Tough Parenting Moments

Monday, after school, in a fit of frustration, my son declared, “I am sick of Fremont and Clarmar.  Why can’t I be anyone’s best friend?”

I paused, knowing he can be sensitive, knowing that he had a bad day/week/month, knowing that maybe it will be better tomorrow.  “What happened?”

“Well, sometimes it feels like the kids are mean.  They don’t really want to play with me.  They don’t want me on their team.”

“Why don’t they want you on your team?  Do you think you can relax about rules on the playground?  Can’t you let some rules slide, and it be OK?”  I asked him.  I know he can be hard to get along with.  I understand that playground rules are different from real life rules.  I know the kids have forgotten that he struggles with this, and it makes sense since they are 7.

“I try.  I try to be nice.  I try to change and act like them.  I try to treat them the way they want to be treated, but no one really likes me.”

In that moment, I pause, I want to cry.  I am sad and I am feeling like a terrible mom.  We are constantly helping our son change.  We are teaching him social skills and trying to help him understand how others think.  He works on it daily.  He tries.  Even when he doesn’t ‘get it’ he still tries.  I know kids get frustrated with him at times, and he knows it too.  He is trying and trying.

The thing I feel bad about: When do others have to change?  Why should he go through life wanting and trying to be different to act like someone else?  If we want him to feel good about being a person with Asperger’s, then we have to accept him, quirks and all.  Kids have to accept him, and others do too.  It shouldn’t be a one way road for this 7-year-old.

After my flood of thoughts and pause, I said, “Well if you are treating others the way you want to be treated, then that is all you can do.  You can’t control others and how they treat you, but you can control yourself and how you treat others.  If kids at your school can’t see that, and accept you for WHO YOU ARE, then they are not worth it.  You are a nice boy, who is trying very hard.”

“I wish that was easy,” he sighed.

“Me too, I wish it would get easier, but that is life, Buddy.  It’s just a stinky part of life.”

Upon hearing the word stinky, he smiled and laughed.  Toilet humor took over and our conversation was paused.  However, I can’t stop thinking about it.

I pray that I can successfully guide these two kids through life.  I pray they know they are loved and accepted just the way God made them, without letting their little quirks be excuses.  No one ever said that raising kids was easy, and unfortunately, I don’t think the lessons will get any easier.

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Getting Ready for the IEP

This blog is being written by a teaching parent.  I am a teacher, but I am always a parent first.  I am going to explain some things that I did the past few days to get ready for an important meeting tomorrow at my son’s school.  I want to be clear: I am not giving advice.  I am telling you my preparation story.  Let me apologize for a dry blog post, but I do want put it out there, in case anyone can find it helpful.  Once again, I am NOT offering advice…

Tomorrow, hours after the classroom presentation, I have my son’s IEP meeting.  An IEP is an Individualized Education Plan; it’s a legal document that says exactly what a child needs extra help with and how it will be delivered.  Each year, before it expires, we have to meet as a team to make sure that it still meets my son’s educational needs.  Someday, if my son does not qualify for special education, I can still put him on a 504 Plan because of his diagnosis, which is technically PDD-NOS.

First, I listed my son’s strengths.  I considered things he does really well at home and with friends.  I am excited to hear his strengths in the classroom too.  I also made a list of concerns that I have about him as a child and a student.  For example, I wrote down reading words as a strength and inferencing (making conclusions based on information from the book) as a concern.  I try not to have a long list, but I do list EVERYTHING, even if I don’t bring them up, I have them down in case I need them.

Secondly, I found and read his current IEP.  I am lucky, I am a teacher and I know what many of those things mean.  If I didn’t know what they meant, I would write down questions parents are allowed to ask questions until they understand.  I placed sticky notes on the IEP on areas that I am concerned about, or that I don’t think apply any more.  I also wrote down LOTS of questions to ask the professionals.  I made sure my questions were focused on the goals of the IEP.  (I try really hard NOT to treat the IEP like a parent-teacher conference.  Those are different.  The IEP is about how his delays and educational concerns will be addressed.)

I know my rights as his parent too.  With my notification, I received a current copy of my rights, I looked through them to see if anything has changed.  (If you have a child in special education, read your rights.  They are good to know.)

Finally, I looked at his plan and current services.  I am prepared with ideas in case they decide that certain services are no longer necessary.  We are a team, and I am a member on it, as a parent, my opinion matters, even if I don’t always get my way.  I have a feeling one of his services will be dropped tomorrow.  While, I am very concerned about it, I have looked at how it has been serviced the passed two years.  I am ready with concerns in that area, but I am prepared to accept the decision of the team, since it most likely is not necessary because of the way the public school can address it.  I am considering going private with it, or at least having a professional consultation so I can help him at home.

Tomorrow, to the meeting, I am bringing my notebook, his IEP, a black pen, and a positive attitude.  Showing up angry or defensive won’t do anyone anything.  Instead, I go ready to advocate and speak up, but also remembering we are all on the same side.  School professionals want what is best for the student, and I truly believe that.  However, this is my chance to be my son’s voice and to make sure his needs are being met.  I really don’t want a repeat of the playground problem from two weeks ago and that is my main concern.

At the meeting, the only thing I have to sign is the attendance form.  I do not have to sign the IEP tomorrow; however, I normally do.  Once again, I believe in the professionals at my son’s school.  If I am not comfortable with the decisions of the team, I do get to think about it or take time to ask questions.  I do need to sign it before the other one expires, so he can have a working IEP in place.

I hope I have thought of everything and I am ready for the meeting tomorrow.  I want to trust professionals, but through our autism journey, I have learned to know as much as I can, and be ready to advocate.  While I do trust our school’s staff, I know that Scott and I love our son more than anyone.  It is our job to make sure his needs are being taken care of every moment of every day.

Another resource: 10 Common Mistakes Parents Make at an IEP  (I am not endorsing this website, I am sharing something I found online that I found helpful.)

What Aspergers Means to McCartney

On Tuesday, I am going to a special presentation in my son’s classroom.  The guidance counselor is going to teach the class about Aspergers.  Once the counselor is finished, I will get a chance to talk to his class too.  It will be a chance to educate the kids, and let them ask questions.  We are hoping for a better level of understanding amongst his classmates.  Aspergers is invisible; a child with it, appears to be typical, but behaves a little bit differently than other “typical” peers.  While we don’t want Asperger’s to be an excuse for our son, we want others to know some reasons behind his personality.  I have reservations about sharing information that feels private, but I am hopeful that my son will feel more comfortable in his own skin after.

This weekend, McCartney and I discussed what he wanted me to tell his class about his Aspergers.  This is our list:

* His brain works differently than ours.  He knows things that we learn.  For example, no one taught him how to read.  Around 3 years old, he started identifying words like December, Sunday, cat, dog, etc in the grocery store.

* He has to learn things that we all know.  He is learning how socialize with people.  He doesn’t always think to look at a person’s face or body to see what their whole message is.  He often just listens to your words.

* He also had to learn how to use his imagination, where most of us know how to pretend without anyone teaching us.

*  He doesn’t lie, so he assumes others don’t either.  He takes what you say as the truth.  For example, if you are mad at him and say, “I won’t ever play with you again.”  He thinks you REALLY mean it.

* He likes to follow the rules when playing a game.  Rules make sense to him.  He doesn’t understand when kids change the rules to games.  He gets frustrated.

* He can’t always tell when a person is joking.  Often times, he needs time to think about if a person’s words are true or if it’s a joke.

* Because the social world is very complicated, he doesn’t trust people easily.  He often thinks that others are deceiving him on purpose.  We are not trying to confuse him, but he doesn’t always understand that.

* When he is interested in a topic, he wants to know EVERYTHING about it, and will study it until he does.

* He wants to have friends and be included.

I admit, I very nervous about this presentation, but I am open to trying new ideas, when the current ideas aren’t working.

Who Owns the Moment?

While writing about our lives, I often wonder: Who owns the moment?  For some reason, I really enjoy sharing our stories.  I love reliving the good moments, and I find it therapeutic to share the bad ones.  I write honestly, and from the heart.  However, I understand that some moments are private and shouldn’t be shared with the world.  It doesn’t mean I don’t write about them, but it does mean that I don’t share them.

I have to remember that I am a mom first and my kids don’t get a choice about what I write about and I often write about them.  I share the good things they do and I also share the some of the mistakes they make.  I didn’t forget this when I wrote yesterday’s post.

Writing about why we told our son about Asperger’s was tough for many reasons.  First, this week has been a tough week.  The moon is full, our schedules are filling up, and we had to tell our son something BIG for him to digest.   Second, I didn’t want to share his moment with the world.  My son’s Asperger’s is his.  I don’t have it, and while I do my best to help him, it’s not mine.  I didn’t go into detail about our conversation because I didn’t want to steal his moments for my own therapy.

Instead, I did my best to write about the events from my perspective.  I needed to write about my son and what happened from my perspective.  I also know that God is calling me to share our journey with others.  I can’t just write about the good times, because life is full of so many hard times.  I hope that our story somehow helps another person.  I wouldn’t write about it otherwise.

Later on, when I go back to these posts, I want to remember that I know not every moment I witness belongs to me.  Yes, I am sharing our stories, however, some moments are not meant for the world.

Why it was Time to Tell Our 7 Year-Old about Asperger’s

Yesterday, I received a phone call from the principal at my kids’ school.  My son made a really bad choice at recess, and it landed him in heap of trouble.  He regretted it, but it didn’t take it back, nonetheless.  My first reaction was anger: How could he do that? The anger quickly turned into frustration, worry, and finally empathy.

“The kids call me weird.”  “I don’t have any friends.”  “Why don’t they like me?”  “When will I make a friend at school?”  “Being around the other kids can be so hard!”

Those phrases, that my son has said over and over the past two years, floated around in my head.  I imagined my son, playing at recess, wanting to follow the rules of a schoolyard game.  I imagined the unfair calls, his arguing with the boys, the possible look of glee on the other boys’ faces when they saw that they were a team against my son.  I imagined the loneliness that my son felt in that moment when in the heat of passion he struck out against the boys, which is something he has NEVER done before.  I imagined his immediate regret and the feeling of dread as he walked inside to face the consequences of his bad choice.

I am not condoning misbehavior, or saying my son was right at doing what he did.  Scott and I like peace. We like calm.  We like clear heads.  However, in the middle of the busy playground, where McCartney was overwhelmed, I wanted to understand what would bring him to a place he has never gone before.

As the principal and I talked, I got emotional, I cried.  I tried to explain my son and his history.  I emphasized that this year has to be good, or our family is going to make some serious changes.  I tried to make a professional understand my child and who he is.  I also stated my concerns about his well-being and how he feels at school.  At one point, she didn’t want to hear excuses.  I didn’t care.  “I am not making excuses for my child.  I am explaining him to you and telling you things that I told the principal before.  I am hoping you will hear me,” I replied.

Upon picking up my kids, I had a tough job on my shoulders: I had to discuss this with my son, trying to emphasize that we are not happy with him, while also making sure he understands that he is not alone.  How does one support and discipline at the same time?  It’s not as easy as it sounds.  Oh, it doesn’t sound easy, well it’s even harder than it sounds too.

First, I hugged him and said, “We need to talk.”  I asked for his side of the story.  He told me, his head bowed.  We discussed it and wrote out what else he could have done and how would those things change the outcome of his day?  Second, I asked for his advice on how we should deal with this at home?  He threw the book at himself and came up with consequences far worse than Scott or I would have decided.  Finally, I hugged him again, and told him that I am worried.  I also let him know that I am here for him, I understand, and I am going to do everything I can to help him.  That’s when the tears fell down both of our cheeks and the emotions came out.

Of course, we had scheduled a community service project for an hour after school got out.  People were counting on us, and we showed up.  He served his community with a selfless heart and asked to do it again next week.  He is not a bad person.  He is smart and caring and compassionate, although he does not understand people the way other 7 year-olds do.

Later, Scott and I knew it was time.  Time to tell him that he is NOT weird.  Time to explain to him how amazing his brain is.  We told him, “Did you know there are other people like you that have a hard time understanding social skills?”

No one is like me,” he replied.

“Yes, there are people who have a hard time being with other people and knowing the right thing to say.  They are called people with Asperger’s.  You might have heart the word autism before.  You have Asperger’s.”

“There’s a name for people like me?”  For a second he smiled.  It was time to tell him, that yes, there is a name and that name is NOT weird.