Monday, February 29, 2016

Using creative ways to help Nixon navigate social settings

   I can't speak for other parents of children with ASD, but in my own daily life with Nixon social situations are tough. He's not good at respecting personal space. He's a very affectionate kid but that's not always appropriate for school.

    Nixon has developed a friendship with another classmate. Nixon tells us that A is his " friends forever". It's a touching milestone because, until A, he just parallel played with classmates. With A, Nixon has learned to play WITH another child. They've even created a game to play together during recess.
   But with this new friendship comes issues of another kind. Nixon doesn't like sharing A with other classmates. He can sometimes become quite a pill when A plays with other children, even if Nixon is included in the group.
   Nixon's also been having trouble keeping his hands to himself in school.

   And that is where I come in with another creative way to help him navigate life.
   Nixon loves bubbles. I relied on this love to help explain personal space. I had him make a half-circle with his arms, from the side of his body to right out in front of his chest. I told him that was his "personal bubble". I went on to explain that everyone has a bubble around them. Sometime, a friend will invite into their bubble (for hugs/high-fives/kisses, etc.) and that's okay. But if you aren't invited into a friend's bubble and you go into it anyways, you'll pop that friend's bubble and your own. I asked Nixon, "How do you feel when the bubbles we blow outside pop?". Nixon said "it makes me very sad". I told him that's sometimes how friends feel when we invade their personal space.
    Every day before school I remind Nixon "don't be a bubble popper". He laughs and tells me he'll try his best. That's all I ever ask,

Sunday, February 7, 2016

"What's going on with my head? I can't stop thinking about..."

   Here we are, halfway through Nixon's school year. His second report card just came home Friday and, for the most part, he improved or stayed the same across the board. Except reading. He slipped in reading, going from at grade level, to below grade level. We'll be addressing that at home with more reading.

    As any parent knows, life with children is full of struggles. We as parents struggle and our children struggle. But parents of a child with special needs my struggles seem to be two-fold.
    I watch Nixon struggle with social interactions. I've seen him overwhelmed by something as small as a neighbor's dog approaching him. Nixon knows this dog, and in the past has pet and enjoyed this dog's affection, but still gets overwhelmed and freezes in place when the dog simply brushed his side. The issue isn't the dog, but rather the unexpected contact with the dog. It happened so fast, Nixon couldn't process the interaction and continue walking. It hurts to see him so overwhelmed because he thinks he's the problem, when in reality it's just an unfortunately timed series of events that led to his actions, or lack thereof. Thankfully most of our neighbors are kind and understanding of Nixon and dogs, and in situations like this they call their dogs over and Nixon unfreezes and goes into the house without further incidents. And he almost always gushes about how much the dog loves him and how much he loves the dog!

    Nixon struggles with focusing on a task. He'll ask to get on the computer or use his tablet, which with time limits he's allowed daily. The struggle comes when I ask him to wait, patiently, for a few minutes. Sometimes I'm in the middle of something and need to complete it first, other times I ask him to wait simply to work on his patience. (He struggles with it in school as well, and often times causes a disruption when he can't do his desired task right away.) He is improving. A few months ago, asking him to wait would have resulted in a full-on meltdown. Now, when asked to wait, he pouts mostly. Sometimes he will throw a fit but he goes to his room to calm down before it gets any worse.
    He also has a new phrase that he'll repeat endlessly while waiting. "I'm trying so hard but my brain just won't stop thinking about (computer time/tablet time)." He will grab his hair and pull his hair as he says this too. I try to always take time and acknowledge his effort when he vocalizes his mental discomfort.

    I can't end this post on a down note. Nixon has developed his first peer friendship! He's got his first BFF! He is so excited about this friendship and we are as well. Nixon even asked if he could get his BFF a Valentine's Day gift. We bought classroom gifts and Nixon will be able to address the gift bag for his friend, in his own handwriting, which seemed to appease him.
    This friendship is a huge milestone for Nixon. At his preschool and in Kindergarten, he simple played around other children. This year, he's actively playing WITH a child and sometimes even a group of classmates. Nixon and his bff even invented a Time Travel game of tag they play together at recess!

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Halloween....we survived!

   Halloween is a dicey holiday for Nixon. He wants so badly to be a part of it, but he also can get super overwhelmed by the festivities. Years past we've gone trick-or-treating with him only to have him start crying and screaming at people. He will want a costume with a mask then refuse to wear the mask at all.
*The first year this happened he was Iron Man. When he refused the mask, I bought a black face paint crayon and drew a Tony Stark-inspired goatee on Nixon. He loved it and we got a bunch of compliments on the unique way I chose to handle his mask aversion.*

    Nixon's also very rule-oriented. If he's told something is a rule, once he gets it it's a rule for him and everyone around him, most cases. Before we went out last night, he was reminded to say "trick or treat" and "thank you", only take one piece of candy (when presented a bowl as a lot of the people did this last year) and to be polite to others around him when waiting at houses.
    At one house this year, he took his one piece of candy and was then offered a bag of pretzels from another bowl, at the same house. Nixon paused and was visibly bothered, thinking he now needed to choose between the candy he just chose and the bag of pretzels. I could see he was getting upset by the choice he preserved he had to make, and I gently told him it was okay he could have both. He said  many "thank you"s as we left when he realized he didn't have to choose!
    There were quite a few teens out, and they were typical teens out on Halloween: loud, rambunctious and pushy. Nixon was quite nervous around the groups of teens, he'd grip my hand really hard and get very close to me, but he never yelled/cried or got upset. He coped with them in a way he hadn't been able to in the past.
    At one house, Nixon was leaving when he saw a toddler drop a couple pieces of candy from their bucket. Nixon picked them up and waited for the toddler to come down the steps. Nixon then said "Here you dropped these" and tried putting them back in the little boy's bucket. The child kept walking towards his mother, dropping another piece of candy, which Nixon again picked up. He got frustrated and said "MOM, he won't stop moving so I can't give them back" and put the candy in my hand. The child's mom was next to me and I explained that her child had dropped the candy from his bucket and my son wanted to return them to him. She gratefully took the candy back and said "thank you" to Nixon, who was then right as rain and ready to move on. It never crossed his mind to keep the dropped candies, because they weren't his. I could not have been more proud of him than I was at that moment. 

   We walked about 2 miles overall and he was a champ the entire time. The last half-mile he took the mask off. This Halloween was one I had envisioned when I was pregnant with him and dreaming of our future with him. It took us 6 years, but it finally happened and it was so worth the wait!

Sunday, October 25, 2015

The struggle planning a birthday party for a child on the spectrum...

   Nixon's birthday is less than a month away. He's well aware of how close his birthday is getting. He's been asking for over a week "Is my birthday tomorrow/the day after tomorrow, the day after that?" so I'm very aware of how excited he is about his birthday.
    He's been vocal about the type of party he wants (at a bounce house he went to a couple parties at last school year), he wants all his classmates there and he wants to sit in the inflatable throne. Really nothing else matters but that throne.
     But there's a part of me (and Mac) that worry we'll make these arrangements and no one will come. All the children in Nixon's class are on the spectrum or have other special needs that prevent them from functioning in a general education classroom. Nixon's told me of a child who can't handle the good morning song, so the class whispers it now to make it easier on this student. There haven't been classroom events beyond the general open house/beginning of school meeting, so I haven't gotten a chance to feel out any of the other parents, which means planning a birthday party including these children is beyond rough. Nixon's had meltdowns at this venue before and I'm not sure I can ask other parents to bring their child knowing other children may also react the same way.
    Mac and I made a unilateral decision tonight: We'll bring cupcakes to Nixon's class for his birthday and include goodie bags for each of the children in his class. No party at the venue.
    I'm looking to find an inflatable throne for him and I have a couple other ideas. We'll keep it small and simple for him but still fun.

    I hope we're making the best choice for him.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Learning to teach him how he learns, not how I know things to be.

   Raising a child on the Autism Spectrum is a challenge. Mac and I remind each other frequently that, although Nixon has autism, he does have a high-functioning form of it and we consider ourselves to be "lucky" in that aspect. But we still have struggles to help Nixon navigate in social settings and to help prepare him for the future and what it may hold for him.
    I thank the stars above for Nixon's affectionate nature, his overly verbal ways and even the way he tattles on himself. He makes me pause and look at the world from different angles and forces me to answer questions I'd rather he didn't ask. For every challenge our family faces because of Nixon's diagnosis, we grow and expand our world twice by overcoming those challenges together.
   Last week Nixon and I had a mommy-and-me date. We have one-on-one dates with Nixon on Mac's weekends off. Nixon gets to choose who he goes out with and the chosen parent tries to plan a fun date, not always easy given Nixon's got a pretty limited number of places he feels comfortable in on a normal day but add a weekend crowd and it's a tightrope act. I thought this would be a good way for Mac and I to each work on our relationship with Nixon and learning who he is while he learns who we are, outside of being just "Mom" and "Dad".
    We went to Target, to look at all the new Star Wars products, clothes and toys. Nixon was having a blast, until we walked by the game section. I know why stores always have demonstration games set up, but I hate that stores always have demo games set up! Nixon loves this lately, and if he were with Mac they'd probably have more fun together, but he was with me and I am not a video game person. Instead of forcing him to walk away, and knowing it had the potential to result in a full-on meltdown, I decided to explain the point of a date. I took Nixon to a quiet corner of the store, so I'd have his attention, and explained that even though he was only on a date with me this could be an experience he'd remember when he was older and ready to start dating someone he liked. (Of course, he says "I like you, Mommy") I go on to say, "dating is about sharing what you like with the person you like and also the person you like sharing what they like with you. It's a about compromise. If you pick dinner, maybe your date chooses the movie you see. And sometimes it means NOT doing what you like because maybe the person you're dating doesn't like that thing, like video games, and that's okay. You'll just learn to do those things you like when you're not on a date."
     After our talk, Nixon agreed to 3 minutes at the game demo station and then we'd leave the game area for good. I was expecting a little argument when his time was up, but instead, he put the controller down, grabbed my hand and told me it's time for our date.
      Nixon's been working very hard at earning Dojo points in his classroom, which he gets for different positive classroom behaviors. It's a classroom tool the teacher uses to track the children's behaviors throughout the day and on Friday they can earn rewards based on the total number of points earned for the week. 
      Nixon's magic number this week was 50 points, if he earned 50 points, he'd be able to change his Dojo avatar. Last week he earned 47, and wasn't upset or disappointed, instead he decided he was "going to work super hard and get ALL 50 POINTS this week!". On Thursday he went to school with 24 points for the week. He came home and told us "I need 4 points tomorrow! I have 46 Dojo points!". Friday comes, and of course on the day I want to check the app the most the whole server has a giant technical fart and I can't even sign in. I was able to see Nixon got his 4 points! 
      Turns out, Nixon earned his 4 points and then spent the rest of the day whining to avoid earning more points. In his very literal-thinking mind, he thought if he earned more than 50 points he'd lose his reward. I tried explaining to him that wasn't the case, but he insisted it was. I asked if he'd feel better if I messaged his teacher and double-checked what he was told about the Dojo rewards. He said that was okay and went to bed. I messaged his teacher, who replied this morning, and it was exactly as I thought. I thanked his teacher and reassured her I'd help Nixon understand the rewards (honestly, no one gets paid enough to spend an afternoon listening to Nixon whine on purpose!) in hopes to avoid the confusion in the future.
     Tonight I tried to explain it to Nixon. I tried explaining the word "minimum" but with no luck. So I changed my tactic. Nixon's understands things better when he has a point of reference. Instead of saying "minimum" I tried "at least", and related it to the rides at the fair he went on once. "In order to ride the ride, you had to be at least as tall as the arrow (and I held my hand out and point down to the top of my hand) on the sign. Did that mean if you were taller than the arrow you couldn't ride the ride?". Nixon thought about it and said "No! Because you went on the rides with me and you were above the sign!". I continued that "at least" simply meant he needed that number or more, in order to earn his reward, no exactly that number and only that number. 

     It's hard sometimes to help explain things to Nixon, especially because I can't always understand why he doesn't understand something. I've learned that if I ask simple questions, Nixon will guide me to what is bothering him and then I can help him solve the problem in a way he understands. He's forcing me to change the way I explain things because the way I know and understand things doesn't work for him. 
     The simple fact that I can help him understand a difficult concept using how he thinks, makes it easier for me to advocate for him and explain his behaviors to his teachers/doctors and other people who come into contact with him. I can also help explain methods that might both help Nixon and the other party reach a mutually beneficial way of accomplishing a task.  


Sunday, August 30, 2015

First week of First Grade is in the books!

  Nixon's first day of school was Monday. Last Monday, August 24th. I had done the shopping for supplies, gotten his new backpack, packed his lunch and we'd even had an open house at his new school. He was excited. I was unbelievably anxious. Nixon was also riding a bus this year, something he was super excited about.

   Monday morning came, far too early in my opinion but my coffee maker was preset and brewed when I got up, Nixon was dressed and waiting for breakfast when I opened my eyes. I got up 2 hours before his bus was coming to give us plenty of time to get ready, without feeling rushed. When his bus came, Mac and I walked him to it and said our goodbyes. I did not cry.
   No really, I did not cry! We were all ready to put last year and his former school behind us.

    Nixon's attending another public school but in a special classroom, specifically for children with special needs.

    The first day, after school, the classroom social worker called to say Nixon had a good day. He tried to escape the class to avoid the work, at first, but by the afternoon he was responding to the token reward system the classroom uses. He needed a few reminders to use his indoor voice but otherwise he did very well.

    The rest of the week went much the same. A couple more phone calls, one was regarding an incident with Nixon and another student in the cafeteria Nixon told me about and I wanted to double check if the classroom staff were aware of it, and the second was about Nixon's first trip to the nurse resulting in an ice pack and a quarter-sized bruise on his arm after a bit of roughhousing with a classmate. Both phone calls the social worker informed me Nixon is making wonderful progress, quickly adapting to the routine of the classroom and no longer attempting to avoid his work like he had the first day. He's quickly earning his reward tokens.

   I couldn't have been more relieved! Given the gut-dropping experiences from last year's school phone calls, being called and hearing his doing great is taking some adjusting.

    I'm also navigating another new territory as a parent: bullying and name calling, from the outside in.
    Nixon came home one day and said "there's a bad boy in my class" and proceeded to tell me, the boy was having what sounded like a meltdown after lunch time. Nixon had plenty of these last year, lunch was a constant sensory overload for him. Nixon told me "the mean boy stepped on me and then started to cry and yell".
    As calmly as I could, I reminded Nixon of his actions last year, from being in the cafeteria. I reminded Nixon of the times I had to go to school and help him calm himself because his teachers couldn't. I told him, "Nixon, you weren't being bad last year and your classmate wasn't bad or mean today. His brain just couldn't take anymore but he, maybe, didn't know how to ask for a break. He's not trying to hurt you on purpose, you were just kind of around when he hit his max limit. But he's not any more a bad or mean kid than you are or were last year. He, and you, just kind of sometimes need breaks but don't always get the warnings from your body before your brain needs a break. Just like at home, Dad and I give you space to recover when you've had enough, make sure you respect your classmates space and let them recover, okay?"
     Friday, Nixon says the same boy from earlier in the week, was called a "crybaby" in class by another student. I asked Nixon if he called him that. Nixon said "No, but I did laugh because it's a funny word, he was crying but he's too big to be a baby" (he's such a literal thinker!). We had another talk and I asked him to be kind to all his classmates and to stand up for the ones who need a voice, like the one being called names, because everyone needs a friend.

    Overall, his first week of school was pretty darned great! No referrals, no letters home, no trips to the principals office. I call it a success!  

My baby waiting for his bus on the first day of school!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

With coping skills and techniques come some amazing moments!

    Life keeps moving forward, no matter how many times I reach out and try to find the pause button. Nixon's had 3 meet and play sessions with his ABA therapist. They're building a relationship that will expand to more demand-based play. For now they play games and sports during the sessions. Nixon gets frustrated but his therapist works with him and Nixon responds.
    One of their session days, our community was getting the weekly lawn care done. It wasn't safe for them to be playing in the yard while the yard guys were mowing, especially because there's always stuff in the grass getting tossed up by the mowers, so I suggested bubbles on our balcony for a bit. However, again lawn guys mowing, I offered Nixon his headphones to help cancel out some of the noise from the lawn mowers.
    This is what that looked like:

    Nixon also had to go to the dentist last week. That was...not fun. His dentist is amazing! She was wonderful with him, very patient and understanding of his autism diagnosis. I brought my ever-growing bag of tricks, which now also includes a weighted lap pillow, which in a former life was a pillow pet. (One night, a zipper, polybeads and my sewing kit made it all happen)

     The end result of the trip was a cleaning, some fluoride, and learning that all future treatments beyond cleanings will be done in a hospital setting under sedation. That is, Nixon will be sedated, not me, though after last week's visit I wouldn't be against a mild sedative for myself.
    Unfortunately, Nixon also had an abscess that had drained itself naturally, but his dentist wanted to treat him with a round of antibiotics to be safe. This is for a couple reason but largely because Nixon never mentioned any pain in his mouth at all, and having had an abscess once myself I'm amazed and shocked by that. He registers pain differently which makes treating some ailments harder, like an abscess. He was given amoxacillin in addition to a second, back-up only fill if needed, prescription. Why? Well, I have an allergy to both penicillin and amoxacillin, and my dad has an allergy to penicillin. Nixon's never been on either (never needed one before) and the doctor was understanding of my concerns.
    Yep, he had a reaction to the amoxacillin. It started with a stomach ache and the next dose he had a couple blisters form around his mouth, but it took him being on the medication for almost 3 days before the reactions started.
    Thank gods for that second prescription!


     Mac was off this weekend and thanks to a good friend who adores Nixon, he and I had a date for the first time in months. And it was lovely!
     Today we had a family date. We went to the Brick Fair in Virginia, not a Lego sponsored event, but lots of Legos there! 
     Nixon was good, he had a few issues mostly waiting in lines or trying to see displays when people wouldn't move. He did get upset when we were asking him too many questions (we were trying to give him options for items to purchase for him, but it was too much for him). He always managed to stop himself before he got too upset. He'd refocus on something else and deescalate. And in the end, he decided when he was ready to go and asked if we could leave now. 
     We left. 
Trying to amuse him while waiting to get a clear spot to view the moving setups.

Trying so hard to keep it together while waiting to go into the bounce house

Nixon bolted from me when he saw this! 

Sliding a block down the ramp in the play area

Good night kisses for my boy, BeBe in hand and fingers in mouth.