Saturday, September 18, 2010

Coping with Connor

The other day, Lee & Connor took a bike ride again to Burger King.  Connor just likes the fries.  While they were there, a woman introduced herself to Lee as a reporter for a local small newspaper here in town.  She wanted to know if she could do a story on our family and how we cope with Connor.

I don't know how Lee responded to her, but afterward, he told me he felt like "what do you mean - coping?"

Now, yes, it's obvious if you watch him for a little bit that there is something different about Connor.  Most people are figuring out the autism thing now, which is good.  More & more attention is being called to the difficulties of autism, and maybe that's why the woman wanted to write the story.

The thing is, we don't see it so much as 'coping' as just doing things a little differently to accommodate our boy.  And yes, while you can label that 'coping'- to me, that word is a more negative connotation than just adapting what we do.

Of course we had to make a lot of changes, especially when he was small.  Before he could talk & express himself, it was very hard.  At times he will still have a crying meltdown and we don't know why, but there's nothing you can do but hold & comfort him for the hour or so until it's gone.  But that's much more rare now that he can communicate effectively.  Thanks to a lot of people with a lot of knowledge, Connor was able to go through the work and do what was necessary to get to that point.  He's still going to need help through his life, probably throughout.  Is that what she meant with coping?  Lee & I won't get to retire & travel the world?  (Newsflash - I'd rather have Connor - better yet, bring him along!).

Lee & I put in time & effort to help Connor as well.  We didn't go out on dates, because there weren't people knowledgeable enough to babysit our boy.  Trevor & Diana could only help so much when they were grade-school age.  As they got older, more of the babysitting fell to them, which happens in any household anyway.  Lee and I adapted our 'date time' to be in the virtual world.  We were off traipsing around the worlds of Dereth & Paragon City, and later Azeroth.  We were off doing our thing, but still at home at our desks.  It was cheaper than going out, actually.  And of course, Connor knew we were home and didn't have the anxiety or other issues.  I guess the reporter would call that coping as well (although we'd probably have done it anyway - that's the kind of thing we like to do).

We did avoid taking Connor places that would be too hard for him - he still only goes to the fair on the Saturday with the daypass for rides, because he'll only do the kiddie rides anyway.  We haven't even talked about going to Disneyland, because he's not in a place to do that yet either.  He LOVES going to Canada for vacation every year anyway, and so does the rest of the family.  I didn't take him tent camping, because I worried about his safety & the fact the tent has four exits.  The tent trailer situation is much better for us - one locking door.  Plus, Lee would have refused to tent camp anyway.  He 'did his time' with the Boy Scouts back when.  He wants a mattress if we're camping together.  Over time, we've been able to take Connor to most places anyway - it just took a little longer to get him to a movie theater (4th grade), to church regularly (2nd grade), to have First Communion (6th grade).  But eventually, he does get to do most of what he wants to do.  I guess taking his time means we have to cope there as well.

Because of Connor & Trevor's autism, I did get much more involved in Girl Scouts than I would have otherwise.  I wanted to make sure Diana had the kind of time with me that might not happen when we were focused on her brothers so much.  Scouting together guaranteed time together every week, and occasional weekends.  She & I have an extremely close relationship now.  I'm the first person she comes to whenever she has any issues or questions about anything - even though she's living in a city an hour away most of the year.  She will send me instant messages at least every evening and let me know how her day went & that she's home safe.  I call that a big bonus - not really coping.

Between the two boys, Trevor would probably be considered more challenging now.  But it's not any worse than any teenager who is disorganized and thinks he knows more than he does.  And eventually, he'll come around - it will just take time (and lots of headaches).  But the reporter didn't know about Trevor.

I did put my plans to further my education aside when we discovered Connor was autistic.  I was going to get a teaching credential after he was able to stay in day care.  That turned out to be a little dangerous when he escaped into the parking lot twice.  I did spend time at home with him because of the safety issue, which was a huge crunch in our finances.  So was putting a fence around the property.  It cost quite a bit for the seminars I attended to learn how to teach him more effectively - I did two weekend conferences in Portland (hugely beneficial).

On the other hand, I was hired to work where I am now because I had special needs kids &  had the patience and tolerance to work with other kids that needed that kind of help.  I am making double what I earned in the regular schools, with my expertise & education - and that probably wouldn't have happened without the autism in my life.

Connor is the most joyful, happy child I have ever known.  He loves to experience life and shares that love with everyone.  Any person who has worked with him or knows him from something else really enjoys him.  People who spent time over summer school, or helped him in Special Olympics or whatever will come up to us out of the blue to tell us how much they love working with Connor.  One of the aides in his classroom told the teacher that her favorite part of the day is when she gets to work with Connor.

Yes, we did work hard to help him understand how to behave in public.  Yes, we continually prompt him and praise him when he gets things right.  Yes, we realize we will have him with us our entire lives, and then once we no longer can care for him, Diana will take up the reins.  That's family.  That's what you do.  I don't see it as 'coping.'  It's parenting.  It's how you live life.  I wouldn't change a thing.


Rocky said...

Yup sounds like family. You do what needs to be done. It's not "coping", it's living.

Tina said...

Hey Rocky - nice to hear from you! I hope things are going well with you & yours :) And I know we keep saying it, but we gotta get together soon :)

keeka said...

Are you going to let her do an article? Publicity is a good thing for getting Autism out there where more people will take note and more information is always a good way to get people to understand and be more aware of how to talk to and be with kids with autism! Connor is awesome and more parents with autistic kids would probably love to know that there is hope ahead with communication etc.!

Tina said...

I'm thinking Lee should write a guest submission. He's worried the reporter would put her own slant on it - like we're in denial or something. So.. we'll see. I posted this on FB and got a good amount of comments :)

It takes work but it's not like I was first told - that after age five it's very difficult to teach anything anymore. Connor continues to learn & grow all the time :)

Rocky said...

yes we do! I even have a new board game I picked up at PAX that I'm dieing to play. Ever heard of Settlers of Catan?