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This is the part of the story where Jonah falls overboard and is swallowed by the whale.

There isn’t much to say except that it has gotten worse, and worse again, and worse some more – today sucked blah blah blah and I’m so sad blah blah blah.  I don’t know how anyone can stand to read this blog anymore at all.

Jonah’s almost guaranteed to attempt to seriously hurt his father, me, anyone around him – not once, but several times a day, wreaking a path of destruction behind him – lampshades crumbled, Andy’s now duct-taped fan knocked over, eyeglasses scratched, coffeemaker smashed & broken, dinner swept off the table to spray-bomb the kitchen in one swipe:

`

On the pictured occasion Andy had called me for help.  “I can’t leave him for two seconds,” he told me.

So I came over and cleaned the kitchen (after taking this picture).  I picked up the obviously just-delivered rice, chicken, sauces, and dumplings, wet-swiffered the floor, and vacuumed the landing rug/steps… my heart pounding, my mind processing the scene, adding all these details to the new normal, a new ramped-up constancy of Jonah’s violent aggressing.

After I had cleaned, we sat together on Jonah’s floor for a few minutes while Jonah sat on his bed, having been banished there after the kitchen scene.  I asked Andy if he wanted me to go get him more food.  “No,” he replied flatly. “I ate.”  (which I knew was likely a lie).

“They’ll help him at whatever place he goes to,” I told Andy quietly.  “He’s going to get better.”

“You think so?” he asked wearily.  “I think he’s just broken,” he mumbled, lowering his head into his scratched-up hands, running his scratched-up hands through his rumpled hair.  Andy sits with his head in his hands a lot.   I’m usually in tears.

During some car rides the three of us have taken since then, Jonah’s managed to escape his harness in seconds, throwing himself up into the front seat to grab a handful of hair, scratching, hitting, and kicking whatever body part of ours he can reach.  Luckily we are usually already pulled over waiting for train, or I have been able to pull over quickly so Andy (or M, when he and I are the ones driving him) can climb in the back and hold down a fiercely struggling Jonah who is head-butting hard, kicking hard, hitting hard.  Scratching to wound, to make you bleed.  No holds barred.  No empathy.

It is more frightening than anything I’ve ever encountered because I have no idea how to fix it, how to help him, how to pull us all up and out of this.  No wonder I watch Match Game and bead necklaces when I am not watching Jonah.  I need mindless 70s television, ritualistic bead-stringing, care-package construction, and Guster-blasting.  Andy is writing, which is good.  At least there is a fantastical creative outlet for him too, though I’m sure he squeezes it in in two-minute intervals if Jonah is home.

At school there are days when Jonah aggresses and then, as encore, smears his poop on the safe room wall – and he often aggresses 9-10 a day (each of which consists of an episode of a dozen or so of clustered individual attacks, they tell us).

I’ve said this before but it bears repeating that we are really, really grateful for Wildwood, whose teachers, social workers, and other staff have continued without fail to support our family and somehow manage Jonah day after day, week after month.  I am grateful for Andy, who is somehow handling this thing.  The title of my blog may be normal is a dryer setting, but our dryer’s in serious fucking disrepair. 

We want Jonah to get the help he needs, and as soon as possible.  Later this month we’re taking him to Child’s Hospital in Boston (somehow), and we’re going to once again ask his psychiatrist for a new med to try.  The psychiatrist is retiring this month, so maybe we’ll get a new one who’s fresh out of school and fired up to help usIf not, I’m going doctor-shopping.

I’m refocusing my thoughts and actions in an unusual but positive way, because it’s all I can do to keep it together.  But most of time I’m tired and bitchy.  I haven’t felt much like writing, or talking to anyone, or going anywhere, or doing anything at all.

I guess these are our days inside the whale.

“Then I said, I am cast out of thy sight, yet I will look again toward thy holy table.”
~ Jonah 2:4

That sounds to me like I know I’m completely in the dark, but I’m going to hope anyway.

“Love and blessings
Simple kindness
Fell like rain on thirsty land
Fields and gardens
Long abandoned
Came to life in dust and sand”

~Paul Simon, Love & Blessings from So Beautiful or So What

Okay, then.   Hope anyway.

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About 3 or 4 weeks ago I decided to order some Fish Oil chewables for Jonah (100mg a day).  I’d read some articles like this one saying most people don’t eat enough omega-3 fatty oils anyway, and there may be some basis to the theory that the Fish Oil supplements may alleviate symptoms of autism: (from http://autism.healingthresholds.com/)

Some scientists have proposed that autism, dyslexia, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and dyspraxia are a related group of neurodevelopmental disorders that are caused by problems in the metabolism of EFAs (3, 12, 13). The idea is that, for unknown reasons, the brains and bodies of individuals with autism and related disorders have problems converting the EFAs from foods into the forms that are necessary for many biochemical reactions (7). In addition, omega-3 fatty acids seem to be lower in individuals with autism than in others (9, 14).

Both of the omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA have been found to affect many aspects brain function (1, 3). Specifically, changing the amount of DHA and EPA in the diet alters the amounts of certain critical genes in the brain, at least in rats (15). In addition, one study found that giving animals a diet with a ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 EFAs of about 1:4 improved experimental measures of cognition in the animals (1). Finally, mood and behavior problems in humans have been linked to a lack of omega-3 EFAs in the diet.

So I figured 100mg a day is innocuous enough (esp. since the kids in the studies cited were given 1-3 grams a day) and may even help his growing brain a little, and so he’s been chewing one daily along with the Risperdal ever since.

Then, on Monday and Tuesday, miracle of miracles, Jonah had zero aggressions at school.  This hasn’t happened in months – maybe a year.  I’ve lost count.  Of course I hear the words of doc Reider echoing in my head:

Correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation,” and I know intellectually that 100mg of Fish Oil chewables for 3 weeks has not caused this two-day no-aggression anomaly, but the mother in me couldn’t help but hope, just a little, that I’d hit on something.

Then, on Wednesday, I went to Jonah’s CSE meeting at Wildwood.  I always hear stories from autism moms online whose CSE meeting experiences play out like horror stories, where parents feel ganged up on and must advocate, fight, hell, even hire an attorney to be present – to ensure their child gets the appropriate supports and services.

Maybe our experience was not like this because Jonah is undoubtedly autistic – it isn’t as if he is on any kind of borderline between autism and neurotypical (NT) – and now he is so obviously in need of residential educational placement.  Maybe we’re lucky to have such an enlightened team of teachers and special education school district administrators.  For whatever the reason, I don’t dread the meetings and have never come out of one feeling like Jonah wasn’t given every possible support, service, and consideration.

One thing I learned is we need to keep Jonah on the waiting lists of all the schools, so I called both Anderson and Tradewinds and asked them to put him back on their lists.  I guess I was wrong about the fact that you can’t keep your child on all the lists.

The thing is, November is a long way off, with 3 weeks of time at the end of August and beginning of September between the summer program and school starting up again.  Tradewinds or Anderson could have a spot before that 3-week hell descends upon Andy and me (especially Andy), and since we liked all 3 schools, we decided to take the first spot that has an opening.

I think.

Once again, my time line is gone.  Shit, I didn’t like having it, anyway.

At any rate, the folks from The Anderson School are thankfully willing to come and observe/evaluate Jonah in his school environment, and it’s going to happen on June 14th which is, among other things,

  • Boy George‘s birthday
  • my Aunt P’s birthday (I call her Tree-Shee)
  • Flag Day
  • and the day I found out I was pregnant with Jonah

Not that any of that necessarily means anything, but I still like that it’s happening on June 14th.  And so far as my Fish Oil theory is concerned, Jonah did only have one aggression both yesterday and today, but they were each “very high intensity” according to the dreaded log book, meaning they are aggressions requiring two or three staff members to remove him from the classroom and into the “safe room.”

The residential schools don’t have safe rooms.  They have the staff and capability to handle whatever is happening right then and there, ostensibly.  I don’t know.  One even toilet trains the kids immediately.  It’s all done with ABA, something I was never really on board with, but now of course I question my original stance.  All the residential schools we’ve toured use it.  It works.  All the kids looked happy, the staff dedicated and engaged.  I’m not looking for Jonah to be Einstein or Temple Grandin;  I just want him to be happy, as independent as possible, and able to learn and grow.

My problem with ABA was formulated in 2006, when Jonah was 4.   I think it was born from the hope/assumption that Jonah was going to end up higher functioning by now than he turned out to be (and certainly not aggressive at all).   I thought, if taught through ABA, he’d just be a robot…trained to act, speak, and look normal.  It seemed horrifying to me.  Something Orwellian.  But I had the confidence of a woman whose child, though autistic, was at the very least not a danger to himself or others.  He’d had every modern advantage a child with autism can get.

After all, doc Reider had noticed something was up with Jonah when he was just 6 or 8 weeks old:  our boy was staring at lights, not faces.   (In our infinite ignorance, Andy and I had already nicknamed him “Moth Boy.”)

So we stayed on top of the situation, got him early intervention before he was 19 months old, and enrolled in Wildwood School full-time just before his third birthday.  We thought we were doing the right thing.  If we had got on board with full-time ABA all along, would he be better than he is today?  I don’t know.  Who knows anything when it comes to autism?

If you’ve met one kid with autism, you’ve met one kid with autism.

It’s a puzzle inside a mystery inside an enigma inside a matrix of love, pain, frustration, guilt, helplessness and anger; amazement and joy.  You take wrong turns and make mistakes.  You come to question everything.

Autism is the agnosticism of impairments;

you have to be okay with “I don’t know.”

And so we sally forth.  Andy’s sick with something…the flu?  Walking pneumonia?  He managed to work today.  And I’m tired.  Lots of meetings today, a ton to do at work.

Time for Match Game.

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For a few years I’ve been meaning to plant tulip bulbs in our yard, and last fall i finally did – all along the front of the house and in a circle around the lamp post in the front.  But I do not have a green thumb nor do I know much about planting tulips – how deep to plant them, which end up, all that.  So of the two dozen or so I planted, only four came up…three multi-melon-colored ones in the circle around the lamp post,

and just one in front of the house, as if summoned by the Buddha my cousin D gave me.

Along the whole length of the front of our house, only one soft-red tulip stood loyally beside the Buddha.

And it bloomed before the others, enhancing the visual impression even more.  However, Buddha’s tulip died first as well.

Is there a moral to that story?   I”m going to call it a lesson in impermanence.  Just about everything is with Siddhartha.

In following the theme of our parable, Andy and I toured The Anderson Center for Autism today, accompanied (and driven there and back – thank you!)  by two of the folk from Wildwood.  Andy and I loved the place.  I took about fifty pictures, even of the bathrooms (with bathtubs!  Jonah’s favorite!) and toilet stalls to show my immaculate mother who’s terrified these “homes” are urine-stinking, dim institutions like the one where Salieri moans and raves in Amadeus.

I tell you it all looked brand new.   The school, the houses, the whole place.  I think the oldest building was built in the year 2000.

The kids we saw looked happy and the staff looked energized.  They have a pool and every kid almost always gets his/her own room; there’s art & music & outings, a special building with rooms you can reserve to visit with your child, an auditorium, gymnasium, 3 playgrounds, and on and on.  When they were building the school itself they even asked adults with autism to give them guidance in designing hallways and choosing colors.

Of course I cried at one point but I am getting better at getting through it and I do hope they can take him.  I believe he can get better at a place like this.  Now we have to wait to see if they will evaluate him, and if they will we have to wait to see what they say, and all the rest of the waiting game we’re already playing with Springbrook and Tradewinds.

I could go on about it all but I’m tired.  I’m always tired and drained (or maybe strained) emotionally every time we ride back from one of the tours; I do everything I can to avoid thinking about what it is that we are doing.

I chat and laugh with the folks from Wildwood, talk about how beautiful that area is – near Rhinebrook, Red Hook, not far from Kingston or Woodstock.  “It reminds me of Saratoga,” I am saying.  This is all so surreal, I am thinking.

To stop the surreal from sifting its way too deep into my head, I watch out the windows instead at the calm blue sky, the gentle sunshine – the new green leaves and almost-past-full-bloomed tulips – – like Buddha’s tulip.

Impermanence.

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Sometimes it amazes me how much happens in our lives between blog posts.  On Friday morning, one of the specialists from Wildwood School called me at work and she asked for the status of Jonah’s admission into Springbrook and Tradewinds.  It’s not great news.  Tradewinds (in Utica) has accepted him but they’re full and we have to wait indefinitely for a spot for Jonah.  Springbrook may or may not take Jonah, depending on whether they can squeeze him in among the kids they’re bringing back to NY from out of state.

Then she told me the functional behavioral assessments aren’t working – that almost always they can determine the cause/antecedent for a child’s behaviors – at which time they can then implement a plan, which almost always works, at least to some degree.  But with Jonah, the functional assessments come out different every time.  Avoidance, say, or attention-seeking.  And oftentimes, nothing at all.  Even during preferred activities he will sometimes aggress, lightning-quick and without any warning whatsoever.

She told me Jonah’s quality of education is now practically gone; they’re just managing him at this point.  I realized suddenly that, in a sense, I’ve been an ostrich mom, hanging on to the ‘promised placement’ I used to fear and now long for, burying my head in the sand until I can entrust Jonah to the hands of other people – professionals…experts…specialists who will help our boo get better…people who will unburden me from everything I don’t feel like I can take anymore.  With that realization came some sort of a second wind…an epiphany that no one will help us the way we’ll help ourselves, though Wildwood sure is trying.  They are kind and encouraging, diplomatic and sensitive.

They’re helping me look into other options – other residential places they’ve seen and are very happy with…the Anderson Center, they say, in Staatsburg NY, near Kingston, though we once scheduled a tour there and canceled it, back when I thought I could be picky about schools and we wanted something closer.  Wildwood also suggested ruling out physical causes for his aggression – something we’d suspected but weren’t sure if we should pursue because of the trauma all the doctors and travel and tests would cause for Jonah.  Was it worth it, we wondered, when the so-much-more likely cause was simply a severe symptom of autism?  Now it looks like something else really is going on – physically, or neurologically, or God-knows-what.   I know it’s time to do more.

So I approached my boss all a-wreck, explained the situation briefly, and asked if I could take an hour or two to make some phone calls, please.   She was very understanding and said of course.   I went back upstairs, closed my office door, cried, cursed, swallowed half an extra dose of klonopin, and breathed in and out, in and out, in and out…slowly getting my shit together.

First I left a message at The Anderson School to schedule a tour…then I called a parent or two, for advice and guidance.  I left a message with a doctor here in Albany who (one parent told me) can run a full round of blood and genetic tests.  I called Boston Children’s Hospital to make an appointment.  I called Jonah’s pediatrician to order a sedative so I can get him there.  I called a homeopath.  I went online and ordered fish oil chewables.  I researched PANDA and gluten/casein diets – the former I’d never ever heard of, the latter was something we’d always dismissed for Jonah, since it never seemed he had any stomach issues, really, and we didn’t think there was much more than anecdotal evidence to support trying it.  Also, since Jonah’s recently been clinically diagnosed with juvenile idiopathic arthritis, I called the Arthritis Foundation as well, told my story, and was promised they’d get back to me soon.

Now momma-ostrich is awake and determined, shaking off the sand.  We’re gonna figure some shit out no matter what I have to do.

That was Friday.

Today M and I picked up Jonah to give Andy a break.  It was a beautiful springtime day in the 60s with sunshine, high pulled-cotton clouds, and that wonderful new-season-scent that pervades everything.   We went to the woods behind Russell Road park and Jonah practically skipped down the path, smiling and happy.

He loves the woods, is gleeful in the forest.   He was so good for us.

We let him slide in the dirt and toss handfuls of pebbles, hug birch trunks and throw twigs around.  (He was unable to hurt anyone, even if he’d wanted to, though he was as far from aggressing as I’ve seen him in a while).  Unencumbered by rules and regulations, alive and free to do as he pleased, he scampered – digging in the leaves and earth, running down the path ahead of us, laughing… again my sweet, fun, awesome little boy.

When he’d had enough of this particular forest, he requested train, donut, and waterfall, all his favorites and all within reason and reach.  After a speeding train and a third of a donut, which he politely handed back to us:  no donut – we drove on to the falls.  For the first time this year we walked down to the water, though he didn’t ask to go in.  Again he cavorted, explored, told me bye bye – and as I walked 10 feet or so away, he stood watching and listening to the falls, at home in his little zen-place.

In the midst of the storm of our lives, it was a pretty good hurricane eye.

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Please forgive me if I don’t answer every comment individually; the truth is I have two jobs now, a full-time gig and an assortment of writing gigs to complete when I get home from visiting with Jonah.  It doesn’t leave a lot of time to write back to all of you, though I want to.  But I hear you all and value and embrace everything you say to me.  And I thank you for reading…for not judging…for standing behind me and holding me up like supports to a shaky building.

Thank you.

My annual work convention went smoothly, exhausting as it always is, and I met lots of great people there.

Jonah and Andy managed well, considering Jonah’s aggressions at school on Thursday and Friday.  My cousin D was there to help, like an heroine/saint.  And Jonah did well yesterday – only one aggression at school – so when I got out of work, Andy and I gave him a ride to the train (something he’s been requesting a lot again lately, as well as peanut butter roll from Stewart’s) and we talked about the whole Springbrook vs. Tradewinds problem.

I think we’re both on board with the bird in the hand, with sending him to Tradewinds, rather than risk losing any placement at all if Springbrook can’t get him in their program.  But we still like Springbrook too and are hoping they’ll advocate for us.  I don’t think this is a pressing decision because neither place has an opening now – I may call Tradewinds today to see if they know how soon Jonah might be able to get in.

We’re both just so tired.  Especially Andy, I’m sure, though he seems stoic, brave, and resigned.  Now that spring is here Jonah asks for parks we can’t take him to for fear he’ll attack another child.  The waterfall is a possibility but it’s 40 minutes away and there’s no guarantee the snow isn’t gone yet.  And his left leg is bad.  He limps markedly every morning and after we give him a wagon ride, another thing he loves lately.  I called his pediatrician on Monday, e-mailed him on Tuesday, and have yet to hear anything.  You can’t tell me they can’t give him an MRI/x-ray/blood test right here in Albany without having to drive to Boston – a near impossibility considering his aggressions.  WTF.  I’m going to call back today.

Maybe he’s aggressing more because he’s in pain.  He can’t tell us when something hurts – he seems to consider everything about his life and his environment as something he must bear, and he does so with aplomb, except for when he is violent, of course.  Is it his only voice, the screaming and the scratching, the biting and the kicking?

My poor little boo.  Andy and I both think the placement will help all of this.  They have doctors and psychiatrists there, professionals and people who are trained to work 24/7 with these children.  We’re now reconciled not only to the inevitability of placement but to its necessity as well.  And we’re banking on its helping our son, bringing out the best in him – the smiles, his ability to learn and grow and be as independent as possible – to allow him to reach his fullest potential, even at the cost of “giving him up.”  If you’d told me 10 years ago that this would be my life, I would not have believed you.

But as they say, if you want to make God laugh, just tell him/her your plans.

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Cheryl DeDecker from Springbrook did call us and she basically told us that Jonah would not be able to enter their current program because of the level of his aggression (the kids share rooms and he could hurt his roommate) but that they think he’d be a perfect match for the new residences they are building, where every child has his/her bedroom.  The problem is, the new buildings are evidently earmarked to get NYS kids attending out-of-state programs back into NYS.

She wants to advocate to place Jonah in one of the new buildings under construction right now, and I told her I would help her do so, but there’s no guarantee we’ll be able to get him in – and if we did it would be October or November at the very earliest.  I don’t know if we can make it until then.

On Thursday, April 7th, this is (in part) the note Wildwood sent home in his log book:  Jonah had a tough day today.  He’s had 5 aggressions – 3 being of very high intensity.  We had difficulty getting him in and out of the safe room because he wouldn’t stop aggressing.  We had to hold him in the safe room until he was calm enough to leave. 

Next day:  Jonah’s had 6 aggressions today – some more intense than others…

Meanwhile he’s already been accepted at Tradewinds and we liked it there too; they will likely have a spot sooner and their kids all have their own rooms. Andy and I don’t know what to do. We don’t want to risk losing the Tradewinds spot by holding out for Springbrook, which may or may not take him at all.  Not that we know when there will be an opening at Tradewinds, because we don’t…but it’s a bird in the hand.

Andy says he’s doing okay emotionally – my cousin D came and helped him this weekend while I was working at our yearly convention in Saratoga.  They shaved his head because it was getting so long, and I came over Sunday to help for a while; Andy was just getting him out of the car and Jonah was limping awful – so pronounced it brought tears to my eyes, and I must have cried for 4 hours over our whole situation and probably exhaustion from the weekend mixed in.  Jonah’s been limping but it’s getting worse, and there are no pediatric rheumatologists in our area.  We have to figure something out though, because it’s obvious something is really wrong with his leg – every morning he limps now, Andy tells me.  Andy is holding everything together while I fall apart, weeping and worrying.  Paarents of these kids are not supposed to be so weak.   It’s simply not allowed.

And yet I’m the weak one in a sea of strength.

That’s going to have to be part one of two, because I’m out of time to type…I’ll leave you today with some new pictures of Jonah Russell:

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I carry my camera almost everywhere I go, so it was on hand today when I went to check the mail and saw three tiny, miraculous patches of what I think are crocuses.  Here’s one of the patches, pushing out of the brown, dead, winter-packed ground.

According to the weatherman, by Friday night they’ll be buried beneath a blanket of snow of as-yet undetermined thickness.

I don’t mind.  It can’t beat us down now, can it?  At least not for long.

It might do those crocuses in, though.

Yesterday Andy picked me up at work and we went to the meeting at Jonah’s School with the people from Springbrook, who had evidently arrived an hour or so before us to observe Jonah in his classroom setting.  I guess he did pretty well while they were watching him and attended to whatever task he’d been given, with just a small swat thrown in for good measure.  We stopped at the nurse’s office to sign permission for them to give him ibuprofen for his leg (he’s been limping a little on and off lately, something else we have to get to the bottom of)…and in the hallway there lingered the unmistakable aroma of poop, courtesy of our beloved child.

At some point, evidently after the Springbrook people left the classroom, Jonah either needed or requested the safe room and then decided to shit, dig around in his pull-up, and retrieve some of his freshly-pressed play-doh to smear on the walls.  I’m not big into text-speak but WTF?

We got the big-time aggressor.  Can we at least not have the shit-smearer too?

So while they cleaned him up and kept him occupied, Andy and I met with Wildwood staff and the Springbrook folk in a small office and they asked us questions about Jonah and we asked them questions about Springbrook and at first they kept directing all their questions at me

funny how people automatically turn to the mother for the answers about a child

and I told them Jonah was living with his father, and Andy was articulate and honest in speaking to them, and I emphasized how hard this was for Andy, and they nodded a lot in empathy and understanding, and I told them we liked their place best, we think

and I asked if they would tell us if and how and when they would take our son to live and be educated and nurtured and please love him some hour and a half away from us because we can’t do this thing anymore

and we never thought this would happen to us

and we feel torn and confused as hell,  sometimes guilty and often frightened, usually stressed

and almost always anxious

but they have to go back and have a committee meeting and they’ll probably be contacting us by the end of the week to let us know

and then we all shook hands and smiled

and Andy and I got back in the car.  I asked him if Springbrook accepts him, is that where you want him to go? and he said yes and we were quiet mostly as he drove me back to work.

As I walked up the stairs to my office, they were just about to sing happy birthday and serve goodies to the two March birthday peeps.  I smiled and dug into my cake with the rest of them, allowing the worry to fall behind me.  It’s something I have learned how to choose, a defense mechanism in my brain keeping me sane and functioning.

I usually can shed intrusive thinking like a dead skin; I’ve been led to understand that all that matters- all that can matter – is right now.

The end of the week will come, and they will either take Jonah or they won’t, and if they don’t, he’s been accepted at Tradewinds, and it will all happen the way it is supposed to happen whether I worry about it or not

in this soon-to-be-snowy shit-smeared spring of ours.


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