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F*ck You, Valentine’s Day

It’s not like I really need you, Valentine’s Day.

Sure, you’re a well-marketed, forced reminder to shower those you love with candy and gifts.  But I do loving things for my family all through the year.  I don’t just wait until that mystical day in February to let them know they are loved and appreciated.

Like the other day, when I made a big chicken pot pie for dinner, and my husband suggested I get ramekins so that next time I could make smaller, more time consuming, individual chicken pot pies.  I didn’t bludgeon him to death, because that’s love.

And when Connor asked me for the 378th time to watch Spy Kids, which we don’t even own, I did not run screaming down the street like a lunatic.  Because I love him (not because I was still in my pajamas).

Expectations.  I don’t like the expectations that you bring.  Because of you, “Every Kiss Begins with Kay” and Zale’s is pressuring me to “Be Brilliant.”

See, I'm already brilliant.

Look, I’m short and pudgy and I have a bad back.  My personality can best be described as a cross between Ouiser from Steel Magnolias, and Roseanne.  The last thing I need is candy, and if I can’t even afford to go on vacation then jewelry would just be ridiculous, and much too flashy for the local Wal-mart.

Except I'm not southern...

Except I don't cook Hamburger Helper and I have better decor...

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No, I don’t want a massage certificate because I don’t want to lay on a table, wrapped in a towel, obsessing over my cellulite.  Also, I will not be going out to dinner because the idea of paying 20% more for a meal than I would on a regular Saturday night makes the bargain hunter in me clench up tighter than an Emo guy’s skinny jeans.

This just can't be comfortable.

And the other reason, Valentine’s Day, that I not only don’t need you, but DESPISE you?

Because of you, and this ridiculous tradition of giving out small, cardboard cards to every classmate, my son had a MEP (meltdown of epic proportions) yesterday, that last an hour-and-a-half.  That’s right, screaming, crying, running out of the room, begging to go to bed early…all because he could not deal with writing 21 names down on those cards.

Those fucking, fucking fuck-cards.

And it’s been over a year since the last MEP.  I’m reluctant to say that, because so many parents are dealing with this daily.  But I was foolish enough to believe that we were past that hurdle, that we had progressed beyond those days.

But thanks to you, Valentine’s Day, you took a perfectly happy Sunday afternoon and you shit all over it.  And you made me take out my rusty ABA skills so I could “hold the demand” and steer us through the rocky waters and complete the task.

It may have ended well, with Connor’s mood improving once he finished, but I will not forget this.

I will not forget.

Perhaps I will begin serving Hamburger Helper often, and save up to take a vacation during Valentine’s Day next year.

And since we won’t be doing those damn cards again, hopefully it will be an MEP-free vacation.

At Long Last, the IEP Meme

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Karen, at Solodialogue, created this awesome IEP meme, so we can each share information about the supports we’re getting.  Along with me, she also tagged Grace at That’s Right I Said It Dot Mom, Rhonda at Going Insane, Wanna Come, and Kelly at Unplanned Trip to Holland.  What great company, right?  Make sure you check out what support they’re getting for their kiddos.

Following are the three questions of the Meme:

1.  A list of tools (special chairs, iPad, visual schedules, gums, chewlery, squishees, headphones, whatever devices help focus and sensory issues);

Connor has a rubber-band type thing on the legs of his chair, that he can use to fidget.  He also has a visual reminder strip taped to the top of his desk, that has picture/word reminders about expected behaviors; raising hand to speak, not talking, focusing on work, etc.  There are also picture schedules in the regular classroom and resource room.  A weighted lap pad was tried last year, but he didn’t like it and found it more distracting.  He has used headphones during assembly time, despite the recommendation of the autism specialist, who told me in a meeting that “in the real world, he wouldn’t wear headphones to a meeting, so we should try to get him to attend the assembly without them.”  I’m not even going to go there in this post.  I will say that the headphones were available to him at every assembly until he decided, on his own, that he didn’t need them anymore.

2.  Services (Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy, ABA, TEACCH, Special Ed teaching rooms, aides during class, tutors, etc.) and how many hours per week of each your child receives;

Connor has never received speech, PT, OT, or ABA from the school.  In pre-K, I requested an OT eval, since he was already receiving it through a private provider.  The school tested him and he scored in the below average range for function, but that was still considered “acceptable.”  Last year the SPED teacher expressed concern about his fine motor skills, and mentioned an OT assessment.  I just about had a cow, because if they had listened to me in pre-K, he would have already had the extra help.  He still tested as just barely being in the acceptable range.  So the school staff was kind enough to provide ME with extra workbooks for us to do at HOME.  In other words, “we won’t spend the money on extra support for him, but are expecting you, as a non-professional, will just do it for free.”

As for support, Connor begins and ends each day in the resource room for check-in and check-out.  He also receives extra 1:1 support during different times of the day; reading, math, etc.

In addition he has a BIP (behavior intervention plan) as part of his IEP.  It took me 3 IEP meetings last year to get that BIP added.  They initially didn’t think it was “necessary”, despite the fact that was hitting or pushing almost daily.  Then they chalked it up to pre-holiday angst.  Then he hit the SPED teacher.  Now we have a plan to support his behavior, that includes extra motor time, as well as being given opportunities to say “no” to a request.

The other thing I insisted on was that he have extra support during unstructured time (recess and lunch), since that’s where most of his challenges occur.  His social skills are impaired because of his disability, which affects his ability to learn because he is distracted by the negative peer relationships that are being caused by his lack of social skills.  See that nice little circle?  Since his aggression has almost disappeared this year, I will need to follow up and see if they’re still providing this support, which I doubt.

He also receives shortened assignments as an accommodation and preferred classroom seating (near the teacher).

3.  Your opinions of the effectiveness of (1) and (2) above.

I think the visual reminders are very helpful for Connor, especially the strip they have taped to his desk.  He gets off track so easily, that it’s good to have that right in front of him.

Time spent in the resource room is also very helpful.  He gets more 1:1 attention, and is able to get the extra help he needs to work on things that he is struggling with; telling time, money values, reading, math.

The BIP was moderately helpful.  The key there was that having it in the plan makes them accountable for supporting him and trying to teach replacement behavior, rather than just sending a note home saying he hit.  That drives me insane.  Don’t send me notes about “bad” things he did.  Tell me what happened and what you’re going to do to ensure it doesn’t happen again, or at least try to minimize it.

The last thing we achieved this year wasn’t even in the IEP.  At the IEP meeting, I mentioned that staff at the after school program (which is run by the district, this is the key here) expressed interest in having someone do a disability discussion with the after-school kids.  Someone to tell them about autism and other challenges, explain to them the differences, and how to be a friend.  I jumped on this and told them at the IEP that I could ask our behaviorist if that’s something she could do.  They all nodded in agreement and said it was a great idea.  Then I mentioned I would find out what her rates are and what she would charge the school.

Frownie faces all around the table.  Then the principal said they couldn’t really pay for that service if they have district staff that could provide the same service.  Then the SPED teacher said she would be willing to do the presentation for them.  This is what I wanted all along, but since every one of my requests has been turned down initially, I thought I’d ask for the most expensive option, and then negotiate down to an acceptable compromise.  Haha, suckas!!!!

Seriously though, it was really, really helpful.  I think it should be done in every classroom, in every grade, and every school.  Period.  1 in 110 (or whatever the number is now), plus all the kids with other types of special needs.  Damn straight they should start in kindergarten teaching kids acceptance of those that are different from them.

Next IEP I’ll be pushing for a regular classroom presentation.

So that’s it.  I hope someone finds this helpful.  My advice is to take an advocate to your meeting if you need the extra support.  And I personally NEVER EVER sign the agreement at the meeting (this makes me unpopular, but I’m not there to make friends).  I always demand to take a copy home for review, before I will sign anything.  It gives me a chance to process things, read over what we discussed, and decide if there’s anything else that wasn’t covered.

Now, as for tagging others:

Kara, at Karacteristic.  She’s been scarce lately, and I miss her!

Amber, at Airing My Dirty Laundry, One Sock at a Time - this should be good!

And last but not least, Karen, at Confessions of an Asperger’s Mom – she’s got TWO, so she should have some good advice.

Congratulations, You’re Cured!

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Perhaps you’ve noticed my conspicuous absence the last week.  Or maybe you didn’t notice at all (asshole).  Either way, it’s because I’ve been mulling things over.  The mulling of anything is never good, by the way.  It’s a known fact that “mulling” is a completely useless expenditure of time.

I’ve been mulling autism, which is a pretty big chunk of meat to mull.  You see,  our ABA therapy with Drew, the grad student, ended last week.  I realize many people would be concerned that the hallmark of autism treatment was coming to an end, but I was feeling quite relieved.  Not only was I getting my schedule back to normal, and would no longer have appointments 6 days each week, I also wasn’t completely convinced that it was helping.

What!?  ABA helps everyone with autism!  Well guess what, with my child, the technique seemed to produce more anxiety and an escalation of behavior much of the time (see my post about holding the demand).  There were some useful tools that we walked away with, but I wouldn’t say that the entire approach worked for Connor.

In addition, a couple of weeks ago we forced a medication change, and saw dramatic results.  Connor is much more pleasant and cooperative than he’s been in a year.  However, since this coincides with the end of ABA, there were some unexpected results.

During our final meeting with Drew, he brought over some questionnaires for us to complete with him.  One of them was the CARS (Childhood Autism Rating Scale), which measures “symptom severity through quantifiable ratings based on direct observation.”  We completed it together and Drew tallied up the results to share with us before leaving.

The results?  Connor doesn’t have autism.  Nope, not even mild.  He’s cured!!  It’s a miracle!!!!!

But he still struggles with reading and writing, and doesn’t like to get his hands dirty, and doesn’t like the sound of the vacuum, and doesn’t understand metaphors, and is very literal.

Of course, he’s never fit any particular category very well.  Except for ADHD, that one REALLY fits.  But as for the rest, it’s always been mild and very hard to define.  This makes it really hard to decide what services he needs.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining.  There are so many kids that have it much harder, with greater challenges.  I get that.  But even though whatever “disorder” he has is mild, it is still a challenge.  Especially when you can’t define it.

Autism?  Asperger’s?

Who knows.

And what will I blog about if there are no autism shenanigans?  Maybe I will have to start a whole new blog that consists of really bad drawings.

Hmmm, on second thought…

If it’s not autism, then we also stand to lose out on some other great perks:

1.  We won’t get to attend the annual Autism Picnic, where Connor gets to look like a shining beacon of model behavior.

2.  I will have to admit to my mother that she was right all those times she said, “there’s nothing wrong with him, he’s just an active boy.”

3.  We will lose our rightful claim to the coveted Disney Fast Pass, and will be stuck waiting in long lines with the NT kids.

4.  We won’t have any excuse to avoid “playdates” with other kids, other than the fact that I don’t so much like other kids.

5.  Instead of blaming his eccentricities on autism, I’ll just have to admit that he’s weird.  He got that from his dad.

But I remind myself that this is a spectrum, and I’m sure my child falls somewhere on it, if only at the mild end.  So I haven’t quite decided to hang up my “closed” sign yet, but will see what I can possibly find to write about now that my child is “cured”

Just The Way You Are

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I started writing this post yesterday while I waited for Connor at his social skills playgroup.  My intention was to finish it that evening.  But things went very, very wrong, and I.  Lost.  My.  Shit.

It started with theft.  Hubs picked up Connor from school, and he had a mini skateboard toy that wasn’t his.  His behavior did not earn him any prizes, so he snatched someone else’s.  Nice.  We’ll be doing the walk of shame in the morning as I have him confess to the teacher and return it.

After work, I took him to his playgroup.  At the end of playgroup, the kids all come out to the waiting area.  Connor made a beeline for the ottoman where toys are stored for kids that are waiting.  He threw it open and started digging.  I said, “hey kiddo, we’ve got to get going so we can have dinner.”

Nothing.  Completely ignored.  I moved next to him and tried again.  “Connor, we don’t have time to play, we’ve got to go.”

He continues rummaging through the toys. 

So now I take hold of his arm, firmly but gently, to guide him away from the ottoman, per ABA.  He starts flailing and pulls his arm away, then runs down the hallway.  Why are these parents just staring at me?  Assholes.

I stand where he can see me, and I point to the ottoman (so he can put the toys away and close it).  He comes back, pissed, and puts the toys in there and slams the lid down.  Out we go to the car.

As I’m buckling up, he pulls something from the back of his pants and says, “look at this.”  It’s a small toy car. 

“Where did that come from?”  He points toward the office.  Fuck!

Back in we go so he can return it, and the behavior therapist reminds him that the toys stay there.  Fine.  Great.  Back to the car.  My nerves are wearing thin at this point.

On the way home I need to stop at Walgreens.  I tell Connor this, and ask if he can have good behavior in the store while I get only one thing.  He assures me that he can.  And I believed him.  My bad.

I manage to get the item and navigate to the register.  He’s doing just fine.  As I begin using the pin pad, I see his hand up on the counter grabbing hold of the scanner doo-hickey.  It has those cool, red laser lights, so I don’t blame him.  I calmly tell him, “no, we can’t touch those things, we can get in trouble.” 

I repeat it again.  He pulls his hand back.  As I resume my transaction, his hand shoots in front of me and starts pushing buttons on the pin pad.  So I take hold of his hand, and continue my transaction with my left hand.

He proceeds to pull and flail and freak out.  I hold on tightly.  Fuck, now the Walgreens people are staring at me.  Kill me.

I march him out to the car, open the door, and get him inside.  As I get in the driver’s seat, I’m abruptly hit twice from the back.  Per ABA, I am not supposed to give any attention for this.

But people, this is when it happens.  I.  Lose.  My.  Shit.

Bad.

As I buckle up and start the car, I begin bawling my fool head off.  For the life of me, I don’t know how I drove home, because my crying was hysterical.  Capone was silent in the backseat.  And all I could think in my head is nothing is working, the therapies, the playgroup, nothing.  Nothing we do is making things better.  And now he’s stealing.  He’s going to end up in jail when he’s older if this is how things are at five.

I tell you, I was in a bad place.  Home and into the house.  All my poor hubby sees is me crying and babbling like a lunatic.  I go directly to my room, into the walk-in closet, and collapse in a heap on the floor. 

Hubby fed the boy, got him in the shower, and ready for bed…with no story.  Take that!!  Of course, Connor kept saying he was sorry, and he would never hit me again.  Uh huh, heard that before.

But I’m better today.  Really, I swear.  Still stressed and worried, but back in the fight.  There’s really no choice, although a three-day “rest” at the asylum sounds strangely relaxing…a nice Thorazine buzz, a little nappy-nap, some mashed potatoes and jello for dinner.

Whoa, I was daydreaming again.  Sorry.

And then there’s this.  This, that I started writing while he was still in the playgroup.  This, that happened on the way to the playgroup.

Connor’s favorite song currently is Just the Way You Are, by Bruno Mars.  When it comes on the radio in the car, he sings his heart out.  The irony of it is not lost on me.

I have that song on my Ipod and Droid.  Even though I’m sick to death of  it, I listen to it often.  When I’m feeling down, when progress feels painfully slow, or worse, non-existent, I listen.

Today he threw his pants away in the bathroom at school.  Since stopping the stimulant, he is having a lot of accidents.  Husband was perturbed about the pants because, let’s face it, money doesn’t grow on trees.    But I knew why he did it, despite the fact he said he did it by accident and “forgot.”  He was embarrassed.

I didn’t make a big deal, just asked him to try to fold them up and stuff them in his backpack next time.

Bruno fucking Mars was no help to me in that closet.  Strangely, it was a different song that cheered me the next day.  Driving home from work, the song “Ride Wit Me”, by Nelly came on, and my ten-year-old Saturn was bumpin’.  What a gi-normous dork I am.

I’m not much of a rap fan (Pink is more my speed), but this song picks me up.  Go ahead, listen to it the next time you’re having a bad day.  And when you’re “smokin an L in the back of the benzie”, you might see me there too.  (it’s just a metaphor, people)

Yes, yes Nelly I DO want to come and take a ride wit you.

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