Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Thirteen 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 22 yr, Nicholas 20 yr, and Cameron 16 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) Our oldest sons, Michael 32 yr and Stuart 25 yr, moved out of the house.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Christmas: Meshing the Secular with the Spiritual

How does a “Good Catholic” rectify celebrating Christmas with The Nativity and Santa Claus?  My answer is simple:  Easy... after years of practice! 

My dad calls Santa Claus the Father of Socialism:  a kid gets something for nothing and that is a bad lesson for anyone, let alone kids.  My cousin claims that Santa is Satan in disguise.  He represents greed and materialism.  My response is no; Santa is the opposite.  He is a saint.  He gives and expects nothing in return.

I can see how some people do not understand how we give our children presents from Santa, yet we profess that Christmas is about the birth of Christ.  My husband is agnostic, and three of my five boys have autism.  I have to mix my spiritual beliefs with a secular outlook in order to include all of my family members.

When asked years ago, my husband said that celebrating Christmas is the right thing to do.  He grew up associating family with Christmas, and it was always celebrated, but I needed to ensure that my boys understood the true meaning of Christmas.   I taught my boys what Christmas is—the birthday of Christ.  We incorporated the simplest rituals of a birthday:  baking a cake, singing Happy Birthday, and giving of presents. 

We then delved into who was Santa.  Our boys learned the history of Santa, who was based on St. Nicholas. He was a Greek bishop back in the fourth century who lived in Asia Minor.  My boys learned the legend of St Nick’s gifts as a dowry for three daughters so they could be married.  However, I emphasized that he brought gifts, without thought of receiving anything in return.

One of my favorite ornaments is St. Nick bowing before the Christ Child.  This image clarifies everything:  Christ is the focus.  His birth, life, death, and resurrection is why we celebrate Christmas, and St. Nick lived his life as a Christian, witnessing the life of Christ.

As a family, we do much more to celebrate the birth of Christ.  We celebrate the 12 Days of Christmas because the season begins on December 25, not ends.  We add the Christ Child to our Nativity Scene on December 25 and leave it up until January 6.

It all comes down to Christ.  He brings us together.  He is why we celebrate. He is why St Nick brings us gifts.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Cameron's First Job

Celebrating Cameron's new job
Cameron got hired on the spot!!

Whoop Whoop!!

He cleaned up, put on a tie, and went to the mall.  He filled out the application, and interviewed.  Bam, hired.  Nice!!

Sounds easy, but Cam put in a lot of work prior to getting hired.  He scoured the internet looking for companies hiring.  He found one interviewing that day, so off he went.  However, Cameron had been looking for a job since school got out last May.  He has filled out several applications and interviewed a couple times.  All results were negative.  Quite often, he received a form letter, rejecting him because of his age.  He is not 18.  Sometimes, he didn't get any notice at all.  Frustrating.

Rejection is not easy for anyone.  I have to admire Cameron for not giving up.  I know he applied to at least 20 companies before getting hired.  He did get frustrated at times, but ultimately, he kept applying.  I am glad he got the job, but he learned persistence.  That is better than the job!

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Nick Transitions To College

Nick has completed six weeks of college.  He is enrolled in a reading class and a math class.  The reading is a "zero" level to help him adjust to collegiate level.  His math class is a 100 level.  Although his math placement test two years ago put him at a much lower level, this year he tested to place exactly where he wanted to be.

This is a huge step for Nick.  We prepared as we normally do whenever he goes somewhere new.  We found his classrooms and other important places on campuses.  His classes are on two different campuses.  We found his classrooms, bathrooms, tutoring, coffee shop, and places to hang out.  We did "dress rehearsals" to ensure that he could find his way from the parking lot to the classes.

While doing this, Nick met up with some old friends from high school.  That was a wonderful suprise, and very important to Nick.  He's doing things that his peers are.  Seeing and conversing with them on campus gave Nick a boost of confidence, making the transition to college easier.

Go Nick!

Monday, October 3, 2016

Snooze or Do

Every morning, I wake up with two choices:  go back to “snooze” or get up to “do”.  Lately, I’ve been getting up earlier than usual.  Understand that I am not a morning person.  It is much easier for me to stay up until 3 am than to get up at 3 am.  However, those early moments of precious silence are critical for my own peace of mind. I can pay a few bills or plan dinner.  I can pray or exercise. I accomplish something before the gang gets up.

Getting up earlier than necessary is crazy to some, but every so often, that may be the only time moms get to be by themselves.  It is worth assessing if that might be helpful.  Of course, it does not have to happen daily, but once in a while, it can actually be a well deserved treat.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Ryan Turns 22

Ryan celebrates 22 years today.  What a young man he has become!

He has been living on his own for almost 18 months now.  We're still working on some life skills, but he does have some success living in his own apartment.  He is currently looking for a job to get him financially independent.  Consequently,he's learning to interview and has to speak about himself.  That is no easy task.  His want for earning his own keep is motivation to talk.  Yea.

So while the age of 22 brings no "milestone" that society would recognize, we are absolutely aware of Ryan's 22nd year and living on his own.

Congrats, Ryan.  We are proud of you!

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Dean and Uncles

Uncle Ryan and Uncle Nick take turns holding their nephew, Dean.  Having little ones around helps to bring out both the uncles. They don't have to worry about miscommunication. All three can communicate without words. The lack of verbal communication eases Ryan and Nick's existence, and smiles abound.

I have learned over the years to never underestimate silent communication. I find that it is more valuable than the spoken word. There is truth in the expression of a picture is worth a thousand words. Ryan rarely smiles, always guarding himself. 

I am amazed what an influence my grandson has on his uncles. Joy!

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy 4th!

Several weeks back, Cameron, Nicholas, and I met up with my oldest sister's classmate, William DeLuna.  He captains a fleet of boats.  He gave us a first class tour of the harbor and beyond.  The boys had never been sailing out in open water, so this was an adventure.  It did not take long for the boys to feel at home, and they dared to ask to steer the vessel.  The good captain agreed, and he was quite impressed with their navigation skills.  He exclaimed, "They're naturals!"  No sea-sickness.  No squeamish stomachs.  Just a lot of fun!

I do have to give Captain Bill DeLuna kudos for taking us.  I advised him ahead of time of their history with autism, and that I had no idea how the boys would react,  Nick had severe sensory issues, and his communication could still be hampered at times.  Cameron had similar concerns, but no lack of communication.  The  Captain had no problems telling them what was permitted and what was not.  He went through the safety drill and rules.  Then the fun commenced.

We saw several dolphins, and we hoped for a whale or two.  The boys were thrilled to climb all over the boat and watch the sails go up and down.  They even had to dodge the sails a few times.  No one had to yell, "Man overboard," so I was happy.

I was totally surprised that Nick and Cam took so easily to the ocean.  They felt at ease and thoroughly enjoyed the trip.  Incredible!