Archive for the ‘step child’ Category
For the last couple of years, it seemed that Preston’s loss of temper had subsided. In the past, it would not take much to set him off. Indeed, moving a book from one side of a table to the other would be enough to cause him to meltdown. Generally, though, when he was like that, it might also mean he was getting sick. His outbursts were often tied to his health. I don’t know if that is an Autism trait or not, but it was certainly his.
As he got older, he learned to deal with things a lot better. With coaching from us as well as an intolerance for his outbursts, he has learned to cope with the situations that cause him so much angst. I say intolerance because he had begun to get somewhat violent. And, he is a strong child. The fear of him hurting himself, one of the other kids or even us led us to deal with it a bit more harshly than before. He knows his outbursts will get him punished, either loss of electronics, no friends coming over to play or some other appropriate form of punishment. While this may seem over arching for a child with his issues, it has, nonetheless, helped him with boundaries. And, he definitely needs boundaries. More on that in a bit.
He is a second grader now and has matured a great deal. We thought those tantrums were about done.
Lately, he has regressed back to the tantrums.
My wife signed the family up for the local YMCA. So, she takes the three year old and Preston. My 18 year old followed later. While at the Y, Preston and Xander were in the big kids and little kids areas. Xander played and had a good time. Preston had a good time as well, until…
…he wanted to do the rock climb wall, which was closed.
Preston misunderstood what my wife had said about it and took her comment as a hard fast promise that he could climb the wall. The Y, however, said otherwise. Preston melted down. This wasn’t just a melt down for a few minutes. Oh no. It went on for quite some time. She brought him home this way. He refused to get out of the car. She called me to help.
So, I go out to help him. Find out what happened, that sort of thing.
One of the things I learned about him, early on, is that he needs a lot of physical connection while he is this way, either holding him down, hugging him or simply sitting close to him with an arm around him. It’s a reassurance, I think, that he is loved. He’s never said that, but I think that is what he believes. Any way, I sit on the edge of the car seat and hug him. He almost immediately calms, but not all the way.
I could not understand him, so I had him calm down some more. I hugged and had him squeeze my hands. That usually distracts him and I make a dumb comment about it and he usually laughs.
So, I resort to Dad and tell him he needed to suck it up and tell me what was wrong. The way I said that (and not with those words, but something close—and clean) must have struck him as funny because he half smiled, settled down and told me about the wall.
I reassured him that Mommy would not lie and that she did not know that the wall was closed. And, that sometimes, things he is told are just wrong. I shared a short story about an experience I had (he seems to like that) and then suggested that we go inside for some good old ice cream. That always makes me feel better. He agreed. I told him I would not talk about this incident anymore tonight, but we would discuss it again. He seemed to get better after that.
The thing with Preston and situations like this is that he is quite literal. If I say ‘I am going to jump down your throat and kick your liver out’ he will sit there and try to figure out how I would really do that. I had to explain that it was just a saying…a joke…nothing serious, because, after all, I am far too big. He understands that, but the original statement was over his head. But, when his mom said he could do that wall if it were available was interpreted by him as ‘you can do that wall’. The rest was lost to him. And that is his biggest problem now: trying to figure out what he should take as fact and what he can ignore. He often chooses to ignore and that is just as bad.
A long time ago, we started to set boundaries for him. No more playing in our bedroom. He has his own PLUS a room downstairs he can play in. No more using our bathroom in our bedroom: there is one in the hall for him to use. Things like that. Why? Well, as he is both literal AND a rule follower, this was the start of his education on how to act socially AND deal with a teacher in school. Plus, our bedroom is just that: OURS. It is not his, nor anyone else’s in the house. This also taught him that other bedrooms were also off limits. It was an adjustment, but came through very well. Unfortunately, he has not quite figured out that there are boundaries outside of our house, but he is close. Very close.
It is interesting to see and understand how his brain processes and acts out situations. While it can be problematic, such as today’s problems, it is also a very cool thing. For all of the meltdowns, we have had many, many more great conversations about the stars, science, religion, racing, video games, war and a host of things. Mostly games and science. The breadth of his interest can, at times, be very cool. I often forget how old he is. He asks better questions than many adults I know. How freaking cool is that?
Tonight was the first time he’s had a melt down like this since we got his diagnosis. Let me tell you, it was far easier to deal with, knowing WHY he is like this, than it ever was prior to the diagnosis. I felt so much more calmness in talking to him and not once did I lose my composure…something that has happened in the past. When this used to happen, and we did not know why, it was frustrating. He’s melted down over something so trivial as not using what he thought was the right door to exit Applebee’s. Not knowing why he did was frustrating. Not knowing that there was a reason for this and he wasn’t just being stubborn made it very difficult at times to stay focused on calming him down and not resorting to threats about his toys or, worse, losing one’s composure and yelling.
Tonight, I knew why he did this (but, not the trigger) so it was easier to sit there, let him be him and try to calm him with out getting excited myself. Staying calm certainly helped him to get calm and I was also able to determine that things that used to work, no longer do.
And that is key. Watch, regroup and try again. But, stay calm. His Mother figured out this out a long time ago, it took me a little longer. He also seems to react better with me than her. I don’t know why, it is not anything she is doing wrong. No, she is very caring and very loving, especially when he is that way. I am a little more gruff. I don’t know if that is it, may be he needs a little toughness, maybe it is the father figure (his biological father can also get him calm) who knows. And don’t misunderstand, she does a great job with him. She knows how to talk to him and can sense when he gets out of sorts. She changes her voice and supermom comes out. Most of the time, she can fend off a melt down, which is probably why they got fewer and fewer. Sometimes, though, he just snaps. Like tonight.
We complement each other, I think. I’ve learned a great deal from her…when not to continue a line of thinking, when, and when not to talk to him about something, what battles to just let go and more. I’ve taught her that certain things, even with his issues, just cannot be allowed. The boundaries. And also that it is OK to NOT blame oneself.
Children like Preston are the way they are because they are different. It does not mean it is your fault as a parent. It is not your fault they scream and throw fits in public. It is no one business, even in a public gym or restaurant. Embarrassing, maybe, but not your fault.
After the outburst tonight, we had ice cream and Preston went on to, happily, do his chores and watch a couple of YouTube videos. It was like nothing had happened. And, that is the way with him. After these episodes, all is good. He may have a headache, but he tends to forget that he had even had the meltdown. Tomorrow, he probably won’t remember.
When we began the process for getting my step-son evaluated for Autism Spectrum Disorder, I did not know much about it. I still don’t, but I do know more that I did. I have also changed my perception of people with ASD. My first hand experience with my step-son has been all over the map, but mostly a huge, positive one. That, for several years, I just thought he was spoiled speaks volumes about his condition. If you did not know, you would think he was ‘normal’, maybe a bit mature, for his age.
However, thinking back about some of his quirks, outbursts and other traits, I see that in my other two kids. My 18 year old exhibited many, but not most. My three year old, again, shows many of the characteristics but not all. And, then there is myself. I fit the bill on many of the characteristics but, again, not all. And, this begs the question I posed in an earlier post: how many have either been misdiagnosed or, worse, not at all but should be?
For example, Xander, my three year old, is prone to outbursts, much like Preston did. He does not ‘melt down’ as much or to the same degree as Preston once did, but, nonetheless, Xander still does. He also is beginning to show some of the same texture issues that Preston does. Xander tends to get fixated on one thing for days or weeks at a time. However, the one big sign that Xander exhibits but Preston does not: Xander has a very vivid imagination. He can take anything make it into a toy and play for quite a while. You can hear him acting out things. He also bursts into song, exhibits empathy and will engage total strangers. Preston does none of this.
And then there is myself. I can be rather rigid in my thinking. And, though I thoroughly enjoy being around others and participating in conversation, I don’t really care much for people in general. I do not get scared or anxious in crowds, but it is uncomfortable at times. Sometimes, I find myself not caring when I should and also tend to gravitate to one, maybe two people when in a group. Generally, when she is with me, that person is my wife. She is my comfort zone and I tend not to leave the ‘zone.’
As far as imagination goes, I have tons of that. But, what’s odd is that I cannot always ‘see’ what’s in my head. I know what things look like, but I often cannot ‘see’ the object in my head. I found out, via a friend, that this is an actual condition called aphantasic. You, literally, are ‘brain blind’ in that you cannot imagine or picture anything in your head. I’m not quite like that, I can ‘see’ dim images, but no detail and lack of color. I would make an awful witness. I am terrible with names and faces for this reason.
So, what does all of this mean? Well, I don’t quite know except that the brain is a very delicate and complicated device. I don’t think Xander is autistic, but, honestly, I think it is too soon to really know. I think he is more the three year old than an autistic three year old. ADHD, maybe.
Since getting the diagnosis, I see Preston more as a child that needs our help, needs my help, more than seeing him as a spoiled child (which, like most children, he is to a degree.) Knowing WHY he does what does makes it much easier for me to understand and cope just as he has to. It also helps me be me…see, I share many of his quirks too. I always denied it, my wife loves to point it out, but, I think she is on to something. Who knows, maybe I have Aspergers (which, apparently, is no longer discussed.) Whatever the case, I have learned that the world doesn’t give a darn about me and that was one of the biggest eye opening moments of my life. It does not revolve around me or anyone else. Preston will figure this out too.
As odd as it sounds, I am looking forward to embarking on this journey with him. And if Xander does turn out to have the same thing, I look forward to walking with him as well.
Love and patience, my friends.
I recently wrote about my step son’s autism diagnosis. I want to expound a bit on that post. I thought about just editing it, but decided to write a new post, I don’t want to confuse anyone who already read it and I’d like to say more.
Early on, right after my wife had moved in with me, I thought my step son was spoiled and that he got by with a lot. And, that is true: my wife will tell you that, yes, he was spoiled and he did get by with a few things. There are reasons for that and I will get into that in a bit. I also thought ‘well, he isn’t acting that much different than an ‘x’ year old (supply any number for ‘x’.) Well, yeah, he was. See, my problem has more to do with MY perception of how a child SHOULD be. It is different from yours, I am sure. We tend to compare things with that we know. For example, I tend to use my first son as a reference, even though I know he was unusual. Unusual in that he was quiet, liked to play on his own, etc. So, that was my reference point. Add to that, my mother was a foster parent and she also baby sat children. So, having been around children my entire life, I thought I knew what I was seeing. And, yes, some of that behavior was normal and very appropriate for his age. Most, though, was not. And that is what I missed.
Now, when he was younger, he had many, many sensory issues and, as such, was unable to play outside. The dirt, grass, rain, snow…most things that we would take for granted, he had major problems with…especially sand and snow. So, since he could not play outside, he was allowed to throw things inside. Let me tell you, I was appalled the first time I saw it and went off the deep end. All I could see was my expensive gear getting broken, broken glass everywhere and a lot of money to replace the broken stuff. Even after the reason he did that was explained to me, I still had (and still do) had issues with throwing balls-or anything-in the house. Yes, it is still forbidden. We had to figure out how to get him to play outside and understand that, here, it was not allowed to throw things in the house.
As time went on, though, it became less of an issue as he learned to play outside and, now, he loves it—when he does not want to play video games, this is.
Once I knew WHY he did what did and WHY he ‘got by with it’, I adjusted and adapted. Rules are rules, even for him. The key is to figure out how to implement them in a way to accommodate his issues. So, we started out by allowing it in one large room of the house, where there were no expensive things to break and we limited it to only softer balls. It was also allowed in the hall up to the room. This worked well.
The sensory thing was a big indicator of a problem. Most of us have some kind of sensory intolerance, be it loud noises, the feel of a fabric, the texture of a food. We all have experienced this at some point in our lives. For some, though, there’s a multitude of issues and my step son had a bunch. From food textures (he is the ONLY kid I know who cannot tolerate mashed potatoes, as soon as they touch his tongue, the gag reflex kicks in and…boom! Out go the potatoes. He also does not like certain fabrics touching his skin. Sand used to freak him out. Anything with a non-smooth texture bothered him. His socks being ‘twisted’.
Some of these I understood. The sock thing? Over my head. I just could not fathom that idea that he could feel that or that it felt wrong. I just couldn’t. I would often just brush it off. And, let me tell you, that is something you SHOULD NOT DO. Period. NEVER ignore it. NEVER think ‘well, that’s just crap’. Never. Don’t do it. It means something to those who experience it and should not be dismissed. Ever. Help them with fixing it. If it takes a few minutes, deal with the delay yourself, don’t put it on them. It will just make it worse. I know first hand. Little dude, I am so sorry for that.
For children like my step son, there is a time for ‘the lesson’ and a time for just letting them do it their way. If there are two doors that go to the same place and they pick the right door instead of the one you were going to use, just suck it up and go through the door they want. That is a small battle you do not need to win.
The battles you DO want to win are the ones that teach them something. The ones that keep them safe. The ‘lesson’.
So, what’s the ‘lesson’? Well, that’s when they do something they think is the right way, but you know it isn’t. One that will get them laughed at or scorned later in life in a job, school or other social setting.
And, that’s the key: social setting. Children like Preston, my step son–my son–lack many social skills, including when to be polite, when to take feelings into account, when to back off. He’s got the basics down, he knows how to introduce himself and he will participate in things, but he will also tell you if he thinks something is stupid, not thinking about that would affect the others. That is a foreign concept. And that is where you give ‘the lesson’. I’m not going to go into much about that for now. I am going to write about that in another post.
Thinking back, there were many signs I just could not see due to my own preconceptions. This makes me wonder how many children out there need help but, likely, won’t get it because of someone like me. Fortunately, Preston has a great support system in my wife, his father, his grandparents, brother and myself. Recognizing that the melt downs — NOT the other stuff — I realized that, yeah, something was off and, after several years, we finally know why.
What I am trying to say, is that you need to have an open mind and throw out any ideas you have about how children SHOULD be. It’s tough to do, and, at times, you will regress back into that comfort zone, but, don’t do it.
Remember, it is about them, not you. They need your help more than you need for them to be perfect.
When I remarried, I gained something really cool: another son. Now 8, he is one cool little kid. But, we’ve known for years that something wasn’t quite right about him. He is not shy, he’ll start playing with any child who will talk to him. He is friendly enough, and is very smart. But, he was prone to ‘melting down’ quite a bit, over little things. If you moved something that he thought should not be moved, it would cause an episode. If he did not get his way, he melted down. You get the idea.
Not all of the melt downs were bad, some just involved a lot of crying. Others were physical. It was a crap shoot.
Oddly enough, he did not always melt down. Sometimes, he just accepted it and moved on—like a ‘normal’ child may do. From my point of view, he was just acting like a spoiled child. See, he had been allowed a lot of freedom, like jumping on furniture or throwing balls in the house, things I did not allow. But, the melt downs would happen outside the house as well. Sometimes it was as small as not getting a piece of candy or we walked through a different door than the he wanted. This made me wonder and I, finally, began to think my wife was right…this was not normal.
As he grew older, the melt downs diminished. He started school and, at first, everything seemed to be OK.
They weren’t. We were noticing things like his inability to listen to others. His lack of empathy. A growing self-awareness and self-centeredness. He was, at times, not very grateful at receiving gifts.
Then, the melt downs returned. In second grade, he had to be removed from his class (a fact that we did not know until much later) because of a melt down. He came home one day, all out of sorts, because a sign had been left up that told the class they were going outside when, in fact, weather did not allow it.
These were all signs that he has a problem, but doctors did not want to label him.
Well, after a lot of grief and perseverance, we finally have a diagnosis: Autism. Fortunately, it is of the type that he will be able to function and have a somewhat normal life, but will need a lot of help.
Help from my wife and I, help from his father and his wife, the school, families and friends. He is a great kid and I am hopeful that he will learn to deal with his issues, but, more importantly, we, as his parents, learn to deal with them so we can teach and help him. He is one awesome little boy.
My stepson, Preston, had a birthday recently. He turned five and we celebrated with presents, cake and ice cream. His Dad, my wife’s ex-husband, was coming over along with my father in law. Now, there was a time when the idea of my wife’s ex coming over here, and staying for awhile, would have bothered me. Sometimes, I suppose, it still does, but, for the most part, I’m over that.
Marrying someone who has children from a previous marriage carries along a certain amount of baggage and a ton of patience. The interests of that child ALWAYS has to be first, no matter what you and the ex think of each other. I know I am not this man’s best friend. I don’t even know if he considers me a friend or not. I think if circumstances were different, we could be very good friends and, maybe someday, we will be. For now, I think it is tolerance of each other. I am not sure. Tenuous, yes. Hatred, no…not on my part anyway and I don’t think he hates me either. I don’t hate the guy. Not at all. I don’t agree with everything, but I respect what he does (he’s a counselor and has seen and dealt with things I probably would be unable to cope with) and respect the fact that he is a Dad, Preston’s Dad. I think we’ve gotten past the early distrust and, now, we even help each other. He took it upon himself to prop up our fence. Neither myself nor my wife asked him to do that. I’m sure he had Preston in mind, but, nonetheless, he did help us (a tree had fallen on the fence during one of our freaky snow storms…several inches fell, but was all gone in a day. Typical, for this part of Virginia.)
Sometimes, being the stepfather is hard. Seeing the disappointment on Preston’s face when his Dad leaves and I’m still here. Being only five now, he doesn’t understand. Someday, he will.
Preston and I get along great and we have fun, but I’m not his Dad and he knows that. I try to comfort him, in times like that, but his mother usually is the one who gets him calm and relaxed. I’m still learning how to do that.
Discipline is another tricky and slippery slope. When both Mom and Dad are around, I will usually defer to one of them when it comes to correcting Preston. Of course, sometimes I have to interject and that’s OK. When it is just myself and my wife, I do correct him. Even so, we have different ideas as to how to do that. Sometimes my way works, sometimes its hers. We learn together.
Our situation is unique and I am glad that Preston’s father is the way he is…making Preston the focus and working with us and not against us. I’ve seen how nasty things like this can get and it is the children that lose in the end.
Preston is fortunate in that he has three parents who do love him. I think of him as my own, but I would never stand in between him and his Dad. A father-son relationship is very special, I would be the last person on the planet to interfere with that.
I still remember when my late wife informed me that she was pregnant. I was still mostly asleep.
“Honey, I’m pregnant.”
“That’s nice dear!”
“Did you hear me? I’m pregnant!”
That was nearly sixteen years ago. Last summer, my wife says “Honey, I’m pregnant! I’m not crazy!”
My reaction, this time, was a bit more lively. Tears ensued and, well, it was one of the happiest moments of my life. Just like that moment, sixteen years ago when it finally struck me that I was going to be a Dad.
Until I met and married my first wife, being a father was the last thing on my mind. I was a horny geek. I only cared about geek stuff and sex. Funny thing, once the sex entered the picture, I didn’t even care about the geek stuff.
I was a late bloomer when it came to dating. Awkward and inexperienced. I had no idea as to what to do or how to act. Again, being a father was something I had not given a second thought. I was a typical guy, I suppose. Dating and all that comes with it was fun and exhausting. I had a couple of ‘long’ relationships, even thought one was going to be ‘it’. It wasn’t, but that is OK. It would not be long before I found ‘it’. She was cute, funny and someone I took to right away.
And, once I realized that this cute, funny woman was someone I wanted to settle down with, then I began to think. Maybe this family thing was something I wanted. Yeah, maybe so. We talked about it, a lot. We decided we wanted to be in our own house before raising a child. Almost six years went by…
Fast forward to 1997 when my first son was born.
Suddenly, I had this wonderful little person to help care for. It was rough at times, for Chase was colicky and, once we got that under control, he started getting sick. A lot. As time went on, we found out that he had an autoimmune problem. He could not produce enough white blood cells to fight off anything. As he got older, it got worse and we ended up having to give him infusions once a month. It worked, and his immune system got much better.
Today, he still gets sick, but not as often and not as long as he used to.
In 2010, Chase’s mother passed away. She died from pneumonia, but had been sick for quite some time. It was quite a shock to both of us, but Chase was my bedrock and we got through it.
Through Facebook, a relationship with someone blossomed and, last year, I married her. She is a beautiful, vibrant and all around awesome lady. And, best of all, she puts up with me.
Preston, my wife’s son from a previous marriage, is a smart and full of energy five year old. Like Chase, Preston is a scary smart kid. Preston needs little in the way of instruction when it comes to electronic devices. He can grasp certain ideas (but, like any child, there are some that go over his head, like listening to parents) and has an excellent grasp of the English language. He is lucky in that he has not one, not two but three parents who care deeply for him and spend the time with him.
Xander, our six week old, is just so damned sweet. So sweet, you just want to eat him up, figuratively, of course. I cannot wait to experience the firsts again, to watch him figure out what those things are that he keeps flailing. To watch him experience solid foods. Take him to his first movie. Watch him walk. Watch him develop. And, I cannot wait to ride his first rollercoaster. I got to do that with Chase and Preston. It was very special. I still remember riding one, for the first time, with my Dad. It was the Scooby Doo at Kings Dominion near Richmond. I remember the Jet Star at the State Fair. I don’t know why, but the rollercoaster experience seems very special to me and I cannot wait to do so with Xander.
Being a Dad has its downs as well. Having to correct them is never fun. Especially when you know they are fully capable but were just careless. Teaching them that there will be consequences in life for ones actions is, perhaps, the most difficult part of parenting.
Perhaps being able to tell when they need guidance and help is also a difficult aspect. I know I’ve had issues with it. Both our five and fifteen year old have needed certain help and I was slow to recognize that. But, we have gotten over that. At least, I hope we have. As with anything in life, one never can be certain but you hope you do the best for them.
I hope my sons know I am there for them. It may not always seem like it, but I am. Just as my wonderful wife is, so am I.
Trying to maintain a balance with the kids, my wife and my own needs is very tricky. Sometimes I am selfish, I know. I try my best not to be, but I know I don’t always succeed. My bride sometimes lets me know, but, for the most part, she puts up with me and does not complain. She is awesome.
With all it entails, I cherish the role of Dad. I would not trade it for anything in the world.