Sunday, March 25, 2012

Flippin' Burgers - A Rant by Niffercoo

"You don't want to be flippin' burgers all your life, do you?"

"Well, the world still needs ditch diggers." 

I can't tell you how many times I've heard these phrases. And I never gave much thought about it. The first comment is meant to inspire a young person to buckle down, get a good (read: 4 year university) education, so you can have a "decent" job. The second comment is to assign those jobs that "we" wouldn't ever want to do to "someone else" - not us, and definitely not our children - to someone who is obviously very beneath "us". No big deal, right?


You see, I have a child (or two) who will very likely end working this kind of job. I have a child (or two) who may not be able to go to handle the academic demands of college. Since a degree from a 4-year university seems to be the requirement for even the most entry-level job these days, that means my children's job prospects are going to be limited. I don't think this is fair - but that's another blog post for another day. Today's rant is about the attitude that there are certain jobs that are sub-par, and the individuals who hold those jobs are inferior to other individuals based solely upon the fact that they hold those jobs.

I have had the displeasure of watching my son absorb these inferences from the media and from people around us and apply them to himself. You know, this would be one of the times where I would love for the autism to come into play so he wouldn't understand these subtleties. But it's not. He is starting to realize that he may not be able to handle college, and it distresses him greatly. You see, the world makes it seem that, for those without a college education, there is nothing ahead for him besides being "poor" and in a "dead-end job" and "unable to support a family". (Those are quotes from a commercial for a for-profit college with locations across the country). It makes him sad. It makes him worried.

Since when did doing an honest-day's work for an honest-day's pay not count for something?? Why do we have to look down on someone who is working hard for a living? Why do we have to make someone feel like they are aren't as good as we are because they are a "blue-collar" worker?

I am trying my best to help Austin concentrate on what it is that God wants him to do in his life. And to remember that whatever he does end up doing, that he does it to the glory of God.

And I'm also making sure that I don't perpetuate that sort of attitude in my own life! I vow to treat everyone with the same basic human respect regardless of what sort of job they may do! Because it's not what we do, or how much money we make, that defines the sort of person we ARE inside.

Friday, March 16, 2012

A "normal girl"

Just a warning that the next two posts I'm working on are going to be leaning a bit more toward the "rant" side of things. If you're not into that right now, please feel free to skip. I'll also try to get to a Weekly Recap this weekend if I can, which won't be so rant-filled.

On Wednesday evening, I picked Reece up from church. My husband usually takes her and brings her home since he is there anyway for the evening service and praise band rehearsal. I had been going with them back before Christmas, but it has turned into a 2 hour respite for me. Riley is at dance company rehearsal, Austin is at church as well... thus giving me 2 quiet hours in my home alone. Yeah, I spend the time cleaning and watching a chick flick, but it's 2 hours in my home. Alone. Homeschool moms understand why that's important. But this week, rehearsal was going to run long because of Easter preparations, so I picked Reece up on my way to get Riley from dance company rehearsal. We are finding that about 2 hours of dynamic social interaction in the late evening is about all she can manage without a meltdown, and we're trying hard to avoid the meltdowns.

The group was coming in from outside (lovely weather here lately in Georgia), and she was crying. I took her quickly to the car, and tried to ascertain what was the cause of this vexation. It soon became apparent that it was the change of plans/change of routine that had thrown her off. She was saying it was because she didn't get a turn, but when she explained further, it seemed that the turn-taking was not actually part of what was happening. It was just the unexpected turn of events that had her upset. And, as most meltdowns lately, it started morphing. I put on my calm face and tried to steer her out of it.

She moved onto the next thing that had her upset: "The Fifth Grade Writing Test". This is a big deal in our state, and apparently lots of public school kids are talking about it. I think it was last week or the week before. She was upset that she didn't know why it was so important. Then she was upset that she doesn't have to take it. Then she was upset that homeschoolers don't learn as much as public schoolers.

I'm keeping the calm face/calm voice thing going. This was one of the best things I learned in RDI, but one of the hardest. It seems to work so well when I can manage it... and we were nearly to the end of the meltdown and she was coming around.

Then she started talking about autism. She asked me if I cried when I learned that she had "high-functioning autism". I don't use that term so I don't know where she heard it, but anyway, I told her, "Nope, I sure didn't." (Liar, liar, pants on fire.... Oh, well!). I went on to tell her that she wasn't always so high-functioning, but through her hard work and lots of therapy, she has become high-functioning and she should be proud of herself.

Her eyes lit up and she got SO excited. "Is there a therapy that will make me a 'normal girl', Mama??" I didn't know what to say. I just said, "Well, no," and her whole body just crumbled into the seat. She was so sad. And I was so sad. I told her what we always tell her, "God made you just the way you are - autism and and all. He has a plan for your life! A plan for good and not for disaster." She said, "Yes, I know. But it doesn't help."

She's right, you know. It doesn't help. I mean, it does. But it doesn't. It helps because we do have hope and we trust that God - who loves my children more than I ever possibly could - does have a plan for their lives and that we will see it unfold in time. But it doesn't help in the moment. When my girl just wants to be like everyone else. When she doesn't have to work so darn hard all day long just to BE in this world!

And here's where the rant comes in for a moment. I see you. I see you roll your eyes at her and I see the looks you give me. She's not a brat. She's not spoiled (well, her Nana spoils her with toys and Disney trips, but that's a Nana's prerogative - she's not spoiled in her heart towards other people). She doesn't need a "good spanking". She doesn't need to "just go to school" - because in case you haven't noticed, there are autistic kids who have gone to school since they were toddlers and they are still autistic! But just know that you don't fool me. I won't say anything to you for a number of reasons, but don't think you're getting anything by on me. I'm not stupid, and I've been doing this special-needs/autism mama thing for a very long time. You're really missing out if you don't care to try to appreciate Reece for who she is, because she's an awesome kid! Yes, I know she cries a lot. Do you have any idea how hard she has to work to keep it together?! She doesn't cry because she's spoiled. She cries because she's overwhelmed and probably a bit confused, and then she's crying more because she's embarrassed. Because she just wants to be a 'normal girl'. Like yours.

Ok, rant over. For now. It felt good to get that out! :)

My heart has been raw since Wednesday night. I want to fix everything for her. I wish she could understand how far she has come! Last Saturday, we spent the WHOLE DAY out and about. We spent about 3 hours at a baseball stadium for Fan Fest where she ran around and played. And then we spent another 4-5 hours over at a friend's house, which is something we haven't done in YEARS because she simply couldn't handle it then! Not a meltdown all day (though it appeared there might be one when we first got to the ball field and she couldn't throw and catch as well as she expected herself to be able to do). There are things that we simply stopped doing as a family because she couldn't handle it that we could probably do now if we wanted to! But she doesn't realize that. She just realizes that she's not a "normal girl" in her own eyes. You know, it might have been easier on my heart back when she didn't know that she was any different.

Please God, help her to feel good about herself and about the person You have made her to be. Help me to guide her to see herself through Your eyes.

Thursday, March 08, 2012

Wow, this social stuff is TRICKY!!

I have prayed for Austin to be more social. I have prayed for this for a long time. I prayed for him to have the desire to make friends. I prayed for him to have the courage to open his mouth and talk to others in social situations, instead of being quiet for fear of saying something dumb. I prayed specifically for something to take the place of baseball when he ages out of this league (which is NOW - this spring will be his last baseball season!).

These prayers are all coming true.

And now I'm wondering what I was thinking!!!!!

Ok, I'm really kidding. Mostly. It's just that Austin becoming Mr. Social has opened a whole new set of "stuff" to deal with. And it's really not easy!!

The hardest thing right now, in my opinion, is helping him navigate social media and communication via texting and email. You think it's hard for a kid on the spectrum to understand subtleties in person?? Try online chatting. Or in a text that reads more like a two-year-old got hold of a keyboard and mashed all the buttons. I am so glad he's wanting to interact with folks now, but we have encountered a few times when there have been misunderstandings.

The one good thing about committing a social faux pas via text or Facebook is that we can be actively involved in talking him through the resolution without the individual on the other end knowing! If we were to be hanging out whispering in his ear to coach him out in public, that would look weird. But we can do the equivalent online and nobody knows!

One important lesson we need to work with is to help him to learn not to have the equivalent of a meltdown online. Over the weekend, a misunderstanding occurred with the band. Austin got very, very upset because the misunderstanding was basically his fault - and he was suffering the repercussions from both the guys in the band and from us. He was in the middle of something that was his fault, and he started taking it out on them via online messages and on us via his mouth. One big change in Austin is his growing ability to relax and think under pressure, aka "mid meltdown". It used to be that during an episode you just had to leave him alone, for a long time, until he calmed down. Now, he doesn't need nearly as much time, but you can also approach him calmly and he is willing to listen and to evaluate the situation. That's hard even for people not on the Spectrum. In the end, we were all able to work together to resolve the situation. He apologized to the guys in the band for his screw-up, and everything was fine after that. He was visibly relieved and relaxed. And so were we!

Navigating social media is a challenge for everyone, I think. And we as parents are really at a disadvantage because we didn't have to deal with this when we were teens. But I wouldn't trade his desire to interact with other teens for all of the challenges!

Monday, March 05, 2012

Birthday Party Success

Reece has asked to have a party on her birthday for the last couple of years, but I have always managed to be able to redirect her to something else. I was too worried to allow her to have one. Parties are hard for her and I was afraid she would have a meltdown at her own party and it would be awful for her and for everyone else. B But this year she would be turning 10, which is one of the "big birthdays" in our household and we like to go all out for the "big birthdays". One day while she was at ice skating, I saw that they offer birthday parties for a very reasonable cost. I showed it to her without really thinking, and she was so excited! So, from that moment, it appeared we'd be having an ice-skating birthday party.

The first order of business was to decide who to invite. The basic party included 6 children, including the birthday child, and I thought that would be a good place to start. To my surprise, Reece had no trouble deciding who she wanted to invite! She chose a long-time family friend, another long-time family friend who goes ice-skating with her quite a bit, a friend from our homeschool group, a friend from ballet class, and a friend from church! 

Right here let me diverge from my narrative for a moment to share with you how awesome it is that she chose these girls to invite to her party. I should back up for a moment and explain one of the experiences we had in RDI when Austin was around this age and our consultant talked to him about friends. Or maybe it was during his neuro-psych testing. Regardless, it was very obvious that Austin didn't know what "friend" meant. I don't remember the particulars anymore, but it did stick with me that my 10 year old son didn't understand friendship and what it meant to be and have a friend. So for Reece, at the same age, to be able to identify 5 girls that she wanted to have at her party, and to be able to articulate why they were her 'friends' was very special to me.

The invitations went out and the panic set it. What if nobody came? What if Reece saw these girls as friends but they didn't see Reece as a friend? Or not even that bad - what if everyone already had plans? This is a busy time of the year in Atlanta and most of the people we know have lots of siblings who have activities of their own. Our invitations went out late... what if folks simply couldn't make it. I knew her heart would be broken if nobody could come! We especially had a hard time with the invitation for the little girl at church because I didn't know who she was talking about, and neither did Russ. We took the invitation with us for two weeks waiting for Reece to point out the girl - who she had described as the "daughter of the lady who teaches my class" but that lady is grandmother age and we couldn't figure out who she was talking about. Finally, the Sunday before the party, we saw her at church (the grand-daughter of the lady who teaches the class so Reece was on the right track! LOL) and gave her the invitation with apologies for it being such late notice! To my very pleasant surprise, RSVPs came in and everyone was able to come to Reece's party!

Then the next set of panic took over. The noise at the skating rink is a problem. And this would be a Saturday afternoon when it would be busy - not the Friday morning when we usually go and it's virtually empty. And these girls all knew Reece from different places. With the exception of 2 girls, none of the others knew each other! They only knew Reece! How would she be able to handle making sure to spend time with each girl so she wouldn't feel left out? I really started to doubt the wisdom of this party. I spent a lot of time talking to her about including friends and making sure to give each of her guests special attention during the party. But I just wasn't sure how it would all play out in a setting that has such potential for sensory overload!

The day of the party arrived - we did have one cancellation for a family scheduling conflict, but the other 4 girls still came! Reece had been so excited all week and the morning of the party was no exception! I could tell you that she was bouncing off the walls, but that wouldn't begin to describe the level of excitement! Since 3 of the guests had never ice-skated before, we took along Daddy and Riley to assist with the skating. And I'm so glad we did. The two of them stayed with skaters until they got the hang of it, which every girl did by the end of the session! We were supposed to have had Reece's teacher there to give a lesson but she never showed up. I learned later that her child was sick, which I understand, but it would have been nice to have been informed by her or the staff at the skating rink. That was the ONLY negative thing for the whole party.

The girls skated for awhile, then had cake/ice cream/presents, and then went back to skate some more! It was an absolutely wonderful time. Reece handled taking care of her friends about as well as I could hope for, she was gracious with the presents, and she was gracious and thankful when the party was over! It was "Practically Perfect", to steal a line from Mary Poppins!

Here are a few pictures of Reece from her party! I don't want to include pics of the other girls since I don't have permission from their parents! :)

Happy 10th Birthday, Reece!! I'm so proud of the young lady you are becoming! :)