Thursday, April 6, 2017

Why It's OK With Me As a Special Needs Parent That A Restaurant Bans Kids

There was recently a story about a restaurant banning kids from dining at their establishment. This isn't a new thing either, I've seen other stories the last several years very similar to this recent one. There have been numerous replies to this story, with negative and positive view points on the idea of banning children from a dining establishment.
Here are my thoughts on this topic, considering that I have yet to read a reply from a parent like myself with special needs kids.

To the point where a business who makes it's money off of people eating feels the need to ban a certain age group of hungry mouths? My oldest is non-verbal and extremely sensory seeking. For the longest time, we didn't do restaurants because we never knew when our kid would be triggered by something and get loud. When we did attempt it,  we chose a family friendly restaurant and we made a point to tell the server ahead of time that at any time our meal could be changed to a to-go order.
It's tough not getting out in public a lot because you want to teach your kids manners, but at the same time, you don't want to disrupt someones meal just because you're failing to control a melt down. Even more, if my kid is melting down enough for us to leave, it's best for him anyway if we go ahead and do that. Something is really bothering him, and there's no way he'll enjoy himself until whatever it is can be resolved. If you as a parent are not in control of the situation, you need to leave.

See, this situation is two fold. In the particular story that I mentioned above, I believe the kid ban started after kicking out parents who refused to turn the volume down on their kids ipad. Those parents were assholes, but surely not every single story that led up to the last straw cannot be that cut and dry. What I'm hoping that people remember when they comment on stories like these is that "kid that was screaming" in your ear, and the "parents finally left after a few minutes, but it was SOOOOO loud and annoying"....... That could have been us. Or someone like us.
If children who can't help how they act in public annoy you to the point of writing scathing comments about it on the internet, you too, are an asshole.

Again, we didn't go out a lot when our oldest was younger. Now that he's better in certain situations that used to be overwhelming for him , we do venture out from time to time. We only trust a few people to watch our kids, because our oldest is non verbal. If you don't have a non verbal child, you don't understand how scary it is to leave him with people you don't know extremely well. Or maybe you can, because, empathy.
I digress...
To all those people commenting " GREAT, I get to have a date night with no kids around!" I hope you understand how lucky you are that Becky down the street who just started in high school can be trusted to watch your child. It's cool. Go out. Enjoy your kidless date night. My Hubby and I will stick to lunch dates where we can laugh at the people who scowl at the loud screaming baby, because we choose to be understanding. It's a much happier place to be. Just to be clear about this; If you had to pay for the level of skill that my son requires to care for him, you wouldn't go out on date nights either.

The world needs EMPATHY and  a few restaurants that don't serve kids. Why?
So people who are annoyed at kids and don't think before they assume can sit in quiet and eat without being a major ass to a parent who is trying their best. So the parents who are the assholes ruining it for everyone else by letting their kids play their iPad on full blast can go elsewhere too. It's cool, There are other places for us non assholes to go with the family around people who are empathetic and helpful. Where I don't have to threaten a grown man for running his mouth about my kid. (True Story) We'll take our money down the street, thank you. No big deal. I see it as a win win.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

When A Total Stanger Told Me "I See You."

My day began with failing a test that I actually studied for in one of my college courses. It was hard to swallow, but I told myself that it was no one else's fault but my own, that I didn't work hard enough. No one saw my tears that morning, but I did cry a little because I was so overwhelmed with the amount of work I took on going full time in college while simultaneously trying to juggle a part time job, and my kids. I felt like a failure and reminded myself that other parents do the full time school thing, and they are better at it than I am, which meant I just needed to try a little harder.

I had a meeting that ran over it's allotted time before I picked up my boys from school, so I was a few minutes late to get pick them up that day. It was a very busy day, and in that busyness, I forgot the bag that contains extra pull ups and wipes for my oldest son, Anthony. Anthony is non verbal and not fully potty trained yet. At the time of this story, about two years ago, he wasn't potty trained at all. 
I did remember to get them something to snack on before we went because I didn't know if the appointment would cut into our dinner time. On the 15 minute drive to the doctor's office, one of my kids accidentally dumped an entire cup of sprite on the floor of my car. I rarely let them drink soda and, of course, on one of the days that I do, it gets dumped in full onto my black car upholstery in the middle of a hot day in May.
I told myself that I had to let it go. That it was my fault for letting them have the soda to begin with, and that I could clean it up whenever I got home. I pulled into the parking lot of the doctor's office, dusted the french fries off their shirts and walked them in.
We waited a while to go back, longer than usual. I was hoping it would go quicker so there was less chance of Anthony going to the bathroom while we were there. Once we got back to the exam room we waited again to see doctor longer than we normally do. During this wait, I got a text from their Dad, and in the 10 seconds it took me to reply, my oldest son popped a squat in the corner of the room.
When he crouches, he's going poo, and he's taught himself to go fast because we catch him in the middle of squatting and put him on the potty where he refuses to go poop. I stood him up and told him "No, please wait just a minute. We need to see the doctor and Mom forgot your bathroom stuff!" It was too late. I checked his pants, he had already gone a little, and it wreaked to high heaven.
I popped my head out the door and asked a nurse if they had anything I could change him with. She told me they had diapers for babies, but nothing for bigger kids. That's when it all hit me at once; the day and this moment collided and I thought;
"I can't believe I forgot his pull ups and wipes. They don't have pull ups because most kids his age are potty trained! I wish I could get him potty trained. Oh man, we have to leave. I have to reschedule. I have no choice, I have no way to clean him up. Now we have to walk through the office stinking, and I get to sit him like this in the car until we get home. It's been seven years, why did I forget his pull ups!?"
He was still having tummy issues at this point too, so this was no regular poo. It was messy and not something you can clean up easily. At this point I was emotionally done from the day and leaving seemed like the best option. Just removing him from the situation as quickly as possible so I could get him properly cleaned up. 
I stopped at the front desk for a second, or what I wanted to be just a second, in order to tell them that we had to leave. The receptionist was finishing up a phone call, and as I stood there waiting, another family came up behind us to stand in line. I knew there was no way they couldn't smell the poo emanating from Anthony's behind. I told the receptionist that we had to leave and she acted surprised, so I then felt that I had to state why and admit that I forgot his bathroom supplies, out loud.I imagined a cascade of judgement coming from every parent in the room. She was very kind, told me it was no problem and said that I could reschedule whenever. 
I remember doing my best to hold back angry tears while I was talking to her.  I was angry with myself for a lot of things that day. I felt like a failure.
I looked down at Anthony while walking him out of the office and thought about how much I loved him. How much I wish I would have remembered his pull ups so he wouldn't have to walk through the office like this. The not so pleasant side of his Autism was permeating the hallways. If he could have told me that he was embarrassed,  I would have died of a broken heart right then and there. Anthony was yelling and laughing loudly at this point. Now that I think back on it, it was him saying he was uncomfortable, but in the moment it seemed like he just wanted to play at a very inappropriate time. My jaws were grinding together and I held back tears while walking out of the office.
As I put the kids into the car, I told Anthony I was sorry. Another Mom who was a few spaces away putting her kids in the car began to approach me. I could see her out of the corner of my eye and I remember thinking " Oh GOD, not now! Whatever it is, I can't do it right now!"

I wasn't prepared for what she was about to say.

She walked right up to me, smiled, and said; "Hi there. I just wanted to come over and tell you that I was in the office when you were talking to the receptionist. I've been there. My oldest is on the Spectrum too and he wasn't potty trained for a long time either. I know what it's like. I just wanted to say that I see you, and that you're doing a great job. You're a great Mom."

I looked her in the eye and said the most sincere "Thank you." that I have ever muttered. It was all I could get out. I felt the tears well up. I got into my car and she gave me space. I drove off for home, and tears rolled down my cheeks for the entire 15 minutes. 

She had no idea what I had been through that day, but the way she talked to me made it seem like she did. "I see you." went through my head over and over. She saw me trying. She saw me caring. She saw me. It seems like such an insignificant thing to say, but to be seen and understood in this chaotic world that I live in was the best feeling in the world. I knew I wasn't the only Mom to ever screw up, but in my attempt to keep myself motivated to do better, I was kind of telling myself that I was the only one making mistakes.
To the Mom who said " I see you." to me that day, I hope you read this. I hope you know that with that small gesture you helped me tremendously, and I still sincerely thank you for it.
To all the other Moms out there who had a rough go of it today. Those who feel like everyone else is kicking ass while they forget things and fail at everything while trying to be the best Mom that they can be to their special needs kids........I see you, too. You are not alone.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

4 Things That Make A School Great for Special Needs Aside from Funding

I can't tell you how many times I've heard horror stories from other parents about how untrained, uncaring, or uninterested a school was for their special needs kids. I've heard it equally in regard to public and private schools. There are a lot of different factors that go into each story, but the ones that really bothered me were the tales of woe from public school systems near our area. Mainly because we got lucky, and we have a great one. So I know it's possible for a public school to totally kick butt for their special needs kids. As we know though, bad news usually travels the fastest and the farthest.

The complaints I heard recently at a special needs conference were from people who lived all over and ranged in scale. People had to pull their kids out of one school or another because; their kids were refused services, or their teachers were terrible, or their administrators were terrible. While funding certainly helps tremendously , it's not the entire reason that a public school kicks ass.  I have heard tales from people who live in districts like the one I live in. Districts that , quite frankly, shocked me to hear that it was difficult to get services for their kids, because I've seen their public finances, and they aren't hurting for the funding they need for these services. There are also the stories of teachers or psychologists who don't listen to the parents. They don't believe the parents when they try to tell them their concerns about their kids.

Or there are the tales of just complete apathy about a student's existence in the school. Where kids are ignored and not helped in the way that they should be being helped.
I don't know what it's like where you live, but around here, and from what I've heard, the tales of school system failures for special needs are much more prevalent than the successful ones. So I decided to share my story about our kid's school to shine a positive light on what public education is actually capable of. Here's a short list that I compiled of certain attributes that I believe contribute to the awesomeness of the school that both of my special needs kids attend. (One assumes a certain amount of empathy and common decency from educators, so I don't include that here.)

1. Active Listeners : Administrators and teachers who don't just hear what you are saying in regard to concerns about your kids, but actually listen. They then make suggestions, and put the suggestions that you agree to, and/or your own ideas that they agree to into action. Real, every day action.
It doesn't matter how silly a request may seem, if it helps your kid and it's doable, they do it.
2. Positive Attitudes: An open , positive attitude toward any challenge presented allows for more possibilities of success. Plain and simple.
3. Communication: This could go hand and hand with listening, but communication between the school and parents throughout the day is paramount! If my kid does something he doesn't normally do through the day, good or bad, I hear about it before the next school day. Either in text, in person or I read about it at home that day on his communication log. On rare occasion little things slip through until a few days later, because they're human, but usually I hear about everything as it happens.
4. Attentiveness: This goes beyond listening and communicating. This is when you walk in to your school and it's like the TV show Cheers, everyone knows you and your kids names. The day time Custodian knows how my oldest kid, the picky eater, likes to eat certain foods at lunch because he pays attention to the goings on around him as he's cleaning up after the kids. Can little things go unnoticed sometimes? I'm sure. However, the over all secure feeling that I get when I think about my kids being school is something that I cannot put a price on. Knowing that they are being watched and legitimately cared for while in school getting an education is one of the best gifts I've ever received as a parent, other than my kids themselves.

When you find a school that has all of this, you and your kid win. Maybe it's in a private school, maybe it's in a public school. Our story comes from a public setting, and in the political climate of today in regard to public education, I feel it's necessary to tell it. Yes I can send my kid to a private school with the Autism scholarship, but why would I? They meet their needs and are amazing people. I feel as though I got lucky with their school, and it shouldn't be that way. I hope more parents will step up and tell their own success stories. The good schools out there need to be recognized more often for going above and beyond to educate our kids. Their recognition will help set the standard that I hope to see one day in all of our schools.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

An Hour for an Anxiety Ridden, Recovering Alcoholic Special Needs Mom: The Hell in My Head

"What's anxiety like?"
For me, sometimes it starts as a thought. Then it's a terrible feeling. Then it's the thought playing over and over again, churning that feeling. Other bits and pieces of today and yesterday are thrown in, churned in. The feeling is growing. It's one that suffocates you, it makes you feel like all the air is sucked out of the room when you're not even standing inside. I can see it happening, I can feel it happening, but I can't stop it.
It's like death chasing you with his frigid hands, you can feel it a block away. You have the urge to get as far away as possible from something that can't be seen, while everyone around you stares at you like there is something wrong with you, or worse yet, tells you to "get over it".
For example: Sometimes I get an awful thought in the car that plays itself over and over again several times before I can get it to stop. Like a car hitting mine and my head smashing into the steering wheel. Or a stray bullet coming through the window and hitting my temple. I don't know why it's there or where it comes from, but there it is, and it's terrible.
Sometimes there is no particular thought, but more like a racing of unconnected thoughts. It raises my heart rate and makes me faint. It makes my heart palpitate and my chest hurts. I need to get out from where ever I am. I think to myself that I need to stop putting so much on my plate. I'm always trying to figure out a cause for the anxiety so I can work the problem, not the worry. It's not always that simple though.
I've driven my kids ten hours to the beach for a "vacation" before because I felt like I was suffocating in my home. I had to be so far away from it all that I could honestly say that I was too far away to care if something went wrong. I came back breathing just fine. My chest didn't hurt anymore, but I can't always run away when anxiety raps on my chamber door.
Those thoughts and feelings that actually bothered me that I had in a moment; yesterday, the day before, last month and didn't realize I had them are now coming back with a vengeance to make me feel it right now. I don't always have the luxury of running. It doesn't mean I don't think about it though.
In a matter of one hour , what happened, along with the thoughts in my head:
I'm standing on a playground filled with kids and other parents, forcing myself to only pay attention to my kids because I don't want small talk. I do want small talk, but my anxiety says no.
It asks about the guy who followed me around the play ground. Good looking guy and definitely married. What does he want? If I talk to him does that make me look like I'm just trying to pick up dudes at the playground? I worry it'll look like I am. So I don't talk to him.
One person I know is there talking to her friend from church. I don't go to church, I'm Taoist. I'm briefly introduced. I listen to their conversation for a moment. My anxiety tells me I don't have anything fitting to add. So I don't.
I watch my youngest play and my oldest is clinging to me like no other kids are to their parents because he wants me to walk him around the play ground. He's non verbal. This is his way of saying he's having fun with me.
No one gets it but me. No one gets me. No one. There I was, standing around a huge group of people, and I felt like it was just myself and my kids.
I go home, exhausted, and get the kids ready to go to bed after dinner. My husband says he's going out with his friend after work on Saturday. To a bar. I don't drink anymore. I can't. I have a problem.
I don't give him any shit for going out with his friends. He can handle his alcohol, I can't. I remind myself that I'm not the one drinking.
I hope he takes a taxi home. I hope he has fun. I hope I don't say anything that makes him feel bad for wanting to have fun.
Maybe that's why I don't go out anymore? No one invites me out because I don't drink anymore.
I don't think about it much, I guess, because I'm home busy with the kids a lot.
People can't relate to me because I don't drink. They can't relate to me because I have special needs kids. They can't relate to me because I don't belong to a church. They can't relate to me.
It's not my fault. I'll just work. I have things to do that are important. I always do. I'll just keep working.
Society revolves it's social interactions around alcohol and I don't drink. I hope my kids don't have an issue with addiction when they get older. It's inherited you know.
My kids are already different. They don't need that too.
I need a vacation.

Monday, February 20, 2017

Epic Mess : Medieval Memes Monday

All kids make messes. All parents complain about the amount of mess their kids can make, sure, but you haven't experienced a mess until you've lived in my house for a while. You learn things that other people don't, things that one can't know unless they live with someone who has major compulsory sensory needs.
For instance; when a bottle of liquid dish soap is poured out in its entirety onto carpet in one spot, it never ever completely comes out.
The carpet cleaner almost bit the dust. The old "the kids are sick" towels we had finally got thrown away because we used them to clean the water we were dumping in attempt to dilute it and we could not put them in the washer.
I also know that in the time it takes me to walk from one room to another, such a mess can be made. Two entire seconds, approximately.
Once, in the time it took me to take a pee, I came into his bedroom to find tooth paste all over the place. He was sucking on the open end then flinging it everywhere. It took me about 30 minutes to get it off the walls , furniture, and bedding ( which I had to throw in the washer). 
About 2 months later, I was up on a chair hanging a picture in their room when I realized there was dried toothpaste on the ceiling. He had gone full Pollock on that shit and I can't say that I wasn't impressed. In fact, I laughed my ass off at that point. Who else can say that they have tooth paste on their ceiling? I can. :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Conduct Unbecoming Of A Service Dog: Our First Encounter With A Fake

We often take our son's Skilled Companion with us to the grocery store. We've been going into this particular grocery store for years so they know us, they know our boys. We never felt the slightest bit of trepidation about taking him there when we first brought him home because of the familiarity with the people. The entire service dog thing is still a little new to us. We have only had him a few months, but I can assure you, it's been more than we had ever hoped for. We never thought we could get Anthony to calmly walk through an entire trip to the grocery store, but we have with Mickey. We never thought he would show undivided attention to a dog, but he does with Mickey. 

We didn't know it would help with one of his biggest challenges either, potty training. Anthony's still in pull-ups and usually he needs help remembering the steps he needs to take in the bathroom. After a few days of marching Mickey around and us giving him commands to do things, it was like a light switch went off and he realized he could do more on his own. During break at our training with Mickey, Anthony walked ahead of me into the bathroom, slammed the stall door in my face, and went to the bathroom all on his own for the first time ever.

Again, we have only had Mickey a short while, but alongside the good we've also already encountered the bad, too. We've already faced a landlord who tried to illegally charge us for Mickey, and we won. We knew there would be testy people out in the world who would question Mickey's validity because of the rampant problem with fake service animals.

Yesterday, however, we encountered another service dog. 

Or I should say, a dog someone was trying to pass as a service dog. We were halfway through our trip trying to get to the other end of the store, when all of a sudden a dog starts barking loudly from the end of the isle we are passing and lunging toward our dog. Mickey leaned toward it a little with a curious sniff, I corrected him with his leash and he stopped.The owner of the other dog was now knelt beside it holding onto it, coddling it, talking to it saying "He just startled you, it's OK. You're OK. You just got startled."

That's not how that is supposed to work my friend. Not if it's been trained properly by an accredited organization. One such nationally recognized organization is Canine Companions for Independence. 
Mickey, like all other Canine Companions, was bread and raised as a service animal from birth by qualified professionals who have been training dogs like Mickey for years. He's the legit shit.
He doesn't bark unless he's commanded to. You read that correctly. No barking.
He's been trained to be seen and not heard in public.

So just to make sure the scene is set for you, this dog barks and lunges, startles everyone around us, including Mickey. The owner is on the ground holding her dog back, coddling her dog that has a service vest on, much like Mickey's, while Mickey sniffs and stops when I tell him "No."
We just kept walking on our way, and as we did, my husband asked me, " What kind of a service dog does that?", to which I replied, "They don't."

I'm thinking maybe she heard us, because she later came up to us at the check out, without the dog, and apologized. She seemed upset and I couldn't tell if she was sad or angry. She explained that she was trying to train the dog to be a service animal, that it had been kicked out of the training, and that it was clear he wasn't ready to restart. Which left me wondering why it was out in in public with a vest on in the first place. She apologized again, and I told her it was fine in order to avoid a scene. I think she was afraid I would report the dog more than anything.
I hope that she legitimately needs the dog, and I hope that she gets a legitimate service dog and leaves that one at home.

You might love your pet dog to death, and they might help your anxiety, but don't make the real deal service animals look bad because you don't want to go through the proper steps to get a real service animal. The real deal will not bark and startle the public. The real deal does not need coddled when it behaves incorrectly. To get to the real deal status, it takes a few years of extensive training and testing. It takes a crap ton of man hours and usually the same crap ton of money. It takes being paired up with just the right dog and an all day two week long training with said dog that's been trained since birth before you can take that dog out with it's vest on.

The real deal quietly helps my son walk through the entire grocery store trip without a meltdown. He can pick things up for Anthony that he drops, and helps him do chores around the house. He gives lap pressure and snuggles with his big heavy head or body.  He helps carry in groceries alongside his boy too. All with a simple, specific commands.

I understand some people have emotional support animals that don't do a myriad of commands, but they still should not startle people in public if they are legit. Legally, anyone can kick Mickey out if he's being a nuisance. If I or anyone else had complained about it, legally, the store could have asked her to leave. I'm sure that moment was embarrassing for the woman, but I hope it served as a lesson. There was a clear cut, stark difference between the way the two dogs conducted themselves in that moment. One is what the public needs to see in order to be more accepting of animals who have jobs, and the other is the opposite. A service dog is not a pet, so the coddling after it messed up is a dead give away that this dog is a pet. Not that Mickey doesn't get loved on at home, but there is a time and a place.

Kristoffer is a veteran Marine, and he likened the entire situation to him seeing someone wearing stolen valor.  It's just not cool, and it's not legal. If you see a working dog out in public that is behaving poorly, disrupting the public, that's not a real service dog. Please remember Mickey, and know that for every person out there trying to throw a vest on their pet so they can take them where ever they want, there's a dog like Mickey who wears his vest proudly because he earned it.

( Picture Below: Anthony and Mickey nuzzling each other, patiently waiting in the checkout line.)

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Medieval Memes Monday

Not a day that goes by that I can't magically drum up some crazy by being on a phone call or trying to work on something important. Never. Fails. But I'm able to get things done, somehow, in between telling someone not to lick something that they shouldn't and not to ride the dog like a pony. It's not like the kids don't ever get attention. It's truly a spell, concocted from karma and whirling insanity.
Every one of you can relate. All of you magicians.