Monday, November 25, 2013

Backyard update

We've finished remodeling our back yard area. We have no grass in the back yard, just pavers and plants (which is a great plan, by the way), but we needed a place for Soren to play. So the remodel made a compact play space for Soren, added a stairway to the top of the garage, and turned the top of the garage into a usable deck.

We really worked on safety for this structure, since Soren is a crazy climber. The roof deck has a locked gate that Soren can't scale, and the wooden slats on the main structure are narrow enough that a toe of a shoe can't fit in. The ground material is tiles made of recycled tires (no wood chips or tire chips, which end up in this guy's mouth).

Right now Soren is ignoring the little fort area, the climbing wall area, and the cargo net (you never know what will be interesting to him). But he's quite delighted with his swing. And I'm looking forward to those cocktails on the deck come, oh, July.
Tummy swinging


Locked gate to the deck area

View of the back of the house and the roof deck


Climbing thingies

So cool

 




Thursday, November 14, 2013

Standing out

Dear one,

While you were at school, I opened up the box labeled Photos this week. The really old box, duct-taped and dented. And I spent some time remembering this:

I'm the overexposed one near the left.

It takes my breath away to see just how much I stood out in photos from my junior high years in Jamaica. I remember how different I was in every way--race, language, culture--heck, even height--and how much I hated that sticking out for so long.

I remember feeling like I was always the focal point of schoolmates, random kids in the neighborhood, catcalling men on minibuses. ("'Ay, whitey." "Psst, white girl.") And at eleven or twelve, all I wanted to do was fit in, to be anonymous.

And even when we came back to the United States, I couldn't shake that compulsion to become invisible. I was so sick of being the focus of attention. I watched others like an anthropologist; I knew just what to wear, to say, to do to fit in. There was even that sophomore year when I tried to physically waste away, the better to fit in and to take up less attention and space.

What I didn't know then that I know now was that I was conflating standing out with negativity, judgment, even danger. I believed standing out was bad.

Soren, I need to confess that when you first started to display some autistic characteristics, I was so embarrassed. My discomfort with sticking out was oh-so-familiar. The stares, the double-takes, the whispers among adults. I covered for you at the playground when you were echolalic. Then I started avoiding the playground with you altogether. Your standing out was negative, a threat. Here I was again with nowhere to hide. And again, I was being judged, I thought.

Oh dear. I'm embarrassed by how much this autism journey was really about me and my baggage. Please forgive me.

Luckily, you have taught me along this journey. Slowly, the standing out stopped being such a big deal for me. Frankly, we have some other things on our plate, and whether people are looking at us and what they might be thinking are not priorities anymore. I think this acceptance started when you suffered so acutely from anxiety. Holding out for your brief spells of calm and happiness was my only priority. So what if you were flapping and babbling and prancing while I was checking your pull-up at the zoo? Who cares, when you were deliciously happy?

I can honestly say that the reactions of others just roll off my back now. I'm not angry, either. I don't want to pick fights with the ignorant strangers who stare or lecture them on autism--I just don't care. And that is such a relief (from myself).

I will always protect you from those who want to make your standing out a negative. But I also hope that you will never think that your standing out, which I believe you're aware of, is something to avoid or fear. I hope to show you that standing out isn't always coupled with judgment and embarrassment and danger. Sometimes standing out is just standing out. And your mom is just fine with both of us standing out now.







Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Talking down

I had a moment of bravery this week. I noticed a video on my iPad that was dated 2010, when Soren was two. That was before Soren regressed. I haven't been able to view any videos from then in years. It's just too painful to hear Soren speaking.

But out of curiosity and a burst of confidence, I opened the video. It was this one (and grandmas, please note that it's pretty rough one to watch):
video
(Note that the video may not appear on mobile devices.)

I watched it to the end. And I found it--well, not painful, exactly, but more fascinating.

Things that struck me:
  • Man, what complex verbal expressions that boy had. I hadn't remembered that. "Come come come, let's climb this tree, up, get the owl." Sigh.
  • What kind of Wild Kingdom voice am I using at the beginning? Groan.
  • And most importantly, I sure did speak to Soren differently then.
This last point really got to me. It's not been deliberate, but since Soren has regressed in language (and has become more inattentive, if that's the word), I think I speak to him as you would an 18-month old. I simplify sentences. I focus on actions. I rarely muse about abstract ideas. I even catch myself referring to myself in the third person ("mama's car"--geez). The video showed how I used to speak quickly, with much more information packed in sentences.

The change is in part because now I'm not receiving a lot of feedback when I talk to Soren. If I mused about an owl in the tree today, Soren may look where I'm pointing, but only with lots of prompting. He wouldn't attempt to say anything verbally, of course, and he probably wouldn't comment on his iPad that this was an owl, unless directly prompted. And when I'm not receiving feedback on what I say, it becomes a little ridiculous to keep it up. It really is like a monologue. And so I've cut back on the talking to him, and when I do talk to him, it's giving clear instructions, reviewing the day, responding to requests, prepping him for activities to come. I don't tell him what I'm feeling, what I'm expecting, the little things I'm thinking about or maybe that he's thinking about.

I assume he won't understand or won't attend to what I'm saying.

While it's true that we don't know what's changed cognitively with Soren since his language regressions (and maybe there's been cognitive regression or much slowed development), what if he hasn't changed cognitively? What if he's capable of understanding and responding to much more complex thoughts, given enough time? What if I'm talking down to him unnecessarily?

I want to presume competence. I want my language to be a way for him to be exposed to lots of communication, which can only help his. I want my language with him to be above his level, not below it. I never want to talk down to him, and God forbid, I never want him to KNOW I'm talking down to him.

After watching that video, I've resolved to start using more mature language with him even when I don't get a response. It may mean that sentences are left hanging. I need to get comfortable with these silences and lack of reciprocation. It's not about me and how that silence feels awkward or futile. It's about Soren and his wide world of language. It's expecting big things from him.

And now I think I'm going to go talk to him about the steller's jay I saw in the backyard today. Maybe I'll remind him about that owl we saw so long ago.

Friday, November 1, 2013

Halloween follow-up

We did it! We found a costume that didn't irritate Soren. It's a brown sweatsuit with masking tape detail to make a giraffe. Luckily, he didn't pick (or eat) the masking tape, so it lasted most of the day. There was a mask, too, but that was just for looking at, not wearing.

We didn't go trick-or-treating this year, but there was no lack of candy for our sugar addict. Soren was a little trooper for indulging his mama like this.

Hope your holiday was safe and fun!






 

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