Autism and Gender

It used to be that the general thought was that Autism was a boy-only disorder.  In fact, because of the primary symptoms, the disorder was originally thought to be related to schizophrenia.  Before that, people with mutism and stimming were often put into asylums because they could not relate to “normal” society and obviously had difficulty with communication.  How incredibly unfortunate!

As research grew, the broad spectrum of identified symptoms also grew.  The idea that girls could exhibit features of autism was not entirely ignored, but it often appeared that the obvious social behaviors were more severe in boys.

Verbal delays.  Stimming.  Repetitive behavior. Restricted interests.

Girls were often given a different diagnosis because they didn’t exhibit these noticeable behaviors, even though they had very mild symptoms of autism.

One of the female pioneers of understanding autism is Temple Grandin, sometimes called “the most famous person with autism.” Many years ago when I was still taking courses online for Psychology, I watched a 20/20 video as part of my lesson.  It was an interview with Temple Grandin, a professor of animal science at Colorado State University.  She discussed some of her symptoms – how her mother refused to give up when doctors told her to – and how she learned to deal with her own differently-able issues.  The thing that stands out to me was when she went under her desk, and put herself into a modified cow-chute.  She worked with cows and saw that when they were under stress, but moved into a confined chute, they became calm – so she adopted that for herself.  It was confined, dark, quiet – and it allowed her to center herself emotionally and mentally so that she could function again in the “normal” world.

She has provided incredible research opportunities, shares her own story with logic and reason, and opened up discussion and understanding of autism in a way that was really needed.  (This article about autism and adhd totally thrills this mama’s heart because I know someone who is JUST like this!!! )

Differences due to Gender

In general, girls are better able to mask their symptoms because they can mimic social norms.  Girls have different expectations, generally speaking, in society and are subjected to more social opportunities, where they can watch and learn how to behave.

THIS has been one of Curly’s greatest strengths, and why it took so long for her to be diagnosed.  She often appears to be engaged right in the middle of a gaggle of girls – but if you ask her what was going on, she doesn’t always understand the implications or interactions of the girls around her, doesn’t understand “mean” behavior even when it happens to her, and has little to no filter when communicating with others.

The statement in this article absolutely, spot-on describes my  girl:  The fact that girls with undiagnosed autism are painstakingly copying some behaviour tends not to be picked up and therefore any social and communication problems they may be having are also overlooked. This mimicking, and the repressing of their autistic behaviour, is exhausting, perhaps resulting in the high statistics of women with mental health problems (Dale Yaull-Smith, 2008).

School exhausts my girl.  The thing that helps her learn social skills is also the thing that wears her out.  It is why the transition to and from school is so challenging for her.  She has to gear herself up to go and it takes quite some time to recover from the energy she has had to spend just being there.  Smaller classrooms, more breaks, extensions on assignments and deadlines – all of these things help her manage school better.  It is why her IEP is so crucial for her success.

Understanding that autism is different in each child, and differs between boys and girls – is really important.  Awareness and Understanding go hand in hand with this disorder.  From the boy I met in high school who exhibited some of the very recognizable behaviors of autism, to the girl I am trying to raise well – awareness and understanding goes a long way to support research, build support systems and grow compassion in the world in which they live.

It’s a Busy Season

I have felt like writing MORE in the past month than I have in the past several months, but due to the busyness of life, have NOT been able to get here.

Just wanted to quickly update and touch base.

I gave my notice at my job at the end of April, fully intending to stay home full-time due to a number of reasons.  Thankfully, my supervisor was willing to work with me, as I really needed to reduce hours and spend more time in summer at home with the kids.  So, I am working a reduced number of hours during summer, with the intent to increase hours (only slightly) once school starts.  We are thankful for this.

One of the primary reasons for this change is that we received a Spectrum Disorder diagnosis for our oldest, Curly.  It was not a surprise.  In fact, we had to really fight for this diagnosis.  But between Greg’s ability to diagnose this condition and the signs we have seen for so long, it was a blessing in the end.   Over the past school year, we were at work with teachers & counselors at the school and finally obtained an IEP so she can get the educational assistance she needs.  They were able to provide this before our diagnosis, but that just ensures that her ability to be successful in school.

The diagnosis also provides explanation for so many things that have occurred over the past calendar year in our lives.  It has been difficult, to say the least.  And not just for Roy or me.  We have seen a lot of new behaviors emerge – likely impacted to some degree by impending puberty – and I think for us (as her parents) we understand why some lessons are so very difficult for her to process and learn.  We have ongoing challenges in some specific areas and sometimes we have been at our Wit’s End trying to teach lifelong lessons.

While we don’t see High-Functioning Autism (Spectrum Disorder) as an excuse for misbehavior, we have to learn new ways to teach Curly because learning – for her – is different.

Along with that, we got a puppy.  Not just any puppy.  A beagle puppy.

I caved to my husband who has been begging for a puppy for ages.  We were “backup” when a friend’s daughter was giving away a puppy.  So we got Buddy.  He is 6 months old.

Puppies are very busy.

We do not have a lot of big plans for summer – but lots of little plans here and there.  We get to have some company in a few weeks.  And THAT is very exciting.  I will write more about that later I hope…

I’ve been hanging with my friend Christie on Thursday evenings learning about how to build a Family Prayer Binder.  It has been really good (even though I have fallen off the wagon here and there).  And I will be starting the Bible Study “Armor of God” again next week.  I tried it earlier this spring, but missed almost half of the sessions for one reason or another (including 2 flat tires which occurred on 2 different nights right before Bible study…)  Between the two things, I’m finding a burning desire to really battle on behalf of my family in a way I haven’t done before.

The kids & I plan to spend some time relaxing this summer – swimming, visiting our local nature park, watching movies at home.  I can’t tell you how much I actually enjoy hanging clothes to dry on my lines out back.

I even had a change in the look of my blog – but didn’t get to announce it because it’s been so busy.  I hope you will visit it and let me know what you think about it…

ANNOUNCEMENTS

I want to share 2 things with you real quickly –

Are you familiar with Grove Collaborative?  It used to be called epantry and is a website that offers a variety of products and brands that are eco-friendly at a discount.  Brands include Seventh Generation, Mrs Meyers, and Method.  I’ve been ordering from them for several months now – trying out new products – and really loving some of the products I’ve found.  This is my link if you want to go check it out.  If you are a new customer and place an order through this link, you will save $10 on your first order (and I will get a $10 credit on my account too!)  During the spring I was able to stock up on Lilac and Peony scented cleaning products by Mrs Meyers that I. Just. Love.  It is actually a pleasant experience to clean my kitchen.

Next week, the Ultimate Bundles is going to have an Herb and Essential Oils Super Bundle!!!  It launches next Wednesday.  If you have any interest in Essential Oils or Herbal wellness at all, sign up at the link to receive an email with all the details next week!  This does NOT sign you up for the bundle itself, just for notifications about the bundle when it becomes available and what’s included in it!  I have always found the Ultimate Bundles to be worth so much more than the price I have paid – and I am enjoying the Ultimate Homekeeping Bundle I purchased 2 months ago!

Parenting an Out of the Box Child – Part 3

{If you are just joining, click the links over to Part 1 and Part 2 of this series to catch up!}

Can I tell you the MOST challenging part of parenting my Out of the Box Child(ren)?  it isn’t determining the root cause for each diagnosis, whether or not to use medication in our toolbox, or how diet and environment factor into the ever-changing behaviors of my children.

It’s Grace.

It’s knowing how and when to impart consequence and when to lavish on Grace.

Much of the struggle with #1 Girl is Impulsivity.  I have to say that the impulsivity often leads to sinful choices – and balancing my response as a parent with Grace – while NOT avoiding the sinful aspect – is really my biggest parenting challenge.

It is both heart-wrenching and frustrating.

There are the critics who espouse MORE discipline.  There are critics who denounce medication, which really only restrains ADHD to a dull roar, but allows her to function well at school.  I am required to spend extra time reviewing homework and school work and answering phone calls & texts about her work (or lack thereof), AND am supposed to have extra energy for the daily attitude and shifts in energy and focus and effort – AND be gracious and loving and nurturing, while still maintaining a home environment that displays Jesus Christ.  And teach her responsibility and consequences.  And pour out grace and love.

How?  How do I do that?  So many days, I am At. A. Loss.  I just don’t know.  It isn’t about loving my child.  It isn’t about wanting what’s best for her.

It’s resigning myself to whatever it is that GOD has for her.

And sometimes it means I lay down on the altar for sacrifice.  And sometimes, I just don’t want to.  I want to be able to go into our bathroom, play some soft music, run a hot bubble bath, sip a large glass of iced raspberry tea and read an epic novel without interruption or fear of what might happen if I relax for even two seconds.

2015-04-23 06.32.40The same child who sweetly prepared a breakfast of waffles with chocolate chips & strawberries and a cup of coffee to surprise me – is the same child who finished off the rest of the bag of chocolate chips later that same night in secret.  If I had bet money it was going to happen, I would be rich.  As soon as I saw my breakfast plate, I knew what was coming and hated myself for being discouraged about the likely outcome instead of enjoying the sweet moment…

Parenting an Out-of-the-Box Child has broken me in so many ways.  

And that is why I am writing this.  Not because I have figured out HOW to navigate this parenting road.  But because it’s part of who I am and where God has put me, and I need to be real about it as I seek His Grace daily.  Or hourly.  Or minutely.  You know what I mean.

Maybe someone reading can relate to this.  Maybe someone reading can share their lessons learned through this.  Maybe you feel like you can’t take another minute of this and needs someone to walk the path with them.  No one child or parent is like another – but our journeys may take us down the same road and we can encourage one another and lift each other up.

Because as often as I seek to live out grace to my children, I am bathed in Grace by my Father.  Some days, I wish I could just put her out in front of me into His fountain of grace and let it pour over her.  I don’t always cooperate and am not always fit for His use as an instrument of Grace.

What I am learning the most in all of this, is that I am DESPERATE for His Grace more than for anything else.  And if I can let Him use me, it’s what I hope she learns from my life – that SHE needs His Grace every day too!

Parenting An Out of the Box Child – Part 2

New here?  Click here to read Part 1 of this series.

I. Was. Lost. in my parenting journey and I found myself wondering all the how’s and why’s that come with ADHD.  Frankly, I still feel lost in my journey most days.  Is this ADHD thing my fault?  is it her fault?  Is she just reacting to my failure to discipline enough? or to discipline too much?  Could I have prevented it?  Is it totally neurological? Behavioral? Environmental?  It sure seems like God handed me something I could NOT HANDLE and I couldn’t figure out why.

Just like my out of the box child cannot be so easily contained, no one formula or strategy will work exclusively in my ability to parent her.

My every move – at times – seems to be counterproductive more often than not.  Boundaries are very difficult to establish with her.  Consequences are difficult to not only dole out but for her to respond to.  Reactivity – of which both she & I are guilty – is our worst enemy.  Knowing which battle is worth fighting – and which is worth letting go – is never easily identified.

The truth is:  some days, loving her is hard.  

And the guilt that courses through me when I think that, let alone say it, is devastating.  I don’t mean feeling affectionate for her. Or being willing to throw myself in front of a bus for her.  I mean being willing to lay down my life in the daily living so she can know how much I love her.  And even more so how much God loves her and has a plan for her.

Loving her is exhausting.  Draining.  And more often than not, I feel like I fail her miserably.  My ugliness shoots straight to the surface in the face of her defiance. It bounces right against my tightly-stretched nerves – and I lose myself in an avalanche of impatience.  And fatigue.  And fear.

This child that wants to go toe-to-toe with me over which shoes to wear to school is really desperate for something steady and sure.  And many days, that’s. not. me.  I am so broken by this realization.  In the rare moments of quiet I am able to snag in my hectic days, I cry out to God to make me better for her sake, but only after I beg for more peace and less chaos for my sake.

And more often than not, I hear Him whisper to my wildly-beating heart that HE has a plan for her.  It may not be the plan I envisioned or imagined for her – but His plan is to take her strength and use it for HIS glory.

This scares me to my bones.  Some of the godliest people I know have a wild, spirited child who was raised to know and love God. But the child grew up and made different choices.  And as an adult, that child wrestles with substance abuse.  Crime & prison terms. Broken lives.  Broken bodies.

Not every case.  But more than I am comfortable with.  My heart is wrenched for the possibilities.  For all three of my children.

Because I have no guarantees in this parenting business.  The reality of parenting children is harder than I ever possibly imagined it could be.  And God is teaching me in this parenting journey, as much as He desires to teach them.  And to speak to their hearts Himself.  Dying to ME is the hardest part.  Dying to me and letting God become my child’s steady and sure is like watching her climb a tightrope a bajillion feet above the ground with no {apparent} safety net.  And it is as much a test of my FAITH as a test of my love.

I don’t always know what that means.  I don’t always know what it looks like.  I don’t know what it will look like 10 minutes from now, let alone 10 years from now.  I want a formula that FIXES our problem.  But there isn’t one.

I just know that I have to desperately lean harder into God so she can see that He is MY steady and sure, too.  That in my weakness, HE is where I go.  He is where I turn. And He is always there for me, even when I fail.  It is exquisitely painful.  To be broken out in front of my children.  And when I struggle to yield to Him, it is even more painful for them.

I get Sarah Mae’s statement:

ultimately, the most important thing is laying our children at the foot of the cross and praying that Jesus will call them to Him.

And there is the ultimate sacrifice in parenting.  Not learning methods or means to raise a child, but learning how to lay each child down at the foot of the Cross and LEAVE her there to hear the Savior’s call…

Do you struggle in parenting an Out-of-the-Box-Child?

Parenting An Out of the Box Child – Part 1

My friend, Christie, recently posted a (long) list of books on Facebook that she is reading during the month of April.  She was doing it to request a little bit of accountability.  She got some encouragement.  She got some criticism.  But she listed the book, Desperate: Hope for the Mom Who Needs to Breathe by Sarah Mae & Sally Clarkson – and I told her I would read along with her. I’ve read it before and even posted a review, but as I began reading it again today and this evening, I couldn’t believe how much differently I could relate to it now from the first time I read it. I had many lines and sentences highlighted already.  But then I came across a section that just rang SO TRUE with me.  The phrase that started it all was “out of the box child.”

I totally related to that phrase.  And it made me think about “the box” and what that represents, which made me think about a Jack-In-The-Box.  The thing about a Jack-in-the-Box is that it is fairly predictable.  You turn the handle on the side, the melody plays, and just at the right moment, up pops Jack with a loud bang, generally to the amusement of most people.

With an Out-of-the-Box child, though, things are very different.  And Life is NOT like a childhood toy.  It is not always so easy, not so predictable.  And some children are born just fresh

Out of the Box.

Me?  I’ve got 2 of them.  Well, 2 so far.

My oldest girl, my sunshine girl – she was born bright & bubbly.  Smiles a mile wide. Happy go lucky.  Sweet natured, yet determined.

My youngest girl, was born just as beautiful, but less bubbly & bright.  She smiled & laughed, but she also screamed for 2 hours at a time.  Sometimes just with ME, and not anybody else.  She is my sensitive soul.  Sensory-soul. The one who feels like she is going to explode if her socks don’t feel right.  If music is too loud.  If anybody in our family is upset about anything.  My husband & I decided early on, that our #2 girl was always outside-the-box.  It’s how she operates.  If you say the sky is blue, she sees it a different color.  Not to be disagreeable, but because she sees a different color.  She would prefer to dance around the dinner table as she eats.  She doesn’t mind getting down in the dirt to love on a pet.

When you live in a “Stay-In-The-Box” world, it can be really hard to be an Out of the Box kind of kid.  or her parents.  Let me be clear, I am not complaining. We have likened her somewhat to the character “Phoebe” on that show we used to watch called FRIENDS.

But a few years ago, our sweet, spirited, outgoing #1 girl – became defiant, loud, chaotic, angry, uncooperative, fearful, withdrawn.

I was not so prepared for this change.

Fairly quickly, her dad recognized some of the behaviors and changes, and eventually she was assessed and diagnosed with ADHD.  This was, of course, after one pediatrician told us he didn’t “believe in ADHD and that it was really a discipline problem.”

huh.  discipline problem = parenting problem, right?

We adapted our parenting skills and strategies, and watched her grades start to slip.  Watched her attitude shift.  And watched her body react to the stress she was feeling.  She was unable to focus.  She was unable to communicate her feelings with words.  She became angrier and we became more frustrated and it was a vicious cycle.

The next pediatrician quickly assessed her and acknowledged her ADHD and we began a journey with medications and varying parenting skills & strategies – that would often work well one day and then not-so-well the next.  My husband, being more educated and practiced in the parenting strategies, has had to coach me (and still coaches me) as much as parent our child because I have been at a complete loss.  I was desperate to help her but didn’t know how and I felt like every day I was losing her more and more.

And I have struggled to put into words this journey – both because I didn’t want to embarrass my child and because I had not yet mastered my ability to parent her…  I didn’t want to air “dirty laundry” and yet I felt alone in so much of this and I didn’t know how to even wrap my head around most days.  Can I tell you that just writing this so far, has really given me courage to keep writing.

So I will.  I will write and share this journey.  Because it is important.  And I am most likely not the only parent who feels this way about parenting an out of the box child

{I will continue this series in my next post.  You can sign up to receive my posts by email in the sidebar!}