These past few months since attending the PG Retreat have been filled with emotional change for our family. After 3 years of trying to figure out what it was exactly that made our family so different, now we KNOW. We’ve found our tribe, our family, our people. With it has come a few small shifts in our perspective that have made large shifts in our daily life.We stopped trying to be normal.
People like to throw out the “what is normal anyway?” question as a nice quip but still, being different can come with hurt. Feeling alone, isolated, not understood, not wanted, etc. can really weigh on a person and a family. Raising kids in a home where not only are the parents off from societal norms but the kids are too…well, that takes a lot of backbone to always be confident. We have had to address what our needs and days are like and find ways to either embrace them or dismiss the societal norms. Otherwise, the constant feeling of being somehow wrong by society’s standards becomes overwhelming.
What does our normal look like in our home?
Let’s start with the house: I’m no perfect homemaker but I do have standards for how I like things to be. I’m excel at organizing and other type-A visual-spatial skills. With two kids who run us ragged, we don’t often get our home as we would like it. So, messes happen. Dirty floors happen. The constant need for novelty and new reading materials means we have more books than movies, more book cases and baskets that other pieces of major furniture. The Lego bins are full and the kits take up a lot of room. The multi-potential brains of both parents and kids means we have LOTS of hobbies that we dive into. We have dark room equipment for 4 sizes of film. We have digital camera equipment. We paint and draw in multiple medium. Add in sensory needs and the art supplies multiply further.
Like fort building? Well, we have piles of blankets always at the ready because our kids need to be doing something and like to be in snug spaces. We have a PVC bed fort for each kid, a living room fort area and the outdoor fort spots.
Another part of our new normal is giving up the idea that our kids will ever sit still and just do traditional linear academics. I know our kids will be years past the workbooks once they finally catch up with handwriting and fine motor skills. Those chunky books are gone. Crayons give my kids the creeps but we keep them for science experiments. They age-appropriate baby toys are gone and we politely ask folks not to bring gifts unless we give direction or they offer a book. With two kids 4-and-under who can read, things are way out of the normal schedule for development. We bought wiggle stools for the kids and they eat meals on them, sit on them, spin on them, etc. We have no more designated homeschool space as these kids can’t sit still. It isn’t in their nature. We kept our trampoline indoors and set up the garage for family exercise. Thanks to SPD and weak muscle tone we are always trying to develop their bodies to help them with daily activities.
We changed our view on what a homeschool is:
What grades are they in? Well…….they aren’t in ONE grade. If my baby were in school, he’d be in kindergarten. He can do basic reading and can count to 50. He can name all his colors, 2D and 3D shapes, and knows loads of other things that any Kindergartner would be learning. He is also going to turn 2 in a few weeks. So, what on earth do I say about him? Our 4 year old can’t do much with his fine motor skills but can read anything put before him. Coloring books are out and so are workbooks. He loves memorizing the periodic table, science facts, and electrical books. If you read it with him or give it to him to read, he has it down quickly. He and his brother can tell you all about model railroading and please, just don’t ask if they like Thomas the Train when they say they like trains. If you were to ask which model of engine they prefer or which train scale, then you would be getting a good response. With the rapid pace they blow through curriculum and get sidetracked to other subjects, we don’t have a very good way to plan a year out. We stick to 1 month plans. We will study a certain number of things for 1 month only. At the new month, it is time to move on as they are pretty solid on their understanding of that topic.
We’ve embraced misunderstandings:
Are our kids Autistic? Well, I could see how you think that…but no…
People notice that our kids are different and because Autism is more commonly understood people tend to ask if our kids are autistic. This is no way ever offends us even though people tend to preface statements with “I hope you don’t get offended but is he autistic?”. Actually, I think it is a great thing and a good question. Neurodiversity is such a fantastic thing and many of the things our kids do and services they need are often done by those on the spectrum. We have lots of friends in our community that are autistic and they have the best appreciation for what it means to truly be a friend. These kids don’t try to make our kids fit into categories. They are themselves and we are ourselves. It’s magic. Shouldn’t we all be this way? What good is judging and labeling the people and children around us? Sure, a label can help define things and help with getting aid if it is needed, but does it also create negative patterns? Yes it can absolutely. We as a society often use labels to be dismissive or imply elitism. Recent internet cat fights can attest to the vitriol of even mentioning that you think gifted kids are deserving of not being made fun of.
We struggle to find special services that others can find:
We don’t do public school for a variety of reasons. It isn’t a fit for our family. Some families make it work and some have to make it work. Thankfully we are able to make ends meet on one military income. It isn’t always easy but the well-being of our kids is a priority to us. If we can homeschool them so they don’t lose their love of learning through public school then wonderful. Our kids need to move even more than most kids. They have to move. Sitting in a desk is a recipe for trouble with our kids. The curriculum is linear and our kids are not. What would they do all day? The introverted nature and sensory needs of our kids also means that they would really struggle even with an IEP. By the time our kids were living with special diets, IEPs, pull-outs for all subjects, and then special waivers for health concerns, we would spend all year in meetings and the poor teachers would be exhausted. It is easier to do things at home with our kids. I’m grateful we can do it but it sure isn’t easy. It was not what we had in mind when we decided to have kids. Because we are out of the schools, we don’t have easy access to those services that others get easily.
Our marriage is impacted by our kids:
We don’t get as much space, quiet, alone time, housework completed, etc. as we would like. When your kids wake before you do and can’t sleep because their brains are still working, your personal time becomes limited. The sensory needs mean that my personal space is often filled with a wiggly child or one who is literally bouncing off of me. Add normal toddler lack of boundaries and we live in a nightmare for the agoraphobic. Taking in a regular movie or going to an event is a struggle. Will the noise be too much? Do we have the right headphones? Will there be more than 5 people and our kids will act out because they can’t cope? Will there be enough technical activities or open space instead of normal toddler activities which our kids will shun? One day we will get the chance to get off on our own as a couple and take a break but it isn’t coming soon.
There is a constant stress that is never going to leave us. We have adapted and made the best of it but many things that we struggle with daily are not on the radar for most couples. This means we have to be a team on all things. Education decisions, food decisions, lifestyle, etc. require constant mini-meetings. Our budget is stretched to accommodate the needs of our diverse family and that can create tension as well. We have to give each other a lot of grace and love to continue with such constant stress. As two adults who have our own needs for mental stimulation, putting our needs aside all the time can cause anxiety and depression. We have to be ever aware that we didn’t stop having our own needs just because we have our kids as priorities. Taking care of us as a couple is a priority too. Gifted kids come from gifted parents and we have our own needs to consider. We would have loved to have more kids but at a certain point we had to have the frank discussion of weather or not we could support a third child with this level of intense needs. We just couldn’t do it. We are very much in love with every aspect of our two children and while we would have loved to have more, we will be content with the two stellar kids we already have.
Lastly, we stopped planning:
We used to have a two decade-long plan for our family. Kids, then school while I worked…College at some point when they hit 18 then we would have an empty nest.
Now we plan month-to-month. We kept our long-term financial goals but we had to let go of many of them. Will our kids go to college? If they do, will they be 6, 12, 18, or 24 when they start? What does that mean to our college savings plans? All we can do is just take it one year at a time and follow their lead. We don’t assume that one town will be supportive enough for their needs. We are open to moving for them. There are plenty of families who move to accommodate the educational and support needs of their children. We are no different. It is what parents do, right? Unconditional love often means hard choices and being willing to change your life for the needs of others. In the mean time, we found a group that supports our family and is like our family. That is something good to hold onto and embrace.
That’s our adapted home. Not much went unchanged with the addition of our two precocious boys. Thankfully we were blessed with a few very important things: love and a willingness to do for others by adapting to whatever is needed of us. Our family isn’t normal but neurodiversity is so wonderful and worth embracing. By the way, have you seen this awesome t-shirt over at ThinkGeek? I’m a big fan of anyone who wants to bring love to the world.
What changes have you had to make for your family? We finally shed the idea of normal and it is feeling so good!