Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Do-it-Yourself Therapy: Fun but Distracting

I really hate summer. Sometimes I just can't stand it. I hate the heat. I hate the frequent disturbances of routine and while it is all in my head, I feel a constant need to make sure that the kids are having a blast. After all, it is summer. If they are not having fun, playing outside, or going somewhere for the weekend, then I feel like I am being a very incompetent mother.

Something is clearly wrong with me for disliking summer, right? I think part of it is because for me, summer is a time for reflection. It is the time of the year to sum up what progress has been made and what else is left to do. When I think about the latter, I shift from feeling overwhelmed to feeling like a failure.

This is the time of the year when I realize that I barely spoke to Logan's speech therapist and haven't worked hard enough on the things she told me to do for him. I especially am reminded of this as I listen to Logan trying to tell me what happened in school and he makes very little sense.

This is also the time of the year when I think about all the things Spencer needs to be able to do once he gets to preschool. This list keeps growing. I think about what I should be making for lunch at home now so that he could practice eating things that are easy to send to school. He is still so picky and so slow. He is tactile defensive on his hands so he doesn't like to get his hands too dirty when he eats so that knocks out options too. Don't even get me started on his allergies.....

I also think about how he'll do in storytime since I have been told that this is hard for him in the pre-preschool (for special needs kids) he attends. I also think about if he will hit or push other children because this has recently been happening. Even though he does this mostly out of overstimulation, I still worry.

To add to my summer frustration, I was planning on doing a lot of reading. But when I planned this, I forgot that I am not like other people. I have less time to myself in the summer, not more. So now, I have a stack of books about anxiety to read and I have gotten nowhere. The stack just serves as a reminder of my failure to reach my goals. However, I am still stubborn and won't give up on myself. I still leave them there within my view so that I may one day just buckle down and read the damn books.

It's not all bad. I think I have made progress in two areas and that is (1) I have decided to go back and get acupuncture treatment on a regular basis. My food digestion has improved. That is a relief.

The second, and more important accomplishment is that I have been helping Spencer to have playdates now. We have been getting at least one playdate per week, sometimes two. I do have to thank the summer season for that since there are more opportunities to play during the summer. The playdates are really great and I drop everything on those dates to make them fun and successful. He is not always acting appropriately in a playdate but usually I am lucky enough to have them scheduled while Spencer's therapist is with us at home. Her presence makes a huge difference.

We have also been making progress with Spencer's pretend play as well. Someone once commented on this blog (Thank you Sheila) about the use of puppets and a Little People playground set to improve social skills. Although, I haven't bought those exact things, I did buy a playground set and also used Spencer's Disney character stuffed animals to role play/pretend play with him. It is very interesting to see how he plays with them.

For example, sometimes Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse are playing "Dance Party" and whichever doll Spencer is holding will usually end up crashing into the doll that I'm holding once the dancing becomes boisterous. This type of crashing is EXACTLY what he does in real life. Isn't that crazy? I told his therapist that it seems like he could really learn social skills from the doll-role play while somewhat avoiding the personal shame that goes with making mistakes in a real-live playdate. My therapist agreed and looked at me like, "ummmm, yes, that is what this all is...."

And so now my mind is racing!!!! I am thinking of all of these things that I can buy or make to help Spencer to do pretend play and also play with other children when they come over. Some have been successful, some have been real failures. I tried to make a birthday cake using styrofoam but that was too difficult. I ended up just buying one from Amazon and he loved it. However, as far as my do-it-yourself masterpieces, I did make a hammer-me-box by putting an extra layer of cardboard on a diaper box and punching holes in it. Then Spencer and his friends would take the plastic nails from his Home Depot toolbox and hammer them in and take them out. The only downfall is that it is very unsightly. Once my husband crushed it and was about to throw it out while mumbling what a mess our house was. I was of course, livid and told him exactly how he just trashed my work. It's not like the pretend hammering box took ten minutes to make. He didn't apologize but has since left the boxes alone so I decided to let him continue living in our house.

I guess I had to go crazy and make such a box because I am not all that into pretend play. If my kids aren't good at it, then there is a chance that Mom sucks at it too, right? What is so fun about pretending to hammer a nail into nothing? You gotta hammer it into something right? I am more into making real food instead of pretending to cook and taking pretend bites. I also rather have paper dollars and fake coins in my hand when pretending to pay for something instead of just plopping "air money" into someone's hand. Air money doesn't teach math but paper dollars can! This is how I think. I can't let go of academic goals even though this is not where they are lacking.

But I digress again from talking about my summer woes. I think what is upsetting me most about this summer is how little I feel like I am getting done. Maybe that is why I have been going nuts on making therapeutic play things for Spencer. I suppose I just need to organize and plan better. I make To-Do lists that are two pages long which is counterproductive. I am sure that I am getting things done because I am so tired all the time and have so little time to write in this beloved blog of mine. I get so depressed when I don't update within 7 days. If I am this exhausted, surely I must have done something, right?

I have to sympathize with Logan and his reliably aggravating ADHD. He has lots of good ideas. So do I. We both get nothing done with all our good ideas because our good ideas distract us from the basic things we have to do. Reading up on anxiety should be a priority. Exercising on a regular basis is a necessity. Washing bedsheets is a necessity. Removing rotten foods from the fridge is necessary. When these things do not get done it causes trouble and depression. Irregardless, these tasks are pushed aside so that I can make a "hammering box" out of cardboard to make Spencer's playdates more fun and hopefully, just hopefully, these kids and parents will want 2nd and 3rd dates. I am courting small children - plain and simple.

Is this pathetic, desperate, or practical? I think the answer varies by my mood. I think I do these things because I am desperate to feel accomplished in some way. I know that I can make a decent hammering box and that little boys will love it. I know that I can make fake menus so that Spencer's prospective playmates (and even Logan) can play "Eating at a Restaurant." I know kids will love that. I know that if I hyper-organize toy foods in a kitchen, the kids are more apt to play with it. I feel special when I do this but at the same time I feel somewhat ashamed because my projects kind of feel like I appear to be someone with a lot of time on my hands.

You would think that I don't care about that but I really do. Once, I was gluing a pop-up set of Disney Playhouse characters onto thick paper so that Spencer can have yet another role-play set. I was really stressed that morning and needed to run away from my monstrous To-Do list. Thus, I just started cutting and gluing Goofy and Donald Duck into little pop-up figures and said to my son's therapist who was in the same room with me, "I have a billion things to do right now but I am just doing this to escape." It's not like she asked me what I was doing but I was just so embarrassed for making a craft when I could be doing other more "important" things.

The truth is that while I am embarrassed of my pretend play craft bonanza and generally feel defeated on a daily basis, there is something cool about the way my children's challenges make my brain crank out some ideas that makes me proud of myself.

If only improving social skills was as easy as poking holes in a cardboard box. I know I should give myself more credit but I really do have to go beyond the details and educate myself on the roots of their anxiety and poor social skills. I will get rid of that stack of Childhood Anxiety 101 books and really start reading at least one or two of them. I am also going to attempt to meditate again. Hopefully that will bring me back to yoga. I need something to help me with this frustrating heat. Wish me luck!

photo 1 : Spencer is asleep and wiped out from swimming under the hot Florida sun. I never thought he would love Mickey and Minnie mouse so much but his newfound interest has given us a few new avenues to pursue for therapy. I am so grateful.

photo 2: my glorious hammering box. I am proud to show it to other parents and embarrassed at the same time.


Julie said...

You are doing a great job. Being a mom to kids who require so much more from us is hard. Really hard. We tend to beat ourselves up too much and feel like we are not doing enough. I really relate to you and this post.

You are enough.

Mamacipolla said...

Wow did I just here a lot of me in that post. I am so guilty of putting my attentions on a million little side projects and letting things slip. I completely understand the satisfaction you find in those little things. It almost feels like you might make more of an impact, open a new door, SOMETHING more with that little project than you might with the mundane things that make up the day. I think you're doing an excellent job.

Anonymous said...

I had to re-read your post to make some comments b/c you have done SO MUCH this summer! Way to go. I am a big proponent of Stanley Greenspan, who believed pretend play is a very important part of a child's development. We went through a very rigorous phase of pretend play at times I felt it was so mind numbing I could barely stand it anymore! But as the child becomes more adept at it, you see and hear the progress! So for someone who says she hasn't done anything this summer - look at this list:
1. accupuncture for yourself (had to get a babysitter, schedule the appt., drive and park there and pay for it)
2. playdates -two a week w. a therapist involved! (how many balls did you juggle to get this to happen?! amazing)
3. Pretend play a. doll, b. cake, c. hammer box, d. play w. food, e. purchasing, f. Disney Playhouse characters, g. Minnie Mouse, h. playground purchase

That is a lot to do in one summer Jenn.

I know preschool is worrisome. Remember the school and teachers are there to help w. the tactile defensiveness. They will help w. foods - gradually. And most kids will be in the same boat at storytime. My son had a chair and a weighted sand bag of sorts on his lap to help him attend and sit for storytime when he was in preschool. Now he's 10, reading Harry Potter, in Boy Scouts and about to start middle school!

All of your work is paying off. I am amazed at the 1 to 2 playdates a week. That is really tough to do and orchestrate. The fact that you keep doing it is credit to your skills in 1. scheduling, 2. interpersonal relationships, 3. creating a fun place to be!

Keep up the good work. I admire all you are doing.

Sheila said...

Play Therapy has truly helped my son recover from most of his sensory issues and improved his social skills. All the effort you are putting forth will bear it's fruit. For instance, baking cookies and cupcakes with my son helped improve his tactile sensitivities (i.e. touching sticky dough). I was also near tears when I heard my son go up to another kid and say, "Hi, what's your name? My name is AJ." Then proceeded to chase each other. This was something we had practiced while playing with his figurines. My son really enjoys re-enacting events that go on in his life. I take that opportunity to model another way to handle a situation, if needed.

There is power in play therapy. I was skeptical at first until I noticed my son learned more from play than from drilling and direct instructions. So your box is not just a box. It's a tool for your son to learn how to relate to people, it's also teaching him hand eye coordination, teaching him how to focus and complete task, improving fine motor it's definitely not just a simple box with holes.

Anyways, you are a very good writer and inspiring as well but I do hope you choose to sleep more than to update the blog. Rest is essential for those of us that are taking care of high need children.

manuela227 said...

Hey Jen,

Its been a long time! But I see that you are continuing to do a great job. I totally get you. I also feel like I'm not doing enough even when I am killing myself to do as much as possible. Just know that you are doing your best and that you can't do it all. I just tell my kids that they better not put me in a home when I get sick or old! Your kids are going to do great!