The Pet Persuasion Paper

NHL recently had to complete a "persuasive essay" project for school.  He needed to write a paper to convince someone of something.  The topic he decided on was pets and why we should get him one.  Here’s his essay (and yes, I got his approval to share it here):

essay

Of course, before he even showed this essay to me, he mentioned what he was writing about and I gave him our arguments against getting a pet.

Our first argument is simply that B is allergic to most dogs and cats.  That limits our pet options considerably.  Secondly, pets cost a lot of money to take care of.  Food, medical care, housing, and/or toys for the pet don’t come cheap.  When your budget looks like ours, taking on another expense for a pet isn’t a big option.  Finally, pets require space to live in.  This isn’t as big of a problem if the pet is a goldfish in a small bowl, but our house is so small and so tightly packed that even that would be a problem.  (Seriously.  We have that little room.)

Having seen NHL’s essay, I’d also argue that there are other ways he can learn to be responsible and not use his Nintendo DS as much.  He could read some books, play with the many toys he has and put them away when he’s done, and even volunteer to clean up areas of the house.

Finally, and most importantly, I talked to NHL about people who might try to bully him because they have pets and he doesn’t.  I let him know that bullies try to define what is "good" and what isn’t.  They are trying to define having a pet as "good" and not having one as "bad."  However, they have no right to define what is good and bad in his life.  If he doesn’t have a pet, that’s just fine.  He can’t live his life by doing things only because doing said things might get some people to stop picking on him.  Getting a pet just so some kids will stop bullying him is a poor reason to get a pet.

In the end, it was an admirable attempt by NHL, but he’ll need to try harder in order to convince us that we should get him a pet.

Umbridge Teacher Trouble

As I wrote before, I’ve been reading the Harry Potter series with NHL.  As we’ve progressed, his enthusiasm seems to have waned.  He still enjoys it when we read and wants to know what happens to Harry and his friends, but it seems as though his anxieties are being triggered.

In Prisoner of Azkaban, he didn’t like the werewolves and cringed upon seeing them in film form.  In the Order of the Phoenix, his problem is with a certain new teacher at Hogwarts and spy for the Ministry of Magic: Dolores Umbridge.

Without giving out any spoilers (in case you haven’t read the book or seen the movie), Umbridge is a big supporter of the Minister of Magic.  (Think of the magical world’s equivalent of a President.)  He is of the opinion that the headmaster of Hogwarts, Dumbledore, and Harry Potter are lying about a big threat to everyone.  He dispatches Umbridge there to spy on them and keep the situation in hand.

Dolores Umbridge quickly reveals that she is not interested in debate about subjects.  Things are to be done her way and, if she is crossed, she will make life hard for the people responsible.

In the movie, Umbridge is played by Imelda Staunton and looks like a sweet aunt (at least until she acts or speaks).  In the book, however, she is described as looking like a toad stuffed into a pink cardigan.

Whether it is due to the description of Umbridge’s looks or her cruelty (especially to Harry), it has NHL spooked.  Until he feels comfortable enough to move on, our reading of Harry Potter has stalled.  I, however, am going to forge ahead alone.  I’ve already finished Order of the Phoenix and plan on starting Half-Blood Prince soon.

Diagnosis, Asperger’s, NHL and Me

Autism_Awareness_RibbonA few months ago, I mentioned having some big news.  Huge news.  However, I couldn’t share it at the time.  This led to some people wondering what it could be.  Well, after many weeks of keeping quiet about it online, we’re ready to reveal what it is.  But first, some history.

About five years ago, when NHL was only four years old, we wondered about whether something was up with him.  He didn’t seem to fit in socially like the other kids did.  He had trouble if a routine changed.  He would have fears way beyond what is age appropriate.  We went to one doctor after another and kept getting different advice.  Nothing seemed to help, though.

The closest we got to a good diagnosis was that he was gifted (IQ of over 135), but even trying to address his supposed boredom in the classroom didn’t help.  NHL was still yelling in class, cutting up paper, running around the classroom, freaking out whenever his routines changed, and more.  The teacher tried to be patient with him, but she had to teach the other kids as well.  Besides, we feared that he was painting a huge "Bully Me" target on himself with his actions.

Finally, at the end of our rope, we went to a neuro-psychologist.  She went to NHL’s class and, without him knowing, observed him for three and a half hours.  Then, not too much later, NHL met with her one on one for about four hours.  The report she put together from these meetings and observations was long, comprehensive, and difficult to read.  Within its pages, we read of kids moving their desks away from NHL, kids rolling their eyes at him and calling him weirdo, and other socially isolating events.  NHL, with his actions, was doing just what we feared.  He was isolating himself and making himself a target for bullying.

The good thing about the report, though, was that we finally had a diagnosis.  NHL was diagnosed with Anxiety Disorder and Asperger’s Syndrome.

On the anxiety front, his fears would come upon him so fast and so strong that there wasn’t the barest hope of him keeping them in check.  The best I can describe it would be that he pictured the worst possible outcome in his head.  Then, once that outcome was imagined, he would assume it was certain to occur.  Next, he would totally freak out including yelling, stomping, running away, etc.  It didn’t matter if we were at home, if he was in a classroom, or if we were in the middle of a store.  His fears could be based on school work (homework was a half hour scream-fest) or a super-massive black hole destroying humanity.  Thankfully, new strategies have helped him calmed down a lot and we can head off his fears before they turn into full-blown panic attacks.

When it comes to Asperger’s Syndrome, it’s not a "condition NHL has" as much it is "a different way that NHL’s brain works."  NHL loves schedules, order, and routine.  He doesn’t like it when this gets disrupted.  Loud sounds or people getting in his space can make him uncomfortable.  (He’ll cover his ears when entering a public restroom in case the electric hand dryer turns on.)  He has intense likes (Math, computers, superheroes, etc) that he wants to share with everyone whether they like the same things or not.  He can tell you how a person should act in a given social situation, but when theory turns into reality, he has trouble knowing what to do.

In fact, many social interactions are tricky for him to navigate.  In the past, he’s been na├»ve enough to not recognize that his social "awkwardness" was isolating him, but he’s quickly realizing it now.  He’s a kind kid and loves helping and being a friend.  When kids don’t want to be his friend, ignore him, or tease him, he feels hurt and doesn’t know how to express this or remedy the situation.

He’s now getting help learning to cope and deal with social situations.  People with Asperger’s have to learn how to navigate the world at large.  His challenges aren’t as great as those of a child with a more severe form of Autism, but he still needs to learn the rules of the neuro-typical road.

For those who don’t know the phrase, Neuro-typical is the word used to describe people who aren’t on the Autism spectrum.  Never use the word "normal" as it insinuates that someone with Autism is some sort of freak.  We aren’t freaks,  We just have a different way of thinking.

Yes, I did say "we."

in my "I can’t share this yet" post, I said: "This news is so big that it has rattled my very idea of who I am."  You see, as we were reading more and more about Asperger’s, I kept stopping and remarking about how that sounded so much like me.  One example: People with Asperger’s tend to think in an If-Then manner sort of like a computer.  One of the reasons I make such a good computer programmer is that my brain basically works just like a programming language is written!

Growing up, I had a lot of trouble with social situations.  I never felt completely natural in them.  To me, it seemed as though everyone had gotten the Social Situations Complete Guide while I got the Cliff Notes edition.  I wanted to be social, but didn’t quite know how.  I always pictured it as wanting to be in the spotlight, but feeling highly uncomfortable when that happened.

I always figured that I was "socially stunted" by the bullying I went through.  After all, my reaction to being bullied was to withdraw from the world.  The less that I showed to the world, the less the world had to bully me with.  After high school, I tried very hard to tear down those emotional walls and open up.  To this day, though, I still struggle with it.

Maybe my social awkwardness wasn’t a result of bullying, though.  Maybe, it was due to Asperger’s.  Back when I was growing up, Asperger’s wasn’t diagnosed.  I didn’t have the options that we have for NHL to aid him with socializing.  Of course, the bullying didn’t help, but perhaps all these years I had it backwards.  Maybe my social awkwardness was something that the bullies picked up on and used to target me.  Maybe my quest to "be normal socially" was completely misguided because I wasn’t neuro-typical at all.

At first, this saddened me.  Was there an upper ceiling beyond which I couldn’t top no matter how much I tried?  Was all my hard work over all these years for nothing?  Should I just give up and say "Asperger’s" whenever a social situation had me stymied?

For awhile, I wasn’t sure what the answers should be.  Then, I heard someone mention that Asperger’s doesn’t define us.  I can’t give up on growing as a person just because I have Asperger’s.  It will always be a challenge I deal with, but it won’t be the only thing there is about me.  And, with luck, I can use my Asperger’s experience to help NHL avoid some of the pitfalls I fell into.

NOTE: The Autism Awareness ribbon icon above was created by Melesse and comes from Wikimedia Commons.

Oh What A (Long) Night!

nicubunu_Emoticons_Sleeping_faceElection night was a very long night both for good reasons and bad ones.  First, I got home from work and B, the boys, and I went out to vote.  Unlike some other places where people had to wait in line for hours, we were lucky.  There was only a short wait to vote.

As we were going to the polling place, and all through the voting procedure, though, JSL complained about his head hurting him.  We figured he might be hungry, but as we arrived home, he proved us wrong by puking all over the floor and his coat.

I cleaned up the mess while B tossed his coat in the wash.  Then, after dinner and some time working on Lego Shelob, we got the kids ready for bed.  Just as they were settling down, though, JSL complained that his stomach hurt.  A quick run to the bathroom spared us a second big mess.  It was obvious that he was going to miss school the next day.

While JSL settled on the couch, we turned on the election day coverage.  I kept following along and interacting with people on Twitter as polls began to close and projections were made.  Slowly, the electoral votes were assigned until, at around 11:20pm, Barack Obama was declared the winner.  In hindsight, that’s when I should have called it a night.  Instead, I followed along awhile longer.  And by "awhile", I mean 2 hours.

At 1am, I climbed into bed (made crowded by JSL’s presence between B and me).  I didn’t sleep long, though.  At around 2am, NHL woke up coughing and congested.  He was obviously having trouble settling and couldn’t come into our packed bed, so I climbed into his top bunk to lay down with him.  Thus began 4 hours attempting to soothe him so he could rest and sporadic sleep.

Needless to say, I’ve been feeling a bit tired today.

What do you do when you’ve had a long night with little sleep?

Disclaimer: The "Sleeping face" icon is by nicubunu and is available from OpenClipArt.org.

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