I'm a mentally ill person raising another mentally ill person. With chickens.

Archive for the ‘autism’ Category

Decided I needed more space to answer these questions:

https://wordpress.com/read/post/feed/17080200/711920471/

How has mental illness affected me personally:  I have bipolar disorder, type 2. I also have an ADHD diagnosis. My son has autism, and my daughter has ADHD. So mental illness is the everyday norm around here. My bipolar isn’t the interesting kind that you see on TV with people going off their meds and then becoming a complete wild child. It’s mostly depression where I sleep and eat a lot mixed in with periods of time where I can get a lot done but don’t always have the best judgement. I’ve never heard voices, or ran around naked, or stolen anything.  My first manic episode, and probably most manic thing I’ve ever done, is marry my first husband on a whim. It was a random weekday, he asked, I said sure, two hours later it was done. Impulsivity is a thing I’ve learned to watch for now, but at 21 I had no idea that anything was up. Oddly, I WAS seeing a counselor at this point, and had been for some time, and she never suggested bipolar disorder either, even though when I look back on this time period it seems pretty obvious.
Having a mental illness makes simple things harder for me. I’m easily overwhelmed by tasks that aren’t broken down into small steps. Like housekeeping. I look around and just see the giant mess and don’t know where to start, so I just don’t start because that’s easier (even though I prefer order). Oddly, I manage my children’s issues pretty well, I’m just exhausted by them fairly often. I find that everyday interactions with people are often rather exhausting. But if I’m even a little bit manic the opposite is true. It’s a weird thing, but on a Myers Briggs test I will score as extroverted if I’m a bit manic, and introverted if I’m a bit depressed.
Having a mental illness, and then having my first child be mentally ill as well made me rather reluctant to have a second child. There are eight and a half years between them, and my daughter was honestly quite a surprise. A very good surprise. But pregnancy and bipolar disorder was challenging, because the medications I was on were not safe for the baby, so we had to find something to use to keep things mostly normal. The drug we used wasn’t ideal, I gained way too much weight, but my mood was good without being too good, so overall it was a success. I did not breastfeed, getting back to my meds and avoiding a postpartum crash was just too important.
I can think of many ways my illness has changed my life from what I thought it would be. I studied to be a teacher and a mental health counselor, but I’m not. I’m a stay home mom whose main job these days is chaeuffeur. Sometimes I am frustated by the fact that I have no career, that I am completely dependant on my husband, but most days it’s ok. I’m a big believer in the idea that things work out the way they’re supposed to.

What did I learn from it that might help others:  In my first graduate class the professor made a comment about people with mental illnesses being drawn to the counseling profession, and that it wasn’t appropriate for them to work in the field because they weren’t mentally fit. I was angry about this comment, but I didn’t say anything, and I hid my illness from everyone in my department for the next three years. And that was wrong of me. That professor was wrong to make a blanket statement about “people with mental illnesses” and I let her intimidate me into hiding and I shouldn’t have. Don’t hide your illness because you’re afraid of what people will think. It’s just an illness like diabetes or lupus or arthritis. You take your medication and you go to your therapist, same as anyone with any illness, and you learn to live with it just like anyone else. When you hide it you’re saying it’s ok for people to stigmatize mental illness and it is not ok at all. We are as important and valuable as anyone else. Never be ashamed of your disorder, and never apologize for it. It’s part of what makes you, you.
I have a much easier time saying those things than I do actually acting on them, especially when it comes to my kids. I do find myself apologizing for their behaviour more than I should. It is what makes them unique, and I should be happy just to have healthy, happy children, not apologizing for their lack of perfection.
The one thing that has helped me the most along the way is learning to share that I have an illness. I’ve found that when I have opened up about my own illness I have found a community of others who have similar issues and who were also looking for someone who understood. None of us are alone in this

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An introduction

I signed up for Blogging 101 this month, to get my groove back, and the first assignment is to introduce myself. You would think that would be easy at my age, but it isn’t. I always hated it in college when professors  made you go around the room and say something about yourself.  I think they just do that to waste time, and in a half-assed attempt to remember your name. Even graduate school professors do this which is just silly. I was a grad assistant and I did NOT make my students do this.

I guess I’ve told a few things about myself already: I went to graduate school, I don’t really like speaking in public, or talking about myself, I taught at least one class, and I’m trying to get my groove back. Also, I seem to have a bit of bad attitude these days. 
I’ll see if I can be a bit more positive. Tomorrow is my birthday. I’ll be 43 and I’m actually pretty ok with that. Being younger no longer seems like that much fun, and I don’t feel too old for anything. I feel like there’s enough time ahead of me to do and see at least some of the things on my bucket list and I don’t feel like I wasted my youth.
I’m a mother of two: an eighteen-year-old son and a nine-year-old daughter. They could not be any more opposite. He is large, always was at the top of the percentile charts, and she is tiny. He likes to stay home, and to watch the same things over and over again, and to talk through movies and shows. She likes to go everywhere, she hardly ever sits still, she likes new things, and when she does watch the tv she doesn’t want anyone to talk. She is a dancer with five practices a week, he avoids exercise like the plague. He is on the autism spectrum, and she has ADHD. They are the joys of my life, and there is never a dull moment at our house.
I’ve been married for 19+ years, it’ll be 20 in July. My husband is not what anyone expected “back in the day”, but he is the perfect match for me. We’ve weathered many unexpected challenges over the years, and I wouldn’t have wanted anyone else by my side. He is never rattled by anything, he’s my rock. And he fixes things, which is something every woman should look for in a man.
I do have an abundance of education I guess. An undergraduate degree in English and a Master’s in Counseling. I’m not using any of it. I’m a stay home mom who gets a disability check every month. Sometimes I’m disappointed by the fact that I’m not working, but I’ve mostly come to terms with it. I have bipolar disorder type 2, and ADHD inattentive type. Those things do not make me a great employee, unfortunately. I’m a creative teacher and counselor, and I’m a good listener. But paperwork? I just get overwhelmed. I’ve never been as sick and exhausted as I was at the end of my counseling internship year. I finished everything and then I slept for roughly ten days. I knew I’d never be able to work like that full time. I did apply for a counseling job, but I’m a client at that agency so it was kind of a long shot. This is a small town, so I probably should have thought about that sort of thing before busting my ass in grad school and wracking up tons of student loans, but you know what they say about hindsight.
I need to find a focus for my blog. I’m not sure what exactly I want to talk about. I think the world has plenty of autism blogs, and plenty of mental illness blogs, and plenty of parenting blogs.  I can’t say what exactli makes my perspective unique, other than it’s mine, and while I hope others find it interesting and entertaining I am not sure what actually sets my voice apart from the masses. Something to continue to ponder, I guess.

As my son would say: f* off

http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/parenting/wp/2014/10/29/holding-my-son-with-autism-accountable/

So this has been making the rounds of my Facebook page today. And I am a bit irked by it, but I’m not sure I’m irked by the article or by the people who are posting it. One of the them doesn’t have kids, she just works with developmentally disabled adults, which is totally not the same thing. The other two have autistic kids, but are also besties with my son’s teacher who I really have an issue with.  So I kind of question if they’re really thinking the article has something good to say, or if they just want to stick it to parents who they don’t agree with. One of them is the my son’s former middle school teacher, (and I would say my former friend, because I haven’t spent time with her in almost a year) and she tends to think a lot of  parents let their kids “get away” with too much stuff.  I have real issues with people telling me, or anyone else, how to parent. You don’t live in my house, you don’t live with what I live with every day, so don’t think you know how to do what I do and certainly don’t think you can do it better.

It’s not that I believe my son with autism SHOULDN’T be held accountable for his actions, of course he should. But who gets to define that accountability? I don’t limit my son’s screen time normally, that’s not a battle I’m going to have, but I do set parental controls on what he’s allowed to watch and I only allow certain video games into the house. I don’t much care if he swears randomly, but I don’t like to be called names or told to F* off. If he chooses to get angry and break something of his I figure going without whatever it was he broke is consequence enough so I don’t do anything further.

My issue with his teacher is that she puts him in situations where she knows he is going to fail.  She’s a die-hard ABA believer (Applied Behavior Analysis for those who don’t speak autism) and one of the tenets of that is to provoke a behavior over and over again so you can correct it. I think that is complete B.S. and I also don’t think that research backs up ABA (I can prove that if you want, but not right this second), but people who believe in it are like hard-core evangelicals or Tea Party radicals, you can’t convince them of anything else. So she continuously puts my son in situations that make him unhappy. He already doesn’t like gym class, and then she put the one kid he has never gotten along with in the gym class with him, so guess where a lot of his behaviors happen?  His first year at the high school he had a job doing laundry, which he liked, but when this teacher came she wanted everyone to do the same job (its part of the vocational element of the program I guess) because its easier for her to supervise so they cleaned the cafeteria after lunch. Alex does NOT like this, so we had behavior issues there last year until I pitched a fit at our IEP meeting, but he’s back there again this year, and still having behavior issues there. I called the job “demeaning” in our meeting last year, and the principal got mad at me, but I didn’t mean that custodial work was demeaning in general, I meant being forced to do it when you don’t want to because that’s all people think you’re capable of is demeaning. I still think that, and if that is the only kind of job skill he’s going to be taught, then I question what we’re doing there anymore.

The article says:  “Now is the time to give him every tool he needs to be calm, happy and productive as he grows into an adult.” and I do agree with that completely, but I don’t know that he is getting the right tools at school and I don’t know that he ever will. I do know that if your kid is practically non-verbal, or has no manners, or if you don’t have kids, then maybe you are not who I want to hear about accountability from.

A bit random today

Feeling old today because when I turned on the computer Google reminded me that the Berlin Wall came down 25 years ago and I remember that day.  I feel even older because trying to explain the Soviet Union or East Germany to a nine-year old is exhausting (and I did not do it well).  The cold war and the Soviet threat–and the threat of global nuclear holocaust–were such a part of being a child in the 80’s that I don’t think most of us really noticed it much except in movies and TV and maybe Pepsi commercials. I wonder how she’ll look back on our whole Global War on Terror?

The chickens are mostly winterized, so I figure it probably won’t snow. We’re upgraded to a warning from a watch and to 7-11 inches possible from 4-6, but so far there’s no snow, so I’m making my daughter do her homework. She insists that there’ll be a snow day tomorrow so she doesn’t need to do it. I told her the quickest way to make sure we don’t get any snow is to not do your homework. She didn’t believe me, of course, she said “weather doesn’t work like that”, but when it comes to snow days it totally does.

My son had the state Special Olympics Bowling tournament this weekend.  It’s a big tournament, it started Thursday afternoon and ended today. There were opening ceremonies and karaoke on Friday and a banquet and dance on Saturday. We had some concerns about him being allowed to participate because his behavior earlier in the week was so bad, but Thursday rolled around and he was totally fine, and he was fine the whole weekend even though it was crowded and loud and the schedule was not what he was used to. So that got  me to thinking and I looked back over my emails from his teacher to see if there was a pattern to the outbursts at school and their kind of is. They all happen during or right after an activity he really doesn’t like including gym, SPURS (a therapeutic horseback riding program) and their job skills activity (which is cleaning the cafeteria). So I should probably talk to the teacher, right? Except we had this exact conversation last year (right around this same time) and it led to an extensive round of meetings and a very detailed CAP plan, but not any actual changes. He still spends most of his day in the self-contained classroom, he still has to do a job that he would never do in real life. So I don’t know what to think about school for him. I just don’t know that he’s getting much from it, except irritated. He’s supposed to be getting job and independent living skills but I just don’t see that happening. I guess we have yet another meeting coming up in December so I’m going to try to figure out what our options are.  Part of me would so love to be done with the endless meetings and bureaucracy that is Special Education, but I don’t want Alex to miss out on services he may need just because I’m over it all. So we’ll see.

I couldn’t help myself:

Exhausted by it all

Today is a tired day. I slept into the afternoon after the kids went to school, and I dragged through laundry and chicken chores. My Adderall and coffee were just no help at all. Some days are just tired days.

Honestly, it’s probably stress.  There is a lot going on here. I’ve been delving into the past, and relationship stuff, but the reality is there is a lot happening under my nose that I would rather not deal with. My son has autism, as I’ve mentioned before. And he’s 18. So we’re in the process of becoming his legal guardians because he is not capable of making most decisions on his own.  He doesn’t really understand money beyond getting stuff at concession stands and using Target and Amazon gift cards he gets for his birthday. He’d never go to the doctor if we didn’t make him, because he’s terrified of them. He doesn’t drive because he doesn’t see well and also because I highly doubt he has the judgment necessary to do so. He has a very hard time telling the difference between what happens in a movie or on TV and what is appropriate for real life.

It’s that last one that is getting us into trouble at school. He has absolutely no filter at all. And he may be developmentally delayed, but he’s still a moody teenager. SO, when something gets on his nerves at school it’s entirely possible that he will let fly a string of expletives or threaten to “kill you while you sleep” or attempt to punch or kick you. Which is bad. He’s not actually violent by nature I don’t think, or mean. He just is kind of a parrot. He repeats things he hears or sees and he tends to do it in context, like a parrot who says “good morning” in the morning or “hello” when the phone rings. He’s always been like that, but it wasn’t so bad when he watched Toy Story or Aladdin over and over again. But his tastes have changed as he’s gotten older, so there’s a lot more anime and video games, and even though I have parental controls on EVERYTHING, and really limit what he’s allowed to watch or play, there’s a lot more violence and threatening language in things rated PG than you realize. People say “I’m going to kill you” all the time on TV, because everyone knows that it’s a joke. And kids on TV hit each other and trip each other all the time, because physical comedy is funny. But none of that is funny in real life, and he just does not get that. And YouTube is impossible to control. You have to either block it completely or hope he watches appropriate things. He LOVES to watch video game play-through videos on YouTube, which you would think wouldn’t be that big of a deal, because he only watches games he’s allowed to play. But even those games rated E or E-10  are usually narrated by some of the most foul-mouthed people I have ever heard (And I swear like a sailor on occasion!) and he just does not get that you can’t talk to people like that in real life. Or if he does, he doesn’t have the impulse control to stop things coming out of his mouth.

He usually knows after he’s said something that he’s going to be in trouble, but often times that just causes things to escalate because he doesn’t WANT to be in trouble (that usually results in losing his electronics at home, which he hates). When that happens he will lash out and hit whoever’s closest, or the kid in his class that he doesn’t like. So this week we’ve had a couple of incidents, one of which was pretty bad. He had a bad morning at home and I took his stuff away and said he could have it back as long as his day was good. Well it started good, and then he told someone to F-off, so he got sent to his alternative classroom per his behavior plan and all seemed well until someone decided to talk to him about it. Then he got mad and picked up a dumbbell used for PT and raised it at the teacher’s aide like he was going to hit her. So he’s basically been in in-school suspension since Monday, and things didn’t go much better when he was let back into the classroom this afternoon.

There’s a lot more to it than a week’s worth of behavior of course. There have been a lot of medications over the years, and we have a therapist and a psychiatrist.  We didn’t have this much trouble in elementary or middle school, but the environment at the high school is just not comfortable. It’s one of those buildings that just FEELS oppressive when you walk in, and if I notice that I can’t imagine what it’s like for someone on constant sensory overload. And we haven’t had much luck with teachers or curriculum at the high school, so I think he’s bored and I know he hates the job training that they’re doing (cleaning the cafeteria after lunch, not a job he’d ever choose). So right now I’m torn about school for him. Technically the district is responsible for him until he’s 21, and I had always planned on leaving him in school ’til then, but now I’m questioning if it’s the right place for him. He’s 18, he doesn’t have to be there and if he hurts someone, even accidentally, he could end up arrested or in a state facility which is certainly not what I want for him. And I know that won’t happen at home. I don’t know what he’ll do all day at home, but at least everyone will be safe. Too much to think about for sure. I do have plans to talk with Adult Services, but I’m pretty aware of what’s available in our town and its not really geared toward people on the autistic spectrum at this point. So we’ll see.

Alex

So yeah, it’s a tired day here.