On Being Mr. Darcy

Mr. Darcy, arguably the most swoon-worthy character in all of literature, stands up as a god among men. There’s a reason my ASD son’s middle name is Darcy. My J-man doesn’t like it though. He says it’s a girl’s name. That he’s embarrassed. That kids will make fun of him for having a girl’s name.

He said, “Mom, when I’m an adult I’m changing my middle name to Theodore. You know, like in the Chipmunks.” LOVE HIM.

Of course, this is my ASD guy. My Autistic little dude. He, like many Autistics, want things to fit into routine little boxes and, to him, it doesn’t make sense to have a “girl’s name” within his full name. His first name is very masculine but the middle name ruins it all. Poor guy. I advised him for now to keep his middle name a secret. He can say his first & last name without using his middle name.

But . . . I’m on a campaign to change his mind. I want him to understand why Mr. Darcy is a worthy namesake. Maybe this is too much for a 10 year old to imagine, but I hope when he’s 24 years old he’ll wear it like a badge of honor.

Mr. Darcy is no less than these things:

  • Intelligent and witty.
  • Financially solid.
  • Straightforward and unabashed in speaking his mind – sometimes imprudently, but he learns his lesson on that count, which means he’s . . .
  • Teachable. He learns to humble himself and be understanding without compromising his beliefs.
  • Loyal and caring to his family and friends. Those who have earned his trust.
  • A good listener.
  • Becomes self-aware, and has a further awareness of others and human nature.
  • Good reputation.

When we were trying to come up with our second son’s name we focused less on family names, as with our first, and more on relevant and meaningful names to us. To me, it was always Darcy. Had to be Darcy.

Trust, little man, trust your momma. You’ll grown into that name. You’ll wear it proudly one day. Theodore isn’t bad, but it’s no Darcy.

XOXO,

Stef

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Autism: A day in the life

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At almost 1 am last night I had just fallen asleep when I felt a hand grab my shoulder. I was momentarily scared out of my wits until I realized it was my 10 year old, J-man.

“Mom, I can’t sleep.”

“Okay buddy, go pee & I’ll get you another melatonin.” (Because any time I can remind him to pee at night may save me some laundry tomorrow).

I got him situated back in bed, gave him a sleepytime pep talk, went back to bed and promptly fell asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow.

At 6:50 am I kept hearing movement in J-man’s room, across the hall. He is usually a late sleeper so I immediately realized what happened.

“J-man, come here.”

He came in, fully dressed with shoes & a hat on, holding a piece of paper and pen.

“Mom, look, I made a to-do list for today! And guess what? I lost another tooth!”

“J-man, did you sleep?”

“Nope! I stayed up all night! And the first thing on my list is to paint a Pacman on a ball!”

“What’s the second thing on your list?”

“Play Minecraft.”

“Okay, go do that so mommy can go back to sleep. No painting until mommy wakes up, ok?”

“Okay!”

And off he ran, like a shot from a cannon.

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7:30 pm and he’s still going strong. Mommy could use a nap though.

Sometimes it’s hard but, I have to say, I’m grateful for his Autism. He makes the world a better place by being so real, without artifice, and he makes me a better mom because that’s what he needs from me.

XOXO,

Stef

On Jiggly Butts

My 10 year old, little J-man, is Autistic. One of the most awesomest by-products of his Autism is his lack of artifice. He doesn’t know how to read facial expressions and only tell people what they want to hear. He just calls ’em like he sees ’em. He’s no Eddie Haskell.

For the last year or so J-man has had an obsession with my butt. Flattering . . . . except he’s 10, and my son.

When I’m laying on my tummy he’ll come up on the bed or couch next to me, start pushing on either side and say, “It’s so squishy!” or “It’s so jiggly!” Then he says he loves it and “hugs” it. It’s so silly. And cute. And, you know, it IS squishy and jiggly so he’s just making an observation.

So a few days ago we were getting ready for school and work in the morning and I was flying around my bedroom in my panties and bra looking for the rest of my clothing. J-man came in so I could help comb his hair. As I was spraying and combing he started poking at my tummy. Poke. I shifted away. He followed. Poke. I shifted, he followed. Poke.

“Stop!” I said.

He’s unfazed, “I didn’t know your tummy was jiggly & squishy too!”

“Hey, buddy, people don’t really like to hear that,” I said, feeling the familiar disdain for my own body.

Jamie seemed perplexed, “but why? That’s what makes you unique, momma.”

And I may have teared up, hugged him close and told him he was so very right. *sigh*

What a kid. We could learn something from him. He hasn’t been sullied by the magazines and tv and everything that tells us beauty is about appearance, and only a thin, unwobbly body is what makes a woman beautiful. To him, I’m his momma, his beautiful momma, who loves him and whose round, squishy body is unique and it’s what makes my hugs and my cuddles so very soft.

I often feel like my body holds me back. That I could be further in my career, I could have felt stronger and more confident, that I could have kept the attention and love of some people in my life who may have been disenchanted with those exaggerated curves. I think those things at my low points.

But, you know what? Screw that. I am so much more than my body.

I’m right where I need to be in my career – and it’s not a bad place to be! I am just as confident in my professional life as I need to be, and that’s only growing over time and as my expertise increases. I’m realizing at a certain point in your career your appearance really doesn’t matter as much. To say that another way, if your appearance still does matter then you haven’t proven yourself yet.

Also, not insignificantly, I’ve been told that my curves are pretty enchanting so, you know, those people who don’t like them can go take a flying leap.

My curves are ME. They are who I am. I have been curvy as long as I can remember. Even when I was super-thin, I was curvy. It’s the way I’m made. As J-man said, it IS one of the things that makes me unique.

I’ve been within the same 10 lbs for the last 3 years. No matter what I do. I can sign up and train for 5Ks, I can cut out carbs, I can eat a box of Milk Duds twice a week, and I will still stay within the same 10 lbs. There comes a time when you just have to say, “this is my body.” This is me. Accept it or not. Love it or not. I choose to accept it.

(Except at the beginning of bathing suit season when a certain amount of trepidation is perfectly normal. I think).

Disclaimer: Health is important. There is body acceptance and then there is just being in denial to health problems. A happy medium is recommended.

You don’t have to love my body, but if you love me then you need to know that this is the package that the fabulous gifts that are my brain, my heart, and my soul are wrapped in. Love me or don’t –  but I recommend that you do.

Below is a video of a women, Allison Hatfield, telling her story of summoning up the courage to pose naked in front of a stranger and the life-altering thing that happened when she saw the end result. It’s truly powerful so give it a watch/listen:

Or read the transcript here: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/oral-fixation/i-hated-my-body-until-i-let-a-stranger-draw-me_b_4860925.html

This is also a good time to remind you that April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day! Light it up BLUE! More to come on this, but if you want to prepare your home for Autism Awareness month, April, then blue lightbulbs are available at Home Depot.

Remember: Different, Not Less. (And that applies to sooooo many things!)

All my love,

Stef

Autism Awareness Day – April 2

I promise I’ll return to posting more stuff at some point. For now, let me take a second to throw this out there, because it’s near and dear to my heart.

April is Autism Awareness Month – LIGHT IT UP BLUE!!

1 in every 88 kids is diagnosed with Autism. It’s more prevalent in boys; 1 in 54 boys.

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day, and the entire month of April is Autism Awareness Month. Throughout the month you may see neighbors with blue light bulbs illuminating their homes. This is in honor of Autism Speaks’ Light It Up Blue initiative. The Home Depot is an official sponsor of Light It Up Blue and they have arranged for the specially marked Light It Up Blue light bulbs to be manufactured and distributed throughout all of their stores March 1 through the end of April, or while supplies last. The light bulbs retail for $1.97, and $1 from each purchased, up to $150,000, will benefit Autism Speaks.

Autism is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood and there is a vast spectrum for the disorder, ranging from high- to low-functioning. Symptoms are different for each person and tend to continue through adulthood, though they may become more subtle over time – often due to the Autistic person learning about themselves and how they should or shouldn’t behave in a given situation.

Autism is often characterized by challenges in the following areas: social impairments, communication development, repetitive behaviors, resistance to change and limited or obsessive focus. Autism often goes hand-in-hand with other disorders, such as ADHD, OCD, Tourette’s and even depression. Ultimately, the specific characteristics of Autism in each individual are as varied as fingerprints – as the saying goes, if you know one Autistic person then you know one Autistic person.

Social Impairments are typically apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants smile and look at others less often and respond less to their own name. Autistic children are less likely to approach people spontaneously, communicate nonverbally (such as making faces, nodding, waving, etc), or take turns with others. Their awareness of personal space boundaries, social norms, and appropriate reactions to stimulus can be extremely limited.

Approximately 1/3 to 1/2 of all Autistics do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. Autistic people often have great difficulty understanding non-verbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. It’s important to make messages verbal and explicit when talking to them. They are typically very literal and often don’t understand the use of sarcasm or humor through tone of voice.

Repetitive behaviors, often called Stimming, are typical of Autistics and can be indicative that their brains are processing something unknown or uncomfortable to them. Though it may seem odd to us, the repetitive behaviors are actually a self-soothing mechanism. The behaviors can range from hand flapping, making the same sounds over and over, body rocking, or arranging objects in a certain way.

Following a set routine is extremely important for families with Autistic children. Avoiding deviation from a planned schedule or other ritualistic behavior pattern can be instrumental in getting through every day without a meltdown. When asked to change “on the fly,” an Autistic person can shutdown, meltdown, and/or begin stimming to self-soothe through the change. Early preparation for any pending changes is key.

Also characteristic of Autistics is limited or obsessive focus, such as preoccupation with TV or movies, a specific toy for children, or even intense interest in specific people or events in history.

As I mentioned earlier, adult Autistics, generally those that are deemed high-functioning, learn to adjust their behaviors in order to live and thrive in society. It’s entirely possible you know several people, kids or adults, who are Autistic. It’s natural for us, as neuro-typicals, when we witness a behavior we don’t understand, to categorize that behavior according to our own world view; maybe we see them as naughty, rude or unfeeling when, in reality, they are none of those things. If you see a kid having a meltdown it could simply be that he is over-stimulated and the meltdown is his reaction to the tangled yarn in his brain. Be aware and be compassionate; his parents are probably completely frazzled and could use some support and empathy!

For more info, go to:

http://www.lightitupblue.org or http://www.autismspeaks.org

I love an Autistic boy

I borrowed the concept and some of the text below from a post I saw on an Autism awareness page on Facebook. I liked the concept – it does a good job of showing life from an Autistic person’s point of view  – but the original was quite long and, um, a tad rambling. I’ve edited quite a lot for length and pertinent content.

Though every Autistic person is unique in how their developmental disorder manifests itself, these 5 things are fairly common among all Autistics. This is important stuff – especially right now. Contrary to what you may see in the mainstream media these days, Autism is not a mental illness; it is a developmental disorder.

5 Things a Person with Autism Needs

1. Patience

Realize that it takes me longer to do things. It takes me longer to process what’s going on, what I have to do next, and how I’m supposed to do it. Please do not get frustrated. I work best at my own speed. Do not try to rush me because I will only get more confused and more anxious. I often have trouble applying past experiences to new ones and at times it feel like I need to learn new tasks all the way from square one. Please do not give up on me.

2. Space

There will be many times when I will turn inward. I like to shut out the world around me; block everything out. My focus is in a place you can’t see. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it less real for me. I’m not doing it on purpose or to hurt you. It’s like a bubble engulfing me and it’s hard for me to pop it. When I get in this place it’s calming for me and my thoughts aren’t racing like they normally do. It is safe.

I have sensory issues so please remember that when things get loud, crowded, or chaotic, I get overwhelmed, frightened and over-stimulated. Please don’t stare, point or ridicule when you see me acting strangely. I may flap my arms. I may hide underneath the table at a restaurant. I may curl up into a ball or burrow under a pile of coats. I’m just trying to insulate myself from the chaos around me. Reset my spinning brain. It’s not because I’m misbehaving. Please do not give up on me.

3. Support

I need to find my niche, my favorite activity, my talent. Please help me to find it so I have something to do that I am good at. This will give me confidence in life. This will be an activity that will calm me and make me feel happy. I need something to keep me busy that makes me feel good at the same time. When I find what I am good at, my self-esteem will increase. This will help my life progress and blossom. It may be something simple – like stacking blocks, riding a bike, or listening to music – or it may be more complex but it will make sense to me. Please give me the support and environment I need to find this activity.

This world often looks down on people like me. I need a little extra help and I need advocates who will help to get me in a good place in life. I may always need some guidance on how to maneuver in this world. I appreciate everything you do for me but sometimes my Autism makes me unable to show you that. Please do not give up on me.

4. Structure

I work best when everything is predictable. When things are always changing my brain can’t keep up. It feels as though the world spins too fast for me and everything is out of control. Many days I live in fear of something drastically changing. It can be the smallest thing that can send me into panic: the wrong brand of cereal, a strong smell, a weird sound, the feeling of stiff, hard jeans on my legs. I am more sensitive to everything around me; that is how my brain works. The best thing for me is consistency in my daily activities. Routine makes me feel safe. Feeling safe and comfortable makes me happy and that enables me to flourish. Please do not give up on me.

5. Understanding and Love

The world can be a scary place for me. I have difficulties with socializing and communicating, but I do have feelings just like you. I have trouble expressing them and bringing them outside of my head so you won’t always be able to tell what I’m feeling. But I love, just as you do, and I need your unconditional love in return. Even when I’m mean to you. It’s just because I can’t say what I’m thinking and I don’t know how to reason through my feelings.

There will be a lot of people in life who will not understand me, who will be annoyed or even afraid of me. I will feel that shadow over me. All I need is your love and to know that there is someone, if only just one person, who loves me unconditionally for who I am. Please do not ever give up on me.

***

Yesterday I heard that there was a vile person who put up a Facebook page saying if he got 50 likes he would go BURN an Autistic person in retaliation for the shooting in Newtown.

I can’t even. I just can’t.

Look at this boy:

Jamie b&w

He is light. He is life. He is LOVE.

To think that someone would consider hurting him is beyond comprehension.

He’s been having a hard time lately. He’s had trouble at school. Trouble tolerating the stimuli around him. Lashing out in frustrated anger at his teachers and peers. We’ve been having meetings. Making phone calls. Seeking help, instruction, assurance. How do we help him to cope? What can we do to teach him coping skills? What can the school do?

We’re on a path. We just keep trudging along. They are making adjustments at the school. It’s been going on for a few months and seemed to peak following Thanksgiving break.

But the other day something momentous happened. I was trying to get him to go to the bathroom. I knew he needed to go. He was doing the thing he does when he’s holding his pee. He got angry at me for telling him he needed to go. He came up to my face, yelled at me, and he was about to hit me – I know, it’s happened enough times – and then a wonderful thing happened. The look on his face changed; some of the stormy-ness fell away. I saw the moment he realized what he was doing and stopped it. He dropped his hand, stepped back and turned away from me. He walked a few steps back and looked away. He stopped himself in the middle of his emotional outburst. That has NEVER happened. I was so proud I may have cried. Just a little.

Then, the next day, his communication log that came home from his paraprofessional at school was glowing. He participated! He engaged! He didn’t get upset, frustrated or angry all day. He played football at recess, for goodness sake! WHAT THE WHAT??

Is it a sign? Are the coping skills that he needs at this point in his life (the onset of puberty, escalated school demands, peer group involvement, etc.) finally kicking in? Oh please, oh please, oh please, make it so. My momma’s heart needs some positivity right now. I need to feel confident that my baby will grow and learn and adjust and thrive. I need to know that so badly.

I don’t mind if he’s weird just as long as he has growth. Weird isn’t bad. It’s just different. Different is good. Can we all start teaching that to others now? Different is okay. Different is normal. Let’s embrace the people in our society who are different and not make them feel like outcasts. It’s so important to our collective consciousness as a nation to feel a little more unity and a little more acceptance.

Now go forth! Be tolerant and spread love. Be the change you want to see in the world. We’ve all heard that, but do we live it?

Yours, in hope,

Stef

The conversation can’t *just* be gun control

Mental illness does not equate to “criminally insane.”

First, let’s start here: I actually prefer the term “mentally different” versus “mentally ill”. “Ill” implies that the person is sick and they can be cured. And when referring to Autism, specifically, that’s a developmental disorder. Not a mental illness. The mentally different, and Autistics, are wired differently, making it harder for them to learn and assimilate into society like neuro-typicals. But they aren’t broken; they can be fully functioning members of society. They have hearts and souls, and they need love just like the rest of us. We need to help those people even more – those people AND their families – some how, some way, so they aren’t made to feel bad for being different. Or resentful or angry.

And (in-an-oh-by-the-way-how-come-you-didn’t-know-this-already-tone) we really need to not keep guns near them too. Because, duh, impulsiveness is pretty common in Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD).

Autistics are not naturally calculating, violent predators. Their violence is reactive, unplanned and immediate. Generally a response to frustration and an inability to make themselves understood. Other conditions can influence this, of course, like ADHD or other neuro/developmental disorders, and those people who have combinations that can lead to violence, or a history of  minor violence, should be monitored and provided all the help and support they need. It’s incredibly heartbreaking but it doesn’t always have to be. They can learn to cope.

I don’t know why Adam Lanza did what he did. I wish I understood. I wish I knew. My son is Autistic with ADHD and has some emerging aggressive behaviors. Tell me – how can I help him? How? Am I doing enough?

I know the answer to that last question – NO.

I should be doing more. I should have every measure of support possible  made available to him. He is so worth it. I want him to be that kid on the news who has Autism and ADHD and beats the odds to give the Valedictorian speech at his school, or invents something truly amazing and scientific, or who uses his amazing heart & soul to develop a non-profit organization with grassroots support that spans the world.

I don’t want him to be that kid that everybody shakes their head at and calls a soulless coward, or a lunatic, or they say he’s “mentally ill” with a sneer in their voice and the implication that within that phrase is the answer to the whole story. It’s not.

Off the top of my head, I want my son to have these things:

  • SUPPORT. Unwavering, unlimited support from family, friends, authority figures, school systems and the government. He’s so sweet. How can everybody not love him and want him to succeed? How can he create something amazing if he isn’t given an environment where he can think?
  • Therapies (social, occupational, speech)  available regardless of ability to pay, and with minimal hoops to jump through.
  • A positive family environment. I think this is so important. Nurture your children. Help them learn. Lead by example. (I think we all forget that from time to time).
  • Uplifting, supportive teachers and staff to provide positive learning environments. Why would a kid want to learn or continue to pay attention in school if being at school is like torture for him? We need to protect our children. Sometimes I don’t think we recognize the dangers out there; the peer pressure, the bullying, the struggle of being an individual but also trying to fit in with the crowd. It’s especially hard since neuro-typical kids often learn to cope without help; we assume all kids can but often that’s not the case.
  • Insulation from things they don’t understand or can’t comprehend yet – like violence. If kids are exposed to violent acts before they have the proper perspective it can make it seem more acceptable some how. Like this violence is just a part of life so maybe I should embrace it. Every act of violence – targeting children or not, targeting Americans or not – should be shocking to us. ALL of us. We cannot continue to accept violence as a natural part of our lives.

Somebody told me that I should tell my 10 & 8 year olds about the shooting in Connecticut to “prepare them” and to “teach them what to do in that situation.” Sorry. No. I will NOT being doing that. We should NOT have to prepare our kids for a situation in which they may have to HIDE FOR THEIR LIVES. At their SCHOOL.

Let’s protect our children. ALL of them.

Yours, in despair, anger & heartbreak,

Stef (just another mother of a mentally different person)

5 Things

Whenever I start feeling pressured by ALL THE THINGS going on in my life I think of The Bangles and the “Time, time, time, see what’s become of me” quote from Hazy Shade of Winter (an awesome song). (Now, my husband will surely correct me and tell me that particular quote comes from Paul Simon. That’s fine. Except in my head I also hear the music so it’s The Bangles reference I’m making here).

So, due to the time, time, time issue I just have snippets for you today. Snippets of ALL THE THINGS swirling around in my over-crowded head just begging to be released. Each of these are unique and vary wildly from mostly unrelated to drastically unrelated. Each of these have been taking up residence in my head and banging at me from the inside and I MUST LET THEM OUT:

1. All soccer, all the time. The boys have both started soccer. 4 days a week. Their soccer practices overlap by 30 minutes and are at two different schools a few miles apart. The hubby and I are tag-teaming big-time. Please tell me this push towards socialization, athleticism, and confidence-building will all be worthwhile. Please.

2. In relation to Soccer, my Autie boy is troubled. This is his first time playing an organized sport and if he’s not exceptional and perfect at all of it then his emotions are triggered and he wants none of it. His feet and hands aren’t as coordinated as he would like and he just can’t master that drop-kick and then he says, “No, I can’t do it! Can we go home now?” And he loudly and angrily throws a fit, in front of his teammates because he isn’t hampered by the need to conform like so many other kids. The coach doesn’t know how to deal with him. The teammates don’t know how to respond. I get embarrassed.  Then ashamed. I get down to his eye-level, I talk to him, I try to reason through it with him. I tell him he’s learning, like the other kids and continued practice is what will help him. He’s largely unresponsive. He says things like “I’m stupid! I hate you!” to himself and hits himself on the head. My poor boy. How do I build him up? How do I help him? What can I do?

3. How do you feel about your spirituality? Do you think about it much? Are you quiet and introverted about it? Or do you blast it out for all to share? I have always kept my spirituality to myself and, for the most part, my husband has as well. Now things are changing. My husband has embarked on a spiritual journey that is quite life-altering and he’s bringing the whole family along with him. After 26 years of not attending church he has had a change of heart; he has reconciled some of the bitterness from his past, and decided that being a follower of Christ does not necessarily mean that he has to be aligned with a bunch of judgmental hypocrites like the Crazy Christians. To that end, he has found a church he enjoys and the whole family attended with him for Easter. There are Lesbians! There is a female pastor that looks astonishingly like Kathy Bates! There is openness and acceptance of anybody, anywhere on their spiritual journey. I’m not used to being forced to contemplate my spirituality and beliefs as much as I have been lately. I’m not sure yet, but I think it could be a good thing. (I retain the right to change my opinion at any time.)

4. I think there comes a point in every person’s life when they have to come to terms with a hard truth or two. Their age, their health, their likeliness of ever becoming an astronaut, an Oscar winner, or a late-night TV show host. Whatever it is, the more personal, the more inextricably linked to self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-perception, the harder that truth is going to be to accept. I’m dealing with a few of those right now. It’s been a long time coming,  and it’s not like I didn’t know these things before – but facing them, head-on, is the hard part. For years it’s been a dance, a flirtation, jumping forward and facing the issue and then deftly twisting sideways, plugging my ears and sing-songing, “I can’t hear you!” Burying it deeply for as long as possible until, eventually, it’s triggered and raises up with a vengeance. It’s not going to flatten me this time. I’m not flinching. I’m going to walk straight up, smack the issue in the face and say, “NO.  YOU be MY bitch now!”

5. I’m straying outside of my normal comfort zone here, but stay with me. I’ve been on the periphery of these on-going discussions on abortion and Planned Parenthood and employer paid insurance coverage for birth control and, honestly, I’m sick to death of this subject. I am pro-life. I am also pro-choice. The two are not mutually exclusive. I am a mother. I love babies. I think they are a blessing and one of those things in life that is truly pure and angelic. I don’t want babies to die. I also don’t want mothers to die. Without mothers, we have no babies. Women bear the blessing and the burden of being the life-makers, but they can’t do it alone and it’s unconscionable for women to be attacked and demoralized for something that was, quite obviously, a joint endeavor. When a baby is conceived accidentally – whether by rape, stupidity or simply by accident – then a woman, and her partner for that matter, have the right to protect themselves and their futures. The woman, specifically, has a right to protect her health. In order to prevent unwanted pregnancies it is important that all women, rich and poor and in-between, have access to birth control. It’s important that organizations like Planned Parenthood are available to help women, ALL WOMEN, with their reproductive health via regular exams, cancer screenings, birth control and, yes, abortions when needed. It’s cheaper for insurances to cover birth control than it is for a woman to get an abortion or for a family to be on welfare. That’s how I see it. Now, if the rest of the U.S. would just get in line that would be great . . .

Five snippets. All different. All so very separate yet a part of me. A part of the river of thoughts flowing  through my brain and linked by all my experiences and knowledge. Always  pushing and pulling, turning and tumbling. It’s always a journey, sometimes unattainable, to find peace in my thoughts and in my heart. Sometimes easier than others. Love, support and encouragement helps and I’ve been trying hard to GIVE that to other people because I want it in return too. I need it.

This is where my favorite quote comes in:

Be kinder than necessary, for everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.

I hope your battle isn’t flattening you. I love you. I appreciate you. I think you are doing your best at ALL THE THINGS and that’s all that you can do.

Have a fabulous weekend, my friends. May your heart be at peace.

-Stef

World Autism Awareness Day – UPDATED for 2012 stats

Forgive me while I get all PSA-y on you. This is near and dear to my heart.

April 2, is World Autism Awareness Day.

1 in every 88 kids is diagnosed with Autism.

It’s this one that gets me: 1 in 54 boys. What’s happening to our boys?

Including this one:

My eight year old is high-functioning autistic. His autism isn’t overly noticeable upon first glance but it comes out in subtle ways, especially if he’s having a bad day. My little guy was diagnosed 3 years ago this month and, at that time, the hubby and I wrote up this short summary of Autistic behaviors to share with our friends and family.

Autism is a brain development disorder that first appears during infancy or childhood. Symptoms are different for each person and tend to continue through adulthood, though they may become more subtle over time.

For us, it was abnormal speech development that tipped us off originally. Hearing tests, speech therapy and an Early Intervention Preschool led us to a high-functioning Autism diagnosis when he was 5.

A common sign of Autism is noticeable social impairments; autistic people often lack the intuition about others that many people take for granted. They also tend to have impairments in communication as well as restricted interests and repetitive behavior.

Here is some more information about these three groups of symptoms:

Social Impairments

These become apparent early in childhood. Autistic infants smile and look at others less often and respond less to their own name. Autistic children from 3-5 years old are less likely to approach people spontaneously, or to imitate and respond to emotions, communicate nonverbally, and take turns with others.

My little guy used to be that way when he was younger, but he’s pretty social now. Unfortunately he doesn’t know his boundaries very well. When he talks to strangers – which he LOVES to do – he often reaches out and touches their clothing, like a zipper, a belt, a pocket, etc. He fiddles with it while he gets his words out. He’s not trying to invade your personal space. He’s just building a bridge to communicate with you.

Communication

About a third to a half of individuals with Autism do not develop enough natural speech to meet their daily communication needs. People with autism have difficulty understanding non-verbal communication, including body language, facial expressions, or tone of voice. It’s important to make messages verbal and explicit when talking to them.

Repetitive Behavior

  • Movement that seems purposeless, such as hand flapping, making sounds, head rolling, or body rocking. My dude flaps sometimes. When he realizes what he’s doing  he’ll say he’s a bird and start chirping and trying to “fly” with his flapping arms.
  • Compulsive behavior, such as arranging objects in a certain way.
  • Resistance to change; for example, insisting that the furniture not be moved or refusing to be interrupted when speaking. Oh man. Preparation is key. We prep him until he’s over-prepped but we can’t prep for everything. An unforeseen something, like a fall on the way to school, can turn into a 30 minute ordeal with him and whichever adult is trying to help him through it. It totally messes with his head when his daily plans are disrupted. Bad mojo.
  • Ritualistic behavior: the performance of daily activities the same way each time, such as an unvarying menu or dressing ritual. Like, “Mom, I can’t brush my teeth! I haven’t put my shoes on yet!”
  • A limited focus, interest, or activity, such as preoccupation with a single television program or toy. Yep, certain TV programs or movies. More of this when he was younger. It was soothing to him. He memorized movie lines and quoted them incessantly.

1 in 88 kids is A LOT of diagnosed Autistic kids. A LOT. If you are thanking.your.lucky.bleepin’.stars. that you don’t have to deal with this in your kids please keep in mind that it’s entirely possible your kids will be friends with Autistic kids. Or your sister or brother or cousin will have Autistic kids. Or, if you’re a teacher then you certainly will have to teach Autistic kids.

Learn about it. Be AWARE. Next time you see a kid having a meltdown in a store or on a plane then maybe it will be a little easier to understand because maybe, just MAYBE, that kid is Autistic. You won’t know. Please don’t judge that parent. They are doing the best they can. They need your understanding, your awareness and your support.

That’s an important point so please indulge me for a minute on my soapbox: Seriously, if you tell me to shut my kid up or calm him down you will see my fierce Mama Bear side come out and I’ll tell you exactly where you can shove your judgment. I’ve been pretty lucky with my boys, but I’ve seen mothers harassed on planes and it sends me through the freakin’ roof. I stick up for those moms. I give them encouragement and tell them to ignore the bonehead a-holes who HAVE NO SOUL. And then I leave them alone to deal with their child with, hopefully, a little less stress and a lot more “someonehasmyback-ness.” Compassion people. It’s not that hard. Soapbox off.

Be aware. Be compassionate. It takes a village.

Stef’s Random Thoughts

  • Dude, it totally snowed yesterday! Finally. We haven’t had snow since the first week of December – even when the rest of the U.S. was snowed in. Just enough on the ground this morning to make everything look a little prettier, a little brighter, and enough to make the commute interesting. 
  • I am actively making an effort to leave the office by 6 pm every night. I did last night, and was rewarded with this gorgeous sunset on the snowy foothills:
  • Last night I finally sat down and filled out the 15 page assessment called a SIB-R (Scales of Independent Behavior-Revised) for Jamie. The purpose of the SIB-R is to assess adaptive and maladaptive behavior to determine need for assistance. The school psychologist will provide his own assessment and, from those and the diagnoses we have received from doctors, we will officially change Jamie’s status from developmentally delayed to Autistic & ADHD. This could potentially change the amount of resources he receives from the school district, and it has an influence on his ability to be included in various other state & federal programs for “disabled” kids. (I hate that label). The challenge for these types of assessments is to grade your own child as bad as you possibly can. Don’t give them the benefit of the doubt that they can do something on their own. If you think they may struggle doing something for themselves then you must grade them low. It goes against everything that we, as parents, hope for our children – they they CAN do things and that if they did it once they can do it again. It’s not fun to spend an hour thinking of your child in this derogatory context. 
  • On a more cheerful note – tonight I start packing for a trip! This trip will be good because I’m combining work AND pleasure. First, bright and early Saturday I’m flying to Boston to spend 3 nights with my BFF. We are spending the first night in Boston at a hotel and going out with friends. Woo-hoo! Then going to her house in New Hampshire until Tuesday morning when I fly down to Washington, D.C. My company has a office just outside of Washington that I travel to a couple times a year. While there I have plans to get together with two more friends and hang out with the co-workers at that office. Fun stuff! I’ll be exhausted on the flight home but it should be a busy & fun week.
  • The day after I get home is my husband’s birthday. What to do, what to do. I know I need to take him shopping for his gift (he has requested sunglasses) but I should think of something else. He likes a big to-do. Hmmm. I’ll probably make cake balls, at least.
  • Is it too early to start looking forward to our annual summer vacation in July??

Pity party, table for 1

On Friday I was very happy to spend some time just being a mom, see my post here: My warring dualities. Then I took yesterday off and wrote a blog, had lunch with my hubby and picked up my kids from school again. The kids were happy, I was happy, and the hubby was happy. I thought about how much happier we all were and I’ve come to a decision.
I WANT TO BE A STAY AT HOME MOM. 
(The louder I say it the more likely it will come true, right? One more time. )
I WANT TO BE A STAY AT HOME MOM.
Or a work part-time from home mom. I’m happy to pick up a little income here and there as I can. 
I want to take care my my kids, my husband and my house. I want to get my home life in order. I want to have the time and energy to focus on just those things for a while. I need it. My family needs it. 
I would be a good SAHM. I would have a routine. Certain days I would clean house. Certain days I would do laundry. I would make time to exercise every day. I would turn the music up LOUD and not worry about anybody seeing me work out.
I would write on this blog more, and possibly write something else. I would pay bills, clean, clean, clean, and work on projects like the closets or washing all the windows. I would run all the errands I don’t have time to do now, and do the grocery shopping too.
I want to be there for my son EVERY TIME he needs me in class. Both of them, really, but in particular for my Autistic guy. When he has a bad start to his day I want the freedom to be there with him as long as he needs me. I want to pick him up from school so I get the low-down from his teachers every day. 
I would be an advocate for my son and for Autism education and support in my state. 
Every day after school I would talk to my boys. I would give them an after school snack, talk about their day with them, and get them started on homework. I would start dinner while we talk so that we can eat dinner early and get a walk before bath and bedtime.
Yes, I do know that to a certain extent I am idealizing being a stay at home mom, but I also know that whatever came up I would be able to deal with it. I’m a good multi-tasker and I can make adjustments on the fly. I know it’s a lot of work. I know it.
I’m gone from my house and family 10 hours a day and it’s not working for me right now. I need more of the kids in my daily life. I need more “me” in my daily life. I want to write. I want to be the best mom and person I can be. I need a change in my life – my career and my health demand it – and I think this could be it.
I WANT TO BE A STAY AT HOME MOM. 

P.S. Now that I have made this decision if someone could please hire my husband at an exorbitant salary so that I can make my SAHM dreams come true I would be ever so grateful.