Friday Night Lights

Friday nights these days are all about high school football games and time spent together as a family.  Is this what other families do?  Or, do they just make sure their high schoolers get a ride to the game?  I ask because my high schooler has Autism and we need to define what “normal” is for our family.

I’m not sure that my son cares about attending these events.  But we are going anyway.  Why?  This is an opportunity for integration.  It’s just not happening during regular school hours.  It’s a chance for him to observe his peers and be part of the high school dynamic.  And it’s a chance for all of his fellow students to see him being part of their community.  Besides, he appears to be having fun while we’re there.

It’s also been a chance for me to connect with this community.  I happen to have a co-worker who has a son on the team.  I’ve been amazed at how important this one connection has been.  At our first game, he introduced me to a parent who also has a child with special needs at the school who has offered to answer any questions I may have and help me navigate the world of special education at this high school if I need it.

My friend and co-worker also introduced my son to a bunch of students who are very involved in student government and peer mentoring.  One of the kids we met happened to already be a peer mentor in one of my son’s classes. This may not turn into anything, but it could turn into something.  A familiar face in the hallway would be nice.  A friendly person saying hello to my son at school might make his day.  Maybe someone will even sit with him during lunch.  None of this may happen but at least we’re trying to create an environment where it could happen.

After all, that’s all we can do.

For those of you who have kids on the spectrum, this is part of our social skills plan this year.  In middle school, our son participated in sports.  With the transition to high school, now we’re dealing with cut sports and a kid who doesn’t want to do Cross Country.  So attending the football games needed to be part of our plan.  We’ve got all of the games in the calendar.  Dad is taking our son on his weekends.  I’m taking him on mine.  We may have one of our ABA therapist take him once so our son has a chance to be there without his parents.  This year, we’ll attend.  Next year, who knows?  Maybe he’ll want to sit in the student section.  Fingers crossed.

Birthday Parties on the Autism Spectrum

We had a birthday party for my 15 year old son today.  He was giddy about having 2 friends coming over.  This is the first of his parties where he has truly been engaged in terms of who was going to attend and what we were going to do.  And both of the other moms said this is the first party their boys have ever been invited to that didn’t involve a family member.  This is kinda how it goes when you have a child with special needs.

Over the years, parties for my son have been more of an exercise.  When he was really young, before being diagnosed, I was like many typical young moms.  His birthday was an excuse to get friends and family together to celebrate and reconnect.  As he got older, after he was diagnosed, things became more difficult.  He was overwhelmed by the wrapping paper.  More than one or two presents was too much.  He didn’t want be around too many people for any period of time.  We held the birthday  party more to show him what a birthday party was and try to teach him by having him experience it.

In elementary school, I could invite his entire class.  I’d find some venue that the kids would enjoy that wouldn’t be too much for my son.  I know the kids were attending for the venue and not much more.  But at least they came.  After elementary school, I would have the parties with my son’s social skills groups and we would use the party to teach all of the kids about what you do at birthday parties.

Last year, my son said he didn’t want a party.  I was relieved, especially since he was now too old for his social skills group.  But over the last year, his need for friends has grown.  He started high school in a new school away from the people he knew in middle school so he is really starting over.

Towards the end of his first week of school, he uttered the words, “I don’t have any friends.”

My heart was just broken.  I didn’t know what to do for him.  Then, he sent me this email:

Subject: Hanging with my friends

Is it okay if I hang out with Max and Alex at moms house for my birthday? We can go to the park and play on the playground.  We can watch movies.  We can play video games.  I will let my sister introduce my friends.  It will be boys only downstairs.  It’s the same that as the girls.  I can start playing heavy metal music.  It’s the same thing as when my sister played Taylor Swift.  We can do that next weekend.

Translation:  He wanted a party with his friends like his sister had done the month prior.

The 2 boys he invited had special needs of their own.  He knew the boys from his special education classes in his middle school from the year before.  I contacted his counselor from his school last year who forwarded my email to the moms.  I was thrilled when they responded.  I figured out details with the other moms.  Our challenges:  One of the boys was a flight risk so she would need to be there with him.  The other boy would need some of the same structure that my son required when he was a bit younger.

We set a simple plan and we all set our expectations.  The party may only last 20 minutes.  That’s ok.  At least we tried.  The party plan, which I posted on a small poster for the kids who needed to see a checklist, looked like this:

  1. Eat snacks
  2. Play video games
  3. Open presents
  4. Sing Happy Birthday
  5. Eat pie
  6. Play more video games
  7. Go home

The poster felt overboard but it turned out to be extremely helpful.  My program manager had suggested it after I shared my plans with her and she was right.

Video Game Birthday Party
Birthday Party Scene

The boys ended up having a great time.  And it was wonderful to sit and talk with other moms who understand how hard this can be.  As we sang happy birthday, one mom was taking pictures and the other was taking video.  We all had a few tears welling up in our eyes to see our boys doing something that we just can’t take for granted.

I told them that this is the first party that my son has every really wanted.  And he really needed today.  I’m so grateful that they took a chance and attended.

To Do: Take Care of Yourself

Ever find yourself overwhelmed, tired, barely keeping up?  For myself, it’s easy to just brush it off and blame it on the facts of life that are part of being a working parent.  But it’s important to look a little deeper and make sure it isn’t something else.

About 6 weeks ago, I finally recognized that the way I was feeling just couldn’t be the new normal.  I’m terrible about going to see my doctor.  Why?  Heaven forbid I allow myself to take time away from work.  (I do this to myself.  This has nothing to do with where I work or who my manager is.)  My doctor recently opened a clinic that is open until 10pm so one day after work, I went in.

Well, something was wrong.  Nothing big.  Nothing life threatening but something was definitely wrong.  My issue was causing me to be extremely anemic.  And when you’re anemic, you’re tired.  VERY tired.  The kind of tired that makes it incredibly hard to get up in the morning, give your kids the attention they need and be a star at work.

The root cause of my anemia has been addressed and I’m on a 3 month iron regimen that will eventually get my system back to normal.  As my energy is starting to return, I’m feeling more equipped to give my family what they need, perform at work and enjoy the ride!

So for all those busy parents out there who may be feeling “off”, when was the last time you had a check up with your doctor?  It may be worth the trip.  As we are so busy taking care of our families, we need to remember to take care of ourselves, too.