Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Amazing moment #3-Acceptance

From the time Hunter started showing signs of being on the spectrum, I hoped he would one day find acceptance amongst his peers. I knew that I could love him and shelter him to a point, but eventually, he would have to face the wrath of the preteen and teenage years. We all know those years can be tough, but they are much harder for kids on the spectrum. I hoped that he would find his niche.

His first 2 years of middle school were very lonely. No one invited him over to their house or to birthday parties. He felt very isolated. Then, kids starting calling him names and pretending to be nice just to do mean things to him. I watched his demeanor change drastically. It broke my heart.
As I mentioned in my last post, we decided to switch schools for Hunter in November. It was a hard decision, but the turning point for us was seeing the attitudes of the students at the new school. They were smiling and kind to each other.  They were loving and supportive. The atmosphere was different. It seemed like a good fit,  and we prayed we were right.

A week into the switch, one of the other moms at school told me that the kids loved Hunter. They were really excited to have him at the school and he already had tons of friends. He apparently fit right in!
aspergers, autism, parenting, acceptanceHunter made the basketball team. He is 6’3” tall and an 8th grader, so the coaches and players were ecstatic. He has played on many recreational teams through the years, but he has never had the ability to make the school teams. Now, at this small school, he made the team. He was one of the guys. He was so excited.

Then the most amazing thing happened…we got a call asking if Hunter would like to go hang out at the mall with some of the boys (and girls) and go see a movie on Friday night. Of course, we let him go! He had an amazing time!! The kids loved him. They were nice to him.  His confidence soared. My heart sang!
We are now 2 months into the switch and not everything is perfect. His schoolwork is much tougher, and that is a nightly struggle. However, my son is happy. He has friends who truly care about him. They have now gone to the mall several times. He has had a friend spend the night. These boys look out for him. They accept his quirkiness. For now, he has found his niche and that is my amazing moment #3!


Friday, January 16, 2015

Amazing moment #2-Finding his Pleasantville

One day in early October, when I picked Hunter up from school, he got into the car and said, "I'm not going to be a good person anymore." I replied, "Excuse me"! He said, "It doesn't pay to be a good person anymore, so I'm not going to be one."

My mommy radar went off. We preach loving one another in our house. Something was going on. He had to be learning this from school. I knew things were not good. I knew he was struggling. It was hard for him to communicate to me exactly what was happening, but it was obvious kids were not being kind to him. I had to do something... and soon!

Several people I knew had recently switched their kids to charter schools in the area. I had heard really good things from all of them, so I decided to give it a try. I called the local charter school first thing the next morning. I knew there was a waiting list for most of the charter schools in this area, so I thought I would go ahead and get his name on the list. Amazingly, the registrar said, "We actually have 2 openings in 8th grade right now." What? Jackpot!! I asked to set up a meeting to speak with their resource teachers and principal. They got us in the next week.

I had spoken with Hunter about switching schools. I knew the change was going to be tough. He surprised me when he told me he wanted to go tour the school. The next week, my hubby, Hunter and I met with 2 resource teachers and the principal to find our more information. During the meeting, they were speaking to him and asking him questions. Immediately, he was laughing and smiling and communicating in a different way.  It was amazing to watch. He was totally in the zone.

They told us that the curriculum there could be grueling. They really step up the academics at this school. It scared me to death. Hunter struggles in that area, not due to intelligence, but just the lack of being able to get information from his mind to paper. He also struggles with organization. I wasn't sure if he would be able to handle it!

Then, they took us on a tour of the school. It was different from anything I had seen. The kids were walking around the hallways with smiles on their faces. Their was a confidence in these kids that was just different. The principal knew them all by name. They were high-fiving each other in the hallway.
As we walked into the classrooms, you could tell that the teachers were happy too! They were smiling and joking with the kids, but the kids were still learning. It was amazing!

As we left the building, my husband and I were joking that it was like we had been in a scene from Pleasantville.  I asked Hunter what he thought of the school, and he said he really like it. I called the next morning to set up a day for him to come sit in on some classes.

About a week later, I took him to the school to observe for a half day. When I picked him up, he was all smiles! He was happy and laughing and talking about all the kids and calling them by name. He was acting like a different kid!

Over the next week or so, I would bring up the idea of switching schools sporadically. He was becoming more and more anxious about the idea of changing schools and leaving the familiarity of his other school behind. He kept telling me he was 50/50 on whether or not he wanted to go through with it. He really liked the new school, but he didn't want to leave his friends (there were really only a couple of acquaintances) behind. I was really torn with what to do. I really didn't want to put undue stress on him. I began to observe his behavior. Every day, when I picked him up, I didn't see the same smile he had on his face when he came out of the charter school.  It took a few weeks from that initial meeting, but my mommy instincts told me we needed to make the switch.

My hubby and I discussed it, agreed, and sat him down to tell him. His anxiety hit top level. Wow oh wow was he not happy. He yelled and screamed and cried and said he wasn't going to go. I felt so bad for him. I knew that deep down in side he really wanted to give it a try, but the change was just overwhelming! I struggled between the stress this was causing him and knowing this was the right choice for him.

It took a few days to get the transfer paperwork done, but by the Monday of the next week, he was starting his new adventure! He hated me for it. The entire weekend before, I think he called me every name he could think of under his breath. He was so angry and scared. I was so excited for him and scared for him at the same time.

Even though my husband and I had both decided this was the best decision for him, in typical form, he was only angry with me. My husband decided that he would take him to school every day the first week. I agreed that it would be better. It took everything I had to not take him on his first day. I had walked him into his first day of school since pre-school, but I knew it was for the best.

I picked him up that first day of school and he came out all smiles. The second day it was the same. By the end of the week, he knew all the kids by name, and parents were telling me how much the kids loved Hunter!!  The following Monday, he was up and ready to go before he needed to be (first time ever)!!! His attitude was completely different! He was happy! Truly happy!

About three weeks later, on the way home from school one day, he said, "Mom, you know how at my old school I didn't really fit in. I would have to try really hard to be like the other kids?" I nodded.
"Well, at this school, I don't have to try. They just like me for who I am. I fit in without really trying. They like me for me." I smiled and nodded as the tears welled in my eyes!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Amazing moment #1-My son the football player

When Hunter was around three, we put him in t-ball. His coordination wasn't the best, but we hoped that he would enjoy the sport, and it would help him with his socialization. I just really wanted him to have fun. Instead, the frustration of not being able to hit the ball was just exhausting for him. It was just too much. We tried for a few seasons, but it just wasn't getting any better, so his baseball playing days came to an end.

When he was around 4, we decided to try soccer. Because the hand/eye coordination was not as essential, we hoped that maybe soccer would be fun for him. I can still picture the first soccer game. The other kiddos were kicking the ball and running toward the goal. Our little guy was stemming 10 feet away from everyone else. He was having fun. In in mind, he was playing, but he wasn't really participating in the game. We decided that maybe soccer wasn't his thing.

Luckily, he is a very tall boy, so basketball seemed to be a better fit. Once he got into elementary school, we signed him up. What he lacked in motor skills, he made up for in height. All he had to do was put his arms in the air for a block and nothing was getting by him.

I knew the chances of him making the school teams were unlikely, so I kept him engaged in recreational basketball. Unfortunately, last year was his last year because he aged out. I knew that we would have to start finding more social activities.

At the beginning of the school year, he got in the car one day after school and said, "I want to join the football team." What? You are 6'2" and 130 lbs!!! My momma bear instincts stepped up and I said, "There is no way you are setting foot onto that field!!"

When my hubby got home, his response was very similar to mine. For the next several days, his unwillingness to give up wore us down, little by little. Apparently, the students didn't have to try out for football. He knew he would make the team. He really wanted to fit in with the other kids.

Finally, we gave in, and $200 later worth of extra padding, an extra big mouth guard, and any other safety equipment I could throw in the cart, my boy was a football player. Every day when I picked him up from practice, I would breathe a sigh of relief when he hopped into the car with no arms or legs broken and no major cuts or bruises.

The day of his first football game arrived, and I am sure I was more nervous than him. Butterflies were having a dance party in my stomach. My husband had taken our youngest to a little league game, so I sat in the stands by myself. Flashbacks were running through my head of my little boy on the baseball fields and soccer fields. I just wanted him to have fun. I wanted him to feel cool and fit in with the other guys. I wanted him to not get hurt. Instead, he never played in the game.

He was so defeated. He was so angry and down on himself. It was awful to watch him suffer. This was no longer little league or 4 year-old soccer. This was a teenage boy who already didn't feel cool enough to fit in with the other kids and now, it was worse.

I would love to say that this only happened once, but it happened three more times. My momma claws didn't have to come out because pappa bear stepped in and made a call to the coach. If you are going to let all the boys on the team and have them practice every day, then you have to give them a little playing time (especially when you are winning every game by a landslide)!!

Needless to say, they started putting him in the game. It was only for a play here or there, but it didn't matter, he was playing football. Every time he would step onto the field, we would reach for our phones and cameras and capture each and every moment. I would hold my breath. I would pray he wouldn't get hurt. He didn't. Instead, he would walk off the field with a little more swagger. He would hold his head up just a little higher.

When the final game of the season came, and he took his final step onto the field, I leaned over to my husband and whispered in his ear, "Take this moment in. You may never see this again, so take it in..." Tears welled in his eyes.

After the game, Hunter strutted off the field. He was so proud of himself. He felt good. We have the pictures to prove that he played middle school football. Man, was I glad he didn't get hurt. All of it was surreal.

After the game, as we were walking to the car, Grant (his younger brother) walked up to him, patted him on the back and said, "You were amazing Hunter!"....and the tears rolled down my cheeks.

Yes, raising a child with Aspergers Syndrome can be tough. There are days that it can rip your heart right out of your chest, but there are other days that your heart soars! Those are the days you don't forget.

Reflections on amazing moments...

When we began our journey as Aspergers parents, it was very isolating. It was somewhat of a grieving process. Many people might not agree with using the word "grieving", but for my husband and I, it was a true feeling. The hopes and aspirations for our child's life had changed. The visions we had while he was growing in my stomach suddenly changed. The new visions for his life were not bad, just different and unknown. The old visions just weren't realistic anymore. We had to give ourselves permission to feel all of this and not feel guilty. Then, we had to move on and turn the page to our new and unexpected venture.

There have many bumps along the way, but with the bumps have been many amazing moments of accomplishment. There have been many times when we've thought we couldn't go on anymore, but that wasn't a choice. Through the storms, we have become stronger. Somewhere in the midst of it all, through the struggles, he has had amazing breakthroughs and we have found hope.

In my little hiatus from writing, Hunter has gone through some amazing moments. In my next few blog posts, I will share them with you. If you are a parent just starting out on your journey, I hope to give you some encouragement. You are not alone. It does get better! Find joy in the little things and out of those will come more than you ever imagined.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

I have to confess...

I have to confess…I took a nap today. Not any old 15 minute refresher nap, but a 3 hour, settle in for a long winters nap, nap! I’d like to say I feel guilty about it, but that would be a lie. It was wonderful!!!

Hunter went back to school on Monday, so Granster and I spent the day building Legos and going to a nice lunch together. It was great, quality time that I just don’t get to spend with him. Honestly, he is just easier to parent most days. It is hard to admit, but he often gets neglected in the attention department, not by choice, but by lack of time and energy.

Anyway, after 2 weeks of Christmas Break with the hubby and kiddos, I couldn’t wait to finally get them off to work and school. It finally happened. This morning, at 8:15, I poured a nice hot mug of coffee, sat on the sofa watching a little mindless television, and breathed a sigh of relief.

After the coffee excitement wore off, I headed straight for my nice comfy bed. I know it was a luxury. Trust me, it doesn’t happen often. I knew it meant I was neglecting 100’s of other things I needed to be doing, but I was completely okay with that fact.

As you may, or may not have noticed, I have been absent for a while. My life, since my last blog post in October, has been a little crazy. Life somehow got away from me. Other things have been a priority, so writing has been on the back burner. Here’s the problem, writing is my therapy. It is sometimes, my only way to reach out to others who are dealing with the same issues. By putting my writing on hold, I in turn, put myself on hold. I lost part of myself, my hopes, and my dreams, and that’s not okay.

I’m not a big fan of New Year’s Resolutions. They just come and go, and have never seemed to work for me. I am, however, a huge fan of setting life goals. I turn 40 this year (man that hurts to type), and I have a set a few new goals for myself. I believe they will make me a better person as I turn over this new decade of life.

1. I am going to take more time for me. I am not sure what that means exactly, maybe exercise (doubtful) or reading or sitting in my car listening to the. radio or the occasional nap. It may mean different things for different weeks, months, or years, but I am going to do it. I have to recharge my own battery every once in a while!! I have really learned that in the past few months.

2. My time is precious, so I’m going to make it more of a priority to accomplish my hopes and dreams. This means I’m going to have to block off time in my schedule (and maybe turn my phone off every once in a while.) There is no time like the present!

3. Say no!!! Yes, I am a total people pleaser. I can’t say "no" to anyone. However, in my older and wiser years, I’m going to say NO to many more things that don’t make life a little sweeter!

4. What people think of me doesn’t really matter. What truly matters is what I think of myself. I am only going to surround myself with those who lift me up and make me a better person. People who will be open, honest, and supportive. Those are truly the only opinions that matter anyway.

5. I’m going to start living in the moment. Life is a gift, but it doesn’t last forever, so I had better start living it!

I have been writing about many of the things that have happened in my life over the past few months. Unfortunately, I just haven’t had time to get them posted. However, with my new say “NO” motto and blocks of “me time”, I hope to be able to share these moments with all of you! I can’t wait to make 2015 an amazing year! Happy New Year to all of you!!