And Suddenly, He’s 13

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!

 

 

 

Don’t Judge a Book…

Autism.

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.

Autism.

A Compliment. Brought to You By Autism

Since when did they start calling numbers ‘integers’?? Why can’t they just be called numbers?  I helped him with math tonight. Apparently ‘we’ got half of his homework wrong. Have to appreciate Adam’s honesty. Thank goodness for Chris, or my kids would be flunking math!

It’s Really Just Your ‘Best Guess’

 

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:

‘Great’!

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is My Sign

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:


There are exactly 200 days until he is officially a teenager. First item on my ‘to do list’ tomorrow:

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…

‘A Rose By Any Other Name Would Smell As Sweet’

The good news is, he is not talking about my butt AS much any more. It only comes up about 2-3 times per day as opposed to upwards of 20 times. His newest perseveration, for there is always something that seems to occupy Adam’s mind;  is his desire to turn 18 years old. For once he turns 18, he will get to do two things; swim in the adult swim at the pool, and change his name to Gordon.

I get wanting to be older. One of my earliest memories is being 3 years old in preschool. I was so jealous of the 4 year old class for they had this, in my opinion, really awesome slide that only their class was allowed to use, for they were ‘the big kids’. I remember sitting on our dinky little 3 year old slide wistfully watching the older kids. It really wasn’t the fact the slide was all that great, but more the fact that using the slide was forbidden. And, in life, we always seem to want what we can’t have. I’m sure the same will hold true for Adam, once he turns 18 and is finally allowed to swim with the adults. I’m fairly certain that he will find that swimming with adults is not all that it is cracked up to be. But he keeps talking about it. Non. Stop. I’m just taking it day by day and hoping that the appeal of swimming during the adult swim at the pool will subside.

But what I find more interesting  is Adam’s desire to change his name to Gordon. Why Gordon? For weeks,  I racked my brain. Finally, it occurred to me what sparked this idea. I suspected this was because Adam  was obsessed with the character train Gordon from Thomas the Tank Engine. The one and only television show in which he ever had any interest in watching when he was younger. Upon questioning him, he was adamant in stating that he is too old for Thomas, but then proceeded to say that changing his name to Gordon was ‘kind of like when mom loved the Brady Bunch when she was younger’ I acknowledged that I did in fact LOVE Brady Bunch. I also reminded him that it never, ever, occurred to me to change my name to Marcia, Jan, or Cindy. He continued to neither confirm nor deny that Gordon was related to Thomas the Tank Engine. Knowing that we could theoretically be having this conversation for days, I let it go. In the end, he wants to change his name to Gordon. End. Of. Story.

What I find the most interesting  is the reason that he wants to change his name. He is named after my grandfather. Chris and I had agreed almost immediately that Adam would be his name if he was a boy. In our opinion, it was a nice, strong, straightforward name, that could not easily be replaced by a nickname. Until now.

This past winter, something triggered his strong interest in all of his great grandparents names. Upon learning that he was named after my grandfather, Adam requested to meet him. Unfortunately, my grandfather passed away when I was in high school. Bracing myself for the parade of questions that I knew were coming, I sigh and say:

Grandpa Adam is dead. Unfortunately, his autism forces me to be blunt and straightforward. There is absolutely no point in sugar coating anything, for I would just have to keep explaining until he understands.

How did he die?

He most likely had a heart attack before he hit is head and fell down the stairs.

I felt cold and insensitive in explaining my grandfather’s death in this matter to him, but it’s the only way that Adam understands. Cold. Hard. Facts.

Adam doesn’t like having the same name as a person who is ‘all dead’, so Adam is changing his name to Gordon.

For the next few months, he only wanted to be addressed by the name Gordon. I reminded him several times that there are many ‘dead Gordons’ too. However, he  reminded me that he does not personally know any dead Gordons. He wasn’t buying it. So much for trying.

One day as he was going through his entire script about how his great grandfather died and then moving into the topic of his impending name change, I mentioned to him that he could not legally change his name to Gordon until he is 18 years old; all in desperate hope that this fact would put a stop to all this madness.

He says:

So Adam is going to have his name until he is 18 years old and Adam is going to have to ‘deal with it’.

And mom is going to pretend that Adam’s name is Gordon for 6 more years and she is going to have to ‘deal with it’

Ok. He got me. I may need to accept the fact that my youngest son  may someday actually change his name to Gordon. In the grand scheme of things, I’m fairly sure that there will most likely be bigger battles to fight!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Hores are Moaning

Adam’s first week of middle school with  is complete. Adam navigated his first 5 days without a glitch. 5 days down, 171 to go. I’m currently sitting on the sofa, writing, and breathing a sigh of relief….oh, who am I kidding, I’m actually sitting here diving headfirst into my second glass of wine. Tomatoes/tomatoes.

Adam says his favorite classes so far are math and science…no big surprise, for both of these classes are fairly concrete and have rules to follow. Adam loves rules. New to him are FACS classes (Family and consumer science…Home Ec for those of us who are a product of the 1980’s) His first class in this rotation is sewing. His first project; a drawstring bag.  As we were waiting in line at the fabric store on Friday night, with his chosen Chicago Blackhawks material in hand, I was counting my blessings that Adam has a wonderful paraprofessional, Mrs. H.,  that helps him to navigate his schedule and his day. On the other hand, I was thinking that this poor woman does not make nearly enough money, for the video that I have playing in my head, of my son operating a sewing machine, is nothing short of a bloody massacre. This is going to be a huge learning curve for all those involved.

As we continue to wait in line, I decide check his sewing project assignment one more time from my phone.  I scroll through Canvas, the on-line assignment program that our school district uses, and I happen to notice, much to my horror, that Adam has health class is first in his PE rotation. I’m now trying to fight the overall sinking and sick feeling in my stomach. Sewing and sex ed…all in the first month of school?  I silently promise Mrs. H, that I will start saving my spare change in order to send her on a fancy vacation accompanied by lots of tropical drinks that I KNOW she will need, come winter break, in December.

Any typical middle school boy dreads sex ed in middle school. But not Adam. His  mind does not allow him to understand embarrassment. He will march right into this class with the same pragmatic approach that he does with anything else in life. I often admire how matter of fact he is about everything and am often envious of this quality…..Until he turned 11 years old. Over the past 6 months I have had many interesting conversations with my son. His inquisitive mind, minus the inhibition, in combination with ‘who knows what’ is going on in his head, is a dangerous mix. For example,

Earlier this past spring, I was laying in bed with him,unfortunately fighting a headache, as he was reading one of his favorite chapter books to me. He stopped for a second and examined a crease in the middle of my forehead as he does occasionally. This time, however, instead of making a comment about my face being cracked, me being old, or some other blunt observation that he is so well know for, he just begins to rub it:

Me: Thanks buddy. That’s actually making my headache feel much better

Adam: Mom has a headache because why?

Me: I just have a headache.

Adam: Because why?

Knowing if I don’t give him a reason, we could potentially be having this conversation for a while; I decide to proceed with the old ‘answer-the-question-with-the-actual-terminology- and-reason-and-it-should-be-over’ trick.

Me: Probably because of hormones.

Adam: Mom’s ‘Hores’ are ‘moaning’ because why?

And with that, I quickly jumped out of his bed, turned off his light and ran for the hills. That was enough questions for the night!

-or-

The time that I came home from work one day and found Adam in him room playing on his iPad. I sat down next to him on his bed and proceeded to ask him about his day. He was immediately distracted by something on my shoulder. I look to my left and realized that my bra strap was showing. I cringed and braced myself for the parade of questions that I knew were coming:

Adam: What’s that white thing?

Me: My bra strap.

Adam: Mom’s bra strap does what?

Me: Girls wear them like an undershirt.

Adam: Or to cover the pointy things on Mom’s chest.

Me: Typically never at a loss for words, I feel my face getting redder by the minute, and am now frightened as to where this conversation is heading. I then reluctantly respond: “yes”

Adam: Otherwise what will happen?

Me: ummmmm…..I don’t know, buddy, you tell me.

Adam: Otherwise, if mom doesn’t wear that white thing, her chest is going to fall all over the ground. 

I sat there, really wanting to be in his head for just one minute, realizing that he does have quite the imagination. On the other hand, maybe it’s wishful thinking, because, for the record, if I did not wear my bra, my chest definitely WOULD NOT fall all over the ground!!

I still reflect on these conversations and continue to waffle on whether he even remotely understands anything about the birds and the bees. On the other hand, I’m completely convinced that for boys, bras, boobs, hormones, and butts are just innate and he 110% totally gets it!! Regardless, I’m thoroughly convinced that I will have more to worry about with Adam  than Alex, his brother, who turns beet red at the mention of the word “girl”.

So tomorrow is day #6. 170 more days to go. Mrs. H., I can’t tell you how much we appreciate you. For sure, you have your work cut out for you. I apologize in advance.

Meanwhile, I’ll be rubbing my temples, bracing myself for another week of Adam and middle school; anticipating headaches, and at the same time praying that my ‘Hores’ don’t moan too much!!