Autism: Surviving and Thriving

Fourteen 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 23 yr, Nicholas 21 yr, and Cameron 17 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) Our oldest sons, Michael 33 yr and Stuart 25 yr, moved out of the house. Ryan has also moved out, and is still working towards complete independence.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Phi Theta Kappa Honors Inductee: Nick

Nick received an invitation to join Phi Theta Kappa Honor Society at college.  What an honor!  Two weeks ago was the induction ceremony.  It was quite an event.

Nick has studied hard during his semesters at the local college.  On average, he is taking 8 units a semester and working 15 hours a week.  That is a full schedule.  We've had to focus on time management and studying skills, and it's paying off.  We continue to work on some anxiety/calming techniques as school isn't always smooth, but he is moving towards his goal of graduating.

For most people, they would think that this is nice and move on.  For Nick this is HUGE.  He was diagnosed mildly mentally retarded in preschool.  I had to fight that label as it was not accurate. Both the psychologist, who conducted the test, and his preschool teacher agreed with me that this was not accurate.  It was ridiculous to put such a label on him.

It took three more years to get a correct diagnosis of autism.  All through that time, we worked with Nick.  We dealt with sensory issues and diet issues.  Finding a balance of teaching and communicating was delicate, but we did.

Now Nick is moving forward beyond what anyone imagined.  College!  We are proud, and Nick's hard work and perseverance continues to pay off!

To be considered for Phi Theta Kappa, the potential member must have a minimum 3.5 GPA.  Nick enjoys going to their meetings and volunteering with them.

Friday, December 15, 2017

A Christmas Tradition

One of our favorite family traditions is a simple gift exchange, dressed up with friendly, family competition, and focusing on the recipient.  This is one of the easiest ways we taught about giving to our autistic sons when they were young.

We draw names (usually on the 22 or 23 of December) of family members and then go shopping in teams. Price limit was $5 for years, but we boosted it up to $10 last year. Mom and Dad could "captain a team" and each take two boys shopping. The first team to purchase their gifts, return home, AND gift wrap said presents and put them under the tree won. The prize is usually the losing team makes hot chocolate for the winning team.

Then on the 24th (sometimes the same day as the shopping is completed) we open our family gifts. (As kiddos, my siblings and I were allowed to open one gift on Christmas Eve. This tradition morphed into our current family gift exchange.)

So we think about the other person.  The boys have tried to buy what they wanted, but we ensured they purchased what the recipient wanted by having a list of what each boy wanted ahead of time.

It is always a lot of fun.

PS A red bow on a shopping bag counted as wrapped.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Adding Some Pumpkin Spice to Life

Last Saturday I took my granddaughter to a "pumpkin event."  It was not a pumpkin patch; we went to a garden which featured pumpkins as the characters in scenes.  Some faces were carved intricately; some just had arms and legs added.  However, all made theatrical puppets look like yesterday's headliners.

We marveled at the creativity of the artists.  We could not imagine how much time or what tools were used, but we certainly enjoyed their efforts.  Each pumpkin was unique.  Jack O' Lanterns just evolved this year! 
Pumpkins having some water fun

Saturday, August 12, 2017

New Occupational Therapist Was Ryan's Classmate

Ryan and Nick have a new occupational therapist.  She is on the young side, but she has great ideas about how to merge the outside world and the autistic world.  Her name is Alex, and she has been employed for several weeks now.  I am thrilled that the boys are now working with a peer.  They need to be able to relate to their peers at school and at work.

Peers.  More to that word... after talking with Alex about the boys' background and goals, we discussed schools.  My boys have attended several schools within the school district, but when I mentioned one, Alex lit up and said she went there for fifth and sixth grade.  Alex and Ryan are the same age.  Ryan quickly disappeared and returned with a school yearbook.  Alex recognized it, "That's my yearbook."

They were classmates.

Ryan found his sixth grade picture, and Alex said, "I know you!  You were a little silly and quiet."  Alex then found her sixth grade picture, and Ryan could vaguely remember.

This was the first time I've ever heard what a fellow student thought of one of my sons at that time.  No one ever described Ryan as silly, but if she weren't aware that Ryan had autism, that is very understandable.  A mom always worries about how her sons fit in, especially a mom of special needs kids.

The rest of the session was remembering shared experiences and memories:  science camp where Mr. Adams proposed to Miss Nelson, sixth grade teachers, friends and classmates, etc.  Ryan talked a lot.  He smiled and even laughed a few times.  I could not believe the lively interaction between therapist and client.

Nick was two years behind Ryan, so Nick and Alex' paths did not cross much.  Nick does not remember her, but he smiled when I told him Alex went to the same elementary school.

What a turn of events!  The boys now will really be working with a peer, which is exactly what they need.  I am really looking forward to this new perspective for the boys' continued growth towards independence!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Autistic Kiddos Have Talents

We all have talents.  We just have to find them.

Life is relative.  What is easy for some is very difficult for others.  Math is a great example.  My two boys with autism love math.  It is very easy for them to grasp and compute.  They both took harder math classes in high school than I ever did in college.  Oh yeah, I did not take ANY math class in college because trigonometry in high school was enough for me.  I muddled through that class after endless hours of studying.  My sons breeze through those calculations without effort.  I wish I had their ability.

My boys roll their eyes at me, not understanding how I can’t grasp the simple concepts.

In contrast, I enjoy writing. It can be fun, even a welcomed challenge to me.  For my boys, writing is downright painful.  They’d rather do their Saturday chores than write.  They will even do MY chores to procrastinate that tedious task of putting words on paper.  Once they sit down to write, the dead would complain about my kids’ groans that permeate the air.  My sons equate writing to a medieval torture, and should be outlawed.  They wish they had my ability.

I roll my eyes at them, not understanding how they can’t grasp the simple concepts.

We are all gifted.  Sometimes, we spend too much time working on our weaknesses that we forget to capitalize on our strengths.  Find that talent, and let it flourish!

Sunday, May 14, 2017

ImPerfect Motherhood

I told my then two year old son, Nick, to use his fork while eating.  He complied.  He picked up his fork in his right hand, and proceeded to feed himself with his left hand.  Not exactly what I pictured or expected, but he did what he was suppose to do.

That illustrates motherhood.  Not exactly what I expected, but what it is suppose to be.

I've not been a perfect mom, but I've been busy raising perfect children, five boys to be exact.  It is a work in progress.  I must continually "guide" my perfect boys.  Correct them, admonish, encourage, enlighten, cheer, etc.  The list is endless, but at some point, they will be perfect young men.  HA.  A mom must have a sense of humor.

My boys are almost grown.  If I could do it over again or give a young mom advice, I'd not sweat the small stuff.  However, I'd pay attention to the small stuff.  It's those silly moments of mistakes or unpredictable moments that make the memories.

One of my favorites was five years ago.  I purchased raw milk to the tune of $10 a gallon.  I told my boys that they had to be careful to not spill.  Of course, one of them spilled the full glass of "white gold", and they all became statues.  No one said a word, but simultaneously, they all moved their plates and started lapping up the spilled milk off the counter.  It was the funniest moment.  My boys became human vacuums, and there was not much milk left to clean.  Not one drop hit the floor.

And they were shocked when I laughed.

Then there was the time I was teaching the boys how to sort laundry and load the washing machine.  Sort by color and run a full load.  So my Nick, about ten at the time, sorted the whites and the darks.  Since neither load was full, he put both loads in, but the whites on one side and the darks on the other.  Then he ran the machine.  I had been home to see the loads sorted, but then left, thinking he had it down.  The picture tells a different story.

To read that full story, click here:
Again, I had to laugh, and I kept teaching.

I was not always laughing.  I have shed many tears.  My heart broke when my youngest three were diagnosed with autism.  Working with teachers, therapists, and doctors, even priests, and family members... the years were long and hard, but now my boys are working or going to college, something beyond what the specialists thought possible ten plus years ago.  My heart is now overjoyed!

Prayer and laughter are a must to any mama.  We all have our journeys with our children.  Each one special.  Love them and enjoy them.  They grow up too fast.  The days go slowly, but the years speed by quickly.

I now lament the two miscarriages now more than when they occurred.  I'd have a 14 and a 4 year old.  Of course, they'd be boys.  Garrett and Caleb.  I can only dream what their lives would have been, but this is also a part of motherhood.

A mother's love is the only love that, if successful, is the parting of the two.  Three of my boys have moved out.  They have had their struggles, but they call and we talk.  Maybe they take my advice or not.  That is ok.  I have done my best, and they are young men making their way in the world.

Now I look forward to grandchildren. Yes I have two, but I'd love more. 

Monday, April 10, 2017

Guardians of...

Today, Mike and I became legal guardians.  We are now defenders of the universe.  Sounds cool.  I just wish the role belonged in a movie.

Doctors and psychologists told us to pursue guardianship years ago, well before our boys turned 18.  However, from what I read, our boys would lose much of their independence, and that would cost them too much mentally and emotionally.

Laws have changed since I first researched guardianship.  The best news we found was that we could file for full guardianship, and our son could retain his drivers license and his right to vote.  An attorney informed us that we could protect our son without infringing on his those two concerns.

Yes, we hired an attorney, and it was money well spent.  We did not have to worry about filing the correct papers and making sure we had all the details complete.  The financial cost was nothing compared to my time and emotional well being.  There were many steps to follow, and missing any one of them would delay our court date.

So four months later, we have concluded a legal process to help our young autistic adult to continue his life towards independence.