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Archive for the ‘Special needs’ Category

April is Autism Awareness Month. Although Autism has been getting good press, many still don’t realize it’s a spectrum. Language skills, social skills, and development can vary. And autism can strike anywhere, regardless of ethnicity, gender, and socio-economic status.

So I have a treat for you. One of my favorite mommies and bloggers agreed to write a “guest blog” about her experience with her daughter. You can follow her story more closely at Living Life with a Side of Autism. Thank you, Jen!

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She sat in the hallway. Alone. In a blue, plastic chair. She was told she wasn’t welcome. She couldn’t behave like that.

She was 3. Non-verbal. At school.

This was life for my daughter before we got her Autism diagnosis. She was treated like the bad kid in class, and every day I received what amounted to a verbal lashing from her teacher. There were exasperated sighs and advice on how to better discipline. I felt like a failure. I had messed up my kid. I was reminded of that each day at 11:30am, when I trudged into the school to drag out my screaming first born. Or maybe at 11:45 after she had stopped having a tantrum in the classroom because she couldn’t put on her jacket, yet had no words to ask for help. Not that it mattered. She was still the bad kid, words or not.

A lot of children are diagnosed with Autism around 2 1/2 or 3. Katie, however, wasn’t diagnosed until the month she turned 6. We went through years of evaluations and diagnosis after diagnosis, none of which really fit. First, we were told Katie had low self esteem. Then we were told it was ADHD. Then, that she was probably bi-polar. None of this explained her extreme language delay or social deficits, however. We were told everything from she just was choosing not to speak, to she just had a strong personality. No one took all of her symptoms and put them together. We were just given a different explanation for each concern we had.

Over the years, I have moved from being the mother who just sat there and nodded her head in agreement, to the mother who does her own research and fights for her child. When Katie went from preschool to Kindergarten, things really went downhill. Fast. She was having a lot of meltdowns at school, and eventually began hitting other students. I was tired of being told my child was just a discipline problem with a speech delay. I lived with her and knew there was more to it than that. I saw her rigid behavior. I saw her inability to transition and inflexibility when it came to change. I saw her not making any friends, not knowing how to play with her toys, and becoming more and more physically aggressive at home. I saw her unable to participate in childhood activities, such as dance, and soccer, and gymnastics. She would either meltdown or be off on her own. I saw how overwhelmed she became around large groups. How going to the busy store guaranteed us a meltdown. How she had severe anxiety over the smallest thing. How she had irrational fears. No, my daughter wasn’t spinning in circle or flapping her arms, but were those the only things that defined Autism?

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While inpatient with mitochondrial disease, you’re often an enigma. Most of the health professionals have either never heard of this disease or might vaguely remember it being mentioned back in medical school. And those who have heard of it often have misconceptions (e.g. “all people with mito have some sort of mental delays/retardation” or “mito only affects infants and toddlers”). That’s why I make each and every admission a chance to educate about mitochondrial disease.

Because it’s a complex disease and involves “difficult” vocabulary, it’s easier to describe with analogies. Usually we use the “my batteries don’t work efficiently” analogy, but there are so many other ways to look at the disease. Recently, Chuck Mohan, the CEO of the United Mitochondrial Disease Foundation, made an extensive list of other ways to describe mitochondrial disease. Because it might just help one new person understand it, I’m going to share his list here:

Mitochondrial Disease is like:

  • Replacing your car battery with two Double “A” Energizers and wondering why it won’t start. But your car still looks pretty good, that is until it begins to rust from inactivity.
  • Trying to supply the electrical requirements of Los Angeles (pop. 3.7 million) with the one electrical plant in Ranchester Wyoming (pop. 701).
  • Swimming against Olympian, 8 Gold Medal winner, Michael Phelps, and you’re pool is filled with molasses.
  • That dream you have where you are trying to run away from danger but you just can’t move? Yep, that’s mitochondrial disease.
  • The way you feel after running a 50 yard dash compared to the way you feel after running a 50 yard dash with a 50 pound knapsack on your back.
  • The way you feel after working an 18 hour day or 18 days without a day off. Well, if you had a mitochondrial disease you’d probably feel that way after breakfast.
  • Buying a perfectly good Volkswagen Beetle with a 110 horsepower engine. It’s a great looking car and it runs terrific. Now take out a ring, gum up the valves, add some sugar to the gas tank and put in an old head gasket. The car still looks great but now it will only generate about 50 horsepower. That will get the Volkswagen around the flat streets of Kansas on a spring day, but now load it up with 3 of your hefty friends, or more if they’ll fit, with a trunk full of luggage and take it to the hills of Western Pennsylvania on a 90’ day. It won’t make it! But it still looks great!

For more from Chuck Mohan, go to umdfblog.com.

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Sometimes I forget that my favorite tutee is on the autism spectrum. She is incredibly bright and happy. She’s enthusiastic and engaged. But I get occasional reminders.

Today, my optometry appointment was canceled so I called her mother to see if it would be okay if I came earlier (Wednesdays are half-days for her so I usually come quite early). She asked my tutee. All I could hear on that end of the phone was a resounding NOOOOOOO.

Kids on the spectrum usually live quite rigid lives. Rules are absolute. Schedules are absolute. It’s most certainly not easy.

But that’s not the most difficult part. Those on the spectrum also have difficulty recognizing and mimicking social norms. It means many live isolated lives. It does not, however, mean that they do not have feelings and desires to connect.

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