Papa John’s for the Win

Johns pizza

There are just so many moments that you don’t expect. For as many years as we have been on this journey, the moments still leave me gobsmacked.
This is what happened this weekend….

Me: Your brother isn’t feeling well. I’m going to run into the UPS store to mail a package to your sister. Would you two feel like eating a pizza?

Spectrum kiddo: Yeah. That sounds great. I can go order the pizza, Mom.

And that’s the moment.
That moment that becomes a combination of overwhelming pride swirling with a smallish rumble of anxiety that mix awkwardly as the waves of pride and anxiety crash together unexpectedly. It hits me hard but I also know he is watching me and waiting for my answer so I casually catch my breath.

There is no reason to tell him “no” and every reason to say “yes” but it’s something we haven’t done before so, after I catch my breath and readjust my thought process, I answer him. The UPS store is one store away from John’s Incredible Pizza and it’s a quiet day so I say the thing that still scares the mom in me.

I tell him without any visible hesitation, “Yeah, that sounds great.”

I hand him the money and I watch my son walk away…in the opposite direction of me… as though this is our norm. Every one in that part of the world could look at us and not know any difference. They could think this IS our norm but I know. I know this is our first time and I need to steady my mom nerves so I overpower any residual helicopter tendencies and let him walk away…on his own…just like any other sixteen year old boy. And, surprisingly, I keep right on breathing and the world does not even stop spinning.

And, just like any sixteen year old…. he orders the pizza, pays for the pizza and walks out of that pizza joint like a boss with the exact kind of pizza he ordered and change in hand…like this is something we always do. And I casually acknowledge the accomplishment on the outside because I don’t want to embarrass him but, inside, I’m screaming and smiling as bright and big as the whole darn sun.

Thank you, Papa John’s Pizza for an unexpected milestone in our life. The person at the cash register probably never knew the sale was anything out of the ordinary and they treated my spectrum kiddo just like they would anyone else…with kindness and understanding…just like it should be. It was simple and profound and a moment I will not ever forget and perhaps the beginning of a whole new level of his independent life.

‪#‎neverforgetthefirst‬
‪#‎PapaJohnsforthewin‬
‪#‎screamingontheinside‬
‪#‎thebeginningofhislife‬

Sparkle On, my friends.

On the Bright Side

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I get that not everyone sees autism as a blessing.
I don’t agree necessarily but I get it and I believe everyone feels what they feel based on their own experience.  For me, I can only speak for our journey.  I do believe autism has been a blessing and a gift.

What concerns me most is that if you go about your journey, seeing autism as a negative and not a blessing, you not only lessen the grace, value and blessing of the autistic individual but, while you are bundled up tight in your blanket of pity, deep inside that fog of woe-is-me, you might just miss the good stuff.

I think we can agree…the sparkles don’t always announce themselves in neon.

Sometimes they quietly tip toe in and hope someone is looking on the bright side.

If you expect and see the worst, I’m pretty darn sure you’ll find it..BUT…if you look on the bright side you just might find the sparkles will surprise you.

Which side are you looking on?

Sparkle On, my friends.

When In Doubt…remember the SPANISH paper.

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There are so many things you won’t know when your kiddo is first diagnosed with autism.

There are so many things that will soon come right along to turn your world upside down.

There are so many things that will do their best to confuse you and crush you and end the dreams you held for your kiddos before they were diagnosed.

There are so many things that will turn your life into a gray zone that seems to hardly ever make sense.

There are so many things and people and words that will make you break into a puddle of tears for no-reason-at-all.

There are just so-many-things.

I felt that way when my boy was diagnosed in 2001.  Oh how I felt that way and oh how that puddle of tears seemed to follow me wherever I went.  I didn’t know how to do autism.  I didn’t know if I was doing everything I could to help my boy.  I didn’t even know IF I could help my boy. I mean…AUTISM.  I thought it was bigger than me.  I thought it was bigger than my little boy.  I thought back then, it was bigger than both of us.  In those days of our early diagnosis, my boy was the classical case of autism lacking words and eye contact and interaction. He was sweet.  He was cute.  He was even cuddly but he was also all of those classic signs that screamed autism loudly into our lives.  He was a Thomas the Tank Engine genius in a world dominated by Thomas, Percy, James, Diesel, Sir Topham Hat, Annie and Clarabel.

There were so many things.  So many things they said he could not do and so many things he would not be because…A-U-T-I-S-M.  And, let’s be honest, it was the experts who were making predictions about my boy so who was I to question them?  I was nothing more than a tired mom….so I crumbled and I cried and I fell apart at every turn because that’s how I rolled in those early, post-diagnosis years.  Until that one day when the person my boy was becoming ran counter to who they said he could be and, on that one day, I decided I’d never again put all my eggs/hopes/beliefs/dreams into any single basket the experts gave me.  I decided right then to let my boy decide who he was going to be.

And that is the one day I stood up straight, strengthen my back bone  and watched as our spectrum journey really began one day at a time, one step at a time, sometimes rolling fast and sometimes at a snail’s pace, and always supporting my boy’s progress.

So you wonderful Wonder Souls might be wondering what any of this has to do with the Spanish paper that’s sitting at the top of this page.  Today my boy is fifteen and I found this in the Spectrum Kiddo’s room on Friday.  It was folded up with the words on the inside sitting on his floor and, on a lark and thinking it was trash, I opened it up.  And then my jaw fell open because…GOBSMACKED.

There are just so many things that I did not expect.

There are just so many ways autism has opened my eyes.

There are just so many ways he leaves me gobsmacked more times than I’d like to admit.

For a boy who was not supposed to make it out of Special Ed classes, for a boy who had a severe speech delay and who still is working on mastering conversational English, for a boy who one teacher recommended this year should have a one on one aide…well, just look at THIS.  SPANISH. My boy, just like any other kiddo in his class, doing his homework in Spanish.

Simple, right?  It’s just Spanish homework, silly girl.

To the rest of the world..sure.

For us..it’s simple and complex and mystical and gobsmacking because he is so much more than the plethora of “theys” said he could or would or should be when their abysmal evaluation listed all the pieces that would never be part of my boy’s life and yet, despite the experts and their in-stone predictions, here we are.

He is already so much more than that limited view of life they predicted would be his goal.  He is so just so much more…on every level.

My boy is so much more than anyone could have ever expected him or projected him to be. And while I understand that evaluations are important in their own right to gauge where a child’s growth currently stands…don’t let anyone hamper your vision of your child.  Don’t ever stop seeing your kiddo as the whole and brilliant child that they are because different is not less.

Always dream.

Always hope.

Always raise those expectations and goals.

And just when you may be falling into that puddle of tears, remember….SPANISH…because Spanish homework papers don’t lie. It’s right there…in brown and white.

Sparkle On, my friends.

 

 

 

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 Gobsmacking Moment

Wyatt-1
So, as I’ve told you, I’ve struggled with my boy starting high school this year. Sometimes as mom starts stepping back and letting the boy step up, I feel like maybe I am not doing enough, not on top of it all, not in the “know”. When his report card came and there were mostly As and Bs, I felt better but the C in math was a concern. Naturally, I went to the spectrum kiddo to discuss where he is and what struggles he might be feeling.
I will also be honest in telling you, math has never been my happy place.
Our conversation went exactly like this:
Mom: How’s math going?
Spectrum kiddo: It’s good.
Mom: The C in math makes me think we might have some struggles. You had an A last grading period.
Spectrum kiddo: Yeah. I know. I’m really not sure, Mom.
Mom: Can you show me what you’re doing in math? Do you understand all of it?
Spectrum kiddo: I think so. Yeah, sure, I’ll show you.My boy then picks up a yellow post-it note. The exact yellow post-it at the top of the page.  He asks, “Can I write on this?” I tell him sure. He then writes the equation you see on the yellow post-it.
Yeah. That’s HIS writing.

And then he says “This is what we’re doing in math.”
Mom: What is that?
Spectrum kiddo: It’s point slope and slope intercept form.
Mom: And you understand all of that?
Mom: Oh yeah. I understand all of it.

G-O-B-S-M-A-C-K-E-D.

And that is when mom closed the jaw that was hanging wide open on her face and left the boy alone because his math skills have FAR exceeded my own. And I walked away in a daze remembering all the abysmal evaluation reports from so long ago with my boy’s name on top that said he wouldn’t and he couldn’t be any of the things he is NOW and yet he IS and he DID and he COULD and I’m so glad I never listened to the can’ts and the won’ts.

Who they are at three and five and seven is not who they will be at 15.  Trust me.And, seriously, Do NOT tell me autism is not sparkly and brilliant.  It is…every single day.
Sparkle On, my friends.

 

Autism, Apologies and Spiced Rum

Clever lives in my home.

It does and if I didn’t always know this before, I am coming to understand lately just how immense the levels of clever really are that surround me.  What I learned today, with one apology letter, is that clever and resourcefulness walk hand in hand with autism.

As I told you several weeks back our family has,despite all kicking and screaming, gone “electronics free” this summer.  Sounds simple but it has been a bit more eye opening than I’d expected when I first reclaimed the electronics in my house and decided to ask my teens to reinstate their social skills and actually interact with people once again.  Once upon a time, when kiddos were younger and mom declared our lives electronics free, GREAT things happened.  Kids played, kids built, kids explored.  It was beautiful.  Not so much this time as, sadly, teenagers are different creatures.  Electronics-free-lives are NOT easy to live and teenagers without electronics are a whole other level of parenting.  I truly believe that a “free-and-unrestricted-use-of-electronics” parenting policy is the easy way out.  I now FULLY understand why no one EVER declares their teens lives electronics free.  It’s NOT pretty, my friends.

When I fixed my tea and headed out to sit on my patio swing this morning, playing I-Spy was the farthest thing from my mind.  It’s not something we do anymore.  My children are teens and one tween and they no longer indulge mom’s remember-when kid-kind-of-games.  So, sitting on my swing, I found myself reluctantly engaged in an unexpected game of Solitaire-I-Spy.  Yeah.  I was playing I-Spy alone.

Innocently swinging with my chai tea,  I was watching my boy scootering by at a distance beyond the pool and this was supposed to be the zen part of my day. Reluctantly, the I-Spyer in me spied what appeared to be a rectangular shaped bulge in the right front pocket of his hand-me-down Volcoms.  Please remember all rectangular metal devices have been confiscated by the mom and are bagged up and in the top of MY closet…or so I thought.  Apparently, with the level of clever that surrounds me, I should have bought a lockable safe.

Discovering I had not chosen my hiding place well at all went something like this:

(I refrained from any “I spy with my little eye” verbiage because the boy is now 14 and that would only irritate the moment even more)

  • Mom: Buddy, is there something in your front pocket?
  • Spectrum kiddo: No there isn’t.
  • Mom: Buddy.  I can see from here there IS something in your pocket.  Let’s think about this before we start digging our hole deeper with a lie.  Is there a Nintendo in your pocket?
  • Spectrum kiddo: No, Mom.
  • Mom: Buddy.  You need to empty that pocket.  Please tell me you didn’t take your Nintendo out of my room.
  • Spectrum kiddo: Well how is it stealing anyway when it already belongs to ME?

He then pulls the Nintendo out of his pocket.

Wonder Souls, never doubt that electronics are an addiction.

All of this is simply back story for this apology letter my boy was asked to write.  Let me say in his defense, his writing suffers when he is angry and he was angry that he had to write.  And, in my own defense, as many of you know, I’m not a drinker but I AM a baker and I make an excellent bread pudding with rum sauce but that bottle has been in that top cabinet for four years.  Let me also say, the spectrum kiddo is apparently quite skilled at getting the last word in AND changing the subject.

Skill level= MASTER.

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I personally blame Martha:

http://www.marthastewart.com/286017/bread-pudding-with-rum-sauce

Lessons learned this week in my home: Clever lives in my home, electronics ARE an addiction, and I apparently hide the rum about as well as I hide the electronics.

Sparkle On, my friends.!

Autism: The Cold, Hard, Wiggly Facts

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The most truth I can share with you on this autism journey is that honestly, ten years ago, I wish I’d known THIS. I wish someone had shared this with me.  I wish I could have pasted this to my mirror so I could remind myself every day that autism grows and skills change and that my son would go on to amaze me with his sparkle and his brilliance…NO MATTER how dark and uncertain our early spectrum days might have been.  In those early years, there was SO much I didn’t understand about autism.

So, Wonder Souls….take a really deep breath and if you remember nothing else that I share with you about autism, remember THIS…

At 2 my boy’s receptive and expressive skills were non existent, reports and evals were abysmal.
At 3 my boy did not speak.
At 5 he could say some words…but not TO me. No and yes were interchangeable.
At 6 he could answer yes or no but there was very little back and forth.

BUT…and pay close attention to this part (this is the really cool part of autism)….

At 13…..he says whatever he wants, shares original thoughts independently, AND we can have insightful conversations!
And, surprisingly, at almost 14,my passive boy even put the bully who was harassing him… into a headlock .

Because, the truth is, autism grows…it is NOT in stone.  Wonder Souls, autism isn’t like stone at all……it’s a lot more like jello.  It’s jiggly, it moves and, sometimes, it’s hard to nail down.  And, these days, the truth is that we are not perfect, we struggle socially, but we are STILL growing and moving forward every day.

Just remember……Who they are at 3 is NOT who they will be at 13.
So stay in the game, don’t give up and make sure you take that step back and look at the big picture because, I promise you, autism was never meant to be analyzed under the microscope.
Oh…and don’t forget to take a deep breath too while you sparkle on, my friends!