Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Twelve years ago my youngest 3 boys were diagnosed with autism within a 6 month span. Devastation and grieving followed. Doctors gave me little or no hope, but they didn't know me very well. I refused to believe that my boys were doomed.

My boys are now young men, adults with autism. They are thriving, but every day presents its turmoil and challenges.

My family: husband Mike, sons Ryan 21 yr, Nicholas 18 yr, and Cameron 15 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) Our oldest sons, Michael 30 yr and Stuart 23 yr, moved out of the house.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Writing With "Punch"

Mom's humble cell phone
The past summer has been full of happening.  Many required constant attention, and time to write has diminished.  I will try to highlight what has happened with shorter entries.  Here's a short one:

In keeping my boys' writing skills up during the summer, I asked them to write a paragraph about my cell phone.  I told them to use vocabulary with punch.  Although they wrote independently, they both concluded their paragraphs, "Mom's flip phone sucks."  I don't like that last word, but it does have "punch".

I love my simple cell phone.  One charge lasts ten days.  It works on demand: I can make phone calls.  Tis a truly amazing device!  It does take photos, and I can play games and music on it.

Sometimes, "old school" is just fine!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Recipe For Success: Easy As Pie

Here's the basic recipe for mint chocolate chip pie!
Ryan enjoying a bite

1 package (8 oz) softened cream cheese
1 can (14 oz) sweetened condensed milk
1/8 teaspoon mint extract
1 container (8 oz) nondairy whipped topping
1 bag of chocolate chips
1 package ready to use 8 inch pie crust

1.  Beat the cream cheese in a mixing bowl until fluffy, usually a couple minutes.  Gradually add sweetened condensed milk.  Continue to beat in mint extract.  Be careful to use a small of amount of mint extract as the mint extract can be strong.  Add more to preferred taste.

2.  Fold in whipped topping with rubber spatula.  Fold in chocolate chips.  Keep a few chips out if embellishment the top is desired.  Carefully spoon in pie crust.  Put in freezer until hardened, at least 8 hours.  Overnight is better.

3.  Remove from freezer about 5 minutes before serving.  Garnish with chocolate chips and mint leaves.

That's it.  Very simple.  No baking required.  I can decorate the pie to fit any occasion.  I sometimes use colored sprinkles, ie green for St. Patrick's Day or red for Valentines Day.  My only caution is that the pie can melt quickly depending on the weather.  Serve quickly after the initial few minutes out of the freezer. Any remaining pie can save in the freezer until the next time.  I have also put in the pie mix into individual cups, as seen in Ryan's picture.  The cups freeze, and my boys have a gluten free dessert!  My sons have been making this pie for years.  They still fight over the beaters and mixing bowl.  Good to the last drop!

Some variations:

To make 2 pies, I get a 16 oz container of whipped topping and 2 pie crusts.  Make as instructed, but substitute the 16 oz whipped topping for the 8 oz whipped topping.  Divide the mixture into the 2 pie crusts.  I do NOT double the entire recipe.  The mix is rich enough that the added whipped topping is fine.

I can substitute mint candies for the mint extract.  Simply put candies in a sealed plastic sandwich bag and crush.  (Parents might need to supervise youngsters.)  I use about 3-4 candies.  

Any flavored crust can be used.  Chocolate pie crusts add an extra dose of chocolate.

To make the caramel chocolate chip pie, substitute the caramel flavored sweetened condensed milk for the regular sweetened condensed milk. Omit the mint extract.

Gluten free pie crust option:

2 cups gluten free cereal
3 tablespoons melted butter
2 tablespoons sugar

Crush cereal in a plastic bag.  Add butter and sugar.  Shake.  Pat the mixture into a 8 or 9 inch pie pan. Bake at 400 degrees F for about 6 minutes.  Let cool.  Then add pie mixture.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Great Mistakes=YUM

Chocolate Chip Caramel Pie with some left over
Chocolate. Cream. Mint. Yum!

I was about 24 when I glanced saw a magazine cover touting easy to make pies.  So I purchased the magazine and sought the article.  I found a few promising recipes, and I knew I would try the mint chocolate chip pie first.  WIN!

This pie is so versatile.  I could decorate with fresh mint or chocolate chips, candy canes, sprinkles, or whatever the occasion demanded.  No one ever was disappointed.  This dessert always put a happy face on the most skeptical of picky eaters.  

Then came the gluten free diet.  I learned to make gluten free crusts or the boys by combining gluten free cereal and butter and mashing into a pie pan.  However, it became much easier to just put the filling in custard dishes.  My boys never complained except for when their dish became empty.

Thirty some years later, I know the recipe by memory.  I can pick the ingredients out blindly.  Or so I thought.  This time I made the mistake of purchasing caramel flavored sweetened condensed milk.  Who knew I had to watch out for that?  I knew about the fat free and low fat versions, but flavoring?

Chocolate.  Cream.  Caramel.  Hmm!!

I didn't notice my mistake until I got home.  I didn't want to go to the store to get a replacement.  So adventurous crowd that we are, we tried it.  And WIN.  My husband and I fought over the bowl.  Rich but not overly sweet.  

A couple years ago I arrived at my mom's house for Christmas without my mint chocolate chip pie.  Everyone was stunned.  My mom said that if I ever show up again without my pie, well, don't bother coming!!  She exclaimed, "You always make it.  It's understood. I didn't know we had to request it."  Well, I hope the same thing happening with this pie.  YUM!!

Now to teach my boys how to make it!

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Courage To Try

My sons are my heroes.  Case study: Nick.

Nick has been invited to go ice skating tonight.  He accepted the invitation. Then he turned to me and asked, "What do I do?"

Nick has never been skating.  No ice skating, roller skating, or roller blading.  For most of his youth, we have focused on his general coordination and balance as well as sensory and tactile issues.  Nick was in first grade before he could tolerate shoes.  He was in fifth or sixth grade before he could wear long sleeve shirts or long pants without prior conditioning.  Nick had adaptive PE for most of grade school.  Physical and occupational therapies were weekly occurrences until high school.  Activities like skating were beyond what we ever thought Nick could do!

Today, Nick's big brother, Mike, has lent Nick roller blades.  I have spent the time finding how-to ice skate videos online and then implementing the concepts with roller blades.  No, they are not the same, but the idea of balance is similar.  For a kid who has not done any skating, this type of motion is unfathomable.  However, Nick will not be deterred.

We started on carpet.  Then we moved out to the patio.  I led him.  He tried alone.  He fell.  A few times.  Two hours later, he's moving on his own.  Not graceful, but independent.  He has taken one break, only because his little brother wanted to try.

Nick has put the skates back on and has been alone for about 30 minutes, just skating back and forth on the patio.  Well, more of pushing and pulling himself, but he's moving a bit better.  All within a few hours.

I can't believe he is so determined to learn so quickly, and go with peers to do something new.  He truly is courageous.  So many people fear failure and embarrassment.  Nick's desire to go out with friends and potentially have fun outweighs his concern of any negative outcome. That's courage!

Saturday, July 11, 2015

Grandparents and Grandsons

Stuart, Ryan, Nick, Cam
Nothing like four boys to keep grandparents young!

Sherry and Tony, Mike's mom and husband, came to stay with our boys while we were in Alaska and California.  Although they are in their seventies, they kept our boys busy.  "Busy" didn't necessarily mean going places and doing things to keep the boys entertained.  It was more of keeping schedules and visiting.  Even Ryan and Stu came to visit frequently.  That is something that Ryan does not do much--visit with people.

Tony and Sherry
I don't know too many grandparents who would want to come and stay for two weeks with teenage boys, particularly with special needs.  To help Sherry out, I had a calendar written out for her to avoid guess work.  The boys and I completed the calendar the week prior as the regular, daily events unfolded.  I was amazed how much we forgot to write down at first.  Sherry constantly referred to that calendar to keep life smooth!

The boys were in constant motion between summer school, work schedules, and social outings.  They also had to cook when Grandma was not feeling too well.  Sherry informed me that they stepped up to the plate, literally, to make dinner. Games, movies, lunches out filled in whatever free time they had.

When Mike and I spoke to people on our trip, they asked if we worried about our boys.  I replied, "No! They are good kids, and they are in good hands!"

Thank you, Sherry and Tony.

photo credits:  Sherry

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

25th Anniversary Celebration

Today is our 25th anniversary.  Mike planned our ten day getaway.
In Alaska
We took a seven day cruise to Alaska.  We did things out of my comfort zone, and we had a wonderful time.

We then went to meet up with Mike's family in Northern CA.  We had a great time catching up with the extended family.  I showed pictures of our boys.  They hardly recognized our boys, as the boys are "all grown up".
Mike with siblings and Dad

We travelled onward to the wine country.  We did a few wine and food tastings.  Quite elegant.  And educational.  I need a few more (actually any lessons) cooking lessons on cooking and how to compare/contrast wines with foods.

We spent our 25th anniversary with just each other.  We had thoughts and discussions of doing the entire rendition of renewing vows and reception after.  We couldn't quite agree on that.  So we ended up spending the day with just each other.
Sheryl and Mike

That was perfect.

We have never been away from our kids this long.  They are older and are more independent.  The grandparents stepped in to oversee schedules.  I have some reassurance that our house won't burn down.

In the life of autism, this is paramount: to not forget the couple we are.  Husband and Wife.  As long as our relationship is intact, autism does not define who we are, although it is a part of our lives. We are happy, and our job is to make sure that our kids get what they need to do what they wish to pursue.  God willing, we will be blessed with more years of happy marriage, in which we support our boys.


Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Nick's Milestones

Much has happened in Nick's life.  In the last month, he went to prom.  He graduated.  He received a scholarship.  He attended a local college band camp.  Those are the good things. Some not so good things happened too, but I'll save those for another day.  Now is the time to celebrate.

Nick had a challenging year, and he met them head-on.  At the beginning of the academic year, his case manager stated that he was flunking Spanish II and had to be removed.  That happened on day 5 of the year.  Nick earned an A-.  A far cry from failing.

The next challenge was being told from his school counselor that he could not go straight to the local university.  Nick had some special needs classes that supposedly the university would not accept.  I called the university.  They wanted to see Nick's transcript.  I sent it.  They enthusiastically said that they would accept Nick.  His grades were fantastic, and his class ranking was high.  Why would they not want him?  Of course, there were other factors to consider, but based on the transcript, Nick was welcomed to attend.

The third challenge was Nick's new case manager stated that Nick's plan for a fifth year at the high school could not happen because he was on course to graduate.  Nick had been planning on taking a fifth year to work on communication and reading skills.  I had emails documenting this plan.  The IEP team had agreed each year, that this would be the best transition plan for Nick into adulthood.  The case manager totally changed the game plan.  She said the only way Nick could continue was to participate in a special ed class that was wayyyyy below his cognitive level.  Even the psychologist warned me.  We observed and visited the program, but ultimately nixed it, and insisted on our original plan, which the IEP team again approved.

Throughout the ordeals, Nick focused on his studies and his goals.  I told him we would get through the obstacles, but he could not dwell on it.  He had to learn that this will happen frequently in his life.  People will judge that he is not capable of something.  People, no matter how well intended, will underestimate him.  People will have preconceived notions.  They just don't know Nick.

Yes, Nick has autism.  However, autism does not define Nick.  Nick is Nick, and only Nick can determine who he is.  In my eyes, he is turning into a successful man.