Thursday, April 28, 2016

Extreme Fear and Anxiety Over Storms, How We Helped Our Son Cope.

I learned something new about our son this week!  Okay, I've learned a ton about our kids throughout the years, but this one was big. The last few weeks have been pretty rough for him and therefore, on the rest of us. He is and has been TERRIFIED of storms since he was a tot. As y'all know, I love storms and I've found myself unable to even mention anything about them when our son is around. The mere mention of storms caused immeasurable anxiety attacks for him. Even at school. So, we kept any mention of storms at a bare minimum and telling him that the storms were no big deal, that he'd be okay. With the recent destructive hail storm everything got ten times worse for him. Not only was he NOT okay, but neither was his house and he told us so. Our roof and siding have holes in them, causing water damage to the ceiling, all windows on the north and west sides of our home were blown out, blinds were torn apart, carpets destroyed by water, hail debris and tiny shards of glass that don't come out, etc. The kids bedrooms are unlivable. Due to the large scale devastation to an entire city, the repair is slow moving and could be weeks or months before all is back to normal again. His routine was turned upside down and he doesn't have his small, but safe feeling room right now. Sleeping on a mattress on the floor in a much larger room, brings on anxiety in itself. Each afternoon, he was coming home in panic mode, asking if there were any storms forecasted and if so, what kind. Of course, as most parents would do, I'd sugar coat the forecasts as to not make the anxiety worse. On Tuesday, another severe storm was due to push through our area and knowing it was coming was causing upheaval in our home and at school. Prior to him coming home from school I started researching and getting on message boards to figure out what to do. I learned that with an autistic child you have to be straight forward, honest and don't hold back. No sugar coating. I was told to give him all the information and explain probability and not focus on the chances of tornados or hail hitting us, but on the chances they won't hit us. Yes, there is a chance, but the odds are, they won't. When our son came home, I hesitantly explained everything, allowed him to ask questions and I didn't tell him to not worry. I told him that lots of adults were scared too, not just him. He was upset and did curl up on his mattress in a ball whimpering for a bit, but then, the most incredible things started happening. He started thinking about it, putting the pieces together and understanding. He asked to watch "Wreck it Ralph" to take his mind off of the storms and he did pretty good. When it was over he asked to take a bath! Anyone who knows our son, knows that this has NEVER happened before. He hates bathing! He took a bath, came out and announced he felt much better. When the storm hit, he was nervous, but not like he had been. He now has access to the same weather apps I have and to the National Weather Service website and is learning to read weather maps. This morning he announced there will be more storms possible late tonight and tomorrow, but the probability of tornados and hail are extremely low. Just so you know, THIS IS AMAZING! If y'all knew how bad it's been for this guy over the last few weeks, you'd understand fully. It goes to prove that we can't always protect our kids from the truth. In fact, the opposite happens, we are not protecting them at all, but making it much more difficult to truly understand and causing more anxiety. We live in a world where scary things happen and even our kids have to learn how to cope with those things. Allowing those things to slowly be introduced at the appropriate age and allow for fears to be faced and overcome in the safety of their home, helps them to grow and be strong when they face this world on their own two feet. I'm not saying everything will be perfectly great with weather issues, but it's a HUGE step forward and he's learning to cope with a huge fear and overcome it! I had to share this major accomplishment with you! It goes to show you how difficult life can be for our son, but it also shows how incredibly hard he works at it and how strong he is!!  Btw, if he's around you while you are talking weather, be prepared for a lecture of when the storms will hit, what type of storm it'll be, what the probabilities of the predicted impacts are, etc., LOL!  LOVE THIS BOY!!!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

What is Autism Awareness?

During my third pregnancy I was put on bed rest and was quite ill.  My husband's father came to visit and was a wonderful help.  He painted the entire outside of our home and helped out with our then, 3 year old son.  At that time, I knew there was something different about our son, but most just brushed it off as, "he's just a strong-willed 3 year old boy, he'll grow out of it.".  I didn't see that at all.  One morning, I prepared some oatmeal for our son and sat him at the table with his grandfather and then went to lay down.  A few minutes later, his oatmeal had cooled too much for him to eat it after talking non stop to his granddaddy.  He asked to get it warmed up and his grandfather told him he wasn't going to heat it up since he'd spent too much time talking.  Our son has to have his food at the right temperature or he cannot eat it.  Temperature, texture and smell of foods can actually make him gag and he'll lose the entire meal.  After asking to warm it up again, his grandfather told him that if he wasn't going to eat it, then he was finished.  Our son then replied, "No, I'm not finished.  I need it warm."  Then his grandfather told him that he was finished and took the bowl away.  That's when the meltdown began.  It was a total miscommunication.  Our son sounded as though he was being rebellious and disrespectful, but it was neither.  In our son's world he was hearing his grandfather say he was finished, when in fact, literally he was not finished, there was still food in the bowl and he still wanted to eat it and was trying to explain that he needed it to be warmed to continue eating it.  His grandfather was saying, if you don't obey and just eat the oatmeal the way it is, I'm going to take the bowl away and you won't get it back.  Our son cannot "read between the lines" and pick out inferences, he is very literal.  What you say is what he hears.  If you tell him today, it's raining cats and dogs outside, he will immediately picture cats and dogs coming down from the heavens and will giggle out loud.  Our son remembered that interaction with his grandfather for a long time and never understood why he got punished for wanting his oatmeal warmed up.  Even after explaining what his granddaddy meant, he would say, "But that's not what he said.".

As you can see,  people on the autism spectrum think differently than we do.  Everyone of our son's meltdowns are due to sensory overload, change in routine or miscommunications.  Our son was diagnosed with autism four years ago.  Since then, I have learned so many things about our son and how he thinks and have a much clearer view of how he sees this world and now, I understand why he reacts the way he does.  Earlier this year, my son's teacher had the class fill in bubbles on a standardized test.  She quickly explained to the class on what they were to fill in.  When our son got to a particular box with a bunch of numbers, he asked the teacher if he was just supposed to fill in any of the numbers in that box.  The teacher's reply was, "I'm going to pretend I didn't hear that.".  Our son came home and asked me why his teacher would ignore him.  After getting a full explanation of what happened, he told me that when a person pretends not to listen to someone, that they are actually ignoring them.  He never did fill anything in that section because he honestly did not know what to put in there.  His teacher thought he was being disrespectful even though she is fully aware that he is on the spectrum.

The teacher's unawareness goes to show that there are so many people who are aware of autism and some of the behaviors or symptoms of autism, but their awareness is minimal in the overall picture of autism.  Autism affects how the person thinks, communicates, perceives this world, how their senses are affected by everyday life, such as touch, taste, smells, sights and sounds, how schedules and routine are musts haves in their world to feel some sense of order in this highly chaotic world.  Our son has an above average IQ, but will not get a long term project done without a specific schedule.  If he's given a large project with a broad topic that is due in two months, like a Science Fair project, he is confused at what is to be done first and to just do the whole project at once is impossible, so it doesn't get done at all.  If he receives a schedule of what is specifically expected of him and when each part is due, no problem!  He'll pass with flying colors. Without the schedules and routine they often feel lost, overwhelmed and confused.  This is why it very important for mainstream teachers to receive more education on Autism Spectrum Disorders, after all, they will have at least one student in their class each year on the spectrum.  My husband is a fifth grade teacher and has at least two children on the spectrum in his class this year.  He was amazed at hearing these children have a hard time in some of the other teacher's classrooms, but he rarely has those problems in his class.  I truly believe it's because he is aware and knows exactly what to do for those children and because of that, they do well and those children love him.  Some children are more noticeably on the spectrum than others.  For example, one may have a hard time sitting in his seat or he may keep repeating words you say or rock in his chair and the other may sit in his chair, but is bouncing his legs to cope with sitting still, is quiet and looks attentive.  Our son has learned coping skills to help him with some of the more outward appearances of autism, so it's not as noticeable until someone or something throws him off, such as throwing a paper airplane at him.  Most kids would laugh and brush it off.  The first initial reaction of our son would be, "Who threw this at me?!?" then "You are not supposed to throw paper airplanes in class!" and then erupt into tears that an injustice has been done because the teacher is angry with him, not the student who threw it. The teacher does not see why he's reacting, they are just seeing the reaction and have to get control of the class and immediately scolds at the yelling child.  I'm not saying the teacher is wrong, but I am saying that if the teacher understands the reaction, he/she may say to the yelling child, "I see that that made you angry, let me talk to him while you take this note to the librarian.".  Of course, there isn't really a note, but distracting the child and knowing the teacher recognized his frustration and knowing that he/she would talk to the offender will help him to calm down and get back to the task on hand much quicker.  After the child threw the paper airplane at our son yesterday, our son did not react in his usual manner, but instead threw the paper back at the child.  The teacher gave both children a detention for flying paper airplanes during class time.  Our son told me he was mad and threw it back at him, he did not fly it back at him.  I signed the detention form and told our son that I knew he wasn't flying it, but he can't throw anything at people, even paper. Then I told him, next time just wad it up and throw it in the trash.  Wadding it up will ruin his fun and you won't get into trouble.  In my mind, he did great!  He didn't have a meltdown because of that (although he did for getting the detention) and he's learning that certain responses are not acceptable, but he needs to be told what responses are acceptable, since in seventh grade tattle tailing is unacceptable.  So, telling him to wad the paper airplane up and throwing it in the trash was an acceptable coping mechanism.

I believe that if people understand autism, not just know the definitions of autism, but actually know what autism is and how it affects each child or adult, then and only then will people actually be aware of autism.  It's not about a label, it's about getting these children and adults help so they can cope in this world.  So many people still think autism is childhood schizophrenia or they have just one specific example or idea of what autism is.  Childhood schizophrenia is very rare, autism is not.  Autism also is different for each person...some rock, some don't, some speak eloquently, some don't, some have extremely high IQs, some are average and some are low, none are the exact same.  I don't know how many times I've heard people ask, "Why do you think the rate of autism has gone up in the last twenty years and keeps going up?".  My response is that the rate of autism has not gone up, it's been there all along, it's been called other things, but it's been there.  What has gone up is the rate of DIAGNOSIS, meaning that there are doctors and teachers that have become more aware of what autism is and the public is becoming more aware itself.  Now, if we could all just get past the stereotypes and actually try to peer into the thoughts and lives of these that are on the spectrum, maybe we could see what they are seeing and have a better understanding and become truly aware of what they deal with on a day to day basis, and let me tell you, if you think it's hard living your life, imagine how difficult these kids and adults have it. Being a parent is the hardest job you'll ever have and being a parent of a child with any disability is even harder.  A parent of a child with a disability is working hard, maybe the hardest of any working person in this world, but the rewards are great!  In the end, I'm pretty sure that these kids work harder than us. They are Super Heroes in my book!!!

Friday, April 1, 2016

Autism Is Like A Snowflake, There Are No Two That Are Alike

We have three children.  One is a "typical" eight year old girl, who is delightfully funny, is quite sharp and loves to dance and sing.  Two of our children are on the autism spectrum.  Autism is NOT a mental disorder, it is a neurological disorder.  Only one of our two children is diagnosed as having autism.  One is a 13 year old boy, who is quite intelligent, is very loving, he loves Legos, video games and Star Wars (He can tell you tons of facts about Star Wars.). The other is a 10 year old girl who is kind and creative, loves to draw, paint or do any sort of craft and absolutely LOVES animals (She will tell you all sorts of facts about them.). Do you know which one is diagnosed?  Females on the spectrum often go undiagnosed until later in life because they are like chameleons.  Our daughter has continually asked and wondered out loud, since she was 7 years old, if she had autism like her brother.  She was not the only one wondering, but because she was not diagnosed, I did not indulge and let her think I was wondering the same thing.  There were many similarities, like food aversions, sound sensitivities, high anxiety, odor sensitivities, extremely textile, clothes can only be loose fitting and very soft, sleep issues, digestive disorder, extremely sensitive, easily frustrated or angered, hyper awareness of those around her, not able to maintain eye contact, not understanding idioms and sarcasm, etc.  Some have told me that she's just imitating her brother.  However, he doesn't struggle with the same exact issues.  They are different as each person is different.  One of the main differences were that our daughter struggles academically with Math and some with reading, while our son is academically gifted.  She also seems to "fit in", but comes across as a shy tomboy, whereas our son comes across as quirky and socially awkward.  Our son also does not struggle with sleep disorders or digestive issues.  There are others that are similar, like food sensitivities, but they are different.  Our son has texture issues and gags easily on certain foods, whereas our daughter struggles with texture and smells of foods, but does not gag, so their aversions are quite different.  One loves tomatoes and the other doesn't.  If the food aversion was a learned trait, then they both wouldn't like them.  Our son has little to no clothing issues, whereas our daughter is extremely picky on what clothes she will or will not wear.  The list goes on.  They are quite different, but yet have similarities in most areas.  They just look different. Autism is like a snowflake, there are no two alike.  Some are very different and some look very similar upon first glance, but look closer and you'll start to see the differences.

Just recently our daughter came to me and told me that she feels like she lives her life trying to hide her real self at school or church because she's afraid of what people might think of her if she is her real self.  Past experiences of strange, bewildering looks or comments by other children have taught her to not repeat certain actions.  She told me she wishes that sometimes she could rewind days to undo something she said or did because she notices the strange looks or remarks she gets from other kids.  In fact, she even asked if she could go to a new school district next year so she could just start over.  "What about your friends?", I'd asked.  She replied, "I'll make new ones.".  This is not a typical 10 year old girl response!  Leave her friends behind?  Apparently, she's not connected enough to really be bothered by that.  Because our daughter never has meltdowns in the classroom, she has a friend at school that is "super crazy and fun" and boys like to play with them, the school does not believe she is on the spectrum, after all, autism does affect their social abilities.  The problem is that it does affect her, she's just really good at hiding it, hence the chameleon.  She is so hyper aware of people around her that she has learned how to act like them to "fit in".  She tells us all the time that she feels as though people are always looking at her strangely, like she's weird or something.  Well, she can't tell why they are looking at her.  Is it because they just happened to look her direction?  Is that person looking past her at something on the wall?  Did they look at her because she happened to look at her?  Did she do something strange that elicited the look?  Are they smiling at her because she said something that made them feel good about themselves or are they laughing at her?  It's quite obvious to me that she cannot read social cues.  There are many times she will tell her sibling or even us to stop looking at her.  I now realize it's because it's overwhelming to her.  Especially when she is frustrated because not only is she not able to figure out her own emotions, but she can't tell what ours is either and to her it is sensory overload.  It's been there all along!  She does struggle with social cues!  She does not understand idioms and sarcasm.  Even such language as, "It is ten until five." rather than "It is four fifty.".  She asks, "What does that mean?  It makes no sense!".  When I look at it from her perspective, it doesn't make sense.  Ten what until five what?  No one has ever explained to her that it is short for, "There is ten minutes before the clock will show that it is five o'clock." And it still does not give her the exact time and since she struggles with math, subtracting ten minutes from five o'clock is difficult for her.

So, after we talked extensively a couple of weeks ago, about how she still feels like everyone looks at her strangely and that she can't tell if her teacher is mad at her or just talking loudly, or that she just feels like she's no where, that she doesn't fit in, I finally told her that I believed she may be on the spectrum like her brother.  The response I got was completely unexpected!  A look of relief and understanding passed over her and she joyfully replied, "I'm like my brother.  I'm not weird, I'm just a girl who has autism.  I'm so thankful I have a brother who has autism!  Now he's not alone and neither am I."  She feels understood now.  She now understands why she gets so upset over things that don't make sense to us.  It's because she perceives things differently than we do, she knows this because we've talked to all three of our children about autism and what it is and how it can affect people.  It also helps me to remember to go deeper or think outside of the box to see what she is thinking or why she may be reacting negatively.  Also, it helps our youngest to understand BOTH of her siblings.

So, how do we get her help?  Because she is so good at disguising her inability to read social cues, by imitating others around her or just step back from the situation in confusion, which appears as if she is just being shy, she is not being recognized as being on the spectrum.  We've basically been left to work with her on our own.  It's very difficult at times because we do not always know how to help her and others don't see what we see.  People didn't see it with our son either.  Since he soared academically, he was just labeled as immature until he hit the third grade.  I've learned a lot by reading, researching, listening to adults on the spectrum and watching how our son has learned things.  The only thing I know to do, is to keep communicating with her teachers, pray for lots of wisdom and understanding and keep on going.  Even with awareness, there is still a lot of unawareness.  Teachers know little about autism and most only know the stereotypes. One thing I've learned, if you've met one person with autism, you've met only one person with autism!  If you are a teacher, friend or a family member of a person with autism, please, please, please do not judge parents of children with autism or adults with autism.  Do your research, ask them questions, keep an open mind and know that the parents know their own children better than you and those adults obviously know themselves and all they want, more than just a "label", is help so that they can cope with a world that does not meet their needs or understand how they think. If they cannot learn to cope in this world, they will never come to have an understanding of it or know how to live in it. So, when you see that six year old screaming in a grocery store because they are overwhelmed by sights, smells, noises, crowds, etc, or the child who keeps getting up out of his chair at a restaurant or being loud, don't judge. Your judgement only adds to the weight that is already being carried.  Please be supportive in every way you can.  A kind word or gesture goes a long way and can make a huge difference.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Don't Go it Alone!

There are so many challenges in life on a day to day basis that if you try to live life solely on your own, you may feel at a loss, frustrated and lonely.  Life is not meant to live alone, but in relationship with others.  Community is so important!  We find this true on so many levels, even when it comes to raising a child on the autism spectrum.  We have two families that we are in close relationship with that are also raising children on the spectrum as well as two other families who have walked through a bunch of the process with us and are there every step of the way.  Without these friends in our lives I think we may feel lost, lonely and helpless.  We feel that God has placed each of these relationships in our lives for a reason and we are blessed to call them friends!  Before we even knew our son was on the autism spectrum we knew these families.  They have watched us, cried with us, laughed with us, talked with us, prayed with us and are living life with us and are like family to us.

It is challenging raising a family and even more so when you have a child or children who is/are on the spectrum.  We have a son that is diagnosed on the autism spectrum and possibly a daughter who may be on the spectrum as well.  We have read many books, researched many hours, talked with many people, met with parent trainers and are still learning.  Each child on the spectrum can present differently and can be very difficult to find that "perfect" balance for your child or children.  Knowing your children and how they function is key.  God has given you the tools, knowledge and wisdom to raise your children according to His purpose.  One of those tools is the relationships we are in.  These relationships share a lot of the same core values when it comes to raising children.  They have been supportive, loving and encouraging of us and our children and have been given permission to speak into our lives and give us feedback as we walk this road.  

As we continue on this journey with our family, we are praying and listening to God as we seak His direction.  We listen to each other, and talk with and listen to our close friends and feel we are doing life as intended.  Does this mean we are perfect and there is no room for growth or change?  No way!  We do, however, know that we are headed the right direction.  We have seen growth in our son that amazes us, but may not be the typical growth a person may see with a neurotypical child.  They may seem small to some, but to us, they are huge, especially knowing how hard it is to teach social intricacies to these kids.  It takes time for these children to learn what is socially acceptable, like manners, respect, communication, social hierarchy, etc.  We have to work in small steps with him, one step at a time and there is always a new step that arises.  He is different and will always be different and our job is to help him to blend in with society, to perform in social settings, but still be the person that God created him to be.  We not only know, but have also been told by each of our friends as well as those who have watched us over the years, that our son and other two children will be who God created them to be and are going to do great things!

Wether you have children on the spectrum or not, I implore you to not live life alone.  Live in community.  This world is big and will try to push and persuade in directions we may not want to go.  We need people to help us maintain those boundaries, to have the support, encouragement and love we need as we walk this journey called life.  Living in solitude will allow depression and loneliness to set in, but living in relationship will bring life in many ways!  If you are living in that lonely place I encourage you to take those first steps and build those relationships.  Don't wait for people to come to you.  You've got to step out, take the risk and you will not regret it!

Monday, June 10, 2013

A Proud Moment!

A Child with High Functioning Autism generally does not deal with change very well, especially when it is unplanned change.  Two weeks ago, our family was planning a camp outing for Memorial Day weekend.  The kids were so excited!  Two days prior to our planned outing, our youngest, who had been complaining of chest pain among other symptoms was not getting better.  After several tests she was diagnosed with pneumonia.   The camping trip had to be cancelled.  We broke the news to the family and our son did not handle the news well at all.  He began hitting the bed and screaming that it wasn't fair and why did our daughter have to get sick and how she ruined everything.  The meltdown lasted about 45 minutes.  Kids on the spectrum can definitely feel emotion and the emotions can be overwhelming.  They may not be able to tell you what they are feeling, but it comes out in these explosive meltdowns.  He was very disappointed and has a difficult time with expressing that disappointment without going into a rage.  

Another week passed and this time we were heading out of state to visit some dear friends.  We were an hour North from our home, when once again, our youngest started having issues.  After talking with the nurse triage and contacting the doctor on call, we were instructed to head to the ER with our daughter.  Our son heard the conversation as I called my friend to say we old not be making it up to see them.  This time, we were very surprised at his reaction.  He burst out at the beginning saying how unfair it was, but then was quiet and he began playing on his iPod.  Every few minutes we heard, "We have to turn around!" as we headed back toward Children's hospital.  After about twenty minutes, I told him how proud we are of him for not going into meltdown mode.  He wasn't kicking the seat in front of him or crying and screaming or making his little sister feel bad about being ill.  It was a HUGE accomplishment for our son.  We told him that his feelings of disappointment were valid and it is perfectly fine for him to feel that way and to even tell us how he feels.  We saw a very mature kid that night.  

After that weekend was over, I sat down and talked with him about his two very different responses to two very similar situations.  I was able to use these last two weekends as a teaching moment for our son.  After our talk, he was smiling, knowing that he was able to use self control and he made mom and dad proud.  Will he be able to react the same way again?  I sure hope so.  The one thing I do know is that he is becoming more aware of his reactions and actions and over time the overwhelming reactions are becoming less and less.  It is a long road yet, but we are seeing him learn as we are learning with him.  We are learning what makes him tick and when and how to talk with him.  Sometimes it is letting him have space to work things through on his own.  We are so thankful for our son and love him so much!  I love watching him grow and learn as we grow and learn right along with him.  

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Autism or not...Are You Speaking Out the Positive?

Words are SO powerful. We all see the negative impacts that negative criticism can cause or teasing and bullying can cause, but have you noticed what positive words can do? I wrote in my last post about our son acting very mature and respectful when he had forgotten his bible in the van at church a few Sundays ago. We told him how respectful that he is and we knew that he's always been respectful and how we love seeing that character trait that is already in him shine out. As we already know, children with high functioning autism can struggle with social issues and one of those is respect and why this is so important. We have really been practicing and calling out all the times he or his sisters are being respectful and telling them how respectful they are. More recently we have learned that even when they are NOT being respectful, to call that out in them by saying the action was not respectful, but we know that they are respectful. This is not lying to them. We are all made in the image of God and we are calling those things out in which are already a part of them. In the few days that we have put the latter into practice we have noticed a huge difference!

When we use phrases like, "You are so disrespectful." or "you have no self control." We are speaking those things over them. They begin to believe these things and then start becoming exactly the thing that we are trying to teach them not to be. Instead we use phrase like, "What you did was disrespectful, but you are not disrespectful, you are very respectful." or "You were not using self control when you did that, but you know how to use self control and are not easily angered.". The way we word things can make a huge difference in our children's confidence and can bring out all of the things that God has already instilled inside of them.

We have told our son that he cannot use Autism as an excuse when different situations come up because he is NOT Autism, he may have Autism, but it is not who he is. He is a child of God, a brilliant, creative, loving, respectful child of God! I believe with all my heart that he will indeed one day be that engineer he wants to be and we tell him that. I encourage you to do the same and see what happens. Kids already hear enough negative stuff outside of the home. Let's be their cheerleader in life and bring out the best in our kids!

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Positive Affirmation...10:1

Years ago, we were given a piece of advice that we will never forget by my brother-in-law(We miss you Brent!): For every negative admonition there should be ten positive affirmations. We took this advice to heart. When we first heard it, we thought, of course...piece of cake. It's not as easy as it sounds folks. It seems that it is easier to find faults rather than positive affirmation, especially when it comes to training up our children. After all, we are just trying to correct all the unwanted behaviors right? That is only part of what we are supposed to be doing as parents, it's more than just correcting. It's about training AND building up their confidence to see themselves in the way that God created them to be!

Raising a child with High Functioning Autism may make this task seem even more difficult, but it is possible. We have found ourselves, many times, trying to come up with those positives. I have learned that even the smallest of things becomes a huge deal with our son. He looks for those moments, even though he does not express it, we see it when he smiles over the praise. When he was younger(and sometimes even at his age now), it may have been exclaiming over how he had buttoned his shirt all by himself without getting angry or actually trying to tie his shoes before asking for help or not throwing a fit if his Lego creation fell apart. It may seem petty to make those things a big deal, but it is instilling confidence in him to try it again and not just give up on tying his shoes because he already knows he can't tie them.

Recently, after cleaning his room one day, I went to check to see that it was finished. When I went in I was pleasantly surprised and exclaimed over his tidiness. I then pointed out several specific things, how neatly he had made his bed and how organized and neat his bookshelf was. I made a very big deal over it. The look on his face was so awesome! It's rare to see him beaming as he was, it made me overjoyed to see him like that. I love trying to bring that emotion out in him. Another cool moment was just this last Sunday. We had just found our seats at church after getting our kids settled in their classrooms when our son appeared next to my husband. I later found out that he had enough confidence to know he could come and ask dad to help him with something. He had come in and told his Dad that he was sorry for interrupting, but he had left his backpack with his bible in the van and could he please go get it. My husband gladly walked out to the van with him. On the way, our son again apologized and thanked his dad for going with him and then was back on his way to class. My husband and I were truly amazed at this young man our son had showed us! This is a rarity as normally there may have been anxiety over leaving his backpack and crying would have ensued. It was a moment that both my husband and I noticed as a huge accomplishment. I can assure you that on the way home from church we talked about that experience with our son and told him how proud of him we are and how polite and respectful he is!

We really believe that by building up our son that he will really begin to see who he really is and that he can do things on his own and when he's tried and needs help, he can ask confidently and he will get the help he needs. We want our kids to feel confident and not feel like they can't get anything right. If we are constantly trying to correct the unwanted behaviors and not giving the positive affirmation our message comes across as they have to be perfect to have our love. I will be the first to say that we are not perfect and don't always get it right and have gone to apologize to our kids when we don't get it right. Kids on the spectrum can already be overwhelmed by anxiety and perfectionistic qualities. So, as long as we discipline and admonish in love and find every positive thing to affirm him, he will become more confident as time goes on and hopefully and prayerfully we will see more and more of those glorious moments as this boy grows into a young man. It is a long, hard road, but worth every step of the way to look back along that road and see all of the accomplishments.

Monday, April 8, 2013

When Special Interests Are Not Healthy

Teaching our son that life is not only about his special interest has been a challenge over the years. As with most kids on the autism spectrum, there is usually something that consumes their little minds and it is generally difficult to pull them away. For our son, his interests helps him to be calm in stressful situations, to be able to decompress and relax. In a sense it is much like a security blanket. We started noticing a few years back that one of his special interests were taking over the real world and we had to make some adjustments.

One of his interests is Legos. He enjoys building and creating. He can spend hours playing with Legos. We really enjoy the fact that he enjoys them so much. Because it is using his imagination and it is generally a shared time with siblings, friends and family, this special interest is left uncapped. Another special interest is video games, his favorite is MineCraft. MineCraft is a game in which you mine things to create different combinations to build things. You can build about anything in the game and there is some programming involved also. This is where it was getting tricky for us. He could spend a whole day on the computer or iPod playing his game. He was completely engrossed in what he was doing and using his creativity, programming and building elaborate cities(before MineCraft, it was Lego StarWars games), but was having very little social interaction. We found that if he spent more than an hour of screen time that he would be more upset or agitated and could easily erupt into a meltdown, especially when it came time to get off of the game. My husband and I came to the realization that too much screen time was definitely not good for him. So, we sat our son down and had a talk with him and informed him of the decision mom and dad had made and why we made the decision(the why is very important to him). I'm not going to say that this was a smooth transition for him because as most know, change is not easy for anyone on the spectrum. There were some meltdowns, but we stuck to our plan and it has payed off.

We came up with a schedule of sorts for him of when he could have screen time and how much. In the mornings, we have always had a difficult time getting him up and ready for school, so if he gets up, dressed and has his teeth brushed and bed made, he can play on his iPod for about 10 minutes before leaving for school. It is up to him wether he gets to or not. If he doesn't get up on time or is slow about getting ready his time disappears. He has learned that he has to get ready quick if he wants his time in the morning (yes, he uses a timer to brush his teeth for two minutes). On school nights he gets 15 minutes of screen time and has to set the timer when he plays. When the timer goes off, he gets off. On the weekends he gets one hour each day of any combination of screen time(this does not include watching a movie as a family). At first we had to remind him to get off, but he has adjusted to this schedule and gets off when his time is up on his own, most of the time.

Some may ask why we would do this. We do this because we believe that he needs to learn that life is not about the games he plays. He needs to socialize and build relationships, especially since this is an area of difficulty with those that are on the spectrum. Without people in our lives we become lonely and unfulfilled, which could lead to depression. He will still focus on his interests in his playtime with his friends and sisters, pretending that he is Steve from MineCraft and assigning the others with MineCraft characters(if they'll let him) or talking at length about the game, but he is socializing and talking with friends and family. It's been a process and it is still a process for both him and us as parents. We keep learning right along with him, one step at a time. We are not perfect and make mistakes, but hopefully we learn from those moments and make the necessary adjustments and get back on track.

So, for those that feel overwhelmed with all of the "stuff" just remember that you are not alone! One thing we have learned is that we too need to be in community with others. Without God, our community of friends and family, all of the "stuff" can be overwhelming. I'm so thankful for the people in our lives!

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

A Glimpse of What Autism Looks Like for Us

In light of today being Autism Awareness Day I thought I would give you a glimpse of what Autism looks like for our son.  Our son is on the Autism Spectrum.  My knowledge of Autism was very limited before I began researching.  Every child/adult on the spectrum can be very different from each other.  Our son has High Functioning Autism/Aspergers/Autism Spectrum Disorder...whichever you choose to call it, it is Autism.  If you are acquaintances, but not in relationship with him, you would never suspect that he may different than other children.

Our son plays hard, he loves well, he enjoys building things, he loves to read, he loves to learn new things, he is quite bright and the list could go on.  Autism does not define who our son is, but it better helps us understand the way he sees the world.  For our son, it is difficult to see others feelings or emotions.  He may not understand that you are joking with him, or just stating an opinion, or if you raise your voice in excitement he may think you are angry.  Just yesterday, my husband was showing our son a video that said YouTube was going to end as it was all a contest to find the best video.  Our son didn't get the joke, he truly believed what they said in the video was true.  When we explained it to him, he just went on about his business without even the slightest of amusement.  If someone says something, even if it is all false, he may take it as truth.  He is quite black and white and there is no room for gray as it doesn't make any sense to him and because of this he may try to argue his point with whomever.  It has to be one or the other.  Another area that he struggles with is sensory issues.  If something is too bright he may overreact and cover his eyes, if something is too loud he may cover his ears and scream suddenly startling those around him, if something smells offensive to him you are guaranteed to hear about it, our son loves to touch and feel things and especially loves to be hugged(as long as you let him know you are going to do it first and he is ready for it), if he gets hurt you may think he has lost a limb and last but not least is taste.  Taste/texture/temperature of food is one of his toughest struggles.  He has a very sensative gag reflex and can be difficult for him to eat those textures that cause the reflex.  Meal times are one of our biggest struggles.  It makes it very difficult to visit friends at mealtimes, go out to eat or invite friends over at mealtimes.  He loves to move!  If you see our son out in public you may see him hopping, jumping, spinning or rolling around on the floor(yes, he has done all of these things in the grocery store, lol). He is in constant motion while he is awake and it somehow releases tension in his body(he personally says it just feels good to him).  Changing routine can sometimes be hard on him.  Today is the first day of state testing for him at his school.  We had warned him that he would not be staying up until his usual time of 9:00 to read, so if he wanted to read before bed he better do it earlier.  When it was time for bed, he cried for 20 minutes stating that he didn't understand why he couldn't read, even though we gave him the why.  He just kept saying how he had to read and he couldn't go to sleep without reading.  It took a bit for him to calm and accept that he wasn't going to read, but he did it.  He accepted it and went to sleep.  It may have been easier just to let him read for 10-15 minutes rather than go through 20 minutes of a meltdown, but how does he learn that it's okay if routines change?  Tonight, he will read earlier so he doesn't miss out on the opportunity again, lol.

Those are things we deal with on a regular basis with him, but there is also a positive side of his Autism.  This boy is smart!  He sometimes has a calculator type brain and can add, subtract, multiply, divide and much more in his head.  He can come up with answers much faster than I can.  His love for reading is unquenchable.  He has read more books in his little life than I have possibly read in mine.  It is quite difficult finding age appropriate, healthy books for him to read.  The good thing about his reading is that we can refer to some of the character traits of some of the characters he is reading about and use them in every day, real life situations.  He has an incredible memory!  He remembers things that happened years ago, with vivid detail.  He hardly has to study for tests at all because once he hears something(as long as he's listening and not talking to a neighbor) he retains it.  He loves academics!  His thirst for learning is also unquenchable.  If there is something we don't know, he wants to look it up and research.  So many times in school, his teacher has to get him out of research mode and get to the recording of the research mode.  He can have a very grown up like  conversation with you and has an extensive vocabulary.  Some of the words he has used I have never used.  He enjoys building and creating things.  Legos have been his all time favorite thing.  He has spent countless time building and creating the most creative things.  I love challenging him to build something and see what he comes up with.  He really enjoys when I or dad or his siblings play Legos with him (unless they are messing up his space or using the peices he needs).  He will play with most any kid.  Age doesn't matter to him.  He may not look you in the eye when you are talking to him, but he hears everything you are saying and soaks it up.

I'm so thankful to have the opportunity to be blessed by this little guy!  He has taught me how to slow down and think about how I say things and how it may sound to him.  He has taught me how to be more patient and understanding.  He has taught me how to love even more unconditionally!  This boy is quite an amazing kid!  He will do well in life and I am looking forward to see where his journey takes him.  Just the other day we told our son that our job as parents is to raise him so that he can grow up and be able to live life without mom and dad telling him how to do things.  I think it turned on a light in his head to know that we are not the enemy, but only there to help him along in this journey called life.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Autistically Speaking...

Most people take every day language for granted.  I know I have.  There are so many rules in the English language that I have really never questioned until now.  Our son is very literal on so many levels and language is one of the strongest areas for him.  Although his verbal skills are off the charts when it comes to his tests, he has difficulty understanding some of our everyday uses of speech.  The other day I was telling my husband that he may freeze if he wore the short sleeved shirt he had on, rather than something a bit warmer.  Our son instantly piped up with, "Really Mommy?  He will freeze?  How could he freeze even though it is not even 32* outside.  It's impossible to freeze right now.".  I had to explain that it was a figure of speech, that it meant daddy would be cold in just a short sleeved shirt.  He gave me a look of confusion, but went on about his business.  I wonder how many times he is listening to a conversation and gets confused about what is being talked about.  If we ask him a question like, "Son, who are you speaking to?" he  will say, "You know who I'm speaking to, you are right there and see and hear me talking."  It's not that he's being disrespectful, he is not understanding why we would ask a question that is evident, when what we are saying is, "You can't talk that way to an adult, its disrespectful."

When the kids ask us a question that may require a "maybe" for an answer, our son automatically realizes that there is a great chance of a "yes" with this answer.  Later when we have decided and the answer is "no", it often dissolves into a meltdown of sorts because he had geared himself up for the more positive answer rather than realizing that there was the same chance of a "no".  We have learned that we cannot use the word "maybe" with our son and we have to be more direct.  Often we will say no and then if we can, change it to a yes later.

He listens to and follows most rules to a T.  We have a rule that when the kids are getting in the van, the girls go first, but getting out, our son goes first so he can assist the girls in getting out(plus he is right by the door).  If one of our girls get by without him getting out first we are in for a rant.  "She was not supposed to get out, the rule is I get out first!  She can't do that!".  There are no exceptions with rules, ie, need to get to the potty before having an accident.

His sister sometimes forgets to chew with her mouth closed at the table and he will most definitely point it out.  He will say things like, "She sounds like a dog!  It's gross!" not realizing that he could hurt her feelings.  When confronted he often replies, "But its the truth, I'm not lying to you.  Dogs do eat their food like that.".  This has been very difficult to teach him because he is very truthful.  We are trying to teach him that we don't have to share every truth at the expense of someone's feelings.  We have responses of, "Why can't I say that?  It's the truth.  How is she going to know it bothers me if I don't tell her?  She won't learn."

We are starting to understand our son more and more.  Language is one of the areas that we have to watch ourselves with and explain things to him when we realize that he did not understand what we were talking about.  It is not natural for him, but he is learning.  He is learning that he cannot talk to adults in the same manner that he talks to a friend or sibling.  He is also learning that telling the truth at the sake of someone's feelings is sometimes not the best way about it.  My husband and I have had quite a few laughs along the way with some of our sons literalness.  These moments have made the tough times more bearable as parents. After all laughter is truly like a medicine!  We love our boy and are very thankful for him and his uniqueness and we wouldn't change him for anything else!  He is created by a perfect God and our God does not make mistakes!  Thank you God for entrusting this boy to us.  Give us the wisdom to teach him in the way he should go. 

Seeing Our Son in a Different Light

Last night was both fun and challenging all at once.  The fourth grade put on a performance about Texas.  Our son was so excited since he not only got to sing, but also got to dance and play his guitar.  It was the first time in a long time that we got to see him in a social setting with his peers in quite a while.  He did a wonderful job and was full of expression and everyone could tell that he really was enjoying every aspect of it.  As parents, we noticed a big difference of our son's social behavior in comparison to other children his age.  It was an eye opener for sure.  Even with those social differences, we were proud of him.

After the program, things started to fall apart and it was in our son's classroom that I realized the overstimulation was a bit much for him.  There was an incident earlier that he had encountered with a friend that was nagging at him.  He never said anything of it until that moment.  The anxiety was overwhelming and he couldn't contain it anymore.  His friend had told our son that he wasn't going to be his friend anymore if our son shared information that he himself wanted to share with others.  He was devastated and deeply hurt.  His friend has been a friend since kindergarten and our son is quite possessive of his friendship and doesn't want him having any deep relationships that don't include him and this is pushing his friend away.  We were in the fourth grade hall when he let it all out, exclaiming how a girl was interfering with their friendship and how she told him that she wanted him to stay away from his best friend so she could be his sole friend(this is how he saw it) all the while the parent of that very girl was standing next to him, listening to every word.  It was shortly after that I realized that she was the parent of the child that he was so angry with and she heard all of it.  I didn't know what to do or say.  All I could think of was how that parent may have felt while she listened to our son rant and rave of how this girl was taking over their relationship and even after trying to convince him that she was probably not doing that, he began to yell, "I'm not lying, she doesn't want me to be his friend!".  I apologized to her for our son's actions, but In her eyes I'm sure it appeared as we had an out of control child, who was being rude.  I wanted to explain that he is dealing with Autism, but because he was right there, I was stuck.  I didn't know what to do.  All I knew is that I had to remove him from that hallway before it turned into an all out meltdown.  He was already in tears in front of his peers and exclaiming quite loudly his situation and we had to leave.  Some of his peers were laughing and calling him cry baby as we were walking away and I was devastated for our son.  I left our girls with my husband and told our son that we needed to go for a walk.  It was on our walk that we met the special Ed teacher and she was a tremendous help.  I watched her talk with him, how she talked calmly, patiently and showed him that worrying about this was not going to fix it.  Talking with his friend tomorrow would be the best solution.  I saw how she used real life situations to show him that how he was perceiving the situation was not really how things were.  He calmed down, took some deep calming breaths and was able to communicate his feelings.  I'm so thankful for that teacher.  My patience level at the moment we met in the hall was at an all time low.  I realize now, that if I had not been so quick to try and stop his reaction and actually listen to what he was saying and have some patience with him, that it may not have escalated to the point it had.

Last night was an eye opener.  We treat our son no different than our other two kids and it isn't until we are in public with his peers that the differences are very apparent.  It's hard seeing him this way as a parent.  I just want to fix the problem, make it go away, make people accept him the way we do, but this is his journey and we are here to guide him though it.  He doesn't need to be fixed, he just needs some direction, understanding, patience and love.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Learning Together

Learning is a life long quest that never ends.  After all, life would get quite boring without the chance to learn more.  Over the past few years we have felt like we were bumbling along and trying to figure out what works best for our son, who we now know has autism.  Discipline is one of the hardest issues for us.  Our son sees life differently than some.  To him life is about rules and regulations and it should support him in all ways.  We are trying to teach him that life is something we do.  Teaching him that life is about other people and the relationships we build with others is not an easy feat.  Last night on our drive to church, he told us that he doesn't really have any friends, that no one likes him and that his only friend is his iPod.  As a parent, these words can cut deep.  No parent wants their kid to feel this way, like he is alone in the world.  I just wanted to hold him and tell him that everything is going to be okay and whisk away all his troubles.  Instead, we took the opportunity to talk about relationships and how important they are.  Then we arrived at our destination and our discussion ended.  He didn't quite get the message.  He was already feeling down.  during the meeting(I found this out later), our son had some issues with kids in his class and with his sister.  After our meeting, our children came into the room where some of our friends were gathered.  I gave him an assignment to bring his sisters some water and one of them wouldn't take the water.  This is where things went awry. Our son was at the edge and came crashing down in front of all to see.  As a parent, this is very humiliating and frustrating.  We felt out of control and ashamed.  My husband took our children outside and I stayed a bit to help clean up and a friend started talking with me.  I am ever so thankful for that conversation.  I'm not even sure she saw the commotion or not, but that doesn't matter.  Someone was there to comfort, even though this person didn't realize they were doing so.  She took the time to talk about autism with me, not afraid to talk about it, and to encourage.  That was so needed!  Then the thought struck me.  Maybe our son needed it too.

We had already had the tough conversation with him about High Functioning Autism/ASD. because we knew the questions would come as he started going to Speech and Counseling at school.  We told him all the positive aspects and how amazing these things are and how it made him very special and quite the cool kid.  We told him that he just needed help with the relationship part of life(the social aspect).  When we finished our conversation with him we asked him what his thoughts and feelings were about what we had just told him.  His response was, "I love having Aspergers!  It means that I know for sure that I am going to be the best Engineer ever!"  He knew what Aspergers was so we compared his High Functioning Autism to Aspergers.  We couldn't have been more pleased at the outcome.  Over the last couple of weeks we have seen him go through some ups and downs.  He now knows why kids see/treat him differently and felt a sense of relief.  At the same time, he is feeling lost and unequipped, he doesn't say so, but the signs are there.  He doesn't know how to interact in the way everyone else does and acts on impulse rather than thinking things through.  So, this is where the learning process begins for him.  He is needing to learn how to engage people in the appropriate way.  How to speak respectfully to friends, family and adults.  He is learning how to control his emotions and what he needs to do rather than blow up.  Imagine burning your hand and then trying to change how you react to the burn.  Your instinct reaction to the burn may be to yell out in pain, maybe blurt out an expletive, slam your fist on the counter top, wave your hand through the air while jumping up and down, etc.  Now try to imagine changing that and instead of yelling out in pain, you need to calmly take a few breaths and take care of the burn only allowing the slightest of a whimper to escape your lips.  Our son's reaction is much of the same.  His instinctive reaction is to yell out, to want immediate action or justice in the situation rather than taking the necessary measures to remain calm and be socially acceptable.  Teaching him to think before reacting is not easy. 

Not only is our son learning through this process, but we are as well.  Even our reaction has to change.  Over reacting to our son's reaction only makes the boiling pot boil over.  Remaining cool, calm and collective is very difficult at times.  Last night was case in point.  My first instinct was to be angry, to take charge, to put him in his place and make him stop.  The appropriate thing to do was to remove him from the situation and calm him down by allowing him space to think things through. Talking to him now would only escalate the situation.  All he wanted was for us to tell his sister she was wrong.  We didn't give in to that, but got him calm, sent him to bed and was able to discuss it this morning and get the results that we needed.  He was calm and I was calm and we were able to talk about his reaction and disrespect.  I was able to encourage him in the process rather than tear him down.  We are learning to be patient.  I am not sure how we could do this without God and the relationships that God has put in our lives, the fact is, we can't.      

We are learning together.  Our son loves that we are learning together and that he is not doing this alone.  He has God, he has us, he has friends and people in his life to help him through the difficulties of life.  I shared with him that we all have things we have to learn, that he is no different than anyone else, that he is not perfect and will not attain perfection, but to God we are perfect in Him.  We don't have to prove anything to Him, we just need to listen to His still small voice and learn from Him.  And here I am once again, pondering what I had told our son.  I do not have to be perfect, I just need to listen to what God is telling me.  Slow down, be patient and listen to Him.  He is our instructor in life.  He gave us our son and has equipped us with the tools to raise him, just as He has for our girls. They all require different tools for different purposes. We just need to listen on how to use the tools appropriately. 

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Diagnosis.

For years, We've known that there was something special about our son.  He sees the world through different lenses than most people.  We have marveled over his verbal skills, his ability to recall memories that most kids wouldn't remember, his ability to create just about anything out of Legos, his detailed information about Star Wars or any other special interest, his zest to learn, his fondness of numbers and Math as well as Science.  He is quite an incredible kid and a great thinker.

Over the years we started noticing other things like food adversions, due to texture and gag reflex, a heightened sense of pain, smell, lights being too bright, sudden loud noises, heightened anxiety to trying new things or even seeing a new movie or reading a new book series, irrational fears, such as volcanoes erupting under his bed, a tornado coming to destroy our home, a comet hitting our house, he has a very strong sense of fairness and is very black and white.  Most recently our son is noticing other kids are teasing him and he is quite sensitive to it.

Our sons school suggested we test him and we got the results in this week.  He is diagnosed with High Functioning Autism(HFA) which is virtually the same thing as Aspergers Syndrome(AS) and qualifies for Autism Spectrum Disorders services through our school district.  This brings about a sense of relief and a sense of loss at the same time.  Relief because it verifies what we have thought for a while now, a sense of loss because the way we looked at how things would work for our son are a bit different now.  We are questioning the HFA versus AS.  Even though they are very similar and are treated in the same way, the difference is categorized by the onset of symptoms, particularly language development.  Our sons language at an early age was advanced for his age.  He was speaking in full sentences by 18 months and using words that most 18 month olds didn't use.  He did not have the typical language delay, so we are wondering why he wasn't given an Aspergers diagnosis.  We are going to meet with the diagnostician before our son's ARD meeting at school just to clarify and find out their reasoning.  Honestly, the treatment would be the same and in the larger picture it doesn't really matter.  He will get the help he needs with his education and social issues.

There has been a bit of a change in our journey with our son, but we are still going forward in our journey.  I'm not saying it will be easy.  God has given us this boy and given us the tools to raise him up and with His help and staying in community with our friends, and getting the help our son will need, we will succeed.  We are so thankful for the friends in our lives that have been there throughout this process, who have encouraged us, prayed with us, cried with us, laughed with us and stood in the gap for us.  We have amazing friends!

Monday, November 12, 2012

Dreaming Big!

Since I was a little girl, I have enjoyed drawing.  I have never taken art classes other than what was required in grade school.  Even so, somehow, my drawing seems to get better with time.  Even though I have really enjoyed drawing, I haven't done a whole lot of it over the years.  I always had an excuse as to why I didn't.  Two Summers ago, I had the privilege to go on a mission trip to Alaska.  It was there that God showed me some things about the talent He had given me.  I had been hiding my talent, keeping it from most everyone and only showing those that were closest to me, but even that was limited.  When I was in Alaska, we were working at the World Eskimo-Indian Olympics and they had vending tables set up during the events.  As I went around admiring the creativity of these people, I was hit with a revelation.  These people were sharing talents with the world and people were blessed by it, they were not hiding it.  I had always thought that by showing my art to people I was being prideful, vain and conceited.  As I continued to walk around looking at all the creativity, I realized that I didn't think that these people were being prideful, they were sharing their talents, something so vulnerable, to the World.  A few hours later I felt that I wanted to bless a particular Eskimo woman I had met with one of my drawings.  After a couple of hours of trying to find supplies and ending up with twice the amount I needed, I sat down and sketched out a small drawing of the Texas State Flower, the Blue Bonnet.  I brought it to the Eskimo woman I had met and all at once her entire countenance changed.  She proudly displayed it in her booth for all to see and told me how she was going to hang it in her living room among her family photos.  That small moment in time changed my way of thinking.  I came home from that trip and a few months later produced my first real work of art in a long time.  It was, to me, a simple drawing of our daughter, but it told a story.  The expression on her face, the complete joy, while lost in her world in an act of worship to God.  I had given up on drawing people.  The last time I had done it was at the ge of 19.  I drew a picture of the couple who had taken me in a rough time in my life.  To me, it was not perfect.  It was a disaster.  I told myself, never again!  Twenty one years later, I picked up my pencil and tried again. A couple of months later, we were at a retreat with our church and they had an art night in which people could share their art with others.  I was so nervous because I do not like being the center of attention, but I got up anyway.  I shared the story behind the drawing and then showed it to the group of people that were there.  As I held up my drawing, there was a gasp and then applause.

 I will never forget that moment.  It was an eye opening moment and realized that this talent that God has given me is meant to be shown to others and this was not just about me.  Ever since then, as time permits, I grab my pad of paper and pencils and draw.  It is my act of worship to Him, the one who has given me this talent.   My dream is to become a professional artist and I am ready to step into that process.  I have always thought that art was just a hobby because it is so fun, relaxing and enjoyable.  Now, I want to make this something I spend my days doing.  It will definitely be a new journey for us, but I am really looking forward to it.  Let the journey begin!

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Who Am I To Judge?

It's been too long since I have blogged.  Life has been moving along at such an amazing clip and I need to slow down a bit.  We have had a lot going on.  Our youngest had a tonsillectomy about a month ago and at the same time our son got very sick.  Thankfully, our youngest is all recovered and our son seems to be better as well.  Tomorrow our 7 year old daughter goes for ear surgery.  She has Otosclerosis.  Her left ear is the worst and she can barely hear out of it.  So, tomorrow they will be giving her a prosthetic in her ear.  They say eventually she will need to have her other ear done as well, but I'm believing she won't need it.

We have such an amazing little family!  Each one of our children has his or her own special gifts and talents.  We love watching each one grow.  Over the last year we have started on a new journey with our son.  He is a very smart and loving child.  We have been amazed at our son's ability to learn new things, his incredible vocabulary, his love for LEGO's and the creativity that is expressed there.  Over the years we have faced many challenges with him.  We have heard phrases such as, "He is spoiled", "He is strong willed and you need to break that will of his.", "He needs more discipline.", "He is very whiny.", "You need to get more firm with him.", etc.  These are all hard things to hear from people, especially when you are doing what you think is the right thing.  Last year, our son's teachers approached my husband at school and suggested we have him tested.  I have known for years that our son was "different"(the tantrums, the whining, the arguing, the food aversions, his sensory overload issues, his constant movement, his facial tics, his overwhelming sense of fairness, etc) and when we tried to ask questions about his issues at school in the past, we were told that he is just immature and he'd grow out of it.  As he has gotten older, his lack of social skills are becoming more evident.  We have two other children that are for the most part, very well behaved and don't have the same issues our son has.  So, we know that what we have been doing is not the cause of our son's differences in his view of life.  A few weeks ago, we met with the district diagnostician and we heard the words Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger's Syndrome.  Hearing this sent me into a grieving process of sorts, but at the same time gave me a sense of relief.  The team that is working with our son is made up of seven people who are extensively trained in Autism.  Our son is in the final process of the testing period and we find out for sure what his diagnosis is by the Thanksgiving holiday.  As we wait to hear, two things go through our heads.  One is that maybe he is just highly gifted and he is very quirky.  Then the other is that he does have Asperger's and now everything is a bit clearer as to why things have been the way they have been.  Some may wonder why we want to "label" him.  It is not about the label, its the help he will receive, that we will receive and for those teachers that come in contact with our son, to have a better understanding of how to teach him.  Every parent dreams of their child and how they will grow up to do great things.  I am realizing that this diagnosis does not change that for our son, its just that it will look slightly different than we had envisioned.  His intelligence will be a great benefit for our son.  He has expressed since he was four years old that he wants to be an engineer, although the type of engineer has changed over the years.  As of right now, he wants to be an Architectural Engineer.   His love for LEGO's has helped him in this choice of career I am sure.

One thing I have gained from this whole process is who am I to judge others?  I remember times of walking out to the car in a parking lot and seeing a child in hysterics as the parent was trying to get their child put in their seat and immediately thinking, "Wow, that child needs a spanking!".  Now when I see the same thing, I feel for that parent and know the struggle, embarrassment and pain they are enduring and wonder if that child is dealing with autism.  Even if they are not, that parent does not deserve our judgement(even if the child is spoiled and just wants their way).  We, as parents, have endured the judgement, the passing comments, the humiliation.  As the one who is going through it on this side, I have also learned to not judge those who judge.  So many people have no understanding and may never understand and I am okay with this.  We know that our son is ours, that he is in our family for a reason and God gave us the tools to mold him, teach him and send him out and we don't need to worry about what others are thinking.  Our son is learning.  It takes  time for him, but when he gets it and understands it, he doesn't forget.  We love our son and want the very best for him as well as our other children.

I am so thankful for our children!  We have been blessed in many ways, watching them grow and learn.  We pray continually for wisdom in how to train our kids and we have a wonderful community who support us in this journey!  One other thing I have learned through this process is that we cannot do this alone.  God did not create us to be alone!  Community is so very important.  Thank you to all who have stood by us and supported us and continue to do so!