I don’t need therapy. I have a dog!

autism therapy dog

If you’re wondering about getting a dog for your child, if you think it will help, I can tell you in our family, it does. We were told by our psychologist when our son was in the 1st grade, to get a dog.  He said it would help everyone to get along better in the family. It stayed in the back of my mind, but that psychologist was right. Getting a dog was good for our son. It was good for our family.

Getting our dog was unexpected. It was not something we were considering when it happened. We were not thinking about getting a pet. Nevertheless, 5 puppies showed up in our neighborhood one day when our children were little. The puppies were abandoned. I protested as best I could, but my son, daughter and husband were all for keeping one of those dogs. So one puppy came to live with us on that warm September day!

Benefits of a dog: The kids have a companion and playmate who is gentle and loving, never fights with them, and brings them more joy than we ever imagined. He lets the kids hug him as much as they want. He never makes demands, he serves as a pillow for the kid’s heads, he is always ready for fun, and he distracts and supports during drama or meltdowns.

Responsibilities of a dog: He needs to be walked every day. He needs trips to the vet. He poops in the yard, and we need to clean up after him. A dog is a commitment. A dog becomes a member of the family. Long after the “honeymoon” period is over, he still needs to be fed, walked, and cleaned up after, every day.

Is it worth it? I think it is, yes. This is the only pet our family has ever had. I think we’re very lucky. It’s been 14 years, and this lovely canine has made our lives fun and joyous! We are richly blessed with him. There is a reason they call them “Man’s Best Friend!”

Caution: The personality and temperament of the dog is pretty important. These need to match your family and your lifestyle. So take your time deciding on a dog. Maybe even have a trial period to see if everyone gets along. Best of luck to you if you’re getting a dog for your family.

(The title is a joke. Even if you get a dog, you may still need therapy.)

Talking About the Diagnosis

How and when should you tell your child about his diagnosis? Situations vary for child, and family. Some children have a temperament and intellect, so you’re talking about it early and often. Some children have no interest, may not be old enough to understand, or with lower intellect, may not understand and benefit from detailed explanations. Whatever your situation, there is probably some benefit from telling your child about his diagnosis.

Our son got an Aspergers diagnosis when he was in the 4th grade, and since it took 6 years of searching to diagnose him, he was well aware of the process. These were the 13 different diagnoses that were suggested over the years:
Anger management
ADHD
Sensory Integration Disorder
Pragmatic Language Disorder
Autism
Bi-Polar
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Reactive Attachment Disorder
Emotional Disturbance
PDD-NOS
Gifted but bored
Anxiety
Asperger Syndrome

We talked openly about his difficulties all along, starting at age 4 in preschool. We also talked about his strengths (he taught himself how to read, he built amazing Lego creations, completed jigsaw puzzles quickly, and memorized all the states and capitals.) In kindergarten, one doctor diagnosed ADHD and suggested medicine, and we talked about how it was hard for him to pay attention in school, and the medicine could help with that. (BTW the medicine was not too helpful for him.) He went to a social skills group in 1st grade, and we talked about the reason for going (to learn skills to get along with classmates). He went to an OT after he got a Sensory Integration Disorder diagnosis. We talked about how the OT would teach him how to keep his body calm (he was dis-regulated often due to his sensory sensitivities), and to help him build strength in his hand and arms, and improve crossing midline (helping him improve in karate, which he loved.)

Your child has strengths and weaknesses, just like everyone else. If my son needed eyeglasses I would talk about the diagnosis (“The doctor thinks you have nearsightedness”) and explain how the eyeglasses help. Frankly, every time we got more information, my son was relieved. He wanted to understand himself! The diagnosis explained a lot about him. And we thought this one was the best diagnosis for our child. We read books and talked to other families with kids like this.

I think a diagnosis, when correct, is helpful. Here is one helpful thing to remember: absolutely nothing changed in your son or daughter! When we got our diagnosis, nothing was any different about our son. He was still the same wonderful, smart, quirky kid as before we had a name to call it. But it provided relief for him and for us, and we got to follow the treatments and the therapies recommended for this diagnosis. It assisted his public school in creating an appropriate Individual Educational Plan (IEP) for him. It opened up a world of acceptance in his classroom and school. Now he was finally more than just that troubled kid! He had a diagnosis and it was helpful.

Persistence

Wow! If I could add one skill to my son’s toolkit, it would be persistence! His poor ability to distill the important message in the presented information, organise, plan, anticipate, break into do-able parts, synthesise information, problem-solve (all executive functioning) made my son’s project for communications class SO HARD this week! And he found it so hard to persist through the difficulty. While he often has great persistence on tasks he enjoys, his persistence on something someone else assigns him can be so poor!

Some things to try next time:

  • set concrete, visual goals
  • break project into pieces
  • cut distractions
  • manage frustration
  • provide breaks
  • start early
  • anticipate
  • problem solve
  • practice (do a dry run)
  • edit

Probably more on the list! I need to lend support to my son sooner next time, I think.  Man, I am still learning new things! I’ve got to remember that.

 

 

 

Free Book Giveaway

Would you like the opportunity to get a free signed copy of my new book?

If you’re a Facebook user, stop over at the Raising An Amazing Child with Autism Facebook page and comment there to be entered into the free drawing on December 15th.

If you prefer not to use Facebook, you can still enter the drawing by commenting here with this question – What is one thing you want others to understand about autism spectrum disorder? The winner will be drawn December 15th, and receive a free signed copy of my book.

SHARING IS CARING. PLEASE SHARE THIS POST!

Books may be ordered on Amazon at Raising an Amazing Child with Autism.

 

Disclosing Autism at School – Presentation Script

When my son and I disclosed his Asperger Syndrome (high-functioning autism) to his classmates in the 5th grade, we read from a script I wrote for the presentation to the class. See the post on what we did to disclose my son’s diagnosis to his classmates here.

I’m posting the pdf of the script here. I adapted it to be more general for others to use. It also reflects some changes to the DSM-5 when Aspergers was replaced by the general term “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. If you use this tool to help talk to your son or daughter’s class about Asperger Syndrome, add your child’s name and make it more specific to him or her (the things they are good at, and the things that are hard for them.)

I’m happy to provide an editable doc if you request it. Thanks! Paula

The books we used were

  • All Cats Have Asperger Syndrome, Kathy Hoopman
  • Can I Tell You about Asperger Syndrome?, Jude Welton
  • My Autism Heroes, Jennifer Elder

The video we used was

Intricate Minds II: Understanding Elementary School Classmates with Asperger Syndrome, Dan Coulter, coultervideo.com

When Private School Doesn’t Fit – Changing to Public School

School can be a challenge with a student with a disability. Private schools can be particularly unhelpful when they are asked to provide for a student’s unique needs. This is something we experienced with our son in elementary school. It was September of 2001, and although most folks remember that as the time America was attacked by terrorists, I remember the difficulty my son was having in kindergarten at our private Christian elementary school.

Our daughter was in the 4th grade and she was an agreeable student – quiet, obedient, didn’t cause trouble, as girls often are at school. Our son was struggling in Kindergarten. He needed to stand frequently (his Kinder teacher said he did the entire year standing at his desk, and not sitting.) He had difficulty understanding abstract language, and melted down at unannounced changes or when he was overwhelmed by sound, or smells. He continued to have difficulty in 1st and 2nd grade, and my husband and I were actively seeking a diagnosis so we could assist him better. The private school administration, however, was not equipped to provide the specialized education my son needed. So we eventually pulled our son out of the Christian school and put him into our neighborhood public school for 3rd grade.

I learned a lot during that experience and this is to inform and encourage you if you are standing at this same crossroads. Some things we experienced were:

Where was God in all this? While our public school was highly-rated, we wanted an education for our children that included our faith. I wrestled with God on this one! Why had God made our child the way he is (it seemed likely he would have to leave this school), when we were trying to honor our faith and provide a Christian education? There were many mornings I sat in my car after dropping my children off at school, crying and pleading with God to figure out what to do to help my son be successful at this school. While I didn’t get an answer to my Why? right away, eventually I came to acceptance that moving him out of this school was a better scenario than keeping him there.

Not all private or parochial schools have a hard time supporting children with special needs. I know of one local Catholic school that has a very supportive environment (in 2017) for students with disabilities, particularly those with autism or Aspergers. Unfortunately these schools are few and far between.

Our private school was not equipped. I knew I could still access services at my public school if it was warranted. I asked for a public school evaluation when my son was in the 1st grade (at private school). They did the evaluation, and that was another piece that informed our next steps with him. They did not offer him services. But if they had, they would have been obligated by law to provide the services at the public school. If my public school had offered it, I could have brought my child to the public school to see the OT (occupational therapist), SLP (speech language pathologist) or counselor, and to have him participate in social skills groups!

By February of 2nd grade, the private school teacher refused to have my son in class and the private school principal’s best suggestion was to pray about it. What she was saying was the private school was simply not equipped to deal with my son’s challenges. I wished it was different, but when faced with the reality, I had to imagine public school would be able to offer him more. So my husband and I made the difficult decision to switch him to public school.

Talking about the change. Talking about the change was a natural thing to discuss with my son. He was undergoing a lot of different evaluations at the time, and he knew he was having trouble at school. (In 2006, following 12 different diagnoses, he was correctly diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome. Read about our journey to his correct diagnosis in this post.) So we talked about the things he would gain from changing to the public school. He would get some services right away, like OT and counseling. He got an IEP with modifications like preferential seating, breaks when he got overwhelmed, an AlphaSmart word processor to do written work on (he struggled with writing with a pencil.) Also his neighbor friend was going to this school and that provided more opportunity for them to be together.

My daughter continued to attend the private Christian school, and that caused some challenges. My children had to ride in my car together, first to the private Christian school to drop off my daughter, then to the public school to drop off my son. I had to field questions from him on several occasions “Why don’t I go to this school anymore?” and “Why doesn’t Mrs B. (the Principal) want me at this school anymore?” I answered as best as I could, “You know how you work with the OT, and there’s a counselor at your new school? They don’t have these things here, so that’s why you go to your new school. Mrs. B. tried to help you, but she just didn’t have the special things you need here.”

He was no longer “the worst kid in school”. A benefit was seen right away in public school. My son, with all his issues, was no longer the worst kid in school. There were a bunch of children in his public school who were diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and many other disabilities. Of course, kids with disabilities are not bad. I am referring to the other parent’s opinions of my child. I’m sorry to say the parents at the private Christian school did not include me or my child in their lives. Frankly, they ostracized me and my child. By the time we left, when he was in the 2nd grade, they were no parents in my son’s class, who were friendly and accepting of us. This changed when we moved to the third grade. Still I made closer friendships with families that also had children with learning disabilities, but the acceptance and connectedness at the public school was an improvement.

Services followed his needs. For the first time in school, we were offered support services for my son. Now it wasn’t all wonderful, but we were headed in the right direction. My son suddenly had some protections because he had an IEP. I believe our case was fairly serious, because the evaluator recommended a 3rd grade SDC (special day class) for ED (emotional disturbance). My son had been through 3 years of school in a regular classroom without supports. I was just wanting supports, so I refused the SDC and put him in our neighborhood school. My son would not have gotten services at the private Christian school. His IEP and those services were the life raft to my sinking ship! It was a decision that proved to be beneficial over the years to come.

Private school tuition got used on other services. With the switch to public school, I suddenly found myself with that unused tuition money. Now I was able to spend money on a private OT who I discovered was brilliant with my child. I paid for social skills group lessons with a private SLP. I paid for an educational counselor, which I was unable to do when I was paying my private school tuition. It was an added benefit to the whole situation.

Changing schools was not what I wanted or expected. But as I worked toward new goals, I began to see the positive side. It took a long time, but this, like many experiences I had with my son diagnosed with Aspergers, caused me to grow and develop a sensitive side in me that would never had happened if I had an ordinary neurotypical child.

 

 

Aspergers Grown Up

My child with Aspergers has grown up into a man with Aspergers. The 20’s is a time of change for all adults. Changes come as students graduate high school, or age out of programs at 22. Support systems, in the form of IEPs or 504s go away. Some students won’t disclose autism in college, or seek out services, because they are concerned a potential employer will discriminate against them because of a disability. Some get jobs, but don’t tell their bosses about limitations they may have.

My son keeps his diagnosis private. He will talk about it with people he knows and trusts, but it’s not something he brings up to his college professors or his employer. This week he was working when he had a loud argument with another employee. He misunderstood some of the other man’s remarks, and thought he was being wrongly accused, and his extreme sense of justice pushed him into a loud, aggressive argument. Then the boss stepped in. “Man, you’ve got anger issues,” he said to my son.

When my son had a chance to calm down and think about it, he was surprised he had let the situation get so heated. He knew he should keep his temper under control, but in the stress of the moment, he got overwhelmed and he made some big mistakes. Going back to face the people at work would be hard to do, but he needed to show them he could keep his temper under control.

My Son with Aspergers did not outgrow it.  He still deals with these things every day – sensory sensitivities, miscommunication with verbal and non-verbal language, poor executive functioning, navigating the social world when it’s not a skill that comes to him naturally. He still deals with his unique neuro-diversity. He’s just gotten good at behaving as expected when he’s interacting with people.

Name Changes – Autism & Aspergers What’s a Spectrum?

I recently connected with a couple of awesome FB groups for parents of kids with Asperger’s. I began to wonder about why Asperger’s was still being used in the online community (in 2017), since its removal from the DSM-5 in 2013? Here’s what I’ve discovered.

Many parents have heard the name “autism” before. But “spectrum” and “autism spectrum” may be unfamiliar. Specialists, doctors and teachers now use the term “autism spectrum disorder” when years ago we just used “autism”. By considering autism and its symptoms on a continuum from severe to mild, we recognize a wide range of abilities and disabilities. We see people who are severely affected by the disorder, others who have very mild symptoms, as well as those in-between. Classic autism (like the title character in the 1988 movie Rainman) has in the past been called Kanner’s autism. Milder forms of the disorder may be referred to as Asperger syndrome. Both names are from the doctors who first described these conditions. Autism spectrum now includes severe and mild forms and all those in-between. You may also hear specialists refer to children as being “on the spectrum”.

The term Aspergers was used from 1994 – 2013. It was removed with the publication of the DSM-5 in 2013 (the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual, a handbook used in the U.S. and worldwide, as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders). Those previously diagnosed with Aspergers could keep their diagnosis, and new diagnoses would have to be either “Autism Spectrum Disorder” or “Social Communication Disorder”. Autism got divided into:

Level 1 – Requiring Support

Level 2 – Requiring Substantial Support

Level 3 – Requiring Very Substantial Support

My son got an Aspergers diagnosis in 2006, in grade school, and he needed documentation in 2014, in college, so his doctor signed his paperwork “Autism Spectrum Disorder”. I assumed everyone made the same change. I was wrong.

While some parents had no trouble with the change, and used the term “autism spectrum”, many parents are still hanging on to the label “Aspergers”. There were a number of reasons for this. Some parents don’t use the autism label because others see how high-functioning their child is, and are skeptical and may argue about the diagnosis. Other parents felt the need to say “high-functioning” when they talk about their child’s diagnosis to differentiate it from classic autism. A number of parents said they felt the term Aspergers was understood better and more quickly. A few parents still call it Aspergers because their child never had speech or developmental delays. One parent noted she calls it autism and then “Aspergers type” because the general public does not know about the DSM-5 change.

The autism spectrum is so broad, ranging from non-verbal individuals, to folks like my son who pass for neurotypical. But more than that, there are other families like mine, still dealing with the trials and triumphs of Aspergers even though it’s not called that anymore.

I feel very much at home with these families!  Thank you all!

 

Announcing my Kindle ebook “Raising an Amazing Child with Autism”

Raising an Amazing Child with Autism ebook coverI’m proud to announce the publishing of my ebook with Kindle Direct Publishing, on Amazon. I wrote this book to share my stories and advice on raising my son diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome, a type of high-functioning autism. As the parent of a child with special needs, I laughed and cried and felt a kinship with parents who told their stories. Having a special-needs child is an emotional roller coaster. You must give up your pre-conceived dreams of who your child will be, and learn to set new goals for them, for yourself and for your family. You will experience great pride, and heart-felt devastation. You may feel alone, shunned by friends, and classroom parents who won’t understand. Your child may be bullied, and left out of play dates and playground games. But your journey can be exhilarating and satisfying too. If you’re lucky, you’ll find others who love and accept your child, and understand your experience. You may find your child has strengths and talents you never imagined. You life will be enriched by the experiences in store for you. I hope these stories and ideas encourage you when raising your amazing child with autism!

Raising an Amazing Child with Autism, Stories & Advice from an SLP Mom was published this week by Kindle for e-readers. Stop by the Kindle store and read a few free pages from the start of my book. You don’t need a Kindle device to read ebooks. Kindle has a free app download for your laptop computer, so you can read Kindle ebooks on any Mac, PC, Tablet or phone!

The collection of 39 stories of our son, and our family, focus on:

  • Therapy Tips & Ideas
  • Diagnosis
  • School & Advocacy
  • Family & Personal Life
  • Adolescence & Beyond

I’m hoping this ebook will make a difference for some families today in need of a trusted parent & friend’s advice on raising a child with autism. My Kindle ebook Raising an Amazing Child with Autism, Stories & Advice from an SLP Mom is $4.99 on Kindle.

All stories in my book were previously published on my blog.

Raising an Amazing Child with Autism, Stories & Advice from an SLP Mom

My new book is available on Teachers Pay Teachers, Raising an Amazing Child with Autism, Stories & Advice from an SLP Mom.

Raising an Amazing Child with Autism book coverAs the parent of a child with special needs, I laughed and cried and felt a kinship with parents who told their stories. Having a special-needs child is an emotional roller coaster. You must give up your pre-conceived dreams of who your child will be, and learn to set new goals for them, for yourself and for your family. You will experience great pride, and heart-felt devastation. You may feel alone, shunned by friends, and classroom parents who won’t understand. Your child may be bullied, and left out of play dates and playground games. But your journey can be exhilarating and satisfying too. If you’re lucky, you’ll find others who love and accept your child, and understand your experience. You may find your child has strengths and talents you never imagined. You life will be enriched by the experiences in store for you. I hope these stories and ideas encourage you when raising your amazing child with autism!

The collection of 39 stories of our son, and our family, focus on:

  • Therapy Tips & Ideas
  • Diagnosis
  • School & Advocacy
  • Family & Personal Life
  • Adolescence & Beyond

It’s the kind of memoir I would have wanted when I was raising my son. I’m hoping it will make a difference for some families today in need of a trusted parent & friend’s advice on raising a child with autism.

All stories in my book were previously published on my blog.