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Thursday

I love Teen Night

So... I have been taking some teens on the spectrum to a teen group once a week.  These are amazing kids, and getting that social interaction has been a hoot-for them and me. My young men asked me to share one of our adventures...

Teen night was a planned nerf gun war. The teens were all armed with various nerf weapons, smiling and gleefully prepared to have an all out squirmish. They romped and battled and hollered and dove this way and that for an hour, NotSoLittleMan drawing fire constantly as he paced about.. He would wait until they fired at him to yell "It's ok!! I am already dead, dude!".  Things were going wild when the group leader announced that in FIVE minutes there would be an EVERY MAN FOR HIMSELF battle.  Last one standing wins.

I was standing by the door, with the other social mentor, watching the fun.  Teens were scattering every which way, seeking some sort of advantageous cover and collecting what ammo they could find.  They were making forts under tables, using gym mats for covers, hiding in every crook and cranny.  The place look abandoned, aside from one young man, who has named himself as Patistic.

Now, Patistic is quite tall.  He is not a figure easily missed, as he towers over most of his peers.  He was the lone teen in the room, calmly and pointedly setting himself up in the VERY CENTER of the room, lining his ammo up on the table there, setting up his nerf Gatling gun, and making an obvious mental note of where every one of his pals had hid.

When the leader yelled for the games to begin, nerf bullets were flying.  Most of the kids were aiming for Patistic, yet somehow not one bullet did land on him.  He calmly shot and hit one teen at a time, while swaying to avoid bullets, exaggerated looks on his face the entire time.

I was giggling so hard, tears were falling, as the battle came down to Patistic and a lady I will call Kate.  Kate and Patistic faced off and Kate let loose a stream of shots, and Patistic wove and swayed, avoiding each one, he was the bullet free monk, it was amazing...He fired in her direction, but high, made eye contact with her and smiled.  Her next shot took him full on and he fell to the ground 'dead' with a dramatic flair that was Oscar worthy.

Later, after the kids had tidied up some, there was some sort of gleeful scuffle and the kids all dogpiled each other. NotSoLittleMan was pacing by the door (we are done, why are we not leaving, we are done, it is over, it is the time of going)  Patistic was not going to join in, but Katey egged him on so he shrugged and casually piled on top of the pile, eliciting shrieking and giggles.  Finally they yeilded and Patistic let them up.

Now... This is my perspective...
I have NotSoLittleMan pacing to my left and behind, obviously ready to go.  He is oblivious (in appearance) to what is going on across the room.  I have the other social mentor (SM)  to my right.  The noise level is pretty high, with over a dozen screaming, giggling and shrieking teens.
My attention, in that moment is on my son, NotSoLittleMan, when SM starts slapping my arm frantically, going, OH MY LOOK AT PATISTIC LOOK OH MY LOOK HES PIGGY BACKING A GIRL LOOKOH MYLOOK, all right in my ear as she was completely beside herself, NSLM muttering behind me, "it is time to go it is the time of leaving" and I look up and there is Patistic, grinning broadly, walking towards me, Katey clinging to his back.  Then he stops.  A look of horror on his face. (and the whole time SM shrieking in my ear "ohmylookatpatisticlookohmy", NSLM pacing and muttering, the teens all shrieking and yelling) as he realizes he is touching a girl.

Now anyone who has seen Monster Inc may be able to appreciate this moment, as all I could think of was Sully as he realized the girl was on him..

Patistic yelled, "Get her off me get off get off noooooooooooooo!" as he took off running towards me, mock panic all over his face. He reached us, Katey said let me go and he did.
And he did.
And she landed hard, a startled look on her face.
Eyes wide.
And he looked at her.
She looked at him.
And they both grinned.

Oh. My.

Posted with permission of "Patistic" and "NotSoLittleMan".  All names changed of course. 

Saturday

Internet has changed things...yes indeed

Remember when we were in school, perhaps grade 6/7, and they did those aptitude tests and told us what sort of career we should consider? 

I remember my classmates all being quite disconcerted (I do not remember what I was told for me), arguing that they CAN TOO be a doctor, lawyer, police officer, super star, writer, taxi driver etc... Back in my youth most children with unrealistic expectations believed they were going to be rich and famous by sheer will and determination, with no talent or effort required.  Not that none had talent or the willingness to put the time and effort in... But those who did not still steadfastly held on to that dream.

Working with a teens with ASD, listening to the many teen friends of my children, I see a new trend.  Now they all think they can get rich with a viral You-tube video.  They stalk each other with their iPhones and iPods and iPads, hoping to catch something on camera that will make them famous. They post pictures of each other that they took on the sly on Facebook.

Yesterday, my NotSoLittleMan brought home a form for me to sign for a class.  He had filled it out with his immature scrawl.  I read it (with some difficulty) and lo and behold... Where the instructor asks, "What do you want to do for an income when you graduate?" he has written, "professional You-tuber" (pofeshunul yutubr).

It is worth a smile, a fond remembrance of "back when I was young" and a wry grin as I realize that .. you know... it could happen.

Hugs and laughter!

Learning about Social Thinking

I was fortunate enough to attend a workshop by Michelle Garcia Winner and Carol Gray in Vancouver this summer...

Those ladies have  knack for teaching how to see from a new perspective they really do. They were energetic, intelligent and insightful-and funny as could be.

We started our two day workshop with registration of course, with everyone receiving a lovely printout of the power-point slides that the presenters were using in their talks. There were books available from the ACT bookstore (ACT is autism community training.  They organize the workshops, track all the service providers for my province (the ones that funding will cover) and provide a wealth of services, support and information for persons with autism and their communities.) I purchased some new books and an excellent game and now have a list of books on my wish list :)  I <3 books.="books." p="p">
ANYWAYS... everyone sits down in the ballroom, and opens their presentation booklets to the first set of slides. Picture for me, 600+ people, mostly parents of children on the spectrum, all with their booklet open to page 3, the first set of slides.  And up getsCarol Gray, who is the brain behind social stories. As she begins her talk she turns on her power point presentation and the screen lights up with slides that are not in the booklet.

Now... What do you think all 600+ people did?

We all flipped through the booklet, looking for those slides. Some people looked decidedly uncomfortable with this unexpected happening.  Why was she showing us slides that are not in the booklet? Is this the WRONG booklet?? Is Carol GRAY CRAZY???  What is happening!!

As this lovely lady stood there, smiling gently, she explained that social stories are to help us understand things that happen.  They help us know what to expect.  Then she drew our page flipping attention to the first slide... Which began with something like, "I am going to a workshop to hear presenters talk about social thinking. The presenters may hand out a booklet of power point slides..."

Her first ten minutes of presentation consisted of slides that were a social story about attending a workshop and how presenters may use slides that are not in the booklet, and they may skip slides that ARE in the booklet... and "that is O.K." It was a priceless moment.

Those ladies talked about everything from perspective taking, not looking through the filtered lens of your child's diagnosis all the time, how the social rules change as we age, how to evaluate a friendship, how to teach social skills, how to write social stores and so forth and so on...

More importantly, both presenters were very positive.  They both work (and have worked) with kids and adults all over the spectrum, and yet they are standing there, positive minded, sharing what they know and admitting that nothing is in stone.. That we need more research on these concepts and 'therapies', that these are educated guesses based on their training, their experience in their practices and their observations.

It was a fantastic trip, worth every penny. 

Wednesday

Dating a Man with ASD...

There have been some changes in my home... My husband moved out in January.  We both knew the relationship had disintegrated over the last couple of years and it was time to move on.  Both of the children did very well through the change which was my first concern.

The end of May I ventured out into dating land and met a gentleman for coffee on a NonDate, because we were both determined that a friend to go for dinner with on occasion was EXACTLY what we wanted, not a relationship per se.

Not so Little Man and the Princess heard me accuse him of changing our coffee to a date (he had suggested dinner as well, due to the time frame) and they call him my Not A Boyfriend because of the ensuing mirth over my insistence that it was a NON Date.

Well, that was May.  NotABoyfriend has become a day to day part of my world and just moved in.  (Temporarily, he has to move around Christmas to take his next set of courses, and the future job market for him is elsewhere). He and I are still insisting rather stubbornly that this is a NonRelationship and that we are never ever changing this. (Let me stay self deluded please)

I have his permission to share some of his story here...
He is a self diagnosed autistic, and if you have raised a child like NotSoLittleMan you too would agree wholeheartedly with him.  Growing up he had no idea there was a reason for the struggles he faced... then four years ago his sister had a child, a lovely girl, who as it turns out is non verbal and autistic.  Learning about the disorder gave NotABoyfriend a whole new filter to see his youth and childhood in.  My heart hurts for him and all the others out there that struggle through childhood, on the spectrum and not knowing the reason for their struggles....

Dating a man on the spectrum is.... just like dating any other man, but different.  The same as in we talk, we cuddle, we laugh, we joke, we share interests... Different as he does have quirks.  His voice changes and he drops into professor mode on occasion, which is something I do as well so.. meh.  He is so very intent and focused when on task.  If that task happens to be spoiling me rotten, though (for one example), that is an amazing thing.  He is more comfortable talking about technical aspects than the ooey gooey emotional ones (so am I!).  He is incredibly honest and LIKES that I say what is on my mind and seem to lack filters... I could go on and on, but anyone who has been around a youth or adult with ASD knows that these 'quirks' are not really a big deal in teh grand scheme of things-once a person with ASD has learned to cope with the world and people in it its mostly all good, some great and some challenges... JUST like EVERY one ELSE. With bonsues I would not trade away... Honesty.  Saying what he means.  Meaning what he says.   No malice in him at all.

With NSLM being fourteen this year, meeting a bona-fide adult with ASD has been a blessing.  NotABoyfriend is a good man. 

So if you are raising a 'high functioning autistic' child, know that he or she will likely grow up, fall in love, have a career (or not) just like everyone else.  He or she may not do these things until their thirties or so, (just like some non asd persons) but really.... it all evens out.  All those challenges become valuable aspects of their personality. 

Hugs and Contented laughter

Monday

It gets Better... I promise

I am shamelessly linking to this video (Rebecca Drysdale singing about how being gay gets better when you are older) because All Kinds Of Things will Gets Better.

When you first are gifted with your 'quirky' child, all kinds of things are scary as hell.  If you were like me and did not have a diagnosis, you may have struggled to understand why your child was throwing tantrums, refusing to wear clothing, screamed evertime you turned on the furnace, did not talk, flapped their hands, walked on tip toes, made repetitive noises that did not seem to have context, did not relate to you in ways you expected from your toddler, did not play with toys in the ways you expected, refused to eat anything but peanut butter for six long weeks..... the list goes on. 
That Gets Better. .  As time goes by, you will become a mini expert on your child and your child WILL learn some coping strategies. I promise, this terrifying world of the unknown does Gets Better.

All those nights of your child seeming to not need sleep, but yet seeming to not be able to play quietly on their own and let YOU sleep.... This gets better.  While some autistic adults still have skimpy sleep patterns, most report that they DO get some sleep.  Of course, as they age they need less supervision so YOU will get some sleep.  In the meantime? Find respite, childproof your child's room to the umth degree so they can just be awake in there.  Wear ear plugs... This Gets Better.

All that incredible sensory hyper awareness: the fits over clothing seams, flickering lights, loud noises, crowded places, strong smells, people too close, heat, cold, texture of objects, texture of food, covering his/her ears in tears trying to cope with it all.. This gets better.  As parents we learn to accommodate our children and teach others to do so (giving our children ear mufflers, clothes with no seams on the wrist or toes, sunglasses, and advocating that the school switch to non fluorescent bulbs... )  This Gets BETTER!  These children grow up and develop better filters for sounds, lights and sensation.  They learn coping strategies and they desensitize to the constant barrage of lights and sounds in our world.  This Gets Better.

That lack of social connection, that awkwardness, aloofness, inappropriate (funny as heck but embarrassing too) commentary, that seeming inability to read social cues.. this too Gets Better. While our kids may not grow up to be the best diplomats (although they can!) they do learn and grow.  And society is learning to be more tolerant. Programs such as Michelle Garcia Winner's books/worksheets are being developed and even goof-ball mamas like me can use them to teach our kids.  It Gets Better.

The tantrums? The lack of emotion regulation? It Gets Better!  The dietary restrictions? That too Gets Better.The stims and hand flapping? This Gets Better! The echolia? It Gets Better.

Now, I am not saying that Not So Little Man is ever going to be 'not autistic'.  Nor am I telling you that these struggles will disappear entirely..  We are who we are (and quite frankly, I would cry if NSLM changed.  I love him, and I love his every quirk).  However, these traits lesson or the children grow to have better coping skills and strategies.  It will get better.

So on those rough days (nights) when you feel overwhelmed... Remember that you are NOT alone and it WILL Get Better.

Hugs and Laughter
Angel

IEP-You Own This!!

IEP (individualized Educational Plan) Sounds important and very formal, but the truth is, this meeting can be the best thing that happens for your child, or it can be the most frustrating event of the year. 

What I have found over the years is that there are some ways to ensure you get more out of your IEP.

1. Forwarn:  If you have an idea of what you want, forward an agenda to the appropriate staff member at the school.. Leave room for the school to add their expertise.  Make sure you talk to all of the persons working with your child outside of school and ask them what they would like to have discussed, or what input they have.
2. Invite: Invite every darn person on your child's team.  Every one of them should be able to contribute. 
3. Details: Do not just focus on the trouble areas and the 'solutions' (little man has trouble wriitng by hand and will use a computer when required to write), make sure to also ask what that will look like.  Who will set up the computer? How will your child know when to and no to use it? How will his/her assignment go to the teacher? Who will get the assignment onto the computer?
4. Be available: Let them know you availablility.  Can you help create the flowchart for 'how to go to the assembly?" What can you offer in a way of help for your child's needs and his/her classroom needs?
5. Accountability: How will progress be measured? Before, during and after? What are the desired time frames and outcomes? Who will follow up and when? When will this be revisited?
6. Self Advocacy: What does your child feel would help him/her? Do they dislike being singled out? Do they need help organzing their books, papers, locker, desk?  How do they want that help to look like?
7. Talents and strenghts: What is being done to foster those talents and strengths? This is a vastly overlooked area with special needs children and it is important to include it.  Is your child a science fanatic? Can someone start a club? mentor?

I have had good and bad IEP meetings, but I follow up.  I collect email addresses of his WHOLE team, and I make sure to make contact regularly.  I have found that it is way more productive to just foucs on what CAN be done, rather than to be upset with teh (school, principal, teacher, EA, BI, government etc) over what was NOT done.

Potty Training-empasis on Train

One of my favorite moments in parenting my son, who is diagnosed as having an autism spectrum disorder (ASD) as a pre-schooler is potty training.

My son would not potty train. He could care less if he was wet. He was too busy with his trains to bother with it. Encouragement did not reach him, sticker charts were ignored. I even resorted to bribery! I scoured the library and the Internet for tips on potty training. (Keep in mind, I am the oldest of four children, this child is the youngest of three children-it is not like I did not have any experience myself yet nothing worked.) I begged, I bullied, I promised, I praised.  For not one success, not one effort on his part.

Then I discovered something amazing. Printable Iron On's! I created page after page of Thomas the Tank Engine iron ons. I then ironed them onto EVERY pair of underwear he owned. I also made a wonderful T-shirt with Thomas the tank going into a tunnel on the front, and coming out of the tunnel on the back.

I pointed out to my seemingly uninterested child that Thomas was on his underwear. I showed him the Shirt. I told him that if he learned to use the toilet I would GIVE him the shirt. I also told him (smiling) that Thomas did not like to get wet. I reminded him of the episode in which Thomas got cranky when he got we.  I showed him the toilet and the seat for kids. I told him he could come get me and I would help him set up the toilet.
The whole time he was doing that blank look. He did not respond in anyway. Disheartened, I left him at his train table and threw on the laundry.
I was still sorting out socks from the dryer when I hear the toilet flush. Surprised (the other children were at school and pre-school, so we were alone) I went to investigate.
My son was standing in the bathroom, pants off, underwear in his hand, feeling his underwear carefully. (I think he was making sure Thomas was dry!). He looked at me and held out his hand. (he would hold out his hand if he wanted something) I cheered "Yeah! you did it!!! awesome job!!" He grunted at me and held out his hand again.

I asked if he wanted a treat, he started to fidget (Usually, for him, a sign of being agitated. Fidgeting preceded many a meltdown) A drink? A snack? A Hug? (more fidgeting). He stomped over to where I had put the shirt, stared at it, then looked RIGHT at ME and held out his hand.
I was floored. I gave him the shirt, helped him to put it on (and his underpants and pants). He wandered off to play with his trains and left me standing there. It was the FIRST time he had demonstrated that he understood when I babbled at him. It was the first time I realized that it wasn't about what he 'could not' do, but more about what he 'could be motivated' to do. I cried. I giggled. It was one of those wow moments. It was the moment when I realized he WAS going to learn, but not unless the lessons were adapted to have meaning for HIM.
(At nearly 11 years of age he still wets his bed quite regularly. But he has not had an 'accident' during waking hours since the 'Thomas' day.)

The dos and do nots of raising teens:

There are some real advantages to when the little ones grow into teens, don't laugh-I am being completely serious.  There are no more sticky fingerprints on the fridge and walls, I no longer have to mop the kitchen three times a day, check for bees living in bedrooms or discover that the last load of laundry I did contained a pocket full of (frogs, markers, toffee, flowers, ants, licorice, coupons, valentines, homework, phone numbers, w.h.y).  In fact the time I spend daily doing housework is under a half hour, cuz we all (mostly) clean up our own messes (mostly).  The teens do their own laundry with little nagging required (and my husband/partner has been sighted in the laundry room lately as well).  My work load was drastically reduced although I did not notice it happening until voila! Here we sit, I didn't cook dinner (not my night to cook), no one left their dishes for me to pick up, no one needs pants/socks/underwear/towels in a panic and no one needs me to drive them to ballet/soccer/therapy/school/speech.
I work on the sly, these days, using teachable moments to cover those social deficits for NotSoLittleMan (who should be renamed TowerOverTheMotherChild as he is a good two inches taller than I am) and his sister and I also benefit from those moments.
What I have noticed though, is that the rules have changed.  And no one sent me a memo.  So in my usually tardy and tongue in cheek fashion I thought I would share what I have noticed as far as the dos and do nots of raising teens (particular if one is ASD).
The Dos
DO Be sure to stock up on lots of food. And by lots I mean enough for a pack of starving wolves.
DO Still check their back pack for moldy sandwiches, crumpled homework and notes from the teachers.
DO expect a surly tone at any time without rhyme or reason.
DO update your parenting to allow for freedom of surliness expression, freedom to make dumass personal choices, ability to argue negotiate, want it earn it freedom equals responsibility philosophy and later bedtimes.
DO Feed your teen an after school snack, before dinner snack, dinner, after dinner snack and bedtime snack.
DO Visually look at what they are wearing UNDER that ever present hoodie (Failure to comply with this rule can result in your son arriving at school in a Tshirt that is so small he looks like an eighties re-run)
Do Keep clothes that are two sizes bigger than your teen is on hand.  They can and will grow two sizes overnight the very same day you do not have any larger item available.
DO Insist on the same amount of hugs you were receiving the year before (failure to do this will result in all hugs being withheld for the rest of their teen years)
DO know that unless you want grandchildren you are better off having condoms in the bathroom cabinet-not very many teens will broach this subject BEFORE they need such items.

The Do Nots
DO NOT only stock up on carrots.  Feeding your teen only healthy choices will result in them getting out of bed at three AM to raid the freezer, fridge, pantry and dog food in order to achieve their million calorie per day requirement.
DO NOT try to eat the same foods they do unless you are competing against me in the 'mom who gained the most weight this winter' contest.
DO NOT let your teen catch you inspecting their backpack, although it seems fine (so far) to quiz them about what was found when they were not looking.
DO NOT notice the surly tone of voice in which everything is said.  Noticing this tone causes a parent to immediately scold for said tone which immediately backfires into a display of adolescent pouting and denial.  Trust me on this one.
DO NOT forget to update your husband/partner/nanny/wife/sister/therapist to the new parenting rules of 'pick your battles'. (oops, sorry honey)
DO NOT forget a feeding unless you are hoping to see the night of the living dead 3D.
DO NOT comment on their clothing choices, merely throw that nasty too small shirt, underwear, jeans, socks, shoes, hat, W.H.Y out when they are not wearing it.  (Make sure you have something else for them to wear!
DO NOT forget to talk to your teen!  If they won't come out of their cave bedroom bake cookies to lure them out.
DO NOT even hint that your teen was the result of sex you had with his/her other parent.
DO NOT use words that refer to nudity, body parts, intimacy, bodily functions or chores. and of course DO NOT laugh or giggle if your teen does use words that refer to nudity, body parts, intimacy, bodily functions or chores.
DO NOT count the condoms in the bathroom cabinet and then tease your teen mercilessly when one condom is removed from said cabinet (This has not happened here, I don't count them!)

I have had to keep my humour intact at all times since becoming a parent to a teen, and I have found this even more vital since I found myself with two teens in the house (my daughter is a year older than NSLM so at the moment I am the proud momma of a 14 year old and a 13 year old, plus of course my oldest who is out on his own.)
Way too much fun  :)

HUGS and laughter,
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