Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Ten 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 13 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) My oldest son, Michael, is out of the house.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A Miracle?

"To one who has faith, no explanation is necessary.  To one without faith, no explanation is possible." ― St. Thomas Aquinas

Four years ago I experienced an amazing event.  It's a matter of healing and faith.  I can only describe what happened, and leave the conclusion to the reader.

About 17 years ago I began to lose function in my left hand. This greatly effected my playing the piano.  As the years progressed, pain accompanied the loss of action, and my right hand experienced the same loss and pain.  The type of pain was never consistent.  I eventually lost strength and the ability to hold things.  Teaching the piano was coming to an end.  I couldn't imagine life without music, let alone my livelihood.

My family had witnessed my loss.  I remember getting strange looks when I accompanied my dad.  I couldn't hide my wrong notes as he sang.  I used CDs and DVDs to aid in teaching my advanced students at the piano. At dinner my sons ran to catch their meal if I yelled, "Help!"  They did not like it when I dropped the dish full of food.  

In late 2009 I announced that I would retire in May, 2010.

Totally unrelated to this ongoing matter, something else was brewing.  The economy was bad, and Christmas approached.  Money was tight.  I tried to think of how I could put something out of nothing under the Christmas Tree for my young boys.  Something simple. I recognized I was not a creative person, but I refused to give up.

And I prayed.  Not necessarily for presents, but for my family.  I found myself praying the rosary.  Now to some, that may be an old prayer for old ladies or an outdated set of worry beads.  Oh well.  I decided to pray because it certainly couldn't hurt.  This particular day in December I ended up praying all four sets of the rosary (20 decades).  I was stuck in the car all day, and I had plenty of time.

That night I felt such peace--indescribable.  Peace, nonetheless.

I liked that peace, so I dared to repeat the 20 decades of the rosary a few days later.  The peace returned that night.  Thus, a habit formed.

A month later, I met with a friend who was a priest.  He noticed I couldn't hold my coffee mug, and I briefly explained my incapability of doing so.  He offered to bless my hands.  I accepted, but with the thought, "It couldn't hurt."  I was not expecting any great results.

I played for my niece's wedding Feb, 2014
I continued my rosary daily, saying all the mysteries of the rosary.  I prayed for my family.  I never asked for any healing for myself.  Within a few weeks of the blessing, I noticed the pain in my hands and wrists had subsided.  Function returned.  As of April 16, 2010 my hands and wrists were pain free.  I had also regained all use of my hands.

The story doesn't end there.  The summer of 2010 I found myself being offered a job as a pianist at our local church.  Four years later, I have full strength, no pain, and play more music than ever.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Getting The Job

Second day on the job
Who knew that a young, 20 year old woman with no college or special training could get my 19 year old, autistic son employed faster than a professional expert with college degrees and years of experience?

I am amazed and stumped that this is the reality for my son.  I have had several positive experiences with government agencies, but I've had just as many negative experiences. I find private enterprise wins again.

Here is an example:

Vocational Rehabilitation is a part of our state's department of economic security.  We have been working for two and half years with our local voc/rehab office to help Ryan get a job. Well, not even a job.  Just ideas for a job.  Our first goal was to acquire opportunities to job shadow.  The experts evaluated and questioned Ryan at length.  To no avail.  Unless you count that their conclusion was for Ryan to work at a facility that was obviously for lower functioning adults.  

I protested, but I agreed to visit this place.  I went alone.  I had an idea of what I was to encounter because I had done some research on the internet.  However, I still was not prepared for the reality.  This facility probably was a blessing to the disabled employees who worked there, to provide meaningful work and a sense of independence.  However, this was not an appropriate place for Ryan.

I was appalled that the "experts" confidently recommended this place to my son.  I put experts in quotes because Ryan's voc/rehab counselor used that word.  The exact phrase was, "We are experts who work with special needs adults to get them jobs."  

I responded, "You may be an expert with special needs and employment, but you are not an expert in my son.  I am."  I then added, "I thought we were a team."  The counselor agreed, but it didn't matter.  The job coach and the counselor were convinced that Ryan belonged at this facility.

My husband took Ryan to visit the facility.  The visit lasted less than ten minutes.  Ryan said that he didn't belong there because he wouldn't fit in.

I won't go into the history of just getting to this point of having a job coach through the counselor.   I really thought that the professionals could help steer Ryan in finding a career.  I was happy that doors would finally open for Ryan to explore.  My sources were limited in getting Ryan to observe and experience various jobs.  Anyone knows that first hand experience is the best way to learn.  That is acutely needed for young adults with autism.  We had hoped that Ryan would be able to job shadow several jobs, ask employees questions, and experience Corporate America at some level.

But no doors were opened for Ryan.  Not until this young lady approached me and asked if Ryan liked working with kids.  Ryan and I both told the voc/rehab counselor this fact early on, but that didn't yield any path.  So private enterprise found my son a job.  Correction:  my sons...

This experience illustrates that answers can lurk in the most unexpected places with the most inexperienced people.  An open mind and a willing spirit often provide the best opportunities.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Ryan and Nick Have Jobs

"Do you like working with kids?" came the unexpected question.

Ryan tried to suppress a smirk that overcame him. "Yes!"  He beamed.

By the end of the short conversation, which is very typical of my son with autism, Ryan had a job working with kids who would be getting pictures with the Easter Bunny.  It was a temporary, minimum wage job at the local mall.  A normal, first-time job for any teenager.

I was surprised.  And thrilled!

A couple of days later, at Nick's insistence, Nick was also hired.

A friend of a friend, who is a manager of this photo set-up, simply thought Ryan would be good with kids, so she asked me.  I knew Ryan loved kids, and I told her to ask Ryan.  I definitely wanted the question to come from her and not me.  MOM does enough to get Ryan involved in a lot of things--whether he likes it or not.  It'd be much better for her to initiate the process, and to not have me involved.

So Ryan and Nick have been on the job for several days now.  They struggle with communicating with the kids and customers, but they are quick learners.  Their boss informed me that she just has to tell them once, and they pick up whatever she is teaching them.

Now they wait for their first paycheck with great anticipation!!

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Highlighting Nature

Being a mother of autistic kids, I often wonder how they relate to their world.  I never know how they see the world; what pops into their minds when they hear, see, or feel something.  Nature, for instance, provides a myriad of opportunities for the senses to experience the world.

One of my favorite places on earth is the beach.  All the senses embrace input. I love it.  I am not sure if my boys appreciate the same gratitude of the beach's natural beauty. When I ask them, they can't really put into words what they do or don't experience.

Through this photo shop class, Ryan is conveying what he sees.  Quite an eye-opener.


A couple of weeks ago Mike took the boys to Yosemite. The camera busily recorded all the beautiful sites and tiring hikes the guys endeavored.  Ryan took some of the photos to his class, and he "enhanced" them.  For once, I get to see inside Ryan's thoughts.  He's highlighting what he sees.  He's using colors that I wouldn't necessarily relate to the scene; nonetheless, his interpretation of nature yields spectacular, striking images.

I can't wait to see the next set of photos!!

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Ryan's Lord Malevar

Lord Malevar
My son, Ryan, has written a few books, and he's using his photo shop classes at RMG Imaging Artists to illustrate his latest book.  He's using his knowledge to create his characters.  This portrait is of his latest villain, Lord Malevar.  I never knew a unicorn could possess an evil side.  Alas, creativity strikes.

Ryan showed me how he can manipulate the background and highlight different parts of his character

He is almost done with the first year of this program.  I can't wait to see what he will adapt as he progresses through the next two years!

So many times I've been told that kids and teens with autism are not creative.  They live in a structured system with no room for flexibility.  This simply is not concrete truth.  Yes, my boys prefer a known schedule.

We all can appreciate predictability to some extent.  I just don't like most people thinking that the autism population is so rigid.  They are not!! Sometimes my boys surprise me by their problem solving skills--simply by thinking outside the box.  They can be very creative when given the chance.  They express an array of emotions and feelings as well.

Whether it's through music, books, or art, my boys with autism open their world to us in their own, creative ways.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Ryan's Photos at RMG Imaging Artists

Ryan has thrived since he started the photo shop classes.  He has matured greatly as his confidence grows.  He talks more.  That alone is a WIN!!

The owners have told me that they were not so certain at first that Ryan would have the longevity for the course.  However, they watched and monitored his progress.  They were pleasantly surprised!

Ryan learns quickly.  He advocates for himself, asking questions when he needs help.  He monitors himself; he knows when to work and when to talk.  He's very comfortable in his environment.  He's free to play his music quietly, and he gets along with others when they are present.  Best yet, the owners say that Ryan is a natural.  No one has every said that Ryan is a natural at anything.  No wonder he likes to share his work!

Ryan, who usually chooses not to talk--typical of autism, has taken the initiative to invite his grandparents into the building to see his work.  That shocked my dad.  His astonishment continued as Ryan continually talked and described his photos and images.

The photos here of a lamp were done after four lessons, as were the Yoda pictures shown on a previous blog entry.  These pictures are of the same object.  These images invoke very different moods.

I'm glad Ryan was willing, albeit with our insistence, to try this class.  He has gained much more than just knowledge. He is gaining a sense of himself, a sense of pride in his work and accomplishments.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

RMG Imaging Artists

For the last five months, Ryan has attended photo shop classes at RMG Imaging Artists.  Here's a link to a video that best illustrates what Ryan is learning:

RMG Imaging Artists is a family run business whose focus is to employ adults on the autism spectrum.  They SEEK OUT adults with autism!!  I met them at a local meeting for young adults with autism.  The owners of RMG Imaging Artists delivered a lively, detailed business plan of their venture and vision.

I was quite impressed by their enthusiasm.  The selling point for me was that they were completely invested in the success of this business as this was a family business.  They also understood the complexity of autism.  They were familiar with the communication and sensory issues, and they welcomed that.  Best of all, they comprehended the "symptoms" of autism could be channeled into a positive outcome.

From their website:

Photographic image editing relies on intelligence, skill, and determination, yet does not require a large amount of communication. This makes it an ideal profession for many on the autism spectrum.
Skills required of an image editor:
  • Attention to detail
  • Ability to focus for long periods
  • Self-discipline
  • Perfectionism
  • Stickler for following tasks through in order
  • Enjoyment of working on a computer
  • Enjoyment of artistic expression