Keep Moving and Doing!

Yesterday I spent the day at a Girl Scout camp, being trained and prepared to take girls camping. I haven’t been camping in about twenty years, so the refresher was appreciated! I really enjoyed being with other people who have a passion for working with kids, and teaching them skills they will have for life.

This is me and another leader from our troop, experiencing success in building a little fire in the freezing, windy weather of autumn.

Here are all three of our troop leaders…right now, we only have four girls who come to meetings regularly. Our troop is truly multi-age girls and women building relationships. We do community service projects, earn badges, and go on outings together.

How do we make friends? Little AoA is learning these life lessons now…

Here are a couple of quotes I found…please share your insights on making friends!

I find the best friends are those with whom I share meaningful projects and activities. Some stay around, and some move on, but they are forever friends who live in my heart❤️

~AoA

What a Difference

One month ago, I was picking Brother up from a two week stay at a mental health facility, after he fractured my elbow in a rage. This week, Brother is like a new person. He is cooperative and even…dare I say it…relaxed. On Halloween, without any coaxing, he chose to participate with the rest of us as we went trick-or-treating at a nursing home, and then bowling!

At the nursing home, he really got into making small talk with the patients. It really warmed my heart to see him enjoy “peopling”.

One of the effects that constant anxiety has on Brother, is that his heart rate stays extremely high- like 130. His doctor said today that it is like a person with a more average heart rate would feel after a brisk walk. That takes a toll on the body!

Little AoA is in full “Harry Potter” mode! She has dubbed herself in Hufflepuff, and has character names for all of our family members.

Life is much more relaxed these days. A month ago, I was feeling so hopeless regarding Brother’s prognosis. We have all put a lot of work into establishing new routines and boundaries to help our home be more harmonious and responsive to Brother’s mental health issues. It has not been easy, and a lot of tears have fallen. We are at least, all moving in the same direction.

I could have never imagined how intense Brother’s mental health needs would become by this young age of 12. Early intervention is so important! It may not fix things, but it helps to build a network of support!

When I first sought help, Brother was 7, and had already endured so much emotional and psychological abuse, that it very possibly masked underlying issues. He continued enduring abuse for another 3 years before a stop was put to it by a judge. We are picking up the pieces…

~AoA

Life as a Wild Ride!

I just love all of the activity and excitement that takes place from October through December! The cooler weather seems to give us more energy…

We are on so many journeys right now, that a day to rest is much needed. Brother is finally stabilizing on a medication, and adapting to a home school routine. He still deals with social anxiety to a degree that prevents him from enjoying so much of life, but baby steps are taking place. He is getting out of the house more with family support.

The kids don’t look too excited for BINGO and dinner at the local arts building and cafe.

The highlight of the whole month has been going to a 21 Pilots Concert! It was Brother’s first big concert! Sadly, the two friends he invited (and I bought tickets for), turned on him and didn’t go. We ended up taking granddaughter AoA, and his tutor’s 12 year old daughter (a HUGE 21 Pilots fan)!

It has come up recently, that Brother had been having more difficulty with being bullied and building relationships than we knew about.

Back to the activity….Brother finally had mountains of dental work done under general anesthesia at a hospital. He had freaked out on dentist after dentist until one finally called for this measure.

My big challenge is juggling work with homeschooling and weekly therapy for Brother. Somehow I am managing it right now by prioritizing….my paperwork lags, as I put my students and families as a top priority at work. It all gets done eventually…last minute or days late. It bothers me more than others, because I am…well…a perfectionist when it comes to expectations of myself.

~AoA

So Many Projects!

Finishing projects is a long-standing personal goal of mine….and one which I seldom meet. I think it started with learning new crafts at a young age. I remember when the world of “counted cross stitch” was introduced to me, and all of the magic that followed.

Today, my project ideas expand beyond arts and crafts. While my boxes of yarn wait to be crocheted into useful items, there also sits a basket full of items gathered for the local domestic violence center. Now that Brother is homeschooling, another layer is added- to find opportunities for him to engage in the community and his learning.

He seems to be gravitating towards suicide awareness and prevention right now. He has engaged in acts of self-harm, and experienced the darkness that comes on as anxiety, depression, and PTSD. He has observed and questioned as musical artists have taken their own lives. He has now been in groups with peers who have either attempted suicide, or expressed deep depression. I think Brother is taking little steps out of his own darkness now…through tons of therapy and support.

Brother recently experienced a conversation involving different points of view about suicide. He realized that some people have the belief that talking about suicide is glorifying it. Suicide actually ranks as the second or third leading cause of death among 15-24 year olds (depending on the study).

Do you have special passion projects? What inspired you?

~AoA

A Painful Paradigm Shift

We have been in the midst of some rather painful paradigm shifting in the AoA house. Adjusting to homeschooling mindset has been challenging, but I think we are starting to settle into something. The best move made so far, was hiring a tutor for six hours a week. It ends up costing nearly as much as private school, but he is in a class of 1-3 depending on scheduling. We are able to truly focus on Brother’s need for building trusting relationships and confidence. Last year, he was, by public school standards, BROKEN. He was in a fast moving downward spiral, with nothing to grab hold of!

Two weeks ago, Brother experienced a setback with medication. An increase of a medication led him to become more easily agitated and violent. In a rage after refusing to go to the doctor and tutoring; he hit me so hard that he fractured my elbow. I was in a splint and sling for about 10 days…unable to use my right hand and arm due to swelling.

Brother went to the hospital to get his medications sorted out in a safe environment. It wasn’t the greatest experience for any of us, but he was admittedly not in control of himself.

During this time, another needed paradigm shift made itself known. My mom is no longer able to do the traveling and involvement she once was. She wanted so badly to help drive the 3 hour trip to the hospital where I was needed to help with Brother. This was an 11 day rollercoaster that peaked when the dad showed up at the hospital, violating the agreed order that was just put into place this summer! Not only did we need to help Brother, but now we were on alert for the dad being out of control (he has threatened to kill both me and my mom via his concealed gun that he keeps with him).

We are all home now, and getting back on our feet. This week has been filled with follow up appointments and tutoring for Brother. Our public schools are on fall break, which couldn’t have come at a better time.

Maybe the paradigm shifting will be more settled by the time school starts back up again…

~AoA

We Took the Leap

Last weekend, I took a leap, and decided to give homeschooling a try with Brother. I knew it would take some help from a tutor, as my work doesn’t leave me time to fit everything in. The grandparents are home to help out a bit, but at 75 years old, they aren’t much into the rigor of today’s texts and lessons. As it happened, I came across a tutor on a job seeking site, and set up an interview. I was only slightly hopeful going into it.

We met at a local coffee shop, and it didn’t take long to realize that we were kindred spirits. The situation was perfect for her, as she has a child the same age as Brother, whom she is homeschooling. She has three other kids who have graduated and moved on. We arranged to have Brother meet with her and her child. When we got together again, the kids connected!

We started that week….not waiting around to give the window of enthusiasm time to shut. I won’t say that it is working out perfectly…there are some bumps. We are figuring out the timing for everything. The medications Brother is on make him fatigue easily during the day. He goes in spurts, then falls asleep. It is obvious that a great burden has been lifted from him. He is not isolating himself as much, and has a new spark in his eyes. It is like we are connecting in a way that should have been done years ago, during the time he was being psychologically tormented.

I don’t know how long this will last. I will reassess his progress at the end of the year, and make adjustments. His therapists are a big part of his healing, so their input is valuable to this effort.

Part of me is very sad and disappointed that our public school can’t follow a pretty simple behavior plan that means the difference between success and psychosis. I will continue to advocate for students who live with mental health issues! They all deserve to receive a public education without being bullied or discriminated against!

~AoA

Hanging on by a Thread

I have been thinking a lot lately, about moving Brother to an online school. This school year started on August 1st, and it has been full of conflict. He was more often than not, in a panic at the front door in the morning, so we devised a plan to drop him off in the back. Then, he was not able to get up and dressed to leave the house. We adjusted our night routine and sedating medications, but the issue still lingers.

Most mornings, I load all of Brother’s school items and clothes, into the car. I then physically move him out of his bed and help him stand up. He is usually up before this time, eating breakfast. He goes in and out of states of dissociation in the mornings. Once he gets to school, two or more adults meet us at the back door. One of them physically removes him from the car, just like I move him from the bed. He changes clothes in the school, then goes to someone’s room to chill for a bit before facing classes.

Let me write about classes…this is a great example. Last week, Brother was out of school 4 of the 5 days. He was in the hospital after trying to self harm. This week, only one of his six teachers bothered to email me the assignments he missed, and let me know when it was expected to be turned in. That’s great, but Brother didn’t bring home the foldable he was working on, and the other work was on PowerPoint and in the textbook. She emailed me the PowerPoint. There was no textbook, because the school only has enough for a classroom set, and they don’t get sent home. I offered to Google search for the information. She needed the answers from the textbook, so she sent me a link to the online version. It didn’t work. After emailing back and forth, she reset the link. Now we got onto the platform, but still needed some kind of class code to access the textbook. I emailed her again- by now it was Wednesday. The test would be Friday. I never heard back from her. Brother was made to take a test over information that he was not even given. If this doesn’t make an already anxious kid shut down, it would be a miracle. Brother shut down.

This was only one class. None of the other teachers even bothered to send make up work. When I go through his binder, I find half completed work, and things that probably should have been turned in. He has a behavior plan and an IEP with specific accommodations to address these things.

I don’t think it is asking for much to have the instructions, rubric, and textbook. I don’t think it is too much to ask for teachers to ask him for work he hasn’t turned in. Having been teaching students who have special needs for the past 18 years, I feel I am not asking for any more than what I would have done for my students. I don’t feel that these will take significant time away from the other students either. I guess I don’t understand…

I think that this weekend, I will sit with Brother and weigh the pros and cons of online homeschool versus public school. I found a lady who will tutor with him two or three times a week in our home. My main concern is that Brother will withdraw even more, and refuse to partake in self-care or leave his room. Of course, he can always be put back into regular public school if that happens.

Adding to my dismay, I was told to get a letter from the therapist, covering Brother’s anxiety related tardiness, absences for therapy and anxiety, and anxiety with gym. The therapist gave a beautiful, all encompassing letter. The attendance clerk wouldn’t accept it because it wasn’t specific enough. I called the therapist, who also happens to work intensely with a neighboring school system. He did not understand the problem- this would suffice in his county. Now there will need to be a lot of unnecessary time spent on this.

Topping it all off, is the ex having his attorney draw up a motion to enforce our agreement, because I haven’t spoken with HIS therapist. Luckily, I had her recorded on a voicemail stating that she didn’t need to speak with me because Brother’s therapy group was handling what she was thinking she needed to do. I’m sure this was just the dad’s angry response to being asked to actually pay his responsible portion of uncovered medical bills (24%), and reading Brother’s new psychological report which reveals some harsh truths…oh and having to start paying about $100 a month child support. He hasn’t helped with expenses or child support at all as of yet, and I’m not holding my breath.

Praying to make the right decisions…

~AoA

Some Joy In The Days

When I saw this meme, I couldn’t help but smile. Kids use so much stick glue in school. Most every elementary class I have worked with has done an abundance of gluing activities. I had one student last year, who had other uses for glue sticks. She devised a way to use them to make slime. Not only did she make it, but she shared with younger kids, how to do it! I heard that glue sticks were disappearing fast!

In my current position, we have four teachers who manage students in multiple schools. During an “end of summer” meeting, almost an identical conversation occurred, only we were contemplating trading schools rather than particular students. In the end, no trades were made.

This cartoon pretty much sums up communication barriers in my home. My parents live with me and the kids. Neither of them can hear very well, and they both talk in low mumbles from other rooms, and don’t understand why nobody can hear them. I’m not sure I hear half of what they say!

After the intensely emotional week with Brother, I really needed to decompress with some laughter. Hopefully it will help get me balanced and ready for the week ahead!

~AoA

Very Few Resources

In my profession, as a public school teacher, we go through training every year for suicide prevention. “Take every threat of suicide seriously”…. “call mobile crisis”…”it is a cry for help”…

This week, Brother was the one threatening suicide, and performing preliminary acts of self harm. I did what I was trained to do. I called mobile crisis, I called his therapist, and finally I just took him to the local emergency room to be “evaluated”. Here are the results…mobile crisis gave me three phone numbers to call for help. One was no longer a working number, and the other two were specifically for foster children…

The therapist’s office had no answer, so I had to leave a message during normal business hours. I did hear back from the receptionist about two hours later, with a message to take Brother to the hospital. This is their protocol whenever a client states that he or she will commit suicide.

The emergency room was yet another adventure. They tested blood and urine for drugs, and put us in an empty room for the next seven hours. We had to wait for a social worker to come and evaluate Brother. This process was helpful, and at least we came up with a plan for the next 24 hours. Brother held himself together, aside from some anxiety and tears which he kept under control. The social worker was pretty certain that he has autism, even though I shared his diagnosis (which is not autism). She gave me some numbers to call to try to obtain a behavior therapy specific to autism. None of the referrals I was given, serve children in our area. She also told me to call my insurance company and get referrals for this therapy. I did that, only to find out that insurance won’t approve the therapy without an autism diagnosis.

There is just no answer. I’m not sure why we bother to reach out for help. I don’t know that I will again, unless the person has already passed out from attempting suicide. Spending hours making fruitless phone calls was not helpful. Brother already has the most intensive outpatient therapy offered- once a week.

School is another issue- the person who was advocating the hardest for Brother has retired. In her absence, school administration has decided that they don’t want to follow the behavior plan. As a result, there is no support for Brother at school without inconveniencing someone. We are working on this with the school….actually, we are battling this with the school. I am so sad that I have spent the last twenty years advocating for students who have various disabilities…and our schools still remain full of leaders who don’t believe that these students belong in their public schools. It is disheartening. I hate to give up the battle, but it only hurts Brother to have this happening- he already feels like he isn’t wanted there. They don’t hide it well.

Change will come…

~AoA