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 20 yr, Nicholas 18 yr, and Cameron 14 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.

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.

Cheers!

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.


Sunday, April 19, 2015

Nick Asked A Girl To Prom

"I want to ask her.  I don't know what to say?" said the text.

"Will you go to prom with me?" was my reply.

So then I waited to hear from Nick.  Did he actually asked her? I wanted to text back, but I didn't want to put any more pressure on Nick.  The day passed with nothing more.

The next morning I found out he didn't ask her.  He would try again that day.  When I arrived home from work, I asked my husband if Nick had asked.  Mike nodded, "He wrote a note, but he didn't receive a reply."  I was on pins and needles.  I bet Nick was too.  The second day passed.

I made sure I was home from school when Nick arrived.  I asked how his day was.  "Fine," was all I received.  I could not wait, but I casually asked, "Did she respond?"

Nick hesitated.  "Yes."  Then he broke into a smile.  "She said she'd love to go to prom with me."

I think my heart had held its breath for the last two days.  All of a sudden, I felt a huge sigh escape, and my heart beamed.  

It's always difficult to see my son in social settings.  Communication is difficult as it is for any young adult with autism.  Throw in the dating scene.  What teen isn't nervous at some point about rejection?

Nick gathered the courage, and asked.  The payoff was worth the risk.  Now the planning begins for Prom!

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mom Gone, Boys Thrive

The boys survived the week without Mom.  I was in TX the entire week for training for a new job.  I was wary about leaving my family for so long, but they did just fine without me.  In their words:  Ryan said, "I am not dead."  Nick texted, "I am foog," which I think was mis-typed but auto-correct made it worse.  Then Cameron humorously commented, "The house burnt down, but other than that, I am fine."  Yes, I missed my boys.

So I arrived home, not looking forward to the laundry and grocery shopping.  I was pleasantly surprised.  Their laundry was done, folded, and in the process of being put away.  (I bet someone yelled, "Mom's home," and they ran to put clothes in their proper dressers.

Then I found the refrigerator about as full as I left it.  Plenty of vegetables and fruit.  My boys didn't look scrawny, nor did they complain of hunger.  What did they eat? I checked with my husband.  Mike confirmed that they ate, and ate well. Mike pointed out that Nick started dinner on Friday, scrambling up eggs.  So they consumed food all week.  Probably just not the veggies.  So I really did not have to do grocery shopping for them.

So no laundry and shopping.  Except for what I needed done.  My sons continue to surprise me at their adapting abilities.  It's one step closer to total independence for all of them.

That is GOOD.


Monday, March 16, 2015

Ryan's New Place

The realtor told us that there was a waiting list.  She encouraged Ryan to apply because she never knew when there would be an opening.  She could not tell us, an average, what the wait might be.  She encouraged Ryan to submit an application if he wanted to move sooner vs later.

When Ryan submitted his application a month later for an apartment, he was informed that there would be an opening at the beginning of the next month.  That was a lot sooner than we anticipated.  Ryan, his dad, and I agreed that Ryan would probably be more successful on his own if we had another year to refine several life skills.  A month to move out pushed our "schedule" up by 11 months.  However, Ryan agreed to take the apartment enthusiastically.

The month passed quickly.  We planned and focused.  What would Ryan need immediately?  What could wait?  What could he borrorw?  Could friends and family donate items?

Within the month Ryan asked if he could take an item, or he pointed out that we don't use that thing.  He slowly accumulated a few tools and pieces of furniture.

His moving day quickly arrived!

His idea of packing was very different than mine, but then again, he had never moved.  I showed him how to pack breakables, and the rest went as he saw fit.  We rented a truck, and the move was done with the help of his parents and brothers.

Since he didn't have much, it didn't take long to move and set up.  When all was done, he transformed a "tin can" into a home.  I was impressed.  His living room had more functional furniture than I did after a few yeas of being on my own.  His furniture actually looked nice as well.  Not too bad for a bunch of hand-me-downs.

Ryan enjoyed it all because this was HIS place.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

My Precious Aunt Pearl

Uncle Bill, Aunt Pearl, Sheryl
Last summer I travelled with my mother to Michigan to see relatives.  I had concerns about how my kids would manage without me, but I needed to go see some special people, my Godparents.  Too many years had snuck by, and their health was not the best.  This trip would also give my kids an opportunity to learn how to manage without me.

My mom and I spent five days traversing her old stomping grounds.  We met up with a few of her siblings and spouses and my cousins.  Her oldest brother and spouse, my Uncle Bill and Aunt Pearl, are my God-parents.  I first remember meeting them on a cold December night, when we were visiting during Christmas vacation.  I never knew snow could be so cold, and I understood why my parents left the freezing temperatures of the Midwest for the mild weather of Southern California!

During that December trip, we stayed with my Uncle Bill and Aunt Pearl for about a week, not venturing out much because of the cold.  For entertainment, Aunt Pearl gave my sisters and me some tips to playing the organ (although we played the piano).  We also baked, cooked, played cards, and bunch of silly things to pass the time.  It was simple fun!

After that trip, I started writing my relatives frequently.  I sent photos and letters whenever a special event in my life occurred.  My cousin, Anne, was really the only one who responded with regularity, but she kept me apprised of all in her family.

So it's been over 40 years since the December trip, and now my mom and I visit the same people, albeit much older.  Time had changed our physical features, but the same spirit of spunk remained.  I spent some one-on-one time with my Aunt Pearl.  She was still spry and sharp--at times.  When she wasn't, she said something, probably in Hungarian so I wouldn't know that she probably said something she should not have.  Then she smiled and cursed her "forgetfulness" or "slowness" with renewed patience and grace.  She laughed heartily, and carried on.  We all knew her time on earth was limited, as is all of ours.

I remember her laugh from 40 years ago.  Nothing loud and annoying.  Just a hearty laugh.  It was truly an endearing exclamation of joy and happiness.

Last Friday I received a call, informing me of my Aunt Pearl's passing.  Her family had gathered at her side, and she passed quietly.  I pray she passed peacefully.

Dear Aunt Pearl, I hope the heavens are filled with the sound of your joyful laughter.  Love, Sheryl

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Ryan Moving Out?!

Ever since Ryan was a baby, he wanted to be independent.  As soon as he learned to walk at nine months, he was in constant motion.  At ten months, he was running.  He wanted to be where he was not.  Wherever we travelled, he explored his environment with great speed and enthusiasm.

As a toddler, he played with his toys by himself mostly, but he did laugh and enjoy his older brothers' company.  I could hear him laugh with them.  He also loved to run with them.  He was a natural at distance running, which he had to be to keep up with the bigger boys.

As autism emerged, Ryan isolated himself into his own world.  I reflect back, and I surmise it was easier for him to exist.  He lost most of his speech.  At age four, he had command of 31 words, 15 of them were more akin to grumbles than real words.

Over the years we encouraged him and helped him learn to deal with our world.  He has grown into a young man of hidden talent, incredible imagination, and indisputable intelligence.  He can communicate well with anyone who asks him questions.  Most people would simply think he is a shy person.

He has wants and dreams like anyone else.  He craves to be recognized as an individual.  I respect his desire to move out and be responsible for himself.  Early this month we submitted an application for an apartment.  Pending that approval, there is an apartment vacancy coming at the end of the month that Ryan was offered.  Ryan enthusiastically accepted.  Ryan smiled.

Ryan's photo work
As a mom, my goal is to raise children who will move out and be their own persons as adults.  My love is to push them out the door, ultimately.  My two oldest sons have moved out, and I happily let them go, with a slight twinge of bittersweet pang.  With Ryan I have more concern and questions regarding his readiness to face the world alone.  However, I am reminded that every man must face the world.  Alone.  Autism or not.

While I may lurk in the background, that is all I can probably do--lurk.  I have to let him go.  He may fall, and I won't be able to kiss his cheek, wipe away a tear, and hug him.  I won't be able to reassure him and encourage him spontaneously.  He will have to find his way, make his own decisions, and reap his rewards or consequences.

It may be more of a difficult transition for me than Ryan, but he has become his own man!