Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Our Pre-Christmas Stress with Autism

Pre-Christmas Stress followed with Family Fun

Yo! Mick here! Have slurp will share!

My advice at Christmas and pretty much all the time is; spare the stress and pass the slurp.

I spoke last about avoiding family and other events that don’t josh with the autism in the family but I forget that some family just can’t be put on ignore – such as the co-creator, sometimes called, the ex. In our case, that would be Red’s dad.

Let me back track a bit … I’ll need to explain the basics of the family dynamics, the surface problem and then the real crux of the problem – the deep wounds and then the getting to Christmas Family Fun – Its one heck of a journey.

Some family history.

My family, like 80% of families with autism, was divorced before I joined them.

They are scattered geographically from one end of the country to the other and in-between.

Mum, Red and I live in California, and most of Mum’s family lives here too except a sister who lives in Colorado with her hubby and kids.

Red’s dad lives in Georgia and Kasmira, his sister lives at college in Florida. Red’s other grandparents live in Illinois, he has uncles and cousins in Iowa, Illinois and a cousin in Utah and well, Red's family is all over!

Mum living on one end of the country and Red’s dad on the other mostly works for them, at least it does for Mum.

Mum needs her family, friends and ocean - it is a part of her soul and to be away from them for extended times is really hard on her – especially when life is especially challenging her.

The Surface Stress – or Our Pre-Christmas Stress
You can’t always avoid stress and especially certain family members like the ex you share children with – or their parents.

Prior to Thanksgiving, at the beginning of November. Red’s grandmum on his dad’s side (I don't claim any of Red's paternal family as mine, not even his dad) called up and started trying to get Red to go to their home for Christmas.

I sure didn’t need my exceptional hearing to listen in; the woman has a schoolyard voice.

Anyway, she was pretty persistent and even told Red about all the different cousins and uncles who would be there, the fun things they had planned and that she wouldn't make him eat stuff he doesn't like.

Wow, she spread it on thick!

Red didn’t go for it though.

He was at his dad’s home last year so he logically figured he'd be with Mum and me this year and his sister would fly here for Christmas.

Apparently the grandmum also called Kasmira with the same plea because Red's sister opted to go from college in Florida to their dad’s in Georgia and then up to their grandparents’ home in Illinois for Christmas.

Mum was totally bummed but being so busy with college and work and not wanting to stress Kasmira who was shedding a few tears trying to please everyone, she chose to not fight it and even decided to encourage Red to go to the grandparents.

Kids should be together at Christmas, Mum believes.

Mum honestly did try to make it happen that way.

First she told Red she wasn't sure where he'd be this year for Christmas and that he may be going to see his grandparents in Illinois.

She then emailed Red’s dad telling him she’d “back him” if he’d make the arrangements for Red to fly and to tell him. She also mentioned in her email that his mum was a bit persistent but no more so than her own mom, Baba, could be.

Mum understood that his parents are getting older and there are some health concerns etc. - she got it.

Well, a couple of weeks go by with Red acting out at school and home; not at all happy about the situation and then Mum gets a call from Mike, (Red’s dad).

Here’s Mum’s version of the conversation:

Mum: I’m shopping, Red’s at home if you want to call him there.

Red’s Dad: I know, I just spoke with him.

Mum: Well, OK. What did you tell him? what are the travel dates?

Red’s Dad: I told him he didn’t have to come out for Christmas but that I hoped he’d make the right decision.

Mum: You said what?

Red’s Dad: Sorry it took me so long to get back with you, but what you said about my mom really upset me…

And then he proceeded to blast Mum for saying his mom had tried to guilt the kids.

So Mum told him she was hanging up because he was out of control and yelling. He called back, so she let it go to voice mail and then deleted it without even listening to the message.

The conversation and his blasting her upset Mum but what riled her most was what he’d said to Red, “You don’t have to come but I hope you make the right decision”.

Red is 15!

He doesn’t like change, doesn’t want to go anywhere because it disrupts his routines and he can't take me - and his dad had just told him he didn’t have to!

Here's what happened on my end:

You should have seed Red when he got off the phone with his dad.

Red was ecstatic! Like Christmas morning had arrived early for him!

He didn’t have to go to Georgia or Illinois or leave me behind, what’s not to like about that?

He was one joyful kid! I wish you could have seen his expression when he heard he didn’t have to go away for Christmas!

He gave me a big ol’ hug and I slurped his face and brought him my ball to share how glad I was and bow-wowzie! You should have seen how happy we were!

No worries here – none for Red or me anyway…

All sorts of old hurts came to the surface for Mum - again and it was nothing to do with Red's dad blasting her! That was more like a scab being ripped off to a much deeper hurt that seemed to keep getting deeper once removed.

The implications! (the wound suddenly looks more serious)

Here's what Mum explained.

What does “I hope you make the right decision” mean to a 15 year - old especially one with autism?

Red probably never even heard that part! He probably didn’t hear anything beyond, “You don’t have to come to here” because those were the words he was looking for.

Mum feels Red's dad should have known that! And would have IF he understood autism like a man who has a son on the spectrum should.

Red’s dad expected Red to “decide” to have Christmas with him and his family all on his own.

Anyone with any type of understanding about kids knows that’s asking too much.

Throw in the autism factor and it was totally unfair of Red’s dad to expect Red to choose something that requires him to leave me and Mum and normal routines for the unknown, his noisy cousins, a grandmother who makes him eat “weird things” like casseroles, and all the different rules his dad has for him.

That’s the deeper part of the wound –

Mom's really hurt because Red's dad has never tried to understand Red and his version of autism.

Mum claims that Red’s dad never even researched autism online in spite of spending hundreds of hours on the computer playing games and messing around and her sending links, books and reports about autism.

This is according to Mum. And I believe her based on what I’ve seen and heard!

Take the whole Christmas fiasco - Red's dad doesn't get him or autism if he expected Red to "decide"; he should have spelled out exactly what would be happening on Christmas.

Mum says that like so many other divorces within the autism community Red’s dad didn’t want to understand autism – that he just couldn’t face it for any number of reasons.

Mum also says that Red's dad has even blamed her for Red’s behaviors – as in he feels she raised Red into a boy with autism behaviors because she "coddles" him and gives in to him too much.

That’s not unusual either. I remembered that part form a TV show. You should have seen Mum crying when Jenny McCarthy said the same thing on Oprah. I slurped her hand through the whole show.

Just think about it for a moment – 80% of families with autism go through divorce!

Mum and Red’s dad are caught up in a vicious cycle.

Red's dad blames Mum for moving Red so far away claiming there's no way he can get to know Red by only getting to see him so briefly periodically.

Mum said she had to return home to California, that she needed the support of family and friends and beach to heal herself from years of neglect and unhappiness in order to raise Red.

Then she throws it back at him stating that he never tried before the divorce to understand Red or autism anyway.

Red’s dad keeps blaming Mum for moving away and she keeps telling him he didn’t help with understanding autism, learning to work together to help Red and that he’s in denial about Red’s autism - still.

She says she couldn't raise Red on her own and had to go back to California.

Blah, blah, blah. It's enough to make a tail and ears droopy.

When they get like that, they are just not nice.

It’s a vicious cycle and doesn’t solve anything, help the one with autism or accomplish anything productive. They just tear each other down and waste energy that could be better spent.

Sigh - the whole thing between them is a mess because they can't agree on autism which is only one of several reasons why they are divorced.

Opposite sides of the country works best for them - and us.

Lets get back to Pre-Christmas and Christmas… (can't be droopy forever ya know!)

Mum didn’t tell Red he didn’t have to go to his Dad’s.

She waited and gave Red’s dad until the end of Thanksgiving weekend (close to 2 weeks) to tell Red that he would be going to his grandparents’ home for Christmas.

When Red's dad didn’t call or write, Mum asked her family while they were all at our Uncle's home in Santa Barbara for Thanksgiving, whose home we were celebrating Christmas at this year?

Everyone voted for our home because it’s in the middle!

Red was happy, Mum was even more busy and very pleased too!

She loves having the family over and there is no better antidote to old hurts than staying busy.

Mum was finishing up her first leg of student teaching, preparing for the second and then there was the whole home clean up thing!

There was a lot to do to prepare for Christmas!

Mum tends to take on too much, forgetting her own ADHD and needs. She also hates to vacuum!

(Read – the housecleaning had been neglected for awhile and there was A LOT to clean and do to prepare for Christmas here)

Thank goodness, everyone in Mum's family gets the autism thing. We do not have to stress that!

We had a wonderful Christmas here with family – which is even better than being busy for helping Mum feel better.

I hope to share some more about our Christmas vacation soon - we've really had a slurpy wagwagerful vacation but...

Duty calls!
I gotta take Red for a scooter ride on his new Fusion!

Woof -woof!

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Autism Holiday get-together - A matter of choices

The holiday get-together with autism is a matter of choices

Yo! Yo! Yo! Mick the cutie canine in the elf scarf.

It’s the holiday season and you have some celebration options. I went over some in the previous post and one is to choose to not go to an event or get-together. A perfectly valid option…

Sure, by not planning on going to that annual family meal you may upset your sister who is always trying to create a perfection by encouraging her kids to play nicely with your son with autism.

She really tries and in her heart she prays daily for you and your family.

But guess what, your son probably finds more happiness lining up their Hot Wheel cars or markers quietly in a closet and really is overly anxious when all three of the kids try to engage him in an activity.

Add in a few supportive adults and wowzie!

She just doesn’t “get it”. “it” being life with autism.

If you need to, tell your family that you know they love and care for you and you feel the same but sorry, "No can do". Offer an alternative if you feel so inspired but do not feel like it has to be during the holidays.

But hey, I understand. My family does a lot with family during the holidays and well, there are a lot of expectations from all over (and a lot of support and understanding). If you feel the need and really want to get together at your sister's or wherever with family or friends have a few exit strategies.

A Few?


You gotta leave sometime, right? Have some plans.

When’s the best time to leave?

Best case, winner-winner chicken dinner, leave on a happy note!

Maybe this is the year you come in say hello to everyone, give a reward to the youngster with autism for being so well behaved and a reward to the other kids for being so wonderful and you don't even take your coats off.

You just get right back into the car. (Mum explains this is like part of an ABA plan where you start small and build on success with the plan to eventually have a full day or weekend.)

Maybe your expectations are a bit beyond that. OK. When do you plan on leaving?

Mum says to really put some thought into the exit plans. You may be disappointed, you may disappoint others, but over-staying will likely disappoint everyone.

Prior to the get-together, try to have at least one person who can have your back if you need to leave unexpectedly. This person can offer apologies and smooth the way as you leave or after you leave if they stay behind.

Letting the host or hostess know ahead that you will stay as long as you can but that you may need to leave early is also an appropriate thing to do.

Use your own judgment, but you don’t need to “blame autism”, you may just want to say, “Sorry, time for us to go”. Period. Friends and family know and love you, and anyone else, well, their loss. Know what I mean, Jelly Bean?

Think about your child; then make a plan. Maybe you take it step-by-step; you want to stay as log as possible (for whom?).

You make it this far and all is going well (as in a 10 on a scale of 1-10 perfect) Good, as soon as things hit a 9 consider your exit plan because you want to be able to leave on a happy note if at all possible.

Why leave on a happy note?

Mum says this is so you can reinforce the good without drawing attention to what you don't want to – for the Good of everyone.

Think about it. Wouldn’t you rather hear, “Gee, do you have to leave, JR was is behaving so well?”

Choose success!

And what about the drive home?

Mum really praises Red for all the positive things she can.

So she’ll be saying things like, “I really like the way you chewed with your mouth closed”, or, “I really like the way you shared your new ball”, or “I know you wanted to hit your cousin when she took your car but you didn't - whoohoo!", or “Way to go! You left the table to have some quiet time while everyone else was finishing their desert – good strategy!”

(and that really is a good idea – kids with autism need some quiet time to decompress or regroup for the next set of demands, leaving the table early tends to work well for Red).

If things have gone from a 10 to a 1 (and you know from experience they can – just that quick) there may be no way to leave on a happy note.

You'll need a strategy for leaving on an unhappy note too.

I know, that flies in the face of our general family trait of optimism but Mum says she’d rather have a plan and not need it than need it and not have it.

Back-up plans are common sense not the primary focus. Focus on the desired outcome and you wont need your backup plan (probably).

So, if you do have to leave unexpectedly

Well, try to still focus on the good parts and if you can’t find a good thing about the whole sorry time (sniff) then put on your happy face and look for something else where you and the family can enjoy the love of one another.

Maybe look at the lights on the way home, stop for some hot cocoa or make some when you get home. Drive around if it helps you and everyone to relax and maybe don't go home until you've found a happy place or something positive to talk about.

If you look for it peace and joy can be found and there is nothing better than a later giggle over the shocked faces of others – but it may take some time before you’re ready to laugh.

There is no point in berating a child for bad behavior outside of there control but another time, perhaps you can practice better choices.

Perhaps the first better choice can be yours – whenever possible, set your child up for success.

Success builds success.

Goodness knows, Mum’s apologized to Red for taking him somewhere he wasn’t able to cope or for as long as she’d hoped. She tends to beat herself up for these mistakes but she shouldn’t she’s human – not canine

Live, Learn, Laugh and Love – That’s the canine way!

Yo! Yo! Yo! And a Happy Holiday Season to all!