19 November 2010

Nothing at all or way too much?

A few weeks ago, we had a play date with new friends. The other child is also on the autism spectrum. His mom said something that really stuck with me - kids on the spectrum are sweet, innocent in a way that other children aren't. She said that she really loved that about her child.

I kinda shrugged it off, agreed but then talked about something else. It made me uncomfortable. I'm not sure why. Maybe it was something about finding some good in all of this - the behavior management, the food restrictions, the insane amount of effort it takes just to get through a day. Sometimes you're just too tired to find any good, or afraid that talking about it might make it go away.

As the days went by, I continued to think about what this mom had said. In fact, I couldn't stop thinking about it. I thought about all of the kids I knew who were also on the spectrum, and was struck by this commonality in all of them. Maybe sweetness isn't the right word - it's more like a purity of heart. It's certainly that way with my Diego.

If you haven't spent time around kids on the spectrum, a common misconception - even among autism professionals - is that spectrum kids don't want to make emotional connections. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our kids want desperately to connect - sometimes they just don't have the tools to do so. Some of the obstacles that stand in the way can be low language skills, visual or auditory processing disorders, social anxiety, sensory integration challenges, or difficulty with executive functioning (poor impulse control).

Recently, though, I read a study that got me thinking about how my son interacts with others and what gets in his way. Diego is the most loving child you might ever meet. He is sweet and empathic at times. While at other times, it seems there is a complete emotional disconnect. If he's confronted by another child's emotions Diego may internalize them as his own - insisting that he's the one that is angry or hurt. This of course, can upset the other child - but Diego is actually over-empathizing. He really feels the other child's emotions as his own. It's this inconsistency that affects relationships. And that's where the study comes in.

As posited by Henry and Kamila Markram of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Lausanne, suggests that the fundamental problem in autism-spectrum disorders is not a social deficiency, but rather an hypersensitivity to experience, which includes an overwhelming fear response.
“There are those who say autistic people don’t feel enough,” says Kamila Markram. “We’re saying exactly the opposite: They feel too much.”  (http://tinyurl.com/pajrrk)
And of course, if you are overwhelmed by emotion - it is easy to just shut down. Imagine if 24-7, you always felt like the dial was up to 11. Imagine the coping mechanisms you'd resort to... tantrums and withdrawal don't seem that far off. 
The tricky thing is that sometimes you just can't know when the hyper-emotions will pop up. Last week Diego and I were on the subway and a man on the train was asking for money to buy food. Naively, I asked Diego if he was willing to share the snack we had in our bag with this hungry man. Well, that launched us into a very intellectual discussion about why the man was hungry, didn't have a job, why, why, why... my mistake.
Later on, Diego was crying. We had already been home for an hour or so. When I asked him why he was crying, he said it was because the man on the train was hungry and had no one to take care of him. He wanted to go back and give this man his snack. It broke my heart. It also reconfirms in my mind, that children on the spectrum are capable of so much more than they are given credit for - and that truly overwhelms me. 

19 April 2010

When Moms Attack...

Spongebob Yelling

Ok, so not literally. I'm not talking about a fist fight.
I'm talking about a mom berating her child in public.

A few weeks ago, I read a post by Lisa Belkin, whose blog, Motherlode, runs in the NY Times. The topic was Friends with Different Parenting Styles. I read in disbelief about moms who felt entitled to criticize other moms freely, after all they were friends. The discussion centered on whether to remain friends with someone who felt so comfortable telling you that your parenting sucks.

I thought, short of seeing someone hitting their kid, I couldn't really imagine criticizing someone else's parenting style. After all, shouldn't we all just be doing what's best for our own families? I have mom friends who parent quite differently than I do. We don't have problems - we have playdates, mom-dates, we get along. We respect each others choices.

And then it happened. I was in the park with my son. It was the end of the day and we were getting ready to leave. Diego had been playing with another child who was now being verbally ripped to shreds by mommy.  I didn't think that the child had done anything that terrible, certainly nothing out of character for a 4-year old. But the kiddo's behavior must have pushed a button, because mom lost it.  I had to wonder if she spoke to her child like that all of the time or if she was having a really bad day. After all, I had spoken to her on occasion and she seemed nice enough. But I was shocked by the hurtful words she was saying to her little child.

Now let me say upfront, I yell. My mom was a yeller. I'm a yeller. And, though I do have a pretty long fuse, when I've reached my limit I resort to yelling. I am not proud of it. It is not how I want to parent. I struggle every day to have more patience, to try to understand what I can learn from the situation at hand. But, sometimes there's nothing else I am able to do in that moment. So I resort to yelling my child's name in hopes that he will hear the stress and seriousness in my voice. And of course, it doesn't work. It never works. Yelling at your child only makes them tune you out ever further. Or so it seems...

When I was a child, my mother screamed at us on a regular basis. I was the oldest of four, but even when it was just me and my brother - she was always yelling. And she was mean. As much as I wanted to tune her out, I couldn't. Maybe it seemed we weren't listening - I wish that I hadn't been. But on nearly every occasion that something unpleasant came out of her mouth, I heard every word. I was scared of her. My mother scared the crap out of me. And that's really sad... it's also something that I don't want for my little boy. Which is why I struggle to keep cool, and why I'm struggling as I write this post.

Would it have mattered if this playground mom had just screamed her child's name instead of something mean? What if it was just "come here now!" Is that ok? And where do you draw the line? Maybe the effect depends on the kid - though I can't remember one time where I just heard my name screamed at me from across the room. Maybe that's just me.

Is it really my business that this woman said awful things to her child? In a way, yes. I wasn't eavesdropping - I was right there. I'll probably never say anything to this woman though. I doubt that I'd be heard (for a variety of reasons). And I don't have that kind of relationship with her. But it is an opportunity. It's a chance to learn more about myself and how I parent.

I started this blog so I could reflect on my choices as a mother, to understand how I could live a more compassionate life - for myself, for my family.  Seeing behavior in others that I am uncomfortable with leads me to ask myself why? Am I sensitive in this situation because of my own childhood? Probably. Can I understand how this mom lost it? Absolutely. But, I also understand how this little child felt. This new reminder of something that happened to me such a long time ago will hopefully serve as my teacher. I pray everyday for the compassion to better handle the challenges I face as a parent. And I pray for the mindfulness to remember that anyone can be my teacher.

05 April 2010

It's not easy being green... or is it?

Spring Scenery

It is finally warm out and I feel compelled to keep all the windows open and air out the house. It's time for Spring Cleaning. It is also a great time to get started on detoxing your home.

I know it sounds intimidating, but there are a few simple things you can do right away to "green" up your place.  First, take stock of what you have in the house. Here's everything you'll need to make household cleaners that are safe and effective, and won't mess with your endocrine or reproductive systems.

The list:
  • distilled white vinegar
  • baking soda
  • borax
  • washing soda (in the laundry aisle of your supermarket, near the borax)
  • essential oils (the type is up to you - chose any oils with antimicrobial or antibacterial properties - I use tea tree or bergamot in the kitchen and lavender in the bathroom)
  • liquid soap - like Dr. Bronner's - something natural
  • spray bottles to put your cleaners in (I got mine in the dollar store)
  • a paint container (the 5 gallon kind - from a hardware store)
  • a big box ( to dump all your current toxic cleaners in)

You may already have a lot of this in the house to begin with... if not, most of it can be purchased cheaply and will last an inordinate amount of time. The most expensive item will be the liquid soap, but again, it will last a long time. This is everything you need to get started.

So, what can you do with all these items? You'll make all-purpose kitchen cleaners, bathroom cleaners, windex, and laundry detergent. And it is so easy, you'll never spend money on brand-name cleaners again!

Kitchen Cleaner
 - spray bottle
 - warm water
 - vinegar
 - essential oil (citrus or tea tree oil)

First, label your bottle. Then add in 1 part vinegar and two parts water. Add 10-20 drops of essential oil. Shake well. Voila! You can use this to clean the entire kitchen.

When you need some scrubbing power on greasy surfaces, spray first and sprinkle with baking soda. Rub mixture onto greasy surface. Wipe off excess. Spray & wipe to get rid of residue.

The spray can be used on all surfaces - including glass - with no streaks!

Bathroom cleaner
Repeat above, increasing vinegar slightly. Substitute lavender oil in the mixture.

You can use baking soda in the bathroom, as well. I use it to clean the toilet and it always sparkles. First, spray with the lavender cleaner. Then sprinkle with baking soda. Leave it for a few minutes, then clean with the toilet brush.

Mirrors? Use your lavender cleaner - you will never have streaks again. You can even wipe the mirrors with a rag instead of paper towels with out streaking!

Laundry Detergent
1 cup Borax
1 cup Washing Soda
1/4  - 1/2 cup liquid soap
5 gallon bucket
hot water

** When mixing the detergent, be careful not to inhale the powder from the borax, it can irritate the nasal passages and lungs. I just keep my face turned away as I pour it from the box.**

Dissolve the borax and washing soda in the bucket with 2 gallons of hot water. Once the mixture is dissolved, add in the liquid soap and mix together.  Fill bucket with 2 additional gallons of hot water and mix thoroughly.  Put some detergent in a smaller container that you can easily carry to the laundry room.  Seal the bucket up tightly.

Use 1/3 - 1/2 cup per load. For the first few washes, add 1/2 cup of vinegar to the rinse cycle as the residue from your old detergent washes out of the clothes.  Vinegar is also a great fabric softener - 1/2 cup - and your clothes will smell fresh - not vinegary.

This mixture lasts about 4 months in my house. I've been using it for over a year and my clothes are clean, soft, and look great.

You can do all of this in 30 minutes or less. Your house will be clean and non-toxic.  And you'll save money, too!

22 March 2010

what's in a name?

I started this post nearly two months ago.

We had a diagnosis - combined type ADHD. Well, that's in addition to the SPD - which is not generally recognized as a diagnosis. I was ok with ADHD.  I expected it. But then there was another...


When you're pregnant, there are always things you worry about - sometimes irrationally. We have a lot of neurological issues in our family. I worried about my baby being born intersex (irrational) or having Autism (not so irrational).  And now, for now, Diego is on the spectrum. His diagnosis could change at any point - even in just talking to one clinician over another. There are so many comorbid symptoms with neurobiological disorders  - it makes diagnosis really challenging.  He does have AS traits, though they're not severe. It could be that the sensory issues are causing the ADHD issues. Who knows. Is it the chicken or the egg?

I was ok for a bit after I found out. I told my self everything I was supposed to - the diagnosis doesn't define him, he's still the same kid, his issues are still the same. Nothing had changed except we had something to call it. Until I had to say it out loud. That's when the uncontrollable sobbing began.

It's been a few weeks. I can talk about it now without crying. And while I do have those flashes of sadness from time to time, most of the time I am just so in love with my sweet little boy - there is very little room for sadness.

17 January 2010

resolution 2.0

This year's resolution continues on my theme from 2009. Last year, I "greened" up our household environment - got rid of chemicals, changed our food sources a bit, and started to make more of our food from scratch. I'll continue to build on that this year, but I've decided to focus more directly on me, too.

Here's my wish list of changes I'd like to make in 2010:
  • waste less food - stop throwing out leftovers, plan meals, compost 
  • create less waste - greatly reduce the ziplock bags in my life, reuse/repurpose household stuff
  • get back to my meditation practice
  • go back to ballet class
  • switch over to natural beauty products - makeup,  face cleansers, fragrance
  • detox my own body  - take vitamins, stop taking medicines (including BC), do a cleanse, decaffeinate 
and here's my biggie (guys, you can stop reading here, TMI...)
  • stop using disposable feminine hygiene products. That's right - I'm going to attempt to make the switch to the Diva Cup.
Never heard of it? Click the link above to learn more and also read about an awesome women-owned business doing great things for girls and women around the world. Oh, and wish me luck...