Steele LT Football players

Five Years Beyond Autism Diagnosis: High Hopes & Happiness

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.

Living With Autism Diagnosis: One Year Later

MommyQ is about to reach an important milestone in her mommy life. It has been almost one year since I first blogged about my son’s autism diagnosis. My first post about his diagnosis, Autism Means My Son Is Happy When He’s Flappy, was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Yes, it was even harder than all of my college research papers and I was an English major, so there were plenty of those.

It is not just an important anniversary for me, but for my entire family. As for my son, he’s doing swimmingly. Literally! This summer he started taking private swimming lessons and it’s as if he was born to swim. His long, lean body glides through the water with grace and ease. His instructor is constantly amazed at his natural aptitude for it. We have to keep a very close eye on him because he thinks he can do anything in the water, which is good and bad. It will be exciting to see how well he does next summer.

His communication skills have improved so much over the past year. He asks for what he wants, identifies his feelings, interacts with others and asks about his surroundings. Thanks to my mother’s influence, he has exceptional manners too. He has fully mastered potty training with not even one accident! He and his little brother are the best of friends and play wonderfully together. He has developed a terrific sense of humor and can be quite the entertainer at times. We couldn’t be more proud.

While we are thankful for all of his accomplishments, living with autism is not easy. I still find myself wondering if he was born normal and a vaccine changed him forever.  I feel frustrated when I can’t understand him and I feel sad when I realize I may never see the world as he sees it. Thinking about the future and whether or not he’ll be fully independent one day, is too much to handle. The day a teacher, classmate or friend makes him feel inferior in any way haunts me. My brain reminds me, “One day at a time. Take it one day at a time.” My son’s smiling face and big hugs speak volumes. Tomorrow is a new day!

If you’d like to read my previous posts about autism, you can find the links below or just click on “Advocate Mommy” for all posts:

-Autism Rides Off Into The Sunset
-Swallow Your Pride: Get Your Toddler Speech Therapy

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.

Autism Means My Son is Happy When He’s Flappy

In a conversation the other day, my best friend mentioned that her 4-year-old son gives directions to his school when his grandparents take him. “He can give directions?” I asked, amazed. Of course he can, I thought to myself. He’s four!

It’s always been weird for me to hear about the interactive things all of my friend’s kids can do because my oldest son is autistic. He has mild autism, but it’s still autism. My friends talk about how their kids come home from school and chat about what they did that day. Or their kids tell them when they’re hungry or what they want to eat. Their kids answer questions like, “How old are you?” or “What do you want to do today?” My son doesn’t. Their kids go on and on about a show or a movie or nothing in particular. My son doesn’t. Their kids initiate conversations and talk about what they like and how things make them feel. My son doesn’t.

We got the diagnosis about 4 months ago and it wasn’t a big surprise. We were expecting it. Although that certainly didn’t make it easier to hear. Part of me died of heartbreak that day. Watching my son happily flap and hop around the room while the word “autism” stung my ears… My husband and I shed lots of tears that day. We mourned for my son and for his little brother who might never understand him and for the uncertain future ahead of us.

Today autism is part of our family and we are trying to accept it. But I do find myself playing the “what if” game sometimes. What would he be like if he didn’t have autism? What sports would he like? What funny jokes would we share? What kind of big brother would he be? I know it’s useless to think such things, but it seems unavoidable.

I love my son and I’m trying to embrace his autism. Would I change things if I could? Honestly, no. My little guy is a sweetheart. He’s an incredible soul and has an exceptional personality that will take him to great places. He gives hugs and kisses and we even hear “I wuv you” now and then, so there isn’t too much to complain about. And besides, he’s happy when he’s flappy.