Monday, November 30, 2015

Therein Lies the Truth

Liam waiting outside of his art class, Pastimes for a Lifetime
"Hey, have you noticed that Liam has started to lie?" I asked my husband as we waited for Liam to make one more "escape" from his room after bedtime.


"Isn't it great?"


Parents of neurotypical children don't often get excited when they catch their kids lying.  But parents of autistic kids know what a huge cognitive leap it is.  Lying is not literal statement of fact - it is a deliberate manipulation of another person, and although we teach most kids that it's "bad to lie," the TRUTH behind lies is that it's a necessary social skill.

As we grow up, we learn how to lie to protect ourselves and sometimes, in the case of "white lies" to protect the feelings of others.  Is there anyone who hasn't said that the overcooked, flavorless pork chops were "just fine" to protect the feelings of the host?  And then there's the famous, "do these pants make my butt look big?"  Please, lie to me about that one - ALWAYS.

Autistic kids, especially kids who have had extensive ABA therapy, have sometimes learned compliance to a dangerous degree - putting their own desires, and even safety aside in order to comply.  Although it can be a pain to have to argue about putting on socks, shutting down the computer or doing another level of math, it is a relief that, after a year off from ABA and the compliance-heavy school environment, Liam has found his voice and even posits logical arguments.

The other day, I accidentally gave him three gummy bear vitamins instead of two (they're sticky little buggers).  He noticed immediately.  I told him that it was OK that he had three that day, but that he's only supposed to have two, or he might get sick.  "I got three and am not sick," he replied.

For some parents, that would be "backtalk."  For me, it was watching a synapse fire.  Inside, I was doing a happy dance.

Another important factor of lying is the understanding of a social dynamic.  He's learning that telling us what we want to hear will make us happy and less likely to disrupt his interests.  He's long used a hug or cuddle as an escape from an uncomfortable situation.  Now he uses cuddles "proactively" to get what he wants: sliding in behind Dad at the keyboard for a hug is more likely to get him some keyboard time with Dad than a commando-style run at the keys.

Homeschooling Liam and allowing him the time to really dig into his own interests,  participating in outside classrooms where there is order, but not dogma, and honoring his autodidactic nature has let him shine. I think that kids, in general, need more time to play and discover on their own time, but for autistics, it is imperative.   As he's maturing, he's more interested in sharing his latest creation, asking for help or initiating games. 

Another wonderful development is a genuine interest in joining others outside of homeschool.  Urban Homeschoolers has given him the chance to learn in a structured, but less rigid environment.  He wants to practice the songs from choir and he mentions his science teacher by name.  Thinking "about" people and things that are not present was a rare event.  Now he'll let me know that his teacher or an idea are bubbling away in his brain. 
Liam visiting the local cat, Benny, outside of Urban Homeschoolers

A clay model built in his science class at Urban Homeschoolers, to show how Earth forces create land masses

The truth is, exactly one year ago, we walked away from all of the supports and institutions we had depended on since preschool.  We didn't know what to expect, but we knew we had to try something different.  By letting go, we've discovered more than we could have imagined.  And, in keeping with the season, I can say that I am truly thankful for lies.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Macbeth (or Menopause or My Cat) Hath Murdered Sleep!

The new bed
Like many families, especially those with autistic members, sleep, or the lack thereof, is an ongoing theme in our story.  My husband has always had trouble going to and staying asleep.  My son can't even begin to prepare to stay awake in bed for 2 - 3 hours until 9:30 PM and my night sweats and annoying geriatric cat conspire to wake me 2-3 times a night.  I miss sleep.  I really do.

During the hottest summer in all recorded history in LA, I took to sleeping on the couch, under an open window, every night.  My husband slept in the bedroom with the cat locked out and my son would stay (mostly) in his room, until about 6 AM, then he'd wander into the living room and say, "let's cuddle!"  I love it that my boy still wants to cuddle with me and, to be honest, he's too big for me to carry back to bed anyway, so we developed the "cuddle" habit in the morning.  We'd achieved a sort of sleep stasis.
Liam may take forever to get to sleep, but he's always happy in the morning!

A week ago, my husband announced that our old, rock-hard futon was finally, completely unsleepable. 
Liam lounging on the old futon
We were getting a new bed!  I left mattress selection up to him.  After all, I can fall asleep on anything, I may sweat on it, but passing out on it is no problem.  He settled on a plush IKEA mattress.  I went to the store to give it a "test-lay" and found it to be nice and cozy.

Dollars down and delivery made,  I washed the sheets and got ready to enjoy a really nice bed.  I slept a solid 5 hours before being annoyed awake by the cat.  I was satisfied.  My hubby was not.  He was uncomfortable.  I offered to put the cotton mattress topper back on the bed (it was bought as a last-ditch effort for the futon's end-of-days). 

Night two - Still great for me - and not so great for him.  "I want to try sleeping in the studio tonight, on the air mattress with the topper," he declared.  After two nights of no sleep, things were getting desperate.  I left our bedroom door open.  I was visited by the cat and my son during the night.  My husband was NOT visited by a good night's sleep. 

The next day, I went to Bed Bath & Beyond and bought a feather mattress topper.  My husband is very happy with his new feather pillow - I thought that adding this plushness might take the edge off the mattress.  This time, he went to bed early.  I wandered in a couple of hours later.  We left the air-mattress inflated in the studio, as a backup.

Liam tried to join us twice, but I still managed to finish a night in the bed.  Around 5, I got up, fed the cat and waited for Liam to join me on the couch.  That's when I noticed that the cat's paws smelled intensely of cat pee.  That only happens when he's peed on some squishy surface.  I ran to my son's room and was relieved to find it dry, then I remembered the air mattress.  Sure enough, the thick comforter, sheet, cotten mattress topper and mattress itself were soaked with cat pee. 

I doused everything in "Nature's Miracle," shoved the bedding into the washer, scrubbed and deflated the bed and took two Excedrin.  My husband awoke.  Well, I guess you can't awaken if you don't sleep.  This time he announced that he had been too hot, as soon as I came to bed.  He made his typical pot of strong-enough-to-walk-on-its-own coffee and I drank a cup - forgetting I had just taken two caffeine laced Excedrin. 

I was now a jittery wreck.  I decided to take a shower to relax.  While at Bed Bath and Beyond, getting the feather bed, I'd bought a plush, new bathroom rug. I snuggled my feet into the mat, as I waited for the water to get hot.  The rug was soaked.  With pee.  Cat pee. 

The most autistic brain in the house, by far, belongs to our cat.  New bed, new routine, new things - all were too much for Jake-Jake.  And now they were nearly too much for me.  The rug followed the mattress topper and bedding into the wash.  After I dried the rug, I put it into a bag in the closet.   In my mind, I said, "the day you die, cat, I am putting this thing back on the floor!" He's 14.  Shouldn't be long now. . .
A close-up of Jake, taken by Liam.  He is actually a much-loved member of the family.  No cats were harmed in the writing of this post.
The battle is not yet won.  My husband put a locking knob on the door and I loaded the bed with BOTH the cotton topper and the feather bed.  The cat is forbidden from entering our bedroom.  EVER AGAIN. 

And Liam?  He LOVES the new, big bed and while I was desperately trying to manage the a-pee-colypse, he learned several new skills on Minecraft, taught himself a new song on the piano and learned a new dance.  

Tomorrow after our class at Urban Homeschoolers,  I'll reward his patience with a return trip to his new favorite place - the pony rides in Griffith Park.  
The joy on his face makes it all better.  Tonight we will try again and see what dreams may come.