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.

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 22 yr, moved out of the house.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Autistic Sons Admire Sunset

Being a mom of special needs kids taxes mental and physical energy.  I can get caught up in tons of paperwork and appointments.  There is always something waiting to be tackled!  Interruptions don't help.  Doorbells, phones, and texts are among the common agitators. Even the kids' yelling, "MOM," can grate on the nerves.  That "Mom" quickly shifts from "Mom?" to "Mom!!"

I cringe.  "Just let me finish this," I yell.

As a result, I can miss some great moments.  This last time, the call of "Mom" was to see a beautiful sunset.  If I had persisted in finishing my task, I would have missed it.  I was amazed at how fast it changed within seconds.  By the time I got the closest camera out, the colors had moved far away within those moments.

This was not an emergency, but it was important.  I am glad my boys demanded my attention, and I came.  We shared a few moments of an awesome, stunning sunset.

This also illustrates that kids with autism can appreciate the beauty of nature.  Many assume that autistic people lack the cognitive ability to appreciate nature or items that are beyond their touch.  That is simply untrue.  Actually, it may be we who are caught up in the paperwork who don't have the cognitive ability to stop and appreciate nature!!

In this case, my autistic sons stopped to admire the sunset.  THEY believed it was important enough to call me.  This just reinforces we don't always know what autistic kids can do!

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Nice Shootin' Tex

Cameron texted on Saturday that he wants "to be shooting at marksmanship more" because he beat the marksmanship captains and broke the pistol record.  He surprised me that he had beaten more experienced shooters.  He later told me that the funny thing was, for the M4 sim, he was shooting lefty so he could see.  He did "surprisingly good".

Cameron is right handed, so that is why I was also surprised at his results. I wonder how well he would have done if he had shot with his right hand, wearing his glasses.  He replied that his glasses probably have a lot of dust on them.  I wonder if he even knows where those glasses are. Maybe this will be an incentive for him to wear his glasses!

His final update read, "My M9 high score, which is THE high score, was 189, and the M4 high score was 69."

"Wow," was my reply, even though I don't know what an M9 or an M4 are.  I assume a rifle and pistol.  Here, I am worried about my son getting the proper education to use the firearms.  The irony is I also need to get educated as to what he's shooting!

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Cameron vs Camp Pendelton

Looking down the barrel of the gun
Cameron left yesterday with his JROTC class for four days at Camp Pendelton in Southern California.  I read out loud to Mike everything that we are signing away on the release form, and Cameron was loving it: (injury from but not limited to) flying projectiles, explosions, flying and motor vehicles, live munitions...  The list goes on.

Activities involving massive weaponry would make any mom worry.  Not me so much. Instead, I worry about the military base surviving Cameron.  I think we should have had the administration on the base sign a waiver releasing us from lawsuits as they are bringing Cameron onto their field...

My dad introduced Cameron to real firearms when Cameron was quite young.  We wanted to ensure that Cameron, as well as all our boys--even with autism, knew how to use and respect guns. Consequently, my dad has taken the boys to a shooting range. Since then, Cameron has been working on marksmanship randomly, and he loves it.  He has decorated his room with the paper from his target practices.

I am not sure where Cameron's interest grew.  Perhaps, video games and movies have inspired and enticed him.  He has joined the marksmanship club at school, so he continues to learn about the weaponry as he practices.

Cameron has found a hobby he likes, and he is quite good at it. Through the JROTC, he should learn the self discipline necessary to handle the dangers presented.  Of course, they don't use live ammunition on campus, but guns still demand to be treated with care and maturity.  Cameron can be quite "spirited and enthusiastic" when given an opportunity to be unleashed!

Cameron is thriving on it all!

Here's a link to Cam at target practice:

Wednesday, November 19, 2014


My sister-in-law wrote, "Never under estimate the power of a hug. This simple gesture is not really simple at all. Its complexity in action and response makes it one of the strongest forces in the world, making it heal almost anything!"

A hug is how we found out about deep pressure, which helps relieve sensory meltdowns when my boys were young.  It was one of those days when I was hanging onto sanity by a thread.  Ryan couldn't talk at that time.  He wanted something and was going into a ballistic tantrum.  I couldn't figure out what he wanted.

At the same time, Nick was hungry and needed to be fed.  Both kids chimed out, "MAMA!"

I gave Nick a quick snack, so I could focus on Ryan.

I was in tears, trying to figure out what Ryan wanted.  I couldn't solve the mystery.  I ended up just hugging him really tight. At first, Ryan resisted.  He didn't like to be touched, let alone hugged.  There were dents in the wall from Ryan leaning backwards to get away from people who wanted to hug him.

Within a few moments, we both calmed down.  Then he hugged me.  He was about four years old.  I received my first hug from Ryan.

Later I mentioned this to Ryan's adaptive PE teacher.  She said they have weighted vests to help keep the kiddos calm.  The physical therapist also said that deep pressure helps.  She showed me how to apply it, and it worked every time.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Picture This: Growing Up with Autism

This last week, when I couldn't sleep, I sorted the boys' school pictures.  I laid them out side-by-side.  I was treated to smiling faces and seeing my sons grow into young men.

Except for when Ryan and Nick were four year old.  In those pictures, Ryan and Nick don't smile.  They look stoic, blank, and empty, as if they were in pain.  I was surprised to see how the autism symptoms manifested themselves.  Although we noticed loss of communication when Ryan and Nick were two years old, they were totally emerged into their individual worlds by the age of four.  They loved being left alone doing their own rituals or form of play.  (There is a slight pause at these photos of Ryan and Nick at age four.)

Then the pictures reveal how the boys slowly emerged, relating to the world around them.  Cameron took the video of the pictures, as evident at the end via his somewhat humorous self-identification.

Friday, November 7, 2014

An Accomplished Young Adult with Autism

Mike with Nick at Senior Night
As the football season comes to a close, so does the marching band season.  Tis bittersweet for Nicholas, as he loves the camaraderie of the marching band. However, we have a reprieve!  The football team is in the playoffs, so the marching band continues to perform.

A few weeks ago, the marching band celebrated senior night.  My husband and I escorted Nick in front of the football stands during halftime.  As we walked, the announcer voiced Nick's goals after high school--to study music and math.  Nick beamed.  He gave me a rose and a big hug.

Before giving roses to moms
I cherish these moments. Memories of his challenges as a youngster with autism are never far from me. Memories of Nick struggling with loud noises, and now playing in a marching band. Memories of Nick trying to express himself in words, and now expressing himself musically. Memories of Nick overcoming so many issues...  Nick is now emerging as an accomplished young man with autism.

This is a moment to celebrate in the life of Nick!

Friday, October 17, 2014

Nick Thriving with Music

Nick (middle) 
Nick loves music.  Seeing him play in marching band is more than a goal achieved.  He is happy.  That may sound like a simple statement, but it signifies a culmination of Nick’s intense therapies to live and achieve with the disability of autism.

As a toddler, he'd climb onto the piano bench and bang on the piano keys.  He started piano lessons at about the age of 8.  He did not necessarily pick up the concepts easily, but he practiced incessantly.
Nick about age 2

In fifth grade Nick decided to join band in school.  He chose to play the bells.  The classmates in his band class were extremely supportive and helped Nick learn the music.  The elementary school band teacher had ADD, so this teacher could relate to Nick--keeping instruction clear and concise.  Nick thrived.

In seventh grade his band teacher introduced Nick to other percussion instruments. It was a slow process to get him comfortable, but he persevered.  Again, his classmates helped Nick, if needed.

Nick continued band in high school.  His sophomore year, he joined the rhythm theatre band in addition to the regular band class.  The rhythm theatre band practices were after school, so this really illustrated how much Nick liked music--he was there because he wanted to be, not just to fill a class period.

In his junior year Nick added the marching band to his class schedule.  This class started an hour before the regular school day.  Nick, who was never a morning person, awoke at 5 am daily. 

Few of his classmates from elementary have continued to take band, but they have been the nucleus for meeting new friends via band.  I understand the marching band members become really good friends because they spend so much time practicing together.  However, I have never seen such acceptance and camaraderie that includes a student with autism.  This bond goes beyond the school walls.  We rarely can go to a store without Nick knowing someone.  Either he or the other person will stop, high-five, and chat. 

Now, Nick is a senior, and he continues to play in these bands. He wishes to pursue more piano lessons and wants to play in a band after high school.  Nick sums it up, "Music is my life."

top photo credit:Shaylen Sparrow