Posts tagged ‘autism’

What We Need

What We Need has functioned as a journal for me over the years, and in my draft folder there’s almost 100 starts that I never published (if you don’t know the meaning behind the title, here is an explanation: Just what do we need, exactly?). As I read through those drafts I am often startled at what I find. They are full of pain and hopelessness and desperation. It doesn’t match what I feel now, but I admit to feeling more than a bit anxious at the thought of C’s return home.

Anxious enough that during a session with Therapist NC and Hubs last week to discuss the “coming home plan,” I found myself admitting that I don’t really want C to come home. It’s not really about C himself, it’s more about not wanting to return to the way things were…or gradually doing so and not realizing it until we are right back where we were before C left.

When I read the old draft of a post (below), I was struck at how much that was our life at the time I wrote it (almost a decade ago), and how much that was our life when C left for treatment last fall. How, I ask myself, did we let it go so long? It astounds me just how painful, just how hopeless, and just how desperate things were for so many years. It’s not as if we didn’t try things – we tried everything. But nothing ever worked. Therapy, meds, interventions, home visits, school changes, homeschooling, living near relatives, living in social neighborhoods with lots of kids, signing C up for things…none of it ever did anything to change what was going on in our home.

Therapist NC would say, if I could channel him, that we’ve all done a lot of work in the past six months and there has been great change. I don’t disagree with him, but it is hard to imagine something different when things have been so much the same for so long. So once again, here I sit, feeling a bit anxious, with good reason to be, but also with some hope – again, with good reason to feel some. The trick will be – as it always is – to find the balance between my expectations and my own self-awareness, with a good dose of hoping I’ll know where the line is so that another decade doesn’t go by with us living so far across the line we can’t even see it any longer.

From 2011…Still, here I sit tonight, completely and utterly perplexed as what to do next. I have a child whose combativeness and behavior are at a crisis point. It starts in the morning when he wakes up, continues from the moment I pick him up after school, and rarely settles before bedtime. With every fiber of his being, C is screaming that he needs something, and we are all at a loss for what it is. While we try and figure it out, I try to ignore the venom directed my way and tell myself it’s not C. I try to stay calm while he screams, relentlessly, about how he doesn’t want to stand here, there, or anywhere. It’s that unreasonable. He’s like a gnat that won’t go away, and he follows me around, forcing my attention, until I lock myself in my room to escape his wrath. Then he starts trying to kick down the door. Yes, we are in an almost emergency state, our little family, and we are failing at being a family. We are at the point where there’s going to be some intervention, and I only hope the intervention comes on our terms instead of some random person walking down the street calling CPS because they hear what sounds like a tortured child.

February 11, 2019 at 5:23 pm Leave a comment

A way with words

There was a time when we thought C might never make noise or speak. When he was a newborn, I remember telling my mother that I would never complain about his crying if he could just actually do it. At the time, he was on a ventilator, and we couldn’t hear his “voice.”  I wasn’t convinced yet that C would actually live, so suddenly a screaming baby seemed like a wonderful thing.

Of course, C did live, and once he had the tube out of his throat he made his voice known. But it was years later when we wondered if he’d ever really speak. I prayed to hear his voice, only this time in a different form: words. I wanted to hear words. Shortly before his second birthday, he said, “MAH” (translation: “MORE”), and celebration followed.

It was a long and painful journey from “MAH” to words and then to sentences and then to spontaneous speech. C was about six years old before the echolalia became unnoticeable to all but those of us closest to him. Then people commented on what an interesting vocabulary he had when he said old fashioned things like, “Good grief” (Charlie Brown); or quirky things like, “Save money, live better” (Walmart slogan).

All these years later, we have a kid who rarely closes his mouth. His constant stream of words, even while asleep, changed the joy I felt when he first spoke them into craving any moment of peace and quiet I could find.

Yet missing from C’s language was the vocabulary of compassion. I didn’t realize how much it was missing until I realized he all of a sudden seemed to acquire it. Last week, when I suggested to him that perhaps it was vital to have all the facts about something important before relaying it to us as truth, he said, “You’re right Mom. Thanks for telling me that as I wouldn’t have known how it impacted you.”

Ho. Ly. Cow. A. Bunga. I about fell out of my chair. I have never heard words like that from C. Ever. And I’m hearing things like that more and more when I talk with him. I find myself believing there might be change when he returns home in a quick six weeks. Could it be real? Only time will tell, of course, and I admit to being skittish about getting my hopes up too much. Still, there is a glimmer there of something we have never heard in his words, and hopefully his actions will follow.

It is better to have a heart without words than words without a heart. ~ Mahatma Gandhi

February 4, 2019 at 9:06 pm Leave a comment

Wild Child

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~Mary Oliver

Someone I trust more than most recently told me I am a completely different person than I was two years ago when we met. Entrenched in anger, sadness, grief, and frustration, I was miserable. I was coming off the end of cancer treatment, suffering with significant nerve damage and body image issues from the surgery, and trying to manage all things C. No easy tasks on that list.

I ruminated on that statement for a day or two, and I realized something. I’m back. Back to me, my old self, and the happy, adventurous wild woman that I used to be. It looks different now than it did in my 20s, when I would (stupidly) take off alone in my jeep with nothing but a forest service map and some munchies. In my late 40s, adventure to me looks more like being vulnerable, taking on an exciting new job, and speaking my truth. Writing. Engaging. Sharing secrets. Asking for what I want and need.

This journey for me really started with C. Not *that* C, but the Cancer-C. It was the wake up call I needed, it seems. “Hey!” it screamed. “Your life could be over. Is this all there is, is this all you want?” And in the most cliche movie-moment ever, I realized the answer to both those questions was no.

That same someone asked me back then if nothing changed in my life, could I find a way to be happy? I remember groaning at that question, and I probably rolled my eyes. But over time, I realized I had to figure out a way to make that answer into a “yes,” and the solution to that was all me. Not that much has changed – my health still challenges me, and C most definitely still challenges me. Yet I am in a much better place.

The journey here has been full of ups and downs, and I know it will continue to be. But I most definitely know what I want to do with my one wild and precious life, and it is exactly what I am doing.

December 23, 2018 at 4:19 pm Leave a comment

Motherly Love

Until last spring when I accepted a job running a small environmental education non-profit, I was teaching anthropology at the local community college. I loved the job, and I can say that I was loved by my students. I went above and beyond to help students who needed it, allowed all voices to be heard, and met students where they were. My philosophy of teaching was not to tell the students what to think, but to teach in a way that made them think, wherever that led them.

I often wondered why I found relationships with students – which most definitely took on a motherly tone – so easy and rewarding compared to my relationship with C, which was difficult and frustrating. Clearly, I could distance myself from students in a way I couldn’t with C because he is my kid, and mother him I must, even in the darkest of days. I knew this in my head, but in my heart it hurt that I couldn’t enjoy C in the same way I could my students.

But maybe, I have since realized, that is not the point. Mothering, I suppose, is doing what needs to be done for your kiddo, whatever that may be. Much like my teaching philosophy, I think I just need to meet C wherever he is, give him what he needs from me, and not worry about what I think I need from him. Mothering C has never been typical in any way, and perhaps I should stop wanting that from him.

A group of students found their way into my life and filled that need for me. In that way, they have given me far more than I ever gave them. Last week, while a bunch of them were over for dinner, I was aglow in the noise and joy in the house. I found myself so ridiculously grateful that these kids were here, letting me feed them, sharing stories, laughing, playing games, and having a good time. Frankly, letting me mother them in a way I don’t really get to do with C. Giving me a glimpse into something different, and not with regret, but thankfulness that with these students, I can be the kind of mother C doesn’t let me be, doesn’t want me to be, and maybe doesn’t really need me to be.

December 17, 2018 at 4:10 pm 2 comments

Trouble in the Water

C’s issues have almost always manifested at home instead of anywhere else, really. On one hand, I have been grateful for that because teachers, babysitters, habilitation workers have all loved him. I remember the first time he got in trouble in preschool -everyone was so excited that he finally did something they deemed normal.

On the other hand, the fact that his issues exist at home is cause for concern about the family dynamic. I have always known we were doing *something* wrong that was making C’s behavior worse, more explosive, and more troublesome. That may have been true to some extent in that we, by reacting to his behaviors, reinforced them. We have stopped that for the most part, yet the behaviors still continued. Cue the sigh of relief that it’s not all our fault.

Yet one place C has done remarkably well is in treatment facilities. He has been in the acute care hospital four times in the last two years, and he is always discharged with comments like, “We see no real issues, and he has behaved perfectly well during his time here.” It got to the point where, on his third “episode,” we waited in the ER for nearly 24 hours before the acute care hospital would admit him, despite there being no other option for placement. They attributed his behaviors to behavioral problems instead of mental health problems. I could see where they were going with this, but when my kid is wielding a knife threatening to harm himself, I don’t really care what’s at the root of the behavior, I just want him to get help.

His time at his residential treatment facility has been no different. We’ve already had one of his therapists express disbelief at him being there at all. We are used to that, although I still find it annoying, as if there is some flaw in the therapist that he can’t see past the happy, agreeable front C puts on. Therapist NC here at home promised us we would get a call at some point saying C was in trouble and that it would indicate he had finally settled in and the real work could begin.

The months had gone by and I had resigned myself to this never happening during his entire stay, because let’s face it, C is C and he does things in his own sweet time in his own sweet way, or not at all. But he called us the other night, in enough trouble that if he gets one more strike, he won’t be able to leave campus during the day with us at Christmas, and we’ll have to visit with him in the visiting room only. Yikes.

The relative amount of relief I experienced about this was palpable. I texted Therapist NC about this development, knowing he would be one of only a few people who would understand how ridiculously happy – yes, happy – this made me. Because I know that this means C is comfortable. He is comfortable enough to show himself and his behaviors. And that means he can finally get some help.

December 10, 2018 at 6:45 pm 2 comments

Holding Pattern

My goal at this point is to kind of just get through the holidays. Before C was born, I was all about the holidays. Starting with a pumpkin carving party for Halloween-to a massive feast on Thanksgiving-to decorating everything that moved for Christmas, I lived for October 1 to January 1. But this year, I’m just not in the mood. I am not in a bad mood, but I have realized that I would rather just “be” than pretend as though things are normal when they are most definitely not.

Like so much with C, things slowly started to change after his birth, and our holidays changed just like everything else. C was terrified of Halloween. Literally terrified. Pumpkin faces and costumes freaked him out, even the happy ones. In later years, he enjoyed trick or treating (even though he didn’t like candy) just to bang on people’s doors and get something from them. But slowly over time, my Halloween decorations were put away, and eventually just given away.

Thanksgiving was even more of a non-event with C because he simply didn’t eat. I have talked about his sensory issues with food many a time here, and they really impacted family gatherings. It took years for him to be able to eat around other people, and he still struggles with it to this day. His feeding therapist always told us eating was the second most difficult thing for the human body to do next to sex. Eating involves so many sensations that are overpowering for sensory challenged kiddos. True that, we have found.

Christmas? It was a bit better, especially given C firmly believed in Santa until well into middle school, which I loved. Yet he was all about the material gifts, which I didn’t love so much. When a kid starts saying, “Just give me cash, it’s easier,” it sort of takes the meaning and fun out of it. He enjoyed the spirit of giving at first, but even that faded over time.

Still, preserving traditions was very important to me, and I kind of mourned the lack of them in our home. I grew up with very entrenched holiday traditions, and I envisioned my own family being that way as well. Like so many other things, that has not happened for us, despite early efforts to make it so. I eventually kind of gave up, and felt somewhat resentful for it.

This year? I am oddly grateful for a newfound awareness. With C away and everything feeling so strange, I have realized it is not about the pumpkins, the feast, or the tree. I am not opposed to those things, but they just don’t mean as much to me anymore. I was caught up – not in the stuff as much as in doing the stuff. Right now? I’m pretty content with my 24/7 Christmas carols and reveling in the recent snow. Watching the birds at the feeder, smelling the scented pine cones I picked up at the store, and peppermint hot chocolate are filling my soul more than enough this year.

December 2, 2018 at 6:00 pm 2 comments

Unpacking

I wandered into my appointment with my therapist this week without a whole lot on my mind, really, except ongoing pain around which life seems to revolve right now. What came out of my mouth, however, were several revelations I’m not sure I even recognized for what they were until I spoke them aloud. Whether a high pain level lowers my internal filter or makes me care less what anyone thinks, I’m not sure, but it does seem to be an effective conduit for getting things out of my head and into the universe. And somewhat surprisingly, lightning bolts didn’t strike me down immediately for saying these things. Go figure.

The worst of the worst? I’m fairly ambivalent about seeing C when we visit him over Thanksgiving. I haven’t seen him since he left here in August. And he left after a rather violent episode that left us both hurting. Hubs was out of town, C went for pills I inadvertently left out, and the rest is history that will haunt me for years to come. Truth be told, I don’t know that I have actually forgiven him for that incident which, if I’m honest, is probably more at the root of my ambivalence than anything else.

When we talk with C on the phone, he sounds great. Things come out of his mouth that astound me. He seems healthy, well adjusted, and happy. But I don’t really trust any of it fully. It all feels artificial. We won’t know how he’s truly doing until he comes home, and even a visit won’t tell us much. Only when we are all back in our daily routine will we be able to tell if any of these newfound skills will actually stick, and I admit to not having a whole lot of faith in this process. Not really because of C, his treatment center, or Hubs and me. It’s more about the best predictor of the future being the past. Habits, dynamics, behaviors…they are all difficult to change.

So I wait. I continue to work on my sense of inner calm and peace no matter what is going on around me, because I know that’s really all I can do. Staying in the moment and all of that. I am a lot better at that particular skill than I was a year ago. Still, when someone is throwing things, body slamming closed doors, going for knives and pills, and screaming hateful things, it is fairly difficult to be very Zen. I am trying to let those incidents fade from my memory and recognize that a seven month break is pretty significant. A lot of change can happen in this time C is away.

Yet that voice in my head and heart continues. “What if?” I just keep trying to counter the negative answers with, “What if it’s great?” I am reminded of my own Nana, who had unrelenting faith in all of her children and grandchildren. Cousin X could have murdered someone and she would chalk it up to a phase that would pass. So I’m left wondering. What if C grows up, gains insight, recognizes his own role in life, and chooses to jump down on the right side of the fence? Now wouldn’t *that* be something?

November 11, 2018 at 4:17 pm 2 comments

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