Aiden Loves Me

I am in South Korea to visit my sister whom I haven’t seen in over three years. Hubby and I always FaceTime every time I am away from home. This time was no different. Every night and sometimes even during the day. We follow this routine – I talk to him, then talk to Ollie, and then I check on what Aiden is doing. Either hubby or Ollie takes the phone to Aiden so I can see what he’s doing. I tell him to give me a kiss and he obliges. I tell him “I love him very…”, to which sometimes he’ll respond to our “much!” and other times, he’ll walk away and go on about whatever it was he was doing.

This morning when I called, it was different. He was angsty and then he became emotional. Hubby and I knew, I was the trigger. Although we didn’t know how I did it, we just knew I did it. I was thinking maybe because I was asking him too many questions and overwhelming him. We agreed to end the call. When something (or someone) triggers unwanted emotion/behavior – we have learned to redirect by removing the trigger.

About five minutes later, Hubby sends me a picture. It’s a picture of Aiden hugging my pink pajama. It’s actually his favorite . If he could, he would have me wear it e-v-e-r-y-d-a-y! Hubby called to tell me, Aiden got it from my closet and he started walking around the house hugging it. Hubby said he started calming down.

We concluded – Aiden misses me (perhaps more than usual) so when I called, I definitely triggered an unwanted emotion. Hubby said, “No matter how much Ollie and I love you, it’ll never compare to how much this little guys loves you.”

It’s true. I feel it. Aiden loves me.

For Aiden

My little peanut, I called you
My little peanut, I admired you
I adored you the first time I saw you
I loved you the moment I held you.

As I carried you in my loving arms
I promised to protect you from harm
As I touched your little fingers
I vowed to forever hold your hand.

I resolved to carry your burdens
I resolved to endure your pains
I resovled to give you all of me
So that in life, you will never have to worry.

But my love, with all of my intentions
Life has taken us in a different direction
Your world has become different than mine
I often wonder what goes on in your mind.

I hurt when I cannot undestand you
When you’re angry, I get very angry too
When you are sad, I feel my heart bleed
In a split and reclusive moment, I grieve.

I grieve for the promises I made
I grieve for the chaos in your head
I grieve for the noises I can’t silence
I grieve for the what-might-have-been’s

But my grief bears no weight
Your love quickly mends any hurt
What your dad says cannot be any more true
No one truly loves me like you do.

Thank you, my peanut.
Thank you, my heart.
While I can’t carry the world on your behalf,
I promise to always have your back.

Prelude to Home School

Aiden’s formal diagnosis came at the same he was starting Pre-K. As the school year started, we went through a crash course on Special Education. I remember during that time, I was still in the very early ages of coming to terms with his “condition”. I wanted to grieve about
the lost hopes and dreams I had for my first born. But I couldn’t. I had to snap out of the grief and focus on IEPs, Communication Tools, therapy schedules, etc.

I remember the first time we sent him off to ride the school bus. He couldn’t wait to get inside it. He didn’t even look at us. We waved, called for his name, cheered him on. We did not get a response. The bus drove off and Hubby and I were left with tears on our faces. Up until that day, Aiden had never been anywhere without either or both us.

Every day I would come home from work and the first thing I would do was check his backpack. I loved reading all about how he did in school for the day. His teacher wrote great notes. Via that little notebook, we found out about little milestones he achieved.  He had great days. He had not so good days. He was learning! We were excited for our little boy.

8/2015 (Pre-K first day)

We had to move out of our rental at the end of that school year. Sadly, our new place was zoned to a different school district.  I remember how terrified we were at the thought of having him start Kindergarten at a new school. How was he going to adapt? How were they going to treat him?  Will they be nice?  Will they be kind? Was he going to love it or was he going to hate it? Was he going to be ok? In the end, Kindergarten rolled in and he fit right in!  His teachers and classmates were very kind to him.  He received the same accommodations as the previous school and there was continuity in the services outlined in his IEP.

By November that year, he was participating in the kindergarten concert.  Now – “participating” means – he joined the whole class as they stood on stage and sang for the
teachers and parents.  Aiden did not sing.  In fact, the teacher’s aide was right beside him – keeping him engaged and calm so he did not run out of the stage or have a meltdown in the middle of the song. Aiden stayed and complied with the task throughout the whole song! Somewhere in the crowd, Hubby and I were holding back tears feeling so proud. What a milestone! Our Aiden was on stage!

 

(11/2016) Kindergarten Concert

My new work took us to a different State shortly after the concert. We uprooted and moved and of course, it meant Aiden had to move to another school (again). We were scared but, we were hopeful. We knew the change was going to be hard but, it couldn’t be that hard. If Aiden made so much progress in such a short time – I was fairly certain that Aiden will be just fine.

I quickly learned the differences between how Special Education was administered in the 2 States (Colorado and Texas). The programs are different. Some of the terminologies are different. The culture is definitely different! I realized I had been so naïve to think it all will be just fine.

With me constantly travelling for work, I would get phone calls from Hubby all the time saying Aiden had come home again with bruises. At first I thought, it must be my child having a hard time adapting to his new environment. Aiden is probably testing his boundaries. I did not like hearing about the bruises but, again – I have to be practical. I know for a fact, Aiden likes to throw himself unto the ground or unto the chain when he is having a meltdown. I was concerned but I asked Hubby to let it go. I asked him to just be patient. It’s going to get better.

Weeks passed. Months passed. As old bruises heal, new ones came on. As practical as I was, I have had enough. I wrote the school district.

My husband had spoken to one of the assistant principals already via phone.  I wanted to follow-up on the conversation via e-mail as I am out of town.  I do not believe an actual appointment/meeting was set to discuss the concern.  And truly, while our concern is fairly serious, we believe that with your help, it can be resolved rather smoothly.  We simply want what’s best for our child’s development and success as he attends Outley Elementary.
Because he is on the autism spectrum, he does come with challenges more than other children his age.
Yesterday, he came home with a mark on his upper back.  My husband and I thought he may have thrown a fit and hit something.
Today, when my husband picked him up from school, he had marks on his arms.  He had another mark on his back (lower portion, this time).
The back marks are not very concerning to us.  We know our child and can very well vouch that these types of things may happen if he throws himself into something and may not be visible to the teacher or aide at the time it happens.
However, the marks on his arms concerns us because (1) they look like nail marks from maybe trying to restrain him and (2) because they are apparent, the information should have at least been volunteered to us either via phone call or at pick-up or via a take home note. I’ve attached the pictures for your reference.
The take home note only said that he was “out of control” and that “it went well”.  It would be our preference that his behavior is described versus something as generic as out of control.  I.e. – did he have a meltdown, for how long, what methods were applied to calm him down, etc.  This way, we can provide feedback and/or reinforce at home.
We are very collaborative parents.  We see the school as our partners in our child’s educational and overall development success.  We really just request to be informed and be treated as partners. And of course, our child’s safety is very important. Marks like these should never be taken lightly but we know circumstances happen.
I would appreciate if you could look into this and put some measures in place so that we can feel comfortable knowing that Aiden is in a safe, secure, and empathetic educational environment.

The School District responded. They said that they looked into it and assured us that our son was safe. Aiden was just in the wrong program. So we went through the process of getting him assessed so he can be placed in the right program to where he can thrive better.

The bruises significantly decreased. But we found ourselves witnessing our son’s meltdowns worsen by the day. He began displaying “ticks” he has never displayed before. He became overly aggressive to where I could not even sleep at night without him waking up and trying to punch me!

Nothing at home changed so we started looking into what’s going on at school again. The daily communication notes from the teacher did not raise any flags. It did not explain the sudden spike in aggression.

Aiden came home upset every day from school. He would cry and hide under a blanket. He would begin to recover at night and then, back to the aggression and meltdown around 4AM. We found ourselves having to carry him all the way to the car so we can take him to where the school bus will pick him up. We knew something was wrong. He appeared too overwhelmed and distressed to go to school. Something at school was definitely wrong.

After several phone calls and in-person meetings with the teachers, principal, school district representatives – Hubby and I concluded that we just needed to finish the school year and move on from the school.

In hindsight, they may have been equipped to administer Special Education but they certainly were not equipped to “handle” our Aiden.

We found Aiden’s Kindergarten certificate inside his school folder in his backpack. They did not have even have a Kindergarten graduation ceremony for the Special Needs class.

Sad, hurt, disillusioned, disappointed, and frustrated – we withdrew Aiden from the school.

Love Your Brother, No Matter What

Oliver, always love your brother no matter what.”

“Oliver, I know when you take things from your brother, we get mad but when your brother takes things from you, we ask you to share.”

“Oliver, please clean up all the mess. We know you didn’t do it but we still need you to clean it up.”

“Oliver, please fix your guys’ bed.”

The other night, the kids and I were in my ‘office’ (at home). Aiden was playing with magnetic letters, Oliver was playing with finger puppets, and I was browsing through Facebook. All of a sudden, Aiden frantically runs to the bathroom sink which is across the office. I caught him just in time to tell him not to wash one of the magnetic letters. He stopped, came back to the room and then, runs back to the bathroom. He does this about 4 more times and the whole time, he was mumbling and he seemed agitated.

Then, he grabbed my hand and he wanted me to grab Oliver. I don’t know why or how but at that moment I realized, Oliver had taken something from Aiden. I asked Oliver, “Did you take a letter from Aiden?” He opened his hand and showed me what he had taken. I told him to give it back to Aiden and say sorry. He did what I told him to. Aiden was still agitated and I was trying to calm him down. In the meantime, Oliver started crying so in an effort to appease Aiden and make Oliver understand what he did was wrong, I sent Oliver to stand on the corner and face the wall.

By this time, Hubby who was in the living room playing PS4 had heard our little chaos. He came to check on us. Now, Hubby and I have this thing about telling each other everything that happens. I mean everything! Sometimes, we do try to cover for our children but – we still end up coming clean. I know honesty is truly important in marriage but as a parent, I do sometimes find that it works to our children’s disadvantage. That night was a prime example.

Anyway, I told Hubby that Oliver had taken one of the letters Aiden was playing with. Aiden is upset. Oliver is facing the wall. Hubby then gets made and tells Oliver what he did was bad and that he needed to fix the bed and just go to sleep. With Oliver clearly in trouble for what he did, Aiden calms down and goes back to playing.

About twenty minutes later – Oliver had finished fixing the bed and was attempting to go to sleep. He was still sobbing when I went to check on him. I knew I had to explain to him what had happened. He’s only five years old but I know that as a kid, his experiences will become memories. Eventually…

I reminded him that taking things away from Aiden is not good. In fact, taking things away from anyone is not good. I acknowledged that sometimes, when Aiden does take things from him, we don’t get mad at Aiden and we actually ask him to share instead. I told him we are sorry for that. We do not mean to be unfair. I explained to him that Mommy & Daddy know that he can understand well while Aiden has difficulty understanding things. I asked him to be always nice and patient towards Aiden.

I also told him that we love him very, very, very much. I promised him that Mommy & Daddy will do better in not getting mad at him. And then, I asked him to promise me that he will love Aiden no matter what.

Our sweet Oliver said, “Yes, Mommy. I love my brother all the days!” He wiped his tears and gave me a tight hug.

This picture looks like Aiden is having so much fun. Oliver looks like he is trying to have fun but his brother is probably annoying him.

It continues to be a challenge to parent “fairly” to Aiden and Oliver. We are aware that a lot of times, what Oliver wants has to take a backseat over Aiden’s needs, wants, moods, etc. To be honest, one of my biggest fears in life is that Oliver learns to dislike his brother because of our mistakes as parents.

But we try. We try every day to be better. I’m sharing a few things we do to make Oliver feel he is loved just as much as his brother.

  • Mommy and Oliver time. We go out on dates – just the two of us. We watch movies, eat out, or shop. Sometimes, even if he’s had a full day of Mommy and Oliver time already – if he asks for more – I do my best to give more time. I would either watch TV with him or just lay in bed listening to his stories and jokes.
  • Daddy and Oliver shared hobbies. They garden together – Hubby lets Oliver water his plants and he gives him space in the backyard to grow his own beans. He loves and brags about it! Hubby also lets Oliver play with his priced possession PS4. They bond over it and talk about castles, dragons, kingdoms, and forests We didn’t buy Oliver his own gaming system. Hubby is allowing Oliver to share with his.
  • Family movie time. We all sit in the living room and we let Oliver choose a movie for all of us to watch. Aiden just usually wanders around the house during this time but it’s okay. The important thing is, we allowed Oliver to make a choice for the family.
  • We ask Aiden to be nice to Oliver. We think it’s important for Oliver to hear us tell Aiden when he’s wrong and ask Aiden to treat him right. Even when we ask Oliver “to share” because Aiden took from him, we follow it up with “Aiden, please give it back to Oliver, nice to Oliver.”
  • We thank and praise Oliver every chance we get. It is very important for us to let him know that we appreciate him and how much he helps Mommy & Daddy.
  • Lots of laughter, “I love you’s”, tight hugs, and kisses.

Aiden maybe our Special Needs child but Oliver has special needs too. I’m sure we’ll continue to make parenting blunders and every now and then question ourselves on whether or not we are doing right by Oliver. We are taking each day at a time, learning and growing us parents. We are so blessed to have Oliver. He is the calm within our chaos.

I have many hopes and prayers for my children. One of them is that they truly love each other no matter what.

P.S. There are many articles out there that may be able to give you insight about siblings of special needs. Click on this link for one of the ones I found to be practical, and yet very insightful. I hope it helps you.

Can You Say No To An Autistic Child?

After we finally accepted that Aiden is Autistic, it quickly opened our eyes to the many things we could have done a hundred times better pre-diagnosis. We realized that how we’ve disciplined him for having meltdowns were futile because we had zero understanding of what may have truly triggered it. We also came to the conclusion that our frustration of our child’s lack of understanding, disregard for our instructions, absence of clear communication, and just overall unmet expectations were all due to our ignorance of his condition.

In some of my readings, I learned the difference between a child’s tantrum versus an autistic meltdown. Tantrums are supposed to be due to any child’s frustration of not getting what they want while autism meltdowns are due to the child being overwhelmed. According to an article I found in the Autism Awareness Inc.‘s website – for someone with autism, when they reach the point of sensory, emotional, and information overload, or even just too much unpredictability, it can trigger a variety of external behaviors that are similar to a tantrum (such as crying, yelling, or lashing out), or it can trigger a complete shutdown and withdrawal.

As a fairly smart person but a rather ignorant parent to the world of Autism – the article made total sense but my reality continued to not make sense. I was left confused and I continued to be frustrated. With Aiden, whether it was a tantrum or a meltdown – we were faced with the same behavior. Kicking! Screaming! Body throwing (unto the couch, unto the bed, unto the carpet, and repeat)! Running all over the house (to the living room, to the bedrooms, to the kitchen and back again)! Crying uncontrollably for hours on end! And I am not exaggerating – HOURS.ON.END!

I kept researching like a witch looking for that perfect potion. Every time I came across something sensible that we could do at home, I would quickly talk to hubby and get his buy-in. Each time, hubby would go along with the new approach.

Fast forward to these days – 4 years after official diagnosis – with a lot of reading, numerous trial & error approaches, and maturity as a parent to the special needs of our first born – the behaviors brought about by any triggers have tremendously improved. Fits/tantrums/meltdowns don’t last longer than an hour now! (Just thought I’d share that bit for parents out there who may think it will never get better).

Because I cannot tell you (to this day) whether it’s a tantrum or a meltdown, I’m going to just talk about what Aiden’s triggers are. For this post, we are going to specifically talk about the horrific “NO”. Sometimes Aiden will let us cruise by for days (or even months) with uttering the word “no” without a single incident. But, just when we think we have it figured out – “no” becomes a trigger (again) and we’re back to days or weeks of the fits, the tantrums, or the meltdowns (however you choose to call it).

Last Sunday while I was doing laundry, Aiden wanted to put Thomas and his Friends in the washer. Ha! I guess they needed a bath of some sort. He persistently requested it. At first I said “No trains in the washer” but he kept insisting. I sensed a fit/tantrum/meltdown brewing so I switched up my response a little to say “Nice to Thomas, Nice to Percy, Nice to trains, Nice to Washer. No trains in the washer, please.” We repeated this exchange (him putting the trains in the washer, me pulling out the trains and giving him my spiel) for about a couple of minutes. He’d leave and then come back again and we’d repeat the whole thing. After about a few more go-round’s, Aiden had enough. So he went to his bedroom, unto the floor, stiffened up the body and began crying, kicking, and making what I have always just described as his signature “screeching sound”.

I followed him to the bedroom, sat on the bed, and told him it was ok, and encouraged him to be “Nice to Aiden” and get up. I motioned my hand to reach for him so he can get up. He reached back to my hand and got up. I gave him a tight hug, told him I loved him, and invited him to go the living room.

So here’s the deal. I think you can definitely say “no” to an autistic child. I know we say no to Aiden. But in doing so, you have to be almost consistent in your approach. You also have to be open to the fact that as much as you’re struggling with being consistent on how to say “no” (and when to say no), your child is also going to struggle with being consistent on how he/she copes with your “no”.

Here are some strategies we have found to be helpful with Aiden:

  • Maintaining a loving tone even when it proves to be difficult amidst our own frustration (or exhaustion).
  • Detecting very early on what could potentially become a fit/tantrum/meltdown. This is very challenging for us because it requires us to be very attentive to our child the whole time.
  • Gauging your own boundaries as a parent – is it really worth saying “no”? Is it really a battle you want to fight right now? Or, can you let this one go?
  • Switching up your words. Instead of saying outright “no” – use positive language alternatives.

I also found the website Autism Educates has a very good article about when and how to say no to an autistic child. I recommend reading it. It’s eye-opening.

At the end of the day – most of us parents are not “experts” in the field of Autism. We don’t possess the degrees that professional do or the mastery in the field that others have acquired professionally. But what we are (and can be) are experts on IS knowing our child. No amount of school hours can compare to the hours we spend figuring it out, right? It’s alright. It’ll be alright. I can tell you, despite backwards and forwards, it gets better. Just always love your child and learn to forgive yourself for the mistakes you have made and will continue to make.

Finally, don’t be afraid to say sorry to your child when you make a parenting mistake. I find that even when Aiden acts like he may not understand – he truly does. He knows we love him and that we’re trying. And we know that he loves us and that he is also trying.

Be Kind

Kindness begins with the understanding that we all struggle.”

— Charles glassman.

I was in line at Target today. The customer ahead of me was a mother of 2 children. She had a special needs 6 month old baby and a little boy (about 4 years old) with her. While she was being checked out, we chatted for a short bit. I learned that she was a Special Ed teacher but because of her infant’s special needs, she has to take a break from teaching. She had already bought school supplies for her son who is about to enter Pre-K but the teacher in her couldn’t resist buying the teacher supplies at the store.

As she was finishing, the checker scanned her Teacher’s discount and then she presented her mobile phone wallet that had 3 Target gift cards. The gift cards were not scanning and it probably was about 10 minutes into her ordeal, I overhead behind me a voice that had said some nasty words about why the line was taking too long. As she was talking to the gentleman with her, she said something like, “they should have a separate checkout counter for these people”. She went as far as throw in some cuss words to emphatically express her impatience. She proceeded to go to another counter.

In the meantime, the lady in front of me was still having issues with her gift cards being scanned. The checker had requested the help of another staff member who “tried” to help but ended up asking the lady – “do you just want to use your gift cards next time?”

I could tell that the lady was flustered. The whole time she was dealing with the checkout issues, her 6 month old was crying and her 4 year old kept talking to her. The gentleman who was trying to help her and the cashier eventually left and the cashier assured the lady that he is willing to void the transaction and re-scan everything to see if at that point, her gift cards will work. The lady declined the offer and said, “don’t worry about it, I have a red card”. This, I would assume she meant a credit card of some sort.

The other lady who was now in another line (just next to ours) continued to express her dismay at how long our line was taking. I wondered to myself – why? If you moved to another line because where you were was not moving fast enough, then that means you need to move on with your life (and your feelings). I’ve seen those looks of disdain or disappointment far too many times and I’ve heard those nasty comments in the past when I am with my own kids that this lady got into my nerves. But I chose to keep quiet.

I felt really bad that the lady in front of me had to use a different payment method and had to pay full price just because the gift cards weren’t working. There’s a lot of people who have every cent accounted for and every available credit spoken for. So when situations like this arise, it creates a financial hardship. I wanted so bad to say – let me just pay for it. But the reality was I didn’t have the funds to pay for it. I wonder though… If I had the funds – would she have accepted it if I offered or would she have been insulted by my offer?

Many times, parents who are doing the best they can are still get subjected to stares, looks, or comments that are just simply unkind and unnecessary. When a child is screaming or is throwing a fit out in public, some people think it is due to bad parenting or someone’s lack of parenting skills.

I remember, we were at Walmart shopping for clothes when Aiden decided to play dress-up. Now, with Autism, pretend play (like dressing up) is a developmental milestone. So this was a great thing! I was extremely happy to see it. I was taking pictures and encouraging Aiden. I kept saying “Good job Bud! You look handsome!”

Unfortunately, some people passing by us took second (or third) looks at how my child looked like. One person even had a smirk on his face as if (or at least it felt like he was) really disappointed in what he’d seen. Another person looked like he was making fun of Aiden.

It feels like some people think they can do life better than others. Okay – maybe so. Maybe they really can. But is it really necessary to be unkind about it? I believe that if we don’t have the ability to help, let’s at the very least extend grace? I refuse to believe that kindness is rare.

All About Us

This blog is literally All.About.Us. We are a family of 5. Dad (Daniel), Mom (Gracie a.k.a. ME!), Aiden, Oliver, and Yoshi (family dog a.k.a. Oliver’s best friend).

Like most families, we have our highs, lows, and in-between’s. I am hoping that this blog provides inspiration, motivation, education, or even comic relief to anyone who comes across it.

14 years ago, Daniel and I met online. We got married a year later, and are now raising 2 boys who are 3 years apart. Aiden, our eldest son first showed signs of Autism at 2 years old. He was formally diagnosed at age 4. Oliver, our youngest is 5 and is the family’s entertainer and story-teller.

Our family’s biggest struggle is coping with Autism. It’s a very difficult road to navigate and we take wrong turns a lot and just when we think we’ve figured it out – we get a hard reality check – we have not!

Our next struggle is attempting to provide our youngest son a ‘normal’ life when almost everything we do revolves around his brother’s needs. Oliver is such a sweet kid and as parents, we fear that we are short-changing him of great childhood experiences. But are we really?

I work full time and travel a lot for work. Hubby is left with the care of the children all-day-every-day. I’m hoping to give you an insight on how he is coping with being a full time stay-at-home homeschooling Dad. The good, the bad, and the ugly.

And yes, you read it right – our children are homeschooled. Short background – Aiden used to go to regular school through Kindergarten. But we had such a horrible experience in Kindergarten that we decided to homeschool him. I would say it’s one of the best decisions we’ve ever made. I’ll probably talk a lot about homeschooling in this blog – tips, tricks, and (maybe) guides for amateur homeschool families like us.

Mom – yep, this is me! The creator of this blog who lives and breathes providing for our family. But, I am also desperately in need of a creative outlet!

This is Hubby a.k.a. THE BEST Husband and Dad in the world. Imperfectly perfect and God couldn’t have blessed us with anyone better. Oh, and he’s into spoiling me and his children, growing Figs and playing Elder Scrolls!

These are the Kiddos. Aiden (right) and Oliver (left). Each day they are teaching us not just how to be better parents but also how to become decent human beings.
This is Yoshi, our fur baby girl! She is definitely Oliver’s best friend but, she sure has enough love to spare for every member of our family.