541 days

541 days ago was March 27, 2018.

It was also the day Scarlett was first diagnosed with autism. She received that same diagnosis two additional times–and oddly enough, it never got any easier. In fact, I think it only got more difficult. Every time you go in to one of those diagnostic appointments, part of you thinks that this will be the time they tell you that they made a mistake the last time–that there’s nothing wrong with your child, that she’s just going at her own pace and that she’ll catch up when she’s ready.

For us, those words never came. For us, each of those appointments meant the grieving process started all over again (see this post if you want to know what that looked like for me, but remember to extend me some grace). During that time, I remember being so angry anytime someone publicly proclaimed to be part of the “autism is a gift” camp. I remember reading an article that punched me in the gut–an article talking two things: first, about how autism isn’t a gift or curse, but simply is; and second, about how the way a parent views their child’s autism eventually becomes the way their child views their autism. I remember reading it and thinking that while the article was logical, it wasn’t practical. I didn’t believe that I would ever get to a place where I felt that autism wasn’t a curse on my child.

For a while, I hated autism and what it does to my child. In a way, I still do–because friends, while I love my child, parenting her is hard. On days where she threw tantrums and I’ve had to try and to keep her from physically hurting herself, it was physically hard. On days where I’ve had to pin her down for EEGs, it was emotionally hard. During times where I’d spent countless hours researching to make sure I knew my rights as a parent, it was mentally hard.

But friends, something’s changed.

For the first time in 541 days, I feel like I have some control over our circumstances.

For the first time in 541 days, I feel at peace.

Do I expect to still go through periods of times where my child’s disability shakes me to my core? You bet. But I know now that those waves of grief will be followed by periods of peace.

I think that there are several things that have happened over the course of this journey that have been the catalyst for my change in mindset:

  1. Overwhelming support. Friends, I am always so incredibly humbled for the love and support that our people have always shown us whenever we’ve been brought to our knees. I’ve written a post on that as well. Thank you for being our people. From friends to family to teachers to classmates to total strangers, I could not have done this without you all.
  2. Quality therapist/educators. I wrote a letter to our therapists here, and I should write another to Scarlett’s current teacher–we have been so blessed to have had some of the most amazing humans work with our daughter. That post says it better than I could here, but I cannot stress enough the importance of therapists and teachers who are 100% invested in your child.
  3. Learning about the #actuallyautistic community. I’ve joined some groups on Facebook lately that are centered around learning about autism from people who are on the spectrum themselves. It’s helped in two ways: it’s opened my eyes to a lot of things I didn’t know–like the fact that many autistic adults prefer identity-first language (autistic) vs. person-first language (person with autism), and that many in the autistic community don’t endorse the puzzle piece. Second, in these groups, I am surrounded by autistic adults who lead totally normal lives. They are completely functional members of society. They hold jobs, start families, seek higher education–they show me what life can look like for my daughter.
  4. And finally–the thing that sent me over the edge: A picture of my daughter playing with her best friend at school. Friends, I don’t currently have words to describe how thankful I was when Scarlett’s teacher sent me that picture. She took 5 seconds out her day to send me a picture, and those 5 seconds calmed countless hours of worry, fear, and heartbreak–for me, that picture is tangible proof that my child will not struggle alone. I have always known that (see point #1), but somehow, this was different.

In conclusion, I end in the same way I’ve ended many of my posts: thank you for hanging with me, friends. Thank you for supporting me in my dark days–I hope that you stick around for the bright ones to come.

Having “the talk”.

I’ve been quiet for a while!

I wasn’t the most consistent poster to begin with, but I spent every day in April writing on my Facebook page about our girl for Autism Awareness Month–and it seemed like a posting overload! Then I got crazy busy with school and life, and now we’re here.

More than that, though, things have been pretty smooth sailing over here! We’ve seen some AMAZING progress with our girl and things are going really well overall. She’s started school and LOVES it, is talking up a 3-4 word sentence storm, and is making progress in some sensory areas.

The real point of my post, though, is to not really talk about Scarlett–but about Jaxon.

Friends, Jaxon is having a hard time lately. He loves Scarlett SO fiercely and often, she doesn’t/can’t reciprocate.

It breaks his heart.

For example, we go to bed every night and sing a song, say our prayers, and get tuck-ins. He asks every Scarlett every night to lay in bed with him while we sing, and every night she says no and gets into bed with Cora. He asked me the other night why she never wanted to lay with him and whether that meant that she didn’t love him.

This is starting to become a constant occurrence. He wants to hug her–she refuses. He wants to hold her hand–she’ll only hold Cora’s.

Sean and I haven’t really ever had the “autism” talk with our kids, it’s never really been something that’s necessary. Maybe that’s our failure as special needs parents–maybe we should’ve been talking about it all along. But J (and Cora both) have always been so little that it’s never really affected them emotionally much before now, autism has simply been part of their lives. However, J is older now, and is starting to care. And it’s a consistent care–he’s voiced concerns about why Scarlett doesn’t seem to love him several times in the last few weeks.

That being the case–how on earth do you explain this to a child? How do I explain what autism is and how it affects his sister in a way that he’ll understand? I’m open to suggestions if you have them, friends, and if not, pray for Sean and I as we determine how best to approach this conversation with sweet little son.

This way or that?

Friends, it has been a rough week.

As I shared last week, S didn’t qualify for speech services, but I had several issues with the report (including the eligibility recommendations). I had several licensed SLPs review the report and all agreed that there were several issues with the report and that S should’ve been qualified.

We went into the IEP last Thursday. The thing lasted over three hours–it was rough. So, I voiced several of my concerns in the meeting–including my disagreement with the eligibility recommendations. They (meaning the SLP) kept coming back to the fact that there weren’t two tests with scores under the 7th percentile…but she could’ve been qualified in other ways. When I explained I would’ve used a different component of the California Education Code to qualify (one score under the 7th and a qualifying language sample), she couldn’t give me a straight answer as to why she wouldn’t qualify S for services. Our program coordinator kept “encouraging” me to stop asking questions as S qualified for SpEd services under autism, just not speech, and it was clear I wasn’t going to get an acceptable answer.

I agreed to table the issue for the time being, and we finished the meeting. It was determined that S would begin school in the autism classroom and would remain there for 30 days, at which time we would reconvene, discuss her growth, and look again at appropriate placement for the upcoming school year. I have some feelings on that–we’ll get there in a different post.

After the IEP ended, I emailed the SLP to once again try and understand her recommendations. I figured that there had to be something that I simply wasn’t seeing. She then responded to me and said that she had rescored the assessment with the qualifying 5th percentile score, and S’ scores were actually even higher than what she originally reported in the IEP–pushing her further away from qualifying.

When I received that email, friends, I was furious. I had to leave class because I was so furious. You cannot do that. You cannot change scores weeks after an assessment is given. You cannot change scores after an IEP is presented. You simply cannot do it.

I filed a formal request for an independent assessment (IEE) based on the fact that I no longer trusted the integrity of the original speech report (not that I ever did). Within an hour, I received a call from the school district stating that they would grant the IEE, and asked if I would have a problem with X performing it, as X is an independent contractor. Problem with X is that she is still employed in our district.

So, here lies my dilemma. I know X. I have had very pleasant interactions with her. She comes highly recommended as she has many years of preschool experience and is competent and thorough–but is still technically contracted through the district. The people typically contacted for IEEs have been highly un-recommended by a person whose opinion I deeply respect.

So, what to do?

Take my chances with the therapist that I think could do a good job but is employed by my home district, or go with an actual independent assessor who may or may not actually do a good job?

Special needs parenting: where you constantly have to make big choices and you perpetually feel like you’re making the wrong one.

It never ends

We are finally here.

Tomorrow is Scarlett’s initial IEP meeting with the school district. She turns three mid-April, which means she is “graduating” from Early Intervention and moving into services provided by our local school district.

For those of you unfamiliar with what that means, I’ll give you a little snapshot.

Over the last four weeks, Scarlett has undergone several different assessments from several different professionals in several developmental areas. Because of Scarlett’s pre-existing autism diagnosis, the district wanted a “full” assessment–psychology assessments, occupational therapy assessments, health assessments, speech assessments, general education assessments–the whole thing. Basically, our life has been full of shuffling S from one appointment to the next, so these people can evaluate S and her proficiency in each of their respective disciplines.

It. Has. Been. Tiring.

You repeat the same information over and over and over. You bring copies of reports you’ve already given them because they don’t share information amongst themselves. They do tests they’ve already done before. It’s exhausting.

At the end of all of that, you go and sit with all of these professionals in a meeting called an initial IEP (Individualized Education Plan). This meeting begins by going over all of the assessments these professionals have done during the assessment period, and give you the results of those assessments. The district people will then determine your child’s eligibility for special education services based on the findings of the reports conducted over the assessment period. If your child meets eligibility standards, the meeting then shifts into creating the actual IEP–aka, what the school district will do to help your child succeed in an educational setting. In a perfect meeting, the district offers services you’re good with, everyone agrees, and the IEP is signed. The district is then contractually/legally bound to uphold the supports created by the IEP.

Here lies the problem with us.

For my child, she is a VERY different human on paper than she is in real life. She is a VERY different child in familiar contexts than unfamiliar. She is a VERY different child with adults than she is with other children.

As a recap, S has been in therapy since 15 months old. Over the last (almost) 2 years, she has been in therapy anywhere from 2 hours a week to over 15. She knows how to do therapy. So when an adult comes to her in a therapy/assessment type setting, girl can work it like she’s been doing it since birth.

On the flip side–throw her in a room where she’s supposed to play with other kids (especially unfamiliar ones), and she’s going to melt down. But when you say that to the SpEd professional sitting across the table from you, they look at you like you’re crazy–because all they see is a little angel child who is doing everything that’s asked of them.

We requested all of Scarlett’s reports ahead of time so that we weren’t blindsided by the numbers. When the psychologist called me to give me the results of the assessments she’d done, you could almost hear the skepticism in her voice when she went over the parent report assessment with me. Scarlett was in the very top category in every tested area–but the therapists haven’t seen that in their assessments. I look like I’m exaggerating or like I want her to be worse off than she is, and I hate that.

In reality, my child cannot function in unfamiliar situations. All children do, to some degree, but she becomes incapacitated. She won’t leave me side, she cries, she screams, she retreats–it takes her a lot of time to get comfortable in situations.

Same with people. In therapy environments, we’re in a place now where the ABA company can send a substitute therapist and it skeeves S out for a minute, but girl snaps out of it in a few minutes. But in a non-therapy setting, it takes her a VERY long time to warm up. For example, we’ve lived in California for a year and a half. There are people that she sees at church three times a week that she STILL retreats from. For the people that don’t completely send her over the edge, it took her almost a year to get comfortable with most of them.

It is weird to describe a child like that–one who adjusts so easily to therapy settings–to a professional. I don’t enjoy trying to describe that child to people who feel like they’re seeing the opposite child. I’m nervous for the IEP, because I can’t be sure that the people doing her assessments truly grasp that difference, and I can’t be guaranteed that they are taking that into account when determining her deficits.

But the thing I’m dreading most isn’t actually the meeting itself–it’s what the meeting brings. I am convinced that knowing the actual percentile numbers for your child is one of the most difficult aspects of special needs parenting.

If you look at S now and compare her to where she was, you’d think she’s come SO FAR–because friends, she has. Going into these assessments, I am sitting back thinking she’s killing it–she looked like she’s kicking test butt. But then you get the report numbers and realize just how far behind she still is. For instance, S is sitting in the 8th percentile in one of her basic-life-function areas. Friends, I don’t think that ever gets easier to hear. It’s almost like I’ve completely forgotten what a “normal” child looks like, because my idea of “normal” is now so warped. It’s unsettling to feel like your child is making so much progress and feel like she’s finally starting to close the gap, to only get smacked in the face with the fact she’s really not. You start to question what you thought you knew.

So, to the individuals who will present in our meeting tomorrow:

Please treat us gently. I think it’s easy to forget that the people on the other side of the table are not just “parents of another kid who may get thrown on your caseload”. We, as professionals, want to tell parents ALL THE THINGS about their child, but please remember that this information is hard to hear. I have gone through childbirth. I have nursed my child. I have kissed her scrapes. I have held her while she’s cried. I have rocked her while she’s slept. I have cried during the months where she wouldn’t eat and couldn’t gain weight. I had the conversations with her doctor when they wanted to give her a feeding tube. I have spent countless hours in prayer for her (and you). Please remember that this autism thing was not a journey I asked to be a part of–it has shaken me to my core and has made me question things about myself that I never thought I would question. I experienced true grief when they gave us her diagnosis–and the metaphor is true. Grief comes in waves. There are days where you accept it, and you’re good to surf around in them. But please remember–there are other days where the grief is overwhelming, and we are doing everything we can to keep breathing. With this meeting tomorrow, I am barely breathing. I have spent months preparing for this meeting–and I am spent. Please treat us gently. Give us information about my girl in the most compassionate, gentle language. Remember that you go home at night and leave all of this behind you–this is our life. It will never end.

Please treat my child like you would a child that is close to you. Keep her best interests in heart. Fight for her when I don’t know how to. Teach me how to better fight for her.  Please remember that Scarlett isn’t simply “another kid on your caseload”. She is so much more than that. She is a strong, fierce, kind, beautiful, funny little girl who has the most beautiful heart. She means the world to me. I just pray you keep that in mind when you’re thinking about how to move forward with my girl.

Pray for Sean and me, friends. I have spent months preparing for this meeting, and I am exhausted. The fact that this thing is here and not going anywhere makes me nervous and uneasy–and I am feeling like I have not done enough.

Pray for the people who have tested Scarlett and will provide her services in the future.

Thanks for joining us in this journey.

It’s exactly what I prayed for

Just a couple of quick thoughts tonight.

There has been a LOT of sass in our home lately. I am the parent of two very strong-willed, mouthy little girls.

Did you read that correctly? I said two.

Scarlett has been saying ALL THE THINGS lately, and I am over the moon. She’s slowly putting together little 2-4 word sentences, and more often than not, those sentences are dripping with snootiness.

“Go away, Mama”, she said today.

“Move it, please”.

“I don’t want toodles (noodles)”.

“Give it back”, while screaming and letting her little fists fly.

“Gone”, as she runs away.

There are times where I occasionally miss my sweet, silent baby, because nowadays, I get a lot of backtalk. “No”, is probably Scarlett’s favorite word. Full transparency, there have been times where it has frustrated me. I have never wanted to hear “Mama” from a child so badly in my life–yet, I find myself frustrated by the same word as she repeats it incessantly while crying at my leg.

In moments like that where I’m finding myself frustrated by her newfound ability to vocalize all the things, it’s so easy for me to forget that this is exactly what I prayed for. I prayed that she would be able to tell me what she wants and doesn’t want. I prayed that she would be able to communicate if she was in pain or scared. I prayed that she would be able to tell me that she loved me.

While she still can’t communicate these things perfectly, she’s light years beyond where she was six months ago–and I am so incredibly thankful for that fact. I am thankful for the incredible answers to the prayers I have prayed over the year and a half.

Now I just need to find a way to increase my patience without actually praying for it, because I’m pretty sure I am in for a long, sass-filled road.

It was not well with my soul

Sometimes parenting sucks.

There are so many things about parenting that just straight up suck. It sucks when they’re newborns and they’re up every hour at night, and then poop in your hair during the day (true story). It sucks when they’re not newborns and have to get shots. It sucks when they’re threenagers and think every moment is an opportunity to sass you. It sucks when they’re five and go off to school and you’re a snotty, crying mess in the car.

So. Much. Suck.

*disclaimer: the suck is worth it*

But special needs parenting is another kind of suck entirely. You wonder about things you never thought you’d wonder about–things like when your child will say mama, or whether it’s better to have a sucky therapist or no therapist at all, or how long you’d have to eat rice and beans to afford an attorney if your child is denied services, or whether your child will be teased mercilessly, or if they’ll be okay when you die.

Lots and lots of suck.

It seems that every day comes with some degree of suck–very rarely are there days without it. Most days there’s just a little bit, and your child’s issues are a minor nuisance. Other days come with massive amounts of suck, and you drown in it.

The day of Scarlett’s EEG was the latter.

I was fortunate that my mom and a friend of mine offered to watch my other kids, so Sean was able to come with me to the appointment. He hasn’t really been able to come to any appointments thusfar (because he’s had to stay with our other kids), so it was a huge blessing to have him there. We made the drive up to the hospital and got her checked in to the neurodiagnostic clinic. We waited for only a few minutes before we were called back, which was nice.

The EEG tech (don’t know her formal title) explained how the EEG process was going to work, and acted like it was going to be no big thing to put all 25 (or however many there are) leads on Scarlett. Cute, right? So I asked her what the protocol was with a child with Autism with severe sensory issues (especially on the head), and she basically told me that they don’t sedate them, they basically just “force them down until everything is place”. Awesome.

So, she recommended that one of us lay on the bed with Scarlett and try to prop her little head on a rolled up towel. Sean started on the bed with her, and she was not having it. She was screaming, freaking out, and writhing around. My sweet husband (bless his heart) was not yet at a place where he was ready to hold her down, so we switched positions.

I got into the bed with her, and tried to get her to get up onto the pillow. She fought the entire time. Flailing, screaming, crying, arching–anything you could think of, she did.  You wouldn’t imagine a 28-pound, 2.5 year old to be so strong, but oh my goodness–it basically felt like I was trying to hold down Mariusz Pudzianowski.

Sean held down one arm and one leg, and I basically laid on top of the rest of her with my body and pinned her to the bed. I had my thigh on top of her waist/leg, a shoulder pinning her chest to the bed, and was cheek to cheek to prevent her from turning her head. She cried, I cried–it was awful. We were both covered in sweat and tears–she was fighting us so hard that she was actually pouring sweat.

It’s hard for me to accurately describe the scene of chaos/heartbreak, but hopefully you can at least kind of picture it.

Friends, it was a hot mess. Scarlett was screaming like we were killing her, and I was struggling HARD. Anytime I moved my cheek away from hers she fought more, so it helped slightly knowing that it must’ve brought her at least some degree of comfort. So I stayed cheek to cheek with her while she screamed, and repeated over and over that she was going to be okay and that it was almost done.

For me, though, the most difficult part came about halfway in–she just gave up. She stopped fighting. I knew that this moment was likely to happen, but feeling her just give up and accept that this horrible thing was happening to her was almost too much for me. When that happened, I felt like I wanted to just get off the bed and call the whole thing off. I don’t know why that moment bothered me so much, but it was unbearable. Scarlett had finally stopped crying and while I’d basically been crying this whole time, I stepped. it. up. when that happened. She didn’t need Sean to hold her down anymore, so she was able to wrap her little arm around my shoulder. Sean just sat there and rubbed my hand,  and it was the sweetest gesture from a man who is admittedly not the best at showing affection.

Every now and then, she would quietly say to me, “okay” (aka–I’m okay), and “done” (aka–almost done), and friends, that tore. me. up. She would gently pat my shoulder with her hand–almost like she was trying to bring me comfort. Once all the leads were finally placed, she was okay. She watched Netflix on Sean’s phone and overall, was a little dreamboat.

One of my favorite church songs is, “It is Well”. I linked one of my favorite versions there for you to check out. The backstory of the song is heartbreakingly beautiful–long story short, the writer, Horatio G. Spafford, sent his wife and 4 daughters ahead of him on a ship travelling from the U.S. to Europe, with the intent to join them shortly after. The ship sank, and all four of his daughers were lost. Spafford received a telegram from his wife that began with the phrase, “saved alone”. As he began the journey to join his wife in Europe, he penned the song as they crossed the place where his daughters died. The song starts with this verse:

When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.

This song usually plays in my mind on repeat whenever my heart is hurting. But friends, on this day, it was not well with my soul. I was hurt, I was exhausted, I was frustrated, I was angry. I am tired of this being my life. Tired of the appointments, the therapists, the specialists, the fears, and the waiting.

The results came back normal–which is both good and bad. It’s good that S is not having tons of seizure activity that we’re unaware of, but also unfortunate that we went through an experience so terrible to come out with nothing.

But friends, this journey has made me realize something: I can do hard things. I might (*will for sure*) cry the entire way through them, but I can do hard things. This was a day where parenting sucked, and I never want to live it again–but we did the thing. I would (and will) do all the hard things because the hard things are necessary for my child right now. I pray fervently that there will be a day where the hard things are no longer necessary, but for now, I’ll keep repeating “it is well” and striving to be content in all circumstances.

On the eve of the EEG

Friends—keep us in your prayers tonight.

We take Scarlett up tomorrow for her EEG, and I am near-overwhelmed with hurt and worry for my girl.

Everything I read and everyone I talk to has indicated that she will have to be either sedated or restrained tomorrow—and I am struggling with both. There is no win as far as I’m concerned. My child is not an animal that needs to be medicated or restrained—she’s simply a baby who can’t understand why these things are happening to her. More upsetting still—she can’t understand why we, her parents, are allowing these things to happen to her.

I am truly struggling with the why. Why are we doing this? Why are we putting Scarlett through this, when I know that we won’t medicate at the end? I don’t have a good answer 🤷‍♀️

While Scarlett’s language has grown leaps and bounds over the last few months, I can’t know for sure that when I hold her tomorrow and tell her she’s going to be okay, that she understands me. It’s possible she does, but it’s more likely that she won’t. She will just know that she is hurting and scared and there is very little that I will be able to do to comfort her.

So again, please pray for us tomorrow. Pray for bravery and comfort for my girl as she goes through the scan. Pray for wisdom and success for her doctors and nurses as they make decisions for her care. Pray for peace and strength for me and Sean as we try and bring comfort to our girl while our hearts are breaking.

Courage, dear heart 😕