Sunday, December 8, 2013

Christmas Newsletter

Recently a friend shared a Christmas newsletter another friend had sent enthusiastically detailing the events of the past year. While this annual tradition can simply be a way to summarize the family highlights, some use this opportunity to boast about their accomplishments. Of course, their children are the smartest, best-looking, amazingly athletic, most popular, and highly talented young people to ever walk the face of the earth. Certainly, parents should be proud of their children and their achievements, but I wonder if they ever stop to think how their gloating makes others feel whose children do not possess all the gifts theirs do. As an autism mom, I must fight feelings of jealousy toward parents who have typical children, let alone those who are extraordinary. Let’s just say that these bragfests do little to inspire the Christmas spirit in me.

One evening last week, after Alex had an especially good day, Ed commented that we appreciate little things that few others would really understand. For example, we have taken Alex shopping in crowded stores this past week, and he has shown great improvement with his impulse control, never reaching to touch anything, only looking at things he wanted to see, even keeping his hands behind his back to make sure he wasn’t tempted to reach for them. This is not a big deal for most people his age, but we know what an accomplishment this is for him. We simply measure success differently than most parents do. With that in mind, here is the newsletter I might write to review our year with a little tongue in cheek added because we try to find the humor in our situation.

This year, Alex made very good progress as he continued behavioral therapy. Despite having three different therapist changes in a matter of a few months (One moved out of state, the second one was promoted to a supervisory position, and now he’s working with the third one, who truly IS a charm.), Alex adapted nicely each time he found himself working with someone new. He has learned calming techniques to address his anxiety, and his therapists have been amazed that when he’s upset, he can count to ten not only in English, but also in Spanish, French, German, and (thanks to his second therapist) Turkish. By the time he finishes counting in all these different languages, he forgets why he was upset in the first place.

Despite all the various medications Alex takes, he is a trouper about swallowing all those pills four times a day. Moreover, he’s become somewhat of celebrity at the pharmacy, where the friendly pharmacists know us on a first-name basis. He’s like Norm on the television show Cheers, as they yell, “Alex” when they see him. I suppose they are pleased to see a frequent customer under the age of sixty-five for a change. Besides taking his medications nicely, he is also wonderful about cooperating for the regular blood tests needed to check the effects the medications have upon his system. When we tell him we are taking him to the lab, he eagerly hops in the car as though we were taking him to a sporting event because he thinks it’s fun to have blood draws. The kindness of the lab technicians where we take him regularly only adds to his enthusiasm for this activity most people dread.

After twenty-one and one-half years of being cavity-free, Alex finally had two small cavities that needed to be filled this summer. Because of Alex’s anxiety and sensory issues, his dentist opted to schedule this procedure under general anesthesia. Even though we had to get Alex up in the middle of the night so that we could report to the hospital, which is a hour away, at the scheduled check-in time of 5 A.M., he thought this was a great adventure because we were going to a city where he’d never been before. Thankfully, he came through the procedure nicely, and his favorite memory of the experience was watching stock market news on the television in his hospital room.

Aside from his renewed interest in the stock market this year, Alex has also enjoyed following gas prices, which have been at times a source of frustration for him (as they have been for most people). When he was younger, high gas prices would agitate him so much that we had to determine routes free of gas stations to avoid meltdowns in the car. This year, Alex finds following gas prices a pleasant pastime, especially when they are on a downward trend. He happily exclaims from the back seat, “Gas prices are lower!” In addition, he enjoys driving past a local gas station that has gone out of business, leaving an abandoned sign that advertises gas for nine-tenths of a cent, which he finds terribly amusing.

Although gas prices are cheaper this year, we did not go on vacation, as most families do. Because of Alex’s potentially unpredictable behavior, we once again opted for our typical summer of staycation, planning outings within a few minutes of home. Between visits to the Indiana Dunes, local parks, a nearby miniature golf course/arcade, grocery stores, the library, and other stores, we kept Alex busy and encouraged him to develop his social skills. He has become an expert at pushing shopping carts, to the point I’m thinking of having a bumper sticker printed that reads, “MY AUTISTIC KID CAN PUSH A SHOPPING CART BETTER THAN YOU CAN.” Unlike most of the customers at Walmart, Alex knows better than to leave his cart parked in the middle of the aisle, which is a social skill in itself.

Even though Alex didn’t make the honor roll, earn the team MVP, become Prom King, or perform a concert to a standing ovation, we are proud of him and all he has accomplished this year. Moreover, we are thankful for the many blessings we have enjoyed this year and the prayers God has answered. Every day, Alex continues to teach us the value of patience, reminding us to “wait and see,” and we have learned the importance of faith, hope, and love on this journey with him. My favorite part of the day, especially on the hectic days when patience is running low, is the quiet and peaceful moments saying bedtime prayers with Alex, who talks to God as his friend, believing and trusting that He will answer those prayers. May we all have Alex’s steadfast faith as we celebrate the birth of our Lord and Savior!

“May the Lord show you His favor and give you peace.” Numbers 6:26


marjorie said...

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year to you and yours, Pam. (And I would so buy that bumper sticker.)

Pam Byrne said...

Thanks so much, Marjorie! Wishing you and your family many blessings in 2014. May it be our best year ever! :)

Anonymous said...

Love the bumper sticker!! I would truly enjoy reading an honest update on people's lives. Ours would have to include the fact that Dallas has been sleeping on a cot in our room for weeks due to an unspecified fear of being alone. lol

Pam Byrne said...

Hi K.C.,
I was just reading an article about how Facebook makes people depressed because others post only the best of their lives, making people think that their lives pale by comparison. Hopefully, Dallas will get over his fears soon. As I've found with Alex, every annoying phase eventually passes, only to be replaced by an equally annoying phase.