What Autism Means to Me #autismawareness

April is Autism Awareness month. A time to celebrate, educate and learn to have more acceptance for those children and adults living each day in a world I know little about how to relate to. It’s difficult being a parent, I am sure, to an autistic child. From what I’ve learned thus far, it’s a broad spectrum and no two autistic people are alike.

autism awareness month

If you are an every day reader of my blog, you may have followed along my life in regards to my now seven year old son, Aj. If not, you can catch up, but there’s a lot there listed under Mood Disorder, but most recently Autism categories here on my site. Basically, about a week or so ago, my son Aj was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum – High Functioning. This diagnosis didn’t come to a surprise because for the past two and a half months I have observed my son, taken notes from his teachers at school and witnessed him in his day-to-day life. I already knew my child seemed to be showing more and more of the spectrum as time went on.

While Aj has undergone multiple diagnosis’s, we firmly feel he is on the spectrum. For years Aj has exhibited some autistic tendencies, as his counselor has called them, but never enough to get anyone to say “yes he is autistic”, while I didn’t need a diagnosis as a parent for I am constantly observing my children and adapting in ways to raise them, the outside world usually needs a diagnosis to work with. So here I sit and write about what autism is for me during this month to raise awareness of Autism.

When I called family to tell them about Aj’s diagnosis, they of course wanted to know the question many ask, “What does that mean?”

My simple explanation for what autism means for myself, my family and my son is nothing. Really all that autism means for us is that we have learned to have more acceptance and patience. You see, Aj really seems to think like a computer or a robot so-to-speak. Aj is highly intelligent, has amazing grade levels at school, but in a social environment he may show signs of awkwardness or uneasiness. Aj cannot pick up on all social cues like we can, Aj cannot handle sarcasm or jokes like we can, Aj may not always make eye contact but I have noticed he makes eye contact with me. Aj also has flapping of the arms with happiness or excitement as well as rocking that has appeared in the past couple of months when nervous or trying to cope with a scenario he may not be comfortable with.

Other questions that come into play for me as a parent are how I will ensure he is receiving the supports he needs at school for the social aspect of his autism, because it’s evident his grades are fine at this point, but as he gets older the social aspect of school could take a toll on him.

I am currently awaiting meetings with the school to work on a 504 or an IEP, so far it appears they are going to work with me on a 504, I am okay with that as a first step unless I am educated otherwise.

Autism … in my eyes …

For me, autism is simply another way of viewing life, being that I have always been an open minded person and parent, it’s easy for me to observe Aj and learn how he works, how he thinks, and what is going on as-he-sees-it. As my child has grown, and without medications blurring who he is, I have noticed that really Autism for me isn’t a disability per say; Aj has grown tremendously, he fixates on certain things that he loves doing but how is that harmful to him? Aj loves technology and he has also started to show a love of interacting with his family and his best friend who comes for play dates.

For me, autism is honestly more simple, at least at the high functioning state, than your average person I work with. For Aj his world is black and white; you do what you say, you mean what you say and life is fine. Sadly, that does cause a ruckus from time to time, because as a human we know there are sometimes where sarcasm comes into play or maybe we say “not right now” far too often, instead of no. It seems in society we tend to be non-committal and Aj requires a committed reply and answer at all times. Aj thrives on a structured environment, he goes by the clock with any electronic time, play time, diner time, getting ready for appointment times, etc.

Autism hasn’t changed our lives in a bad way, it’s opened our mind, heart and soul to love deeper, more unconditionally and has helped us have a better bond than most families I witness. For me, Autism simply means love. The love Aj has for those who are close to him and the love we have for him is stronger and so unconditional that it honestly warms my heart.

My advice to those who don’t know enough about Autism, is to ask questions without judgement. My advice to those who do know about Autism and may be told their child will never lead a life like “every other person”, keep hope and Faith, work hard because honestly no matter what disability your child is diagnosed with, the hope, love and Faith from their parents can make a world of difference in their future!

And so I remind you this month, it’s okay to ask questions about Autism, but it is not okay to judge an autistic child by the book, they are so much deeper than what you see on the outside, just like every other person in this world!

Doesn’t Matter the Label, Just Matters That I am Mom

The label that my middle child receives down the road as we venture into the path of a possible new diagnosis really doesn’t matter to me. Aj’s Dad and I have been raising the same boy for the past seven years so whatever label is placed upon our son really doesn’t matter as it pertains to anything other than giving us something to research better. You see, no one lives our life. No one outside of our home has experienced the real Aj.

With no medication interfering with Aj in any way positive nor negative, the school is starting to get a glimpse into what our world has been like for years with Aj. He’s either withdrawn and down or hyper and happy. This is why there is certainly a mood aspect to our son but there is also this other side of Aj where he shows anxiety, he is anxious about new things and anxious that life needs go to a certain way. Then there is that routine driven side of Aj and that mentality that once he has it in his head something is correct, there is no talking him out of it.

There is the side to Aj where you could tell him the sky is blue and if he is convinced at that day and time that the sky is purple, then the sky is purple. It’s that simple for Aj. Aj is a complex child yet also very simple. The real world rules don’t necessarily apply to our sweet Aj, he is unique and in some ways unique is a great thing while in other ways unique can get into the way of a public school child. Aj is starting to show me signs of concern in the public school environment, I wonder if he will ever make real friends, real long term friends. I wonder if Aj will ever have a life that is one that people classify as normal.

Then I realize … those wonders are my anxiety kicking in. As I watch Aj suffer with some anxiety symptoms, I notice my generalized anxiety disorder starts to chime in. It’s this emotional connection that Aj’s counselor has advised me to separate better with that keeps me wondering and worrying about things outside of my control. I am better at controlling my anxiety, after all I haven’t had medication for anxiety in many years. I have learned to fight anxiety and I will teach my son the same skills, as I have with my oldest.

Aj is a happy child, if anyone asks I would say he is compassionate with a huge heart but he lacks the understanding of sarcasm or snide comments. You see, with Aj you have to say what you mean and mean what you say because if not, he gets frustrated. Aj doesn’t comprehend sarcasm for the most part, yet there are a rare few moments that he actually may look at you after a quick witted comment and smirk as if he got it. Those moments are rare. For the most part, Aj is a child who needs people to say what they mean and mean what they say.

Aj cannot have people in his home environment that cannot be that person for him, it’s not easy. My daughter and his younger brother have worked hard and continue to work as a family to ensure Aj has a safe, loving home environment. That means far too often we have to bite our sarcastic tongue and say things the way Aj needs to hear them. While we find humor in sarcasm, Aj does not. In my mind, it’s not that difficult but when you have a tween daughter and younger sibling of a child like this, it can cause a ruckus from time to time.

I don’t want to deter my daughter and my other son from being who they are to their core, but I want to teach them to respect who Aj is at his core as well. It’s a juggling act around here most days. Whatever label Aj ends up with for a diagnosis, I am okay with that, because after all, I have been raising him for seven years so no matter what they say “he has”, reality is HE IS my son, always has been and always will. I will always be here fighting for him right beside him and encouraging him to move forward to lead a happy, healthy life.

As I do with my other children. That is my job. My job is Mom.

Updates – Aj without Medications #bipolar #mooddisorder

So we have survived one week with Aj off of medications. The medication he was on wasn’t really helping anything anyways but sadly he does need some form of mediation to keep his mood disorder straight. We have had some really great moments with Aj, the first part of the week was decent but Aj was also having the stomach bug that is going around. I think the stomach bug kept Aj at bay and kept his moods somewhat level or at least low key. While Aj still exhibited the mood disorder symptoms, they were mild and easily managed. I couldn’t really gauge school level situations because of the stomach bug he wasn’t in school but one day last week, it was only a three day school week to begin with.

I have noticed that Aj is more vocal at age 7 without medications than obviously he was from age birth to four years. This is to be expected, children don’t usually start to realize their feelings nor know how to express them at such a young age. I always say my first born, and only daughter, was my first experiment in whether my parenting style really works to help children be confident, independent and well rounded. My second born, first son, Aj, is my second experiment with working on a different parenting style as he thinks differently than my other two children. Aj is a very literal child who sees the world in black and white.

As adults we learn life isn’t always black and white, it isn’t clean cut. Sometimes people ruin experiences for others, sometimes we have to pay for mistakes other people make or have made. Aj doesn’t see life that way, to Aj if he did no wrong then he shouldn’t have a consequence. While Aj is also famous, at home, for saying he didn’t do something that he did, you can immediately tell that he is fibbing you. Aj is much like me in that we are incapable of lying, it’s not something we are very good at. Usually we smirk or have this avoidance of eye contact so extreme that it’s blatantly obvious that we are lying. I am thankful Aj picked up that gene from me, because it make it easier to work with him.

I had a meeting last week with Aj’s counselor who still insists yes Aj has a mood disorder, but since he has not been on correct medications for going on about six months now, his learned or enabled behaviors are starting to come back. I won’t lie, that is my fault completely. I am the parent but I do my best, as do all parents, and with a mood disorder child it’s sometimes easier to deter a total mood fluctuation by allowing some behaviors to go unnoticed, rather without consequence. This isn’t a good way to parent but I am not perfect and now am able to see what I have to work on with Aj again, but it’s minimal issues and will be easily worked through.

I cannot say if I feel Aj needs mood disorder medications or not just yet. It has only been a week without medications, he stopped medications on January 20th. So we will see how this plays out, on February 5th he sees his current psych and I am sure by then I will have more feedback about my experiences and observations regarding Aj without medications. For now, I am simply staying strong and moving forward.

 

5 Tips on Working with an Anxious Child

Anxiety. Mood disorder. Special Needs. It’s all fine within your own household, you see we learn to deal with our children in a way that works for them. Society, on the other hand, has zero tolerance for people who don’t fit their mold of what they think to be the norm. I am at the point where I am about sick of being stared at every single time my child is having a difficult day due to either a medication change or simply just having an off day. When my son has an off day, it’s unlike my other two children because he has a mood disorder and anxiety; this makes an off day for him closer to the end of the world mentality. It’s normal for him, it’s not so normal for others. With that being said, there are simple ways to work with a child who has anxiety, and yes people, anxiety is a real disorder that sometimes keeps people from going outside of their house because it’s too painful to go outside of their comfort zone.

I was that person. I have anxiety and every day, even at age 32, it’s still a struggle to get out and mingle with society without having first prepped my brain for it. I have to literally talk myself into going out in public some days and while it’s become my norm at 32 years of age, it wasn’t always my norm. Talking yourself into being part of society when you suffer from major anxiety takes a lot of strength and determination as well as motivation, all three things my seven year old may have but not with a true understanding of how he works best. With that being said I decided to create this list of ways to work with an anxious child …. to help you work with an anxious child at a level that makes sense for the child and will help them blossom in time.

5 Tips to Work with Anxious Children

  1. Be Firm, Yet Understanding – Remind your child that you understand and feel for what he/she is going through, allow their feelings to be validated but be firm in your tone, not stern, so that the child realizes “this person means business” but doesn’t feel more anxious & overwhelmed with the demands from said adult.
  2. Encourage but Do not Force – As my son’s counselor told me, “there is a fine line between encouraging and forcing”. It’s vitally important for the growth of an anxious child to encourage them to continue on in life as is their norm without the anxiety attack. Do not allow anxiety to take over your child, but also don’t drag them kicking and screaming if encouragement doesn’t work. It’s not the end of the world if anxiety has overcome your child to the point that he/she doesn’t want to partake in a certain situation and forcing will only increase anxious feelings. Try again next time.
  3. Don’t Use Logic with an Irrational Thought Pattern – Anxiety is a completely irrational fear of society or situations, therefore you cannot try to use logic or rational reasoning with a child who is having an anxiety attack. They are in a different place where, in their own mind, their fear in this moment makes sense to them. 
  4. Listen to The Child Speak – This is a very important tip, you should listen to an anxious child speak fully. Allow the child to explain to you exactly what they are thinking and feeling during their anxiety attack. This helps two things; it helps you understand what is going on inside of their head so you can better assist them in moving forward and it helps them get whatever they are feeling off of their mind allowing them to have a better chance at overcoming this anxiety attack.
  5. Prepare The Child for What’s to Come – Anxious children really like to know what is going to happen next, most times children will automatically assume that x,y,z is going to happen. When x.y,z doesn’t happen in that order or doesn’t happen at all, then they are bound to have an anxiety attack. Anxious children like to have a routine and a schedule, while they are adaptable to changes in their routines, they must be prepared for those changes. Do your best to prepare an anxious child for their “what’s next” on the agenda, so as to avoid a full blown anxiety attack.

 If you follow the 5 Tips on Working with an Anxious child above, I firmly believe that you will be on your way to greener pastures with your anxious child.

“Image courtesy of cooldesign/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net”.

Anxiety – The Irrational Fear of Society and Situations

After trying to pinpoint exactly why my son is being sent to the school nurse almost on a regular this school year, it dawned on me that maybe it has more to do with the teaching style of his current teacher than to do with his anxiety issues. You see, my son is having medication issues. Being diagnosed with mood disorder – NOS and anxiety – NOS, means he’s a mess if his medications are not properly dosed. I have personal experience with both a mood disorder because of my sister and anxiety because of myself. Put both mood disorder and anxiety together, well it’s a fun bowl of daily challenges when parenting and teaching a child.

Raising a kid with anxiety

I noticed that my son has been calling me in the middle of the day lately, which is great that his school nurse allows him to do so as a way to make him feel more at peace while at school. Allowing my anxious boy to call his Mama mid day to make him realize that Mama is only a phone call away and that he is okay at school, means the world to me. With that being said, sending my anxious boy out of the classroom is not necessarily helping him progress in any way. During shower time the other night, while I was helping my son rinse off with the shower head, I had a conversation with him. 

I wanted to know what is going on at school, why my son is always being in the nurses office and what he feels about his current teacher. The end result is that I gathered his current teacher is not as experienced as his prior year teachers and so in turn sends a child who has special needs out of the classroom rather than adapting to realize a slight change in methods can really help calm my son down. My son informed me that in the prior two years of school his teachers would allow him to color for a bit, as a way to assist in calming an anxiety attack, but this teacher just sends him to the nurse where he does his school work.

Keep in mind, I know this is a seven year old’s interpretation of things but he’s pretty good at relaying things and I’m pretty good at interpreting the semi-full story with what he says, even if it’s not 100% aligned with what he is telling me. 

 Raising a bipolar and anxiety child

It has been an awakening to realize that my son has a teacher who is young and not as experienced as his prior years teachers. While my sons teacher may be an amazing person and I think she’s nice, it isn’t a great fit for my son. My son doesn’t need special attention, after all giving him too much special attention would not encourage his normal childhood growth, but on occasion when his anxiety flares up he may need to just color a bit to calm his nerves. Sending my son out of the classroom is becoming some sort of a set back for my son and it’s not helping him grow socially nor emotionally.

I get that while my son isn’t medicated properly, his mental health issues become worse, but as a school teacher one would think you can be slightly adaptable. Not every child is a textbook child, each child learns in a different way, each child has special needs of their own and every child deserves compassion, love and encouragement. Sending my child to the nurses office is only showing him that the teacher washes her hands of him, over anxiety? Are you joking?

It upsets me to watch my son be dealt with in this way and I am prepared to communicate with those who have worked with my son in prior years to allow him to blossom in a school setting. Hopefully communication and a meeting of some sort will assist in getting my son in the right direction so that I no longer have to hear of kids telling me my son cries all of the time, or my son does this all of the time or that. My son is dealing with peer issues now because he is being singled out, not intentionally I presume, and that is the biggest concern that his counselor and I had when we began a mood disorder treatment; we didn’t want his mood disorder and anxiety to hinder him from developing bonds with classmates or being labeled as a troubled youth by the school.

A mother and her two sons

Having a mental health disorder does not make someone bad. Anxiety is not that difficult to understand, it’s simply an irrational fear. I would assume that a teacher, above all, would have more compassion for anxiety because many kids get that without having a major disorder because school is a whole different environment than their home.

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