Teachable Moments

Nico was not able to sit and do any of his schoolwork today. I had a feeling it was going to be a tough day as soon as the first meltdown started ten minutes after he woke up. First the whining began for no reason. Then, he started making weird noises that got louder and louder. He does this for attention because he knows I do not feed into his behaviors if they are petulant. Lastly, the screaming, throwing himself all over the couch and floor, and hitting began.

He was in the thick of a meltdown (probably just a tantrum since nothing had happened yet to trigger him) and it was only 9am. Today was going to be a long day. I said this to myself and immediately wanted to crawl back into bed, lock my door and shut the world out.

Instead, I gave Nico the “evil eye.”

I have become a whiz at giving the “evil eye.” This particular eye was something that scared the living hell out of me in my childhood whenever my mother aimed it my way. It scared the hell out of me when she aimed it at anyone in our house actually. The eye meant she had had enough, you had worn down her patience, and she was about to blow. Nico has become the recipient of the evil eye now, when he decides he is going to be difficult for no apparent reason, and he hates it. He will do basically everything in his power to get me to smile and stop giving him the eye because he does not like it when I get upset with him. From literally trying to push my lips into a smile with his hands to saying “no thanks..no thanks” over and over again, Nico knows when he has pushed me to my limit because it takes a lot. I have to laugh because my husband doesn’t quite have the same effect on Nico so even he is convinced of the power behind this ominous optical gesture of mine. Sometimes I want to burst out laughing because the effort that Nico goes to in trying to reverse my grim demeanor is ingenious as well as endearing.

I also chuckle in knowing, with 100% certainty, that I have turned into my mother and I have to say…I’m liking this maternal power I have cultivated. Ha! The evil eye is mine!

However, this meltdown/tantrum has proven to me that even though Nico has Autism, he is still a typical little boy who knows how to instigate, antagonize, push my buttons, and manipulate a situation. He is very smart. We knew that early on despite his lack of language, social skills, and age-appropriate behavioral skill sets. Nico knew how to problem solve very early in life, due to not being able to communicate with us, and I marveled at how hard he worked to help us understand what his needs and wants were. Nico is also very intrigued by cause and effect relationships; therefore, telling him “no” only fuels his interest more in wanting to do the unacceptable action.

So, I have begun to take these skill sets that Nico excels in and put them to good use now that we are having to learn outside of the classroom with me as his primary teacher. I am realizing more and more that Nico’s academic path for the rest of his Kindergarten year cannot be solely focused on literacy, mathematics, writing, and science because it is just too overwhelming for and unfamiliar to him. And, I’m ok with that.

My goal for my Nico, moving forward, is to teach him how to survive in a world that does not always lend itself to an atypical brain like his. I am going to teach him how to use his incredible problem solving skills, his intrigue with cause and effect relationships, and his masterful art of persuasion and manipulation to his advantage.

I have been reading article after article about the concerns parents, teachers, schools, and universities are having over the fact that students are not in school. Concerns that students are being forced to engage in environments that are unfamiliar and not effectively conducive for learning. It’s a constant topic circulating on social media platforms. This idea that parents are being expected to home school their children while also fulfilling their own work obligations virtually is all just so unrealistic and counterproductive. I feel for my fellow parental comrades, especially my Autism and special needs parents, who are feeling so defeated and overwhelmed with the current state of their child’s school year. But, I promise you…it’s going to be ok. Our kids are still going to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, and scientists.

And you wanna know why?

Because this is the time to make a concerted effort to teach our children life skills. It’s time to build their capacity in skill sets that, coupled with academics (which they will receive again sooner or later), will best prepare them for adulthood and foster a greater sense of independence. Independence is something that my Nico must painstakingly work towards everyday because my husband and I will not always be here to advocate for him and there is no guarantee that anyone else will.

Think about this…there are thousands of wonderful people out their sewing masks to help stop the spread of COVID-19. If those same people also take the time now to teach their children how to sew imagine the ripple effect it will have if we are ever faced with something like this again. I was never taught how to sew by my mom. She always told me that knowing how to sew was not going to be nearly as essential for me as it was for her because times had changed. Just like my dad never taught me how to change a tire because he said all I would have to do is call AAA and they would come out and do it for me. Hence why, to this day, I anxiously await my membership renewal in the mail and feel so comforted when I take road trips with my husband.

These two life skills alone are essential now more than ever. We are being expected to wear face masks whenever we go out in public so unless you can snag some off of Amazon for an insanely inflated price or know someone who did learn how to sew and can make you some, you best learn how to sew. And don’t even think about asking someone to come change your tire in an expeditious manner during a pandemic. Car repair and emergency maintenance companies are running on skeleton crews, if they are even still up and running at all. These life skill sets can easily be turned into “teachable moments” for our children during these times of school absence.

I have been taking the time each day to find “teachable moments” in whatever I am working on in the house. When Nico wants to read a book, I am teaching him how to read with intonation so he can bring every book he reads to life. When I’m washing the dishes, I am explaining to Nico which dishes belong in the dishwasher and which ones should be hand washed. When I’m cooking dinner, I explain to Nico that he cannot touch raw chicken or a hot stove. I show him what a well-balanced meal looks like (in the hopes that one day he will sit and actually eat one with us)–a protein, a starch, and a vegetable–and have him label each of the items with me.

Nico understands now that when you leave a room, you turn the light off in that room to save electricity (a lesson that has become invaluable as of late). He also knows that when he feels crumbs under his feet it’s time to get the vacuum and will point to its location in the laundry room. My husband is showing Nico how to skim our pool and explains to him the importance of keeping debris out of the skimmer. Nico has also learned where to find bandaids and ointment for when any of us gets a cut or abrasion. He may not be able to fully pronounce Neosporin or know how to apply a bandaid, but his problem solving skills will always ensure we are taken care of in these situations.

All of these teachable moments have layers of learning built right in. Nico is learning new vocabulary, he is learning more cause and effect relationships, and he is figuring out various solutions to problems that may arise. The point is, Nico is still learning daily. I may not be able to get him to sit down in front of the computer and do his sight word search or addition and subtraction math problems, but our days are not forgone when it comes to learning new skills.

Now is the time to teach your kids first aid, how to use a knife safely, the best way to mow the lawn, and how to make their bed each morning. This is the time to show them how they can add value to their lives and the lives of others. Do not be hard on yourself and think you are failing just because you’re struggling to manage home schooling while still working full time from a location that can be anything but conducive for productivity. Do not be beat yourself up because you are spending more time on trying to keep everyone in your home healthy and mentally sane in the midst of a global pandemic as opposed to completing every online assignment.

In my opinion, we’re doing pretty darn well amidst this chaos, but if you’re feeling like you’re doing less than ok right now do not, for one minute, think you are alone. We’re all trying to wade through this storm together.

And know this…we are all ROCKSTARS whose children are going to come out of this perfectly fine.

So, close up your kid’s Google Classroom for the day, kick your feet up, open a bottle of wine, and make a list of all the teachable moments you are about to bestow upon your children because they are going to learn infinitely more from those moments than anything else right now.

How do I know this? Because they are coming from YOU!

Riding the Wave

I got out of bed at 5:45am today. Not to take a shower or prepare lunch and pull out clothes for another school day. Nope. I got up to bake a cake.

On a Wonderful Wednesday.

No…it isn’t for a birthday or a special occasion and this Wednesday isn’t extraordinarily wonderful for any particular reason. I baked this cake because it was either that or have a good old fashioned nervous breakdown.

It has been hard to sleep. I toss and turn for hours thinking about how the day went with Nico and dreading another day just like it. This social distancing that the coronavirus pandemic has ushered into our lives has really thrown my kid for a loop and we’ve only been doing it for about a week and a half. Nico thrives on routine. He feels his most at ease and regulated with a series of routines because they are predictable. Nico doesn’t do well with the unpredictable. So, not being able to get up everyday, traverse through his morning routine to get ready for school, and then be shipped off to his classroom filled with all of his friends and people who make his day brighter has been so difficult for him. And me.

In this last week and a half, Nico has shown basically every human emotion one could have… in a single day. He can go from being deliriously happy, laughing incessantly (at God knows what) at a stadium level volume, to abysmally sad, crying the biggest crocodile tears I have ever seen for some unknown reason. He will seem totally content and then you ask him to do one thing or even look at him a second too long and he wants to rage. He has been doing a lot of yelling and shrieking and wanting to hit us way more frequently. But, his stimming has been so incessant. Not even my tight squeezes can regulate him. It’s truly like he is going through school/daily routine withdrawal and I fear he is going to regress. The only behavior that I am actually not minding or worrying about as much is his scripting. Normally, I would be trying feverishly to figure out why it’s increasing, but I know why it is at this point and it’s actually quite endearing, if I dare say so myself .

I have been trying to find some Social Distancing Silver Linings amongst all of this chaos and one silver lining has been the amount of reading Nico has been doing. He absolutely loves the Froggy series by Jonathan London so he has been reading and memorizing every one of this man’s books! Now, because he has memorized all of these books he is doing a lot of scripting and walking around our house fluently speaking in “Froggy.” It does get unnerving at times when he chooses to script at an insanely high volume, but I have to keep telling myself that he is struggling and his brain is totally overworking. Plus, with every word that Nico vocalizes I feel a bit more hopeful that he will eventually be able to string all of his words into functional conversation.

This is one of the few ways I’m trying to stay positive and keep things in perspective. I also remind myself daily that, yes, my family is safe and healthy, we have food and toiletries (for now), and still have a steady income to count on. We have been able to spend quality time together and share in special moments with each other that might have otherwise been missed if we hadn’t been forced to stay at home. I am beyond thankful for these silver linings, for sure. But, when I see the complete and utter frustration and desperation on my son’s face when he can’t get a certain word out or is having trouble focusing on a virtual school assignment because the scripting is just too overpowering, I want to just breakdown. No parent wants to ever see their child struggle. It’s heartbreaking. And, yet, I’m seeing it everyday in one way, shape, or form with Nico and it’s unbearable.

Last night, Nico kept trying to tell me the name of a book he wanted me to find for him on YouTube. Nico loves to listen to others read books aloud. It has helped his communication and reading comprehension skills tenfold. He kept trying to pronounce this one word, pausing and working his brain so hard to vocalize it. Through his eyes, I could actually see the mental gymnastics his brain was experiencing. However, I could not figure out what he was trying to tell me, nor could my husband. After a good five minutes of this back and forth struggle, Nico looked at me with such disappointment in his eyes that it nearly stopped my heart from beating right then and there. He walked away from me feeling defeated, disappointed, and saddened and I knew it because he looked back at me as he walked upstairs with such a distraught face. Talk about an emotional punch to the gut.

I was already a wreck that day from trying to manage his meltdowns, refusals to work with me on class assignments, and the fact that I had barely been able to play with my five month old due to balancing my workload, Nico’s classroom workload, and his mood swings. And if that wasn’t enough, I couldn’t help but watch my husband kill himself in ridding our pool of thousands of fallen leaves and beautify our backyard so that Nico could get some output in the pool, on his trampoline, and on his new swing to help regulate himself. This yard work my husband was attempting to complete would normally take a full day, if not two, but he was frantically trying to finish it in a matter of three hours…all for the health and well being of his son.

So, when Nico stormed upstairs I willed myself to not burst out crying for the umpteenth time and, instead, jumped on a web chat with my family to dull the heartache and try to salvage what was left of my train wreck of a day.

Ups and downs like these have become way too familiar for me during this darn pandemic. We are all riding a wave of emotions everyday, trying to navigate around each other (and our ever-changing emotions) so that we can survive. Fear is becoming more and more of an everyday feeling for many of us due to the increasing number of virus cases and deaths across the nation. Feelings of frustration and desperation are creeping in every time we cannot find an essential item at the grocery store. I know, for many Autism parents, full blown panic is setting in because when your child only eats one kind of chicken nugget or only drinks one type of V8 Fusion juice and it’s nowhere to be found a major meltdown is going to follow and extremely necessary calories are going to be lost. But, I have even been able to find a Social Distancing Silver Lining hidden amongst all of this panic as well. Because we, in the Autism community, are so fiercely protective of each other, when we see a family reaching out on social media desperately in search of a certain food or beverage for their child, we spread that news to every corner of the world until the family is inundated with that invaluable item for which they were on the hunt.

Talk about an emotional roller coaster! Desperation one minute and the next…celebration and utter relief. Instances like those definitely have me reeling emotionally and mentally lately. And physically… don’t even get me started on the stress/boredom eating…hence why subconsciously I woke up at 5:45am to bake a cake (even though I told myself it would be for my father who has been dying for something sweet and having to go without because our grocery stores are barren).

But, whatever the reason may be, as I prepped and baked my cake this morning I found myself basking in the glow of my mental tranquility. Although I had had another restless night, I didn’t feel tired. I wasn’t anxious or feeling any dread about the impending day. I was calm and present in the moment. And, I think that that was because I know this, too, shall pass and I know that we’re all in this together. I also decided to recite my mother’s favorite prayer, The Serenity Prayer to myself a few times, which seemed to pull her closer to me in that moment.

So even though I woke up way too early to quell, yet, another pandemic-induced emotional breakdown, I realized it was just what I needed—a blessing in disguise— and I got a scrumptious yellow cake with chocolate frosting as a bonus. God bless Duncan Hines!

Now, onto Thriving Thursday and Fabulous Friday!