Progress Schmogress…….The Autism Progression Myth 

It’s been a REALLY long time since I’ve done one of these. I’ve been busy writing my book (and having some fun in between) and I finally got some ‘blog inspiration’ today.

Sometimes reading other people’s blogs about autism will strike a chord in me and make me want to expand or dispute that particular topic. Todays topic was something like, “What is the hardest part about autism?” This particular writer said that her big thing was ‘other peoples’ perceptions and misconceptions about autism in general, and how autistics have not been accepted into society as a whole. I 100% agree, and this issue is a biggie for me too. However, it made me think about what bothers me the MOST about having a child on the spectrum, and that answer was easy. Unfortunately I can’t sum it all up in one sentence, but I will try to narrow it down:

Most people, even the autismly uneducated (I just made that up, but I like it), know that all children on the spectrum are different, and have different abilities and disabilities. But with that also comes the assumption that all autistics will improve with early intervention and therapy. THIS IS MY HARDEST PART!!! Because they don’t!

I can only speak for my own experience with my son, but to explain a little about my precious Keegan, he has always been on the spectrum in my opinion, even since birth. However, a lot of his milestones were just slightly delayed. Even though he wasn’t saying “mom” or “dad” before he was two years old, he was counting to 20, naming every single color he could see, along with every shape, including the dodecahedron (yes, that is a thing–It is 12 sides). Sure, most of it he learned from Muno and Brobee on Yo Gabba Gabba, or Geo and Bot on Team Umizoomi, but he was learning, retaining, and demonstrating. We started occupational therapy, speech therapy, physical therapy, ABA therapy and every other therapy before he was two and a half. We were also seeing a developmental pediatrician, chiropractor, and a psychiatrist. Plus, we started strict diets and nutritional supplements. We read it all and did it all (and I’m not even listing everything). Luckily we could afford it, so my husband worked for it, and I drove Keegan all over for it.

Jump ahead 4 years………..Keegan is almost six and a half. He cannot count to 5. He is still not potty trained. He still can’t say “mom” or “dad”. He lost most of his speech. He lost his concentration and focus for almost everything. He has zero interest in absolutely everything (besides dribbling a ball–he can do that like nobody’s business). He says ‘orange’ when he really means ‘blue’, and calls the letter “D” an “F.”

Somewhere around 30% of autistics will regress around age 2-3 (and no, it is not because of the fucking MMR shot!! JS!). I’m not sure on the percentage of those who gain those skills back, but my child never did. Did we give up on him? Hell no! Are we going to give up on him? Absolutely not! He is still attending ABA therapy daily at the Marcus Autism Center, and has for over a year. He is still getting speech and occupational therapy, and many more treatments and therapies that we have added and/or never stopped.

Another annoying assumption that I get asked all the time is “when will he get better?” There is no answer to this. He might get better, but he might not. I didn’t think he would regress as much as he did. I also thought he would at least gain some of his skills back by now, but he hasn’t. Therefore, I have no idea if/when he will ever get ‘better’.  If I knew when, I would put that expected “better” date on the calendar and have the biggest fucking party when the countdown ends. I would do so much more and stress so much less. But I don’t know and I may never find out.

I guess this regression issue hit hard yesterday when I received Keegan’s new scores for the VB MAPP (verbal/behavioral milestone assessment). He had little to no progress in most areas since his last assessment in 2014. That feels like a super strong punch in my gut. Also, his IEP is coming up next week, and they are talking about a new placement/new school for him, and that has me hurting inside, too. And to top it all off, I went to see the new movie, The Accountant, last night. It’s about a high functioning autistic, but I won’t give away the story. Anyway, these kind of movies always get me thinking about how others will view autism based on a certain character. I know many parents of autistic children hate the movie ‘Rain Man’ because of the stereotype it portrays. Well guess what…Rain Man does exist whether you like it or not……..he is my son.

Just like all autistics can range from the low functioning ‘rain man’ to the high functioning assassin/’accountant’, all autistics can improve/regress on all different kinds of levels. Sure, therapy should help, and most of the time it does. But sometimes it just doesn’t. I read a study once about two very similar autistic children who received the exact same treatments and therapies at the exact same time and the same frequency from the same person. One child progressed significantly while the other did not progress at all.

So, please don’t stop asking questions, even if I may not like the question. More importantly, you can ask even when I don’t like the answer I have to give you. Just remember my favorite saying….”If you’ve met one child with autism, you’ve met one child with autism”.

To The Manager At The Theatre………from a fellow autism parent

I know I haven’t written a blog for a while, but I honestly haven’t felt moved by anything autism related…………until today.

My life has been quite the typical humdrum autism parent life lately, you know, being the chauffeur, cook, alarm clock, maid, and mind-reader that requires about 90% of my time. The other 9% goes to my sleep, and I guess the 1% goes to my “me” time, whatever the hell that is.

So my hubby had to work this whole weekend, which usually means park time, or just playing outside with Keegan. Unfortunately it won’t stop raining, so the fun had to stay indoors. After being stuck in the house all day and night Saturday, I decided to join my friends and their 2 kids (one with autism and one neurotypical) at the movie theatre Sunday afternoon. Now, we have gone to the movies a handful of times since Keegan was born, and was only slightly successful at the sensory-friendly one. All others were an epic fail. I wasn’t sure if I was up for the challenge, but I was fully equipped with a purse full of goodies. You know the goody bag—skittles, oreos, goldfish, etc. And to make it even better, my friends already ordered our popcorn and french fries, which arrived right after we sat down.

I thought we had it covered……until we didn’t.

We were seeing a special screening of Fantasia, the old Disney movie, celebrating it’s 75th Anniversary. I didn’t realize that the first 10-15 minutes of the screening was going to be a ‘behind-the-scenes’ look at the Philadelphia Orchestra’s rehearsals, along with a discussion by the conductor. I also forgot that typical screenings are very loud to the autistic ear.

So, as Keegan sat there with his hands over his ears and his eyes wide-open trying to figure it all out, I was trying to shove popcorn and fries in his face to distract him, knowing he was starting to “get there”, if you know what I mean. I even broke out the skittles and the stim toy, but they were also a no-go. We were already getting the ‘stares’ because of his vocal stimming sounds, and as I looked around, I noticed there were very few kids in the theatre. The youngest ones were teenagers, so I figured the adults just wanted to go to re-live memories of when they saw it as a kid, and bring their older kids with them.

After a few minutes of squirming and trying to get out of his seat, and me blocking him, Keegan looks right at me and says “go outside!” Coming from a child of VERY few words, both literally and figuratively, this translates to “let’s get the f*#& out of here now, mom!”

I grabbed my purse and goodies so quick, scooped up Keegan, and stomped past approximately 12 people in the isle on my way out, saying “Sorry, don’t worry, we are NOT coming back…….Sorry, don’t worry, we are NOT coming back,” over and over again.

Once we got out and into the lobby, I put Keegan in a chair and sat down beside him. I thought maybe if he chilled out, we could go back and sit in chairs closer to the exit door for an easier escape. Now, if only I could talk him into staying quiet and in his seat. This task is obviously close to impossible for an autistic child with very little verbal speech and even less receptive language. My motivation was to get back in there and finish those yummy fries (and they were still warm 😦 ).

As I got up to attempt another try, I realized that I left the tickets on the table next to the popcorn. Luckily the lady at the counter remembered me and told me it was fine to go back in. I then asked her if I could sit somewhere else closer to the exit, since the theatre was assigned seats only, and she told me to check with the front desk because she didn’t know. As we were talking, a gentleman that obviously worked there, and who must have sensed that “look” on my face, came up and asked what was wrong. I explained the situation and told him that my son was autistic, and that we were going to go back and try again in a different seat, if that was OK.

This nice man kindly said, “Here, follow me and we can get you guys a good seat.” As we approached the door to that particular theatre, Keegan’s anxiety became more apparent, and he began whining again. It was quite obvious at that moment that he did NOT want to go anywhere near that place again, so I said “You know what, it looks like it’s not going to work, but thanks anyway.” The man then looked at me and said, “I have a 25-year-old daughter who is also autistic, so I understand.”

I knew at that moment that he DID in fact understand, and that meant the world to me. I always hear people say, “Oh my neighbor is autistic, so I understand”, or “my cousins’ nephew has autism, so I get it.” But trust me, you don’t, and I completely respect that you don’t. But this was a parent who had been doing this for 25 years, and he DID get it. He was even doing it before autism was the cool thing to do (LOL), and when there was even LESS services than there are now. In fact, he probably “got it” more than I did.

This man then completely amazed me and said, “wait here, I’ll go get you some free passes.” As I’m standing in the dark hallway waiting for him to return, I am hoping that the staff walking up and down can’t see the gleam of tears in my eyes. When he returns, he hands me a pile of free passes, along with his business card. On the back of his card he had written his cell phone number. He then said, “Please call me if you need anything, passes, resources, advice………whatever you need.”

I was at a loss for words, and just told him thanks, and that the kind gesture meant more to me than he will ever know. I then carried Keegan to the car, strapped him in, got into the front seat, and cried for a good 10 minutes. Thank God it was raining so nobody could walk by and see me.

I don’t really know exactly why I cried, because it wasn’t ‘that time of the month’ for me, or anything. I think it was a mixture of the extreme emotions of disappointment and gratitude at the same time, of frustration and empathy at the same time, and of being unable to change the situation and accepting that I can’t change it at the same time. It can get very frustrating to see how easy things are for others when it is such a hard struggle for those with autism and their parents. And, it’s hard when you get another slap in the face that an attempted outing was once again a failure. But then again, it is so rewarding when you meet someone with a compassion that is so familiar, and an understanding that you can only feel with very few people………and free movie tickets to boot!

So, to Mr. Subko, thank you for making a hard time a little less hard. Thank you for telling me that it does get easier. Thank you for saying ‘hi’ to Keegan, and telling me that your daughter also responded with echolalia after Keegan said ‘hi,hi,hi,hi’ back to you (and thank you for knowing what echolalia even is). But most of all, thank you for actually understanding when you said, “I understand.”

I Can Hate Today’s Autism Meltdown, And Still Love My Son

Can you still be grateful and have a shitty day? Can you still be lonely and have all of the support system in the world? Can you be a millionaire but still be depressed? Can you take all necessary steps to improve your situation, and yet make little to no progress? Personally, I believe the answer to all of these is “yes”. The world is not black-and-white and neither are human beings (and I don’t mean Caucasian and African-American). There are many shades of gray (and I don’t mean Christian Gray).

I read one of those typical depressing mom blogs the other day (yes, I know my blog fits in the ‘depressing mom blogs’ category LOL), and since it resonated with me I almost shared it, until I read all of the comments. There was not one comment supporting the struggling mother. Every comment was very judgmental, hurtful, and aggressive. All of these “moms” took it upon themselves to tell the writer that she was ‘ungrateful’ and ‘bitter’ because she was complaining about an aspect of motherhood. Just because she was bitching about one negative thing, now she’s a horrible mom????

It reminded me of a similar experience that I had. One of my blog posts triggered another autism mom to bash my honesty, and told me that I was weak, that I didn’t believe in my son, and that his problems were because of me. Now I am all for constructive criticism, but basically calling me a shitty mom is not very supportive. Most moms, including myself, blog as an outlet. There’s not many people who understand exactly how you are feeling. And, it’s usually hard to talk to your husband about mommy problems (no offense, guys), so you got to let it out somewhere.

There’s also the issue of varying personalities. I’m personally not one to smile and say that everything is perfectly fine when it’s not. If a mom wants to bitch about a crappy aspect of her day, please let her do so without judgement. And if ‘pretending that everything is OK when its not’ works for you, then keep doing it, but don’t bash us. Or if someones opinion or advice is what you are looking for, make that known and clear.

If a friend told you she was going to jump off of a bridge because she was so depressed, would you give her the address of the bridge that had the most successful suicides and tell her to do it? I would hope not. Sometimes I feel this way when I am upset about something and venting, and someone tells me everything I am doing wrong and how I need to go about doing it right (and makes me even more angry when I am already doing said suggestion, and they still insist on passive aggressively telling me what to do). Now, I don’t mean when you actually call someone and ask for help or feedback. Then the suggestions are warranted.

Most blogs, and just plain bitching about the day, are just a release to make us feel better. It’s not an opportunity for someone to tell us how shitty we are, and how they have all the answers to make us as perfect as they are. I personally know, as a therapist, that many people need a swift kick in the ass and good direction for positive change, but you pay me for that. Plus, we aren’t even supposed to give ‘advice’ to our patients. Instead, we care for them, therapeutically support them, help them see the best alternatives, and provide resources.

I received a huge compliment yesterday after sharing a depressing blog post (not my personal post, but one I REALLY felt). An old friend told me that my honesty “allows moms the space to keep it real and to be perfectly imperfect”, and that “through honesty there is strength.” I appreciated this more than she will ever know. I, too, appreciate and welcome honesty, no matter how negative. I believe that’s why moms blog—-to “keep it real” and admit that they are “perfectly imperfect.” There’s  no need to reiterate how imperfect we really are. We already know it.

Sometimes all we need is a “I’m thinking about you”, or “I don’t know what you are going through, but I’m here for you,” or just a “you are doing a great job, mom.” Sometimes there is not necessarily a solution, but just an understanding of the situation. Or even if you don’t understand the situation, let them know you don’t understand but you want to.

Just because I always complain about autism and everything negative that it encompasses does not mean that I hate my child. Now, I will admit that I hate autism for the most part, but autism is not what makes my child. I would literally walk through fire and drink molten lava for my son, so hating autism doesn’t equal hating him. Most of my blog posts are negative, but does this mean I hate my life? Some days I probably sound like I do, but talking about it or blogging about it makes me feel better, and usually makes the next day wonderful. Some days are going to be shitty, and I should be able to talk about them without being judged, or told what to do. And, yes, I cry. Sometimes a lot—-but don’t assume that means I’m weak, or that I don’t have it under control beneath those tears.

 

My Judgment Day

I don’t blame those judgmental, uneducated, and uninformed people  who frown upon me and my autistic child whatsoever. Why is that? Because I was one of them.

I always looked at those parents and unruly children and rolled my eyes in disgust. I would think, ‘how could those parents let him get away with that behavior? That kid is such a brat!’ I would assume that child had control over his/her actions and just chose to do the wrong thing.

I worked as a school social worker with autistic children, along with taking numerous classes in grad school emphasizing special needs. People sometimes say to me “well, you are lucky that you have the knowledge and the experience for dealing with autism”. I have news for you people…………none of that prepared me. I was still judgmental, and never truly understood what it really meant to deal with autism until I became an autism parent. You can hear about it all day long, and play with these kids during the day at school, but that doesn’t even come close to the daily ins and outs of autism.

Since the start of this journey, I realized how important it was to help people NOT be like me. I want to help others see autism through the child’s eyes (or the adults), and to understand before they roll their eyes……..to stop themselves from assuming the worst. I’m happy to say that I have had at least 2 friends tell me that they look at children and their behavior differently when out in public. They stop themselves from judging and think ‘that child might be autistic and may not be able to control himself.’ I had a supervisor tell me once that if I helped just one patient the entire time I worked at the hospital, I did my job. Well, I want to change more than one persons perspective. If that’s greedy, then I’m sorry….not sorry.

I realized the other day, at the hospital that I work at, that I still have a lot of work to do. We don’t usually admit autistic children unless they have another mental health diagnosis that needs acute care. There was an autistic/aspergers child who was being a little difficult. But if you knew about autism, you would know he wasn’t just being a brat. He was frustrated because he didn’t want to eat his lunch and the staff was taking away some of his privileges because of this. If these counselors knew anything about autism, they would know that most autistic children have food/sensory issues, and they would not try to make the child eat, or punish him for not eating. You would also know that some autistic children (especially mine) don’t understand the ‘if this, then that’ concept. It may be too abstract to some.

They then proceeded to physically take the child back to the unit without options or warning. For those autism parents reading this, you know what happened next. Yes, the child began to have a complete meltdown, which required the staff to become aggressive with him, when given no choice, to avoid the child hurting himself or anyone else. My first thought was ‘my child is one of the few autistic children with very little behavior problems, but if they pulled him up off the floor like that, you would probably see Chucky-like, crazy-ass behavior problems emanating from his little body.’ I understand that it is instinctual to treat a child in a psychiatric hospital the same as the next psychiatric patient with mental health problems. But not all behaviors are the same, or should be tended to in the same way. Long story short, I did tell the necessary people and urged some autism education, but only time will tell.

Anyway, I’m not saying these particular counselors were judgmental or ignorant, but uneducated for sure. They were assuming that this child was in control of his emotions and behaviors. They thought punishing him was going to set him straight. For some, this does work. But understanding everything about autism would have helped this child remain calm and avoid a meltdown all together.

As I have said before, I am far from perfect, and not at all the worlds best mom, or even best autism advocate. The other day, someone called me judgmental and it made me think……..I probably do have a lot more work to do in that department myself, but I think everybody does to a certain extent, I don’t care who you are (or maybe that’s just me being judgmental, lol).  It’s very hard to put yourself in other people’s shoes, but just keep in mind that most people are just trying their best. Educate yourself before you judge others’ actions or behaviors, especially those in children. Someone asked me years ago why I became a social worker. My response was “I gotta get to heaven somehow”. Little did I know then that I was (and still am) nowhere near getting into those pearly gates.

So Funny I Forgot To Laugh

“God sure does have a sense of humor!”                                                                                                    I have heard this phrase many times throughout my life, but only recently began to understand how funny he really can be.

Sometime in my early to mid 30’s, when I was contemplating if I ever wanted to have kids, I remember telling my mom something in a half true/half joking manner.  You know, when you are joking but deep down you are a little serious? I said to her “Hey, I have an idea–why don’t you take my firstborn for his/her first few years of life, then I’ll take it from there.” I realized at that moment that I was not ready for that newborn phase, when that little, precious gift was so dependent on you for everything.

I had personally struggled in my early years on finding my own independence, and I had finally achieved it and LOVED it. After a divorce, completing my masters degree, moving to a new city without family, finding a good job all on my own, and getting married to a man who allowed and encouraged me to be strong, my only option was to be happy AND independent. However, I was also a little selfish.  Thinking about that possible little ‘bundle of joy’, I couldn’t imagine not being able to sleep in on the weekends, to not be able to watch TV when I wanted, or to go on last minute romantic trips with my hubby. Basically just not being able to do whatever I wanted whenever I wanted. It was not only my selfishness that was pushing me away from having a child, but also the shear dread that this person was going to be dependent on me for EVERYTHING.

I had always viewed dependence in others, especially women, as weakness. This was why it was so important for me to rid myself of my own dependence. I know a child doesn’t have any other option but to be dependent, but this fact was not appealing to me. I remember throughout my life I would cringe when I heard a mom whine about how sad she was that her children were growing up, or how depressed she was going to be when her children moved out of the house and away to college. I would always want to say , “Are you kidding me? I will dance the happy dance when my child moves out of the house.” Then, of course, their response would be, “Oh, you will change your mind when you have kids. You will want them to stay little forever.”

Fast forward to having my one and only child. I was excited to be a mom, but more excited to get past the newborn phase. I would cry almost daily, wondering ‘why is he crying? Is he hungry? Is he tired? Is he in pain? When will he sleep through the night?’ I hated the guessing game. When I complained to my friends and family about this part of raising a child, they would say, “Don’t worry, soon enough he will be able to talk and tell you what is wrong, and next thing you know, he will be getting himself out of bed and making his own breakfast so you can sleep in.”

My son is almost 4 and I’m still waiting.  I’m still waiting for him to tell me what is wrong, or what he wants to eat, or if he’s tired. I’m still waiting for him to let me sleep in. I’m even waiting for him to sleep through the night.  And I hate it—just like I knew I would. I not only hate it for me, since I am still that selfish, independent woman, but I hate it more for him. I hate that he gets so upset when I don’t understand what he is trying to tell me. I hate that he cries for long periods of time and I have no idea how to help him. I hate that he may never be able to make his own breakfast, let alone not need any assistance to eat his breakfast.

Most days I hate his autism, but I never hate him. He is the only reason I am able to live with my biggest fear being my reality. He makes me see that anything is possible. I do, however, still wonder why those women who never want their children to grow up don’t end up with the children who may never get the chance to. And, the one woman who wanted their baby to leave for college yesterday may never see that day. Even though I am not laughing now,  maybe it is just God’s sense of humor.  Maybe it’s his way of strengthening those weaknesses within us. I may never get to dance that college happy dance, and I may never get to feel that independence again. But, maybe just maybe, I will get something even better in the end.

Why Is Your Son Autistic?

I have been asked this question a few times. Why do I think my son ended up with autism? Well, if I had the answer to why anyone has autism, I wouldn’t be writing this right now, and I would probably be really rich. And, my son would probably not be autistic. I don’t mind getting asked this question, because I know they mean well, but I obviously have no idea.

Everyone has heard all the “theories” as to why autism exists. Is it a disease or a disorder? Is it neurological? Is it from those damn GMO’s or the vaccinations, or both? Is it really just a ‘gut’ issue, and they just need a really good probiotic, or a gluten-free diet? Or maybe just some essential oils will do the trick to somehow stimulate those brain waves. Or, maybe if those “old” people would stop having babies, there would be no autism.

Obviously, I have no idea where it comes from, but we all have our theories. I could give you my hypothetical opinion, but it would be just that…….an educated “guess”. It is, however, a fact that very young people have autistic children, so there goes that idea. It has also been proven time and time again that vaccinations have NO correlation or causation of autism, yet people still refuse to vaccinate their children. I could go on and on, but I won’t.

You can also look at the other side of “why”. The philosophical and somewhat biblical theories. Without getting into religion, why would God allow this to happen to me? What is the reason I ended up with this challenge? You would be surprised, but there are many different theories on this, too. For instance, I don’t dwell on the “why” as much as my husband does. I look at is as “well, I guess for some reason, God wanted this for me.” Maybe those few terrible things I did throughout my lifetime…….I’m finally getting my karma. And I’m good with it. Not so good with the struggles I go through on an hourly basis, but good with the “punishment”, so to speak. Let’s move on and deal with the situation at hand. Maybe in the long run I will be a better person, and that’s what was meant for my life journey.

My husband, on the other hand, is still stuck in “why.” He feels he has been so good his whole life that he should be rewarded and not challenged. He didn’t do anything to “deserve” this. I can very well respect his view. However, I can’t say the same because I have not been the saint that he has.

Nothing is right or wrong from these particular perspectives.  I do, however, think that the more positive you try to be, the more positive your relationship with your child and the more positive the grueling journey. Is this easy? Hell no. But this is what I try really hard to focus on. I can’t control the reason he is autistic, and I’m finding that I also can’t control the cure, no matter how hard I try. But, I can control how I handle the situation, regardless of the “reason.”