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My ASD Princess

A family helping a girl explore her world through the lens of autism

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gymnastics

Learning to Push Harder

It’s been a while between drinks (88 days to be exact), but here we go my latest instalment.
After seven days in the hospital, one month at home and numerous medical appointment I’m on the mend. But it’s taken its toll on my princess.

This blog forms an update of the last 90days, a crazy 90 days of learnings, frustrations, healings and for my princess a time of much-needed pushing.

Our 17th Wedding Anniversary

“Ataxia unknown origin” it’s what I was labelled with, what that meant for the family was a dad that couldn’t walk. The father who walked every day went to the shops and the park for ‘timeout’ was housebound. To say my princess was scared and angry at her dad was an understatement.

My health was the families security; my ability to keep running was the lifeblood that kept our families crazy routines intact. It was the security at the end of each day and it was the strength to push when everyone else needed rest.

My ability to endure even the craziest of days enabled Jenna to run as much as she needed, ground herself, rebalance and find her centre. The release she felt from shopping and parks was so satisfying, the anxiety dissipated. It was Daddy daughter time at its best.

I didn’t realise the extent of this ‘extra’ supports until it was impossible to provide. My wife had no chance, no ability to compete and was set up to fail in an impractical, impossible routine.

Parks were special times for our princess, not only did she get her sensory realise, expel stirred up energy, the whole family had time to breathe. Park time was a time where all 6 of us had ‘space’ Jenna and dad time, and the other 4 had a break. This afternoon routine kept balance, brought laughter and always enabled me to smile.

Shopping was painful for Dad; we couldn’t just ‘pop in the buy milk’ we needed to walk every aisle. Meticulously checking for updates of shopkins seasons, touching, smelling, tasting. Every time out was an adventure.  The shops are Jenna’s life, unbeknownst to her, Dad had already checked the crowds, events and best times to shop. What seemed like a spontaneous ‘I’m bored’ fit was organised and set up to a tee.

Shopping was an endless money pit, with unfounded expectations put on Dad. But never the less an enjoyable experience. Again like the park it was an escape from reality, a rush and an adventure. It was fantastic.

Then STOP… It was sudden, without warning, and life was out on hold.

Without the ability to walk, I couldn’t maintain these expected activities, without these activities Jenna couldn’t find balance. Chaos.

During the month of illness, anxiety increased, anger grew and hospital visits made it worse. My baby girl thought her dad was dying and with that the death of the frequently that she had become accustomed. Outdoor play all but ceased.

It was tough times, times that were only possible with the strength of my wife and the flexibility of my dad. Without both, the success of these past months would have been impossible.

My wife was more than able to provide supports for Jenna, although it didn’t meet her need of hanging with her dad. Nothing but having routine established would fix the void.

I’ve always wanted to protect my baby girl; I’m a nurturer at heart. I wanted to be a dad that hides the hard stuff from her, sheltered her from the storm we call life. I hate seeing her in pain; I hate seeing her struggle in what I consider being the norms of this world.

I wanted to hide her from the hard stuff, protect her from the trouble and as much as possible allow her to be my little girl for eternity. Being sick brought to light very quickly that her dad can’t be all things and also can’t shield her from all things, that wrecked me.

Not always the hugest fan of autism giant Temple Grandin I was forced to reflect on several of her quotes. 

I have added these in pictorial form for your reflection.

I wanted to hide her from pushing harder; I wanted to protect her from the ‘cannot’. With doing this, I forgot the ‘could’ and in the art of defending, I lost sight of her potential.

Mainly I wanted to find an alternate to the seemly pressure to succeed, fit in and be the ‘big’ girl that the world desires her to be. These are the learnings that were inspired by my incredible wife and our princess’s exceptional mother during my journey of recovery. In the form of keyword dot points, I have reflected on my learnings.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

  • Pressure 

My wife has an amazing ability to know when to push. She has been assisting me for the past 20years. As stated above I have been unwell for the past 2 or so months, meaning  I needed to take a backwards step. I hate to be out of the spotlight; my wife rarely has the chance to shine, always hiding behind my loud personality and never ending the drive. I had little choice but to get out of the way, with doing so, magic happened.

During this time, my daughter blossomed, Kathryn with her artful timing knew just when to push and she has an uncanny understanding of what the appropriate pressure was and is and how to apply.

  • When to rest

I knew that my need to rest was unquestionable, but upon reflection, this need taught our princess a life lesson that I hope she will treasure for life, rest. I had little choice, but Jen through unintended modelling followed suit. This meant that for moments in time ‘im bored’ diminished and downtime blossomed. Again magic from a wife that oozes patience, success, we have found rest.

  • New routine

Routine had to change; from hospital stays an inability to drive and grandad being chief shofar, life has changed. The unwelcomed and unplanned new reality appeared. It was not comfortable and adjustment was the only solution. With the exception of distancing herself from me, the routine was expected and embraced when normality and predictability were kept in motion. Sameness was our saviour throughout the change.

  • Work constraints

As stated in previous blogs, maintaining a family of 6, we made choices to both works, bringing in income to maintain lifestyle, pay medical bills and have the occasional family dinner out on the weekend. (if we get the timing, venue and mood correct, which happens very rarely).

As we both move up in management and career development, the flexibility reduces for our princess. Thinking this was always a bad thing I was the king of adaptability, flexibility and predictability. I have been learning that bouts of the reverse have been beneficial and even helpful on our journey of independence, self-reliance and maturity.

Again the genius of illness and the unpredictability of healing and progress meant that our princess had to learn a new skill. This new ability was unwelcomed and at times still told us and others to “F off”, this skill was the coping mentioned above of unpredictability. Although acknowledging that routine, predictability and stability are what ensures a quiet relaxed and in control princess, it seems absurd to wish the reverse. This was our need and upon reflection, our desire and in snippets, pure bliss.

  • Saying no

Learning when to say no, similar to pushing was a skill that was in dire need of development. A skill that I still struggle to implement and my soft nature struggles with the concept. There was little choice, with one parent down, routine and commitments still needing to be maintained, something had to give. A healthy dose of relatively and an easily said two letter word was used. We needed to say No. With little success previously it seemed we were about to enter a minefield of meltdown and tantrum, upon reflection another success. Although not a perfect science, we know have the ability to response, for the most part, to wait, not yet, soon and for some part no. Progress.

  • Traffic jams

In short out daily commute sux. Adding to the pressure medical appointment, extra commitments at work needed the addition of after-school care. Although not always welcomed, traffic, outside school hours care and various adjustments to timeframes have forced our princess to stretch. Our job has been to communicate our intention effectively, make agreements in advance and apologies at times when we get it wrong.

  • Sisters

Wow, this is hard work, they love they hate, they connect they want space. We never get this balance correct but the value is there in investing this relationship and importance to family. It’s been a blessing to watch this develop. I don’t promise that there will always be true harmony at the ‘house of many hopes’ aka home although I am hopefully that love prevails and the good times are etched into their memories for a lifetime.

  • Choice and control

How to find the balance, when to admit I got it wrong, when to discipline and when to celebrate. I almost never get this right but we are learning together. An unintended bonus of being sick, was I needed to lose control, in this control being lost my princess has found her ability to choose. It’s been a humbling experience watch her develop. Listen to mum and follow a slightly different set of rules. This past 90 days has made her stronger, more independence and proved to her dad that she is ready to grow. I’m still scared of what is to come but in turn much more confident for success.
It’s been an intense 90days, but I have never been prouder of my family and my princess. Together we can achieve the impossible and it’s okay to push harder at times, that last one is just a reminder for me.

  • An update on parks and shopping

We are finding our normal again; I still struggle with walking further than a few hundred metres but the routine is returning. Late night shops, afternoons strolls and 1:1 time is again giving us time to recharge and create space for others in the family.

Oh and Target is once again burning a hole in my credit card.

 

Autism and Sickness = Sucky Times

Just because, let us start the post with a laugh at my parenting this past few weeks…….

Here is a quick top 5 life lessons I have learned with a sick ASD kid this past three weeks;

  1. If you have failed to offer sensory play to your child, she will use her dinner (scrambled eggs everywhere and I did not learn).
  2. The couch can carry a lot of snot if you run out of tissues. (again I did not learn from this mistake).
  3. It doesn’t matter how much food is in the house, there’s always nothing to eat, just apologize to move on.
  4. Don’t use noise canceling earphones to get a quick 5 minutes respite (it will cost hours of comforting because you didn’t hear her calling).
  5. Don’t be late home from work, if you give a time stick to it (I very rarely give a specific time, failed this one again).

As a bonus extra, you need to laugh. We try and find humour in the situations we find ourselves in, if we didn’t particularly this week…….. WOW.

We are nearly six months post diagnosis for our princess, I think my naivety has caught up with me. In our second post, I talked about. – “We are starting to adjust to the diagnosis a little better, although the magic word ‘Autism’ won’t take away frustrations, meltdowns and communication barriers, it helps frame them for us,” read here.

I am starting to believe that we may never truly adjust to this diagnosis. However, we now have a far better understanding of Jenna, the fluid nature of ADS. We have learned that autism is an ever changing lifelong diagnosis and sometimes a challenge for us all.

This past three weeks Jenna has been unwell with the Flu and then a perforated eardrum. It seems her slender build, fussy eating, and poor sleep patterns disrupt the natural healing process we all are accustomed to. This bout of poor health has disrupted the one thing that keeps us going, routine (you can read more about this here).

Our Princess with our new family addition, Snow.

We have had three weeks of no Gymnastics, extra medication, and little sleep. Myself and Jenna have moved into the lounge room to assist with the families lack of sleep. Our couch now has each night, a teddy bear, two dogs, a Daddy and Princess Jenna. (see above)

When life turns upside down for us we see the challenging side of autism take over, the side that struggles to articulate pain, vocalize concerns and address fears. Because of illness the uniqueness, creativity, and bounce that we are accustomed to having laid dormant, and this stinks.

Not that I want my post to be rants, complaints and poor me’s. (this was a conscious decision years ago to be positive, solution focused and not to air our “dirty laundry”) but the past two weeks I would easily give back.

And just because we needed another curve ball this week, there was a need to deal with doctors. I dislike general practitioners at the moment, not because of incompetence or malpractice, but because I have had all sorts of pain assisting them all to listen to Jenna and be patient with her response. Jenna finds it hard to articulate what going on for her. We often need to step in and help a little, this is embarrassing for Jenna difficult I know for professionals, but a little help or understanding was needed.

We have had three doctors visits over the past two weeks with no result. All stating “you have a cold Jenna, rest.” As stated in my post “Stop looking at my daughter” heading out in public is a difficult feat, and to do this multiple times in a week puts undue stress on our princess.

So with the help of Snow (the dog) we are moving forward slowly with the princess, with all therapy based assistance on hold, sensory play being modified it has been an interesting time. It’s time to rest and get better. I have learned heaps through the process, although I am ready for normally.

What About The Other 3

1891344_10152857905768590_5097542224536606198_oTo say “Its been a tough holiday period for the princess” would be an understatement.The normality of school, bedtime, packed lunches and her gymnastic lessons create a rhythmic stability for her, and we were free from this for the next 9 days.  Added to the messed up routine, we explored new places, holidayed with friends and shared many long car trips together.

There were many many highlights, laughs and memories, but wow I was holidayed out.

But to some extent its been tougher on my 3 other superhero’s. We have been teaching Jenna’s 3 siblings about tolerance, to walk away from conflict, and to be brave. Sharing with them that they are loved, important and are worthy of “Dad/Mum” time. Although these simple lesson have been taught, the application has been proving difficult, and with good reason.

At face value all our kids understand they are loved, special and are bound for exceptional things. But constant aggression, harsh words and at times violence will cause the strongest to break.

I think it all came to ahead last weekend when my 7 year old son thought I “hated him.” My heart broke, had I been too tough, did I expect too much, had I set the poor fella up to fail?

Without coming to a conclusion, I hugged him hard, gave him a kiss and just “hung around” for a while.11046368_10152857907768590_1411971595995450382_o

Man I love him heaps. I love all of them heaps, and getting the balance right it just plain hard work. That small gesture given to my son cost me heaps. I paid for that gesture for the remaining 5 days from the princess. The tables were turned, respite for the kids, pure anger for Dad.

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Kathryn and I try and take most of the heat, divert the pain so to speak. We look for avenues to keep Jenna busy, assure she has had 1:1 time, look for ways to address sensory needs and work inline with special interests. We have been finding that although this is proving invaluable for Jenna, the cost at times is high for the other 3.

We often hear comment about our decision to have 4 children (yes it was a choice). We are reminded about the cost, the pressure to meet all their needs, the competition, not being able to “keep up with the Jones”. We don’t over think this. All our children are loved, have value, have responsibilities and will achieve (with much help at times) their wildest dreams. They play AFL, piano, in theatre and a gymnist (well this month anyways.) I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Often at night I ponder what will become for my princess and 3 superhero’s. I wonder what steps we will get wrong and which ones are right.  I pray for all my kids, although I don’t think I pray very grand/over the top prayers. I don’t wish for greatness, wealth or riches.

Not that my faith can’t believe for this but what I want is different. I pray for things like; fun, freedom, free expression, choice, friends, to continue to feel comfortable being them, to embrace their uniqueness and to always be silly sometimes.

So life is a little crazy sometimes always, the bills are always a little late, I may drink too much wine, I may make most of my parenting up on the fly, but God i’m grateful for my family and wouldn’t have it any other way.

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Stop looking at my daughter

It’s been a tough few weeks, admittedly we were expecting this moving into more active therapy season and meeting new people; but it sucks all the same. My princess is tired, anxious, and generally fearful which in turn affects her sleep patterns and relationship at home. Mum and Dad understand this and gives ‘the princess’ the space she needs and home life on the most part is safe and okay. It’s accessing the community that has been a struggle. We get both extreme’s, Jenna want’s to explore Kmart’s toy section and local parks but beyond this its very painful for us to venture out. This is proving to be a difficult task with 3 other children with their own interests and schedules but we always find a way and solider on. When given the time to be alone, run and play the next few hours are fantastic so we have adopted a model of support for Jenna to assist to ‘recharge her batteries’ so to speak. We have personally become acquainted to every park in a 5km radius from home (we know every jungle gym, swing set, spiders web and how to get there multiple ways). Although my princess is unable to articulate which park to go to, we eventually make it to her chosen destination and the unwind begins.  Dad has learnt some cues to assist with finding the right park (we have been known to go to 6 parks in a row until the find the perfect one). I look out for grunting sounds, frowns, smiles, the amount of people at the park and presently does it have bars to swing on. Scaffolding although a great help most of the time for us doesn’t work here, I can’t seem to find the correct words to assist Jenna precisely express what she needs. The parks help although we are still experiencing at times very violent meltdowns, sickness, numerous fights with siblings, and an inability to explain what’s happening to her. We still are having difficulty with very public outbursts when we are needing to end an activity. As most kids with ASD routine is very important to Jenna. We are learning that it’s not the routine that we established that is gospel. It’s the routine that Jenna has understood, this has been a hard lesson to learn. Although a tough time has been had by all we have learnt that this is part of what we need to do as parents and as a family. We need to constantly teach our other children to work through the problems of the day, meltdowns and harsh words, explaining that at times this is Jenna. It’s Jenna not because she is a rude girl, she doesn’t really hate you and mostly she really cares about you. We have bad days because we have trouble understanding what Jenna is trying to say to us. It’s easy to teach, discipline and model the correct and expected behavior for our own family. Although we have been really taken a hit this past few weeks from others (mostly complete strangers.) We can teach others, work on models of support to reduce behaviors, but I am coming to the realization that some people I meet have the wrong idea or end point for these tools. These tools aren’t to make my life easier, they aren’t even there to help the school system or the local supermarket. We invest our time and money to see our Jenna reach her potential. We work damn hard to up-skill her so she can succeed, make friends and have the life she chooses. These tools are for her. We are working with tools, strategies and various therapist to give my princess a chance in this harsh world. A world that doesn’t seem to understand and for the most part want to educate themselves. I am finding that the adage that ignorance is bliss fits well. I am the person that usually takes it all in my stride, keeps on keeping on, etc. but…… As I already stated, we have had a rough few weeks with our princess. So with this in mind please allow me a little licence  to vent my frustration…………..

  • Yes it’s hard
  • Yes I get embarrassed
  • Yes, I wish I could go on more family outings.
  • Yes, I feel for my 3 “neurotypical”  children sometimes
  • Yes, I want to chastise my other 3 children sometimes
  • Yes, I love her to bits and will fight anyone that wishes to limit her
  • Yes I hate you looking at me in horror and at her in disgust
  • Yes I know she is making a loud noise and disrupting you
  • Yes it’s okay for my 10-year-old to play with “little kids” toys and equipment

We have recently spent the weekend away, the world wasn’t overly kind to us so I thought I would “apologize” to some of the looks, comments, and arrogance we experienced over the weekend.

  • I’m sorry that I brought her out in public

I could lock her away if you prefer but I for one think she adds life and zeal wherever she goes. She lights up my world and if given a change she could do yours. Please stop for a second and realize that she is NOT different, naughty, or a nuisance.  She is a 10-year-old beautiful girl finding her place in this world.

  • I’m sorry that it’s important for us to expand her capabilities

Yes, I will continue to go out for dinner, explore the unknown and try new things. This will cause all parties pain, often, but every now and then….. eureka we struck gold and a new place we can venture is found.

  • I’m sorry that you don’t understand or want to understand autism

If you asked me I would take the time, stop and explain the complexities of ASD, ADHD and anxiety. The dirty looks, shaking heads, stares and laughter don’t help. They make my daughter more anxious, it makes her feel naughty and bad. It makes the hard work invested feel worthless and as for her parents self esteem, well….

  • I’m sorry that I break the rules sometimes to meet a sensory need

Yes I break the rules!! I manage risk, and ask myself, do I need to follow the social norm and some printed rules. Yes this is intentional, No I don’t need you to remind me I’m doing it. Again I am happy to explain autism to you.

  • I’m sorry that your needs are more important than her’s

My whole existence is to ensure my families success, at times that will mean that my princess makes too much noise in public, she will be inappropriate. More often than not I will get it wrong and make matters worse, sorry I’m new to this. But that my families drama and we are working on it J. We are trying to give our princess the best possible life, and where possible re-create the “norm’s” for her. We want life to be normal for her. That is a normal that makes sense to her. I can guarantee that this is not the same normal as mine and should not be the same as yours. We will find a solution and Jenna and my other wonderful children will grow up with permission to succeed and the supports in place to help when they don’t. As I have stated in previous posts I wouldn’t change this for the world…  but  to the cranky old duck on the Gold Coast this past weekend, if you would like to pay my medical bills, medication and therapy sessions to assist my princess, it would be my honour. (tongue firmly in my check)

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My Princess (insert label) ASD + ADHD girl

This week we received a diagnosis of Autism for our princess. Last year it was ADHD, the year before ear problems and before this hearing issues.

This has been a 5 year journey of experimentation, failings, labels, and stereotypical comments. She’s  “naughty , loud, weird” , we were constantly being told by school “you need to get her checked out” “there is something wrong with her” “have you considered testing?”

Glasses prescribed, grommets inserted, hearing tested, IQ testing, and behavioural optometrist sort for advice. Each specialist sending detailed reports on how to help her.

But still the label “naughty, misfit, failure, loud.”  were how people viewed her.

We just know her as Jenna.

This week as I sat and pondered what this diagnosis means to us as a family and to me as a dad, I was at a loss.

Getting it wrong for the past 5 years I asked myself these questions:

  • Did that lesson my abilities as a Dad?
  • I missed the signs for Jen, what else have I missed?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • Why did I miss all the signals?

I soon got over myself and came to the understanding that the girl I know as Jenna is still the girl I adore.

As I began the road of discovery I began asking myself and for that matter anyone who would listen these questions:

  •  Where does she fit on the spectrum?
  • What have I missed?
  • What treatment is needed?
  • What do I need to change?
  • Have I made the problem worse?
  • How do I shut up the skeptics?
  • How do I embrace her uniqueness?
  • Does she need “the label”?

Putting all the rules, diagnosis, stigma, and people’s comment aside, I can come to a conclusion.

Jenna is Jenna and Jenna can be Jenna and no label will change that I love my Jenna.

She is unique, different and honesty will find it difficult to fit into cultural norms for a very long time.

That diagnosis of ASD can’t change.

I can’t change that my daughter can’t read social cues correctly.

I can’t change that creating friends will continue to be a challenge for her.

I can’t even change that she is the most literal person I have ever met.

But…….

Jenna is Jenna and Jenna can be Jenna and no label will change that I love my Jenna.

If I could make a wish, dream big for Jenna it would be very simple; I want people to value her, laugh with her, and embrace her uniqueness.

Just like every one of my 4 children they have the potential for greatness. A potential to change the world. I just pray that like myself I see the greatness that is my 9-year-old ASD kid, as we know her at home Jenna.

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