Monday, August 22, 2011


I had the occasion to go through some old e-mail earlier this summer, from around the time of Joy's autism diagnosis at the end of 2006. The diagnosis was not what we'd been expecting, though we'd visited a developmentalist who is a recognized autism expert. The post-diagnosis e-mail conversations with daycare & birth-to-three providers reminded me of one of the painful eye-openers from the evaluation appointment. Since (as my regular readers know) I like to look on the bright side, I was wanting to make sure the doctor saw what Joy could do if we gave her just a little help. But for evaluation purposes, the doctor needed to see everything that Joy could not do when all our little helpfulnesses were taken away. So we had to back off, and take a good hard look at what happened when Joy was on her own in unfamiliar territory with an unfamiliar doc being asked to do unfamiliar things with no intercession from us. It wasn't an easy thing to witness.

We'd been accommodating like crazy, without quite realizing the extent of it.

And guess what? We still accommodate like crazy, probably on auto-pilot too often still, though I like to think that we have a better framework for evaluating what's getting in the way. Accommodation is a balance, with immense positives for doing it right, and negatives (as with just about anything) for going overboard.

Of course, with any kid, you can't always be doing everything for them or they'll never learn to do things by themselves. Joy's no exception. But with Joy, and with autism in the picture, we have to figure out what we do need to do for her, and how to arrange her surroundings and our schedules, just to make things even possible.

Our backyard setup is one example that's been on my mind lately. Back at the beginning of this blog, we enclosed our large backyard in a lovely tall wooden fence, so Joy couldn't dash away into danger outside our yard. Immediately our stress level during outside play went down! We no longer had to hover on high alert lest Joy should suddenly dash and we'd need to spring into full dash ourselves to keep up & catch up.

This summer, unfortunately, there's been some stressful dashing within the yard, with Joy determined to acquire and CONSUME things she really shouldn't. One example has been our huge old 30-foot apple tree, which loads up with apples every other year. This was the year! and, not only does it load up, it drops them on the ground. And Joy has an insatiable desire to eat these luscious windfalls, no matter how full of rot and worms and ants they may get after sitting on the ground for a while. So I've spent hours collecting rotten windfalls and carting them to the compost pile at the back of the yard, often trying to get out in the early morning to take care of the overnight mess before Joy gets out of bed -- because once I'm on my own with her and we're in the yard, I can't move fast enough to clean up one apple before she gets the next one. Fortunately, apple season does eventually come to an end. We keep thinking the tree has dropped its LAST apple. Maybe the one-more it dropped yesterday will be it?

Then there's been a little stand of ferns and other shade-plants that grows up under the cherry trees in the middle of the back yard, that we affectionately call "the jungle." The little fronds on the ferns have been irresistable to Joy as well. She hovers by the plants (a mosquito-haven with all that greenery and shade), fondles and picks the fronds, carries them around -- and then, quicker than lightning, into the mouth they go. Bleah! We found ourselves having to cut yard-play short because Joy would get so fixated on picking and eating the ferns. Eventually Rose and I went the full-accommodation route. We cut down the jungle on Friday evening. Though it no longer provides a haven for the wild bunnies that Joy loves to chase around the yard, at least the fern issue is gone. Joy lost interest immediately, hurrah!

Should we have tried to teach her just to stay away from the apples and the ferns? Maybe. But what was happening instead was that the yard was becoming a non-livable place -- which, now that we've started having some gloriously comfortable weather, would be a crying shame.

It would also be too bad not to get full use out of this:

Three cheers to JoyDad for making this delightful belated-birthday present happen! Neither he nor I have a particular bent toward construction projects, so it's a step out of the comfort zone to do something like this. But we've got neighborhood friends who did this project in their own yard a few years ago, and the dad volunteered both his experience and his powertools to set up a temporary woodshop in our garage. JoyDad acquired the swingset kit and the lumber, and with two other helpers (one from his band, one from church) they got the swingset knocked together all of a Saturday morning. Then we re-assembled that evening for a barbecue & kiddie pool and swingset play.

Joy wasn't in a mood to come out and swing and reward the laborers for their work the minute it was done. But we've had hours of swinging since then -- and it has become much easier without the temptations to go dashing off for a snack of apple or fern between swingings.

This hasn't been an easy summer, on the whole. It's the first year we've had the situation that both kids have been in school, so both kids need new summer care -- previous years, Joy had year-round daycare and we sent Rose to summer day-camp-care. But day-camp-care that works for Rose won't work for Joy... so we went the sitter route. Two days of sitter, two and a half days of JoyMama, half a day of JoyDad per week. Quite a lot more direct Joy-care than we had during the school year! On top of that, we've been doing a home-based therapy schedule where we've had two-hour sessions 4 nights a week, plus one on Saturday morning. But then our provider changed policies, such that they'd no longer offer in-home services to families like ours... existing home-based line therapists were grandfathered in, but they wouldn't train anyone else to work at home. So the one line therapists who did 3 nights with us moved out of town mid-summer, and the clinic doesn't do evening hours in the summer, so that's three more evenings we're on-duty now. Then our remaining therapist gave notice, and we'll have to start with someone new in clinic when the school year starts.

I'm apprehensive about the upcoming school year. Long-time readers may remember the traumatic transition into kindergarten last year. The one saving-grace anchor was the familiar evening therapy routine that Joy could come home to... an anchor that has now been cut loose. We know that she'll have a different case manager at school, new teacher of course, and we don't yet know if she'll have ANY familiar staff, though we're hoping. We're getting a lot less prep-meeting time than we got last year too.

And we've had some rough behaviors ramping up as the summer wanes, probably due in some part to the fact that it's SO MUCH me & JoyDad on duty lately. We're feeling stretched thin, holding things together with duct-tape-and-string. (I can hardly imagine what it would be to have only one parent to do it all, for whatever reason.)

So we continue to accommodate what we can, hoping we can find a better balance once we get through whatever transition issues will be upon us with the start of September. I might even be able to blog more often, but the ongoing activity on the blog will have to be part of what I consider as the balance becomes (hopefully) less duct-tape-and-string and more deliberate.

Think good thoughts for us and Joy!


Anonymous said...

oh, thinking good thoughts for you all, my friend! love you all!

i can totally understand and relate to the issue of finding that accommodation balance (and the apple eating problem). this summer? there's been a lot of accommodation going on, but you have to do what works, right?

your yard and that swing set look like so much fun!!

Bethany said...

Sometimes you have to choose the battles and the times for lessons, and the freedom to play in her own backyard was probably not the time to focus on the repetitive teaching needed to keep Joy from eating the apples or the ferns. Your accommodations are perfectly reasonable and allow her to just be a kid playing outside on her awesome new swingset. I will be praying that her transition to school is smoother than last year and that the staff is prepared and works well with you.

Anonymous said...

Thinking them good thoughts, every day.

Seems like I have a narrower definition of accommodation ("without quite realizing the extent of it").

Safety is basic and as Bethany said (paraphrased) her life need not be a constant stream of teaching/learning. Allowing her to safely move and explore seems like good prep for learning, too.


PS Nice work, JD!