Sunday, May 29, 2011

How I'm "Celebrating" Memorial Day

My husband, Michael, has spent two of the past four Memorial Days in year-long deployments, first to Iraq in 2008 then in Afghanistan in 2010. So I naturally thought this holiday weekend would be important to him. It is to me. I remember how much it hit home last year that MY husband was one of the soldiers our nation was honoring on Memorial Day.

Not so.

“I so do not want to go to church tomorrow,” he confessed last night as we were driving home from dinner.

With a little prying, he continued. “They are going to make a big to-do about Memorial Day. They will recognize those who’ve served. I don’t want to have to stand up. I don’t want to have to think about it. I just want it to go away.”

As I prodded further, I began to understand.

Mike said he didn’t need a special day to remember the guys who had died in Afghanistan while he was there. He thought about them every day. Mike remembered his contractor friend who he’d laughed at during lunch for piling on the ice cream, then learned the man had had been blown up by an IED later that same day.

Mike remembered having to build the podium so a service could be held for the first two soldiers killed on his FOB shortly after he arrived. They were not in his unit, nor was anyone who was killed, and they may not have been best friends, but he knew them and he remembered them. And most of all, they affected him.

I admit I was caught off guard.

When Mike had told me about people getting killed, he always had a somewhat nonchalant “that’s just how it goes” attitude. At least that’s what he portrayed. I guess I didn’t remember that deep down, my often unemotional husband is indeed human.

So we are not “celebrating” Memorial Day in our household. We are not putting flags up in the yard. We’re not watching the hours of war shows and movies on TV. We will not partake in parades or concerts or anything else celebrating those who have served.

Because that’s what MY soldier wants, and that’s how I will honor him this weekend.

Mike may be alone. He may be the only soldier out there who is angered by “Welcome Home” banners, or is hurt when he sees rows of U.S. Flags. I confess I don’t really understand it, but I also don’t understand what he’s lived through the past two out of three years.

And so, with this in mind, I ask all of us to honor our soldiers however they wish to be honored. To be respectful. To be patient. To be understanding. That’s how we can let them know how much we appreciate their sacrifice.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Early Signs of Autism You Won't Read on Generic Sites

In looking up early symptoms for autism, parents will find some basic things, like speech delays, issues with eye contact, babies not smiling by six months. But Ethan did all of these things. His speech was always within the minimum word development that children should have by certain ages. He babbled on time. He smiled early on. He looked at me.

There were other issues, which I’m listing below, that were happening and that I had NO IDEA why because I could not find information on these particular topics ANYWHERE. However, I've since learned that other parents of autistic children have also struggled with many of these problems. This is my list of additional symptoms.

1. Watch for sleep problems. From the time Ethan was born, he did not sleep like other babies. He took short little cat naps (maximum of 20 minutes) and only in his swing. He did not sleep through the night until he was almost 4 years old. I would leave him to "cry it out" early on, and he would literally cry for hours without ever stopping. I now know that some doctors believe children with autism often do not produce enough sleep chemicals (melatonin).

2. He would cry until he threw up. This became a HUGE issue at night time (the attempt to cry it out) and at church, where we could not leave him in the nursery without a worker getting vomit in her shoes! Autism is a disorder that affects the digestive system. Many children with autism have severe reflux. Another issue is that a lot of children with autism don’t like certain textures of food. That – combined with reflux – means a lot of vomiting at dinner time. (Strangely, Ethan ate EVERYTHING when he was little. Now he won’t touch most foods.)

3. Meltdowns. These are not tantrums. They are out-of-control events that the child does not snap out of if s/he gets his way. I had no idea what was going on. Only that I couldn’t figure out how to stop them. I couldn’t figure out ways to discipline Ethan and make it work. They discipline led to meltdowns, which led to vomiting.

4. Hitting, kicking, pushing, etc. We went to a child psychologist just prior to Ethan's thid birthday because he would hit the fire out of us during his meltdowns. The psychologist said that hitting at that age usually indicated a speech delay. That seemed very odd to me because, again, he was at least meeting the minimum requirement for word usage. We had him tested, and sure enough he was significantly behind on both receptive and expressive language.

5. Extreme anxiety. Than was afraid of being left at church. He was afraid of loud noises. He was afraid of going potty, which leads to number six.

6. Problems with potty training. Gastrointestinal problems, anxiety and simply a lack of interest in being labeled a “big boy” -- or girl – can make toilet training extra difficult. This can also be an early sign of autism.

7. Sensory problems. If they don't like tags itching them, don't like loud noises, don't tolerate certain food textures, react negatively to strong light or smells, and so on, there are probably some sensory issues and this is a very important element of autism that is often overlooked.

8. Extreme learning/abilities. At age 18 months, Ethan learned to spin those stackable rings like a pro. He knew his alphabet (could point to the letters on anything) by 20 months, before he could talk. The first real batch of words out of his mouth were numbers (and he recognized them). This was at around 22 months. By his second birthday, he knew colors and shapes, including some strange ones like turquoise and nonagons. By age four he was adding triple digit numbers in his head. (By then we’d gotten the diagnosis.)

8. Extreme interests. Ethan's started with numbers. While other kids built things with blocks, we built numbers. We made them out of tinker toys, train tracks, and so on. He often could not fall asleep at night because he was too busy thinking about and saying numbers…over and over and over.

9. Unusual disinterests. I will never forget taking Ethan to the zoo. He must have been almost two, but he was in a stroller. The female lions were right next to the window we looked through, but Ethan was busy counting the screws in the man-made cave, paying zero attention to the animal. I now know Ethan is very afraid of animals, and again, very into numbers.

The above are early symptoms I’ve discovered as a mom of an autistic child. It’s not to say that all autistic children will have these symptoms, nor is it to say that a child who has these symptoms is autistic. However, if you have concerns that something may be “off” with your young child, here are my recommendations:

1. Trust your instincts. Ethan was my first child and I had not been around a lot of small children to compare him to. But as his mommy, I knew something was different about him early on. I took a lot of criticism and heard a lot of "advice" from unknowing parties, but again, I knew something was different.

2. Get your child tested. If negative behaviors are taking place, if you notice unusual sensory issues, or if there are obvious speech delays delays, don’t wait. Don’t trust your general pediatrician’s advice unless s/he specializes in autism. I was told by one doctor Ethan would probably “grow out of” his autism. There is no such thing! Early intervention is so, so important!

3. Don't think you can do this on your own. I've heard parents who feared getting their child tested because they couldn't afford the therapy. In Arkansas, at least, the school systems offer early intervention for preschool age children (therapies) even if they are not in any form of school. We also qualified for a special Medicaid program that covered the large percentage of our therapy bills, including the autism screening itself.

4. Talk to other parents. Get online. Find communities. Facebook has a ton of them, including my page-- Twilights4autism.

5. Find a doctor who knows what s/he is talking about when it comes to autism. The epidemic has come on so quickly that a lot of physicians are not up to date, but some are. Don't settle for less than someone who knows about the subject!

6. Prepare to become your child's advocate. Learn your rights and don’t be afraid to fight for them. That’s not to say that the “system” is against you, as many declare. I’ve personally never had problems with our school. However, no one is going to fight for your child as much as you will.

7. Know that you are not alone, and that autism is ok.

I would not trade my son -- or his autism -- for the world! Some of the quirks get old and some days are hard, but he has such a unique way of looking at the world. He is a joy and a delight. I always tell people he is super cool, because he truly is. For that I am truly blessed.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Oh Christmas Tree

I am a sucker for Christmas. Not just the day, but the entire holiday season.

I remember as a kid begging my dad to let us put up the Christmas tree the moment Thanksgiving was over. He usually complied. My dad, being the smart man he is, would set up the artificial tree and lights before I was allowed to enter the room. Then my mom and I would dig through the box of Christmas ornaments, usually while listening to something like Barry Manilow’s Christmas tunes or watching Rudolph.

As a mommy, I naturally want my kiddos to develop memories like this. However, so far it’s not going so great.

I remember in 2007, when Mike had just left for Iraq and the kids were a mere 2 (almost 3) and four years old, we set up the tree early. Over the next few weeks, the kids managed to run and knock that tree over at least a dozen times. Finally, fed up by their carelessness, I fussed: “If you knock that tree over one more time, I’m just taking it down.”

Little Ethan responded incorrectly. “Yeah, let’s just take it down.”

Abby gave the wrong answer as well. “Yeah, it’s too pokey anyway. I don’t like it.”

Geez. Now what? They had called my bluff and I was NOT going to take my tree down. We ended up going to Wal-Mart to find a cheap, “less pokey” tree.

This morning, three years later, the kids asked if we could put up the tree. Sure we could put up the tree! Are you kidding me?

So I went out to the storage building behind the house and dragged the tree box around front, so as to not disturb Puggles the dog. When I opened the box…ugh. Mouse poop. The box was full of mouse poop.

“Kids, I don’t think we can use this tree.”

Ethan, my son with autism, already had it in his head that we were going to put up our tree this morning. There was no changing his mind.

So I said, “why don’t we go to Wal-Mart and get a new tree that isn’t covered in mouse droppings?”

“I’m afraid that would cost too much,” Ethan said. “We can just use that one.”

Seeing that he was not going to back down, I took the tree parts outside, doused them with an entire can of Lysol and prayed we would not get some rare form of lyme disease that only comes from the mixture of mouse poop and plastic tree bristles.

Next, I realized that the slits that go along the bottom piece of the tree – i.e., the part that actually makes the tree stand up – were gone. “Ethan,” I tried again. “I think we need to just go get a new tree.”

Nope. In the words of Tim Gunn of Project Runway, it was a “just make it work” moment. So I tried. I took a box, filled it with heavy stuff, and stuck the tree trunk down inside the box. It took well over half an hour, but if the tree was properly perched between two kitchen chairs, it did not fall over.

The “prelit” part of the tree did not work except on the bottom third, so I pulled out the extra lights and planned to wrap. Of course, the tree shifted and leaned every time I wrapped the tree. In the meantime, the kids were busy putting on ornaments – which all managed to accumulate over about one square foot of the tree – and they were getting angry with one another. “Hey, I wanted that one!” “You’re in my way!”

I was not happy and Ethan could tell it. “Mommy, it’s ok if we only have lights on the bottom of the tree.” “Mommy, it’s ok if we don’t use that ornament.”

Finally, the kids went off to watch Nick Jr. while I worked on trying to fix the @#$!% tree. Then it happened.

BAM! The whole thing fell over. The box ripped. The heavy stuff poured out.

My sweet little boy came over, put his arm on me, and in his comforting tone… ”Mommy, it’s still ok if it leans a little.”

Leans a little. The thing was lying horizontal on the floor.

That was the Christmas memory I'd been waiting for, and wow how I laughed after that.

(And yes, we will be buying a new tree come Friday.)

Thursday, November 4, 2010

A Trip to the Doctor

I have been suffering from what I assumed was just a bad cold/cough for two weeks. After several people insisting I should go see the doctor, I decided to go to the drop-in medical clinic at Wal-Mart. Of course, I’ve had two weeks to do this and I decided to choose a day when the kids were out of school and I would have to drag them along. (Thus, the reason I selected Wal-Mart.)

Ethan was fine with this…at first. I told him last night we would be going there, and then we’d go shopping. He understood we were going because I was sick. I. Me. Mommy. NOT him.

As I started to get ready for our outing this morning, Ethan became teary eyed. “Mommy, I’m sorry I get so sad when I have to get a shot.” Hmmmm. What was I missing here?

“Honey, are you afraid you’re going to have to get a shot today?”

“Uh-huh.” Like many autistic children, Ethan suffers from some pretty severe fears. Shots are one of them. (Animals another. Babies, another. Rain, check. P E Class, oh yeah.)

“Sweetie, the doctor isn’t even going to look at you. He’s going to look at me. He’ll check my ears. Take my temperature. Listen to my heart. Then I’ll get some medicine and we’ll go home.”

OK, so I thought we were good to go, and we were. Until we got inside Wal-Mart. The crocodile tears started welling up in his eyes. “Honey, it’s going to be ok.”

We got to the clinic and he went over to the chairs in the waiting area. Then he started WAILING. I just looked at the receptionist, raised my eyebrows and slightly shook my head, then had her hand me the paperwork. Ethan was lying on his tummy across two chairs, boo-hooing with all his might. “Ethan, do you need to go to the bathroom?” I asked. (I’ve already written a blog about our potty issues.”

“NO!” he insisted. This went on for a few minutes while younger sister Abby scolded him: “Eeee-phan! The doctor isn’t even going to see YOU!”

Somehow a comment came out about his ears. The light bulb went off. “Ethan, do your ears hurt?”

“Uh-huh.” We had gone to this clinic a few weeks prior when Ethan had an ear infection.

“Do you think your ears might be infected?”


OK. I decided while we were there, he would get his ears looked at. “But I don’t want a shot!” he screamed!

“You won’t need a shot,” I assured him.

“But my throat doesn’t hurt!” he cried.

“You won’t need a strep test. I promise,” I replied. (That is another big fear, second only to shots.)

“But I don’t want to be in the room when she checks you. I want her to look at my ears and then go outside.”


For 20 minutes, we waited. For 20 minutes, Ethan laid on his tummy across two chairs and cried, often quite loudly.

Then when we went back, we had the doctor check his ears. They were FINE.

“Ethan, do your ears really hurt?


Fortunately, she did not charge for his visit.

I told my mom about this tonight, and I was laughing so hard I could barely talk. She finally asked, “Allison, why are you laughing?”

It was simple. Feeling as yucky as I do and having to endure an episode like this one today – which, sadly, is more common than not – I had to laugh or I would simply go insane.

In Ethan’s defense, he does now seem to have some sort of tummy bug. He was miserable and in tears for a couple of hours after we got home until he finally could not fight it any more and went potty. Since then he’s been my happy, active little sweetheart.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Oh Poop!

Ethan, who is afraid of animals – except for Nibbles the guinea pig – began crying this morning when I told him he would have to wait his turn to take home his first grade classroom’s chicks. Yesterday he told me he was terrified of the little balls of yellow fuzz. So I knew…

“Ethan, you’re going to have to sit on the potty.” (Ugh.)

Without going into too much detail, going “potty” is a BIG deal when it comes to my seven-year-old, high-functioning autistic son. (And apparently this is common in persons with autism because it is a disorder that affects the guts as well as the nerves and the brain.) He has been on an adult dose of Miralax daily since he was two, but we have stages where he refuses to cooperate, such as this past week. He will purposely spill his medicated water out of spite. Then the cycle begins.

When he gets out of sorts, he begins talking gibberish. He starts to cry over unusual things. He starts to misbehave. And he starts to say things like, “I want to do bad things,” “I want to tell lies,” “I want to break the law.” And he will lay on his tummy and tells me he’s cold or tired, even it’s 90 degrees in the house and well before his bedtime.

When a similar situation happened last week, I eventually had to force the issue and ended up with an Ethan meltdown, including a slap across my face and a kick to the gut.

“WHAT?!?! I would not put up with that!” I can just hear my friends who have “typical” children respond.

But many parents of autistic children simply nod in agreement because they’ve been there. Afterward, he told me he was “so, so very sorry” for doing that.

Meltdowns were what led us to a child psychologist when Ethan was 3 years old. These are not simply tantrums. They are totally out-of-control, violent episodes that the child honestly cannot stop just by sheer will.

We learned that hitting at that age generally indicated a language issue. Even though Ethan was progressing “normally” with the number of words he used, we had him tested and found he had significant problems in the use of receptive and expressive language.

Sure enough, as Ethan’s language progressed, the meltdowns lessened. Fortunately these events are very rare nowadays, and usually caused by, well, see the above... . It’s a good thing they don't happen often now because my little man is getting heavy and strong!

This morning, however, things went well. A few little tears, 10 minutes tardy to school, then all was good. He went back to his sweet, funny self, had a great day, and in turn, so did I.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Scratching, Scratching, Scratching

Ethan and I stopped by a convenience store close to our house so we could get two bottles of water. As we entered, I felt Ethan’s shoulders tense and his stride stammer a moment. Then glancing forward, I realized why. A little girl, probably around age 2, stood in the aisle in front of us crying.

Ethan is extremely sensitive to certain sounds – airplanes, vacuum cleaners, dogs barking. The one that creates the most adverse response, however, is that of crying children. They scare him and he will dart the other way, avoid ailes at the grocery stores, or look to me to cover his ears and quickly pass by.

This little girl was different though. She was crying hard, but very quietly. Her volume resembled more of a whimper, but the crocodile tears indicated a deeper sadness.

Then I saw her mother, hovered over the counter, relentlessly scratching away. One lottery ticket after another. Meanwhile the little girl stood staring at us, lost and lonely. Ethan, afraid, did not wander the ailes as he normally would, searching for the perfect snack. Instead he silently jaunted to the counter so we could quickly pay for the water and be on our way.

The little girl’s volume upped a mere notch. The mother grabbed the girl, cussed at her, and raised her arm and threatened a slap if she didn’t stop crying. Then, as if nothing had happened, she returned to her scratching.

Now I am the first to say I don’t know the entire situation. I only know the vignette that I witnessed in those few moments. But the little girl's eyes haunted me. What I saw appeared to be a mother so desperate to obtain a great escape from her current life that she failed to see a far greater award: her little girl.

But not only was I haunted, I was convicted. While I try to play the role of the good mommy, the truth is I often complain about my circumstances and groan for my own escape. There are many times that I choose not to pay attention to or even fuss at my children because I'm too busy scratching away at hopes for my own personal gain.

There’s a fine balance between the real need for a break from my kids and pure selfishness. That need for a break is often very real, so I am not diminishing its importance at all. However, if I step back and take a deep, honest look at myself, I realize I lean toward selfishness much more often than I like to think.

So although I hurt for the little girl, I am thankful that God imprinted this image upon my heart. And with that I pray that the Lord will remind me daily of the glorious gift He has awarded me already through my two precious children. May I not simply toss that prize away into my pile of worthless scraps, aimlessly grasping for something "greater."

Sunday, June 20, 2010

A Father’s Day Note from Ethan and Abigail

Our daddy is a soldier, and he’s gone to a faraway place called Afghanistan.
He’s teaching people how to farm,
And helping them get clean water,
So they can take care of their sick babies..
We are proud of our daddy for doing soldier work.

We pray each day to Jesus that he will be safe from the mean people
And we count the days until he comes home.

Mommy does her best to take care of us, but we miss a lot of things about daddy.

Like we don't have perfect Saturday morning pancakes.
Or grilled pork chops.
Or homemade bread or biscuits.
(Frankly, daddy’s just a better cook all around).

Daddy is much stronger.
We can’t ride on mommy’s shoulders,
Or swing like monkeys from her arms,
Or hang upside down by our feet while she carries us around the room.

We have ALL kinds of questions
Like why the sky is blue
Or if a snail is actually a bug
Or how they make Cheetos.
Mommy just doesn’t know the answers because she’s not good at those kinds of things.
(But we know daddy will tell us when he gets home.)

We miss rubbing his furry arms
And his fuzzy hair, especially after its freshly cut.
And he’s a very good tickler. (Mommy, not so much.)

Daddy is really smart.
He knows how to make all kinds of things,
And he knows how to fix all kinds of things.
Too bad he’s not here because our refrigerator is broken.
(And he’d let us help him fix it.)

Daddy knows how to speak German
And Arabic
And Pashtu.
Ethan loves this. Abby could care less.
(Mommy can only speak English, but she is a better speller.)

We miss helping him shoot arrows in the backyard.
And throwing footballs in the tall bushes, then shaking the limbs to get them down.
He’s better at throwing a Frisbee as high as the trees
And he’s not afraid to climb on the roof if the frisbee happens to land on top.

We miss it when he prays at mealtime. And says "gesundheit" when we sneeze.
We miss the way he gives baths, and reads us books, and tucks us in at night.
We miss it when he accidentally falls asleep next to us, then snores so loud that mommy can hear him across the house.

We miss you daddy.
We love you!
Happy Father's Day!