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.

I started this blog to write about my life with teen boys with autism. Years have passed, and my boys are thriving. It is not an easy life. I been asked how I get thru the daily turmoil of autism. I usually something like, "A lot of prayer."
These events are true to life.

My family: husband Mike, sons Stuart 22 yr, Ryan 19 yr, Nicholas 17 yr, and Cameron 14 yr. (Ryan and Nick have autism; Cam has recovered from autism.) My oldest son, Michael, is out of the house.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

My Oldest Turns 30

Michael is 30 today.  I often wonder what life was like for him, growing up with younger siblings with autism.  For several years, the younger boys were undiagnosed.  From my perspective, Michael was a strong support for his younger brothers, whatever problems they had.

Michael probably had to bear more than what he should have.  He set the example for my younger sons.  If Mike did something that was questionable, he heard about it.  Kids with autism learn quickly by example.  Usually, the things I wouldn't want repeated would be the phrases that they'd learn without effort.

We set a high standard for Michael.  Good grades, good behavior, good everything.  He usually did not disappoint us.  He was valedictorian at his 8th grade graduation.  He aspired to play sports.  He got his first job at 16, when he could drive.

He married young, but he was a devoted husband and father.  Now, at 30, he is much like his father--a very strong, reliable man.  If a problem is presented, he solves them.  If someone asks for help, he obliges.  Better yet, if Michael perceives an issue, he addresses it.

We didn't parent our younger kids as we did Michael.  He observed, "Mom, you never let me get away with that."  No, parenting with autistic kids is very different.  Our standards changed.  For example, the idea of straights As in school went out the window.  We didn't care about grades.  We cared about mastering the skill, task, or lesson only.  No grades.  Yes, our standards changed.  They become specialized.  We focused on success per each child, not a pre-set standard.

Michael's early years were sparked by a young, inquisitive curiosity--much like his adult years are sparked by challenging, demanding responsibilities.  He meets them with courage.

Happy 30th, Michael.

Friday, July 4, 2014

In the Spirit of the Second Amendment: Learning to Shoot

Guns.  Controversial to say the least.  A person either loves them or hates them.  In our house, we chose to educate our kids about them.  With autism or not, my boys are typical, and they like to shoot guns.

I grew up around guns, and I learned at an early age to respect them.  My dad taught me what damage can be done.  Empty soda cans were my usual target.  Different bullets left different holes.

I was about ten when I shoot my first live target.  After it fell from the sky, my dad and I searched the grounds until we found it.  "It" was a beautiful bird, with deep blue and green feathers.  It's head was barely intact.  Talk about my euphoria quickly dampened by reality.  We took home what we shot.  Dinner.

Nowadays, too many times, an accident is reported on the news about a kid shooting a sibling or a friend out of curiosity or play.  I don't want my kids to be one of those statistics.  I don't want my kids to fear guns either.  The only solution is to teach them.

With proper gear and training, my boys shoot.  Grandpa takes them to the local shooting range.  Their accuracy improves with each visit.  Onlookers are usually surprised when they find out that the boys have autism.  Some are even quite impressed when looking at the paper targets.

Yes, my boys had to overcome sensory issues and master fine/gross motor skills in order to be able to shoot.  Years of occupational and physical therapy.  We take nothing for granted.   Of course, our boys' safety comes first.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Ryan Is Driving On His Own!!

Ryan celebrating with Grandma
Five days ago Ryan took the drivers test and passed.  He has a drivers license. Unfortunately, I was not with him, but Ryan texted me immediately.  "I got it: my drivers license," was his exact statement.

I called him, and I asked how it felt, "Good."   I could hear him smiling.  Rare.  Ryan was genuinely happy.  I was happy too.  It's been a long haul for him to arrive at this point.

Eighteen months ago, Ryan didn't want to drive. He didn't want the responsibility.  Ryan was quite content to let us drive him around.  Not a lot of ambition.  That doesn't sit well, especially when Ryan wants to be independent.  I never understood that concept:  he wants to be independent, but he doesn't want the responsibility.

Mike and I simply stated that if Ryan wanted to be independent, he needed to pursue skills that will make him independent.  Mastering some sort of transportation was a must--be it public or private transportation didn't matter.  He needed to be able to get to places on his own, especially if he wanted a job.

So Ryan had taken the drivers ed course at high school.  He "drove" the simulators, but just wasn't ready.  We didn't push for a few years. However, when he graduated from high school, we pushed a little bit.  Thanks to my parents, Ryan earned his drivers permit last summer.  And ding--Ryan suddenly liked driving.

Now he can drive without me.  Yea.  He has a smile on his face. Constantly.  He is very happy with this new-found independence.  He even agreed that the responsibility is worth it!

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Anniversaries--When Autism Joined Our Family

Eleven years ago we stole away for ten days.  It was the first such trip since the boys were diagnosed with autism.  Mike's mom came down to take care of the boys.  We had no idea how they would react when they realized we were going to be gone for so long.

At that time, we actually didn't know Ryan and Cameron were autistic.  Only Nick had been diagnosed.  Ryan and Cameron would be diagnosed within a couple of months.  Had we waited to go, I don't think we would have left after hearing the diagnosis of all three.

Thank God for grandmas.  It was a much needed break to refocus on us.  Mike's mom reassured us that all will be well.  Our kids loved her, so we had no doubts.

Well, we did.  We bought cell phones--our first cell phones before we left.  Leaving our kids for the first time for that duration was scary.  We bought cell phones for that "just in case" emergency.  No one ever called for an emergency.

We had a wonderful time celebrating our 13 years.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Today We Reached 24 Years

Sheryl & Mike:  24th Anniversary
Mike and I have spent over half of our lives together, and we still like each other.  Of course, we still love each other too, but being friends coincides with being spouses.  I am amazed that 24 years have flown by.  It's good to stop and celebrate these occasions!

People have been asking me how many years have we been married, and I reply, "Twenty-four."  They usually say, "Ahhh.  Then next year is the big year.  Do you have any plans?"

I am blown away. What is wrong with celebrating the 24th Anniversary?  Yes, 25 is big, but we're not there yet.  Why not focus on the year we had?

We've had a few major milestones:  Ryan graduation from high school.  Nick and Mike went to Hawaii.  Ryan and Nick earned their driving permits.  They also had their first jobs.  Among others.  Yes, this list is really about the boys, but that is reflective of our marriage:  family.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Happy 24th Anniversary Eve

Mike & Sheryl 2004
Tonight we spent on our own--a quiet afternoon/evening together.  The boys are with their biggest brother working on the backyard, which yields time for Mike and me.  We had a simple, quiet dinner.  Nothing fancy.  We were happy just spending time together.

It's nice to know that we don't need any hyped-up activity to keep us entertained. With young adults with autism, life is exciting enough.  They keep us going as we never know what they'll will do, or what bureaucratic mess might be thrown at us.

I smile as I write that because autism is a world of its own.  One I could do without, but it is a part of our lives together.  Together, we meet it, head-on.  But it's only a part of our lives.  We keep that perspective.  It does not define us.  We are much more.  We have to be to keep going!  

Friday, June 20, 2014

Happy 24th Approaching

This coming Monday will be our 24th anniversary.  Time to make a toast and celebrate love and family.  We'll keep it simple.  Some relatives and friends.  And the kids.  I thank God for 24 wonderful years!