Therapist: Exit, Stage Left

All the world’s a stage,

And all the men and women

Merely players;

They have their exits and

their entrances…

For all the therapists who have come in and out of our lives since my son’s autism diagnosis at 20 months, it’s our home that’s the stage and the play is pretty short.

Let’s tally.

Seven from the birth-to-three days.

This included the Saturday-morning-at-9 a.m. professional newbie (we’ll call her B for short) who got screamed at weekly—hey, the kid knew Saturdays are NOT for learning! She never did get to hear him utter a word during her three months with us. But oh, how she persisted, with a patient smile every time.

Then there was the veteran speech pathologist, D, whose pet name for my love— “little turkey”—made him laugh wildly and made me forget for a minute about future outcomes. She left the agency abruptly and got replaced by a speech path who, one month later, got to transition a child she didn’t really know to the big bad unknown of public school (on the upside, that SLP did insist a wink to an administrator acquaintance at our meeting won us an extra half-hour session of speech services a week).

Our beloved G, meanwhile, spent 6 hours a week with my best man, easing him into his first “school,” a weekly three-hour, without-mom (!) session at the agency’s office where Brown Bear, Brown Bear was kept within reach at ALL times because its words and pictures immediately eased the tears that kept flowing from the toddler who wasn’t SUPPOSED to be entering school for another two years.

And when those two years had passed and we started home ABA therapy, we met L, who spent eight hours a week in our living room dealing with homework focus woes, on the front porch creating bubbles with huge homemade bubble wands, on the hammock and swings in the yard, and even poolside during facilitated play dates. Eight hours times about 50 weeks equals about 400 hours with the endearing boy and, at various times, mom, dad, and both grandpas and grandmas.

L left due to scheduling conflicts and was followed in somewhat quick succession by N, S, J, and now M.

Yep, it’s just an alphabet soup of therapists—and school teachers, too—marching in and out of our lives and making huge imprints on our hearts.

And therein lies the problem. This mom has a really hard time saying goodbye.

But must we make that clean break?

With L, the answer was a definitive yes.

As she was leaving, Grandma (who had grown attached despite initial doubts about the need for any therapy for precious, perfect grandson) said, “When will we see you again? Will you visit?”  

L: “You really won’t. That wouldn’t be appropriate.”  

Me: “Can I have your address to send you a Christmas card?”  

L: “That wouldn’t really be appropriate. You can mail one to the office.”

(Perhaps she feared I would show up at HER door for eight hours a week for a year just because I have the address?)

As it turns out, we did encounter L four years later, when Much Improved, Ultra-Talkative, Smart, Awesome, Amazing Boy with Autism joined a social group she was running for boys on the spectrum. A group my son got kicked out of two weeks in for not having good enough whole-body-listening skills.

Ok, L. I’m good with never seeing you again. Exit, stage left, out the door, down the street, and maybe across the ocean, please.

But with most of the therapists who exit our lives, I love the idea of sharing Facebook updates so they can see how far my little man has come and how much far he is sure to go. Luckily, many of these professionals are open to staying in touch and they continue to cheer us on. Two of them were even there for me via Messenger after the social group debacle, reminding me that my kid is MORE than good enough and that success in life does not depend on remaining part of a formal social group. Especially when you’re talking about a kid who is like a friend magnet already.

Being open to Facebook connecting, however, can also involve putting up boundaries with me. As I was getting some thoughts on our current programming from one former therapist—who left us when she had her first baby and had even come back to visit, twice, so we could meet her new precious bundle—she was pretty much literally IN LABOR with her second. I hadn’t even known she was expecting again, and in our back-and-forth she didn’t really see the need to mention it to a former client.

I try to be conscious about contacting former therapists and teachers very sparingly about today’s issues. While they always seem to want to help and I know they still care about my son and our family, it just feels cheap to be soliciting free advice. Even when it’s not being requested during active contractions.

The surprise baby situation got me thinking about how important it is for me as a parent to expect and respect that kind of boundary. That doesn’t mean avoiding any conversation about the personal life of these “friends.” In fact, I think at least occasional attempts at that are important to my goal of being “someone” to them as they have been someone to me and my family.

But if they don’t reply to a question or if someday they unfriend me because it seems our time for crossing paths is up, I am learning not to take it personally.

Maybe someday we’ll exchange an email if there is reason to reconnect. Or I can just remember the time we spent together as I look in wonder at my not-so-little-anymore guy who has made tons of progress, in large part due to those past team members who taught us all so much. Who really cared. And who probably think of us now and then as well, missing my son’s ultra-silly, super-smiley temperament (best client EVER, right? right?!).

Yes, our world may be like a stage, with a series of one-act plays featuring lots and lots of characters. But we share a connection with them all. On some level or another, we’ll always share it.

 

(Photo: courtesy Flickr user Tom Vander Well/Creative Commons)

 

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12 Gifts of Christmas

As I return to the work routine after 12 days home for the holidays, I thought I’d share 12 merry moments for our family that represent a milestone of one sort or another for my beautiful boy. He’s really growing up. (Sniff.) Think about past holiday seasons and how your child’s abilities have grown. What’s something worth celebrating for you this year?

1. He kept his homemade advent calendar in-tact.
Not impressive until you consider that the feat involved writing the number of how many days until Christmas and erasing it each time without ripping the paper. And that at school, he holds the record for most destruction of classroom materials in a single year because he erases too hard and rips the paper and absolutely nothing is as awful as ripping a perfect looking paper. Advent calendar paper (taken out of printer because he’s not at all about sturdy signs) lived all season long. Somehow.

2. He didn’t win a contest, and survived.
Normally one to call any non-win a “last place,” my son held it together when our house didn’t get recognition in the city-wide holiday yard decorating contest. “Well, we will just have to try harder next year,” he calmly stated while on our way in to church on Christmas Eve as he asked if we’d heard about the winners yet because during the day on Christmas Eve is when you hear if you’ve won. (Sure, he’s already plotting with Dad about how to win it next year, but the non-reaction reaction was huge for us. This is the kid who has been known to fall to the classroom floor yelling “WHY?! WHY?! and pretending to break a limb when school-wide contest results get announced, prompting principals from across town to call the school and ask what happened.)

3. He cut the Trump talk off at the party.
“No talking politics…or religion!” he announced with authority when Uncle and Grandpa began a friendly little discussion about who should run our country. Impressed, they changed the subject to yard decorations.

4. He was gracious with every Christmas present.
A sincere “Thank you! Thank you SO much!” preceded every initial tear of wrapping paper. And even when a gift was a book, he acted thrilled to pieces to have been thought of. (Christmas’ past: “A BOOK?!?! I HATE books! I hate reading! I hate school!”) And when he opened his fav gift — Who doesn’t love a floor-to-ceiling Poop emoji poster? — he was sooo very grateful. And he peed his pants in excitement while laughing over the Poop’s awesomeness.

5. He was flexible about not having a change of underwear.
“Excuse me one moment everyone, I need to go to the bathroom,” he said as he exited stage left. And when Mom told him he would need to go commando (since one does not carry changes of clothes when a kid has been potty trained for six years straight), he shrugged and made it work. Bonus: He didn’t announce the experiment to the whole party.

6. He accepted the fact that Mom and Dad’s New Year’s casino trip winnings would actually not be going into the Monster Truck fund.
The change in his coin bank is being saved for a $600,000 Grave Digger truck. But that 30 bucks is ours. And he laughed the disappointment right off.

7. Likewise, he dealt with leaving multiple stores without new Christmas decorations as we browsed New Year’s sales.
Yes, he tried to sneak a lawn ornament or two into the carriage, hoping we wouldn’t notice the extra $40 item on a $50 purchase. But when we told him to return the item to the display, the reaction was a simple “Awww!” followed by a giggle.

8. During chill time at home, he independently played with multiple new toys.
As in, he took it upon himself to open up the boxes, insert batteries, read set-up directions, etc. Next year we might work on actually cleaning up the discarded packaging. But for now it’s pretty awesome that he wasn’t yelling “Mooooooooommmmmmmm!” every time he gets inspired to play with something new. (Not to mention, normally his style is to just play with one new item and leave all others to collect dust.)

9. He FaceTimed friends on New Year’s Eve.
While not quite a new milestone, every time he FaceTimes, those reciprocal conversation skills get just a little bit better. As in, instead of dominating 100% of the conversation, it was more like 75%. That’s the kind of conversation volleying that would make his speech pathologist proud. (Damn. Forgot to take actual data.)

10. He didn’t leave his iPad out on a snowbank in the yard. Not even once!
Earlier in December, this was a thing. Because you can’t fix the holiday decorations blowing in the wind if you’re holding the iPad you just stepped out of the car with. The answer, my friend, is NOT putting down the iPad in a snow bank because the new inflatable-snowman-holding-a-present might blow away in a wind gust even though it’s firmly tethered down.

11. He went to the grocery store with minimal complaint.
The boy HATES the grocery store with a capital H and lots of exclamation points. But we trekked out for food more than once while out and about running other errands, and he spent little time grumbling. Although I did hear him under his breath say, “And this is the LAST time I’ll be goin to this store…”

12. He calmly agreed to a safe snack — later — when yummy warm pretzels bought by Mom and Dad at the mall were deemed unsafe.
In the past, Dad had missed the “all our products are unsafe for those with nut allergies” statement on every container so the boy thought of those mini pretzel hot dogs as a treat he could eat. When we broke the news that it turns out they aren’t (mom spotted the “don’t even think about eating our foods if you have nut allergies” label after the purchase was made), he just asked if we can cook some mini hot dogs left over from New Year’s at home. Which meant a good 20-minute wait, beating our previous record of 2 minutes.

Yay for waiting calmly, yay for flexible reactions, yay for graciousness, yay for a fun 12 days of Christmas. And now, onward to the second part of the school year, where, oh man…the dreaded reading log requirement will now…..contain a responsive writing component! Dun dun DUN!

Winning at Pinning

It doesn’t take long for a member of our therapy or school team to see how quickly a casual name drop turns into this mom’s latest THIS-will-solve-EVERYTHING obsession. Sometimes it’s an actual name drop — Michelle Garcia Winner, social thinking guru, for instance — and other times a curricular program. Early on, it was an alternate diagnosis.

We were a few months into our state’s Birth to 3 program and our speech pathologist said she was pretty sure we were looking at apraxia. Up all night embracing Google, I learned some apraxic kids had mistakenly been stamped with the autism label. Never mind that the SLP hasn’t suggested THAT. Never mind that treatment for the motor speech disorder tends to require intense, specialized therapy three to five times a week for years on end. Apraxia sounded exotic and kind of cool, and the word carried none of the stigma of autism. Sign us up!

Less than 24 hours later, I came across a one-day event just 30 miles away led by none other than Jay Hammer, one of the top three nationally respected authorities on apraxia. Right in our own backyard. As it turned out, our main therapist, age 23, was NOT an apraxia authority herself. Surely our agency planned to send her to this training? A quick check-in with our case manager revealed they did not. Training, what training?

Within a week (and a few additional check-ins from mom, earning my helicopter license early), the agency had plans to register our therapist. And I had already acquired a PTO day myself for the occasion (during which I even let the therapist have her personal space at a different table, at which I’m sure she was comparing notes with other professionals to get the most benefit out of the once-in-a-lifetime training opportunity).

Two months post-training — coincidentally, right after a long weekend when we tried a detoxifying clay bath for the boy — I got the therapy session note from our seasoned case manager that inquired: Where did the apraxia go?

Yay, cured!

Or, rather, perhaps the SLP had jumped the gun just a bit in mentioning this new and exciting A-word. Which meant… Crap. The original A-word was ours to keep.

Flash-forward four years to a challenging first grade, our first year at a new school in town when everything that could go wrong did go wrong with the transition (IEP? Why would the teacher need the IEP?) and, thanks to town politics, my son was navigating the classroom on his own but very much in need of an aide.

By January, the district had hired the aide it was decided we needed about two disastrous days into the school year (they have the quick hire down pat). Things were finally looking up.

Not long after, without looking up, one in a long string of drive-by school occupational therapists casually mentioned during her report at an PPT meeting how much my son was enjoying a new app teaching the “Zones of Regulation.”

Our BCBA recommended to the team that he be taught the entire Zones in a one-on-one setting over the course of several months.

I wasn’t yet in the Zones zone myself. I was, however, a new Pinterest user who, until this moment, had dabbled in pinning pie and other sugar-laden recipes only. But it wasn’t long before I had discovered a fav new world: teachers and school therapists everywhere were pinning up a storm. In other words, search for Zones of Regulation and find hundreds of ideas for helping kids get into the Green Zone and stay there. It would be like free extra therapy!

Three hundred thirty-two pins later, I’ve got myself a nice collection of Zones (and social thinking) videos and activities to complete with my son. And along the way I became obsessed with growth mindset, as well. Thirty-eight pins, to date (uh-oh, I’m slacking).

We’ll do one activity a week, I thought as I pinned away. Completely do-able. And within no time he will be managing anger and worry, practicing flexibility, surviving the boring moments at school, handling the unexpected, mastering the art of personal space, using nonverbal facial clues to uncover complex feelings, taking turns in conversation, making inferences, picking up on sarcasm, learning from failure, reacting appropriately to the size of the problem, using an appropriate tone of voice, managing impulsivity….and bonding with Mom over lovely shared moments and revelations.

Or: Requesting another view of “Glued,” the four minute, thirty-eight second video about a mom destroying a video game-obsessed kid’s devices that leaves no time for other Pinterest activity and results in wide-eyed wonder and a trip to the ultra-blue Blue Zone, for the 5,000th time this week.

But, hey, there’s always next week.

Summer of Victories

As we close the envelope on another sticky summer — my 8th summer as a mom who originally joined the autism club kicking and screaming and who can now appreciate the wonder and hilarity of this crazy, often unpredictable, don’t-forget-the-earplugs life — I realize the past few months have been filled with “I’ve got this” parenting moments. So, I’ll swat away those pesky daily reminders of the oh-so-real sensory struggles and the worries of a new school year, the beginning of which are filled with “I don’t have this!” days, to share some things I did right this summer. And since we’re all in this together, won’t you share your own summer it’s-all-under-control victory?

  1. Took a full week off from work in late June, filling it with just the right amount of friends time and free time. No work, no camp, no dinner on the table. We were too busy having fun. (And shoving clutter in closets, since 60 nearest and dearest were expected over for a July 4th celebration and I need the house to look presentable, seeing that it’s an outdoor party.)
  2. Scheduled just one camp locale in addition to ESY. For some reason, the past few summers I’ve felt the need to add chaos on top of summer chaos, squeezing in our own choice of special needs-focused camp (2o minutes away) in addition to what’s offered by our district and creating a schedule of staggered weeks that my son would memorize and repeat at least 10 times daily to everyone from my husband and I, to Grandma, to Nana, to the ASD friend who’s not paying attention anyway, to the cashier at Target. (Never mind that the special needs camp told us they couldn’t accommodate our special needs without us hiring a special 13-year-old helper via the camp, for double the tuition. My son must have been too distracted muttering his summer schedule to participate in cooking class on his own.)
  3. Made up the best excuse ever when the boy cried about not being able to go back to that awesome special needs summer camp, the one with the gigantic inflatable waterslides on the front lawn solely purchased (surely!) to feed his interest in inflatables. “Honey, that camp is only for kids under the age of nine now.” (Ok, not best excuse ever but he believed me. And besides, he loves his ESY placement. And I already thought up the best excuse ever four years ago when the local art studio turned us away at registration simply because of his label, and after a highly successful trial class where they didn’t know his label and all was hunky dory — “Sorry, honey, all their paint brushes broke!” Last week as we drove by: “Mom, did they ever get those paint brushes fixed?”)
  4. Scheduled our family vaca for after ESY session ended. (Yes, it took this mom a few years to figure out that funky week-by-week plans does not make for a summer of relaxation for anyone. And besides, vacas at the finale of summer are the best vacas.)
  5. During vacation, when we returned from a long, active day to the surprise of a balloon artist on the resort lawn, remembered to remind him that 1) he should come up with a second choice balloon animal request, just in case the artist doesn’t have the materials for the first one, and 2) “The balloon may pop by the time we get home, and that if it does pop, it’s oooookkkkkkk.” (Usually I only remember this sort of speech in reactive mode. And it hasn’t popped yet, although I’m certain, quite certain, he’ll be at peace with it when it goes. Maybe.)
  6. Also during vacation, successfully eased a disappointment after the fact. On day one, we ran to the resort’s water park, only to find the ever-so-awesome, highly anticipated waterslides were closed. As he started to cry, I calmly told him we would play detectives and figure out this mystery. Who can we ask? We found a staffer headed toward the slides to see if she knew when they would reopen. “Someone had an accident,” she grimly reported. And for the next 20 minutes, we watched from afar, guessing what kind of accident it might have been as she scoured the steps to the slides. “Must have been a kid who peed. Or pooped. Or PUKED,” we decided, giggling. “Ewwwww. Let’s stay over at this part of the water park and go on those slides tomorrow.” (Reasoning and logic really does prevail, sometimes!)
  7. Helped him help himself. This spring, the boy subconsciously had a realization about the swingset in the backyard: a good, long swing can turn a disregulated body into a regulated one. This summer, Mom realized what the boy realized. We started having little chats about how swinging makes us feel and how to recognize it might be time for a swing. (Yep, I’ve got this, I thought, one day as we swung side by side, me swinging my own disregulation away.)
  8. Spilled the beans about his diagnosis. My husband and I had been feeling it might be time to share, that our smart little guy might be ready to hear and understand, and be comforted by the reason behind his everyday frustrations. I wanted to make a day of it. My husband preferred more of a blurt strategy. We settled on something in between. That is, I read the two books describing autism and sensory processing disorder that we had saved for this moment. At the very end, I couldn’t get the words out. “You….” I started. “You…” I stammered. “You’ve got autism,” Hubs finished. Pause. Silence. Grin. “OK!” said our son. Happy. Unphased by the bombshell. And now that it’s out in the open, we talk regularly about it — sometimes my husband or I in explanation mode, sometimes our son in inquisitive mode. Always seemingly content, and intrigued by the superpowers we stress as much as possible. Mom and Dad are pretty sure of this: We’ve done something right. 🙂

What have you gotten right this summer? What has made you feel in control of your special needs parenting journey? Do tell, whether it’s a big win or a small one. Celebrate the victory!

 

The Case of the Missing Cupcakes

I should have known that putting the problem out there to a group of crazy moms – crazy like me, that is – might not produce the sweet encouragement I sought.

Food allergy supermom that I am, I make cupcakes and freeze them, so that just before a party I can grab one from the basement deep freezer and my sugar-loving boy has a safe treat at cake time. The system worked beautifully for years, with the stash needing replacement every few months or so. Which was good, because baking, and especially frosting, cupcakes is not a pastime this particular mom enjoys.

And then: Diabetic Grandpa (also a fan of sugar, and afterschool adult-in-the-house) and Hungry Boy teamed up.

The next party day, I went down to the freezer and noticed a somewhat emaciated cupcake supply. Upon investigation, I learned the duo had turned the party cupcakes into a regular, quite regular, afterschool snack.

A “just say no, Grandpa!” approach would never work. This is the guy once observed to run around the kitchen screaming, “Get him a cookie!! Hurry up and get him the cookie!!” to Grandma when toddler grandson was crying because he spotted a Chips Ahoy package just as his dinner plate containing vegetables – VEGETABLES! –  was set down before him.

So I approached the cupcake kid. With a reasonable plea.

“Honey…these are party cupcakes only. If you eat them when it’s not a party day, one day there won’t be one when we need one. Think about how you would feel then.”

“Yes, mom. Sure, mom. I get it, mom.”

Check the freezer next time, have the same talk. Rinse. Repeat. Add some lost iPad time to the mix.

One day, exhausted by the routine, I warned him that the end was near. “Honey, I see you ate the second-to-last cupcake. We have a party this weekend. I don’t have time to bake new cupcakes. Do NOT eat the last cupcake.”

“Yes, mom. Got it, mom.”

The very next day, a freezer check revealed the end had indeed arrived.

What to do…what to do… It’s already so unfair that my kid can’t just go to a party and enjoy himself like other kids do, sneaking that extra cookie from the dessert table with a sly smile rather than anaphylactic activity. And not being able to enjoy a treat at cake time would surely mean a trip to Meltdown City. He loves a good party (that is, any party) so much, and this particular party will provide lots of beneficial social interaction with the cousins. Plus, he has difficulty with impulse control. It’s the way his brain is wired. He can’t help it. But if I bake him a fresh batch of cupcakes, the consequences will be nil, the lesson not learned.

I wasn’t quite at “I’ve got this.” Surely other food allergy moms could sympathize? Maybe they would even have a suggestion.

So I posed the question to the 3,000 friends in my fav closed Facebook group: “Should I give the boy one more chance? There will be a meltdown at cake time is there is no cupcake.”

The nutty moms lashed out fast and furiously. HE KNEW WHAT WOULD HAPPEN. NOW HE FACES THE CONSEQUENCES OF NO DESSERT. IF HE HAS A MELTDOWN, YOU LEAVE THE PARTY. Within a few hours, about 100 responses appeared, 90 percent of them revealing a show-no-mercy stance. (Plus one serious-can’t-be serious: ARE YOU FEEDING HIM ENOUGH? BOYS DO GET HUNGRY.)

Peppered in were a few helpful ideas: Let him bring a packaged treat, so he still has something but not something as special as the cupcake. Bake more, but make him help so he sees how much work it is. Next time, freeze them in an opaque container labeled BRUSSELS SPROUTS. (WINNER!)

I was up all night, the parenting criticism and options scrolling through my head. Come morning, I leveled with my son. “I’m not baking cupcakes before Sunday, so you’ll just have to bring a different treat instead. I know it will be hard, but this is what happens when you eat the cupcake supply. Next time maybe you can make a better choice.”

Later, I shared the problem and my thought process on the solution to the behavioral expert in our lives, not just an autism educator but a food allergy mom herself. And she gave me a double thumbs up: one for the solution for this weekend and one more for the future Brussels sprouts scheme. She also agreed on my idea for us to role play Sunday’s dessert time, with that packaged brownie to eat when he would surely prefer the cupcake.

Whew. “I’ve got this, I’ve really got this,” I thought, pleased with myself for my careful consideration of all possible options and making the right call. I had even survived the unexpected wrath of the fellow food allergy moms.

Twenty-four hours after beginning of the whole debacle, sleepy mom with fried brain stumbles into the kitchen and sees “no big deal” dad, who is never in the kitchen more then 30 seconds, with electric mixer in hand.

“WHAT ARE YOU DOING????”

“Baking cupcakes for him for the party.”

 

Sensory solved (for today)

My first big low as an autism parent hit me hard on a day we’d all been looking forward to: a meet-Curious-George event at the local children’s museum. But just a few months later, returning to the scene of the crime (referred to as such because injuries were involved), I experienced a wave of accomplishment after a simple strategy devised by our occupational therapist made a similar event one of our favorite family memories. It’s a feeling I’m reminded of whenever I see the photo of my high-energy toddler high-fiving Max, of “Max and Ruby” fame.
 
Now, five-plus years later, I feel like an equal problem-solving partner of our school and home therapeutic teams. I turn to our board-certified behavioral analysts with an issue and we figure it out together. Even when they’re the ones doing the heavy lifting on the attack plan (they did go to school for this, after all), I find my feedback incorporated into plan tweaks more often than not. Sometimes an issue doesn’t even earn a mention until after I’ve solved it.
 
But, more about that late spring day in 2009. Are you a little curious about George?
 
My happy, fun-loving son had been diagnosed with autism around the same time we decided to get tickets for the character event, along with my same-aged nephew and his parents. To the untrained eye, my little guy’s speech delay was the only real spectrum signal. (His overabundance of energy? “Just being a boy!” everyone said). We had no reason to think the event would be anything but an enjoyable memory of the first formal outing for these cousins.
 
We’d been to the children’s museum once before, a few months prior. And my son had loved the hydropower exploration room — where water wheels, funnels and basins entice. It was wet, and it was wonderful.
 
Upon arrival for our event, it was clear he could care less about the Curious George coloring activities, but was practically drooling over spotting that water room. Sure, we had a few minutes to play there first.
 
A few minutes turned into 30 and we were about to miss meeting Curious George. We’d had the support of Birth to Three therapists for a few months at that time, and had heard how effective “five more minutes” announcements prior to an activity transition could be. But the tactic was failing us. The boy couldn’t hear or even see mom and dad because he was completely zoned out, oblivious to any people in the room in favor of watching all that rushing water.
 
So we carried him out. Kicking and screaming. In the hallway, all the happy families were awaiting entry to the room where Curious George would read a story. My nephew, typically the most active sort of toddler, had picked this exact moment to be perfectly calm. He walked toward us with an angelic grin, clasping his mom’s hand on one side and his dad’s on the other. Just then, my son threw his head back into my face, hitting my cheekbone’s most sensitive spot with precision. As I steadied him in my arms, he went for strike two, slamming his head into my lip. Yay. Blood.
 
I felt my eyes welling up as my husband said it might be time for us to leave. We made our not-so-graceful exit, eyes from every corner seemingly fixated on the overwhelmed parents of the misbehaved kid.    
 
We had taken separate cars because it had been a work day rush to arrive. Dad took the crying kiddo home. Mom had her own hysterical meltdown the second she was alone in the car. So….THIS was the life we had in front of us. Surely this would be the first of many unsuccessful outing attempts. If it was even worth attempting them again.
 
A few days later, I retold the sorry tale to our speech language pathologist. Her advice: Go to the very next character event and every other one that year. What?!
 
Next I told our occupational therapist. Her idea was the same, and her strategy — while seemingly too simplistic — was worth a try. We bought tickets to meet Ruby’s little brother Max on an early fall Saturday.
 
That morning, we created a book of three pictures: 1) Slide from a playground located next to the children’s museum parking lot, 2) Max, and 3) Water room. And for the whole ride down, I shared and reshared our schedule with my son. “First playground, then Max, then water room.”
 
Here’s how it went down: He got some sensory input on the bumpy slides at the playground, then he jumped like a bunny on our way toward the museum entrance (my idea!). He sat nicely and happily as we waited for Max’s arrival, and then paid attention to the story Max read and even went up to high-five him after the bulk of the crowd had dispersed. Score!
 
And two realities clicked for this mom: 1) These solutions aren’t brain surgery, and 2) A little preparation goes a long way. I hadn’t even made the book until that morning, despite the suggestion to be reading it in the week leading up to the event.
 
I began to gain some confidence in managing issues that arose, talking them through with the many experts in our lives and participating in free special needs parenting trainings so I felt prepared.
 
I recall a time we set up a new child’s basketball hoop and after building frustration over not being able to sink a shot, my son went into a crocodile-style death roll. Looking back at the incident with the help of a psychologist, I was the first to note that the key would have been stopping the activity before the frustration level built to an explosion.
 
And when, as a kindergartener in Christmas pageant rehearsal, my son went into full, 20-minute meltdown mode simply because a teacher had shhh’ed the whole group, I was the one assuring everyone who suggested he sit out this year’s pageant that he could be successful at it. We broke out the expectations step by step, and his teacher agreed to give him a very specific cue before it was his turn to walk down the aisle dressed as an animal from the manger scene. And my little lamb met every expectation.  
 
During his first grade year, our whole household was exhausted by an ugly bedtime routine. My son would scream and come out of his room multiple times for two to three hours every night before finally falling off to sleep. I came up with a system where he was allowed up to three tickets and had to give up one ticket every time he left the room after being tucked in. Our behavior analyst helped with some tweaks, but it was a plan I had come up with and already implemented to the point where it was working pretty well.
 
The vast majority of parents of children with special needs must have similar stories. We can all use the help and expertise of the teachers and therapists in our lives, but we can also be confident in our ability to work through the “fun” with our own ideas. It’s a cliche, but we are the ones who know our children best.
 
So there’s no reason to believe we aren’t savvy enough or educated enough to figure out effective approaches to solving problems, as parents of typicals do all the time. Even if we need to run the idea by a professional and get some help shaping it, it’s an idea worth celebrating.
 
My hope is that parents of the newly diagnosed, or those pursuing a diagnosis or even just having a really bad day (or month or year) can become empowered by reading stories from other parents — parents who have had their bad days too but have also shared a moment of triumph.

What is your story? Won’t you share your own first or a recent feeling of empowerment, a time when it was your own lightbulb moment that allowed you to help your child work through a challenge?