Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Belated Happy New Year!

Wellllll.... I guess "blog bytes" didn't work as well as I'd hoped. There's no way of getting around being too busy to think, I guess, no matter how many tricks I try...

In retrospect, I think we did more than just survive the holidays, this year, which is a very good thing! We went into the season (beginning early in December with Hanukkah) knowing that there was a lot on our plates: mummers play at church, Brendan's annual holiday gift project, the usual preparations (wrapping, decorating, cooking), gifts for teachers, getting ready for New Years, spending time with friends & family, & a particularly busy patch with the minister search I'm involved in at church... and we did it all & had fun, too! We have evolved, over the years, ways to help minimise Brendan's anxiety at holiday time (for example, he gets to choose which big lego set he gets for Christmas) & it was particularly helpful this year because he had a precipitous rise in anxiety a couple of weeks before Christmas (not related to anything that anyone can identify). It was one of those (rare) occasions when his fears become so intense that he hurts himself & we wonder if we're going to be able to keep him safe. We had taken him off clonapin last October because he was doing so well, anxiety-wise, but we still had some in the house, & Brendan was sufficiently aware of himself that he agreed readily to take one when we suggested it might help, & it did help. He ended-up with just some broken capillaries in his eye (just...) & we were fortunate to be able to see his psychiatrist the next day. He suggested that we continue with the clonapin through the holidays, to take the edge off & help Brendan weather this new, higher level of anxiety, & then we could re-evaluate in January. I had started a "tic-log" at Brendan's psychologist's recommendation, since we'd noticed that anxiety-related tics had been getting more frequent, & we're hoping that we'll see some sort of pattern to guide us... The biggest concerns are whether this is a "blip" or a sign that Brendan's pre-adolescent body changes are making the medications work differently. Brendan & Charlie & I have discussed these possibilities a few times in the past few weeks, laying groundwork for any changes that we may need to make as he gets older. One of the most amazing things about where Brendan is at developmentally is that he can now tell us what's going on internally when he has severe anxiety, & identify what helps & what doesn't. He's made us aware that giving deep pressure can help when he's particularly anxious & has actually been requesting deep pressure (usually by pressing down firmly on his shoulders when he's standing or sitting) when he's feeling increased anxiety. It's made us aware that his sensory needs seem to be increasing as he gets older, so we've been talking to "the team" (psychologist, OT...) about what we can do. One night last week he seemed headed for meltdown again at bed time & Charlie hauled the foof chair (like a beanbag chair) into his room & plopped it on him, which not only made him laugh (the thing is really big... like his old ball blanket on steroids :) but relaxed him almost immediately. (We took it off after he fell asleep...) We really are in a new phase- Brendan as an individual & us as a family. He's even more a member of his team, & we are deeply glad to have his insights into himself to guide us.

Highlights of the holidays:

The mummers play at church- although the main rehearsal was cancelled due to a snow storm- went very well. Brendan played a shooting star :) He was wonderful. He managed to make the shooting star funny & touching without saying a word.

His holiday gift project (which I talk about in this post in Jedi Workshop ) was a big hit with his recipients & with him. He made his own style of "omamori", which are Japanese-style good-luck charms. Brendan chose the beads & made them almost entirely himself. He found the activity calming & satisfying. He would sit with the finished "omamori" in his hand, thinking good thoughts about who it was intended for, & it really grounded him.

Christmas was a lot of fun. Brendan prepared Rufus' stocking on Christmas Eve & had a great time sharing it with Rufe the next morning :) He thoughtfully put a banana, an orange, & some grapes into it (good for mole rats :) We had our annual Christmas tea & happily depended on others to bring or provide (a few of Charlie's patients always give us cookies) a lot of the food. We had a fun cookie-baking day right after Brendan was out of school & invited our friend, Alden (music director at our church & college student), to bake with us, so we did have some of the necessary traditional family delicacies on hand. There were 10 of us for tea, although Brendan did his usual parallel-play version, happily roaring around in the kitchen with his Christmas lego (its 1000-plus pieces already put-together by our lego-maniac) while we had tea in the next room.

The picture at the top is of this year's "osechi ryouri" which is New Year's Food, Japanese-style. We celebrated Japanese New Year last year, too, so we upped the ante by cooking more food & actually filling all 3 layers of the "jubako" box (unlike last year, where we only were able to fill 2...). Our first Japanese teacher, Tomoko, who is now in graduate school in Minnesota, was here for the holidays & mentored me through the cooking process as she did last year. Her mom, Nobukosan, whom we stayed with for a week last summer during our visit to Japan, sent us a box of the important things you can only get in Japan :) We called her by internet phone on New Year's Eve, too (it was already tomorrow for her), which was so exciting that most of my Japanese went right out of my head & I could only keep repeating "akemashite omedetou!" (Happy New Year!). Brendan did much better, speaking in full sentences, much to everyone's delight (& my envy...). I had such a great time cooking & chatting with Tomoko- it felt like I was absorbing her presence as much as I could because I've missed her so much! We have been so lucky to find a wonderful teacher to take over for Tomoko, Shizuka, & it was great fun to share the New Year's celebration with she & her husband, too. Grammie joined us as well & we played all sorts of games after eating the "osechi", "ozoni" (traditional soup), & obligatory "mochi" (sticky rice paste). Brendan enjoyed the games & friends, but decided that his "osechi" this year would be ramen... :)

So... now we're navigating post-holiday, back-to-school, back to regular life. Brendan's anxiety has risen again & we're presently sorting out how to help him manage increased homework demands which are making home life rather miserable these days. He's stuck between feeling like he has to do it (what will people think if he can't? what does that mean about him?) & needing the downtime at home to recover from just being at school. We've been taking the tack of reminding him that his needs as a person on the spectrum don't necessarily change just because the demands of school are changing, & then repeating this message clearly at school. Sigh. We are lucky to have a gem of a school for Brendan, but things do fall between the cracks sometimes... It's clear that Brendan is struggling with wanting to be independent & yet needing our help & input still. We are trying to figure out how to help him without taking away his independence- this is no doubt the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dealing with the adolescent Brendan that is appearing before our eyes. I am caught between amazement & awe at the person I see unfolding before me, & utter frustration as half or more of what I say to him is misunderstood... We both decided yesterday that we're not easy people to live with & are not sure how dad/Charlie manages to live with us. Probably because he loves us :)

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At 2:01 AM, Blogger AnneC said...

Hmm, I'm going to have to put some of my own Christmas Lego sets together and link to some pictures. :) I realize I haven't commented much lately here but I do think about you guys. Sounds like things have been quite busy!

Regarding Brendan and school and anxiety and such -- he's definitely at an age when external developmental demands increase a lot. I remember being his age and feeling like I'd actually somehow "regressed"; it was like everything suddenly started happening much faster, and so much more was expected, particularly with regard to time demands and multitasking.

It's cool that his parents (and teachers, at least to some extent) are sensitive to that, because the ages between 11 and 14 or so can be incredibly rough for all kids, let alone those who are developmentally different.

Oh, and here's a link to a picture of my Lego Christmas tree. :)

At 12:05 PM, Blogger Lisa/Jedi said...

Hi Anne!

Thanks for your, as always, insightful comments! Sharing your school experiences had been a great guide for us & a wonderful bonus of joining the blogosphere. We have reached an accord with school & are structuring homework on our own schedule now. It requires that they give us the whole week's work at once, but it's already working out pretty well.

I loved the picture of your tree!! And the little holiday guys around it, too :)

At 1:03 AM, Blogger kristina said...

I am so glad I read this tonight (a little tardily). Charlie had a huge anxiety attach today and I had to (not very successfully hang onto him. Could have used the foof chair! What AnneC wrote about things happening faster than usual---I really needed to hear that. One moment Charlie was playing the piano and the next aggressing and crying----it happened so fast. I do think a need for independence is playing itself out in Charlie-----he has little language to express this, and it's very hard. Thank you again and best wishes in the new year---


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