Parenting a spectrum of girls

Social Skills

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M and her best friend

When M was younger (2, 3 even 4 years old) she was petrified of other people, even children.  She got along well enough with the other kids at daycare, and had been with almost all of them since they were infants.  But if there were new children in Sunday School, or if a child tried to talk to her or play with her somewhere like the playground or the zoo, she would scream loudly and hide behind me.  I never knew what to say to the child and parent, I always felt so bad that she hurt their feelings, and at the time she did not yet have a diagnosis to explain her behavior.

Adults always wanted to say hello to her and give her little trinkets because she is so pretty (petite blond girls get a lot of attention) but she would run away from them and hide, or cry.  I always graciously accepted the necklace/coin/etc on her behalf and say she was very shy.  Once she was in OT the therapist noticed if some other child was in the same gym she ignored them completely and didn’t even look at them or acknowledge their existence.

At the beginning of school this year, standing outside waiting for the school doors to open she would hiss at the other students, growl at them and hide behind me.  She had no friends, no one played with her and she stood alone by the para pro and cried for me during recess.  After she started the Risperdone in late October she stopped hissing, growling and hiding.  Around the same time we had her first conferences.  Her teacher told me that all of the other children liked M and wanted to be friends with her, but she refused to play with them.  Sometimes she would play with one child but when two were playing together she refused to join them.

Eventually M got better.  Her social skills are still not great, but she does have a few children she enjoys playing with.  Her difficulty reading social skills really feeds into her anxiety, and simple things such as losing a game or being touched can make her very upset.  She does a lot of parallel play but she loves to play games and can sometimes follow other children’s’ leads and play together, especially if it is her best friend, who she got to have a play date with today.  She still prefers to play with the para pro at recess but also will play on her own or play a game with one or two other children.

Also today, M had a “meet you there”, where her class got together (those who wanted to) at the movie theater for a free movie.  She sat next to one girl who she likes because they have a lot of similar difficulties and because this girl’s mother and I have become friends.  They talked some and enjoyed sitting together.  She also called out hello to the other children as they came into the theater.  It was good to see her interact with other children, even if much of it was superficial.

The center where M attended OT does have social skills classes that they recommended for M, but at least for right now we are not going to go that route.  Many children with Asperger’s, especially females, want to make friends but don’t know how.  M does not have the desire (most of the time) to have friends.  She wants people to be nice to her, but other than her best friend she is OK with ignoring people most of the time.  She cries for her best friend when they haven’t seen each other in a while.  Since her social situation does not bother her, we are happy too.  She is very good at using her manners unless she is too anxious to talk.  The rest of it is just who she is and I love her the way she is, I have no desire to “fix” her or change her.  If some day she wants to know how to make friends, read social cues or be able to “appropriately” respond to people in public then we may go the social skills class route.  In the mean time, I am very nappy to have a quiet girl who does not hiss at people anymore.

Odds & Ends

I have so much to write about.

It has been such a full, hectic week.

I have not written the last two days, and I must write today.  I will write more on these topics later, but for tonight, here is a snapshot of what has happened in our family this week.

Tuesday night (Wednesday morning) I went to bed at 1am…end of the semester, so I was up doing homework.  At 4am my Honey cat woke me up to let me know she was ready to have her kittens, and she wanted me with her!  She had 4 beautiful kittens.  We love them so much, but taking care of the mama and babies is proving to be more difficult than I expected.  She keeps trying to hide them inside our box springs!

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Yesterday, M`s glasses came in.  Today she got to wear the to school for the first time and said she was able to see better and her eyes didn’t hurt as much.  They look amazing, too.  Hopefully this is an answer we have been praying for, to make school easier and more enjoyable for M.

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Also yesterday, A had her first soccer practice.  This is her first time participating in a sport, and I am a little worried about her asthma.  Yesterday was great, though.  She loved it, her best friend is on her team, and she did a great job.  Maybe she will be a super star like her sister!  Then again, she sure enjoyed socializing and goofing off.  I do love that she is her own unique, wonderful person.

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And tonight we got to celebrate K by attending the Carson Scholar’s banquet, as she is a 3 time scholar (she has been recognized every year possible.)  This year she even got her picture taken with Dr. Carson and he signed her copy of Gifted Hands.  He is such a wonderful, inspirational person.  This scholarship takes into account academics (scholars must have at least a 3.75 gpa with recommendations from teacher and principal), extra curricular activities and most of all, “great humanitarian work”.  I am so proud of my first born daughter.

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So that is a highlight of the biggest events of our week.  It has been quite exciting at our house.  We are hoping for a calmer weekend!

Food fight

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Everything is finger food…thankfully this is a bagel. 🙂

One common issue with an Autism Spectrum Disorder is food.  Many children on the spectrum will only eat food of certain colors or textures or even limit themselves to as few as one or two particular foods for long periods of time.  For a while when M was younger she avoided some food textures, especially soft or squishy foods, but for the most part she has been a great eater and we have not had to worry about her diet and nutrition.  In fact, last summer she tried crawfish, and loved it!  Now she wants to go to Red Lobster for her next birthday (sigh…McDonalds was so much cheaper!  lol)  The main side effect of her medication is weight gain, and she did gain 6 lbs in 4 weeks, but after that the weight gain stopped and she had previously been a little under weight, so the doctor was actually really happy with that.  He credits her ability to maintain a healthy weight with her high activity level and most of all her healthy diet…she loves fresh fruits and vegetables!

So we have not had issues with WHAT she will eat…our issues have been with HOW she eats. When M was a toddler, she was a legend among our family and at the daycare she attended.  People still talk about her, and the way she ate.  She was the MESSIEST CHILD EVER!  I am not exaggerating.  Anything that went into her mouth she had to spit out, touch, then finally put back into her mouth to finish eating.  She never used utensils and even with her hands was not very accurate at getting the food into her mouth.  It went everywhere.  She needed a bath after every meal.  I work with infants and toddlers, and I know that some of them, especially the ones that really love their food, can be a real mess sometimes.  But M was a disaster at every meal, far past the time she should have been using utensils and eating neatly.  At least she did not disappoint for the big first birthday cake photo.  My oldest daughter neatly ate hers without a mess at all…no good photo/blackmail opps.  M, on the other hand, was a beautiful mess.  It was a lot of fun!  🙂

By the time M went to Occupational Therapy shortly before age 4, she would use utensils sometimes, only if they had plastic handles.  Restaurants have been a nightmare for several reasons, but one of the reasons at that time was that if I forgot to bring a plastic handled fork in my purse especially for M, she would have a meltdown and not eat.  She was still very messy.  By the time she finished her first round of OT about 6 months later she was, although not super neat, still a much cleaner eater and better with her utensils.  I’m not exactly sure when it happened, I think around the time M started school this year, she stopped needing plastic handles on her utensils.  M still often has food on her clothes after a meal, sometimes even all over her pants and shirt.  Tonight she had tilapia in her hair.  But overall she is much better.

The past few months, M has pretty much stopped using her utensils again.  I am not sure how much of this is fine motor difficulty, how much of it is sensory related, and how much (if any) of it is related to her eyes not working together.  It will be interesting to see if she is able to use utensils again after she gets used to her glasses (which should come in in the next day or so).  It was pretty odd to watch her tonight eating her dinner (tilapia, potatoes and peas & carrots) entirely with her hands.  She even scooped the panko breading (insisting it looked “gross”) off her fish with her fingers.  Yuck!  I will take it, though.  I would much rather have a 5 year old who eats with her hands than face some of the food challenges so many other parents have to work with.

The triple brownie day

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M after school, a bit out of it

 

I am kind of at a loss today, very confused and I don’t really know what to do.  When I don’t know what to do (if I have any energy at all), I bake.  I don’t always eat what I bake and I usually don’t eat when I’m stressed, but today I really needed the chocolate so I even ate one of my own treats.  I made… Nutella stuffed oreo brownies.  I know, just reading the words makes you gain a bazillion pounds.  But…easy and YUM!

It was pretty much a normal day, overall happy and the weather was wonderful for a change.  I picked the girls up from school, M is last.  When I picked M up I said “Did you get super green today?”  “Super green.” she replied.  Super green means that she did not have to move her clip for behavior problems at school at all today.  Most days are actually super green for M, as she controls herself pretty well at school and since they are young 5s expectations are not extremely high (although I have suspected her teachers of being extra easy on her, which I hope is not the case…maybe I am just strict).  We went to the playground since it was a beautiful day and there is a quiet, seldom used playground right on our way home.  When we got there I opened M’s folder.  I was looking for information on the Science Fair on Friday, which M has decided she does not want to do, after already having signed up with a great idea, and carried it through much of the way already.

I was surprised to find that, while she did in fact have green colored in for AM and PM from her teacher, there was also a note saying they had to talk to her about talking rather than hitting when she is frustrated with her friends, and not lying.  Apparently, from what she told me and what I read from the teacher, another student was doing something they were not supposed to do…a little thing that no one really cares about, like being silly with the materials at a center.  M asked the child to stop and they did not.  She yelled at them to stop and they did not.  She hit them.  They told the teacher she hit them and she denied it, then because she can not lie she admitted what she did and apologized.

She hit another student.  This is a nightmare for me.  This is what I was afraid of at the beginning of the year, but it did not happen, and then she got much better (admittedly mostly because of her mood medication), and now, at the end of the year, she hit someone.  Last week she screamed at the para pro and today she hit someone.  I am afraid of what will happen next.  Why now?  It is the end of the year, she only has to make it less than two months more.  She graduated from OT and counseling, she is more verbal than she has ever been…but the last couple of weeks she has gotten worse and more aggressive at home and now at school.  I am sure she did not hit them hard, but she laid her hands on someone in an aggressive way, someone other than family.  I have no idea why she did not have to move her clip, why she still got “super green”.

I talked to her about the situation.  About how if she gets frustrated next time she should raise her hand and tell the teacher or ask to move.  Or, knowing how little patience M has, worst case I told her she should just get up and go to the teacher, to move away from the other person before she hit them.  “But mom,” she said “you can’t move during centers, it’s a rule.”  Ok, but I’m sure if you need to move so you don’t get so upset it will be ok.  “No mom, it’s a rule, we can’t move.”  Well, moving is better than hitting, I’m sure your teacher would agree.  Some rules like not moving are better to break than rules like no hitting.  “No mom, you don’t understand, a level 0 is no moving and centers are a level 0 so you can not move.  It’s a rule.”  Well, isn’t no hitting a rule?  (nods her head).  Ok then,  and you broke that rule.  “But they broke a rule first.”  Well you still can’t hit, so if you’re going to break a rule anyway it is better to get up and go to the teacher than to hit someone.  “But I can’t get up, mom!  It’s a rule!”

Ack!  It felt quite like an Abbott & Costello routine to me and I just had no argument left, so I left it alone.  She is so black & white in her thinking I think her teacher will have to give her special permission to move during centers if she feels like she is going to hit someone.  We had this problem with using her noise reducing headphones, as well.  We couldn’t just tell her she could go get them whenever she needed them.  She needed to be told specifically for each type of instance that she was allowed to use her headphones for those times.  Even now, if she forgets to get her fidgets for rest time, once she is on her mat she will not go get them or ask her teachers for them because it is quiet time and she is not allowed to get up or talk.  So I’m not sure why she can’t follow the rule about keeping your hands to yourself as strictly, I guess it is the impulse control part.

I know it is likely that this is a one time thing and it will not happen again, but I do not like the progression of her difficulty handling frustration at school lately.  Although we just recently saw her Psychiatrist it may be time to increase her medication now that she is growing and it seems to be less effective.  But sometimes it is environmental, such as the time from Thanksgiving until a week or two after New Years, when life was not as predictable and more sensory stimulating than usual.  I will have to be extra vigilant and figure out what is causing her difficulty and how to fix it.

In the mean time, I think I will have another brownie.

Pet Therapy

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A & me with Vienna

I am a cat person.  For a long time I pestered my husband to get a cat, but he claimed allergies and a general dislike for the animals, so we never got one.  I am not much of a dog person and with both of us working a dog was not a great choice for our family (especially since hubby insists we can only have a BIG dog, and we have small children who were terrified of dogs anyway.)

Actually, M was terrified of all animals, and A was petrified of dogs.  I really felt that getting a cat would be good for the girls, especially M.  I also wanted one for my own selfish reasons…not only had I grown up with cats, but I suffer from time to time from Anxiety disorder and anxiety attacks, and felt a pet would really help soothe me.  Eventually, he agreed to let us get a cat.

January 2012 (K’s 10th birthday actually) I took the girls to visit a local no-kill shelter where a friend volunteered.  At first M was terrified.  There were many cats wandering about and they are quiet, so she thought they were sneaking up on her (planning to do what I am not sure).  She screamed and hid behind me a lot.  Finally one of the volunteers coaxed the girls over to pet Vienna, a beautiful, calm, friendly girl.  I had let them know ahead of time I wanted an adult female who would tolerate our loud & chaotic home.  After a while of some gentle talking and petting, the girls agreed we should take Vienna home with us.

She couldn’t have been a better fit for our family.  Everyone got used to each other quickly, and she calmly let the girls carry her around, push her in the doll stroller, whatever they wanted.  She also has an amazing sense of when someone is sick or sad, and she cuddles with that person.  I have seen her many times go to M when she is upset and having a meltdown and just lay on her and purr.  Even better, after adding Vienna to our family the girls were no longer afraid of any animals!  A now adores dogs and goes up and pets them at every opportunity, and M loves hanging out with my mom’s dogs and helping take care of them.  Vienna even won over my husband.  In fact, she prefers him & M as her people.

July 2012, after much pleading, my husband let us add a second cat, Honey, to our family.  She was a cat born to a feral in a friend’s neighborhood and seemed to want a home.  She was not a good fit for my friend’s home and she was looking for someone to give the young cat a chance.  At first Honey was very timid and stayed in one room of the house, but after 3-4 months she started to warm to us and became part of the family as well.  She has made herself my cat, but the girls adore her as well as she is very sweet and gentle.  I think of her as my baby.

I began to volunteer with the shelter where we got Vienna, doing adoption booths at local stores.  I love it, though right now I don’t do it too often since we have been busy and the girls need my time.  Finally, this January, I found out that a cat I had fallen in love with named Recycle (because he had been found in a dumpster, sent to be euthanized then saved by a woman from the shelter we got Vienna at) was available for adoption, and we took him home as well.  He has made himself K’s cat and prefers her over everyone else. 

3 might seem like a lot of cats; growing up I had 3 cats and it feels like a completion to our family.  They have all been wonderful for our girls, and calming for M.  The girls each have jobs: K cleans the litter boxes, M gives them water and A feeds them.  I think it is also great for them that they all have jobs that not only help around the house but are caring for other living beings that depend on them.  Some people have therapy dogs, we have therapy cats.  Some might say we rescued our cats, but I think they rescued us. 

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Honey & Recycle

Sick day

My poor M.  Today she is sick.  She woke up at 3am sick to her stomach and was up much of the night.  Finally this afternoon she was able to keep down Pedialyte and saltine crackers.  M rarely gets sick, I think it has been close to a year since she has had more than a slight stomach and headache.  Surprisingly she did ok with being sick, at least the actual physical part of not feeling well.

It might not have been more than an annoyance and inconvenience for her, except it was about the very worst day she could have been sick.  Today M was supposed to have a play date with her best friend.  And to make it worse, last night she had just bought them both Best Friend necklaces (adorable “mood” horse necklaces).  She was so looking forward to spending time with her bud, whom she only sees on these special play dates.  We try to have them once a month or so but we are all so busy it doesn’t always work out.  My poor girl, as soon as she got me up and we were sitting in the bathroom, she started sobbing saying “I want to see [my best friend]!”

Of course, being a concrete thinker, everything has to have a reason.  No matter how many times I explained to her that it was just bad luck, and that she just got some germs somewhere that made her sick, she kept trying to figure out exactly WHO made her sick.  And when she couldn’t figure it out she decided to blame God.  “Why doesn’t God want me to see my best friend?  Why did he make me be sick?  God hates me!”  When I told her mom, her best friend was also very sad that they could not see each other today, and both girls were sobbing.  I felt awful.  She also kept begging me to let her go anyway.  She kept asking why she could not go, and I kept explaining that she was contagious and did not want to get her best friend sick.  Of course she did not see that logic, because since she was already sick she didn’t see why it mattered if her friend was sick, too.  Fortunately by the afternoon M was still sad but not so totally obsessed and upset about not seeing her friend.  I think she realized that she was still not feeling well and that it really was not an option today.

Not feeling well and the inability to do anything other than lay on the couch watching movies and playing board games was tough on M, who requires a lot of movement to keep herself calm.  She did really well, though, all things considered.  I am glad that sickness does not come often for my sweet M, and that when it does she is able to handle it better than I would expect.  Now we pray no one else in the household gets sick!

Love like only a sister

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M trying to be like her big sister

My goal of writing every day this month was for Autism Awareness (& Acceptance) Month, which is why I have been concentrating almost exclusively on M.  But today, in searching for what topic to write on, I realized that K really deserves the spotlight for a minute.

For one thing, K is amazing in her own right, and also has her own special needs from her high level of giftedness.  She has had an amazing year.  All As and A+s this year, after grade accelerating, being placed into a gifted program, and now accepted into the highest gifted program available nearby due to her SAT scores (she just turned 11). She was accepted as a returning scholar in a scholarship program for academic achievement and humanitarian work, for the 3rd year in a row.  She is part of a small leadership group at her school.  She has continued to work hard and miss little school despite struggling with chronic mono.  Her love of learning in all subjects is amazing.  Today she was excited to share a wealth of information on a number of topics, from her current vulture observations to the properties of Mars to Hieroglyphics to drawing optical illusions and pottery.

But none of this is really what I wanted to share.  Having M as a sister has at times been quite difficult for K.  First of all, she was almost 6 when M was born and didn’t particularly want to lose her status as only child.  Then M required much more than her share of attention over the years.  Also, K just does not understand M, their minds work so very differently.  She has tried off and on to understand, occasionally being a big help with M, doing things with her and teaching her things.

This week, K came home with a new book from the school library.  It was a sort of reference/self help kind of book for kids with autistic siblings.  She wanted to read it.  She WANTED to UNDERSTAND.  She started asking a lot of questions.  What an amazing young woman, to voluntarily seek out a way to understand her sister, and to help herself cope as a sibling, as well.

This has been an extremely bad week for M.  She is starting to show behaviors we have not seen since the beginning of the fall.  Today she even got in trouble at school for screaming at the para pro, whom she adores, and she rarely has problems at school that get a note sent home.  K has stepped in to help her sister when I have been trying to make dinner or complete my own homework.  She has spoken calmly to her and made proprioceptive activities and exercises for M to do to help calm her.  She has not once lost her temper with M this week, in a week where M has constantly been losing her temper with everyone else.  I know she wants to be an oceanographer and geophysicist, but I think she would also make an excellent occupational therapist ;).

I couldn’t be more proud of my girl than when she is helping another person.  And as a kid, siblings can be the hardest people to forgive and help.  I have some pretty amazing kids. 🙂

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