Tag Archives: transitions

It’s Time

This is the week for me. The mad-dash week before school starts. All parents know how it is with registration, getting school supplies, checking schedules, that kind of thing. And all special needs parents know how it is with the added emails, calls, meetings, walk-throughs, etc. that are necessary in getting our children set up with the support systems they need to be successful. In a transition year – either starting at a new school or at a new level of school – those efforts are doubled.

This year Nigel starts high school, so he’s at a new level and a new school.  With all the stress I’ve been experiencing lately, I feel like sitting in a corner and rocking, stimming my stress away. So far it’s gone smoothly getting things set up for him, but there is so much time, effort, and energy (mental, emotional, and physical) involved that I feel like I am nearing a breakdown. I so want this to work for him. I want him to be comfortable and confident. I want his needs to be met. I want him to be accepted and appreciated. I want him to focus and learn and also have fun. I don’t want to worry about getting calls at work about behavioral issues because someone has purposefully pushed his buttons. I don’t want to worry about what our options are if this doesn’t work. Please, please, please God, let this work. Let him be happy.

We went to registration today, and then met Nigel’s new case manager. How must this woman feel? I’m sure she’s aware of the fact that we special needs parents place so much hope in her. I know she’s aware of that. In fact, she must have picked up on my desperate vibe, because at one point she said to Nigel, “I’m your school mom.” No one has ever said that before. And I wanted to cry and hug her and thank her because she obviously gets it. She knows how important her role is. I sometimes wonder if these professionals who work so tirelessly with our children, who are devoted to their success and well-being, feel the strain that we parents feel at the beginning of the school year. This combination of hope and anxiety. I should come up with a name for it. After all, it’s not just at the beginning of the school year that I feel it.

Anyway, when she said, “I’m your school mom,” Nigel gave a small, cute smile, like he thought the idea of a “school mom” was silly. But I sensed that it comforted him, and he understood her meaning. In that brief meeting, she really listened to him. I could tell that he felt respected, and comfortable. The regional autism consultant, who has known him since his nonverbal days, was also at the meeting, talking about his strengths and making recommendations. His speech therapist from the past three years was there, and we found out that she would continue to work with him and facilitate the social skills class that he will take. I feel very optimistic, even though the anxiety is hovering in the back of my mind.

However, the bottom line, the “take-away,” is that Nigel didn’t just attend this meeting. He participated. He was slow to answer at times, rarely made eye contact, and was frequently off-topic with his requests and comments, but he was an integral person. And he even remembered to cover his mouth when he yawned, which shocked me after all these years of telling him it’s the polite thing to do. I swear I think it was the first time he ever did it on his own.

But at this meeting he accomplished things that were so much more important than being polite. He spoke up and discussed his needs. He told us which subjects he needed to take at the lower level, and which he didn’t. He mentioned his experience with bullying. He advocated for himself. And I am sitting here in tears as I write this, because the boy who, at the age of five, could not tell a doctor his own name is now advocating for himself. He really is. And I sense that this is only the beginning. It’s like he’s trying to tell me, Mom, I got this. I know it’s not time for me to step back yet. No, there is still much more work for me to do.  But it’s time for me to let him step up. He’s part of the team. Yes, he is.

The Long-Distance Family

My boys, my two big teenagers, are home! I drove the long drive to pick them up, hugged them, laughed when they called me “Dad-Mom” for the millionth time, piled their suitcases, computer, pillows, books, movies, Xbox 360, and two bicycles and helmets into my small SUV, and drove back home. Whew. This was their eighth summer in LA.

Last year when they returned, I wrote about my anxiety concerning the long-term effects that this going-back-and-forth arrangement might have on them. I can’t help thinking about that. But then I realized that what we do is far better than the alternative – not spending time with their father. It’s not an easy situation, and we do the best we can with it. But this year I didn’t really dwell on that too much. This year, this pick-up, was all about reminiscing.

I remembered the first time we did the 700-Mile Kid Swap, nearly eight years ago. Nigel was seven and Aidan was five. It was for less than a week that first time, for a winter visit. I remember how we transferred all of their stuff out of my car into their dad’s car, hugged goodbye, and drove off in opposite directions. They got in the southbound lane to LA, and I got in the northbound lane to Oregon. I remember crying on the onramp as I realized that this would be the first of many times that I would drive home without my children. And they were so little.

That first summer, when Aidan turned six and Nigel was not yet eight, they were gone for six weeks, and I went to visit them at the three-week point. I think Nigel thought that I had come to take him back with me, and he cried when I said goodbye after the weekend visit, actually said “All done LA,” at a time when his speech was so limited. Broke. My. Heart. And then when they did come back to Oregon, Aidan had such a hard time transitioning and readjusting that he lashed out at me and told me he didn’t want to live with me anymore. I had thought we might go through that when he was a little older, but not at six. It took him a month to work through it. Broke. My. Heart.

So it’s been hard – on all of us. And though we still miss each other when we’re apart, we’ve come a long way in dealing with our reality. We all have hard parts of our lives – autism, divorce, money or health issues – and we do the best we can with them. That’s all we can do. We have to work with what is. And I think that, over the years, my boys and I have done pretty well with our “what is.” We might feel, as Aidan said at age seven, like we have two lives, but we’ve learned how to blend them seamlessly. We’ve adapted. And we’ve thrived.

It may not be what I would have wished for or expected when I started my family, but that’s okay. It may not be ideal, but we’ve made it work for us, and I’m rather proud of that. We’re, like, pros in the long-distance family department. We have absolutely no transitioning problems now. And I only got called “Dad-Mom” twice!

Stepping Back

Little transitions – stopping an activity to come to dinner, getting into and out of the shower, a new piece of furniture – can be challenging enough to get through. And they make the big transitions – starting a new school, moving, divorce – seem incredibly daunting. And we have a really big one coming up.

Brace yourselves.

In September, Nigel starts high school. Wait – did I just write that? A mere five days ago, as I held my newborn nephew in my arms, I remembered seeing my son for the first time. Holding him, gazing at his sweet little face. How is it possible that the sweet little face now has peach fuzz on it and towers over me?  How is it possible that the five-year-old who could not say his name when asked is now pre-registering for a full day of unassisted classes at the high school?

I am, of course, filled with apprehension. But part of me is also hopeful. Two nights ago Nigel and I attended the “8th Grade Pre-Registration Night” at the high school. We ran into a good friend of his, and our families sat together. The principal gave a PowerPoint presentation and spoke about all the positive attributes of the school, including a student support system called an Advisory. It is comprised of twenty students, five from each grade level, and all students in the school are part of one. They meet weekly to discuss both academic and social issues. While this sounded very positive to me, Nigel was more excited about the opportunity to start his own club.

After the principal’s presentation, the audience split up into smaller groups to take teacher-led tours of the school. We had barely gotten started on the tour when Nigel flagged down our tour leader, the vice principal, and mentioned that he wanted to start a club for stop-motion Lego films. Only he asked it in his halting, “I-have-something-to-ask-but-my-autism-makes-me-pause-and-say-hmm-a-lot-when-I’m-nervous-or-not-sure-what-to-say” voice. The vice principal, who had just returned from coaching a softball game, got a blank look on his face for a few seconds, trying to piece together what Nigel had tried to say. I almost stepped in with a quiet “My son has autism” explanation. I’ve done that in the past whenever someone new to us has a hard time understanding Nigel. But something made me hold back this time. In the past year, I’ve tried to hold back whenever I feel that Nigel’s doing okay interacting on his own with someone who doesn’t know him. It may not be perfect, but he manages. I have to realize that I’m not always going to be there, especially at high school, to step in and wave the autism flag. There’s something liberating in the “not telling.” Because, really, a person’s response should not be influenced by knowing if someone’s autistic. Ideally, a person should respond with patience and respect regardless. They should realize that the person addressing them seems to have some difficulty expressing themselves – the reason why shouldn’t matter. And sometimes, after the quick blank look, the other person gets it. They may not know exactly what “it” is, but they know that they’re in the presence of someone who communicates differently, and that’s okay. I took a deep breath and waited for the vice principal’s response.

He got it. He gently rephrased what Nigel had said in a questioning tone to see if he was correct. Nigel confirmed with an appropriate “yeah,” and the vice principal said, “You certainly can start your own club. There’s a sheet in the pre-registration packet that tells you how to do it. That was a great question!” Then he turned and resumed leading the tour.

I exhaled and put my arm around my son as we followed the group. I wanted to high-five the vice principal and tell him that he had just made an autistic teen feel very good about himself. And that he had just made the autistic teen’s parent feel a little better about such a big transition.

Couch Surfing

It’s been a long time since I’ve purchased any new furniture. But our old couch, a fourth-generation hand-me-down, was down to threads. The middle sagged like my, um – well, it just sagged. And even the slipcover that I’d had on it for the past five years was worn and faded. It was time for a new couch.

So, after much searching in stores and trying to budget for a brand new one, I found on Craig’s List a beautiful, gently used leather sectional that I love. It’s the same shape as our old one, just a few inches longer on each side. And the price couldn’t be beat. I was so excited about it!

Then I remembered – I had better prepare Nigel. Even little transitions like a new piece of furniture are sometimes difficult for him to assimilate. I announced that we would be getting a new couch soon and showed him the photos of it that had been posted on Craig’s List. I pointed out that it was similar in size and shape to the old couch, just different material. I mentioned that I wouldn’t constantly be nagging about the slipcover getting messed up because we wouldn’t need a slipcover. Nigel, not caring in the least about the slipcover, started in with the questioning. Why do we need a new couch? Why can’t we just keep the old one in the game room? Why do we have to get rid of it?

I couldn’t expect him to understand that because the old couch had belonged to an ex-boyfriend, I really didn’t want to keep it any longer. So I tried to come up with other compelling reasons, but Nigel held his ground. He didn’t want to get rid of the old couch because he had fond memories of watching movies with the ex-boyfriend. I knew then that the only way out of this conundrum would be gradual. He needed time – time to bond with the new couch and time to let go of the old one.

Since Nigel is a kinesthetic learner, I figured that one way of helping him to process the new couch would be to have him help with moving it. I brought him with me to go pick it up from the seller’s house, and he enjoyed helping to carry it out and load it on the truck. When we got to our house, he helped to unload it and bring it in. And then he would have nothing to do with it.

I had pushed the old couch to the back of the room, and that is the one that he sat on. “I have to say goodbye to it,” he told me. And I knew that he would need time to do that, so I scheduled the pick-up for the old couch the following week.  He sat on it for about an hour, and he insisted on eating his dinner while seated on it. “I have a lot of memories with this couch,” he said wistfully. “Yes, honey. We all do,” I confirmed. Then I had an idea.

“I think tonight we should have our first memory with the new couch. And the old couch will still be here, so it can be the last memory with the old couch, okay? Let’s all watch a movie together tonight. Nigel, you can choose what we watch.”

So that night we watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, and Nigel split his viewing time between the old couch and the new couch, doing in-home couch surfing. At the end of the movie, I asked him what he thought of the new couch. He mulled it over before answering, and then he said, “Well, I would like it better if it had a fabric cover.” Ah! A sensory issue! I should have thought of that! I suggested that he could cover his side of the couch with a sheet until he gets used to the leather. “But it’s not so bad,” he conceded. “I don’t mind it.”

And that’s how we roll – one couch-surfing transition at a time.