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Ben’s Happiest Time

  • Posted on July 4, 2014 at 10:00 AM

When Alex leaves the house, the Ben comes out to play. This is not to suggest that Ben doesn’t play when Alex is in the house or that Ben doesn’t play when he goes out of the house. Ben is a typical kid, at least in the sense that he can play wherever he is and will do so without the least bit of encouragement (as long as you don’t account “typical play” as the only kind of play).

Still, it’s hard to say who enjoys Alex’s respite time more. Alex has a blast, whether he goes with his respite therapist or whether he goes with my mom. Ben has a blast because Alex is gone. They both enjoy their time away from each other.

Now, when things are reversed and Ben is out of the house, Alex enjoys Ben’s time away, too. The difference is that Alex, while having more fun than usual, is also calmer than usual. He doesn’t have to worry about Ben bursting in on the scene and stealing his fun away. When Alex is gone, Ben has his fun without trying to be the least bit calmed by it.

I swear, these boys’ ability to aggravate each other is epic. The term “epic” has become so overused I’m pretty sure it’s not “cool” any longer; but really, there is definitely something epic about the Ben/Alex battle. There is the typical sibling rivalry, of course: They like many of the same movies, toys, and activities, but don’t want to share them with each other. It’s more than that, though.

Alex exacerbates Ben’s sensory issues. Ben exacerbates Alex’s sensory issues. They have mutually exclusive coping strategies. Ben’s been such a bully for so long that Alex has given up the nice-guy routine and let’s loose on him. Ben is more vicious, but Alex is bigger. Alex still loses unless he’s willing to go all out; luckily, he has a genuinely gentle nature; unfortunately, that means Ben wins more often. It’s sibling rivalry on autism and I don’t like it.

So, Ben’s happiest time is when Alex leaves and my happiest time is when they’re both having fun, even though it happens when one of them isn’t here. It’s not that I want one or the other out of the house; it’s just that I want them to be happy—both of them at the same time.

Summer’s going great, let me tell you.

Health Effects of Activity Limitations

  • Posted on August 17, 2009 at 12:00 PM

Dr. Whitney P. Witt recently published a paper, “The Impact of Childhood Activity Limitations on Parental Health, Mental Health, and Workdays Lost in the United States,” concerning her research determining whether children with activity limitations (i.e., children whose activities are limited in comparison to their age-appropriate peers) affects the physical and mental health of parents.  Not surprising, Dr. Witt found, “Parents of children with any activity limitation were significantly more likely to experience subsequent poor health and mental health.”  If the activity limitations were on-going and/or multiple children lived with activity limitations in the same family, then the odds of poor mental health were significantly increased.

The results are not surprising.  She concludes:  “These findings indicate that child health can importantly influence the health and work behavior of the family and that health care providers should consider a family-centered approach to care.”

I don’t disagree.  Family-centered health care is important.  But, and this is a BIG but, there is a time-tested method of assisting these families.  Witt touches on that as well:  “Employers should consider offering respite care or additional support services for families whose children have activity limitations. This could enable the parents to miss less work and may improve workplace productivity.”

Neither my husband nor I have ever worked for an employer that offered such a benefit, though our work history has suffered due to the special needs of our children.  However, Wisconsin has an excellent (read here: expensive!) autism program that provides respite care to our family.  It is a sanity-saver!  Respite care is vital when you’re raising children with special needs.  Unfortunately, it seems funds for these programs are too few, spread too thin, and too limited to benefit as many people as need it.  For example, though these services are widely available to Wisconsin families with children with autism, families with children experiencing other special needs and activity limitations do not share in these same benefits.

There is a cost to raising children with special needs.  The cost is real, whether it’s spent preventatively or on treatment.  Our families are worth the cost.  Our productivity is worth the cost.  Our health is worth the cost.

“There are substantial health, mental health, and work implications for parents caring for children with activity limitations.  Addressing the needs of these parents could help improve the health and well-being of the whole family,” Dr. Witt said.  And she’s right.  It would also make for better employees, better citizens, and a better nation.