Navigating the Wild World of Motherhood
It’s been a long time since I’ve blogged, thanks to a very intense full-time job. I love it, but it certainly takes up most of my time. Anyway, for those of you that have followed MommyQ, you know I have an autistic son. He was diagnosed at the age of three and now he’s eight years old! Wow! Over the last five years, I’ve talked to so many parents about autism. The one piece of advice I give over and over again is, “Take it one day at a time.” There’s no need to worry needlessly into the future, because it does nothing for you. Make each day count and be thankful for every milestone. It may sound too simple, but when you’re trying to live in the moment, simple is good.
If you had asked me where my son would be now as far as school, sports, etc, my outlook was originally bleak. Not because I’m a pessimistic person, but because autism is such a mysterious reality. The good news is he’s doing great. (You can see his smiling face in the photo above – he’s in the light blue shirt, posing with our high school football team.) Thanks to a solid support system of friends, family and community, he is thriving. He learns in a regular classroom with one-on-one help as needed. He reads, writes, does math and enjoys science. He’s faster on a computer or iPhone/iPad than I am. He can play tennis and soccer and swims like a fish. A few months ago, he started Kung Fu and today his skills are impressive, not to mention he uses a staff. It’s like having my own Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle! He’s learning a routine for his school’s Talent Show, so I’m very excited for him.
I remember the days when he hardly spoke, couldn’t complete directions, didn’t take interest in the world around him and had minimal physical strength. He existed in his own world and we desperately fought to bring him out of it. Today, he’s a normal kid who loves chocolate cake, hates cauliflower, fights with his little brother and blushes when a female classmate gives him a hug. His perspective of the world will always be different, but different isn’t bad. I’ve learned that a big dose of hope brings happiness. Keep your chin up.
This year, the Greater Austin Walk Now for Autism Speaks attracted over 3,356 walkers and raised over $139,000 for autism. My family joined the fun and together with Michele Utt from MK Events, MommyQ’s team raised over $3,000.
It was surreal to see all of the families like ours unite for such an important organization. Autism Speaks did a wonderful job organizing the event and the sponsors did a great job making the day extra-special. My boys loved the Home Depot workshop where they got to swing hammers to create wooden keepsakes crafts like toolboxes, boats and cars. My little guy managed to sweet talk a lady working the Home Depot area into giving him the demo Joey Logano car with the pristine paint job. Go figure, right?
I’m already looking forward to next year and brainstorming themes for our big pre-event cocktail party. Drop me a line if you have ideas. A special thanks to Michael Gardner Photography at www.Homeandgardners.com for sharing his wonderful photos with me. His photos are watermarked. The rest are mine. Not as good, but they do have heart!
When the fabulous Michele Utt of MK Events asked me to partner with her to throw The Bachelorette Watch Party, I was intrigued. When she mentioned this amazing party would also serve as a fundraiser, I was impressed. When we decided it would benefit Autism Speaks, I was ecstatic. My happy heart (in combination with my inner party diva) is thrilled to announce The Bachelorette Season Finale Watch Party, August 1st from 6:30 p.m. to 10:00 p.m. Proceeds will benefit Walk Now for Autism Speaks in Austin. Tickets to the event can be purchased online for $40.
This event is shaping up to be one of the best Girls Night Out parties ever held in the great state of Texas. The swag bags and silent auctions items alone are making us swoon. Plus, we’re adding new ones even as I type. Take a look at ALL of the AMAZING people & companies who are involved. They deserve a mega-shout out! Woo Hoo.
Why Autism Speaks? My readers know autism is close to my heart, because my oldest son was diagnosed when he was three. The biggest thing we need as parents and as a society is access to critical data about autism and more resources for families struggling to understand it. All of these autistic youngsters will be adults one day. Who will support them? How will they lend their special vision, talents and skills to society? They need to thrive! Lastly, let’s figure out what causes it. There are too many unsubstantiated theories. We need answers!
Okay, stepping off of my platform now…
- A special thank you goes out to our sponsors: Baldwin Beauty School (thank you, Wendi!), Premier Data Com and Warren Kull with www.yourlaketravishome.com, for supporting our event and compassion towards the cause.
- Enjoy complimentary appetizers by Mandola’s, wine by Flat Creek Winery, cocktails courtesy of Treaty Oak Rum and Graham’s Texas Tea and dessert a la Michelle’s Patisserie. Bouquets of red roses fill the room courtesy of Flowers By Nancy.
- Chef Paul Peterson, (www.chefpaulpetersen.com) who was featured on TLC’s BBQ Pitmasters and is currently the executive chef at Austin’s favorite Tex-Mex Restaurant, Vivo. will be firing up the kitchen and serving some tasty eats!
Swag Bags valued at over $700 and are yours to take home!
Swag Bags Sponsored By:
~Oak Haven Massage
~BASE Personal Training
~Kendra Scott Jewelry
~Shandi Nichelle Co.
~Don Rogers Photography
~Creative People Marketing & Design
~Hill Country Galleria
Silent Auction Items Include:
~Zoom Whitening by Lakeway Smiles
~$300 in Kendra Scott Jewelry
~Gift Certificate to Spa at the Lake
~Spray Tan by 360 Tans
~Gift Basket by Blue Avocado
Guests can bring swimsuits to watch Ashley make her final decision, because this estate has a fabulous pool with a panoramic Hill Country view. (See, we think of everything.) The address will be given after you have purchased your ticket. Tickets may be purchased for only $40 at www.mkeventsaustin.com or for $50 at the door. There are a limited number of tickets and we anticipate them selling out quickly.
My tall, skinny son looked rather comical in his worn, gray, jersey-knit bodysuit with his silly elephant nose made out of a dryer tube wrapped in silver electrical tape and a big pillow stuffed down the front of his outfit. He looked goofy and frumpy, which was exactly how he was supposed to look. The room was fully of excited children and glittery outfits – clown suits, ringmaster vests, acrobat leotards and funny props. And my son was a fat, gray elephant. I was very proud.
It was the annual kindergarten performance and I was a nervous wreck. I wasn’t worried about my son goofing up his lines, because he didn’t have any lines. I wasn’t worried about him making a mistake, because at that age, mistakes are pretty darn cute. I was worried about how he would handle the things I couldn’t anticipate. When you have an autistic child, you recognize the situations that may be uncomfortable or overwhelming, and you plan ahead to avoid them. If it’s going to be loud, you pack the soundproof headphones. If it’s going to be crowded, you go early to avoid crowds. The truth is, when you’re dealing with autism you just never know. And in this instance, I knew nothing.
My son and I practiced his little routine at home and I gave him verbal reassurance about the on-stage experience. No matter how much I prepped him, I realized he didn’t fully grasp what I was trying to convey. This is what autism is all about and this why it’s so tricky. The one thing I didn’t want him to experience on-stage was fear. It was impossible for me to imagine how he would process and handle the stage, the lights, the audience and the huge auditorium.
While I was pinning his bulky elephant costume closed, I kept telling him to have fun and not worry if he made a mistake. He smiled and said, “okay, mama!” I gave him a big hug and went to my seat in the second row. To many onlookers, I probably appeared to a normal, nervous, stage mom who secretly yearned for her child to steal the show. The reality of the situation couldn’t have been further from the truth.
The show was adorable and eventually, it was time for his act to perform. I could see the expression on his face as he stepped on-stage to the sea of faces looking back at him. He was scanning the unfamiliar faces for a familiar one – his mommy. As soon as he saw me waving at him, he waved back. I knew he would be fine. And he was. He sailed through his routine without a hitch. I was overcome with happiness, hope and of course, pride. My head was cheering, “He did it! He did it!” and then it happened…
All of the children, about 138 kiddos, gathered on-stage together for one final song. After the first few notes rang out, my son covered his ears and crouched down, putting his elbows on his knees. I panicked. My husband, who was sitting next to me, noticed too. We watched as he stood up and then resumed his position, blocking out his surroundings. It was too much and he was panicking. The lights, the noise, the camera flashes, the people, the stage. “Go help him!” I instinctively said to my husband, practically jumping out of my seat “No,” he said calmly, yet fearfully. “He’s handling it.”
The song seemed to last forever and while all of the other little faces sang happily and parents took tons of pictures, my son’s little face was hidden. It didn’t help that he was standing on the first row, front and center. On the bright side, as soon as the song ended he popped back up and smiled, enjoying the accolades from all of the parents. He didn’t cry, he didn’t run and he didn’t mentally checkout. He survived it in his own way. Yep, he handled it after all. What a star!
Image: Mina Laben
If you follow MommyQ at all, you know I’m a huge fan of PBS shows. In fact, a few months ago I caught a hilarious moment on video of my kiddos playing Martha Speaks games online They were laughing so much, I assumed they were up to no good. Imagine my surprise when I discovered they were playing educational games online. A mother’s dream, right?
Earlier last week, I got an email that instantly caught my attention. “New Studies Show PBS KIDS Martha Speaks Has Impressive Impact on Children’s Vocabulary.” I excitedly read the findings and wanted to share them with my readers. Now remember, I have no connection with PBS. This is just one mom’s sincere love for a smart, talkative, yellow cartoon dog.
My experience is a bit different from other parents, because my oldest son is autistic. At the age of 4-years-old, he was hardly talking and strangers couldn’t understand him at all. That’s why we get very giddy when he likes shows like Martha Speaks that actually make a big effort to help his development. Now this may not seem like a big deal to some of you, but here’s proof of how far he’s come. He’s 6-years-old now and just finished kindergarten. I asked him (totally on-the-fly), what he thinks about Martha Speaks. Get a load of this….
Three recent independent studies highlight the impressive impact that Martha Speaks is having on young childrens’ vocabulary development, and its strength as an early-intervention tool across broadcast and online platforms. These studies not only measured the impact on children who viewed episodes of the show, but additionally saw a significant increase in vocabulary skills among children playing with the Martha Speaks Dog Party iPhone app.
A few notable takeaways from the studies include:
• On average, children who watched Martha Speaks had a significantly greater increase in vocabulary knowledge compared to children who did not watch the show.
• Martha Speaks is an effective tool in helping bridge the vocabulary gap between low-income children and their more affluent peers.
• Martha Speaks facilitates inexpensive language opportunities at home.
• Program-specific vocabulary knowledge translated into higher standardized vocabulary scores for urban boys and rural children living in low socioeconomic-status homes.
• Children 3-to-7 years-old who played with the Martha Speaks Dog Party app tested up to 31 percent higher in vocabulary.
• Children were able to retain the increased vocabulary, and showed even greater gains on targeted words weeks after the study ended.
These studies are now available on the PBS KIDS website.
Imagine seeing one your favorite, most cherished family pictures on a hugely popular website like iVillage. Smiling faces on us, stoic looks on the kids, big brown eyes shining, cute little hands captured perfectly, beautiful surroundings, sunny days, happy hearts. I remember how the boys were running around barefoot and laughing and how cute, yet cheesy, they looked in their matching outfits. They even listened to all of my pleading prior to the photo shoot by diligently staying out of the dirt.
Now imagine the words “Signs of Autism” and “Real Moms Share” splashed across the top of that special picture. That means one of those sweet, little, innocent faces is the real face of autism. That means it’s one of your kids, because that’s you smiling right above it. Would that change the way your feel about your child? Your family? Your dreams?
Read Real Moms Share the Earliest Signs of Autism on iVillage.
A few years ago, I’m not sure if I would’ve been excited to see this image. A few years ago, I’m not sure my family would’ve been excited to see this image. Maybe I wouldn’t have been so quick to share it on Facebook and Twitter, or text my husband about it or call my mom about it or blog about it. A few years ago, we weren’t comfortable with autism. We were skeptical, scared, insecure and unnerved. Today, we know autism isn’t a dirty word at all, it’s simply a new way of looking at the world.
There’s something about autism that reminds me about the way people used to talk about cancer. They’d lower their voices and whisper, “she has cancer.” And the word “cancer” was hardly audible. Obviously, autism is not killing our friends and family members, but people still whisper about it sometimes. Today, people shout about cancer from the rooftops and that’s exactly what they should be doing. Why? Because talking about something, especially when it’s bad, makes it real. Real things get noticed. Real things get funding. Real things get cured.
I tend to think discussing autism works the same way. Reading this post right now is the definition of “awareness,” a word that gets tossed around so much it’s watered down like a bad margarita on a hot summer day. But awareness is critically important. That’s why I force myself to discuss autism openly, honestly and nonchalantly, even when I don’t feel like it. The old me would’ve NEVER done this. The mom me who has two beautiful boys and never wants them to be ashamed of autism, well, she’s a talker. She’s an advocate. She’s all about awareness.
Understanding the early signs of autism is so important. Even if you have fears your child might be autistic, doesn’t mean that’s actually the case. There are plenty of sensory, learning and speech delays that don’t warrant an autism diagnosis. Every story is different. And if you do get an autism diagnosis, welcome to the club. You don’t get an actual badge, but you if you did, I’m sure you’d wear it with pride.
Read more about living with autism in ‘Advocate Mommy‘ category of MommyQ.
On the evenings of April 1 and 2, 2011, prominent buildings across North America and the world — including the Empire State Building in New York City and the CN Tower in Toronto, Canada — will turn their lights blue to Raise Awareness for Autism and to commemorate World Autism Awareness Day on Saturday, April 2.
On Friday, April 1st you can wear blue and help spread the word about autism. Feeling adventurous? There are lots of things you can in addition to wearing blue:
•Light your house up blue by putting blue light bulbs in any outdoor fixtures! Home Depot has promised to have them in stock…
•Paint your nails blue!
•Bake blue desserts!
To see other ideas to LIGHT IT UP BLUE visit http://www.lightitupblue.org/ The CDC estimates that an average of 1 in 110 children in the U.S have a form of autism. Help me spread the word for my son and for every child needing extra support to find his/her voice.
Read about my journey with autism:
- Autism Means My Son is Happy When He’s Flappy
- Autism Rides Off Into the Sunset
- Shining Through: Proving Autism Wrong at a NASCAR Race
Image: Autism Speaks
Before I had children, I always thought “educational” was a nice was of saying “boring.” Now that I’m the mother of two rambunctious youngsters, I’m all about educational. Bring on the stuff that makes my kids brainy. What makes an educational show great? The fact that you might forget you’re actually learning, because your too entertained to think about it.
Today, the big hit in our home is Martha Speaks. This chatty pup (who resides on PBS) began talking after she ate a bowl of alphabet soup and instead of going to her stomach, the letters went to her brain. Now she “speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks.”
In addition to the television show, the online community for Martha Speaks is incredible fun for my kids. In fact, the other day I heard them laughing and laughing. When I came in to see what all the fuss was about, I found them playing Martha games online. Oh my! They thought one game in particular, Stickerbook Mashup, was hilarious. They kept shrinking the characters and putting them in the soup bowl. If this video isn’t a great testament to educational shows, I’m not sure what is…
I’m so excited they both love this show, because it’s a great learning tool. It’s also perfect for my older son who happens to be autistic, because it really focuses on the importance of talking, expressing feelings and sharing thoughts. Now instead of encouraging him to “use his words,” I tell him to “use your words like Martha does.” He likes that! In many ways, my son is like Martha. His language has improved so much over the years, he speaks and speaks and speaks and speaks too!
P.S. – Anyone else notice my son’s Adrian Peterson Minnesota Vikings jersey? Can you tell my hubby is an OU fan? And he obviously dressed the kiddos that day.