The REAL Joy of Yosemite

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This trip we took to Yosemite was amazing and beautiful and stunning… not only because Yosemite is a series of natural wonders but, honestly, because my boy, once again, left me gobsmacked.

As you might recall….
My boy at three did not speak.
My boy at three was expected to have significant delays and his outlook was not going to be rosy according to his medical eval.
My boy at four was labeled difficult and impossible and defiant by the psych at the elementary school who was trying to evaluate him.
My boy at seven was offered a spot BACK in SPED because he was not easy or simple or perfect.
My boy, in those elementary years, rarely had a smiley face day.
My boy at eight screamed for two hours under a desk while the class was evacuated and I was called because the principal and teacher could not resolve the issue (that’s a whole other post.).
My boy at eleven was not expected to remain independent as he transitioned to middle school.

I promise you, this journey has not been simple or easy. This journey has not been filled with a line of people waiting to support or embrace us. It has been a fight and a struggle from day one to raise expectations and goals so that my boy could grow into the man he has the capabilities to be…if others would open their eyes.

He is different NOT less.

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Today he is 15 and, in Yosemite, do you know how much he needed my assistance? NONE.

  • It was the first night we’ve ever spent in a hotel where my boy simply WENT TO SLEEP. No drama, no ultra-awakeness, no agitation.
  • In the very cold weather, he explored…no complaints, no tantrums. Just a boy in the woods.
  • When the chili on his chili dog was not mine AND extra spicy, he never once complained.
  • And, in the morning at the very fancy Ahwahnee, we sat down in the fancypants dining room for breakfast…a buffet. A b-u-f-f-e-t. And when my boy said he wanted to get more pancakes, I had this gut reaction moment when I was going to get up to go with him…but I stopped myself..and I held my breath a bit…and I let my son go like any other 15 year old boy.
    And you know what?
    Along with all the other people, in the line going the right direction, my boy dealt with life in the buffet line ALONE…with no bumps or stumbles or corrections from the public.

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Just my boy…being the man he is becoming.

He is needing me less and less and although those apron strings are hard to untie, it’s very, very good to see him becoming this man I wasn’t sure he’d ever have the capabilities to be…but he does and he is and I am darn proud.

Wonder Souls…don’t ever forget…Who they are at two and three and four and seven ISN’T who they’ll be at thirteen and fifteen. This journey is a process…just keep teaching and supporting and loving.

Sparkle On, my friends.

The REAL Superheroes: The Magical Siblings of Autism

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It happened on our beach day.

I was trying hard with four children to get out the door by 7:30 a.m.

We were off to Jellybowl and there was still a bit left to do. I had three kids plus one child’s friend to get organized, sandwiches to make, a dog to feed and a cat to appease.  The kids needed to get dressed, remember their rash guards and beach shoes and mom needed to remember to find the sunscreen, pack chairs, gather enough towels, bring clean comfy clothes for the drive home and enough drinks to keep everyone hydrated (but not too many since I would need to  carry them all up and over the train tracks).  I’m pretty good about the chairs and towels but I have forgotten the sunscreen before and it is never pretty.  I didn’t grow up using sunscreen so it is not top on my list but today I have been entrusted with a friend’s child so I can’t mess that one up.

Ok, I digress.  Away from the sunscreen and back to my point.  This is about autism.  Really, it is.  Just wait for it…

So in the middle of the chaos, and after I have just finished cleaning up the zucchini bread mess Miss Maisy left in the kitchen (because we did not adequately protect the zucchini bread my daughter made from the food obsessed labrador), I am  brushing my teeth when my fourteen year old daughter comes in to my bathroom to finish drying her hair.  It’s all good.  We co-habitate well and we share pretty well too.  And, at the same time as my daughter begins to unravel the cord on the hair dryer, my twelve year old son comes in to ask if I will tie his swim trunks.  He is all about being naked at home and not ashamed of his body in our halls but being on the beach and losing your shorts is an entirely different story.  He wants to be certain his shorts stay up.

With my toothbrush in hand and the toothpaste slop dripping off, I ask him to wait a minute.  He stands there patiently, waiting pretty well and then his sister does this thing she has started doing.  She is fourteen, he is her little brother and the really neat thing I see that morning is that he is just her brother… before he is her autistic brother… and she does this thing.  She steps in to help in.  Without a word, without a huff or complaint, without announcing it to me and before she plugs in the dryer she instinctively reaches down and, in a motherly fashion beyond her years, she ties his shorts.  He says thank you and goes on his way.  Without fanfare, she asks, “Isn’t this autism day or something?”  I finish brushing my teeth and tell her, “It’s autism awareness day.”  It’s a quiet conversation between us.  I tell her what the world is doing.  She asks what we are doing.  I tell her we are going to Jellybowl.  I tell her she can wear blue if she wants to.

I smile quietly to myself so that I don’t shine too much light on it.  This is all normal for her now.  I realize as we are speaking to each other that…. autism is natural to her.  Autism was never really part of her existence.  Well, it was and it wasn’t.  Everything about autism is familiar to her but it just never had a defined name.  It was not applauded or hated during her childhood.  It was just part of us and, because of that, autism is different to her than it is even to me.  It was just her little brother.  We never spoke about autism or being less or giving him special privileges.  He was just her brother and she treated him…well,  just like a brother.  She never asked what was wrong with him, he was just part of her world and she organically accepted who he was.  His value was simply equal to hers and her other littler brother.  Yes, he might have been quirky or amplified or different at times but it was normal to her.

He is simply the older of her two little brothers.

She was twelve before she ever spoke the word.  She was twelve before she ever asked what autism was.  She was twelve before she asked if her brother was.  I had books on the shelf and she was helping me organize them.  Actually, being the girl she is, she asked if she could organize the shelf.  When she was finished, she asked, “Mom, is my brother autistic? You have a lot of books about autism.”  And, that was the beginning of her understanding and maybe even putting together the pieces of her memories.  It wasn’t a big conversation.  I think I said something like, “Yeah, he is.  But that doesn’t mean we treat him any different.  We expect as much out of him as we do anyone.  He is just as capable as any of us and just as intelligent.  This doesn’t change anything.”  Her response, in that oh-so-lovely-twelve-year-old-tone, was something like, “I know, Mom.”

And, she is the sibling.

She is the next generation.

She is amazing.

She knows autism on a different level than most and it is simply part of life.  It is neither less nor is it more.  It just is.

She is the awareness others seek.

And, honestly, there is little fan fare.  We don’t hang banners, we don’t do walks, we don’t shine blue light on it.  We accept it and love it and bring it to the world in our quiet way and when others ask, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.”  And, they say, “That’s autism?”  And, we say, “Yeah, it’s autism.  Yeah, that’s what it looks like.”  It looked different at three than it does at twelve but, yeah, that’s what it looks like. It was a lot crazier at three and at five and at seven than it is at twelve but he is still himself.  Autism is part of him but it is not all of him.

Yeah, it’s autism but it’s more than that too because he is more than autism.

My daughter is a straight A student who has a skyhigh IQ that mine never ventured anywhere in the vicinity of and I have great hopes for her.  She is remarkable and I hope one day that because autism is so natural to her that she will be the awareness in her generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism.  So what?”  And not the kind of “so what” that says we don’t care about your needs because you are not like us but rather the best kind of “so what” that says, “What’s your point?”  The kind of “so what” that says we all have the same value and WILL be treated equally.  And the acceptance that follows the awareness begins with her as a role model for autism’s “So-What-ness.”  By birth she has become an autism ambassador but, the really cool thing, is it is so natural to her…she doesn’t even know it.  She simply accepts it as normal.

I hope she becomes a scientist or a doctor or the POTUS and with her strength and her ability I hope she sets the tone for her generation to begin to see autism through new eyes.  Her kind of eyes that see iridescence rather than a lessening of value.   In my biggest dreams (mine and not hers I have to tell you, LOL) I imagine her becoming a doctor who works with kids.  And, with her understanding, I imagine her telling these new parents,

“Hey there.  Yes, I do have the diagnosis.  We have found that your child is a bit iridescent.  Yeah, you’re right, he/she is going to be quirky.  It’s a kind of quirky sparkle that you may not be used to and you may need some support with it.  I know, it won’t be easy and some days will just down right suck because it’s not the norm, it’s Holland and not Italy but, take heart, these iridescent kids are crazy brilliant.  They’re going to seriously rock your world.  You just have to be patient.  Part of their brilliance gets stuck in their sparkle and it takes a little longer for these iridescent kids to sort it all out.  Don’t give up and don’t lower your standards though because he/she sure is going to surprise you. OH, and hey, if you’ve got an extra minute…let me tell you about my brother.”

And, I know, not everyone will agree with me.

I get it.

Autism is different for everyone.  But this is my dream…that one day the awareness will be so internalized that no one will care about the differences, or the tantrums or the lack of eye contact because we will also have a plan of action, a path to follow and others will inherently understand that, indeed, different is NOT less.  I hope one day that people will understand more so they will point and blame less.  I hope one day play groups won’t gripe and complain about their inability to socialize as easily as others and teachers won’t feel they are doing favors or being slighted by taking these kids into their classes.  That it won’t take specialized training to prepare teachers for autistic students because teachers and school districts will be expected to teach all students together and equally.    And, when the world is trying to point fingers and lessen those with autism I hope she, and others like her, stand up with their young peers and begin a new generation that says, “Yeah, it’s autism. So what? It’s all good.  They are just like us but a little bit different and that’s okay because when you stop being scared of different it just so happens you find out different is also pretty darn brilliant.  And then you find out, in this life, the more we share our differences, the more we are the same.”

Autism: Ordinary and Awesome

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This.

This happened on our way to school this morning.  Just me and my spectrum kiddo during our five minute drive to middle school.  Have I mentioned he floors me?  Well, this time you could have scooped me up off the floor because I melted.

Mom:  Nonny told me you mentioned to her that you were wondering if something would happen to you because you are autistic.

My boy:  Yeah, I asked her that.

Mom:  Does it bother you?

My boy:  No.  Not anymore. It was just something I wondered about.

Mom:  You know autism just means your brain is wired differently, right?

My boy:  It doesn’t feel any different, Mom.

Mom:  Well, it’s not really, Buddy.  Just means you are capable of some pretty great stuff.  It’s actually pretty brilliant.

My boy:  Mom, not really.  As far as I can see….it’s pretty ordinary.

(speechless at this point and scrambling for some response..)

Mom: You know what, Buddy?  You’re right.

And it occurs to me that most of the time I am in go-mode, in perpetual motion, always trying to stay out in front, put the supports in place, make sure he has what he needs, train the teachers, make sure the IEP reflects his needs, ensure we are not getting lazy or taking steps back….so much so that I didn’t realize that to him, it is all ordinary.  He does not see it as brilliant or spectacular or difficult or any such thing…It is simply ORDINARY.  Today, in a breath of fresh air from my boy, I was given the opportunity to see autism anew..through his eyes.

Absolutely gobsmacked.

And, if you’d go find a snow shovel, I’d appreciate it if you’d scoop me up because flattened and floored is where I am <3.  I love this kid.  No matter how much I think I know him, he never ceases to make my jaw drop and leave me utterly speechless.

Life in the Treehouse

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I could move.

Well, if it weren’t for the kids’ schools and IEP’s and my parents…I could…I could move right on up to Oregon, right this moment.  And, if I were to move…I would move to the tree house resort or, as they so eloquently call themselves, the Treesort.  I would.  I really, really would.

The best vacation the kids and I have ever taken happened last summer.  After driving up through the gorgeous Redwoods and enjoying those giants, we landed in Takilma, Oregon’s Out n’ About’s Treesort.  Before we arrived, we even got emails from the treefairy!  It was outstanding.  Five days, sleeping in the treehouse, swimming in the gorgeous and cold river fed pool, riding the horses, playing kick ball and frisbee with new friends, the Tarzan Swing and ZIP LINING! What could be better?  I will tell you absolutely nothing was better than watching autism on the ziplines…and the ADVANCED ziplines.  Take that autism!

Well, the only thing that could have been any better was to stay forever.  To move into our tree house permanently, drop out of school and take up permanent residence in the trees!

I remember being the first person awake in all of the treesort and how quiet it was there.  Through our window, I would wake to see the horses in the pasture next to our treehouse, the pool calm and reflective of the beautiful blue sky and even the rain clouds that hung around for a few days looked delightful in her water.  It was a place of peace and tranquility during those mornings before all of the children staying in the treesort woke up.

There must have been twenty kids, aged four to seventeen, and the children ALL played together and ran in packs.  It was tremendous to watch the dynamics of the children unfolding.  All of these children from different towns and different states, of different interests and background, melded together as though they had known each other for years.  It took them only days to bond in ways that other friends need decades.  These new found friends were in tears upon good byes and even us parents remarked how odd it was that we were already so close and so terribly sad to see one another go.

The treesort is a remarkable and magical place and, for the life of me, I can hardly explain why.  But it is and all of our memories and our new friends are stored safely and are still warm in our hearts.  I won’t even begin to explain Taco Tuesday.  Sadie and her grandkids may be the only people ever who will break out in side splitting, spit your drink kind of laughter at the mention of Taco Tuesday in Takilma.

Sadly, we didn’t get to stay forever and, in hindsight, that’s okay too.  There was something special about the exact families we met during our week that could never have been duplicated with the new families arriving.  No one could have been a better friend to my youngest son than the older boy he met.  Priceless and unexplainable how a fourteen year old and an eight year old can become best friends in two days and how two teen girls who are all “teen” can cast aside any insecurities and bond as tight in those two days as it had taken my daughter years to bond with girls back home.

After our mind boggling five days, another family was anxiously waiting to check in as soon as we checked out.  Their lovely family would have no part of us staking a claim to their reservation. So, we regretfully checked out of our beloved treehouse but, I will tell you, our memories are so warm and fond that my kids would willingly hop in the car right now and joyfully travel multiple days in our car to go back.   The best part of the last day at the treehouse was breakfast with the cook, Steve.  Steve made us peach scones that were out of this world.  Steve, being the amazing person, even shared the recipe with me when I asked.

I think the next time I visit the treehouse, it will be with women from The Village.  That would be some good times and laughing stories to tell.  Imagine if we could fill all the treehouses with our girls and have a Wonder Soul weekend.  That would be some kind of fun though I am not sure the staff at Out n About would survive.  Here’s to planning some adventure in the future.  Add it to the Fetchin’ Gretchen Must Do List!!

And, instead of waxing on about how wonderful it was or how beautiful the place is…here are pics….!…you know you’re in the right place when the entire navigation screen is GREEN 🙂

Beware when your entire navigation screen turns GREEN! First time E-V-E-R!

This is where my spectrum boy slept…up in the loft :).

This is the view from our front porch…and the swimming pool 🙂

This is Jasper…he was a funny fellow.

My kiddos having a swim party in a river fed pool, hand lined with rocks and colorful marbles.  My kiddos met this bunch of kiddos about ten minutes before they all fell in together as old friends.  Kids from Cali, Indiana, Oregon and England.  Very cool. And, yes , the water was COLD.

The pasture in the morning…this is the side view from our deck!

Spectrum does ziplines!  My boy not only liked this, he went on to the ADVANCED ZIPLINES with his sister.  Outstanding stuff!

My youngest…zipping away!This was some crazy stuff.  The picture above, with my youngest up in the tree is the TARZAN SWING.  OMGoodness.  They pull you back, up into the tree, about a hundred feet up and then…they release you.  Actually you are holding onto grips…and YOU have to let go.  W-I-L-D.  Mom only did it once…once was clearly enough.  My youngest…the wild man…did it FOUR times and would have stayed all day long.  He worries me JUST A BIT.

Seriously, BEST vacation EVER.  Can’t wait to go back one day 🙂

Let The Exploring Begin

For my family and for my son who is on the spectrum, some of the best lessons we learn are when we are outside and exploring.  This picture is from the beach we like to go to that has MANY tide pools to explore but, really, exploring can take place anywhere…the mountains, the desert or just in the backyard as you dig up worms and get your hands in the dirt.  What we find is less important than the fact that we are exploring.  What’s most important is that we open our mind to the adventure around us.

I do believe classroom learning is important because, for my son especially, rules need to be learned and turn taking needs to be focused on because those lessons often don’t come easily at all.  Truly, everything in moderation.  You can’t spend all day outside but you can’t spend all day inside either.  So, get outside and explore and get dirty and fall down because most lessons are learned in the messes and the surprises that we find along the way.