Therapeutic Virtual Temper Tantrum for Grown-Ups.

Everything started out so well this morning.  Joel was bathed, pull-upped, dressed and happy.  He ate some breakfast and watched Sesame Street.   I was hopeful things would continue along those lines.  He handed me his socks and shoes which is his way of saying, “Hey, let’s go to school.”  I explained to him that it was Saturday and school doesn’t happen on Saturdays.  We did, however, need bar soap.  He let me/forced me to put his socks and shoes on and we headed for the door.  He held my hand as we walked to the truck.  He cooperated as we opened the back door.  He  began to struggle as I lifted him to put him in the car seat.  I explained to him that the only way he was going to go with me to the store was if he sat in his car seat and let me buckle him up.  He still refused and tried to bypass it and climb into the part of the back seat that was not corrupted by life-saving car seats.  To show him I was completely serious about this, I brought him back into the house.

He yelled at me.  He ripped off his socks and shoes and then pushed them into my hands so that I could put them back on.  I asked Maya to go take a picture of the car seat with his I-Pad and put his socks and shoes back on.  She came back in as I was finishing with that.  I proceeded to show him the picture of the car seat and said “Car Seat.  You have to ride in this if we are going to go.”

We went back outside to the truck, this time with Maya who got into the back seat on the other side of his car seat in case he fought me again.  This time he seemed to get it and we managed to buckle him in with very little resistence.  I thanked her for her help and she wished me luck as Joel and I left for our mini adventure to the store.

He didn’t make a peep on the way.  I parked and got him out of his seat all the while verbally reminding him that he would have to ride in it when we were finished shopping.  He held my hand into the store.  I tried to put him in the cart, but he was side-tracked by a stack of plastic kids’ chairs.  I decided to do what That Cynking Feeling does when she takes her little guy grocery shopping which is allowing him to push the cart.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well this went.  I stood behind him with my hands on top of his to keep a hand on him as well as steer him along.  We found the soap and I picked some out.  I handed it to him and asked him to put it into the cart which he did.  We headed back to the front of the store toward the check out which did not (thank goodness) have a huge line.  I directed him to put the soap on the counter which he did.  The lady working the register was pretty tickled by Joel’s “helpfulness.”  She asked if he would like to carry the soap or if I wanted to.  I said he could (try) to carry it.  I paid for the soap and thanked the lady.  She said goodbye to Joel who, of course, did not respond.  Instead, he tried to push the cart around.  We put it where it belonged and walked out the store to the truck.

Of course, I was worried that he would refuse the car seat, but he didn’t fight as I put him in and buckled him up.  He gave me little kiss before I shut the door and got into the driver’s seat.  I kept telling him what a good little helper he was and cheered him on.  I also told him we were heading straight home.  Looking back, I wish I had taken a picture of our house or something and shown him that was where we were going.

When we pulled up into the driveway he didn’t make a sound.  I got out and opened his door and realized he had removed his socks and shoes on the way home.  I got him out of his seat and carried him into the house.  Before I could even shut the door he was melting down.  Big time.

I’ve talked about Joel’s meltdowns in the past and about how they can be violent.  I used up every meltdown technique I have and he slowly calmed down.  And, then he turned into the world’s biggest trouble-maker ever.  First, I made him a baked potato for lunch just the way he likes it with lots of sour cream.  He ate most of it and then dumped the rest of it out on the floor.  He did the same with his cup of milk.  Just dumped it all out onto the floor.  I sternly told him that was not appropriate behavior and cleaned it up.  Then he grabbed a bag of cereal off the counter (that I stupidly forgot to put back in the pantry this morning) and tried to dump it all out on the floor.  I was beginning to notice signs of an upcoming meltdown.  Mine.

I often joke around on this blog or try to always show the positives in my life, but I will admit, I have some low points.  I am riddled with the stress of our life, of the meltdowns and the worry.  My sister called the other night while I was feeling mildly ill to my stomach.  (I didn’t know it at the time, but there was a bit of a stomach bug going around and I was just beginning to feel the effects of it).  I told her my stomach was probably affected by the stress I had been under this week.  She was surprised that I get stressed out because normally “you’re always so happy.”  I explained to her that (A.) not only can I be happy and stressed out simultaneously, but also (B.) that I have three children, one of whom has Autism, I’m a full-time student as is my husband, and we aren’t exactly on the income level of the Rockefellars, blah, blah, blah.  I think she got my point.

But, I also get her point.  It’s the same point Husband has made in the past.  I have a problem internalizing things and not talking about my feelings.  And, every now and then, I want to scream and pull out my hair and lie down on the floor and flail my arms and legs about.  But, I’m a grown up and that isn’t very becoming of grown ups.  So, I’m having a “virtual temper tantrum” right here on my blog.

And, because I’m all for “pity parties,” everyone is invited to join in.  Pick a spot on my virtual living room floor, grab a tuft of your hair and scream about all of the things that just piss you off.

Here goes:

Okay, I’m feeling a bit better.  I’m remembering the handy adages about “Taking it one day at a time.” and “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  Yada, yada, yada.

….gotta go, Joel is peeling paint off the kitchen drawers….

I might just actually succumb to a real temper tantrum in the very near future.


The Joys of Transitioning

Wooo, am I glad these last couple of weeks are over!  I have missed blogging, but even moreso, I have missed all of my blogging buddies.  As soon as I wrap up this post, I am going to visit all of your blogs and get caught up on your news.

So, where to begin….

I’m sitting here at my kitchen table looking over the last few days and it is all just a blur of school supplies, to-do lists that multiplied even as I marked things off, various emtional ups and downs, financial/budgetary meetings with Husband, and even a ten-year wedding anniversary thrown in for good measure.  I won’t bore you with all the minutiae as I’m sure it’s not so very different from what was going on in just about every other household across the country whether the children involved were on the spectrum or not.  Pertinent matters it is:

One of my most previous posts centered on how to go about Joel’s haircut.  I spent several days agonizing over an event that lasted only about 20 minutes.  I took into consideration all of the ideas suggested by my contributing readers.  (Thanks again, everyone!!)  I mentioned that I would probably procrastinate, and boy did I ever.  I waited until about 45 minutes before we were expected to attend the Meet the Teacher night.  Yeah, real smart, Shell.  Anyway, after all that consideration, it all boiled down to the four of us (Husband, Maya, Will and myself) working in tandem to keep Joel still while the cutting ensued.  As much as I hated to do it, we had to wrap him up in a blanket like a human burrito while I cut his hair.  It took both Husband and Maya to hold him still.  Will’s job was to hand him chocolate chips and popsickles while we worked.  It wasn’t very elegant, but hey, his hair is shorter.

The Meet the Teacher night went very smoothly.  He sat still while his new teacher walked through the curriculum and answered any questions.  We were all very pleasantly surprised last year at how well Joel fit into the routine of school; granted, he has an occupational therapist, speech pathologist, counselor and a full-time paraprofessional to get him through the day.  The fact that there is a well-defined routine is also a major plus.  Throw in a daily recess period and you’ve got one very happy little guy.

Joel started out last school year in the Pre-K classroom, but was moved up to the Kindergarten class due to a temporary scheduling conflict that occurred one week when his usual paraprofessional was absent for personal reasons.  He did so well in the Kindergarten class that they decided to transition him there for the rest of the school year.  That has worked out even more to his advantage this year as he and his Kindergarten teacher are already familiar with each other.  So, that was a bit of a weight off our minds.

Next, we went to Will’s Meet the Teacher thing at his school, which is within walking distance of Joel’s school.  Again, Joel was quiet and well-behaved and we were able to focus on Will and what was required of him for the year.  He met his teacher, found his desk, I signed papers, etc.

Next, it was time for Maya to check out her school, which was more of a walk than we were prepared to make, so we headed toward the car to go to her school.  Apparently, we did not communicate this clearly enough to Joel who went into instant meltdown mode as we put him into his car seat.  I can only imagine how it looked as we put this screaming child into the car.  People probably thought we were kidnapping the little guy.  This meltdown was pretty bad and I was afraid we weren’t going to be able to calm him so James drove us home.  He and I pulled a still-screaming and very red-faced little Joely out of the backseat and I took him directly out to the backyard.  I know that sounds crazy, but I had a feeling it would work and it did.  I let him just roam around and gather sticks and the few pine cones that are in our yard.  James wound up taking Maya and Will to her school to get her schedule and find her locker while I stayed home with Joel.  As you can see, that was a fun evening.

Yesterday was the kids’ first day of school.  I still haven’t quite understood the logic of starting the first day on a Friday, but that was how it was done.  I was wakened sometime after 5:00 a.m. by Maya who was nervous about her first day and wanted me to help fix her hair.  I slipped on my eye glasses and attempted to make something of her hair with at least one eye open.  When it was completed and she felt it was satisfactory, I went back to bed and slept another hour or so.  I said my goodbye and good luck to Maya who left for her first day of high school.  We got the boys ready.  Joel was especially helpful and even let me brush out his hair.  He was really excited after we dropped Will off and headed toward his school.  His new paraprofessional was waiting outside for him.  This was the really bittersweet moment.  You see, we absolutely loved the PP who worked with him last year and was hoping they would be together again this year, but I guess she only works with Pre-K kiddos.  His new PP has worked with Joel so she isn’t a complete stranger.  We handed her his supplies and he wore his little backpack.  We kissed him goodbye and watched as he walked into the building with her.  And, dammit, I felt that stupid little lump form in my throat and my eyes watered.  I bit my lip and got back into the car.  This was what I had been waiting all summer for, the kids to be back in school, and there I was missing them.  All three of them.  James and I went back home and got into our own cars after a kiss goodbye and went to our separate schools.  I didn’t get to see him again until almost midnight last night when he got off work.

I am happy to report that all three of the kids had a great first day of school.  Maya even enjoyed her first day of high school which seems a bit off to me considering how much I hated my high school experience.  Will managed to avoid trouble which was a relief.  The only flaw in Joel’s day was that he fell down on the playground and scraped his nose.  Everything else went great.  I’m feeling some optimism for the rest of the school year, but I think I’ll keep my fingers crossed just to be on the safe side.

Wordless Wednesday-ish: The Black Balloon

I was going to write this long review for this fantastic movie, but then I remembered I’m not a movie critic.  I think the trailer will speak for itself.

The Black Balloon.

Let me just say, this movie is the most accurate and heartfelt portrayal of Autism I have seen so far.  Or, maybe I should say this is what Autism looks like in my house.  (If you have Netflix, you can stream it from there.)

Lord of the Fries: Our Afternoon Adventure at the McDonald’s Indoor Playhouse

You know that scene in Lord of the Rings when the Fellowship is being formed at Elf Central and they are discussing how to destroy the ring and Boromir says with his hand on his forehead like he’s talking to morons, “One does not simply walk into Mordor and destroy the ring.” ? I felt a little like Boromir yesterday as our family was getting rounded up to make a shopping trip in Tulsa and was informed that Husband and older son, Will, had made plans for us all to go to McDonald’s to play on their indoor playground.  My first reaction was “Um, no, Joel will have a huge meltdown when we leave and it will be a huge disaster.”  When you have a child with Autism and sensory issues, one does not “just go” to McDonalds for a little recreational playtime.

I thought we were decided on the issue, but as our trip progressed I could see that Husband didn’t quite want to give up on the idea.  After all, Joel would have a great time while he was playing and he isn’t overwhelmed by strangers or loud sounds.  It is also a recommended therapy for proprioceptive input.  The only thing we had to worry about was an exit strategy.  So, I said, “What the hell?  Let’s give it a try.”

We finished our shopping trip and located a McDonalds that also had an indoor playground.  Before exiting the car, we took a moment to find some mental clarity and worked out a plan.  James would go to the line and order us some french fries and ice cream while Maya, Will and I would go straight to the playground area.  Maya and I changed Joel’s pull-up in the family bathroom, washed his hands, removed his shoes and set him free to roam.  He took to that thing like a pro.  He climbed and slid down the slide and had a blast.  The other children ran around him and he barely paid them any mind.  He just did his thing.

Will, on the other hand, struck up a bit of friendship with a few vey rowdy boys his own age, whose parents/guardians seemed to be nowhere in sight.  It turned into a bit of a Lord of the Flies scenario and at one point, I could have sworn I heard someone shout, “Kill the pig!” but that was probably just my sometimes-overactive imagination at work.  Will was quite the protective brother and at one point, Husband and I overheard this exchange between him and one of the other boys:

Will: Hey, be careful of my little brother.  He is Autistic.

Other Boy: Yeah,my little brother is a little like that, too.

Husband and I got a little smile out of that.  Meanwhile, Joel came out on a couple of occassions to inspect the world “outside”.  He did try to get a little friendly with another family who was eating.  I pulled him away before he could grab anything and apologized.  The mom just smiled and said it wasn’t a problem.  I brought him back to our table and he sat down with James and ate some french fries and watched a video on his IPad.  We decided that that was probably a good time to try leaving the playground and we geared ourselves up for a meltdown.

James picked Joel up and carried him out the door to the car.  Maya and I gathered up our things and Joel’s shoes and we met up with Husband at the car.  Joel not only got into the car seat without a hitch, he even helped James buckle him up and gave him a kiss before James closed the door and got into the driver’s seat.  We completely avoided a meltdown…

…until we got home.  We pulled into the driveway of our house, Joel realized we were home and our trip was over and he began to cry.  His crying became a meltdown.

Once inside, James and I tried using weighted items to calm him.  That didn’t work.  We ran him a bath and he slowly started to calm down.  Then, Husband had the most brilliant idea yet.  He pulled out a can of cheap shaving cream and sprayed some on the shower wall.  Joel immediately stopped crying and was fascinated.  He squooshed it in his hands and had a blast.  James squeezed some directly onto Joel’s palm and Joel made it float on the water.  After that, the meltdown was over.

So, I’ve come away from this with a little perspective.  Sometimes, you have to take chances no matter what the expected outcome may be.  You just may be very pleasantly surprised.  I’m expecting we will be making this a regular-ish activity for our family, especially while the temperatures are as extreme as they are now.  (Temperatures in the 100’s here in our neck of the plains!)  I will also work on trusting others when they have an idea that I may think is crazy.  And, last but not least, I will be making sure we are fully stocked up on cheap shaving cream!

changing plans

It was a goal of ours to get Joel potty trained this summer.  After all, he has had a few successful attempts at “elimination” both at home and even at school.  And, let’s not kid ourselves here, pull-ups aren’t exactly cheap.  By the way, has anyone else noticed that the older/bigger the child gets, the fewer the amount of pull-ups per package while the price stays the same?  Can anyone else say “rip-off?”  Which, incidently, is part of the reason why we have to purchase them at such a rapid rate, because Joel will, if not wearing his special pajamas, rip them off and run through the house like a naked hippy.  I’m not kidding, that boy loves his naked time!  It doesn’t matter if the pull-up is wet or dry or poopy (yep, that too!), if he gets it in his mind that at that moment he simply must be naked, that pull-up is coming off.  You know that quote from Forrest Gump about “life being like a box of chocoates because you neva know what you gonna get?”  Yeah, that’s life at our house only that “box of chocolates” is a pull-up that could either be dry and just needs to be put back on, wet and easily thrown away and replaced with a new one, or it could be your worst nightmare.  Usually, it is the first two and that is okay.  We can handle that.  But, the third one, the nightmare one, that is very, VERY unpleasant.  Needless to say, if Joel is not wearing his previously-mentioned special pajamas, we watch him like a group of hawks circling the cutest little nudist hippy bunny you’ve ever seen.

Like I said, potty training was the intended goal, but things don’t always go the way we want.  Since the summer break began, Joel has had an increasing amount of meltdowns.  We were kind of expecting that at least until he got used to the summer routine, but things haven’t really smoothed out.  So, we’ve become proactive.  I’ve been doing my research and I came across some great ideas for children with sensory processiong disorders and have started implementing some of them.  One of my favorites is giving him a bear hug.  Who doesn’t love the idea of Bear Hug Therapy?  I’ve tried it a couple of times in a pinch when I see him getting worked up and it has been effective.  Not only does he tend to calm down after a few minutes of squeezing, I get a hug out of the deal.  That sure beats getting pinched and/or kicked.

Another thing that worked really well is homemade playdough.  I got the recipe for it here.  To keep it from drying out between uses, I wrap it in a moist kitchen towl and store it in a cupboard Joel can’t reach.  When I think he needs it, I get it out and we play together.

I’m happy to say that with just those two activities, Joel had no meltdowns yesterday.  It was wonderful.  One could even call it bliss.  And, who knows, if things continue to go as smoothly as they did yesterday, we can get back to the orignal plan.

One can hope, right?

I’m the George W. Bush of Facebook

Remember when I said “mission accomplished” earlier.  Yeah, well, famous freaking last words.  Is it just me or is Facebook tricky?  It’s probably just me.  It’s not like I’m completely new to it, but for some reason, I’m struggling.  Here is a drawing I did just now documenting me at a low point this evening.

I would have had Maya draw this, but she’s in bed asleep.  On top of my failure on the interwebs, Joel was especially moody today.  There were meltdowns and crying jags and just general unhappiness.  I’m hoping tomorrow will turn out a little bit brighter.  I’m hopeful, if not completely optimistic.

friday afternoon meltdown

I could kind of tell by some of Joel’s behavior this afternoon that it was coming.  His overall energy level felt different.  His actions and movements were quickened, more abrupt, like he was agitated.

Then it happened.  I was in the kitchen finishing up the dishes and the door bell rang.  It was one of Will’s friends asking if he could come outside to play.  I stood there with the door cracked open just enough to communicate, but not enough to allow our dog, Jack, to run outside.  Joel, who was watching a favorite t.v. show, realized the door was open and he joined Jack at the door and proceeded to try to open it further and also make a run for it.  It was all I could do to apologize to the boy and shut the door in his face before both of these wild boys tried to bolt for it.  Joel was upset that he couldn’t leave and he ran to his room where he had accrued all of the chopsticks we own and played with them briefly before returning to his show.

I thought all was returning to order and went back to what I was doing when the neighbor boy, unsatisfied by our last exchange, returned to inquire as to whether or not Will could come out and play.  Will did not want to come out and play and the little boy tried to break my heart by informing me that he had no one to play with and that his mother would not let him come into the house at the moment because she was cleaning house and he would mess it up.  My mind sidetracked briefly as I considered my very untidy living room where Joel had created three separate piles of dvds, torn magazine pieces and, of course, his handful of chopsticks.  Before I could sympathize with the boy, Joel was back at the door and attempting to escape.  I quickly said, “Sorry, but I have to close the door, little boy” and tried to calm Joel who just wasn’t having it.

Meltdowns are different for different people.  For Joel, it is both scary and can turn violent.  He doesn’t scream, but he does make sounds loudly and oftentimes he cries.  His face is a mixture of anger and fear.  He kicks and pinches whoever is near by.  He sometimes throws himself into furniture or runs at one of us.  It is imperative that we adjust our voices to a quiet, soothing tone.  Yelling at him will not calm him down.  Neither will spanking him.  It is often a whole-family ordeal to calm him.  For a really bad meltdown, a nice bath does the trick and maybe offering something to eat or drink.   Then, one of us, usually me or his dad, will sit with him and hold him gently.  Sometimes he won’t let us hold him and he retreats to his bedroom where he might kick and bang on the walls until he eventually calms down.  Today, Maya and I worked together to calm him.  First, we turned on a favorite movie that has a lot of singing which he loves and I held him, as much as he would allow, and talked to him in a soothing voice.  He drank some water and slowly settled down.  Like I said, it was pretty mild.  It started and was over in about 20 minutes time.

I know that people who do not live with Autism may see his behavior and think it is a temper tantrum he is throwing, but they would be wrong in that assumption.  The world is a very frightening place for him and even the slightest change in his routine can shake up his entire world.  Because he cannot speak, he cannot vocalize his emotions and fears.  He shows these fears physically.  When he reaches out and pinches me, I do not take it personally, becuase it is not meant as a personal attack.  At that moment, Joel is afraid and he is trying to protect himself.  If I were to yell at him at that moment, it would only further terrify him.  My job at that moment is to help him realize he is in a safe place.

Right now, things are “back to normal,” or whatever that means in our house.  Order has been restored and all is right with the world.  I know there will be more meltdowns in the future, but I don’t know when they will occur or what will set them off.  We just have to read the signs and be prepared.