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Guest Post: Animals And Autism

15 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Guest post exchange day was yesterday, but really, with so many phenomenal bloggers in the same challenge, how could I pick just one? Today’s guest blogger, Sarah, focuses on an area very close to my heart: animals, their relationships with people, and how they can facilitate healing. She just finished her first year of the Doctorate of Physical Therapy program at LSU-New Orleans. She is  passionate about animals and children and plans on integrating animals into her physical therapy practice after she graduates.

As a lifelong animal lover myself, I am drawn to Sarah’s blog like a magnet, and am thrilled that she agreed to write for me. Today, she shares with us how animals and children with autism can have a very special bond.

When people envision their perfect life with 2.5 kids and a white picket fence they also usually include a pet in the picture. After parents hear their child given the diagnosis of “autism”, often the idea of having a pet is questioned. In general, animals definitely provide many benefits to their owners, but as Kirsten recently reminded me “If you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.” So what works for one child or family may not work with another.

The cool thing is that there have been several groups that have seen a lot of positive effects in children with autism after interacting with animals.

Max is one of Austin Dog Alliance’s “special dogs” available for adoption.

Austin Dog Alliance has group social skill classes where they use dogs to teach children with autism and Asperger’s. Some of the topics touched on in these classes include verbal and motor skills, interacting with and empathy for others, and appropriate behaviors both in and out of the classroom. These same skills can be achieved with a pet at home. The child can practice speaking to the dog and learn to recognize and understand the animal’s non-verbal cues. In doing this they are maintaining eye contact, which some people with autism struggle with. They can also learn to care about and for another living creature. This lesson can then translate to their interactions with other people.

Horse Boy Foundation brings kids in contact with horses to help them through what they call a “simple 6 stage process”. They’ve found that allowing kids to lie down on a horse’s back cuts down on their stimming (a repetitive movement that self stimulates the senses). Interacting with the horse is good overall sensory work while the actual horseback riding can be soothing because of the rocking motion. Again, giving commands allows the child to work on verbalization. I know that for most people owning a horse is out of the question, but there are several places that have horseback riding lessons where your child could get some of the same benefits.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=V11E-N2pK_o (it’s a youtube video about the Horse Boy Method)

Lois Brady found that a potbellied pig named Buttercup works wonders with the children. She’s a speech language pathologist, so of course her focus is getting the children to talk. But she has found that her pig is great for sensory work because he has different textures in different places on his body. The best thing about him is that people don’t have preconceived fears about pigs, like they might with a dog or even a horse.

(Photo from: http://www.prweb.com/releases/animal_assisted_therapy/continuing_education/prweb9261001.htm)

Buttercup is a great example that really any kind of pet can be used to help with things like speaking, motor skills, empathy and self-confidence. Some people prefer to have an animal specifically trained as a service animal and that has its benefits as well. You can read my post about autism service dogs to learn more about them. The most important thing is to decide what animal (if any) will be a good fit for your family.

Check out more great posts from Sarah Allen on her blog, Animals Help Heal. You can follow her on Twitter @AnimalsHelpHeal.

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A House Full Of Love

14 May

I am participating in the 2012 Wordcount Blogathon, which means one post every day for the month of May.

Today is Guest Post Exchange Day! I am honoured to introduce you to a fellow special needs mom, who is not only an awesome blogger, but also an awesome friend. Mimi has not one, not two, but five children with special needs. That would sound daunting to anyone, but Mimi wouldn’t change her life for anything.

Hi!  I’m Mimi, mom to 5 great kids, all with special needs, but we don’t focus on that.  We focus on their achievements, their triumphs and the love that they have for each other.  Sure, they fight just like any other siblings would fight but at the end of the day the love is still there for each other.  My oldest daughter is 24 and diagnosed with PDD-NOS (a form of autism) and is an unmedicated bipolar by her choice.  My next daughter is 22 and was born with Down Syndrome, hydrocephalus, PDD-NOS and acanthosis nigricans, she’s my spit-fire child.  Next is my soon to be 16 year old daughter who was born with spastic diaparesis cerebral palsy, she also has Asperger’s Syndrome, bipolar with psychosis, anxiety disorder and an eating disorder.  Next are my two boys, my first son is 10 (11 in June) and for some unknown reason he is cognitively impaired, he too has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.  My youngest son is 9 (10 in June) and he was born with Fetal Valproate Syndrome, static encephalopathy (due to a traumatic birth), he has PDD-NOS and a mood disorder.

Raising special needs children has its ups and downs, but I wouldn’t trade my life for anything the world has to offer me.  My children are the reason my world rotates on its axis.  Some people call me a mother polar bear because I am so protective of my children, but who else is going to protect them besides me?

My boys are the best of friends, they are great playmates for each other and I hope and pray that the bond between them stays forever.  It’s similar to the bond between my 2 oldest daughters.  They are close because when they were young girls, I was a single parent by my choice, so it was just us 3 girls against the world.  Until I met my husband in 1994, Bethany was 6 and Lauryn was 4 and Jon has been their daddy ever since.

What entertains my kids?  Different things…  My boys are video gamers with their dad, they each have either their PSP’s or PSP Go’s or in Jons case his PSP Vita, but they all three will gang up on the bed and be gaming, ignoring everything else that’s going on, whereas Maurra my (almost) 16 yr old loves doing research on various things, which is very common for children diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, right now she’s focusing on historical events.  Lauryn is crazy for Justin Bieber and loves to watch horror shows in her bedroom.  Bethany is my crazy football fan – well I’m pretty crazy for our Green Bay Packers also, so we tend to watch football together and we DVR the games so we can watch them through the week.

Our social outings look a little different than most.  First of all, my 3 youngest kids can’t handle car rides very well, so our trips have to be short in nature, and there has to be a reward at the end of the trip.  Lauryn enjoys going to her adult day program 4 days a week, but that’s about the extent of her traveling comfort.  She loves to dance in the truck which is fun and the cars around us seem to be her audience.  Bethany (my oldest) and I tend to do mother-daughter outings or she will go with me if I have to run errands.  It’s hard to break things up so the kids can handle everything, but in the end it’s for the best for them.

The boys are getting ready to start their 3rd year playing Miracle League baseball, which is baseball strictly for children who are disabled.  I volunteer my time with the league as the team coordinator and absolutely love watching all of the kids play the game.

Like I said before, I love having special needs children, and now we are looking into adopting a special needs child because there is more room in my heart for more children, but I can’t have them myself anymore.  So we are looking into a special needs adoption.  I hope it all works out for the best.

Well, thank you for letting me share my family with you.  Have a great day!

And thank you, Mimi, for sharing your family with us!

Mimi has a great blog at Wife… Mom… Writer… All Blessings. She can also be found on Twitter @Gigi_S.

A Week Of Inspiration: What I’m Taking Away

7 Jan

As 2011 drew to a close, a gave myself a mission to start off 2012 on the right note. To do that, I would approach some women who I found to be inspirational, and I would ask them to post something on my blog that would send a positive message. It started off as a simple resolution for me to start the year in a positive way to get myself out of the funk I have been in. By the time I was scheduling the posts, it had become a project to help everyone: I realized that many people – including a couple of the writers – were in need of a dose of the good stuff that life has to offer.

This would be my small way of trying to make the world a better, happier place filled with possibilities and motivation.

I took something valuable away from all of the posts this week – things that I will take forward with me as I navigate my way through the jungle of life in 2012. For that, I want to give heartfelt thanks to all of my contributors.

I am battling with some personal demons right now, and it’s hard. There are days when I can barely see my way through to getting out of bed. Ultimately, though, I have support. I have my family, I have friends, and I am in good enough health to put on running shoes and pound the hell out of the pavement when I need relief from the stress. On Monday, Kerry White gave us a reminder on perspective. It does me good to remind myself that no matter how difficult things may be, I will muddle my way through it all, aided by the support system that I have around me.

A few minutes ago, my son George – autistic, eight years old, and very long and lanky – clambered into my lap for a hug and a cuddle. As I held this treasure in my arms, I reflected on the fact that special needs parenting is sometimes as hard as hell, but life without this amazing child is just unfathomable. Sara Morgan expressed this on Tuesday, when she said that yeah, we have kids with autism, but at least we have them.

How easy is it for us to just lie down and quit when we’re faced with a personal tragedy? On Wednesday, Phaedra Kennedy took us through her heartbreaking unsuccessful quest to have a baby, and her subsequent resolve to make 2011 the best year of her life. Not only does Phaedra’s tale inspire me to set goals for this year and really work towards them, I am honoured to have her mentoring me through my next stage of evolution as a runner.

Perhaps there is truth to the idea that the fluttering of a butterfly’s wings can ultimately cause a storm on the other side of the world. In the same way, a handful of women blogging about motherhood can result in impoverished children receiving life-saving vaccinations, and fewer babies dying of pneumonia. On Thursday, Jennifer Burden told us about an idea that started small and morphed into something huge. Over the next year, I will endeavour to follow my dreams, no matter how silly they may seem. Who knows where they will take me?

There have been times in the past, when things have been rough, that I have succumbed to the temptation to just let myself go. I have asked myself what the point of it all is. If Margie Bryant had given in to that kind of negative self-talk, where would she be today? She survived addiction, a string of meaningless, emotionally empty relationships, and time in a federal prison. She kicked low self-esteem in the butt, and has turned her life around. She leads a life anyone could be proud of, and she’s found true love to boot. If she could make that kind of U-turn, surely I have it in me to control the direction of my own life.

My personal mission this year is to focus on taking care of myself. I am going to find some balance in my life and do more things that I want to do.

Will this take away the time and energy that I have always unquestioningly devoted to my husband and children? Or will doings things for myself inject me with more energy, and lead to a more enriched, satisfying life for all of us?

(Thank you again to Kerry, Sara, Phaedra, Jennifer and Margie. I am sure your tales of inspiration have touched the lives of many people reading this blog.)

 

 

A Dose Of Happy For 2012

1 Jan

The calendar has clicked over into 2012. This is the day on which thousands of people are quitting smoking, going on diet, starting an exercise program, or finally starting to write that novel they’ve always been talking about. I myself will be participating in the 5km Resolution Run later on today.

Although I’m not really big on the idea of making major life changes just because of what day it happens to be, New Years Day is a convenient time for us to re-evaluate our goals, see where we’re at, and maybe give ourselves a bit of a kick-start. For some people, it may indeed mean starting over, like pressing the reset button on the back of a mobile device.

2011 was an eventful year for me. Despite a poor season of training, I had some success in my races. I worked hard on my writing, and in the last couple of months of the year, I finally started to find some traction in the writing community. And of course, there was my wedding in April – a fantastic event that included friends and family from far away. Having my mom there, and my brother to walk me down the aisle, made it all extra-special.

Despite the good stuff, I found myself sinking towards the end of the year. I have, for several weeks now, been dealing with depression. It is something that I have chosen not to write about, because it’s such a painful, private thing. But it is something that I should at least acknowledge, if only to let other people suffering from this problem know that they are not alone.

I have been reading these articles about how the simple act of laughing releases natural happy-drugs into your brain, how the biggest single predictor of happiness is the degree to which a person does good for their fellow man, and how being around proactive people can spur you on to action in your own life. In other words, positivity breeds positivity.

In that spirit, I decided that I would start off 2012 on a positive note in my blog. I would host some guest writers: inspirational women who have done amazing things. A couple of the women I approached told me that writing something positive might help lift them out of their own states of psychological disequilibrium. So much the better! This became a little project to raise everyone’s spirits – mine, my guest writers, and any readers who need a lift.

I am excited about this week. For the next five days, my blog is given over to some women who inspire me and remind me that anything is possible.

We lead off tomorrow with single mom Kerry White, who tells us that although things have been kind of turbulent for her, life isn’t all that bad. It’s a wonderful reminder about perspective.

On Tuesday, we will hear from Sara Morgan, an autism mom who has also experienced the trauma of pregnancy loss. She brings these two things together and reminds us that where  there’s life, there’s hope.

On Wednesday, Phaedra Kennedy (who has the distinction of being the first friend I had in Canada) tells us about how she rose above some deeply sad and traumatic events in her personal life to have a phenomenal season of running.

Thursday is given over to Jennifer Burden, whose idea for a group blog for moms has ballooned into an entire project for social good that includes the United Nations.

And on Friday, we hear from my friend Margie Bryant, who gives a whole new meaning to the idea of turning your life around. Margie describes how she made the transformation from someone with no hope into someone with huge possibilities for great things.

I want to take this opportunity to thank each of these women for giving of themselves to contribute to my quest to start off the year on a positive note. I wish them all continued success in 2012.

And for everyone reading this, may 2012 be a year filled with love, peace and happiness, as well as just the right dose of adventure.