Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Stress Management for Special Needs Moms

OK, I'll be blunt. You are in total control on how you deal with your stress as a special needs mom!

I know it sounds crazy and a couple of years ago, I would have yelled at anyone who told me that. But, hear me out.

I get it. I understand what you're going through. I was in your shoes just a couple of years ago. Burned out, exhausted, frustrated, and with no desire left to wake up the next morning to do it all over again. Special needs parenting certainly is a whole different beast that doesn't come with a guide book.
What I learned when I hit rock bottom though was that I was going about it all wrong. I had a victim mentality, you know, the one where everything sucks and it's just not fair. So every day, I questioned why did this have to happen to us and why did life have to be so hard. The real hard truth was though, I was the one who was making it harder than it had to be. I was the control freak who wanted to be everything to everyone, not accepting any help. I was the one who ignored my own needs and even my own marriage. I was the one who was stuck in such a deep negativity hole, I couldn't see the light anymore.

How do I know this? Because last night should have been another awful night. Yet, thanks to all the work I have put in over the last couple of years, it wasn't as bad as I used to perceive it to be. Here's what happened and why your attitude defines the experience:

Wyatt decided to wake up at 220am and I had a choice to make. I can either get grumpy, because I'm usually not a happy camper waking up THIS EARLY. That choice then would have lead to anger building up towards my son as I'm staring at the video monitor waiting for him to fall back asleep, which usually takes 2+hours. (Remember, he's ventilator-dependent during drowsiness/sleep so his life literally depends on me being alert and responsive when he's alligator rolling around and disconnecting himself 5 times a minute!) Or I could choose to accept that it will take him a while to go back to sleep and focus on the things I could control. I had to take my own feelings and exhaustion out of the equation for just a few seconds to see that he was frustrated and having a text-book Autistic meltdown, and that there was nothing I could do about how HE felt. However, I did have control over how I REACTED. If I would have gone up to his level and get just as frustrated as him, it wouldn't have helped either one of us. Instead, I acknowledged that he was struggling and my job as his Mom then was to simply comfort him and ride it out with him. If I stayed calm, he had a much better chance to follow my lead.

You can't control everything that happens in life. As special needs moms, we are under increased daily stress. However, we have all the power to choose how to respond to those stressful situations!

If you need help finding your balance again and creating action steps to manage stress more effectively, please reach out for help so you don't have to hit rock bottom like I did.

www.nicoleott.expert 

Potty training with the Potty Time App... and train underwear

I'm putting my mindset work to the test today...
I'm quitting cold turkey and putting Wyatt in underwear today. He's been inconsistent at best at 5 years old but has shown he can do it. So it's up to me to get over my fear of making a mess and make consistency a priority to encourage him to follow through. How? Train underwear, of course.

You know you've reached a whole new parenting level when you're not bothered by having to drink your coffee in the bathroom because potty training your kiddo just can't wait. 4 boys = 14 years of changing diapers. Enough already. It's worth drinking my coffee in the bathroom! 



Check out this Potty Time app that incorporates ASL signs, songs, story books, rewards stickers, and even a phone call from Rachel (Signing Time). Wyatt loves the Potty Time song and he gets so excited when Rachel calls.

Caregiver Burnout Symptoms

No one wants to talk about this because it comes with guilt and shame. But please, if this is you or someone you know - maybe your wife/girlfriend, your daughter, sister, cousin, or best friend - please watch this video to take steps to receive or offer help to the person affected! This video specifically refers to Special Needs Moms.
Thank you!





Thursday, June 23, 2016

Binge-watching equals learning... at least in this house!



This is so crazy, I have to share.
Wyatt seriously just said "12 o'clock". We were sitting on the couch together watching his favorite Mickey Mouse Clubhouse episode, the one with the train, and out it came out of his mouth. I know he's just repeating it because he has this episode memorized but not even 6 months ago he was just making random sounds. I always said he was calling his whale friends because that’s what his sounds reminded me off, whales singing and calling each other. He has made some huge progress trying to speak over the last few weeks and seemed to pick up 5 new words each day. However, today totally caught me by surprise. 5 years of working with him one on one and letting him binge-watch his favorite shows has taught him to vocalize and sing/hum (Happy Feet), to communicate in signs and learn his ABCs and numbers (Signing Time), and now he's learning to talk and add simple numbers (Mickey Mouse Clubhouse). CRAZY but it works!
The fact that he could say “12 o’clock” today and has the comprehension of that phrase representing time, it opens up so many questions in my mind. How much does he really understand but simply can’t communicate yet? He has finally started to put signs together in the last couple of months. He’s been more descriptive and explains what he wants and why, and he even tells me about his day at school now. With that he has also started to say more and more words, though sometimes not easily understandable, but you could always tell that he has so much more to say. Now I wonder what is really going on in this head of his. Yesterday, Calvin, his 7 year old brother asked him what’s 1+1 and he immediately answered 2. I mean, what other knowledge is this little mystery mastermind hiding from us?

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Wyatt's crazy progress thanks to ASL signs



Never in my wildest dreams would I have believed anyone that Wyatt could be where he’s at now simply by introducing him to some basic ASL signs. Here was a kid who was completely non-verbal and had meltdowns every single day, multiple times a day. He was the kid who had a meltdown simply for being in the same room as a therapist. No medical professional knew how to help us. There was no silver lining. We had essentially given up hope that his behavior would ever change. Communication and behavior progress seemed impossible.

It was out of pure desperation that we decided to stop therapies altogether and introduce signs. That decision came with an enormous amount of guilt for not being able to help our son, for going against the recommended standard therapies, and therefore the fear of failing as a parent. But we had no options left. The medical alternative we were given was to medicate him to keep him calm. That was not an option in our book. That was the point when I decided to trust my intuition. Medicating him into a drowsy state would not teach him to communicate and deal with frustration. We had to go out on a whim and cross all fingers and toes. Making that bold decision also meant that we had a very lonely road ahead of us because no one had dealt with this severity of a behavior before where every meltdown was a life-threatening emergency. I can’t speak for my husband but I personally felt that everything we had tried was unsuccessful and that if we kept going like this, the next breath holding episode might kill our son.

“Pain is a necessary process of growth”, so I’ve been told. Desperation when you’re trying to help your own child falls right in line with that. So, I made the only decision I felt I could and dove in head first, immersed myself in ASL vocabulary, modeled the signs daily, all while clinging on to the mere hope that it will pay off.

And let me tell you, it did pay off in more ways than I could have ever imagined! I was simply hoping for Wyatt to learn to tell me his very basic wants and needs so the frustration at home would ease. Instead, he exceeded my wildest imagination. Not only did he start to recognize the signs and eventually sign them back but his whole behavior changed. As his vocabulary grew he became less and less frustrated. He started to voluntarily interact with the people around him, which was something he had never done before. He learned to read and imitate facial expressions and body language and even showed empathy. If you have experience with Autism, you know that those are HUGE milestones that some kids on the spectrum never meet. He’s now excited to tell me about his day and invites me to play with him, he even engages in pretend play. But what really touched me the most is that he now wants human contact. Every parent wants their child to hug them, snuggle up with them on the couch and show them they love them. Those moments didn’t happen for us for several years. Wyatt didn’t want to be touched, he didn’t want to engage. I am happy to say that Wyatt now WANTS to give and receive hug, he now wants snuggle time and he loves when we blow bubbles on his belly. I will never take those moments for granted because it took us taking a giant leap of faith and many years of patience and hard work to now have those moments with him.

Though they seem minor in comparison to the human connection we've built with our son, there have also been other communication benefits that we could not have foreseen. For a reason unbeknownst to us, Wyatt to this day at 5 years old seems to comprehend signed language better than spoken language. Even though he was already 3 years old when he started signing back consistently, he only started making vocal attempts when he knew the ASL sign first. It could be a matter of self-confidence on his part to make sure he is understood even if the spoken word does not come out clearly. We don’t know the reason. Either way, we saw how much of an impact signing had on him and how much growth it produced, so we stuck with it. He still struggles with oral language but he can always tell us what’s on his mind by signing! Isn’t that the goal of every parent, to understand and communicate with your child? Speech is nice but communication is what builds that parent-child bond!

Have you started signing with your special needs child? If so, what progress have you seen so far?

Join my Facebook Group "Communication WITHOUT Boundaries" for signing and caregiver support! You can also find me on YouTube!



Friday, May 6, 2016

Public School Insanity



WARNING, rant about Public School to follow.

OK, you’ve been warned.

When picking Wyatt up from school 2 days ago, this is what I immediately saw from 20ft away. 


It was pouring down rain so we ran to the car and got him and all his medical gear loaded up in record speed. Once buckled up, I texted his one on one nurse asking what had happened to his leg. It’s a 3inch red scrape on his chin so I assumed he probably slipped and slid down the side of the playground equipment or something. It’s no big deal, I just wanted clarification. She replied saying she didn’t see him get hurt and also didn’t notice the scrape. Alright, again, no big deal, could have happened to anyone at any time. Kids play and bump into things without an adult noticing. I followed up by sending her a picture of his leg just to make sure she’s aware.

The next morning at car rider drop off, I’m greeted by his nurse, his teacher and the Assistant Principal which is out of the norm. Drop off went as usual but with just slight tension in the air. Then the Assistant Principal approached me and explained that she doesn’t know what happened to his leg and therefore she has to follow policy and call in a report to the Department of Children and Families (DCF). I reiterated that Wyatt didn’t have the scrape when I dropped him off and that it was immediately visible when I picked him up so obviously it happened during school hours. Meanwhile my blood pressure is rising thinking you’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve heard about this policy before that the school now has to report everything when it is not clear how the bump, bruise or scrape happened. And while I totally understand the reasoning behind that policy for the kids who really are in bag home situations and also so the school can cover their behinds in questionable situations by having a third party investigation, DCF, that can provide objective documentation. It is a business after all and liability is the number one concern. But as a reasonable human being and parent, I’m standing there boiling inside thinking, this is a freaking simple scrape. Let’s not take a minor incident and completely blow it out of proportion. But, the - keep the peace and open lines of communication - side of me simply responded, “I understand you have to follow protocol”.

And then the dominoes started falling.

Not even an hour later I get a call from the Sherriff’s office saying a report was made and they along with DCF are on the way to the school to investigate. He also explained that afterward the DCF investigator would be coming to our house to interview every family member. “OK, I understand. Thank you!” was my ever polite response. So at this point you have the school following policy, the Sherriff’s office following their protocol and DCF following their checklist. Quite a few choice words came to mind on how ridiculous this is over a simple scrape but in this lawsuit happy world we live in, this scenario is just the consequence of helicopter parenting and finger pointing. The poor DCF guy, who btw also stated that this is silly but now that a report was filed he had to follow through, had to add to his case load a 2 hour interview with my family just to talk about a 3 inch scrape. He was a very nice guy and it went as smoothly as it could but man, I’m sure he has more important cases that could have benefited from his immediate attention.

After he left, I asked for a sit down meeting with the school Principal and Assistant Principal. For my own peace of mind, I could not just let this go without talking face to face so we could all move forward without bruised egos and walking on egg shells. I restated that I am not upset about the scrape or that they had to follow policy. But I also made sure to point out that even though according to their definition Wyatt is non-verbal, that does not mean he cannot tell us what happened (THANK YOU SIGN LANGUAGE!). If there is one thing Wyatt is obsessively good about, it’s telling us every single time he gets hurt just the slightest bit and he’ll continue to tell that story a hundred times for the next weeks. Evidence #1:

video

After showing that video to school administration, I voiced my concern that I do not appreciate the way this situation was handled. I now have the issue of not knowing when to trust them whether I’m being told the truth about Wyatt’s school day. While it is plausible that no one saw the actual incident, although there are 4 adults in this self-contained classroom of 10 students, I do not believe for one second that A) no one saw this scrape after the fact and B) that Wyatt didn’t communicate this incident to anyone. If there is one thing I cannot stand for it’s dishonesty. I’m not upset about the scrape or the DCF investigation but I am upset that no one is willing to say, “We dropped the ball on this one”. If it were handled that way, it would have changed the whole undertone of this investigation. I was under the impression that student safety and open communication with the parents should come before covering our butts due to liability concerns. Apparently I was na├»ve about that. I do give the Assistant Principal props for giving me a heads up on the reporting requirement. However, this still could have been handled so much better. It’s just shameful that business decisions and worrying about answering to your boss’s boss now come before human relationships.

Rant over. (This is the toned down version after 2 days of dealing with this.) 
Feel free to comment below and join in the fun.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

CCHS and AUTISM



If you’re a regular to this blog, you surely remember me constantly talking about Wyatt’s episodes - holding his breath, turning blue, passing out, and needing resuscitation. How can anyone forget that daily drama, right? (If you’re new to this blog, feel free to click on any of my older posts and you’re sure to get a glimpse into that fun experience.)
Well, over the first 4 years of his life, we tried absolutely everything to get to the bottom of these strange and life threatening daily respiratory arrest incidences, a.k.a. his “episodes”, without any success. First we were told to put him on daily sedation meds and wait it out till he’s older. That suggestion never sat right with us. How is he supposed to cope better with the world around him if he’s not with it mentally? As time went on we actually learned that any medication that causes drowsiness also caused more breath holding episodes. (That should have been our first clue to the real cause…) Then we were advised to blow in his face to have him take another breath; that made each breath holding event last even longer and caused back to back episodes. Then we were told to Ambu bag him through them so he can’t clamp down his airway so much; that also didn’t work and much to the ICU Doctor’s surprise, Wyatt managed to even pop the Ambu bag. When the medical experts ran out of suggestions, it suddenly had to be a failure in our parenting response to this presumably attention getting behavior. You can guess how well we took to that explanation… Well, we gave all those suggestions a try and nothing worked. In a strange way, running out of possible explanations was a gift because it allowed us to, reluctantly I might add, accept the situation for what it was and stop trying to fix something that couldn’t be fixed. When we were able to take a step back and look at it more from Wyatt’s perspective, we realized most episodes occurred either because he was overwhelmed or because he was frustrated not being able to communicate. Lack of communication, now that’s something we could work with. Knowing he is developmentally delayed, can’t tolerate much interaction with other people (clue #2…) and has a trach, we dove into learning and teaching him sign language. (I will explain that choice and the obstacles that came with it in another post.) It worked almost instantly. While it took him over a year to start signing back to us, he was instantly fascinated by it, started making eye contact, reading facial expressions, generally calming down quite a bit, and at 3 ½ years old finally gave us his first voluntary hug! What we didn’t know at the time was that this change in behavior that we just witnessed was nothing short of amazing. While trying to find yet another behavior specialist to help us with these decreasing yet still daily episodes, we finally found the missing puzzle piece that would make sense of all our struggles. An in-depth evaluation about a year ago revealed that Wyatt is autistic! The Autism Spectrum is great and from what we can tell so far at his young age he seems to be high functioning. And while it certainly is not a diagnosis anyone wants, it honestly came as a relief. For 4 years, day and night, we had been resuscitating him, not knowing if we’ll be able to bring him back around each and every time or what kind of brain damage each episode would cause. Wyatt having Autism suddenly explained his daily episodes and why none of the previous intervention strategies worked. It was never about him just being a brat and trying to get someone’s attention. It was simply a matter of the outside world being too overwhelming for him so when he cried, or threw a tantrum as most Doctor’s called it, it turned from an Autistic behavior into CCHS at its worst. Just to clarify, there are plenty of healthy kids who hold their breaths and pass out for behavioral reasons when they’re little. Their bodies will automatically take over breathing again when they lose consciousness. With CCHS that is not the case though, that autonomic function is malfunctioning. Every breath holding episode for Wyatt in reality is full respiratory arrest, even if we didn’t officially call it that. Getting this additional diagnosis of Autism suddenly was eye opening. Because of Autism, Wyatt gets easily overwhelmed and can’t cope with the stimuli around him, he then starts crying and CCHS complications take over to the point where he exhales all his air, loses consciousness but his brain doesn’t kick start breathing again and manual resuscitation is necessary. Finally, there was our answer. Our instincts were right all along. He wasn’t doing it on purpose and it also wasn’t something that could just be fixed. All we could do, and continue to do, is help him learn to cope with his emotions and teach him to consciously breathe through them.
CCHS is difficult to cope with but you learn to adjust over time. For us, Autism is the biggest struggle on a daily basis because it puts Wyatt at increased medical risk.