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.

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?

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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.

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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

 

 

Autism on Paper

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Seeing it on paper has been one of the more difficult parts of this autism journey.

The first developmental pediatrician we took our son to gave us an “Active Problem List” that was a mile long:

Global Developmental Delay

Mixed Expressive/Receptive Language Disorder

Childhood Apraxia of Speech

Impaired Social Interaction

Hyperactive Behavior

Anxiety

Toilet Training Resistance

Sensory Processing Difficulty

He was three years old. I didn’t know where to start but I knew we could work on all of it.

Autism Spectrum Disorder

The first time I saw his autism diagnosis on a piece of paper, I sobbed uncontrollably while sitting at a conference table, mostly full of strangers.  You hear about mother’s intuition and “gut feelings” and people will ask you if you saw this coming.  None of that made a difference.

That experience is something I have struggled to put into words for years. Fear, sadness, grief… these don’t even come close to encompassing it. Truthfully, I don’t even want to put it into words.

This was only the beginning. Over the years, evaluators, doctors, therapists, while all well-intentioned, are constantly rating, judging, and assessing my child.  Some things feel wrong, “they don’t know him” we think to ourselves. Some sting, they cut my breath short or keep me up at night. The end-product never feeling like a summation of my boy.

On a few occasions now, I have had to fill out a 30+ page questionnaire covering everything from “Can he use a spoon without spilling?” to “Does he want to kill himself?”

These words get tucked away in file cabinets everywhere: school, the county, therapy, a few pediatrician’s offices. But the weight of them never leaves us.

Anxiety

Self-injurious Behaviors

Aggression

We continue to carry them.

How do you ever get used to these words?  For their sting to become dull?

Medical Incident Reports

Property destruction

Elopement

For special needs parents, the line between acceptance and determination is a blurry one.  We maintain an ironclad grip on these heavy words, these “problem lists”, until we decide in which category they are going to land.

Over time, we loosen our grip and let some words go.

Public school

Organized sports

Music lessons

Sometimes, when we let go, we make room for something better to come along.  Adaptive sports, music therapy, and amazing interventionists who help your child practice sitting in a restaurant and safety in the community.

The heaviest ones, we continue to carry those. We make it our mission to send those words into the fire one day, for them to cease to exist in our children’s lives.

Anxiety

Self-injurious Behaviors

Aggression

We, along with our children, will continue to carry the weight.

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Conversations with a 4-year-old about her Brother’s Autism

advocate sis

A few months ago my 4-year-old daughter, Charlie, yelled from across the room, “Mommy, look!”

Her older brother, who doesn’t tend to pay her much attention, was hugging her.

She said, “Does this mean he loves me now?”

My heart broke.

Confession: I am a bit of a hypocrite. I advocate for autism awareness and everyone talking to their children about autism and I really hadn’t done it myself with my neurotypical child. We talk about differences and kindness and why everyone we meet is special, but we hadn’t had the “your brother has autism” conversation yet.

Part of me didn’t want to point out his differences to her. She had known and loved him just as he is for her whole life. Heck, she’s been advocating for him since she learned how to speak. I often overhear her saying things like “that hurts his ears” or “he can’t do that” to caregivers and friends.

At the Christmas tree farm this past winter, she overheard me telling my husband about the onlookers when I struggled to calm her big brother during a meltdown. Over the years, my patience has grown in these public meltdown situations, but those burning stares, that part hasn’t gotten any easier.

“I don’t like people looking at he,” she said. Her love for him is so immense. She’s always looked up to him, and somewhere along the line she started looking out for him.

hugs

This was probably around the time I felt like I was raising twins. I remember jokingly saying that several times, usually to address the elephant in the room that was our son’s developmental delays.

Two kids in diapers followed by two little potty-trainers. Both with similar interests and level of attention needed. We were in uncharted territory for years. Including when she slowly surpassed him in some areas. Nothing can prepare you for that.

The twin thing wasn’t funny anymore.

She watched me try to explain something to her brother one day and interrupted with “He no understand you because he’s Wilson.”

Comments like that chipped away at my heart. I knew I had some explaining to do. But I also wanted her to always look at him with that same unconditional adoration she always has. I struggled with telling her something that I knew would be very hard for her to understand versus her just knowing him with her heart like she always had.

So, I waited. I waited for what to say and when and why.

She comes along to drop him off at his special school every day, and sees all his peers, all with autism like her brother. Some look and behave similarly to her brother and some are very different or much older. She sees flapping and hopping and hears humming, moaning, and loud shrieks of joy or stress.

Leaving the school one day, she had a question about one of his older schoolmates she saw screaming that morning.

I told her about how special her brother’s school was, and that all the students there have something called autism. That sometimes her brother screams too because he can’t remember what words to say instead. “They have very special teachers there to help him learn and stay calm,” I explained.

We talked about her book, When Charley Met Emma, about a girl whose body looks different than hers, and she uses a wheelchair. I told her that although you can’t really see how Wilson is different, he is different in his mind and the way he thinks, learns, listens and says things. How he and all his friends do special things to keep their bodies calm, like humming, jumping or self-talking.

“Why does he have optimum? He has it because he not talk?” she asked.

“He has it because everyone is so different, and that is a great thing!” I said. “Just like how you get to wear your pretty glasses, lucky girl.”

She thought for a few moments. “I scream and cry too because I have a hard time, am I going to have optimum?”

“We all do sometimes, sweet girl. We are all so much the same, and our differences make us so special. Do you have any more questions about Wilson’s autism?”

“No, I just don’t want to get optimum.”

“You won’t, sweet girl.”

advocate sis.2

Supporting Kids with Autism and Their Families

BW autism

So often we avoid talking about the tough stuff. When someone is going through a difficult or emotional time, many people respond by backing away. They fear offending the person or getting it wrong or not having all the best advice or ability to “fix” the situation. I am guilty of this, even with my closest friends and family.

When it comes to autism, I want to talk about it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that autism now affects 1 in 54 children in the US. Including this handsome little man right here.

This number used to be 1 in a 1,000.

What does this mean? I am not here to start a debate about vaccinations, or epidemics or finding cures.

What this means is that you are VERY likely to cross paths with someone on the spectrum. This person might be in your very own family or circle of friends, at your children’s school, the neighborhood playground, or the grocery store.

Autism will touch your life.

I want to talk about some ways to support kids with autism and their families.

  • Lead by example. Your children see the way you are around people who are different.
  • Talk with your kids about autism. When they see a child behaving in a unique manner, draw on the similarities they share with your child. “Look, that boy loves the swings, too!” Your child will find their new buddy to be no less happy, fun, loving, adventurous and interesting as their other friends.
  • If a child tries to interact with my boy, he may not respond. He likely didn’t understand the question, or doesn’t realize someone is talking to him. He isn’t intentionally ignoring, and would never want to hurt anyone or make them sad.
  • This kind of social interaction is INVALUABLE for him to practice. Children should be encouraged to ask again, try again later, or “give” him the words to say. “Come get me!” “Let’s go!”
  • If a child is upset, give them some space. They are likely overwhelmed and/or sensory overloaded so too many words can heighten the situation. Offer a hug, or try counting down on your fingers.
  • Some kids on spectrum will repeat themselves over and over again. Children can respond gently with “I need a break” or “not right now”.
  • Remember that these kids can hear, feel and understand so much, even if they don’t say as much.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask questions (both parents and kids!) with the exception of “is your child high-functioning?” Who wants to go around with a low-functioning label? Don’t be afraid if your child asks forward and bold questions! Even if it creates an awkward moment, it’s the perfect moment to spread awareness and I love it.

And to support the autism moms and dads out there, especially ones with newly diagnosed kids, remember that you don’t have to fix anything. Just listen.

Autism mom and writer, Diane Dokko Kim, said it so well: “We will do the talking. There is so much in our heart that’s conflicted. We need a safe place to unpack it. You know what I really need from my friends? Just come and bring the emotional barf bag, I will fill it.”

When we sit in pain or struggle to unpack emotions, sometimes we just need a friend to sit with us.

Thank you for continuing to learn about autism, now I want you to talk about it too! Start a conversation, with your kids, your friend, your neighbor, your bartender, etc.

You are helping us spread kindness, inclusion, connection, understanding, patience, and so much love.

This was originally posted for #autismawarenessmonth in April 2019.

 

World Autism Awareness Day 💙

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We participate in Light It Up Blue to celebrate our boy and all of the hard work he puts in every single day.

Autism will touch your life. You will interact with people on the spectrum in your community, your workplace, and in your children’s classrooms.

That is why we share our story. To help spread awareness, understanding, acceptance, inclusion and kindness so that everyone impacted by autism can find some more compassion and patience along their road.

Our hearts are FULL seeing all the photos roll in of you all in your BLUE!! Keep them coming, friends! You can text, post on social media or email them to wilsonsclimb@email.com. We’re putting together a special little something for our guy.

We’re so thankful you are on this journey with us.

Born Rad

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The R-word is done, guys. Bye! see ya! Broaden-your-vocabulary-never-to-be-used-again. Gone.

Some friends and I went to an amateur comedy show last night. It was really fun until the last comic starting making fun of people with special needs. And used the R-word repeatedly.

I was beyond disgusted that ANYONE would think his jokes were funny.

I came home to see my sweet little guy asleep in his bed and I just fell apart. I can’t understand how anyone could think this perfect little human’s very real struggles are funny.

I’m not going to start listing off all the things my son may never do because of his particular neurological design. That’s a rabbit hole I steer clear of on the regular. But I damn sure hope he is never in a room like I was last night, where people with different abilities were the punch lines.

October is National Bullying Prevention Month and this is a perfect reminder of the roles we play and the influence we have on others.

Everyone laughing at those crude jokes were just as much a part of the problem as the man spewing them.

Stand up for what you believe to be right vs wrong. Use your voice. Use your actions. THEY MATTER. I promise you will regret your inaction more than taking an opportunity to stand up for what is RIGHT.