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All the tough decisions—autism life in a COVID world

All the tough decisions---autism life in a COVID world

As the months go by and we are still living in this endless COVID bad dream, I suspect all of us living lives affected by autism are starting to feel the strain increase.  It’s not at all easy for anyone, but for kids like Janey, and families like ours and so many of yours, it’s a special kind of tough.

Starting with the new year, it seemed, Janey got more challenging.  We all did.  It’s been a long, long haul, and it’s winter, and the cases were increasing, and we all had been stuck together as a family for far longer than is mentally healthy.  The biggest issue was sleep.  Janey’s sleep started a pattern of one night okay, one night with either a very late going to sleep time or a very early waking up time, and then one night of absolutely no sleep.  And although we did our bests to catnap while she was awake, or to sleep well on the nights she did, that kind of sleep cycle…wow.  We were snapping at each other, constantly tense, really not doing well.  
Janey, in trying to cope, I think, was developing some quite repetitive routines.  One was watching Toy Story 4, and sometimes Toy Story 2, over and over and over.  The other shows and movies she used to like weren’t being watched at all.  And not even all of the two Toy Stories were, just certain scenes, repeated time after time.  And while watching them, Janey would laugh, that laugh I think you all know, an insane sounding loud almost humorless laugh, a fake kind of high decibel laugh.  The nights she stayed awake all night would feature that laugh off and on for hours up on hours.
We kept trying, as we have been, to do school at home.  We do the morning meeting, at 8, for which Janey showed varying levels of engagement, and then video lessons such as books with a theme for the week or lessons like a great one her teachers have developed about body awareness and pain.  When we can catch her in the right mood, she’ll listen with interest and answer questions, but other times, she simply screams at the top of her lungs at the very mention of the classes.  We resorted to making the lessons a requirement before car rides or other fun times.  That’s not how I want school to be for her, some kind of chore.  And that’s never how it has been.  None of this is the fault of her teachers, who are doing a hero’s job of it all in the midst of impossible challenges.  It’s that remote learning is not how Janey learns, and I don’t think it ever will be.
With all this, we decided after huge family debate to request that Janey go back to school, which supposedly was available for kids of her level of disability.  We had turned down what was called the hybrid model of learning before, where she would have been able to go to school 4 days a week.  I thought this was a reversible decision, and that by requesting she switch out of remote, she’d be quickly able to return to school.  Well, I should have known better, as in one of the hugely contrasts that exist, the difference between the fantastic teachers in Boston and the (I won’t use some of the words I’d like to use here) middle and upper level central administration of Boston, the admin people showed their colors again, and it seemed somehow either impossible or incredibly complicated to switch her model.  Meanwhile, somehow there was supposed to be a switch for most special needs kids to in person on February 1st, but in one of the many conflicting and complicated emails I got, we were told since Janey was in the highest needs level and we had before requested remote learning for her, now that those with less severe needs were going to be able to go back, our previous decision to be remote had to stand, unless we did some complicated other form and (presumably) prayed it worked.  If you are confused, so am I.
However, Janey’s teacher and I had the idea that perhaps Janey could go to school for one day, or one day a week, for state testing she had to have.  Even just one day was such a thrill for all of us to think of.  So a week ago Thursday, Janey went to school for a day.  She had a wonderful day.  We had a wonderful day at home.  The effects of that one day, even, last for days and days—better sleep, better toilet use, better moods, and Tony and I, after 10 full months of absolutely zero respite, had about 4 hours to ourselves between driving her in and picking her up.
Part of the day at school was a COVID test.  Janey wasn’t excited about the prospect, and resisted at first, but her teacher told her that after the nurse “tickled her nose”, she could have a lot of salami.  Brilliant!  She gave Janey a minute, asked her if she was ready, Janey said yes, and the test was taken successfully.
That first week’s test was negative. We took Janey to school again last Thursday, so happily.  I especially needed a break.  Midweek I had developed diverticulitis for the third time in three years, with a fever and lots of pain, and a remote appointment and antibiotics and warnings of what signs to go to the ER immediately if I got.  Janey was tested again that day.
Saturday morning Janey’s teacher called us to say that the pooled test, where Janey and one other child’s COVID tests were combined together and tested, were positive.  Either Janey had COVID, or the other child did, or both of them did.  The school nurse called me a few minutes later (her teacher called me first to tell me in person, which I so much appreciated)  She went over the next steps, which was to get Janey her own COVID test.  
We are getting Janey’s test today.  And I’ll just note here, when mayors and governors and so on urge testing, well, could they make it a little damn easier to get a test, even in a situation like this where there is more than just an exposure, where there is a 50% chance Janey has the virus?  Can they make it so you don’t have to call around for hours and EXPLAIN to the nurse you finally talk to what pooled testing even is, and hear her say “I’ve never heard of that! That’s stupid!  I don’t understand why they would do that!” and then act like saying Janey could get a test is some kind of huge favor, and then asking me “Will she even cooperate with the test?”  
Janey has a few mild symptoms which might or might not be significant.  A few nights ago she was coughing a bit, and she had some diarrhea, which is rare for her.  But yesterday and today she seems perfectly healthy and happy.  And thankfully, the rest of us don’t show any signs so far.  But still, of course, we have to quarantine, and in fact, the whole high school is going to have to go fully remote (although only about 20 kids weren’t remote)  So, for now, our plans of having Janey go to school in person again are at the very least on hold for a while.
I don’t have a strong conclusion here.  Were we wrong to send Janey in for those two days?  My older son strongly, strongly feels we were, and maybe he’s right.  But as I told him, he hadn’t been up night after night with Janey.  He wasn’t the one responsible for keeping her together day after week after month, or for trying to get her to access an education in a way she didn’t want to and couldn’t seem to, she wasn’t the one without one second of respite from a very high needs child for literally almost a year.  We want Janey to learn, to be with friends, to have fun, to get the benefits of the wonderful teachers and aides and therapists that are there for her.  But of course we also want to be well.  And you can’t really be mad at a virus.  It’s doing what all of us are doing—trying to stay alive and go on.  
I’ll try to keep this blog updated on Janey’s test results.  I hope you all are hanging in there.  Please know you aren’t alone during these long months.  There’s a lot of us out there living this life.  Whatever decisions you make about schooling, know that you are doing the best you can in your situation.  And join me in hoping that a year from now, this will be part of history.  Please.
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