Wednesday, October 24, 2012

The Answer? There Are No Answers

Last week (was it last week? It's been so long since I've written that I've lost track), I posted this handwritten note from Conor, and I asked readers what they thought it meant.

The silence on my blog was deafening. (I had a few posts on my Facebook page, but my sisters don't count. They have to participate or I will give them titty twisters at Thanksgiving.)

Because I have an incredibly big ego, I'm going to assume that very few people even wanted to venture a guess since they had absolutely no clue. (This is preferable to my other more realistic assumption, which is that no one reads my blog and I'm whistling in the wind here.)

So, the first person to guess correctly via Facebook was my friend Penelope. Penelope has an incredibly handsome adult son on the spectrum who attends college and lives independently now. (Let's give it up for Penelope and her son! Whoop whoop!)

Here's Penelope's correct guess--

I have no clue what the function of this note is, 
but if Conor wrote it, I applaud the use of the first-person pronoun.

Oh no, you did not say "if", girlfriend.
(Ok, girl, what do you mean "if" Conor wrote it?

It's a good thing you moved to a different state or I would box you about the ears. Then I would buy you a vodka tonic and beg you to forgive me and still be my friend. Love you!

And I know, first person pronoun.  Progress!)

I offered the $10 gift card to Penelope, but she said that her new town did not have a Starbucks, Dunkin' Donuts, or a McDonalds!

Holy Mary, call Newt Gingrich, I think Penelope's established a colony on the moon.

Who lives somewhere without a Starbucks? Is that even possible? The horror, the horror!

Finally, I received one comment on the blog from Shawnbeth, who also correctly answered the question, saying--

I have no guesses, but I do enjoy your blog a lot!

Shawnbeth, you are a genius.  Not only are you a connoisseur of supremely fine bloggish-type writing, you hit the nail on the head.  Email me your mailing address and I'll send you a gift card to someplace where you can hopefully get a hot cup of coffee.  (Unless you live on the moon with Penelope, in which case I'll send you a MRE.)

Look, I have no clue what this note means. Not really.  True, he used to be obsessed with downloading songs and videos on every computer he could put his eyes on, including his Uncle Jeff's. But it's been over a year since he's been allowed to do that, and this request has morphed into some sort of early warning sign of agitation. Sometimes he'll even say an unreasonable or nonsensical request in order to elicit a verbal "No" and then he'll tantrum.

The best we can figure is that he's trying to assuage some negative feeling (anxiety? disappointment? compulsion?) by doing some sort of obsessive behavior. We think. Sometimes. Maybe. Perhaps.

But he's agitated, and about what, exactly?  I don't know. No guesses. No ideas.  No clue. He can't say, and I don't know.  The best we can figure, this is his way of saying "I'm upset and I need help calming down or I might blow." 

Maybe. Perhaps. Sometimes. We think.

Our exchange usually goes something like this.

School:  Conor got upset about something today 
but we don't really know what it was. 
He did try to erase something off the board but we don't know why.

Me:  Conor, why are you upset?
Conor:  Conor, why are you upset?
Me: No, Conor, honey, why are you upset?  What's bothering you?
Conor:  Conor wants to download a song on Uncle Jeff's computer.
Me:  Why?  What's upsetting you?
Conor: You don't know.

Well, you got that right, Conor.  I don't know.  It's so hard, the not knowing. Hard on him and hard on us.


Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Trick Question

The first person to correctly guess what this means will receive a $10 gift card to Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts (your choice).

Hint:  It doesn't mean he wants to download a video named You Don't Know by Cyndi Lauper on Uncle Jeff's computer.

Although he may love to do that, it's not what this means.

Good luck!

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

The Bittersweet Playground

On Sunday, at his request, Paisley and I took Conor to the playground. He had the biggest zit on the side of his nose, by the way. I couldn't stop staring at it. 

I think when you're old enough to have a zit on your nose that draws stares, you're probably too old to be hanging out at the playground.

It'll be time, soon, to explain to Conor that he's too old to be going to the playground. He's been the oldest kid there for awhile now. 

He loves to swing, though, and asks you to push him higher and higher. (I've tried to teach him to swing himself, and he can do it. He's just obstinate about it. It's maddening.) 

He'll ask you to bounce him up and down on the seesaw, giggling madly or bobbing his head back and forth in rhythm. He'll climb the miniature rock wall and whisk down the green plastic slide, his feet thumping on the bed of wood chips.

Caillou struggles with the monkey bars in Stronger Every Day, and Conor does too.  So he asks you to help him, just like Caillou's dad does.

I try not to let it get to me.  The fact that my teenager likes to watch a show about a sickeningly sweet, inexplicably bald, 4 year-old Canadian boy.  Or the fact that he still likes to go to the kiddie playground.  I, myself, still like to sit on a swing for a few minutes on a sunny day in my mom's backyard.

It's not the physical activities that make the kiddie park bittersweet.  It is, as it always is, the interaction with the other kids.  The much littler kids, after all.

He towers over the little boys and girls.  As short as he is for his age, he is still a 13 1/2 year old.  He outweighs them by multiples. He points at them and squeals, "That's Miss Canty over there!"  "That boy over there has a grandfather who died!"  

I don't know why he says these things.  I think he thinks he's being funny. I'm not amused. Neither are the kids.  They're confused.  Wary. They don't have the words for it, but they know he's different. They give him a wide berth.

That Sunday,  a young, reed-thin boy with a mop of brown hair was sitting quietly on a swing, completing an Extreme Dot-to-Dot page. He looked to be 11 years old. Conor loves Extreme Dot-to-Dots and Paisley helped facilitate an introduction. Steve, the boy said his name was.  And sure, Conor could watch him do one of the puzzles.  

No, Paisley told Conor, you can't pick out the one the boy will do. And you can't do one for him. But you can watch Steve do the puzzle.

It didn't bother Steve, though.  He did the dot-to-dot puzzle Conor had picked out. Conor watched, engrossed in telling the boy how to count and connect.  1, 2, 3, 4, 5...

Conor, said Paisely, laughing.  I think Steve knows how to count.  

After Steve finished his page, he packed up his pencil and his book and ran off with his younger brother. He and Conor re-connected a few minutes later to throw a Frisbee together.  Then it was time to go.

On August 4th, Two Thousand Twelve, Conor made a friend named Freddy, he told me.  On October 14th, Two Thousand Twelve, he then said, Conor made a friend named Steve.  Good job, Conor said, holding his hand up for a high-five.  Good job making friends, he crowed.

Indeed, Conor, a good job indeed.  But now it's time to go.

Monday, October 08, 2012

The Laminator

Yeah, that's it all right.
At 10:45pm last night, as I bent over our dinky laminator with a pair of metal scissors trying to get the crinkled-up piece of plastic paper out of it, I finally realized why elementary school teachers work so much overtime.
Stupid laminators.  They suck.

Because of Conor's disability, we use visual schedules, calendars, tokens, and various other aids to try to communicate with him and to help minimize the upsets that can lead to a tantrum. Even though he's pretty verbal, communication is still an incredible challenge.

So, ages ago, I purchased a cheap-ass reasonably priced personal-size laminator to help prolong the life of the visual aid.

(Man, the laminator wasn't expensive but boy, do they gouge you on those sheets you need.  You know, the actual plastic thingies?  Holy Mary, I'm gonna get into that racket.)

So there I was, risking electrocution so that I could print out tokens for Conor's newest visual aid.  Sure, everybody else in Charm City got to drink beer and watch the Orioles take on the Yankees in Baltimore's first playoff game in, like, forever.

But me? Noooooooo.  Gotta laminate.

I'm the laminator.  Look at Alisa lam-in-ate. No copies for the Alisaski, gotta do the lam-in-ating.  The plast-icating. Laminama-nama. Look at Alisa lam-in-ate.

(Enough of that.)

Ok, here's the deal.  Conor started getting reeeeeaaaaallllyyyy upset about breakfast options.  He didn't want any.  Options, that is.  Waffles.  Waffles, waffles, waffles and more waffles. We've been down that road before.  Not going to do that again. Getting stuck in the food rut will backfire on us in a bad way. But trying to get him to change to a different food caused upsets three mornings in a row.

There is nothing more painful than trying to deal with challenging behavior before you've even gotten to eat your gluten-free Rice Krispies and have that much-needed second cup of coffee.

The way I figured it, we'd narrow the fight down to only once a week.  Each Friday, Conor would pick out the breakfast choices for the next seven days.  That way, when he clomps down the wooden stairs in my clogs (that's a topic for another post), there's no discussion.  We look at the board and he eats what he chose on Friday.

That's the idea, anyway. I printed out and laminated some breakfast choice tokens.  To make it easier, I color-coded them.

Ok, I color-coded them because I am a big dork.  So there.

These are his choices. I've limited them so he can't choose the same thing every day.

I made up a board for the tokens and voilĂ ! We have our Breakfast board.

I anticipated a bit of a ruckus.  To be honest, I pictured days of teeth-gnashing and caterwauling as Conor realized my husband and I were serious about this new procedure.

Nope.  Not a blink of an eye. Nothing. Da nada. So unlike my son. (Has anyone seen Conor?)  So now, breakfast is easy-peasy, no quarrels, no fusses, no musses.

Okey, dokey.  Fast forward a couple of weeks...

Conor starts getting jacked up because I've denied a request for french fries.  Well, he was getting jacked up for a number of reasons (which I'll go into in yet another post, I suppose).  So his behaviorist thinks it might help to have the same type of schedule since breakfast went so well.

And thus, there I was.  Hunched over the laminator trying to pry out the stupid crinkled-up plastic-coated paper jammed in there.  Here's what I eventually came up with---

His entree choices.  He can pick two of each. Yes, he is a fan of the potato, obviously.
We're trying to address this.  It's problematic.
Every Wednesday, Conor and his dad go out to eat together.
All together now.... aawwww!
But... this time, I decided to get a little artistic with the board.  Why be boring when you can add a little somethin' somethin', know what I mean?


I chose sweet potatoes because my boy loves him some sweet potato.  He eats one almost every night.

I'm skeptical that this is going to eliminate the fights over food.  It's been an ongoing theme since he regressed.  Plus, Conor has now learned the difference between "snack" and "dinner".  As in--

"Conor wants french fries." (He still struggles with pronouns.)

"You can have french fries with dinner, but you can't have a baked potato then," I reply.

"Conor wants baked potato and sweet potato AND french fries for dinner. Conor wants three things."

"No, Conor.  You can only have two for dinner."

"Conor wants french fries NOW."

"No, Conor.  You can have french fries for dinner, if you want, but then you can't have the baked potato."

"Conor wants french fries for a SNACK!"

Oh, for Pete's sake.  Looks like I'm heading back to the laminator for a "snack" board and tokens.  That's why they call me... The Laminator!

Friday, October 05, 2012

The Confundus Charm

You know I can't be alone with Conor for an extended period of time, right?

Well, "can't" is a strong word. Won't? Shouldn't? Don't want to?

I clench my teeth when I say it (since I am loathe to admit it), but being alone with my son makes me anxious. A little.  I take a deep breath and I do it (I refuse to back down) but it makes me take pause, shall we say. I hesitate.  Don't get me wrong, I do it, it just makes me feel slightly queasy.

See, if Conor has a tantrum, I can't handle him on my own. At least, I don't think I could. At 116 lbs, he outweighs me by...

Well, you're not getting my weight out of me. But he outweighs me. And he's only 2" shorter than me at this point. Yes, he 
is in the 10th percentile height for 13 year-old boys and still, he's almost as tall as me. What can I say? I'm height challenged.

Ok, you can stop singing Randy Newman's "Short People" song. I'll wait.

(Don't quit your day job BTW.)

And Conor, he's motivated.  When he launches his attack, my boy ain't foolin' around. He's not here to party. He's all business, my kid and his tantrums. He'll put a hurtin' on you.

So if my husband wants to go to a community meeting at night or out to have beers with the guys or to hit some golf balls, it means that I'm trying to book a therapist to come while he's gone. It's not as easy as you think, surprisingly. 

It's shocking to me, but Conor's therapists actually have social lives outside of my home.  I know, right? What does a 27 year-old single do outside of work that's fun?  I mean, really, what could be more fun than hanging out with a neurotic 42 year-old mom and her wacky kid?

At the minimum, I'm bribing my (taller, bigger, much fitter, much younger) baby sister with Chinese food and red wine to come stay with me. She's a social worker and is trained in take down moves and self-defense. (Although she is rather ticklish, so I suppose Conor could tickle her into submission. But that would be weird.)

Clearly, my sister needs to wax those eyebrows.

And so here I sit.  Squashed between my desire to be Miss Independent, Miss Super Autism Mom, Miss Make-My-Day-I-Can-Handle-Everything and my pragmatic nature that sees the situation for what it really is. 

I have to be frank here.  The whole thing really chaps my ass. I never thought, in my wildest dreams, that I would become That Mom Who Could Not Take Care Of Her Child. It pisses me off.  Royally.

I mean, I've been stranded in the combat zone.  I walked through Bedford Stuy alone.  Even rode my motorcycle in the rain. And you told me not to drive, but I made it home alive. So you said that only proved that I'm insane.

Seriously, how cool is that?
(Love Billy Joel, don't you?)  

My point is, I envision myself as an independent, strong, need-a-man-like-a-fish-needs-a-bicycle kind of gal, not this quivering, anxious, dependent mom who has to take deep breaths every time her husband walks out the door.

I suppose I could start doing some rigorous workouts a la CrossFit or P90X or some such thing.  (But I can't, because I don't have that many free hours in a week.)

I've thought about taking some martial arts classes so I can learn some moves or at least block some of the aggressive techniques Conor seems to have thought up. 

I guess I could do that, but that would also take up valuable free time and I'd have to, you know, interact with people I don't know.  Plus, I had a really bad Judo experience in college and it still haunts me.  (I don't want to talk about it, stop hounding me, Sharon Landis don't you dare say anything.)

I do plan on scheduling time for a professional to teach me more appropriate restraint techniques so that neither of us gets hurt, but I've put it off for a very long time.  I just don't want to deal with it, I think.

Deep down, I think I'm just wishing that there was something I could say, some magical phrase that would stop Conor in his tracks and make him think--"Hmmmm. Maybe I won't have a tantrum.  I think I'll sit quietly in my chair and read a book instead."

You know,  like--


Petrificus Totalus!




Oh, just STOP it already!