To Smartwatch, Or Not to Smartwatch–That Is The Question

In our new community, kids are much more “free range” than they were in our old community. I consider this a really good thing. I personally thought the parenting culture of my prior community was a little more “helicopterish” than I would prefer. Of course, my kids were much younger then, too, and you rather have to be “helicopterish” with young kids! Little kids’ favorite pastime is to try to find ways to kill themselves on an hourly – nay, minute-by-minute – basis.

The reason my prior community was less “free range,” however, also probably had something to do with the difference in state laws. In my prior state, children could not be left home alone (except for a “reasonable time”) before the age of 14. Recently, in a community that I grew up in, the police were called when a mother allowed her 8-year old to walk her dog around the block by herself. And people wonder about the rise of “helicopter parenting!” For. The. Love.

Here there is no age restriction. Parents can use their best judgment based on the age and abilities of their children. I love common sense!

Now my kids are almost 11 (gasp!) and almost 9 (going on 16), and they can – and should – have more freedom and growing independence for their social and emotional development. Lately, the girls have been meeting friends at the park near our house. The park is but a 2 minute bike or scooter ride from our house. We are also fortunate to live in a very safe community. As long as they are not by themselves but with friends, I am comfortable with this. However, we have been asking that they check-in with us every 20 to 30 minutes or so, just so we know they are okay. Their friends, on the other hand, don’t have to do this because they have smartwatches.

This got me thinking: Should my kids have smartwatches?

Here are the reasons I don’t want them:

  1. The extra expense. I only *recently* started paying for my own smartphone. I only *got* a smartphone in 2015, and that was because my employer paid for it. The Hub’s employer pays for his. I don’t like monthly expenses. I am trying to keep them down, not increase them.
  2. The Creepy “Big Brother” Factor. I want my kids to feel like they are trusted. Not tracked.
  3. 5G. I keep hearing this is bad. I need to actually read about why it is bad. I trust it is bad because it reminds me of how I kept hearing about how GMOs are bad and then I finally got around to learning about it and was like: “OMG, GMOs are BAD.” I have no idea if having a smartwatch will expose my kids to more 5G radiation, but I am guessing (some serious guessing here) that it will.
  4. If that sounds a little too woo-woo for you, I come back to the expense and the creepy factor.

Here’s why I do want them:

  1. They can call me when I am worried about them.
  2. And I am always worried about them.
  3. Becoming a parent increased my anxiety and paranoia levels to an all time high.

But that brings me to other reasons I don’t want them:

  1. I don’t want to cave into my anxiety and ridiculously overactive imagination because:
  2. Statistics and rational thought tell me that they will be FINE.
  3. The Hub and I survived our childhoods and adolescence without smartwatches (or smartphones, or cell phones, etc.) and there is no reason my children cannot either.
  4. They will learn to be more resourceful without them.

Okay, so I guess that settles it. I am not getting my kids smartwatches.

For now.

Econ-Mom: I honestly could go either way on this, for the exact reasons you outlined here! Such a hard decision Law-Mom, thanks for paving the way for me on this one! 

I am also anxious about my kids all the time! Just yesterday, Tuffy asked me if he could walk home from school by himself and my first reaction was “NO WAY!”  Now, his school is literally around the corner from our house.  But of course, I’m not 100% sure how people would react if they saw him walking by himself – I don’t want the cops called on me!  And, of course, what if he got lost?  It’s so unlikely, but the fear factor is so high! And unfortunately, ASD kiddos are more likely to die because they have wandered off and gotten lost (though, again, I’m sure statistics are still firmly on the side of “nothing will happen if they’re out of your sight for 5 minutes,” especially given how well Tuffy functions in the world these days).  I guess I would imagine myself in this case eventually getting the watch, just because knowing Tuffy, there is no way he would be able to remember to check in with me every 30 minutes! (Actually a lot of ASD parents get GPS trackers for their kids, so I might go with that.)  But I 100% support you not getting the girls a watch!  For better or worse, I’m fairly resigned to the Big Brother stuff (sorry Law-Mom) but I do feel that we could all use less technology in our lives! 

Autism in the Developing World

Ever since we got an autism diagnosis for Tuffy, I have occasionally stopped to wonder how many of the autism-related issues that are considered “problems” are really only problems because of the expectations our culture puts on children. For example, lack of eye contact. In some cultures, eye contact it is not expected and/or can be considered impolite. Generally speaking, I feel like the demands on our children just increase and increase as our society becomes more “advanced.”  Just look at schools! The expectations for reading levels in kindergarten are about what they were for first graders thirty years ago.  I’m not even sure that anyone has stepped back to ask “why.” I guess we all just want our kids to have some kind of “edge,” so if kids are capable of learning more, earlier, faster, we’ll just push them to do it because they can. And by the way, the demands on our senses also continue to increase. It’s always more, louder, faster! We’re on the go all the time (e.g. multiple transitions per day); birthday parties are much more likely to have a bouncy house; oh, and by the way, parents should get at least one date night per month! (Therefore, if your kids have a hard time separating and you rarely end up on a date night, you feel like you’re getting gypped and also failing at marriage.)

I don’t want to romanticize poverty, but I sometimes wonder if mild autism causes much less stress for everyone involved in developing countries. I could be totally wrong, so anyone with special needs experience in other culture please educate me, but I figure that in a small rural village probably experience less overload, very consistent daily routines, and fewer choices. (Tuffy used to just burst into tears when I asked him to choose a shirt, a food, etc.) These differences would almost certainly lead to way fewer meltdowns!

So, once in a while, when I’m feeling sorry for myself because my children can’t sit quietly through a movie, I try to remind myself that it’s only a problem because my first-world self expects to be able to sit through a movie now and then.

On the other hand, I also unfortunately suspect that kids with more severe autism and other disabilities do not fare well at all in many other cultures.  I actually just got this book from the library – The Anthropology of Childhood: Cherubs Chattel and Changlings – and while I’m not sure how much it addresses disability, I’m very curious to read about how parenting is approached around the world and glean whatever autism-related insights I can.  Some things I wonder about a lot are – how do people in extreme poverty deal with children who have a hard time eating certain foods? I suspect that issue comes up less often in that context, but I truly believe that kids with severe autism and/or other issues that lead to very restricted diets must be born everywhere in the world! And another thing that’s been on my mind a lot lately – bed-wetting! Tuffy still has trouble with this, which leads to a lot of laundry. Again, this issue must come up everywhere on earth now and then, so how do people without access to washing machines deal with this??

I’m sure I will be updating you all as I read this book–and I would love to hear about books/articles/etc related to autism in the developing world, so please send any recommendations my way!

Law-Mom: Econ-Mom, you raise great questions. Thank you for raising all of our awareness. As for today’s culture and expectations: I completely agree with you. I think everything has gone just slightly off kilter and that a lot of today’s parents go a bit over-board on things–particularly birthday parties. I blame Pinterest. (“Parenting Culture on 11.”)



Final Thoughts on my PhD Experience

Last month I got a survey in my email called the AEA Climate survey. I only bothered to open it because I thought it would be something related to environmental economics. (While I don’t consider myself part of the economics community anymore, my current job is marginally related to environmental economics, plus it is just a topic that I still find interesting.)

Turns out it was about the other kind of climate, i.e. discrimination and harassment within economics, but I decided to take the survey anyway. I was never sexually harassed during grad school (probably some combination of everyone being super respectful and my un-sexy motherhood), but I thought I would share with you all what I wrote in response to an open-ended question about whether we ever felt discriminated against. (I don’t remember the exact wording of the question but it was something along those lines.)

“My main issues came from the fact that I was raising children while I was in grad school.  I originally wanted to do time series research, but our time series professor had a reputation as someone who expected his grad students to work super long hours, and I obviously couldn’t do that since I had a toddler and a baby.  I had heard stories of professors (including this one) dropping grad students after years if they were not successful enough.  I didn’t want to take my chances and end up getting dropped, so I went with someone else, which meant changing my field. I would not describe this situation as active discrimination, per se, since I never made a strong effort to work with this professor.  However, one could make an argument that non-support is a form of passive discrimination at some level. If you want to make the decision that mothers are not welcome in graduate school, then fine, but otherwise an acknowledgement has to be made that mothers/primary caregivers do not have as many hours in the day to devote to graduate school and have other challenges, including financial challenges, and make at least some tiny effort to support them. In general, I felt the need to hide the fact that I was a primary caregiver, due to the competitive work culture.  I never saw any evidence that the department wanted to support parents or make us (well, mainly me – I was the only female parent in our department, and the men were never the primary caregiver) feel welcome. I’m not suggesting that the department should have bent over backwards for me, but even just a small gesture, like someone reaching out to ask how things are going, would have made a huge difference.”

I wrote this in a hurry, so it wasn’t incredibly well thought-out, and I hope it doesn’t sound super whiny. It is all true, though! Honestly, sometimes I wish I had been a little more of a trailblazer and tried to force one of those “tough” professors to accept that I had maybe 20 hours a week (at best!) to devote to research and take me on as a student anyway. But I did what I could with the personality that I have. I like to think that just existing in that space as a mom, and especially as an autism mom, helped in some minuscule way to move the needle in the right direction.

Law-mom: Econ-mom, actually, from a legal standpoint, I think you were discriminated against. In the law, what you experienced is a called a “disparate impact,” this “passive discrimination” that you refer to. It’s when certain policies or employment structures have a “disparate impact” on only certain groups of people. Of course, to *prove* that in the court of law is a whole other ball of wax. But, being a woman who understands most of what you experience as a mother in today’s culture, I believe that your department’s policies probably had a disparate impact on women–namely, in this case, women who are also caretakers. Of course, a huge percentage of women of a certain age *are* also caretakers. So, they are nearly synonymous terms.

I say, good for you for saying something! I am sure there are people in that department who have probably never thought about that issue before in their life.

Our Auto Show “Adventure”

Econ-Mom: Today we made Family Mistake #5782 and decided (er, DH convinced me) to drive to the LA auto show.  You’re probably already laughing at me (or just shaking your head) but in case you’re wondering why this was a giant mistake:

  1. LA is a 2 hour drive away;
  2. My younger son has pretty significant sensory issues; and
  3. The auto show is extremely crowded.

After getting on the road late, stopping to play at a rest stop, and a trip to a Jack in the Box (with a very disgusting bathroom) , we finally found a $20 parking place that was pretty close to the auto show.

Outside the convention center we saw people doing some stunt driving, which I thought was kind of cool, but Peanut immediately started scream-crying because he “wanted to go inside.”  Of course, the entrance was still a little hike, and Peanut refused to use the stroller we brought (apparently he’s too big for the stroller now). While Peanut was wanting to be carried, Tuffy ran ahead and almost plowed into a few people.  So, I yelled something like “Tuffy get over here!” and then he started crying.  (He’s going through a super sensitive phase lately, I think partly because second grade has been hard for him.  So it’s not uncommon for him to cry if I raise my voice, which is something I am really trying to work on!)

Now both kids have gotten upset, and we’re not even inside yet. But once we got in the door, they were excited to sit in the cars.  Peanut especially loved to sit in the driver’s seat and push all the buttons. (I’m 50% sure he broke something during the short time we were there — just the stress of him touching all of these expensive things was enough to make the whole trip not worth it.) The environment was definitely overstimulating, and Peanut kept bolting away from us, so one adult would chase him down.  Luckily our cell phones worked in there because we got separated a lot. Tuffy was handling things okay at first but then started to get upset because he kept getting electric shocks every time he touched a car.  (Things you learn about your kids — apparently Tuffy really hates electric shocks!)

So, Tuffy is in tears again, and Peanut is literally getting bowled over by adults because it’s a mad house, and no one is paying attention to where they’re going. Since everyone was getting agitated, I suggested getting some food. But by this point I was already pretty fed-up, so when the kids started whining about how long the food line was I said, “That’s it, we’re leaving,” and we all marched back to the car.  Clearly, we all had just needed a nap because all of us (except DH thankfully) fell asleep on the way home!

In hindsight, the thing that makes these situations worse is that I’m not only getting irritated from dealing with the behaviors from the children, but I’m amplifying my distress by getting mad at myself for making the poor choice (or in this case letting DH talk me into the poor choice) to bring the kids somewhere that’s a sensory nightmare. I’m not sure why I never learn this lesson!! Only last month I made the mistake of bringing the kids to a hockey game.  Why? Well, selfishly, I wanted to go to a work social event. They’re usually happy hours which aren’t family friendly, so when my work organized a group hockey game outing, I thought we could join.  WRONG. (This was actually a way bigger mistake than the auto show – the hockey game was incredibly loud and both kids were in tears by the end of the first period so we had to leave.)

You would just think that I would stop making the same mistakes over and over again!! It’s so frustrating. However, I’m trying to re-frame this in my mind and think of it like this – you know what, we are perhaps a slightly crazy family, but we’re also an adventurous family.  DH and I always used to do tons of road trips, and we loved trying new things before kids, so we are going to keep trying to expose our kids to new experiences, too.  Sometimes those experiences are going to really suck. But it’s not necessarily bad for the boys to try new things and have the occasional rough experience out there in the world.  A lot of places in the world are a sensory nightmare, unfortunately, but the kids do better and better as they get older – and we are *trying* to get Peanut started with OT which will hopefully help (of course the intake process at our HMO has been long and drawn out but that’s another story!)

Law-Mom: I give you so much credit that you keep trying, Econ-Mom. I know it is/can be so hard. We were not adventuresome when the kids were young because, seriously, every outing just felt like one giant headache, such that it was “so not worth it.” (Eating out at restaurants with the allergy issues still feels that way. I get jealous every time I hear about someone going out to eat.) It is a struggle, finding that balance between activities that you are good for your kids and a stretch for them, while also maintaining your own sanity.

Truth be told, I feel like I have sensory issues, so I really appreciate it when you say that the world is a sensory nightmare. Because I feel like it is.  I really *cannot* stand noise. (Ergo, I am not a fan of large parties.) It drives The Hub crazy how much I hate his loud music. I shut myself up in our bedroom the other day because he had the music too loud, but he was making dinner so I didn’t want to force him to turn it down. Today, I went on a field trip with a group of third graders, and I am still reeling from the experience of all the noise.  (I feel dizzy and exhausted.) Crowds and noise are just a nightmare for me. So, I avoid them. When I take my kids places that are super crowded, it is that much worse for me because I am absorbing literally everything from them and from the crowd around me.  The older I get, the more sensitive I get (I think). So, I have a lot of empathy for children with sensory issues. And their parents! Because as sensitive as I am, I can *handle* it. I may not like it. But I don’t throw myself down in the middle of a store and throw tantrums (as SC1 used to do). I save that for when I get home. (JK.)

How an Autism Diagnosis Should Go

[Editor’s Note: We cannot explain why there are no spaces between paragraphs in this blog post. The formatting is inexplicably not working properly.]
Okay, this is a long post, but now that I consider myself a veteran autism parent, I have a few ideas to share about how the world could be a better place for autistic people and their families.
The journey to getting my son’s autism diagnosis was hard, for two main reasons. (And I think many people have a similarly difficult time, though of course everyone’s experience is different!) First, I was coming to terms with the fact that my child is “atypical.”. When I had my son, I started reading those Baby Center newsletters.  They always discuss milestones and then say, “But don’t worry, every kid is different! Never compare your child to another child.”  Then all of a sudden, as you start down the path to the diagnosis, everyone is saying, “Well actually, your child is too different. He doesn’t talk enough or say the right things. It’s wrong that he likes to play with the same toy for 30 minutes. It’s wrong that he doesn’t do pretend play. It’s wrong that he doesn’t look at people.” (To be fair, no one used the word “wrong.”. But just by the fact that your child is being diagnosed with a “disorder” it’s hard to avoid the implication that the behavior is wrong.) I felt sad and guilty for not realizing earlier how “wrong” my child’s behavior had been, but at the same time angry at all these “experts” who didn’t have a single good thing to say about my beautiful, intelligent, amazing child.  No one cared that he could take any set of objects (e.g. a bunch of pencils) and form them into the shapes of letters.  No one liked the way he played – drawing letters over and over in the sand with a stick is “wrong,” but building a sand castle is OK.  Learning the sign language alphabet was an “unusual hobby.”  (Of course now, in hindsight, I can certainly agree that that was a somewhat unusual hobby.  But when that came up during our diagnosis I bristled because I felt that the word “unusual” did not literally mean “not usual” but in fact “bad.”
Second, my husband and I essentially had a ton of extra work dumped in our laps.  Speech therapy, occupational therapy, ABA, developmental preschool.  There were assessments and SO MUCH PAPERWORK for each of those things. And “homework.”  The speech therapist would say “work on XYZ” and the OT would say “have him practice XYZ” etc., and I felt like I could never fit it all in, not to mention that it was stuff that my son didn’t *want* to practice. Oh, and by the way, I had a newborn baby! And given that half of his childhood was being taken up by therapy, I didn’t want everything for him to be work, work, work all the time.  I tried to tell myself that letting him line up letters for 30 minutes was not a *wasted* half hour, that was just him being a kid and playing how he plays, but I was never quite sure if I was doing the right thing! (For the record, we are four years post-diagnosis and Tuffy is doing incredibly well with making friends, keeping up at school, and just being amazingly well-behaved to the point that people who meet him now literally don’t believe me when I tell them about his meltdowns, so clearly I did execute everything perfectly despite all my fears! Or just maybe, autistic kids are super resilient just like all kids. But I definitely had some part in it!)
Given how hard the diagnosis process and early post-diagnosis months are, how could it be better?  How should this process go?  I believe that some of the first steps should be about supporting the parent(s).  For one thing, many autistic children do NOT sleep well, so not only do the parents have to deal with the issues I just described but they’re doing it on very little sleep.  It is SO HARD to do anything other than just survive when you’re not getting even close to enough sleep (and the sleep you do get is fragmented!).  It takes energy to work on goals with your child, especially behavioral goals.  Not to mention the fact that you’re also probably emotionally exhausted if your child has big meltdowns.  It’s just hard when someone regularly screams at you (and in some cases physically attacks you – my son didn’t do this but I hear this from a lot of autism parents).  It doesn’t matter that the person is a small child and you know not to “take it personally.” It is still just hard.  So you spend a lot of energy walking on eggshells to avoid the meltdowns.  For example, Tuffy used to have a very strict routine around opening his yogurt in the morning.  If my husband started opening the yogurt (not permissible – Tuffy had to open it himself) I’d dive across the room in slow motion yelling “Nooooooooo.”  (I didn’t really do this, but you get my point.) And God forbid the lid ripped while Tuffy was opening it, because if we couldn’t get every visible molecule of foil off of the plastic yogurt cup, the scream-fest was about to begin.  (By the way, if you’re reading this and thinking that we were just coddling him with his yogurt whims, please, please believe me that that is not how autism works.)
So, after years of raising an autistic child that you didn’t realize was autistic, sleepless nights, endless paperwork, judge-y stares and comments from parents or others who don’t get why you won’t take your child to the grocery store, why you can’t get him to wear his coat, etc., you finally get to the diagnosis, at which point things are supposed to get better.  But what actually happens is that you get to hear a whole bunch of stuff about how earlier diagnosis is better and then feel guilty for getting your child diagnosed “too late,” even though you probably had multiple doctors dismiss your early concerns anyway! (Of course, it’s more and more common for kids to get diagnosed quite early, but in our case Tuffy was over 3 and I got to hear a non-stop stream of praise for “birth to 3” intervention and how AMAZING it is if you can start services in that “critical window of brain development.”) Then you’re given a list of ABA providers that are covered by your insurance (if you’re lucky) and sent on your way! Never mind that most of those providers have long waiting lists so that critical time is ticking away as you frantically sign up for waiting lists as fast as you can fill out 30-page intake packets!
Here’s what should happen.  First, support from other parents is SO CRITICAL.  One of the first things I asked after we got Tuffy’s diagnosis was, “Is there a support group?” and the psychiatrist said, “Oh, I think XYZ has one.” So, I looked online and found that that group is only for people who receive their diagnosis through XYZ (which we didn’t.)  This is just ridiculous. Providers don’t necessarily need to facilitate these kind of groups, but it should absolutely be part of their job to know as much as possible about what supports are out there (including stuff like local Facebook groups!) to educate parents. Autism is not just a medical issue, it is a life issue.  There is SO MUCH that you cannot learn from therapists and doctors (unless they happen to have autistic children themselves!)  I mean, just imagine raising a neurotypical child with only the information you get from your pediatrician. Never having a mom-friend or family member who is also in the midst of raising a neurotypical child, who you call and say, “Hey, he won’t take the bottle,” or “Do you let your kid nap in the car?” or just commiserate about anything and everything! You probably won’t come into an autism diagnosis knowing that some parents do a TON of ABA and some choose not to do any.  You won’t know that you’re not the only parent who plans their day around not using public bathrooms, because your child can’t handle the noises from the hand dryers, or that you’re not the only parents who has lost your child and that some parents get GPS trackers for their kids. You won’t know what places are good for autistic kids to take swimming lessons. You only know what providers are telling you, and let’s face it – they are almost all wonderful, caring, hard-working people, but they don’t live autism 24/7. (Sorry for being super cynical, and I’m not directing this at anyone personally, but on some level I do believe that the fact that they are also trying to stay in business shapes their views on therapy to some extent.)
Second, the parents should go to at least one session with a therapist who specializes in autism.  Let’s face it, no two people on earth have the *exact* same ideas about parenting, but it gets compounded when you start throwing in all these interventions.  Some parents are more “pro-therapy” than others. Some are more skeptical about autism than others. Most are struggling with some level of grief as they figure out how to revise the (often subconscious) expectations they had had for how their child’s life was going to go. (Not to mention revising expectations about how our careers would go and weighing whether or not to quit our jobs and/or give up on other ambitions! Ahem, this was me.) This stuff is hard, and getting the parents to a place where they can be united would probably do at least as much for the child than many hours of therapy!
Finally, sleep issues need to be HIGH priority. We didn’t start Tuffy on melatonin right away because providers were pretty wishy-washy about it.  I wish they had made it more clear that it’s not harmful to try and that it’s worth trying if your child has trouble sleeping, because getting more sleep is really, really good for your child and yourself. You need extra patience to raise an autistic child, and patience is so hard to come by when you’re sleep deprived.  By the way, your child needs sleep, too! I believe that starting melatonin improved Tuffy’s behavior more than any therapy we did.
One last thing – before all of this, newly diagnosed parents should just get a spa day to rejuvenate for the work ahead!  ; )  I’m not sure our health insurance system can cover that, but if you have a friend whose child gets a diagnosis and you are able to pamper them a little bit, please do! It’s going to be an emotional time no matter what, but if society’s reaction was to celebrate the fact that the parent had put a lot of time and effort into getting that diagnosis and was really invested in learning and doing what’s best for their child, I think that would be cool.
Law-Mom: 
Econ-Mom, my heart really goes out to you hearing all of this.  I know that SC1 is not autistic, but between severe speech delay, poor speech articulation, daily temper tantrums, sensory processing issues, seven severe food allergies, and 5 hours of chopped up sleep per night while also taking care of a newborn, I really do appreciate how hard it can be.  (I was so sleep-deprived that I was on high blood pressure medication for about a year after having severe preeclampsia with SC2.)
I was constantly asking specialists if SC1 was on the autism spectrum and constantly being told she was not (basically because she made eye-contact). But there is also this really difficult parenting-space to exist in when your child is not developing the way you expect (based on the development you see in her peers), but you also can’t get a clear diagnosis. (We only finally got some answers after a neuropsych evaluation in third grade.)
If it had been any harder, I would have needed a support group. So, I 100% agree that specialists and providers should be offering and providing that kind of information to parents struggling to get through the maze and the days (daze) of parenting special needs children. In the end, I survived because I made friends with a mom in my neighborhood who had a child on the autism spectrum, and she and I could relate to each other’s struggles.

Build Better Bathrooms

(The above should say “waiting in a shorter line,” but I still found it amusing.)

I was talking to a mom of (two) boys the other day, and we were discussing gender differences. She was saying how some moms will tell her that “girls are harder,” but she disagrees for various reasons. Then we proceeded to discuss the “pros” and “cons” of parenting both genders.

At some point in the conversation I said, “You know what I always resented? Going on road trips, and feeling annoyed because The Hub could not help me with two girls. So, I’d be stuck in the restroom changing two sets of diapers.”

And she responded:

“But that happens with us, too, because the men’s rooms don’t have diaper changers!”

To which I was momentarily speechless. And then I gasped and got rather excited and high-pitched: “OMG, I can’t believe I never thought about that before!! Ohmygosh, of course, they don’t! Omg, they need to do something about that! OMG, I’m sure Econ-Mom will talk about how men need to be more involved in child-rearing again!!”

Right, Econ-Mom!?!

My friend and I discussed the pitfalls and perils of gender-separated bathrooms for quite some time, including other, even more important reasons for having more family bathrooms aside from the fact that child-rearing should be a gender-neutral activity. For example, it’s awkward for moms of boys to be taking their boys-of-a-certain-age into the women’s bathroom with them, but equally dangerous for them to be sending said boys into the men’s bathroom on their own.

Tricky.

Seriously, people. Two words: family bathrooms. More of them. Please.

This reminds me of a point I have been complaining about for 15 years now, ever since my first debut as a litigator at the Daley Center courthouse: poorly designed women’s bathrooms. The women’s bathrooms at the Daley Center were clearly designed by men because they do not even have counters! So, you have no where to put down a purse,  an attache, a briefcase, or a coat.

Do the men’s rooms have counters? Don’t men have briefcases and coats? Where do they put them? The floor? And if so….gross!

This is why we need more women in the fields of architecture, design, and engineering.  (Why we need more women in all fields.) I’m personally sorry I didn’t pursue that career path, because I think it would be more rewarding than law. I’d love to take charge of a new nationwide movement to build better bathrooms!

In short, in order to be a better, more functioning, and more sanitary society, we need (1) more family bathrooms with (2) diaper changing stations, and (3) counters.

Econ-Mom: Oh gosh, bathrooms.  Having recently lived in Seattle, where there is a bigger push for gender-neutral bathrooms, part of me does feel like it’s a bit weird.  For a while I was working in a building with a gender-neutral bathroom. I rarely used it (because there were also men/women bathrooms) but the few times I did, I was always kind of worried that I would walk in on a man using the urinal.  (Yes, there was a urinal, and yes it was a multi-person bathroom.)

But a much bigger part of me is all for gender neutral bathrooms!  This is an issue where the disability community is very much in line with the transgender community, for obvious reasons.  I still take my 7-year-old (who is super tall and looks like he’s about 10) into women’s bathrooms with me on occasion, depending on how comfortable I am with the situation.  I was somewhere recently where I had him in the bathroom and a lady walked in and said something like, “Oh my gosh.” I thought that was probably directed at me/my son but I just ignored it.  (BTW, if she had asked me why I had him in the bathroom, I would have happily told her that he is autistic and I don’t feel comfortable letting him go in strange bathrooms alone.)  Of course, people with more severe autism or other disabilities go with a caretaker for their entire life (and just to be pedantic, I will point out that most caretakers are women.)

All that being said, my number one biggest issue with bathrooms is that they are quite often sensory nightmares.  I was cracking up recently because someone in one of my autism mom groups called those high-powered air dryers some really dramatic name like “death machines”, and everyone in the group was like, “Preach, sister!”  There are honestly tons of ASD parents out there who do not take their kids to certain places because the bathrooms are just not an option for their child.

Law-Mom: I get that.  I think I’ve mentioned on this blog that The Hub and I were convinced for the first few years of SC1’s life that she was autistic for many reasons, including the fact that loud bathroom hand-dryers would make her cry.

Also note: I don’t think they need to build more family bathrooms to the exclusion of gender separate bathrooms. Maybe that would be not be economically feasible? But would it really be that expensive to just have one family bathroom for families to use (not necessarily with multiple stalls)?

Finally, in this campaign to Build Better Bathrooms: when they build women’s rooms, they should just build them two to three times the size of men’s bathrooms (i.e., with two to three times more stalls). Surely that would make everyone happier, including the men who would spend less time waiting for their female companions.

Putting the Onus on Mothers – and Parents in General

I like to say 90% of success is just showing up. Which is a good thing, because there are some days showing up is all I can do, because my brain is somewhere else.

For example, last week was the kids’ spring break, and I arranged to work from home 4 out of the 5 days. My husband worked from home on the day our office has our weekly meeting, so I could attend. I am fortunate that I have this kind of flexibility, as this article points out. (Oh, and “yes” to everything that article says. I clearly had children in the wrong, by a lot, age window. Although, I am so thankful that I will not be suffering the same lack of sleep in my 40s.)

At the beginning of the week, I arranged a carpool. I told the other mother in advance that my husband would be home on Tuesday to share in the carpool. I gave them both each other’s cell numbers.

Nonetheless, instead on contacting him about a change in plans on the day of his carpool duties, she texted ME.

WHY!?!?!

All this did was create greater confusion, because now I had to make sure that he got the message. It put the burden on ME. It put the time and the responsibility on ME. Guess what else it did? Prevented me from doing my job for about 5 minutes while I made sure that messages were relayed and confirmed.

Yes, this was only 5 minutes. But believe me, in the life of a mother, there are so many “5-minutes” of juggling details that they can add up to a day. I love it when childless working women say things to me like, “What do stay-at-home-moms” DO all day?!?!” Oh, I could tell you! I could EASILY fill-up an entire day taking care of the non-work related details of my life. Instead, I just jam them into the early morning, evening, and weekends. My husband complains that I jam our weekends too full. But honestly: When in the world am I/are we supposed to get everything done?!

This is not the first time this has happened. Another favorite was the time my daughter’s daycare (this was at least 4 years ago) called me to retrieve my sick child from school, even though my office was further away than my husband’s. Now, one cannot expect them to know that. What annoyed me was that they repeatedly called me and never even tried calling my husband when they couldn’t get ahold me right away! I might have been on trial for all they knew.

The main point of this rant is that we all need to be more mindful of our assumptions. I am guilty of it, too. But for the love of all that is good and holy, people: If you know a woman works, and she has given you her husband’s cell number, and she has told you that he is the one in charge that day: Do that poor woman a favor and call the husband when you need to relay information pertinent to the children. For. The. Love. (Thank you, Jen Hatmaker.)

Also, Econ-Mom: I never got the chance to respond to your last post about neurotypical people’s assumptions about children and behavior and parental responsibility. As you know, I am in your camp, because, even though she tests as neurotypical, I had a child with a number of issues in her younger years that made it *feel* like I was raising a non-neurotypical child. Daily temper tantrums, speech delay, sensory processing issues and extreme introversion had both The Hub and I wondering if SC1 had autism. We asked her speech therapist regularly. We also had her evaluated more than once. While I would LOVE to take credit for the incredible 10-year old she is now, I personally do not like, nor want, to take credit for any of my child’s good or bad behavior, because I struggled in that department for so long. There is literally nothing more frustrating than to watch the same poor behavior exhibited in public – over and over and over and over again – despite best efforts to correct it. For years, I wanted to put a sign around SC1’s neck that said: “I am only 2.” or “I am only 3.” Because she looked much, much older than her years, so more was expected of her. In short, because of my experience, I am extremely understanding and compassionate towards parents whose children are acting out in public. We all need to remember that children are not tiny adults. They are LEARNING. They cannot be expected to do everything perfectly. And when you see a parent struggling, it is much kinder to let them know “this too shall pass,” than to pass judgment.

 

Allow Me to Edit This Ableist Article

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t doubt for a second that this teacher had to deal with some rude students and parents. And I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that she was working hard to accommodate any special needs students that she had in her class.  The problem I have with articles like these is that they perpetuate the idea that behavior is 100% under the control of the child and that bad behavior is the fault of the parents. These ideas are so subtly woven through SO MANY articles, comments people make, etc.  We’re so used to them we don’t even notice.  But they’re so harmful to  autistic children and their families.  The idea that bad behavior can be “beaten out” (metaphorically or literally) of a child is a) crappy and can lead to abuse, b) can cause a delay in seeking a diagnosis, and c) when an autism/sensory processing/other diagnosis is made it can result in people, even within the immediate family, who don’t believe the diagnosis and not only undermine therapies but shame the parents with comments like “he just needs a good spanking.”

So without further ado, here is the article in question. I copy/pasted some sections below with my edits in red.

http://www.distractify.com/trending/2018/04/04/Z1TQtcz/facebook-rant-enabler-parent

One of the earliest things my mom taught me and my siblings growing up whenever we went anywhere was that we should treat that place like our own home. If we were playing with someone else’s toys, we should treat it like it was our own property. That, coupled with the fact that we ARE NEUROTYPICAL and didn’t grow up as the family who always had all of the newest toys and gadgets, meant that we had a respect for our own belongings, and coincidentally a respect for other people’s because our mom stayed on top of us. Also, being neurotypical, we were intrinsically motivated by social rewards, such as not having other people get mad at us. Now it might seem like such a simple concept for someone to grasp, but we’ve all met those kids who are basically a walking tornado. They leave mayhem in their wake, wherever they roam. Now you can scold the child and ask them just who the heck they think they are, or if they’re a toddler, just chalk it up to the fact that they’re going through the Satan Spawn phase of their life. Alternatively, some children get distressed easily in situations where there is a lot of visual and/or aural stimulation. These children sometimes use behavior to communicate the fact that they are anxious or even physically hurting if they are non-verbal or too overwhelmed to use words. Luckily, if these children are fortunate enough to have someone around them who understands this form of communication the situation can usually be deescalated fairly quickly. But if they’re old enough to know better and still see no problem with their behavior, then that responsibility falls squarely on the parent’s shoulders. I mean, yes, kids can be influenced by their friends and what they see on TV, but ultimately parents should be in control of that. So I get where this teacher is coming from with her epic rant on parents who “enable” kids’ bad behavior.

….

I am including photos that I took in my classroom over the past two days. This is how my classroom regularly looks after my students spend all day there. Keep in mind that many of the items damaged or destroyed by my students are my personal possessions or I purchased myself, because I have NO classroom budget. Luckily I understand that school is a very challenging environment for some children. Between the academics and just trying to behave all day, it can be hard for any kid but especially those who have to work harder than their peers to understand the reading or math and/or just to process the world around them. Therefore, I proactively plan for challenging behaviors and I would never fill my classroom with expensive and/or breakable items. I spend time trying to figure out what is causing the challenging behavior and I also advocate for more support for my students who need it, such as having an aide in the classroom.  It is a lot of extra work but all students are legally entitled to a public education, so we would never try to push a student out of the system because he/she is “too diffficult.” However, in some cases the lack of parental and adminstrative support really does make it very difficult for me to do my job. I have finally had enough of the disregard for personal and school property and am drawing a line in the sand on a myriad of behaviors that I am through tolerating. Unfortunately, one parent today thought it was wrong of me to hold her son accountable for his behavior and decided to very rudely tell me so, in front of her son.

I have never heard of a profession where people put so much of their heart and soul into their job, taking time and resources from their home and family, and getting paid such an insultingly measly amount. Teachers are some of the most kind and giving people I have ever met, yet they get treated so disrespectfully from all sides. Most Some parents can’t stand to spend more than a couple hours a day with their kid, (but by the way, many parents spend countless hours taking their child to therapy and advocating for him/her at IEP meetings, only to get constant push-back, because the supports needed for their child to be in an inclusive educational environment are “too expensive”) but we spend 8 with yours and 140 others just like him. Is it too much to ask for a little common courtesy and civil conversation? 

Bummed Out About Food Allergies

I saw a post on a Facebook mom’s group about the new Peter Rabbit movie. Not sure which depressed me more: The news about the movie or the comments in the comment thread.

Some moms were commenting: “It’s just a movie.” “Lots of movies are inappropriate.” “It’s a teachable moment!”

My response to that:

I don’t think the problem is that a food-allergy bullying scene is “inappropriate” per se, but that it plays into misinformation and misconceptions about food allergies. Most people know that a gun does, in fact, kill. (Some moms were comparing food-allergy bullying violence to gun violence.**) But most people seem to also think that all you need is an epipen handy and all your food allergy woes are over, which is, sadly, not true. Sure, it may be a “teachable moment,” but what is there to teach, if the parents themselves have no knowledge or real understanding of food allergies? It’s great that we (this particular mom’s group) live in a well-educated community that teaches children not to bully and about the seriousness of food allergies. I’m more concerned about the communities where food allergies are not understood and misinformation continues to spread.

In addition, this what I’ve been hearing a lot lately when people hear my child has food allergies:

“Oh, that’s why I started giving my kids peanuts right away in the first year of their life! I didn’t want to take any risks, so I just made sure they had peanuts right away!”

Of course, 10 years ago it was the opposite conversation:

“Oh, that’s why I waited til my kids were like 5 before I gave them peanuts!”

The unspoken conclusion of everyone’s self-congratulatory professions, of course, is: “And that’s why my kid doesn’t have allergies!”

Okay, a few things about this:

  1. Horse manure.
  2. You don’t get to claim any credit for the fact your kid does not have allergies, except that your genes paired up nicely with your mate’s.
  3. Whether your kid has allergies or not has nothing to do with what you did or did not eat when you were pregnant or what you did or did not feed her in her first year of life. It just doesn’t, okay? If it was that simple, the food allergy epidemic would already by solved.

People keep latching on to these silly ideas about what does or does not cause allergies, and it’s almost all myth, based on snippets of a larger dialogue. I know a mom whose kid has the exact same allergies as my kid, and guess what? I ate peanut butter when I was pregnant (because meat made me physically ill) and she did not. Another mom: Ate peanuts with her non-food allergic kid; didn’t with the one who is allergic. There is no rhyme or reason to it. And as far as what you feed them in their first year of life? We discovered all of SC1’s allergies before she was a year old, so it wasn’t because we waited too long to introduce them to her diet. If a child is going to be allergic, the child is going to be allergic. Period. End of story. You can feed peanuts all you want in the first year of life and pat yourself on the back for being smarter than everyone else. But guess what? You just got lucky!

[I should mention that I was at a lawyer conference where the speaker ACTUALLY said that that kids were getting food allergies because “helicopter parents are waiting til their kids are 10 to feed them peanuts.” Yes, someone ACTUALLY said this!]

Ultimately, I’m griping, because it’s just such an irritating conversation to have with someone. The implication is always: “You were/are a bad parent. If you had done something different, your kid would not have food allergies.”

Gee….thanks.

This is similar to the guilt people make you feel for having C-sections. Everyone assumes that if you just pushed a little harder, tried a little longer, that you could have given birth naturally. (Also, the term “naturally” is so loaded.) No one ever considers situations, like mine, where there was no other choice. It wasn’t a choice. It was literally the only way out. And it was through no fault of my own. There wasn’t anything different I could have done or could have tried.

Are you finding yourself doubting what I am saying? If so, it just shows how ingrained the storyline of “she should have tried harder” is in our culture.

Same with food allergies. “If only mom had/had not given her child peanuts before the age of ___.”

So, yea. That’s why I am feeling bummed about food allergies tonight. Because the dialogue hasn’t changed much in 10 years. And because moms in my community are disagreeing about whether a food-allergy bullying scene in a kids’ movie is actually a problem or not.

Econ-mom: OMG I FEEL THIS SO MUCH. I haven’t seen Peter Rabbit, but I’m sorry to hear that new movies are still spreading this kind of misinformation. These blame issues are so much the same with autism! There is always a new cause-of-the-week or cure-of-the-week.  Here’s a particularly awful one that made the news a couple weeks ago -“Parents force children to eat bleach to ‘cure’ autism.” And of course many of the “causes” relate to what you did or didn’t do while pregnant or to your parenting style.  In fact just last weekend someone suggested that I withhold food to my younger one until he would eat some of the foods he currently won’t eat. As she put it, that’s what our parents did. (For the record my parents did not do this.)

By the way, it turns out that some of the things our proverbial parents did worked for some kids and traumatized other kids. Making improvements to how we raise children (based on science and/or applying some basic human rights to children such as “hey, maybe don’t starve them”) doesn’t have to invalidate our own upbringings or those of previous generations. We just learn more, and we can and should use that knowledge. Here is a nice article that summarizes the current best practices for helping picky eaters/kids with sensory issues to expand their diets.

 

**This post was posted today before Moms on 11 heard or know about the horrific school shooting in Florida. Neither Law-mom nor Econ-mom meant to be in anyway insensitive to today’s current events in mentioning gun violence or in posting about food allergies in lieu of this terrible event. Our deepest sympathies and condolences go out to the victims’ families and all families who have been harmed by gun violence.

Food Allergies, Speech Delay & Autism – Oh My!

Let’s talk food allergies.

Now, I will be the first to admit that not all special needs are alike, and some special needs are much harder than others. I fully get that.

But having a child with food allergies is very hard. Multiply the allergies and you multiply the magnitude of the problem. When my eldest (lets call her SC1 for Sweet Child 1; my youngest will be SC2) was little, she had seven food allergies, two of which she has (gratefully) outgrown. But that means she still has five life-threatening allergies, which she will very likely live with for the rest of her life. (Trust me on this one. We have this opinion on good medical authority.)

I think this video does a pretty decent job of explaining what it is like to have a child with food allergies. Especially young children, who put everything in their mouths and cannot manage their allergies at all on their own. I definitely lived with high levels of anxiety about my daughter’s food allergies when she was very young. It made everything from preschool to playdates a challenge. Having one child with, and one without, food allergies, I can tell you how much easier it is to drop off the child who does not have allergies to a birthday party, or any other event that involves food. And they all involve food. For us, food is an omnipresent and ubiquitous danger.

Until SC1 was 4 or 5, she was allergic to sunflower. I invite you to go into your pantry and check out all the foods that contain sunflower. Especially if you are trying to eat organic (which we do), nearly every pre-packaged food will contain sunflower. Even raisins.

SC1 also has Oral Allergy Syndrome (OAS) Many people have OAS. This is when you eat a raw fruit or vegetable, and your mouth and/or throat starts to itch. This is a result of cross-pollination issues (thereby likely affecting those who are also allergic to the pollen in question) and is not life-threatening. It is not a real food allergy. But many people do not understand this and confuse the two. I personally believe this is why many people do not take true food allergies seriously.

When SC1 was little, any number of fresh fruits would give her OAS. Her reactions would mimic her true food allergy reactions. So, basically, when I dropped her off at preschool and playdates, I had to say: “Just give her water.”  The unhealthier the snack — Oreos or Ritz Crackers — the more likely she could eat it, because it didn’t contain sunflower and it wasn’t a fresh fruit tricking her caretaker into thinking she was having a real food allergy reaction.

Think about what this would have been like trying to manage if I had been working full time. (Back then, I worked part-time from home.)

SC1 was also in speech therapy three times a week through her preschool years. And then SC2 joined her a couple years later. So, at one point, I as driving them to speech therapy six times a week.

(A moment of silence to let that sink in.)

My point about the speech therapy circles back to parenting special needs children and trying to work a full-time job. (Econ-mom, I know you get this.)

Before our school district implemented a food-allergy friendly policy (no food in classrooms), I had to take a day off of work every time SC1’s Kindergarten class had a class party. Because you can’t expect four room parents (room moms, really; let’s get real), and the teacher who has 22+ other charges, to understand all the ins-and-outs of your child’s very complicated food allergy issues. (“No, she can’t eat raisins, because they might have sunflower. She can have apples, but don’t freak out when she complains that her throat is itching. No, she really can’t have most chocolate, because it might contain nuts. Watch out for pea protein. It sneaks into anything that is gluten free.”)

Last point about managing food allergies: Just because we (food allergy moms) are reading every label, or staying at your child’s birthday party when all the other parents are just dropping off their child, does not mean we are a helicopter parent. In fact, we really, really hate having to act like a helicopter parent. (That linked article is one of my favorites. Just read that. I didn’t need to write this post.) We are just trying to protect our child’s life, is all. You know, basic stuff. We are also trying to save you the headache of figuring out what to do when our kid breaks out in hives and starts vomiting.

SC1 has had two very severe allergic reactions thus far where the epipen probably should have been used. [I am going to find and link a blog post I once read by a very sympathetic mom who also failed to use the epipen when she probably should have — if I can find it. Also, a post for another day: How much epipens cost, the fact that ambulances are not even required to carry them, and how much they fail.]  I can think of six other incidents that were thankfully less severe (two of which were her “first time” reactions to sesame and eggs that sent us to the allergist in the first place).

The point is: Even I have made mistakes, and I am all too familiar with how allergens can sneak into foods that you would not expect. (Did you know fish sticks can contain pea protein? Candy corn has sesame?) So, please do not judge me when you see me reading the label on the fake cheese sauce. Even if she has eaten it before, ingredients can change over time. Sesame oil is cheap, which is why it is used in so many foods.

I guess my overall point here is: Working full-time and parenting kids with special needs is hard. For some, it is impossible. What is the solution? Is there one?

[I didn’t even talk about the implications of food allergies on Halloween – my least favorite holiday that we just survived! Also a blog post for another day!]

Econ-Mom’s Comments:

This is a timely post from Law-mom (LM), because I was just thinking about how nice it would be if “autism leave” was a thing.  I’m not sure how helpful this would be for food allergies since, as LM points out, that is a problem that requires constant vigilance.  Autism, on the other hand, does get easier over time in some ways.  There is a huge learning curve that you have to deal with post-diagnosis. You have to get various therapies set up (which involves reams of paperwork, scheduling an evaluation, and then often hanging out on a waiting list).  You have to find a way to work these into your schedule (Ha!), because even if you could afford a nanny you will want to attend most of the sessions, so you can learn how to work on the various skills in your “free time.”  It’s no wonder many moms scale back or quit working altogether if they have an autistic child. [This is true for speech therapy, too, Econ-mom (EM). Our private speech therapist wanted me to attend all the sessions.]

I was 3 years into my PhD when we got Tuffy’s (my 6 year old’s) diagnosis. I was told he would need 20+ hours of therapy per week. I thought very hard about quitting school, but to make a long story short, I hung on by the skin of my teeth. One way I was able to do this was by lining up Tuffy’s speech, occupational therapy, and ABA (applied behavioral analysis) sessions on Wednesdays. (He also had ABA on Fridays, but often DH would attend that session). He also attended developmental preschool 4 days a week, but the school district was able to bus him from preschool to his daycare. This way, I was able to work 4 days a week, but it took almost 6 months to get this schedule nailed down. Initially we didn’t have busing, so I had to drop him off at preschool, run to a coffee shop nearby and work for about 1.5 hours, and then run back and pick him up. As LM said about driving to speech therapy, there’s no way I could have done this if I had had a “real” job. I suppose I could have hired a driver/nanny if I had had a real job, i.e. one where I actually earned more than the cost of daycare. Then again, if I had had a real job prior to Tuffy’s diagnosis, I’m sure I would have lost it already due to his frequent illness. (There is some recent research linking autism and the immune system and I for one am inclined to believe it.)

Anyway, having some kind of standard 6-month autism leave after getting a new diagnosis wouldn’t solve everything. For example, my heart goes out to this mom who decided to quit work when her son was 8 (so presumably had the diagnosis for a while). However, at the very least, it would send a message that we as a society want to support these parents and make them feel welcome in the work place if they choose/are able to stay in.

And one last comment about helicopter parenting – it’s funny how Courtney and I have both found ourselves in that situation, but for very different reasons. Autism parents end up being helicopter parents all the time, due to our children’s limited ability to communicate. It’s not a role most of us relish, but it is what it is.  For me anyway, it took some time to get used to that role, but nowadays I’m pretty comfortable inserting myself into my children’s play on the playground, and I am just grateful that the kids are still young enough that I’m not getting the “Why is your mom here?” type of comments, yet.