A is for Aides :2020 Autism Acceptance Month

10 years. 23 women. One little boy.

For the last decade, A2 ages while his aides do not. Time stands still as they enter our lives at 20 and exit at 22 again and again and again. All the while, A2 ‘s clock continues to tick away putting him closer in age to the next new soon-to-be-best-friend to come on board. He is still little and adorable and fun loving, but a teenager nevertheless. A teenager with care needs that are still very much in line with what they were when our very first 20 year old walked through the front door.

Each year that passes, A2 is more acutely aware and uncomfortable with this fact on a few levels, which in turn makes me uncomfortable with the skeleton crew of potential candidates I must independently identify, recruit, interview and hire folks with little to no experience with Autism. Every year I wonder if I should just provide all of his care and community support myself. I have been faced with this challenge for a year here and there at a time while also trying to find balance with my work schedule. In the long run, that is actually far less stressful and overwhelming (albeit, unpaid) than the Groundhog Day treadmill year after year of the anxiety of locating the right person,the training, the supervision, the getting over the behavioral hump, the getting used to having a stranger in our home and trusting they keep our personal life confidential/my child safe-always and no matter what, and the anticipation over A2 ‘s grief and lack of ability to process that with us when they leave our world.

And then I remember.

I remember the laughter and energy and patience for a boy who deserves nothing less on days when my own dark places pull those things under the blanket with me.

I remember new words and habits and skills that I know I didn’t teach.

I remember roller coaster riding and sledding and jumping into cold pools-things I wouldn’t dream of trying with him (or without him, actually)

I remember relief watching a young A1 be welcomed in to play, given the same attention and love by those who saw that he was here too and just as worthy of the special time his brother deserved, even though no one specifically told them to do so.

I remember birthday presents, phone calls and gifts, just because. I remember off the clock offers of babysitting just to give me and Mr. ATeam a date after not having one for over a year.

I remember A2’s uncanny ability to sense the unspoken leave-at-the-door moments that would go past my radar until I saw his care and loving behaviors.

I remember the phone calls from new professionals telling me about a challenge they faced in their new career they knew how to handle from what they learned working with us

I remember my beautiful boy has no people who know his life inside and out, backward and forward other than me and his dad. With exception of the select few who come here to work under a supervisor who often forgets to show a soft side or appreciation and yet they choose to stay here for a year or longer.

I find I am just as appreciative of this village we create year after year as I was in 2015. It looks different today. I am more tired, less patient with the learning curve and more concerned about the days and years ahead since I now have the wisdom of just how fleeting they are as we barrel toward the thing-that-keeps-me-up-at-night. However, I have had the opportunity to see the future of these college co-eds who come in and out of our life in the blink of an eye. I know special education teachers, speech and language pathologists, occupational therapists, RNs, Psychologists, Social Workers, Disability Advocates, Trauma specialists, Physicians. I see mothers and wives. I see women who seamlessly moved to their next stage in life from A2 better equipped to understand what Autism looks like from the inside and hope it has helped fast track their perspectives as helpers

I sure know that if that is true, A2’s purpose is far greater than I could have ever imagined and I just know if he understands that, it would only contribute to the joy he has for the things we all take for granted.

A is for Aides: 2015 Autism Awareness Month

Though I can’t find pictures of all of them, they have all made a significant impact in our lives. Without them, A2 would not have made the gains in language, socialization and self care that he has. They have cleaned vomit out of their cars, do not ruffle at the idea of diaper changes, and have endured power struggles with grace and maturity. They are the extra eyes and hands in a world where we have none but need 20. They are young and move on with their lives from us but we have always known that we sacrifice longevity for love and are happy that so many reach out to stay part of our village.

A is for Aides: 2020 Autism Acceptance Month

At The End Of The Day….

I was in a research study recently involving blogging, deciding upon content, deciding upon platform, media, etc. It truly was an interesting experience–I guess no one ever directly asked me to tell my story in such a way before. While they interviewed over a dozen already, many of which where “mom bloggers”, I was the only one interviewed who addressed experiences as a family living with disability.

Their takeaway they volunteered to share with me? Their experience with other parent bloggers did not include the same judicious protection of content/overcontemplation of concern regarding the forms of dignity I discussed, nor did it involve the level of scrutiny that dug as deep as our level can go. And yes, they do blame their kids for tough days or recognize the universal struggles in a laughable or relatable way and are rewarded for that relatablity on social media. No one else struggled in that balance the way we do.

In our world, there is a fine line which moves it’s position depending on who you are talking to. We have a job as family caregivers of disability to be relatable advocates who set the bar for how we and our kids are perceived by the rest of the world. And unfortunately, I do believe it can be at the expense of self care or which ultimately affects they way we cope within our family systems for the benefit of our charge. We are held to a much higher standard out there in cyberworld under much more challenging circumstances than other parents. I forgot about this piece I wrote a few years ago, but it was on a day I had a similar epiphany at the end of a long, hot summer. Sometimes, I want to say funny things about being a mom too. And yep…sometimes I am selfish.

Running through Water

bunny hillThere are some days that my heart breaks selfishly a bit.

Days like today.

As A2 gets older there really are no more play dates. While kids are generally kind, there are limits to their patience. It’s hard to figure out how to play with another kid who wants to stand at the bottom of the water slide flapping rather than going down. His peers are now preteens and the adults that are close by interpreting for him, ensuring safety and cuing socially reciprocal behavior are going to inhibit his peers age appropriate wing stretching.

Today, as I sat entering in my second hour in direct sun making sure my guy didn’t keep going past the “do not pass” sign at the base of the water slide, I couldn’t help but notice the world around us. I had nothing else to do but try to clear my mind of things…

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Yes, My Disabled Child Has Chores

Many years ago, one of our first home providers was working with another family who had an older teenager. The provider and the client were only a couple years apart in age. (Don’t worry, -the provider maintained confidentiality the whole time!).

One day, I asked what kinds of things she did in her job with the client, to which she answered,

“Mostly, I help her do chores. There. Are. So. Many.

Given A2 was only about 4 years old at the time, I was simply curious about what life at home with a teenager with a disability would look like without actually considering what life with MY kid as a teenager would look like. We didn’t know our own long and winding road at that point, of course my child would have chores! Didn’t the provider have chores? (As it turns out, possibly not, since knowing far more teenagers now that my kids are teenagers themselves–this parenting philosophy I have might be a bit of a new millennial enigma.)

What happens if a teenager doesn’t have tons of independent leisure skills and has difficulty with self-direction? Do we still teach them how to play with toys? No. If they have not enjoyed this activity as a younger child, then probably not.

Do we leave them alone to wander the house with their iPad? Well…yeah…admittedly sometimes. Especially if they enjoy doing that.

Do we plan on living forever to take care of ALL their needs? Yes, yes we do, but until we figure out an actual way to do that, that is not an option.

The most basic of basic skills must be taught to A2 in an explicit manner. He learns all sorts of things, just like everyone else, but at a snails pace. By not teaching him how to care for his surroundings and belongings, I would be stealing from his adulthood to bank roll a leisurely adolescence. Those processes start NOW so he has a chance for a modicum of independence, the ability to have options and choices and self-determination as an adult. Learning to fold a washcloth may take a typical child 20 minutes to learn and an hour to master. The same washcloth skill might take a year to learn and 3 years to master. Really.

At 14 years old, he is in his evening of the day–the last leg of time being on his side before he is an adult.

A schedule that includes daily expectations gives A2 a sense of peace because he understands how his time will be filled. This summer, with a skeleton crew of help, Momma has been on the case to level up on these skills, scaffold independence and watch him enjoy and take pride in these “activities”. He verbally perseverates less. He comes to me beaming and says things like “Wook! Do it all by yourself!” as he surprises me with a made bed or silverware put in the proper drawers. He is generally, well….happier with chores.

Chores a narrative of dignity and self determination.

Caring for our surroundings gives us a sense of control, a sense of ownership, a sense of responsibility and yes, ultimately a sense of community. If he has to do his chores just like everyone else in the house (ok…maybe not just like everyone else…he actually does his much better many times than his brother!!), I am sending him the message, “You matter as much as your brother and are an equal member of this family” and I am showing his brother equity and fairness by saying, “We are all capable of contributing in the ways we can to this household–A2 is no different”.

I am not a mean mom (most of the time). I like to think of myself as the same kind of mom who makes her sick kid take icky medicine when he doesn’t want to, knowing it will make him feel much better. Not giving the medication makes me feel better because it is easier and I don’t have to see him cry. At least in the moment.

Chores are a pain in the butt. I DEFINITELY have chores I will still whine through, procrastinate doing or forgo altogether. While being an extremely Type A personality and capable of high levels of organization, I am also extremely messy and it happens FAST! I do remember how this unfortunate dichotomy affected college room mates, though at the time, I absolutely did not see the impact. I had to learn that the hard way.

One of my current chores is digging up the patience and consistency to make sure I am teaching A2 how to put his plate in the sink, start his laundry, or wipe down the counter. These tasks are the insurance plan for a future that probably will not include me. As scary as that is to consider, I certainly hope one day it is because he looks at me and in the most apraxic adult way possible says,

“Mom, I don’t want to live with you and Dad anymore. Don’t worry, I have already cleaned up my room and packed my suitcase.”

Why I’m OK with Kids BOO-ing Mine This Halloween

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In U.S. suburbia at Halloween, if you are lucky enough, you get “BOO-ed”.

It is much nicer than it sounds.

Getting BOO-ed means opening your front door to find treats placed anonymously on your doorstep. You…I mean, your child… are to return the favor by BOO-ing another neighbor and so on and so forth. When we moved to our neighborhood 12 years ago, A1 and A2 were a toddler and infant respectively. Our development was full of mature trees, which also meant a neighborhood full of empty nesters. By the time the neighborhood turned over, my kids were much older than the new generation running the streets with strollers and trikes. A2 will watch what he calls “the babies” out our front window. The mothers are young and pretty even in their haze of exhaustion playing in the cul-de-sac and chasing down their little runners. I can relate to their frenzied outdoor fun since even with a 12 year-old, I too cannot just let my child out into the streets without supervision. Autism is an uncomfortable reality for the middle schoolers who in the neighborhood who don’t want me around.

But really, those little kids are functioning in their play where A2 is cognitively and they are at the age of humanness where they are accepting of his differences. For them, the differences are not about intellectual impairment, but rather size impairments as they watch A2 attempt to squeeze himself unsuccessfully into their Cozy Coups. Their questions are genuine and kind and they think nothing of him joining in the digging of dirt.

But most days, he will not join them in play. He knows those are the babies. He knows he is not. This often means I am benched from the cul-de-sac-exhausted-mommy-brigade that stokes glimmers of socialization and connection I had with other mothers when I was also young, pretty and still had energy.

Today, as he is every year since our street started filling up with little ones, A2 was BOO-ed. Twice.

Care packages are silently left at our door and I wonder which of our neighbors were sure to include him. Most know he doesn’t eat many solid foods, knows he might not notice something on our doorstep or spend much time with a special gift. I think despite my smiling isolation, I have neighbors who understand that being BOO-ed is about inclusion and is as much for me as it is for A2. And there is never anything spooky about that.

#autism #autismawareness #kindness #goodneighbors #halloween

5 Pros and Cons of IDEA: What Every Parent (and educator) Should Know

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This tower is 4 years total of educational paper work for 2 kids and represents approximately over 300 hours of meetings, evaluations, reading and combing over data….JUST AS THE PARENT

(originally posted 9/2016)

I is for IEP, IDEA and Inclusion.

These three “I” words have forever changed me as a person.

If you have a child in special education, you probably just had a shiver run down your spine just by reading those acronyms in print and may be thinking the same thing.  All of these things serve as a blessing and a curse to our kids and also to the educators and administration serving them.  Back in the day, the Individuals with Disability Act (IDEA) was enacted to refine and replace what few laws there were to protect children with disabilities within the education system.  It was meant to also focus more on the individual rather than on the disability itself.  IDEA has been re-written several times since 1990.  There are several things it does both in a good way and also in not such a good way:

  1.  FAPE: It provides a free and appropriate public education to all kids regardless of disability at public expense.  The key word here being APPROPRIATE.  The downside: There is a pretty decent chance that what you and your child’s test scores say and what you know is appropriate will be very different than what the district thinks is appropriate.  And most likely because of that other key word….FREE.
  2. EVALUATIONS:  This law makes sure children with disabilities are evaluated in a way that makes sense.  We don’t want to use one specific test to decide if a child needs special education services.  Not only is discrimination prevented, ideally these evaluations serve as a tool to know exactly what they will need educationally. The downside:  Evaluations are only as good as the people trained to administer them and only as good as the educator who can recognize an issue in the first place.
  3. Individualized Education Program (IEP): These are legal documents that establish goals, accommodations and modifications to the general curriculum and access to qualified professionals to ensure a child with a disability is learning at the right pace and to his ability within their environment.  These plans level the educational playing field for those with a disability.  The heart of special education.  There are 13 categories under which a child may qualify: specific learning disability, speech and language impairment, blindness, deafness, hearing impairment, visual impairment, orthopedic impairment, traumatic brain injury, autism, multiple disability, other health impairments, emotional disturbance, intellectual disability,  The downside: Because they are legal documents and may be audited and are monitored on a quarterly basis, educators may have a very high self-preservation incentive to make certain your child is meeting his goals….at least on paper.  The more savvy the parent, the more tricky this can become.
  4. LEAST RESTRICTIVE ENVIRONMENT (LRE):  This ensures your child is placed in an environment that meets his needs as independently as possible in an educational setting that is appropriate for him.  The goal is to work toward the LRE.  The downside:  For those of us with kiddos with Autism or executive functioning issues, this is not always cut and dry.  Especially those without intellectual impairment but perhaps have a language disorder or another issue which may stand in the way of independence.  An emerging issue in the field is for those kids who are considered “twice exceptional”, such those who are intellectually gifted but with severe behavioral issues.  And what does “least restrictive” mean anyway?  My kid who needs 1:1 to learn can totally sit in a regular classroom to do that.  However, I believe educators interpret LRE to mean that he be in a contained classroom without a 1:1 because then he might have more physical independence in that room.  Who is right?
  5. PROCEDURAL SAFEGUARDS: Protections for your child…..protections for you as a parent. Because of IDEA, there are procedural safeguards in place to make certain  your child is receiving the services the school says they will provide and a protocol to follow if you believe they are not.  Additionally, these protections allow for parent participation and child participation as equal members of the child’s school team.  The downside: Let’s face it. If you are not an educator or even know where to go to get what you need, you will never be an equal member of your child’s team.  Procedural safeguards and parent participation are ultimately only as good as the questions you know to ask, as your attorney and as your bank account.  The catch-22 if you do live in a very good school district?  There is a good chance that anything that goes to due process is going to take a LOOOONNNNNGGG time.  And think about that for a second.  If there is a FAPE violation and it works its way all the way up to a due process hearing doesn’t that seem counterintuitive for your school district to allow little old you to go to court with them?  Wouldn’t it make more sense to fix the problem since it would be much cheaper and less time consuming to do so?  It’s not.  At least not to them, because no matter how much the district doesn’t want to throw money at something, they can still probably afford to pay a better attorney for much longer than you can.  And besides, the year and a half it could take…perhaps that child won’t need what it was you were asking for by then. Or worse, make your life complicated enough that you will have to back off and not follow through. That seems like a pretty good gamble for a district.  It also doesn’t set a standard for other families to ask for the same.

The last 25 years have been interesting ones for the education system as a whole.  When the parents who walked before us clawed and fought and struggled for these laws it was at a time before the internet, before all the revisions, before standardized testing existed in the way it did, before No Child Left Behind and before Autism was 1:68.  IDEA is necessary no matter how you slice it, however it exists in a very different system than it did in 1990.

At this point I know a lot of the law like the back of my hand and the parts I don’t know, I am now educated on how to find those rules. 

I have a list of socio-emotional goals for almost every developmental issue at my finger tips and I have an entire community of people going through the same struggles I am at the click of a button day and night.  All of this has been achieved through this tiny-huge world we have online.

I know exactly the gap closure between special education kids and regular ed kids, not only for my district, but for my child’s school.

I know the 6 payment tiers that exist and the formula used to calculate how much extra funding my district receives for each of my kids for using special education services.

I know what belongs where on all 13 sections of the IEP and how to make a goal measurable.

And I know when I am being BS-ed.

I don’t know all of this because of my training…I know it because I live in 2016 and any parent with a computer and the desire can learn the same.  

In 1990, my school district certainly was not expecting 1 out of every 6 children attending (or 15%) to have some sort of developmental disability or for the Autism rates to be 600% higher.  My child’s elementary school currently has about 700 students and about 100 IEPs (last I heard)–all while serving about 29% of their students as English as a Second Language with limited proficiency.  Teachers are stretched thin. Inclusion and LRE are so important for our kids future, yet most regular education teachers were not taught the basics on how to include and teach special ed kids in differentiated instruction or how to manage a classroom where there are multiple children with conflicting accommodations. (ie:  When Johnny gets stressed, he can crumple paper…but Jimmy’s auditory sensory integration issues make it impossible to keep it together when he hears paper crumpling….).  Parents are communicating, educated and knowing the legal hoops to jump through if their children’s rights are being violated.  It is a system that cannot hold itself up and still serve our most vulnerable children to be the most successful they can be.  Parents…please keep fighting for your kids. Please keep learning everything you can.  Educators…please do the same.  I do not have the answer. I am just hopeful it is found before my children have to move on from the “protective bubble” of IDEA and there are no grown up IEPs.

Autism Awareness Month. V is for Village

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Because we are so immersed in this world of autism I have erroneously concluded that everyone who lives outside of this Village is already aware of autism. However, there is a secret sorority that exists…one equipped with a secret handshake and password. I am in that sorority yet have no recollection of agreeing to join. Autism is funny like that. The Village of Autism parents is a unique one. We are a motley crew of individuals whose path may have never crossed otherwise. We meet each other in waiting rooms and lobbies of doctors offices instead of in the PTO. We have closed blogs and Facebook pages instead of casual phone calls. We learn more about the newest treatments and resources from each other than we do from professionals. We talk about how well our child is pooping quicker than we will discuss how well they are doing in school. Though we are typically the least able to, we are often the first responders to others in the Village because we are more likely to reach out to one another than we would outside of the Village where no one speaks our language. And we find each other….everywhere and all the time. Today while sitting on the floor in the middle of the children’s shoe department feverishly tearing inserts out of shoes and hopelessly attemping to shove A2’s newest orthotics into them with no success I broke down and cried. Just sat there in the middle of the floor, surrounded by ridiculous shoes with flashing lights on the soles and sobbed like a toddler might who couldn’t find the shoes she liked. At that same time, I peered up to see a woman pushing a cart with one hand while calmly using her other to push her much-too-large child who was humming loudly down back into his seat. We made eye contact for a single moment and silently nodded–her nod seemingly said “Yes….I know those orthotics were made wrong twice before in 7 months and represents 6 visits to the clinic over that same time. Yes…..I realize this is the 3rd store you have been in today that absolutely does not carry shoes your 9 year old can wear with the braces he must wear on his feet. Yes….I realize that your tears are really about your kid and the pain and blisters he will probably have again that he can’t communicate or the weird, white 1960s Frankenbaby shoes the orthotics company will recommend that look nothing like what his school friends will be wearing. Yes….I see you….and I know you see me….” V is for my Village. The quiet, connected Village where my family lives.

Autism Awareness Month. T is for Teachers and Therapists

Originally published 4/27/17

T is for Teachers and Therapists

112. A2 has had a total of 112 different teachers and therapists in his short 11 years. Some were hand- picked….some chosen by fate and luck of the draw. Some were published, lauded recognizable names….some were quiet presences of whom I cannot remember their names. Some have been with us for the majority of his life. Some have only jumped in for a blip of time in his almost 105,000 hours on this planet. Some were stellar, life alterers….some just showed up because they had to. Some interpreted my coolness or seeming indifference to them as being non-caring. Some recognized that I always had my child’s best interest in mind all the time and understood it was important for me not to be too attached for fear of losing perspective and not holding them accountable should his learning derail. All have had a permanent impact on my entire family’s lives and for all of them, I am grateful.

A2 was about 2 years old in this photo. Debbie Jo was one of the first handful of professionals to work with him, and at the time, I had no way of knowing this fact. She was a paraprofessional in his early intervention program and always made sure to seek me out when I would come to pick him up to give me feedback about his day. When this post was first published, she was very ill with a long bout of cancer. Despite her county job, insurance, COBRA and her life savings eventually ran out. Despite giving of herself and opening up her home to those less fortunate, at her most desperate moments, because a GoFund Me account was set up to help with medical expenses, I would have known nothing about the exceptional kindness and generosity she gave to others throughout her life other than that small blip on the map when my child showed up in hers. Debbie Jo died last year and I pray that it was with peace given the level of selfless life she chose to lead that I was never aware.

We fight for our kids. Many times that fight is with teachers, therapists and administrators. They chose their careers and they have a job to do. The are human beings. We know the people who are in this for the good fight and we know the people who should have left years ago. We know the people who don’t get it. We know the people who burn the candle at both ends and we know people who have dropped the ball. I have fought many of these people who teach my child, but typically as collateral damage in a system that is failing helpers and victims. Fight,fight, fight SO HARD for your kids. ADVOCATE like hell for yourself if you have a disability. Don’t be afraid to call helpers out, but BE FAIR. Ask to see data. It is your right to see it. It is your right to question it. Do your research. If you have an instinct there is a problem, be sure to tell them you are coming from that place rather than accusing them but again, ASK, ASK, ASK how to be reassured. In their world,  no matter how destroying it is to us, your child may be a learning experience.  And if that is all they can offer–it is all they can offer.

In our world…we only get one time around. We don’t get a do-over. Recognize their human-ness and recognize necessity and try to create the most cohesive balance.Featured Image -- 1500

Autism Awareness Month. Day 2 2017: B is for Blogs

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About 9 years ago when A2 was 3 years old, he attended a social skills group with a speech therapist and 3 other “non-verbal” children.  A2 was by far and away the most interested in communication and social interaction of the 4 kids in the group. At that point did not have an Autism diagnosis, nor despite my education or background did I even suspect this as the primary issue.

I sat in that lobby week after week wondering what A2 could possibly be getting out of the group given none of the children had any functional verbal language and a great majority of the time the therapists were wrangling to keep the kids all in one spot.  After the final session, I sighed at the speech therapist and asked her what she thought was going on with my beautiful boy.

She asked me if I had ever heard of the book Schuyler’s Monster by Robert Rummel-Hudson. A father’s memoir about his wordless child.

I had not.

A2 and I left the speech session and immediately went to the library to find it.  I suppose I would have been reading more about parent perspectives of young children with disabilities had a known my child had a disability.  But he was 3.  He had delays.  A gross motor delay, a fine motor delay, a speech delay. He had weird medical issues. He stopped growing.  He flapped.  But he also looked at me and smiled, knew his name and cuddled.  Other than the cache of bewildered parents who sat in lobbies at therapies, I had no connections to others going through similar circumstances. As an action oriented person, I didn’t know I needed to have those connections.

That is until I read Schuyler’s Monster. 

In some ways, I feel like that is where my story begins.  It started as an easy read because Rob is poignant, funny and his words wash over the pages and get right into your brain.  And then…..  To put it simply, I was knocked on my ass.

He was telling my story.  He was me. 

Schulyer was almost exactly A2 right down to the personality.  I had to set time aside to read when I knew I didn’t have to be “on” because I wasn’t sure how what I would read would affect me for the rest of the day.

Schuyler has a rare genetic disorder called Bilateral Perisylvian Polymicrogyria.  I called A2’s neurogeneticist at the Cleveland Clinic and insisted he himself go back and read A2’s baseline MRI and not rely on the radiologists report. He humored me and alas, A2 and Schuyler did not hold this in common.  I finished the book and felt like I was underwater.

What was I going to do without Rob, Julie and Schuyler?

I felt connected to something and yet I never felt so alone in my whole life all because a piece of cardboard filled with paper and a beautiful little girl on the front told me life might not be what I think it is.  I was not an avid reader of blogs and at that point was not on social media.  I found their blog Fighting Monsters with Rubber Swords and reconnected with his words.  Soon, I found another blog that spoke to me much in the same way written by a teacher who had an autistic child called Flappiness Is.

By this point, four years in, we had an autism diagnosis and I was in the throes of learning to advocate for my child in ways that rocked my world. Flappiness (Leigh) was there to say the things I couldn’t say. I then there was another (which is no longer around *2019 update…I have now seen her around..*) that made me laugh about our situation when I needed to laugh about it.

I now had a community and resources I could access whenever I needed it.

I am an accidental blogger.  I wrote 3 posts back in 2010 and when I realized I really had nothing to say, I was done.  It wasn’t my time to talk.  I don’t know if it is really my time to talk now, yet here I am.  Instead of following 3 blogs, I follow dozens and all for different reasons.  I have met the most amazing folks along the way because of it including the now very grown up, very kind and very inspiring Schuyler.  And she seems to be exactly the person I hoped she would grow up to be when I met her as a little girl as typeset words sitting on my couch 9 years ago.

There is no need to be alone if you cannot find “your people” in your community.  I never dreamed that some of my closest confidants are people I have never met or only briefly met in person. This list is not exhaustive…..and most categories will overlap, but my resource list of favorite blogs/social media folks you might want to check out (note also most blog links will be the same name on Facebook):

Day 2 2015. B is for Boredom

Day 2 2016: B is for Behavior

DAD PERSPECTIVE

Bacon and Juiceboxes

Jason Hague, Writer

Just a Lil Blog

Dad Enough

Autism From a Dad’s Eye View

The Spectral Zone

The Autism Daddy

PERSPECTIVES FROM THE SPECTRUM

Autistic Not Weird

Autcraft

Seriously Not Boring

Deciphering Morgan

Autistic Speaks

Kerry Magro

Anonymously Autistic

Autism Uncensored

MEMES/HUMOR/KEEPING IT REAL

Autism Odysseys

Just a Minute My Cape is in the Dryer

Ink 4 Autism

Rantings of an ADHD Mom

Memes By Ashley

ALL THE REST

David Snape and Friends

Carrie Cariello

Love That Max

Finding Cooper’s Voice

Take Another Step

Autism With a Side of Fries

Herding Cats

From Motherhood

Our Adventures with Riley

Special Ev

Walking With Drake

A Day in Our Shoes

Special Books by Special Kids

When Pain Drives Passion. What is Your Story?

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As Kelly knelt  on the floor folding her lighting equipment into her duffel, she looked up at me and said in earnest, “I feel like we have to do this fast. These stories need to get out now.” I felt the sick sink in my stomach because I knew she was right, but we just got started.

I half jokingly refer to Kelly as “my photographer” only because “this girl who agreed to come along to take the photos of interviews I am doing  for this idea I had and had no idea what she was getting into” sounds lame..and lengthy.  Plus her quiet role moving about the room with the important strangers who agreed to bare their souls to me for two hours gave them legitimacy.  What do you call the person who helps provide authenticity to an experience?  I don’t get to own that part.

Kelly bore witness to a world she knew nothing about three months before she spoke those words to me in an Airbnb in Dallas, Texas. I met Kelly randomly through a friend the previous summer at a concert.  She was a confident, ticketless passenger on the way to a sold out show and found a scalper feet from the venue. I appreciated the cajones and thought she might be someone I would want to know.  I did not realize that five months later, on January 27, 2016 we would be sitting for our first interview of a few dozen across the country.

We officially started a whole year ago as of today. Happy anniversary Kel.

Words like inclusion, rights, entitlements, supports are finally part of every day vernacular but even by definition imply separatist “us from them”mentality and leave out the miles of mountain range between the first mile and the last. But to me, those words felt like more than just a start.

When I got up off the pavement a year ago, I  believed society and disability subculture were starting to speak some of the same language. I also believed that some of the narratives were getting further and further apart causing a rift within the movement. The time felt ripe to help normalize the experience of being disabled in a way that was not out of pity but rather in a way that lit up the path to be traveled.  It was time to assume that folks were coming from a place of not knowing and not from a place of not caring.  My personal mental exhaustion was not about my child or his disability, but the wholly unnecessary loneliness, barriers and misunderstanding by the world around us.  How off the hook is it I believed changing the world around us would be simpler and more empowering than kicking those pebbles out of the path one at a time?

At the time, not so hookless. I gave a TEDx Talk about the first step in climbing the mountain of disability advocacy as a society.  The itty-bitty baby steps of encouraging the general public to lay down misconceptions and engage in discourse with someone who is disabled.  I encouraged people to unabashedly just ask about things they don’t know. I called upon the disabled and their caregivers to collectively lift the stigma of living with disability by being honest and non-defensive in talking about what it’s like and what they need.  I traveled the country and spent hours and hours recording and photographing and connecting to regular people in extraordinary circumstances to put into pages and immortalize moments on glossy paper for them. I shined up a little piece of the internet for myself under a pen name to create and share in the most balanced way I could. People were believing in what I was saying.  People were hopeful. I changed minds. Momentum. Or so I thought.

Through this process, I held the value of neutrality and being non-partisan.  Everybody’s story resides in the same place within them regardless of the story’s beginning, middle or end.  Allowing people to tell their story while providing them with unconditional positive regard served as a catharsis for both myself and my interviewees.  I found it was not difficult to empathize with people whose world I didn’t fully understand or framework I did not fully agree.  In social media,  I shared stories of injustice or cruelty without solution or politics.  Awareness is the first step of acceptance…it is not the end result.

Alas, I am not an advocate.  I am a storyteller.

One year later, I am sitting at the same desk but in a very different place.  I feel scared. Was I was horribly wrong about this genesis of readiness for change?  It has been a challenge to remain non-partisan especially in a time when it seems that perhaps these stories sink to the bottom of the advocacy pile.

The other night as I sat hunched over my computer trying to put a cap on my 1 year experience, I tearfully told my husband we are beyond storytelling at this point. I am fearful of having too much opinion out of concern of not holding my neutral credo for the greater good. It goes against my nature as a social  worker. There is a war going on between human rights, human entitlement and government in a narrative that is getting louder and undeniably self-serving to each individual yelling. This goal of reasonable human rights only has a matter of time before we are splintered into pieces again and we are fighting against each other get what we need. It is hard to see where or how this will end right now. Issues that are truly a big deal today may seem like the good-ole-days in the near future. I worried about the juxtaposition of storytelling in an ocean of endless islands of stories. I was feeling disheartened and selfish that evening that this project was down the tubes.

Instead of walking away like he might during a moment like this, my husband turned and said “What if this is about change for the better after all?” He went on to contemplate the lack of passion and purpose as a whole in this country in our lifetime. The things that divide us and crawl under our skin has created less listening and more waiting for our turn to talk. Or worse yet, NOT waiting for our turn to talk and yelling over the opposition instead. He optimistically reframed this unprecedented business-as-politics as the catalyst of the birth of this generation’s common cause. The most powerful man in the world and those who surround him believe that there are “alternative facts” leading the rest of us into a state of despair and confusion over the possibility of never understanding what is true or real. This is the stuff of propoganda and crazy-making.

“But…hasn’t that been your truth for years?” my husband asked.

He was right. Those of us who live with oppression in some way or another in this country have been working off the premise of alternative facts for a long time. At least those of us who are caregivers to those with disabilities who may not be able to speak for themselves, we are told over and over to accept half-truths or are simply told “no” for nebulous reasons when asking for inclusion, equality or safety.  Or else we are dismissed,discounted or ignored. This is not new. Some of us sink into deep holes of acceptance of this and others of us jump up and down and yell as loud as we can. And sometimes we do both in intervals. It is through this collective place we can pull together instead of being one small group spitting into the wind while down wind from us is some other oppressed group covering both of us in spittle.

“I wonder if there will grow a common one big enough to make the noise it needs to? People as a whole are a lot more awake than they were…and maybe that is not so bad” he mused.

Regardless of what you believe or how oppressed or even how entitled you are, it is time.  Listen calmly. Don’t wait for your turn to talk. Take the information you get from other people’s stories and learn from them even if you disagree. Even if you don’t understand. These words may help heal or give you the tools to fight even harder or maybe even change your mind. We can yell as much as we want in the faces of those who don’t want to hear….collectively it may eventually work…but individually, that will not change their minds in a world where people are desperately trying to cling to what they think they believe.

It is time. We all have a story.  Kelly can tell you what it is like to bear witness to that listening from behind a camera first hand.

Or as she might tell you, it will make you woke AF.

 

 

 

Now I lay me down to sleep….

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4:17am

My beautiful boy wandered into my room tonight.  His curly hair tousled around his cherub cheeks, pajama bottoms twisted in a spiral around his hips from tossing and turning…he marches in quickly as if he had somewhere important to be and then suddenly stops at the foot of my bed with purpose.  He rubs his dazed eyes all the while smiling that big Cheshire Cat grin of his. “Hug”, he says as he makes that long trip to the other side of my California king.   I can’t say I hate it when that happens.  He is warm and cuddly and doesn’t thrash and kick like he used to when he was little.  To the best of my knowledge, A2 has never slept a full night in his life and no one can tell me why.   As he gets older, he seems no worse for the wear for it either.  The stretches between night time explorations have become longer and my husband and I have become a tag team settling into separate sleeping arrangements at night over the years to ensure at least one of us wakes to the new day refreshed.   He tells me “scootch magooch” as he encroaches on the sliver of bed where I sleep and drifts off as swiftly as he made his declaration of his sleep intentions.

The thing is, my husband and I never wake up fully refreshed.  There are Things That Keep Me Up at Night. Who will hug him when we are gone?  Who else will find his sweet smile so endearing even at 3:00am?  We try to be optimistic about his future.  A2 will likely never be able to live independently, but dammit, we bought him a house and we rent it out to people today so in 15 years he will have a place to live….maybe even with 24 hour support staff and 2 or 3 other guys who are sweet spirited sports and music fans like he is.  We live in an expensive school district despite struggling to afford it to make sure he has the best education and connections for his future.   Though we are socially isolated as a family because such is the nature of autism, I remain involved with my religious congregation so he is never alone. SOMEONE will always know and recognize him.  I advocate and I write and I stay present in the disability community so he will always have that community too when it comes time for some else to step in as a guardian when I can no longer do it. A touchpoint for that kind stranger to get guidance or direction. We save the best we can.   We plan for the best possible services and outcomes to give him a meaningful life worth living. We are uncertain what services  will help house him, feed him, care for him.  We can’t be sure that there will be vocational training or health insurance or social security disability payments. All of which is unnerving when you know there will be no one to love him or snuggle with him or wipe away tears.  So we plan as best we can knowing surely, there will be some kind of services for him.

But tonight there is no sleep because now I am not so sure.  I know in the morning light I will look at everyone with a suspicious eye and wonder who around me willingly voted for another reason to keep me up at night. Half the population wanted political change and they got it and whether the overt intentions were there or not, they were willing to make children like my child the sacrificial lamb.  My child will always be dependent on others to be his voice, to protect him….his rights, his body, his dignity . My child and others like him often have no option but to live in poverty and have no political influence as adults.  I am terrified for him because no matter how much we plan, no matter how much we go without today, if it is acceptable for the leader of our country to marginalize him, make fun of him, call him the R word what does that say for the people around us who brush that off and traded my baby in for not voting for the vague “yeah, but she’s worse”?   What happens when it is a decided that my “standard retard” is a drain on the system making everyone elses’ life more difficult?  There will be a supreme court in place likely for the rest of his life who will err on the side of believing that as a universal truth.

The only politics I ever talk about in my writing is my belief that most people are good but misinformed. Perhaps not in my lifetime, but certainly in his, I believed that it was possible to change the world around him enough that true inclusion and a dignified life were possible and through that, the need for the work of disability advocacy would dwindle.  Perhaps I truly believed all that because I see the innocence in his eyes.  He is a pure soul who has helped me see good first and maybe I can spread that message for him.

So, forgive me if you were one of the people who so desperately wanted political change if I seem a little distant from you.  While I am hopeful that my fears are akin to “they’re taking all our guns from us!” it’s a bit harder for me not to be devisive when we are talking about my baby.  But don’t worry….A2 won’t judge you.  He is forgiving and will love you anyway.