Instant meltdown

It took me three times as long as the average person to learn to drive.  I took driver’s education twice. I had to drive automatic transmission for a year before I mastered stick-shift.  Despite all this, I did learn, and in later years have successfully driven in both the US and the UK.

But I am SO glad I never saw this while behind the wheel — I would have been so overwhelmed as to want to curl up into a fœtal ball:

A "tree" sculpture featuring over a dozen traffic lights facing all directions
A

The “Traffic Light Tree” is a sculpture by Pierre Vivant, in London’s Docklands.  It’s interesting enough as a visual pun on urban fixtures and London Plane trees, but what insane person decided to forgo the usual park and install such an art piece in the middle of a roundabout?!

Advertisements

I need better sleep:

I microwaved a bowl of salad.

Driven to a frazzle

General kvetching here, mostly related to the large number of idiots who feel the need to–   
 
I’ll get to that in a minute.  You ever feel so annoyed and stressed that your brain functioning gets crispy around the edges?  I hate driving around strange cities, especially when I’m looking for parking places. It’s hard navigating unfamiliar streets and trying to read the signs and watch for passengers and watch for traffic and figure out how to get somewhere despite the one-way streets and angled streets and dead-end streets that confound my passage. I was stymied by streets that were closed for construction, and I found no less than four of them in this small area that was both experiencing both road repairs and the rehabbing of several old buildings.  So many unfamiliar things to be aware of — it was like being a student driver all over again.  
 
By the time I rejoined my kids at the hotel lobby, my head hurt, my eyes had that “screwed in too tight” feeling (like when you first put on a stronger pair of glasses), I was randomly mispronouncing words, and was taking wrong turns down hallways.  Sitting around a hotel lobby and crayoning butterflies in my new coloring book was just what I needed to decompress.
 
It was the eldest’s birthday.  We went to a museum, had lunch and went to some specialty shops, hung out at the hotel lobby to rest a bit, then went out to eat at a nice restaurant.  All these places were within the same square mile.  I figured I would drive down to the city, find a parking spot, enjoy the day, and then drive home.
 
I couldn’t find my sunglasses before leaving the house, and it was really bright.  Then I couldn’t find a place to park.  The parking in front of the museum is the short-term variety with coin meters, so I look for street parking, find myself in all the wrong lanes, finally give up on that, drop passengers off at the museum, and then go in pursuit of the multi-storey car park nearby.
 
Next thing I know people are calling me because I needed to already be there at the museum for the ticket time.  I’d spent literally half an hour trying to get around a block to the correct turn-off into that multi-storey car park, and then cruising circuitiously within the structure looking for an empty spot that wasn’t either reserved for post office workers, or rendered functionless by sloppy parking.
 
Because Yes, an alarmingly large percentage of the people parked in that car park feel they need Sport-Utility Vehicles.  Not to navigate muddy, rocky pastures, nor to carry equipment through washed-out country roads, nor make deliveries up the rutted gravel side roads of mountain foothills, but to cruise around the rugged terrain of paved city streets to offices, schools and shops.  Older, crowded, downtown metropolitan streets, where the lanes are squeezed by parallel parking.    
 
The old urban streets are narrow, and the parking spaces in such areas are also necessarily narrow.  But an alarmingly large number of people drive SUVs that don’t really fit the given parking spaces.  A surprising number of them end up in that multi-storey car park, with a pair of wheels over the line into the next parking spot.  Some of the drivers are either so paranoid about their paint, so uncertain in their driving skills, so inconsiderate, or feel so entitled that they simply straddle the dividing line (centered over it) and use two whole parking spaces for their single oversized vehicle. 
 
Polysyllabic expletive!  There I am, part of a line of vehicles circling the structure, looking for available spots.  We drive along one side and then the other, slowly cruising up level after level in our pursuit of parking.  My Beetle is dwarfed by these overbuilt, gasoline-gulping, fat-arsed vehicles with their passenger windows that looked down upon my sunroof.  I finally park and rejoin the family.  
 
Then after the museum tour,  I am in the queue of vehicles waiting to go through the ticket gate to exit the pricey car park.  To my passenger side is an empty spot, and I pause to let an oncoming vehicle turn in.  The driver of the SUV turns to go across my lane into the parking spot — and then they realise that they are not going to make it at that angle and stop.  
 
They back up, and re-angle again to fit into the parking space.
 
Then they back up a second time, and re-angle a third time to fit into the parking space.
 
And even after that, they are still not parked between the divider lines.
 
Once finally positioned, agitated squawking ensues from inside the vehicle as the passengers do not have enough room to open the door and get out!  Meanwhile, the line of cars ahead of me had advanced, so I do too — obviously this driver needs space to manoeuver.  (I assume that everyone either crawled over to the driver’s side to exit, or they gave up and re-parked it elsewhere.)  
 
Back when I learned to drive, we probably would have called such a manoeuver a “4-point turn”, meaning having to stop and change the direction four times.  Then again, we didn’t even make such manoeuvers; we only did 3-point turns in lieu of U-turns when on narrow roads.   

a huge green SUV parked with wheels over the parking divider line
 
Slowly waiting for my turn at the ticket gate, I passed yet another such monster.  (The queue was really slow, hence time to take snaps.)  This SUV driver had backed the vehicle into the parking spot, which is no small trick.  Even so, they still were not centered between the lines.  (Maybe the vehicle that had been on their passenger side had also strayed over the divider line.)
 
Apparently the owner of the black car to the right of the SUV had come by and parked later, because it was centered within its parking lane divider lines.  I’m assuming that the black car’s driver was able to open their door enough to slide out, but it must have been a tight squeeze.  
 
 a huge red SUV with wheels over the parking divider line 
 
It took me a freaking HOUR to move my car from a pay-per-hour multi-storey car park by the museum to a free car park at the nearby restaurant where we would be dining.  I knew where I needed to be — I could see the restaurant.  I knew where I was (I wasn’t lost) — I just could not get from where I was to where I wanted to be!  I probably travelled four or five miles, but when all was said and done, had effected a vector change of a whopping quarter-mile northward. 
 
So why was I driving around this large metropolitan area in pursuit of parking?  It’s not that I prefer driving — I would rather be riding a subway or light-rail.  It’s  because the public transit system in Big City sucks.  No one can get the funds to develop a more viable mass-transit because too many people prefer their cars.  
 
(These digital photos were not manipulated other than to correct for lighting and to white out the license plates for the owner’s privacy.  But it doesn’t really matter where the photos were taken — those damn SUVs are EVERY-freaking-WHERE.) 

Transitions, ACK!

Read up on descriptions of students with autism, Asperger’s, or Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, and you find the familiar piece about how such people “have rigid routines” or “cannot deal with changes in routine”. Some of those descriptions are um, much more rigidly defined than others. I have real problems with descriptions that use a lot of always or never, as real humans just aren’t that binary. In such cases, the author is being more literal-minded than the group they are describing!

In contrast, statements worded as, “Dislikes changes in routine” or “Has difficulty with unexpected changes in routine” would be much more accurate, especially with regards to the unexpected changes — you can brace for, and plan ahead for expected changes in routines.

Therefore, consistency in routine is suggested as a good instructional, parenting, and employment tool. It’s also recommended for students with AD/HD as a support measure.

But you know what? Everyone is attached to their routines. We like to get through our morning preparation without a lot of glitches. “OMG, we’re out of coffee!” We expect holiday celebrations to go a certain way, and when two people become a couple they find out how many rituals were specific to their own families of origin, and then the couple has to decide how they are going to select and combine both of their rituals.

People in general don’t like having to adjust their day around massive changes in their schedule, and are more than a little vexed at unexpected and unavoidable challenges thrown in. Airline travel went from something exciting to a dreaded ordeal as airport security became tighter and tighter, and the airlines restricted what kinds of and how many comfort objects people could bring with them on the plane. No, “comfort objects” aren’t just teddy bears or worry-beads; a wide variety of mundane objects like your favorite bed pillow, brand of soda and portable music player are also comfort objects.

So why are some people so much more attached to their routines, and then undone when faced with changes?

There are a several reasons, related to situational decoding, compensating, and attention-switching. Read the rest of this entry »

“For no reason”

(Coffee-spew warning)

“I don’t know; he just started biting the other kid for no reason. But you know, children-with-autism just do those things.”

“We were just going over the lesson when alla-sudden she just BLEW UP for no reason, and started cussing and calling me an F-ing B and threw her folder papers all over and stormed out of the room!”

“I don’t know what’s wrong with this kid. He’ll just pitch an absolute FIT. We tried to restrain him but then he starting kicking the para and screaming and banging his head on the floor. Honestly, he does. It’s awful, believe me. He’s just uncontrollable — if you want, we can set him off and you’ll see what I mean!”

These are re-created quotes, not verbatim from documentation. But I’m sure you get the idea. (The behavior specialist was naturally horrified Read the rest of this entry »

Bridge Load Limit

“I try to take one day at a time, but sometimes several days attack me at once.”
~Jennifer Unlimited

PART THE FIRST: THRESHOLDS AS VARIABLE MAXIMA

Sometimes it’s hard to explain why things get overwhelming, or why something I could tolerate just find one day becomes overwhelming on another day. I look “normal”. I earned university degrees, hold jobs, have a family, converse like an intelligent person … and then I’m standing there dumbly like a deer in the headlights, or am staggering down the hallway flapping a hand, or am seated away from others and rocking in agitation. I’ve turned into a “not-normal” person, and transgressed that invisible boundary marking staff from students / clients, or have shifted from upstanding citizen to crazy-looking person on the street.

Amanda wrote a pithy blogpost on 6th May, 2006, making the excellent point that what constitutes a sensory overload threshold for one (autistic) person may be quite different for another. This is relevant to all sorts of types of inner and outer functioning; as she points out, Read the rest of this entry »

Who Owns What?

SCENE 1

“You can’t make me!” she replied in a taunting, bratty voice.

Then I calmly replied with what is probably one of the most difficult things for a parent or staff member to ever say, “You’re right. I cannot ‘make’ you do anything.”

Following this factual statement was the next important one that stepped away from the power struggle between myself and this now-very-smug teen, and led us back to the actions-and-consequences. “Because YOU are responsible for your behavior. You need to get your work done – and completing it to an acceptable level – so you can do other things like have computer free time, read a book, or play pool. Or even take a nap, if that’s what you want to do. Now, do you want to do the reading together, or by yourself?”

SCENE 2

“Hah! You can’t make me!” he challenged.

“You’re right. I cannot ‘make’ you do anything. However, I am responsible for your safety, and that is not a safe choice. You need to follow directions for this assignment, or we are going to quit this right now. IF you don’t complete the assignment in a safe manner, THEN you are not going to get free time afterwards.”

(Damn but he didn’t go ahead and try to eat the chile pepper seeds anyway, which painful natural consequences required much rinsing-and-spitting, and consumption of bread to mop up the capsaicin oils that were hurting the inside of his mouth. Of course all this first aid meant that he had the rest of the seed-planting assignment to make up later on, and he had no free time for play. What fools these mortals be!)

SCENE 3

“You’re making me mad!” she snapped.

Wait a minute, didn’t we recently establish that you cannot “make” someone do something? The same also applies to feelings, despite all the social conventions we ascribe to making someone sad or someone else making us happy, or a situation making us frustrated. No one is actually responsible for someone else’s feelings.

In truth, our feelings arise not from the situations and not from what people say or do, but rather from our views and opinions about events. This is why different people can have different responses to the same situations.

This is why the verbal abuse from others rolls right past me now, because I understand that it’s not really about me, it’s about other people acting out their problems.

“I didn’t really mean it,” he protested, “She knows I didn’t really mean it; I was just all stressed out about my mom. She shouldn’t get so mad.”

“You’re still responsible for what you say to others that can be upsetting to them.”

Nor is anyone necessarily responsible for the feelings they have, especially given that they arise from parts of the brain that we do not have conscious control over.

However, everyone is responsible for their own actions. We are responsible for what we do that others can react to in their happiness, sadness, anger or fear. We are also responsible for our own words and actions derived from our own happiness, sadness, anger or fear.

“I can’t help it – I’m pissed!” he ranted, pacing back and forth.

“Okay, you can’t help being angry. Everybody gets angry sometimes. But kicking the lockers and ripping up the bulletin board is NOT an appropriate way of reacting to that upset. You need to come up with a better way of handling such situations, and how you are reacting to them.”

Who Owns It?

“It’s not about YOU,” I explained, although I had that dreaded sinking sensation that although the words flowed by her ears and pinballed through the processing areas of her brain, that although she was hearing and listening and understanding the verbiage, the other staff member was also not really understanding what the hell I meant. Meanwhile, the children around us were bouncing around in various levels of happiness, impulsiveness, mild disobedience, and general obliviousness to rules. As long as no one was getting hurt, the minor details of behaviour didn’t matter; this was yet another day at the city pool, in a long line of such overly-hot summer days at the city pool.

“It’s not about what you’re doing,” I tried in vain to rephrase, although my efforts were getting to be pretty lame by this time in the afternoon, what with the combination of summer heat, the impact of children’s high-decibel noise aggravated by hyperacussis, and the strain of trying to track a dozen children despite mild faceblindness. “I mean, how you handle it does matter, but …” I stared into the distance, as one of our charges was wandering around with her bathing suit bottom halfway up one buttock. I kept track of our children by remembering what bathing suits they were wearing, so I was predisposed to notice such. “But it’s not about you.” I finished, flapping my hands a bit in agitation as those words were still in my verbal buffer, but I was instead needing to formulate some kind of sentence directed to another staff member closer to our wayward girl.

“Oh, he’s just being defiant, and I’m not going to let him,” she replied in the self-assured manner of the barely-twenty-something, and left me to go refill her cup of iced cola. I heaved a big sigh at the idea of “letting” someone be defiant, and went to intercept one of our autistic boys so he wouldn’t toss bits of paper into an air conditioner fan.

There are some children who are just explosive in temperament, for any number of reasons. Handling such children is always tricky, because it’s all to easy to get sucked into the whole situation and end up aggravating the dynamic instead of damping it.

Some children get angry because they are being defiant, and are pushing you into a power struggle. We’re familiar with how this works with toddlers who return instruction with a, “NO!” The best approach for such is to give them choices that are acceptable to you – the toddler feels they now have some measure of immediate control over their life, and yet you are still in ultimate control by being able to select options that are appropriate. Teenagers are sometimes like toddlers-with-hormones, and frequently benefit from similar tactics. In any regard, you shouldn’t respond to the power struggle, but rather respond to the situation and help the child understand the options they have available to them, and how to anticipate the results of their choices. (Sometimes I hate to use the word “consequences” because it has gotten so laden with meaning punishments.)

This particular staff member was predictably playing into the power struggle, and was determined that she was going to “win” by proving something or another to the child. However, this child wasn’t really being defiant in the volitional sense. The defiance wasn’t premeditated or consciously malicious. This was just one of those children who didn’t have sufficiently well-developed mental “brakes” to be self-aware, anticipate things, and stop himself before he reacted to situations. Such children frequently have low frustration levels, which are also a result of this kind of dysfunction.

The issue here was many-fold. For one thing, the staff member was reacting to the effects of the problem (the blow-ups) instead of the cause of the problem (the child’s processing dysfunction, plus the ongoing presence of situations that fed into the blow-ups). For another thing, the staff member believed that she had a lot more ownership of the solution to the problem than she did. She probably also likely believed that the child had a lot more ownership of the cause of the problem than he did. But although the child rarely meant to get so upset or angry, he still had to have some responsibility for what he did, otherwise he would end up reneging on most of his personal responsibility and go from being a child with a problem to being a brat with a problem.

It’s one of those weird little subconscious glitches in our brains that leads us to make fundamental attribution errors – our own lapses are caused by environmental reasons (“I of course couldn’t help but be incoherent as the heat and noise was making me tired”), but other’s lapses are caused by their moral failing (“but she was being foolish”). Staff members, teachers and other people usually assign successes to themselves, and failures to the children.

But in real life, education “takes two to tango” – both the teacher and the student need to work at the process. So does engaging in arguments – the second person has to continue to give the first person enough responses that reinforce all the hollering and carrying-on.

Diffusing these explosive situations is difficult. We have to figure out just when a child is being truly manipulative, and when it’s some kind of cognitive dysfunction, and when it’s a child with some kind of cognitive dysfunction that on that day is just being manipulative – life is messy! Sometimes we can identify what kinds of situations tend to spark these meltdowns, and then during a good time, discuss with the child what ways we could work with them to change things so they would be less problematic. We can also defuse or at least reduce those meltdowns by not giving into the power struggles. We have to remain compassionate, but detached. Be calm, remove extra people from the situation, give plenty of personal space, have open and friendly body language to reduce the feeling of threat, even be silent sometimes to let the argument fizzle out. After the child has calmed down then we can reflect with them in an objective manner about what happened, what needs to be done to rectify the problem by restitution to the others who were involved, and work proactively to reduce such future events.

But as I redirected the boy from flicking bits of paper to flicking pool water, I realised that I would not be able to “make” the other staff member understand something until she was ready to look beyond the necessity for “not letting” him do something. I could not control her need to “win” the argument any more than she could control his need to not quit an activity when it was time to leave.

Recess: Sunday Funnies

Recess means we take a break and play; it’s important to do that once in a while.

Today I have a cartoon from today’s funny pages, “Pearls Before Swine” by Stephen Pastis. This one made it to our refrigerator. Everyone has difficulties understanding voice-mail messages once in a while. Those of us with auditory processing problems or hearing problems have difficulties understanding voice-mail messages all the time. We dread listening to voice-mail messages, and hate having to listen to them repeatedly to try and figure out what someone is telling us.

 

(Description of cartoon: This is a seven-panel cartoon of a pig and a rat standing by a table with a telephone message recording machine. In the first panel, Rat is listening to a recorded message, with pencil poised over a notepad; the recorded message says, “…and so … if you just … uh… meet me … like … uhh … at the uhh…” In the second panel, Pig joins the annoyed-looking Rat and asks him, “What are you up to, Rat?” In the third panel, Rat answers, “Listening to this idiot’s endless message … all I want is for him to say his stupid phone number.” The recorded message continues, “sooooo, anyhoo…” In the fourth panel, Pig responds, “Yeah I hate that … it’s–” and Rat interrupts him, “Wait wait wait .. shut up … I think he’s about to say it …” as the recorded message continues, “so … uh … give … uh me … a … call … uh… the number … is”. In the fifth panel, Pig and Rat are listening to the message, and Rat is bug-eyed in disbelief, as the words of the recorded message are just a solid blur of indistinguishable numbers. By the sixth panel the message has stopped, and Pig is staring at Rat, who is now an angry red color with steam coming out of his ears, and is shaking his fists. In the last panel, Pig turns to leave, commenting, “Why are the slowest message talkers the fastest phone number givers?” Meanwhile, Rat is beating on the answering machine, BAM-BAM-BAM, and yelling, ” ‘Cause people are morons!! morons!! morons!!”)

 

System Overload (Error Messages)

CRASH!

Some of us are old enough to remember the Ed Sullivan Show, which was a variety show on television. One guest was a man who would spin plates on sticks. He’d prop a dowel onto a stand, and get a china plate spinning atop of it (the top of the dowel inside the lip around the base of the plate). Then when this one was going, he’d start up another plate, and another one, then have to rush over and give the first plate a fresh spin because it would be getting wobbly, re-spin the second plate, add another plate or two, re-spin the third plate, and so on, until his time was spent rushing back and forth re-spinning all his plates.

Of course what made this act popular was that it wasn’t just a parlor trick; it was a metaphor for all the things we have to juggle in our lives and sometimes cannot. You know what happens when you have too many plates spinning; one is likely to get away from you (crash!) as you devote time to another …

Some days everything runs pretty well. I compensate for various difficulties. I feel smart, converse appropriately, don’t get overly sidetracked, and get things done. No one notices that I am having to work as hard as I really am to “spin all my plates” and keep them in the air.

Other days are bumpy and uneven; I do well at some activities, but less well at others. I can spin all my figurative plates with varying degrees of efficiency, but it is obviously a strain and I don’t try to keep the intensity up all day. I might drop a plate or two, but manage to pick it back up and get it going again.

Then there are the days when my plate-spinning skills suck. I get too overwhelmed by the quantities of novel inputs I am trying to sort out, or the numbers of simultaneous inputs that all require high-level cognitive work, combined with my internal processing glitches. Days like this are not unlike switching from a high-speed cable internet connection on a new computer with a GHz processor, to a low-speed dial-up connection on an old computer with a low-MHz processor. The slow internet connection makes the Web pages load s-l-o-w-l-y frame by frame. Trying to run more than one program at once makes all of them process in an anxious, halting manner. Every now and then an error message pops up, a program will abruptly close, or the entire system will freeze up and the computer has to be force-quit and rebooted.

When my processing gets overloaded, my perceptions of things around me are reduced. Objects are not individually distinct, but can erratically devolve into indistinct patterns of color and lighting. I cannot identify people by my usual gestalts of nonfacial characteristics, and sometimes I don’t even perceive them as people but just as moving objects. Some kinds of visuals, such as high-contrast vertical stripes or flashing things derail my attention completely, leaving me frozen and entranced.

My reading ability gets dyslexic – I interpret a newspaper headline as “Stove Jar Bunk” (instead of “Star Drove Drunk”), and I mix up 2 and 5 or 7 and L. Grading multiple-choice assignments with all those b and d answers is dizzying, especially with so many of our students also being dysgraphic. My own writing ability gets erratic, and I spell things inside out, drop entire words, have to focus on forming individual letters, and at worst writing only works at the level of “autofill” where I’m mostly writing or keyboarding by kinesthetic memory.

Sounds get intermingled, and the audio processing track gets stutters, repeat loops, and blank spots. The tinnitus gets worse, and goes from mild background mosquito-whine in one ear to louder buzzing noise or two-tone noises in both ears. Sometimes when people talk to me I don’t realize they are speaking, or that they are speaking to me, so there’s additional decoding delay. When I talk I am more likely to stutter, drop certain phonemes, substitute some random word, or stop in mid-sentence because I have suddenly lost the rest of the words I was about to say.

The number of texture sensations I feel are reduced to just one or two, but frequently switches from my socks, my glasses, the chair, my shirt, or something in my hand. Sometimes those sensations become magnified, where much of my world becomes filled with the annoyance of socks drooping down my ankles. When I try to focus my attention to one sensory processing channel, then I can’t pay attention to the others. The tics get more pronounced, I shake one hand repeatedly, and my proprioception is off, making me trip or drop things or walk in a somewhat spastic manner.

I’ve heard that outwardly I appear clumsy, stupid, drunken or sick. Random people ask me, “Are you okay?”

It takes so much effort to realise that (1) the noise is people talking (2) the person is talking to Me (3) who this person might be (4) what the words are (5) what the words mean (6) that they are asking a non-rhetorical question that requires some kind of answer (7) trying to self-assess: am I okay? (8) what would “okay” be? (9) does someone else need to do something for me?

Coming up with an answer that is both functional and is bracketed with something close to the appropriate “social noise” (polite fluff) is a bit much to expect from me at this point. It’s hard to think of a suitably informative reply, but of one thing I am certain: please don’t make me go sit in tiny places painted institutional pea-green. I’m not sure where I’ve encountered those before, just that I know it was a not-good situation and I don’t want to go there again.

The best answer is an “I’m okay,” pulled from the mental drop-down menu of stock social phrases. Most people don’t really want to get involved; they just want to be reassured that an ambulance is not required. Even if I’m not making eye contact and my delivery sounds flat, this seems to be an adequate answer. Sometimes I’m mentally stuck on that drop-down menu, and deliver an additional, “Thank you,” or “Excuse me,” but apparently this is okay because the value of social noise currency is in the act of exchanging, not in the specific coin.

Getting too overloaded means I have to shut down for a while, slumping numbly in a chair and rocking without being focused upon anything. Unless of course I get snagged by one of those shiny, glittering or flashing things, such as the glowing blue light on an electronic mechanism, or slips of sunshine flickering through tree leaves. Even so, I’m not entirely “there”, and am probably still rocking a bit.

The trick is noticing when I am at the beginning of getting overwhelmed, of noticing the buzz that’s swamping my nervous system in transmission noise. The problem of course, is that by then I have even less mental processing for self-monitoring to realise what’s going on!  But I’ve figured out that experiencing tingling-numbness, really loud tinnitus, or pronounced difficulty in reading or writing are useful cues that I need to take a good break from whatever I’m doing.

Otherwise my plates wobble and start crashing.

Trials and Tribulations

People whine about how hard it is to have an autistic child, or any kind of exceptional child. All too often there are terrible news reports about parents who have killed their handicapped or autistic children because they were such a horrid burden. Even more horrifying is when the press perspective or quotes are full of sympathy for the murderer because killing your own child is “understandable” because a person can’t help but be insanely stressed from dealing with the child’s abnormality. Excuse me; that should be the alleged murderers; trials haven’t happened yet for several of these cases.

Holy shit! Parenting is hard. Period. Yeah, there are bad days. Some days you feel like you’ll never get to eat your food at the proper temperature, or go potty or take a shower uninterrupted, or sleep through the night. Some days you feel like you’ll never finish the endless assessments, or learning more about the alphabet soup of ADHD, APD, ASD, TS, DSM, IEP, or attending special school meetings. Some days you feel like you’ll never get through the little chats with the police officer on your doorstep, or the hormonal teenager angst, or the getting homework done and turned in so the grades reflect a little of the smarts behind the scholastic ennui.

Amazingly, this is true regardless of what sorts of kids you end up with.

It’s true that there are some problems with autistic children that one doesn’t have as often with neurotypical children. There are also problems with NT children that one doesn’t often have with ASD children (when was the last time you read a blog by a parent sighing over how their autistic kid wanted to invite two dozen kids for a birthday party at Chuckie Cheez followed by a sleepover?) Different is not worse.

Aspie kid was a “runner” as a toddler. With my faceblindness I have great difficulty finding people in crowds; tracking down a small child that has bolted into the mobs of people at a mall would have been dangerously slow. Thankfully my other kid was four years older and could help me. I ended up having the tot in one of those child-harness & leash setups when we went shopping. People would give me dirty looks because I was a “horrid mommy who put their kid on a leash”. Frankly, I was a concerned mommy who wanted to keep her kid safe, because this child was fast, strong and inclined to dash off when intrigued by something.

There were also meltdowns, which being unaware of autism at the time, were to me simply “being too tired” and/or “having a tantrum”. So I ended up figuring out what the triggers usually were, and finding ways of circumventing those. We also learned how to calm down, and how to recognise when things were starting to get to be Too Much. I also learned the fine art of calmly saying, “Having a temper tantrum is not going to make me change my mind. When you calm down, then we will shop some more.” (I used a lot of If-Then and When-Then constructs when dealing with my toddlers; they could understand the binary constructs, and it helped them make sense of cause and effect.) Of course, passers-by would want to intervene and try to comfort/appease the child or chastise me for having a crying, floor-kicking kid on the grocery aisle floor. I also acquired the other fine art of smiling, nodding, and reassuring them, “It’ll be okay in a minute or two.”

This child also had/has distinct clothing and food preferences. Some relatives called this “picky”. I thought of it as merely having … preferences. I like my clothes or my food a certain way; why wouldn’t anyone else?

Sure everything was all about orcas when younger. Sure made gift-giving easy. Now it’s videogames (shocking, I know). Sure makes gift-giving easy. (Unlike dad, who has neither perseverations nor any particular hobbies; is that just so weird, or what?!)

Different is not worse. It’s just different. Rearing children is going to do major things to your daily life structure, your bank account, your living room furniture, your social life, and so on. That’s real life. Whining because your life isn’t going the way you thought it was going to, or like some kind of posed ideal family scenario from a greeting card, is simply whining.

Meanwhile, learn how to have fun with your children. Figure out how they learn, as unique individuals. Experience how they share their thoughts and feelings, as unique individuals. Take photographs, collect stories about funny family moments, and build up that group identity of “this is the sort of stuff that makes our family because we’re all part of it”.

DON’T EVER wait until “things get back to normal” or “when this is all over” to do anything. There is no “normal”. This is it. This is life. Fun is something you make, not something that happens to you. Families is who you are, not something you wish would be. Love each other, live it, enjoy it.

(And bake cookies, because cold milk and warm cookies with your fingerprints pressed into the tops are great family-glue.)