Let it go……

autism sparkles-184
Once upon a time, when my boy was eight (he’s sixteen now), I was in the middle of trying to arrange an evaluation for my boy and, being the new girl in California that I was and not knowing who to call, I just started dialing numbers to children’s hospitals. I first made contact with a lot of people who answered phones but did not work with children. But on this one fluke of a call, I made contact with a REAL doctor….I know, I know….a doctor answered his own phone! No secretary, no scheduler, no front man/woman. I simply dialed from my kitchen table, the phone rang in his office in the hospital and he did this crazy thing….he picked up his own phone.
 
When he answered his hospital phone, I asked for the doctor by name (and for the life of me, I cannot remember his name) and he said it was him. I asked if he did evaluations. He said that the hospital no longer did developmental evals for autism. I was polite and kind and thanked him for his time and I think he must have sensed my sadness and frustration because he kept talking. This doctor began to share with me his thoughts on how, from all he’d researched, he saw autism was a genetic issue. He said we all have markers for autism.
All. Of. Us.
Yep, you and me and everyone else. He said we all have a few minor markers and we just learn how to compensate for the few markers we have. He said what happens with autism is the genetics of the mom and dad, and all their genetic history combined, will amass a multitude of markers in some kiddos. According to him, what happens to some kiddos is they get more markers than they can process. Where one or two of us might have a few quirks, some kiddos get a lot of quirks and it’s hard for them to process so many quirks.
 
Anyway, I have a hard time explaining it was well as he did but that simple explanation has always made a lot of sense to me. Over the last decade plus when the world at large wanted to point fingers at refrigerator moms or broccoli or vaccines or the flu or induced births or older dads or pain meds during childbirth or the color of the sky, this theory and his words made a whole lot more sense to me. 
It’s genetic.
Sweet parents, hear me when I say this…..autism is NOT your fault. You didn’t do anything to cause your child’s autism. The truth is there should never again be any flashy, headline stealing so-called cures or blame on this spectrum. There are no cures for autism because nothing is broken…not you and not your child. No one is wrong or bad or neglectful, my friends.  Not you or anyone else.
 
You are good parents,
you are great people and
you have a beautiful child who can’t wait to conquer this world…one day at a time with you right by their side acting as their guide and advocate when needed.
 
So, let go of your guilt and the weight of the world that you heap upon your own shoulders, Sparkle moms and dads, and just get on with being the parent and champion your child needs you to be because that is the thing that really matters and will make all the difference on this spectrum journey.
 
Autism is simply genetic.
Sparkle On, my friends.

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.

Don’t Be the A-S-S

autism sparkles-63
A Wonder Soul asked this last week about my kiddo and whether he had been diagnosed as severe early on. It’s a question that’s been trailing me all week. Back in the diagnosis days fifteen years ago, it wasn’t always a helpful process and doctors weren’t always very open or hopeful with the parents. I don’t ever remember hearing a functioning level discussed. One might think that because my son is successful in high school today (at 16) and is independent in his academics that it has always been that way. It has NOT. There were days when his behaviors nearly eclipsed his academics and put educational choices out of our hands.
What I do remember is him not being accepted into the same”typical” preschools his siblings attended because of his volatile behavior, his lack of speech, the fact that he was still in diapers at four, and because the preschool administrator looked at me like I had a third eye when I mentioned he was autistic. What I do remember is being in the special ed classes in preschool through our local elementary school. What I do remember is wanting my boy to be recommended for the combo kindergarten class Florida offered where two teachers (one sped and one reg ed teacher) team taught a class that was mixed with regular ed and SPED students….t-o-g-e-t-h-e-r. Yeah, we wanted to be part of that.
I remember the crushing feeling when I heard we would not be recommended for that class and, instead, would be placed into a isolated special day class for kids with varying disabilities.I remember the first day of that class. I remember walking in and knowing that class was not the right placement for us ….not because I didn’t want him with other kids like him but I knew, from the way the class was set up with toys and fun zones, that once he got used to playing all day, we’d never get him to buckle down and do academics again because playing on the computer and in the kitchen area is a lot more fun and behaviors would escalate further to get back to the fun zones he wanted.
That’s when I went back to the team and the teacher and I pleaded and I promised and I pledged all my time to them to help make up for the time my boy would take away from their other students. I also recognized that there was a chance I was in denial and the new placement wouldn’t work so I asked them to give us just three months. I promised after three months if it was not a good fit, I would be the first one to remove him.
I tell people often that that one decision changed everything. It was the difference between my son sinking and swimming academically. It was a risk and I understand they had never taken such risks before but, that day, they did and they gave my son the chance to rise up to the expectations set before him. To this day, those two teachers and the two aides in the class, to me, are the Godsends that changed the direction of our lives forever. Nicole and Kim (last names not used because I do not know if they would want them used publicly) were, and are still, the magic in our memories and I’m thankful every day for the risk they all took for my boy.
I promise you it was not a simple or easy year.
Progress was not magic.
My boy was not always kind and did not make great choices.
He challenged them every single day but they did not give up.  No matter how much he screamed in opposition, no matter how much he snotted on their clothes, no matter how much he tried to manipulate to get what he wanted…..they never gave up on him.
Later that year, when it was time for our IEP meeting in prep for first grade the first words I heard out of our team was, “We’re sorry.” Their response was stunning and, to this day, I still marvel at it. Their honesty, their transparency and their genuine love of their students is something all teams should aspire to.
A stunned me asked an obvious, “Why?”
As they spoke, I heard these words, “We’re sorry. We thought we understood your son’s educational level. We thought we knew how far he could go but we were wrong. We were all wrong. Your son is a red flag to us that there is a lot we don’t know and we shouldn’t assume we understand a child’s potential just because we know his current functioning levels.”
And like I said before, I’m not sure if my son was considered “severe” back in those early days but he was challenged enough not to be seen as a candidate for classes with his typical peers. What I do know now, with certainty, is where he is today because of the risks and challenges that were taken.
Lesson #1: Don’t be the a-s-s in the word a-s-s-u-m-e. Never assume.
Lesson #2: Keep raising goals because kiddos just might surprise you and rise up to meet them.  Listen to you…no one knows your kiddo like you do and if the powers that be can’t initially see it, keep working at it because there is nothing more regretful that opportunities not seized.
Sparkle On, my friends.
Never. Give. Up.

On the Bright Side

Blog-7

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.

Why ABA Is Not My Friend

 

blog 115

The feet of my family. Every single toe.

 

Let me see if I can say this right. I’ve written it down in my own head a few times already (and it keeps getting jumbled) but I’m going to try to sort it out here.

My boy is 15.
We were diagnosed in the early days of autism when not much was known or helpful.
There was no Facebook,
no support groups,
no Wonder Souls.
There was just me, myself and I determining the direction of our sails and we were all three winging it.

With that said, my thoughts on ABA might not make sense to some of you but hang with me through the end.  My unfriending of ABA has not happened because I dislike the tougher moments.  That’s not it at all.

I know my son can’t always be happy and, just like any other child, there will be tough moments and disappointments.

I know there are moments when my boy is going to struggle.

I don’t expect his life to always be sunshine and roses.

There will be uncomfortable moments while he is learning when he will rail against me (and he has) because what he wants is the easy path and that sweet and easy path isn’t always what teaches us the lessons we need to learn.  Honestly, there have been MANY moments when I have watched my boy scream and cry and thrown down a fit because what he demanded was not what I felt was best for him. It’s not pretty but those are the tough choices parents have to make and giving in rarely teaches us the lessons we need to learn  and does not make for a life lived with responsibility.

What I promised my boy early on, and I only speak for us and our journey, is that I will be the one there for him. Especially in his very delicate early years, if there were rough moments when he had to be pushed or stopped or firmly reasoned with, I was going to be the one there for him.  I can’t imagine a stranger being the one to push my child and for my child to be in a crisis moment with a stranger as his go to person.

I have never been able to fathom what that looks like or, even worse, what that feels like for a child already struggling.

I’m not sure that makes any sense but, for me, if there are tough lessons that need to be taught, I want it to be me who is looking back at him. I want him supported by the person he trusts most….not a paid service provider. If he has to be in a crisis moment, let it be his mom’s face he sees looking back at him. If there is going to be a struggle, his struggle will be with me.

ABA did not feel like a nurturing fit for us and simply had no place in our life. He and I did it all together…tough moments and all. If anyone was going to push my boy or change our expectations, it was going to be ME because I felt he not only needed it but he also deserved that.

As always, that’s our story and I can’t speak for anyone but us.
That’s what we lived.
That’s how I saw autism in our early days and I never gave any crisis moments away to strangers because, for me, my boy deserved to see his mother in those moments so that he would always know that where there is great love, there is also great responsibility.

Sparkle On, my friends.

When In Doubt…remember the SPANISH paper.

Wyatt-3

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.