stereotypical autism and cute flashback videos

Numbers have always been Wilson’s jam. To this day, he still counts down to calm down and points out a 7-11 convenience store when we drive by. I think when he first “had” about 15 words, the numbers 1-10 made up the majority. In the world of developmental delays, you must start tracking these things early on to report back to doctors and specialists.  

I also added things like “uh oh” to that list. Reaching, I know.

There is a moment in these videos where he looks at me, right before saying “blast off!” at the end of his countdown and I must admit, I clung to that moment for a long time as a sign that Wilson did not have autism.

I knew very little about autism at the time, and lack of joint attention and shared joy was one of the red flags on our radar. You can see in many of the videos, he doesn’t respond to my verbal praise or reinforcement.

This was the kind of acknowledgement and engagement I was getting from him around that time. Tiny glimpses here and there.

He was diagnosed with autism the next year. It didn’t long for me to learn that autism is not a list of traits or characteristics to be checked off. And it most definitely isn’t the stereotypical version of autism that many people view it as.

Let’s debunk a few more of these autism stereotypes while we are at it:

  • “Verbal communication equates with cognition.” Nope, not even close.  In many cases, there is confusion among the brain pathways involved in planning the sequence of movements needed to produce speech.  The brain knows what it wants to say, but it cannot plan the movements needed for speech and sound. 
  • “When you can’t see signs of autism, the person must be “higher functioning” or have an “easier” form of autism.” Like most people in this world, there is always so much more going on than meets the eye. There is no telling how hard an autistic person is working to hide certain traits perceived as socially unacceptable, or how hard they are working to process the environment around them.   
  • “If they don’t make eye contact, they aren’t listening.”  Wrong. Sometimes that’s HOW they can listen best. Eye contact can be distracting and uncomfortable. 
  • “If someone is nonverbal, they likely don’t understand what you’re saying.” Nope, see #1 above and ALWAYS presume competence. 
  • “Autistic people aren’t social, they just want to play alone/be alone.” Not necessarily, although everyone is different. In my son’s case, he needed to learn HOW to initiate play and still PRACTICES how to play with others (turn taking, etc.) Some things like this don’t always come naturally to him, but he LOVES interacting with other kids. 

Bottom line, autistic children and adults might have a different way of processing the world around them, but they think and feel deeply just like anyone else.

click on images/links below for some cute flashbacks and a sweet little voice. ❤️

The Balancing Act of this {Autism} Life

It’s 9 a.m. and my toddlers are eating popsicles. 

They are content (even quiet?) in their car seats behind me as we drive to ABA therapy.  We are going on year three of “potty training” (I could call it a lot of other things) with my son Wilson, who is almost five years old and on the autism spectrum.  He really pulled one over on me this morning with the new potty sticker chart by managing to sit and pee in the toilet four times more often than he would have on a typical morning, scoring a popsicle for himself as well as his little sister.

Oh well, it’s all about balance, right?

As parents, we all strive for a sense of balance in our children’s lives. There are the usual suspects: screen time, treats, sleep.  If you are a parent of a child on the spectrum, you know there tends to be a few more items to add to the daily juggle.

You pack his food for the day (the same food you packed the day before and the one before that).  You keep his snacks on hand, knowing full-well you can’t just pop into a restaurant or convenience store and find something he will consume. 

You try to get him to taste new things but you also want him to eat.  He has inherited your stubbornness and those hunger strikes are brutal for everyone. He knows the difference between chicken nuggets and tenders and how dare you serve one instead of the other?  If you buy another brand, size or shape of his precious food he will make certain you regret it.

You sneak eight supplements in while keeping all the gluten and dairy out.

You plan and adhere to a routine (because that’s where he thrives) but also create space for him to enjoy some toddler spontaneity. Allow him freedom but not so much that that he’ll wander off. Let him feed his curiosity but keep this fragile and fearless little human safe.

You let him stim and enjoy scripting off in his own little world, but not for too long, or he won’t let you join him there.

You prepare for the battles you know are coming, like haircuts, dental exams or finishing his food containing aforementioned supplements. You keep a reserve of patience for the obstacles you don’t foresee, like an altercation over his open urine sample (he wanted to pour it into the potty like a “big boy” and I needed to ship it off to a lab in Texas.) Or that time he flushed his soiled underwear down the toilet…

You enjoy the quiet moments and you fear them. If it’s too quiet, then someone is up to something, somewhere.

You teach him “I want” and “no” when you would rather he was saying “please” and “no, thank you”.  When he requests something appropriately, you usually oblige because it took so long to get there. In the back of your mind you worry that you tend to give him anything he wants to avoid a meltdown.

You let him struggle. This, this one is the toughest. To wait.  While he fumbles into his clothes or attempts to put his shoes on the wrong feet, you take pause instead of jumping in to do it for him.  You hold your breath when people ask him questions and he struggles to think of a response, trying to give him a chance before answering for him.  

You start to plan for the future, but it’s overwhelming. The unknown is terrifying, so you try to live in the present.

You are his advocate, not just for more, but also for knowing when he’s had enough poking, prodding, testing or hard work. The real balance is knowing you would do or try anything to help your child while having the awareness that you cannot do it all at once.

I know many of us never feel like we have found this sense of balance, but we will never stop searching for it.

*Originally posted in July, 2018 but still resonates today. I am happy to report that we survived potty-training and I get to hear “Thanks, Mom!” so often it melts my heart.*

Raising a Child with Autism – You Are Not Alone

During the years surrounding Wilson’s autism diagnosis, I could barely say the word “autism” out loud.  

I thought I would just break down every single time and, frankly, I didn’t have time for that. To be clear, this had nothing to do with shame.  Not one day has gone by that I am not immensely proud of this boy.

That Dumbo went everywhere with him back then.

It was about fear, worry, the unknown, and all the other bumps along the road to acceptance. All a parent could ever want is for their child to be okay.  Autism has a way of tricking your brain into questioning if that will be the case.  There is so much to learn and understand before some of that uncontrollable worry begins to fade.

I threw myself into research. We got on waitlists. I began on the path to truly knowing this boy.

And I wrote. I got it all out. Everything that was too hard to talk about at the time.  Processing this kind of information is not easy, and it can be very lonely. This is a big reason why I am here, sharing our story. I never want other families to feel the same confusion and loneliness that we felt in the beginning of this journey.

It has meant so much to me to connect with other autism families, some who are going through the steps to a diagnosis or have a child that was recently diagnosed, and other parents of children of all different ages and abilities.

The main message I want to convey to all these parents is that there will be MANY times that you will feel alone in this, but you do not have to be.  I constantly must remind myself of this.

I cannot tell you how many situations there have been where my knee-jerk reaction was that no one knows how this feels.  The same battles, day in and day out, the medical incident reports, medical and educational decisions, the moment I saw AUTISM written on paper in an evaluation about my boy. 

I’ll tell you there is not one thing I could tell my fellow parents of children with autism about our life that would shock them. Seriously. The fears, the frustrations, the meltdowns, and all the “inappropriate” behaviors we’ve faced. They GET it.  They also get how big some of the simple, small victories truly are as well.    

Things can still be hard for me to process a lot of the time. Sometimes it seems easier to sit alone with the tough stuff. If you do this, please don’t stay there long. Let someone sit with you.

Find your own way to work through your thoughts and feelings. They are real and should not be ignored.

Talk to someone. You might find this safe person in a waiting room at therapy or the pediatricians office, on the playground, or online.  If all of this sounds impossible and overwhelming because you can’t even say “autism” out loud yet, that is okay too! It will get easier to talk about and then you will be ready to lean on others.

The best way for your friends and family to learn about autism and support you as a parent raising a child with autism is to tell them. Tell them about your child. Tell them about your struggles, your child’s struggles, strengths, passions, victories, and all the things.

They might not understand exactly how you feel, but they don’t have to. Sometimes talking through things just leaves you feeling better. I promise your people want to support you and celebrate with you and your child, you just have to let them.

I’m not saying you have to wave your autism awareness flag as loudly as I do. We all do this life differently. Find a place that makes you feel supported.

I am so much stronger than the day I walked out of that psychiatrist’s office with my son’s diagnosis in hand.  My whole family is. If you would have told me this back then, I may have not believed you.  

My boy is always growing and evolving and most days it feels like autism is always one step ahead of me.  It’s like trying to catch and examine the wind.  There is still so much unknown to wrestle with.

While I may never understand everything going on inside of this complicated boy, what I do know is that I will never stop trying, and it helps to know there are so many people here rooting for him.

Flashback to right around his diagnosis. This picture captures pretty well how it was going! Baby Charlie’s face gets me every time 🙂

autism, anxiety, and lost time

One of the most unreasonable, exhausting, and heartbreaking sides of my son’s autism is his battle with anxiety.  Sometimes anxiety falls under the ever-broadening umbrella that is Autism Spectrum Disorders, and sometimes you face anxiety as one of many comorbid diagnoses.

In our world, anxiety is the fierce sidekick to autism. It’s the root of things like self-injury, aggression, and property destruction.

It is also the thief of time.

Anxiety is the reason you will not find our family in line for a ride at Disneyland, a photo with Santa, or even a burger and fries.  No line, anywhere. Waiting is hard and waiting in unfamiliar environments is when anxiety seizes the opportunity to creep in and serve up an emotional and physical beating until my sweet boy is missing from behind those bright blue eyes.

What I would give to crawl in there too, to fend off this awful intruder for him. To remove all the pain and confusion and just leave behind the unique, beautiful wonder.

We have found some alternatives, like Sensory-Friendly Santa appointments.  You learn to adapt.  I have accepted that some places in the world are just not for us.

At least not for right now.

But I would be lying if I didn’t say that I sometimes wish we had a perfectly curated family photo at the local pumpkin patch.  We went the other day, my two kids and I, and after disrupting all the other families there with my boy’s bloodcurdling screaming (he really has found a new pitch), my attempt to carry him out looked more like a curated kidnapping was underway.

Here’s the thing: a kicking, screaming, fight-or-flight meltdown looks a lot different in a seven-year-old than it does in your typical toddler I-want-a-candy-bar scenario.

When Wilson was five, we both sat in the middle of a busy hospital lobby, sobbing. I could not move him. I had given up until a guardian angel in the form of a nurse offered to help us.

Sometimes we spend hours on meltdown and recovery over something as simple as clothing or food. These are moments, hours, and days that we will never get back.

The thief of time, you see.

These kinds of days can take it out of you in every way imaginable. You boil down the goals to giving him space and keeping him safe.  Sometimes you just want the day to end so that tomorrow can be new, and hopefully different. And just maybe the world won’t be too much for him then.

Here’s the part of our picture I want to paint very clearly: my boy is happy.  He is kind, gentle, finds joy in the simplest things and then radiates that happiness throughout the room. He is also fearless, brave and works hard every single day on regulation and communication.

A little contradictory? I know, I am confused too.

We cannot control when anxiety will show up, how long it will stay and what it will leave in its wake.

We try, but this is just one of the many unpredictable parts of this autism journey.

What we can do is continue practicing coping and regulation skills, even if sometimes that means getting out of our comfort zone, so that one day, you will see us waiting patiently in a line somewhere.  

We can also soak up the happy moments and continue to celebrate all the small victories, because really, they are all big ones to us.

hope + progress

This is the boy that never allows his head to get wet.

When we force a hair wash, he used to scream throughout the entire process. This eventually morphed into him yelling for a towel as we quickly washed his hair. He would furiously dry his head and return to his bath toys.

If he gets splashed in the pool, he gets out to dry his head and neck and gets right back in. 

Swimming lessons, floating and water safety/survival have been rough, stemming back from the very beginning at a torturous mommy-and-me swim class (we eventually dropped out.) 

We’ve tried so many tactics, including his ABA interventionists joining us for weekly pool sessions using visual schedules. I didn’t care about the actual swimming part or even getting his face in the water. I just wanted him to be able to float, to be able to survive if he were to fall in without a life vest. He has always been so drawn to the water but has never understood its dangers.

In usual Wilson-fashion, he has come around in his own time. Here we are, six years later, and he has found his zen place, floating in the water. 

Every bath night, David and I look at each other with pure astonishment. Who is this kid?

Maneuvering through life with sensory sensitivities is difficult. The struggles Wilson experiences are often invisible to everyone but him. Certain sounds, textures, and sights literally cause him pain and distress.  This affects the foods he will eat, the clothes he will wear and the places he is able to go. 

Helping him grow and experience new things is a prolonged, relentless, and delicate dance.  I remember thinking he would never be fully potty-trained, tolerate a haircut (or a new outfit!), or learn to float. I know that sounds dramatic but when progress is tortoise-like or moving backwards, it’s easy to resort to that attitude. When you are in the proverbial thick of it.

I still don’t think he’ll expand his food tolerance but here we are, reminded that things can change. It’s funny how renewed hope sneaks up on you right when you need it.   

quarantine + autism

Wilson letters 2

Oh, quarantine and autism. You have been a doo-ZY!

You would think we would have embraced this socially distant period like all the autism memes suggested at the beginning of this lockdown. “We’ve been social distancing since before it was a thing!”

No.

These past few months at home have allowed regression to creep back in, distressing my boy at a whole new level. I knew it would, right when we said goodbye to his routine back in March. It was inevitable. Unfortunately, that expectation did not make these months less painful for any of us. Especially this sweet boy.

Months of quarantine has meant the loss of so many hours a week of in-person, face-to-face time with our entire support team. The people we lean on and draw advice from constantly. I have continued to see some of them over zoom almost every day, but Wilson will hardly notice or engage with them.

zoom edited

Awareness of surroundings has often been a struggle for him. Sometimes he is so intensely focused on an object or activity, the rest of the room, the rest of the world, falls deep into the background. So, you can imagine spending hours a day trying to draw this little man’s attention to a computer screen for zoom therapy sessions was rough.

Why did we try? Because this isn’t about falling behind in the world of ABC’s and 123’s. It is about attending and listening so that he can learn in an environment beyond 1:1. It is about co-regulation and self-regulation so that he doesn’t hurt himself. It is about word comprehension so he can use them to get his increasing needs and preferences across.

We had been working on safety in the community for years. We were practicing sitting to have a juice box in a coffee shop and running short errands. He started attending an inclusive gymnastics center and began private music lessons. We had hopes of him joining us at a restaurant eventually. Wilson even went on a little field trip to the library with his classmates. I remember when all these things felt so out of reach. Now it feels like we are back there, reaching.

wilson walk

Wearing a mask is likely off the table for this sensory-sensitive kiddo. Physical distancing is just not in his personality. He wants to be close, kiss, cuddle and climb all over people. The number of visuals and social stories needed to deter all these behaviors… is daunting.

He’s a little lost right now. He spends much of his day drawing, scripting and repeating, searching for the order and regulation that he craves. We are a little lost right now. That’s what regression does. It breaks down connection, communication, and patience. In this unpredictable world that is one thing we autism families can usually count on. The highs and lows. The rollercoaster. The progression and regression. Where there is up there will be down. I am not trying to be negative; it is the simple truth.

In the past I blamed these dramatic shifts on gluten, food dye, screen time, the moon, barometric pressure, you name it. This eventually morphed into change of any kind. I had to find a reason beyond autism.

He wanted to give up on the zoom therapy almost daily. Eventually so did I. But we didn’t. I will never stop helping him find his words instead of him screaming. I will never stop sitting with him and being his calm place to regulate his little body, so he doesn’t hurt himself. NEVER.

never give up

Whenever I think my job is exhausting, I remember how hard this kid works every single day. He does not give up. He has shown me what it means to be resilient.

We are heading into a two-week break from therapy before he transitions back to in-person with his peers in July. In the meantime, we are looking forward to spending more time in his happy places. Long walks, riding bikes, hours spent exploring the creek, playing with leaves, and searching for treasures.

wilson creek

Autism Dad Life 💙

Nailed it!!👏🏻🎉 Earlier this year, I posted a similar video, same questions but Wilson had all the answers mixed up. I was worried and a little sad because it was all information he had known for a long time.

In many cases, if we don’t continue to practice certain vocabulary or conversational skills, he has a much harder time accessing this information he has already learned.

His daddy has been practicing with him every night before bed 💙 and he’s getting it down again!

We’re so thankful for this amazing man’s patience, persistence and love. And above all, keeping it all fun! Happy Father’s Day

The TikTok Autism Challenge – Parents: We Can Do Better

Bullies are bored. 

In the recent “Autism Challenge” videos on TikTok, users are shown mocking people with disabilities, specifically using sounds and gestures to mimic those with autism. These people are making fun of kids like my six-year-old son, and I am not okay with it.

What is funny about someone struggling to get their basic wants, needs and feelings across? Someone who cannot say when their stomach hurts, or that they feel hungry, tired, or sad?

ASD longsleeves

The people shown in these disgusting “Autism Challenge” videos take simple things like communication for granted. They are at home making videos about how people like my son move, jump, flap, bounce and dance to express themselves. We are supposed to laugh and be entertained? Well, we are not.

And let me tell you, we are not bored.

We are struggling. The safety of routine in my boy’s world was ripped away by quarantine, something we have found impossible to explain to him via visuals or a social story.

We are here, listening to the piercing screaming, working on food therapy, language development, self-care, co-regulation, and self-calming skills.  We continue to work on safety in our home with hopes to get back to working on safety out in the community soon.

writing work 2

We are here, painfully watching a six-year-old battle anxiety.  We are his calm in the storm of aggression, self-injury, and fear.

This kid is not bored.

He puts in work, all day, every day. He is resilient. He is tough. He is smart, curious, brave, gentle, kind and he understands much more than he can say. He has more heart than these mindless TikTok “Autism Challengers” probably ever will.  

new haircut

Thankfully, for now, these videos break my heart, not his. 

It completely devasts me that he will eventually cross paths with ignorant people like this.

We need to do better.

I am talking to my fellow parents. The most appalling part of this video challenge was the parent’s involvement. Some were behind the camera and some were even participating in the mockery.

We need to teach our children that their words and actions carry weight. They affect people, they can hurt people.

We need to show our children how to stand up and use their voice when they see people mistreated.

Inaction is easy. When we advocate together, change will happen. 

born rad

 

 

Change the World

IMG_3478

When autism entered my life, I knew nothing about it. Books and the internet provided some information but at times they were also terrifying rabbit-holes to nowhere. No one was talking about autism. Because of this, I think the road to acceptance for many parents with special kids is very lonely and isolating.

It did not take long to realize that there was very little I could control about my son’s autism. We worked hard at various therapies all day long for very slow progress. We still do, and it is worth it.

We built a team of therapists, doctors, and interventionists to help him learn, keep him safe and help us learn to communicate with him.

The more I came to terms the impossibility of completely changing my son’s autism, I decided we were going to change the world instead.

I want the world to be easier for him to navigate through. I want awareness, kindness, acceptance and inclusion to surround him wherever he goes.

I want people to know my boy, to understand him. I know this is not going to be easy. We work every day to do that ourselves.

I want people to know that his favorite color is red. He has never told me this, I just know.

I want children to understand that he wants to play with them, even though it does not always look that way. They need to know that most of the time his words are trapped somewhere deep inside of him. That he is not intentionally ignoring them and that his hearing is perfectly fine. He just does not always understand their words, but maybe they could show him instead.

You see, too many words get all mixed up in his head. But if you take his hand or tap his shoulder and show him the way, he just may follow.

Little friends need to know that he might not share the toys that are precious to him on a particular day because the way he has them lined up and organized is what he depends on to make him feel calm and like all is right in the world.

I want the shock and awe stares during the public meltdowns to disappear. Our meltdowns are not the typical toddler I-want-a-candy-bar kind. They are communication breakdown, sensory overload, all- systems-firing and frightening. I want a stranger to tell me I am doing a good job or acknowledge that being a mom is hard, instead of a judgmental glance when I struggle to pick my child up off the parking lot pavement.

This is where we begin to change the world, by sharing one boy’s journey with autism. Let him be your reminder that things are not always as they seem and to always lead with kindness and patience.

We are so thankful that you are here with us!

family

On World Autism Awareness Day our incredible friends and family came together (while apart) to support our boy by showing us their BLUE for Light It Up Blue, a worldwide autism awareness event.  This video will make us smile forever. So thankful for all of the amazing people on this journey with us!

Click on image below to view the video!