Being a Dad…the best role I've ever had.

Archive for the ‘Stepson’ Category

What if my other children are also Autistic? What if I am?

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.

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We have a diagnosis…followup

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.

We have a diagnosis

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.

Being the step Dad

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.

Being Dad

xander_spock_paintingI have been a father for fifteen years now.  I have two sons and one stepson.  They are 15, 5, and six weeks. Yep, six weeks. At the young age of 47, I have started over this whole Dad thing.

I still remember when my late wife informed me that she was pregnant. I was still mostly asleep.

“Honey, I’m pregnant.”

“Honey!”

“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.

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