Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Twelve years ago my youngest 3 boys were diagnosed with autism within a 9 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 19 yr, and Cameron 15 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) Our oldest sons, Michael 31 yr and Stuart 24 yr, moved out of the house.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Hamburgers Vs French Fries

Cameron

Nick, Cameron, and I spent a few days in Tucson.  We found a restaurant that offered gluten free breads and buns as well as grass fed beef; foods we consume at home.  Awesome!  I didn't have to cook.  They did not hesitate to order hamburgers, and they were happy about not having to get a lettuce wrap.  It was a TRUE hamburger!

Nick's plate:  no fries

In the middle of dinner, I noticed how these boys attacked their food.  I laughed at how similar and different they were.  They both ordered hamburgers, but what they ate first differed.  Neither opted to sample the other food item on his plate until the first item was completely consumed.  NO mixing foods!  If you know Nick, fries are always the first to go!  For Cam, the burger was serious business!

Cam's plate:  no hamburger

In the end, it did not matter what was eaten first.  Teen boys ate everything on their plates. Just a simple dinner out, but how I love just spending time with my boys!

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

Ryan's Done With Training; Now A Professional

Ryan has finished lots this last school year.  He has finished Part I of his coffee internship.  He has also finished three years of training at RMG Imaging Artists.  He has grown so much as a result of these programs.

Ryan has professional skills that can now help him lead an independent life.  He has products for sale, and that number of products will increase as the year continues. Here's a link to his online market: http://www.shop.rmgia.com/sellers/ryan-johnson/products/ 

The coffee internship has helped Ryan develop customer service.  Now he is much more confident greeting and talking with people.  Ryan is now working on the second part of the internship:  interview skills.

All these steps are literally that: steps on the road of Ryan's life!

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Our Children: Problems or Problem Solvers

How much time do we waste striving for perfection?  Will we ever learn that perfection will always elude us?  However, we should still aim to improve.  What a balance!!  We need to challenge ourselves, but we also need to know when to stop.

When it comes to our children, we often push for the better time in a race, a better grade on a test, or better performance on that instrument.  While all those goals are worthy, we need to consider the sacrifice.  Is something else being neglected?  Is our push towards greatness increasing character in a positive way, or is it crushing our children's spirit?

I have three children with autism.  For years, they have had therapies focusing on their weaknesses. My kids need to do this or say that.  Painful hours.  At some point, I had to think outside the box.  My kids may never be able to do things that neuro-typical kids can do, so why are we, the therapists, doctors, teachers, and family all focused on pushing for those "normal" goals?  We should be looking at different solutions that my boys can use to accomplish those goals.  What I mean is my boys may achieve the "normal" goal in an unusual or unorthodox way.

 I looked at my sons' strengths and found many.  I changed how their therapies were done.  We focused on what they could do to help what they couldn't do.  Their worlds changed overnight.  Suddenly, they were happy.  They could accomplish tasks.  They were smart.  They could do things!

Simply by changing focus of what they can't do to what they can do made a huge difference.  No longer were my boys "incapable" or disabled.  They just solved problems differently than others.  They were now seen as problem solvers vs problems.  Big difference.

Our children can surprise us.  Capitalize on what they can do, and see just what else opens up!  Our children will see themselves as doers.  Our children can become self-reliant, a skill necessary for adulthood.

Whether our children have disabilities or not, our children all have the same goals of being loved, accepted, and successful.  How we see them and what we tell them matters.  If we constantly criticize, our children will learn to criticize.  We need balance.  Of course, we need to correct wrong doing, but we need to celebrate right doing.

Just how often do we parents celebrate that?  We need to celebrate the positive more than correcting the negative.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Beneficial Beans: What Is It?

Beneficial Beans is a fully functional coffee house located in a library.  The main purpose of Beneficial Beans is train and provide employable skills for adults on the autism spectrum.  It works in conjunction with SARRC (Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center) in Phoenix.

To learn more about Beneficial Beans or SARRC, click on the link below.

http://www.autismcenter.org/beneficial-beans%C2%AE-caf%C3%A9

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Ryan's Reveling in Coffee

Ryan and Aaron
Today is Ryan's third day on the job at Beneficial Beans.  He is greeting customers, filling orders, handling moneys, receiving instruction, and he is happy.

His coach, Aaron, works side-by-side Ryan, teaching him the ins and outs of the coffee beverage process.  Aaron has an easy-going spirit as he instructs Ryan.  Yet, Aaron still maintains the integrity and standards of the business.  What a great combination for a working environment, especially for autistic adults:  structure within a relaxed setting.




Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Ryan's New Internship: Communication Via Coffee

Imagine having to think of the word, "Hi," and then say it.  Imagine forcing yourself to smile to greet someone.  Imagine remembering to focus your eyes to meet another person's eyes.  Imagine processing all these actions simultaneously.  THEN, imagine preparing yourself to process what the other person will say or do.

For most of us, this is a simple process.  With autism, it is a check list:  how to greet someone!

Yesterday, Ryan started a 12 week internship at a coffee shop specifically designed to train adults with autism.  It is called Beneficial Beans.  Through this internship, Ryan will learn how to make sophisticated coffee drinks, but that is simply a means to teach him about communication, interaction, customer service, etc.  People skills.

Ryan can talk.  In fact, he can be quite articulate.  Other times, he can isolate himself in a crowd and be at peace in his own world.  Like most in the autism realm, connecting with people can be a challenge, let alone mentally exhausting.

My hope is that Ryan will be more at ease when conversing with other people.  That may sound simplistic, but with autism, no encounter with another person is easy.  Maybe, Ryan might even come to enjoy other people's company.

Imagine your son wanting to share his ideas, dreams, goals.  I can't wait to hear what Ryan thinks!  As of now, I can only imagine...

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Lord, Please Give Me Coffee or Give Me Wine

I love this quip (see photo). I use it as part of my "signature" in all my emails.

Of course, it’s a spin off the Serenity Prayer, but I much prefer this adaptation.  It’s much more applicable in my life.  I drink coffee.  I drink wine.  I drink coffee to be alert and DO.  I drink wine to chill and RELAX.  I know I’m not alone.  I know many moms, especially moms of special needs kiddos who rely on this mantra.

With kids, every mom has a daily to-do list.  If you homeschool, that list is even longer.  I have autistic teens.  My list, well, I’ve learned to call it a wish list.  No matter how I plan, life just throws a curve ball, and I have to adjust.  Sometimes, my kids don’t understand an assignment which I thought would take little time to accomplish.  Other times, I get a call from a therapist, doctor, or Mr. WhoknowsWho, and wham, I have to deal with THIS situation right away.  Of course, THIS situation blows up my to-do list.  Hence, now it;s a wish list.  Maybe I'll get to it...

What am I going to do?  Complain?  Probably.  Will it help?  No.

Sigh.  That’s when I ask, “Dear Lord, what do you want me to do?”  I have to admit it is more fun to pray “Lord, give me more coffee to change what I can change, and wine to accept what I can’t.”  However, it is actually helpful to hold a cup of coffee to slow me down to think of what I should do.  It helps to hold a glass of wine to reflect on what I need to accept. Obviously, I don’t do this ALL the time, but the idea still holds.

SO, I have learned to have a plan and be flexible. I have to remember that the Good Lord is in charge, and what I thought was important may not be so important.  I pray that God will give me what I need and when I need it.  It may be simply more coffee or more wine, depending on the case.  Maybe it will be just a moment of silence to distinguish His will, and that is enough.