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Posts tagged ‘Asperger’s’

It’s a Wrap

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Well, that was fun, one of the best summers I’ve had in a long time. It ended for all intents and purposes when Mae returned to school today. She saw one of her classmates from last year as we were walking into the school building. She promptly ditched me and went about her business. I think she said bye, but I’m not sure.

Jay has two more weeks of camp, and I expect a similar ditching from him when his school opens after Labor Day. Over the summer, his attitude matured more than his body. He’s still a sweet kid over all but he developed a smart mouth somewhere along the way this summer.

Ahhh, it was a sweet summer. We rested, we took it easy. I took it easy. That’s unusual for me. I did it and I’m proud of myself. I read at home, not just on the train during my commute. I did only one day of yard work. The yard was plain and boring, and I was ok with that; fortunately, Hubby kept the grass at a decent level.

I baked for no reason or special occasion. I even took naps on a couple of days. I started the summer with a plan for the kids to have 20 minutes of study time per day. I wasn’t a stickler about it, so they had 20 minutes most days. And, most days, I didn’t check the work to see if it was correct. Bless their hearts, they didn’t complain much. They acted like studying during the summer was normal. Mae especially surprised me because her summer workbook was all math. I asked her to focus on fractions, multiplication, and division. She struggled most with fractions. Still, every time I suggested that she go to the multiplication or division sections of the book, she said she wanted to keep working on the fractions. That’s my plucky girl.

She and Jay enjoyed their camp at Jay’s school. Since it’s Mae’s old school, she got to see some of her old classmates. Jay is easy; if there are Legos available, he’ll be fine. I thought for sure Mae would be bored out of her mind. Nope. Day after day, she told me camp was fun. In fact, she didn’t have a meltdown until the last day. Some girls yelled at her because she bumped into one of them. She thought they were being mean to her and she said they had been mean to her before, for no reason. I could tell from some of her daily reports that she’s still learning how to pick up on the social cues and keep her distance from children who don’t like or accept her. Otherwise, it appears that she got along with her fellow campers ok.

The kids had swimming lessons, and Mae had Tae Kwon Do and Jay drum lessons. It was manageable, no overscheduling. We actually had several free Saturdays and Sundays, sometimes both in the same weekend. That was a beautiful, lovely, awesome thing.

One of the best parts of summer was that Mae had no hypersensitive reactions to bug bites. Like the doctor said, she outgrew the sensitivity (it appears). This was the first summer since she was about 3 years old that the mysterious brown spots and sores did not appear.

We all needed that relaxed break; last school year was grueling. I think I’m ready for 4th and 1st grades. Deep breath in . . . .

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Spread Thin

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I would have written this post days ago were it not for Ruzzle, that addictive word game that has become my go-to mental break.

Work was on fire the past two weeks. I gave away hours of personal and family time in the evenings and weekends to keep up with the demands. I went to bed exhausted and woke up groggy and still exhausted.

Mae went back to therapy and social skills training last week, after a break of over one year. Overall, the school year has been great compared to past years. This is still a critical time. She’s made some friends and she seems to have a lot of fun with them . . . until someone doesn’t want to play tag. Then, the crying begins and then the teasing about the crying begins. Last week, she decided to give an upper cut to some boy who wouldn’t stop mocking her crying. She told me that night that no one likes or wants her anymore because they won’t play tag with her.

It’s the self-degradation and the hitting that worry me. I’m afraid that her classmates will stop wanting to play with her at all because of how she reacts when they want to do something other than what she wants to do.

So, we’re continuing to work on how to play what others are playing or learn to move on and play with someone else, and how to handle disappointments and disagreements.

Before tonight’s appointment, Mae said, “Today is a perfect day to go to Dr. [M]. I have a bunch of stuff to talk about. Last time, she did most of the talking. This time, I think I should do most of the talking.” And talked, she did.

I was unsure that more one-on-one therapy would be beneficial, but I’m glad we went. I think it’s good in the long run that Mae has a practice of going to safe places and people when something is troubling her. Unfortunately, we have a scheduling issue. Our choices now are 5 pm or 8 pm appointments. So, we’ll have to postpone more sessions until the therapist has different openings or I can change my work schedule.

Mae thinks social skills training is fun because she gets to play with other kids. The group meets on Saturday mornings, so the scheduling is working for us right now. She is the only girl in the group, which sucks. She seems to have more trouble playing with girls, and I was hoping for some practice in that area.

In better news, Mae and I had an awesome time for her birthday in NYC. It was a fun-packed two days. We got to do everything on our list and we made a new list of things to do on the next trip. We’ve already made a photo book, which is a birthday tradition, for the trip. She asked to add the captions this time, which took some letting go on my part. I had to tell myself, “She’s nine. Let her tell her story in her own words (and edit it before ordering :))”.

I started a 4-week cake decorating class. I didn’t do too bad on my first cake. The kids recognized it right away as an Angry Bird, and that’s all the validation I need. I thought it was much better than the “my family” foursome of mini cakes I made for Mae’s birthday. I thought Jay should have been easily recognizable with his two missing teeth and Mohawk. Hubby said that his cake should have had hair although he doesn’t wear any in real life. Oh well, I’m learning.

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Fade to Black

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As 2012 fades to black, I think back on how blessed we have been this year and in previous years. Life hasn’t been perfect or stress-free. All-in-all, though, it’s been darn good.

I had a glorious time in SC with my immediate and extended families during our short winter vacation. We had a Christmas party on the Saturday before the holiday. The food was good, the games were fun, and spirits were high. One of the things I love most about my big (my mother is one of eleven), crazy family is that we manage to consistently have a genuinely good time, without the drama that is typically associated with big gatherings and without the help of alcohol (LOL).

Mae and Jay got to see all of their first cousins. They played well together, and I’m especially proud of Mae. I think she managed to avoid falling out with her big cousin, who is just 9 months older, even once. Usually, Mae whines or has a meltdown about not being able to play with her cousin’s things or something along those lines. No meltdowns at all on the trip. Growth is a beautiful thing, and she’s been doing plenty of it physically and otherwise.  Lately, she’s been asking questions on topics like periods and the N-word.  She’s becoming less and less of a “little girl,” a term she now detests.

Last week, Mae told me that she wonders if she should tell her friends that she has Asperger’s.  She said, “I don’t know what they’ll think of me.”  I told Mae that she can tell her friends if she feels comfortable, and that it’s more important to focus on what she wants her friends to understand about her and show them who she is without using a label.  I told her that the doctor said she’s barely on the spectrum, so Asperger’s may not be the best way to explain who she is.   Her question is an interesting question given recent media coverage of Asperger’s in relation to the Newtown tragedy.  Mae is aware of the tragedy because her school principal made an announcement the next school day.  She’s unaware of the media coverage and how some have attributed the shooter’s behavior to Asperger’s.  We’re not much of a news-watching household, and that’s a good thing.

After we returned home from SC, we buckled down to Mae’s homework.  She actually completed some of it while we were in SC, bless her heart, with little resistance. She has had so much homework over the past few weeks, more than I could have ever imagined for a 3rd grader.  We spent hours each day last Thursday through Sunday working on a book about the planets. There is a required 15-page minimum with limited use of illustrations, which Mae had to create herself. (Thank you, Microsoft, for Insert>Shapes.)

Last night, as Mae put the finishing touches on the book,  she told me that she enjoyed working on it, that she had looked forward to it.  She’s really had a good attitude about this homework business.  Hubby and I have been the ones grumbling for weeks.  I’ve been trying to think of a way to complain to the school, but I don’t know if it’s me or them that’s being unreasonable.  I wanted an accelerated and advanced curriculum, so maybe I should keep my mouth shut. What I didn’t know was that we’d be trading loads of personal time and family time, weekends and holidays included.

Mae worked so hard on her planets book and still needs to make progress on her science fair project, so much so that I can’t even bring myself to ask her to write thank-you notes for Christmas gifts.  That’s normally one of our projects over the winter break.  I may saddle Jay with writing for both of them, if I can get him to be still long enough. He has been a ball of energy, literally running in circles around the house, for no apparent reason.  He’ll go round and round the kitchen table.  He’s in constant motion, still at five and a half.  I don’t remember his sister being this way.

Yesterday, I surprised him when I told him that I like candy cereal too, but I don’t eat it.   He said, slowly, “That’s strange.”  Then, he added, “If you like something, you should just eat it.”  Oh, my dear boy, I have fillings in the double digits and a pouch to prove that I have done plenty of that.

I’ve got to work on my “just eat it” problem in 2013.  I’m not big on resolutions, but I do need to create a new exercise plan and cut back on sugar.  This year was not good for me in terms of healthy living.  I tried to eat healthy (though the green smoothie project didn’t work for me; I decided that eating should involve chewing.  I like chewing.) and exercise (I quit yoga after one session because one full hour of yoga is just too much).  I got off track, mostly due to exhaustion in the evenings from hard, long days at the job I started in March, and then curtailing weeknight gym visits to help with homework in the evenings.  On too many evenings, I ate salty or sweet snacks for dinner instead of a proper meal.

Despite exercising less and eating more than I should have, I’m ending 2012 with a pat on the back for myself.  I’ve already ordered our photo album for 2012, a year’s worth of pictures bound in a hard cover book.   It’s an annual project that I sometimes don’t get to until the spring.  And, I’ve ordered our Happy New Year photo cards to send to family and friends.  I think our 2012 cards went out in February last year.  I feel like I was more organized in 2012.  Also, I spent more time with the kids, making more of an effort to do fun stuff on the weekends whenever we could.  House and yardwork suffered, but I have no regrets about that.

So, I’m good.  We’re good.  2013 will be good.

Some Things Work

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Anticipating a tough morning on the first day of her assignment to a new homeroom, I took Mae to school today and walked her in. There in the office was the home room teacher that she’s been with since school started in August.

Mae went off with another student and Teacher and I talked. I told her that Mae is worried about having to change to a new homeroom.

Before I could explain why, she said, “I know. I know. We talked about it and we’re ready. Trust me, this is better for her academically. I’m going to spend time with her this morning and let her know that she can still come see me if she’s having a hard time or needs to talk.” This awesome teacher and the other 3rd grade teachers had discussed how to help Mae with the transition. What a relief!

I went on to tell her that Mae’s first concern was whether Gigi would be in her class. This awesome woman said, “No. We took that into consideration.” Yes! I said Mae’s second concern was whether her friend Danielle would be in the same class with her still. Teacher wasn’t sure, but thinks so. Mae will let me know tonight, I’m sure.

Teacher went on to say, “She’s going to be fine. I think this is going to work out well [as she lifted both hands with two crossed fingers in the air]. I’ll call you if I think it’s not working.”

When you have to leave your kids with other people, it’s such a comfort to work with people who listen and care.

Unmasked

A couple of weekends ago, Mae watched BrainPop movies on ADHD and autism as we were driving home from somewhere.  The short video on ADHD, or ADD, described the characteristics as inattention, impulsivity, and hyperactivity.  The narrator said that people with ADD can’t concentrate sometimes no matter how hard they try and get bored easily.  He described children who call out answers to questions out of turn and have trouble sitting still and difficulty interacting with others.  In the autism video, the narrator explained that someone with autism has a strong interest in a particular topic, difficulty communicating and relating to others, and problems interacting with family and friends.

As we came into the house, Mae asked me if she has ADD.  I said no.  Then, she asked if she has autism.  I said no.  Then, I remembered that the video talked about autism spectrum disorders, of which Asperger’s is considered one.  Though the video didn’t specifically mention Asperger’s, I realized that I should change my answer.

I began, “Wait, do you remember meeting Dr. Mike and taking a lot of tests?”  I told her that the outcome of the testing was that Dr. Mike said she has Asperger’s Syndrome.   Mae asked what that means.  I started with, “Sometimes, you’re impulsive” and explained that sometimes she speaks and acts without thinking first of the consequences or impact on others.  She recognized that and said, “Oh, yeah.”

I started to talk about a second characteristic (I don’t remember which) but she went off on a tangent and started describing one of her classmates that she thinks has ADD.

I realized this was an opportunity to talk about one of our cousins who has autism.  We only see Jaden once or twice a year, and I’d wondered when Mae would notice and ask why Jaden seems different from other teenagers she knows.  I wanted to help Mae connect what she show on the video with real life and develop more sensitivity.  I told her that I think Jaden is the only autistic person in our family, and I talked about Jaden’s fascination with spoons, her monotone way of speaking, and need for routine.  Mae, ever focused on herself, asked if she’s the only person in our family who has Asperger’s.  I said yes, I believe so.  Mae clapped and said “Yay!” with a big ol’ smile.

I’ve heard Mae mention Asperger’s only twice since that conversation.  Once to tell Jay that she has it, in a tone that sounded as if it were a badge or at least something that made her unique and special.  On the other occasion, I was reminding her to focus on her homework and she said, “It’s because I have Asperger’s.”  She didn’t press that point because I’m a stickler about homework.  She’s gonna get it done no matter what and she knows it.

It’s interesting that she recognized herself in the BrainPop videos.  Of course, we and her teachers have spoken to her many times about blurting out in class and staying focused.  I try to keep her to a routine, especially on school nights and she’s gotten help from a therapist, which the videos also discussed.  And, my goodness, she knows that she has trouble making friends, or at least the friends she wants to have.

I told Mae this morning that she will be moved to a new homeroom class when she returns to school this week.  The school sent home a form letter on Friday announcing that, based on test results, 3rd grade homeroom class makeup is being adjusted to better match the needs of students.  Mae fell into a funky mood right away.  She’s worried that she will be separated from the one friend that she’s made, and I understand.  Frankly, I’m worried about that too.  Mae has consistently been complaining about the general rudeness of the kids and requesting to go back to her old school.  On top of that, she continues to complain specifically about Gigi.  Mae said this morning that she has been trying to steer clear of Gigi because she continues to be mean and bossy.  Gigi, according to Mae, insists on sitting with her at lunch and trying to play with her.  Yet, Gigi says that she doesn’t like anything about Mae.  Two weeks ago, at aftercare, she gave Mae and another student the middle finger and said, “F*ck you.”  The aftercare director says that she called Gigi’s parents and sent a note home.

I’m so hoping this homeroom change doesn’t place Mae in the same class as Gigi.  I’ve been communicating with the school guidance counselor as well as the aftercare director about the girls’ interactions.  Both women have been very understanding of my concerns.  This past week, they both thought that things were mellowing out between the two girls.  I’m not sure what to think because Mae paints a different picture.  I do know for sure that it would be a setback for Mae if she is separated from the classmate who has become her friend and placed in the same environment with Gigi for several hours a day vs. just seeing her at lunch, recess, and aftercare.  One of those things would be bad.  Both?  I don’t even want to think about it hard.

School is closed tomorrow because of Hurricane Sandy.  When it reopens, my top priority is to see the class rosters.

Get Up, Stand Up

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Hubby and I had a good meeting last Wednesday with Mae’s four teachers and the school’s talented and gifted Coordinator and guidance counselor. I requested the meeting to get a better idea of how Mae has been adjusting. I’m still trying to determine what intervention(s) to pursue next and what’s available through the school system now that we’re public.

The meeting went well. As it turns out, the teachers have been pleasantly surprised that Mae is not the kid I described in my introductory email to them. I was expecting a much tougher transition than we’ve had. I’m happy that I was wrong. They counted among them 3-4 meltdowns, and two of those were on the same day and may have been one extended meltdown. The teachers have observed some of the same behaviors we’ve been working on — not picking up on social cues, difficulty working in a group, frustration and withdrawal when others don’t accept her ideas, trouble making friends. They offered some supports that they think may be helpful with social, transition, and organizational skills.

I wasn’t aware that she had such trouble with organizational skills at school (though her neuropsychological evaluation report said that she would). For example, even though she began the school year with a well-stocked pouch for pens, pencils, colored pencils, etc, and the pouch stays in the backpack that she carries from class to class, she’s caught the devil keeping up with the items. And, I check the pouch regularly to restock as needed. Students are actually graded on work habits, and can lose 20-25% of a daily work habit grade for forgetting to take crayons to math. One of my friends asked if the emphasis on organization creates too much pressure at this age. Right now, I think the teachers are being reasonable. The school’s stated goal is to make them “college and work ready,” even though it’s an elementary school (2nd through 5th graders). Working in human resources, I see how a lack of organizational skills can hamper career success. Once I receive the first grade report, I’ll know if I should change my attitude.

I brought up during the conversation that Mae has become more anxious about her relationship with one student in particular, Gigi, which may eventually lead to problems in class. Mae’s homeroom teacher offered to monitor them when she has recess duty and she said that she would suggest to Mae that they try peer mediation. She did just that later in the afternoon after our meeting. The guidance counselor agreed that peer mediation may be appropriate.

Mae has been talking about Gigi more and it seems that they are becoming less and less friends. Mae has said that she’s afraid not to do things that Gigi tells her because Gigi may gossip about her to other students who have been friendly and then those friends will stop liking her. There is one girl in particular that Mae admires and enjoys being with, and she’s afraid of loosing that budding friendship. I swear, this is the first time in her eight years that Mae has shown any inkling of being unwilling to stand up for herself.

I started reading Don Miguel Ruiz’s The Four Agreements to Mae last week, mostly because of the second agreement, ‘don’t take anything personally.’ I thought the concepts would help her understand the importance of protecting herself emotionally and build up the confidence to do so. On Wednesday night, we read agreement one, ‘be impeccable with your word.’ This requires using words for good, not evil.

When I picked Mae up from aftercare on Thursday, she asked me, with urgency, “What’s the second agreement?” I told her we’d read it later and asked why she needed to know.

Mae: “I told [Gigi] to be impeccable with her word.”
Me:  “Did you tell her what it means?”
Mae: “No, I told her to figure it out. We were about to switch classes.”

And, just like that, she was ready to give the kid the second agreement and she hadn’t even explained the first.

Ironically, I met Gigi and her dad that same day. Hubby was right about her — she reminds me too of my child!

I’d asked Mae to introduce me to Gigi, and I was glad the opportunity came.  I’d like to get to know this child who is the first person — big or small — I know of that Mae has been unable to stand up to and defend herself against. Mae had her own agenda; she walked over to Gigi.

Mae: “My mom wants to talk to you about being mean to me.”
Gigi: “I’m not mean to you.”
Mae: “Uh huh. You called my baby brother annoying and stupid.”
Gigi: “No, I didn’t.”

Gigi followed Mae back to me anyway, and I asked about her day. She seems friendly and outgoing. We walked down to where her dad was waiting for her. I introduced myself as Mae’s mom and told him that the girls ride the bus together to aftercare and sometimes do their homework together. He was friendly too. I asked him if he was aware of any of the “friendship drama” between Mae and Gigi. He looked confused and said no. I thought to myself, ‘I guess that’s Mom’s domain.’ Mae said to the dad, “She’s been mean to me. She said she’ll be my friend Monday through Thursday, but not Friday, and that’s just wrong. Wrong.” Without taking a breath, Mae then went off on a tangent about having swim lessons on Fridays and not liking having to swim in the deep end of the pool.

Gigi’s dad went with that line of conversation and asked questions about swim lessons. I would have liked to talk to him some more about the girls. However, since he made no attempt to explore what Mae and I meant about “drama” and “mean,” I decided that I would postpone that conversation until I have an opportunity to meet Gigi’s mom. Hopefully, she’s a reasonable person and open to having a candid talk about her kid. We chatted for several more minutes about swim and I don’t remember what else.

When it was time to go, Gigi began hugging on Mae and refusing to let her go. Gigi said she wanted to come home with us. She held Mae’s hand as we walked out of the building, and walked with us in the direction of our car instead of with her dad in the opposite direction. Finally, when I teased that she would have to help clean and cook if she came to our us, she gave Mae a last tight squeeze around the neck and kissed her on the cheek three times before she went off with her dad. It reminded me of the same clingy type behavior Mae had towards her friend K at her old school, towards whom Mae was often bossy and possessive. I wonder if Gigi displays that same sort of possessiveness and becomes “mean” if Mae tries to play with someone else or wants to play or do something different from what Gigi wants.

I think Mae and Gigi do have the potential to be friends. They need guidance on how, and with help from teachers and parents, maybe they can figure out ways to get along. Or, they may decide not to be friends at all and leave each other alone or just be homework partners in after care. It’s my mediation training, I’m sure, but I’m optimistic and hopeful.

On another friend-related note, Jay’s old pal that pushed him around last year didn’t return this year. Yay! It’s such a relief. He’s such a nice kid and was just unable to assert himself with that little dude. His kindergarten teacher has described him as “quiet and unassertive.” He’ll have reading and computer technology with the first grade class, and I am concerned that he may be too uncomfortable with the older kids to participate in class. I think he’s the only kindergartener reading at his level and so there is no kindergarten reading group in which he can be placed (and still be challenged). I’m sooo hoping that he will test into Mae’s school for second grade. This year, he’s playing soccer for the first time, and loving it. As he develops interest in doing more things outside of home and independent of his sister, I hope more assertiveness and leadership will come.

Jay has brought home his Good Day stick practically every day (a couple days, he forgot to take it back to school). Mae said to him last week, with wonder, not envy, “You’re such a good kid, better than I was in kindergarten.” She even told him that he’s cuter. When he began bringing home the stick, I thought she would make some comparison and feel bad about having taken so long (relatively) to earn the opportunity to bring home her Good Day stick in kindergarten. Instead, she’s been happy for him and encouraging. She still likes to help him with his reading and anything else where she sees a need. That’s a relief too. It reminds me that she’s a good kid too, in a different way from her brother.

Friendship Follies

Blah.  Fall is my least favorite time of year.  It takes away the hot weather and long days that I love so much.  I’m convinced that I’m happier and friendlier during warm months.    Hubby and the kids probably don’t notice any difference, but I think I’m a tad bit more snappy during this season.   I usually adjust by the end of November, which begins the Season of Good Eats, a reason to be cheery again.  Here’s to a teeny-tiny wish for another mild winter in the DC metro area.

Mae continues to work at friendships at her new school.   She has three classmates that she calls friends now, and the infamous not-your-friend-on-Friday Gigi is not one of them.  In fact, according to Mae, Gigi now hates her.  Something about her crying too much.  One minute Mae calls her bossy and mean, and the next she’s bothered that Gigi is mean to her.  I don’t know at what point, if any, Mae will say “forget it” and move on.  Ironically, she is a strong hanger-on when it comes to kids who are uninterested or less interested than she is in being her friend.  I can say a million times “play with others” and it’s like talking to a wall.  Of course, I only know one side of the story.  As most of Mae’s issues with Gigi originate in aftercare, I have a reminder set in my phone for tomorrow to call the aftercare director and ask what she is observing in how Mae and Gigi interact.

Yesterday, she had an opportunity to play with some old classmates, including her favorite, K, at a local festival.  She was sooo glad to see them and thoroughly enjoyed hanging out with them.    When she speaks of her former classmates now, she calls them her “true friends” and seems to have forgotten or at least forgiven the times she felt slighted, disliked or left out.  You would think it was all peaches and cream to hear her talk now.  In a way, that’s good.  When she asks if she can go back, I gently remind her without dwelling (I hope) that there were hard days at her old school and no matter where she goes, there will be people who will accept and like her for who she is, and some who will not.  She tells me that it wasn’t that bad.  Maybe it’s me, maybe my perception is off.

Sometimes, my mind gets ahead of me and I imagine a future where she’s that girl who falls hard for the guy who’s not into her, and people who truly love her will try to tell her so, and she’ll say we’re wrong, and she’ll follow the bad guy off a cliff or let him ruin her life with drugs, unwanted children, crime, HIV, and stuff like that.  There’ll be a Lifetime movie about it.

See, this is what fall does to me.

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