Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Archive for May 2011

Social Smiles

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Pudding, 5 weeks

Yesterday I watched a friend enjoy the smiles of her infant- trying to determine if they were the first deliberate social smiles.  I remember once watching a documentary on human behavior which speculated that babies begin their “social smile” to caregivers at around 4 weeks old, because that is precisely the point at which a sleep-deprived parent needs something in return for taking care of the demands of a newborn.

Pudding met all her developmental milestones for the first two years of her life, and her first little smiles at one month were no exception.  Of course, I completely took those magical smiles for granted a the time.  I never knew how lucky we were to get them, nor how hard it might be to care for another without that basic reciprocal exchange.

We expect parenting to be about hard work and self-sacrifice at times, but the very fact that children are typically hard-wired to demonstrate emotional attachment in return indicates that we as humans find that difficult to do without reward.  So naturally, it gets harder to parent a child who is not hard-wired in this way, or desires interactions only intermittently, or whose sensory needs interfere with that normal process.  Behaviors seem more challenging, relentless even.  I wrote about my version of finding that difficult in my post on Friday.

Just like how the baby’s first smile comes in the nick of time, our community pool finally opened on Saturday.  Though we had other chores to do in the morning this weekend, we spent the afternoon at the pool.  The smile on her face told us Pudding was in heaven.  She was sated.  She got the input she needed, and peace was restored to our family.  As soon as she was in the water, she began interacting more with us, wanting to play games.  Back to being a happy family.  Not to mention that with Spectrummy Daddy home from work for three days, I got to take my shower every morning.

Of course, we are back to the normal routine today.  Pudding is back at school, we can’t go to the pool until late afternoon.  On Friday I’d emailed my friend complaining about how I had to give up another thing, and I was really running out of things to give up here.  But I was looking at it all wrong.  Though we can’t manage it all the time, saying yes to what Pudding wants makes all our lives easier.  Instead of giving up, I need to look at it as gaining something, like the new parent trading sleep for the baby’s smile.

I just have to find a way to make sure it doesn’t have to mean saying no to me all the time.  I tried taking a shower with both kids this morning, but I won’t be trying that again- Cubby felt crowded in there.  Tomorrow I’ll try the morning bath for the kids, and I’ll delay my shower.  I’m certain I’ll find a solution sooner or later.  Let’s hope that is enough to out a smile on all our faces.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 31, 2011 at 8:43 am

Shower

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The morning started out fine.  Pudding didn’t try to get in our bed until right before the alarm went off at 5.30.  I got to enjoy most of my cup of tea in bed, the two of them sitting peacefully together watching Sesame Street.  Pudding demanded pancakes for breakfast, and I agreed to make them.  So right up until 7, it was a perfect morning.  I had Pudding washed and dressed and ready for school.

Then I decided to take a shower.

I felt the warm tingle on my skin, heard the hum of the water hitting the tiles, closed my eyes and meditated on the simplest of life’s luxuries.  It is a good place to just be, there have been many times I’ve taken that 5 minutes and let my stress wash away down the drain.  But it comes at a price.  Either there is banging on the door, and screaming, or- worse- the sound of silence.  Sometimes I don’t know what scene will greet me as I emerge soaked.  One thing for sure, I haven’t taken a shower in peace for a very long time.  Today there was no pounding on the door.  I grabbed my robe and headed downstairs.

Before I even saw it, I knew it would be the pouring.  Pudding’s stim of all stims.  She loves to pour from one vessel to another.  It is the reason why we have long baths with lots of cups, why we play on the sand & water table for hours, why in bad weather we’ll pour water together at the table.  But it is never enough for her.  We’ve put child-proof handles on doors to stop her getting to the taps (faucets) for more water.  We have to swipe away every item that could become a pouring vessel before she gets the idea.  Our kitchen is a galley one, with no doors, so we put up gates on either end, and a lock on the fridge door.

You’d think that would be enough.

A gate was pushed down, and the fridge door wide open.  The tap was still running with water all over the kitchen floor.  Cubby was carrying a cup, and the minute he saw me he deliberately turned it upside-down.  Pudding was on the carpet in the dining room, trying to mop up a pink stain.  It was the very expensive liquid omega supplement we give the kids because they can’t eat fish, and is also gluten and dairy-free.  It is also in her hair, and her clothes.

I don’t even recognize my own voice as I start yelling.  It is low and deep.  Full of rage.  The kids are terrified of course.  I usher them upstairs.  I strip Pudding of her clothes and give her new ones.  I take her Abby doll, and tell her she can’t leave the room until I get back.  I go down to clean up as best I can.

When I return, she is still naked, no longer in her room, but at the basin in mine.  Water.  Again.

She begins to sob as soon as she sees me.  She attempts to apologize, but she is incoherent through her tears.  She knows she is wrong, but she just can’t help this impulsive, compulsive behaviour.  No social story, no punishment seems to work.  Positive reinforcement works until I’m not around.  I feel like I’ve tried everything, and I don’t know what else to do.

I just hold in more anger, waiting for my time to pour it out.  One thing is certain, I can no longer let it wash away in the shower.

I wrote this earlier this morning, but decided not to post it.  I felt better for writing it, and don’t need a reminder of this morning for posterity.  Then, the SPD Bloggger Network published this post of mine, and I was reminded of Pudding’s connection with water.  It makes her feel right, and I take that feeling for granted every day.  Instead, I welcome any sensory suggestions for Pudding’s water craving.  I think we’ll start again with a morning bath, at the very least.  As important as a shower is to me, water means everything to her.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 27, 2011 at 12:33 pm

Comic Relief

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I still feel guilty about not adequately preparing Pudding the last time we moved.  Oh, I know what you’ll say: how could you?  You didn’t know how!  Thank you, friend.  Now I do, and in some ways it is worse.  I’m more responsible this time around.  Somehow I have to make her ready for this move.  The problem is, I don’t know for certain that things won’t change.  We’re still putting her program together, and it looks increasingly likely that we can’t do many things until we’re over there.

The one thing we know for certain, that won’t suddenly change on us, is our housing.  We have been assigned a house, and requested photos so that I can show them to Pudding.  She is delighted with the photos.  She has already assigned everybody their bedrooms, though she does insist she’ll be sleeping in Cubby’s room.  It has a small swimming pool, and a nice garden, so she is very excited about it.  Too excited.  She looks at the photos daily on her iPad.  She asks to go there all the time.

Here is our problem.  Pudding still has a fuzzy sense of time.  We think she understands “now”.  She seems to appropriately use “later”.  She knows her days of the week and months of the year, but just as words, not concepts.  She knows she goes swimming on Sundays, for instance, but doesn’t know when Sunday is in relation to other days.  She tends to insist it is Sunday so she can get to go that day.

We don’t leave until the beginning of August.  While the remaining time is just a flash in the pan for we grown-ups who have things to do, it is an inconceivable amount of time to Pudding.  She wants to go to Africa (we dropped the South part for brevity’s sake) and she wants to go today.  When we tell her we aren’t going today, she just tries harder, convinced she will hit upon the right approach sooner or later.  After all, this works whenever she wants to go to the park.

When our friends were here, we were discussing what we might do for the day.  Pudding wanted to go to Africa, of course.  I explained for the umpteenth time that we weren’t, and she seemed to get it.  It was time to get going, so I asked her to go to the bathroom first.

“Potty for Africa!”  She grinned as she closed the bathroom door behind her.

The Potty for…technique was the reason we had to stop rewarding her for going to the bathroom during potty training.  The little wheeler-dealer would hold it until she extorted a cookie, or preferred treat every time.

We all laughed.  I was reminded of a telethon with an unconventional method for raising money for developing countries.  It sounds like a charity movement, I said.

Don’t worry, everybody here groaned too.  True comic relief.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 26, 2011 at 7:23 am

Wordless Wednesday 25 May 11

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Sensory Avoider becomes Sensory Seeker

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 25, 2011 at 12:56 pm

Hostess

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On Friday evening, I was surprised by a visit from my oldest friend and her boyfriend.  I was excited.

My husband had secretly flown them over from England using our air miles.  I was, of course, delighted to see them.

Spectrummy Daddy had sent photos of them to Pudding’s teacher to prepare her for the visit.  She didn’t handle their arrival too well, but she calmed down after a day or so.  Cubby enjoyed having the extra attention.  Another friend agreed to babysit on Saturday night, so we actually got to go out.  I was happy.

My house was in relative order, for my house, or so I thought until my friend walked in.  Only then did I see it through her eyes.  The juice-stained carpet, the crayon marks on the walls, the broken furniture, the child locks even on high cupboards, the safety gates, the door locks, the social stories, the therapy equipment everywhere.  They don’t have children, so the chaos of our home is the opposite of how they live.  I was embarrassed.

Even when I did find a minute to clean, it was futile.  Cubby was hell-bent on drawing on the walls, though I swore I’d removed every single crayon from his reach.  I was angry.

In contrast, Pudding retreated into herself even more than usual.  I was worried.

I stayed up as late as I could every night to chat and catch up with my friends.  I was tired.

I still had therapies to drive to, allergy-safe food to cook, and Pudding and Cubby to take care of.  I was exhausted.

I was completely unable to act like a hostess in the way I’d have liked to.  I’m doing nothing as well as I’d like to right now.  I was frustrated.

I wished for things to be different.  I felt guilty.

At many points over the course of the long weekend, I thought about how I couldn’t just have a weekend to enjoy the company of friends because of everything else.  I wondered why I couldn’t just be happy, just for a weekend.  Will a visit from friends always be this hard?  I was sad.

I was able to talk to my friend, and tell her in person how I was feeling.  I have a friendship of over three decades of being accepted and loved for myself, even if I’m not able to present my best self all the time.  I was content.

I dropped them at the airport this afternoon.  By tomorrow we’ll be back on our routine, like the visit never happened.  Back to our normal.

I wonder how long I’ll be playing hostess to every feeling that has risen to the surface.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 24, 2011 at 5:58 pm

Sibling Saplings (at The Squashed Bologna)

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This post originally appeared here as part of the Special Needs Sibling Saturdays series at The Squashed Bologna.

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Sibling Saplings – by Spectrummy Mummy

I was born and raised in the same place.  My roots grew deep into the soil.  I shared a childhood with my friends, and with our years of shared experiences, we remained friends as we became adults together.  My chosen sisters.

I wasn’t close to my brothers growing up, but planted side by side, as we’ve grown older, our branches have intertwined.  Though I live on a different continent, I feel that we’re probably closer now than ever.

It is different for Third Culture Kids like mine.  My little saplings are transplanted from one country to another every two or three years.  Their roots don’t get a chance to bury into the ground, but spread like vines across the world.

Many Foreign Service children find it tough to make friends, and instead rely on the closeness of the sibling relationship-friendship with the only person to understand and share their life.  It is not uncommon for such children to describe their brothers and sisters as best friends.  That is how I imagined things would be for Pudding and Cubby.

The seeds were planted two years ago, when Cubby was born, but the signs of autism were emerging in Pudding.  Pudding’s sheltered little world was disturbed by this chaotic, screaming, routine-breaking, parent-snatching, attention-stealing, unpredictable bundle of need.  From the very beginning, she was conflicted about his arrival in her life, resenting and pursuing him at once.

Sensory-seeking Pudding was too boisterous in her attentions, and the sensitive-avoider Cubby would scream whenever she came near.  Pudding would lash out at him, or withdraw into herself.  A relationship between the two of them seemed impossible.

I would try to come up with games or sensory play that they might share in together.  Inevitably, it led to fighting and tears.  Everybody felt frustrated and miserable, myself included.  Pretty pathetic for what was supposed to be fun for all.  So I gave up.

I’d concentrate on one child at a time.  Finding something else to occupy the other, or making the most of Cubby’s nap time, or the times that my husband was around so we could, at times, divide and enjoy our only children.  I let go of my expectations of the kind of siblings they’d be, and let them just be.

Now things are really starting to change.  Since Cubby turned two, the developmental gap between the two of them is closing.  They find each other funny, get into trouble together, blame each other for their mischief, and fight too, of course.

But mostly, they play; sometimes side-by-side, sometimes even together.  I didn’t need to teach them, they are figuring it out together, dare I say, like ordinary siblings.  Ordinary being a word I don’t tend to associate with either of them.

I think of Cubby as a sort of hybrid plant.  He has sensory processing differences, like his sister, but without the communication challenges.  He can already tell us with his words the things that bother him, which Pudding would only show through her behavior at this age.  The more I learn from and about one child, the more I can understand, and apply it to the other.

They are still very young, of course.  I don’t know what will happen when Cubby’s development surpasses that of his sister.  I don’t know if autism will create distance, or if moving will bring them closer.

All I do know is that they are experiencing the world together in a way that nobody else is.  They have a unique connection.  The shoots of a budding relationship have appeared.

It is a connection that grows organically, and is cultivated by the two of them alone.  When Cubby couldn’t bear to be touched by his tactile-loving sister, she was the one who covered him in stickers, and he let her.  Pudding struggled to do her yoga homework for occupational therapy, and Cubby was the one who motivated her.

She was the one he sought for a hug when he was distraught at his parents for a blood draw that went wrong.  I just have to leave them to it, which is the part I find difficult.

In amongst the thicket of squabbling and demands, they are flourishing.  They are still very young, and they have plenty of time to grow together.  My hope is that if I can just stop trying to propagate a relationship between them, a beautiful togetherness will blossom.  Perhaps it will be perennial.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 21, 2011 at 8:33 am

Posted in Sibling

Moving On (at Hopeful Parents)

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This post was originally published here at Hopeful Parents.

We are now 75 days from moving.  A very big move.  I’m starting to think about packing, but there is much to do before then.  We have too much stuff to pack, far too many things accumulated over the last almost two years.  Much of it we no longer have a use for, but is good enough to be reused or recycled.  I’ve spent much of this month dividing up our belongings this way, and my house is messier than ever.  I crave the piece of mind that an organized house would bring, but there is never going to be enough time for that.

For now, I’m thinking about what needs to be cleared out, and what I need to keep to take with us.

When we moved in, I had a freshly diagnosed on the autism spectrum 2 year-old, and a baby.  Most of our belongings had been shipped ahead to the Panama Canal, waiting for us in a life that wasn’t meant to be.  Friends came to our rescue with with loaned baby equipment and toddler toys.  We bought things too, unable to wait for our belongings and trying to establish a home, little realizing that finances were about to get so difficult.  Everything seemed justified at the time, each new toy or piece of therapeutic equipment seemed so vital, but really, it was just stuff.  Stuff that has been outgrown, or no longer serves its purpose.

There were other things I brought into the house too.  Things that aren’t bought, but cost us dearly.  Like fear, worry, anger, and guilt.  They carry too much weight.  I’d love to throw them out.  I know nobody else has any use for them either, and I certainly don’t need to take them on to the next phase in our lives.   I’m going to at least try, and say that I’m moving on.  Perhaps it will work.

If only we could jettison that extra baggage.  We’d be able to free up space for the things we need to take with us.

The good stuff.  Things I’ve learned along the way that have proved valuable, invaluable even.  Awareness, insight, and education.  I’d love to pass these items on.  I’d like to be able to hand them over to another family like us who could make good use of them.  Gently used, but still in very good condition.  Things that should never be scrapped.

But there are many more things I also need to pack up to take with us.  I can’t live without hope.  I wouldn’t be able to make the move without being able to laugh at myself.  I wouldn’t go anywhere without the understanding that has been two years in the making, but it still unfinished.

And then the big one: support.  It might come in the form of a friend’s email telling me she understands.  It could come from my husband’s arms after a challenging day.  Almost every day I’m fortunate to get a comment from someone telling me they live it too, propping me up when times are tough, and sharing the thousand little celebrations of this journey.  It can’t fit into a packing case, but it comes with me, and I can’t express how grateful I am for it.

These are the things that life me up so I’m ready to take off.

Whether your adventure takes place in your hometown, or the other side of the globe, I hope you only live it with the things you need.  Let me know if you find a way of clearing out the unwanted things for good.  I don’t want to keep accumulating junk.

I don’t need 75 days, and I don’t need to go anywhere.  I’m ready to move on right now.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 19, 2011 at 7:51 am