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.

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.

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Accidents Happen

A few weeks ago, Ryan was in a car accident.  Our beloved, golden Echo was a great little car, but it was no match to a truck.  No one was hurt, but the car was totaled.

Ryan has had his driving license for almost three years with no ticket or accident.  Some people expressed concerned about a young, autistic adult driving.  According to Safety Insurance Company's website, "Nationwide, 43% of first-year drivers and 37% of second-year drivers are involved in car crashes."  Ryan beat those statistics.  Even after the accident, I'm glad we encouraged Ryan to learn how to drive.

Of course, Ryan was shaken and now has a new respect regarding his vulnerability and driving. It's scary out on the road, from his perspective and mine.  He has learned many life-lessons.  Sometimes, experience is the best teacher.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Messages with Love

This morning I promise myself to be patient and loving. I will not yell.  I want a peaceful home. I will not yell.  Two minutes pass, and chaos surrounds me.  Kids want this, and husband needs that. I just smile. 

I am armed with ammunition of love.  When faced with challenges of lost shoes or siblings arguing, I say nothing.  Instead, I give a heart.  Shooting a heart may be more appropriate in a house of boys, but there are enough projectiles flying around.  On the heart is the message, whatever the message needs to be.  The recipient reads it, thanks me kindly for the reminder, and we both move on.  Tranquility…

Reality is different.  If I give my kids candy hearts, they’d be on a sugar high.  They’d also learn quickly to misbehave so they could get candy.  However, this idea of candy hearts may not be all bad for me.  It’d remind me to speak with love, to ensure whatever I say is spoken to encourage or teach.  It could remind me to address just that issue and not drone on.  Too often, I yell at those I love dearly.  I react instantly instead of taking a moment to think.  A message on a heart from me reminds me to speak from the heart—with love and make that my reality.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Shadowing Nick: New Routines

I watch Nick as he learns to maneuver the campus.
Nick has started his second semester at the local community college.  He's taking classes on two different campuses.  He is somewhat nervous.  His schedule has changed, so he needs to establish new habits and routines.

We start with an introduction and rehearsal.  Nick has a print out of a map.  We visit each campus, pointing out landmarks.  We find his classrooms and write down what days and times he will be in that classroom.  We then find the closest bathrooms and drinking fountain.

A few days later, we visit the campus again, but he leads.  He finds the location.  I shadow him.  If he gets lost, I follow.  If he gets discouraged, he calls me.  I try to point out landmarks if necessary until he can find the classroom.

We may do this exercise a few times.  Once he is comfortable, I then drop him off and find a place to sit on campus.  He maneuvers his way independently.  I am still close if he needs me, but I am not following.

Eventually, he will be able to follow the new schedule on his own.  He learns it much quicker than he did in high school.  However, Nick still experiences anxiety and stress.  Ironically, no matter where his classes are, he learns where the local coffee joint is.  He can chill with coffee anytime!

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!