Monday, June 20, 2016

Sensory Overload

Dominic has "outgrown," some of his sensory issues, but not all. At church, he is usually okay with a man singing, but if a woman with a high-pitched voice is singing, he will plug his ears. I often wonder what that must feel like to him. I wish he was able to tell me. This past Saturday, since Dominic was in dire need of some nice dress shorts, we headed to Sears, because their clothes seem to fit him well. As we stepped into the boy's dressing room, there was a "ding-dong," chime that caught both Dominic and I off-guard. It was really loud, even to me.  Every time we went in and out of the dressing room, this is what he would do:


The picture is kind of blurry, because he was practically sprinting out of the dressing room. He would continue to plug his ears until I reassured him it was fine.


By about the third time we headed back to the dressing room, he was done, he kept saying, "time to go home, time to go home." I had to promise him McDonald's french fries when we were done, to get him to cooperate with me. Believe me, I have tried multiple times to buy clothes for him in the hopes of them fitting and I almost always end up returning them because they don't fit.  Dominic is not a big fan of trying on clothes in a dressing room to begin with, but you throw in the loud "ding-dong," chime it certainly adds a whole layer of extra stress that we certainly don't need. Using a public restroom with Dominic can be an adventure in itself. The self-flushing toilets and the automatic hand dryers are the WORST. Sensory "overload," at its finest. You can't really not use a public restroom if you are out and about. Dominic calls any kind of bug a "bee." If he sees a fly or gnat in our house, he will go running upstairs into our bedroom and slam the door until we reassure him we have taken care of the matter. I'm thinking the sound of a bug must sound a like a chainsaw in his "world." We can't keep Dominic in a protective "bubble." He has to be able to explore everything this "world," has to offer him.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Convincing Another Special Needs Mom My Son Has Autism

When Dominic was first diagnosed with Autism at 2 1/2 years old, I felt like I had tell EVERYONE. If he didn't talk when asked to, I would say, "oh, it's because he has autism." Fast forward to nine years later, the point we are at now. This past Sunday, I was at a wonderful event and I was meeting new people. I was chatting with two young women and I told both of them separately that Dominic had autism in the course of conversation.  Both of them had the same response back, "we thought so, but didn't want to ask." I told them basically they could ask me anything. I know that not all special needs parents are that way, but over these years, that is the parent I have evolved into. Anyways, recently I had a discussion with another special needs mom, though I'm not quite sure that I would call it that. It was more like I was in a courtroom and I was having to defend myself. Let me explain. I had a special needs mom tell me something a long, long time ago that has stuck with me and probably always will. This mom was one of the nicest, sweetest women in the world that has since moved away. Her son has both Down Syndrome and autism. One of the times we chatted, she said, "you have it much harder than me, people take one look at my son and know," "when people look at Dominic they can't tell." The worst things my family and I get from other people aren't comments, but "dirty looks," because they think he is misbehaving. I used to be so ultra sensitive about it, but not anymore. I just smile and move on. Okay, back to the mom I was talking to recently. This particular gal (who has a son with autism) is what I would call an acquaintance. We chit-chatted for a minute or two and then she proceeded to challenge me as to whether Dominic has autism. She kept hammering away at me and then I finally said, "yeah, he talks to himself and has other autistic traits." She eventually backed down, once I said that. Yikes, I have never had to convince another mom of something like that. Wouldn't it be great if diagnosing autism was like when you take a home pregnancy test? One line for no and two lines for yes?? Unfortunately, that is not the way it works. Diagnosis is based on a set of criteria. According to the website, mayoclinic.org:

"Autism spectrum disorder is a serious neurodevelopmental disorder that impairs a child's ability to communicate and interact with others. It also includes restricted repetitive behaviors, interests and activities. These issues cause significant impairment in social, occupational and other areas of functioning." "The term "spectrum" in autism spectrum disorder refers to the wide range of symptoms and severity."

Once someone knows that Dominic has autism, the next question usually is, "so, where does he fall on the spectrum?"  I try very hard not to judge other parents (whether their child has special needs or not), because I wouldn't want someone to judge me. Wow, talking to that mom earlier in the week, I immediately felt on the defensive. I didn't get upset, I think mainly because I was so taken aback by her boldness. If anything, I think my reaction was more of shock. I really wish I would have been better equipped to handle her.




Thursday, May 12, 2016

You're Only Human

Recently, when I was heading back home from a meeting, I got lost. It would have been fine, except I had to be home to get Dominic off his school bus. I thought about calling my husband, the bus company or one of my friends to help me, but in my head I kept thinking I could make it home before Dominic. Well, I didn't get home until about ten minutes past the time he gets dropped off. As soon as I got home, I immediately called the bus company and explained my situation. They told me that Dominic was still with the bus driver and she would drop him off shortly. I don't think in all the years Lauren rode the bus, I ever missed getting her off the bus, or if I did, I had my husband or a friend greet her. When Dominic got dropped off that day, after I apologized profusely to the bus driver, I brought him inside the house. I kept telling him, "I'm so sorry, I'm so sorry." I was beyond distraught, I felt like I had let my son down. During my evening conversation that I have with my dad, I was explaining to him what had transpired with the bus and me not being here for Dominic. After talking about it for about ten minutes, my father said, "you're only human." Hmm, I guess he's right. I try so hard to be the best mother and stepmother that I can be, sometimes I don't cut myself enough slack to make mistakes.  I really, really needed to hear those three words, "you're only human," that night. I don't think my dad realized how much he helped me - I was finally able to let go of that mom "guilt,"  I had carted around with me for several hours. Well, I have two important words for my dad, "thank you." 


Thursday, April 28, 2016

Give the Opportunity


In the Fall of 2015, I took Dominic along with me to a local horse farm to meet the owner.  It was a relatively quick visit, but I think it made a big impression on him. This past Sunday, we went back to the horse farm because I wanted to plan some events for the two non-profit organizations I volunteer for. The owner of the horse farm having met Dominic once before, remembered how anxious and wound up he got around the dogs, so she had put her dogs in the backyard of her house where there was a fence. Pretty incredibly thoughtful, don't you think? At one point during our visit, I started to scold Dominic because I thought he was taunting the dogs. I soon figured out that he was playing with them - Dominic would come to the fence and three of the dogs would start barking and then he would run to the other end of the fence and the dogs would run with him! It was a beautiful day and Dominic went in and out of the barn (where he fed a horse out of the palm of his hand), walked around the farm, basically had the run of the place.


Every so often a cat would walk by. In the past, let's just say cats and Dominic have not been a good "mix." He's never had an experience that I can recall which would make him so afraid, I'm guessing that it's because they are unpredictable and Dominic THRIVES on predictability. More and more, I have been hearing that animals are a good "fit," for adults and children with special needs and for those with anxiety and depression. There is definitely something comforting and soothing about petting an animal. Anyways, I figured Dominic would be ready to go within a half hour or so, based on our first visit last fall. That was definitely not the case this time! Since we ended up at the farm for almost two hours, it was very, "eye-opening," watching how Dominic went from trying to shoo the black cat off the steps to petting her,  not just for a little bit, but A LOT!


As it got closer to dinner time, I told Dominic we needed to go. We went inside the owner's house briefly and at first he was a little apprehensive because she had about three or four cats milling around inside her house. Dominic sat down on the couch and the owner said something like, "would you like to learn how to hold a cat?" I thought he would say, "no, thank you," but he didn't!  She showed him how and then he picked one up!  Wow, to go from being terrified and very skittish to holding a cat? Dominic then moved to a chair and would you believe those same three or four cats came over to him and were vying for his attention?!?!?!  I told the owner of the farm that Dominic was the "cat whisperer." It's been nine years since we got the diagnosis of Autism for Dominic. Even after all this time, I am still guilty of thinking he can't do something. Boy, did I learn my "lesson," this past Sunday. I need to give him at least the opportunity to be open to new experiences, because if I don't, then I am doing a real disservice to him.


Saturday, April 16, 2016

Awareness - First Step to Understanding

On our Spring Break 2015 trip to Jamaica, both Dominic and I almost drowned in the swimming pool at our hotel. I had went to the end of a water slide where the water was slightly above my head and Dominic followed me. I wasn't able to hold him up and we started sinking to the bottom of the pool. I put my arm up and the lifeguard dove in and brought us back to the surface. It was scary with a capital, "S."  Shortly after we got back from that trip, I decided I better sign him up for a beginner swimming class at the Goldfish Swim School where we live. I asked if they had a special needs swim class available and they said no. I almost didn't sign him up, but then decided I had to let go of my anxiety about it. I love the way the instructors at Goldfish teach. There is a lot of positive encouragement ,"high-fives," and participation ribbons which Dominic thrives on.




About a week ago, I got an e-mail from the General Manager. She said,

"I actually have a few questions that I thought you may be able to help me with in regards to Autism:

1  Do you know of any Autism Awareness Instructor in the area that would be willing to talk/teach my team about specific tactics/awareness in this area?
    
2.   Do you use a PEC system with Dominic? 

3.  What are your thoughts of having a specific half hour of lessons for children with special   needs? Would this be something you would like for Dominic or do you prefer how we have it now, where the children are all integrated together?

I thought you might have some good insight on these topics!"

As one ALWAYS willing to express my opinion, I wrote her back. In response to question #1, I told her that I would look around for an instructor to teach all different types of special needs that could train her "team." Question #2 -  Dominic does use a "PEC" system (Picture Exchange Communication System) - children with Autism, especially, are "visual" learners. Question #3 - I thought it would be a good idea to have a separate class available for children with special needs. I told her Dominic is okay in his current class (he is on his third instructor), but a lot of children with Autism (and other special needs), like consistency, routine and sameness. I loved that the Manager reached out to me, specifically about whether I knew anyone that could talk/teach her staff about specific tactics and awareness of those with special needs. Awareness is the first step towards understanding.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stretching Those "Wings"

About a week or so before Lauren came home for the Easter weekend, she asked me if I wanted to go with her to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 at the movie theater.  After  I double checked with the hubby that he could watch Dominic for a few hours,  I told her yes, we were on! One thing I've learned now that Lauren is about a month away from finishing her first two years of college - if she wants to spend time ALONE with me, I clear my schedule and make it happen! Lauren's first semester of her freshman year was a HUGE adjustment for me because we are very close. When she was little and a kid cut her off at the slide on the playground, I instantly stepped in and was rectifying the situation for her. Riding her bike to a friends house for the first time, I made her promise she would call me when she got there! The time she told me that she wanted to call me "mom," and not "mommy," it was hard, but I understood. As she went through high school, I had a pretty good handle on how she was doing, but at the same time kept out of her business. When it came time to shop for things for her dorm room, we did it together. Since she took her car back to college in August of last year, we haven't seen her that often. Lauren will tell me she is sorry, but I tell her, "don't be sorry, I'm glad you are having such a great time at college!"  My Mother's Day gift last year from Lauren was a poem that she wrote herself:

Mom, You're so inspiring
Your wisdom's never tiring
There's never a day that goes by
That something you do doesn't catch my eye
Whether it's making something scrumptious to eat
Or patiently asking Dominic to take a seat
Or giving me advice
Even when I ask for your opinion more than once or twice
Your endless support
Is irreplaceable, and in short
I admire you so much
And in being a mother, you have a special touch
I cannot thank you enough for all that you do
Mom, I love you!

Okay, now that I've wiped the tear from the corner of my eye, I know that as she gets older, turns 21 and graduates from college, she will continue to stretch those "wings" even more. But, you know what? This "momma bird" is okay with that, because Lauren knows I will always be there for her, just as I always have been.  





Monday, March 14, 2016

Overwhelmed

When the hubby brought Dominic home from his Confirmation Preparation class a few weeks ago, he told me that his teacher (Mrs. W) mentioned he had cried during class.  My husband said he asked Dominic a few times on the car ride home, "why were you crying?" No response.  I tried asking him a few times too and got no answer either. When I reached out to Mrs. W later, she told me,

"Dominic seemed quite pensive the entire class, as if he were thinking of something else.  We asked him a few questions and it was obvious he had something else on his mind.  It was absolutely sweet that the other kids had such concern for him and wanted to know he was okay.  What a tender moment!  One of his classmates wanted to know if he needed a hug, so we asked him and 3 volunteered to give him a quick hug.  He didn't seem to mind, and I know it did them more good than him."

Wow, what empathy Dominic's classmates had! Still, I didn't know what was bothering him, so I waited a day or two and then asked him again. His response this time was, "overwhelmed." I thought well, he had a full day of school and then his bus brought him home an hour late. He had a little less than a half hour to get a snack, etc. before the hubby took him to class. I relayed the story to Lauren this past week and she said something like, "that's pretty good he could tell you that!" I have to also remember that Dominic is a "tween."  Puberty and Autism can sometimes be a challenging "duo."  I have to keep in mind that he might not always be able to tell us what's wrong because he might not know himself until he has had some time to think it over.


I wondered how he would do today at school (he missed all of last week since we were out of town). Yesterday, we drove for 10 hours straight. With it being daylight saving time plus Lauren leaving to go back to college this morning, I wondered if I would get a call from his teacher that he was having a tough time. He made it through the day fine and he even had a substitute bus driver this afternoon!!  Right now, I hear Dominic in the family room "scripting" scenes from both  Little People and  Barney. He does that when he is over stimulated. I'm letting him have that time in his "world," to relax before we head to his Confirmation Prep class in about an hour! We all need ways to "decompress," right?