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 19 yr, and Cameron 16 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) Our oldest sons, Michael 32 yr and Stuart 24 yr, moved out of the house.

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!

Friday, July 1, 2016

Going Out--Wow

Ryan, Nick, Cam
Last October my youngest three boys were invited to their first formal event, a friend's quinceaƱera.  Yes, they've been to family weddings and other special occasions, but this invitation came from a friend, not family.  Talk about reactions:  one son was quiet, probably worried that he might have to talk with someone; another was excited because he loved to talk and dance; the third just smiled.

I coached each one as needed.  I gave one son some questions to ask if he felt uncomfortable around people.  The next I gave guidelines on staying on a given subject.  The third just smiled.  We also researched the event online, so they would know what to expect.  We went through the history as well as the rituals of the event.  They were prepared.

Ryan, Nick, and Cam dressed up and let me take pictures.  This was not common, and I could not believe my eyes.  My boys were not my little babies.  It just really hit me that they'll be out in the world more and more.

The evening was a blast.  I wish more people could have seen them.  Too often, many are uncomfortable around autistic kids. My kids acted like everyone else. They laughed and danced, enjoying the festivities.  They were fine!



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.