Sunday, September 21, 2014

True Colors

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show 
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful 
Like a rainbow

I smiled as I heard the familiar 80's tune playing from my phone.  Matthew had signed and asked to use my phone.  This was progress since he used to just take my phone. Progress that was helped by a locked screen, mind you.  The phone is not as much fun when you can't get into it!  One of his favorite things to do is to play music from my iTunes.  True Colors is one of his latest favorite songs to play.

While the rest of the song doesn't necessarily fit, I feel like the chorus could be Matthew's theme song.  The songwriters, Billy Steinberg and Tom Kelly didn't know Matthew when they wrote it. He wasn't even born yet! But when I hear that part of the song I feel like it was written just for him.

Matthew's True Colors:


Red is for his charismatic personality.  He has a way of winning people over.  There's something endearing about the way he can get people to do just what he wants without speaking a word.  He takes a person's hand in his and somehow has a way of making that person feel special...that he chose them to hold his hand. Once that person feels special, they are like putty in his hand.  A friend of ours was watching him for us one day after school last year.  She sent me a picture of him in the baby swing at the park. I laughed and asked her, "How did you get him in there?  He's too big!"  She said, "Well, he really wanted to go in that swing." He can get the grandmas and grandpas to do all kinds of things from scratching his head and his back to swinging him from his ankles, just by being charming.


Orange is for his love of vacuums.  If you read, Whatever it Takes, you already know that he loves vacuums. I don't think he has met a vacuum that he didn't like.  There's a lot to love about vacuums; the rumbly sound, the slightly dusty smell, the feel of the air on your hands or face, the plastic to tap and the bumpy hoses to feel, etc.  At Meet Your Teacher night, his new second grade teacher showed Matthew the vacuum she had bought just for him.  The vacuum that he would be allowed to use on the classroom rug at the end of the day. (I would say his teacher knows something about winning people over too.) At school, he works to be able to watch the custodian use the vacuum or the floor cleaner (that's an extra special treat).  There's a neighborhood Chinese restaurant that we used to go to and we would have to hold his hand extra tight when coming and going because he knew right where they kept their vacuum cleaner.  One day, we were at a local department store and there was a worker vacuuming.  Matthew had to sit down (criss cross applesauce) right there and watch him.  This month we bought a new vacuum cleaner and almost every day he asks me to vacuum when we get home from school. My floors have never been so clean!


Yellow is for his love of music.  Both on his ipad and my phone he will sit and pick music on my iTunes.  He creates his own slideshows by picking a song and then going into the photos and looking through them. That is one of the reasons why I have so many pictures on my phone!  Right now he is sitting next to me on the porch playing a video clip of Lady Antebellum in concert.  He is playing it over and over and I think he likes the extra hooting and hollering of the fans.  He will also select apps because he likes the music playing in the background.  He will hold my phone up to his ear and listen very intently.  He is obviously not too picky about his music though, because he will still ask me to sing to him.  Abby and Rob can vouch that I can't sing, but Matthew doesn't seem to care.


Green is for his love of jumping.  Ever since he could walk he has loved to jump!  He also jumps when he is super excited about something.  (After the store worker moved to another section of the store, but still within earshot, Matthew looked like a jumping bean. If jumping beans squealed and flapped, that is.) During therapy he is still able to get his therapists to "jump him".  He faces his back to them and they pick him up at the waist and jump him into the air.  It is definitely an upper body work-out for them, but there's going to come a day when they just can't physically lift him anymore.  The week before school started we tried out Helium, which is a trampoline park.  The place was something out of his dreams, I'm sure.  There's no doubt that we will have to go back.  A couple weeks ago we went on a bike ride, with me pedaling and Matthew in the ride along carrier.  I swear I didn't pick this route to torture him, but we went past a festival and they had about 3 different bouncy areas and then we passed four different block parties, and they all had bouncy houses.  I thought he was going to burst out of his skin!  He signed "jump" at me the rest of the day.


Blue is for his sensory seeking ways.  Touching:  tapping garbage cans, wastebaskets, walls, orange cones, the inside of the freezer, boxes, coffee cups, etc., scratching box lids, bottoms of slippers, lids to coffee cups, the sides of the car, etc., pounding walls, doors, wastebaskets, garbage cans, etc., stimming by flapping his face with a kleenex, paper towel, receipts, his microphone with a plastic piece that hangs down, etc., Hearing: most of the touching from above creates sounds, music, the vibration of the car when the window is rolled down, shaking things to make noise, etc.  Smelling:  things before he eats them, Daddy's coffee, Mama's tea, bottoms of shoes and slippers, flowers, things made of plastic, rubber, wood, cardboard, etc.


Purple is for his ability to problem solve.  An overturned wastebasket makes a tall stool. We find these right under closet doors with latches.  Luckily for us, he has not figured out how to undue that particular latch...yet. In the laundry room he will overturn laundry baskets to get cleaning wipes on the shelves above the sink.  Just today he wanted to get into the basement (which was latched).  He stood on a giant package of toilet paper and this was the kind of latch he can undue.  Fortunately, he was caught red-handed by Daddy.  One night at dinner, Abby went into the kitchen to get something and when she returned she exclaimed, "Why do I have more green beans now?"  We looked at Matthew's plate and he didn't have ANY on his plate.  Pretty clever.  If she would have been a green bean lover, she probably wouldn't have even noticed.  As I mentioned in another post, he will make up signs for words if he doesn't know the sign. Then he consistently uses that sign to stand for that word.  That takes some huge problem solving skills.

I know that he is at an age where his classmates and peers still accept him, because that's how they have always known him.  As Abby often says, "That's just Matthew."  But I'm sure there will come a time when someone will say something to him or make fun of him for the behaviors and loves mentioned above.  I won't always be there to stop it or defend him, but maybe if I can keep reminding him of these words...

But I see your true colors
Shining through
I see your true colors
And that's why I love you
So don't be afraid to let them show 
Your true colors
True colors are beautiful 
Like a rainbow

Friday, September 12, 2014

Knock on Wood

As a kid I think my beliefs in superstitions were pretty typical.  My friends and I would be huffing and puffing by the time the car passed the end of the cemetery and we could finally let out our breath.  It makes me laugh to see Abby and her friends do the same thing now.  I remember sitting in our backyard searching and searching for that one magical four leaf clover.  And of course I jumped from sidewalk square to sidewalk square...wouldn't want to break my mother's back!  It seems disgusting now, but I remember having a keychain with a green rabbit foot .  I'm sure I won it at a school fun night. 

With maturity and age my superstitious beliefs lessened as I became a teenager/young adult.  I would find that I still needed to throw a penny and make a wish in a "wishing well" (aka any pool of water where there was already coins).  Pennies found had to be picked up, because "Find a penny, pick it up, all day you'll have good luck."  At my wedding I made sure to include something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue.  Although I might have cheated a little on that one, because my mom's garter covered three of the categories.  

That brings us to today.  I might be caught using expressions like "knock on wood" or "I'll cross my fingers for you".  A few months ago, Abby and I did save a wishbone to see who would get the biggest piece.  But other than that I can't be considered too superstitious...I mean I have two black cats for goodness sake!

However, I realized I have created my own little superstitions when it comes to Matthew.
They don't last long, especially when the pattern gets broken.  Just this week a new superstition was formed.  Matthew has a communication notebook with a behavior scale (1= I can do better  2 = OK  3 = Great)  for the morning and the afternoon.  Daddy tells him in the morning, "I want 3's.  Give me 3's" and Matthew will hold up three fingers.  On Monday morning he had a big bowl of hot cereal.  It's super healthy except for maybe the spoonful of brown sugar.  I'm sure the reason he loves it is because of the brown sugar, but to his credit he eats the whole bowl.  That day when he got home from school he had a 3 for the morning and a 3 for the afternoon with an extra comment of Great Day!  

The next morning he requested the hot cereal.  Normally, I'm a little picky and won't let him have the same thing two mornings in a row, because I don't want him to get stuck on only eating certain foods.  But I thought about how he had such a great day and thought "why not?", maybe it's the big, nutritious breakfast he had.  Guess what?  3's on Tuesday.  Hot cereal on Wednesday morning.  3's on Wednesday.  Hot cereal on Thursday morning.  3's on Thursday.  Hot cereal this morning.  A 3 and a 2.  The pattern is broken...guess we'll be eating something else for breakfast tomorrow!

Probably the thing that causes my brain to want to make up superstitions is Matthew's erratic sleeping patterns.  Not sleeping through the night is a fairly common problem in the autism world.  When he sleeps through the night, I think to myself, "What did we do right before bed?  What was different about this night then say the night he wanted to party at 3 am?"  For awhile I was convinced that it had to do with who put him to bed.  I thought that if Rob put him to bed, the reason he would wake up was because I hadn't sang to him or played music for him, etc.  But then Rob had a couple of successful nights in a row and that threw my theory out the window.  Matthew likes to go to sleep with the overhead light on.  I started to think that maybe leaving it on all night versus turning it off when we went to bed was the ticket. But truly there doesn't seem to be rhyme or reason to his sleepless nights.  One of these days I will probably learn to live with the fact that some things just don't have an answer.

I will tell you this though; if there was something I could do that would guarantee to stop him from being a runner,  I would do it in a heartbeat.  Matthew going missing or getting hit by a car are my biggest fears, ones I live with everyday. (Yes, this will be a blog post someday.)  I would wear my pajamas inside out, jump over holes, make sure all pennies were right side up, kiss an onion when I woke up, etc.  Anything. 

But until I figure out what that magic trick is I will just have to post this, because do you know what I realized?  Right now I have 13 blog posts and you know what they say about the number 13...


Friday, September 5, 2014

Did You Know?

From time to time I will get the question of whether we knew Matthew had autism when we adopted him.  In fact someone just asked me that this week.  If you read Mama Bear...GRRR...  or knew us at the time of his adoption, you might already know the answer, but I still think you will find his adoption story interesting.

After we had been back from China with Abby for about three years, we decided we wanted to go back to China to get her a sibling.  We assumed that it would be a girl because from our experience the majority of adoptees from China were girls. *  We started the process the same way we did with Abby, in what is called the standard process.  Every month our adoption agency would send an email that would have updates on wait times from when dossiers (crazy amount of paperwork) were sent to when matches were being made. When we were waiting for Abby those emails were so exciting to get, because each month we knew we were getting closer to receiving a match.  However, we had the opposite experience during our second adoption in that we began to dread those emails.  Every time we would read them, the wait time to match would increase.  At a certain point we realized that if the wait time kept increasing (and there was no indication that it was going to decrease) we were looking at a four year waiting period.  That was not our plan.  We didn't want our kids to be that far apart in age.

We got information on adopting children with special needs and decided to switch over to that process. (I made that decision sound easier than it was.)  You might wonder why we didn't just switch to adopting from a different country.  For one, it really wasn't that simple. Payments that we had already made were not necessarily refundable and every country has its own set of rules about what needs to be in their required dossier.   Therefore it felt like it would almost be like starting over. We had already invested too much time and money into the process.  Secondly, we really wanted our two children to be from the same country.  We had a great support system with a group called Milwaukee Area Families with Children From China and Cricket Academy (where Abby took Language and Culture classes). We wanted our children to have the same cultural background as each other. We thought they might be able to have that bond with each other as they got older and had questions about their cultural identity.

One of the things that we had to do when we switched over to the special needs process is fill out a checklist.  The checklist had a list of different types of special needs and you had to check Yes, No, or Maybe on whether you were able to handle that type of special need.  Believe me, this was not an easy process.  It was not lost on us that if were able to have children naturally, we wouldn't have a choice on what we could handle.  We would have to live with the cards we were dealt.  But this was the process that was set up.  A good example that I can think of is that some medical issues require a financial obligation such as surgeries that some families might not be able to afford.  Rob and I spent a lot of time filling out this checklist. We had to look up lots of different conditions because there were so many that we had never even heard of before.  As we all know, many conditions have a range from mild to severe, so even that could be a factor when choosing between a Yes and a No or a Maybe.  I want to repeat that this was not an easy process.

After completing the checklist and other forms that we needed for the specials needs program we were surprised at how fast we got a referral.  With both the standard program and special needs program you have the opportunity to accept or reject the referral.  I have never heard of anyone rejecting a standard referral, but it is more common in the special needs process for some of the reasons I mentioned above.  We had one referral that we were considering that somehow by mistake had been referred to another family at the same time.  That was difficult because we had decided to accept the referral and then found out the other family had already accepted it.  I know it might be hard to understand, but as soon as you think that child is going to be yours, you already have a connection to him/her.  But then we got a referral for a little boy named Zhang Li (approximately 18 months old).  So, did his paperwork have the label of autism?  Did we know when we got his referral that he had autism? His paperwork had a label of growth delay.  He was extremely small in both height and weight...under the 3rd percentile for both.  His paperwork also indicated some developmental delays (not walking or even crawling and not talking) without a specific cause.  There was no mention of autism and I suspect that the orphanage and others involved in his care did not know that he had autism at that time.

No one has ever been brave enough to ask the follow-up question:  If you did know that he had autism would you have accepted the referral?  (Admit it, you were wondering it...) I am not trying to cop out with this answer, but I don't know.  I don't know if we marked Yes or Maybe for that condition on the checklist. I don't know if we would have let stereotypes, perceptions, and even my personal experiences as a special education teacher affect our decision.  Very possibly.   But I will tell you this:  I am glad that we didn't know. What if knowing would have caused us to say "No"?  We would have missed out on having this amazing, funny, happy kid in our lives.   That is something I can't imagine.

* Without going in depth into the politics involved surrounding the One Child Policy, I do want to say that we did extensive reading  before we adopted Abby.  The book Wanting a Daughter, Needing a Son: Abandonment, Adoption and Orphanage Care in China by Kay Ann Johnson helped us to understand why there are more girls put up for adoption and clear up some of our misunderstandings of the situation.   The Book Summary (click here if interested) on Amazon gives a good description of the book.