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.*

growth, change, & autism

One clear memory from Wilson’s autism diagnosis evaluation has stuck with me.

We sat in a stark room with no windows. The psychiatrist had brought out one activity at a time, then locked them up in a cupboard once they were done.  I vaguely remember a baby, and a pretend birthday cake, and so many blank stares and unanswered questions.  

I sat quietly in the corner as they had requested. No jumping in to answer for him or prompt and encourage him.  The psychiatrist asked me to call his name from across the empty room. 

“Wilson.  Wilson. Wilson!” 

Nothing. He didn’t even turn his head in my general direction.

He wasn’t distracted by toys, which was the reason I had convinced myself he didn’t usually respond to my calls for his attention.  He just casually looked at the doctor, then around the bland room.

It truly seemed like he could not hear me. But we had already been to all those specialists for all of that testing by the time we landed in this office for this autism spectrum disorder evaluation. He could hear perfectly fine.

The psychiatrist asked me to do whatever it is that I do to get his attention at home. So, I said, “Hey buddy!” and eventually walked over and touched his shoulder.

I told her we wondered if he thought his name was “Buddy” since we called him that so often.  Maybe that was why he didn’t respond to his name yet.

Hope and denial and acceptance ran murky lines during those first few years.

Fast forward five years, and I must tell you this boy doesn’t miss an opportunity to say “Hi, Mommy!” or run to the door to say “Hi, Daddy!” when he hears his dad’s truck coming up the driveway.

Change happens. Growth will happen. It may look different for each child, but we will all see it, and we will all feel it.  We will all go through the phases we cannot wait to get out of and the moments we want to freeze in time.

So proud of how hard this boy has worked for all his growth.

scripting & communication

“Wow, there sure are a lot of letters! Each makes a special sound.” ✨

This is scripting (reciting learned words and phrases from movies, books, shows, etc) from a favorite Leap Frog Letter Factory show. Scripting was one of Wilson’s first vehicles for verbal communication and he often still uses learned phrases to communicate today.

So much language coming out of this kid lately! ❤️

The knocking on the wall is a fairly new compulsion. Luckily the dog doesn’t mind, but mom and dad keep thinking someone is at the door. 😆

click on image below to view video.

Letters!

To the Mom of a Child with a Disability this Mother’s Day

I am thinking about you today.

I want you to know that everything you do matters.

When you crawl into bed at night, aching from your temples to your toes, know that you have done enough.  There may have been no progress made with toileting, feeding therapy or communication today and that is okay.

Your child is safe and so loved.

The weight of hectic schedules, parent trainings, OT, PT and visits with every other MD in-between can feel suffocating.

The research, the meltdowns, the battles over chicken nugget brands and clothing choices, all can withdraw every ounce of patience from your soul.

The smeared feces, the eloping, the pica and other behaviors you watched your friend’s toddlers outgrow.  Years later, they remain in your child.

Most days are exhausting and thankless and I want you to know that your child appreciates you, they need you, and they love you beyond measure.

You need to know that.

Your child may not be able to express this, some of you may have never even heard your child call you “Mom”.

But they know you are Mom.

Your child is so grateful for all that you do and would be lost without you. Just as you would be lost without your sweet child.

I want you to know that you are not alone.

When your patience has been depleted.

When you’ve cried behind your sunglasses at a park as you watched your child’s differences come to light. 

The loneliness you have felt from the long days spent with a child unable to read your emotions.

The difficult medical and educational decisions you struggle to make.

Know that there are so many of us with you.

We have felt the lows and celebrated the victories, too. We know the fear and the worry you wrestle with daily, and the immense pride you feel over the slightest progress.

I want you to find hope.

Today let’s bask in achievements and forget about regressions.

Even if only for one day.

Let your hope be stronger than your fears.  With so many unknowns in the future, know that it’s going to get better. 

I know this because we will grow stronger.

We will continue to learn, to advocate, to protect and make certain our children know their worth and just how very much they are loved. 

I am so thankful for this sisterhood of amazing mothers today and every day.

Have a very Happy Mother’s Day.

remember my boy

Explaining autism is hard.  Understanding the complexities inside of my sweet boy can feel like trying to catch and examine the wind.

If there is one piece of autism awareness I can leave you with this month, this would be it:

The next time you are stuck at the grocery store, irritated with the man at the front of the growing line because he keeps chatting with the clerk, think of my boy.

The man might be verbally ruminating about new soda flavors he saw on tv or explaining his frustration that the store is out of the only bread he eats. How it is very important because he eats this bread for every meal in his day.

He may also bring up the triangle-shaped crackers he saw on aisle seven. For him, this is so silly because crackers really should be square.

He’ll fumble with his money.  Something that seems so simple for many but for him, this has taken intentional practice.  He carefully counts and counts again.

He’ll often adjust his big, bulky headphones. At first, you probably thought he was listening to music, but they are there to block out the unwanted sounds, squeaky grocery carts, fluorescent lighting, beeping registers, that kind of distracting thing.

When he moans, chats to himself, and waves his arms, he is growing more uncomfortable and overwhelmed in this busy place. Moving his body and voice this way helps him stay calm.

Remember by boy.

Because one day, this will be him.  While I don’t know exactly how he will behave, I do know he will be processing a lot just to be there.

I know he will have worked hard for years to be in that line alone, and I will be so proud of him for this.

I’ve seen him work harder than most for his entire life just to participate in this world. This work began long before his autism diagnosis at three years old or before any of the accompanying anxiety, sensory-processing disorder, and obsessive-compulsive behaviors were ever put down on paper and filed away somewhere.

So please, remember this blue-eyed boy who loves pirates, music, and square crackers and whose hard work began when he was a toddler.  The 1-in-54 whose brains work differently like his, they will grow up, and their hard work will remain, too.

Remember that you do not have to see the struggle for it to be there.

As his mother, I need you to be kind and patient with him. I beg that of you.

He works so hard.

a little advocate

This is Charlie.

When her big brother, who is seven years old and autistic, lost his first tooth, she asked us to write a letter to the tooth fairy because she knew her brother would love a toy more than money.  She made sure to check his pillow the next morning and show him what had arrived.

She has taken on the role of a special sister the most beautiful way. I don’t know how a five-year-old can accept such big things? Like how sometimes her wants and needs just must come second. Or third. 

She doesn’t know about all the things we’ve had to miss out on because we were not able to take her brother, so we all stayed home.  But my heart says that she wouldn’t mind. She always wants him with her anyway.

This little light came into our lives when we needed her most. When her big brother needed her, too.

She quickly took on the role of looking out for her brother, telling people when he can’t do things or when sounds are hurting his ears. Or when he just needs a break to sing himself a song.

As you can imagine, being relied on through toddlerhood is a lot. It continues to be a lot, but she navigates everything that comes her way with more grace and patience than I have most days.

Her brother doesn’t like it when she eats cheerios because of the smell. He cannot tolerate some of her favorite shows or toys because of the sound.

She has learned to bring him his headphones when he is overwhelmed, and rush through her morning cup of cereal. These are things I wish she didn’t have to do.

The majority of her first few years were spent in the car, shuffling her brother around to different specialists on his long journey to an autism diagnosis.

Then it was her turn for the doctors, specialists, and more waiting rooms.  Her severe allergic reactions, ambulance rides, Epinephrin pens, glasses, patching, asthma… she continues to adapt. Nothing slows her down.

She is happy, independent, curious, and I love watching her learn and grow more each day.  She asks questions (so many questions!), watches, listens, and takes it all in.

She encourages her brother through difficult food therapy and haircutting programs. “It’s okay, Wilson.” She whispers in the sweetest voice on earth. She takes his hand to show him when he doesn’t seem to listen.

She tells others matter-of-factly that her brother has autism.  She looks up to him, admires him, and is so proud of him.

When she empties her piggy bank to get a toy at the store, she asks to pick one for him, too. How is so much kindness and love packed into that sweet little body?

She is not an autism expert, none of us are. She is learning to be a thoughtful, kind human who knows differences are good, beautiful, and something to be proud of.

We’re so proud of her and the amazing person she is becoming.

Always Presume Competence

-Nonspeaking does not mean a person cannot communicate, understand you, or that they don’t have feelings.

-Please drop labels like high/low functioning. Would you want to be talked about that way? Instead, you can say, “Tell me more about your child.”

– If a person is not making eye contact, or moving their body in a unique way, do not assume that they are not listening. In fact, that might be HOW they are able to focus on what you are saying. 

This was the first time I saw Wilson write his name. At the time, I didn’t know he could do it. In fact, I didn’t think he could do it.

I can’t believe how many times I have underestimated this boy.

If you think he looks proud, you should have seen me.

this boy ✨

I share this boy with you because he is unique.  

He is a constant reminder for me that every single person I encounter is so much more than meets the eye, and maybe he will remind you, too.

April is Autism Awareness Month and while we love any opportunity to celebrate this amazing boy, we advocate for awareness all year long by sharing his challenges, progress, joy, and everything in between on this blog. We do this because it isn’t enough for people to just know that autistic people exist.  We want the world to understand the vastness of this spectrum including the behaviors, abilities, needs, challenges, and beauty in all people who live with autism.  

We want people to learn about and celebrate differences.  When someone looks, sounds, smells, and behaves differently than you, how wonderful of an opportunity you have to learn from them!

When you meet someone like my boy, whose brain may work differently than yours, it may take some time and patience to understand the paradox in his life. How someone as wild and free as the wind can also feel as caged as a bird; with words, thoughts, and feelings often trapped inside of him.

How he needs predictability and order like his sandwich cut a certain way, the same clothes daily, and to constantly see his schedule, but this same boy loves speed, spinning, and falling just to the edge of out of control.  I think all of this is how he feels safe but also feels ALIVE.  

I spent a lot of time trying to untangle all the contradictions inside of this sweet boy, like it had to be one way or another. It doesn’t. He is not something to be untangled or fixed, just understood, supported, and included.  

This blue-eyed boy finds JOY everywhere, and the best part is, he helps others see it too. I hope you get the chance to know him, or someone as uniquely wonderful.

autism & awareness

Oh April, Autism Awareness Month.

I have mixed feelings about you.

You see, I am never unaware of autism.

When I answer the same questions 1,980,674 a day from my little boy with autism, it’s impossible to be unaware.

Or when I help him go over his schedule 630,238 times a day. My husband looks at me and says, “It’s so bad right now.” He means the OCD behaviors. That is just a bonus thing to be aware of with an autism diagnosis. Anxiety is right up there, too.

Yes, then I am very aware.

My boy with autism. Or my autistic boy. This is a very important thing.

One is a person first, after all, he is a boy who just happens to have autism. 

The other is an all-encompassing identity worn with pride. 

I wish we didn’t have to choose. Can’t it be both? I want both for him.

There is no right answer, but people will tell you otherwise each way you choose.

Maybe someday my boy will tell me his preference.

Just like someday he will answer his dad when he asks him what he did at school that day.

Every day he is met with silence and a smile. Some day.

A lot of autistic adults really want to skip the whole awareness thing and have everyone move right on into acceptance. That sounds ideal to me, but I really don’t see how one can happen without the other.

So, we talk about autism to spread awareness.

It does get a little exhausting, I will be honest.

The repetition, the hope, the advocacy on eggshells.

But I get excited, thinking about more people joining in on this awareness thing. 

I can start to see a world where communication without words is commonplace.

And maybe things like atypical eye contact wouldn’t be a thing, and maybe parents like us wouldn’t hear that word, ATYPICAL, so damn much.

In this world I see, people would understand that sensory processing is so different for everyone. It can be downright painful for some, and never given a second thought by others.

People would be better about not taking the little things in life for granted, like outings outside of the home that for some, like my boy, require navigating a battlefield of anxiety, sensory input, and communication barriers.

They’d know that nonspeakers still FEEL greatly.

There would be just enough awareness for people to be kind and patient with those who are different.

Yes, that world would be so nice.