Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Sharing How Our Journey Started in Support of Autism Awareness Month

Nathan was almost five (5) years old when he was finally diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). That was twelve years ago, and Nathan could have received a diagnosis several years earlier if our pediatrician had only given us the referrals to specialists that we had requested. Shortly after Nathan turned eighteen months old, he started exhibiting symptoms of not responding to his name, wanting to go off to play with his toys by himself, and using a very loud voice when he decided he wanted something. He was barely two years old when he had to have his second set of ear tubes put in due to his first set of tubes falling out too soon. My husband and I were confused because even though we knew that our pediatrician was helping to resolve our son's ear infections, he would casually offer excuses such as  "it's normal for a boy his age to be distracted with a toy that he's playing with" or "he will outgrow that behavior in time" whenever we expressed our concerns about our son's behavior. We tried to accept his quick explanations, but we knew that there that there had to be another explanation for our young son's behavior. 

Nathan's slightly older brother, Vincent, had done well in PreK-2 and was a very attentive student in PreK-3 when Nathan started PreK-2 at the same private church school. Nathan was easily distracted by everything around him, wasn't able to focus for more than 15 minutes at a time, and would run around in circles laughing at everything that was said to him. He had a very understanding and patient teacher who would let me come in to help with arts and crafts to give her a break once in a while. It was even more difficult when he started PreK-3 the next year. I am not sure why the private school let his PreK-3 teacher keep her toddler son, who was younger than Nathan, in her class. It was a combination of her being a young mother, no teaching experience, and having Nathan "performing" for the class constantly that made it difficult for that class to get anything accomplished. He spent a good percentage of his time in my classroom next door. I had just been hired six weeks after the school year had started to split the PreK-4 because the enrollment was over-whelming for the one teacher they had in place for that age group. I was ecstatic about being near both of my young boys during the day. Working with the 4-year-old students was a bonus, but having Nathan in my class was a distraction when it came to the students trying to complete class assignments. I couldn't understand why she and a few other teachers were always telling me he was "bad" or that I needed to "discipline" him more. I was concerned that because he was different than his classmates that they would hold it against him instead of trying to work with him. We barely made it through the remainder of the school year. 

I tried to talk with my pediatrician about the way that Nathan was behaving, but he convinced me it was the ear infections that were his only trouble. The poor child had to have a third set of ear tubes to allow his ears to function properly against the unruly seasonal allergies that he inherited from me. His older brother, Vincent, had just had to have his first set of ear tubes. I tried to believe what the pediatrician was saying to me but, something was telling me that there was more to why my son was reacting to certain situations the way he did. There was a child with autism that went missing that Father's Day from the trailer park located next to our church. He was about Nathan's age and many of us church members were out searching for him in lieu of attending the Sunday morning church service. I did not know much of anything about autism except from watching a movie called Mercury Rising that I had watched almost 10 years ago. I did an internet search on autism and what I was reading made me start to cry. The missing boy was found safe later that day but, the concerns that I had expressed to the pediatrician were at the surface and stronger than ever.

I felt as if I was repeatedly hitting my head against a brick wall with my son's pediatrician. He was a well-trained professional in the medical field and had proven himself to our family repeatedly when it came to resolving the ear infections with both boys, as well as with Vincent when he needed to see a Urologist later that winter. What I couldn't quite understand was why my 4-year-old son wasn't adjusting to school or anything else that we tried. What was I doing wrong and what could I do to help him? He was actually getting worse. I sometimes couldn't take him into a store, regardless of the size or type of store, without him screaming and hitting himself. The looks and comments that we would get, from people around us when he would start doing this, were unsettling. It would range from "is your little boy okay, did he get hurt" almost in an accusing tone of voice to "you should really try to make your kid behave" like I was the type of parent to let my child do whatever they wanted with no regard to society. It made me mad that someone who didn't even know my family, or how different my son was from anyone they knew, could give me advice on my child! I knew very well that Nathan was like no other child that I had known but, I hadn't been able to figure him out.

We tried PreK-4 the next year but, he spent most of  the time back and forth between my classroom and the office where his teacher would send him when he was "bad". I was having a hard time concentrating on my class knowing that my own child was suffering because he couldn't find his place in our world. I decided to give my notice of resignation so that I could spend the time needed to focus on getting Nathan whatever he needed. The school was far from understanding and made us find another school for our Kindergartener, Vincent. It was a difficult adjustment for our almost 6-year-old son to change schools and make new friends but, he did quite well. While preparing for the holidays that fall, I spent a lot of time on the phone and the computer looking for answers to Nathan. I knew that our family needed to find out what we could about what was bothering Nathan so that we could help him and it needed to be quick! With him needing to be ready for Kindergarten in less than a year, it would take a miracle.

I finally decided to contact our public school system Board of Education for any ideas on what I could do if I thought my son needed testing. They informed me that they could test him, but it would be sometime after the first of the upcoming year before they could get to him. That was still better than what I had been able to get up to this point on my own. I just had to be patient, and continue working with Nathan just like I had been all along. It gave me hope that we might finally receive the answers we were looking for to help Nathan, but it seemed like the next two months took forever to pass. As I hurried to get everyone ready for school on the morning of our appointment, I was overwhelmed with the anticipation of not knowing what to expect. I was a bundle of raw nerves, and I had a side of "I don't know what" bouncing around, holding my hand as we entered the Board of Education for our appointment that day. It would be safe for me to say that the wonderful people whom we met that day weren't quite sure what to think of this frazzled, but very protective mom and her young rambunctious son.

At the first of three appointments, we were asked a lot of questions about how he acted, reacted and behaved in general to certain situations. His eyesight was tested, and when they brought Nathan back into the room, they said that the test was "inconclusive". They weren't sure what to make of it, but Nathan would need to be examined by an eye doctor that specialized in the testing of young children before the Board of Education could finish their testing on him. I was so frustrated that all I wanted to do was cry! What was wrong with my baby? Surely he wasn't blind because he wasn't bumping into things. So, of course, I made the appointment to get Nathan's eyes checked immediately. After the optometrist was finished testing him, we found out that Nathan couldn't see up close or far away, and the prescription lens that he needed for his eyeglasses was very thick, almost like the bottom of a glass soda bottle! That explained why he always came back frustrated when we would ask him to go get his shoes or bring something to us. He could barely see what was in front of him! I ordered the glasses before leaving the specialist's office, and they told us that we would have them in about a week because they were being made as a special order for Nathan. Then, I called the Board of Education to let them know so we could set the next appointment to continue with Nathan's testing. It would be approximately five (5) weeks before we would be able to start getting any answers. During that time, I was given a form that Nathan's pediatrician needed to complete and fax back to the Board of Education. It asked questions of Nathan's behavior and what had been observed by the pediatrician. It was not completed, as requested, even with me dropping it off in person, and checking back on its status, every week before my next scheduled appointment for Nathan's testing with the Board of Education. This was the only reason that they turned us away and why we had to re-schedule for almost a month later. As Nathan and I were walking back to the car, the pediatrician's office called to say that the completed form had just been faxed, more than half an hour after our appointment was scheduled for! By this time I was livid, my heart was racing, and all that I could think about when I looked into Nathan's eyes was that we were almost there...the answers were in our grasp, and the wretched doctor had caused our appointment to be postponed, but we weren't going to let him win!!

Our final appointment came and on that morning, we got ourselves ready for what we knew would be the beginning of a new journey as a family. We would finally have something to work with...an answer to what it was that made Nathan unique. I suspected it might be autism, but when I heard them say it aloud, it was hard for me to accept. The school psychologists explained that even though Nathan was extremely intelligent, he had problems with social skills and that we would have to work with him. The individuals that evaluated Nathan explained to me that he was "high-functioning" and that I should look up Asperger's Syndrome because it would better describe his disorder, as opposed to the generalized term of autism. I spent the rest of the day playing with Nathan until we picked up his brother, Vincent, from school. Then after dinner, I spent the entire evening researching on the internet. I was finding out that 1 in every 150 children was diagnosed with a form of autism spectrum disorders, something like 1 out of every 70 boys were being diagnosed with autism, and every 20 minutes a parent was being told that their precious child had autism! I eventually ended up back on a website called Autism Speaks, which offered a 100-day kit to those families with someone they loved recently diagnosed with autism. Even though it took several days, or longer in some cases, for our family and friends to come to emotional grips with Nathan's diagnosis, we had already started our journey to becoming a stronger family.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

How Are You Keeping Track of Your Time at Home During This Health Crisis?

How did you keep up with your schedule before it was abruptly changed by the health crisis? Whether you previously used a calendar, day planner, or your phone to guide your day, you should allow yourself the opportunity to shake things up since your schedule has drastically changed! There are a variety of ways that can help you keep track of your sheltering in place experiences such as keeping a journal, starting a podcast, or blogging as a way to share with family and friends. Just like any other decision, you have to weigh the advantages and disadvantages of each option. 

If you prefer to write things down manually versus looking at an electronic screen while typing your thoughts, writing in a traditional, book-like journal will most likely suit you best. If you do not live by yourself, you will want to keep your journal in a secure place when you are not writing in it to ensure that no one has access to your private thoughts. If you have a roommate, you will definitely not want to leave it lying around for him or her to pick up and read. 

If you are comfortable sharing your thoughts, advice, or expertise with others, you may want to either start a podcast or a blog. You will want to research which platforms offer what you are looking for, check out an online demo, read any available reviews, and eliminate those that want you to pay monthly or annual fees. You should not feel that you have to make a decision right away, especially if you are not sure if this is what you want to do. 

I chose Blogger when I started documenting our family's journey nine years ago, and I wish that I could dedicate more of my time to posting helpful information on my site. I enjoy advocating for individuals who have autism spectrum disorders by sharing what I have learned through personal and work experience, as well as the knowledge that I have acquired through the college psychology courses that I have taken. It has also been very therapeutic and beneficial for me to be able to document my son's challenges, what helped him to overcome them, and the wonderful progress that he has made since he was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorders twelve years ago just before he started kindergarten; and using Blogger is free!

You have to decide which option works best for you by weighing the advantages and disadvantages of each one. Whatever you decide, you can choose how often you want to share your experiences and how much time you want to set aside to share, record, or document them.

Browse my site to check out the layout and contact me if you have any questions. I would be glad to set a Google (Hangouts) Meet session with you so that you can see how everything on Blogger functions. If you are interested, please private message me on Twitter @NathansVoice

I want to thank you for taking the time to read this post. Please join me in #CelebratingAutismAwarenessMonth by #sharing this post with your family and/or a friend. I appreciate your support and always look forward to hearing from my readers when they have time to leave a comment below. 

Stay well and safe!

Your friend,

Lorrie

Monday, April 6, 2020

Recognizing, Accepting, & Supporting Individuals/Families who have Autism

A little over eight years ago, I had the privilege of writing a Featured Guest Article for Our Parenting Spot which is an outstanding online parenting community that offers advice, support and friendship to everyone. Due to this article being quite lengthy because it is packed full of information, you will want to read it in sections so that it will not be too overwhelming. Please visit Our Parenting Spot, either as an anonymous visitor or you can join the community, to read through Autism "How-To" Guide for Parents and share it with someone you know. YOU never know if a family may have just had their child recently diagnosed with Autism, or they might know someone else who thinks their child needs to be evaluated! Thank you for your support and I hope that you enjoy the article. I always look forward to hearing from anyone who takes the time to leave a comment below or on the Our Parenting Spot community where my Guest Article is featured!

Please remember to be accepting and supporting of individuals and families who have Autism, or look/behave different than what you are accustomed, because they will appreciate it more than you know. Not understanding the daily struggle that our special needs family experienced when our son was younger, individuals were extremely judgmental when he would have a meltdown in public. We were already dealing with more than what we could handle, and we did not need to explain why our child was screaming and hitting himself in public (i.e. "Did your son get hurt and is he alright?" or "You should be ashamed for hitting your child; I should report you to DHS!"). They obviously had no clue what challenges that I encountered while trying to help my son learn how to use his words to communicate how he was feeling, what he needed or wanted. #CelebratingAutismAwarenessMonth

Enjoy your evening and stay home to stay safe!

Your friend,

Lorrie

Sunday, April 5, 2020

Attention Parents of Students Who Are Tasked With Distance Learning


If you are a parent of a school-age child who been on an extended spring break due to the health crisis, you have most likely been doing everything that you can to help everyone in your family to settle into the new normal routine for your household. My family is preparing for both of our teenage sons to start their distance learning tomorrow morning. We were told that over the next month the students will mostly be reviewing what they have already learned, as well as complete assignments that they might have not turned in before spring break, allowing each of them to bring their current grade up before the end of the school year. 

I have used my previous experience of taking online college classes to help my guys organize and prepare the space they will each be using for their distance learning. I think what will be most challenging for them is that they will have to go to bed early enough so that they can bright-eyed and bushy-tailed every morning for the distance learning. My son who is a senior in high school is the one who is complaining the most about how late he can stay up at night. He thinks that he is a man because he turned eighteen years old a few months ago. smh😏 I cannot wait until he has children of his own! lol

So, if your family is also facing distance learning, hang in and remember that this school year is almost over. If he or she is taking AP classes, and possibly concurrent classes at a technical school, distance learning will also let him or her see what it is like to take online college classes. It will also make him or her responsible for setting aside the appropriate amount of time each day so that that he or she can get their assignments in on time. If he or she can master the skills associated with time management related to distance learning, this experience will prove beneficial to him or her especially if they ever have to work from home (WFH) by future employers.

Your student(s) can do this because they have YOU to support them in this adventure! This pep talk is for me as much as it is for you. 😉 Make sure that you set aside some "me time" each day while you are trying to maintain what resembles homeostasis in your household because your mental health is just as important as your physical health. If you have not already called it a night, you should get some sleep before your children have to be up to start their first day of distance learning!

Your friend,

Lorrie

Saturday, April 4, 2020

Baking Can Alleviate Stress and Bring Families Together


If you have been looking for something different to do for family time, try picking a recipe to bake together. You might be surprised how willing your family is to making something sweet to enjoy after finishing their lunch or dinner! I have included a recipe within this post that you may want to make together, as well as the link to check out the video on Taste of Home. 

Enjoy and let me know how much fun your family had making this recipe! Please #share this post with someone you know in your surrounding community. Thank you!! #CelebrateAutismAwarenessMonth

Your friend,

𝕷𝖔𝖗𝖗𝖎𝖊

Chocolate & Peanut Butter Crispy Bars

Ingredients

  • 1 package fudge brownie mix (13x9 pan size)
  • 1-1/2 cups chunky peanut butter
  • 2 cups semisweet chocolate chips
  • 1 cup creamy peanut butter
  • 3 cups Rice Krispies cereal

Directions

  • Step 1 - Line a 13x9-in. baking pan with parchment, letting ends extend up sides. Prepare and bake brownie mix according to package directions, using prepared pan. Cool in pan on a wire rack 30 minutes. Refrigerate until cold.
  • Step 2 - Spread chunky peanut butter over brownies. Place chocolate chips and creamy peanut butter in a large microwave-safe bowl. Microwave in 30-second intervals until melted; stir until smooth. Stir in Rice Krispies cereal; spread over chunky peanut butter layer. Refrigerate, covered, at least 30 minutes or until set.
  • Step 3 - Lifting with parchment, remove brownies from pan. Cut into bars. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
    • Total Time
      Prep: 15 min. Bake: 25 min. + chilling
    • Makes
      2 dozen

Friday, April 3, 2020

Challenging Times Brings Out the True Measure of Dedication

Today, a friend who works at my son's high school contacted me with information that proved very helpful. She went above and beyond the duties of her job description to get my youngest son the letter that he needed to document his reading proficiency and that he was currently enrolled in high school for the 2019-2020 school year. Even though my friend had her daily routine abruptly disrupted and is having to work at home, she still made it a priority to help my son and other students that are trying to maintain as normal of a life as possible and move forward towards a goal they have set for themselves in the near future. This is exactly what we should be doing...living life and helping those around us do the same!

Enjoy your weekend and remember to reach out to someone by phone, email, or other way to let them know that you are thinking of them during our current health crisis. It will brighten their day and show that you care.

Talk with you soon!

Your friend,

Lorrie 

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Thank Goodness for Communication, Connections, and Technology!!

Have YOU spoken with someone recently that made you appreciate the technology that allowed you to communicate with one another? I had the privilege of speaking with a wonderful woman earlier today that helped me to find a resolution to a situation for which I needed assistance. This makes me very appreciative that we can connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime, and in a variety of ways due to the technological advancements that have been made over the years. It is important to have contact with individuals outside of our homes, especially during this time of uncertainty. If we did not have the ability to communicate with anyone other than those that reside within our homes, it could adversely affect our mental health. I am grateful for everyone with whom I can connect while the "stay at home" order is in effect. So, this is an anonymous "shout-out" to my newest acquaintance and helping me to maintain my sanity! Thank you for conversing with me, not just once, but twice this afternoon!!

Stay safe and make the best of a challenging situation by talking with an old friend or having an open mind when talking to someone new for the first time!

Your friend, 

Lorrie