Saturday, May 8, 2010

We've been riding the emotional rollercoaster, as usual.

We all suffer when Jack doesn't get enough sleep. He is crabby, prone to tantrums, uncooperative, and impulsive. We get run down by the effort required to get him dressed, fed, to the potty, school, etc. His sleep has shifted to a much later start time, usually 9, and after battling for almost a week trying to get him to put himself to sleep, we've gone back to staying with him until he is asleep (or almost). Not fun because by the time he's asleep I follow about ½ hour later, but at least Jack's been sleeping 10-11 hours; his overall well being is much improved with all that sleep.

At school there are some subtle improvements probably only visible to us and C, his aide. He is way more able to share space with the other kids and play, really play, with a few of them. We see that outside in the play yard he can get overwhelmed by the chaos and that's when he tends to throw his shoes over the fence, dump sand where he shouldn't, or other inappropriate actions. Our task here is to encourage greater self-awareness; to help him realize that sometimes he needs to take a break and calm down when things feel too crazy , and to realize that before he reaches the out-of-control state.

For the past month or so Jack's been exploring issues of identity and emotions. He often identifies himself as either Becky (from the “Wordgirl” show), Boris (a baby dragon), Rainbow (whom we know nothing about except he is 20 years ago), Jumping Jack Flash, or a combination of the these. Initially I think it was a way of compartmentalizing his feelings; one person for sadness, one for anger, etc. When he would assume an identity he would also say, “Jack is dead,” or “Jack is never coming back,” which really drove us crazy. We've tried a few different ways of dealing with this. One is just ignoring it, which sometimes works except sometimes Jack gets adamant about being whomever and will not engage as Jack. We've tried to engage the other character to see what the underlying feelings are. We've tried explaining that the other people are really just feelings – that he can have Becky feelings, or Boris feelings, but he's still Jack. Nothing seems to work so we're hoping it will run its course. What is obvious is this is not a case of Jack trying to provoke us – he gets no pleasure from this. It's serious to him. I know NT kids pretend to be other creatures too, but I haven't read much about spectrum kids doing this. Would love some advice from other parents here.

The struggle could also relate to Jack's marked improvement in theory of mind. Here's a nice definition from Wikipedia: “Theory of mind is the ability to attribute mental states – beliefs, intents, desires, pretending, knowledge, etc.—to oneself and others and to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different from one's own.” TOM is a struggle for spectrum kids, and Jack is no exception. But in the past month there's been a shift. He notices when I am upset or sad and will say “cheer up,” or (the big kicker) “I love you,” because that always makes me smile. Yesterday he was playing with his trains and I heard him say softly under his breath to his train, “are you scared?” And then reply, for the train, “no, I'm not scared.” This is a first, and a huge growth step.

He continues to impress us with his intelligence and problem solving. Lego kits are a new love. He likes to paint, do play-doh, color with pastels, do mazes, make mud in the backyard, play bingo, assemble train tracks, and read. After showing no interest for a few months, he's back bike riding again, although he still won't ride his “big boy bike,” only the like-a-bike. When we're stuck in a long line at the grocery he will often ask to play Doodle Buddy on my iphone, but we have to watch him like a hawk when he has it, since he is able to navigate to other options. Last week he was about 5 seconds from setting up a Twitter account – no joke, he had his password typed in and everything. We watch a family movie together Sunday nights and he prefers “Monsters Inc.” (us too) and “Sword in the Stone,” because he loves Merlin. We bought a new family tent last weekend and are looking forward to camping together for the first time (we were hideously wait listed for Camp Mather).

Life continues to expand; I think we have a little more breathing room. Things aren't easy, but we just keep trying.

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