Haircut Phobia NO MORE !!!!!

Today has been a FANTASTIC day! After 1.5 years, Mars no longer has the haircut phobia. I am literally ECSTATIC! Thank you, Lord! It is truly an answer to prayer. This issue has caused me more stress and anxiety than almost any other single issue related to autism. I have written 7 posts on it starting with this one.

Basically, we have been doing a desensitization program for the past year and a half. We had to give Mars full control of the clippers and we had sessions on average once a week using a cookie as a reinforcer. We started with him just touching his head with the clippers turned off; then doing it with the clippers turned on, then barely sliding it over his head, then letting me guide his hand over his head etc. etc. Today, he let me use the clippers while he stood with his hands by his side and allowed me to give him a fairly good cut.

Amazing! Amazing! Amazing! Thank you Lord for answering our prayers!

IEP season – here we go again!

Wow, I hadn’t realized that it’s been over 6 weeks since my last post. I’m definitely much busier with a full time job but I’m going to have to set a reminder for myself to post at least once a month.

It’s IEP time so a quick update on that: As usual, the Special Ed folks just want to take things super easy with Mars whereas I’m surely not agreeing to that. As I tell them every year “I want my son to be challenged”. Ironically, I feel the opposite about General Ed – I think they push the kids too much. (My niece who is a 4th grader had a research project that kept her Mom & older sister up late for 3 nights helping her with it). Really ridiculous, if you ask me – kids at that age should not be stressed out like that. I’m dreading what 4th grade will be like for Venus next school year.

Anyway, Special Ed is the opposite – I’m referring to the self-contained Special Ed classroom like the one Mars is in which is specifically for Autism. Most of the kids in his classroom of 8 kids are like Mars non-verbal or minimally verbal with some cognitive impairments. Although the teachers are highly qualified (i.e. Masters in Special Education), they’d rather act like overpaid babysitters, instead of working really hard to teach the kids. For example, one of the goals Mars teacher put for next year was to “independently create 3 sentences using noun, object, verb”. 3 for crying out loud???? Someone could teach a smart dog 3 sentences in an entire school year utilizing ABA techniques. Seriously, I really mean that! I almost scoffed at the idea but managed to contain my irritation & politely said “I can’t agree to this”. So now we have a meeting set up for next week. I’m going to have Bryanna teach him 3 (or more) sentences just over the summer. Thank God for Bryanna. She is our ABA tutor who believes Mars can learn anything given the right time and effort & not surprisingly, whatever she teaches him he gets.

I’m going to end with this wonderful video that proves the potential our kids have if given the chance:

A New Chapter

I haven’t been posting for a while now mainly because I went back to work after 3 years of being a stay at home Mom. When I quit my job in 2011, it was due to a sense of urgency that I had to help Mars since he was making very little progress. I’m so glad I was able to take the time off work because he has made tremendous progress (although it seems very slow compared to typical kids). Last year I came to the point where I felt it’s hugely important for me to focus on working/saving & investing wisely so I can leave some financial assets for my kids when I am gone. I know for certain that the Lord inspired me with this vision because this job practically fell in my lap so to speak and it happened less than 2 months after my Mom told me she was praying for a job for me (how it happened is a testimony worthy of it’s own post). So here I am entering a new chapter of life. This is my second month at work and I am enjoying having a focus other than kids/autism for a change.

Another new chapter is Mars and starting medication. I have to confess that in the past I’ve been judgmental about parents who put their kids on medication. I struggled with it for over 6 months because I felt guilty that putting Mars on medication was just about making my life easier. After much prayer and soul searching, I came to a point of peace about it because of 2 things: first the realization that Mars himself was suffering because of his out of control emotions; second the realization that there is nothing wrong in desiring a peaceful home and better quality of life for myself and especially for my other child too. After he bit me a few times, I was truly afraid that Mars would hurt his sister really bad one day and I wasn’t going to let that happen (in fact, he’s grabbed her twice but fortunately not bit her). So now that he’s been on the smallest dose of Prozac since end of February, he’s been the happy good natured kid that he always had been before last summer. And we haven’t had any side effects so far, thank God. (We did have a detour from Prozac to Zoloft for about 3 weeks but Zoloft was completely ineffective for Mars so we switched back to Prozac but in pill form because the liquid is majorly yucky).

So dear reader, I’m not going to be posting as often but hope to do so occasionally as time allows.

May the Peace of God that surpasses all understanding be with you.

Medication

It’s been several months since I’ve been struggling with whether or not to start Mars on medication for his OCD behaviors, moodiness, irritability and aggression (although the latter has thankfully subsided as of late). However, his irritability has become almost constant in the past few months. The Dr had recommended either Prozac or Zoloft particularly for the OCD and moodiness. Researching what parents who’ve tried it say about these meds hasn’t turned up any major red flags so I posted a question on a yahoo parents support group expressing my doubts and fears about it. One lady said something that stuck with me “if your child was diabetic or had some other medical condition, would you hesitate to give him medication?”

It’s true that just because we can’t see mental illness, we don’t treat it the same as physical conditions. But still overcoming my own bias against medications that “mess with the mind” so to speak has been a slow process. I think what finally helped me was the gradual realization that Mars was really suffering. Even though my whole being rejects the idea that Mars has a “mental illness” still no matter what you call it, it’s undeniable that the quality of his life is negatively impacted by his moods and irritability. Once the Dr assured me that we can stop the medication anytime and that almost all possible side effects stop when the medication is stopped, I felt that it was only fair to Mars to see if this would help him.

So my Mom & I prayed about it over several weeks and started Prozac 1ml last Saturday. The good news is that there have been no adverse effects so far and there has been no moodiness, irritability or aggression for 4 straight days! Yippiee!!!. His teacher even said he had fantastic days at school both yesterday and today. The bad news is that this low dosage of Prozac only comes in liquid form and it tastes horrible, truly horrible even mixed with juice or maple syrup. I just can’t deal with a battle early morning before school! So now I have a prescription for Zoloft which comes in a small pill. That will be easier since he can swallow it with a spoon of ketchup or syrup without chewing or tasting it. Hopefully, the Zoloft will be as good as the Prozac seems to have been.

Sibling conversations

This week I’ve had a couple of short but touching conversations with Venus. The first one was when she said to me very earnestly
“It’s not that I don’t love Mars but I really really wish that I had another brother or sister my age that can play with me like other kids, you know…”
I looked at her & saw the deep longing in her eyes. I told her I understood and suggested she pray for God to bless us financially so that we can adopt a child. As soon as the words came out of my mouth, I felt bad thinking that I was raising her hopes needlessley. Sure enough her face brightened up and that night, she remembered to pray as I suggested. I prayed along with her thinking “Who am I to limit God?” If he chooses to answer a little girl’s prayer, then I would love to adopt a brother or sister for her from the millions of needy children around the world.

Another conversation I had with Venus went like this:
“Why do I have to get up early and Grandma gets to sleep in?”
“Because you have to go to school but Grandma is retired”
“I want to be retired”
“First you have to go to school for many years so you can get a good job, then you work for many years and save money so you can afford to retire”
“But I don’t want to work hard, that’s not fun”
“Then you will be poor and hungry and homeless when you could be a senior citizen enjoying retirement”
“I’ll just go live with my daughter”
“Maybe your daughter will say you can’t live with her and tells you to take care of yourself”
“Why would she say that?”
“Some people do say that to their parents. What would you say to me?”
Venus comes and puts her arms around my waist and says dead serious “I would never say that to you. You took care of me when I’m a kid so I owe it to you to take care of you when you are a senior citizen”.
I hugged her tight with tears in my eyes “I love you” I whispered. I really don’t have that expectation of her for myself but I secretly hope and pray that she will have that desire to take care of her brother someday when I am gone. But for now, this is good enough. Thank you, Lord.

2013 – What a year!

Only a few days left till 2014. Looking back, the last half of 2013 has been quite tough for Mars and our family. Today is a perfect example. We were at In-N-Out Burger and from the get go, he started whining. He continued whining as I gave him his burger and fries because he wanted me to give him everyone else’s fries before he even started his own. He grabbed my hair at one point but quickly let go even before I responded. Venus was so mortified that she took her food to a table across the aisle. By the time we were half way eating, he was alternating between eating and crying loudly so we had to cut our visit short.

I’ve come to the conclusion that once Mars gets upset about something, he pretty much loses control of his emotions and cannot seem to calm himself down even when he gets what he wants (i.e. food). The crying takes over and goes on and on. I felt so sorry for him that he couldn’t even enjoy the food he loves because of his emotions. And it’s not just crying spells, it’s also the aggression. These behaviors are disrupting his mood, his learning and our family life. He’s even regressed in terms of communication. Today I really reached the line. He has suffered enough. There is no reason he has to go through this emotional stuff every couple of days which is how frequently it’s been happening. Enough for us too. I am going to go back to the Dr about putting Mars on medication.

2014 has got to be better!

Thanksgiving

We spent Thanksgiving with extended family and had a really good time. It was nice because the family who hosted the dinner has an enclosed back yard which is almost completely visible through the French windows of the family room where we were all gathered. That meant that the kids including Mars played outside almost the whole time. He was quite happy running back and forth, trying out the scooter, and playing with the tons of toys they had out there. He had a great time and so did Venus. Me too since I was able to relax and enjoy chatting with others without having to constantly follow Mars around the house.

Despite the recent behavior issues we are having with Mars, I am peaceful and optimistic, choosing to focus on so many things that I need to be thankful about. First and foremost, my Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ who is the source of my hope and strength. I am thankful for my health and God’s provisions for all of our needs. I am thankful for family, especially my Mom, who is the one constant support throughout my life. And of course, I am thankful for my kids who are the apple of my eye, my treasures.

I hope everyone had a Happy Thanksgiving.

Aggression Triggers

I’ve noticed that there are different triggers for Mars’ aggression. The first & obvious one is when he is angry such as when I refuse to give him more snack or I correct his handwriting. Even just hearing “no” is setting him off these days.

The second trigger is definitely sensory seeking behavior. A few times, he came to me & put my hand on his upper arm and squeezed it essentially asking for a squeeze. He wasn’t satisfied with a medium squeeze either. At first I was puzzled but then I realized it was because when he’s tried to bite me, I grip his upper arm and hold him at at arm’s length. Odd but I guess he’s seeking that same sensory input.

Third trigger: anxiety. The other day, Mars was laying on the sofa playing on his IPad and whining at the same time. I wondered why he was whining since it was just after a meal & he was just relaxing. As I watched him, I could tell that the whining was getting more intense. Then he jumped up, ran towards the window & back to to sofa and repeated that a few times. It occurred to me that his agitation was due to anxiety. He continued whining & suddenly picked up a stuffed animal and bit into it hard. Thank God nobody was next to him because that could have been someone’s arm that he bit. Eventually, he calmed down on his own.

Later, I read this very interesting article online that talks about the overlap between Autism and ADHD & how their brains are different from the rest of us. They have pictures of PET scans showing that the area of the brain that handles self-control has white matter that is less dense in ADHD and even less so in Autism. Here is the link:

Insights for Autism from ADHD

Especially after reading this, the feelings that stayed with me were empathy, compassion & a deep sadness for Mars. It is his biological make-up that is causing him to behave this way but often in the heat of the moment, it is easy to forget that & get angry at him for his aggressiveness.

I left a message for the Dr to call me to discuss medication for Mars.

Rigidity and Aggression

So the rigidity and obsessive compulsive behaviors are continuing making it necessary to supervise Mars even more closely than before. For example, he is obsessed with pumping the hand soap & washing his hands repeatedly, playing with the lotion, shampoo or conditioner. I’m having the locks changed on the bathroom door so he can’t go in without being escorted.

Another obsession: he has to be the one to put on his jacket or shoes himself. Normally I would be happy with that but when we are running late & he’s gazing up at the corner of the ceiling with his jacket in his hand even though I’m repeatedly telling him to put it on, then I just grab it and put it on for him. In the past, this was no problem but now he fights me off and throws a fit and takes the jacket off or his shoes off just to put it back on again. It’s my way or the highway with Mars these days!

At school, they are reporting the same kinds of things with Mars pulling other kids out of the chair since his spot belongs only to HIM or resisting when they try to correct his writing. His handwriting has worsened quite a bit in the past few months.

So last week we saw his Developmental Pediatrician. Turns out OCD traits are fairly common with autism. She suggested I think about medication. I appreciated that she wasn’t pushing it on me just offering it as a possibility. I have been researching it and since yesterday, I’m thinking about it even more. Because yesterday Mars bit my thumb in a fit of rage after I told him to stop whining and just eat. It was surreal. He bit me quite hard but let go when I screamed out in pain. I was stunned. Even after the pain subsided, I was shook up emotionally. For the first time ever, there was a feeling, an inkling of fear. Later after a peaceful bedtime routine, I bent down to kiss Mars goodnight and he lifted his head from the pillow and leaned towards my arm, baring his teeth to bite me. I pulled away immediately but this was even more scarier than the earlier biting incident because he was not angry or agitated at all. He was at rest and it was as if he simply felt the need to bite. Wow!

So now of course I’m strongly considering the medication to calm him down. Especially for Venus. How do you live in fear of your own 8 y/o injuring you or even worse injuring your other child? Last week, he had yanked her from a chair to pull her off of the computer. Thankfully no biting at that time.

This past Sunday at church, our pastor taught that sometimes God does not deliver us “from” the fire but instead meets us “in” the fire (Referencing Daniel 3:15-30 when Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were thrown in the fire and God met them there). These days I am praying fervently that God will meet and deliver our family from harm. The Lord is able. Amen.

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