The Elusive Dipped Cone

Catastrophe: noun. an event causing great and often sudden damage or suffering; a disaster.

This story is not.

It’s been a month, so this event is actually pretty funny to me now (ah, Time, you good ‘ol healer).  When it was happening though, it really sucked.

This is the story of me, my four year-old, and his side-kick autism on an epic journey for the ever-elusive chocolate dipped ice cream cone.  Brace yourselves.

Big C (my son) and I had just finished a phenomenal field trip at the Ann Arbor Hands-on Museum.  As a sensory-seeking child with little impulse control and a tendency for aggression, my son was put to the test on this sensory-overloaded field trip.  When the trip was over, I swear to you I could hear a choir of angels singing.  The trip went off without a hitch!

Hoping to capitalize on our good fortune and the beautiful spring day (our first this season), I asked Big C if he’d like to go for a walk and get an ice cream.  Naturally, he said yes, and we were on our way.  I had already taken out my phone and Google-mapped a place a few blocks away.

Oh, did we have fun!  I let Big C hold my phone so he could watch our dot get closer and closer to our destination.  My excitement built along with his.

As we walked, he made sure to ask me (several times), “They have my kind, right?”

“What’s your kind, honey?”

“The white kind, with chocolate on top.”

“Oh, you bet!”  I felt a tug on my heart and sweat beginning to bead on my forehead.  I think I knew what he meant, but I wasn’t sure.  My memory was racing. He liked chocolate-dipped vanilla cones, right? It was tricky because “his kind” could change on a dime, dependent upon his mood.  I had total confidence, however, that this place would satisfy his needs for vanilla ice cream and chocolate.

About fifteen minutes later, we arrived at our location: it was closed.

Due to open in TWO days.

Dammit.

I quickly recovered as I witnessed my son’s crumbling face.  “No, problem!  We will just use our map to find a new place!”  My son smiled, readily agreed, and we soon found ourselves at Kilwin’s, just a few blocks away.

Then events turned ugly.

Immediately, the place had an icky feel to it.  It was small and the smell of fudge was overpowering. Right away, Big C was not happy.  “Oh, look!” I pointed, my voice dripping with forced enthusiasm.  “There are so many choices of ice cream to choose from!”

Big C looked aghast.  “They don’t have my kind!”

“Well, why don’t you try a few samples, and see if you like a new kind?”

He grumbled in response.  Feverishly, I began asking the woman at the counter if we could try the different varieties of vanilla they had.  She agreed, but all samples were met with a look of disdain and growing frustration by my son.

Trying to help, the woman calmly handed him a little spoonful of Mackinac Island Fudge.  “Here, my children love this.”

Big C took a little taste and proclaimed, “That’s disgusting!”  Amid my apologetic looks and rising blood pressure, Big C began pacing back and forth from one end of the ice cream counter to the next, humming in a high-pitched tone.  It was a full-on stimming episode, and I felt powerless to stop it as I tried to ignore the judgmental stares from patrons and workers.

After about five minutes, I couldn’t take it any more and grabbed him by the arm, and as gently (but firmly) as I could, escorted him out.

“Are we going somewhere else for ice cream?”

I was tired and frustrated, so I responded with, “No, we’re out of options.”

Mistake.

The ten-minute walk back to the car was accompanied by his full volume wailing.  I thought the stares in Kilwin’s were awkward.  Bah!  I kept waiting for a police car to pull up beside us and ask if everything was alright.

But then, a glimmer of hope joined our, thus far, failed mission.  Once we got to the car, Big C said, “I’m sorry I disappointed you.”

A direct stab to the heart.

“It’s okay,” I blubbered, hugging him hard.  Then, inspiration struck.  “Hey, why don’t we try McDonald’s?  It’s right on the way home.”

His eyes lit up.  “Okay!”

So we were on our way again, sure to be victorious on our quest for ice cream.

About twenty minutes later, we pulled into the McDonald’s parking lot and, hand in hand, skipped in and ordered.  No problem.

Then another curve ball came.

“Hey, we don’t have dipped cones yet.  They’re seasonal,” the sloppy-looking, presumed-manager, barked from the back.

Noooooooooo! 

I glanced furtively over at my son, his eyes welling with tears.

“Maybe a sundae?” the teenage girl working the register kindly suggested.

That’s not going to work,” I snarled at her.  Poor girl.

But then I realized I had no alternative and, with some convincing, Big C begrudgingly agreed to try a sundae with chocolate syrup.

Once he saw what it was, his eyes lit up.  He took a bite and said, triumphantly, “Mmm…yum!  That’s my kind!”

As he finished his treat, I sat beside him in the booth, enjoying those ten minutes of silence, filled with the occasional sounds of Big C licking his spoon. At that point, I wasn’t in the mood for ice cream.

Besides, McDonald’s didn’t have my kind.

Once home, exhausted, but not willing to neglect the beautiful day, I texted our neighbor with children the same age to suggest a walk to the park.

Her response: Sounds great!  Be home in ten.  At Dairy Queen just finishing up. It’s free cone day.

[insert expletive here].

So, what does your child “need” to have?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

 

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Meltdowns: “You ain’t seen nothin’!”

Whenever my friends describe “meltdowns” their young children have, I have to restrain myself from busting out into maniacal laughter.

They really have no idea.

If you’re a parent, you know what meltdowns look like.  They’re not pretty.

If you’re a parent of an aggressive child with special needs, you know what a meltdown feels like.

You’ve got the bruises, blood, or black eye to prove it.

It was my son’s aggression at an early age that clued my husband and I in that something wasn’t quite right.  He would smack his head on the floor at 13 months old when he was frustrated. He couldn’t go more than few minutes at daycare without banging into someone or something, constantly pulling out the hair of other children and the daycare providers.

In one respect, Big C’s aggression has been a blessing.  It’s helped us realize early in his life what his struggles are, and while it took a few years to really pinpoint the issues, we have a much better handle on how to handle him (and ourselves) when he gets overstimulated.

The great news?  Big C’s tendency for aggression have diminished tremendously over the past year.  Don’t get me wrong.  He’s still way more aggressive than the average four year-old (he threw an eight ball at my head a few weeks back because he didn’t want to end the play date), but at least he’s starting to recognize the aggression in himself and, every so often, stop himself before it escalates.

More often though, he has the meltdown, then explains later why he was upset.  For a four year-old, I think this is impressive.

Very recently, a new form of meltdown has emerged.  It’s one I haven’t quite figured out how to cope with yet.  I find myself just getting frustrated.

Lately, if Big C doesn’t want to do something or feels threatened in some way, he closes his eyes, starts rocking his body, and makes animal-like moans.  His ability to use language completely shuts down.  When I try to get him to talk, he just runs and hides.  This has happened several times in public places like daycare and preschool.

The only “strategy” that remotely works is to wait it out.  It’s not easy though.  I find myself getting more and more frustrated and less and less patient.

BUT, the last time this happened, a couple of days ago, after the meltdown subsided, he hugged me so tightly we both fell over and then he said, “I’m sorry I’m frustrating you.”

Seriously?  How do you not smile at that?

The moral of this story?  Epic meltdowns can sometimes lead to epic apologies.

What are some of your strategies for dealing with meltdowns?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

This post can also be found on the blog, Sammiches and Psych Meds.


What my Special-needs Son CAN Do

ASD: Autism Spectrum Disorder   SPD: Sensory-processing Disorder

Many with ASD also have SPD.  Welcome to the land of acronyms.

My four year-old son was diagnosed with ASD last February.  If you’re a parent of a child labeled with special needs, then you know what it’s like to agonize over what your child can’t do.  It becomes an obsession; you imagine a life full of dreams dashed.

For this very post, I had planned on writing about how Big C can’t play catch, even though his twenty-two month-old brother so desperately wants to play with him.  When Big C catches the ball (on the rare occasion he does), he just runs off with it.

But I never wrote that post.  Because I realized,

Who gives a shit?  

My son’s lack of desire or ability to play catch isn’t a deal-breaker to happiness.  He doesn’t care.  Why should I?

It got me thinking.  Instead of agonizing over my son’s struggles, what if I focused on his strengths?  This is such a more productive and positive way of thinking, it’s embarrassing to admit it took so long to consider it, but that’s what happens to us as parents when professionals start slapping labels on our children.  We get scared, we get defensive, we get deflated.

So for this post, I want to take a moment to celebrate what makes my oldest son truly special to me.  This is what Big C can do:

  • My son can experience life with an intensity many long for.  His moments of happiness are so amplified, he cannot help but literally shout, embrace, and jump for joy.
  • My son can persevere.  He gets angry and frustrated, but always presses on.  A month ago, he wanted to learn how to ice skate.  As he grew more frustrated, I became frustrated and wanted to stop, but he told me, “No, Mommy.  We can’t give up.  I have to do this!”
  • My son can melt my heart with his compliments.  I was trying a dress on recently and he said, “Oh Mommy, you look beautiful.  Just like a princess!”
  • My son can show true remorse.  Without fail, after a meltdown, he will come to me and say sorry.  Sometimes, it doesn’t come until the next day, but it always comes when he truly is sorry and ready to admit it.
  • My son can pay exquisite attention to a task he is truly interested in.  In recent months, he’s demonstrated his ability to play for hours with Legos, creating the most imaginative creatures, vehicles, and buildings.
  • My son can feel selfless love.  Whenever I catch him giving his younger brother a kiss or hug just because he’s overwhelmed with emotion for him at that moment, my eyes and my heart swell.
  • My son gets me.  Just this weekend, I had my own minor meltdown and went upstairs to cool down and take a break.  My son followed me upstairs and said, “Mommy, just take a deep breath.”  He then sat beside me and rested his head on my shoulder.  “It’ll be okay.”
  • My son can bring tears to my eyes.  If you could see me now, you’d know exactly what I mean.

Now, it’s your turn to share.  What can your amazing children do?  Let’s celebrate them here!

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

This post also appears on Sammiches and Psych Meds.
A version of this post also appears on The Mighty. 

 

“Body Calm, Mommy!”

Photo Cred: visualcues.wikispaces

This picture look familiar to anyone?  It was brand-new to me until last spring when my now four year-old son (Big C) received the diagnosis of ASD and the floodgates opened.  Suddenly, I was inundated with cue cards and visuals designed to help us as parents “manage” our son.

I’m learning very quickly that parents have very mixed emotions about this kind of stuff.  I’ve read blogs where parents are outraged by concepts like “quiet hands” and see techniques such as ABA therapy akin to torture and brainwashing (I’ll admit I’ve had my share of bad experiences).

I’m becoming a quick study and am discovering very quickly that I learn best simply by following the cues of my own kid (crazy concept, huh?)  ABA wasn’t for us, but man, does he dig the visuals!  My husband and I tried a visual schedule this summer, and it was like a magical talisman.  Does it work 100% of the time?  Of course not, but it sure does help.  Just making him aware of what’s coming next alleviates so much stress for him (and his Mommy too!)

An extension of the visual schedule are the use of visual cue cards.  His teachers at preschool and daycare use them often, especially during circle time, when he struggles to sit still and focus.

Imagine. A four-year old boy who doesn’t want to sit still.

All joking aside, while I’m pleased the visual cards are helping him focus, I’m way more concerned with managing his aggression.  He’s an emotional little guy, and if he’s mad (and tired) enough, he will hit, throw, kick, scream – even bite on the rare occasion.

This is where the “Body Calm” technique has proven effective.  Again, for my son.

When he starts to escalate, he’s learning to self-regulate, doing as the picture illustrates and wrapping his arms around his chest and taking deep breaths.  Does he usually need prompting?  Sure.  Does it always work?  Heck no.

But I know he’s getting it. Case in point:

Just a few weeks ago, I was all in a huff because my husband (who usually does morning drop-off with the boys) had to go into work early.  I was stressing trying to pack lunches, book bags, and get my two boys out the door before my own job start time of 7:15 am.

Big C, sensing my distress (he’s highly attune to emotions) very loudly proclaimed to me, “Mommy, you need to get your body calm!”

It totally worked.  I busted out laughing, said, “You’re right,” and we did it together.

I’m happy to report I had a calm rest of the day thanks to my little life coach.

How have your children coached you through life?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

The Sensory Spectrum

A version of this post also appears on The Jenny Evolution.

 

“Wanna smell my feet?”

This question is asked daily of me by my four year-old son diagnosed with autism.  Call it hypersensitive.  Call it hyper-curious.  Call it what you will.  He is obsessed with his sense of smell.

His favorite question is not “why?” but rather, “Can I smell?”

He’s no smelling snob.  He wants to smell it all: hair, soap, water, lollipops, flowers, paper, laundry, dirt, chalk, grass, crayons, hands, his little brother’s diaper-clad butt, our cats, his car seat, all meals, his mother’s glass of vino (wine connoisseur may very likely be in his future.  The boy’s got the sniffing part down).

If there’s a scent, he’ll find it.

When he walks into a room, it’s not uncommon to see him, sniffer in the air, commenting that he “smells something.”  This is rarely said with a look of disgust, but rather a look of extreme curiosity, as if he’s trying to decipher a great mystery.  He has yet to properly label a smell; instead, when asked what something smells like, he will usually respond simply with, “it smells!”

The specific obsession with smelling feet is partly to blame on my husband.  Nearly a year ago, he was wrestling with Big C, pinned him, pretended to smell his feet, and then pretended they were super stinky.  Well, Big C thought this was hilarious, and it soon became an ongoing ritual.  This inevitably led to him wanting others to smell his feet, a request he makes upon various members of our family frequently.  Conversely, he enjoys smelling other’s feet and has no qualms about asking to do so.

We’ve had “the talk.”  You know.  The one where you have to explain when it is and is not appropriate to smell other’s feet: “the exchanging of foot smelling should be done in the privacy of one’s home, not in the school or workplace.”

What?  That’s not a “rite of passage” conversation all parents have with their children?

At any rate, this whole “feet thing” is kinda cute and all ‘cuz he’s four.

But when he’s fourteen, it may be a different story.

Because let’s be real; feet are kinda gross.

What is your strongest sense?  


Cín / Foter / CC BY-NC

 

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more blogs about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

The Sensory Spectrum

 

“Oh, he’s just stimming.”

Stimming: Everybody’s doin’ it.

Even you.

I have a confession.  I stim.  Every night.  It calms me.

Before I go to bed, I count off on my fingers how many hours of sleep I will get.  Sometimes, I have to count half a dozen times just to get that sense of peace.

Sound odd?  Maybe a little.  I remember doing this as early as third grade.  I have no idea why I have to do it, just that I have to.

I don’t just stim before bed.  During the day, I find myself chewing on pencil caps, pulling apart paper clips, tapping my foot, organizing items on my desk into straight, perfect lines, all with little to no awareness I’m doing it.

You’ve probably figured out by now what “stimming” is if you didn’t already know.  Short for “self-stimulation,” it’s a type of repetitive movement we do, often to ease tension or anxiety.  Often, it’s subconsciously done.  I’ve discovered the term to be co-existent with neurological disorders such as autism, though it’s certainly not exclusive.  I’ve never been diagnosed with autism, but I certainly can appreciate, and practice, some of its attributes.

For my soon-to-be four year-old son who has high-functioning autism, his stimming is often a survival tactic.  If he can’t do it, he “explodes,” if you will.  I’ve watched him “stim” for years without realizing it had a name and a function.  With his recent diagnosis of ASD, I have been thrown into a world of jargon and acronyms, stimming among them.  Thankfully, with this new vocabulary, I am becoming better equipped to understand and help him.

I’ll never forget a recent visit to the park with my husband, our two young boys, sister-in-law, her husband, and their two young children.  We were on a nature trail with a long, winding wooden fence.  Naturally, Big C (my son with ASD) ran his hand along the railing.  While I knew the possibility of splinters was imminent, I also knew there was no chance of stopping him.  Big C needed to touch that railing.  He needed to run his hand along its splintery edge to better understand his surroundings.  As a sensory-seeking child, he needs to touch his surroundings, to smell them, even lick them (often to his mother’s chagrin) all in order to understand them.

My sister-in-law, a bit perplexed by my son’s behavior, asked why Big C was slowly running his hand along the railing, head down, humming to himself.

My husband merely replied,  “Oh, he’s just stimming.”

The twinkle of pride in my husband’s eye – true understanding and trust between father and son – was simply magical.

While it may have a stigma to it, stimming really isn’t so bad.  In fact, it can be quite therapeutic.

How do you “stim”?

Note: this post is part of a blog hop. Click the link below to read more about what it’s like to have a sensory-special kid!

SensoryBlogHop

Autism and the Turkey Paci

Autism: “self + -ism”  (from the Greek prefix, auto = self)

1. a mental condition, present from early childhood, characterized by social-interaction difficulties, communication challenges and a tendency to engage in repetitive behaviors (oxforddictionaries.com, autismspeaks.org)
2. a tendency to view life in terms of one’s own needs and desires. (dictionary.com)  Isn’t this everyone?

My definition: exhaustion (sprinkled with anxiety and a dash of humor)

WTF?  Did she just say turkey pacifier?

Yup.  Not being metaphorical at all.  I mean a legit chunk of meat being sucked on as a way of pacifying.

Vomit in your mouth just a little bit?  Me too.

A little back story: Big C (my three year-old recently diagnosed with ASD) has never used a pacifier.  I never had to deal with the weaning of the Binky.  Hey, I had to luck out somewhere.

However, Big C has always been a big fan of lunch meat.  Not the worse thing, right?  I mean, yeah, it’s loaded with sodium and preservatives and blah, blah, blah.  I figure it’s a hell of a lot better than pigging out on fruit snacks and Doritos all day (no judgment if your kid does that).

I never really thought much of his desire for it.  I can’t even remember the exact moment it started.  One day, I just started noticing he was eating it all throughout the day.  He started requesting  a “little piece” with breakfast, on his sandwiches for school, when he got home from school, right before dinner, right before bed…

Then one time when I had to wake him up from nap, I noticed an unpleasant meaty odor coming from his mouth.

He was sucking on turkey in his sleep!  

When you’re done gagging, continue reading.

That’s when I knew we might have a little problem on our hands.  It was time for an intervention.  An Oscar Meyer Oven Roasted Turkey Breast intervention.

Turns out sucking on lunch meat soothes Big C.  It’s a sensory thing.  The second he pops a chunk into his mouth, he goes into this zen-like zone.  He stares into space, his mouth twitching like a rabbit’s as he sucks on it.  It completely calms him down whens he’s having a manic moment.

It is so freakin’ bizarre, and so freakin’ hilarious.

Bu no harm, no foul, as far as I’m concerned.  I do recognize the dangers of choking on it and have been weaning him from it before nap and bedtime, but aside from that though, I say…

…let the boy enjoy his turkey crack.

FullSizeRender (6)

A version of this post also appears on Sammiches and Psych Meds.


 

~Chaos Contemplated (for now)

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