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Friday, October 14, 2016

Senior Year Hell

I've done this before.
I should know what I'm doing by now, right?
How come it doesn't feel like it?
Why does it all feel brand new?

One would think a mother of three, just might have shit figured out by the time her last child reaches his senior year of high school. Nope! Not when autism is involved.  You just never know what will be waiting for you when you turn a corner.

One thing my boys have in common, is they are both exhausting to parent.

Someone who knows my life intimately observed, "It's like you are raising 5 or 6 children."

I was surprised to hear someone else verbalize what I have felt for years. And frankly, I am tired. Burnout.
Spent, like an old dollar bill.

I was so relaxed for a while there when Red moved out. I wrote about feeling like I was ready to ready to retire. I felt like I had already done a lifetime of work. It was like a new era. I could breathe again. I could watch a television show live, not recorded weeks earlier on my DVR. There was less bickering and fighting in the house with the two brothers living in different places. It was sweet, juicy, savory, peace and quiet.

Apparently, God laughed at my retirement plan.

The peace is over.

We are swimming in Senior Year Hell without a life preserver, and no swimming lessons.

Blue has always been the most independent of all of my children. He was the toddler who climbed out of the crib, over the safety fence, down the stairs, up to the top shelf of the pantry, to get his cereal before I woke up. He then climbed back up the stairs and over the fence. He came strolling into my room with the box of Froot Loops, like a boss!

He has kept up with his grades and school work since he was in middle school. By the time he reached high school, he had become his own advocate. I never have to follow up to make sure homework is complete. He is self-motivated. He usually chooses the kind of classes that will be a challenge, where he knows he will have to work hard. He doesn't need constant prodding and reminders. Up until recently, he has just done what needs to be done.

I have always considered him to be my "easy" child, even though some of his teen years were difficult. He diligently asserted the fact that he didn't need parents.  This 17th year, however, has been exceptionally difficult.

The night school let out for the summer last June, also happened to be the night before he was to take the SAT for the second time. He had a major meltdown. It was awfu1! He was more enraged than I think I had ever seen him before. He ended up walking home a couple of miles in the rain, at night, because he just couldn't bare to be in the same car with me a moment longer.


The meltdowns over the rest of the summer would go downhill from there.

Why this sudden change in persona?
Change.
Transition.
He was leaving his carefully built support system at school, the teachers, and mentors who he talked to every day.
He would be stuck at home with us. Yuck! Who wants to be around their idiot parents all day, every day for the summer?  
There would be no daily routine.
He would not be able to see his friends as often.
He couldn't stop thinking about the fact that everything is going to change next summer, after graduation. 
All of the things he was missing this summer, in his mind, he will lose permanently, next year.
How is life going to look?
How is he supposed to be able to figure out how to get there?
Becoming an adult and college student will require a lot of work.
What if he can't do it all?

The unknown is a pretty daunting place.

Senior year is a freaky thing for the average student. For a kid with autism and intense emotions, it can be even more overwhelming.

Well, we made it through the summer on a wing and a prayer. The saving grace was the Job Coach we hired to work with him, one on one. She was a life saver! She gave him back a sense of structure. The two of them worked together fluidly.

He took his first college class on the community college campus, which gave him back a little bit of a "social vibe," as he put it.
He met a new friend of the female persuasion, who seemed to like him a lot. He had a friendship connection with her, which he found comforting.

Then, all of that was over.
His Job Coach moved away to further her education. We vowed to stay in touch, but it was gut-wrenching to say goodbye.
The job that she helped him find ended, with a bang.
 (And by bang, I mean another pretty awesome meltdown.)
Then his summer college class ended.

The day before his senior year was to begin; he had the most epic meltdown yet.

So here we are now, at the beginning of senior year, and nothing is how I anticipated it would look. I don't think he pictured any of this either.

He is having trouble sleeping. His anxiety is higher than it has been since the beginning of freshmen year in high school.  He is managing his classes by a very, thin thread. Miraculously, he is still making good grades, but the amount of energy he has to put out to make them is draining.

Things that came easy to him a year ago are a struggle today.  The intensity of his emotions has taken out a huge hit on his executive functioning and planning.  It's like he's a different person.

He is still in the top 25% of his class, and the top 25% of SAT scores, in the country. This does not mean that his path will be immediately going to a university.

The excellent SAT scores and all of the colleges knocking at our door are a painful reminder that even though he has the ability and the academic resume, that would get him into most any university...he is simply, not fully prepared. We are facing the reality that right now, during college application season, he is not mentally ready to add the task to his plate. 

With his current level of anxiety, he is doing well just to make it to school and last through the entire day. Doing homework, has suddenly become overwhelming for him. When it's time to get started, he starts listing ten million reasons why it will be impossible to get it done. Everything that he used to do, will now, not work. He winds himself up to the point where most of the time, he can't even get started.

And so the dream changes, again. He will most likely start community college next year.  Perhaps all of this is happening now to show us, that a university experience right now, would probably make him unravel completely. There is more growth needed in other areas of his life.

I am having to regroup, and look at parenting him at this stage, in a whole, new light. I thought he would be so much easier than his brother was. He isn't. He is just at a different place than what I expected at this point.

I  have to watch my words and actions meticulously. I tape my mouth shut, to keep from offering advice. I quell my natural instinct to help --to be the fixer of all things.

Instead, I try to listen actively. I  ask questions that help him find his own answers. It is NOT easy for me to change my mom-to-the-rescue mentality. Sometimes, I crack under pressure.

I am working to consciously keep boundaries, and not just for him, but for myself. I work to stay in my lane and not cross over into doing things for him. It's a constant battle I fight with myself.

For example, suddenly he is struggling to get to school on time. So a few days ago, I found myself making breakfast for him ...something that he has done for himself for years. When he sat down to eat, without a thank you, and still had an attitude on the way to school, in the car. Immediately, I felt like an idiot for doing it.

Making things easier for him is not helping him. Making it through the struggle is where he will grow and learn. I have to allow him to do things for himself, even when I see him struggling, even if it kills me. My job is to promote independence, even during a time when he is vulnerable and afraid.

I am a continual work progress. I made the mistake of running to Red's rescue automatically, for so long. He didn't want to let go. He's been out of my house for almost a year, and we are still working on him letting go of his dependence on me.

I know that Blue has it in him to make it through this.
He will become independent.
He will make it through this transition.
He will rise.
He will grow.
And hopefully, so will I.