Shooting for the Moon with Ryan

Life in the World of Autism


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Dropping My Scrooge Attitude to Embrace Change

IMG_2419I started Christmas break with a Scrooge attitude. It was time for Ryan to be off from school for two weeks and I knew he was unable to handle less structure and the change in routine. I prepared myself for the inevitable potty accidents, meltdowns, regressions, and Ryan’s overall unhappiness with staying home from school. I count my blessings every day that Ryan loves school. And every year at Christmas time, I think about how nice it would be for Ryan to go to a year round school that had no breaks, if a school like that existed.

It’s not that I don’t want to spend time with my son. I just hate to see him struggling, unhappy, and unable to participate in certain holiday activities that are overwhelming to him. I wish that all the holiday traditions made sense to him and that he could enjoy all the decorations and exciting changes that surround him.

So I wrote out a schedule for Ryan each day of the break. I found that a schedule is one way to add structure and stability to Ryan’s days. There was a time for everything, including getting dressed, eating meals, and other activities. We crossed off each item as we went along.

As a family, Ryan, his dad and I went on hikes, took a trip to the zoo.

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We even stayed over night at a hotel on New Years Eve to get away from the loud fireworks. Fireworks are legal in our state. I knew each outing would be a struggle due to Ryan’s anxiety and sensory issues. He gets overstimulated in many environments away from home.

But we were determined to keep Ryan busy. And the only way we knew to help Ryan over being uncomfortable with being away from home was through gradual exposure. Some people call it exposure therapy.

It didn’t take long for my scrooge attitude to start fading away as I began to notice something had changed this winter break. Ryan seemed happier and more at ease. He actually enjoyed the hotel and jumped right into the indoor swimming pool.

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He smiled as he ate a slice of pizza at an over stimulating restaurant. He opened all of his presents on Christmas morning without anxiety over what unknown object could be inside.

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Could it be the very small dose of medication we were experimenting with to help Ryan’s anxiety was working? As the winter break went on, it became apparent that Ryan was more focussed, more verbal, and more able to cope. I honestly wasn’t expecting to see a dfference in Ryan. We had tried medications in the past and nothing worked. In fact, many times the side affects were worse than the problem we were trying to treat. Trying a new medication is always hard. My husband and I don’t want to give our child any type of medication unless it is absolutely necessary, ever. We almost gave up on it.

But we got to the point where we were concerned with Ryan missing out on life. He had just turned 8 in December, was high functioning on the autism scale, yet he couldn’t go to movies, restaurants, birthday parties, stores or many other places due to his anxiety. Basically, exposure therapy was not working. We could expose him to all of these places many times, but he wasn’t happy away from home and he wasn’t improving.

So we started Ryan on a small dose of a new medication for his anxiety and followed the advice of Bill Nason, author of “The Autism Discussion Page on Anxiety, Behavior, School, and Parenting Strategies.” You will also find him on Facebook. He wrote, “Only stay with a medication if it is having a ‘wow’ effect. . . If the medication is truly therapeutic, you will see significant improvement in your child’s mood, attention, or behavior. If you only see small changes, it is not worth putting chemicals into the child. If the medication is truly treating a biochemical imbalance in the child, you will see significant changes.”

As we continue through the New Year, the changes have been significant. My husband and I often look at each other and say to each other, “Who is this alien child who just came out of his room, is looking us in the eyes, and connecting with us by inviting us into his world?” Ryan is growing and changing with each day. It wasn’t too far into the Christmas break that I dropped my scrooge attitude and embraced the chance to spend quality time with my son.

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Nothing is perfect. And there is no such thing as a magic pill. Ryan’s behaviors still improve, then get worse again. He still has anxiety. But I notice that the medication is taking enough edge off of the anxiety so he can learn to cope. Our whole family is enjoying this pleasant and unexpected changes that will bring us many new surprises in 2016.

 

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Finding Excitement on a Southern Snow Day

???????????????????????????????Today was a typical snow day in the South. Lots of hype and most everything shut down ahead of time, only to wake up to find half an inch of snow and wet streets! Despite being disappointed that the sledding wasn’t going to be good, most kids were happy just to have a day off from school!

Not Ryan! Snow has no meaning to him. We learned long ago that Ryan doesn’t find exciting what most kids do. Ryan would have been a lot more happy going to school this morning. Ryan loves school. I’m not sure why. He can give his teachers a hard time about doing his work. And yet, he wakes up in the early morning with a smile on his face. He’s dressed and ready for the bus in no time. I’m so thankful that school does not have to be added to his long list of battles. I have to give credit to his teachers and the school. I know we’re extremely lucky to have a public school and teachers who understand Ryan and what makes him tick.

So, Ryan would have been a lot happier going to school today. But I decided that we had time on our hands and today would be a great day to work on our “eating out” goal. Again, most kids look at going to a fast food restaurant as a treat. Not Ryan. “I want to eat at home,” Ryan said when I told him we were going to Hardees for lunch. “We need to practice eating out,” I said. “We are going on vacation this spring and summer and we’ll be eating out a lot. You can do it. Let’s go! It will be fun.”

Ryan wasn’t convinced that it would be fun. But he got in the car. He gave me his little “pouty” face. He continued to pout all the way into the restaurant, while I ordered, and to his seat. But then something magical happened. When our food arrived, Ryan began to eat. And one more very important thing. Ryan did not have his hands on his ears. This was progress. The last time we ate at Hardees, Ryan did not eat at all and sat with his hands on his ears, staring down at the table, his body stiff, the whole time.

Kids like Ryan who are very sensitive to loud sounds and bright lights often keep their hands on their ears even if there is no loud noise. It’s a way of keeping themselves safe “just in case.” It’s interesting that Ryan can tolerate Chik-fil-a. It’s the only restaurant where he will eat and is somewhat comfortable. But there isn’t a Chik-fil-a in every city. Ryan will need to learn to tolerate many different types of restaurants. So, I considered today a success, even if he only ate his fries and not his  hamburger.

I made the experience short and positive. He got lots of high fives. He came home with a smile on his face. I wonder if Ryan will ever be excited about getting to eat out? That would be real progress. But for now, we’ll just focus on what gets him excited now, like getting to see a train go by at a crossing, or counting 25 security signs while traveling through the neighborhood, or seeing a car that looks just like “Mommy’s” car.  Or even getting to work with his ABA (Applied Behavior Analysis) therapist on a snow day. She was able to make it after all. The streets were clear.  “Do you want to play first or do work first?” his therapist asked when she first arrived.” Ryan said “Work first.” Go figure!


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Why We Wish School Holidays Would Go Away

IMG_1324We wish we could rid the school calendar of all the holidays, breaks, and teacher work days. Ryan and I do not enjoy days off from school. While all the stay at home moms are listing their teacher work day and holiday plans on Facebook (sleeping in, roller skating, play dates, movies, pizza lunches) Ryan and I are lamenting that our daily routine will be changing for 2 1/2 days.

Today is a half day of school. Ryan will be home at noon and trying to adjust to the fact that he won’t be eating lunch at school. “What’s next? What’s now?” will be the questions he’ll be asking over and over this afternoon. Children on the spectrum love routines. They need to know what’s happening each minute.

We won’t be going to the movies or out to lunch (too much over stimulation). But we will be checking off the items on our after school “to do” list. The structure will be calming and hopefully will help Ryan get through the rest of the day without too much anxiety, change in appetite, or the ability to sleep tonight. Something as simple as a “to do” list can save the day.