Autism & Progress & a Proud Mom

Proud mom moment.  Wilson hasn’t had his hair cut outside of our home in more than six years.  The last hair salon we attempted with him was when he was about two years old, and he was screaming so much before he even got into the chair that the stylist said she couldn’t work with him.  So, we left, and started a haircutting program with his therapy center that lasted about four years.  I’ve continued to cut his hair at home, and while he doesn’t necessarily like it, he has improved greatly and will tolerate it.

Last week, while I was getting my hair done, I asked my stylist if she would be willing to attempt to cut his hair at her salon.  I honestly sat there thinking about it for an hour or so before I asked her.  Deciding when and how to attempt things like this is tricky.  I don’t mean to be pessimistic, but we have been there and done that and I was sweating at the thought of attempting it again. I pictured the screaming and the other clients staring, and the headbanging, and the hand swatting. And thought maybe continuing with the mediocre mom-cuts was good enough.

Her salon is small, quiet, and I had a feeling he just might like it there.  She was very happy to give it a try and we agreed that if it didn’t work out, we wouldn’t push it.

I talked with Wilson about the salon over the weekend. I told him about the cool plants he’ll see there, the big mirror, and the nice lady named Sarah that was going to cut his hair this time. He said “no.”  Later we talked more and landed on him getting to watch his dad’s iPad after his haircut. Sunday night and throughout yesterday, he calmy repeated his schedule, including the haircut.

He did AMAZING.  He stayed calm, let her use scissors (hadn’t used those in six years either!), and was so excited to feed the ducks at the lake afterwards.

Proud is really an understatement. As much as I want to erase some of our tough experiences from memory, they sure make me grateful for how far we have come.

Also, there are really good people out there. Find the courage to ask, it’ll be worth it.

Wilson’s Climb x Little Rebels with a Cause

We’ve been busy over here at Wilson’s Climb! We started an inclusive clothing collection, Little Rebels with a Cause, with this sweet boy in mind. Sometimes it’s just nice when the shirts can do the talking for you.

Our designs quickly morphed into much more… for the advocates, the upstanders, and the world changers.

We make apparel with purpose for LITTLE REBELS: upstanders who embrace differences.

Our son is an adorable, curious, eight-year-old who is autistic and processes this world differently than many of us do.  We see the way his little sister advocates for him, from running to get his headphones when a noise is painful for him, to telling most people she meets that her brother has autism. She does this in the same way one might say their brother is great at football or playing the guitar. She’s proud of him.

We’ve seen the value of inclusion for both of our kids, and so many more incredible humans who are a part of this Little Rebels community. We have so much to learn from one another.

We believe words are important, and we hope our tees spark valuable conversations in your communities.

Our son’s sensory processing difficulties can make clothing choices tricky.  We worked hard to find the softest, most comfortable tees around, most with easy to tear-away tags. You’ll notice an abundance of black and white throughout our designs, as that is the only kind of tee he will wear.  

We’re proud to donate ten percent of every purchase to some amazing nonprofits. These programs range from assisting anyone with a disability in finding their inner athlete through outdoor recreation, to programs who build inclusive and ACCESSIBLE playgrounds so that ALL can play, and those who advocate for a loving and inclusive community for anyone with a disability.  We plan to introduce additional nonprofits throughout the year.

We look forward to raising awareness for these programs and making a difference with you.

P.S. A heart is one of our boy’s favorite shapes, so he helped us out by drawing the one in our mission statement.

Come see our shop at http://www.littlerebelscause.com

Unconditional Sibling Love

I’ve found it very difficult to protect my heart when it’s beating outside of my body. These days it’s running around in the form of little sandy-haired, blue-eyed kids, in such vulnerable form.  

I’ve wanted to protect these two from the Big Bad World since the moment I met them. Most of the time, my boy’s adventurous spirit would get in the way of the bubble wrapped life I had in mind for him.  

I wasn’t ready for fearless. I wasn’t ready for vulnerable. I wasn’t ready for autism.

How will I protect him now? Will he be OK?

Will he ever talk? Attend school? Be bullied on the playground? Will he have a job? Drive? Live independently? Fall in love? And commence the spiral to nowhere.

As parents, we never want our children to feel pain and sadness. Hunger or cold. Lost or confused. It tears me up from the inside out when I look into my boy’s eyes and see how confused and frustrated he can become.

I remember a moment years ago when, during one of his meltdowns, his 2-year-old little sister hugged him and would not let go. Eventually he started laughing because it became a game to try and get her off him.

I noticed something that day. The way she looked at him. It was simple and unconditional adoration. In her eyes, he isn’t “different”. He is her big brother. Her hero. Her person.

I pray that she will always see him in that same light. As time passes, the weight of his world will inevitably impact hers more.  New challenges will arise, they both will grow and change, but oh, how I hope that their unconditional love remains the same.

My children are both unique and made for one another. I can’t catch them every time they fall, but I can teach them how to help one another back up. To comfort one another. To laugh together.

They have shown us fearless. They have taught us how to find comfort in vulnerability.

My son has a phenomenal tribe of family, friends, doctors, teachers, therapists, specialists, and peers to help raise him up as high as he can go.

And he has her.

So just like that, I had all the answers to that pesky spiral to nowhere:

He’s going to be amazing.

They both are.

E I G H T

Joy.  I want to get it right, explaining this birthday boy to you, and joy is what comes to mind over and over again.

Sometimes fragile but mostly fearless, he’s going to discover, celebrate, and remember every little thing about this big old world.

He finds the joy around him all the time… a spontaneous “moo!” to the cows out his car window and an ecstatic “choo choo!” when we are lucky enough to spot a real-life train.

I know other eight-year-olds might not do that, and that’s okay. Sometimes he celebrates joy in atypical ways or in places you wouldn’t expect. But it’s always there with him, radiating throughout the room. 

He is happy in his soul.

We don’t waste moments with worry & comparison.  We left that game a long time ago. Wilson is in a league of his own, right where he belongs. 

We’ve been rushing this boy to grow his whole life. In true Wilson fashion, it will all be in his own time, and in his own way.  Now I see this big eight-year-old in front of me and pray for time to slow down, just a little.

I am so thankful for his joyous energy, his curiosity, and the way his happiness feels like sunshine.

Hoping this year is filled with chasing more trains, searching for the ends of rainbows, and that sense of wonder found only in a child’s heart.

autism & changing the world

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 try and 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!

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.