Sleep and the Autistic Child

Thank god for my Korean eye cream or my under eye circles would make me look like a really skinny panda! Sleep, if I can call it that, is something that I have not had since kiddo #2 was born. Of course, parents don’t get much sleep with a newborn, but once #2 hit the toddler years something was definitely not normal. In fact, it was our sleeping habits that was a red flag that he may be on the spectrum.

Number two, was a fussy sleeper who refused to sleep in his toddler bed. Every night he wanted to be next to me. And not just next to me, he wanted me to lay facing him every night. At first, I was so touched that I was the only who could comfort him and put him to sleep but it got really bad. He would not let me lay down in no other position but on my side facing him. Face to face (it is such a cute face, but do you really want someone breathing on you all night?)  If I turned my head away, he would grab my hair and turn it towards him. It got so bad that my hairline started to thin where he grabbed my hair each night. Even after he fell asleep, it was impossible to take him back to his bed. He would either wake up right away or if I was successful, he would just return to my bed a short time later.

Over the next few years, his sleeping habits remained the same. I thought by giving him my childhood blankie would help since it had mommy’s scent. It didn’t. Establishing a consistent bedtime routine of bath time and book reading, didn’t work either.

After the divorce, I tried different approaches. I gave him a huge Olaf plushie that was bigger than me to cuddle in bed with. Well, there was #2, Olaf, and mommy in the bed. #2 would tuck us all in. Then I tried the cry it out approach. I would just take him back to his bed every time he got up. It was hard. “Sleep with mommy?” When I said no, he would throw a tantrum. Throwing himself on the floor, hitting the wall, and crying did not make us well-liked in our apartment complex. This approach would start to work but impossible to maintain because when he returned from the other parent’s home, I would have to start over. And I couldn’t have a screaming come from my apartment each night.

#2 is now nine and still wants to sleep with his mommy. I tried more approaches like a weighted blanket and melatonin. He doesn’t care much for the weighted blanket. Melatonin only makes him sleepy but doesn’t keep him asleep in his bed all night. I still have to lay next to him until he falls asleep and even then he is a light sleeper. If I make any movement, he immediately wakes up and makes sure I am tucked in next to him. If I do leave his side and get in my own bed, sure enough he will come into my bed with his pillow and blanket. If I get up to go the bathroom at night, most times he will get up, too.

Recently, I woke up at 3 am and I could feel his hand on the top of my head. I moved so slightly that his hand just hovered over my head. He immediately poked his head up to make sure I was next to him. After some tossing and getting comfortable, I could feel his foot against my leg. I would move my leg just a bit so his foot wasn’t touching me. His foot would move so it could touch my leg. I did it again and he just kept on moving his foot over to find my leg.

My son needs either pressure input or  physical touch. It has to be some sort of physical attachment because the Olaf and weighted blankets never worked. He used to want all the blankets and his plushies in bed with him, but he’s growing out of that. Once I told him to go to his bed and sleep alone like a big boy, he went to sleep next to his little sister.

The approach I have found to be most successful is my version of sleep training with melatonin. My sleep training is having him sleep in his own bed and I would lay next to him until he fell asleep. The next night, I would sit in his bed until he fell asleep. Then the  following night, I would sit next to the bed. Gradually removing myself helps get him accustomed to falling asleep in his own bed. Melatonin helps make him sleepy and falls asleep faster, but melatonin can only be taken for a short amount of time. This approach was the most successful. He would still wake up at night and come look for me, but the amount of time he spent alone in his bed would increase as well. I could at least get a few hours of sleep alone in my bed. This approach was also best to minimize the tantrums and crying.  But again, this would all fall apart once #2 returned from the other  parent’s house.

It’s still  better than where we were a few months ago. He is no longer against sleeping in his own bed. I can tell him to go to bed and he will grab his pillow and blanket from the sofa and then grab me, “C’mon mom” and head to his bed. I can tell him to lay down and shut his eyes. Also, if I have to get up to grab something, or go bathroom, or turn off a light, he is more willing to go back to his bed if he gets up with me or actually waits patiently in his bed for me to return.

It’s getting better but the years of inconsistent sleeping habits has left us to be super light sleepers. I wake up every night when #2 isn’t there.

#2 under Olaf.

Happy New Year! 2020!

WOW, I cannot believe it’s 2020! It’s kinda scary but I don’t have time to waste on worrying, I have goals to achieve. I wanted to set tangible goals like purchasing my first car but fear that realistically  just isn’t possible. My resolutions for 2020 will focus more on improving my mental and physical health. While I have improved so much in the second half of 2019, I want to continue my personal growth. My 2020 resolutions are:

  1. Keep working on my emotional maturity. Recognize when I start to feel overwhelmed and keep emotions in check so they do not get the better of me. I know I have come along way and I just want to continue to be in control.
  2. Bounce back from emotional setbacks. Allow myself a time to wallow and quickly let it go.
  3. Not forgetting to exhale. I find myself holding my breath a lot, especially when I am overwhelmed. However, lately I am always holding my breath even while calm. For example, I am holding my breath as I type this resolution.  My Apple Watch sends me multiple reminders to breath through out the day. I need to work on basic breathing exercises. Inhale and exhale.
  4. Drink more water and take my multivitamin daily.
  5. Recommit to my Korean skincare routine. Thanks to my job, I care about my appearance, but I still want to take time each day to pamper myself. I wear make-up everyday to work to give myself a more polished look (even though I am not good at it). It feels like I wear make-up for the world but skincare is for myself. Also, I have been guilty of falling asleep in my make-up lately, so I want to re-establish some good habits. It feels so good to have clean, bare skin. And, I need to wear sunscreen daily. Also, I get so many compliments about people not believing I am in my mid-thirties, so I want to continue to age gracefully.
  6.  Maybe get a haircut. Yes, I need to put my hair to the guillotine. I am woman who attaches her identity and femininity to her hair. My hair is very dark,  long and thick (it’s the only part of me that can be described as thick). I sometimes feel it’s my only beautiful feature. I definitely hide behind my hair. Maybe this year I will be bold and just chop it off.
  7. Wow, I am surprised that I made it to seven without mentioning my kiddos! Of, course, I want to improve my parenting. I want to be more involved. Since I started working, I feel as if I have not been checking in with them as much. So I need to make more quality time with them.
  8. We need to have more fun, This is so sad but true. We are always on the routine of school and therapy. We need to get out more and try new things. It’s hard without a car, which is why we need one, but I have to find a way to expose them to more things, car or not.
  9. Experiment in the kitchen. I need to learn new recipes. We are in a food rut. We ate new things in 2019, like cauliflower pizza and beyond meat! But we have to try more fresh, home cooked meals.
  10. Put myself out there. I don’t where “there” is yet. A bar? An online dating app? It’s so scary to start dating again. I don’t know how. But I think I am ready.
  11. The most important goal for this year is to think seriously about what my next steps are. I have to seriously consider wether I will be going back to school or pursue a career with my current degree. While I have been thinking about this for a very long time, I haven’t decided what I wanted the next few years to be like because I was just trying to make it through the day. I am coming out of survival mode. I turned off the fight or flight response. Now I have to start making decisions that will impact the future. This is really scary. I want to be successful so that my children don’t have to rely on welfare and child support. Alimony will cease very soon. Living paycheck to paycheck isn’t easy. I need to be financially stable to support myself and the kiddos. 2020 is a big year for me because it will be my first full year as a single-working mother. 

I hope you have reflected on 2019 and mapped out 2020 for yourself. Wether or not we actually try to reach our New Year’s resolutions, it good to see where we are at in life and imagine working towards a better life for ourselves. Here’s to 2020!

Single-Parenting with an Abusive Ex

My divorce will be official in less than two days. A huge part of me is excited and relieved to be no longer attached to the horrible person I married. But the other part of me is scared and nervous about having to continue to co-parent with that horrible person.

I hate that word. Co-parent. It is such an annoying buzz word in the current millennial culture. As, a millennial myself, I hate that not only do I have to be a helicopter, organic, insta-worthy mom but now I have to be the picture of conscious un-coupling bliss. WTF!

As a mother, I am held to a higher standard. Dads are given a gold star for just showing up. As my friend rightly said, “they are just a warm body in the room.” Mothers, married or not, are expected to be the doting perfect parent who isn’t allowed to swear, drink, or be sexual. We know the double standard exist but we are expected to take it.

In my situation, I am not only the involved mom but I am expected to be the ex’s babysitter and secretary. And if I protest, I am deemed difficult and unreasonable. This is where the emotional abuse comes in. If I say no, the ex attacks my motherhood. I decline his request that I watch them during his parenting time but that means I do not want to spend time with my own children. Yes, he cannot spend time with them during his parenting yet it is I who does not want to spend time with them and I am the bad parent.  He spins the situation around so that I am the parent at fault. Yes, my ex gaslights me. It is scary and I now have learned to identify it. I am still working on how it affects me, but at least I recognize it. I even called him out on it.

I get that in a perfect world parent should strive to co-parent. But there are some cases where this is harmful to one parent and ultimately harmful to the children. Emotional abuse is hard to prove and when a parent recognizes they are being abused there is very little protection.

I have taken the steps to try to parallel parent as much as I can. I am trying to dissociate myself from his issues as much as I can. It gets easier the more I say no. It also helps that I work and need to focus on my job. So little by little my skin thickens and my backbone gets straighter and stronger.

 

One of my worst fears comes true…

Being a family on the spectrum is one of the hardest challenges for a family. And I say a family on the spectrum because an autism diagnosis affects the entire family. I have a few deep fears when it comes to my autistic kiddo #2. These are the fears that keep me up at night in no particular order:

  1. Elopement and getting lost
  2. Elopement and getting hit by a car
  3. Someone mistaking our behavior as child abuse
  4. His uncertain future

One of my worst fears came true just in time for the holidays. While I thought my biggest concern was what the Elf on the Shelf would be bringing them from the North Pole, I was being investigated by the Department of Child and Family Services. Someone from my son’s school had reported me to DCFS for neglect.

With my sons challenging behavior, I have lived in constant fear that someone might mistake something for child abuse. My son’s aggressive behavior sometimes calls for restraint to keep him and others safe. Or when my child hits me, I don’t respond so as not to give into his negative behavior. Either way, I have consulted and attended parenting training with his BCBA consultant to effectively respond to his negative behavior. I KNOW WHAT I AM DOING! I always joked with his therapy team that we will someday get the cops called on us. And that is the message I sent the consultant, “So you know how I always joke about child protective services being called on me, well… it really happened.”  Someone at my children’s school made an allegation that Kiddo #2 was being harmed.

However, it was not funny. It hurt a lot and it scared me to death. I took the allegation very seriously. It was upsetting that I found about it from my oldest son, Kiddo #1, who was pulled from class and asked if he “felt safe at home?  Who do you live with? How does your mom punish you when you do something bad?” It was upsetting  that they spoke to my autistic child who is verbally limited. Upon learning this, I immediately emailed  the case worker and principal. The next day I was crying in the principal’s office.

The thing is and this is very important to parents with children on the spectrum: we are our children’s everything and we are nothing to the outside world. We know what is best for our children and we will suffer because we love them. We will sacrifice ourselves for them. I will always take what my kid can throw at me. I signed up for tantrums, hitting, and sleepless nights. What I did not sign up for is the public’s ignorance and the bs that comes with it.

I did what every parent must do. I took my son to the dentist for his routine cleaning and it ended up with me investigated for abuse. An overzealous school employee who did not have all the facts or know my son reported us to DCFS. This sent my head spinning. As a parent who is as involved as I am, I was hurt.

I feel as if  I am “damned if I do and damned if I don’t.” I have to take my child to the dentist. He still cannot properly brush his teeth. He hates the dentist. I have to take him not only for his oral health but to get him acclimated to the dentist. It is in his best interest that I take him. I was lucky to find a dentist that can handle an aggressive child without being put under to do a routing cleaning. If I did not take him, then his teeth would be even more gross and that is neglect.

What also concerned me is that his school that has such a diverse learner population does not understand the complexity of a child with autism or show empathy for the child’s family. In my family’s case, more harm than good was inflicted. If they would have observed my child’s behavior, they would easily see that he can be difficult when forced to things he doesn’t like.

Parents of autistic kids have to experience parenting-shaming on a  whole different level. I would even consider this a form harassment. Unfortunately, there are abusive parents out there and we are lumped into that category until we  prove our that our parenting skills are up to par. The DCFS investigator saw that I was “trying.” Trying? I am only trying. That really hurt. I am more than trying. We are succeeding and it took only one ignorant school employee and an investigator who I spent a few minutes with  to reduce  5 years worth of therapy to “trying.”

I spoke to my son’s providers and asked them to  help explain my child’s behavior. Fortunately, they are willing to write letters to help and the allegation is being suggested as unfounded and hopefully it will end there. But unfortunately for my child’s school, they messed with momma bear and her cubs. I will not take this lightly and I am going to  raise hell when it comes time to meet for the IEP (Individualized Education Plan). They messed with an involved parent, who is their child’s best advocate. I, however, will base my arguments on facts.

 

 

Happy Holidays: A season of joy and new traditions

While our holiday season has been quite dramatic and we faced a few setbacks, we remained optimistic and cheerful. This year I wanted to create something different for myself and my children. It was quite exciting to forge a new look and feel for the holidays! I really have to thank my mom for helping me create my own holiday traditions. It started when she bought me my first fake Christmas tree for my birthday. Previously, he insisted on getting a real tree because anything else was inauthentic in his opinion. But I grew up with a fake tree and it was what I was used to and not to mention it didn’t smell when it started to go bad and no needles to clean up. Having my own tree could save money every Christmas, because let’s face it, real trees are incredibly expensive.

But for the past two Christmases, I used the old Christmas decorations and traditions that were still connected to my ex. There was that lingering feeling that these were “our” ornaments even though they were mostly the ones my mother had given me. The tree skirt and stockings reminded me of  Christmas past. I could not stand the sight of them even though I had chosen most of our stuff. They were really bright, colorful, and childish. They screamed that I was trying way too hard to create the appearance of a happy home. It looked like Joe, our Elf on the Shelf, threw up on our tree and living room. So what is a mother to do? Head to Target, of course! And Target got me good.

My planned excursion to Target was just to pick up toilet paper. Toilet paper turned into a $150 Christmas redecoration! But it felt so good to choose a new aesthetic to reflect the sense of peace and calm that has taken place in our home. I chose new stockings, a tree skirt, and stocking holders. When trying to pick out a tree topper, my son #1 was very opinionated that we choose something that was not similar to the one my ex has (I let him keep it.)

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While it may not seem much to some, to me, it felt light and refreshing. For me, this is minimalistic. It reflects a certain maturity. I am no longer a mother who is suffocating everyone with Christmas cheer and decorations.

We added the Polar Express train under the tree, an early Christmas present from me to my kids. My son #1 set it up and placed it under the tree. It was funny, because in order for it to fit, we had to rearrange some furniture, even move the area rug so the tracks could lay flat. Joe, the elf, was more mellow this year as well. I did not stage him getting into all sorts of shenanigans. He was just simply perched on the shelf. A tradition I created with him is that he comes back on Thanksgiving and brings a gift to the kiddos. This year he brought them little Christmas trees from the North Pole.  Again, fabulous tinsel trees from Targets’ dollar bins! The children were able to decorate them with ornaments that reflect what they are into. Daughter had a pink tree with glitter and pink ornaments. The boys had a tree filled with Star Wars and sharks. It’s all about individuality in this home!

It feels so good to choose things for my family.  I don’t have to ask for permission to purchase new stocking holders because the ones we already were starting to look shitty. I only consult with myself and my bank account.

I took time for myself to sit at a Starbucks and write Christmas cards. I personalized each one. I printed photo cards to place inside from when I took my children to get holiday portraits. These are things that I would have had to ask permission to do and probably wouldn’t had happened. But it happened this year and turned out how I wanted!

Most December nights, the kiddos and I snuggled on the sofa to watch movies. My daughter was really into The Grinch movie, the newest version.

Son #1: What do you want to watch?

Daughter: The Grinch.

Son #1: Which one?

Daughter: The green one.

Insert laughing emoji here.

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This year, I decided to give them a few gifts, but  they would get one really substantive gift. I decided to give my daughter a dollhouse she could use for her American Girl dolls. Reading the reviews, I saw that it took several hours to build. I being a single-mom would have to plan ahead. I enlisted my elves and we got together to have a doll-house building party. The women in my family met on a Friday evening to build it with some wine and fancy cheese. We toasted to “hard-working women!” It took three hours to build and then after we went for another Target run.

The last Sunday before Christmas my mother, aunt, and I met up for some last minute shopping. We rarely meet downtown to shop because it’s very touristy. But we braved the crowds and over did it.

With New Years’ coming up, I have plans to spend with my fellow single mom friend.  This holiday season has been good because it has shown me the perseverance of the female spirit, sisterhood, and most importantly motherhood. This season was as much for myself as my children.

I hope everyone had a very merry holiday and were able to celebrate it in their own way!

 

 

An Open letter…

Dear Judge, Guardian et Litem, and  attorneys,

I often had the urge to write and send you a letter to address you personally. In it I would state my name and case number in hopes that you would recall your involvement in my case. In that letter, I want to personally thank you for allowing my abuser to keep on abusing me. Thank you for allowing him to treat me as someone who is not allowed to say that is enough. He is allowed to not follow the agreement and when I call him out on it, I am the one who is punished. In the era of fathers’ rights, overburdened mothers are often silenced into submission. Abuse is often allowed to continue post divorce because the courts allow it.

I want to draw your attention to Candance Ganger’s The Parenting Double Standard I’m Done Being Quiet About. I read her post and it immediately hit home. This is exactly my situation, except add in a emotionally abusive ex and a court system that allows him to be abusive. The court system’s double standard is moms need to do everything and and expect nothing. And when we say, “Stop, I do not like being treated this way,” the court tells us to develop tougher skin.

Yes, Judge I am talking to you. I am a competent adult who is the best judge of my own limits, not you. When I say that I have had enough, I mean I had enough. I don’t like being called names and dismissed. This has far great negatives that you could ever imagine.

To the Guardian et Litem who called me selfish. Thank you for allowing the Dad to just take off and not even ask if it was okay that I watch the children. You allowed him to dehumanize me. I am not the mother, I am his babysitter.

To the divorce attorneys who told me not to report my abuse, just ignore it. I listened and where did it get me? It allowed him to continue because I wasn’t going to fight back. now that I am fighting back, I portrayed as the aggressor.

The courts want to see parents working together. But what happens when one parent is the one with all the responsibilities and abused by the other co-parent? Nothing. There is absolutely nothing I can do to better my situation. Thank you to the courts for leaving me powerless.

Sincerely,

CM!

 

To my readers, will edit when I get chance. I just fantasize about writing this letter. Will edit for clarity soon. Need this as therapy to help get through the day.

 

Also check out Granger’s post:

https://www.yahoo.com/lifestyle/parenting-double-standard-im-done-213505574.html

Hi There!

I just returned from the Upside Down (I hope you are into Stranger Things too or I am going to sound like a weirdo) and I am ready to resume writing. Life is hectic but I have the urge to write again. I always think about getting back to my laptop and I have so many topics to write about but then I get busy or really insecure or just plain lazy. I have updates about my life and my kiddos. Our lives have really changed and it’s starting to feel like we are actually thriving post-divorce. Yeah, that’s right it is official: I am a divorcée. I take pride in saying that I am a single-working mother, aka Wonder Woman. I have started to reclaim a sense of self-worth. I even started to revert back to the me before him.

So updates are:

  • We moved to a new neighborhood!
  • My boys started a new school!
  • My Kiddo #2 who is autistic was placed into a special education classroom!*
  • We celebrated birthdays: Kiddo #1  is 11, Kiddo #2 is 9, Kiddo # 3 is 4, and I am old and poor.
  • I started working.

While these may seem like small updates to others, they are pretty huge for us. We have left the familiarity of our old neighborhood and school. And now it feels like I really am starting over. The process of starting over was not easy and it’s why I have been so silent.   For a few weeks it got scary and hard. Just because the divorce is finalized does not mean the drama stops. Unfortunately, it can get worse when all the lawyers go away.  I will share more of what happened. I am still mentally and emotionally processing some of the things that happened so stay tuned. I just want to tell my make-believe audience that I am alive and thriving.

-CM!

*I bet you are wondering why my son was recently placed into a special education classroom. It’s one of the topics that I want to write about but it’s a complicated story. I am still trying to figure out how to tell it while protecting my son’s privacy and not to jeopardize his new placement. It was not easy to get him into a sped classroom.

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I recently ordered a new planner and was surprised at the quote inside. I am not into inspirational quotes but this one was perfect, ” Don’t pray for life to be easy but pray for yourself to be strong.”