Tag Archives: ASD

Who Rescues Who?

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“Dogs are not our whole life, but they make our life whole.” ~ Roger Caras

This photo is an accurate portrayal of the love our son has for our dog, Geoffrey—a rescue from Ruff World Animal Adoptions in Central Florida.  He is the fourth canine family member (and third rescue) we’ve been blessed to share life with in the past twelve years.

Our dogs—the last two (Felix and now Geoffrey) in particular—have been vital to our family. They have proven to be effective touchstones for our son—having a somewhat grounding influence on him.  For me they have proven to be great stress reducers.  My favorite part of the day is lying in bed at night waiting for munchkin to fall asleep.  Geoffrey snoozes with his front and back legs draped over me while his head rests in my lap.  The room is dark except for the soft glow of a nightlight.  As I stroke the side of his face and run his velvety ear repeatedly through my fingers I can literally feel the stress of the day wash away.  (Studies have shown that petting a dog can lower your heart rate.)  Truth be told, if it weren’t for my husband waiting for me to spend some time with him, I could conceivably stay there all night for the inner peace I’m afforded in that sacred space.

If you are contemplating bringing a canine family member into your home I urge you to please consider adopting from a rescue or shelter.  There are so many wonderful, loving dogs in desperate need of a loving forever home.

An estimated 2.7 million healthy shelter pets are not adopted each year, and only about 30 percent of pets in homes come from shelters and rescues.

U.S. shelter and adoption estimates

  • 83.3 million—Number of owned dogs
  • 20 percent—Percentage of owned dogs who were adopted from animal shelters
  • 3,500—Number of animal shelters
  • 6 to 8 million—Number of cats and dogs entering shelters each year
  • 25 percent—Percentage of purebred dogs in shelters
  • 3 to 4 million—Number cats and dogs adopted from shelters each year
  • 2.7 million—Number of adoptable cats and dogs euthanized in shelters each year

                                                                                     ~ 2013-2014 statistics according to the Humane Society of the US 

Shine Your Light

I have a confession to make.  I’m insecure.  I have been my entire life. To compensate for my lack of self-confidence I’ve historically been a rather gregarious gal.  Hiding behind this public persona, however, is a person deathly afraid of rejection.  I talk a good game, but truth be told I hide my life and my “light” from the world.

In previous posts, I’ve shared links to both a recent local television news segment [http://bit.ly/15QPPR2] and half hour news show [http://bit.ly/153Jhiu] I participated in, both of which speak on the subject of autism (early diagnosis and education, respectively).  Terrified of public speaking, I told myself that it would be completely worth it if our family’s story helped one person.  Let me tell you—I was elated to receive an e-mail from a woman who saw the news show on autism and education and was looking for information.  The discomfort I experienced by appearing on that show was well worth it based on this single e-mail from the grandmother of a young boy with autism.  She was seeking information on schools, programs and medical providers.  I was beyond thrilled to share information I’ve gleaned and compiled over the past two years.  Additionally, another woman contacted me via a mutual friend of ours.  She has a daughter with autism and is relocating to Palm Beach County.  She too was seeking information on education and healthcare/therapy providers.

Had I not stepped out of my comfort zone I wouldn’t have been able to help these women. The bottom line is this:  Folks took notice.  Awareness was raised.  People—just like me—are looking for help and searching for answers. Don’t isolate yourself.  People aren’t out to judge you. (Well, at least not the majority of them.)  Parents are simply looking for help.  They’re looking for a connection.  They’re looking for acceptance.  Their eyes are upon you and me. Illuminate your journey and you’ll light their path.  That’s part and parcel of our experience.

 “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” ~Matthew 5:14-16

“Raw”

Munchkin had a seldom-seen stillness about him this morning that was especially apparent on the drive to school.  This stillness allowed for a palpable openness about him–something that I rarely get to see.  Typically, Jackson’s personalty is such that he must be in control at all times.  He is completely and unequivocally in command of his surroundings and the things he allows himself to be exposed to.  He’s a child on high alert.  Some folks tell me this is a good thing, but for me it can be disheartening to constantly be shut down at every turn. There are so many things I would love to do or experience with Jackson that he simply will not have any part of.  And while that’s completely okay, it doesn’t lessen the isolation I sometimes feel, stemming from living in a very thwarted and limited world.  But this morning was different.  Jackson talked.  I listened.  I talked.  He listened.  Did you get that?  WE talked!

This openness allowed a rawness to surface inside me that shattered my soul–a rawness that is oftentimes stifled by the day-to-day tasks and responsibilities of parenting.  The utter rawness I felt while driving to school left me broken and humbled beyond description.  I get to be this child’s mom.  Me!  What an absolute privilege!  I am so underserving of this magnificent gift.  How easy it is in parenting a child with developmental challenges and special needs to mistake parenting solely as a serious responsibility (NOT burden, mind you), as opposed to the blessing it truly is.  

My prayer:  Thank you, God, for entrusting us with this precious child of yours. Guide our every breath word, action and reaction, O Lord, as we steward him through his life on earth. Give us your wisdom and knowledge as we raise this child up.  Let you Spirit direct our steps as we teach this precious little one to love you, to love Jesus, and to love all people.  Let us love him with the same love, grace, mercy and peace with which You love us.  Be glorified in all we do, Lord–especially as parents. In the name of your precious Son, Jesus. Amen.

Don’t miss this, folks.  We are blessed!  You and I are so very blessed.  

Behold, children are a heritage from the LORD, the fruit of the womb a reward… ~Psalms 127:3

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My husband and I are partners in a branding firm.  When we were planning for our adoption our game plan, once our munchkin was home and settled, was to bring him to the office with us.  We were excited for Jackson to be a part of our little company.  One of the many reasons we wanted to—and were excited to—do this was so he could see us in action in the office, which would hopefully give him an appreciation for hard work.  My husband and I have always referred to ourselves as “Team D—D squared,” but looking forward, we’d be “Team D—D cubed!”

My husband returned to work within days of our return home from Ethiopia.  Several weeks later, once we were settled with a routine established, I attempted to take Jackson to the office.  I brought a bag filled with bottles, diapers and toys and set up a portable crib.  I closed my door and played soothing music.  For naptime I downloaded white noise on my iPhone, closed the blinds and dimmed the lights. I tried everything, but it was impossible to keep Jackson content or quiet.  It was abundantly clear.  Our plan to bring Jackson to work so I could return to our physical office in any capacity was simply not going to happen.  Jackson’s high energy/high octane presence was far too disruptive in the office setting.  To say it was counterproductive would be a disingenuous understatement.

I began to work from home and started to set deadlines for a return to the office.  I started with a goal of six months.  Six months became one year.  One year became eighteen months.  You get the gist.  I tried to bring Jackson into the fold, not only at these milestones but also in between, to no avail.  I honestly don’t remember when I simply gave up on the goals, but I did.  I chucked the idea of ever returning to work with Jackson as my/our sidekick.

Let’s fast-forward four years and five months.  (But hey, who’s counting?)  Last month Jackson began VPK.  He is in school six hours per day, Monday through Friday.  I finally returned to the office and can’t express in words how good it feels.  I never in a million years thought I’d be so happy to park my butt at a desk.  It’s not the work per se that has me excited.  I’ve been getting by while working from home.  (To be honest, that statement probably errs on the side of gracious.)  It’s the idea of being a part of something again.  I’m part of a team, as opposed to slaying dragons by myself all the livelong day.  And this absence from Jackson affords me a deep breath of sweet, fresh air that I definitely and desperately need.  It allows me to savor my time with him so much more than when we’re glued together 24/7.  And as an added bonus, I actually wash my face, brush my teeth and take a shower.  And this is daily, folks!  And for an added double-bonus, I get to wear decent clothes!  These are all things I took for granted pre-munchkin.  I have a new understanding of and appreciation for the idiom “absence makes the heart grow fonder.”  It’s a given I’ve always been fond of this little munchkin of ours, but seeing him light up when the teacher walks him out to carline absolutely sets my heart afire.

 “Once you become the mommy or daddy in your child’s world, it is the only world in which you exist, no matter how much you fancy there is a separate world of your own.”  ~Robert Brault

 

Playground Stress

During the seemingly unending period of waiting for a referral during our adoption, one of the things I dreamed of doing was spending time on the playground in the South Florida sun with our munchkin.  Four plus years into parenting, however, I almost always find playground outings to be stressful.  I tend to avoid them altogether unless Jackson absolutely presses me for a visit.  Such was the case with a recent school holiday.  Jackson had a lot of energy to burn and really wanted to go to a nearby playground with “the dark slide.”  He really did need to get out beyond the confines of our backyard, so I acquiesced.

As soon as we arrived at the playground, Jackson made a beeline to “the dark slide.”  He’s unable to climb the ladder himself and requires my assistance in placing his feet on each rung while I tell him where to place his hands.  This also requires me to physically support his bottom.  As is usually the case, and was on this day too, the other children literally climb over Jackson, pushing both of us aside.   Jackson never, ever says a word.  Upon reaching the top Jackson had no intention of going down the slide.  He was content with the view and told me the slide was spooky, which didn’t surprise me in the least.  He would enter the opening of the slide and then come back out when a child wanted to come down.  At one point a little girl ascended the ladder to the platform.  She was slightly younger then Jackson and rather intrigued by him.  He crossed his arms and loudly instructed her to leave him alone and told her emphatically he didn’t want to be her friend, something he had been doing continually to children during our playground visit.  This little girl, however, didn’t move on as the other children had done.  She reacted by roaring at Jackson—loudly.  Very loudly.  It was sensory overload.  He jabbed his fingers behind his ears, his typical coping mechanism, and became completely paralyzed.  He began to scream shrilly and shout, “Stop roaring!”   Of course the more he did this the more the little girl roared.  Her mother, who spoke very limited English, couldn’t stop chuckling over her little girl as she caused Jackson to scream and shout.  Try as I might I couldn’t get him to descend the ladder or go down the slide.  After what seemed like an eternity (but in realty was only a few minutes) I finally coaxed him down the slide.  Blessedly he was ready to go home.

Jackson was no worse for the wear.  In fact, he never made mention of the incident again.  I’m the one with the lasting emotional scars.  I’m the one who bears the heartbreak of the day—of seeing the little boy who’s afraid of slides, who doesn’t want to play with other children, who spends an inordinate amount of time with his little fingers pressed behind his ears and is pushed aside like he’s insignificant. They say ignorance is bliss, and for all intents and purposes, Jackson is blissfully unaware—for now. I don’t know if that makes me happy or sad.   What I do know is that I simply want Jackson to have a great childhood—the childhood I dreamed of giving him during those years of waiting.

Breaking My Heart

“If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” ~ Woody Allen

Our son, Jackson, is adopted.  Early in the adoption process you are asked to state your criteria for a child.  Our request was pretty straightforward.  Male. Healthy. Birth to 12 months of age.  Now, we know you can’t mail order a child.  And of course there are no guarantees whatsoever in adoption.  But the agency asks and that’s what we told them.

When we finally received our referral it appeared all criteria were met.  Our son was seven weeks old and healthy.  Three months later we traveled to Ethiopia to bring Jackson home.  He was everything we dreamed he would be and a whole lot more.  However, shortly after our return home I recognized that caring for Jackson was far different than caring for my daughter had been when she was the same age.  I attributed it to the trauma Jackson had been through in his five short months of life on earth.  (Adoption is a blessing for both the parents and child, but it is without exception borne of great tragedy.)  Additionally, I thought we were most likely experiencing attachment-related issues, as we were Jackson’s fifth “home” in four months.  I desperately tried to love away his issues.  I utilized every bonding technique and suggestion known to man.  I followed every book, blog, article, report and mother’s instinct that came to light, but there was little change.

Jackson was restless.  He cried (loudly) if he wasn’t moving—constantly moving.  He didn’t sleep.  He wouldn’t smile.  He wouldn’t reach for me or touch me.  He wouldn’t look at me.  He didn’t coo.  He didn’t giggle.  No. Matter. How. Hard. I. Tried.  It was heart rendering.  It was obvious he was content to be cared for, but could not have given a hoot as to who changed his diaper or fed him a bottle.  My gut told me it was autism.  Turned out this mama’s instinct was correct.

I wrestled with the “why” question for quite awhile.  Our travel to Ethiopia was life changing.  There is so much need there.  Need for schools.  Need for clean water.  HIV-related need.  And the orphans.  There are so many orphans and orphanages in this world.  And I wanted to fix it all.  But God had a different plan for me and for our family.  I wrestled spiritually with God.  I never doubted His love for me.  What I struggled with was why I was wandering in the desert.  All I wanted to do was to be the change I want to see in the world, but my life was at a complete and total standstill.  Caring for Jackson required every ounce of strength and energy I had.

And then God spoke to me.  Not in so many words, of course, but the revelation was crystal clear.  Jackson is my mission and my mission.  He is my mission field, and he is my life’s mission.  That was why God brought him into our family.  HE knew exactly what HE was doing.  Bringing Jackson to Jupiter, Florida, to be our son was HIS plan all along.  I never lose sight of that, not for one minute.

A byproduct, so to speak, of God’s plan for me to be Jackson’s mom is how HE has opened my eyes and heart to children with developmental challenges.  I am so acutely aware of my surroundings, no matter where I am.  When I see a child whose behavior is outside the norm, my heart overflows with compassion for the child’s parent/family.  I go out of my way to share a smile, a kind word, a helping hand, a look of acceptance.  These small gestures are borne of an awareness God has gifted me with.  It’s an awareness I wouldn’t otherwise have, if it weren’t for Jackson.  He is my mission and my mission.  Autism awareness is part and parcel of that mission—one I take seriously.

Thank you, God, for breaking my heart for what breaks yours.  And by the way are you still laughing, God?  It’s okay if you are, because it’s all good, God.  It’s all good.