Learning Together

What are you teaching your child?

As a parent, I’ve always felt my role is mainly comprised of two things: to teach my children things (how life works, how to be a good citizen, how to prosper, etc.) and to keep them safe. I’ve been keenly aware since becoming a parent, that while my husband and I are doing most of the teaching (in addition to their formal education and instructors), we’re also learning from each child–each is different, has varying needs and ways in which they learn–so we can help them thrive.

My husband and I became increasingly aware that we were going to need to increase our knowledge of kids on the autism spectrum after our youngest was diagnosed. He has always done well academically, but struggled socially. He has a happy disposition, and people generally like him, but he is challenged with making meaningful and lasting connections. In doing some research I came across a book, The Asperkid’s Secret Book of Social Rules — The Handbook of Not-So-Obvious Social Guidelines for Tweens and Teens with Asperger Syndrome by Jennifer Cook O’Toole. My son and I started reading it together. For me, it was like shining a light in a dark space. I started to understand the true challenges my son faces and why. For the first time, I started to get a much better understanding of how my son’s brain works. I wasn’t the only one who was learning. My son started to get a much better picture of what we’ve been trying to teach him and why.

The book references those that are high-functioning as Aspie’s, and those that are not on the spectrum as Neuro-typical (NT). Oh, how I love that difference. It provides an alternative to speaking of behaviors in terms other than normal and abnormal. My son is a pretty normal kid with the exception that his brain is wired to think and process information differently. My son and I have been learning together. We are having ‘aha’ moments where we are understanding each other and social situations described in the book more clearly. My son even had a moment of self-reflection where he realized how he’d handled a situation as an “Aspie” vs. a “NT”, and how he might handle the same situation differently in the future.

While I have always prided myself on being a good teacher to my child, I’m finding more satisfaction learning together. I need to learn more. Learning together now, while I can still help my child as he grows, feels like winning the lottery. Thank you to Jennifer for this book. For the light bulb moment, and more that will come. Not just for my family, but hopefully for many others.

What are you teaching your child? How are you learning from or with your child to help them as they grow?

On the Road (Again)

Do you have to travel for work?

I am on the road once again. This year looks to be on that will involve more travel than I’d like. My kids are older, so it’s not as painful as it previously was. They are able to get themselves ready, lunches made and out the door with little effort (other than nagging) from my husband or I. We still have to drive them to various spots, but that seems more of an inconvenience (a needed inconvenience) than additional stress, and when one of us is away the other picks up the slack easily.

My sons are better able to handle one of us being away too. FaceTime helps — me mainly — I need to ‘see’ everyone’s okay.  When I call I often find my kids are happy as clams watching whatever is on Cartoon Network — my call becomes a ‘distraction’ from an episode they’ve probably already seen a dozen times.  They’ll throw me a bone and say “hi, Mom” and ask “How was your day?” and I may get a few more nuggets of what happened during the day. I’m tired, they’re distracted, not ideal for a meaningful interaction, but I’m glad we do it regardless. The guilt I’ve felt in years past has dissipated a bit. It’s still there, but not as strong as it previously was. I’m not sure if that’s because we’ve gotten accustomed to me traveling or my kids (and I) seem to be able to handle it better, or both.

Traveling does remind me that I’m missing precious time with them. The meeting or event may feel really ‘important’ but when I see their little distracted (yes, by the cartoon or video app or whatever has their attention) faces, I’m reminded of the time I’m missing being present with them. How quickly they are growing up, and how I can’t wait until I’m back home again.

How do you stay connected with your child when you are traveling?

A New Member of the Family

How did you acclimate to a new member joining your family?

It’s not an easy transition, right? My family has recently expanded. No, not with another child, but with a pet. A nine month old cat from our local animal shelter. Our family has been talking about getting an animal for a while. The kids were hoping for a pet for Christmas, but there was just too much going on, and we told the kids not to expect one so they wouldn’t get their hopes up. Following the holidays we revisited the idea of getting a pet. My husband and I agreed there would probably never be an ideal time to get an animal (there’s always something that is going to be on), but if we wanted the kids to experience the joy and responsibility of raising an animal the time was now. So we got in the car and headed to the shelter with two very excited kids.

I should have known when we walked into the shelter that we would be walking out with a pet, but foolishly thought we’d just look and have time to continue to prepare before bringing one home.  The kids saw the cat, everyone thought the cat was a good fit, so the cat got a new home…with us. My husband and I both grew up with pets. Our respective pets lived mainly outdoors. Living in a high traffic area with cold and damp weather, our cat will be an indoor pet so we needed to quickly prepare for our new arrival. Conveniently, there was an pet store practically next door just waiting for folks like us to come on in. 🙂 We grabbed everything we thought we would need, headed back to the shelter, got our cat and headed home. We scrambled to get prepared, but running over to a pet store and stocking up on supplies might get you physically prepared, but not mentally prepared. If the cat had come in, liked where the food and water was, found an easy place to sleep, etc. it would have been wonderful. But like any new member of the family, there was going to be an adjustment period. We were ready for starting the cat off in a small space (thanks to the shelter’s guidance). We weren’t ready for the cat’s near constant meowing once it was in our house, or for the cat to reject the kitty litter and go outside the box (yep, got to experience that on day one), my husband and I learned that while we knew a lot about raising animals, we still have more to learn.

I went to bed the first night thinking what have we done? What have we gotten ourselves into? I woke early the next morning thinking are we really ready to be this cat’s caregivers? I was taken back to when I first became a mom. Regardless of the long preparation (9 months) while the baby was growing inside me, I still felt ill-prepared when my son first came home. I’d taken classes, asked questions, gotten the house ready, but still I had the same questions…what have we done and gotten ourselves into? Are we going to be good parents?

I know it will take a while for our cat to adjust to our home and us, and us him. The kids love the cat and the cat is quickly taking to the kids. Pets played a big role growing up. I can recall my pets giving a sympathetic ear when I was down, or sitting in my lap just when I needed someone. Pets are magical in that way, and I hope my kids will have the same experience as I.

Are you a pet owner? How did your family adjust to having a new pet?


New (Year) Insights

Do you have a resolution for the New Year?

I am continuing to become smarter about my youngest son who has high functioning autism (better known as Asperger’s syndrome) and plan to continue to do so in the New Year. I don’t know that I would call it a resolution per se, but I feel like I’m an ostrich pulling my head out of the sand finally. I think talking more openly about my son being on the spectrum has empowered me to be more open, proactive, and grateful for the information I am coming across — lectures, videos, books — I am not alone in trying to educated myself and am thankful so many others are doing such great work in this space.

One of my son’s spectrum traits comes across in his passion for geography. He is not just interested in geography but fixated on it. He can name practically every country in the world, tell you little known facts and provide insights into the country’s flag, population and more. In his mind, he has already mapped out his future (literally and figuratively). He has had a friend/fiancé since he was 7 and decided when his friend got engaged that they would live in NYC when they get married at 25 (it still makes me smile to think that they came up with that all on their own at such a young age). Since then, his love (fixation) on geography has grown and he has become borderline obsessed with moving to Australia. To a small remote town on the east coast of the country. My husband and I are not sure how he found the city exactly (we’ve never been there), but he didn’t pick it willy nilly. He clearly put some thought into it and has big ideas for this town — he’ll be a teacher, or he’ll build a new building, or maybe be the mayor. At the end of the day, he sees himself positively impacting this town. That’s hard to argue with, however, I had to get my son to think about his girlfriend. He knows he wants to go to this town and live there someday, but what about her. Would she?

“What if she gets a job somewhere else?” I asked him, “Or doesn’t want to live there? What will you do then?” He got sad. He cried and I was sad I’d upset him, but I wanted to make sure he understood in any relationship both people have a say, and where you live is an important decision you have to make together. After he had somewhat calmed down he started saying, “I’m a bad person. I’m a bad person.” This worried me. Why was he saying this? I asked him to talk to me and explain what he was saying. “I just realized that I don’t give her enough of my time,” he said. “Your girlfriend?” I asked. “Yes. The way my mind works, I have these thoughts and I really like thinking my thoughts. And there isn’t a lot of room for me to think about other peoples thoughts. And it’s not because I don’t want to, it’s because my mind really, really, really wants to think about what it wants to think about. Like moving to Australia. I can’t imagine not moving there but I hadn’t thought about her not wanting to move there too, and that makes me a bad person.” Before I could respond he continued, “It’s like if you think of my mind like a pie. I want to think about what I want to think about 95% of the time. That only leaves 5% for other people.” He paused then continued on, “That’s the problem with having friends. I want to have friends, but my mind doesn’t have space for them.” Whoa, I thought, I just got some very valuable insights into my son. I was blown away by his self-awareness and his ability to articulate the way he sees his mind working. I told him as much then I tried to get him to rethink how he could broach the subject with his friend, who happens to be visiting Australia presently. “Why don’t you ask her what she thought of the country? See what you can learn from her about it, and see if she might be interested in living there one day,” I suggested. “And you’re not going to live there for quite a while, you never know where life will take you. Maybe you’ll get a chance to visit there, or maybe even go to school there.” My son seemed to perk up as the conversation went along, “Yes!” he said, “maybe I can visit or spend some time there and check it out. And maybe she can come visit and then we can decide from there.” I loved that he was figuring out how this could potentially work.

My son continues to surprise me. I have thought my son’s relationship with this girl would have ended a while ago, but it’s continued to go on three + years. I know the likelihood that they’ll end up married and living in this remote Australian city is slim, but I love how big my son is dreaming. I love that he is better understanding himself and is willing to share how his mind works, and is open (at least starting to be) that he may have to build some new muscles if he wants to keep this relationship and have it grow.

I look forward to the New Year and the insights I will gain.

What do you hope to gain in the New Year?