We've had a pretty awesome week around here! Sure, there's been some rough spots, but today, I'm going to focus on our successes!

Let's start with "Project Bring Troy Back to the Joy of Reading."  I had an "a-ha" moment at the beginning of the week, and I think it has made a huge difference. Troy has a very difficult time with auditory processing. The standardized testing he has undergone over the last several years always highlights this. When we give him verbal directions at home, he always struggles with them, especially if they are more than one-step.  I felt like a fool when I thought about how that is hampering him during our family story time.

We frequently have story-time. We all pile on a bed, gather around, and read. It was frustrating me that when we did it, it always seemed like Troy wasn't paying attention. When I would try to engage him in a discussion about the reading, he could not.  Cue "Brandie's a-ha moment." I began to think about the fact that Troy doesn't process auditory information. I brainstormed a solution...have Troy sit or lay beside me as I read so that he can see the words and read along with me.

I started the plan on Tuesday night with a new book, Mr. Popper's Penguins. He prefers non-fiction books, but I decided to see if he might engage with the story when presented in this manner. It worked!  We read two to four chapters for four nights in a row, and he loved every minute. He even discussed it with me without prompting.  He would brainstorm what might happen next before we even would start to read, and after we would finish, he'd close his eyes and say things like, "I'm imagining what it would be like if I had a pet penguin."  This mom/English teacher's heart felt like it would burst with excitement!

I came home a bit early from work Friday with a horrendous headache that had lasted two days. I took some medicine and went to bed for a bit. I still insisted on us reading together that night anyway. I'm so glad that I did. We had another fabulous time.

Here are a few pics from Friday evening's story time:


On to Laura.....Laura has a serious behavior disorder, is extremely oppositional/defiant, and has severe ADHD. She struggles at home and at school, and we are constantly searching for ways to help her to be successful.  A couple of weeks ago, I came up with a new idea. She wants her ears pierced. So, I created a sticker chart to motivate her. The rules were that she had to receive a good report from school for twenty straight school days. If she could do that, I would take her to get her ears pierced. She quickly and excitedly agreed to the challenge.  


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Day 1
Unbeknownst to her, I actually printed five copies of this chart. I predicted that we would have to start again a few times.  Well, guess who may end up with egg on her face?! Yep, me! 
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As of Friday, she's had 14 days in a row of good behavior!
Laura's teacher and I had had some e-mail correspondence this week related to some other matters, and I asked her about behavior issues. She said that Laura's been quite good. She has been able to remind Laura of the sticker chart when she is not complying, and Laura gets back on track.  How awesome is that?! 
My little Koby has also had a HUGE success this week! He came home from school with a piece of paper that had his name written on it. Near the name was a teacher's handwriting that said "No assistance." I literally squealed with excitement! My Koby wrote his name! I saw that the teacher had created some boxes to guide him as he wrote each letter. So, on the same piece of paper, I copied those boxes and asked him if he could do the same for me. He agreed, and then he did it! I truly had feared that day would never come. I am so very proud of him!
Now, the next step is for him to know that that is his name. He can identify the letters, but I don't think that he understands that those letters represent his name. Baby steps! For now, I'm celebrating the heck out of those gorgeous four letters!
In the day-to-day routines, it is easy to dwell on the struggles and failures. Trust me--I'm quite good at it. It's important to also celebrate the wonderful successes and happy moments. I feel so blessed that my three children had such wonderful moments this week! I hope you and yours had some, too! 

Have a fabulous week!
 
 
   I love the movie Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory. It is a movie I've seen more times than I can count, and over the course of the last week, I've had the phrase, "Strike that! Reverse it!" replaying in my head, over and over again.  If you've forgotten or don't know what I'm referring to, here's one example of its use in the film: 

In a moment of frustration last week, I created a rule that my kids had to read to earn video game play time. (If you're interested and didn't read the last blog, click here.) After spouting out the new house rule, I immediately knew that I should take the words back. I sought feedback from others, and they validated my uneasiness with the rule. Reading should not be a chore. I want my kids to love it, not dread it. 

I needed to strike the rule and reverse it!  And I did.

Tom and I decided, instead, to greatly restrict the play time. I thought we had been doing well with it, but it was obvious we had not. We did not decide to take the game time completely away during the school week but did leave that option on the table should it become necessary.

I also was very fearful that I had planted a seed in their heads that reading was not enjoyable. I wanted to dig that seed out immediately. So, on Monday evening, I decided to have some mother-son-bonding time with Troy. I decided I'd read to him. I told him to go to his room and bring a book back. He said okay and walked out....and never returned. Fifteen minutes later, I realized I was still waiting. I called his name, and when he entered the room, empty-handed, I asked him what he was doing. He told me watching TV because "books are lame." I almost fell off my bed! He got a lecture from me!  I told him that I would not have filled our house with books if I did not feel that they were important. Mostly, though, I told him disobedience was not okay. Further, I told him that I had wanted to read to him.

I was heartbroken. I feared that I had done irreparable damage.

The next morning, the first words out of his mouth after I gave a cheerful "Good morning!" to him were, "I'm sorry about last night, Mom." I told him that it was okay and gave him a hug. 

After dinner that night, I asked him if I could read to him, and he gave an overly enthusiastic, "Yes!" and ran to get a book. I knew he was doing it to make me feel good after the previous night's events. He's a very sweet child. Laura joined us, and we read from a book I had given him for Christmas, Different Like Me: My Book of Autism Heroes

On Wednesday night, we did it again. We read about a few more people in the book, and then, we looked them up online. For example, one was a painter, so we looked at some of his paintings. We watched some videos on YouTube. I felt like I needed to tread very lightly because the Troy/Books/Reading relationship was obviously very fragile. I didn't want to force anything.

A friend at work brought a box-full of books to work on Thursday. I took a large chunk of them and brought them home.  Laura is currently extremely obsessed with dentistry. One of the books was about teeth and dentists. She was so excited! Koby loves Sponge Bob; about ten of the books were Sponge Bob books! He couldn't decide which one to read first and was angry when Laura dared to touch one! Troy was elated when he found a Sponge Bob book designed for older readers. To see them excited about books again made my heart flutter!

Near bedtime, I decided to ask them to join me for a family read-aloud. However, when I walked into Laura's room, this is the sight that greeted me:
I snapped a picture and quickly backed out of the room!

The work is not done. We spoke to the psychiatrist about the situation at their appointment the other day, and she told us that video games can easily become problematic for all kids, but even more so for kids like Troy. 

Still, I believe that the love of reading and books has not left my son. The picture above proves that there is still a spark remaining.  

Thank you to those who gave me advice after last week's post. The saying goes that you should always follow your gut. My gut told me I was making a bad parenting choice, but the advice and support I received from so many here on this site and also on Facebook and in personal conversations helped me follow my instincts that I did, indeed, need to strike that and reverse it! 

Happy Reading, Everyone!

 
 
    Troy has an obsessive personality. Autism causes him to focus intensely on his passions. His entire life has been consumed with obsessive preoccupations with dinosaurs, trains, and the solar system. It's been truly amazing to hear him spit out the most random but true facts about any of these topics, and it was a joy to nurture those interests with books, videos, and discussions about them.
    A few months ago, however, a new obsession took over his life. He was on a quest to obtain a Nintendo 3DS. It was ALL he seemed to talk about--and to any and everyone he encountered. Well, his doting grandparents made his dream a reality on Christmas morning. Here he is, opening his dream gift:

   I was so happy for him at that moment! I had no idea that it would quickly and completely transform him.  
    We have a wii, and all three kids enjoy playing it. We don't have many games, but it is played often. For Christmas, another set of grandparents gave them each a wii game, which probably doubled our collection of games. 
    All three kids also have Leap Pad 2s. They received download cards for Christmas, allowing them to add more apps to them.  
    Suffice to say, my kids, like so many, are plugged in. It had not worried me though because all three love books and reading. They seemed to create a healthy balance on their own. It is very typical to walk into any room of the house and find one or all of the kids with books open. We have books, tons of books, throughout the house, so they are always in view and highly accessible. Troy and Laura are very advanced readers, consistently testing far above grade level. I have been proud of their love of the written word.
      Suddenly, however, that changed. For Troy, at least. Over the Christmas break, we allowed him to play video games, really, as often as he wanted. It was his dream come true, after all, and he was on vacation. What was the harm, right? I was so naive.
     We often have family movie time. One evening, we decided to watch Despicable Me 2. Koby had received it as a Christmas gift. Troy couldn't focus on it and finally asked if he could leave the room. He wanted to play his game. We let him go. 
     On another occasion, I overheard him tell Tom that he wanted some "alone time." He said he had spent a lot of time with us already and wanted to stay in his room....to play his game. 
     Now, I know that much of this is very typical. Video games are highly addictive for many people. However, autism takes that typical preoccupation and addiction and transforms it into an obsession. 
     We decided to limit the play time--especially when he went back to school. I thought we were doing a good job of it. Homework had to be done before any game time, and the game time was limited.
      Then, I found this note in his folder:
    
   I was absolutely floored. He is a sweet boy who is usually a rule follower and hates disappointing authority figures and/or getting in trouble. I told him that this was absolutely unacceptable behavior, and that he is showing us that perhaps he is not mature enough to handle having a 3DS. I warned him that if something like this happens again, he will give the 3DS back to Nana and Grandpa until he is mature enough to handle having one.
     I also created a new house rule....to earn play time for any electronic device, he and Laura will have to read. One minute of reading equals one minute of play time.
      To my dismay, they eagerly accepted the new rule!  I was really excited! Troy ran to the bookcase, grabbed a book, and started reading! But then I looked again...he wasn't reading! He was dragging his finger across the page, PRETENDING to read! I don't lose my temper often with my kids, but this about did it for me! I raised my voice and told him that was absolutely unacceptable behavior and if I saw him do that again, he would not get to play his game at all. He quickly apologized and started reading.
      
    Although Laura does not struggle with the video game obsession, I felt it only fair to enact the rule for them both. 
      The rule has only been in effect for two days, but it seems to be working. The problem I'm facing is that I don't want reading to be a chore for my children. I want them to love it, to crave it, to sneak books under the covers with flashlights after bedtime. I'm terribly afraid that the new rule will make reading not fun. I hope that the large quantity and variety of books in our home will help.
    I'd love ideas on what you have done in this type of situation! 
 
 
    I have started and stopped this blog entry about six times over the last week.  I know that what I write may upset people, and fear of ridicule and judgment has plagued me with an inability to finish writing this. However, I promised to be more open on this blog, so I'm going for it.  I devote my first 2014 entry to the topic of medication. It is a topic that ruffles feathers and causes people to judge and condemn on either side of the issue. 
    My children take medications and are under the care of very skilled and caring psychiatrists at a local children's hospital. I did not make the decision to medicate them lightly. I do not keep them on medication without great thought. I trust my instincts. I trust their doctors.  I do what I feel is best for my children.
     I am a member of a Facebook autism group. I won't name it specifically. I am seriously considering leaving it though. The judgment and vitriol is ridiculous. Instead of a place where parents can go for help and support, it seems to be a place for other parents to bash, criticize, and judge. 
     The other day, they posted an article from several years ago about a little boy who had been given psychiatric medications and then committed suicide. He was very young, seven, I believe. It is sad, of course.  However, the comments that people wrote were horribly insensitive and judgmental to any parent who has decided that medication is the best choice for his or her child. Flippant remarks insinuated that parents medicate their kids because they are lazy and they don't want to deal with challenging behaviors. There was a lot of soap boxing going on from people acting as if parents who choose to medicate their children are not good parents. It was disgusting. 
     Are these news stories important? Of course! Is discussion worthwhile? Without a doubt. However, it is also important for parents who are faced with the decision of whether or not to give medications to their children to not be ridiculed and looked down upon. Should medication be the first option? Not in my opinion. If and when the time comes, and all parties involved decide the pros outweigh the cons, people outside of the situation need to have a bit more compassion and understanding.  
     Two of my children suffer from intense insomnia. Troy, who is now seven, would, as a toddler, stay up all night, every night and would scream and scream and scream. It was unbearable. Nothing I did worked. I was up all night with him every night and trying to maintain a full-time job and care for three babies at the same time. I was miserable. My mother came to stay, sure she could help. She quickly saw the problem was serious. Melatonin didn't work. Every single bit of advice I came by was tried and failed.  It was awful. If he did go to sleep, it was short lived. He'd quickly awake and would scream some more. It was not night terrors. It was much, much worse. He had a sleep study. The report said: "Insomnia due to mental illness." 
     And so, he was given Clonidine. And he slept!  He was, soon after, diagnosed with a mood disorder and anxiety and was prescribed Risperdal and Zoloft. These drugs, especially the Risperdal, completely transformed him! I will never forget the feeling of gratitude I had as I saw how much Risperdal helped my son function. I called it liquid gold!  Years later, he was diagnosed with ADHD and was prescribed Intuniv and Metadate. He was better able to follow directions and focus in school.
     That's a lot of medication for a little body! Do not ever think that I don't know that. Don't ever, not even for a moment, think that I don't know about possible side effects and that I don't constantly weigh the pros and cons of every thing I give him. The doctors we see are incredibly conservative in the dosages they prescribe. Our appointments are lengthy (45 minutes minimum per child) and decisions are made after thoughtful deliberation. These medications are allowing him to function in ways that he would not otherwise be able to. They give him the best opportunity for success. 
      We do not, as I've seen many critics suggest, rely on medication only. Our house is run on a strict routine, and he has consistency in every aspect of his life. He goes to play therapy and is seeing a special education counselor. A behavior specialist is involved at school. He has an IEP at school, and an aide works with him in the classroom. In the past, MHMR worked with him at home and school. Medication is one component of his care, but not the only one.
      Koby, for a time, also suffered from insomnia that melatonin could not touch. The psychiatrist put him on Clonidine as well. It seemed to affect him much more profoundly than Troy. When it came time to refill the prescription, I had a hard time getting in touch with the pediatrician. During the two or three day period, I gave him melatonin only, and he slept fine. So, guess what I did...I took him off of the Clonidine! He has been off of it for over two years.  
I am not looking to medicate my children. 
      That being said, Koby has had many problems with his behavior. Inability to communicate for so long led to him having meltdowns constantly. We dealt with it though. He's always been so petite and (seemingly) fragile. I didn't want to medicate him at all.  When he started to talk over a year ago, the meltdowns decreased. Aggression really began though. When he started kindergarten, he began having several hour-long meltdowns a day. He was destroying his classroom. He attacked the other children, the teacher, and the aides. Every single day. He drew blood from another child. Every attempt his skilled and experienced teacher made to diminish the trouble behavior failed. He is in a structured, self-contained classroom with only about six students, a teacher, and three aides. Yet, he still could not be controlled. Several behavior specialists were brought in to assess the situation and offer ideas. Every attempt that was made to improve the predicament failed. Finally, I had to make the decision that I needed to consult a doctor. As a mother, I would not like to send my children to school, knowing that another child was attacking him or her. I felt a responsibility to those other children to act.
     So, the psychiatrist decided to start him on Abilify. She put him on the smallest dose. We began it on the weekend, and at the end of day one, we saw a huge improvement in his behavior and demeanor at home,-but he also seemed a bit too sedate. So we cut the smallest dose in half. And guess what! It has been a miracle worker! He has not had a single aggressive episode at school, has followed his work schedule there and been more willing to comply, he is much less likely to be agitated, and (I don't know how this is connected, but I swear it is) he suddenly, overnight, was potty trained! 
      Laura's medications have been just as necessary and just as positively life-changing. Hers are still in a state of flux because her behaviors are much, much more challenging than her brothers'. I'm sure I'll write more about her in the future. 
     All I ask is that if you are a parent who has decided that come hell or high water you are NOT going to medicate your child, and you meet someone who has decided that medication is necessary for his or her child, do not vilify that parent. If you are a parent who DOES medicate your child, and another parent with a child like yours has decided not to use medication, be understanding! 
     Every parent knows that raising children is difficult. Constantly questioning whether you're doing the right thing is part of what you sign up for when you take on the role. So, as fellow parents, heck, as fellow-human beings, we owe it to one another to be a bit more understanding and supportive of the tough decisions that are made in the attempt to give our children the best chance at success they can get.