Adam is 13 today. I now have 3 teenagers. I have to continually repeat this to myself for I often wonder how the heck this happened so quickly. But then again, the time that it took to get here seems like an eternity.
In some ways, having teen aged children seems like an ‘old hat’. I’ve enjoyed every minute of preparing for homecoming dances, prom, and first dates. I’ve survived driver’s education, passing the driver’s test and taking the car out for the first time. I have even survived a first ‘accident’. I’m muddling through puberty and so far, am fairly unscathed. College applications are just around the corner , but I’m feeling confident, watching my daughter navigate the process, following her lead, while standing on the sidelines giving her my full support. So far, so good.
Yesterday, I asked Adam what he wanted to do on his birthday. He already told me weeks ago that he wanted to go to ‘The Friday’s Restaurant’ for dinner, but I always like to take my kids to do something special, for I truly believe that an experience, rather than something material will be remembered long after their birthday is over. This past year, we took Lacey to a concert. Alex just saw Hamilton. And Adam, this year has chosen…the car wash.
I am not surprised, for in some ways, he is a pretty simple kid. He goes to bed by 8:30 pm. On most days, he wakes up by 6:30 am. He keeps his room in order; although, the ‘order’ may only make sense to him. He can always find his things, for he puts them in the same spot every time. His Lego helicopters are placed and labeled in various places in his room. He even has a certain color that he wears for each day of the week.
Not too long ago, I was going through a mountain of pictures, which at one time were intended for Pintrest worthy scrapbooks. It was on this day, that I realized, once an for all, that this will never happen. I could barely narrow down the exact year most of these photos were taken. Much to my amusement, however, it occurred to me that I could narrow down the exact day that the picture was taken based on the color of shirt that Adam was wearing. I was suddenly grateful for his extreme rigidity; for most of the time, I roll my eyes.
And as simple as he can be, he can be equally as complicated. I look back on the years of medical specialists, infections, surgeries, sleepless nights, and battles with the education system. I reflect on the amount of experts that gave us their ‘professional’ opinion ‘preparing’ us for the things that he would never do. And I look back on the immeasurable amount of time that we invested into finding the appropriate resources to prove all that we knew that Adam was capable of.
I always find it interesting when my friends lament on how they wish their kids were young again. How they miss the ‘good ‘ole days’. I sometimes feel guilty that I don’t feel the same. I don’t miss the days when Adam was younger, for at times, it felt like we were living in hell. I would not, however, change my life for anything. I would not change my son for anything, for Adam has taught me more about patience, persistence, faith, and resilience, than anyone else ever could.
But today , my ‘hat’ feels a bit unfamiliar, it feels a bit different. I am about to prepare for homecoming dances, prom from a different vantage point…autism. Will there be a first date? Only time will tell.
And then there is driver’s education. Adam’s plan of getting his permit when he is 15 and getting his driver’s license when he is 16 may follow a slightly different time line. But I have full confidence that he will be behind that wheel some day. The one thing that I do know for sure… His grand plan of getting a blue Corolla for his 16th birthday, is not going to happen.
Then there’s puberty. We are only on the outskirts of that phase. If I could find a way catapult right past the next 2 years, I would.
And I’m excited to see what college brings. I continue to hear about phenomenal post secondary programs for individuals with autism.
But for now, I will focus on day one of the teen years with autism. I’m fairly certain that I’m in for quite the ride!
They say not to judge a book by it’s cover. Maybe that’s why it took so long to diagnose Adam’s autism. Adam’s cover didn’t look like autism. Maybe if he regressed in his language and skills. Maybe if he had stimmed more. Maybe if he lined up his toys, spun in circles, got fixated on ceiling fans, and had displayed all of the other characteristics of Autism, that the books describe, he would have been diagnosed sooner. Is that good or bad? I really don’t know.
Adam’s cover also didn’t tell us that he was having hundreds, possibly thousands of seizures for the first 6 years of his life. Instead, we chased countless sinus infections, ear infections, removed his tonsils, adenoids, and reshaped his sinus cavity; all in the name of keeping him healthy. Maybe if his cover had told us that all of the infections were causing countless mini seizures. It took a 40 minute seiure to finally get a diagnosis. Could we have retrained his brain earlier? Would his ability to process and use language still not be so far behind? Would his language skills be more advanced? Who knows.
They say that when you’ve seen one child with autism, you’ve seen one child with autism. Adam continues to affirm this statement with every day, month and year that goes by. He is a totally different kid than he was 6 years ago when he was first diagnosed. Honestly, he’s a totally different kid than he was a mere 6 months ago. Adam is just one child with autism.
Adam’s recent IEP meeting got me thinking. With every new school year, comes a new team. A new set of teachers who have the task of getting to know Adam. He spends many weeks in the beginning, proving his strengths. Proving why we fought so hard to move him into the mainstream. For at the beginning of every year, I know that his cover is judged ever so slightly, by one word – Autism. Our cover as parents is continually judged, for his new teachers don’t have the slightest idea of the journey we have traveled the past 6 years.
Adam’s cover was judged back in kindergarten, as we discussed his first grade placement. The team ‘agreed’ that sending him to a different school in our district, and placing him in a self contained classroom was the best choice for him. My gut knows that this decision was based on one word, and one word only….Autism.
I objected. I questioned. But I was dismissed. I was assured that he would be ‘ok’. I replay that meeting in my mind over and over. And I wish over and over that my older and wiser self could go back and change that decision. If I could do it all over again, knowing what I know now, I would not have let them place him in a self contained classroom. For during those 6 months of 1st grade, we all lived in mostly misery and we most definitely learned.
Maybe then, 1st grade would have been a much better experience for all of us. Maybe then, he wouldn’t have displayed so many behaviors at school. He wouldn’t have cried for what seemed like every waking minute. He wouldn’t have bitten his teachers. He wouldn’t have hit his friends. He wouldn’t have been sent home from school 4 times in one month. I guess, though, I would have never known that this was a violation and I would have never developed a true understanding of his rights.
Maybe then, after that 4th time he was sent home, I wouldn’t have been standing in Target, 10 days before Christmas with tears streaming down my face, truly unaware of how I got there; holding his little hand. And maybe then, my cover wouldn’t have been judged, as an elderly woman asked me if she could help me buy my son some Christmas presents.
I insisted that these behaviors were so unusual. That I knew the reason he was acting out was because Adam was so unhappy in this classroom. He repeatedly told me, in his own way, that he wanted to be back in the same grade school as his brother and sister. These behaviors were the result of his frustration for he was not able to truly verbally express how he was feeling. He was perceived as a ‘brat’. And my parenting skills and judgement were questioned not only by educators, but friends and family.
Once again, his cover was judged and so was mine.
As I sat in my chair at the conference table, a week ago, I listened to each team member give their reports and updates. I listened to how his work, tests and quizzes in these general education classes are only occasionally modified. I listened to how he is beginning to recognize social cues, how he is consistently saying hello and goodbye to teachers and students in class and in the hallway. I realized, by the slight look of surprise on some of the team members faces, his cover continues to be judged, by one word – Autism.
We discussed Adam’s interests. I described how he now has a cell phone. How he has been learning in private speech therapy, to text. How he still has an interest in trains, but a strong interest in helicopters, especially military helicopters, is starting to take over. Of course, I talked about he continues to obsess about my butt. I talked about how he loves to watch YouTube videos of kids getting into trouble. And I described how I walked into Adam’s room a month ago to find him watching a video of girls clad in colorful bikini’s skydiving out of helicopters. I’m fairly sure that the helicopter was not the only attraction. After all he will be 13 years old in March.
Once again, the surprise, that book…that damn book.
Yesterday, I ran into an acquaintance, whom I haven’t seen in a while. We exchanged polite conversation for a few moments and then her expression changed. Her voice became quiet and serious and she asked:
‘How’s your son?’
I immediately responded:
A look of surprise appeared on her face. Then a look of seriousness took over. She says:
‘No, really, how is he? Do you think he’ll go to college? Live on his own?’
So here’s the thing. There are people who hear the word ‘autism’ and think that it’s a death sentence. I’m not going to change this ignorance. I found her question to be just plain amusing.
Adam learned a new word in science last year: Hypothesis. He loves to ask anyone he encounters the meaning of the word. And before they can give him an answer, he excitedly responds:
‘It’s your best guess.’
For him, the question never gets old. For the rest of us, it’s a completely different story.
Another one of Adam’s favorite things to do is to make up silly words. Currently, Adam’s new favorite topic is Lacey’s thighs. He loves to talk about how big they are at the top and how ‘skinny’ they are at the bottom. He also loves to present her with the question:
Lacey, what’s your ‘thighpothesis’?
Stop it Adam’…(I’m always amazed by her endless amount of patience for him)
As always, he ignores her and responds:
‘It’s Adam’s ‘best guess’ on how to make them bigger’
And with that, he starts ticking different foods off his fingers that could possibly make her thighs bigger.
Odd? Yes. A bit creepy? Yep. Is he a typical annoying little brother? Absolutely.
The more that I think about it, Adam’s obsession with the word, hypothesis and it’s silly variants is a bit interesting. In the beginning, his doctors provided us with their ‘best guess’ of his future based on their past experiences with patients with autism. As parents, we base our decisions by putting forth our ‘best guess’ as to what will be right. We test our guess, and make adjustments accordingly. When we all get down to it, ALL of us make daily hypotheses. None of us know for sure what the future, for our kids, holds.
The fact is, Adam is doing great. We took a leap of faith and moved him to a general education classroom with an assistant 6 years ago. There were no guarantees. We acted purely on our gut instinct. Over the years, we tested, we’ve adjusted. Adam has grown away from his behavior plan, his reward system, his regularly scheduled breaks. Trips to the ‘cozy corner’ to read a book, draw pictures of Metra trains, and run an ‘errand’ for a teacher are a thing of the past. His wonderful assistant is stepping away more and more and watching him develop more independence both academically and socially. (I’m sorry, Mrs. H. that he continues to toss his P.E. uniform to you after class. We’ll keep working on that!) Adam is participating in class, looking to his peers for direction and asking for help. He participates in his middle school theater productions, both as a cast member and new this fall, as part of the tech crew. He is a member of the middle school concert choir. The ‘naysayers’ in Adam’s early years stressed to not get our hopes up. That he would be met with many challenges. I continue to try and wrap my brain around this message. I mean, who’s life isn’t met with challenges, diversity, heartbreak and victories? As Robin Roberts says, ‘Everybody’s got something’ .
My biggest concern with Adam is his ability to communicate. It is by far his biggest challenge. Communication is his ‘something’. Having a conversation with him can, at times, be next to impossible; unless, you are dying to know about every intricate detail of every Chicago Metra train, every stop on the Chicago Metra Train line. He can recite the stops on any of the 9+ lines, both forward and backward…without looking at the map. He would make an excellent tour guide if you ever want to take in the sites of The Windy City. We recently got him a cell phone in hope that it would spark more of an interest to communicate with family and friends. Currently, the only value that he sees in the phone is the ability to watch Metra Train videos on YouTube. For the moment…epic failure! In the end, all we can do, is continue to work on it, continue to present him with situations in which he has the chance to independently communicate. My hypothesis is that by practicing, his communication skills will get stronger.
So to answer the question that was presented to me yesterday. Yes, my hypothesis is…Adam will go to college, live on his own. This is what he talks about. This is what he wants. Will his experience look like that of his brother and sister? Maybe. Maybe Not. Quite frankly, planning that far ahead is just plain exhausting. More importantly, I need to get to the store and make my ‘best guess’ if dinner will be a hit tonight!
P.S. I’ll admit that I’m secretly glad that Adam is currently obsessed with making a ‘thighpothesis’ instead of a ‘buttpothesis’! Sorry Lacey!
It’s been a while since I’ve posted; partly because it’s been quite a summer with my youngest and very colorful child. This is an entirely different topic, and once school is FINALLY back in session on August 25th. I promise I’ll fill you in.
I walked into his room this afternoon to discover this:
Head to Binny’s and stockpile enough wine for the next 7 1/2 years.
By the year 2023, I’m either going to end up where I work in cardiac rehab, as a patient… Or some other form of rehab.
Stay tuned my friends…
All of Adam’s 12 years have been plagued with one medical issue after another. I have spent countless hours with him, in and out of doctor’s offices. In fact, I am fairly certain that I have taken him to every ‘ist’ known to the medical field. The poor kid has been poked, prodded, cut, stitched, scoped, you name it. All in search of a diagnosis which continues to evolve. This past week was filled with yearly follow up visits to his current doctors and specialists. In addition, we had an appointment to see a new ‘ist’. It’s truly been a ‘fake my own death, move to Mexico, and live off tacos and tequila kinda week.
As we were making our pilgrimage to see a new doctor for a recent stomach issue that Adam has been experiencing, I remarked to Chris, rather crabbily, that I really just wanted to scream and yell at the top of my lungs, throw things, punch things…maybe even punch a few people. I wanted to shout every curse word that I could think of and in every combination that I could create. Adam has been vomiting out of the blue a number of times over the past 6 weeks; with no rhyme or reason. After visiting his pediatrician last week, we were referred to a gastroenterologist.
I was beyond crabby. I have grown to hate meeting new doctors for I am forced to delve into 12 years of his ridiculous medical history; multiple surgeries, illness after illness, after illness, his 40 minute seizure…AGAIN. I can rattle off the dates of these occurrences in my sleep. This is exactly why I tried so hard over the past week to get all of his specialists on the same page in order to maximize our time with the gastro guy. But that didn’t happen. I mean, they tried to connect, but they kept missing each other’s calls. My crabbiness also stemmed from the fact that anytime we have ever tried to figure out Adam’s symptoms, we mostly walk out of a specialist’s office with little or no answers. I was already gearing myself up for this. As we continue to drive, I look down at my Facebook account and low and behold, this picture appears:
Yep, that about sums it up. Spot. On. It truly amazes me how certain things randomly present themselves in life. Then again, maybe it isn’t so random. Regardless, I start to feel a bit less crabby. Trying to maintain my sense of humor has truly helped me get through everything with Adam. Heck, humor has helped me get through a lot of other crap over the years, too…. Maybe this really won’t be so bad.
And, it wasn’t that bad. The GI specialist confirmed that he did not believe that Adam’s vomiting was due to stomach issues, but in turn pointed his vomiting back to his recurring sinus issues and environmental allergies. So the good news is that we are not going to investigate GI issues, the not so good news is that we’re working on the premise of speculation. Awesome. And so typical.
We were back on the road, heading for home. I began to reflect on all of the doctor appointments that Adam had this week, and how once again, we didn’t get any definitive answers. As frustrating as this is for me, I realize that it is just a way of life for Adam. It’s all that he has ever known. He has never complained and always has a smile on his face despite everything he has been through.
Adam’s annual EEG
Once again, Adam’s journey is forcing me to keep perspective. Although this week was filled with a large amount of uncertainty, Adam was able to continue to get me see the humor in all of this. From singing ‘Cake by the Ocean’ at the top of our lungs on our way to the ENT, to Adam signing in as ‘Adam Gordon James Ketcham’ in the ENT office. (He continues to campaign for his name change) Then precisely announcing to the entire staff, at the pediatrician’s office that he is here because ‘he threw up his whole stomach at Culver’s. To his remark this morning, at 2:30 am, while we were awake and preparing for his sleep deprivation EEG; that he ‘would not eat cake by the ocean because the cake would be too wet and too gross’. He then proceeded to mention that he would, however, ‘eat pretzels by a port-o-potty’. I had no idea what he meant, but he sure thought his ‘witty’ remark was absolutely hysterical.
I often get asked how I keep my sense of humor through all that we have experienced with Adam. Early this morning, as I sat in the dark watching the Minion movies for the one millionth time, it occurred to me. Adam helps me keep my sense of humor. Adam gets me through all of this. We help each other.
However, I cannot deny that Mexico, tacos, and tequila still sounds kind of appealing!