Tag Archives: special needs

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.

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You Think You Know…

8 May

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

Today, I am also participating in the WEGO Health True Life Tuesday Blog Party, in which participants start their posts with the phrase, “You think you know, but you have no idea…”

You think you know, but you have no idea.

You look at parents who have special needs kids, and you contemplate the things you think they are doing wrong. Thinking you know better, you utter sentences that start with the phrase, “If that was my child…”

Until you get handed a diagnosis of autism and realize that, wait a minute, that is your child. You find yourself facing the same challenges as all of those parents you used to be quick to judge, and you find yourself responding in very similar ways.

You have no idea what special needs parenting is like until you are wearing those shoes.

Yes, my child has sometimes been the kid having a very loud meltdown in a grocery store.
Yes, I am the mom who has occasionally snapped needlessly at her kids in public, because she was just so overwhelmed.
Yes, I sometimes let my child play on the computer for longer than is considered ideal, because I am so desperate for time to take a shower.
Yes, I do want to get all available services for my child, but that is way easier said than done.
No, I don’t invite my son’s classmates over for playdates to encourage interaction. They are all special needs kids, and seeing each other outside of school is too weird and overwhelming for them.
Yes, my son’s hair is tangled and unruly. He is terrified of having it either washed or cut, and I just have to do the best I can. I know it doesn’t always look great.
Yes, I vaccinate my kids. I think the autism/vaccine link is pure bumph. I respect anyone who does believe in the link and I expect the same courtesy from them.

And no, I had no clue what special needs parenting was all about until I woke up one morning and discovered that I was now one of them. Many things have surprised me about this journey. There are things both good and bad that I did not expect. Being a special needs mom has taught me a great deal about myself and about other people. One of my biggest surprise discoveries is that I have far bigger reserves of patience than I thought. For the most part, I can stay calm in the face of a meltdown, and do what I need to do to see myself and my son through the storm.

Last week, I used my social media channels to ask other moms the question: just what is it about special needs parenting that has surprised you the most? I got responses that were both poignant and uplifting. Many of them I can relate to myself.

Here’s what other special parents have found surprising about their journeys:

  • The apathy of most people. If it’s not affecting them personally, they don’t give a crap or they say ” Why should I? It’s not affecting me” (Leigh)
  • It’s not as bad as I thought it would be. (Jacquie)
  • How much energy it takes at times…like mid-meltdown… (Lucette)
  • The lack of community support. I was also surprised by my reaction to that – one of passion and action! (Amy)
  • How ignorant the NT’s can be (Ron) (For the uninitiated, NT means neurotypical, a fancy term for “typically developing”)
  • How strong it can make a mother! (Mimi)
  • How screwed up my idea of success was. (Jennifer)
  • How uncaring the rest of the community is and how much energy it takes to keep on fighting for acceptance. (Susan)
  • The fact that we have to fight our school systems for EVERY support and service that will help our kids in the future. (Barbara)
  • How hard it is to accept offers of help, and how much better it works for everyone when I do. (Ruth)
  • How strong I’ve become, physically and emotionally…well, most days anyway. 😉  (Megan)
  • How after a while you stop seeing the special needs, and just see the child. It’s only ever other people who make you notice the special needs again. (Freya)
  • How hard but rewarding it is! (Hike. Blog. Love)
  • How much you truly learn from them! And I now know the real meaning of determination. (Vera)
  • How I have forced myself to re-evaluate some of the values I had about life. Some people will always do “bad” things, our faith in a Higher Power should be our motivation to forgive those people since we ask forgiveness from “Above” and HE forgives indiscriminately (Naadia)

Reading what these parents have to say should send a very clear message that even when there’s a common diagnosis, like autism, everyone’s journey is unique. We all have our own sets of challenges.

So next time you think someone is falling short of what they could or should be doing as a parent, just remember that you’ll probably never have the opportunity to wear their shoes.

(Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/libookperson/6187904322/. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.)

Affection, Empathy And Autism

5 May

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

Several years ago, my mom volunteered at a “Riding For The Disabled” program. She would help a child with cerebral palsy or Downs Syndrome onto a horse, and then lead the horse around a field. Many of the kids she worked with would be on the edge of meltdown at the beginning of the designated hour, but after five minutes on horseback they would be completely calm.  My mom, always an animal-lover, adored the horses, and she loved working with the children.

There was a little boy with autism in the group, and although my mom didn’t love him any less than the other kids, she did find him a lot more challenging to work with. He was a highly intelligent child with severe communication deficits and some intense behavioural issues. Once settled on his horse, he would jab at the horse’s neck and tug at its mane, and any attempts by my mom to stop him would lead to meltdown. She swore that he deliberately kicked her as he was getting down from the horse after his turn. More than once she returned home with nasty bruises on her arms or legs.

Although this was all in the day before autism became a more direct part of our lives, my mom was sufficiently aware to know that the child’s behaviour was a result of his autism, and not a personal vendetta against either her or the horse. She believed, though, that he was not remotely capable of either affection or empathy. And because people form generalizations based on what they know, for a long time we subscribed to the commonly held belief that people with autism are not able to have meaningful connections with other human beings.

In fact, when we were waiting for my own son’s diagnosis, in our ignorance we pretty much ruled out autism in our own minds.

“He’s so affectionate,” we would say. “It couldn’t possibly be autism.”

Now, of course, we know better, and we are able to gently correct the people we come across who follow the same stereotype.

My son George may not ever be a great talker, but there is nothing wrong with his ability to feel and express love. All I have to do to know this is come home after work. My husband and sons watch for me from the front window, and as soon as they see me walking down our quiet street, my husband opens the door. The kids dash out and race each other to me. And then, with looks of pure joy on their faces, they launch themselves at me so hard that the force of their love knocks me off-balance.

Sometimes, when I am working on my laptop at home, George will  come up to me and somehow arrange his lanky eight-year-old self on my lap. And he will wrap his little arms around my neck and hug me, oh so fiercely. Then there are the times I wake up in the night to find him snuggled up to me, sleeping peacefully with one of his hands curled around a strand of my hair.

Admittedly, there was a time when I worried about what seemed to be a lack of empathy towards his little brother, James. About a year ago, I told a member of George’s therapy team that whenever James was crying, George would laugh hysterically at him. I expressed concern at the lack of empathy and the apparent joy that he got out of his brother’s pain. The therapist smiled at me kindly and said, “He’s a seven-year-old boy. That’s what seven-year-old boys do.”

While most other people have to be educated on the behaviour of special needs kids, my husband and I frequently have to be told how typical kids behave. It’s a little bizarre, but there it is.

The truth is that although George can be a typical pain-in-the-ass brother, just like any other brother, it is clear that he adores James. He is never comfortable with James’ absence, and his demeanour takes on an air of tenderness when James is sick. There are times when one of the boys will go in search of the other one during the night, and I will find them in the morning, curled up together, with George’s arm thrown protectively over James’ shoulders.

When I think about George’s future, there are many things I worry about.

His relationship with his brother is not one of them.

(Photo credit: Kirsten Doyle)

Book Review: My Brother Sammy Is Special

7 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 7 – Health Activist Choice: Today, I get to write about anything I like. I decided to take the opportunity to review a book that should really be on the bookshelf of every child who has a brother or sister with autism.

I tend to feel a lot of angst when it comes to parenting my younger son, James. James, who is six going on thirty-two, is the neurotypical child in my family. He is the one without autism, the one who is very socially engaging and never stops talking, even when he’s asleep.

James himself does not make parenting difficult. He is as well-behaved as a boisterous six-year-old boy can be, he is making good progress at school, and he gets along famously with his big brother George when they’re not throwing Lego at each other.

What makes it hard is the fact that due to George’s autism, I have to use completely different parenting styles with my kids. What I do makes perfect sense to me, but it can be hard for a six-year-old to grasp why he is being treated differently to his brother. Although my husband and I try our best to explain things to James, a lot happens that James perceives to be unfair.

And so when I got the opportunity to review a book written specifically for the siblings of children with autism, I wasn’t going to pass it up. Written by Becky Edwards and illustrated by David Armitage, My Brother Sammy Is Special tells the story of a boy who is angry about his brother being different. He doesn’t want a brother who is different. He wants a brother who can talk to him and play with him, and who doesn’t wreck his stuff.

In a beautiful twist, Sammy’s brother has a revelation, and instead of trying to force Sammy out into his world, he ventures into Sammy’s world. And so Sammy’s brother achieves the brotherly bonding that he so desperately craves, but not in the way that he had expected.

Having read the book myself, it was time to test it out on a member of the target audience. I snuggled up with James, opened the book, and started reading. The story, with its flowing narration and beautiful illustrations, engaged James’ attention throughout. He was very concerned about where this brotherly relationship would go, and he was visibly relieved that it all worked out in the end.

My Brother Sammy Is Special is written in language that is simple enough for young children to understand, yet descriptive enough to convey the complexity of the special needs sibling relationship. Although the blurb in the dust jacket says that the story is about a boy with autism, the story itself makes no specific mention of the condition. This makes it flexible enough to be effectively used within many kinds of special needs families.

The book is a great launch-pad for discussion. It flows in such a way that parents and their children can pause to ask questions and talk about aspects of the story without losing the flow. For children who may be bewildered by the special needs of their siblings, the story can serve to provide both comfort and understanding. It also describes practical ways in which a typically developing child can try engage with his or her special needs sibling.

I highly recommend this book for any family that has a mix of special needs children and typically developing children. It is a gem – a treat for parents and children alike.

My Brother Sammy Is Special is available for purchase at Amazon.

Many thanks to Skyhorse Publishing for allowing me to review the book, and for providing the cover image.

Butterfly

5 Apr

I am participating in the Health Activist Writers Month Challenge, in which I publish a post every day for the month of April, based on health-related prompts.

April 5 – Ekphrasis Post: Go to flickr.com/explore and write a post inspired by the image. Can you link it to your health focus?

When my son was first diagnosed with autism, we enrolled him in a local daycare centre on the advice of his speech therapist. He needed the social aspect of it, she said. He needed the group lunchtimes, the circle times, and all of the other elements of being part of a group of children. We were nervous about letting our sensitive, vulnerable son out of our immediate orbit, particularly since the daycare had never had a child with autism before.

To their eternal credit and our eternal gratitude, the daycare welcomed George with open arms. The director of the centre arranged for all of her staff to be trained in how to work with special needs kids, and George was very happy there.

During the summer months, the kids would be taken to play outside at the end of the day while they were waiting for their parents to pick them up. I would get off the bus from work, pick up my boy, and walk home with him. One day, I picked up his backpack from the darkened daycare classroom as usual, and went out to the playground. I always tried to arrive undetected so I could watch George at play for a few minutes. In typical autistic fashion, he always did his own thing. He played among the other kids, but not with them.

On this particular day, I got to the playground just in time to see a few of the other kids preparing to have a race from one tree to another. George stood apart from the kids, watching them shyly. When the daycare teacher said, “GO!” the kids scampered away from the start line while George stood by on his own.

My heart constricted with unbearable sadness. The whole thing seemed to underscore the isolation of autism, and I felt a sense of unjustness that my child was standing there on his own. With his lanky frame and long legs, he is a natural runner. He might have won that impromptu little race.

Damn autism, I thought. I knew these other kids well enough to know that prior to lining up for the race, they would have tried to encourage George to participate. But being locked in his own world, he would not have known how to. Outwardly, he seemed perfectly happy, but I couldn’t help wondering about that. What was going through his mind as he watched those other kids at play together? Did he feel any sense of isolation? Did he wish he knew how to join in?

I started thinking about sports teams and group activities. Was George ever going to be able to be part of a soccer team or a high school band? Would he travel in a pack of teenage friends or would he sit by himself in the high school cafeteria? Would he be excluded from birthday parties? Or would some group of well-meaning kids include him in their group and look out for him?

How was my child, with his autism and his social communication deficits, going to survive in a social world?

This is a concern that is with me more or less all the time, despite assurances from his teacher that he is starting to tentatively reach out socially at school, that he is getting better and better at participating in social activities, and that he is, in fact, an extremely well-liked member of the student body.

A few days ago I saw something that made my heart soar. Me and my husband were out for a walk with the kids, and we saw the teenage boys down the road shooting hoops in their driveway. Before we could stop him, George ran up to the boys and held out his hands for the ball. The boys good-naturedly obliged, and like a true natural basketball player, George bounced the ball on his knee and then threw it towards the hoop as if he did this every day.

The hoop was too high for George to have any success, and the boys offered to lower it for him. We told them not to worry and we went on our way, but not before the boys had invited George to play basketball with them any time he wanted.

When things like this happen, my vision of the future shifts, as if I’m looking at my son’s life through a kaleidoscope. I start to see possibilities that were previously hidden to me, possibilities that simply may not have been there before George grew and developed into them. Instead of seeing the kid who stood on his own while everyone else had a race, I now see the boy who, just for a few moments, joined other boys in a basketball game.

If I had, just a year ago, seen the picture that inspired this post, I would have thought, “George is probably never going to do that. He’s probably never going to romp around with friends or be invited to take part in impromptu soccer games.”

Now I look at that picture and realize that I am seeing the emergence of George as a social being. Maybe he’ll always be shy, and it is very likely that he will always need to be surrounded by people who will look out for him.

But his personality, his character, the very essence of who he is – that is emerging bright and beautiful, like a butterfly coming out of a cocoon.

My Husband Doesn’t Believe Me

12 Mar

Being a mom is very hard work, especially when you add autism into the mix. While it is more rewarding than anything else in the world, it is also exhausting and overwhelming. At times we special needs moms feel isolated from “real” life, misunderstood by friends and family members, and under-appreciated by our spouses.

Very often, it seems as if we have to carry the full load by ourselves. We are the ones who make sure the laundry is done and the dishwasher is packed. We supervise homework and get the kids to bed at a reasonable hour – at least, we try to. When a child has a sensory-induced meltdown, we are there to catch the fall-out. Many of us also have jobs that involve lengthy commutes, and most of us will sometimes pretend we need to use the bathroom just to get a couple of minutes to ourselves.

I would venture to say that at some point in time, all special needs moms – and possibly all moms in general – feel as if our husbands just don’t get it. They don’t understand how hard it is for us or how overwhelmed we feel. They get confused when we say we are lonely, because they don’t realize that our lack of a circle of friends is not a matter of choice. And sometimes, they are absolutely baffled by the resentment we express when we work ourselves to the bone until late every night while they sit on the couch watching TV.

I am generalizing, of course. There are plenty of men who are not lazy, self-centred and disinterested, just as there are plenty of women who are. Most dads do step up to do the parenting thing, and they do it well. They at least try to be supportive of their partners, even if they don’t always “get” it. I know some of these men. Hell, I’m married to one of them. Even on days when things are less than perfect – you know, those days when I complain about how hard my life is – I am grateful to have a husband who loves and supports me and is Dad to his kids in the ways that really matter. In fact, my husband doesn’t believe me when I tell him about things that some other dads either do or fail to do.

I belong to an Internet support group for parents of children with autism. The vast majority of members are moms, but there is a sprinkling of dads. A thread that’s going on in the group now makes me reflect on how lucky I really am.

You see, parenting a child with autism goes beyond the usual tasks of providing nutritious meals and ensuring that clothes are clean. You have to do things that you wouldn’t have to do for typical children, like teaching basic living skills that other kids naturally pick up from environmental cues. For example, I’ve never had to teach the toothbrushing routine to my younger son, who does not have autism. But for my older son, who does have autism, I have visuals set up and I have to give him verbal prompts throughout. And still, he requires a certain amount of hand-on-hand assistance for this task.

Where boys are concerned, there are certain life skills that it’s far easier for Dad to teach than Mom. Shaving facial hair being one. Aiming properly while peeing standing up being another. Women don’t have the need for one or the equipment for the other.

One of the dads in my Internet group posted a message several days ago offering tips for teaching a boy how not to pee all over the bathroom. Some of the advice was based on the notion of the boy’s father teaching by example. A mom in the group responded to the message by saying that her husband refused to teach their son this particular skill. Her response generated a number of other messages from moms in a similar boat.

Seriously? A father cannot take the time or trouble to teach his son such a fundamental skill? Yes, teaching stuff relating to bodily functions can be less than pleasant, and yes, this kind of thing does come with a certain lack of privacy. But these are our kids, and if we don’t teach them this stuff, who will?

I’m not saying that the dads I am referring to are bad fathers. You don’t have to teach your son how to pee properly in order to be a good dad. I’m just suggesting that it is perhaps a short-sighted approach, and that sometimes we just have to put the needs of our kids over and above our own sense of discomfort. The discomfort is temporary, while the skill learned will last forever.

There are times, of course, when male input is not available. Single moms, or those whose husbands are too incapacitated to help out, make a plan to teach their kids whatever skills are needed.

But dads, if you are present and physically able, please help teach your sons the stuff that dads can teach best. You will give your boys essential skills that will stand them in good stead for the rest of your lives, and the mothers of your children will be that much less frazzled and stressed. Who knows? It could even lead to you and your partner having more quality time to spend together.

And in a world that is high on pressure and low on time, that can only be a good thing.

Campbell: A Story Of Kindness

15 Dec

Tazz and Campbell

Once upon a time, I had a child and called him George. I had all kinds of hopes and dreams for that child. We were going to  take him on the kinds of outings kids love, and for his birthdays, we’d invite his friends to come too. We would delight in watching him grow from babyhood to childhood as he ran and jumped and played with his peers; we would laugh at the funny things he said as he was learning to talk; he would make cookies with me and we’d go for picnics at the zoo. When he became a big brother he would take pride in helping with the baby.

One day, when George was almost four, the hopes and dreams crumbled as a doctor gave me the news that George had autism. As I sat there in shock (strange really, since I’d known for a year that something was wrong) I did not yet know that at some point in the future, I would come to accept a new kind of “normal”, that my hopes and dreams would take on a different, but still meaningful form, and that while the journey would take us on the scenic route, we would still see many wonderful things along the way.

It hasn’t all been a cakewalk. There have been hard times. I have had to learn how to restrain my son with my bodyweight to stop him from hurting himself. Speech is still sporadic enough that we celebrate every single word, every single sentence. It saddens us that George does not have friends, preferring to play by himself.

One of the hardest things to deal with has been the reactions of other people. We get rude stares in grocery stores, and complete strangers tell us that what our child needs is “a good hiding”. When people see George having difficulty in a public place, they jump to the immediate conclusion that he is misbehaving. Don’t get me wrong – sometimes he is. He may have autism, but let’s face it – an eight-year-old boy is an eight-year-old boy. Most times, though, George is having trouble with the brightness of the florescent lighting, or the overabundance of sounds, or all of the conversations going on around him that he does not know how to filter.

I sometimes wish for a magical potion, a Perfume of Arabia that I could sprinkle onto people to open their eyes and help them understand.

In the absence of a Perfume of Arabia, the best I can do is write about my experiences and hope that it will make a difference to someone’s life. Like it did to a reader, Tazz, who along with her dog Campbell, had an incredible encounter with a special needs child. With Tazz’s permission, I am sharing the story here. I’m not even going to bother rewording it. Tazz’s words can speak very well for themselves.

“One thing I learned is to never ever judge what I see a child doing, because for all I know there may be a problem I do not know about. Turns out this info came in very handy for me not long ago. There is a family who are members of the church I am currently attending part time. Their son has some kind of a problem that they have not quite diagnosed yet. However, it causes him to sometimes have horrible meltdowns. I was walking down the hall one day during Sunday School time going back to class from the bathroom when from a room down the hall a ways I heard the most heartbreaking crying I ever heard, and knew it was this little boy having another hard time. His mother was doing all she could to calm the child. I followed my heart and took a chance. I softly knocked on the door, and asked if I could help. She had come to the door with the melting down child in her arms, and when he saw Campbell his screaming stopped. I mean like turning off a switch. I asked if I could bring Campbell in and visit for a minute. She agreed and we all sat on the floor with the little boy calming down and petting Campbell. They are now looking in to the possibility of getting a therapy dog for this child. Campbell has come to rescue this child a couple more times since that day. Because now if we are there, and this child starts to have a problem they come and get me from where ever I am and I happily go and help. Well, Campbell helps.

Is this not the most amazing story? Tazz had an instinct and she followed it. She and her dog were exactly what that little boy and his Mom needed. We special needs parents all need people like this – people who don’t necessarily know the circumstances, but who open their hearts to people who really need it.

To Tazz and all of the people like her, thank you. Thank you for being there. Thank you for being you. You restore my faith in the goodness of human nature.

This week’s Indie Ink Challenge came from Head Ant, who gave me this prompt: What would your proverbial “perfumes of Arabia” take care of? Fiction or non-fiction.
I challenged lisa with the prompt: Write about anything you like, but include the following: cotton candy, a dog, and a broken-down taxi.

Photo credit to Tazz. This picture was taken at an event to remember the victims of domestic violence.