Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Eleven 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.

I started this blog to write about my life with teen boys with autism. Years have passed, and my boys are thriving. It is not an easy life. I been asked how I get thru the daily turmoil of autism. I usually something like, "A lot of prayer."
These events are true to life.

My family: husband Mike, sons Stuart 22 yr, Ryan 19 yr, Nicholas 17 yr, and Cameron 14 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) My oldest son, Michael, is out of the house.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Three Teenagers--And Then There Were Two!

Nick, Cam, Ryan
Today is the last day I will have three teenagers in my home.  Tomorrow Ryan turns 20.  Talk about him growing up within the blink of the eye, but then I think of all the tears and joys along the way of his 20 years.  Quite a life he has lived so far.

For the first couple of years of his life, Ryan was fearless.  He knew no boundaries.  It was scary.  He met all his milestones early, such as walking when he was nine months.  As he developed sensory issues, he lost communication skills.  We went to doctors and specialists for several years.  He was diagnosed with several ABCs, 123s, meaning PDD-NOS, ADD, OCD, and speech delay.  Ultimately he was seven when he was diagnosed with autism.  His brothers were diagnosed the same year with autism too.

Our world was rocked.  We brought in lots of therapists to work with them.  None of the boys liked strangers.  Until Meredith.  The boys took to her.  Ryan was the fastest to respond because he liked her baby.  Meredith and Baby brought Ryan out of his world.  We loved her immediately.  She also worked well with Nick and Cam, but most people had the hardest time establishing a rapport with Ryan.  Unfortunately, Meredith moved, and Ryan had to adapt.  That didn't work so well, but that relationship showed us that Ryan could connect with people outside the family. That was 12 years ago.

Ryan showing Dad his photos
Ryan has had many therapists since, and he has moved beyond what any doctors thought possible.  He continues to grow beyond our initial hopes after the diagnosis.  In fact, he finding his way in the world slower than his peers, but he is succeeding.  For example, we have been surprised by his maturity in the last year, especially as illustrated in his photo shop class.  He was quiet and shy, and now he is assisting beginners.

I can't wait to see what this decade will bring Ryan!

Second photo credit:  RMG Imaging Artists

Friday, August 22, 2014

No Job? No College? Why?

Ryan assisting new student
School is back in session for my youngest three boys. The younger two are in high school, and Ryan is going to which college?  He isn't sure how to answer. Then they ask, "Well, where do you work?" Awkward silence follows.

In the typical world, a person graduates from high school, and then he attends college or gets a job. Friends and family are curious and wish to share in what's going on, and they ask, "What college...?" In the life of an adult with autism, that can be a frustrating conversation.

Why?  The set expectation does not apply to the autistic world.

I have listened to these conversations from a distance. Ryan usually does muster enough information to answer questions.  Nonetheless, the other person is still perplexed because Ryan isn't following the "expected" format. He's not going to college.  He's not working.  However, he's on the road to both.

We have developed a description of what Ryan's status is.  Ryan attends a private trade school.  He is learning skills to be an imaging artist.  Currently, he is interning to assist new students.  This can lead to a paid position as a PIT (photoshop imaging tech) crew member.

Life is hard enough when it doesn't fit into a preconceived idea.  It's even more difficult to try to explain the "what I'm doing" let alone the "why I'm doing" this.  Now add the lack of communication that is symptomatic of autism.  Double whammy!  Yet, Ryan perseveres!

Photo credit: RMG Imaging Artists

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Congratulations, Cameron

Although the new school year has started, it's never too late to celebrate achievements.  We hosted a graduation party for Cameron back in May, as he graduated from eighth grade.  Sadly, the local school district cancelled any formal ceremony due to budget cuts.  Nonetheless, we commemorated the moment, complete with mock diploma and hat.  Cameron was a good sport.  He certainly appreciated the attention too!

These milestones may seem like normal steps for most people.  For a mom of teens with autism, these occasions are victories of unseen battles.  Years ago, I would never have believed my youngest would be at this level of cognition and ability.

As we gathered to congratulate Cameron, I wanted to acknowledge that this moment was not just due to his ability.  Many shared in it.  I took a few moments to take all present at the party back to 13 years prior.  I reminded everyone that Cameron has major setbacks as a toddler.  He lost his speech and movement.  He had to relearn how to walk and talk.  He became self abusive, banging his head incessantly.  Many therapists and family members helped Cameron to develop physically, mentally, and emotionally.

I never want Cameron to take for granted that these moments of success are only a result of his effort.  While he earns most of the credit, he can't forget those earlier moments.  In fact, he can show how someone can overcome/recover from autism.

Now he moved onto high school.  There's always a new step or goal, much like his life has been with autism.  Once a goal is achieved, it is quickly replaced by a new goal.  Such is life.  The difference now is he can pick what his goals are, not us parents.  His class load at the high school is tough.  His counselors didn't recommend the load, but they don't know Cameron very well.  When he WANTS to do something, he will do it.  It may take several tries, but he'll figure it out.

So onto the next step, Cameron goes!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Smile Sadly

Nick and Cam
Autistic or not, facial expressions reveal a lot about us.  Feelings just flow out.  Quite often, we can misinterpret a gesture or a word, but faces expose truth.

Today was the first day of school.  Tis easy to guess who is the senior and who is the freshman.  Just look at their faces!!  One has one more year, and the other has four.

Nick gave Cam quite a bit of advice.  Quite a novelty to see Nick taking the big-brother role!

The bright side for both of them is that they "face" only 179 more days of school.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Serious Fun

Nick and Cam are characters. Studious, serious, and conniving at times.  They joke and jest.  Quite often, they can be unpredictable, such as when they were on their own this last weekend. 

They survived the four days with no mishaps.  They even found a place that sold gluten-free pizza.  That was important enough that they texted me.  Good choices.  Yea.

I was quite surprised to see this photo taken at the beach.  I don't think I would have recognized them.  I guess this is called serious fun.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Nick and Cam On Their Own

Nicholas and Cameron are on their own this weekend.  This is the first time that they will be away from us parents for four days. They are travelling with their youth group, heading towards the coast.

They are excited about their adventure.  Being on their own--freedom.  Right?  With that freedom comes responsibility.  Will they eat the gluten free foods?  Will they follow directions?  I hope they'll look out for each other.

I am both excited and anxious.  Problems could arise, and I won't be there to help.  They have to figure things out.  Of course, if an emergency arises, they can call.  I prepared them about situations that could happen and how to handle them, but how do we really know what can happen and how they'll react?

I worry, but we all need to know how they do on their own.  The only way to know is to let them go.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Oldest Turns 30

Michael is 30 today.  I often wonder what life was like for him, growing up with younger siblings with autism.  For several years, the younger boys were undiagnosed.  From my perspective, Michael was a strong support for his younger brothers, whatever problems they had.

Michael probably had to bear more than what he should have.  He set the example for my younger sons.  If Mike did something that was questionable, he heard about it.  Kids with autism learn quickly by example.  Usually, the things I wouldn't want repeated would be the phrases that they'd learn without effort.

We set a high standard for Michael.  Good grades, good behavior, good everything.  He usually did not disappoint us.  He was valedictorian at his 8th grade graduation.  He aspired to play sports.  He got his first job at 16, when he could drive.

He married young, but he was a devoted husband and father.  Now, at 30, he is much like his father--a very strong, reliable man.  If a problem is presented, he solves them.  If someone asks for help, he obliges.  Better yet, if Michael perceives an issue, he addresses it.

We didn't parent our younger kids as we did Michael.  He observed, "Mom, you never let me get away with that."  No, parenting with autistic kids is very different.  Our standards changed.  For example, the idea of straights As in school went out the window.  We didn't care about grades.  We cared about mastering the skill, task, or lesson only.  No grades.  Yes, our standards changed.  They become specialized.  We focused on success per each child, not a pre-set standard.

Michael's early years were sparked by a young, inquisitive curiosity--much like his adult years are sparked by challenging, demanding responsibilities.  He meets them with courage.

Happy 30th, Michael.