Autism Parenting Tips I Learned From Dr. Sheldon Cooper

TV has a lot of really bad shows that are just mindless but sometimes you run into one that really strikes a chord. Before my son was diagnosed with Autism we had our suspicions. He had always had his challenges & difficulties. He had always been a bit odd or different from the other kids but in small town Oklahoma not only do you not know what to do about it you can’t find anyone who knows anything about it! The turning point was NBC’s show Parenthood, one of the kids was diagnosed with Aspergers on the show. After watching we realized that it fit how our son acted with a shocking amount of accuracy so that was our breaking point, we sought out someone who was familiar with Autism Spectrum Disorders & made his appointment or evaluation.

CBS’s The Big Bang Theory is another one of those show that just hit the nail on the head! So after watching a run of episodes these last couple of days I’m realizing how accurate they really are & how shows like this that not only humanize people on the spectrum but also put a positive or humorous spin on it and it really does help with awareness & acceptance. I’ve already tried my hand at identifying cartoon characters that I think are on the Autism Spectrum, view that blog post here. In honor of one of my favorite characters on television, Dr. Sheldon Cooper, I thought I would share some of my favorite parenting skills that I have learned from Sheldon about raising a kid on the spectrum.

  • Pick Your Battles“My Shirt Is Itchy And I Wish I Were Dead!” Pants are the wrong texture, the collar of this shirt lays on my neck wrong, I can’t wear green today! You learn to not only pick your battles but you learn what real battles are! This isn’t even worth fighting over for me. He has a whole closet full of clothes in there so lets just find something that is going to be acceptable. As long as its not a silk button up shirt with cats & wizards on it I’m totally happy! PICK YOUR BATTLES PEOPLE! 
  • Doing ‘Stupid’ Things – Okay, I’ve learned that this is a pretty big one. There are things that we do in this word that are stupid or silly when you think about it. Case in point? Easter Eggs, Valentines Day, little white liess, Elf On The Shelf, the list goes on & on but what most people don’t have is the pleasure of having a kid that will be happy to point out how stupid those things are & you know what..? Sometimes I can’t really sum up with a single reason why we do the things we do but we have to & yes it may be stupid but we have to do it! We all have family, little brothers, moms, school teachers, & others who have expectations & the while I expect the world to be accepting or accommodating  of my son, I expect my son to learn to be the same with the things he doesn’t like or understand. “Let’s do this stupid thing” for a kid with High Functioning Autism or Aspergers is the same as when other parents say to their NT kids “Because I said so!”
  • Manners - “If you don’t mind, I’d like to stop listening to you & start talking.” How many of us can hear these words coming out of our own kids mouth? Then again, after thirty minutes or so of listening to the technical breakdown of how something works in Minecraft I am pretty close to saying something along these lines as well. I find it funny that if these words came out of my sons mouth he would probably think it was still considered acceptable manners because he said it politely instead of just starting to talk right over you. Everything is a work in progress! :)
  • Celebrate The Small Things – If my son would eat a slice of pizza I would probably throw a party! Probably not a pizza party but a party none the less. I have bribed, threatened, tricked, lied, & my way to making him try new foods & you know what? None of that ever works. You have to just present opportunities for expansion of foods & reward/celebrate the small victories. Even if that victory is that you, the parent, made it through the day & the small celebration is a glass of wine & a bowl of ice cream from the pint you had hidden behind the mini corn dogs in the back of the freezer so no one else in the house would jack it from you… not that I know anything about that!
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Autism, Overstimulation, & Setbacks Oh My!

The sixth gautism blograde has proved kind of a rough transition for this kid. We have forgotten work, not moved quick enough to get things done, been overstimulated to many times to count but glass half full at least we haven’t had to worry about some of the crazy apocalyptic crazy thoughts that were in my head as we headed into middle school! Granted most of those were just worry wort dad thoughts & involved pretty much just crazy stories you read in the new happening verbatim to my kid. Every time I would read one of those horrifying stories about how a kid with autism was mistreated I just knew THAT exact thing would happen to him. So, like I said, glass half full none of that has happened! :)

What has happened is I got a call from our counselor yesterday while we were knee deep in the fall section of Hobby Lobby. (Don’t judge me! I gave up my man card long ago when I got a pinterest!) She told me that he had fallen asleep in second hour at his desk. The teacher tried to wake him up, when she did they said he looked around at the other kids wide eyed & confused for a second then crawled under his desk to the fetal position. He wouldn’t talk or make eye contact with anyone so the teacher called for the counselor. When the counselor arrived she told me that she tried to talk to him nice & slow for a second telling him that she has a soft bean bag chair in her office that he could come relax on. He took his backpack & headed to her office where she let him decompress for a while before he could even talk to her. She told me that after he started to talk again she assured him he wasn’t in any kind of trouble & gave him the option to go back to school for the rest of the day or she could call me to see about going home. He made the decision to go back to class. I’m so proud & happy that he made the very grown up choice to go back to class but I’m not gonna’ lie I wanted to rush to that school, pick him up, & get him home! Sometimes I realize that he is way braver than I am.

Going over the night before in my mind there was nothing out of the ordinary. Bed time was the same as it always is, reading books, saying good night, up in the morning like normal, everything was in line. Usually you can see these things headed your way but this one caught me off guard a bit. We haven’t had anything like this happen since about 3rd grade. I can even remember in kindergarden them having problems with him going under the desk to seek refuge or wandering the halls because he got out of someones sight for a minute but that was a long time ago! Time will tell I guess.I normally pick him up separately from the other boys. We pick up the two boys at the elementary & then I drop them off at home with mom so I can pick Jayden up just me & him. I took him to sonic for a green apple slush with nerds in it to ask him how his day was, he didn’t know the counselor called me. He went over his entire day with me, telling me how it was a good day with no problems at all! I gently pushed & pushed telling him he was acting like something had happened or he was not telling me everything. Even without the call I would have known something was up because he was obviously acting out of the norm being overly animated & evasive. Almost like you would see a character act when they are hiding something on a cartoon or kids TV show. I pushed one last time before telling him I got a call. I said ‘Jayden I’m going to order our drinks & I want you to think about your day. I know from the way you are acting that something has happened or there is something that has thrown you off a bit. Think about it while I’m ordering, maybe there is something that happened that you ‘FORGOT’ about. Either way I am going to email or call the teachers to check so please be honest with me & think really hard.” Sure enough after I ordered he put his hand to his chin like a sitcom character rubbing it & saying ‘hmmmm’ Then he said “You know, there is one thing I just remembered that happened today!” He told me about what happened telling me that he remembered being very sleepy & then waking up under his desk curled up.

our son with autism practicing the snare drumI think band is keeping him somewhat on point. I’m not sure if I mentioned it in my last post, he was approved to play the drums. The snare drum! Yeah… Up to this point its not bad because I haven’t actually heard him play the snare, he has a practice pad that is soft & pretty quiet so thats a big plus. $775 for supplies to play the drums & we get Xylophone, Snare practice pads, & sticks but no drums. You would think I would be upset about that but yeah…nope. Lets keep the drums at school for now shall we! :)

Hate Is A Strong Word For An 11 Year Old!

These first days of middle school have been rough to say the least. Problems were written on the board for them to copy down & answer. He copied the first one down & answered, then the second, then the third, then class was over. Did we copy all the problems down first then go back an answer them? Nope! Already we are having a mix of homework misplaced, not done, or hidden as to not have to cut into his personal time at home.

After finding some of the work hidden in the back of his binder & him coming clean that he hid it as to not have to do it we had a little bit of a blow out & that included punishment but after that it seemed as though we were doing good. That is until I found work as well as a weekly progress report showing missing work with a note from his teacher that didn’t make it out of his bag. Its so hard because I know some of it is Autism & some of it is 11 year old boy but those two mesh together so much its hard to tell what is one or the other. So needless to say we came to blows (put down the phone, stop calling DHS, not those kind of blows!) There was an unabashed conversation about his inability to carry much of any of his own responsibilities, there was a calling out of his failure to do work that is required even if he thinks he shouldn’t have to do it, & there were tears! Whats the last thing you want to do to a kid with autism before you send him to middle school… pretty much everything I just said I did but what are you going to do!?! At some point you see him getting older & realize he is that scary in between that terrifies me! He is so high functioning that he can do these things but he still has flippin’ autism so these things are sometimes ridiculously hard for him to do or understand but again at the same time he has to be prepared for high school, college, life, a job, & an unforgiving society that in most cases would rather eat him alive than cut him a break.

When he got home we backed off a bit & tried to just help with work but give lots of support. Trying to stay consistent in our approach is one of the hardest parts because with any other kid you would be like
‘okay, this isn’t working lets switch it up’ & that will just confuse this kid. I knew this was all coming, I knew that autism was a rock, middle school was a hard place, & we would eventually get stuck in-between them but I just didn’t think it would happen this fast. All this I can handle! All these things I can swallow! All these things you have just read we can overcome. That is after I’m able to get over what we founding his school folder:

Let me tell you, I sat & watched them Emmy’s last night just to see if they called my name because I feel like I should get some kind of award for me performance as ‘Dad who comes at the situation with an even hand despite their heart being ripped out of my chest’ My wife handled it better than I did but we had a talk about hate, parents, self pity, responsibility, growing up, & more. With any luck we’ve made some progress but you can’t know until you let it ride to see. I know the kid doesn’t hate me. I know that we will get through all this. I know that he will be able to take on all this new stuff but knowing all that doesn’t mean any of it comes easy.

Back To School Day 2, Okay The Honeymoon’s Over

Remember that time a long time ago… like… yesterday, when I posted about what an awesome day he had on the first day of middle school & everything was gonna be just fine? You remember that? Yeah, the dad who wrote that is gone. Today he got kicked in the face by reality & then Autism stepped on his rose color glasses of optimism. I’m back in charge now. Regular ol’ cynical Tom that is not so much a glass half full guy but not really a glass half empty guy either, more of a I spilled my glass in my lap & now it looks like I peed on myself kinda guy!

When my son got home today he was so overwhelmed & over stimulated as he tried to tell us about his day no words would come out. I sat on the couch listening to him make groaning noises like he was physically trying to push the words out of his mouth three or four times then two words would come out then groaning then two words & so on. We haven’t been to that place in a long time but let me tell you it was a big punch in the gut. Probably a good one to be honest with you. I may have needed a wake up to the fact that YES we are back in school, YES you do need to get your ‘A’ game back out of the back of the closet & lace up your boots because it’s about to get real. Not to say he had a bad day but it was obviously a lot to take in & with it being only the second day of school I’m sure the teachers, staff, & special education teachers are trying to normalize themselves as well as learn their new kids. So I’m really just at a time where all we can do is decompress him as best as we can & send him back into the lions den as prepared as he can be.

Any time we are off school be it for summer, spring break, or even Christmas break the first week (sometimes month, I know you feel THAT pain) is the real test of a parents mental capacity. Summer is a special kind of hell though because at least with the other times you know the environment they are stepping into & have a dialog. Back to school time is just a waiting game. My head tells me “You have to give HIM time, you have to give THEM time, & you have to just be there for anything that’s needed” but my Dad-ness tells me “Lets take a mulligan this week, get some grilled cheese sandwiches, & watch adventure time together!”

I know it will get better & after my wife giving me the only medicine that will cure an over bearing dad’s racing thoughts (Chicken, Mac & Cheese, & 12 year old bourbon) I am feeling better. So yeah, thanks ‘Kids Growing Up’ you’ve successfully killed Doe-Eyed Dad & brought back fatty comfort food eating dad but that’s okay. Tomorrows another day!
PS just to be completely clear, because I know my wife will read this post I have to clarify: Fatty Comfort Food Eating Tom never REALLY went anywhere! That was a total turn of phrase & had no truth as to my eating habits which are…less than healthy… yeah that’s the terminology I’m going to use! 

6th Grade Here We Come! {Middle School Vs. Autism}

Wow! The last bit of school was great, the summer was even better, & as I came to the realization that I was about to have a 6th grader this week I did several things. 1st. Melt Into A Puddle Of Dad Sludge  2nd. I put myself back together thanks to the nice people at Blue Bell :) 3rd. I decided it was about time to jump back to the blog! That’s when I realized that I hadn’t posted, other than small social media posts, since march! Wow!
Things have been good! We took the summer head on with the boys first trip to my favorite place on earth, Colorado! Pikes peak was below freezing, hiking in the Rock Mountain National Park, & having snowball fights in the middle of summer were just a few of the things we did. You can see some highlights from our trip on our photography blog if it tickles your fancy! I think I’ve just about got my wife convinced that if I can market our studio in CO a bit & book enough weddings as well as portrait sessions we may try to start spending a month or two in the summer there. We’ll cross our fingers.
Like I said, 6th grade! How did this happen? I remember him being born, taking a first step, & then BAM here we are. Don’t even get me started on the other two boys, Zion (with an anxiety disorder & MERLD) started the 3rd grade & Deano (Completely painfully NT to the bone) starts 1st grade. This summer has been so amazing, it was like we took a vacation from Autism! Granted I know we still did the same things we always do; routines, de-stressing, all of our autism adaptations. The difference this summer was it was all normal for us, no big hiccups or hurdles! We just rolled through. It was great! That’s why I think it was even more scarier than I thought it was going to be when it was time to snap back to the real wold & start gearing up for middle school. All of a sudden I was all ‘BACK TO THE WAR ROOM’ starting to plan strategies for the transition & digging out my big boy panties to make sure we are ready to go to bat for the kid. 

When we heard that the orientation was a ‘Drop off the kids, parents aren’t welcome till the end of the day’ style thing I went into ‘Its okay, Its okay, I’ll just talk it out’ mode but when I couldn’t get ahold of anyone to talk to I escalated to Dad-Con 4. My wife put it out on Facebook & what happened? The teachers, staff, & principal from the elementary school stepped up (a lot of them are on our Facebook) to give support as well as advice. The principal even made a call to the middle school personally to talk to them about Jayden & to make sure someone gave me a call to talk about him! It doesn’t get any better than that. She really went above & beyond, I don’t know what we would do with out such an amazing set of advocates in our corner! I know not everyone has that so I’m being mindful to stay thankful. 
He came from the first day excited. The fact that he has science the first hour of the day & is working on picking what instrument he wants to play in the band is great. We are currently deciding between the xylophone & the snare drum so that should be… interesting… yeah, that’s the word I’ll use! 
Thanks for reading! Don’t forget to keep up to date on Facebook.
I love that this photo captures the boys 100% Zion makes a goofy face (his classic defense mechanism), Jayden makes not a drop of eye contact, & Dean is just as A-Typical as you can get!!