Friday, August 5, 2016

In Which I'm Being Completely Honest

Several years ago, Ren and I made the conscious decision to try to take the kids to Japan once every two or three years. Despite the expense (you could buy a pretty nice car for the price of round-trip tickets for a family of five) and the hassle of preparing everyone for the trip and closing up the house for a month, we have always believed that the benefits outweigh the costs.

I mean, how many kids get to leave their house in a village of 9000 people to stay in a 25th-floor apartment in one of the largest cities in the world?

Sunrise (from one window in our apartment)
And, post-sunset from another...
And, how many go from weekends biking lackadaisically around the neighborhood to exploring the pathways and tunnels (and fire jugglers and Pikachus) of Tokyo?

This is how we combat jetlag -- laps.

He wanted me to give it a try.
Pikachu, moments before being accosted by two Midwesterners.
Everything is an opportunity to take in entirely new and unfamiliar surroundings (whether in the city or the rural beach front or mountainside)....

Sunrise over the ocean

....and to practice Japanese, whether it's kids shows or Godzilla.

Singing and dancing with the TV.
Godzilla VS Mothra!!!!
Being in Japan is a chance to engage all of our senses in ways we can't normally do when home in the US. We're fortunate to be in a position where we can make this trip every few summers so our kids can begin to figure out their identities as Japanese-Americans, to continue to build the foundations of their understanding of written and spoken Japanese, and to create memories together that will hopefully stay with them for the rest of their lives. Traveling to Japan is fun, but much more importantly, it's key in helping our kids figure out who they are.
Riding the train.
And, until this last trip, I was completely convinced that it's the best way to help our kids stay connected, but then things went south. I mean, there was a lot that was really great about our visit to Japan. But there was one thing that was really, really bad. Stow regressed.

In fact, both times we've taken Stow to Japan, he has regressed. The first time, he was 3, and he basically hit and bit me the entire time we were in Japan. He didn't do it before we left the States, and once we returned, he stopped doing it again. It was horrible even though now he doesn't seem to remember Japan as being a negative experience for him.
This is a picture he drew nearly TWO years after the trip to Japan.
Having Stow go from being fairly complacent and totally non-aggressive to biting, hitting, and running was unnerving. Suddenly we felt like we were looking at a young Sky all over again. But, then we came home, and it was better, so we figured it was just an anxiety response to all the new things he experienced his first time in Japan.

Stow's older now, and he claims to love going to Japan, so I figured he'd be fine this time. Just to be safe, though, in the weeks leading up to our trip this summer, we worked at length with our OT and behavioral therapists to create social stories and to put together a bag of fidgets to help Stow with the trip.

Our preparations didn't work. Stow slipped into his alternate state as soon as we got on the plane and demonstrated aggressive behaviors and a high tendency to wander throughout our trip. It was just like last time, only this time, the behaviors didn't stop once we got home. In fact, we are still working very hard to undo whatever it is that was "done" while we were in Japan. It's hard. It's frustrating, but most of all, it's incredibly heartbreaking to see Stow struggle like this despite all of his hard work.

We still don't know what triggered the regressions in Stow. Was it the sensory overload from being in a country where just about everything is different than what he's used to? Was it the food that wasn't always as GFCF as we would have liked? Was it the stress of trying to relate to his peers without being able to speak Japanese well? Was he bullied at preschool by kids who saw his giant size and inability to speak an invitation to be aggressive? Did the long airplane ride mess up the pressure in his ears? Were the transitions just too much for him? Maybe it's all these things. Maybe it's none of them. I guess the only thing that really matters is that Stow doesn't know why he's doing what he's doing, and his behavior is negatively impacting the quality of life for all of us.

I think this has to be the hardest part about parenting non-neurotypical kids. Sometimes everyone can be working as hard as they can and doing all that they can, and the interventions just don't work. Sometimes whatever is going on is an impossible puzzle, and all you can do is keep at it until you figure it out. We are back in our routine now, back on our diet, and back at our therapies, and we are even trying a couple of new things to see if they help Stow settle back into his old ways.

Other than that, we are waiting and praying and hoping we can help him work through this. (While trying really hard not to panic). It will be okay. It won't be easy, but somehow we will figure it out. We have to.


Princess Morag said...

I don't think you can underestimate the impact of everything being different. As an adult who probably has SPD (but not ASD) - I found it really difficult when I moved to the USA even though I'd been plenty times on holiday. Those subtle differences affected me more than I ever would have anticipated - light switches, toilets, taps, streets, the desert landscape....they were all "wrong" - it was totally overwhelming and definitely caused anxiety.

Mom on the Edge said...

Thanks for this reminder! It helps to know that it may just be a matter of time.

Unknown said...

I'm in a similar situation, but we don't even have children yet. It's so expensive getting back to Japan just for the two of us! I can't imagine taking a family, but I agree the benefits are totally worth it. We recently signed up for an airline card to rack up miles with our daily spending to help take the sting out of purchasing tickets. Haven't been able to use any of those benefits yet, but I'd like to think it's a smart thing to do.