The Faithful Scribbler

A Catholic Mother In A Secular World

Mass Tips– Faithful Scribbler Style!

Ok, I’ve been googling around and found that everybody and their brother has created a list of “tried and true tips for taking kids to mass”.  I’m going to tell you that more than half of them wouldn’t work with Little Scribbler.  I know.  I’ve tried.

‘Sit in the front row’, they said.  ‘The kids will be interested and watch’, they said.  Anybody remember Little Scribbler’s front row forward roll of Ash Wednesday 2009?  Yeah.  Don’t sit in the front row.  Sit in the back.  On the end.  Don’t move to the middle when others try to join your pew– get up and make them slide into the middle instead.  Trust me on this one– egress routes are invaluable.

So anyway, if you’ve got a kid that’s tricky (you know who you are!), feel free to try out some of the following tips.  Many of them are adapted for sensory kids– if you’ve GOT a sensory kid, you know what I’m talking about, and if you don’t have a sensory kid, well, you can google it or search through some of my previous posts :)  Some tips may not be appropriate for typically developing children.

My philosophy about kids at mass is this:  They are entitled to be there, even if they can’t get their acts together.  They need to learn, about a million things, about mass.  For young children, I think we should be thinking about them “collecting” good “Mass Behaviors”, one at a time.  Genuflecting respectfully– that’s one mass behavior.  Making the sign of the cross– another mass behavior.  Sitting quietly during the readings– yet ANOTHER mass behavior.  You’re not going to collect them all at once, and you’re not going to collect them in chronological order.  Build on the skills your child has, one tidbit at a time.  Praise him where he does well.

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1. Teach your child to participate in the physical parts of the mass– genuflecting, handshakes, etc– no matter if they’re only 2 years old.  If really young, they may just be going through the motion for the first few years, but that’s ok.  (Don’t forget to go back and explain WHY we genuflect, when they’re developmentally ready to understand!). The goal is form a good, simple habit, that is easy to do successfully.  Little Scribbler always appreciated when we acknowledged her genuflect in those early years.  It was a small accomplishment for her.  The motion of genuflecting will become a habit– a ‘church behavior’, to add to their growing repetoire of Church Behaviors.  You’ll be surprised the flourish and sincerity young children sometimes invest in their genuflect!  Going through the motions, phsyically, is a GREAT jumping off point for kids who aren’t able to be successful in other areas….thing, ‘sitting quietly’, for example.

2. Teach your child some of the mass prayers at home.  Little Scribbler frequently tunes out during mass, but I’ll never forget the moment she heard the Our Father.  All of the sudden she was saying the words along with the congregation and then she looked at me.  “HEY!  I KNOW this one!”  Delighted!  It never occurred to her that what we do at home is related to what we do at mass.  She’s just not a lineaer thinker that way.

2a. Don’t expect kids to tune in a pay attention to the whole mass at too early an age.  YES you should have high expectations for their behavior, but for their participation, temper your expectations with their age and ability.  Now, I know that many of you are going to disagree with me– particularly those amongst you with typically developing children– but hear me out on this one.  Expect your children to be respectful in the house of the Lord.  Expect them to engage at an age appropriate or developmentally appropriate level— but start small.  Start with saying the parts of the mass that they know.  Or maybe with standing, sitting, kneeling when the congregation is doing it.  If you’ve got a REALLY tricky kiddo, start with sitting upright for the whole hour!  (more on that later!)  Once you get one GOOD “Mass Behavior” under your belt, build on it with another one.    Accumulate behaviors in the same way you accumulate skills in a classroom– one at a time.  You’ll find yourself less frustrated, but you’ll still be teaching your child in a proactive way.

3. Does your kiddo slide all around the pew like a wet fish?  Start with this one rule– “You are NEVER allowed to lay down on the pew.  It is disrespectful”.  If you can keep your child from really stretching out and getting the flailing started, consider it a victory for YOU.  Little Scribbler is never, and has NEVER been (at any age) allowed to lay down on a pew.  Neither is she allowed to sit on the floor.  She may sit, she may stand, or she may kneel.  I do not yet expect her to do as the congregation is doing– we have a little way to go before that is expected of her.  But she is expected to sit upright and respectfully in God’s house.  We went through a heck of a time with this, between ages 2 and 4, but we made it through!  There were plenty of times I had to take her out.  I STILL occasionally have to take her out!  So how can you help yourself acccomplish this?

3b. Cuddle Time!  This one isnt limited to special needs kiddos.  Mass has always been a special time for Little Scribbler and I to sit together and cuddle.  She needs some sort of physical stimulation to sit still, so I typically have her sit cuddled on my lap and bounce her– sometimes gently, sometimes not so gently, provided she stay quiet, because it’s not romper room after all!– while we either listen, or I explain what is happening.  She has internalized SO MUCH of what is happening at mass with this cuddle time!  The deep pressure of the cuddle and the bouncing of my knees help her to tune in an focus on the words being spoken– either by me or by the priest.  This is not unlike a bumpy cushion or sensory ball being used in place of a chair in a special ed classroom.  The theory is that when the physical and proprioceptive senses are satisfied, it is easier for her auditory sense to “tune in”.  This goes for the standing portions of the mass as well.  Although LS is almost 6 years old, and about 48 pounds, either The Auditor or I pick her up during many “standing” parts of the mass.  As she ages, and learns more, and acquires those good “Church Behaviors”, this is lessening.  She’s forming, albeit slowly, the habits of standing on her own.  If you take nothing away from this blog post– take this tip!

4. Quiet distractables.  Lots of mass tip lists will include something about quiet distractable items for young children.  Many people recommend having a “mass bag”, with special toys and books that are quiet, for mass time only.  This a great idea– but when do you phase it out?  The Auditor and I really struggled over the years with what is appropriate in mass for kids of different ages, and then we changed our mindset from “age” to “ability”.  The fact is, sometimes older kids are not able to sit quietly.  This is not a reflection of their behavior or their parents, but simply a reflection of the way God wired them!  LS has autism.  Her nervous system does not allow her body to rest unless she is sleeping, hence the bouncing and deep pressure cuddling aforementioned.  So we know she can not, on her own, sit still, even at almost six years old.  Well, what CAN she do?  She can sit quietly for extended periods of time.  I know this, because she does it at home, when she is drawing.  Part of her is sitll moving (her hands), but her mouth and most of her body are quiet.  So we go to mass every week with a fresh notebook and a pen.  For probably half the mass, LS sits, cross legged, in her seat and draws.   Want to know what blows us away?  She draws the mass!

Not always, but frequently, Little Scribbler draws the priest at the altar.  She draws Jesus on the cross (or “lower case t”, as she calls it).  She draws the backs of the heads of people sitting in front of her.  She draws stick figures lining up for Communion.

I will tell you that a lot of people have made a lot of snide comments about Little Scribbler being too old to draw during mass.  (POO ON YOU, red haired lady who’s name I don’t know, and all your redheaded children too, for loudly pointing us out as an example of what NOT to do in mass!  Mine might be drawing, but yours are hitting each other– so THERE! HA!)  A big part of the problem is that Little Scribbler’s disabilities are “hidden”, meaning, you can not tell by her physical features that she has autism, nor that she has sensory processing disorder, nor that she is trying as hard as she can to be cooperative!  You gotta be prepared for some snarkiness, which is really sad to experience in a church, but it is what it is.  If you can tough it out without getting angry, well, then you’re a stronger person than I am, because I usually explode all over my poor clueless husband as soon as we get into the car! :)

For a lot of sensory kids, another great quiet distractible might be a “fidgit” item.  Modeling beeswax words GREAT for this!  If you don’t already know, a “fidgit” item is frequently used in special ed classrooms.  It’s an item that children can manipulate with their hands, without having to look at it or engage with it (which is what makes it different than a toy, although sometimes toys are GREAT fidgits).  Little Scribbler has a squishy rubber fish that she frequently takes to mass.  She can squish it while she’s listening.  Her nervous system gets the satisfaction of physical stimuli, but she’s not engaging in imaginative play with it.  If she were, it would be a toy, and I would argue, not appropriate for her at this stage of her ability.

So long story short– use quiet distractables past the toddler years, if you think they might help your child be successful.

5. Using the Bathroom.  If you can get to mass early enough, use the potty first thing when you arrive. That being said, your kid is going to, at some point, ask you to go to the bathroom.  If your kid is anything like LS and her little classroom buddy, they will wail about their need to relieve themselves any time they’re feeling the need for a change of scenery– which is about 100 times a day.   I recommend picking a time during the mass that it is OK for your child to use the bathroom.  Personally, I pick the Offeratory.  Now, I have not TOLD LIttle Scribbler that she may use the bathroom during the offeratory, but I know in my head that Offeratory time is, in my opinion, the best time for me to take LS to the potty.  We go when we get there.  If she’s especially wiggly, or if she asks me to go, ONLY at the Offeratory will I take her.  Sometimes a quick trip to the potty is all she needs to settle back down afterwards (whether or not she actually did anything while we were in there).  If you’re sitting towards the back (on the end, which you may recall I recommend anyway!), it’s no problem to occasionally take your kiddo to the bathroom.

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You know, the point of all these “tips” is not just to get your kid through mass without incident.  Yes, it’s better for your sanity if you dont have to drag a screaming five year old out of mass, but it’s not really teaching your kid anything.  That’s probably the main reason I don’t advocate snacks for older special needs kids in mass.  Yeah, you might make it through the whole hour quietly, but all you’ve ended up doing is pacifying– not teaching them anything.  So often, we, The Parent Of Children Who Are Difficult In Public, fall in to that trap!  But it IS a trap– because there’s no progression forward.  No acquisition of new skills.  No magical moment of change.

I DO think that for differently abled kids, you sometimes need to take the slow, circuitous route to learning. You’ll get there eventually– just not at the same speed, nor in the same linear fashion, that others will.  We are definitely on a slow, circuitous route at the Casa de Scribbler.  If you’d asked me three years ago how we were doing I’d have melted down all over you in a puddle of stinking desperation!  I didn’t know then that insisting Little Scribble sit up in the pew would pay off– it just felt disrespectful to allow her to lay down.  I didnt know that her tantrums would EVER end.  I certainly didnt know that there would ever be a time she would say the Our Father along with the congregation, of her own volition!

We’re at the point now we’re Little Scribbler tunes in for genuflecting, the greeting, most of the singing, the Our Father, the sign of peace, the bells ringing to signify that “now it’s Jesus-bread” (her words), etc.  She occasionally kneels when people are kneeling.  Three years ago she was doing forward rolls on the pew on Ash Wednesday.  Two years ago she was still crawling under neath the pew in front of us any time I let my guard down.  (Bonus Tip– the quickest way to force a flailing child to stand up?  Shove your finger in their armpit while you’re pulling them up.  They’ll put their feet down faster than you can ask them to do it!  They’re not gonna be happy about it though, so prepare to be embarassed if they’re verbal enough to call you out on it :)  As you may remember, I don’t advocate spanking, particularly a differently abled child, but a well placed armpit-jab to stop a mass meltdown is something I’m not ashamed to say I’ve done.  Use it sparingly– like ONLY during mass.)

I hope you’ve found at least SOME of this helpful!  Please feel free to post your own tips or perspective in the comments section of this post.  I’m always looking for new things to try!

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Adventures of the Little Scribbler

The Scene: Sitting in Little Scribbler’s bed, reading books, with most of the lights off, tucked in next to Lamby and Pink Blanket…

The front door opens and closes.

LS: “Where Daddy going?”

Mama: “Daddy’s going to church, to pray for the babies.” (this isn’t entirely true– Daddy is going to pray outside the abortion clinic with the area churches for 40 Days for Life, but that’s a wordy explaination for a four year old.)

LS: “I wanna pray babies too.”

Mama: “Ok, lets pray for the babies”

Little Scribbler folds her hands and bows her head very seriously.

Mama: “Dear God, Please watch over all the babies and children in the world. Keep them loved and safe. Amen.”

Little Scribbler: “Amen. My turn pray?”

Mama: “Ok, you say a prayer now.”

Little Scribbler: “Dear God, I no go bed now. Amen.”

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A Long Overdue Update

We here at the Faithful Scribbler would like to apologize for our long absence from the blogosphere! There have been a never ending, overwhelming, exaughsting string of events that have left me completely tapped out on both time and motivation for blogging.

First up– The Auditor is considering a new job he was tentatively offered. Many pros and cons lists have been drafted. Much discussion has ensued. Many sleepless nights of agonizing internal debating, tossing and turning and ‘what if?-ing’…and still no decision. The position would be newly created especially for him, and as yet, nothing formal has been offered. All that emotional energy wasted!

Second– Please pray for our nephew, aged 13, who has just decided that he may in fact be bisexual. He also went through a two day stretch of threatening suicide on the internet last week, necessitating me calling his mother at midnight and waking her up to deal with it. He’s got a laundry list of emotional problems, and from what I can discern (because I am Judgey McJudgerson) not much support or stability at home.

Third– My brother’s wife is having a baby!! But we’re not allowed to tell anybody yet because she’s not yet out of the first trimester, so I’m sitting over here stewing with all this baby excitement, crocheting tiny hats and sweaters in a variety of colors, until such time as this issue can be thoroughly discussed and explored. I WANT TO BUY BABY CLOTHES FOR MY NEICE-PHEW ALREADY!!!! Sigh. A few more weeks! :)

Fourth– The Scribbler Adoption Saga continues. We met with Catholic Charities for a second time, got a second round of paperwork, and are pressing forward. The average wait time with their agency is about one year from the time your homestudy is approved, but we are very aware that it could be much faster, or much much slower, than one year. We’ve had a little hiccup in how we’re going to pay for the homestudy (our tax refund isnt what we thought it would be because we owe the state of Maryland for municpal taxes…sigh) but we’re pressing forward anyway as of this time. Once our homestudy is done, we will continue exploring financing options. Frankly, researching financing options is pretty much how I’ve spent the last several weeks, and there are some promising programs that I’m hoping we’ll be able to work with!

I’ve already got the “nesting” instinct kicking hard, and I’m anxious to set up the crib and dig out Little Scribbler’s old baby clothes and sort through them, etc etc. I’m pretty sure this instinct is driving my husband to the verge of insanity :)

The Little Scribbler is not terribly excited about the prospect of becoming a big sister, so we’re treading lightly in that area.

Fifth– and most importantly– the Little Scribbler is having a pretty hideous time of things right now. Her bahaviors have increased to the point that some of her functionality in the world is compromised. Lots of tantruming, lots of erratic behavior, lots of aggression. About two weeks ago, we had a conference at school because of the issues occuring in the classroom, which include not just the Little Scribbler, but three other preschoolers as well. The school psychologist is going to be spending time in the classroom to try to develop behavior plans for each kiddo.

I went into school to observe her in the classroom– they have a little room with a one way mirror like a police station– and saw what really really surprised me. There was LOTS of aggression happening, and melting down, and refusal to cooperate. Where was my sunny girl, who always found such joy in such little things!? I met with the Occupational Therapist, and attended a seminar in attention disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and behavior modification.

After much self-evaluating, I think we’ve pinpointed the problem. A few months ago, LS started to really push the envelope at home with her behavior. The Auditor and I decided we needed to “lay the hammer down” and really box her in with our expectations, in the hope that if she got away with NOTHING, she would start to ” toe the line” and stop behaving so erraticly.

What we forgot is that Little Scribbler’s brain doesn’t work the way our brains do. LS has Sensory Integration Disorder, amongst other things. Her proprioceptive sense (sense of touch and body position) is ALWAYS going haywire. It is in such a heightened state that it actually suppresses her sense of vision and hearing, meaning, unless the Proprioceptive sense is satisfied, she CAN NOT pay attention to what she is seeing or hearing. By “laying down the hammer”, we were creating expectations she COULD NOT meet, becuase her Proprioceptive sense wasn’t satisfied. The constant failure was making her a nervous wreck, and she started to develop an emotional complex– every little thing, spilling milk, tripping, dropping a book, elicited a tantrum of epic proportions. I was getting so frustrated that I broke Rule Number One of Parent Little Scribbler– No Yelling. Never, Ever EVER Any Yelling. It sends her nervous system into a tailspin.

So, long story short, we needed to hit the reset button on Little Scribbler’s life. She and I BOTH needed to start over. We took four or five days, stayed home, went NOWHERE, and did only things that we thought LS could do well. Regardless of her behavior or clumsiness or tantrums, we showered her with love and comforting and compassion. We needed to build back up that trust in her that we love her unconditionally, and wont yell or become upset when she cant control herself. After a few days of that, we were able to reintroduce some limits and discipline, with MUCH better results!

Also during that time, I met with her Occupational Therapist, Dana. Dana is really awesome. She reminded me that not only do I have to be Little Scribbler’s mom, I also have to be LS’s full time special ed teacher, therapist, and laison between her and the outside world. I have to always be thinking about WHY she is having a hard time, and I always have to be stimulating her proprioceptive sense, because she CAN NOT function until that sense is satisfied. So we’ve introduced a “sensory diet” into LS’s daily activities.

In case you were wondering (and I know you probably weren’t but in case you were) there are many things you can do through out the day to satisfy your proprioceptive sense. You want the activity to give deep pressure to the body– the deeper and more consistent the pressure, the better. It’s best if the pressure is applied to the shoulders/back, the legs and feet joints, and/or the arm/shoulder joints. Some great activities to satisfy this sense are jumping on a trampoline, wearing a lightly weighted backpack, jumping rope, pedaling a bike, pushing heavy things, chewing gum, etc.

Additionally, for attention disorders, a higher protein diet is extremely helpful in leveling out the behavior without using medication. The seminar taught that somehow the way the brain breaks down protein (as opposed to carbohydrate) leads to a more stable level of seratonin in the brain throughout the day. This is actually GENIUS and has helped tremendously in the past few days!

So we’ve implemented a new “Sensory Schedule” that looks something like this:

Wake Up– Deep Pressure (calming activity like massage)
1030 am– Protein snack/ Proprioceptive Activity (stimulating like bike riding)
1145 am– Proprioceptive Activity (stimulating like bike riding) and Gum Chewing
1230-330– LS is at School
345 pm– Protein snack/ Proprioceptive Activity (stimulating like bike riding)
500 pm– Proprioceptive Activity (stimulating like bike riding)
Bed Time– Deep Pressure (calming activity like applying lotion or massage)

That is our schedule on TOP of our school schedule, our chore schedule, and our meal schedule. You know how they say kids with attention disorders thrive on routine? yeah, it’s true.

The collection and implementation of ALL this new information (and really, I’ve summarized about four textbooks worth of information into this blog post!) and new schedules has pretty much ruled my life the past two weeks. But…it’s working! It really really is! Sensory Integration Disorder comes and goes in spurts, so we’ll have to redo the testing and remodify the schedule as the months wear on, but at least we have a jumping off point!

Oh yeah, and as if that werent enough, we decided to start volunteering with the church’s High School Youth Group as a family. So now our Sunday evenings are spent with teenagers, who are actually pretty hilarious and awesome!! Their antics will probably feature heavily in future blog posts :) AND, as an added bonus, they ADORE the Little Scribbler, who has become a mascot of sorts. For some reason they call her the ‘Hot Potato’, which she thinks is so hilarious she can barely stand up!

I love my life, but MAN is it tiring!

(sorry I’ve been out of touch everybody! I’ll be back in the game pretty soon, I promise!)

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AWESOME Post

on my cousin Hayley’s blog, about parenting a child with Autism.  If you don’t cry, your heart is cold and made of stone! (or maybe you’re just not parenting a child on the spectrum, so you can’t relate?)  Either way, read it. It’s good stuff.

http://www.assemblingthepieces.com/blog/

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A Morning Adventure With the Little Scribbler

This morning, Little Scribbler visited me in the shower.  There I was, washing my hair, minding my own business, when a tiny, purple pajama clad person thrust aside the shower curtain and demanded to know “What ooo [I] doin’ in here?!”.  When I replied that I was taking a shower and she should close the curtain or she would get wet (very practical advise in my estimation), she did so and disappeared.

Only to re-appear two minutes later, weilding the large blue boat Nana gave her for her last birthday.   She heaved it into the tub, where it crashed, in a mildly painful manner, onto my feet. 

“Here a-go Momma!” she called, then turned a fled the bathroom.

Not before snatching the toothpaste of the bathroom counter, necessitating a (wet and very chilly!) pursuit through the livingroom.  (With curtains wide open!  Sorry neighbors, didn’t mean to scare you there!).

By the time I apprehended giggly little theif, she had removed the cap and was well on her way to flouride poisoning, by eating it straight out of the tube.   As I pried it from her small, but amazingly strong, grasp, she admonished me loudly, “HEY! ‘Ats MY cheepstaste! (toothpaste)”

With a sigh and a shiver I returned to the shower…at least I know she’s a generous child by nature– after all, she just wanted to make sure I had something to play with in the tub.

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