Monday, December 23, 2013

In the Name of Science

I love hands on learning and am all about science experiments where the kids can have fun while actually learning something.  We’ve grown crystals, soaked eggs in vinegar, and frozen just about every substance you can imagine.  I actively encourage the kids to participate in these experiences, and love that they love to find experiments in the world around us.  That’s why the kids were in a Montessori environment and why we continue to do the virtual school program that we do.

But… appears that we have created a monster.  The giggle monster is now seeing every item---every piece of furniture, every liquid or goo---as a potential science experiment.  Let me share a few with you.

First, there was the experiment to see if matchbox cars can drive down the wall.  Honestly, I was a little amused by this one, and semi-hopeful that track marks would deter my husband from noticing that I accidentally over-sprayed the Lysol when I was cleaning light switches—fun fact for you: Lysol removes paint, who knew?

Then, there was the painting experiment to see how many layers of paint and water it takes to soak through a piece of paper.  A little messy, but it was on the kitchen counter so not too bad to clean up.  This was followed by the experiment to see what happens if you mix paint, water, and glue….in one of my good glasses.  Alright, not a huge problem, we have plenty of glasses so we can afford to lose one in the name of science.

The how-many-objects-does-it-take-to-flood-the-sink day of experiments was interesting.  Seriously, though, my bathroom floors probably needed a good scrubbing, and everyone knows you don’t really get them clean until you have repeated the exercise a few dozen times.

Next up was the experiment to paint his walls and matchbox car tracks with glue.  I walked in his bedroom to the tune of “don’t touch the walls mommy, the glue’s still wet.”  Let’s not forget the Angry Birdx squish’em covered in glue and then wrapped in paper.  This experiment went awry, though, when he couldn’t remove the paper again.  In the name of science, however, I learned that S.O.S pads, hot water, and dish soap will clean up a squish’em quite nicely.

About this time the experiments expanded to include aerodynamics.  Would you like to know what items fly when they hit the ceiling fan?  How about the giggle monster’s own attempts to fly off of everything, which thus far has included the couch, the bar stools, and the kitchen counter?  Lest we not forget he also used the dining room table as a stop in his obstacle course “‘periment” which yielded a flipped over table today.  Yep, read that right, the entire table flipped over. 

Back to the glue---we seem to have had an experiment today that involved water, glue, and glitter.  Who knew such a combo could be so bright and sparkly, especially when it is spilled all over your family room carpet.

There was also a plunger experiment.  I am not entirely sure what this one involved because I hadn’t had enough caffeine in the day to hand the plunger over when he asked.  I do know, though, that the right combo of items in the toilet with enough frequent and rapid flushing will create a “waterfall” in your bathroom.

I don’t have the energy to relive the bubble episode from a few weeks ago, but trust me the darn things aren’t as harmless as you might have thought.  Oh, and I’ve got a few Playdoh horror stories, but this close to the holidays when you probably have your shopping done, I just won’t ruin those moments for you.

I want to be annoyed, really I do.  Seriously, I do have things to do other than clean up, clean up some more, and then clean up again.  But we spent so many years focused on “creative play” and wondering if he would ever be able to play in a fun and spontaneous manner that if I am totally honest his “periments” make me chuckle.  Granted, I’d like to have enough time in the morning to get my caffeine drip started before he provides me with the opportunity to learn a new clean up skill. And honestly, the glue and glitter need to go up some place really, really, high.  But as long as he doesn’t hurt himself, doesn’t destroy too much of our house, and has fun, then I’m just going to assume that he’s learning something in the process of creating science experiments.  If nothing else, he is learning that sometimes life is just a little messy on the path to Caden’s Tale. 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Five Years With Autism

Five years.

That’s less time than it took me to earn a PhD, which acknowledged a certain level of expertise in my subject field.

That’s considerably more time than it took me to fall in love with my husband and know that he truly was/is my soul mate.

Five years.

It’s been five years since we were officially given Caden’s autism diagnosis.  You’d think I’d be able to claim expertise or know something for certain about autism in that time period.  Yet, looking back, I’d have to say that for every ten great ideas that we have had about therapy techniques or therapy items or autism management strategies, only one or so has really ever been successful.  On one hand, I can relive that day as though it just happened; I can feel my heart racing, my stomach drop, and anxiety rush in over wondering where we would find services, how we would pay for them, and what the future really looked like. On the other hand, that moment seems like a distant blur lost in the day to day challenges, struggles, and rewards that living a special needs life means.

There are some amazing contrasting moments to consider.  The first summer after Caden’s diagnosis he developed a phobia of bathing torture boxes otherwise known as bathtubs. We worked hours on end in therapy to try to conquer this fear, while also letting him play in the garden hose in the backyard because that was “safe” water in his world.  By midsummer we were even taking baby soap out to squirt on him while he played.  (And we wonder why the neighbors offered to help us pack when we sold our house.)  And yet this week he passed the next swimming level at the Y in record time.

We bought every “potty” chair, seat, stool, and book on the market to absolutely no avail.  Yet the summer that Caden decided that he “got it” he was potty trained in one day and has never had another accident again.

He went from nonverbal to verbal to nonverbal back to verbal again.  I think we have language now, but articulation and receptive language remain huge challenges.  We tread lightly though because when language becomes too hard or too embarrassing or too much, he easily gives it up.  I can’t even criticize him for that because my heart can only begin to imagine what a struggle this is for him each and every day.

He went from not noticing others were playing around him on the playground to now desperately wanting to play with them but not yet having the social skills (or language) to do so.  Sometimes I think the lack of awareness was less heartbreaking for him than this new found “progress.”

Who knew that the ABCs would remain an IEP goal for so many years but that we would know in a matter of minutes that ABA wasn’t the right therapy method for Caden or our family? When you add in OT/PT/SLP and CBT, it starts to become apparent that we have all learned a new language on the road that is autism.

I’ve bit my tongue more times than I care to count to avoid getting into vaccine debates or discussions over whether or not the desire for a cure means that you don’t love and accept your child.  I’ve lost sleep wondering if the decisions we are making are the right ones, and even more sleep when Caden proves that we don’t have the slightest understanding of his autism despite of our best efforts. I’ve researched until it feels like I can’t absorb another fact, and then started all over again when it comes to fruition that I was on the wrong trail.  I’ve wrestled with medication decisions while trying to weigh if my objections are in Caden’s best interest or purely my own desires.  I’ve defended our decisions to enroll him in Project  Lifesaver because I know the day is when, not if, we need help finding him in a busy mall or a crowded park.  I’ve thanked Elf, the super service doggy angel, more times than I can count for doing his job and more importantly being “the bestest friend” Caden could ever have.

If there’s one thing that I wish I would have known 5 years ago, it’s that autism would grow and change along with Caden.  The goals aren’t check lists to be met, but ever evolving dynamics to figure out. I guess by now I’ve figured out that I probably won’t ever figure things out but I can also say with certainty that I’m more okay with that now.  I’ve stopped trying to solve future problems now and have started focusing on the moment.  Sometimes those moments are funny, sometimes they are heartbreaking but they are always a part of Caden’s tale and honestly I can’t imagine being anywhere else.