Saturday, September 12, 2009

Thank you for reading!

Just wanted to let everyone know that Steps for Michelle is moving! Further updates to this site can be found at:

See you there!

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Forgive Me, Please,...

I know, I know,... I've been changing the appearance of the site mercilessly.
I'm playing like mad before I have to be "Michelle, version 2.0, work edition". I will leave the appearance alone, soon, at least for a while. Promise. :)

If you're not viewing the site from the Wordpress version already, take a look at and check out some cool new functions. That version of the site has additional functionality, like separate pages for book recommendations and galleries for my artwork. Fun stuff, enjoy!

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

New Beginnings

As of today, I was hired for a new job. This was the result of all that testing I wrote about in the previous post. I start training on Monday.

My daughter went to her new preschool class for the first time today, and was very excited to do so. Tomorrow will be her first solo day on the bus. My son began 1st grade today, and was extremely excited to do so. My husband is officially done with the job he's had for almost 10 years, and began his first day as a full time college student today. He was also extremely excited to do so. We had so many long awaited new beginnings begin today.

A while back, there was a discussion at Threads ( about where we're each at with the condition of our sails. In its more basic componants, it was looking at your life as being in a boat, and how you were going about steering it. Waiting on God to do his thing with your life is a lot like raising the sail of a sailboat on a windless day. You don't know exactly when that wind is going to come, but if you're going to keep the sail up, you better be holding on to your boat. When that wind comes, you don't want to be left behind.

Being asked if I would accept this new job on this day of firsts is meaningful to me. See, I'd been a bit in denial about the whole process, and had fallen behind in the original plans my spouse and I had made about what steps I would take in searching for a job. I've been very focused in the search in the last month, but I wasn't as far as we'd hoped I'd be by this time. Of all the different places I've submitted resumes, this is the one place that was actually excited about me from their first contact. They were the only place I didn't have to sell myself to, they were already buying. At each stage of the process, they mentioned that I'd likely be contacted within a week or so, but each time they ended up calling me back to confirm the next stage that very same day. In this economy, that's unusual. But the timing of it all coming together today, on this day of firsts,...seems very symbolic to me.

We still have one part to figure out, with making some daycare arrangements on the days that my husband's classes fall. Normally, not having this all figured out ahead of time would leave me in a state of panic attacks. My spouse and I will be going over our options to figure this out, its just weird that I'm not in my usual familiar state of anxiety. This is very odd for me, but I think I just don't have the space for the worry this time.

I'm too busy just holding on to the boat.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Testing, testing,...1,...2,...3,...

Today is the day before my birthday (birthday eve?) and I'm about to go complete assorted tests for a possible job. They've promised me a basic math, reading and writing test, with a personality test and something very similar to a wonderlic test. Is it strange that I'm looking forward to this? It actually sounds fun (with the exception of the math part).

This may sound a little odd. It's not that I like taking tests, necessarily. My nerves make themselves known on a regular basis. It's not even that I'm particularly good at all tests. I like doing well, don't get me wrong, that's just not the motivating part of this. I really like going over the results.

It's energizing for me to understand how my brain works (or doesn't work) on a given day. Minds are fascinating. Other minds are equally fascinating, its just that most folks have no reason to share the inner workings of their brains with me. All these different tests have their limitations and the possibility for error, but over time and after lots of tests, there are certain patterns that tend to remain constant.

The ways that my children's minds work are very interesting to me. The lines their thoughts travel in are so different than "typical", but if you pay attention, they make sense. It's often that they've taken something said in passing extremely literally, but it does make sense. My daughter is very direct and straightforward in her thoughts and feelings. This can be an issue when she's frustrated, but overall, this is very helpful in understanding her. She's very like her father in her directness. My son often keeps more of his meaningful thoughts to himself, and you have to dig a bit to see why something is bothering him. If I'm honest, I have to admit that this is a way he's similar to me.

At Threads (our church), we've been reading through Phillipians. The discussion that followed mentioned how our children can talk about parts of themselves that they got from their parents. "See how I made that joke? I got my humor from you." It can be so cool to recognize bits of yourself in your children. You can also recognize how they're internalizing being upset, squashing their feelings,... and recognize that they got that from you, too. I can't help but wonder how much easier life would be for my son, with all his difficulties, if he weren't like me.

I have to trust that God's got a plan in this, though. Both children have grown in their own functionality by leaps and bounds. There is no way of knowing what they'll be capable of by the time they're adults. They both really like to think, and are good at it. They both have minds that are very captivating, cool places to live in. Our job as parents seems to be to remind them that the rest of the world is interesting, too. Sharing the thoughts that dwell in their heads is part of what makes this world more colorful.

Time to get ready for my test.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Echolalia and gossip

This has been a difficult subject with various family members for a while, now. If you're not familiar with the term echolalia, its basically repeating just about anything you hear, over and over (a form of perseveration). A phrase can "get stuck" in either your short term or long term memory, and you keep repeating it, often in exactly the same tone or sing-song pitch. My son has to fight this urge on a daily basis, both short term and long term. This can be a positive thing in that at least he's showing a desire to communicate (which is difficult for most on the spectrum). The hard part is that its even more important than "normal" for parents to monitor what their children are exposed to.

There are members of the family that I grew up in who tend to gossip (specifically rehashing old dirty laundry, or making speculations about each other, who's talking to whom, who's not talking to whom, etc.). This has gone on for years, and it's gotten to be so "normal" that they don't seem to be able to recognize when they're doing it. This isn't healthy in any family, but when you have children on the autism spectrum who suffer from echolalia, ... well, "dangerous" is putting this lightly. A while back, I tried to get my children out of a room before this started, but my son caught a phrase that he shouldn't have been exposed to. He would perseverate on that phrase even 3 months later, and he would get just as upset as he did the first time he said it. I don't know how much of it he understands, but we've found that he usually understands more than people give him credit for.

I had to set some boundaries (although its been very frustrating that some in my family have no idea what that means,...if this is new to you, please read the book "Boundaries" by Cloud and Townsend, ...its not specific to autism, its a way for everyone to have healthier relationships). After talking numerous times about what is not okay to discuss in front of my children (and still having those moments that we couldn't leave the room fast enough), my spouse and I decided that we would take a break from visits with certain relatives for a time. I don't want to keep my children from knowing their relatives, I just want those relationships to be a positive thing for my children to experience.

These conversations are not easy to have with family. Its frustrating, I had my 8th talk with them today and the understanding just isn't there. We're getting to a point where they're wanting to resume visits, and they don't understand why I'm insisting that the first time be just adults without my children there. I need to make sure that we're able to talk without toxicity before I can bring my kids back into the equation.

This is doubly hard, because this is a new role for me. I was the quiet peacemaker in the family I grew up in,... the one who listens, who makes as little demands on her family as possible (if you don't expect a lot, you usually don't get disappointed). Its been strange to realize that some relatives aren't able to hear my words, if that makes any sense. Our relationship is fine, as long as I don't speak. When I say something they don't like to hear, the conversation just continues like I didn't speak at all. Part of me wonders how much of my being a listener is from my own disposition, and how much is just because my words aren't heard, so why speak them?

I can't play this role anymore, it isn't healthy for me or my family, but especially not for my immediate family. There has to be role models for the children, for them to grow and develop. When autism enters the picture, the need for a healthy role model increases exponentially. So, we set our boundaries for what is healthy for our immediate family, and leave other's growth up to them. I can't do their growing for them, no matter how much I want to. It prevents them from growing (and it took having children on the autism spectrum for me to finally see that, go figure,...).

This might sound selfish (or relatives may tell you its selfish and not Christian, laying guilt on you thicker and thicker), but its not. Its protecting the good things that God's given you, and creating a safe place for your children to grow. Dysfunction is a term thrown around so casually these days, its almost lost its meaning. There's so much broken-ness in this world, it makes me sad that what is clinically (and biblically) healthy looks so weird to us lived out.

Just some thoughts,...

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Welcome to Autismland, Part 3

New issues will become a way of life,... but it also becomes "normal" to figure out how to help your child cope. Issues frequently pop up at school. For instance, at first, if they tried to have my son leave his classroom to go to Occupational Therapy or Speech Therapy, he would lose all ability to cope as soon as he was outside his classroom. Usually, if I would talk with his teachers or come in to prove to my son that what his teachers were asking him to do is ok, Mom approves and expects it to be done,... he'd be okay with it, too. In the prior example, I went to the school and walked with my son and his aide to every room in the building that he would be going to, to show that this is what he needs to do, and he'll be okay doing this.

As his functionality increased, his goals and expectations at school would be increased. I won't go into each detail of this here (you can email me if you're going through something similar and have questions, that's completely ok). Basically, progress is made up of the tiniest steps with long spans of almost no change, then abrupt explosions of understanding. This is a pattern that keeps repeating.

It was very hard not to be depressed at times, living this out. With each new gain, though, there's new hope. One of the things I did to keep motivated during this time was keep every sheet that had any kind of assessment on it in a 3-ring binder. When I'd get down, I'd start at the beginning, remembering just what life was like when he was first assessed and celebrate how far he's come. Its funny how you forget just how different life was, even 3 months prior.

My daughter was tested at 18 months, and met the criteria for autism, too. It's in different ways than her brother, but she was noticably quirky, too. Due to her age, we decided to wait and go with the ECDD (early childhood developmental delay) label. She would receive all the same interventions and have access to the same specialists, and we could have her tested again later to see if she still met the criteria later on. Both children have made remarkable improvements during the last 3 years. We've been doing "Mommy's Summer School" to keep the children on a schedule over the summer. Both really like going through the centers. We try to keep it fun and creative.

It seems to me that the biggest difference between parents of typical children and of those on the autism spectrum is the issue of rose-colored glasses. With autism, you can't afford them, and have to be aware of just how many variables in your child's life you can't control. You can study every known facet of autism, but that is never going to "fix" your child. You have to put your words and thoughts into action, start the interventions and do everything you can to help them look toward the reality outside, instead of withdrawaling deeper and deeper into themselves. But above all, for myself, the most necessary part was praying to God. He's the only one truly in control of this life and has been since the beginning. There is so much that isn't known about the autism spectrum, with what causes it, what the best treatment will be for each child. One of the most humbling parts is realizing just how much of who your child will become is in His hands, just like it's always been.

"Autismland" is a very dark place to be, especially while you're still new to it. As soon as you start to acclimate to it, the landscape changes on you. Eventually you get used to living in this state of flux, knowing that a much more capable set of hands is molding your children.

This is what normal looks like to us now.

Welcome to Autismland, Part 2

After he was diagnosed, my husband and I dealt with it in different ways. I kept combing through every resource that I could, trying to understand every possible intervention to try to see what would work best, getting familiar with all the technical terms and jargon as fast as I could. The one thing every resource agreed on was that the earlier the interventions started, the more likely the child would have a higher functionality. We were losing months just getting through the red tape and it seemed like there was an everpresent clock ticking away in my head. Every second lost was a lost opportunity. I started researching user-friendly therapies that I could do at home. The easiest were sensory therapies (a good resource is "The Out Of Sync Child Has Fun") and oral motor therapies (like brushing the inside of his mouth with nuk toothbrushes).

My husband had a harder time seeing the autism. After we were given the diagnosis, his response to the professional was "I don't care what you call it, as long as you give him the help he needs". I am so thankful for my husband, and was so glad that we were in agreement on getting started with the interventions. What I didn't realize was just how long it would take for him to accept it, and be able to see that this was more than just some buzzword attached to our son. It took time for him to be able to see the autism.

One of the books mentioned that the way we reacted as a couple was a very common, almost stereotypical reaction. It was a very hard time for everyone in our household. It's a lot to accept, and there's also this stigma attached that its not okay to talk about it. The first year seemed like there wasn't enough time to process anything. What I didn't realize was that I really needed to be able to talk to someone, anyone, about what I was feeling. When that made sense to me, I was shocked to realize that I couldn't think of anyone that was ready and available to talk with me about this. I had the teachers and therapists for all the candid discussions about what was working well and where there was struggling, but having this kind of talk with them seemed above and beyond the call of duty.

If there's one bit of insight to gain from any of these words, its this:

You have to talk about what you're going through, when you are going through it, with SOMEBODY. Period. If you don't have someone in your life that you feel comfortable sharing this with, find someone. Take a risk, and share what's going on inside you, because if you don't, you will burn yourself up from the inside out, leaving you worthless to help your child. If you won't do it for yourself, do it for your son or daughter. This is not some touch-y, feel-y propaganda about sharing your feelings. This is coming from an extreme introvert, someone who's nature is to bottle everything up inside, being more concerned with others than themselves. Bottling this up WILL BREAK YOU. Is that clear enough? You're not imposing on someone else. Give someone the chance to help you heal, so you can give your special needs child the care they need.

Whoo! I got a little excited, there. Let me breathe for a minute. Okay, back to our regularly scheduled program,...

I became a stay home mom, took care of my two young children, tried to take advantage of teachable moments during the day, clean house, and keep researching. I became a full-fledged hermit, in truth.

After age 3, the teachers no longer come to your home, so my son had to go to Croydon Avenue School. When the school year started, I had to watch my 3 year old ride away on the school bus (John had called into work to come in late, because he knew I'd be a mess). While my son was at school half days, I was at home, caring for our new baby and trying to get caught up on housework. Since I was also "coping" by being a hermit, I didn't want to leave the house. I started getting nervous being around other people, for fear that if they asked me a well-meaning, innocent question like "How are you, today?", the levy would break and I'd flood someone with everything that was rolling and churning inside me. That, in my mind, would have been unforgivable (This type of thinking is messed up, by the way). There was also the fear that I would be jealous of friends that had typical children with typical problems,... that I would feel more alienated in talking with them about the fears that were running unfettered through my being (This does happen, unfortunately, and its normal for you to run into this, especially during that first year of being labeled).

Friday, August 14, 2009

Welcome to Autismland, Part 1

Roughly three years ago, while pregnant with my daughter, my world was relatively typical. All things considered, life was pretty good. My 2 year old son wasn't talking as much as all the books said he should be, but most folks I mentioned it to seemed to think I was overreacting. Most days, I agreed with them. My husband and I are fairly quirky people, so it shouldn't be surprising that my son had his quirks, too.

After delivering my daughter, amidst all the papers the hospital gave us, was information through our area's school system on receiving free developmental screenings. When I called, I mentioned that I knew this was available for my daughter, but was wondering if they could come take a look at my son. That wasn't a problem.

During that first visit, I kept waiting for this professional to laugh and confirm that I'm overeacting. That didn't happen. She was very pleasant, but felt very strongly that he needed to be seen by more professionals on staff. After multiple visits from multiple specialists, we were referred for an MET (multidisciplinary evaluation team) exam and a kind-hearted therapist mentioned that I should start preparing myself to hear the word "autism".

Autism? Like Rain Man?!? After the panic attack wound down, I did what I always do when I don't understand something. I went to the library and checked out every book on the subject, then started researching online. The mad frenzy to soak in as much knowledge as possible had begun. I kept thinking that I would find some kind of proof that this was wrong, or find a different solution.

It is extremely disturbing to keep finding lists of my son's quirks repeated in book after book, about a lifelong condition with no known cure.

Posted with LifeCast

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Tiny Steps

Happily, my freak out factor is lower today. I have my first interview set up for Monday, for a job that would be missional relationship building in addition to bringing in some money. Of all the jobs I've applied for, this one really sticks out (and I'm less worried about the interview on this one, because it deals with something I already have strong opinions about; its more likely that I'll be able to explain myself, even though, on paper, this is a job that I'm less qualified for than others I applied for,...regardless of how it goes, this state of calm is definitely a God thing).

Even though my children will both be starting school this fall (at the tender ages of 3 and 6), its still hard for me to wrap my brain around the idea of not being home with them fulltime, anymore. Both of my children have special needs, and for the last three years, my biggest focus has been on how to help them learn how to learn. My "job" has been being their advocate, communicating with teachers and therapists on how to translate what my children were feeling, since it took such a long time for them to begin to be able to say it for themselves. They needed me to be completely involved to help them communicate, especially at first. Maybe I'll make a separate post on what all this entailed, later.

Now, after much hard work by my children and everyone involved, they've both made tremendous progress. They are working on being more independant and learning to focus on what their teachers are trying to tell them. It means its time for Mommy to step back and let them try out what they've learned in a safe, controlled environment. This is very hard to do. Our world isn't "back to normal", by any means, but we've adjusted and are well versed in what to pull from our bag of tricks to help keep our kids on an even keel. Now, we're setting aside more of the tricks and seeing how they can cope. Soon, I'll be juggling family duties and work duties, and I'm not overly gifted with coordination. Like I said, this isn't easy.

But I'm not as freaked out as I was.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Well, here we go,...

I'm a little freaked out. After more than three years as a stay-at-home mom,... I'm actively looking for a job outside of our home. See, my husband is phasing back into college and in less than a month, he won't be working outside the home, either. I'm not studying to be a math teacher (that would be my husband, instead), but even I can do this equation. No income is difficult to use in paying for daily living needs, so the job search begins. Both children will be in school this fall, but I'm still having a bit of difficulty wrapping my head around this.

This wasn't a sudden decision, by any means. John's been trying to prepare me for this for months,... it's not his fault that I'm extremely skilled at blocking out that which is unpleasant to me. The "queen of denial" would be an understatement.

It occurs to me that I haven't had a job interview in over 12 years. In a weird "just how old am I, now?" moment, it came as quite a shock to realize that technology has changed our culture's way of hiring since I did this last. Very few jobs are actually posted in the newspaper, anymore. No one mails resumes on fancy resume paper now, its all attached to emails. There's a virtual cornucopia of job search websites. The sheer limitlessness of it all is extremely overwhelming, actually. It's really hard to know where to start.

I'm dealing with my panic by just focusing on making resumes. Many resumes, each tailor made for each job posting I find that sounds like something I've done before. At first, I was really overwhelmed with the fear that I have no skills, so what will I put on a resume? Reducing myself to a sheet or two of paper is a particularly unpleasant process, and I've always felt like I had to "sell" me, like a product (which just gives me the willies). The word "interview" will spark a panic attack, so they don't exist yet in my mind. Tiny steps. Without having to physically fold hundreds of paper resumes, stick them in envelopes, write addresses, get stamps, lick stamps (yes, once upon a time, we had to actually lick each stamp, or cough up the money to get a "moistening tool", usually equipped with some kind of sponge,...back in the days of yore,...) and dump them all in a post office,... it's certainly easier to pretend that there's no such thing as an interview.

See, twelve years ago, I was notoriously bad at interviewing. Months after being hired, if I reminded supervisors about when we interviewed, they tended to glaze over in shock. "Oh wow, I'd forgotten all about that,... you're like a different person than who I originally talked to. I had no clue what your personality is really like, and I almost didn't hire you. I'm so glad I did, and you do such a good job, but wow,... you do not interview well,..." If that were only one response, it wouldn't be that big a deal,... but every job I've had generated that reaction from the people who hired me. Doesn't exactly spring forth confidence. I seem to have a hard time getting past the notion that, after they have my resume in hand and they ask questions that are already answered by my resume, my brain seems to interpret that this means they either A.) don't believe said resume or B.) what's on the resume isn't good enough and I need to come up with something better, on the spot. I can understand that this isn't normally the case, it's just where my brain goes with it. And thus begins the torrential flow of words. It's like the floodgates open, and I can hear this odd rhythm around me,... eventually realizing that I can hear myself talking, but my brain is no longer involved in the process. Its like a weird, steady background music that I can tap my foot to, and I can see the person I'm supposed to be talking to just sort of listing to the side a little, looking a little glazed.

Other times, I try to compensate by keeping myself entirely reined in (like my last interview, at National City Bank). This is successful in stemming the tide of my speech, but unfortunately leaves me with about as much personality as a parsnip (and yielded the most vocal backlash of "you really don't interview well" than any other job I'd had). There has to be a third option,... I just haven't figured out what that is yet. Tiny steps,...

So, yeah, I'm a little freaked out.

Welcome To Steps For Michelle

About marriage, motherhood, dealing with autism, figuring out the path before you, and whatever right-brain thoughts happen to pop in along the way.

Just some thoughts,...

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