Monday, April 13, 2015

Companionable silence

Primo and I scootered home together.  I was relaxed, confident that he was balanced, alert to traffic and obstacles, in possession of adequate energy, enjoying the experience of the movement, and seeming calm and happy in himself.  Maybe, in short, he seemed present, centred. I found myself riding alongside him, but my mind was drifting into thought -- not about him.  Not feeling the need to draw him out, to be on high alert for a plethora of unexpected difficulties, including emotional and physical exhaustion; not feeling shut out, frustrated, instrusive. I doubt I could have entered such a mode without feeling that he was truly OK.

A new year, a new school, new support people, new knowledge; we are in a good place!

Companionable silence is a milestone.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

I just don't know

Parents were invited into the classrooms this week to review the kids' work.  Today we looked through Secundo's workbooks, trying to make sense of what we saw there.  Not fragmented and aimless as his older brother's had been yesterday, but disturbing in many ways.  In one of the clearer exercises, he had to give examples of occurrences that would be chance, possible, likely or impossible.  His impossible example was that a giant bomb could be small.  Is this a deliberate undermining of the activity from a boy who is obsessed with weapons, or is the only way that he could grasp the point through his own private world of imaginary violence?

An example of something unlikely was having a knife pushed into him.  This was shocking to see. I asked him straight away if this had to do with an accident that had happened at home a few days earlier and was relieved that he said yes; at least I could relate this to something real.  I was in the kitchen, Primo was kneeling on the ground getting something from my bag, his father was standing next to him doing something else.  Our extremely demanding cat chose that moment to jump onto a bench upon which was a chopping board and a small sharp knife, not a place where I often prepare food, but it was a busy, crowded place on this day. The cat knocked the knife off so that it lodged tip-down into the floor inches away from Primo.  Both parents cried out as we saw it happen of course, but quickly switched to reassurance mode.  I thought Primo might carry it with him; I hadn't expected Secundo to, I admit, but there is was in front of me.  Should I have anticipated that more clearly?  Does he really feel so vulnerable in the world?  Or is this some kind of healthy processing of a moment of fright that I shouldn't really worry about?

What on earth am I doing?

We turned with relief to one long story he'd written.  It was a kind of sci-fi narrative that drew heavily on computer games.  From a cursory introduction, it quickly became a series of violent and destructive acts overlapping with each other, each attempting to be more extreme than the last.  There were few complete sentences, so the frenetic need (as I saw it) for relentless destruction tumbled out in fragmented thoughts and phrases, one not completed before the next spilled over it ...

The session finished with a performance.  He started having a physical fight with a boy who pushed into line next to him.  I could see he'd been wronged, but oh dear.  For the performance, I watched with a smile; he met my eyes, hesitated, then continued a little self-consciously but clearly proud, maintaining eye contact for most of the song.  This is not the first time he's done this, but I took it as a good sign, especially the recovery from the altercation he'd just had.  I remember acutely kinder concerts where he not only refused to participate, but became really agitated and disruptive whenever there were performances.  I felt like he was doing something today that much younger kids do, basking in his parents' attention.  It was that moment of hesitation, where I could see he was choosing between his old mode of deliberately messing things up, and being part of the activity, the way it was meant to be, that really reassured me.

I spend a lot of time clinging to advances like this.  There are others too; improved behaviour with other children, admitting to positive emotions (he used to feel compelled to say everything was terrible and nothing made him happy), and more. But I don't know how to weigh them up against the rest.

And Primo.  Yesterday we looked through his maths book; there was a statistical exercise.  The last question asked what method he used to calculate the results.  He wrote that he just guessed random numbers until he found one that fit.  I get the impression that that's how he gets by at school in general. He adores his friends, models himself on them, benefits from observing what they do and when.  He lives for breaktimes. He never talks about classwork.  After the devastating year I had with last year's teachers, I have not even tried to enage his current teacher.  He's flying blind, and so am I.

I can't shake the feeling of failure today.  At home, we feel like we've been successful parents if we can get through a weekend without a huge fight, successfully limit computer time, and manage some modest social interaction or catch up on an overdue task.  Walking into the classroom is a miserable reality check.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Found it!

Yesterday I wrote that I hadn't seen the usual physical changes that come with Primo's other developmental leaps.  Last night I went to his school concert. I went in numb; 4 previous concerts had left me feeling like an outsider to this process.  His parents can see the struggles he goes through, but as usual, for everyone else, it's just kids, it's fine ... This time our jaws literally dropped.  He was astounding.  He owned it.  The moves were coming from the inside, not from copying the child next to him half a beat behind.  And he was proud; he did say afterwards that when too many people told him how well he did he wanted to get away, but he sure got the point, felt the truth of it.

So the theory still holds!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

More good news

A few weeks ago, I picked Primo up from school.  He saw the father of a friend, but the friend had been absent that day.  I reminded him that his friend's younger sister had started school this year, and the father must be there to pick her up.  He thought for a minute, then announced that he wanted to know where his friend had been.  He went back, asked the father (whom he does not know particularly well) that question, got the reason for the absence, and was satisfied.

That event stood out, really stood out.

Usually when Primo has developmental leaps, there are clear physical signs as well.  These periods of surging forward are generally preceded by difficult times where he is withdrawn and/or volatile.  That hasn't been quite so clear this time around, although he has been getting really high praise from the 2 sports coaches that he is involved with.  Maybe I just haven't been witnessing his gains so easily now that he's older; maybe they are not quite as clear.

However that may be, in the last 2 weeks or so, the quality of our interactions has become much richer and more sustained.  Passing, unsolicited comments are shared with me, much more eye contact from him, much more readiness from him to respond where I am accustomed to silence, much more striving on his part for joint attention, as if he's started to understand what it actually is to share a moment with someone.  It's intermittent, but he's really making an effort.

He lost his hat yesterday but told me he'd looked in lost property, that there was a box of hats and it wasn't in there.  An unusual amount of information freely volunteered to start with.  Today I went to double-check, and as I was turning to leave, saw a second box of hats tucked into a corner, and sure enough, his was there.  I brought it out to him and he did all the things you would expect; looked surprised, asked where I'd found it, looked confounded until I explained the second box, his face then finally resolving into a brief expression of closure, before turning back to the business of friends.

It was glorious!

Thinking back to my post yesterday; there are not many people to share these moments with, which is why I am happy to broadcast to the air.  I'm sure I read a version of the Midas myth when I was a child, where it was a housemaid who could not keep the secret of his ears and whispered it to a stream.  I know that's not the standard version, and secrecy is not he motivation here, but I can't shake the image.

Monday, March 31, 2014

Is it loneliness?

I've found my way to a remarkable book, The Boy Who Loved Windows by Patricia Stacey. When it was recommended to me, I was warned that many parents found the book emotionally overwhelming at times.  So I've been reading it with a sense of inevitable emotional breakdown, wondering exactly where, and why, my turn would come.

It has certainly been a compelling read. The little boy who is the subject of this book had fairly easily recognisable difficulties right from birth.  I make that point, because I have struggled painfully with the apparent invisibility of my own child's impairments, even though I recognise so many points of similarity, the main difference at times being in the degree rather than the type of challenge. I have wondered constantly as I read this book how I can make people understand that my own experience of motherhood to my oldest child is on the same paradigm as this woman's, if not as extreme, why it matters to have trodden this goat path instead of the developmental freeway, for parents and children alike.  And so I recognised so much of what this family went through.  A great many peaks and troughs resonated with me, but I guess I'm seasoned enough that they didn't overwhelm me.

My turn came, most unexpectedly, when Stacey describes a volunteer student who comes to work with her son.  Her gratitude to this young woman caused me to tear up.  Within pages, that helper, after her invaluable contributions, has to move on.  The struggle for assistance continues, and eventually, unexpectedly, the response to their pleas actually exceeds their expectations, when the public health system digs deep and not only increases the hours of the therapists they have, but adds a new one.  Tears progressed to full-scale crying. By the time her social worker has offered to come on Sundays with her teenage daughter as a kind of work experience project, I was a puddle.  There was nothing much left in me for the piece de resistance, when the family accepted organised offers of food, which, Stacey's narration makes clear, were inseparable from the care and generosity of the multitude of women who brought their home-cooked meals to her door.

This all hit me very hard.  Such a yearning for connection, help, and understanding. I've been desperate for it for so long that I'd stopped recognising it, until I saw it in someone else.

Something to think about.

Friday, October 18, 2013

One of a club!

My attempts to advocate for Primo at his school have reached a pitch impossible to sustain.  I have made some great gains, but they have been imposed on the school by external pressure rather than achieved co-operatively.

There has, accordingly been a backlash.  And in the nature of furtive wars that are fought through coded actions just inside the bounds of the acceptable, I've been pelted with intangible, indefinable retributions.

Well, I have cracked.  Or maybe the existing cracks just got bigger.

In an attempt to drag myself back into an upright position, I've tried today to talk to people who understand. How I salute the women who work in positions of support and advocacy who listen, and who tell you important things.  What I always want is to know whether I have gone so far out on a limb that I really have turned into the gibbering crazywoman, that the school reflects back at me.

Today I found out just how mundane my woes are in the world of disability support. Thank you to the woman who let me know how much I have in common with so many other families, how many people despair at not being believed, how some resort to recording those awful scenes where their child falls apart to "prove" to their child's educators that they are not flagrant liars.  Last week, when Primo melted down with an intensity we have not seen since before he started school, I thought bitterly about how the teachers who claim he's fine (and I'm an idiot) wouldn't even believe me if I told them about it. How much further down that road some people have been pushed.

So guess what; I'm not alone!  I'm one of many parents who are greeted with out and out disbelief when I explain how my child's needs are not being met.  I am experiencing utterly predictable misery caused by run-of-the-mill provocations! Hip hip hooray!

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Briefly: cuddles and Cuddles

Primo has always been physically affectionate, but his parents know that the quality of what he offers differs, in ways that we cannot always articulate, from what most people call "cuddles"; perhaps they feel more needy than "affectionate", perhaps they lack a sense of reciprocity. Recently, couple of times, I have been interacting with him and he has cheerfully thrown his arms round my neck spontaneously.  I have responded by gently placing my arms around his waist.  He has looked at me, briefly, and I detect in his eyes slight surprise and also pleasure.  I hold the pose for a few seconds, probably not even that, and force myself to let go before it becomes problematic.  To me, these two instances have seemed to be real, reciprocal acts of affection.

I can't be certain if I'm right, and I can explain to very few people why the distinction matters.  But it does matter enormously. I've been delving into the work of Stanley Greenspan again, renewing my knowledge of his theory about the inability of infants with ASD to connect emotions, intentions and motor functions, and how possible it is that much of what is considered to be "autism" is in fact the child as rudderless ship, having sailed off course, but not fundamentally, irretrievably lost; some can be guided back.  If this new Cuddle is a more integrated physical and emotional expression on my son's part, it's a very, very important capacity that he has developed.

Oh, and did I mention that for me, it was sublime!

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

some good things

Primo has started chatting to me when I pick him up from school, and at other times he seeks me out to share -- not just the special interests, but events from his day, his thoughts about them.  It's hard to explain, but there is a new kind of connection to his world, and to me, which I hope he is also experiencing with other people in his life.  It's wonderful!

Secundo is managing not to attack his brother every time he is upset; he has come up to me several times lately to talk about what happened, sobbing, still blaming, but making that crucial transition from acting on impulse to putting his emotions into symbolic form.  We have a long way to go, but it's a promising breakthrough.

I'm glad to have something positive to share!

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Lower than despondent

Since I spend so much of my time lamenting the distress involved in mothering 2 boys with some big challenges, you think I'd be nodding my head vigorously when I get feedback suggesting that one of them is indeed disruptive and unequipped to participate in an age-appropriate activity.  Well now that it's actually happened, that's so far off the mark I feel like I have a split personality; the mother who writes this complaining blog, and the mother who feels like ringing the neck of the judgemental martial arts teacher who has basically told us not to come back.

It doesn't help that this came after the sense of disapproval directed at Secundo yesterday by another adult at the end of a playdate. And I kind of knew it was coming, so why it has knocked me quite so badly off my balance is a little surprising.  I suppose suspecting something is different from being told it bluntly. Suppose, indeed; I don't often get up in the middle of the night to sit at the computer, sleep is too hard to come by in our house, but after Primo woke up with a nosebleed as he does about once a month, my head was filled again with this little piece of news, which then drifted to merge with all sorts of other senses of failure that I'm experiencing in relation to my parenting, a whole wash of self-criticism from my being unable to keep my home remotely functional, to the disastrous, fragmented eating habits of the household, to the sense of having screwed up my little boy's life pretty much from birth, probably stirred up by the OT yesterday probing a little about his infancy, looking for more insight into that impulsive anger of his.

The stupid thing about this class is, it was in many ways a nightmare.  I bought the classes at a charity auction and only found out after purchase where they were held; across town just before peak hour.  Sometimes it took an hour to drive home, almost double the time to drive there. After a term of driving across the city straight from school, having to settle Primo in a different part of the facility and barely making it there on time, I've watched Secundo dance around, wobble, throw himself of the floor, and generally move compulsively in a way that clearly irked the teacher of this very disciplined, well-behaved group.  I spoke to his OT, I even spoke to Primo's gym teacher, who specialises in kids with disabilities.  Because of the rush in getting there and the class immediately following, I did not speak to the class teacher, so I can't blame him entirely for his reaction.  But despite all this, Secundo was loving it.  After years of trying miserably to get him to participate in any kind of group, this is the one he clicked with.  I could see he was really responding to the strongly structured format, and glowed with pride when he sat down amongst slightly older kids who simply included him as one of the group.  And he's strong, it was clearly good for him to be letting that energy out with some powerful kicks.  He was doing his best, but that was hard for the unfamiliar eye to detect.  The end of term came, and he was adamant he wanted to continue.  On top of the logistical difficulties, it was pretty clear to me that the teacher found him frustrating, although Secundo didn't seem to pick up on that.

I couldn't just abandon the whole experience, so I found a local class which his Dad took him to this morning.  He loved Dad going, but the class was more than twice as long with only one other child his age.  He did not click with it.  With resignation, I sent an email asking to rejoin the class he's been going to, only to get a curt and unfriendly reply.  I had a kind of out-of-body look at myself sobbing because my child didn't quite cut it in a martial arts class, thinking lady, you've got to lighten up.  If it was in isolation, maybe.

I found another school on this side of town and have sent an email asking about availability.  If they have a place, I will present it to him as a fait accompli; we are changing because the other class is too far away, and, bonus, Dad will be able to go to the new place as well.  If they don't take him, I just don't know. We considered telling him he could only go back to the other place if he stopped mucking around, in the hope that he would draw on his reserves of self-control and rise to the challenge, but I suspect it's more likely that his self-esteem would truly suffer and the rest of the household would go through the ringer in the process.  I'm sure as hell not going to tell him that he's not good enough, but he's so rigid about many things, this could truly be the end of the whole experience, and I want so desperately for him to find something fulfilling for himself that he can take some pride in and experience the joy of developing skills ...

A big part of why I take such things to heart goes back to problems I articulated when I started with this blog; I don't really know what I'm dealing with.  I don't believe I just have a quirky kid, don't think I ever did, but nor do I believe I have a second ASD kid, despite some recent inferences again from the OT.  But the world does not come together for him in ways that I intuitively understand, and as time goes on I feel increasingly as though I'm failing him.

Friday, April 12, 2013


Occasionally I think things are getting better, but then I have the even worse sense that I have been kidding myself.  Secundo had an OT session today, the first since I sent out an SOS email to his psychologist and OT pleading for something more effective than 1-2-3 Magic, which we've been doing it for years, and has been at times very painful emotionally, and still involves a lot of hands-on disruption to the entire household to get him to stay removed until he is calm.  And in the meantime, all family members have been subject to far too much physical and verbal abuse. And yet, some hours, some days, his behaviour is delightful.

The OT session in the morning was awful.  He wanted to play "murdering" games; most of his games are about violence.  He is becoming more articulate about that which is probably a good thing in the long run.  But as she usually does, the OT challenged him about various aspects of his play until he was threatening her, throwing things, and eventually hurt himself with a toy he was brandishing, collapsing in sobs into a ball on the floor.  I wondered if these sessions really were the right thing to do.  But to do nothing seems a guarantee for more friction and distress.  I set up a play in the afternoon for him with a friend at the other boy's house.  The boys clearly adore each other, the mother seems comfortable or is very good at disguising any misgivings she has, but the step-father, not for the first time, made comments at pick-up overlaid with disapproval.  And I am probably far too sensitive, but I take it very hard, picking up my child and feeling that he has been unwelcome at any level.  So much effort goes into helping him to negotiate other people, but our efforts feel pretty worthless at times.  As I said, perhaps I'm too sensitive.

Primo spent a while in the car with me and at times we chatted.  That is always manna from heaven.  The conversations inevitably evolve into the world of computer games, and even then, they don't make much sense in ways that I expect conversations to make sense.  And so the foggy, frustrated, bored, guilty, anguished build-up in me.  I'm hoping for another familiar feeling that often comes after these low points, when something changes quite suddenly (at least with Primo), and he shows skills and awareness that only weeks before, it was hard to ever imagine him possessing.  I'm really hoping that this is the pattern, that a wave is going to come and pick me out of this trough.