Posts Tagged "support"

The Missing Pieces

Posted by on May 20, 2013 | 0 comments

The Missing Pieces

There are missing pieces in the autism community today. Beautiful, tragic pieces named Mikaela, Owen and Drew.

So much has been said and written about Mikaela, yet there is so much more that needs to be said. To be screamed. To be cried out into the night.

Our babies are not safe.

We do what we can. We install extra locks, we put up barricades, we install alarms. We put up signs and rub temporary tattoos on little arms and put ID tags on shoes. We tell everyone entrusted with their care to be aware, be cautious, be vigilant.

But we know, at the end of the day, that our children cannot be locked away in a safe room forever. They cannot be grasped by the wrist or strapped into their seats at all times.

Our children, like all children, need to experience the world first-hand. They can’t do that from behind bars.

To do this, we have to trust in so many things. We have to trust that the people watching them will not look away. We have to trust that the child remembers – even a tiny bit – about safety. We have to trust in the unknown.

We also have to give ourselves a break. Parenting and giving care to an autistic individual can be exhausting and exhilarating. It can eat away at you in the same moment it’s filling you with the most joy. It can raise you up, and beat you down.

And sometimes things happen.

Mikaela Lynch’s family will never forget the moment she disappeared. Nobody made a mistake, nobody dropped the ball. Mikaela simply found a weak spot in her web of safety and took her chance to run free.

Like children will, she headed for water. Like many autistic children, she simply didn’t understand the dangers. The danger of a nine-year-old girl out in the world, unclothed, on her own. The danger of water when you cannot swim.

Children will always find a way around the borders and fences we construct for them. It’s our job to provide guidance and limits, it’s theirs to bust through them. It’s a part of learning and growing. So what happens when that curious child never grows out of the desire to run? What do we do when the guidance and limits fail? Because sometimes, they will fail. We are only human.

Abducted children get an Amber Alert, a barrage of information that disseminates quickly via television, radio, emails, texts, lottery tickets, Twitter, Facebook, SigAlert signs over highways, and more. There is no time to lose when a child is abducted, so the system acts as quickly as possible.

While I understand that sending out too many Amber Alerts has the potential to desensitize the public, there needs to be an equivalent alert for autistic children. Wandering, running, bolting autistic children are at risk every bit as much as if they were abducted. There are just too many variables when it comes to a child who may not even understand the concept of danger and safety.

I can’t say that the sad stories would have ended differently if there had been an alert. But the success of the Amber Alert speaks for itself. Anything is worth doing if it saves just one life.

We talk a lot about autism awareness, and this is what it comes down to. Let the public be aware. Aware of what a child with autism will do. Aware of the inherent dangers. Aware enough to step in and help.

They can’t, unless we tell them. Alert them.

We simply can’t keep losing our children like this. Not when something so simple may have saved them.

I want to change the system. For my child, for your child, for Mikaela. And Owen. And Drew.

 

To learn more about what you can do to help prevent wandering incidents and deaths within the autism community, please visit The AWAARE Collaboration.

run to the water

 

This post is a part of “An Outpouring of Love for The Mikaela Lynch Family.” To read other entries, please visit this site.

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On the Defense

Posted by on Dec 16, 2012 | 3 comments

On the Defense

I’ve  been on a kind of hiatus for a while now, while I was pregnant and had my fourth child.  A fourth boy. I’ve been ready to come back for a few weeks, but got caught up in the holidays and boy #3’s birthday and more holidays and life. I have stories for you, tales of Jack and his new brother, Jack and his fascination with horrible weather events and historical vehicular disasters (both air- and sea-borne), Jack and his new love of making gifts for everyone. Stories about how we need to find an ABA or someone who can help me now that Jack’s older, anecdotes about how Jack is doing in school.

Life has, as is its wont, interceded in my plans.

On Friday, twenty children died.  Twenty mamas lost their babies. Twenty families were wrenched apart at the very time of year we, regardless of religion, tend to gather our loved ones closest. Those charged with keeping them safe died as well, in the course of doing that very job. There are older mamas missing babies tonight, too.

Why should this affect me, other than the fact that two of my children are the same age as those who were lost? Other than the obvious devastation one feels when something horrifying transpires? Other than the unbearable sadness at the loss of innocents? One word.

Autism.

There have been rumours and speculation that the individual who destroyed twenty-seven lives is on the spectrum. Nothing concrete, but enough for the mainstream and social media to grasp in their hot little feeds and run with. I have seen comments on my friends’ posts about how “the shooter has autism and that’s why”. I watched Piers Morgan, on CNN, say that people with Asperger’s are “missing a piece of their brain” and can’t feel sympathy.  I have felt the bile rising in my throat for three days.

Everything I’ve worked for with my son is teetering on a fence now. This situation could go either way. People will come to their senses and understand that ASD is not the cause of a massacre, or they won’t, and I fear for what happens then.  I’m girding myself, because people have notoriously and stubbornly, as evidenced by our last election, refused to be sensible.

Why should this bother me? My child doesn’t have rage issues. My child would never do this. My child isn’t in danger.

I’m sure there are many parents out there tonight who thought the same things and were wrong.

I don’t know what the future holds for my child, or how his ASD is going to affect him in five or ten or twenty years.  I can only hope that with early intervention and constant, loving support, he’ll be a contributing member of society. A happy person with nothing more on his plate than he can handle, and the sense to reach out for help when he can’t.

What I do know is that all of a sudden, instead of telling people that my son has autism with a sense of pride (because I am damned proud of my son), I am defensive.  I feel the need to explain.  He’s high functioning.  He’s really empathetic and loving. He’s not that person.

I don’t want to be defensive about my son, and I don’t want him to ever feel defensive about himself.  Especially not because some other person who may or may not be on the spectrum had more than he could handle and made some seriously bad decisions. I want him to be as proud of himself as I am, always.

Someday I will tell him about the babies who were lost, and why.  And we will talk about it, and we will probably not be able to understand, ever. And I will continue to tell him that he is loved and supported, even if he’s angry.  Even if he’s angry with me.

Mental health support is vital. The village cannot survive without it. I’m doing my part.

Namaste.

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Vindication… and Obligation

Posted by on May 25, 2012 | 1 comment

Vindication… and Obligation

It’s over.  Our long journey for a Canadian autism diagnosis has ended, and we are victorious.

So why am I so tired?

We went to our family diagnosis and funding meeting this week, girding ourselves for any outcome.  I wasn’t hiding my nerves well, so the wonderful doctor let us off the hook immediately.  Jack is on the spectrum, he has ASD.  We knew that, but there were no guarantees the team would agree.  Thankfully, they did, and now Jack is eligible for all the support that Canada and the British Columbian government have to offer.*

After she presented the official diagnosis, we met with a case worker who explained the funding process, and where to go now.  Unlike in California, where either the school district or the regional centers handled coordination of services, we will make most of the decisions ourselves.  It’s a bit confusing, but I’m glad we have a lot of experience in the autism world to guide us.

We sat in the car afterward, letting it all sink in.  I felt relief, I felt happiness… and I felt a weight bearing down on me.  My husband and I looked at each other.  We were both thinking the same thing.

Jack is special.  Jack has always gotten exactly what he’s needed, and then some.  But other children are special, too.  Our monumental task is over, but our – my – biggest job is just beginning.

Since Jack was diagnosed, before even, he has had the full support of everyone charged with his care.  We call him the “poster child for early intervention”, and it really is quite true.  Every step of the way, he’s had exactly the therapy he’s needed, the support he’s required, and the attention he’s deserved.  Here in BC, where his school has not yet received a penny for his support during the year and a half we’ve waited for his diagnosis, Jack has had a full-time special education assistant (SEA).**  Even though we have occasionally had to wait, Jack still prevails in the end.

I know many, many families in the autism community, and their stories are all different.  There are children who are lower functioning, there are children who are high functioning.  There are children with asperger’s, and children with PDD.  The spectrum is wide, and so are the services they’re receiving.  I would love to say every child is getting exactly what they need, but that simply isn’t true.

I know children who are not supported in school, and children who have had to leave school because of it.  I know children who need speech therapy or occupational therapy or sensory integration therapy, but linger on waitlists or are simply denied due to lack of funding.  I know children who have waited years for an accurate diagnosis, without which they cannot even get on those waitlists.

I won’t say we’ve had an embarrassment of riches when it comes to Jack’s therapies, interventions and supports, as he’s needed and deserved every one.  But that feeling lingers when I speak with parents so desperate for even a fraction of what we’ve had.  It pulls at my heart and puts a fire in my gut.

The weight I feel is obligation.  I cannot allow my fight to end with Jack.  He is my child and it’s my duty to advocate for him, but someone needs to stand up and speak for those who are not as fortunate, for whatever reason.  Autism is many things: daunting, confusing, challenging, and oftentimes inspiring.  What autism need never be, though, is a tragedy.  Every single child and individual on the spectrum deserves the chance to be the best they can possibly be, through therapies, interventions, supports, or whatever it takes. Every family touched by autism deserves to know they’re not alone on their journey.

Jack and I have completed this leg in our marathon, and we have every intention of winning the whole thing.  We also intend to take as many with us as we are able.  We can, and we will.

Swinging into the future...

 

“You gain strength, courage and confidence by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face. You are able to say to yourself, ‘I have lived through this horror. I can take the next thing that comes along.’ You must do the thing you think you cannot do.”
Eleanor Roosevelt,

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*Which isn’t a whole lot, honestly, but that’s another topic for another post.

**I was quite pleased to take in his diagnosis paperwork yesterday, which will now entitle his school to $18,000 a year specifically for his support.

 

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A Follow-Up…

Posted by on Mar 13, 2012 | 8 comments

A Follow-Up…

I’ve had a lot of responses to  yesterday’s post about Jack’s “new” diagnosis, and I’ve been thinking about what it is that’s bothering me the most.  A comment this morning hit it on the head:

“It sounds like your son has adapted to may things and so those who tested him determined his diagnosed could be ‘updated’. I think the autistic traits remain, the kiddos just learn to blend in to what is expected of them socially, etc.”

I read this and it struck me.  I’m afraid, because, in my mind, Jack hasn’t evolved out of autism.  I believe he’s every bit as autistic as the day he was diagnosed, he’s just older.

Jack is a brilliant product of Early Intervention, which means we threw all kinds of therapies at him as quickly as possible.  And you know what?  They worked.  But he still has autism, and that means several things.

It means that while he keeps up with his peers in school in terms of schoolwork, he simply cannot function in a school setting without constant supervision (he has a full-time SEA).  His teacher is out for the rest of the school year due to surgery, and I fully expect Jack to backslide until he gets used to the change.

Jack is easily overwhelmed by stimuli, and we have to plan our lives around that.  We rarely do things after school, as he needs that time to decompress from his day.  There are many places we cannot go, because of various things that bother/irritate/terrify him (like the buzzers at the hockey rink adjacent to the indoor playground).

He is hyper verbal, to the point that he thinks every conversation is directed at him, and if he has something to say, he will do anything, including screaming at the top of his lungs, until he gets the floor. We’ve recently realized that giving him simple math problems will buy us enough time to finish our quick discussion about what to get at the store.

Jack has to be constantly engaged at home or he gets restless.  This can mean anything from doing laps of the house to throwing his brothers down the stairs for sport.  His aggression has increased with his age, and in a house full of boys, that’s a scary prospect.

Jack does not understand social boundaries. He will hug and touch complete strangers, and not grasp why it’s wrong.  This particular behavior really scares me.

I honestly don’t believe Jack is “out of autism”.  I think he’s smarter than the ADOS.  I think he had a “good” day for his assessment.  I can tell you if they had assessed him based on his behavior on the way home, there would have been no question.

I identify with autism because I am an autism mom.  Yes, my child is high functioning, but he still has autism.  Every day brings a new challenge, and every day is exhausting. Jack and I both need the services he’s getting, and then some.  I’ve been waiting patiently for a year and a half to re-start his home-based ABA therapy, and the prospect of never getting it wrenches my stomach.

I realize now I’m clinging to the autism label as a lifeline, because that’s what it is.  I know my child responds to therapies, that part is obvious.  The prospect of facing a future without support, though, terrifies me.

I feel exactly the same way I did when Jack was initially diagnosed, except now there’s an additional layer of panic. I cannot let autism be taken away from us.  I just can’t.

A delicate balance.

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Autism by Any Other Name…

Posted by on Mar 12, 2012 | 11 comments

Autism by Any Other Name…

What’s in a label?  I mean, really?  I know the whole “a rose by any other name…” spiel, but I also know that sometimes labels are there for a reason.  Sometimes the label helps you to understand what’s inside the package a little better.

It’s been four and a half years since we first had Jack assessed by Early Intervention in Los Angeles and we took the first steps on this journey of a lifetime together.  It’s been three and a half years since he was formally diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, autism or ASD for short.

At the time, I had mixed feelings about my child being “labeled”.  I knew that with a formal diagnosis of autism the doors of opportunity would magically open for Jack, and he would be supported both at school and socially, at least through early adulthood.  I also knew that for some people in his life, a label served to “explain” Jack a little bit, and made it easier to understand him.

On the flip side, labeling a child for life can be a harsh thing.  Jack will forever carry a stamp on his forehead, or so I thought at the time, that will cause people to judge my child before he has a chance to show his true self.  This reality shattered me and broke me to my very core.  No parent wants their child to suffer, especially for something he can’t change.

I had no idea how we, he, would reconcile these two very different aspects of the one little word, autism.

What I, we, discovered, is a whole new world just waiting for us with open arms.  People who helped us see the beauty in the chaos, the light in the sometimes profound darkness.  Therapists, teachers, professionals, parent, people who have been walking the same path for a while, and those who have just begun.  People who understood the strangeness that is our reality now, and don’t think it’s actually that strange.  People who cheer things others take for granted.  People who laugh with us at the absurdity of it all.   We found community.

Launching this site definitely helped me.  I started it with the intention of sharing my deliriously funny child with the world, and got so very much more in return.  The inkling of an idea I had in the beginning was reinforced in spades: autism is a gift.  For Jack, for me, for our family.

So, four and a half years on, we are at peace.  Autism is still quite often a daily struggle, but it’s also an integral part of our family.  There are so many experiences and people and perspectives we might never have been exposed to had autism never entered our lives.  I have said it many times before, and I will say it again now: I will go to the ends of the earth to alleviate the things about autism that are painful, hard and stressful for Jack, but I will not wish for him to be “normal”. Jack is the person he is because of autism, and he is beautiful.

A leap into the future.

We are at peace.  Well, we were.  Not now.

We moved to Canada a year and a half ago, and we love it here.  The children are happy, mama and daddy are happy, the family is happy.  It was a good move.

When we got here, Jack was immediately taken in by his new school, and once they assessed his situation, he was given full support.  He transferred to the school near our home this year (he had been on the wait list), and they welcomed him with open arms and a full-time SEA (special education assistant).  He is in the grade one French Immersion program and doing really well.  He’s had no support outside of school, though, because that requires funding from the British Columbia provincial government.  In order to get that, Jack needed to be diagnosed again by a Canadian doctor.  Not a problem, we thought, the only issue is a possible year-long wait list.

We had no idea the wait would be the least of our problems.

The clinic in our area that does the autism assessments contacted us a couple of weeks ago and I began a conversation with a wonderful caseworker.  She requested copies of many of Jack’s reports, IEP’s, etc., so I started scanning and emailing forms.  I think I sent well over a hundred pages out of my four-inch-thick “big book of Jack”, which includes every report, letter, IEP and piece of paper concerning autism that I’ve collected since we started all of this back in August of 2007.

In the interim, I was hearing horror stories from other local parents about how their children had been misdiagnosed with ADHD or not diagnosed at all for years.  Parents who finally, in desperation, paid thousands of dollars out of pocket to hire private clinics to take a closer look at their child and give a more accurate diagnosis.

I was nervous, but held firm to the belief that we’d be fine.  After all, Jack was formally diagnosed by not just one, but two doctors, completely independent of one another.  He has had years of occupational therapy and speech therapy, spent three years in collaborative preschools with special education teachers, had a year of in-home ABA therapy, and has always had a full-time support person in school (Behavioral Interventionist in the US, SEA in Canada).  He has been supported by the Lanterman Regional Center, Working With Autism (for both BI and ABA support), several independent occupational therapy centers, and the Los Angeles United School District (LAUSD). No less than 22 full-time professionals in the last four years have worked with and for Jack.

Every one of these people have and continue to support Jack (including several in Los Angeles, who I consider to be his “team”, and I consult before any big decisions, like putting him into French Immersion).  My husband and I have worked hard.  Jack has, and does work hard.  It’s an ongoing job, and it’s paying off.

Evidently, too well.

The wonderful woman I was in contact with at the clinic here in BC thought of us when a cancellation came up last week, and we scrambled and made the appointment, mere hours after she called.  It was a simple assessment, just another ADOS.  Jack didn’t have school that day due to a teachers’ strike, and he was excited to go play games and work puzzles.  He was engaged.

The doctor’s verdict shouldn’t have shocked me, but it did. She said he “barely met her parameters” for autism, and she was more inclined toward PDD. My heart sank, tears welled in my eyes.

In California, as with many of the United States, PDD does not count as “real” autism.  Close, but no cigar.

All I could think was that all the years of hard work led us to this.  There is no cure for autism, but I guess if you’re close enough to “pass”, you can fall off the spectrum and get shut out of the community.

Both the doctor and caseworker were very quick to assure me that in Canada, PDD and ASD are treated the same.  They both receive the same funding and the same designation from the government. There was still some discussion as to whether they would push for a speech evaluation and more thorough psych exam, but for the moment at least, I was assuaged.

I slept on it for a few days, and became less so.  I realized that I was not, in fact ok with this new diagnosis.  I am very far from ok with it.  My child has autism, not PDD.  I know this.  Everyone who knows Jack knows this.  How can all of the people who have worked so closely with him for so long be wrong? I thought of all the things I didn’t mention in my part of the interview, all the obstacles he’s overcome, all of the “bad” things we’ve dealt with.  I wondered if perhaps I had gotten too cocky and Jack had had too “good” a day.  A perfect storm of neurotypicality, if you will.

After a sleepless night hashing it over in my mind, I sent the caseworker an email asking, politely, that they pursue the additional assessments.  I explained that I understand their position, but in my mind, autism just doesn’t disappear.  I don’t know how much influence I had in the decision, but within a day I got the call that they would, in fact, be going ahead with the evaluations.

I felt some relief, yet a nagging voice in my brain just wouldn’t quit. “I’m not ok,” it said. “I need it to be autism.”

Why?  Why am I so afraid of losing autism?  Why am I afraid of losing what is essentially just a label?  Jack will still be the same person he’s always been, whether his file says “autism” or “PDD” or “purple-winged boogie monster”.  He will still be my hilarious, socially-challenged but eternally endearing, beautiful boy.  Jack will not change without autism.

Or will he? In my mind, he, we, will lose identity.  Community.  Future. When Jack was first diagnosed, I took a deep breath and told myself “here we go, this is his/our life now”.  I never dreamed that would change.  Sure, I expected and hoped for him to adapt and learn and in some ways acclimate, but I never thought for a second the autism would go away.  That just doesn’t happen.

And there it was.  I need autism now.  It’s a part of me. It’s who Jack is, it’s who I am as Jack’s mama, it’s who we are as a family.  Autism joined our family the same day Jack did, and it’ll be with us just as long.

And I suppose if the official diagnosis stands at PDD, not much will change.  Life as we know it will roll on, and Jack will continue to be hilarious and socially-challenged and endearing. And I will stubbornly cling to the name of this website.

In the end, it’s just another stop on our journey together.  Autism really is a trip.

The family that autism built.

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**UPDATE**

I had a few more thoughts on this, so make sure you read the follow-up here.

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