Spectrummy Mummy

Asperger's, Allergies, and Adventures Abroad

Posts Tagged ‘parenting

U is for Untruth

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I have two very different children. I mean that in the sense that they are different to each other, but also that they are, or can be, different. Atypical. Not the norm, whatever that is. And just to keep me a even higher on my toes (toe-walking!), sometimes they behave very typically, and that confuses me the most of all.

Lately in our house, we have been dealing with a lot of untruths. Cubby is a gifted story-teller, and has been from an early age. I sometimes question whether he can tell the difference between fact and fiction, so immersed is he in his alternate reality. He’ll even assure us that he is not lying as he states things that aren’t true…such as his assertion one evening this week that his school is teaching him to speak Norwegian.

Back when we were in the U.S. a couple of months ago, a lady at the park started speaking to me in Spanish, and after a couple of sentences revealed that I am not exactly a native speaker, she told me that Cubby had informed her that we came from Mexico (he has never been there) and he spoke English because his nanny (we’ve never had one) is from Australia (again, never been there).

I’m puzzled by all of this, because our real backstory is just as interesting as this one he chose to create. I struggled to find a purpose for him telling a complete stranger this misinformation. A friend suggested that it is just more interesting to him, and our reality, even one that spans the world, is mundane to him. He has been there, done that, and other locations are new to him, and therefore intrinsically more exciting.

Pudding is different. I used to believe the myth that autistic children don’t tell lies, but Pudding has disabused me of that, and many other ‘facts’ about autism over the years. She just doesn’t lie on the same scale as her brother. Her more recent untruths have been more pragmatic in nature. They have a function that is very clear to me. Unlike her brother, I understand why she lies. Often it is for the same mundane reasons of most children: she wants to avoid getting into trouble for something she knows she wasn’t supposed to do, or she wants to get something she wants.

But while easier to understand, and certainly easier to deal with than Cubby’s untruths, Pudding’s simple lies are the ones that scare me the most.

As you may know, Pudding has a life-threatening allergy to peanuts and tree nuts. We’ve known this since she was a baby, and her whole life we’ve taught her that she must always avoid these items, as well as many other foods that look safe, but may contain items that are very dangerous to her. She has been able to say from the age of three that she is allergic, and will sometimes volunteer this information about herself to others.

While she carries an epi-pen, and her school cafeteria doesn’t offer nuts, and her classroom is “nut-free” for snacks, we still rely on her to keep herself safe. An incredibly challenging thing for any young child, but more so in the case of one with the additional mix of autism and ADHD.

Imagine then, how scared I was at this story her aide recounted to me last week. It was snack time, and one of the other girls had cookies. A most covetable item at the best of times, but when compared to the healthy choices I’d sent with Pudding (carrots and cucumber sticks with rice cakes), the temptation had been too much.

Noticing Pudding’s gaze, the girl wanted to share. But what is more, before she did, she actually asked Pudding if she had any allergies.

And Pudding said no.

A lie that could, quite literally, kill her.

In this instance, there were no dire consequences. Her wonderful aide was right there, and intervened immediately. There were no nuts in the cookies (thank you, parents who obey nut-free rules), and we know to continue to reiterate the dangers of taking food we don’t know to be safe.

It is messy, this parenting thing. Allowing our kids to be themselves, develop naturally, and yet keep them safe is the hardest thing to do. And that, my friends, is no lie.

This post is part of my A-Z series. You can read the rest by clicking >here<.

 

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Written by Spectrummy Mummy

September 5, 2014 at 3:05 pm

Here and There

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Tuesday was a really hard day.  We haven’t had a break in a while, and I was itching to escape.  I booked a night away at the weekend, but it has been a relentless run of a couple of months without stopping, and one night away seems like too little, too late.

After another draining day at work, I collected the kids from school, and got ready to head back out- Tuesday evening was the back-to-school open evening for parents at Pudding’s school.  No time for dinner.

To say I didn’t feel like going out there would be understatement.  The school is a 45 minute drive at the best of times, and after dark in Johannesburg?  Not so much the best of times.  I try my best to avoid ever driving alone at night.  But Spectrummy Daddy was staying with the kids, and I felt like I couldn’t not go.

Traffic was even worse than usual.  I left at 5:10 to be there in plenty of time for a 6:30 start, but I soon realized it wasn’t going to be enough.  All in all, seven (7!) traffic lights were out on the busy route, and not one of them policed.  I turned on the radio only to hear that the alternative route by motorway was in the same condition.  As day turned to night, and gridlocked in traffic, I felt a growing sense of unease.  My frustrations darkened my mood further, and I let myself go…there.

There is where I imagine an easier life.  Where we live close to family and friends, and I can count on them to give us a break when we need one.  There is my kids going to a local school and growing up with the same community.  There is building a life for us, and living it- not having to do the same thing over, and over, in far away lands.  There is easy.  Here is hard.

My legs were cramping from riding the clutch for so long that I almost missed driving an automatic.  I did my best to avert my curious gaze from the casual prostitution happening at a particular traffic light where I idled for too long.  I wanted to call my husband and tell him I was done with here, with this whole Foreign Service life, but I know better than to use a Smartphone here while driving alone in the dark.

Finally, finally, at just after 7 pm, I arrived at the school.

The Director saw me first, and gave me a friendly greeting on first name terms.  Next I saw the mother of a child who was in Pudding’s class last year.  We hugged, and I started to feel better.  Next I got to check out her new classroom, where she’d left me a note asking to check out her “portit.”

I left her a note in return, then got to check out her new classroom, taking note of the many accommodations. As Ms. A, her new teacher had previously let me know- these supports are actually beneficial for all kids, and having them available to all ensured that Pudding isn’t singled out.  I felt all my tensions slip away.  My girl, she is right where she needs to be.

Next I got to meet Pudding’s art, music, and PE teachers.  I had to smile as the new teachers shifted from polite interest to excitement as they found out I was Pudding’s mother.  That kid really is a rock star, and I loved hearing all the anecdotes: such as Pudding turning on the music in class- the music teacher convinced it only happens when she talks for too long!  Yes, that absolutely sounds like her.

Though it was getting late after a long day, I couldn’t resist popping in to see Pudding’s kindergarten teacher, who was in the middle of reassuring a new parent that her child (who had some differences of their own, but not like Pudding’s) was in the right place.

I couldn’t agree more.

The drive home was just about the complete opposite- I practically flew.  What was I even thinking on the ride out there?  Of course this isn’t easy, but she is where she belongs, and when we move again, we’ll start up a whole new village.

Here or there, it doesn’t matter.  We are always right where we need to be.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 30, 2013 at 11:05 am

First Grade

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First Grade

 

First day of First Grade, complete with social story in her hand.  First day for Pudding, at least- the rest of her classmates started last Wednesday, but we were still quarantined after the operation.  Though I’m anxious to know how her day went, I know she is in good hands.  Her new teacher emailed me to say she’d not only read my last post, she’d pinned it to her wall.

“We are all different and we all learn differently.”

Amen to that.  I’m glad Pudding is back where she belongs.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

August 19, 2013 at 1:41 pm

Another Diagnosis

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Not my favourite ever Pudding picture.

Not my favourite ever Pudding picture.

Today I woke Pudding up.

I could count on one hand the number of times I could have used that sentence.  Sleep has always been a challenge in our house, but over the last few weeks, things have been worse than ever.  We’ve been starting the day at 3 am.  I don’t function so great at ridiculous O’Clock.

Living at altitude seems to be particularly challenging on the respiratory system, and after struggling night after night with her breathing, we finally determined the cause:  asthma.

It comes as no surprise to me.  I was diagnosed with asthma in infancy.  It runs in my family, and is strongly associated with the severe allergies that also plague Pudding.  Every time we’ve visited the doctor, every place we’ve ever lived, I’ve always had them check her lungs.  Until a few months ago, I’ve always been able to breathe a sigh of relief.  Then the doctor heard a wheeze, and it got worse from then on.

In the last few weeks she has been so disturbed by coughing that sleep has been even worse than usual.  I didn’t need a stethoscope to hear her wheezing, and even anti-biotics couldn’t clear up the persistent bronchitis.

So last week we got that initial asthma diagnosis, and along with it the medicines that would help her to breathe.  Every night has been a little better than the previous, and then finally last night we were down to just a couple of interruptions, and the longest sleep in quite some time.

We don’t know if this is a reaction to living here.  It could be the altitude, the incredibly dry winter, the many allergens specific to Southern Africa.  We probably won’t know until we move.  Or it could be that she was genetically pre-destined and this was going to happen sooner or later.  I could have used later, but at least we got to 6.

The good thing is that she is responding well to the medication, because there are few things scarier than watching your child gasp for air.  In fact, the medication is so effective, that she asks for it, and hasn’t even put up a fight about the strange-looking spacer that helps her breathe in her inhaler.

I don’t exactly want to add another disgnosis to Pudding’s collection, but at least with this one, I’m on familiar territory.  I know how it feels, I know how to make it better, and I know what to do.  While there may never be a cure, there are plenty of effective treatments available these days.  She is doing better every day and even getting the colour back in her cheeks.

The only trouble is, she resembles me in another way too.  This kid is furious at being woken up!  Maybe I’ll make that Cubby’s job from now on.  We have an awful lot of sleep to catch up on now that we’re both breathing easier.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

June 3, 2013 at 7:52 pm

The Autism Dream

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Last Day of KindergartenWork.  Work is busy.  Work is…American.  This is the American Dream.  You puts in hard efforts, and you gets big rewards.  We all buy that, right?

I remember when we first got Pudding’s autism diagnosis (actually, Asperger’s diagnosis, but I’ll come to that) how I thought that we could extend the American Dream to apply to this situation.  The Autism Dream.  I was a new immigrant to this unfamiliar land, you’ll forgive me.

If I worked hard enough, if we did enough therapies.  If we tried this therapy, or bought this app.  If we just put in enough efforts, we’d get the rewards we deserved.

And what would those results be?  TIme has changed my answer to that, like it has so many values I took as sacrosanct.  But back then, I hoped for results and improvements, measurable values that we can find in the world of work, but impossible to apply to my daughter.

Still, I had ambition, and I was prepared to graft.

Then yesterday came the results of our reevaluation, which were at once completely expected, and a shock that has left me reeling.  We need to do frequent reevaluations to apply to international schools and set up our therapeutic programs.  That whole free and appropriate education provided by law just doesn’t apply to us overseas.

And so now we find that the Asperger diagnosis, doesn’t apply to Pudding, and should never have been given to her.

“Her language skills did not continue to develop as expected.”

Rather, she meets the criteria for the new DSM-V Autism Spectrum Disorder, with the following additions:

– Language Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified

-Disorder of Written Expression

-Learning Disorder, Not Otherwise Specified

and maintaing her Motor Coordination Disorder and ADHD diagnoses.  Just words in stark black and white.

According to the American Dream, we would work hard and overcome these obstacles, not face more and more challenges as time goes on.  As happens every time I read one of these reports, I’m heartbroken at the difference between the way we view the same child.

Am I not working hard enough to make things better for her?

Hours after reading this report, I placed my girl on the bus for her last day of Kindergarten, and I saw the contrast I needed from the cold and clinical report.  She made an incredible achievement this year.  She has learned to read and write, advocate for herself, make consistent progress, and graduate from kindergarten.

She has gained the affections and support of her peers and teachers.  She has faced the challenge of a new environment, and excelled there.  She has earned her spot in a school, and a place in the community.  She has made me proud every single day.

And that is The Autism Dream for us.  It isn’t that we can work away her challenges, it is that she can grow and develop and match them.  On paper, she doesn’t look good.  In person, she is incredible.

I’d be lying if I said this was easy.  I’m crying as I type.  But I know there isn’t a report that could be written which could ever capture how amazing this child is.  I know, because I’ve written about her for years now, and I’ve barely scratched the surface of everything I could say about her.

The Autism Dream has never been about changing her to fit in, but revealing this world and our societal standards for the imperfections that they are.  She shows me truth, joy, and love.  She shows me what is truly importantl, and I never want to wake up from that dream.

 

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 31, 2013 at 3:50 pm

Letting Kids Be Kids

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You’ll have to forgive my mood in this post.  I have a particularly nasty chest infection.  It hurts when I move, laugh, talk, or- you know- breathe.  Pudding is also home ill with tonsillitis.  She complained about her head hurting at the weekend, and took an extraordinary (for her) five hour nap on Sunday, but since we visited the doctors and got her medicine, she seems back to herself.

With one exception.

Because she had a fever, we didn’t give her her usual medication for ADHD.  Sometimes Pudding is doing so well, I forget what a vital component medication has been for her.  Then we take a break, and I remember.

I remember Pudding before she was five, with a body and brain that seemed to be in overdrive.  And now, even though she is ill, it is just the same.  Her body can’t get the rest she needs to recover.  Her brain is seeking stimulation that she just can’t handle at the moment.  She needs to rest, and that is the one thing she can’t do.

I never wanted to put Pudding on medication.  I looked in vain for another way.  We tried a few ADHD treatments where we felt the side effects were worse than the results, and then made a last-ditch attempt before giving up.  Her particular chemistry found the right match, and the hyperactivity reduced considerably.  It isn’t perfect, she still struggles greatly with attention, but her engine isn’t in overdrive any more, and slowing down just a little has helped her in every possible way.

Honestly, I don’t know if the child who couldn’t sit for even 20 seconds would have been welcomed into a mainstream class.  I’m not sure if the child who skipped through books so quickly that every single one we owned was torn from its bindings would have ever slowed down enough to learn to read, or write.  I know that she finds it easier to get through her various therapies now.  I know that she is able to learn now.  And play.  And swim.  And do all the other things that kids can do.

She may have made this progress anyway, but seeing her these last couple of days makes me think it would have been slower, and harder.  The faster her wheels spin, the deeper she sinks into a rut.

I’m not saying that medication is for every child- far from it.  Stimulants were terrible for Pudding, and a spectrum child seems far more likely to have atypical side effects.  I still want to be the idealist mother who could find another way.  But I know we made the right choice for our kid.  I know that she is happier, feels better, when she can calm herself.

So what really ticks me off, is when I read yet another unscientific article about how ADHD (and sometimes ASD) is a construct of our times.  Sometimes people actually send me these articles, wanting to help, I suppose, but doing quite the opposite.  I can think of a dozen other ways to help other than telling me I’m doing it wrong.  Sometimes I read, sometimes I just delete.  They always read the same.  Parents and doctors don’t let kids be kids, and if we just let our children play outside, or kept them off candy/ computers/ TV, or gave them the right diet/ vitamin/ parental attention they would be fine.  Let kids be kids, and don’t turn them into zombies!

When the truth is- I just want to let my kid to be a kid, that is all I’ve ever wanted.  This is one of many ways I help her to do just that.  I wouldn’t even care about how exhausting her condition is for me, if it wasn’t even worse for her.  There is no magic pill, but if there is something that helps her, perhaps even reduces the risk of harm coming to her, I’m going to keep on doing it.

And if there is anyone who thinks Pudding’s ADHD or her autism aren’t for real….well, they’re more than welcome to come here and get a dose of reality.  Because much as it hurts at the moment to chase around a child who can’t keep herself out of harm, it hurts a whole lot more to be judged for doing it as well as I can.

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 21, 2013 at 12:39 pm

Independence Days

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Pudding is a child who was born knowing her own mind, and just waiting for her body to cooperate with its orders.  She has some real struggles with her motor coordination, but I know one thing about her- if she can do something, she will do it.  She was born independent.

Sometimes I have to persuade her that she needs help.  I have to wait patiently as she struggles until I’m allowed to assist.  If you’ve read anything I’ve written before, you know that patience is a work in progress for me.  Somehow we get by, and her fierce determination means she gets to be just as independent as she wants to be.

Cubby, on the other hand, has never been one for independence.  This kid loved being the baby, and was quite content to remain that way.  Whereas Pudding’s limitations are hurdles, Cubby’s are more like barriers.  He has always needed some persuasion to move forward.

But things are changing.  Earlier this year he decided he was ready for toilet-training, and that was that.  He is starting to dress himself, and get better about feeding himself. As all the skills he has been learning in occupational therapy start to come together, he is finding he actually has a use for them.

And then Pudding- always one to go it alone- has become more clingy.  She began refusing to go upstairs or downstairs without me.  Then asking me to go with her to the bathroom.  Other times she doesn’t need me at all.

Sunday was Mother’s Day in South Africa, but Cubby let me know that tough guys don’t do cuddles.  Later that morning it became evident that tough guys do still scream and pound on the bathroom door if their mummy needs a shower.

Both kids seem to be in an ongoing battle, and I suppose that is this thing we called childhood, mixed with a dash of disability.  And I’m in this ongoing battle between holding back and offering support.  I suppose that would be motherhood, mixed with a dash of disability.  Somehow we muddle through together.

Last night I tucked Cubby into bed in his new flannel sheets (we’re moving into winter here).  They were so soft and cuddly, he told me he didn’t need me any more!

And so, as we muddle through these Independence Days, I find I’m not needed in the same way, or as much as I’m used to.  I need to adjust too.  But on those days when I still need to be needed, I just sit at the computer and try to write a blog post.  

It works every time!

Written by Spectrummy Mummy

May 14, 2013 at 5:10 pm