The Karate Kid

I think we’ve finally found the key to The Boy, and slowly we’re unlocking a serious breakthrough.  The breakthrough comes with a hearty “Hi-YA!” and a karate kick in the face of Autism.

Aye-Yah!

Aye-Yah!

A little over a month ago, I called the local karate studio & spoke with the instructor of the class.  I explained that The Boy had been diagnosed with Aspergers but we were in the middle of getting him re-assessed & aren’t certain it’s AS.  We think he’s definitely somewhere on the spectrum, and thought that karate might be right up his alley.  We tried gymnastics & soccer, too much waiting around, not enough discipline.

“We have a couple of guys here with Autism who are black belts now.  Bring him in – we’ll run him through a trial and see if it’s a fit.”  The Instructor said.  I was careful not to get my hopes up.  This program didn’t accept everyone.

That Saturday, we brought him to the studio.  He was full of energy & a little unorganized, but he seemed to enjoy the physicality of karate, and he caught on to the routine pretty quickly.  I loved the structure & discipline that this class offered, and it was only 30 minutes – perfect for my little guy with the short-attention span.

The Instructor was a tough guy.  Just as The Boy began to act out & I hissed his name, The Instructor walked over to me and said “No, let me handle him.  You just sit here and watch.  He needs to know that I’m the boss here & if you’re doing the discipline in my studio, he won’t ever respect me.”  Word.  I was totally on board, but also on the edge of my seat, waiting to see how much of a spectacle this would turn into.  To my delight, The Boy didn’t buck too much, just tested the waters a little, but I loved that The Instructor didn’t let him (or any of the other kids) get away with a single shenanigan!

The Instructor told us to bring The Boy back again to the next class.  And again, and again, and again.  The Boy was in try-outs for almost 3 weeks!  He had to “earn” his “jacket.”  That totally motivated him.  He loved the challenge, he got the hang of things, (addressing his instructors as “Ma’am & Sir,” keeping his hands to himself, staying quiet & following directions – for the most part.) And although he struggled with controlling his body, he really made an effort.  After 9 sessions, he had finally earned his jacket!  He was a proud little boy, and I was a proud mama.

Yeah, I cried a little.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen the distinct look of pure pride on The Boy’s face.  He had accomplished this all on his own & he knew it! He glanced over at me & smiled, we exchanged the “thumbs up” sign.

I know it might sound silly, but I think he may have found his place.  This might be his sport.  I can’t see soccer as his sport, or baseball … He needs something that is more of a solo “team” sport.  In this class, he’s part of a team, but his success is solely based on his own merits.  And quite frankly, I’m a little relieved about this for several reasons – I mean, of course, I’m happy for him, but selfishly, I’m happy for me, too.  The thought of early Saturday soccer games out in the hot sun & weekday practices out in the hot sun don’t appeal to me.  I would do it, sure, and I even had envisioned him having the “All-American” childhood, replete with a position on the soccer & little league teams when he was growing inside of me.  But  maybe I’m not going to be a soccer mom.  Maybe I’m going to be a Karate Mom … or a Tennis Mom … or a Golf Mom.  I’m cool with that.

It’s been really spectacular to see the change in him … And it’s not just me & The Husband who see a change, his teachers commented to me that The Boy has been making big strides lately.  It’s a tough class & it’s three times a week, but it’s something that The Boy looks forward to – he enjoys the challenge & the routine, knows what’s expected of him & when he pushed back (which the instructor said he’d do,) he got his belt taken away for 2 classes!  He earned it back & learned the lesson: can’t clown around in karate.  There’s a time & a place for messing about, but in karate class, you act professionally, take it seriously & do your best.

Warning: MOMMY BRAG Ahead!

Yesterday, after being in this class for less than 6 weeks, he did this entire series called “Appreciation Form” which is a 12-step series of different hand movements FLAWLESSLY without any assistance from an instructor!  He even showed up a camouflage belt (highest belt in the class!)  The Instructor praised him “never seen a white belt do that series all on his own without any help!  Well done!”

We’ll see how it goes, but I think we’ve finally found his sport 🙂

 

 

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April 2nd: World Autism Awareness Day

a new world | the fairly good mother A year ago my life was flipped on its head, and I had no idea that April 2nd was World Autism Awareness Day.  I still don’t quite understand how “awareness” brings about what I am really hoping for, (understanding & acceptance,) but hey, I’ve only been doing this for a year, so who am I to start demanding changes?

It’s been a long, interesting road full of growth and challenges since that day when I was told we were probably “looking at Aspergers Syndrome” for my then 2 year old son.  And reflecting back over the past year, I see how many big strides The Boy has made.  I see all of the things I’ve learned about myself, my son, my family & my world as it relates to Aspergers Syndrome.  Here are some of them:

1.  Two steps forward and one step back, that’s what progress looks like in my world.  We have good days & we have challenging days.  It doesn’t mean anything when The Boy has a day of challenges & seeming regression, (well, except that the wine comes out at 5:01pm,) but it means everything when he has a day of good choices, focused concentration & positive play.

2.  I don’t always display Mother Theresa-like patience & that’s ok.  I’m not perfect.  I’m just a woman who happens to be a mom of a child with Aspergers Syndrome & I’m doing the best I can … usually.  I’m not a Doctor, nor a trained therapist & I don’t always have all the answers.  Sometimes I’m too tired or frustrated to think of the perfect way to handle a melt-down.  I’m learning.

3.  It’s been a long time since I’ve read a book just for fun.  My reading list mainly includes research about Autism &  Aspergers, Sensory Issues & IEP’s.  Sometimes I get jealous when I hear people talking about this great book that they’re reading. For the past year, I’ve been reading like a lackadaisical college kid cramming for an exam at the last minute, because time is not on my side.

4.  Having a child on the spectrum can be very isolating, especially because he “looks” like a typical kid.  I’ve learned what our limitations are in terms of play-dates & birthday parties.  It made me sad last spring when we had to leave a kid’s birthday party because The Boy was wildly out of control & overwhelmed by the unstructured environment.  Generally, it’s better for him to have smaller, focused play groups with me right there ready to intervene in case behavior goes awry.  It’s not the way I envisioned play dates & yes, I get a tinge of jealousy when I look over to see a group of my mom friends engrossed in conversation while I’m helicoptering my son.  Who to tell, what to tell them, when to tell them?  Do I want to delve into a lengthy dialogue of what Aspergers Syndrome is?  Not usually.

5.  Guilt will eat me alive … if I let it.  It’s that dark vortex in my mind where I can spiral down fast if I’m not careful.  Guilt over how I handled disciplining The Boy that day – too much or not enough?  Guilt over if I’m doing everything I can for him, guilt over mistakes I’ve made: will they be detrimental in the long run?  Guilt about whether I’m balancing all aspects of my life properly; if I’m coming up short in my friendships … guilt, guilt, guilt.  It’s a useless emotion.

6.  Run the race with blinders on.  Who cares what other people are thinking as they judge us at the grocery store while I bribe the boy with cookies & cars?   Who cares what other people think when The Boy blurts out some incomprehensible word like “beak!” seven times in a row after they ask him how old he is?  Who cares?  Who cares that The Boy isn’t really interested in riding a bike or kicking a soccer ball?  It’s not fair to compare him to other kids & it’s not fair to compare myself to other moms. This is our life & we’re living it the way that’s best for us.

7.  No matter how much you think people understand – or how much they want to understand – they won’t really to be able to, and that’s ok.  I love my close friends and (most of) my family for just trying to.  They have been a source of great support and love for me, The Husband & The Boy as we have made our journey through the world of Aspergers.  But the truth is that they can’t understand everything.  They sometimes take The Boy’s lack of affection too personally.  They don’t understand when they ask him a question and he is gazing off in the distance, wrapped up in another world why he cannot answer them or why he’s so literal.  They don’t understand that sometimes things are outside of his comfort zone and no amount of reasoning or cajoling will get him to be “ok.”

8.  There is very little “me-time.”  I knew when I became a mother that my priorities would shift & that the focus of my world would be my child.  But having a child with special needs is even more time consuming & demanding than I would imagine have a typical child would be, (I could be wrong about this.)   But me time is important, (another post about that later,) lest you lose your mind.  It’s hard to find extra time when you’re juggling IEP’s, therapy appointments, potty training and counting down to transitions.  And going away for a weekend is nearly impossible!  Who can handle The Boy besides me and The Husband?

9.  Everyone has a slew of ideas on how to help … some work and some don’t.  Every therapist, every teacher, every specialist, every doctor, every book has a different idea on how to support The Boy in making good choices & correcting unwanted behavior.  Some of them work well, and some of them work for a little bit and then don’t work at all.  It’s worth a shot, but don’t make yourself nuts about trying every single suggestion given to you.  Just because something works for one kid on the spectrum doesn’t mean it works for every kid on the spectrum.

10.  It’s going to be a long road … and it’s going to be really hard sometimes.  After this last round with our school district, I had the sudden realization that my life was going to be one fight after the other with them for the next fifteen years!  It was overwhelming to think that every single school year I’d have to put on my boxing gloves and get into the ring with people who only view my child as a number or a name on a piece of paper.  But that’s what it is & The Boy is lucky to have me, a fighter, as his mom & advocate.

So, happy World Autism Awareness Day I guess.  curious not judgmental | The Fairly Good Mother Truth be told, I really don’t know what “awareness” is going to do for people who have Autism or Aspergers … Does being aware make people more compassionate?  In my opinion, no, it doesn’t.  I think education is more beneficial than awareness, but perhaps awareness is the first step.  And maybe being aware leads to being curious and opening a dialogue with someone about what Autism is, or what Aspergers Syndrome is & that’s something I can support.

I read a blog last night  called Living On The Spectrum: The Connor Chronicles that I thought summed up the way I feel quite perfectly.  I would love to see every child educated about autism & every spectrum disorder.  Because in my opinion, only through education can people truly begin to understand what it is like to live with Autism or Aspergers. And with understanding comes compassion.  And with understanding and compassion, we can hopefully arrive at acceptance.