Embracing Perspective & Spreading the Word: Celebrating Autism Awareness with iVillage

promoting autism ivillage

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.

light_it_up_blue

Light It Up Blue 2011: Shine a Light on Autism

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

Is Educational TV Fun: You Bet Your Alphabet Soup

Educational kids shows

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!

More MommyQ: You can read my posts, Top 5 Reasons Kid Shows Make Me Wince or the less snarky one I wrote for Babble, 5 Kid Shows that Won’t Annoy You. What’s your fave kid’s show?

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. 😉

One Mom’s Thoughts: Embracing Autism with Dignity

Claire Danes

If you watched the Golden Globes this past Sunday, did you notice the poignant moment between actress Claire Danes and Temple Grandin? I did. I noticed every single interaction between them. Why? Because I was watching those moments like a hawk. You see, Claire Danes won Best Actress in a Mini-Series for her portrayal of Temple Grandin, one of the most impressive autism advocates on the planet. A woman who happens to be autistic herself.

After Claire won, she and Temple hugged and that one instance brought tears to my eyes. You could see the excitement on Temple’s face. She was happy and she was relating and she was responding. When you know someone autistic, you understand how wonderful it is to see them experiencing simple emotions we all take for granted.

My older son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. Today he’s a well-adjusted 6-year-old who continues to make progress every day. This is why Claire’s award was so moving to me. Not only was I seeing the amazing progress Temple has made in her own life, but I see the future for my own child.

One of the most compelling things I heard while flipping between the Golden Globes and the season premier of Big Love, was Claire’s acceptance speech. She started off admitting, “It’s a risky movie to make.” The word “risky” resonated in my mind. I can’t say with certainty why she used that term, but I know exactly what she means.

She continued by saying, “I have to thank Temple. She’s still at it, she’s still working with incredible zeal and devotion to illuminate mysteries about autism and animal behavior.” And then Claire used two words I will never forget. She thanked Temple for helping, “millions of lives who have been dignified and improved by your genius.”

Temple Grandin Movie HBO

Hearing those two words used together in a sentence – dignified – genius – to describe someone with autism, was a beautiful thing.  And it’s totally true. If you haven’t see the movie Temple Grandin, you must see it. If you know anyone with autism, it is absolutely imperative. The movie brings autism to light in a way that actually lets you see it. The pictures, the reality, the perceived reality. The unbelievable courage and devotion Temple’s mother exhibited should be an inspiration to every mom, whether you have an autistic child or not.

Plus, the genius of Temple is undeniable. The dignity she has brought to autism is undeniable. While I haven’t won a Golden Globe award and most assuredly never will, I would like to thank Temple too. I would also like to thank Claire for boiling it all down into a brief speech so poetically. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

A Gift with Heart: Grace Bracelet Benefits Autism Speaks

Women Gift Holidays

If you’re looking for a gift with heart this holiday season, look no further. How about a custom bracelet from designer Dorian Webb, featuring faceted blue quartz in various sizes and shapes? Did I mention the proceeds from this gorgeous piece of jewelry benefits the North Texas Chapter of Autism Speaks? It’s an amazing gift for any woman in your life and the best part about it is it gives back to a fantastic organization.

As you may know from reading MommyQ, I have an autistic son. That being said, I’m even more impressed with Dallas mom, Lara Travis, who is spearheading this fashionable vision. Like me, Lara found out her child was autistic when she was about 18 months old. After the shock and sadness from the diagnosis wears off, it’s time to take action and that means spending lots of money on speech therapy, occupational therapy and often, private schools. Lara turned to Autism Speaks for support and direction and as proof of how meaningful the organization is in her life, she decided to give back in a unique way.

Lara combined her love of fashion and love for her daughter, Grace, into a beautiful reality. She recently commissioned award-winning designer Dorian Webb to create The Grace Bracelet for Autism. Lara wanted the bracelet to be representative of autism, as you can see with the deep blue apatite and a single piece of opaque blue quartz, but also totally wearable. Webb’s vision is also apparent in her signature granulated “pyramid cluster” and smaller “caviar caps” that accent the sea of blues with the sparkle of sterling silver, and complement the handmade toggle clasp.

Holiday Gift for Her Autism Speaks

“It’s beautiful because it’s the way I see Grace,” says Lara of the bracelet. “It’s fun, whimsical has a lot of beauty. It makes me really proud of Grace. She’s come such a long way and it feels great to give back to an organization I love.”

I personally encourage everyone to share this story and purchase a bracelet for your friends and family members this holiday season. If you know someone affected by autism, please pass this story along. I think they will see the beauty of the bracelet, as well as the beauty of the cause.

Shining Through: Proving Autism Wrong at a NASCAR Race

As you know, MommyQ is a huge NASCAR fan and has been for many years. Oddly enough, I grew up in Virginia and had no interest in NASCAR whatsoever while living there. Now I’m practically a Texan and a NASCAR fan for about 3 years. My hubby & I headed to Texas Motor Speedway last weekend for the Samsung 500. Yeehaw! What started out as a rainy, cold, muddy mess turned out to be one of the best weekends ever.

We arrived hoping for sunshine, but spent the day in a gloomy, wet mess. We’ve seen races get rained out on television many times, but this was the first one we had to experience in person. Not fun! The worst part was the mudfest in the parking lot. We got stuck almost instantly, but thanks to pushes from a few fans (in exchange for beer) we got out and found a tiny slice of dry land. Anyway, we shopped for fan gear and ate corny dogs and then they called the race. The new start time was noon on Monday. Back to Austin…

During the 3-hour drive home on Sunday, we decided to come back the next day for the race and bring our kiddos. Our little ones are HUGE NASCAR fans and we thought it would be the ultimate surprise. As you may know, our oldest child is 5 and was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder a few years ago. What could make a NASCAR race difficult for an autistic child? They usually detest loud noises, they don’t do well in huge crowds, they become easily overstimulated in a stadium environment and so on. We discussed the potential issues and decided to give it a try anyway.  Three more hours in the car that may or may not be worth the effort.

To make a long story short, our kids were in shock & awe as soon as they heard the roar of the engines. We arrived a bit late, so the race was underway. In Dallas, you can hear the cars long before you can see them. With headphones on securely, we walked up the stadium steps and the look on my kid’s faces was a look I will always remember. Sheer joy! The youngest was a bit scared of the noise, even with headphones. But my oldest child defied every trait of autism and he was in heaven. He immediately started pointing to the cars as they flew by us at an amazing rate of speed and named the drivers.

We stood there for a moment, all of us trying to absorb the thrill and the magnitude of the race. We moved to our seats and my little distracted duck continued to point at each car until he had probably named them all about 10 times. Last year, this would not have happened. Last year it was hard to simply communicate, let alone attend an event this big and this loud with so many moving pieces. I’m not sure he would’ve understood where he was or made the connection or understood he was supposed to sit and watch. It would’ve been a three hour drive for a 10 minute stay.

Monday was special because we enjoyed a family pastime together as any normal family. We cheered when our drivers did well and cheered even louder when Jeff & Tony wrecked right in front us! We avoided the rain and enjoyed a beautiful cloudy day together, inhaling race fuel and cigarette smoke. Sounds gross, but it’s the smell that lets you know you’re a true fan. Best of all, two things were shining that day — the sun and my son.

Light It Up Blue For Our ‘Distracted Ducks’

Tomorrow my family will be wearing blue – will PROUDLY be wearing blue. Myself, my husband and our two children will help promote the incredible, international, Light It Up Blue campaign that kicks off World Autism Awareness Day and Autism Awareness Month.

Iconic landmarks around the globe – including the Empire State Building in New York City and Willis Tower in Chicago along with the CN Tower in Toronto and Kingdom Tower in Saudi Arabia – as well as airports, bridges, museums, concert halls, restaurants, and retail stores, are among more than 100 structures in over 16 U.S. cities and nine countries around the world that will light up in bright blue tonight.

As the parent of a child with Autism Spectrum Disorder, I cannot express how much this campaign means to me personally. I would wear blue every day of the year if it would help promote autism awareness! To me, the reason autism is so tricky is because we get a diagnosis of it and advice about  improving it, but we get nothing solid about what it means for the future.  People ask me how we deal with it and I always explain we take it one day at a time. If we sat around and worried about what the future may hold, we’d drive ourselves crazy.

On the bright side, things like speech therapy, OT therapy, family support, patient parents and loving teachers make it all better. Our autistic children make huge strides forward every single minute of the day. My heart goes out to the undiagnosed children who are struggling, the families who can’t afford the help they need and the “distracted ducks” that are living in an odd, isolated world.

Autism Speaks, North America’s largest autism science and advocacy organization, is launching this campaign. Since its inception only five short years ago, Autism Speaks has made enormous strides, committing over $142.5 million to research and developing innovative new resources for families through 2014. The organization is dedicated to funding research into the causes, prevention, treatments and a cure for autism; increasing awareness of autism spectrum disorders; and advocating for the needs of individuals with autism and their families.

What can you do? How can you make a difference? Wear blue with pride tomorrow. 🙂

Read more about MommyQ’s life with autistic child:

– Living with Autism Diagnosis: One Year Later

– Autism Rides Off Into The Sunset