Tag Archives: motherhood

From Meltdowns to Student of the Month

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From Meltdowns to Student of the Month

Today my son was named a Shining Star aka Student of the Month at his school. I imagine this would be a pretty huge deal for any parent, but as a special needs mom, I am downright ELATED. I worry about him just making it through the daily routine, so to see him accomplish and achieve anything beyond that is extra exciting. Fourth grade is turning out to be the best school year yet, and I attribute much of Haiden’s success to his teacher.

Haiden has been at the same school since kindergarten. He has had an IEP in place every year, and for the most part the faculty has been very accepting and accommodating of his quirky personality. His teachers have been fantastic every year. In kindergarten it was sweet Ms. R. Her name was Rescorla but this was a bit of a tongue twister for the kids so she went by Ms. R. I was finishing my BA when he started and I desperately wanted him to get a coveted spot in the full-day class. In retrospect it was better for him to start only half days. He was still in phases of frequent, frantic outbursts and meltdowns. He spent a lot of time on Ms. R’s lap. She was great at keeping me updated of his progress.

In first grade he had the cutest, nicest teacher, Mrs. Steed. She always had so much patience with him. We worked out a system of keeping track of his behavior. She printed strips of paper that had a row of smiley faces and sad faces. When he did what he was supposed to do he earned the happy faces. If he acted out he would earn a sad face. We thought this was a great plan until he had an epic meltdown the first time she colored in a sad face. Realizing his fragile psyche couldn’t tolerate this negative reinforcement, she immediately changed the tactic. She made all the faces happy and he had daily goals to achieve a certain number. She was awesome.

In second grade he had Mrs. Solipo. Man, all I can say is second grade was a rough year for him. At one point in time he got suspended for threatening another student with a pencil. Ay ay ay. But we worked tirelessly to improve behavior issues. Mrs. Solipo researched and found articles and tried many many things with him. She became like another mom to him, and he adored her. Still does! She has become a true friend and someone I can talk to about any worries and concerns. I feel like she always has Haiden’s back.

And then there was third grade. Mr. Mean. I mean Mr. Mann. When we met him at back-to-school night, lots of red flags popped up. First, Haiden has always loved having female teachers. This dry, wispy, monotone man couldn’t have been further from the sweet, nurturing teachers he had had previously. On the rare occasions I had to interact with him, his voice put ME to sleep and he expected a room of 8-year-olds to stay engaged??

I had assumed he had been informed that he had a special needs ASD kid in class and that he was adequately prepared to deal with this type of student. It became glaringly clear by the end of the first week of school that that was not the case. I received a call from the principal letting me know there had been an “incident.” There was a fire drill– fire drills freak Haiden out, even if he knows they’re coming. He started panicking and yelling. Mr. Mann expected him to just fall in line with the other kids and when he didn’t, he grabbed him by the wrist and dragged him out of the class. In Haiden’s words: “He grabbed me so tight I felt like he was pulling my muscles off the bones.”

I picked Haiden up from school that Friday with the sickest feeling in the pit of my stomach. I started searching for other options. We checked out a Montessori school– too expensive. I called all the local charter schools– they were full. I even looked into homeschooling– it just wasn’t feasible. So we decided to do something we have avoided doing all these years: put him on meds.

His pediatrician called in a prescription for Risperdal, which is an anti-psychotic drug. I picked it up from the pharmacy and dove into the fine print of all the side effects. In one paragraph it stated that it could lead to Tardive Dyskinesia,  a disorder resulting in involuntary, repetitive body movements. In this form of dyskinesia, the involuntary movements are tardive, meaning they have a slow or belated onset. It most frequently occurs as the result of long-term or high-dose use of anti-psychotic drugs. When I read that my blood went cold. I turned to my husband and told him we weren’t going to do it. When I told him why, he firmly agreed. His mother struggled with, and ultimately died from, this ugly disorder.

So I gritted my teeth, swallowed the lump of guilt in my throat, and continued to take Haiden to Mr. Mann’s class. Third grade was rough for both of us. I went from being pretty active in his classroom to avoiding it altogether. Teacher appreciation? Fuggetaboutit. I printed some scholarly articles for him, highlighting some of Haiden’s behaviors and ways to handle it. Mr. Mann never read it. His method of measuring my son’s progress was a behavioral chart he would fill out every day. For each subject there was Excellent, Good, Fair and Poor. According to that man, my son was poor in math every day. I learned to take it with a grain of salt and consider the source. It wasn’t that my son wasn’t doing well, it was that his teacher wasn’t.

The silver lining is that these events led to us getting him occupational and behavioral therapy. His official diagnosis at that time was ASD, ADHD and unspecified anxiety disorder. The poor kid was/is trying to balance A LOT of shit in that beautiful mind of his. And without meds. I cringe at the thought if we had started the Risperdal. I hated the idea that these chemicals would alter the inherent make up of my son. Sometimes he can be a weirdo, but he is my funny, sweet, smart, super cute weirdo!

And then TODAY happens. My son was chosen as Student of the Month. When his teacher called his name I think he was surprised and pleased. She said the kindest things about him, and the best part was we could tell she meant it. From the first time we met her, all of my angst from third grade was put to rest. She is like an ASD angel sent from heaven just for Haiden. She takes such great care of him. It’s such a relief to have that weight of worry lifted off of me this year. A couple months ago I had to come chat with her about Haiden’s use of some grown-up words. I walked into the school ready to ground Haiden from Minecraft for life. Mrs. Hunsaker was so kind about everything that I left the meeting feeling proud of my kid. (Not for saying naughty words, but for other things.)

My heart is bursting today. Some days I’ve had heartbreak over this kid, and I’m sure I will in the future. But today my heart is happy. Now I just want a “My kid got Student of the Month” bumper sticker to commemorate it.

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autism, endorphins & why I don’t spank my kids

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autism, endorphins & why I don’t spank my kids

I hadn’t intended on jumping right in with my two cents on autism, but after reading this story today I just had to.

Jillian McCabe Was ‘Overwhelmed’ Before Autistic Son’s Fatal Plunge

RIP little London. 😥

Ummm. Hey, Jill. (Is it okay if I call you Jill?) Parenting overwhelms the best of us. You can’t just go throwing your special needs kid off a bridge. Take a break. Read a book. Go for a walk. Talk to a friend. Do some yoga. Go for a run. Have a good cry. Drink a glass of wine. Hell, drink the whole bottle. I have those days, I totally get it.  I don’t know, do something, but for crikey’s sake DON’T THROW YOUR SON OFF A BRIDGE.

There are tragic stories all the time about parents killing their kids, and each one is devastatingly heartbreaking to me. But when I hear the ones involving special needs kids I am even more saddened to think of the lives lost. I am a protective mama bear to all of my kids, but I have to admit my Haiden has often needed a little more protection than Mia & Eli. It hurts my heart to think of him being hurt, and I can not even imagine being on the giving end of that.

I am not a spanker. On the few occasions I have lost my patience to the point of hitting one of my kids, I have been so consumed by guilt I could not let it go. Prime example: When Mia was three (she’s almost 19 now, just to give perspective on how long I’ve held onto this) I was a single mom, working full-time and going to school. After a particularly long day, as I was bathing her, she splashed water on the floor, and I lost it. I pulled her up and smacked her naked bum. A welt immediately appeared. But the worst, the absolute worst part, was the look in her innocent tear-filled brown eyes. Those sweet eyes were full of sadness, hurt, and the heartbreaker: fear. I caused that. I decided that night to quit my job as a restaurant manager and find something less stressful, because I knew I could not take pent-up work emotions out on my child.

Last year, we had a bunch of people over to our house. Haiden has a hard time when there’s too much going on, if it’s too noisy, and especially if other kids are messing with his stuff. So it was no surprise to me that he had multiple meltdowns. And usually I can diffuse him pretty quickly, but that day I couldn’t. By the end of the night I was absolutely out of patience. As he was throwing an epic fit, I took him into the bathroom, flailing and screaming. I remember the instant so vividly- as I raised my hand up, right before it made contact with his butt, his eyes flashed that same set of emotions I had seen in Mia’s eyes 16 years ago. Sadness, hurt, fear. But it was too late. I couldn’t take it back. He looked at me, shocked at what had just happened, and then he said something I will never forget, as he sobbed and gasped and fat tears rolled down his cheeks:

“Why? Why would you hit me? Only bullies hit because bullies are mean.”

I choked back tears and pulled him close, hugging him tightly and apologizing profusely. Because he was right. He was telling me exactly what we have always told him. And here I was, The Bully. Worst heartbreak ever. I never want my kids to feel that again.

Haiden has taught me immeasurable patience. And I’ll admit, I am “lucky” that his ASD is on the high functioning end of the spectrum. I can’t imagine if he was non-verbal (although I have days I wish he was. I kid, I kid. But seriously, the kid can talk for days. On high volume. Think megaphone.)

But no matter the circumstances, I can’t imagine hurting my own children. And I’m sad for the kids who end up hurt at the hands of their parents. And I feel sad for parents who are so far gone that they even had this thought process that would lead to the end result of killing their kid.

I’m also lucky that I can run. People ask me how I got into running. They tell me how they hate it and they wish they could love it the way I do. I am lucky that I found my joy in running. I began running in 2008. Haiden was diagnosed with autism in 2009. The timing couldn’t have been better. Maybe in some ways running found me.

So the moral of this story can pretty much be summed up in a quote from “Legally Blonde”:

“Exercise gives you endorphins. Endorphins make you happy. Happy people just don’t shoot their husbands, they just don’t.” Except fill in “Happy people just don’t kill their kids. THEY JUST DON’T.”

And that is all for this one.