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How Martial Arts Transformed a Nonverbal Autistic Toddler into a Thriving 9-Year-Old Sensation

Kung Fu StudentWhen he was a happy but nonverbal toddler, our oldest son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Doctors told us they had no idea if or when he’d become verbal or if he’d ever be social enough to have meaningful relationships. The outlook for his future was unknown and grim. Last year, at the age of 8, he performed a kung fu routine onstage in front of a crowd of 300 people, proving any obstacle can be overcome. This year, he will take the stage again Feb. 27 and dazzle the crowd with a martial arts routine consisting of fan-fighting and staff-fighting techniques with his Sifu (instructor), Robert Roy.

Video of 2014 Practice Session: http://youtu.be/XtnRPP66tVE

We had never thought about getting Steele involved in martial arts until Sam Hicks, the principal at Steele’s school, Lakeway Elementary, told us how much he’d seen other children in Steele’ situation thrive from martial arts. It sounded like a good idea to us, so we did our research and found Robert Roy. During Steele’s very first kung fu lesson, we knew we had found something special.

Kung Fu cropped“Martial arts helped Steele develop both sides of his brain because techniques require students to alternate between left brain and right brain skills, which many autistic children struggle with,” explains Sifu, a twice Hall of Fame inductee as kung fu master who trained in China at the Shaolin Temple. “I worked with Steele weekly and after only a few lessons, I saw dramatic improvements. His physical abilities were improving, his ability to focus was getting stronger and his level of confidence in himself was soaring.”

During the course of his kung fu lessons, we saw Steele transform into a focused, confident and skilled martial-arts student who specialized in staff fighting. In February 2013, he decided to share his martial arts achievements with his community by performing in the annual talent show at his school. The first step was making the audition. The staff at Lakeway Elementary School was extremely supportive and let Steele audition with Sifu. Four more weeks of practice flew by as the talent show quickly approached.

On Feb. 26, 2013, the Lakeway Elementary School gymnasium was packed with more than 300 parents, family members, teachers and friends, all eager for the talent show. I was a nervous wreck! He had never done anything like this in his life and we didn’t know how he’d react to such a huge crowd. When it was time for him to perform, he grabbed the microphone (which was unexpected and unscripted!!!) and asked the crowd, “Are you ready to see it?” The crowd clapped and cheered as Survivor’s “Eye of the Tiger” played and Steele and Sifu performed an exciting martial arts combat routine.

I’ll never forget that moment for as long as I live. I cried from the moment he took the stage, because I was so overwhelmed with joy. Nobody in that crowd understood how every single thing he did was so magical. It was surreal. He didn’t get nervous, he spoke on a microphone from his heart in front of hundreds of people, and his routine was awesome. I still meet people who remember that routine vividly. It’s just amazing. (And they usually say, “Hey, aren’t you that mom who was crying at the talent show?” Yep, that’s me!)

Video of Performance Last Year: http://youtu.be/IIQGf29K5o4

kung fu 2013This year, he’ll be performing again with Sifu and he will be incorporating fan-fighting into the routine. We’re so very proud of him and can’t wait to see him do it again!

Meet Robert Roy (our Sifu!)
Robert Roy, who was trained in China at the Shaolin Temple, has been actively leading the martial arts community in Austin. As owner of Martial Arts Academy, he was active in Crime Stoppers programs, worked with the Austin Police Department’s SWAT Unit, the Department of Public Safety officers and the Parks and Recreation Department in Brazoria County. He is a two-time Hall of Fame inductee as kung fu Master and Living Legend of the Year. He has performed in countless shows and movies featuring martial arts.

He is currently working on a Bully Prevention Certification program designed to supplement anti-bullying campaigns nationwide. He and his wife are also developing an e-book video instructional series for parents and children called “ROOTAGE: Plant the Knowledge.” It will illustrate the hidden techniques and provide a clearer understanding of how ancient martial arts benefits child development.

(Sifu currently teaches throughout the state, but he holds private lessons at World of Tennis in Lakeway.)

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MommyQ & MK Events Present The Bachelorette Finale Watch Party to Benefit Autism Speaks: A Night of Romance, Roses & Reality TV with 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.
~Vitamin Water
~Don Rogers Photography
~Dream Water
~360 Tans
~Creative People Marketing & Design
~Hill Country Galleria
~Bee Waxed

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.


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

Prepping Special Needs Child for Birthday Party


For most families, birthday parties are a no-brainer. You get a cake, buy decorations, invite all of your family & friends and celebrate the big day. As the mother of a special needs child, birthdays are a slightly different reality. Why? Because that inherent excitement about birthdays most children seem to be born with often escapes the grasp of a special needs kiddo.

For example, my son who is ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) does not like loud noises. When a big group of people get together to sing “Happy Birthday,” it would upset him because it was too loud. Many autistic kids are also only comfortable in routine situations.  Since birthday parties are spontaneous types of events, they are hard to prepare for even if you go over all of the different expectations and aspects. (Obviously some non-special needs kids also have these types of reactions to birthday parties too.) It can be an overwhelming event, even if you only have a few family members around.

This is why I think the My Singing Birthday Cake from Ohio Art Company is such a cool toy. It’s ideal for a mildly autistic child because you can prepare for the party through pretend play. You can explain how the candles work, how the cake will be cut and shared. You can also practice the singing with the actual birthday song. I know it might seem silly to “practice” a birthday party, but this would have been a great tool for us to use when my son was smaller. I think it would’ve made him much more comfortable at the real thing.

You can find this cake at Amazon for $50! It was also mentioned on Droolicious.

Swallow Your Pride: Get Your Toddler Speech Therapy

If you’re reading this post with tears rolling down your cheeks because your pediatrician just told you your child needs speech therapy, go get a tissue and take a deep breath. You’ll be fine. If you’re reading this because you secretly fear your child is having developmental issues in regards to speech & language, keep on reading. I’m not an autism expert, nor am I a medical professional. I’m just a mom who has “been there and done that” when it comes to this topic.

My reason for writing this post is two-fold. First, it’s my way of honoring and promoting Autism Awareness Day. Second, I want to reassure parents that the delays your child might have are not your fault and you need to put your ego aside in order to what’s best for him or her.

Some parents are comfortable accepting the fact that their toddler isn’t reaching language milestones. Others would rather live in denial thinking their child is just a “late bloomer” and any day now it will all “click.”  Before my oldest was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, my husband and I did a little bit of both. We realized he wasn’t talking and interacting like he should, but at the same time he was our first child – we had no idea what to expect. We kept thinking he’d start talking more next month or next month or next month. If it wasn’t for one of his Mother’s Day Out teachers bringing his communication issues to our attention in a rather blunt way, I’m not sure what we would’ve done.

It’s hard to stay on point in this post because there is so much info to share. The point is if you think your toddler might need help talking, interacting with peers and communicating ideas, there’s nothing wrong with seeking help from a speech therapist. If the therapist evaluates your child and says all of his or her issues are totally within the norm, then you have nothing to worry about. If the therapist thinks your child does need help, start as soon as possible. The worst part about getting my son’s diagnosis was realizing he could have gotten help much sooner.

You want to help your toddler before he or she becomes a preschooler. You would much rather deal with speech issues prior to kindergarten. And there is no shame in having a child in therapy whether it’s speech therapy or OT therapy. You didn’t pass on a “stupid” gene to your child or do something wrong during pregnancy. Nobody blames you for having a child with speech delays. And it’s nothing to be embarrassed about either! Your pride should always take a backseat to your child’s ability to thrive. Always! People are much more understanding and accepting than you think. Trust me!

You can learn exactly how speech therapy helps by reading a few testimonials  from other parents here. Occupational therapy is also important for children with ASD and autism, although  many children without autism also require OT therapy to help them with gross and fine motor skills. If your toddler flops around on the floor a lot or walks on tip-toes or skips around a lot – I guess you could say if they don’t walk with purpose, he or she might need OT therapy as well.

It may seem like a big deal now, but a few months down the road, this will be a blip on the radar. Your child will start making progress quickly and before you know it, the strides foward will outweigh the milestones misses.

Autism in Austin: Sensory Friendly Movie

AMC Entertainment has teamed up with the Autism Society of America to bring families affected by autism and other disabilities a special viewing of “Hotel for Dogs.” Join us on Saturday, January 31st at 10:00 a.m. at AMC Barton Creek 14. The lights in the theater are brought up and the sounds is turned down. Viewer noise and movement is totally acceptable. Whew! You can even brings snacks for your kiddos on special diets. Learn more here.

Who is Watching Over Our Autistic Children?

I like to end my weeks on a positive note for my readers, but that’s not going to happen today. I just read an article about Isabel Loeffler, an eight-year-old autistic girl who spent three hours isolated in a glorified closet, a “time out” room, at school. Read the full story here.

There’s also this story about Jose Gabriel, a three-year-old autistic boy who was left alone on a school bus for more than six hours. He evidently rode the bus to school and was still sitting in the back of the bus when the school day ended – scared, weak and sweating – six hours later. The bus matron was supposed to look after him.

And then there was the heartbreaking story about Alex Barton. In May 2008, his teacher kicked him out of his class saying he was “voted out” by a 14-2 margin. Alex’s classmates also told him why they didn’t like him and his teacher thought that was appropriate.

As the parent of an autistic child I am not only outraged and disgusted by these events, but also deeply saddened. Any parent with an autistic child knows the severe emotional damage these types of events cause. Autistic children are already isolated enough. Putting them in “time out” rooms, neglecting them on the bus and voting them out is EVERY PARENT’S WORST NIGHTMARE. Any one of these things can set an autistic child back for a long long time, obliterating every tiny step forward.

If a perfectly normal high-functioning child were to endure one of these horrible situations, it would scare them, hurt them, emotional scar them, etc. And they understand the world around them. So imagine how much worse it is for a child who doesn’t understand the world around them. Who doesn’t know how to communicate. Who doesn’t know how to speak up. Not to mention these children are BABIES, especially the two boys under five. Who treats young children with such disrespect and cruelty? It is despicable.

We send our ‘distracted ducks’ to school, hoping the teachers and adults in their lives will reach out, understand, protect, embrace and help them. Build their confidence. Encourage their growth. Fuel their spirit. Instead some are emotionally abused, neglected, ostracized, belittled and shattered.

I feel extremely blessed to have outstanding teachers, therapists, relatives and friends in our lives who love my son as much as we do. To Isabel Loeffler, Jose Gabriel, Alex Barton and the parents who must endure and overcome difficult obstacles – I’m rooting for you all. I understand. And to the adults who use poor judgment and let us all down, how dare you.