Thursday, April 20, 2017

I'm trying to get there...

Saying "cheese" at church on
Easter Sunday. He's learned
if he just says cheese, Mom
puts the camera away, haha.
This post is hard to write.  Mostly because I feel guilty feeling the way I do.  It also goes against all the "moms of autism" posts I see.  Let me preface by saying I have a whole bunch of faith in this little boy and I know that the "eventuallys" and the "it is coming" is 100% true, but this is my emotions going through this in the here and now.

I read a lot of these posts: Even If I could take away the autism away I wouldn't, it is what makes my kid the way they are/learned so much more/they are pros at ___.  Well I am not there.

Nolan is young he's still 2.  He is almost 3, but he is still 2.  He doesn't have anything he particularly loves or is fascinated with so we cant take that and support it and run with it.  He doesn't communicate with us much so we we have no idea what he feels, remembers, or even likes.  I am sure talents, interests, and more will emerge in time, but right now its hard.  I feel like I am watching his peers pass him.  I feel like those kids younger than him are catching up to him.  I feel like we are just stagnant waiting for him to show us what to do next.

Right now, I still want the autism to go away.  I want my baby boy to express who he is, what he wants, what he likes, all that is him with out the struggles in the way.  I just want to be with my boy.  I want to find what he is best at and promote it, help it, support it.  I want him to find true happiness and continue to seek it and work with it.  One day, he will be the best at SOMETHING.  I just want him to be the best at something.  His something-his anything.   I want the challenges to making my boy a superstar to go away.  Why does it have to be so hard to find what my child loves and makes him happy.

He is going to be things.  He is going to love things.  He is going to excel at things.  He will have those things he is best at.  Today we are stuck at the autism.  Until we can get through these hurdles (with therapy which we are doing and growth we are seeing) I see his autism.  I see him held back.  I see him challenged.  I hurt.  I want more than anything to make his life happy and him successful.  You can bet as soon as I find anything he likes I run with it.  One day his autism will help enhance all that he is, will make his life more colorful, will make all that he is more special. Right now all that I feel is hidden in a colorful fog.

In my head I picture those color runs.  You know where they run through the clouds of chalk dust (imagine seeing all the colors and possibilities but having trouble seeing the path/where you are going, but when you finish the race and make it though you are covered in all these colors, they make the run all the more exciting and you have a sense of accomplishment--you earned each of those colors.  That is how I picture Nolan, his journey with autism.  We will get to the end of the race with all our colors and each one earned....but right now I am stuck in the fog.  Right now I am really struggling with helping him.

I am writing this because I want other parents who are struggling to feel ok for struggling.  Because every blog I read is after the run I want to know it is ok to feel cloudy.  I just hate feeling so foreign with my feelings (again here is my personal social anxiety of feeling like an outlier).  I want it to be ok to be angry with this. I want it to be ok that I cry every day that I just want to help my baby shine and be happy and I have no clue what he likes.  I want to feel like I am still his advocate, his mama bear, and I am still fighting like hell for autism awareness and acceptance while still being sad right now.  I want to know I can be both.  I am trying to get to those quotes. We, as a family, will get to those quotes...but we aren't there yet.

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Different ways to Learn Language

Nolan learns language in a special kind of way.  He learns a script, memorizes it, uses it a lot, uses it in context, and then eventually learns what it actually means.  This  (in my simple understanding of things) is called echolalia.

I read Ten Things Your Student with Autism Wishes you Knew (I have this book if you want to borrow it!  It is a good read!) and that is when I got my best understanding of exactly how this works.  Here is the excerpt.
Here, Nolan fell on the trampoline.  We go through this script fairly often when he slides on the trampoline.  He is starting to fall (on purpose) on the hardwood or snow and do the same script. He is doing it for attention (which is a good thing for him!  He's seeking our attention!) and using it in context.  He says sorry because one time we bumped him and said "whoops, sorry!" and now that is all connected.

Other phrases he currently learned this way:
"awww, I got you" when he wants comfort or is giving it.  Basically any time he gives or wants a hug

"get out" when he is angry (when he would play in the dog water I would be angry and sternly tell him to "get out" so now he says it when he's angry.

"Wait" when he is frustrated.  When every he would be frustrated we would say "waiiit, we will help you."  Now he associates wait with frustration.

"Be nice" whenever hes anxious/doesnt want you to do that.  Mostly, whenever
Stella comes by.  This is basically a I have to be nice and I want her to be nice and she is getting to close kind of thing.  This originated from us telling BOTH of them to be nice to the other when ever they would get close.

We are working on changing up the script when he does something to expand the vocabulary and make the connection.  Example: when he falls, instead of whoops its slippery, I say, "Wow! did you crash down?" We are also working on naming the emotion and what is happening vs the phrases.  "I see you are angry that we turned off Paw Patrol, but it is time to be done.  I know it makes you angry but we are going to find something new to do." etc, etc.

It is very tricky to talk for you child.  Speaking how you want him to copy (saying I want a hug when you are giving him one, saying I am feeling angry when he is, etc) but we are seeing it pay off.  He will eventually learn it and know what the meaning of these words are, we are just taking a very interesting path there!

It is very difficult to me to not have a conversation with my child.  I want to know how his day was, what he thinks is funny, what he wants, what he did today, what he wants to do today.  I want him to be excited about things and want me to know about them.  I want to hear silly stories.  I have hope we will get there.  I dont know what this journey will look like, I dont know how long it will be but I have faith it will happen.  Most days I feel like I am running on my faith, but, in all honesty, aren't we all?

Sunday, April 2, 2017

The Husband's View

I never fully understood why my wife blogged. I'd say things like "Oh darling, my dearest sweetheart (that’s how I always greet her), people have their own s*** to worry about… they don't need to hear about our issues, too" and "Who even reads that stuff anyway? Isn't Facebook for pictures of babies, attention-seeking people at gyms, and dinners made by people you don’t care about?" Other than during Packer games, I've never been one to speak my feelings much (I can hear Siraya screaming “You don’t say!”) especially on social media, so this is all seemed odd to me. But then I'd hear her talk about the people that message her after she posts. Friends of friends she didn’t even know reaching out to her thanking her for saying things they can't/won't. Thanking her for making them feel like they aren't alone, for giving them a voice. Thanking her for being unafraid...fearless even. I see now that she is serving as not only a wonderful mom to an equally wonderful boy (who just happens to have autism), a therapist, an educator, and an advocate, but also a role model to others in similar situations. That is a lot of hats to wear. Many of her pages have had over 1,000 views, one has over 10,000 and counting! Since she started being a stay at home mom instead of being a 4K teacher, I can tell she has been searching for more meaning, a way to help others outside her family. She started selling books, which is a passion to her for obvious reasons with her education background. She is darn good at it too (no surprise). However, she is making a difference with her words now, too.

Even before the diagnosis, Siraya and I talked through everything and knew we wanted to take autism head on. We have thrown ourselves into everything we could. We signed up with birth to 3 for OT and speech, we got the ball rolling on ABA, we went out and got literature to learn everything we could, we even purchased toys and swings that could help with his therapy. Our thinking is we are never going to regret trying too hard to help him be all he can be. But I'd be lying if there aren't times of trial, sadness, grief especially with sleepless nights (because of him AND Stella). We do our best to talk through these feelings to get through hard times. Like I tell her from Finding Nemo "just keep swimming." Seeing everyone wearing blue today and posting pictures about Autism awareness really meant a lot for us today. Autism is part of our life every single day. The good, the bad, the ugly and the ridiculous. Seeing others recognize that and support us means a lot.

I have always made an effort in my life to not complain. I try to remember there are always others who have it worse. That being said, there have been nights I have sat by Nolan’s bed and asked God "Why this kid? Why does he have to struggle?" I prayed for God to change my son. We went through the stages of grief; denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and are now trying to embrace acceptance. At first, I’d wish for this different, better child to come out from hiding behind this autism disease. I have learned to celebrate my “wild child” and his quirks, encourage all the strengths, and do everything I can to improve his weaknesses.  I also try to see autism as a challenge instead of a disease. We believe we have an attainable goal of ultimately having him be in a regular classroom without support. With the support of our family and friends, the in-home therapy, and of course of remarkable background my wife has in educating young kids, I am supremely confident about Nolan making every goal we set for him and he sets for himself.

To me, the three hardest things about Nolan being on the spectrum are 1. Not being able to enjoy those milestones that other neurotypical (NT) seem to, 2. The fact that he seems to not care to interact with his (way too beautiful) sister Stella, and 3. Not being able to communicate with him normally. My wonderful wife has taught me to appreciate the small little miracles each day. No, he can't play pretend like other NT kids, but the other day he pushed a train and said “Choo-Choo.” This evening he bumped his head on a side table (an everyday occurrence, except this time he was naked, not getting into that) but he came up to me, sought comfort, said “ouch.” Then when I asked him where he said “head” and pointed. WOW, him pointing and verbalizing gave me goosebumps. Some things I wouldn't think twice about for the average kid, but for us it is an absolutely huge deal. His lack of interest in his sister might have been the biggest red flag for me before his diagnosis. I mean there was another human in our house for weeks and months and I literally don’t think he noticed. He is getting better at playing alongside of her but I don’t want her to feel left out or unloved by him, this still causes me to worry for her. The other big struggle is with language. Nolan’s language is mostly echolalia meaning he copies things we say to him like a parrot and tries to relate to how he's feeling. He says "got you" when he needs comfort "be nice" when Stella is in his bubble, etc. Basic feelings are hard for him to communicate and it can be really frustrating having that barrier between us, especially when he feels frustrated and melts down. Him being cold can ruin our time at a parade. Him feeing hungry can cause an absolute meltdown inside the children's museum. "Why didn't you tell us you were hungry Nolan?" But, at the same time we feel very blessed. Nolan has the ability to speak, albeit limited, whereas one third of people with autism are non-verbal.

The universe works in mysterious ways. In the months since the diagnosis, I have stumbled across more thing about autism than the first 29 years of my life combined. Sesame street is adding a character with Autism. Tons of people have shown support in person or online by wearing blue for World Autism awareness day. The other day on my drive from work which is only about 15 minutes, I was thinking about how excited I was to spend a few hours with my family after a long work day. Usually when I get home I can tell Siraya needs a break. Our kids are wonderful, but sometimes there is only so much crying, poop, and stimming a person can take. I turn on my radio and heard two songs back to back that I've heard a dozen times and thought nothing of it. Now they take on a new meaning with Nolan’s diagnosis.  All of me by John Legend was the first one, this is the part that hit home for me.

What's going on in that beautiful mind
I'm on your magical mystery ride
And I'm so dizzy, don't know what hit me, but I'll be alright
My head’s under water but I’m breathing fine
You're crazy and I'm out of my mind
'Cause all of me Loves all of you
Love your curves and all your edges
All your perfect imperfections
Give your all to me, I'll give my all to you
You're my end and my beginning
Even when I lose I'm winning

Next was True colors from the movie Trolls by Justin Timberlake and Anna Kendrick.
I see your true colors shining through
I see your true colors and that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show your true colors
True colors are beautiful
Many times, Nolan seems to live in his own little world. We are going to do everything we can to try and live in it with him. He is our sweet boy, albeit a little crazy sometimes… like my wife (that’s gonna put me back in the doghouse). At my high school graduation, I made a speech about how during our lives our view of superheroes changes. It starts out as mommy and daddy, then batman and superman or whatever princess girls these days like (I’ll learn soon with Stella I’m sure). Ultimately, we can all be superheroes whether you’re a doctor, or lawyer, a plumber (have you ever tried living without running water?), or salesman giving somebody that needs a break a good deal. At this point in my life, Nolan is a super hero. My wife is my super hero. I put my kids down with my wife tonight, and I can’t help but feel so incredibly blessed. Nolan is not the kid we imagined. But what in life goes as planned? The unexpected twists and turns keep us busy. I always expected parenthood to be a learning experience for all of us, but I never thought Nolan could teach me all he has in his 31 months on this Earth. Because of him, when I pray tonight, it won’t be to change my child. It will be to change me…to be a better dad to Nolan and Stella, a better husband to my smoking hot wife.
Thanks for reading my words. I hope this proves to my wife and the world that I do in fact have feelings.
Go Pack Go,

Sunday, March 19, 2017

Sesame Street has a new fan!

My last post I talked about how I was getting looks and my social anxiety went through the roof.

Today, it was brought to my attention that a puppet with autism will be joining the Sesame Street cast. Now, let me tell you I have never been a Sesame Street fan.  I think my reason was I didnt want my kids to talk like Elmo and Cookies monster, but in complete sentences and proper English.  But this, you guys, makes me want to record every freaking episode.

I genuinely believe that this exposure to Julia and Autism will decrease those looks Nolan and I get and they will turn into looks of understanding and "Oh yeah, I saw this on Sesame Street!"

It gives me a lot of hope and makes me feel less afraid.  I know that the looks I have gotten are often not meant to be rude, just not understanding what is going on.  This will open so many doors for Nolan and for me as a parent.  I am very excited for this future.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

That first "look" and growing MY skin

Well it happened. We were out at a party with some people who did not know about our journey.  Nolan was stimming making noises and flicking his fingers.  I calmly reminded him to relax, as I always do, as a reminder--which he responded to by putting his hands on his lap.  It was a normal exchange for us.

During the exchange I look up from Nolan and notice someone there turned to watch us, and raised their eyebrows and looked very confused at the exchange.  It hurt me.  They didn't mean anything by it and frankly it wasn't a bit deal, but it hurt me.

I need to work on growing my thicker skin. My son is unique.  I am his advocate and I know what helps him be more successful.  That is what matters, not the looks I get when I do that for him.

It is not easy.  I have some social anxieties (I always have). It makes me extremely anxious to 1) be left out and 2) be looked at/standing out.  I care an extreme amount (and maybe unhealthy amount) about what other people think of me.  That makes having a child who is born to stand out difficult for me because MY anxieties in public shoot through the roof.  That being said, I am the one who has to grow a tougher skin.

He is an amazing little boy who needs the support of his family.  I love him more than I can explain and I am working on changing my perspective of life and controlling my anxieties so I can continue to give him all the wonderful opportunities in life regardless if we stand out.   I will continue to work on me for Nolan.

The day we got his diagnosis, we all became an Autism family. Nolan is not going through this journey alone, he has his whole family (blood and close friends) behind him.

Friday, March 3, 2017

Stay at home zookeeper-Behind the Scenes

I have been thinking of renaming/branding the blog.  I am torn between Stay at Home Zookeeper because, lets face it, its how I feel most days, and Behind the Scenes because I want moms to see what happens behind the scenes in my home (besides the pretty Instagram photos I love to post).  As I ponder this (and would gladly accept your opinions--spam me with which you think!), I have had this post on my mind to kind of demonstrate what I am talking about.

 Being a mom of 2 kids 2 and under (and 2 under 2 for a little while there) is tricky.  It takes adjusting, there is a learning curve, and everything is give and take.  Give him some time and take some from her, give her some time and take from him.  With the give and take then leads to the mom guilt of what I am missing when I am taking time from the other. Let me tell you this momming thing, its hard!  It is not for the faint of heart!

Now we add in Nolan's autism and it has a new dimension.  I have to be very careful to balance the two.  I spend A LOT of times working with Nolan.  He has occupational therapy, speech, and then the "homework" for all of those.  Not to mention he is hard to understand (speech/verbal expression), he doesn't know/can't explain what he wants, we are teaching him how to play, and he has a lot of sensory needs.  I feel like I leave Stella in the dust some days.

Then there is the fact I am still nursing Stella.  I curl up on the couch with her and cuddle and hug while we nurse 3-5 times during the day for 15 minutes at a time.  Naturally that is when Nolan is hungry, wants something but doesn't know what, wants me to go "this way."  I have to tell him "no, sorry, Mommy has Stella."

Oh and then we have Stella can't cry for a second at night because it may wake up Nolan who is EXTREMELY difficult to get back to sleep, or Nolan cant be left alone in his room to long at "rest time" or he makes noise and wakes Stella up from her nap.  Sensory table is a lot of fun for Nolan but to small for Stella.  Stella's swing is for Stella, Nolan is to big.

Then you add in the crazy schedule: wake, feed, play, feed, Stella nap/work with Nolan, play, feed, both nap, play, feed, bath, bed.  Sooooo when does mom eat, drink, pee?  She doesnt.  I have felt like I get down to little to no self image some days.  I am a machine that provides the millions of needs to my children and never myself.  I am not kidding guys, there are days I eat for the first time at 2pm--and that includes cold coffee.  I shower MAYBE twice a week.  Dinner--even just an idea of what it will be--hahahahahahaha.

But wait, there's more!  2 dogs and fish.  Both dogs cannot be more than 3 inches from a person eating and often catch the food before it hits the floor.  (I am not above 5 second rule! The dogs wont even give me the chance!)  I spend an entire meal yelling "OUT!"  Then when they inevitably eat something it gives Pudge such bad gas it literally scares him.  He needs to be touching you at all times and is shaking because he is literally afraid--then he farts and goes skittering away as he scared himself.  Badger? He pukes.  He starts gagging and goes to his puke corner and you bet I better run--(even if I am nursing, helping Nolan, one leg in my pants, you name it) literally run-- to let him out.  Oh and Badger barks at all the dogs...all the dogs that have the audacity to be outside in their own yards during the day.  Dogs also come with dog water which kids get into.  If its cold, heaven forbid the dogs are outside for a few minutes...their poor paws.  They WILL bark until you let them in.  "Play outside! You're a dog!"  ugh, I digress.  Please dont get me started on the fish massacre of 2017.  I killed the fish. All the fish. I just wanted a clean tank, but I killed the fish.  I hate it, it made me sad (literal tears-stupid hormones), but I killed the fish. I have saved one.  1 female beta cleverly named: white fish.

As days go on I feel like I let someone down every day.  Then I took a new perspective on it.  Someone had to learn patience today.  Someone had to learn independence today.  Someone learned I am always here for them and they are important.  Someone learned I love them endlessly but that does not mean getting what they want right now.

I have learned both my kids have (and always will have) their own needs and need their own attention, but with practice, juggling, perspective, learning, re-learning, reorganization , and a little help from the other we can do it.  Nobody is let down, everyone is just taking their turn.  We invested in Hello, Fresh! and their meals already planned out, sized out, purchased, etc all in a convenient box at my door on Tuesdays.  When my family has high quality meals I can actually pull together I feel like a better mom.  I meal prep lunches for the week (and dinners when Alex is gone) and even 2 lunches for Alex.  Its a pain to do, but super awesome when I can eat more than once a day.  The pets, yeah, they just make me crazy.

The more I thought about it, this really is not different than any mom of more than one child.  Nolan's autism adds to the list of things he needs, but every child has needs.  He may have more, but there are many children who need more right now.  Life may have more things in it we do in a day, but I don't think I have to be a different mom because of it.

Am I? Im not sure, but you know what
they say- "fake it til you make it."
PS. Its 3pm and this is still full--and cold.
Momming isn't easy, nobody said it would be.  Having a child with Autism isn't easy, nobody said it would be.  I just have to remember to not be to hard on myself and realize I am learning and figuring this out as much as they are.  One thing is for sure, this is a crazy life I wouldn't trade for the world.

Hang in there mamas!  Moms of 1, moms of children with special needs, moms of many, moms of multiples, moms.  Hang in there.  You are doing fine.  You are learning too. You are not the only one!

Soooo this life I live, this blog I write: Stay at home Zookeeper? Behind the Scenes?  Behind the Scenes of a Stay at Home Zookeeper?

Stella 9 Months

9 Months
Likes: crawling everywhere, stealing Nolan's things, eating, 
Dislikes: being over tired, sleeping through the night (still up  2/3 times a night:10, 1, 4), wiping her nose, having to stop for a diaper change
Can/Does: crawls, pulls up, stand for a second if let go of her hand, fake laugh, eat solids, drink from a sippy cup
Size/Weight: Still tiny.  3-6 month clothes mostly fit, some are short and some 6 month clothes
1/2 a tooth!

Celebrating the Super Bowl!  We had the party at our house with our friends and the kids had a lot of fun! It is amazing how large our brood is growing!  As of now, next Super Bowl we will have 9 kids 5 and under!

 2 days later and crawling across the room

Crawling up Daddy

Found the doorstop.  Only took her 6 days of crawling.  It is removed now.

Starting to say her consonants.  Dada wins!

Here she has to do what her brother is doing and pulls up to do it. She really is a stinker and I see her crawl as fast as she is capable of when Nolan has a new toy. The more dangerous and she shouldn't have it the more she wants it and faster she moves towards it.

First Valentine's Day
We started the day by celebrating at home, then we took Noley to Children's to talk about his sleep and we ate at Firehouse subs.  Stella is doing so well eating big people food and sitting in high chairs. She loves to hear her own voice and often yells as loud as she can in restaurants and then laughs at our reaction.
Went to SkyZone to jump with a mommy group.  Nolan loved jumping and Stella loved the attention and the bouncing. She started in the carrier but then she wanted to be a bigger part of the action.  She even jumped in the foam pit with Noley and I!

We had miracle 60*+ weather in February so we took advantage of being outside!

Play date at the park!

Food was a lot of what was new for Ms. Stella. haha.  Lots of fun for Stella, lots to clean for mom and dad.
eating baby food by hand
Eating lasagna like Mommy & Daddy

fell (& got stuck) in the hummus
Eating carrots on her own

Went to Emily's third birthday party at Badger State park.  She, naturally, was stealing from Nolan.

These two LOVE playing peek a boo with mommy and daddy, especially out the car door.

Her hair just cracks me up!
At our next birthday party, Stella took it upon herself to help unwrap the presents (or eat all the paper that they removed). Then, best thing ever, Nolan and Stella began playing with one of the tools together.  
She is good at and not afraid of going through tunnels.

 Standing is starting to happen!  First with Grandma only holding a little bit.  Then on her own. She is also holding on to things and doing it with only one hand.

Resisting sleep....falling asleep while crying.

The little stinker will not sleep at grandmas house....unless mommy is holding her.

Stinker does not like to hear the word no.  This is her reaction to being told no bears in her mouth.
Stella is getting to do more and more with with us at the children's museum!
She has been watching Daddy and Nolan and learning how to play music

EllieFay Photography & Design did her 9 month photos, SO CUTE!

Follow in real time on Instagram @behindthescenes_mrsg

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Nolan's update

Days after a diagnosis are crazy. You have a million phone calls to make, strategies to try, etc.  While we have been doing all of that (and appointments are trickling in but we have no new news yet) we have continually been working with Nolan. We are seeing some great progress from this amazing little boy and mama wants to take a moment to show the growth we have seen.

New words: suction cups

He actually stopped daddy before he blew out his candles and wanted to do it!

Told daddy happy birthday

He isn't singing songs yet, but filling in the words!  Getting closer!

Physically, Nolan hasnt had many challenges, but the last trip to the water park was scary to him.  He "jumped" into the water after lots of coaxing and patience of daddy!

Helping Mommy feed Stella!

Sorting his bears! So great with his colors and sorting, he LOVES these bears!

Back in May, Nolan could spell his name with help.  That faded around when Stella was born and it is just starting to come back again!

Nolan learns language through a script, but he is very good at memorizing scripts!  Here he knows how old he is.

I am a firm believer in helping kids learn self sufficiency.  We have given Nolan the chores of feeding the dogs and the fish! He is using language and doing a great job with this chore.

He is using his language and it was totally spontaneous!  I have no idea where he learned it but I am so proud of him!

He loves jumping! I am so proud of him for jumping two feet like a big kid!

Driving is only in a circle, but it is progress from last year!

Using tools, language, and following verbal directions in his new chair

Nolan is being a big helper, showing love towards his sister, and just being so incredibly sweet.

Nolan wanted me to help him. He is using language, communicating his needs, and just being so darn cute!