Friday, 29 November 2013

Chomp Chomp

I got a very surprising call from Nathan's school today.  They needed me to come in for an immediate meeting because Nathan bit 3 kids.

Wait, what?

Nathan has never been a biter.  Not even as a toddler.  Alex has never been a biter.  It was one of the few behavior problems we didn't have to deal with for him.

I was honestly in shock after I heard about it.  My brain kept trying to figure out where he could have seen the behavior modeled (did I make a mistake taking him to see Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs 2) or wondering if the teacher misinterpreted (was he trying to be helpful but his hands were full ... nope, can't even finish that one). 

I'm hoping my readiness to take this very seriously will give us some leeway to actually solve the problem.  Initially the principal suggested I take him home since he was obviously having a bad day.  I vetoed that.  Aside from the fact that there was less than an hour left in the school day, I did not want to reinforce the behaviour by rewarding it with a trip home.  (Hmm, bite people and go home early.  I can totally do that!)

I spoke with Nathan but he was not forthcoming with details.  All he would say was that he was upset.  So I reminded him that if he was upset, he should tell the teacher.

I also took away his screen time for the day.  He was not happy about that.  Ordinarily, I wouldn't institute a punishment without a warning for the behaviour but Nathan knows better.  And this is not something to mess around with.  I don't like taking away screen time for more than a day at a time.  Too long and my kids just forget about it as an option and it ceases to be a punishment.

Tomorrow we'll review the new rules:
- No biting.  Ever.
- If you bite, you lose screen time.
- If you're upset, tell the teacher.

Hopefully we can stop this before it becomes a habit.  I think it's really critical to give kids a model of what they should do rather than just prohibiting stuff.  The teachers are being really supportive, which is good.  Even the principal came around after I explained my reasoning for refusing to take him home.

Thursday, 28 November 2013

Made Me Cry (In the Good Way)

I'm attaching a link to an article at the Good Men Project: The 10 most touching photos ever taken.

If you don't cry by the end, you might want to check with Isaac Asimov to see if you're actually a robot.  :)

Here's a little preview:

Tuesday, 26 November 2013

The Scream

Alex has discovered a particularly intolerable reaction to being frustrated of late.  He will get as close to you as possible and then let out a high-pitched, high-volume scream.  It actually literally hurts my ears when he does it.

I'm noise-sensitive.  I get driven nuts by dripping taps or electronic devices left playing at low volumes.  I hate background music in stores because I can't tune it out (and often don't like what they're playing).  This is probably one of the autism traits which Alex gets from me.

Unlike many of Alex's tantrum choices, this is something I cannot ignore by pretending not to react to it.  Which has led him to realize it gets a reaction from Mommy and encourages him to use it.  So now I have to figure out a way to make it a less desirable option.

We've been using our standard loss of privileges approach.  If he screams, he loses access to something he likes (usually Megablocks, computer and iPad, in that order).  Right now, we're in the extinction burst phase where he uses it more to test our resolve.  (Many parents give up on consequences during extinction bursts, leading to an overall escalation of the problem behaviour.)

I'm trying very hard to stay calm and react in a productive way but this screaming is really getting under my skin.  I hate it and it's physically painful.  It was actually easier for me to respond properly when he was kicking me.  It hurt but didn't press as many buttons.

I know I have to stick it out.  Eventually he will realize we're serious and that screaming isn't a cost-effective way to make his point.  I just hope it happens soon.

Monday, 25 November 2013

Cheap or Private?

This is the debate currently going in my head: protect my privacy or protect my bottom line.

I don't like how "points" cards collect information and sell it to advertisers.  I feel we have far too much advertising in our lives and I want to minimize it.  (Interestingly, some researchers have suggested that staying away from advertising makes people happier in their lives.  Since the goal of advertising is to create desire, that makes sense to me.)

I feel I have a right to be private and I enjoy having a minimal digital footprint. 

However, this is becoming an increasingly expensive proposition to maintain.  For example: airline tickets.  A lot of people have Aeroplan or Air Miles collection cards, giving them discounts on their flights.  The airlines have responded by raising the overall cost of each ticket.  So I, as a non-Air Miles person, get to subsidize everyone else's ticket.

I've been going back and forth as to whether or not I should just join the crowd and reap the benefits.  Clearly my one-woman campaign for non-data-collection is not catching on.  I'm also suspicious of the effectiveness of these programs.  Collect Air Miles, sure, but you need 5 billion points to fly to Toronto or you can only do it via somewhere in Nunavut.  I remember the old Zellers points program, which kept upping the minimum number of points necessary to get anything, or Canadian Tire money, which can now only be used for 10% of your purchase.  No company gives away something for nothing and you often pay a hefty fee for the privilege of "free" stuff.

I'll have to sit down and do the research before making a decision.  This is the time to get started if we want a discount for going to Florida next year.  (Actually, probably six months ago was the time to get started for that but better now that later.)

I just wish I didn't feel like I was making a deal with the Internet devil.

Sunday, 24 November 2013

To Attend Or Not Attend: That Is The Question

In a few weeks, Nathan's drama group will be putting on the play they've been working on.  It's a thrilling tale about missing rainbows and a mean dragon.  Don't miss it, I'm sure it will be on Broadway soon.

Now comes the dilemma part.  Should Alex be forced to come to the play?  This is always a tricky question for our family.  On the one hand, I feel he should come and support his brother.  That's part of what a family does and Alex shouldn't get an exemption because his autism is more severe. 

On the other hand, if Alex comes and is in a bad mood, he will scream and fight and disrupt everything.  That is not fair to Nathan.  He's worked hard on his part and should be the center of undivided attention from his portion of the audience.

Helen Keller said that handicaps were no excuse for bad behaviour.  I agree with that statement which is why I've always pushed Alex and Nathan to behave properly.  Sometimes they need more support to achieve the same goals, but the expectation is always there.  But at the same time, I do try and recognize when something is not yet in their skill set.  As much as Alex understands he is not supposed to take toys from other children, if he sees a toy that he really wants, he'll take it.  It's an impulse he hasn't yet learned to control (not an uncontrollable impulse though, which implies he can never be expected to learn).  My solution is to make sure Alex usually has toys of his own to fidget with, which greatly decreases the chances of him wanting another one.

I haven't quite decided how to manage this.  I also don't want to take away from Nathan's support base by having me or Dave have to stay home (especially me).  Our usual sitters are either coming to the play or out of town, so it doesn't seem fair to ask them either.

My gut instinct on this is that I should try to have Alex attend but have someone ready to whisk him away if he's disruptive.  The logistics of that are trickier and we could end up with the worst parts of both scenarios.  But I really do feel that it is important for Alex to act as part of the family sometimes rather than being continuously exiled.

Friday, 22 November 2013

A Week of No Restrictions

Last Friday, I posted about our toileting hat-trick.  That meant that our younger son was no longer under any screen time restrictions.  He had earned his way into unlimited time.

I was curious to see how things would play out once he was no longer earning screen time by using the bathroom properly (rather than having accidents).  We'd restricted the screen time initially because he got distracted and wouldn't realize he needed to go to the bathroom and because he was so possessive of it that he was unwilling to leave to go to the bathroom even when he was aware of it.

Would he go back to previous habits?  Would screen time be incompatible with toileting?

To my rather pleasant surprise, he seems to have moved on.  During the week, we had only one accident.  That put him back on restricted access until he used the bathroom properly.  Other than that, he's showing ever sign of having retained the awareness and lessons we've spent the last year trying to drill into him.

One down, one to go.

Thursday, 21 November 2013

How Far Should You Go?

How far should a private person go to prevent a public wrong?

We’ve all seen news stories about how people get away with bad behaviour because no one around them wants to be the one to tell them.  Whether it’s people taking handicapped parking spots, taking reserved seats, talking rudely in public … no one wants to have to bear the brunt of a pissed off rebuttal.

We had a situation recently at Nathan’s school.  There is a dedicated bus lane with no parking signs around it to make sure the buses have room to get out.  But many parents park there anyway to drop off or pick up their children, leading to dangerous levels of congestion.  Last week, my husband spoke to one of these parents and suggested she find somewhere else to park.  She was very indignant and offended with him.  Since she recognized Nathan, she stopped by our house later to complain about him pointing out that she was parked illegally.

I think she was somewhat surprised when I didn’t agree he had been completely unreasonable.  Dave was home and defended himself and the discussion got quite heated.  Eventually I stepped in to say that it wasn’t going anywhere and I thought it was best to leave it as a disagreement.

As far as I can tell, her entire defence was that she was running late and didn’t want her kids to be late (since she would then have to stop and take them into the office and sign them in) and on a secondary note, she didn’t think it was Dave’s place to call her out for parking illegally and creating a potentially dangerous situation.

Personally, I disagree on both points.  I get the temptation to bend the rules when you’re running late.  It seems almost criminal not to squeak by, especially when lots of other people do it, too.  But it’s still wrong and when it is a situation of public safety, I think it is all our responsibilities to point it out to the individual in question.  It’s embarrassing to be caught but pretending there’s nothing wrong is a far more offensive position in my view.

I’ll admit that I’m a bit more of a coward when it comes to pointing things out (or discreet, pick whichever adjective you want).  I will make “friendly suggestions” like: oh, I guess you didn’t see the no parking sign.  If those are ignored, I might suggest alternatives (like pulling into a driveway instead of the bus lane, still illegal but safer).  If there’s still a problem, I have been known to alert the authorities to violations.  I don’t like getting confrontational, but I do believe it is part of my job as a community member to be aware of such things.

Maybe it’s because I have difficulty picking up subtle social cues or because I know my husband and children have even more trouble than I do, but I really don’t like it when there is a whisper campaign about how someone is doing something “wrong” but no one will tell them about it.  If you’re going to complain to your friends then you should have the guts to say it to the person’s face.  There are lots of occasions where it truly is just ignorance rather than a willful defiance.

Wednesday, 20 November 2013

My Surprise and Homecoming Gifts

When I got back, Dave had a surprise waiting for me:

A Kindle.

I've been wanting one and I had asked for one for Christmas.  He surprised me by getting it early.

He said my time away helped him to appreciate all that I did and he wanted to surprise me with something nice.

It was a nice surprise.

I had gotten the boys some little toys in Edmonton.  I tried to get Edmonton Oiler shirts to annoy Dave (since he's a loyal Sens fan) but no luck. 

When my father brought us gifts after travelling, he always told us to close our eyes and put out our hands.  Then we had to guess what they were.

I decided to revive the tradition but not make the boys guess.  It didn't quite seem fair since they're not used to it.

I had them sit on a chair with their eyes closed (Alex needed some help to keep from peeking).  Then I put the toys in their hands.  Alex got a little stuffed Husky sled dog and Nathan got a little stuffed horse.  Both the toys were big hits and they've been inseparable ever since.

I forgot to mention yesterday that my sister received a lot of gifts from her fiancé's extended family at the party.  There was a lot of gorgeous jewelry including a beautiful watch and a really lovely bracelet and necklace.  It's obvious that they are all thrilled about her joining the family.

Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Engagement Party Pictures

Unfortunately my camera died halfway through the party so I only got some initial pictures (and a new resolve to get a new camera).

This is my sister in the outfit which her new in-laws-to-be had made specially for her.  It is tradition for the groom's family to give the bride a new outfit for the party along with special jewelry.  As you can obviously see, she looked gorgeous in it.

Her fiancé also looked pleased.

His parents arranged for the entire party so it was a traditional Indian engagement party.  I was pleased to see that the main focus was making sure that both families were comfortable and felt welcome.  I wish I had gotten pictures of the dancing.  We all got a Bollywood 101 course in the basic moves and it was a lot of fun. 

The food was delicious (although strongly spiced for my taste).  They made sure to have some traditional Western dishes and there was enough food to have fed us all a dozen times over.

I'm really glad I was able to make it out.  It's been a little difficult to have a close relationship with my sister, since she was only seven when I left home (and we now live in different cities).  We missed out on the day to day sharing.  But I'm honoured to be a part of her celebration and very happy for her.  Her fiancé is wonderful and is a good match for her, personality wise.

And I got to get a surprise when I came home.  But you'll have to wait to hear about that tomorrow.

Monday, 18 November 2013

I'm Back!

I just got back from a whirlwind tour of Edmonton for my sister's engagement party.  What a party!  I was still dancing at 1 am.  (And had to be up for my flight at 6, which is why I'm exhausted and will be posting a more complete blog entry later when my brain can think in complete sentences again.)

Friday, 15 November 2013

Toileting Hat-trick!

We have success!  Three BMs in the toilet in a row with no accidents.  After almost a year of careful, gradual work, we made it.

I'm sure we will still have a few regressions and it will be interesting to see if he continues to use the toilet without the restrictions and incentives, but I really think we've crossed the barrier.

With one completely trained, that should give me the mental energy to return to training the older one.  Maybe I can make it gradual enough to move past his indifference. 

Either way, I'm proud of myself and of my son.

Thursday, 14 November 2013

Parent Teacher Interviews and Parental Autism

This week is parent-teacher interviews at our school.  We got the progress reports for both boys.  Nathan is performing solidly at grade level and Alex's is mostly a long list of "not applicable" since he is on a very modified curriculum.

There is always a tricky balance between expressing concern and making oneself into a nuisance when it comes to interacting with the school board.  This is one area I have to be careful with my husband.  Since he has Aspergers, he doesn't always recognize the finer points of being tactful.  But he does come up with some really great and helpful insights for the boys.

I don't know if anyone has done any actual studies but anecdotally, I think there is probably a large percentage of parents who would discover they qualify as having autism once their children are diagnosed.  Certainly I have my own spectrum traits: I don't find casual social interactions intuitive and I can certainly get obsessive about my own interests.  It takes me awhile to get to know someone well enough to 'read' them and understand how they're reacting.  Once that happens, I can develop a real friendship but until then, I try to be very cautious about what I say.

I hope that my experience and my husband's will let me form a bridge between my children's world and the outside world.  Maybe they'll have an easier time of it since their parents will understand that they're not being obtuse or difficult.  We can teach them the things which other people will expect them to just 'get' without any help.

And if nothing else, we can all be outsiders together.

Wednesday, 13 November 2013

The Black Hole of the Van

At the beginning of the year, we had trouble with the transportation company picking up Alex.  Namely, they weren't coming to pick him up.

That got resolved but I realized his driver was not doing this out of a love for kids or a deep desire to get out and serve his community.  He is in his seventies, I would guess, and clearly doesn't like the job.  There is only one reason to work in your seventies at something you don't like: he needs the money.

Now I'm discovering an entirely new set of problems.  Namely, this driver will not take any step beyond showing up at our house and shuttling Alex to school.  Alex's water bottle fell out of his backpack last Thursday.  It was in the trunk.  I know this because I spotted it on Monday and pulled it out.  I showed it to the driver and he said: "Oh yeah, I found that last week.  You wouldn't believe what I find in there."

No, the part I can't believe is that he wouldn't tell us he had found it.  Especially since it has Alex's name clearly written on it.

Hats, gloves, water bottles.  All of this stuff is disappearing into the black hole of the van and never seeing the light of day again.

I've tried speaking to the transportation company.  Aside from the black hole issue, Alex is crammed into the back between two car seats.  It's pretty narrow back there and can't be comfortable.  That's not fair to him.  But according to the transport company, everything meets industry standards.  According to the school board, there isn't a problem.

It is a short distance at least.  He's usually in the van for less than five minutes each way.  But it is still frustrating that we can't rely on the driver to do more than the bare minimum.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Medical Disappointment

I will be the first to admit that I'm not in great shape.  Over the last year I've been working with a dietician to lose weight and drop my cholesterol levels.  I've given up many of the foods I like and cut my intake down to half what it was before.

So what do my test results say?

My cholesterol is up and my blood sugar levels are now spiking into pre-diabetic range.

Oh, and I'm at exactly the same weight I've been at for the last five years.


I have no confidence in the diet industry.  When over 95% of your participants fail and the entire industry is predicated on blaming the consumer rather than the program, that's just a scam in billion-dollar clothing.

But I did have faith in medicine.  I trust doctors, not quacks selling me overpriced, prepackaged food.

My faith has taken a rather solid hit.  A miserable year of deprivation and I'm actually physically worse off than I was previously.  The dietician waved it off when I mentioned it to her, telling me I just had to buckle down and try harder.

Hmmm.  That sounds a lot like blaming the consumer rather than the program.

I'm still trying to decide if I want to stick with her program.  I do want to be healthier and dance the funky chicken to embarrass my great-grandchildren at my grandchildren's weddings.  But I am no longer confident that this person knows how to get me to that point.

Monday, 11 November 2013

My Act of Remembrance

Remembrance Day is special for me.  I can't particularly say why.  It wasn't emphasized beyond the usual in our family or at any of the schools I went to.  But once I grasped the concept that real, actual people had chosen to fight and risk injury and death in order to save others, that meant a great deal to me.  November 11th became my annual reminder to be grateful to those who paid horrible prices to protect others.

While the emphasis for Remembrance Day is usually on soldiers, particularly those who fought in the two World Wars, I expanded it in my mind to include everyone who risks their life to protect another person.  This is a day to honour those who have made the ultimate sacrifice, regardless of whether or not they wore a uniform.

I include police officers, both those who have been attacked and shot at and those who fill their minds with horrible images in order to save children from predators.  I include the mom who risks her life to sneak her kids out of the house and away from an abusive relationship.  I include the organizers and participants of underground railroads who rescue children from slavery and abuse, often at risk of their own lives.  I include the everyday heroes who risk themselves to save others.

One particular story of the latter kind gives me courage and strength to make the right choices.  Rick Rescorla was an employee of Morgan Stanley, at the World Trade Center during September 11th.  He got over 2000 people out of the tower when the planes hit.  And went back inside to make sure everyone got out.  He was still inside when the tower collapsed.

I have great respect for soldiers and I certainly don't want this post to be taken as a dismissal of what they do.  No other job in the world has being shot at on a daily basis as one of the requirements.  They deserve to be honoured for their bravery and steadfastness.

But I believe we also need to remember that we are all capable of being more than we think.  We are all more than we could ever believe.

Thank You

For all those who stand between us and harm.
For all those who have sacrificed themselves to save another.
For all those who took on the nightmares so that we could dream.
Thank you.

Sunday, 10 November 2013

Weekend Update: Shopping and Pictures

I needed something formal for my sister's engagement party next weekend.  So off I went to the limited number of stores which offer clothing in my size.  The results were not promising.

Some clothes looked good but felt awful (itchy fabric, rough decorations).  Some of it just looked awful (cut for someone shorter or with different proportions).  The colour palette wasn't especially flattering for me (lots of pinks and grays this season).  In short, it was discouraging enough to make me wish we still wore togas (equally unflattering to everyone).

However, I remembered my What Not To Wear suggestions: namely that a good fitted jacket is the plus-sized gal's best friend.  So I switched to hunting for a jacket.

To my surprise, of the 5 jackets the store had to offer, 3 of them looked good on me.  I decided against the deep purple one since I could only use it with a limited selection.  That left me deciding between a little sweater crop top and a spandex one with reinforced leather seaming and chain accents.

I picked the leather.

Now I can wear one of my short-sleeved tops and look more formal, especially with some more formal accessories like jewelry, shoes and handbag.

Our family photos had an equally rough start and good finish.  Both boys had tantrums right as Ryan was arriving.  We only had a half hour before we would have to leave for Alex's music lesson and Nathan's drama lesson and both boys are shouting and crying. 

Ryan was really great.  He offered to come back if we couldn't get things under control but then he brought out his camera and showed the boys pictures from the back.  He started with Nathan, who had wedged himself behind the treadmill to hide.  He asked Nathan if he would like to make some nice pictures like the family in the camera.  That got Nathan's interest and he came out.

Alex took a little longer to convince but eventually we got him out and laughing instead of crying.  We got family photos of the four of us together and some good candid photos of the two boys.

And we still finished in time to get to lessons.

Friday, 8 November 2013

Family Photo Time

This weekend, we're getting our annual family photos done.  I've gotten one done every year since Alex was born.  It makes a great pictorial timeline of his changes and makes a handy gift for relatives.

We used to get them done at Sears.  Easy access, reasonably good pictures.  Until Alex turned four and refused to go into the strange place and stay still.  He'd given us trouble before.  I thought I was prepared since I'd booked two sitting sessions.  But he threw such a massive tantrum that we had no choice but to abort.

From there I realized we weren't going to be able to use a commercial studio again.  Which left hiring a private photographer or giving up on the tradition.  Like most people, I assumed I wouldn't be able to afford a private photographer, since my only experience in hiring one was at my wedding.

This is where Ryan Parent came into the picture.  He was taking photos at an event my mother was organizing.  She mentioned my situation and he offered his card.  We talked and I found his prices reasonable but was still concerned about how he would deal with Alex's complete lack of cooperation.

When Ryan arrived, we did a few quick family photos and then something amazing happened.  He let Alex wander around the house and snapped photo after photo.  He caught Alex laughing (which is very difficult to do when he's distracted by a camera).  Alex was curious about the camera and Ryan got a bunch of shots with Alex looking directly at the lens.  We got some beautiful pictures and the start of a new tradition was born.

Every year, we have Ryan come and take a family picture and capture some great candid shots of the boys.  He gives us digital copies of the photos, letting us print up as many as we want.  And it doesn't cost us much more than the studio and print fees from Sears.

Thursday, 7 November 2013

When You're Both Burned Out

Being a parent of a special needs kid isn't easy (and before I am overwhelmed with a chorus of d'uh's, I'll continue).  Sometimes we need to let our partner deal with things while we recover.

But what happens when you're both burned out?

The last year was full of our typical stresses: daily toileting accidents, daily fights about food, dealing with clutter, bedtime wars, school wars, scheduling conflicts and juggling and the dozens of other everyday pinpricks of frustration.

We also had unusual stresses: me returning to work part time, Alex's intense and repeated desire to tunnel through his wall, Dave's cancer (now in remission) and hemochromatosis (now under treatment).

It's left us both incredibly low on reserves of energy and time.  There are at least three days in any given week where we both spent every waking moment from pre-alarm to bedtime on work, either for pay or for family.  It's exhausting and we are both feeling it.

It's a dangerous situation for the relationship.  Tired people are irritable and snappish.  Being snapped at when tired provokes retaliatory snapping.  It's easy to escalate into a fight just to relieve the sense of futility and helplessness (anger tends to make us feel more powerful in the moment than sadness).  Add in the extra challenge of Dave's Aspergers and it is a recipe for misunderstandings and hurt feelings.

We both recognize that the other is burned out.  As much as possible, we're trying to be sensitive to each other but sensitivity requires energy, so sometimes we blow it.  And then we try to be forgiving.

I won't lie.  There are times when we're not close to being even tolerably successful.  But I think the fact that we recognize the true cause helps.  I'm not fuming that Dave is lazy or a jerk, I know he's overextended and frustrated.  He's not seething about my disorganization or absenteeism, he knows I'm overwhelmed and juggling more balls than any human should ever be asked to handle without a circus contract.

We have a therapist who we see regularly who helps us to keep a reality check on our feelings.  That helps to keep things from spiraling too far out of control.

It sucks and we shouldn't have to be dealing with all of this, but we are.  Spending all our time and energy railing against what should have been will never help us.  Anger is fueled by unmet expectations, so adjusting our expectations is the best tool we have in keeping things functional.

Wednesday, 6 November 2013

More Career Plan Thoughts

The other night I went to a workshop at the Ottawa Public Library about how to self-publish your books on Amazon.  It was given by Teresa Morgan, who writes Sheikh books and is a member of ORWA.

Her books were initially rejected by Harlequin but since putting Handcuffed to the Sheikh online in 2011, she has sold almost 20 000 copies.

She took us step by step through the process of putting something on Amazon's Kindle Direct Publishing program.  It's surprisingly easy, which does explain the ready availability of crappy books.

But it's also very encouraging for want-to-be authors like me.  The news from the world of traditional publishing is very discouraging.  The midlist authors are gone, meaning I would have to shoot from being a new author to a superstar within my first two books.  That is incredibly difficult.  There's no more efforts to nurture new talent and help them to grow and find a place.  It's all succeed beyond reason or be shoved aside so they can try someone else.

And a 6% royalty fee vs a 70% royalty fee also makes traditional publishing less attractive.

On the other hand ...

With Amazon I will never likely walk into Chapters and find my book on the shelves.  I also have to find a way to distinguish myself from the thousands and thousands of awful books out there.  It's going to be a lot of work.

First step is to make sure my book is as good as it can be.  Then I'll start worrying about the next step.

Tuesday, 5 November 2013

Changing Expectations

This is one area where it can be very easy to overwhelm a child with autism.  For my children, they have a great deal of difficulty processing more than one thing at a time, particularly if they're excited or stressed.

As a neurotypical adult, I'm used to chaining things together.  Have to run an errand?  I'll stop at two or three stores to be efficient.  Spot a library book under the couch?  I'll grab it immediately lest I forget it.

But switching gears mid-moment is not one of my kids' strong suits and isn't for many people with autism. 

There are two situations which often result in abrupt changes: the just-one-more-thing phenomena and a dispute between the adults in charge over what should happen.

Just-one-more-thing is very seductive and easy to fall into.  I said it's time to go to the park but oops, I forgot about doing a bathroom break first.  To me, no big deal, we'll go to the bathroom and then go to the park and everybody wins.  To them, huge big deal: I was going to the park but now Mommy has said no.  And really, they stop listening after that.

I've had to learn to take a moment and go through things in my head before saying anything out loud.  It lets me get it right the first time: First, bathroom, then go to the park.  If I do end up forgetting something, I ask myself how crucial it is to do right this second.  If it can wait at all until the task/activity is done, then it waits, even if it would be more convenient for me to do it right away.

Disputes between the adults in charge is slightly more difficult to handle.  And although you may be picturing a shouting-match kind of fight, it doesn't have to be.  Let's say I've told my son to take his dishes and put them on the counter.  My husband wants him to put them in the sink.  Boom!  That is a change in expectation from what he was first told and can lead to a meltdown.  Even dropping a requirement can trigger tantrums, especially if Alex is already upset.  "Put away your dishes" - "No, you don't have to" switches expectations just as much, particularly if the adults then get into a dispute.

It's difficult (particularly for me and my inner control freak) but I have to let him do it "wrong" rather than try to correct him in the moment.  The time to correct the situation is either before the instruction is given or after the task is done, when we're setting things up for the next time. 

Monday, 4 November 2013

Thoughts About Bullies

As my regular readers know, I had some concerns about Nathan possibly being bullied earlier.  While I was looking through the Globe and Mail, I found this column by Margaret Wente, speaking out against anti-bullying laws.

From the column, it appears her argument falls into three pieces.  While we all agree that it is a tragedy when kids commit suicide and that there have been several high profile suicides which cited bullying as a cause, she doesn't believe that bullying actually leads to suicide.  Her evidence is that the teen suicide rate has held constant for years. 

The second part of her argument is that laws would not be a deterrent to bullies.  And the third is that kids who commit suicide are mentally ill since most people experience bullying and turn out fine.

I've got a few problems with her logic on this.  Bullying has been with us for a long time, probably as long as we've forced kids into close proximity in schools.  Cyber bullying may be a new phenomena but it's really just a technological step up from the traditional methods.  So the teen suicide rate may be staying constant because a certain percentage of teens chose to opt out when bullied.  Also, detecting teen suicide can sometimes be a challenge, since it can be hidden under reckless behaviour.  Not every tragic accident is actually an accident.

I will agree that anti-bullying laws will not likely be a deterrent to bullies.  I don't actually believe that bullies are bad people.  Mostly, they're just immature kids with little to no empathy.  Most of them think they're being funny, and maybe they are, to their immediate circle of peers.  But not to their victims.  Kids suck at figuring out impacts in advance, that's why we don't let them vote, drive or have autonomy.

The third part of her argument is particularly tricky.  I feel it's very dismissive of mental illness, almost smacking of a "good to be rid of them" undertone.  So I want to break it down very carefully.

Kids with mental illness are more likely to be isolated and bullied and less likely to have the emotional and social tools to deal with it.  People in general are uncomfortable with those who do not act as they expect, it's a social defence mechanism designed to protect us as part of a herd.  It's not conscious but it does take conscious efforts to overcome it.

When someone is different, often teachers and other adults are leery of them.  The other kids are quick to figure this out and will often start bullying the targeted individual.  If that person reacts in a satisfying way, bullying escalates.  The adults who should be stopping it are slow to react, often coming from a "if they'd just act normal, this wouldn't be happening" frame of mind.

This is the perfect storm which can cause suicide.  The victim doesn't have to be mentally ill.  Just different enough to become a target.  It's not the periodic "outs" which most people experience but rather a consistent and unending level of torment.  Day after day, week after week, year after year.  Eventually, some of the victims break, unable to tolerate one more day.

Laws aren't the answer.  They would just be a tool for revenge.  What would solve the problem is a dramatic change in society.  We would have to start consciously working to overcome our prejudices about those who are different.  We would have to start embracing those differences as part of a wide tapestry of human experience.

That's a big step and one which will probably take several generations to achieve.  We're still working on other civil rights issues after all.

What could help right now is if we made an effort to ensure that every single child had access to a network of caring adults.  Even one voice telling a kid that they believe in him or her can make a huge difference.  We've cut off our kids from these networks because we're afraid of predators.  But I think they are needed.  Parents can't bear the sole responsibility and, frankly, most teens do not want to tell their parents everything.  But they do want to be able to talk to someone.

I could also make an argument against Wente's theory that most people are bullied and turn out fine.  I could argue that bullying leaves psychic scars, just like any other form of abuse.  I could argue that a culture which accepts bullying discourages people from standing up for those who are being attacked and encourages them to turn a blind eye to others' pain.  I could argue that we're better than that as human beings and we should expect more of ourselves.

But I think I want to finish with this thought:

Right now I have two precious and wonderful little boys who are different.  For now, they accept that as being largely inconsequential.  It's just a part of life, like liking different shows or wearing different clothes.

At some point, someone will likely try to teach them differently.  I've tried to build a solid foundation which can resist jeers and casual cruelty.  But it greatly saddens me that anyone would look at their pain and imply, however lightly, that they deserve it.

Sunday, 3 November 2013

Gack! You Want Me To Wear What?!

I have just discovered that my little sister's engagement party is to be a formal event.  As in, cocktail dress formal event.

For most women, this is probably not panic inducing.  (Okay, maybe a little panic-inducing.)

I don't own a cocktail dress.

I have several skirts, not all of which fit me and most of which fall into the 'casual' line.  Ditto with tops.  Some are "go out with friends to a restaurant" ready but not anything which reads as formal.

My life is fairly casual and with most of our non-mortgage-and-food money going to help the boys, buying clothes hasn't really been a priority of late (say, the last six years).  I had thought I might spring to buy some nice shoes so that I didn't have to wear my sneakers but I was not expecting to have to buy a dress for the engagement party.  (Wedding, yes.  But I'm pretty sure I can't wear the same one to both ... it's in the Girl Code.)

Now I have just over 2 weeks to make this work. 

I'm leaning towards buying a really nice formal top, something I can wear with dress pants (which I do own).  It might not be formal but it will be comfortable and shouldn't break the budget.  I can wear it to the holiday events coming up in December.  And I'll probably still get shoes.  According to What Not To Wear, my wearing of white sneakers to non-working out events is a fashion high crime.  As is most of the rest of my wardrobe, but until someone offers me a $5000 shopping spree, it's going to have to be baby steps.

Friday, 1 November 2013

Nathan Quote of the Week

For trick-or-treating this year, we emphasized politeness.  Saying thank you, even if you didn't like the treat.  Nathan took this a little too much to heart.

One woman gave him a lollipop, explaining that it was a natural fruit lollipop and very healthy and good for you.

Nathan: Oh, thank you so much.  I love lollipops.  I love fruit.  This is my very best favourite!

Lady: Oh good!  Would you like to eat it right now?

Nathan: No.

Complete deadpan without a moment of hesitation.  I would have helped but I was too busy rolling on the ground laughing.