March 30, 2011

The "A" Word

Cussing. Cursing. Swearing. Whatever you call it, my kids are totally obsessed with it. Only I won't let them use the actual words. The first time Peabo dropped an F-bomb on me, he got a 30-minute time-out and a stern talking to. What I hear now is three kids hollering about "the bad 'F' word," "the bad 'B' word," and even "the bad 'O' word."

The bad "O" word. That's a new one.

And that's why I'm talking to my kids about Asperger's Syndrome. I don't want it to be another word we never say.

I read a few autism mom blogs by better informed moms with better therapies and better strategies for working with their kids. And I know many of them have been open and honest with their kids from the get-go, giving Asperger's a name.

I don't think I've been dishonest with my kids, though. I mean, Peabo's in seventh grade, and he's a bright, bright kid. He knows he's different. He's been through endless testing and retesting, through OT and PT, through tantrums and suspensions. When he was mainstreamed, he had a full-time aide and different testing and time in the Resource Room. But it took us forever to get the label. Peabo was identified at the age of three by his very astute preschool director, but despite ongoing, persistent effort, we didn't get a formal diagnosis until he was in 5th grade. So our conversations were not about labels but about differences. About how some people need more help than others. About how everyone has things they do brilliantly, and things they do poorly. About how what works for him doesn't always work for his siblings.

We just never used the word.

For years, I've watched my two younger kids struggle with their big brother's more challenging behaviors. There's the talking and the talking, and the repeating and repeating. There's the tantrums and the threats and the hating to lose. And his siblings have responded ... mostly with fingernail scratches and the occasional kick to the shin.

Not okay.

Veggie Girl's been talking to someone from time to time about her feelings. When this someone heard about the fingernails, she suggested a book: Autism Through a Sister's Eyes: A Young Girl's View of Her Brother's Autism.

So we started talking about autism. And Asperger's Syndrome. We used the words.

There's already one bad "A" word. We don't need to have two. Or three.

I told Peabo about his Asperger's over dinner one night (because the dinner table is where all the best conversations happen). He said, "Asperger's? Huh. May I have more bread, please?"

Since then he's learned from many of his friends that they have Asperger's too. He - and his siblings - have learned more about what that means. We've started the conversation.

I kinda hope it means the kids will stop beating up on their brother. Though, being that they're siblings and all, that's seriously unlikely.

Oh and hey, if you happen to know what the bad "O" word is, do tell. They've totally stumped me with that one.

March 19, 2011

Kiss Me, I'm Irish

I celebrate St. Patrick's Day. Despite the hefty dose of Dutch in my blood, there's still a wee dram o' Irish in there, and a great big dram o' Irish in my kids. Their dad is just one generation removed from the green hills of Skibbereen, and while he's not so into the shamrocks, I've taken it upon myself to give my kids a healthy appreciation of their Irish-Americanness.

I celebrate St. Patrick's Day with food, of course, because that's how I celebrate everything. If it doesn't involve a big meal, it's simply not a celebration. Giant, comfort food holidays are the bomb. I'm a particular fan of giant, comfort food holidays that are also dirt cheap. Give me five pounds of potatoes, a big bag of carrots, a fat head of cabbage, a hefty slab of corned beef, some Dijon mustard and a fine bottle of Guinness, and I will give you a St. Patrick's Day meal that could make banshees cry. Though, um, they do that already.

It also makes my kids cry. They each like exactly one thing in this meal, and absolutely nothing else. Hence the tears. The redhead eats the meat (with ketchup), my diva eats the potatoes, and Peabo - surprisingly - gobbles up the cabbage. No protein in cabbage, so I'm not sure where that comes from.

And that's St. Patrick's Day. Big crock pot full of cheap eats, and everyone wears green. No big bouncy bunny handing out baskets full of jelly beans and chocolate. No soot-covered fat man in a red suit passing out gifts. No magic. Just corned beef, cabbage, and kids clad in green.

Except there's supposed to be leprechauns. I didn't know about the leprechauns.

The night before St. Patrick's Day my redhead was apopleptic because he doesn't have any green pajamas. Apparently there were leprechauns coming, and if he didn't have green pajamas, they'd pinch him in his sleep.

At which point I did what any good mother with a freaked out kid would do. I said they weren't real.

Wait, did I say that was a good mother move?

What I was supposed to do, as it turns out, was find the kid some green pajamas, then meet the leprechauns downstairs and help them throw sofa cushions on the floor, dye the milk green, and leave a trail of coins. When you don't know this, though, the little green guys play a trick on you and do nothing at all, leaving you with one deeply disappointed five-year-old the next morning.

So I said they weren't real. I put the kid to bed in brown pajamas. And I ruined the magic.

Did you know about the leprechauns? Because in my day it wasn't leprechauns who did the pinching. It was any budding masochist amongst your group of besties who caught you greenless. I guess in this day and age, that would be considered bullying. So pinch-happy friends have been replaced by leprechauns. Yes, even in school.

Which I found out when the redhead came home, full to bursting with news.

"Mom!" he shouted. "You were wrong! They are real!"

And he told me about green footprints on the windows and tables in the classroom, chairs upended, and chocolate coins everywhere.

The leprechauns couldn't find him at home so they came to his classroom instead.


And next year, I'll be able to help. Food and magic? Why that's almost like Christmas.

March 11, 2011

Positive Dog Training

March is running away from me.

Might be nicer if March were running away with me. To someplace green and relaxing and warm, with endless acres of quiet. Sleepy, restful quiet.

But no. March is simply running, very quickly, and headlong on into April.

And it's very very noisy.

Turns out that border collie - have you met Oswald, the border collie? Well, it turns out that border collie and full-on Aspie tantrum don't get along so well. We get amped up tweenage Peabo on an "I don't wanna do my homework" tear, and Oz goes "What the heck? That young sheep is misbehaving!" and starts barking the roof down. Which amps Peabo up further. Which amps Oz up further.

My loud house has gotten a whole lot louder.

I've combed through every dog training book I could find - which in my house means exactly one book, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Dog Training, because of course I haven't had time to go to the library and look for more. Did you know that barking is a sign of stress? Much like your typical Aspie tantrum, oddly enough.

I also learned that dogs don't understand English. So I can't tell Oz to be patient because tantrums don't last forever. In fact these days tantrums are generally quite short, unless there's a dog barking nearby feeding the madness. Oz doesn't seem to hear that. He thinks I'm barking too and just barks louder.

So I worked on the other side of the equation: Peabo and his junior cohorts. Every person in this house under the age of 20 now has instructions to lie down the instant the dog starts barking. It's hilarious. Aspie tantrum begins. Dog starts barking. All three children promptly lie down. Dog goes, "Huh?" All three kids giggle. Tantrums - both doggy and human - averted. Because it's really hard to be upset about your homework when you're laughing at the dog. And it's a routine. Routines are genius.

Probably I should have bought the Complete Idiot's Guide to Positive Child Training a few years back. I'm trying treats and clickers on them next.