31 March 2008

What the....?

Hey, how did we get to the end of March already? I presume it has been in the usual way, but from here it is speeding past.

I can recall instances of crushing boredom before I became somebody's mother. Time just crawled, with some afternoons threatening to stretch on into the next week if I didn't find something to do. Now I barely keep track of the date before I find it has moved on.

There has been a lot going on. I have decided to get into more of the classes that my gym offers. It's a 'ladies only' gym, which makes it very relaxed. Less worry about primping, none of the dust pawing steroid boys to drench the atmosphere with testosterone laced sweat. Not that there isn't a time and place for that, but it can be inhibiting. Without them, we can be a lot more casual, and much less concerned about what we look like.

Anyway, there are several other mothers of autistic children who are regulars at this gym, and it isn't too challenging to work out why. Exercise helps keep the mind calm and the body happy. It keeps us strong and springy enough for those sudden instances when a sprint is called for... these kids can really move. I've been doing weight training, cardio, yoga and pilates. To this I added another pilates class and a 'body pump' class, which is weight training really energetically, with lots of reps, to music.

My performance wasn't all that stellar in the first 'body pump.' I had taken a place near the back, and when the music began, I couldn't hear much of what the instructor was saying. She kept having to leave her special raised platform to thread through the others in order to correct me. If she told me more than two directions at once, I knew I was certain to miss some of it. I fell out of step quite a lot. I figured if I watched carefully I might be able to follow. This worked until the routine required us to lie down. Then I couldn't see the teacher or hear her. I did feel I'd had a good workout, and was stiff and sore the next day, so I got something out of it. Next week, I said, I'd get there in time to grab a place closer to the front.

There is one mother who is often at the gym when I'm there. Her son is autistic, and close to Linus' age. He is fascinated with broken glass, and if he gets the chance, will chew on the bits, oblivious to pain or blood. My two don't try to eat broken glass, for which I'm grateful. This mother tells the most hair raising stories, but here's the thing: She's a cheerful, happy person. She laughs often, and it's contagious. People like to be around her. I'm fascinated with how someone can face such difficulty, so many regularly occurring crises and be so clearly happy and cheerful. She says she has her moments, and I'm sure that's true. But her baseline, her default state, is one of happiness.

I love talking with her, because I'm dying to know how she does it. I'm making an informal study, and if I learn any techniques, I'll be certain to write them down.

08 March 2008

Doing the Dance

I had to go along to Linus' class at Autism Queensland this week.
I'm generally resistant to these occasions, if that's the right word. Resistant, like a cat about to be given a bath. I have managed to wriggle out of a whole bunch of these, and that is because they are usually not much fun.

There's one in particular that still makes me want to groan when I remember it. It was intended to celebrate Mother's Day 2005. I was ill, as it happened, with depression and anxiety. A physician decided I should try a course of hormones that day, which made me instantly nauseous, as well as teary and miserable. Linus' teacher at the time had done two week's worth of arm twisting so I'd remember to turn up early for a special afternoon tea and a little show, so there was no way I wasn't going. Each time she mentioned it, it sounded as if she had only just thought of it: "Oh, by the way..." with no reference to the previous reminders. I played along with this, cheerily saying that I'd make a note of it as if it was the first I'd heard of it. I didn't really want to attend, but I tried to be upbeat about it.

The thing is, I turn up, and then I remember why these things are usually so painful. In spite of feverish preparations on the teacher's part, I know that my sweet little kid isn't going to do the little D.A.N.C.E. or whatever...

Depending on the school, Linus' autism has put him in classes with other children whose difficulties have varied widely. There have been children with intellectual impairment, and children with physical disabilities.

I am in awe sometimes at what they and their parents have to overcome. There was one little boy wheelchair bound because his bones tended to break easily, and he had no pain sensation to tell him that he'd hurt himself. On that day, even this kid was having a go at the counting song tootling out of the cd player. Other children were dancing, as best they could. My son was under a table, crying, with his hands clamped over his ears. I wanted to join him. I don't think anyone had noticed that I'd gone green at the offer of scones with cream and jam prepared by the children. My son is adorable, but his hands are always sticky. I might eat something he prepared but only if I could personally verify that his hands were clean and didn't stray during the entire process. I had to pass on the sole choice of earl grey tea, which I dislike even when I'm not sick. The teacher, full of energy herself, prodded all of the stressed and weary mothers to put down their refreshments and dance, too. Wishing to be a good sport, I got up and tried to coax Linus out, but he wasn't having any of it. I knew he wouldn't. I didn't blame him, and even would have liked to join him under there. Instead, I found myself shuffling along with forced bonhomie with another child. Linus stayed under the table until it was time to go home. We were both glad to get out of there.

I feel bad that I feel that way about it, but I've been through a lot of these. Sometimes they've been in amongst a mainstream class, and so when they can't or won't do whatever is being presented, it's especially noticeable. To be confronted with your child's developmental delay never fails to feel exactly like a kick to the guts, only you have to smile encouragingly anyway, as if proud moments like these are all you live for. I'm never sure if I'm fooling anyone, but I really do try not to let despair cloud my features.

Eventually Ben did manage to figure out that if he did something clever or amusing the approval and encouragement he'd receive was something he could enjoy. In particular, there were a few book character costume parades that went well, one of them because I was in the parade, in costume with him. The same approach hasn't worked with Linus. He isn't interested in performing. He doesn't like groups, and totally loses his cool in crowds. He wants no part of it.

So with all this behind me, there I was this week at Autism Queensland. I found myself sneaking in a crouch around and behind the building, commando style, led by a member of staff. Neither of my children were to know I was there, and especially not Linus, whom I would be observing through a back window.

I've had remarkable luck with finding the most wonderful teachers and therapists. If I've done nothing else of consequence, I've at least found the right people to help. This particular teacher is omnicompetent; infinitely patient, always tactful, kind, and persistent. She has made definite progress with Linus in the last year. I begged out of class visits for most of that time, but when she sent home a note this term asking if I would consider attending, I wrote back asking her to recommend a session. She indicated that a numbers lesson would be good for me to see, and so this was what I was watching through the window.

Linus isn't showing any savant abilities, but he does seem to like numbers and to have a grasp of them as symbols and quantities. He was able to count along by tens to 100 during this session, and to say what number was missing when his teacher erased one in the sequence. Two of the other boys in the room were distracted because they saw me, a stranger, peering in at them through the window. I smiled and waved, but really, what were they to make of it? It was awkward enough sneaking around as we had. Most schools are sensitive about that kind of thing, and we did attract attention. Luckily Linus didn't see me until we wanted him to, so that part was successful.

His teacher then told everyone that "Linus' mother is here and will be joining us..." and in I came. Linus was immediately distressed, and threw himself onto a pile of cushions so he could express that by kicking and howling for a while. I took a seat and didn't say a word, but I was thinking that was why I hate these visits. There's nothing to see because my child goes all to pieces. Discontinuity is a big thing to autistic kids, and I'm in a place where I don't belong. It throws his little world into shambles.

I have to report that for the first time ever, after only a short tantrum, Linus collected himself and came to his place at the table to do some more work. He did three worksheets with help, but he did them willingly and his answers were generally right the first time. His teacher was helping him, but she was also having to keep a grip on another little boy who constantly hummed around the room like a deflating balloon, sound effects and all. It was the first time my son has been in a classroom and not been the most distractable child there.

I didn't attempt to intervene at any stage, because imposing my authority over the teacher's just causes greater confusion. I just sat and watched. And was pleasantly surprised.

We discussed some of Linus' drawings, which are becoming increasingly of interest. He has taken to drawing in much of his free time, and some he's getting better at it.

When it was time for me to leave, the timing turned out to be ideal...In the past he'd want to come with me, and would again be loudly distressed. This time, he knew that he was going swimming, and nothing would have induced him to come quietly with me and miss out on that. He blew me a kiss and sang "Bye!"

I left feeling pleased. I'm glad that his teacher had again suggested I come. I did see some improvement in his abilities to control himself and participate in class.

04 March 2008

The Computer Ate My Post!

I wrote last weekend's entry intending to give it a final polish, but when I opened the file, it was gone. Instead, the previous post was there, which I had deleted from the workspace before I started. I was crestfallen, as you can imagine, but decided after only a brief whimper to be brave about it.

I didn't think I'd written a whole post without saving even once. In fact, I vaguely remembered being interrupted several times by Linus the Younger, and virtuously saving my work whenever I left it. But I had to admit the shadow of doubt. Due to a life-long tendency to absent-mindedness, I had to allow for the possibility that I might have neglected to instruct my computer to save on each of the occasions when I thought I had, including when I turned it off for the night. However unlikely that seems. I mean, I'm usually very careful. We live outside the city, and are subject to random power outages from time to time. I've learned not to type for more than a few minutes without hitting save. I only had to lose an hour's work once or twice before I cottoned on.

Temperamentally, I hate having to do things over. I really mean it. Because here inside the natural chaos that is my life, I feel as if I have barely have time to do most things well even once.

Anyway, I attempted to recompose what had been, let me tell you, a brilliant post. It had wit, and timing, and would have transformed all our lives. I made most of the same points, but felt the muse had fled, or gone for coffee. I was going to have to return to it the next day and buff it up a little. While I worked, before witnesses, I tapped the 'save' icon only slightly less often than the space bar. And at the end.

The next morning, I opened the file, and it was gone again. There was the previous post, the one I'd deleted twice in order to use the space in this, my favourite writing program. I use Writer's Blocks (and they are unaware of this unsolicited product placement, but if they wish to flatter me with sponsorship, my door is open. A free trial version of their truly nifty software is available, by the way.) I like Writer's Blocks because I can fill as many virtual note cards as I wish with whisps of ideas as they come; phrases, anecdotes, cross references, etc. It's very handy to be able to toggle between my note cards and manuscript. So that's why I don't just use any old program.

I don't know what's wrong. Perhaps the naughty file somehow got itself corrupted. To be sure, I'm now backing up to another file as well, but now that I've taken to that neurotic precaution, guess what? It's all working perfectly, just as it has for the past couple of years. I've switched off and returned several times and this effort has been just as I left it. No further surprises.

I have, however, ditched the missing posts. I won't try to recreate them. In the interests of balance, I didn't want to continuously detail Ben's idiosyncrasies without mentioning his brother. Linus doesn't get up to nearly as much mayhem, but he is having some continence issues lately that I've been finding troublesome. Well, never mind.

Should I have been writing about that? Well, apparently the computer says "no".