chose a righteous mustache that made him look like Mario, so he was over the moon.

I am really thankful to have found a dentistry that knows how to take care of autistic children. I would recommend Olde Orchard to any child, autistic or not; there were plenty of neurotypical children around us.

Olde Orchard Pediatric Dentistry is located in Novi, Michigan, near the Sears at Twelve Oaks Mall.

*Note: I did ask for permission to take photographs of Caleb and Dr. Maxwell during his visit. I also asked if I could review them. They were very supportive, taking a minute to hide any patient data so that no HIPAA violations occurred. I did not receive any compensation for my review, nor was it swayed by anyone.

Hands Are Not For Hitting

When Caleb was between 2 and 3, he started hitting my husband and me. At first, it was intermittent and not really bothersome. Then came the smacking, the punching, and the pulling on hair. We tried so many interventions: token economy, time out, books about hitting, talking about hitting. reminding him that hands are not for hitting when we think he is about to hit.

This is where my post is going to take a turn you probably didn’t expect.

My son hitting me made me realize that I was not over the physical and emotional abuse that I survived from the time I was born until I was 18. In retrospect, the emotional abuse remained a part of my life until just a few months ago when I told my family I don’t want them in my life.

I am a survivor of childhood emotional and physical abuse.

As a youth, I attended Al-Anon meetings and therapy, and there I learned about the probability of me turning out like my mother or father. My father was an alcoholic and drug abuser (everything from pot to methadone), so I had a high probability of becoming an substance abuser; but I was also likely to become a physical and emotional abuser as well. The idea of becoming my father is probably the greatest fear I have had my entire life.

When I was 21, I adopted a cat. I thought that the first step toward trusting myself as a parent was taking care of a pet. I adopted an adorable orange tabby named Murray. He was 4 at the time, and all I was told was that he was given up because his owners had a baby. But, that wasn’t the whole story. I would be holding Murray, petting his head, and we would be purring up a storm when suddenly he would scratch the heck out of my face, arms, and chest. He would freak out on me and, because I had tiny knives cutting me, I pushed him away from me. This happened again and again for a month. Finally, after recognizing that this wasn’t working, I came to the difficult conclusion that I would have to have Murray declawed. After his procedure, Murray would attack me, but I knew it wasn’t going to hurt; I was able to just soothe him and not react as he went ballistic. It was the right choice, because after a couple more months, Murray completely stopped having freak outs. He became my best friend for 16 years until he passed away on December 30th, 2017.

After I was comfortable being a mother to Murray, I adopted another cat. I knew that Murray was lonely, so I got Mina from the local rescue shelter. She was beautiful and tiny and didn’t know how to make a crying sound until she was 3. Murray and Mina loved each other, however I pretty much just put up with Mina. She was a bit evil; she would wake me up in the middle of the night by climbing onto my nightstand and turning off my cpap machine. However, I never hurt her either.

A month before my husband and I got married, we decided to get a dog. Because we knew we wanted to have children (and because that was the kind of dog my husband had growing up), we chose to get a Golden Retriever. We found this amazing breeder in Essexville – the dogs were gorgeous and the family had 4 children who would also handle the dogs. These dogs were all so well behaved and loving. That is where we chose the Light Pink Girl (the color of her collar), Penny.

Again, with Penny, there was no hitting. We would dominate her if she got too rowdy, but really, again, it all seemed so fine.

Fast forward to me, 36, with two dogs and two cats, and I was having to suppress this almost natural reaction to hit my child back. I was horrified with myself. When Caleb stop hitting, I thought I was okay. But I wasn’t.

It wasn’t until January of this year that I vowed to never lay my hands on anyone again. This was harder than I thought. I realized I still had issues. Okay, fine: I had more issues than a newsstand.

Caleb and I started going to therapy at the same time, but we each see different therapists. And I can tell you, Caleb and I are both in a really transformative part of our lives. Caleb is suddenly a brand new person who actually cares about pleasing others, especially his mom and dad. He is smart, driven, creative and happy. He has basically the entire basement and he calls it his “safe space.”

Caleb and I also grew really close this summer. That is when I started thinking about my childhood. I don’t understand why I love my child in a way that my mother and father didn’t love me.

My therapist has diagnosed my father as a sociopath. He was evil. But my mom knew what was happening at home. In a conversation with her over the summer, she posed me this question: Should I have broken up the family and left your dad? That implies that the family was not broken with me being abused.

After my father died, relative after relative came up to me and told me how sorry they were that my dad hurt me. They saw it happening and did nothing, and now that he was dead, they felt freer to talk about it? That is the thing – my abuse was not private. I was often hit in grocery stores. I was hit at family events. I was hit in plain sight of my mother and sister. I even told my school psychologist that I was afraid to go home; I was 7-years-old and nothing happened.  Nobody protected me.

I am learning how to let go of the past. It isn’t easy. Like I said, I’m still trying to make sense of a situation that will never make sense. There will never be any logic as to why I was hurt.

The last email I got from my mother was about her next vacation to New York and working on her sewing hobby. She and her husband are rich, and they don’t help us at all with any of Caleb’s medical bills. My son isn’t even allowed in their home because they don’t want him touching their stuff.

Seriously.

Caleb cannot go into my mother’s home.

I don’t want to go back down that rabbit hole with my mom where we all pretend that everything is okay. It is not okay. I finally have real unconditional love in my life, and it is amazing. I am so thankful for my husband, my son, and my husband’s family.

I’m now 39 and an orphan, which is strangely liberating. I am scared because I have hung on to my mother’s scraps of love for so long; letting go because I deserve better is the only option.

So I broke the pattern.

My mother, who doesn’t like emotions, was raised by my grandmother and grandfather who also didn’t like emotions. My grandpa used alcohol so avoid dealing with anger. Same with my dad’s dad. There was coldness and distance and alcohol abuse.

And I broke that pattern.

Every day I make sure that I tell my husband and son that I love them. And I love them unconditionally. I tell Caleb that he isn’t bad, he just made a mistake. I tell Caleb how excited I am to see him when I pick him up from school. I give him hugs and love on him, but also allow him some private time. I push him academically because I know that he is a smarty-mcSmarty-pants. I say “I,” but I should say “we.” My husband is right by my side, giving him love and stability; my husband is the rock, I am the fire. And together, we work. We make sense to each other and know how to treat each other. We give each other the benefit of the doubt and strive to meet goals together.

I am a better parent than my mom, dad, or sister. In fact, right now, I am kind of crushing it. (I know, have some humility.) We have a new puppy that bites, and I don’t get angry at all. Yes, I still go to therapy and I still need therapy. I am a flawed individual who has overcome a lot to be in the happy, stable place that I am today. I broke the pattern. And that means something.

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. 🙂

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.
🙂