Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Aspergers and Conversation Skills

Now that we seem to have the meds situation figured out, and the academic front appears to be going well, we can now work on what has been a long-time problem with our son -- his difficulty with conversation skills. At our doctor's office, we have a great therapist who sees my son about every three or four weeks to work on things like conversation skills -- but that just isn't often enough. So last week I explored what was available on the internet.

I came across what I think is an absolutely terrific resource for working on these skills:

This website publishes articles on improving conversation and social skills. The articles are entertaining but useful, in that they kind of dissect the real issues shy people have with trying to think of subjects to talk about, or how to get a conversation started, or how to keep one going, etc. These are the kinds of things my son (and many people with aspergers) has difficulty with, and so as I read the articles, they really GRABBED me.

At dinner, we are taking one article per week, and using them as jumping off points for discussion and conversation practice. For instance, this week we are using the article that discusses the fact that conversation shouldn't be perceived as work, or something to DO, but instead conversation should be perceived as PLAY. For example, if you were at dinner with friends, and you got up to go to the bathroom, and your friend asked "where are you going," a typical response would be "I'm going to the bathroom." What COULD be said instead, in a playful manner, "I'm tired of you guys -- I'm going off to find better options!" or "it's a secret..." or "In search of a yetti." Anything that is unexpected could be funny.

The thing about this sort of conversation -- kids on the spectrum could be GREAT at thinking up unusual answers. Some answers would be awesomely funny, but depending on your audience, some answers would completely miss their mark. THAT'S why practice, over and over and over again, is essential. For example, my son might try and make a joke that's a reference to a heavy metal band, or a video game -- often things that not everyone can relate to, and if they don't know a lot about the subject, then the potential audience won't see the humor in my son's comment. We are trying to steer him towards subjects that MOST PEOPLE will relate to. We are also trying to show to him that, sometimes, WE do not hit the mark in our attempts at funny comments. That's why it's important to practice in front of a "safe" audience (such as parents, siblings, or really close friends who love you no matter what) before you try your humor out on a larger, possibly less-safe audience.

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Wednesday, October 05, 2011

The "helicopter parent" and Asperger's

You've heard of the term "helicopter mother" or "helicopter parent" before, right? The parent that "hovers" over their child, making sure that they are ok, making sure that everything in their child's life turns out ok, etc. I first saw something about this type of behavior on TV, where they were talking about this type of parent in relation to parents of college students who continue to be way too connected to their child after they leave home for college -- the parent will check in multiple times a day by cell phone, will continue to help the child with college papers and assignments, will give too much unwanted advice about social life, and on and on.

I think that parents of children who have a hard time in life tend to overcompensate by becoming a "helicopter parent." I know that I have. I've also thought that this was out of necessity -- because for the last two years, my son would continuously forget assignments, forget to study for tests, and just generally didn't completely have his act together due to his lack of ability to focus on things in school.

Last night I was watching a Tivo'd episode of Parenthood, the TV show that has a young male character who has Aspergers. I love watching the mother of this boy -- because I recognize the same tendency she has for hovering that I have. This show does such a great job at showing the concern this mother has for her son, and also the father's attempts at teaching the son social skills (lessons that often don't work as well in real life as they should). The episode I watched last night showed the young boy going BACK to be mainstreamed in a regular ed situation, after spending time in a school that catered to special needs kids. Mom was concerned with how he was socializing, and got off early from work so that she could observe him in school. As I was watching her do this, I was saying "No -- don't do it!!" out loud to the tv screen, because you had to know that early on, the boy would not be socializing all that well in the early days of a new school situation. Of course, she was heartbroken to see him sitting alone, reading a book during recess.

What really got to me, though, was the part of the show where the mother wrote nine emails in four days to the teacher, who was not returning her emails. Wow, that part sounded somewhat familiar, and although I have never written THAT many emails to one teacher, I have done my fair share of nine emails to nine teachers... once my son hit high school. I have definitely been the "net" for my son, catching missed assignments before they could be completely forgotten and therefore not counted. I have definitely been the liason between my son and his teachers, fleshing out exactly what an assignment was about when he couldn't seem to get the requirements of an assignment correct. Sound familiar?

The weird part of having meds that work this year, combined with the fact that our school district's new online grading system isn't up yet, is that I have been trying to NOT be the helicopter mom. I've been trying to step back and let my son handle things at school on his own. Man, that's hard. But it's also liberating... I cannot believe how much time I spent for the last two years, checking everything twice, making sure that my son was keeping up with his work. Now, he very much seems to be doing what he should. And I very much need to let him grow up and be in charge. I don't exactly know how he's doing without the online grading to constantly check like I did ALL THE TIME last year, but it's ok. I need to let it go, and to let him grow up. Especially since he's now a full head taller than I am....

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Sunday, October 02, 2011

When stimulants cause depression and/or zombie behavior

It's been about a year since my son has been on huge amounts of stimulants in an attempt to see if he can pay better attention to things in school AND to see if he can complete homework in a timely manner. We could see that the stimulants worked, but there were other associated problems.

It's pretty bad when you have a kid on the spectrum, and the stimulants that help him pay attention also make him less social. I've read about lots of people describing the way the stimulants make them feel like a zombie, and after this last year, I was watching this reaction before my eyes. Off the stimulants, my son was happy, bouncing, fun. On the stimulants, he was good at paying attention, but depressed and no fun. He also had an inability to make decisions, didn't want to do anything (even video games) and just was not my son. It was frustrating to watch, and I imagine it was even more frustrating for him to experience.

During the summer, we would sometimes allow our son to go off of the stimulants. It just killed me, because those days were so much more fun. I had my boy back. I was definitely coming to the conlusion that maybe we were going to have to make a really difficult decision -- either my son stays on stimulants, and we totally give up on his ever socializing because he needs to make it through school, OR we give up on the stimulants, completely pull him off, and just try our best to make school work through sheer hard work. Neither choice was a good one. But I missed having my happy boy, and I was thinking that maybe his having a chance at making friends was better than having it be easier to do schoolwork.

We talked with his therapist about this, and decided that we needed to change up something. When our therapist talked with the doctor about it, they came to the conclusion that we should switch up my son's anti-anxiety pill. We had tried two different anti-anxiety's, and they did seem to help, somewhat. We switched this time to Cymbalta, and the difference was AMAZING. It was like the missing piece. Suddenly, we had a kid who was doing great at school, great on homework, remembering quizzes and tests and upcoming assignments -- AND he was HAPPY. TALKATIVE. FUN. Just like our son used to be.

I guess what I would like other people to know about this experience is that what our doctors tell us is true -- you really have to spend time finding the right combination of medications to get something that will work. Now, we also have little problems leftover, even though the meds are working -- my son still has some tics that are frequent enough to be socially unappealing (scratching his head, some grimacing, etc.) but I am fairly sure that we can work on that medically as well. It's just so nice to see him feeling good about himself, and happy with his school life AND his social life. Now that the meds are working better, the therapist can begin to help him with his social skills.

I couldn't have believed it myself, but for right now, things seem to be going well. I just want others to know that it does get better. It can take a long time, but it does get better.

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