Autism, a special occasion, and one step at a time.

by Jennifer Dyer

It’s that time of year again–The Special Needs prom. Each year some amazing women from our church, along with many other generous people, put on a wonderful evening of fun and food for the special needs community in our area.

This year’s theme was TX, and the decorating team outdid themselves.

As this is a long-standing event in our community, I wanted our family to be a part.

Frosting taste tester.

Friday and Saturday, Rachel and I worked on baking cupcakes. Although she thought it was her birthday again, she still had fun.

 

I also took Rachel with me to the decorating “party” on Friday night. I knew I wouldn’t get much done–we managed to hang ONE star on the wall–but I knew it would be so ahead of time. My goal wasn’t to be hugely productive. My goal was to show Rachel what it means to be a part of something in several stages.

Did that bother me? Yes. I love this event and want to contribute my share to the scores of hardworking volunteers. Plus, it felt odd to be there and not be “helping,” but I want Rachel to learn how to be a part of something bigger than she is. To do that, I have to take things one step at a time.

 

After we did our big huge star hanging job, Rachel retreated to a dark stairwell, which meant I had to stand there and keep an eye on her. My heart sank as the others climbed on ladders, ferried giant TX flags and worked themselves into a frenzy to transform a drab gym into a Texas wonderland.

But then something wonderful happened. A young man said hello to me. He held the ladder for one of my friends and handed her pieces of tape with undying patience. He held out his hand, told me his name, and said, “I have autism.” He went on to tell me he’d been helping his mom with the prom for ten years and made sure he did a very good job decorating because it’s a very important event.

He then said hello to Rachel. She waved at him–actually at the wall to the right of him–but he tried to make conversation with her too, explaining that he also had autism.

It. Was. Beautiful.

I think that conversation was most of the reason I was there that night. To see what an amazing young man he has become. To see what kind of hope there is for Rachel in the future. To see what one step at a time can do for a person.

Someday that might be Rachel. Someday we might hang two decorations, then four, then ten, then be able to help make them. Someday she might hold a ladder and introduce herself to a young person with autism and give their mother a big ray of hope.

The young man’s mom also talked to me and introduced me to his brother, which I think should be another blog. They had lots of great advice…

Anyway, the prom itself was beautiful. Rachel danced some and sat some. I think her favorite part was drinking the lemonade. We saw several people from our Special Olympics sports groups, but Rachel was quite confused to see them at her party. And I found out my 8-year-old nephew is a dancing machine. Wish I’d gotten a video.

Seeing the families and friends at the dance touched my heart. Friends and moms danced with wheelchairs. Young adults danced and laughed without worrying who watched them. No one fretted in the corner and no one worried about being left out. There is something pure and beautiful about being in a room with people who love you for who you are, not for what you are wearing or any of the other reasons we judge people.
Thanks to my sweet friends who give so many months of their lives to this event. You know who you are. And you are special to us!

I need a fork–solving communication problems in autism.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day at Special Olympics practice I saw a friend who substitutes in Rachel’s class. After catching up, she told me about the last time she subbed.

She said something like, “Rachel kept asking me for something at lunch. She showed me her hand moving from her food to her mouth. I couldn’t figure out what she wanted. Was it chips? Her lunch meat? Poor girl. It took at least five minutes for me to figure out she needed a fork.”

My heart clenched. Rachel has barely learned to use a fork in the last few months. Before, handling utensils was too overwhelming for her. I try to remember to include her fork in her lunch, but I forget. And here she was trying to do what was right, but having trouble because she can’t communicate clearly.

For Rachel, I think communicating is like trying to drink a waterfall. Overwhelming. There is so much involved. Her mind can’t get it all going at once. Autism is like a veil over her mind, making the world more confusing. Add onto that apraxia of speech, which can be like having a blender mix up the sounds you want to say before it can get to your mouth. The process of putting sounds into words is daunting.

About six years ago, I velcroed (is that even a word?) little word pictures and symbols all over the house. Grandpa even bought us an expensive software program to build the pictures. I put them in the fridge where I put the lemonade so she could hand me the picture to ask for a drink. I put them on the grapes. On the TV. On the…you get the picture (har har).

Picture Problems.

But all they served was to give Rachel something to pile up and flap in her hands. It was too early. The pictures were such a disaster I gave up. We eventually used them again in a notebook when she was about six, but her therapist wanted us to move away from the pictures when Rachel started using more signs.

But signs are difficult. Sometimes people don’t understand. Rachel has trouble making her signs clear, too.

A multi-faceted approach:

So I think, at least for Rachel, a combination of communication systems has helped. Some people said it would confuse her, but Rachel uses all sorts of methods to communicate: she points, gestures, signs, shows me pictures, types in symbols on her ProLoQuo app on her iPad. She also uses some word approximations.

The signs are good because it is more close to real time communication, and she always has her signs with her. Pictures are great because they are usually clear. (For instance, when she wanted me to find a toy, she brought me a picture of her room and pointed to the toy.) The picture symbols with words on them are good because I think it helps with reading. (In addition to being a mom, I’m a speech-language pathologist, for what it’s worth.)

Some people also said I had to choose a communication system and stick with it, but I disagree with that too. We use different ways to communicate, so why can’t Rachel? Several of her speech-paths have agreed with me. Some haven’t. It probably all depends on our experiences.

I know my child. You know your child. If you think having different systems is overwhelming, keep it simple. But if you think she can handle it, different methods, I think, will help the brain generalize communication. For instance, the more Rachel learns about letters and putting words together, the more she understands language. The more she sees printed words associated with pictures, the more she learns to read.

Concerned using sign language or picture symbols will inhibit speech? Don’t be. It actually helps to build a foundation and positive communication experiences.

Worried your child won’t speak? I was too. I even got into a pretty heated discussion with a speech-language pathologist a few years ago over this. She had been taught past age five the brain lost its ability to be plastic enough to learn a skill like speech.

Research is starting to show the opposite. I remember from our Relationship Development Intervention (RDI) training, that the brain does continue to learn. Other programs are having success with teaching children to speak after age five. As I said, each experience builds on the next, especially with language. The important thing is to find some way for your child to communicate and build on that. There are problems like muscle weakness or stiffness that can inhibit speech, but Rachel doesn’t have those issues.

And realize this is a long journey. It doesn’t change instantly.

The brain is like a city filled with roads. Each experience builds new thoroughfares, and makes the roads bigger. The more pathways you can build, the better off the brain will be. The more you use certain “roads,” the bigger they get.

So, for Rachel’s lunch and her fork problem, I used my phone and PicMonkey photo editor to make her another little word symbol. I put a plastic fork on a piece of white printer paper and took a pic. I uploaded it to PicMonkey and added the writing. I printed it on tag board and put clear contact paper over it. Then I put sticky velcro on the back.

Pretty simple, once you have the supplies. (These are the ones I have on hand. The brands don’t matter.)

And I velcroed it into her lunchbox.

It’s a clear way she can tell someone to get her a fork the next time I forget. The more I do this the better off she will be. It fosters independence and feelings of success.

If pictures and words are helpful to your child, the good news is you don’t need those expensive computer programs any longer. I mentioned PicMonkey photo editor. I use the free version and my phone or symbols included in my Microsoft word program to make what I need. It’s fast and easy. And free!

Will Rachel ever talk? I don’t know. She’s trying. And I believe the brain is plastic and can learn. So, I have hope. Will it be easy? No. But the more she learns to read, the better she understands the structure of language. It’s a long road. Sometimes I feel like the bear who went over the mountain and sees…another mountain to climb. But I still have my hiking boots and a granola bar somewhere in the bottom of my purse. There is hope. It is dim at times and sometimes I lose sight of it, but it’s there.

For more examples of how I’ve used word pictures and symbols, see:

Preposition lessons with Rachel.

As the bus turns. (simple social stories)

 

Needing encouragement?

Sometimes mothering is as easy as stuffing a tiger into a pillow case. I can’t seem to keep it all together. And I often mess up.

Ever feel that way?

I do, especially when I trip over the scattered contents of my linen closet, or walk into my closet to see all my clothes pulled off the hangers by my busy younger child.

And then there are the times I butt heads with my preteen…

The other day Eldest and I had a wonderful mother-daughter date … until the drive home. Somehow, reflection on a movie shifted into an argument about laundry, which ended in me screaming, “Listen to me!”

Nice one, Mom …

I apologized, but my action shattered our fun. We arrived home in icy silence and entered the house, which looked exactly as we had left it. Cluttered countertops mocked me along with the “room of doom” upstairs where my other daughter with autism had been busy in my absence. She’d filled the room with the contents of the linen closet, paper scraps … and glue.

I wanted to hide and scream. “Why, God? When I pictured motherhood, it didn’t include scraping sticky newspaper bits and scrubbing peanut butter out of the carpet. Nor did I envision screaming like a hormonal banshee. I’m just so tired.”

Life never turns out the way we expect, does it? And moms are human, too. We make mistakes. And that’s why we need to encourage one another.

Click here to read the whole post “Mom’s Need Encouragement” at MomLife Today.

Mom and tempering the angry-word-itis.

by Jennifer Dyer

I’m blogging over at MomLife Today this morning on how to fight the urge to bite back in arguments, especially with my preteen. Sometimes I succeed. Sometimes I apologize. Sometimes I don’t want to be the bigger person.

Mothering and relationships in general are tough. Agree? Check out the rest of Mom vs. Angry child: Resisting the urge to bite back on MomLife Today.

Food issues and autism.

by Jennifer Dyer

We have food issues in this house, many of them texture related. And I’m not talking only about the kids. Hubby and I have them, too, or did as children. So, I get it. I know why raw carrots gag people. They gag me. I can’t stand the feel or smell of bananas. I know why my kids have issues.

But Rachel has taken food and texture issues to a new stratosphere. Her autism and OCD both contribute to the challenge. That combined with my own food issues has made it difficult for me to tackle. But I’m starting to see things from a different perspective…

Click here to continue reading my post about Autism, Food, and Weighty Parenting Issues over at MomLife Today.

Special Olympic practice–if at first you don’t succeed…

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Last year we took Rachel to Special Olympics (SO) track and field practice. At first, she walked willingly to the track, excited to see the people. Some had been on the SO swim team we had tried. But then she heard the whistles. And the cheering. And the clapping. And we ran. Once.

She was finished after that. She sat on the track. It took two of us adults to carry her off. Repeatedly. She also kept telling me she needed to potty, her coping mechanism. The third practice Rachel hid in the closet at home and refused to come out.

I could have pushed her last year and made her comply. But I knew in the long run she would hate going, so I didn’t force the issue.

This year we decided to try again.

And things are different. Rachel wears tennis shoes now! Big change from the fuzzy boots she insisted on wearing last year.

She wanted to go potty, but I told her no and she gave up asking after the tenth time.

Rachel also is willing to run a little. True, we are like turtles out there, but she laughs while we go. The whistles bother her, but she only covers one ear.

She also can stand in line better and is more interested in throwing the softballs. Overall, she is calmer and seemed to have a good time–at least I didn’t have to wrestle her at all.

What’s my point?

With autism, and kids in general, sometimes the long way around works. I told the coach I was looking at this with a long-term perspective. We might not compete for several more years, but by going at a slow pace, Rachel learns to think of track positively and is forging friendships I hope she can cherish in the future.

At this point, she does little more than smile and give high fives, but I think of each experience as a tiny brick. Put enough together and you have a sky scraper.

May you build sky scrapers with each smile, each hug, each cherished moment.

CPS, Special Needs, and Educating others about our differences.

by Jennifer Dyer

A disturbing situation…

A while back one of my fellow “ausome” special-needs moms called me in tears. Her voice shook, and she could hardly get her words out. “Someone from school called CPS on us.”

It wasn’t until a dozen phone calls and several days later that my friend found out the why. Turns out, the misunderstanding was rooted in the child’s sensory and food aversion issues. The situation had been under the supervision of the pediatrician and was/is a part of the therapy this family pursues. What is more surprising, everyone who has contact with the child at school knew all of this information. It was well documented with doctor’s notes and mom’s constant concerns and conversations with the teachers.

What happened?

Maybe it was miscommunication. I’m sure the person who called thought they were doing a good deed. On the other side, that person had access to the paperwork and could have done some more research into the situation.

Why am I telling you this?

This is not intended as a rant, but I want to encourage special needs parents to educate others about their children. And I want to encourage people to listen. This situation has been a nightmare of mine with all the issues Rachel has. For years I carried her diagnosis papers with me in case she became overwhelmed and stripped naked in public and someone got the wrong idea.

And people do question me…

A few years ago, Rachel’s  teacher mentioned people at the school expressed concern regarding the tangles in Rachel’s hair. Their first assumption was that I was a negligent parent. Fortunately, the teacher had gotten to know us and assured the concerned persons that Rachel had nothing to fear.

(In case you were wondering, Rachel’s severe sensory issues make it difficult to brush her hair and the fact that she constantly rubs a few spots on her head makes for huge tangles. We have had to cut out tangles, buy numerous types of hairbrushes, and use all sorts of conditioners. Here’s the best hairbrush solution we found.)

As much as it hurt to know people were questioning my parenting, AT LEAST THEY ASKED. And since I had built a relationship with the teacher and made her aware of the situation, she was able to answer.

CPS aren’t the bad guys…

When I mentioned my friend’s situation to a counselor friend of mine, she was understanding, but challenged me to see the other side of the situation. “If you died and your kids had to be taken care of by someone else, wouldn’t you want people to look out for them, especially if that anyone thought your child was in danger?”

Hmm.

True.

The counselor went on to say CPS workers are required to investigate every report they receive, but they aren’t waiting to snatch your children away. They want to work with you and to help you. She said as difficult as it is to see, remember that the person most likely filed a report because they were concerned about your child. And even if their intent was otherwise, the caseworkers want to help your family stay whole.

Easier said than done, but my counselor friend is right. There are children out there who need an advocate and to be protected.

I have hardworking friends who take care of children in serious and dangerous situations both as social workers and as foster parents. I respect and admire what they do. They have hearts to support and help children and families. And there are children who need help and won’t get it any other way.

But…I am thankful that the people who have been concerned about Rachel over the years have researched our situation before jumping to conclusions. And as Rachel’s mother, even if questions embarrass or annoy me, I am willing to answer if it helps people understand her more.

Fortunately, my friend’s CPS case worker dismissed the case, but my friend was hurt in the process. I’m not sure what she could have done differently in her case, perhaps have been even more vocal about her child’s issues? But I’d encourage others to be open and honest with information to help others understand your child, especially when the child doesn’t have a voice of their own.

And the next time you come across a CPS caseworker, give her a hug.

Operation Brown Bear–looking beneath the surface to understand Rachel’s thinking.

by Jennifer Dyer

The adventure begins…

Rachel’s been talking about teddy bears lately. She will point to her iPad and show us a picture, usually a screen shot, of a bear. Her favorite is Dora’s teddy bear.

So, for her birthday we thought it would be fun to take her to Build a Bear to make her own bear friend.

The trip to the mall went well. We ventured there on a Monday evening where it would not be crowded and left time for her usual elevator ride and carousel spin.

Eldest stayed a few feet ahead and pretended not to know us in true preteen fashion, and we had to make a few trips to the bathroom, but otherwise no fire alarms went off and no one stripped naked.

When we got to Build a Bear, Rachel was fascinated by the stuffing machine. She couldn’t focus on picking a single bear, or maybe she didn’t understand what we wanted her to do. But she was certain of one thing: she wanted to watch that stuffing.

Sadly, money doesn’t flow as easily as the stuffing in their machines, so we helped her choose one.

She loved the machine’s whirr and grinned while the downy white stuffing circled inside the glass case. She laughed and hooted with joy.

We talked about names. She signed “brown” and “bear,” so we christened our new friend Brown Bear and pointed Rachel to the bear clothes. But she wasn’t interested. She wanted to do the stuffing process again.

Warning bells went off in my head. She really liked that stuffing…

Uh…oh…

That night Rachel hugged Brown Bear tight and kept him close, so I went downstairs with warm thoughts about her new best friend. It wasn’t until the next night that I realized…

Build a Bear, we have a problem…

I couldn’t find Brown Bear in Rachel’s room, so I went to the guest room where she likes to hide things. I would lock that room if I could, but unfortunately, one of her therapy swings is installed in that doorway, so open, the room is, Master Yoda.

And I found Brown Bear…all over the room.

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And that’s when I made a huge mistake…

I, shall we say, lost my own stuffing. “Rachel, what happened to Brown Bear?” I carried his empty shell to her room like a lawyer to a witness on the stand. “What did you do to him?”

Rachel isn’t able to express herself verbally and the nuances of expressing and reading emotions are still difficult for her, but I could tell I’d embarrassed her.

Rachel grabbed Brown Bear’s shell and shoved him under a blanket.
I, being on planet Not-Tuned-to-Rachel,pulled him out and showed him to her. “Rachel, why’d you do this?”Rachel sat on him. Get the hint, Mom, and drop it.I went downstairs, shoulders slumped. Not only had she destroyed the bear, there was another huge mess to clean. I had just spent an entire weekend cleaning that room with her. Now it looked like a Build a Bear blizzard had blown through. It wasn’t fair! Me, me, me…

The next day when I gathered Brown Bear’s scattered innards to re-stuff the poor guy, I stopped in the doorway. Half my hair went gray. Since Someone had made such a blooming deal out of the unstuffed bear, Rachel had decided she needed to cover up the mess. I had embarrassed her, so she was recovering the best way she knew how…with the contents of the linen closet and a giant mound of shredded tissue paper.

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The lesson?

I failed to take the extra moment to think through Rachel’s actions. Sometimes understanding Rachel is like mining for gold in the dark. It’s not easy, but always worthwhile. She’s complex with a vast intelligence kept under the surface by this blanket of autism.

So, why’d she do it? In this case, she loved the stuffing and wanted to experience that fun moment again. Instead of chastising and shaming her, I should have helped her re-stuff the guy without the verbal fussing.
Then I could have told her to leave the stuffing inside and sewn him up. I missed the opportunity to lead by example, instead choosing to yap my big mouth.

With autism it seems so much is about making every moment a teaching opportunity. Every action of mine models an action for Rachel. Each overreaction is a lost opportunity to connect with her. And, sadly, I often lose sight of the fact that it’s more of a marathon than a sprint with her. She needs repetition, consistency, and calm, assertive leadership.

The key? I think Dora says it best: “Stop and Think.”

P.S. I’m happy to report Brown Bear was admitted to the ICU at Grandma General and has almost completed his rehab. He should be back in action with reinforced seams this week.

Bear hugs, friends. May you keep your stuffing where it belongs.

A decade with Rachel—big blessings come in tiny packages.

By Jennifer Dyer

 

A baby is born…

I can’t believe a decade has slipped by since Rachel made her first appearance on a sunny day in January. After a troubled pregnancy with multiple scares, a miraculous reattachment to the uterine wall, and months of bed rest, Rachel decided enough was enough. Although she was a month early, she was ready to make a grand entrance.

And it was grand. With 13 people in the operating room counting sponges repeatedly, Rachel readied to exit stage right. My heart lurched when both doctors leaned over my belly and gasped, saying, “Oh, my God,” in tandem.

They delivered her, placing her on my chest for about two seconds before whisking her to NICU. Fortunately, Rachel was released after only a few hours, and we thought all was well.

A baby with a destiny…

The next day, my doctor came into the room and cradled Rachel close to her chest. Her eyes glistened with tears, and she leveled me with a look. “I want you to understand how many times over this baby is a miracle. She should not have survived, but God intervened for her multiple times. This is a miracle baby. God has big plans for her.”

I tucked that into my heart and felt tension melt away. God had plans for her. Everything was going to be all right. I mean, big plans means big stuff, right? President? Campaign for international justice? Building water wells in Africa? Who knew how far she would go?

A shift in thought…

So, why in the next several years did Rachel lag behind developmentally? For a while, we thought she was deaf. The doctors also said she was just catching up to her peers. One neurologist walked into the exam room, glanced at Rachel sitting in the corner and stated, “There is nothing wrong with that child.” He left the room about two minutes later.

Enter Autism…

But just before Christmas, a month before she turned three, Rachel was diagnosed with severe autism. After the initial shock wore off, in some ways I was relieved. I finally had a reason my life was so stressful. What took most moms ten minutes took us hours. Each day was full of screaming tantrums. My picture-perfect home and life were lost under a mound of laundry and messes. Sleep was a long-forgotten memory. I scrubbed poop off the walls, furniture, and carpet daily…for years. We couldn’t go in public without Rachel stripping naked and screaming, or worse, darting through crowds like a cat with ten hounds on her tail.

And don’t get me started on the sensory issuesfood issues or her obsession with dumping the contents of any container.

Tiny prayers mean big things…

The other day I paused to look back. I remembered a tiny prayer spoken years ago. “Lord, I don’t want to be stressed all the time. Help me to be more laid back.”

Not the most eloquent of prayers, but meant from the heart. I was tired of being Stressed-Out Jennifer. My perfectionism held me in a gripped fist. I was sick of worrying about the perfection of my house, my bank accounts, my body, my…everything.

Have you ever heard that saying, “Be careful what you pray for?”

Yeah, I’ve heard it too…

Rachel saying hi.

Rachel moving ahead.

Sadly, sometimes we have to take a ride through hell to gain a deeper understanding of God’s grace. Sometimes we need trials to shape our hearts into something beautiful. And sometimes we have to walk through the deepest of valleys before we learn to look up.

Do I wish things could be different for Rachel? Of course. When I look at her typical age peers, my heart squeezes so tight it shatters. But when I see Rachel’s beautiful smile or hear her say “Elmo,” my cracked heart becomes soft again. It is as if I see the sunrise for the first time whenever Rachel says “Mama”, eats a bite of an apple, writes her name, signs her sister’s name, and signs “Grandpa.”

Finding hope…

I’ve learned to find beauty in the tiniest of moments and to see rays of hope in the darkest hours. I’ve learned that messes don’t matter and that the external fades away (just ask any mom after years of sleep deprivation).

Rachel knows she is different—she’s very smart. But it doesn’t bother her. She is the picture of joy, especially when left to her favorite mediums of glue and paper or when jumping into a pool.

Lest I make this all about me…

I’ve seen a depth of character in Eldest that is born from a life of trials. She was right beside me through all the messes and tantrums. She had to ride in the van next to a naked, screaming child. And she was the one Rachel would crawl in bed with each night–although Rachel doesn’t know how to interact, she doesn’t want to be alone. And when Eldest is gone, she is the one Rachel asks for…repeatedly. (The girl doesn’t give up. Ha!)

Rachel has made a difference in too many lives to count. A hug from Rachel is enough to bring tears to people’s eyes. Hundreds of people who have met her have a changed view of the world. She gets into hearts and makes them grow several sizes. Our family will never be the same, and we are all better for it. She brings out the best in people, even when it’s people forgiving us for flooding their houses…twice.

And you know what? Who knows what Rachel will achieve in her future? Look at Temple Grandin. But even if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d venture to say Rachel has accomplished more in her first decade than many in their entire lives.

Happy birthday, my precious Rachel. It’s OK that you don’t always like the singing. I know you’ll watch it a thousand times on your iPad and love every minute of it.

Taking Rachel to the mall.

by Jennifer Dyer

The other day, hubby and I decided to go to the maul mall. In a stunning move, Eldest opted out, but we knew Rachel would love it, especially the escalators and indoor fountains. (The trick would be keeping her from jumping into the water.)

Rachel didn’t always like going out. When she was three, an outing to any store would end in her screaming and stripping naked. And Mom would end up in tears. The sensory overload to her system must have been horrible, all the smells, sounds, people, noise…everything unpredictable and random from her point of view.

If she wasn’t screaming, she was darting away from me like in this story. I couldn’t go anywhere in shoes that did not get traction. Through years of therapy, we slowly worked on her staying beside us. (For more on how we decreased her darting behaviors, see here.)

We also learned to plan shorter outings, and did all kinds of sensory therapies to help her nervous system calm.

So, off we went to the maul (I keep doing that) mall, armed with her iPad, a packed lunch, and a bag of activities.

Our first destination was Fuddruckers. (It’s by the mall and has GF buns for their burgers. Yum-o. Plus, it’s kid friendly.) This, however, presented our first challenge. Rachel has very narrow food preferences, so what to do?

First, we examined our goals.

We wanted Rachel to sit in the restaurant and behave appropriately. So, the food was secondary. I brought her packed lunch, but ordered food I could share with her.

While ordering, though, Rachel wasn’t focused on the food. She made the sign for potty and yelled “Pah!” so many times it was amazing I didn’t order my cheeseburger with a side of toilet.

Hubby went off to find us a table, and I took Rachel to the restroom.

Which lead to our next challenge.

My anxiety level amped at the thought of traipsing through a public restroom, even though we do it all the time. As I mentioned in my last blog Walking with Rachel, I did the deep breath routine. Keep calm. It’s about the time with Rachel, not getting something huge done.

Rachel and I entered the stall together. When she FINALLY finished, I had to remind myself again that I had a goal in sight. This was about helping her grow more appropriate and independent, not rushing. So, I watched to see how she would do with the slide lock on the stall door. I had to watch her fail (agonizing) a few times and then walk through it step-by-step, but she learns best through visual and tactile methods.

We were ten minutes into our outing and hadn’t left the bathroom.

After we escaped, Rachel wanted to see the arcade games. I froze. I can’t recall how many times I’ve told her no in public and been rewarded with a huge tantrum. Sometimes I feel like the rat in the maze that’s been zapped so many times its fearful of making any sudden moves.

I had to remember the purpose: Appropriate behavior in a restaurant.

If this went south, we could get our food to go. I took a deep breath. “Later.” I grabbed our drinks and showed her to the super high tech drink machines. Whew. Redirection successful. Crisis averted.

We only spilled our drink once, so another success. I pointed to Hubby and asked her to walk with me to the table. I was afraid she would dart, but she stayed beside me. Yay.

We sat in the booth for an entire ten seconds before she started asking about the games again, but in the midst of her barrage, she passed me napkins and pressed her hands together to pray. I brought in her iPad to keep her entertained, if need be, but she actually ate some of her lunch with a fork.

Did the people in the restaurant stare at us? Yes. But did Rachel have a meltdown and strip naked? Nope. Woohoo. I’ll call it a success.

We managed the rest of the ten minute meal without major issues, and Rach was rewarded with some time in the arcade area where she played with the steering wheel on a game that wasn’t plugged in. Even better.

The mall was next.

Again, we kept clear goals in mind.

Yes, we were there to buy Rach some dresses, but I could always order them online. The goal was to have Rachel stay by us and not throw a fit when told no or waiting for short amounts of time.

Here is how we managed:

We alternated fun activities for her with each short shopping goal.

I grabbed some dresses for her and pointed out the escalator. As soon as I purchased our item, we rode the escalator.

We walked around the upstairs and took an escalator down. We looked in one store and went to the play ground. We stopped at a fountain before glancing around another store.

There were a few moments she had to wait, and without two of us it might not have been nearly as easy, but I kept everything to a minimum. If I didn’t find something within five minutes, we moved on. I tried on one pair of shoes off a sale rack, but nothing else. We kept moving as much as possible.

The trip was more about success for Rachel than getting stuff.

And we only stayed about an hour. That way none of us got too tired and lost our patience.

Mission accomplished.