Tuesday, January 14, 2020

SITTING STILL




We recently went to my daughter’s middle school concert. To my amazement, my 18-year-old son sat through the entire concert without fidgeting, talking, or calling out unexpectedly to kids onstage. 

It was the first such event I’ve ever attended without breaking into a cold sweat from anxiety over his behavior. That includes, over the years, many, many concerts, movies, plays, musicals and other performances during which attendants are expected to be quiet and attentive. 

I’ve been a mostly solo (my partner, Pardner, is a chef/owner of a restaurant) or entirely single parent for most of my children’s lives. With a couple of notable exceptions, I’ve spent every weekend on my own with them for the past twelve years or so. 

It’s been really hard—and REALLY wonderful. 

Early on, I decided I wanted to be a person and do things, and so I’ve been dragging them along to events all these years. 

I hadn’t realized how much G’s restlessness affected me until the other night. 

There are so many little ways in which life can feel daunting. What we usually do is soldier on, right? 

But it’s amazing to consider all the possibilities that open up when you actually feel free to enjoy an event rather than keep most of your energy on someone sitting next to you. 

Sitting through that concert like that was kind of a big deal. 

And it got me to wondering: How much energy have I wasted on worry over these many years? 

I usually explain and justify my worries to myself as solution-seeking behavior. 

But no amount of anxiety could possibly have hastened G’s development into the amazing young man he is now. 

And, to be honest, my worries probably kept my brain too busy to come up with good work-arounds and ideas. 

Plus, ALL ALONG, G has been the happy, kind, funny, fun, loving person he is now. Just a bit more fidgety. (And, truth be told, he wasn’t always all that into much of the stuff I dragged him to…)

Yet I persisted in worrying much of the time about G’s fidgeting and behavior—and not only insofar as it affected him at the time! I also future-catastrophized about potential impacts on his career and how it  might alienate him from the “regular” social world. 

What good did/does all that worrying do? How many other useless ways do I spend my time anxiously mulling over and anticipating possible disastrophes? 

We all struggle with how to be in society. And knowledge around expectations and societal norms comes slowly to some. So do the sheer physical ability to settle down and key mental capacities, including emotional regulation. 

So why do I torture myself unnecessarily? 

I know I’m not the only parent (or guardian, or loved one) of a child with differences (or parent, period) who does this. 

Frankly, I wasn’t much of a worrier, pre-kids. Somehow the little worries of new parenthood mushroomed over the years—sometimes with good reason—into a constant stream of nervousness. 

Looking back, I wish I could’ve enjoyed myself more as a mom, instead of only now realizing all this. 

I’m going to work on finding a way to avoid breaking into a cold sweat when I go places with my children. 

More to the point, I’m going to take a close look at the ways worry has come to pervade so many areas of my life that it’s often depressing and sometimes even debilitating. 

Because I have a hunch that in all cases there’s a similar element of complete futility.

I’m going to try to be gentle with myself in the process: This worry has developed as a result of a lot of hard stuff. 

But I’m also going to be firm, because I’ve had enough!

Worry is my issue and I’m going to own it. 

I cannot “control” my kids anymore now that they’re teenagers. Nor can I make everything right for them!! In fact, I never could entirely do either. 

I can see now that G has moved on. 

Time for me to do the same.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Tuesday, October 15, 2019

FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY II

Dear Persons,

Last week, we as a family had a terrible morning. In retrospect, one might refer to it as comically dysfunctional, but at the time it was devastating.

G was in a bad/sad/mad mood right from the moment he woke up (at least in part due to extended-family stuff that’s out of the scope of this blog). Half asleep, I immediately started alternately almost simultaneously grilling him and trying to make him feel better. 

I knew I should just stop talking but I heard myself continue to try to “fix things” from a variety of angles. 

Things eventually devolved to where I almost smashed a mug in a parking lot, both G- and R-rated versions of a certain bad word were used by several parties, and a chia smoothie disastrophe occurred all, all, ALL over my son and car.

After finally getting the gang to school (tardy), I rushed back home to my writers’ group meeting.

My fellow writers saw how shaken I was and I quickly explained what had happened. Our dear retired clinical psychiatric social worker, who always has brilliant practical insights, sat me down and told me I need to come to terms with what I already know: It’s time to let go. 

“You’ll know you’re getting somewhere if you can go to sleep thinking ‘I was quiet a certain percentage of the time,’” she said. What this means, she added, is that I must actually create quiet space, as a purposeful activity. It’s not an absence of activity or stopping oneself, but actually involves proactively doing something different. 

Well yeah, I’m good at doing things. Not doing things…Now that I find very hard. For example, if I try to diet, I immediately start eating everything in the house, especially junk; if I try to eat more whole grains, nuts, beans, fruits, and vegetables, on the other hand, I eat way better! 

So in my parenting, rather than telling myself to stop talking, I could attempt to create spaciousness and a feeling of letting go.

Then the other member of our group told me how her son had used a denigrating term—“try-hard”—for some kids in his school. The phrase really got her in the gut, and when she asked him to clarify, he said, simply, “Mom, you’re a try-hard.” 

Even asking about it is “try-hard,” right? 

Having read the first FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY post, this friend said she’d noticed that only a small proportion of everything I’d said truly seemed to get through to my son. So basically, much of what I was saying was not being heard, never mind processed and integrated on any deep level. 

Try-hard that I am, I’m always talking too much…even when I’m trying to give someone space to grow

While my fellow writers and I all value the try-hard aspects of ourselves that serve our growth and our families and loved ones, we as a group recognized that there are major downsides to being a try-hard. The trick is to identify and address them. You know, without, um, trying too hard

As explained in my previous post, I’d decided a month or so ago to allow G to experiment with making his own choices about basic stuff, like phone time, food, sleep, and so on. 

Yet I’d already been struggling with feeling like I’d simply transitioned from orders to suggestions, rather than really, truly changing the dynamic and allowing G his freedom. Yes, there were definite areas of success. But this wasn’t going to be an overnight process. And I had a ways to go!

I’d seen myself still doing and saying too much—being, in essence, a try-hard—when what G really needed was the space to learn to trust himself. 

Self-trust doesn’t just entail G being able to manage the things that are challenging for me (whether G is cleaning his room, changing his clothes, sleeping enough, self-regulating on screen time…; my wanting G to learn responsibility to go with his freedom...). 

Self-trust is an overall quality of enormous importance and value, learned through self-reliance and successful autonomy. And my constant “helpful suggestions” were interfering with G being able to develop self-trust. 

Flash back to that dreadful morning: a wake-up call as to exactly how much this try-hard needs to let go.

Being a try-hard by nature, it helps to have tools for doing so and positive ways to frame the process (thanks, writers!).

Dear readers, many of you have differences or family members and loved ones with differences, so you know how confusing figuring out the timing on certain developmental steps can be, especially when to let go. But that morning showed me, with painful clarity, that the time has come for this particular step. 

When I picked the kids up at the end of the day, I simply asked whether we were all ready to get off the family crazy train.* They smiled. Together, we all let go. 

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


* From the song (which we love)--I had no intention of using "crazy" as a perjorative.

Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!




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Tuesday, September 10, 2019

FAILING SAFELY/DARING GREATLY


By the end of August, almost everything I said was making G really, really mad. Could be sulking mad, could be yelling mad; whatever I had to say, he was angry. 

All the time. 

If I said, “Ask yourself if you really need thirds on ice cream,” he’d be enraged, for hours.

“You’ve already watched two movies today, how about taking a break?”: infuriating. 

“Let’s get some fresh air”: seething, at length, with rage. 

Screens, picking up stuff left all over the house, bedtime, laundry, hygiene, homework, manners, state of his room…All were loaded topics. 

One night, after a loooooooong day, I decided it was time to let go. Yep, all at once. It was time for Operation [G] Freedom. 

I didn’t actually even think it through. At all. I just sat down at the dining room table and said, “I’m done. You’re going away to college next year and I’m not going to be there to remind you to sleep, or get exercise, or make good choices. 

“This year is a great time for you to ruin your life in a safe context. So do whatever you want! I don’t want to fight with you anymore and you have to learn this stuff to succeed in life anyway!”

Then I got up and went back into the kitchen to do all the things.

A few minutes later, I heard, in a kind of tiny voice, “Mom? I don’t want to ruin my life.”

“Oh sweetie,” I said, “I don’t mean ruin-ruin your life, exactly. It’s just that the things I tell you that make you mad, those are things that you need to do or not do. So if you do or don’t do them at home, that’s a safe place to fail. 

“I’m hoping you’ll realize for yourself that I’m not nuts or trying to annoy you. And figure out why you need to do certain things, like sleep regularly or not be on your phone 24/7. That way, when you get out on your own you’ll be able to do what you need to do to succeed—like get some healthy exercise and finish your schoolwork on time—without making huge errors in judgment.”

“In fact,” I added, “let’s call it ‘playing college!’”

Now, I don’t think any of this would’ve worked a year ago, or even a few months. I’ve watched my friends whose kids don’t have developmental differences gradually reach this point years ago, but G needed extra time. 

Paradoxically, I'm basically giving him more freedom than many of his typically developing peers currently enjoy. That's because until very recently G didn't seem to have enough common sense or self-regulation to manage the tiny amounts of freedom he was given. Now, he only has this year of high school left in which to practice those skills before leaving for college. 

What he said next showed me he was ready to try. 

“I don’t know if I want that kind of freedom,” G admitted a few hours later. “I think I’m going to use the same parameters you gave me.”

And he has, for the most part. Admittedly with less sleep and more screens, but not so much that he’s messing up in school or in general. (Yet?)

So far, perhaps the most amazing thing to come out of this is a huge shift in our dynamic. G can actually, finally hear me again without taking offense. 

For…years, really, there was a lot of struggle between us over just about everything. Now, because I’m no longer trying to command him—and because he feels respected—he’s able to listen respectfully. 

I’ll make a suggestion from time to time—“At your age, you need 10 hours of sleep a night, so if I were you I’d figure out what time I need to get up and see what is a good time to go to bed”—and then ask, “Does that make sense?”

He’ll usually answer, “Yes.”  

When he resists—“You just had cross country practice. How about a shower?” “Nah”— I simply state a logical consequence—“Well, you’ll be smelly all day”—and move on.

I never, ever claim to have “The Answer.” All families and all individuals are different. For some families, this shift is probably inconceivable (as it was for us not long ago); for others, it’s not on the horizon at all. And who knows, we may need to ease back into more  regulation—it hasn’t been that long!

Also? Don’t get me wrong: I’m scared. Really scared. About ALL the menacing things, for the foreseeable future. But this does seem to be working for our family right now. 


Figure I — Some Of The Menacing Things (not shown: accidental pregnancy, loneliness, driving, unintentionally breaking the law…)

Moving forward, I’m planning to try to stop even making those suggestions. I’m going to dare to allow for the possibility of failure—AND the potential for entirely self-directed success. I’m stepping back so that G can achieve his own kind of greatness on his own terms

That means when he chooses to stay up all night or never, ever do his laundry, or leave random dishes and papers and shoes and books and pens and Magic the Gathering cards (and so on, and on, and on...) EVERYWHERE I am going to stay quiet and let him experience the consequences…Also on his own terms.

That means I can reduce my worrying-about-college time significantly, freeing up time to worry about a bunch of random things for wholesome activities. 

At the same time, I’ve been grappling with ways to help him gain increased responsibility as a fair and natural part of increased freedom. That means picking up after himself more, at the very least, right? Fingers crossed.

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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Tuesday, July 9, 2019

NOT A DISEASE




As a family of vegetarians, we’re always on the lookout for veg-friendly places to eat when we go on the road. We recently ended up at a gluten-free establishment in the Midwest. Pretty good food! But I won’t mention the name because I did a bit of stealth activism there and I don’t want to make any assumptions about the owner or staff or clientele… 

You could get your own water and bus your dishes etc. toward the back of the restaurant, as well as use the bathroom. And there was also a help-yourself bookshelf full of stuff to read back there. I am always down for a good read, so I took a look. 

Well, the books consisted almost entirely of books about autism. But not just any books. 
“Cure Autism With This,”  “Cure Autism With That,” “Get Rid of Autism With The ___ Diet”—you get the idea.   

I felt ambushed—and horrified. I’ve spent all my parenting years trying to get my kids to love themselves as they are. Sure, I’ve read my share of books about the various nuances of our lives, such as adoption, autism, racism, neurodiversity, learning differences, behavioral differences, trauma, etc. 

And hey, yay healing! We all have stuff to heal. 

Heal away! If, in fact, it’s something that needs to be and can be healed. 

But I’ve always operated in a context of acceptance and diverse perspectives. This felt like a full-on, unilateral assault on being autistic—however well-meaning. 

I quietly went back to my table, took out my mini travel notebook and began to write. Then I went back to those shelves and placed a note in each book: “Autism is a neurology not a disease.” 

And on the long drive home from our trip, I thought about the ways our culture pathologizes so many things that might better be treated as normal and healthy aspects of the human condition. 

Being shy? A serious condition. Same-sex love and desire: a psychological disease? Until shockingly recently, the majority of people, including some scientists and doctors, thought so. Cellulite: abnormal but “curable” (hah!).  Are you little bit weird? That’s weird. Maybe kind of…spectrum-y? Better treat it. 

We even treat getting older like a disease. In fact, I’m embarrassed to admit (even to myself) how much of my internal dialog consists of self-criticism over my age spots or crepey skin. How ashamed I feel on a very gut level about aging, despite being a feminist and never, ever ageist with others. 

Um…HUH? What’s the alternative

When will we wake up to the full range of beauty?

Thanks and love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!
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Tuesday, June 11, 2019

PROM NIGHT

Dear Persons,

A few weeks ago, I really messed up.

I’m on my own with my kids all weekend every weekend and sometimes I get impatient or overwhelmed. 

Often, though, we have a really great time together.

Because I’ve always been a solo weekend parent, my children have been forced to accompany me to concerts, museums, and so on. And I’ve watched more kids’ movies than I could count, some of them actually pretty good. 

On this particular Saturday, my son, G, who is a junior in high school, was really getting on my nerves with a couple of exaggerated teenage slob behaviors that are not developmentally typical for an older teen. 

It’s not that the things he does actually bother me per se, it’s that I worry he will do those things out in the wider world—and get shunned for doing so. Or made fun of, or dismissed in ways he won’t even be aware of…

I was having a stressful work day, too (I edit a Sunday political mailing on Saturdays, but I also freelance and, when things are going well, often work weekends). 

But mostly it was just the relentlessness of G’s socially unacceptable behavior that was sending me back to the days when I worried if he’d ever function at all in “the real world.”

So I wasn’t at my best. 

Meanwhile, we were all looking forward to going to a big action movie that night.

Around 5 o’clock, I told G that we had one hour left before we’d have to leave for the movie. I asked him if he could stop being offensive for that period—and warned him that he would not be invited to the movie if he could not. 

As we were putting our shoes on, G was unable to contain himself from doing exactly what I’d asked him not to do.

And I lost it. Visions of his future as an outcast (never mind that he’s the sweetest guy ever) flashed before my eyes as I berated him and sent him to his room.

Now what was I going to do? After all, I don’t usually leave him home alone, and my daughter was dying to go to the film. 

I sat down on the couch with my head bowed.

I tried to breathe deeply while I debated between consistency/follow-through and wanting to get a break/have some dang fun.

I wish this was where I’d come up with a great solution.

But it was time to leave!

Without much clarity, I yelled up to him, “Okay, come on down. I’m not happy about this but Z [daugher] and I really want to go to the movie.”

“I want you to know I’m still REALLY upset with you,” I added. “You only had to keep it together for ONE HOUR! And you couldn’t. So don’t talk to me right now!”

We drove into town in silence, parked, and began to walk to the theater. 

As we approached Main Street, we began to see teenagers in formal dress.

“Hi [G],” some called out to him. 

It was Junior-Senior Prom Night.

My heart sank.

For weeks, G had been trying to get someone to go to prom with him. He’d asked every girl he knew and even posted a request for a date on Instagram. 

A week before, he’d finally given up. And I’d forgotten. But I’m sure he hadn’t. 

In fact all day, as he’d acted out, he was probably thinking about prom and wishing he was going. 

So, yeah—my heart sank.(Yes, I know my heart “breaks” and “sinks” quite a lot. It’s just like that more often when your child  has special needs. Yes, I do know what I’m talking about, as I also have a neurotypical child. My daughter also has special needs—having developed an attachment disorder before she was adopted—but she will have a much easier time being accepted, achieving success, and getting what she wants out of people and life in general. So my heart simply doesn’t break so much with her.) 

Why couldn’t I have been more understanding, more compassionate? Presumed competence on his part and given him the basic respect of assuming he has his own reasons and concerns? 

Why did I focus on a superficial thing when my son's heart is hugeand vulnerable? 

Are there other lessons here for me here about raising an extraordinary child? About supporting rather pushing him than through his challenges? 

In any case, I’ll think twice about making assumptions. And losing my temper.  

Love,
Full Spectrum Mama


Welcome to Voices of Special Needs Blog Hop -- a monthly gathering of posts from special needs bloggers hosted by The Sensory Spectrum and The Mommy Evolution. Click on the links below to read stories from other bloggers about having a special needs kiddo -- from Sensory Processing Disorder to ADHD, from Autism to Dyslexia! Want to join in on next month's Voices of Special Needs Hop? Click here!

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