Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Operation Cleaning Boot Camp

The nightmare continued year after agonizing year; clean one room, move onto the next only to return to the first room to find it completely destroyed again.   Rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat, rinse, repeat……… I tried everything I could think of to stop this vicious cycle.  A cycle that left me exhausted, disheartened and clinging desperately to the edge of my sanity.  I tried every trick in the book to train my five boys to pick up after themselves and to stop the rampant destruction.  It was a losing battle that made me feel like a dismal failure as a mother, housekeeper and wife.   Everyone gave advice, platitudes or “constructive” criticism.  I tried it all and only felt more disheartened as each suggestion failed more miserably than the previous.  I know everyone has to stay on their kids to clean up and every child has an inborn destructive gene that can cause large scale messy destruction.  I know that the male of our species seems to have been granted an extra special amount of this destructive gene.  Please believe me when I tell you that what we were experiencing went far beyond all that.  As with everything when you add autism into the mix it amplifies all the normal things.  The connection between action and consequence has been beyond difficult to forge with some of our boys.  It does not matter how consistent the discipline or structured the house when a child doesn’t have that connection it is nearly impossible to make progress.   Also my own health issues had made it impossible for me to do as I used to.  The recipe for disaster was complete and my house was a disaster!!
This is how Operation Cleaning Boot Camp (to be referred to as OCBC from here on for brevities sake) came into being.  As mentioned above I had come to the end of myself.  So I did the one thing I should have done years ago: I prayed about it.  Yes I know this should have been my first step but somehow it never occurred to me to pray about this.  I think my own sense of failure and shame was a large part of why.  Just like in the Garden of Eden, we hide from God during the times we should be clinging to him.  I prayed that he would give me the right words that my boys could hear and understand.  I prayed he would begin to change their hearts and mine.  I prayed that he would give me the perseverance to follow through on whatever the plan.  I prayed for a plan of action that would work.
Here it is the plan that has been working for the Skiff house.
Step One- Prayer as mentioned above.  I cannot stress this enough.  It has really made that big a difference.
Step Two-The Name
It was important for the boys to have a catch phrase to associate with the new plan and way of life.  When I tell them it’s time for OCBC every morning they instantly know what is going to happen.  It’s like turning a switch in their brains.  I don’ know if this only an autistic thing or if it is more generalized to other kids as well.  It has made a huge difference.  Just telling them we were going to clean didn’t do it for some reason.
Step Three- The talk
Before we began I sat all five boys down and we talked (actually I talked ;)  I explained the importance of their help with the house both on a practical level but also on a character level.   They needed to understand that this was about more than a clean house it was about them growing into mature, responsible adults.  I told them I could no longer carry it alone and that I needed their help.  I explained the positive rewards for doing their chores and the negative consequences of not.  Here’s an example:  Today we need to accomplish this, this and this.  Here are your individual chores.  If we get these done in a timely manner we will be able to go to the pool.  However if they aren’t we will not have a chance to go swimming because there will not be time.  I also apologized for the past times when I lost my temper and yelled in frustration.  I committed to staying calm.  I asked that they each promise to do their best as we improved as a family.
Step Four-the Chore Division
In the past I would assign a room that needed to be cleaned to all of them.  I would say: It’s time to clean the playroom.  You pick up toys, you pick up any trash, you any clothes etc.  This only led to them getting frustrated with each other and arguing.  Nothing would get done unless I went up and painfully supervised EVERY SINGLE action.  The youngest would get away without working at all because they would just get in the way.  Now I assign them each a different chore separate from each other.  I rotate some chores between the older ones and others between the younger guys.    It works out much better this way for now.  Maybe after we get this down we’ll have an Operation Work as a Team Boot Camp… thing at a time.  Rome wasn’t built in a day.
Step Five-The When
I have found it is just as important when I assign chores as it is what I assign.  For us first thing in the morning after breakfast works best.  This is my golden opportunity window.  After this time their focus is everywhere but on their chores and it takes a lot longer and a lot more reminders from me.
Step Six-The Follow Through
This is my challenge in all this.  I have to be consistent to make sure the chores get done correctly, to make sure all rewards and disciplines are followed through on and to keep my emotions in check.  This whole plan goes to hell in a hand basket the moment I become emotional.  Autistics have a very hard time dealing with others emotions.  They can’t easily decipher what they are all about.  Instead of thinking oh I better do my job because I am frustrating her.  They just start getting frustrated themselves and they don’t know why.  I call this feeding off emotions….or emotional vamping but that’s not always well received;) 
Step Six- Celebrate
I make a huge deal out of it when they do an exceptional job.  I tell them what a great job they did and then I loudly brag about their accomplishments to other people (so they can over hear me ;)  Everyone needs encouragement but again my spectrum guys can’t read emotion really well so I have to be sure to exaggerate my enthusiasm because they often won’t catch the quiet thank yous and good jobs.
So there it is: The OCBC in a nut shell.  I hope some of you find this helpful.  Thank you for being a safe place to share my failures and successes and just be real.  Blessings to you my friends- Kristine

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Benny Bird

I awoke instantly the shriek of the benny bird still reverberating around the room.  I covered my head with my pillow, willing myself to grab a few more precious moments of sleep.  The pillow could not drown the shrill call of the benny bird any more than a sandcastle can hold back the tide.   I quietly placed my feet on the floor one at a time hoping against hope the shrill shrieking would end and I could get back into bed no one being the wiser that I had awaken from my slumber.  Alas it was not to be.   The shrill shrieks increased in volume and pitch.  The benny bird is quite rare in our kingdom.  In fact there is only one documented in all of Skiffdom.  It is known to be playful and inquisitive and will pleasantly chatter all day.  However when it feels threatened or unhappy its pleasant chatter becomes shrieks and cries so shrill they have on occasion shattered glass.  If I was to quiet the benny bird and restore peace to the kingdom I would need all my wits about me.  With this in mind I immediately went to The Spring of Oster.  It’s magical, hot black water is known to bring alertness to the mind and give energy to the body.
I climbed the Stairs of Prayer.  Beyond the stairs lies the Land of Chaos.  A wise traveler will slowly climb the stairs, praying fervently on each step.  One never knows what will await them in the Land of Chaos so it is a good idea to prepare ones soul ahead of time.  Today there was no time to take the stairs at a reverent pace.  Instead I whispered a quick prayer for guidance as I bounded heedlessly into battle.  To my surprise all was quiet and calm in Chaos.  A great shudder of apprehension ran down my spine.  If the benny bird was not in Chaos that left only one unthinkable option,   a possibility so horrible, so terrifying, I had to stop briefly to gain my courage.  He had to be trapped in the darklands known only as The Bedroom of the Beasts.  Very few who have ventured in have ever come back out.  I have heard horrifying tales of great mountains named Lego and Laundry.  Every step on Mt Lego is said to be torturous, bringing the bravest warrior to their knees in agonizing pain.  Mt Laundry is known for its stench.   It is said that one cannot stand on its peak without succumbing to the toxic fumes.  I tentatively step through the gate.  I see the tiger twins; they lay in wait high in the bunk tree.  The benny bird is circling the lower branches squawking possessively about something.  I cannot make sense of what the benny bird is squawking.  Once he reaches a certain decibel the only thing the human ear can perceive is pain.  I try to talk him down slowly.  As the decibel decreases I begin to understand the problem.  It seems one of the tiger twins, the ferocious Alex, has dared to disagree with the benny birds claim of superiority.  The more passive of the twins, Jamie the Just, decreed that a show of strength would determine the winner.  I arrive just in time to stop the carnage.  Now that I have seen first-hand the terrors in the Bedroom of the Beast I declare a new holiday.  A holiday that will from now and forever more be known as “The Day of Renewal”.  This celebration will be honored weekly by destroying Mt Laundry and bringing the pieces to the Pool of Tide.  Each piece will be placed in the pool and washed.  Mt Lego must be ritualistically dismantled.  Its pieces are to be placed in the Chest of Rubbermaid.  And all the land will rejoice and be merry as they smell the wonderful lemony scent of their Pledge.  And the sun shone brightly upon all Skiffdom and they lived happily ever after.

This has been a lyrical interpretation of my morning on Tuesday.   After I restored peace to the house the whole morning came back to me in fairytale form so I figured I’d share it here.  I hope you enjoyed my “fictionalized” day.- Kristine

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Summer of Change

The smells of grilling meat, chlorine, and sunscreen mix to form a distinctive smell, a unique perfume.  The sound of kids splashing in the pool, of the ice cream truck’s ditty playing on an endless loop, and lawnmowers being pushed up and down the street proudly proclaim: Summer fun is here!! 
I LOVE summer!  It is my absolute favorite season. No one can deny that fall has great fashion sense as it parades around in deep crimsons, rusts, oranges and yellows.  Only a fool denies winters austere beauty.    And far be it from me to take away from spring’s beautiful rebirth of life.  But summer is something special.  All year long as a kid you await that day of all days, the best of the best, the LAST day of school!!!  The last week of school is spent in joyous celebration by students and teachers alike: field day, movie day, game day all culminating in three months of freedom!!!  How sweet that freedom is: waking up whenever you feel like it, pool days, beach days, amusement parks, fireworks, watermelon, ice cream, the list goes on and on.  Yes sirree, I LOVE summer.  I love the heat, I love the water, and I love having my family around me.  I especially love summer this year.
It will come as no surprise to you my friends that I was probably the most excited person in our house for school to be out.  It has been a very rough school year for the Skiffs.  Don’t get me wrong, my boys held up pretty well.  I am very proud of each of them.  However, Skiff/ school relations were at the best of times strained and by the end of the school year a full out war had been declared on the Kingdom of Skiff.  Friendships were lost completely, communication ceased; good people’s careers were damaged.  It is no wonder that I was ecstatic to see the end of the school year.  I have come to the unfortunate decision that we have to do something different next school year.  I am not sure what that will look like or entail yet.     I can definitely use all the prayers and constructive advice I can get.  I have fought for years to keep my boys in the school system because I believe the socialization aspect is so---o important for my spectrum guys.  Unfortunately private school tuition for 5 children is outside of our budget.  That leads me to homeschooling.  Having had a bad experience with homeschooling as a child this is not my first choice.  I would love to get feedback from everyone but especially those of you who have kids on the spectrum.  What has been your experience?  Have you found any particularly helpful programs?  If you are in our area do you know of some great homeschool groups? I am grateful for the next few months to decompress and have time to make a thought out decision. 
 I am also using this summer to work on growing my boys in the areas of responsibility and respect for others.  So far this has been going pretty well.  I am already seeing some very positive changes in several of my guys.  I love to see them growing and expanding.  For so long it felt as if I would always have babies.  To see that they are becoming young men is quite the privilege and honor for my husband and me.   I will definitely be going into further detail on what I am calling “Operation Cleaning Boot Camp” (OCBC abbreviated ;) in a future blog.   It is ongoing.  We have great days and we have not so great days but I see a slow but steady attitude shift beginning.
Big changes are happening in the Land of Skiff.  I appreciate all your prayers as we forge onward on our journey.  Thanks for lending me your ear for a little while. Lots of love-Kristine

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