Some of you are fully aware of the behavior journey I’ve been on with Manimal for a while now. Well here we are 8 days away from Manimal’s 5th grade year and that’s hard to believe – 5th grade already. I sorta feel like it’s 4th grade – because it seemed like his entire 4th grade year, I was just zoned on coming to terms and accepting the fact tha…t my son needed to be on medication because I could not afford nor have the time to manage 100% bio-medical treatment and then through the process of finding the right psychiatrist, along with the right medication. Nothing is 100% perfect, there are side effects to pharmaceutical medication BUT sometimes you have to weigh out the pros and cons and in order effectively seek and find help in one area you have to let go of another area and this where Manimal and I have been for a year, learning, growing, accepting and finding balance. Have I changed his dietary restrictions and his vitamin and supplement regimen no I have not and the psychiatrist supports my decisions in those areas.
Manimal was getting bigger and stronger and his aggression (even though it would come and go in spurts) was getting pretty intense at times. For his safety and the safety of his teachers and the structure of the classroom (at that point and still today he had not been overly aggressive to classmates – PTL) I knew I had to do something, to help him come down a notch in order to work on getting him to understand his levels of anxiety, frustration and anger and to learn to manage his feelings and actions, this is where the medication decision came into play.
With concrete thinkers emotions are extremely difficult to process (when they are not experiencing that emotion) and helping process an emotion (while the emotion is happening) can be a very difficult thing to do. Meltdowns and rages throw off an entire day and can take hours to recoop from and then exhaustion and tears set it and so it maybe a day or so until you can go back and work through the behavior, which for concrete thinkers is almost pointless.
Began working with the number scale (which we are still working with) at the early part of the 4th grade year and it’s been great to see that he’s starting to understand the scale EVEN USING THIS SCALE IN ESY THIS YEAR – stating he was “angry” and at a “3″ by the time that day had ended he had only come down to a “2″ BUT that was some AMAZING progress as that was the first time he’d ever used the scale at school, even though it’s been available to him. During this time, I was checking out materials from the AU library resource dept in Manimal’s district and trying to find and work with various things to help with behaviors and helping him understand what he’s feeling and how to react on it. Since finding the new psychiatrist in February of this year and finally finding a medication that works (even though not pleased with the side affects) in helping him not act out in moments of anxiety, fits of anger or rage, the next step was to find a behavioral therapist and continue to work with his behavioral psychologist. Does he still have moments now and then, of course he does, and don’t we all, but they are not at the extreme that they were. So in OT, we added more goals – dealing with emotions – facial expressions, etc, the behavioral psychologist and therapist really work with me on various goals to work with Manimal at therapy and at home. So in addition to OT and Speech (outside of school) weekly, we now go to behavior therapy every 2 weeks. I’ve been told that more than likely he won’t reach the point of a non au child when it comes to learning to deal with and handle anxiety and emotions much because he truly can’t comprehend it all with the cognitive delays and the concrete thinking BUT that every bit of therapy truly does help, even if you don’t see improvements right away. Manimal’s priority of skills for me is his behavior skills, life skills, social skills and then academics. Reasons behind that – you have to have life skills to help take care of yourself, the way it stands right now, Manimal will ALWAYS need assistance and won’t be able to live on his own BUT in that aspect I don’t want to to have to do 100% of everything for him – life skills a necessity – (one difficult thing about AU kids vs NT kids, is a a parent with our NT kids, we can do and do and do and baby them, etc and then one day wake up and lay down the law that the coddling is over – we can really choose this at any time in their lives – and yes, obviously the longer you let it happen the harder it is to change BUT – what am getting at is with spectrum kids you have to step away from that at an early age, and many times, never go back to it, because of the way that they are scheduled to structure, routine and patterns and so the longer we do for our spectrum kids, the possibility of breaking that routine, etc may or may not happen depending on their level of understanding, comprehension, cognitive thinking, etc) then next behaviors – if you can’t get a grasp on behaviors – SOMEONE is going to get hurt and a “diagnosis” DOES NOT stop legal actions or procedures. Social skills I am not 100% hip on – we live in such a screwed up world today that I don’t even want to be in the social realm of society why would I want to bring him into – lol – but seriously not every NT person is a social butterfly and for many NT persons, social procedure is an area that is lacked by many. Social skills are a broad thing and so this is my 3rd area of priority – because MANY people can function in society without perfected social skills. Academics is my 4th worry – as if he can’t behave, has no life skills and no social skills then academics are useless for his future. PTL he is very smart and can learn many things, but application of knowledge is a whole different ball game, critical thinking skills, etc – just not part of classic autism. Further, he maybe able to receive certificates, diplomas and degrees, but what good are they if he can’t use them – if he can’t go out into the world and behave, have basic life skills and sufficient social skills, what good is his academic knowledge? So do I support, encourage and work on academics, yes, but knowing the consequences of behaviors, I have to admit that is priority to me. I know people like Einstein was considered autistic (having no life nor social skills), but we are no longer in a world of the age of invention after invention, we will see a few come out and current situations perfected but the days of Einstein are long gone. Aspies (Aspergers) stand better chances of living independently and being productive citizens of society even though they are on the spectrum as well. We AU parents of classic autism KNOW are children are NOT stupid, we KNOW that they are very intelligent, everything they learn from behavior management, to life skills to social skills to academics, they learn in a different way and there is not a “right or wrong” way to teach them – EVERY Spectrum(AU or Aspie) child is different and what works for some doesn’t work for others, you just have to keep trying until you find what works for yours and THEN at some point it won’t work and you will be on the hunt again. Communication is crucial and words do not mean communication and “appropriate” answers do not mean “correct answers” and echolalia is just so common for classic AU and difficulty in communication can still be a frustrating problem, and frustration can easily spin off into aggression, so back to behavior being a priority.
So as Manimal and I continue with behavior management and other therapies and as we approach his 5th grade year, I am hoping for a year of little telephone calls, emails and time spent at the school redirecting behaviors, but even as improvement happens, I will always be on stand-by because no matter we ALL have our moments, and Manimal’s moments can be monumental – lol. This will be Manimal’s last year in elementary school with his AWESOME teacher and she’s so great with him and his entire class, I wish we could just keep her through graduation. One of the things I love about her, as she refers to her class as her babies, she truly loves those kiddos and she will also call you to tell you WONDERFUL things about your child, her phone calls are not always calls to come to the school. She gets just as proud of them as we parents do.
In all the progress, I give all the glory to God. I am not capable of doing anything for Manimal if it wasn’t for my faith and God’s guidance and patience with me in order to parent Manimal.