Tuesday, January 22, 2008


Bud is struggling at school.

I write about this tentatively, with trepidation, and with the knowledge that I am edging closer than I'd like to the part of Bud's life that might best be kept private. But you all have too much wisdom, too much understanding, too much to offer to allow me to hold it back. So I offer it out:

Bud is struggling at school.

At the core, I think this is separation anxiety. It starts in the evening as we get ready for bed, usually just as a series of points of information: "I was upset at school today. I missed you at school today. I don't want to go to school tomorrow. I'll miss you at school." By morning, the points become more insistent: "I don't WANT to go to school. I CAN'T go to school. School is scary. I'm sad at school. I'll miss you. We'll miss each other."

The tears begin as we don our coats. The ride to school is iffy, but we often get a reprieve if I've remembered to bring my iPod or if the stars have aligned and "Free and Easy" is playing on the radio. Then the anxiety begins again as we pull into the school yard: "I'll miss you. We'll miss each other. I don't want to go to school." By the time we get to the classroom, Bud's tears are flowing. Sometimes they last a few minutes. Sometimes, like today, they transform into keening and wailing that builds and builds throughout the morning until he lays his head on the table in exhaustion and falls asleep for forty-five minutes in the middle of the noisy, bustling classroom.

Bud's dad and I have talked about it: it doesn't take a PhD in developmental psychology to figure out what's going on here. From Bud's perspective, his dad disappeared suddenly and he's worried that while he's not looking his mom might slip away as well. We've both tried to send consistent messages: "Dad loves you even though he doesn't live with you. You are going to see Dad again. Mom is not going away. You will always live with Mom." And I've tried every approach I can think of to address Bud's fears and tears in the moment: acknowledging his feelings; agreeing that we'll miss each other and assuring him that we'll see each other at the end of the day; focusing on the happy reunion we'll have at supper time; reminding him of the people and things he enjoys at school; working with the teacher to have an important job waiting for him when he arrives at school; using a different doorway to mix up the "drop-off script"; arriving a little early; arriving a little late; bribing him with a snack in exchange for a tear-free drop-off; and even employing a tough-love approach that left us both worse off than we'd started out.

The good news is that we've finally made it to the top of a very long wait list, and Bud has an appointment with a child psychologist next week. My hope is that she will be able to help us help him process what he's experienced, talk about what he's feeling, and work through the things that are getting in his way. I hope I'm not being unrealistic - but, frankly, if I am, please don't tell me. Unrealistic expectation might just be what's getting me through these difficult mornings right now.

But there must be a strategy I haven't tried - some magical mix of words and actions that will make all the difference for Bud and help him to feel safe and secure and confident again. But what does it look like? What else can I try? How can I help him manage the fears and the tears and the overwhelming emotion of I miss you, I miss you, I miss you?

What else is there? What am I missing?


Anonymous said...

Could you set up a way for him to communicate with you while he's in school? Say, at 10 o'clock, he gets a break, goes on the computer, writes you an email. And at noon, he checks to read your response. Or he gets access to a cell phone to text you a message two times per day.

School was really scary for me at first. I cried a lot in kindergarten and first grade, because I thought my mom would never come back to pick me up. (My dad left to work abroad when I was two.)

Jordan said...

Ooh, I like that email idea. I was thinking, could he hold something small of yours in his pocket, something you give him when you separate and he gives you back at the end of the school day?

I'm so glad you'll get to see a good child psychologist soon and I hope that will be really helpful for you all. Your explanation makes a lot of sense; it's possible that it's a fear that time will heal for Bud. This change is still relatively new in his life.

Anonymous said...

I think what you've been doing and the psych visit sound good. Other ideas: a social story/picture book that he keeps at school, with a photo of you picking him up at the end; something of yours that he can keep at school (something like a scarf, a pen or something that is special to you?). Hope things improve.

Daisy said...

I don't think you're unrealistic. Counseling may help. Meds for anxiety might be part of the solution, but not the whole thing. Time and maturity (sorry, the two things you can't wait for) will help, too.
On the one hand, it's great that Bud is expressing himself.

kristina said...

I was going to suggest photos to in some sort of schedule----you could get a special notebook, or small photo album, or a little "day planner," and have a visual schedule so Bud will know he can "check in.
And/or maybe just a photo of you, and of Bud's dad, and his grandparents?

What does his teacher suggest? What kind of school activities might he be most engaged in to keep his thoughts on something else than all that "missing"----for Charlie, doing something like playing the piano or a puzzle has been helpful, as these provide concrete tasks that require his thinking (so he thinks less about whatever is worrying him).

But most of all, it's really, really, really great that Bud is trying to tell you about how he feels, about emotions that would be tough for anyone at any age to handle and speak of. I used to try to get Charlie to "forget" about what was bothering him by not mentioning it; now I just go and talk about it and how he feels bad or sad because things are different than they were.

Big hugs and high-5's to your boy and to you.

Anonymous said...

J had a hard time settling in to bible class after being traumatized at swimming lessons. We went through the same "I miss you script." He then started school and his teacher used a picture schedule in a flip book. His bible class teacher made the same type of schedule but used polaroids of all the activities that J does in class. The very last picture is of him and I standing at the door smiling. We now remind him before every class that when he stays and behaves that mommy always comes back with a smile.

And honestly, not the most popular suggestion, but he is on a very small dose of anti-anxiety medication. It has helped in all the "scary" situations that he was never able to get through before. You can email me if you want to know what he is on.

Bella Mundi said...

I don't know if you talked about this in any other blogs, but have you tried social stories? I teach students on the spectrum, and I find that sometimes (sometimes!) they really help to alleviate anxiety. You could make one for going to school and one for the new living situation.

Maybe an incentive chart, for so many good drops and Mom will visit or call you at school or something like that.

Good luck!

neil said...

I wonder if it's only separation anxiety? We had M in a mainstream school two days and an autistic school the other three, with the idea being that she would eventually go mainstream. After two years and two totally different teachers, we decided that mainstream wasn't going to work and placed her back in the autistic school fulltime.

The thing is, that M herself was telling us she didn't like the mainstream school and didn't want to go anymore, but we had no trouble getting her to go to the autistic school. We later discovered a few things that had been going on, but the bottom line was that the school just wasn't really prepared for special students, even though they say they were and we think that this perhaps was why she didn't like it; she also has friends at the autistic school, whereas she didn't seem to have any at the other.

I wonder if Bud is not enjoying some aspect of his school experience and his way out is simply not to leave you, thus avoiding the experience? If he is social and not making friends, that would be really hard for instance.

Niksmom said...

Oh this makes my heart ache for BOTH you and Bud! Some great suggestions and even the Neil's question is good. The thing that struck me as I was reading is that you are trying so many *new* things to try to change the script. Is it possible this is actually heightening the anxiety b/c all of a sudden the things Bud once *knew* wouldn't change have changed? It may have no basis in reality at all but the question was there so I wanted to toss it out to you.

I am sending you and Bid oodles of soothing, mom-n-me forever vibes! And hugs and love, too!

Stimey said...

A friend of mine sleeps with her daughter's shirt the night before school so it will smell like her the next day and her daughter can have that.

I totally sympathize. My guy also resists going to school a fair amount of the time. It's really hard (emotionally) to make them go when they don't want to.

Anonymous said...

I do know that one of my daughter's friends [aged 8 and typical] attended a weekly counseling session for the children of separated couples which was able to talk about freely.

I suspect that an independent caring adult who understands and is used to dealing with children will be very beneficial for most children.

As for our children, I can't really see why, with a little sensitivity they might not be just as helpful.

It sounds to me as if you're already doing all the right things - nothing jumps out as being missing and I think you're right on the money as the cause of his insecurity.

I also hope that the psychologist proves to be part of the solution.

I'm also with anonymous - I gave the boys a laminated photograph to carry with them at all times. I put five check boxes on the back and we'd mark them off together when I picked them up from school.
Best wishes

Anonymous said...

How about making picture schedules for both of you that he can take with him to school, so not only can he see that you will be picking him up at the end of the day, he'll be able to follow your progress during it and it might give him a more solid idea that you just don't disappear when you drop him off.


Marla said...

I agree with Neil that looking into school might be a good idea. When M was having a hard time in school our evenings were very difficult and showed itself in similar ways. Possibly it could be a mix of the two.

When we moved once we laminated a bunch of pictures a little bit bigger than wallet size and then put a hole punch on the corner and put them on a larger metal ring that she could carry with her. When her anxiety was high she could look at the photos of loved ones and feel more secure that she would see them again. Just an idea that worked for M for a while.


Anonymous said...

oh, MOM-NOS! my heart is breaking for you and for Bud. i know this will pass and i have complete confidence in you, in all that you do with and for Bud. i have complete confidence in Bud, in him moving through this difficult and painful and scary transition. i am amazed by how well he is expressing himself though you have reported countless times when he's done just that, expressed his own truth and an even bigger truth about life.

it may be that there is nothing you're missing. it's just a matter of time, of Bud finding out as the days grow to weeks and months, that you are THERE, you will always be THERE, he can go away and come back and THERE you will be.

my brother was away for 4 months on business and even though he came back here and there for visits, when he returned for good, his daughter would not let her mother, my brother's wife, out of her sight. she clung to her night and day, as if to say, this one's not getting away if my life depends on it.

in other words, it makes perfect sense. it doesn't make it any easier or less stressful or less painful. the child psychologist is a phenomenal idea. i have a feeling that will help tremendously.

you've gotten some great suggestions here. my thought may be too much, but what if you have notes that you leave in the school for Bud to find thru-out the day? you could partner with the teacher on it, bring in a poem or a picture of the two of you or a clue that he needs to bring home and complete the puzzle with you. maybe something that goes on through the week and so at the end of the week, he and you have solved something together that required pieces or clues that only he could find at school in different places at different times, or maybe at the same time, something he can look forward to and count on, something he can do on his own but that he's to share with you when you are reunited.

or maybe there's a way to eat lunch with him ? once or twice a week? that may not be possible with your work schedule. hmm. just trying to brainstorm...

i am reminded of when fluffy has a hard time in RDI and the suggestion is made to fall back to an objective already mastered, to help him feel competent, secure. i don't compare RDI activities to the enormity of what you guys are going through right now, but it may help to make the going to school routine VERY consistent, calm, reliable. so he doens't have to exert any extra energy there, so there are no surprises.

sending my best thoughts to both of you. xxxx

Anonymous said...

I will repeat a lot of what has already been said. A polaroid picture schedule worked well for my son with the final photo of him sitting in the car heading home as the last photo. But what I thought was separation anxiety turned out to be issues at school. Issues that school staff didn't see, grasp or understand. A third party (outside of school therapist) observer during the school day was really helpful in helping interpret my sons school day and picking up on some things that we were able to change. I also have learned that my son can take what appear to be 2 steps backward as he is heading into one giant leap forward. His anxiety over one thing happens shortly before a spurt of language, maturity, motor skill strength and development.
Be proud of yourself for all the wonderful support and love you give to your son. Follow your gut.

Anonymous said...

I read your blog a lot and find it very useful and comforting, with a healthy (and much appreciated) dose of humor. My son G just turned 8 and from reading your blog, it seems like G and Bud are similar in many ways -- especially in their love for all things Teletubbies. G's father and I split up about 3 years ago when G was about 5 1/2. It was difficult for him and a lot of his anxieties surfaced at, or about school, just like Bud. At the time, he did not have enough speech to communicate his feelings well and could not have expressed what Bud is telling you. Thus, with G it all came out in behaviors -- mainly at school. It was a very hard time. I still remember him saying over and over "I want Daddy. . . " and then crying. So believe me, I understand. You feel like you need to fix this and yesterday was too late.
Unfortunately, I can't offer you a magic strategy because I never found one. What I did find - and I can say this with the benefit of being on the other side of what seems like a very dark and long tunnel -- is that with time, G got through it. The behaviors went down. He regained confidence about his place in the world. He became comfortable with the new world he was living in where he and Mom lived in one place and Dad somewhere else. He adjusted. I just had to give him time to get there.
Bud will get there too. Keep on doing everything you are doing. The fact that Bud is expressing how he feels like he does is so wonderful. The picture ideas are great - I did something similar - we made G a "Daddy book" with favorite pics of them doing different things that he could look at whenever he wanted. (In fact, he still looks at it). We also got that computer program where you can video conference and Dad would send videos, or even read a book to him. That was (and is) very helpful. This will get better.
My thoughts and prayers are with you both.

Anonymous said...

Mom NOS, what about Aromatherapy? This may seem way off base, but if both you and Bud applied the same essential oil or lotion to your wrists each day, it may help to induce calm, as well as link you together. You "inhale" each other when the going gets rough at school or at work, reminding Bud that "relief" is a short time away. You could experiment at home with different oils that calm you both. I like the smell of lemon when I am afraid. Sucking on a peppermint calms my breathing as well.

Bud adores the security of home, aches for it. All of the above suggestions give him little doses of his safe place while time passes and he learns to deal with his huge stress. Hooray for Bud for speaking his fear aloud !

Drama Mama said...

Incredible suggestions. I love the email - and the aromatherapy.

I was wondering if switching up the scripts is too much right now? Miss M needs everything very consistent during hard times.

Two things I'd do when she was like this in preschool: A squirt of my perfume on both of us (I think Anon's aromatherapy is better here for Bud) and I'd kiss the her with lipstick on a part of her body where it wouldn't wear off so quickly - forehead? -

It greatly relieved her. Now, you might not wear red lipstick.

Scarf and hats of mine worked too.

Laminated card with a message/mantra from you?

I know that YOU, if anybody, will see Bud through.

Best wishes.

SUS said...

These seem like interesting suggestions. I like the photo books and the stories and the laminated photos. I was going to suggest notes as well.
My dad always drew different cartoons and such on our lunch bags every day. Sometimes this got me over the hump of a difficult day.

Ange said...

You've gotten great suggestions. Not much I can add except my thoughts are with you and Bud.

Anonymous said...

So many creative and thoughtful suggestions here, it must be asked: could Bud be "playing" you a lttle? Playing on your feelings of guilt, loss, whatever complex feelings we Moms have?

Follow through with all your appointments and supports but keep that tiny question in your mind: could this kid be manipulating me? All humans manipulate and ordinarily I am not fond of the label applied negatively, but NT kids learn it like a craft. Why not Bud?

Robin said...

What wonderful ideas! My only suggestion is that instead of thinking of a snack for a tear-free drop-off as a "bribe", think of it as positive behavior modification. Use it as much as both of you need it until you can slowly expand the requirements for the reward or phase it out.

My favorite book was "The Explosive Child" by Ross Greene. It was the best guide to dealing with feelings that seem to build uncontrollably (he calls it "vapor lock")

Wishing you both peace.

Harvest Moon Farm said...

Well, there's homeschooling....

I am NOT being unsupportive here. I can tell that you are doing everything within your power to give Bud what he needs. I know that homeschooling isn't a viable option for everyone. And I know that not every parent is cut out to homeschool their child, particularly their child with special needs.

But you did ask "What else is there?" And, well, there's homeschooling. A lot of parents of kids with ASD who never in a million years dreamed they'd be homeschooling their child, and who had to totally rearrange their lives to make it even possible, have found that homeschooling is the solution that works for them.

In any case, I hope you find a solution that works for you, Bud, and your entire family! Hopefully this really is just abandonment worries due to the changes of this past year and the psychologist will be able to help Bud work through them.

Anonymous said...

Did you know that January 21 is supposed to be the "bluest" day of the year? Between holiday-let down, messed up resolutions, sad weather, we are in the midst of hard times all around. I feel it and I know Pete feels it too. I'm so sorry you have hit such hard patch w/ Bud right now.

You have gotten some excellent suggestions, many I will try myself! Pete is having a hard time in different ways but has behaved in the past in the exact ways you are dealing with now. Time was the only thing that got us through.

I have access (yay!) to a behavior specialist at our district of whom Pete is actually quite fond. So for now, that is the route that I'm going to go ... hoping that the pre-existing relationship between the two of them will allow Pete to open up a bit.

(((HUGS))) and best wishes from karen in ca

MOM-NOS said...

THANK YOU for all of this. This is a goldmine of wisdom. It's interesting to me that it's always the posts that make me feel the most vulnerable - the ones for which I almost hit "delete" before I hit "publish" - that turn out to be the ones I'm most glad I wrote.

Some thoughts:

1. Manipulation is ABSOLUTELY part of the equation here. Bud is sticking with this particular script, in part, because it's effective. The difficulty is teasing out which part is genuine emotion and which part is acting (Bud is a BRILLIANT actor - and I am not being sarcastic here), and then figuring out how to address the real needs without enabling the less functional behaviors.

2. The school environment - or, at any rate, SOMETHING about the school environment - is also absolutely part of the equation. The "I'll miss you" is new (post-holidays), but the "I don't want to go to school" is not.

3. Aromatherapy is a VERY intriguing idea. I remembered when I read it that when Bud was in preschool I used to use essential oils on the soles of his feet at bedtime, and when I forgot he'd remind me.

4. Karen, I had no idea that Jan 21 was the bluest day of the year, but late January is ABSOLUTELY the bluest time of the year for me. You'd think that by now I'd remember that it was coming, but I forget every year until I find myself bursting into tears for "no reason" (which happened a week ago), and then remember... January. It's interesting to know that it's a larger phenomenon.

So much good stuff here. So much to think about. So much to try.

An update from this morning:

I gave Bud a shiny rock and told him it was his "Miss You Rock". I also chose a shiny rock for myself. We clicked our Miss You Rocks together in the morning and promised to click them together again at night, and we kept them in our pockets so we could rub them when we missed each other. Bud called me after school today to tell me that he was upset at school and that he rubbed his Miss You Rock. So that's something. That's a start.

mommy~dearest said...

That's an awesome start! Maybe you could give him a "mission" while he's at school? Something silly, like a report on what color socks his teacher had on, or what she ate for lunch? Just an idea- I am in no position to suggest school or miss-you advice as my child screams bloody-murder and has meltdowns at the thought still.

Anonymous said...

Recently, one of the students I have in my class has begun to experience true anxiety. Now, my kids are slightly older than Bud; grade 6 if you recall, but anxiety is anxiety regardless of the cause ~ rational or irrational. And while we are working to establish possible triggers, our goal is to provide Jr. with the most secure and understanding environment possible. One of the strategies we are using is a 10 minute instant messaging break. This allows for Jr. to "chat" with one of his folks (sometimes mom, sometimes dad) and share the positives of the morning. An immediate response is exciting and we have even been able to use his expertise of MSNing to share with the other kids.
For my own anxiety (which we have emailed and discussed previously), I know that aromatherapy is a very clear and grounding center for me. Before I had my surgery, I snuggled with a few items of the kids and Quark and I was able to process the rest of the stress somewhat rationally.
Music is such an integral part of Bud's life, I wonder if using the technology we have out in the vast world of speech pathology, adaptive communication devices and of course good old MP3 or Ipods, would allow for Bud to have a loving conversation on a device, playable on demand to regulate his feelings. In the good old days of tape recorders, we used to have a tape of my singing lullabies to the kids for when we were out past their night time routine. The sitters loved it, and the kids were calm.

I hope things with the psychologist go well and that he/she has more suggestions. Although having read the posted comments, I find it hard to imagine there being better ideas out there.

Best wishes!

Eileen said...

Brian will tell me how when he is at school he misses me and gets sad. The other day he reminded me of the Kissing Hand book that his teacher read to the class last year in Kindergarten and when we were at his Back To School Night the teacher had us moms put on lipstick and kiss the paper hands the kids made. They kept their Kissing Hands in their desks just incase they needed a kiss or a reminder of how much their moms loved them. This reminded me of you and Bud's "Miss You Rock". I like the idea of a Miss You Rock and I might just have to steal it to use with Brian.

Hugs to you and Bud, I know you will get through this together. Thinking of you on this end of January. {{{HUG}}}

GFCF Mommy said...

I am dealing with a similar situation induced by anxiety at school. My son's problem and his way of expressing it are different, I know the cause of his anxiety and it is something horrible that occurred at school. But I wanted you to know I got some good ideas from everyone here that might work for my son too.

I really appreciate you opening up. I kind of did the same thing on my blog a few days ago, though I too worry about crossing the line of privacy. Anyway, thanks for sharing and thanks to all the readers for their great comments. You never know who you might help!


Anonymous said...

You are missing nothing. You are the world's greatest Mom and parenting is the world's hardest thing to do. It is what it is.

Anonymous said...

When my son was in 1st grade, he started having messy accidents within an hour after coming home from school. It stopped the day after school got out for summer break. It turns out that his first grade teacher, who was so congenial with me, and good friends with the sped teacher, was being abusive to him at school. He couldn't tell me. As a matter of fact, he isn't the one who told me. It was some of his classmates who told me years later about how she had treated him.

It's not a pleasant thing to have to think about, but abuse happens in many different ways. I hope it's not the case with Bud, but is it something you have considered? Would he know how to tell you if a teacher or schoolmate was being mean to him?

Anonymous said...

I'd like to echo Harvest Mom and offer homeschooling for your consideration, if you have any way of supporting yourself without working full-time. I am an attorney and have put my career on hold. My husband and I have "down-sized," our lifestyle so that I can school our 6-year-old, PDD-NOS son at home, and it has been a really good thing for him.

I truly would not have meddled here, but Bud's anxiety sounds exactly like my son's when he went to school. Bud's statements and behaviors about school are almost identical to my son's. From the bottom of my heart, I did not at the time, and do not now, think that my son was being manipulative when he was expressing how very sad and scared he was to go to school. My son, and other spectrum children his age that I've met, are guileless.

I guess the messages I want to get across are:
(1) That homeschooling was an excellent option for us in a situation very similar to yours.
(2) That I truly believe that spectrum kids, on average, tend not to express their feelings as a means of manipulation.
(3) That I am one of those parents that Harvest Mom said would never have imagined themselves homeschooling. I am professional, secular, and not opposed at all to school, except as it makes my son despondent.
(4) I am available to discuss this further, if you like. irtiam2002@yahoo.com

I feel SO MUCH for you, your partner, and your boy. I admire you alot and know you will make a good path, whichever way you choose.

MOM-NOS said...

Unlikely Homeschooler, thanks so much for your thoughts and ideas. It's great to hear that homeschooling has been so effective for your son and your family!

I'm a single parent, so we are dependent on the income from my job. So, while I imagine that wouldn't make homeschooling impossible, it does make it a challenge I'm just not up to right now.

One other interesting thing. I do know that many (most?) kids on the spectrum are not purposefully deceptive or manipulative. Bud is not one of those kids. Perhaps that's one of the qualities that adds the "NOS" to his PDD, but trust me on this - it's one area in which Bud often looks downright neurotypical.

Anonymous said...

Is there anything/anyone he DOES like at school. I'm thinking build on that.

If you (Bud) were to do your favorite thing at school - what would it be?
If you (Bud) could DO anything at school - what would do?

I'm thinking here...