This blog was initially set up as a means of communicating with my son's team. Since then, I've heard from other parents with similar stories. If you are living with challenges or journeying alongside someone who is, you are not alone. There are many of us. I'm a single adoptive Mom ( of a young man who lives with many abilities and many diagnoses. We have journeyed together through many challenges and a few adventures over the years as my son has tried to find space in this world that makes him feel more comfortable, an attempt made especially difficult when living with Attachment Disorder, PDD-NOS (Autism), Developmental Coordination Disorder, ADHD, prenatal substance exposure, etc. Some of the strongest elements used in this journey have been music, visual arts, therapeutic parenting, team-connection, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, boundary-setting, communication skills, community-building, continual lifeskills training, and elements of Theraplay. (Click here for some written resources.) On this journey, there is laughter and tears and growth and hope. The greatest of these is hope.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Shifting Mornings

May 31, 2011

Today is Day #2 of the new chore plan: Wake Chef up early to take care of his responsibilities/chores because he doesn't want to do any at all in the evenings or on the weekends.

This morning's task was to wash/dry 10 dishes and put items from the fridge/table into a lunchbag. I woke Chef 45 minutes early to allow for plenty of time.

Chef washed/dried 1 item, attempted whining when reminded that a dish needs to be placed into the sink to be washed, and didn't put any food into a lunch bag.

Of course, this morning plan isn't going to "work" in the sense that Chef is going to be in good spirits to accomplish any tasks, and it certainly isn't going to help his already-challenged mornings (though last week I switched the morning plan to Chef getting up and dressed and out the door with his lunch and a piece of fruit for breakfast waiting for him on the front porch - that "worked" well), but the hope/goal is that Chef will learn/realize that all these attempts he makes at doing everything he can think of to avoid anything he views as being connected to work just aren't worthwhile, and that all the effort and time he puts into avoiding is more effort and time than would have been needed to just do the work.

Some view this area as Chef continually trying to power struggle. I view it as an area that is challenging for Chef for many reasons but that is a basic part of successful, healthy living, and a life lesson that will serve Chef well in various areas. What has "worked" for Chef is letting him live with and learn from his choices and for me to be open to living outside the box to allow Chef to learn those life lessons.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Monday, May 30, Part Two

Chef hates attending medical appointments himself, and he isn't big on me attending mine either.

Last Tuesday, Chef needed to go over to our neighbour's place in the morning until the school bus arrived. I had to be at appointments about an hour away. Chef has always found it difficult to manage if he knows I'm not feeling well or have medical appointments. His anxiety is heightened during such times, and there's always a delicate balance between preparing Chef for possible changes to his day (if he needs to go to respite due to appointments) and keeping his anxiety at bay otherwise. If Chef is told too soon about a change, it heightens his anxiety which is usually spilled out in various ways til the event happens. If he's not told til the last possible minute, there's a risk of anger/mistrust over not being told earlier.

In hopes of providing enough time for Chef to process his feelings beforehand and not take out his anxiety on our neighbours, I told Chef two days before my appointment that I would be leaving on Tuesday morning and he would need to go to our neighbours' place til the school bus arrived. Chef asked a few questions about when I would be back, where the appointment was, and how I felt about the appointment. I'm always matter-of-fact with those types of responses with Chef - I wouldn't be back til after Chef was home from school but his sister would be waiting for him at home when he got off the bus, provided the name of the hospital and general location, and told him I was looking forward to the appointment because it would help figure out what's happening with my leg because it doesn't feel right sometimes. Chef nodded. Over the next couple of days he seemed unsettled and a bit on edge and asked a few times for the same information about my appointment. On Tuesday morning, he seemed to be in good space when he went over to the neighbours' house. When I called to make sure he'd gone inside, my neighbour said she'd been teasing Chef a bit about having heard him going up and down the stairs the night before (we live in a townhouse and share a wall). She said that Chef had told her that he wasn't making any noise on the stairs - "It was Mom throwing books." When the neighbour told him she knew it was him going up and down the stairs and not books being thrown, he kept to his statement. I told the neighbour she could go ahead and let him know that she'd told me his story so he knows we're all on the same page, then we chatted a bit and hung up. An hour later when I got to the hospital, there were numerous calls from my neighbour on my cell phone so I called her back while I was walking through the parking lot. Chef had run off. He hadn't waited for the bus and she didn't know where he was. She had tried calling the school only voicemail was available in the resource dept, and she didn't know if she should call the local police. I reassured her that I would call the police (who help us search when Chef disappears) and the school. Eventually we learned that Chef had shown up at the school! As stressful as that half hour was, it was equally shocking (and reassuring!) to learn that Chef had shown up at school.

Chef let his resource teacher know that he had run off because he was angry with me for going to my appointments.

It's difficult for kids like Chef. When things don't work out, he blames me. When his choices cause problems for him, he blames me. When he no longer has something because he wrecked it, he blames me. It almost seems like an extension of the need for an external brain. He does, however, occasionally show that he is slowly learning to accept responsibility for his choices. But the interesting thing is that for all his blaming and all his feelings of hatred and all his anger, he feels a lot of anxiety over my health. When I am down with a cold/flu, he usually does "act up" quite a bit (anxiety, change of routine, uncertainty of what to do) but he also dotes on me with numerous offers to make me some tea and to cook supper. He has also occasionally shown anger when I've said no thanks to the offers (wants to help, feels rejected), but he does go out of his way to be caring if I'm sick. And when he isn't having to deal with problems caused by his choices or deal with his anxiety, he can be a very caring family member. It sort of seems like a meadow of wildflowers being paved over with asphalt - every once in awhile the asphalt cracks enough to let the sun through and a flower eventually surfaces. That meadow is still there, it just needs ways to get through to the surface.

As Chef's Mom, it's interesting to see the changes, shifts, movements in my own journey. There was a time when this past weekend would have felt extremely heavy while it was happening and for a number of days afterwards. Now, it's just the way the weekend went. It certainly wasn't a pleasant weekend, but Chef is showing signs of growth and development and for that reason, it was a meaningful and successful weekend. It's barely one day out of this past weekend, and it feels ok. I know that Chef's support at school this year is the best school support he's received so far towards helping him learn how to live a healthy, appropriate, successful life. I know that Chef is growing and developing, and even though he is still struggling with honesty and good choices and taking care of his body, he isn't "rejecting" all of those things as strongly as he seemed to be rejecting them in the past. I know there are community members and friends who are available to help when Chef follows his impulse to run off from somewhere when he's dealing with anxiety (or just wants to go downtown for candy, though that hasn't been his focus this year), and that there are now more folks around who have a better understanding of Chef's needs and the needs of kids who live with similar challenges. But the biggest piece in the okay-ness is seeing Chef learning to work through issues and learning to address them appropriately in a healthy manner. Yes, the tantrum was over an hour long - but it was less than two hours and didn't heighten to an "outside-only" or "chat with the police" level. Yes, it took all weekend to get the dishes started - but Chef relearned and accepted the importance of good attitude and appropriate communication during a time that was very frustrating for him. It was hard work - but he worked at it.

It all takes time.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Today is Monday.

Many of my friends dread Monday. Perhaps "dread" is too strong a word. Many of my friends don't look forward to the shift back to the workplace schedule and ongoing expectations.

For me, Monday is usually a day to breathe. Relax. Take in the peace and quiet.

As some of you know, Chef believes that he should not have to do chores or anything that he believes to be related to chores. This includes activities such as doing dishes, bathing, picking up items he drops on the floor in various rooms throughout the house, cleaning up urine in his room, cleaning up messes he makes throughout the house, dressing, etc., and sometimes even goes so far as including tossing food into his lunch container even if there are various food items out on the table in addition to the food in the fridge/cupboards, or making himself a sandwich.

It is a very, very rare occasion for Chef to do one of the above without prompting. It is equally as rare for Chef to do any of the above without numerous attempts at getting out of doing any of the above. Some of the challenges with which Chef lives do make such activities difficult for him to varying degrees - but the fact remains, he is capable of doing them, he gladly does similar activities if he deems them to be in the "fun" category (cooking, video games, running to get candy, making water balloons, making a bottle for his niece/playing with and picking up after his niece, etc. Chef seems to have the energy/ability for what he enjoys, and little to none for what he doesn't enjoy.

It used to be that Chef would come up with numerous attempts at avoiding even the start of any of the above - but for the most part that has changed. It is now more common for him to seem to be starting one of the above and then attempt to do whatever he thinks might get him out of continuing/completing the task at hand.

For example, Chef started this past Saturday with a tantrum because he didn't want to do the dishes. In all fairness, there were a lot of dirty dishes (so many, in fact, that by Saturday afternoon I'd told Chef I wouldn't be cooking due to the lack of clean dishes and that meals would be cold food until the dishes were done) but when Chef had chosen not to do the dishes before the weekend, he rediscovered that the dishes did not go anywhere nor did anyone else do his chore for him.

When Chef rediscovered that tantrums don't work, he hid the teatowels. When that didn't work (and he had pretty much worn himself out from having to turn to his exercise program to deal with his extra energy he had for whining, attitude, etc), he began washing the dishes. Slowly. And not actually washing/drying them. It took over an hour before he'd actually washed/dried two items. When he rediscovered that wasn't going to do much other than cause more problems in his day, he started washing the dishes. After 10 minutes of reasonable effort on his part, I knew Chef and I both needed a rest and I told him that he could take a break because he was now showing good attitude towards his work. I'd hoped that, even though there might be a few steps back after having a rest, the message that the antics involved in chore-avoidance weren't worthwhile would stick. Chef was reminded to have a bite to eat before having a rest since he'd only eaten two kiwis for breakfast and had whined when I reminded him he needed more to eat.

After having a rest, we went out for a walk for about half an hour. On the way home, I bought myself a small takeout for lunch and told Chef that I sure wasn't about to buy him lunch after the way he'd behaved and that he would need to make his lunch when we got home. Chef again chose to eat a bunch of fruit. This isn't new. Chef has gone through periods in the past when his focus is primarily on fruit, though it was interesting to see him focus on it on the weekend after he'd said it was too much work to put into his school lunches even though it's sitting in baskets on the table. As an aside, mayonnaise is a big focus for Chef right now - mostly while doing dishes or using the washroom. We went through two jars last month. He hasn't been going for the spices recently, and my daughter has kept a bottle of vanilla in the cupboard the last couple of weeks without incident.

Back to the dishes - to make a VERY long story short, it was late Sunday evening before Chef actually started putting in a reasonable effort at getting them done. I sure got a lot of music practice in this weekend :-) There was no participation in making lunches (and I don't make Chef's lunches for him if he hasn't participated in taking care of his responsibilities), no bath, and Chef hadn't eaten more than some fruit earlier in the day, (even with reminders that of what was available in the refrigerator and even though I'd put out meat and wraps by the fruit so he could make wraps for himself) stating that he was going to wait until I cooked supper. I reminded him that I still wouldn't be cooking due to the amount of dirty dishes and unavailable prep space. He made a face. I then reminded him that cooking would also create more dirty dishes. Chef relaxed his face and said "K" but still didn't eat. When I later told Chef it was bedtime, he put his head to the side, made a scowling face and a scoffing sound, and said "Well, can I at least have a piece of fruit?" I reminded him that he was supposed to eat earlier and had had opportunity to do so. "Well, I'm hungry NOW." I told him he could go out and have a seat on the deck. I brought him out a bowl of baby spinach. He stated he wasn't hungry and that he didn't like spinach. I reminded him that he's eaten spinach many times and has even chosen to make spinach salads and that his body could use the nutrients. "It's gross." I picked some up, put it in my mouth, chewed it, swallowed it, said "eat", and walked back into the house. Chef tossed the spinach over the deck and sat on the chair grumping and saying he was hungry. I came out, put more spinach into his bowl, and asked if he needed me to feed him. Chef scowled and ate. When he came inside, he thanked me and apologized for his behaviour on the weekend. We talked a little bit about choices and consequences and the importance of eating and the importance of talking/behaving appropriately and about time and donating weekends to trying to get out of a chore rather than taking care of responsibilities then enjoying the weekend. We talked about dignity and responsibility. We talked about switching chores to the mornings since he doesn't want to do them in the evenings and on weekends, and told him he could try that and see how that goes. This morning, I woke Chef twice but both times he went back to his room. When I woke him the third time, I reminded him that he needed to get up earlier today but was now later than usual. He said he had gone back to bed because the alarm hadn't gone off. I went and turned on the alarm, he was up a couple minutes later and working on getting the kitchen cleaned up. This morning, his job was to wipe the stove and get the cupboard under the sink back in shape from previous choices Chef had made regarding the garbage pail. He seemed to be in good spirits, until I reminded him that he didn't have much extra time this morning because he kept going back to bed. He grumpily wiped the stove then brought in the garbage pail (he'd taken the pail out to empty it then put it under a chair on the deck the other day when I told him it couldn't come back inside smelling like that after he'd decided not to put a bag inside, and there wasn't time for him to wash it at the time because we were on our way somewhere), put it under the sink, and closed the door. He was reminded it needed to be rinsed and a bag needed to be inside. He very slowly (and grumpily) opened the door and very slowly removed the pail and very slowly walked to the bathroom with it. Everything was in slow motion for the next while - until the bus arrived! Chef quickly ran down the hallway, grabbed his clothes, and ran out the door to the waiting bus.

Clothing: We've turned the tables. If Chef leaves an item on the floor, it goes to the thrift shop. Of course, I'm the only one who seems effected by that at this point but I'm hoping that maybe that will help motivate Chef to start taking care of his belonging and his home. It didn't "work" in the past, but trying again! At one point, I decided to see how long he would actually leave something on the floor and have to step over it/walk around it, etc. I didn't say anything about two items - one was a pair of his pants on the floor in the front hallway where he had to walk over/around them to go out the door, going up/down the stairs, and to get to closet where his clothes are. Another item was one of his hats which sat on the kitchen floor. A week later, both items were still there. If I prompt Chef to pick up an item, he will pick it up then he will usually stash it somewhere rather than putting it away "because it's easier than putting it away." In order for Chef to pick something up and put it away (clothing, paper that he drops, cleaning up a mess he's made, etc., well basically anything that requires effort) I usually need to provide a verbal prompt and then see the task through with a frustrated Chef.

Today is Monday. Relax. Revitalize.