Friday, January 31, 2014

Second Anniversary Lists III: Choosing your Battles

Last year’s “Choosing your Battles” post presents ideas around how to navigate complicated situations (a.k.a. “life”) wherein we have to choose between many healing, therapeutic, disciplinary and/or boundary-clarifying options, some of which may be mutually exclusive. It also contains a handy dandy graphic aid, the famous “Choosing Your Battles Flow Chart.” You can access this, and so much more, at:

Gee…I…must’ve had a lot more…time…and energy…a year ago because this year it boils down to this:

Choose One Thing.

try to do better with it.

We chose these battles over the last several months: for Z, the Kindness Battle; for G, the Common Sense Battle. I figure these are the major challenges each is facing right now. I also advise them to learn from each other, as I estimate that Z has about a million common sense points and G a million kindness points.

I try to notice whenever each of them exhibits – or does not exhibit – their desired trait. Some manifestations are obvious: for G, in order to get a point, he needs to zip his pants, not tuck socks or shirts into said pants, close the mailbox cover when he gets the mail, close and lock public bathroom doors, wipe his nose when he sneezes or it is running,* etc. – and if he neglects these, or similar, he loses a point. In Z’s Battle, I need to be mindful to notice and reward her when she does something kind, such as sharing without being told to do so; when I see that she has told another girl her age that she cannot sit at the kids’ table (for instance), well, she loses points.

When we reach 50 points, we get TREATS. That is, each Battler gets to choose a reward that means a lot to him or her once they’ve reached this 50-point target. Having started our Points system in September or October, G is now on his third round of 50, while Z is holding steady at 11. Total. She recently announced a personal goal of 16 points for the New Year.

Mama’s Battle? Relaxation Points. Score? –4.

Next week, the anniversary post you have all been waiting for: THE COMPLAINT DEPARTMENT! I will still accept last minute complaints via email if they are highly acceptable.

Full Spectrum Mama

* My MF (Meeting Friend) says this not-wiping-nose thing has to do with being hypoactive or “under-responsive” to the tactile sensation of boogers on your face. I say that means if you know that you might not know there’s snot running down your philtrum** you wipe. No matter what. (And you get a point!)

** Yesss! That is what that part is called!

Monday, January 27, 2014

Second Anniversary Lists II: Attachment Disorders

I posted my first second-anniversary list, on Advocacy, about two weeks ago. Immediately following that post, I had a startlingly depressing IEP meeting, hence, the delay in this second list – and this disclaimer: none of us knows what to do all the time! Sometimes life is hard, and there are major and minor disastrophes, however hard we try.

It was “funny” to have this second second-anniversary post in the back of my mind as I endured one of the most attachment-disordered weekends we have had in recent memory.  The drama was epic, with violent and threatening tantrums starting Friday afternoon - and the consequences (effective or not) were many. Still, I stand by my lists – I just may need to adhere to them with more vim and acumen myself!

This time last year, I wrote about attachment disorders in general and listed some of the things I wished I’d known about them before embarking on some painful and discouraging times with very little knowledge of how to help my child. I had moments of desperation, regret and despair that I would not wish on anyone. If you are looking for general definitions and tips, or are new to attachment disorders, here is the link to that post:

This year, I decided to write about our current state of slightly more advanced (partly more healed…and partly more “subtle,” as fine-tuned by Herself, La Z) mild to moderate* attachment disordered-ness.

Thoughts on “Advanced”Attachment Disorders

  1. Therapeutic Parenting helps.
Thanks to what we’ve learned and implemented about therapeutic parenting, Z’s tantrums are down to once a week or less. They usually (usually – hahahaaaaaa) occur on Sundays, when we have spent what feels to G and me like a relaxing weekend. While G and I both desperately need such extended sensory/social breaks, they entail much less stimulation/world domination than Z, even on a purely kinesthetic level, craves and needs. Either “side” usually has to compromise on a given day, but on slow weekends tantrums are likely…Less likely, however, than they were during the Pre-Therapeutic Parenting Era!

  1. The Sooner the Better.
I know: they say this with ALL interventions…And sometimes you just don’t know what is going on.  (For example, G wasn’t diagnosed with autism until second grade.) But if you do know that your child has an attachment disorder, and are dilly-dallying…Don’t. I know single moms who are raising teenagers with attachment disorders -- big, male teenagers – and it’s a lot harder to tackle in that dynamic than it is for me with Ms. Puny Stuff over here.

  1. Cycles/Patterns.
It’s so important to bear cycles and patterns in mind when things seem bleak: change will come, for better or worse (hopefully the former!).  Z, as I have explored at length elsewhere on this blog, has certain times of year (spring in particular) and certain types of events (holidays) that seem to trigger her most disordered behavior. Other times, we may have positively peaceful stretches; these are what we look forward to – if we can remember to do so – when times are rough.

  1. Presumed Omniscience.
Presumed omniscience seems to be a hallmark of many people with attachment disorders, including Z. I’ve recently had to disavow her of the habit of saying “I was thinking that,” or, alternatively, “I was just about to say that,” every few minutes. She tells her friends she has done/seen [fill-in-the-blank] “about a thousand times.” Also, she openly pities those pathetic and inferior individuals – and this is not limited to fellow children -- who have not done/seen/known [fill-in-the-blank].

“I’ll be the mom” is a phrase that is in common usage chez the Full Spectrum, especially when Z (8) mimics my instructions to G (12) regarding his “teenager practice” activities (you know, eye-rolling, grunted replies to all questions, slouching at all times…). As one might imagine, G does not take kindly to his bossy peanut of a sister’s reprimands.

Omniscience also encompasses the alleged inability to make (admit) mistakes. So when Z and I are working together on learning a new skill, say…sewing, mistakes are not made in the usual sense. Rather, the thread often “needs help” – or the fabric “has a problem.”

This omniscience may represent efforts to make sense of a world that feels unstable. It’s something we, as individuals with attachment disorders (or in interactions with those who have an attachment disorder), or as parents of children with attachment disorders, should consider.

  1. Control.
Children and adults with AD may feel the need to control their environments because on a very basic level they feel unsafe. Although the connection may not always be evident, that fear impels a state of constant inner vigilance and is expressed in controlling behaviors.

If we don’t have any potential human servants non-family people at the house, much of the time Z spends at home is spent corralling one or both of our cats. She will – for long stretches of time - hold one cat very close and march him or her around the house, ignoring any wiggling or desire to escape, and “showing” him or her the views out of our windows and so on. Alternatively, she will bring both cats into a small, enclosed space and “play” with them.

We have really nice cats.

Adults need to set impeccable boundaries so that, on the one hand, a child with these challenges may feel more safe and, on the other, the child (and their pet{s}) really is safe. With attachment-disordered adult relationships, this may be more tricky. In my experience, though, the principles of boundaries and consistency will hold across quite a Full Spectrum and so it certainly cannot hurt to try this sort of healing work.

Here is a really fascinating example of boundary setting: last night, I politely asked Z to put away the deck of cards with which she was playing. She continued to spread out the cards. I reminded her of my request and she explained that she “wanted to show [me] the cards.” I insisted that she do as I had asked. Therapeutic parenting? Done! For that moment at least…

As potentially boring, relentless and annoying as such boundaries may feel in their enactment – and from day to day it can feel endless -- these baby steps help heal that frightened impulse toward constant control.  

  1. Subversion.
The first thing I learned about therapeutic parenting was that everything I was doing as a progressive, choice- and respect-offering parent was wrong. To put it in less-loaded language, it was not working. My child needed me to set strong boundaries and make most choices on her behalf in order to feel safe and learn to trust. Bit by bit I got this down. But Shawty is SMART. She turned it around on me!


Z: “Can I go in [G]’s room?”
Mama: “Sure.”
Z: “Can I take three steps in the hallway?”
Mama: “Z, come on.”
Z: “Mama!…Mama! Can I walk through his door?”
Mama, shouting (nicely) upstairs to bathroom while doing 17 other things: “[Z], please wash your hair now!”
Z: “Okay.”
One minute later, Z again: “Mama?”
Mama makes way back to bottom of stairs from doing 19 things: “Yes?”
Z: “Should I now rinse my hair?”

I think you can see where I am going with this.
[Insert informative “Answer Section” with instructions on how to handle this development.]

  1. Refusal to Ask.

Does Z need me to charge one of her contraptions? Does another toy need batteries? Does she know how to sew a complicated project without ever having been taught? Is there something important that she wishes or requires? I won’t know unless I ask her. Because she Will. Not. Ask. For. Anything (Help-Related). See: Control. See: Presumed Omniscience…

That being said…is this an “Attachment Disorder” thing? Or is it…

  1. Temperament
Z is a strong personality in a family of strong personalities. It’s hard to imagine she would have been the shy, retiring type under any circumstances. Some of Z’s less-pro-social behaviors are personality-derived, some are rooted in her attachment disorder. I have to try to strike that elusive balance between accepting Z as she is – obviously not a unique issue in any relationship -- and helping her to heal those aspects of her being that are affected by her attachment disorder. Whereas with G, who has aspergers syndrome, I use general health-promoting practices and promote radical acceptance of neurodiversity, I do actively want to “cure” Z of her attachment disorder, insofar as that is possible. As we grow together, I hope all the different parts of Z’s life  - personality, environment, history, dreams… -- will come together in increasingly healthy ways.

The main themes here can be summed up in a two concepts:

TRUST – and trust promoting actions, and
BOUNDARIES – and setting them consistently.

This latter should, ideally, set a foundation for the former. NB: this process may unfold in a remarkably extended and painstaking fashion! I hope someday Z, as her trust in the world grows, will be able to look upon such things as letting go a bit, or needing help, or not knowing something as normal human activities – both in herself and in others.

Meantime, do you know everything? Do you never need to ask for information or help? Do you never make mistakes? Are you in command and control at all times? Do you not need new batteries? Just in case the answer to any of these is “no,” I will leave you, dear reader, with these words, uttered by Z when I lost a mean game of Apples to Apples: “Sorry you’re kind of a loser.”

Coming Soon: Anniversary List III: Choosing Your Battles…

Full Spectrum Mama

* I have written elsewhere on the differences between severe and mild attachment disorders, and there is much available on this subject online. Z has what is known as a “mild to moderate” attachment disorder.

Friday, January 17, 2014


Because FSM has gotten a teeeensy bit behind in her List Writing, there’s still time to submit your COMPLAINTS of any stripe. They can be funny or sincere or sad or…Please email them to me at

And as a special treat, here is a COMPLAINT from moi-self:

COMPLAINT: Why is autism often used as a casual literary device to signify something one does not want? Then it jumps out at you unexpectedly when you are reading to try to chill out?? And, thus, you are no longer chillaxin’???

Examples from the last few weeks alone:

In Anna Quindlen’s memoir, Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, right there on page 119, with no warning: “I remember the profound, almost physical relief sense of relief I felt when I understood that our sons and daughter did not have colic, were not autistic, showed no signs of adolescent mental illness.”

In Claire Messud’s novel, The Woman Upstairs, all nonchalant, about someone with unacknowledged, un-wiped soup on his chin: “Or maybe he’s from outer space or like a person with autism” (p. 120).

In the 11/18/13 New Yorker (yes, I am always 6-8 weeks behind), in Jeffrey Eugenides’ short story, “Find the Bad Guy:” ”You’re old. Your sperm are old. Baby might come out autistic” (p. 74).

SUBCOMPLAINT: It’s used casually to “sell, sell, sell” as well. Yesterday, I saw this on the ad side of my facebook page:

Asperger Experts
Why is it so hard for people with Asperger's to succeed in life? http://www.aspergerexper...

I don’t want to think about that sometimes-true statement while I am using one of my four free minutes a day to ogle my best friend’s new baby pix. Why can’t I just get your simple “Lose weight kwik” and “Ever get that not-so-fresh feeling” ads? ”Learn a New Career”/”Triple Your Income in Three Days”-type solicitations? Or even “Experiencing Erectile Dysfunction?”

Please, world, let us relax, read and ogle in peace. Spare us the gratuitous references. Try to sell us only things we want to foolishly spend our money on to feel happy, fit, rich and virile all the time. And calm!


Full Spectrum Mama

Monday, January 13, 2014

Second Anniversary Lists I: Advocacy

This time last year, we had just fought a grueling but successful battle to retain G’s IEP. He’d erroneously been tested for reading and math – his two best subjects – and been removed from eligibility because of the not-surprisingly good results of those tests…Meanwhile, he was barely able to write a word, a sentence, a paragraph…

We’d “won” that fight, with the help of his teachers and principal, following a lot of foot dragging from the district; what we still had to contend with a year ago was a relatively homogenous school environment and a child who struggled with expressing himself coherently in writing and felt bullied every day.

I shared what I learned from that intense experience in this post: If you are looking for basic tips on advocacy, this post is the place to go. Please see the list toward the end for my pointers on dealing with bureaucracy, and IEP and 504 meetings, and addressing your child’s/children’s needs in institutional settings.

In retrospect, I can see that – much as I adore and respect the heck out of him -- beyond words!  Puh-lease!!!! -- on a subconscious level I was seeing G as in some small way a part of “The Problem.”  Now that he is in a more diverse environment, with students who are comfortable with a mix of people, and teachers and administrators who are accustomed to kids on the autism spectrum, a lot of things have eased up. 

As always, this is what worked for our family. In the balance, making the choice to move our entire existence was the right one for us. It was also a huge gamble, a chance not all families are able to make (and we have BARELY made it -- whew!) -- and one that I am happy to say paid off in our case. Autism was less common in G’s old school and this impacted every level of his experience, from institutional to educational to social. Obviously, G is still on the spectrum, but his present school is more of a spectrum too. For him, for us, this works.

And so, without further ado, my first second anniversary list:

School Advocacy II

1. Context matters. A tiny, cozy school where everybody knows everybody might be the right one for your child. Homeschooling might be the right choice for your family. Or perhaps your child will do best in a big school with lots of services and a wide-ranging student body. Maybe an alternative/private school might be your chosen option, if you can afford it, or are able to access scholarships or school district support. My point: the impact of environment can be more profound than one realizes.

2. Sometimes Change is necessary. To say that change and transitions can be challenging for our Full Spectrum would be a vast understatement. Sound familiar? If stuff isn’t workin’ out too well as it is, though, you might consider changing things up.

Little changes can matter too: does your child lose focus while doing homework in isolation (something you might’ve arranged to minimize distraction…)? Try using noise-canceling headphones in a more-busy area and crunchy carrot sticks (haha, I meant chips) to keep things lively.

Bigger changes, like moving and changing schools, obviously entail bigger risks – and possibly bigger benefits too.

Ease changes where you can with strategies such as advance notice, clear scheduling, and comfort measures – soothing (or stimulating) activities, food, objects…
3. Stay vigilant.  Isn’t that just great advice? Yeah, even when things seem fine: stay vigilant. Pfffft.

But -- wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I felt like the school had things well in hand I sorta…exhaled…and took a little breaky-poo? Next thing you know G is failing certain assignments and I am called in to a Meeting and then I am writing my Meeting Friend this text:

“[Censored]! I forgot about speaking up just nodded and said I will talk to [G] when in fact they did not do right by him or create an environment where success was possible. Help! Must regroup. But I am okay. Just entered brief complacent fugue state and now will triumph…somehow ;) p.s. Don’t worry. Am bemused but okay. Forgot [G] has disability.”

In this particular instance, G was failing a months-long writing project because he was overwhelmed by the combination of his classroom environment and learning new technologies and skills on the computer.  He’s at a point where he might be able to handle one of those things and still reach his potential, but not both.

So I wrote his teacher along these lines:

Dear [teacher],
Thanks for meeting with me yesterday.
I was really left with two different thoughts after our meeting: on the one hand, [G] does need to learn to buck up, get it together, ship shape, etc. but on the OTHER he does have a disability that we need to accommodate and work with to best bring out his potential.
I do feel that his failing this project because of new-computer frustration would be a shame. Clearly, he was overwhelmed by learning new skills in a busy environment, which is typical for him as well as many children on the autism spectrum.
I will work with him at home. Hope you can give us an extra week or so to whip it into shape in a low pressure-high achievement environment ;)
Thank you,

His teacher allowed him to take some extra time and he ended up with a decent(-ish) grade on the assignment.

Yay vigilance!!! Just because a school gets a wide range of students doesn’t mean you won’t have to advocate from time to time…

4. Cycles: Know that there will be cycles of advocacy challenges. After a recent blessedly calm, several-week meeting-free stretch I witnessed with chagrin my Meeting Friend looking stricken while being collared by the principal at pick-up. I was unable to get to her before she rushed off with her child, so sent I her psychic and text support and planned to call her and inquire. A few minutes later, Pardner called me and said the school had called US because G had gotten “agitated” over a computer imbroglio (see above). Anyway, when I called my MF to check in, come to find out her child, too, had been “agitated” that day. Wheee.

            5. Services:
In this larger, more-inundated school, G no longer qualifies for many of the services he received at his last school. Part of this – in PT and OT -- is because of great past work by amazing physical and occupational therapists; some progress is G’s own hard work. But it’s also because the standards of qualification are more stringent. And I do worry that G will fall way, way behind again. His early motor skills and kinesthetic test scores were typically all at the very lowest end of low.  Now that he’s low-average, will he continue to grow and improve without help? Or at least not regress? Please see #3…

G no longer has a one-on-one either. This is because his classroom already has three embedded paraprofessionals in addition to a highly effective, gifted, funny, experienced teacher. Do these three have enough time to get to everyone who needs their attention? Again, see #3.

At the same time, G’s new school offers a lot of services, particularly in group-settings, that were unavailable at the small school he previously attended. I feel like G’s needs are being met in different ways, and that we are in a basic state of balance between services and mainstreaming. But I am also ready to put on my official clothes and use my lint brush and march in there at once if necessary. Luckily, the parties involved do what they do because they care about children and education, so I do feel we are all on the same page as to wanting the best for G.

If you do not feel this way, if you and/or your child/ren is/are in an environment where the powers that be do not share this best-wanting intention, and are reluctant to change, you may need to advocate more powerfully OR see #s 1 and 2.

6. Treats: I am going to write more about this in “Second Anniversary Lists III: Choosing your Battles,” but I am impressed by the power of treats.

a. Treats for Students: G’s new school uses sugar for almost everything and it works. I know, I know: sugar. Regular readers will be well-informed of our sugar aversion. I cringe every time G shows up after school with a neon-colored lollipop. But positive reinforcement – what does your child love/crave? Maybe it doesn’t have to be so ghastly? – can make the difference between a child who is functioning, even thriving, within school boundaries and one who is flailing and failing.

I know G’s lollipop represents his sitting in his seat, or not interrupting, or closing the bathroom door…and since sugar affects him less than it does me, I make the choice to allow it. I mention this in this here Advocacy piece because working with your school to put a system of treats in place for rewarding positive behaviors might really make a difference for all parties concerned.

If you can figure out what really might feel like a treat to your child (or yourself, or your student, or your roommate, or partner, or…) -- whether it’s praise, hugs, Pok√©mon cards, screen time, or something else, perhaps something unique (but it must be something
Clear, and
-- you can begin to assess whether that individual responds well to this sort of system.

            b. Treats for Advocates: sometimes necessary.

            c. Treats for All, for No Particular Reason: also sometimes necessary.

Regarding these treats prescriptions, remember: Full Spectrum Mama is a Doctor [of philosophy].

Strong and effective advocating to you,

Full Spectrum Mama

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

We were out to dinner last night to celebrate and I saw a woman with a baby who reminded me of myself with G years ago. Without pre-thinking, I thought a sickening thought: how lucky she is, she hasn't been disappointed yet...that baby is full of all possibility to her...perfect...

I looked over at my son, with his shining face, and fiercely amended my thoughtless thought: never for a second is that fellow a disappointment. He is perfect to me just as he is and always has been.

There've been some shocks for sure, and hard stuffs - with both children - and that's pretty normal, eh? - but they are the lights of my life. They are the hope of the world, as all children are, whether they are "perfect" as society dictates or truly perfect in their uniqueness which, I humbly submit, is what the world actually needs.

In the New Year, may we all appreciate each other in the first place, or, if necessary, the second...

Full Spectrum Mama