Saturday, August 5, 2017

Two Weeks

Well these two weeks just flew by!

When I started this blog, I told myself it was important to always be honest. No matter how it made me look to other people.  I write this blog mostly for myself since I find that as I type it helps me to sort out how I truly feel.  I also write for those who have children on the autism spectrum to hopefully feel just a bit less alone and isolated. Finally, I write for those who do not have a child on the spectrum to understand my gal and my family because it's important for her future that people are not afraid of her. I want the world to embrace her for who she is. Honesty is the only way that these goals can be met.

So confession:  When RJC went to overnight camp this summer, I was more excited than nervous. I needed a break. This year was the first time I ever admitted that to myself and even to some close friends. With things being so precarious with the State and Federal budget (which will have a HUGE affect on our lives) and the general emotional exhaustion of always being "on" when RJC is awake and the added fact that I'm getting older and tire more easily, I needed some time for just my hubby and me.

In the past few years that she has gone to camp, we took a mini vacation someplace fairly close by - perhaps a few hours by car. This year we both took off two weeks and flew out of state to spend time with family and a few days by ourselves. We were only gone 8 days, but it felt like longer. Coming home, we gave ourselves a few days to catch up on laundry and cleaning and just generally get organized before we picked up RJC. 

This morning was the day for pick up. I woke up feeling incredibly nervous and anxious about it. Not in a good way. I was worried about how the homecoming would go, as we made a few changes which may not go over well. For example, we decided we would insist that she use headphones when on her iPad, and we moved a bunch of her stuff that she liked to keep in the middle of our counter into a "special RJC drawer." None of this may sound particularly drastic, but believe me, it was. I wondered if I would lose a wall or end up black and blue from pinches. My stomach was letting me know that tension and stress was setting in. We hadn't even left the house yet to pick her up.

I was also sad that I was losing my time with my husband. For the last two weeks we were pretty much inseparable and I loved every minute of it. Yes, I do believe we will eventually (G-d willing) "do" retirement just fine! We slept a bit later, took naps when we wanted to, went out to eat without worry, did lots of sightseeing, had adult conversations with others that were uninterrupted, and had many conversations between us that solidified our union.  I couldn't help waking up and feeling sad today - even resentful - that this time was no longer a regular part of our day.

Here's the interesting part though. We went to pick up our gal and the second I saw her and she said, "Mommy! You're back!" I melted - heart and soul. I didn't think of what I was losing. I immediately kicked into mom mode and it felt right. Hugging my gal and forehead to forehead, we reconnected immediately.

I don't feel guilty about how I was feeling. Parenting an adult who is a child for the rest of her life brings forth all sorts of complications - not just logistical but emotional. In the past I would have felt embarrassed, even ashamed to admit how I was feeling. No longer. I am not a perfect parent. I am no supermom. I am just one of many warrior mamas getting through the day, protecting my family, and living life the best way I know how. Some days will be easier than others - just like everyone else's lives.

Here's the best part! She has been all smiles since she has come home. Took a bit of adjusting to the headphones and the new RJC drawer but I am currently sitting across from her, watching her use the headphones and giggle to the videos she is happily watching. 

As a side note, hubby and I have talked about the importance of spending time together. We are hoping to somehow carve out more time for ourselves this year to do some fun things together (instead of always dashing to do some errand while somebody is with our gal). I also explained to him that my girlfriends are incredibly important to me and I need some "lady time." He said that he needs time to do his own things as well so hopefully we will find some type of balance. Though we did not mean to lose ourselves as individuals or as a couple, we are attempting to get back on track. Of course, RJC is an absolute priority and we will be sure that she is happy with what she is doing while we are doing our own things. No doubt, time with her sister will be at the head of that list as well as time with others who care deeply for her.

I'd say these two weeks were two weeks of growth for the entire family. Separation has brought us closer. To those who have a difficult time  of letting go - please reach out to me. I can share my journey in more detail.  Indeed, it has been a journey. One I took too long to embark on. Trust me, I understand.

Two weeks. Ready for the rest of our lives.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

RJC is a Quarter of a Century Years Old

Four days ago, our oldest gal turned 25 years old. That seems so crazy. I do not know where the time goes. Days go so fast now, weeks fly by, and the years are zooming.

This year I have had mixed feelings about her birthday. Here's the struggle that has been going on in my old brain.

My mom isn't here anymore to celebrate and she was her biggest fan who loved celebrating.  RJC doesn't have a FB page or any social media page and she doesn't have a cell phone so nobody can call her or leave her fun memes or messages. I feel like she is cheated on her birthday.  There is never a big fuss. No endless talk of presents (she really doesn't care a bit about presents) and though Grandma and Grandpa always call, that's pretty much the extent of it.

I tend to especially struggle with milestone birthdays that she has, mostly because no matter how incredible she is (and she is VERY incredible) or how hard she works to get through a day (and she works VERY hard) she will never be developmentally the same age as she is chronologically. She isn't driving, she has never been in love, never went to college, never held a full time job or a part-time job for that matter. She has never been to a party with a bunch of friends that she hangs out with all the time, never had a best friend, never joked around with friends and laughed until she cried.

Every time I think I'm ok, I see somebody her age doing something age appropriate and I feel a pang of loss - for her as well as for me and Hal. We aren't going to be throwing a graduation party, we aren't going to watch her find her place in the world in terms of becoming an independent adult, and we aren't going to look at her children and think how much they look like her when she was born.

BUT. There is another side to this.

Now that a few days have passed and THE DAY is over, I feel like I can breathe again. She doesn't have a concept of what a birthday actually is. As usual, we were at the Special Olympic State Games for her actual birthday and that is always just such fun. We celebrated with the team and they loved celebrating with her. She WAS with friends. Friends in her world. People who see her for who she is and give not one thought about her being "different." People who may get annoyed with the self talk and loud screaming, but don't stare or wonder what's going on. They just express annoyance and move on, knowing that she is who she is. As per family tradition, we went out for dinner and they sang their happy birthday song to her and brought her oreos and gummy bears. Made her day.

Once again, I learn from RJC. That just because her birthday experience is different, it is uniquely hers. She is content with the way we celebrate and she has no unfulfilled expectations. She does not get upset that somebody "forgot" her. She doesn't care about presents in the least. She is beyond thrilled when a card shows up for her because she thinks getting mail is one of the coolest things ever. As is often the case, RJC reminds us of what is important. That it does not matter what she can't do or can't have. What matters is that she is the authentic RJC. Autism does not define her. It just...supplements her.

So I'm over my latest struggle and while I am quite sure there are more on the horizon, I am back to getting through our day to day stuff. Her Medicaid renewal just came - that'll be fun, I'm sure. So did our Guardianship Renewal forms (those three years went pretty darn quickly). Right now I can hear her happily singing Barney songs in English then playing them in Spanish. She's happy. She's safe. She's loved.

Happy 25th RJC. Love you to pieces.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guest Blogger!!! Guest Blogger!!!

Last year Hal and I met a college student who was volunteering in a program called "Challah for Hunger" through Friendship Circle Hartford. We noticed that she and RJC made a nice connection and at the end of the program we asked Michelle if she would like to work with RJC when she returned to school the following semester. Lucky for us she said "yes" and this year has been working with RJC as a friend and mentor, taking her places and helping her to socialize.

Michelle was recently awarded a scholarship - full tuition at University of Hartford - that recognizes her commitment to community. To win this scholarship, she was required to write an essay that focused on one policy in no more than 500 words and submit that essay along with three recommendations. She chose to write on one that is dear to my heart. She was then chosen as one of four finalists and was asked back for an interview by a panel to answer questions about what she had written. On Friday, she was told that she was chosen as the scholarship winner.  I have asked her if I can share it and she graciously allowed me to post it here.

Please note: I had given her permission to use our gal's name in the essay, but have changed it here to RJC as this is how we refer to her in my blogs.

Here it is:

Autism and DDS Eligibility
With infinite combinations for personalities, circumstances, and cultures, all people must be provided a set of default rights. Independence must be dispensed fairly; it is unjust to make the abstract, or unmeasurable qualities of people the foundation for opportunity and freedom. The society that a person with autism finds themselves in bases their rights on the most subjective of traits; their level of intelligence is the key to available learning services and financial support. The irony of this policy is detrimental to lives of people with special needs and their families. Their biologically altered level of intellectual functioning is ultimately what may obstruct them from building upon their ability to function as members of society.
DDS, the Connecticut Department of Developmental Services, provides support for citizens with intellectual disabilities. In addition to being a resident in the state of Connecticut, the policy states that a person must have a “valid Full Scale IQ score of 69 or below.” The DDS procedure for confirming eligibility does not involve a sit down interview with the applicant, nor do they examine the home and family the applicant belongs to. The precious funding for day programs, financial support, and at home assistance for a person with an intellectual disability hangs by a fragile thread; within an instant, a meager test result is capable of rupturing valuable services.
I have been offered the opportunity to work one on one with an adult who is diagnosed with autism through DDS. Twice a week, I leave campus to pick up RJC from her home fifteen minutes from the University of Hartford. My job is to offer myself as a relaxed, sincere friend to RJC, and help her become comfortable with the concept of making connections with people outside of her family. In the pursuit of helping RJC view places beyond her home as bright and meaningful, we approach the world as our playground. Together, we go bowling without bumpers, order our favorite sandwiches at Panera Bread, braid Challah breads, and simulate trips to the moon at the Connecticut Science Center. We have successfully formed a judgement-free friendship. She has reached a new place of mutuality and trust in me, someone who was once a stranger.
The Full Scale IQ test does not measure the level at which a person functions. Some adults with autism can score high on the test; however, their skills and ability to carry out everyday tasks are limited. When it came time for RJC to take her IQ test as proof of her eligibility to receive DDS services, she received a score of 69. Had she scored one point higher, a 70, my presence in her life would have remained nonexistent. The services she and her family are provided allow for RJC to gain her right to function, and continue to build upon her growing abilities.
The basis upon which people with special needs are chosen to receive state aid must be re-examined. To fully express the right to be a functional citizen, DDS expects applicants to show that they are not intellectually capable. It is absurd to make one irrelevant test of intelligence the deciding factor in providing services that could enhance the quality of a life.
Thank you so much Michelle, for the friendship you have with RJC and for your caring and thoughtful ways.  Maybe young people like you will be able to change the world's view of our kiddos. And just maybe that will help the world recognize that they are important enough to deserve the support they need.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Depressing Reality

This post is about the depressing reality of our lives. We are parents of two children, one typical adult and one adult diagnosed with autism. This post has been rolling around in my brain for a while, and just about every day either a conversation I've had with a friend, an article I've read, or an experience I've had, adds to what I would want to share in this post. Before it becomes a novel I have decided to get this down in writing.

It all started a while ago, when I saw an autism mom's video. She talked about a lot of things, but what has haunted me was when she talked about her worry about who will be at her son's funeral. I do not believe she meant to be morbid, nor do I, as I am writing about this. It's just one of those awful facts of life that if the circle of life goes as normally expected, we will be dead before our girls.

It so happens that my girls have no first cousins. We are also a family quite spread out across the country, so we don't see extended family often. In the case of my "typical child" this is not such a big deal. She can keep up on social media, if necessary she can pick up the phone (gasp) and at family functions she can chat and catch up with everyone. She has an understanding of the concept of family. Not so in the case of our RJC. Though we have been blessed with a family who is concerned about her and loves her, she is not necessarily as familiar with them. Those who are closest to me are in my general age bracket and therefore the chances of them being around longer than's the same circle of life issue.

So other than her sister and hopefully whatever family her sister has, who will be at her funeral? Will there by anyone except perhaps her sister, the Rabbi, and any people he can gather up to be there - possibly strangers. Not only that, but will anyone be around to miss her, other than her sister? Who will she be important enough to that they will take time out of their day to be with her when she dies and when she is buried. Talk about incredibly depressing.

I then think of her aging process. I'm in my mid-fifties and I've started to have my share of health annoyances and scares. She cannot possibly understand how to truly take care of herself and monitor her body's changes. At this point, even I am often guessing how she feels. It's one of my major autism hates - the fact that I really do not know with complete certainty if she is feeling ok. Nevertheless, I am absolutely on top of that. I check in at various times to see that she has no new scrapes or marks, doesn't seem to have a fever, isn't congested, etc. When she is older and I'm not around, what will happen if she has aches and pains but no way to share that information with her caretaker? Or what if her doctor does not think her life is worth fighting for? Or if the medical insurance company does not think her life is worth fighting for? And if there is some type of treatment she needs to go through, who will be there with her? How will she handle the discomfort/pain of a treatment without understanding that it's supposed to help her?

Then comes the pain of knowing that once I'm gone she will not have any understanding of where I am. Will she think I just left her? Will she worry that she did something wrong so I left? Will she wonder if I'm coming back? The concept of "death" is just not one I can explain. She will sometimes ask for her Grandma or her Uncle and I say, "Where are they?" and she will reply "Dead." But it has no meaning, obviously, since she still asks where they are. She probably assumes "Dead" is a state like "Florida" or "Texas."

All of this is incredibly heartbreaking to me. Then on top of this is the worry about finances. She is not going to make a living that will support her. Ever. This means that she will not receive health insurance through a job. Once we die (or stop working) then all of her health insurance will need to be from the government. So she becomes one of "those people" who are "living off the state." Well yes. What does that mean? That I shouldn't have had this beautiful soul because once I'm gone she becomes a "burden" to those who cannot fathom her value? Should we have had another child or two so that they could help her sister take care of her? Not like we didn't think about that - but we also realized we could have another child and that child would need care as well. It was not a risk we were willing to take.  Maybe we made the wrong decision. But maybe not.

So when I try to sleep at night, this is the sort of thing that goes through my head. Over and over. I read articles about the federal and state budget and that does nothing for my sleep. I try to calm myself and remind myself that there is no sense in worrying about these things. Time will tell.  None of that helps.

There are no answers of course. I do not know what will happen in the future. Nobody does. So there's just getting through the day, trying to put pieces in place for her, and praying. Feel free to join in.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

I'm Another Year Older

I had my birthday a few days ago and I am now officially closer to sixty years old than I am to fifty.

Today, RJC had a pretty bad hour. It was one of those situations where we couldn't do much of anything except ride it out. There was screaming and pinching and jumping and banging into the wall and frantic hand gestures and even some tears (which we rarely see). It so happens that I also had cataract surgery recently so I was terrified that her flailing hands would hit one of my eyes. Something I honestly hadn't worried about before - if she hit me, she hit me.  When things finally calmed down, she was a mass of sweat and we were a mass of nerves.

Talk about a dose of reality. I could not help but to think, once again, what is coming for us in the next fifteen years or so. My husband and I are getting older. This means a greater chance that medical issues will come up. It is probable that we won't be as strong or as steady. She, however, is still young and strong and, well, diagnosed with autism. This means she will continually need 24/7 support, including people who can help her get through these difficult moments without her (or them) getting hurt.

She also needs happiness, safety, and love.

So what's a parent to do? Yes yes yes I am aware that there are group homes. I am also very aware that getting her into a group home isn't possible right now (it's a State thing) and I'm also looking for something different for her. I'm not convinced that a group home setting is the appropriate place for her. I'm trying to think of alternatives but I haven't settled yet on what would make me comfortable for her. Not completely anyway, though I have some thoughts.

I am starting to seriously think that we need to find like-minded people to sit down with (people looking for something different than a group home setting), draw up a plan, and figure out what steps we need to take to make this (whatever it is) happen. I imagine that money will be a huge obstacle, as will property (tightly intertwined to the money issue), legal issues, finding those like-minded people, and about a zillion other things. To this point whenever we talk about our dreams for our gal they seem so insurmountable that I freeze. In truth, it's kind of at that point now where it's (as my mom used to say) "Poop or get off the pot" (she used a different word for "poop". Just sayin').

Today was pretty eye opening. Maybe it will give me some oomph to move on this. My fear is that I'm tired and overwhelmed with what I'm doing as it is. Hopefully I'll find the strength to pull this together and at least get a start at chatting with people. How hard can that be? A step at a time and see where it goes.

For my gal. For myself. For my family. For other families. Because she deserves to be happy and safe and loved.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Autism and a Mental Health Day

Recently I had the opportunity to be home with RJC for what we typical people would call a "Mental Health Day."  During the course of that day, it occurred to me that we have very high expectations of our kids and adults who are diagnosed with autism. In fact, we seem to expect better behavior from them than we would from ourselves. How odd.

For example, there are people who get frustrated or angry so they yell, swear, bang things around, slam doors. Not that these are good ways to express frustration or anger but they get it out. When RJC feels that way, she yells, pinches, throw things and makes holes in the wall. Then all the adults in her life talk it over, try to figure out the triggers, create a "program" to avoid this happening again. We then expect that she will learn a different behavior. Um. Ok. But I still get super quiet and distant when I'm frustrated and angry, and I've been known to bang a pot or two around, and nobody has ever come to me with a program and insist that I change my behavior. Yes, of course we always want to give her proper tools for those emotions, but shouldn't we acknowledge that she has the right to those emotions? And that there are probably many times she has those emotions and handles them quite well!

My gal goes to her Day Program every day except for the seven days the program is closed and the two weeks that she is at overnight camp (which is still a program). As adults, we usually have the option to take time off from work. Usually somewhere between ten and fifteen vacation days at a job we are just starting and often more days if we have worked there for longer. We also have the standard Federal holidays (probably seven to ten days) as well as sick days allotted. Yet RJC has seven days. Total. Those seven days we may or may not do what she wants to do, as we may have family obligations or other reasons why we need to go someplace she'd prefer not to go. Still, we usually go someplace because we don't want to be bored at home.

It has never really occurred to me that perhaps she needs some time too. Honest to goodness "down time" where she has nowhere to be at any specific time, nothing she "must" do, just to do whatever she wants to do at the time. Recently, I was away for five days and when I came home I had cataract surgery that had me out of work for three days. I was told that at a program she attended one of those evenings, she mentioned "mommy's eye" and I was so shocked. Yes, I know she is aware. It just did not occur to me that she gave it much thought when I was out of her sight. Obviously, she does.

The third day I was home, I had originally planned on being able to drive however that was not to be. Instead of having my husband or daughter drive RJC to her program, I asked her if she'd like to stay home with mommy. Well, the smile I got told me everything! At some point during the morning I asked her "Get dressed or stay in pajamas?" "Stay in pajamas please!" was the response. So stay in her pajamas she did. As the day wore on I could see that she was truly enjoying her time doing her thing on the IPad and sometimes looking up to say something to me. It was a lovely day. I took a nap (in the living room with her and turned on the door alarm - just in case you were worried as you read this). We had lunch together. We did nothing but enjoy being around each other.

The best part of the day was when she looked up and said, "Thanks for the relax with mommy." Oh, my heart melted. And that's when I realized that we never give her the option for a mental health day. Well, why not? Her Day Program is like work for her. She has to work hard to listen, communicate, stay in control. All things that are difficult for her. She needs down time as much as we do. On top of that, we have never known her to have a headache, a stomach ache, feel incredibly tired because she didn't sleep well, feel stressed, or...well...really anything. She doesn't have the ability to communicate the smaller issues we deal with during the day or the twinges of dismay or frustration we feel during the day. She cannot vent to a friend about the frustration of being with people she may not like. Whatever it is that we share with our friends over the phone, over coffee, over drinks, over ice cream, even over Facebook - she does not have the opportunity to do any of this. So where do those emotions go? Internally, I can only imagine what goes on for her.

I'm thinking that I will need to offer a mental health day again. Perhaps a day to spend with her sister, or dad. Maybe we need to take a step back and really pay attention to her anxiety level and instead of thinking "well, it's the autism thing and we never really know" instead start to think "well, it's the autism think and we never really know so maybe she just needs a day to do nothing but stay in jammies and hang out on the couch."

Because we all need that kind of day sometimes.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

RJC and Her Brain

Please note: I wrote this a few weeks ago, so the timing appears off as the election is now over.

RJC has a different brain. I truly believe it is both a blessing and well, not a blessing.

It recently occurred to me that as I have been agonizing over this election, reading posts and articles and watching all sorts of news shows, RJC has absolutely no idea as to what an election is, that there is an election going on, or why it's important that there is an election going on. This started me thinking about her brain.

She is 24 years old but her world basically consists of the "here and now." What she can touch. What is comfortable. What she cares about and likes. She communicates on a basic level about concrete things and does not have an understanding of abstract concepts. Routine is extremely important as it helps her to make sense of her day. Her anxiety goes down considerably when I am around.

On the one hand, how nice is it to have no worries about the future. It would not occur to her to worry about what will happen when she is 30 or 40 or 50 - because that's not part of the "here and now" and much too abstract. Her worries are what we would consider to be small - when can she go back to the Cape Cod house she enjoyed or where is that specific Barney video she wants. She has no concerns about who will be the next President because the concept of a President simply does not exist. She does not worry about whether or not there is global warming, about poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, freedom of religion. Absolutely none of the issues that we have heard about over and over the past few months are part of her world. I have to say - that sounds pretty good.

BUT. When I really stop to think about how her brain works and the limited understanding she has of her surroundings, it makes me sad. How anxiety producing it must be to get through a day. To have limited options in how she spends her time. She can't hop in the car and drive to a movie like other young adults. She needs to wait until it is convenient for one of us to take her. She can't decide to take a "mental health day" or a vacation day and stay home from her Day Program because she just doesn't feel like going. She isn't able to live independently in an apartment, choosing her own furniture or deciding on a roommate. She is not going to plan a wedding, plan a honeymoon, dream of having children.

The world is ever changing therefore her anxiety is a constant. Will there be a new staff she will need to figure out? When there is a storm, will the electricity go out - and for how long (the gal has an amazing memory and you can bet she remembers the 10 days without electricity that we had). When she runs out of her favorite bagels will mom or dad go out and get them in time for her next breakfast. Every small thing we may not even think about has the potential to increase her anxiety.

So is her brain a blessing or not?