Monday, September 26, 2005

Ups and Downs, Good News and Bad

Last Monday was the first day of Enthusio's after-school Spanish, which means he gets out of school at the same time Mermaid does. I sent them off to school by themselves that morning, and counted on them to meet and get themselves home together as well. They did great! That afternoon, Enthusio and I dropped Mermaid off at the pool for swim practice and then drove to the library. As we were walking inside, my cell phone rang: "Hi, this is Jennifer over at City of Davis Gymnastics. I have (Mermaid) here -- swim practice got cancelled -- can you come pick her up?" I said yes and we headed right back over there. When we arrived, Mermaid was a little teary: "I'm sorry, Mom! I forgot to tell you!" They are renovating the pool where she's had practice since the beginning of the summer, so practice was moved to a different pool. I knew that was coming soon, but I didn't realize Monday was the day. Once I assured her that it was okay, that I wasn't angry and we'd just go over to the other pool, she was fine.

To recap: I dropped my autistic 10-year-old daughter off downtown at a pool where there was no swim practice, and instead of freaking the hell out, she calmly walked next door to the gymnastics gym, asked an adult for help, and gave the adult both our home and my cell phone numbers. Then she waited for me to pick her up, and the only part of it that was upsetting for her was thinking I would be mad that she forgot to tell me practice was moved. I think she was pretty taken aback that I hugged her and told her over and over how proud of her I was instead :-)

That evening, after we'd waded through two hours of homework and had dinner, we got out her saxophone and practiced putting it together and blowing into it the right way for a little while, in anticipation of her first lesson the next day. She had a much better experience getting the right sound out of it than she had at the orientation meetting when, in a room full of other kids and a lot of noise and confusion, she'd ended up in tears and unable to get anything other than a squeak out of it. Tuesday I attended her first lesson with her, since she wasn't going to have an aide with her at that time and I wanted to make sure she could follow what was going on. Great news: there are only two beginning saxophone students at her school this year! So she actually didn't really need me there all that much and I think I'll probably only go once or twice more, until I'm confident she knows how to put the sax together and take it apart and clean it herself really well. What's more, she totally got what was going on and did really well and seemed to have fun. I'm so thrilled! I think she's going to learn to read music really well, because that's decoding skills and hers are really good. She had good practices for the rest of the week, and I'm just really excited and happy this is going well for her. It's something she's wanted to do for a long time.

It's good to have a some happy stuff going on, because Enthusio has been having a really hard time lately. I know I've written about his trials and tribulations a lot in the last few months. Well, the week before last, after talking to one of his teachers at Back To School night and hearing about the issues he's been having in the classroom (falling apart when it's time to stop one activity and move on to another because he hasn't finished his work yet and that sort of thing), we decided to finally take the step of finding him a therapist. We spoke to our pediatrician, who agreed that it was a good idea to start him seeing someone -- she said that in her experience, this kind of anxiety goes up and down throughout childhood and the peak ages for boys are 9-11. That afternoon I made contact with a psychologist who practices here in town, and was able to go in to talk to her for a while and set up an appointment for Enthusio to see her.

I filled out numerous forms and questionaires, including one that, when I handed it back to her, caused her to say something like "oh yeah, there are some issues here" just based on the way I'd filled in the boxes. On the one hand, it makes me sad to have it confirmed by professionals that he is in need of professional help. But on the other hand, it's a relief -- it's not like, if his pediatrician or this psychologist had told me "don't worry, he's fine" I would have felt better, because at this point, I know there's something wrong, and Reasonable Man and I have dealt with it as best we can, but it's not getting better, and we know Enthusio needs help we can't give him ourselves. In that way it's very much like what we went through getting Mermaid some help all those years ago when we first became concerned about her development, only much less terrifying, of course, because this stuff he's going through? A lot of it is stuff Reasonable Man and I went through ourselves growing up. I can remember panicking in class back in first and second grade because everyone was doing their math faster than I was, and the more panicky I got, the slower I went. I hate it that my son is going through this, and I will do anything to help make it easier on him.

Unfortunately, that's not all. A couple of weeks ago, he told me some boys had teased him on the playground, saying he was a first grader. They'd had an assembly about bullying and teasing at school the week before, where they learned about how when kids tease you, you don't have to "take the bait" -- you can stay "off the hook" by ignoring them, walking away, making a joke, etc. Enthusio really took this to heart and told me all about it -- when he first told me about these boys teasing him, he started out by saying "Mom, I was kind of on the hook today." Then, this past Monday, he told me it hadn't stopped -- these same three boys from third grade had been seeking him out on the playground every day, usually during afternoon recess, and hassling him. He hadn't told a grown-up or done anything else to get help with the problem. We talked about what to do and I encouraged him to go to the yard duty immediately when this happened on the following day. The next day after school I asked him about it and he first said he "forgot" to go to the yard duty, then said he didn't go ask her for help because he was afraid he wouldn't get any.

Because I needed to be at school to work in Mermaid's classroom Wednesday right after Enthusio's recess time, I went early to help him go to talk with the yard duty. When I found him, he told me we couldn't talk to the yard duty because she'd benched him for kicking a kid this morning before school started. This kid is well known to us here in the neighborhood and Enthusio has had problems with him before. So the kid harrassed Enthusio, Enthusio kicked him, and the kid ran to the yard duty and told on him. After hearing this I went directly to Enthusio's teacher, who told me the kicking incident was actually Enthusio's second "referral" -- last week, he punched the same kid. Three referrals and it's a phone call home (big deal there -- I already know about the first two and I welcome the opportunity to chat about what's going on with whomever is brave enough to call me). She acknowledged that she knows about Enthusio's situation, and was quite concerned to hear about what was going on with the 3rd grade boys, which she hadn't known about before -- she said she would get right on taking care of that.

After the kids got home and we went to activities and Mermaid was at swim practice (at the right pool!) and I finally had Enthusio alone, we had a long talk. And what I got out of him was very interesting. For one thing, he hadn't gone to a yard duty about the kid from our neighborhood bothering him before school or the three 3rd grade boys bothering him at recess because he says he never thinks of that. The kid from the neighborhood comes up and says "Try to get me! Try to get me!" and he just reacts -- by punching or kicking -- and the kid immediately runs over to the yard duty and tells, and Enthusio gets in trouble. The 3rd grade boys run up and say "ah! It's the first grader!" (this is how they taunt him) and he just reacts by running after them and getting upset. The only time a yard duty has taken any notice of this was one time that he actually caught up to two of them and grabbed the backs of their shirts, and Enthusio was told to stop and leave them alone.

In other words, they come and provoke him, he lashes out, and he's the one who ends up in trouble. When I pointed out the similarity between the two situations to him, it was obvious he'd never thought about it before. I, on the other hand, had never realized exactly what was going on with him. He's simply not thinking, but reacting in a completely emotional way every time he's presented with any kind of stressful, frustrating or upsetting situation. Given the tools to deal with those situations, he can step back a bit and react more thoughtfully, but he needs guidance in that area -- he can't come up with those tools on his own.

So we talked, and he agreed to stay away from the kid who was bothering him before school, to resist chasing after the 3rd grade boys who call him a 1st grader, and most importantly to go to a grown-up for help if these kids or anyone else persists in teasing or provoking him in any way, and as far as I know, there have been no further incidents. I will still be checking in with him and with his teacher to make sure things stay on the right track, of course. And of course, I have high hopes for him making strides in therapy. He had his first session this past Friday, and although I wasn't allowed to come in and listen, I could hear him talking animatedly inside her office and he seemed quite happy when he came out at the end of the session. He says she has cool toys to play with and he really liked talking to her. So that's all good.

This parenting stuff is harder than it looks!

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