Posted in Present Day

It gets better!

I just spent a most enjoyable few days in Atlanta with my boys, visiting old friends and celebrating the 4th.  I’m amazed at how much easier it is these days…to travel, to communicate, to interact…all of it!  It has gotten much better with time.  Every year makes a difference. Granted, we all have different experiences, and ASD kids (and adults) are all different, but I’d like to share hope that things will get better.  With time, patience, dedication, advocacy, and strong support, life with autism gets easier.

Evan prepared to bowl
Brian on Ninja Warrior course at NitroZone

Evan ran the Peachtree Road Race 10K in 50 minutes (impressive with the hills and Atlanta heat). Brian worked out at NitroZone on the Ninja Warrior course. He’s getting in shape with a goal of making it on the Amazing Race one day, as well as on Jeopardy. All three of us enjoyed bowling.

Evan still has his “freak out” moments when he thinks he’s made a mistake or isn’t perfect (who is?).  Brian still gripes about, well, just about everything.  But the two of them are great travelers and for the most part, fun and engaging companions.  I’m so thankful that I was able to spend a few days hanging out with these beautiful young men.

Raising ASD kids is soooo hard, no doubt about it. We’ve been through a lot and have scars to prove it. A few years ago, I wouldn’t have believed we’d be where we are today. My message is this: Hang in there! You never know what miracle awaits just around the corner.

Getting ready for the Peachtree Road Race!
Posted in Present Day

Blog guilt?

I haven’t posted in a few weeks, and I’ve been feeling a nagging sense of guilt, which is actually easy breezy for me.  I can rock mommy guilt, wife guilt, and employee guilt with the best of them.  Why not blog guilt?

When I started up this site, I self-committed to posting regularly, and did so for quite a while.  The last month? Nada! But as I force myself to slow down long enough to reflect on the past few weeks, I’m surprised and elated to note that guilt is actually superseded by pride and a sense of accomplishment.

University of Glasgow Welcome Reception in DC
Evan after a successful first year at college, hauling stuff out to the car.

Brian and Evan are home for the summer, and that in and of itself means that life is busier.  Additionally, there’s been lots of other stuff happening. 

  • Brian received his diploma, graduating Summa Cum Laude with recognition from the Honor’s College at Salisbury University.
  • Evan completed his first year at Salisbury University, with no special accommodations, taking courses in Macroeconomics, Microeconomics, Calculus, English, Communication, Information Systems and Physics, all with B’s and C’s!
  • Brian received a firm offer from University of Glasgow, and will embark on his Master’s Program in History in September.
  • Seeing as that Brian will likely need some help getting settled into his new digs in Scotland, and being the kind and loving mom that I am 😊, I’ve offered to help him during the move-in process.  We’ve booked airfare for both Brian and myself to travel to Glasgow in September.  Knowing that I’m a huge Outlander fan, Brian has kindly agreed to join me on an Outlander tour, visiting many of the castles and locales from the book and TV series. I can’t wait!
  • Evan and I are celebrating his 20th birthday with a trip to Firefly Music Festival next weekend in Dover.  Four days of camping, sweat, bugs, and a musical lineup of bands that I’ve (mostly) never heard of.  I’m sure it’ll be worth it as the time spent with Evan will be precious. We’ve been pre-packing and planning for weeks, and we’re almost set to go.
  • Immediately after returning from the Great American Campout at Firefly, Evan, Brian and I will begin carpooling three days a week to my office, where they both were offered part-time, summer positions.  Brian as an Editor and Evan, as a Financial Management Student Trainee.  This is such a blessing…it’s first real jobs for both of them.  The folks I work with are kind and understanding, and I think this will be wonderful summer employment for them both.
  • I recently attended a conference at work that opened some doors which could potentially lead to some exciting opportunities in the future.  I’m embarking on some new interesting paths…no telling where it all might lead!
  • My mom invited my sister (from Charlotte, NC) and me to join her for a girl’s weekend in Little Rock, and we recently met up in Arkansas to hang out, catch up and enjoy each other’s company.
  • My hubby celebrated his birthday, and of course Father’s Day this month, and we went out to our favorite restaurant to celebrate.
  • In the last month, I’ve run both a half-marathon and a 10K, both of which provided an excuse for my husband and myself to explore some new areas of town, and try out some creative post-race cuisine.  I even won my age group award in the 10K!  I was the only one in my age group, but hey an award’s an award!

So I haven’t been blogging much lately, but looking at all that’s happened in the last few weeks, I’m at peace.  I’m savoring this busy, fun and exciting time spent with my family.  These moments are truly priceless!

10-Mile Mark at St. Michael’s 1/2 Marathon

Posted in Present Day

From those early lost days to the present – Evan’s been hired for his first job!

Last week, Evan got “the call” – an offer to work as a part-time summer intern at the federal agency with which I’m employed.  I had advocated heavily for him and my boss was kind enough to float his resume around to the hiring managers.  Since he is on the spectrum, Evan is eligible to be hired non-competitively for federal jobs under Schedule A authority.  I asked his doctor to sign off on a Schedule A letter which specified his eligibility, and that was basically all that was needed from our end, paperwork-wise.

Evan will be working three 8-hour days per week, driving into the office with me.  His career goal is to be an Accountant, and he’ll be working with other Accountants, and doing some fairly routine, repetitive tasks, at least at first.  He’ll be earning over $14/ hour…for his first job!  He is so excited, and I couldn’t be more proud!

Trust me, it wasn’t always apparent that Evan would graduate high school, much less be able to work in an office environment. Evan was one of those kids who appeared neurotypical, then severely regressed.  At 13 months old, he was verbal, spontaneously saying “thank you” when given a desired object or reward.  His fine motor skills were in evidence as he enjoyed building Lego towers on the giant Lego set at Children’s Therapy Works, as we waited for brother Brian to complete his therapy sessions. 

As I mentioned in an earlier post, my sister, Annie, and her family joined us for the July 4th holiday in 2001.  As they packed up to leave, and we said our farewells, I picked up my two-year old, and said “Evan, say bye to Aunt Annie and Uncle Jay”.  Annie’s comment (that I remember vividly to this day): “Cindy, I don’t think he’s known we’ve been here the whole week”.

That shocked the crap out of me…I hadn’t recognized Evan’s regression.  That may sound crazy, but I just hadn’t seen it.  He was still my cuddly little boy.  Upon intense reflection, I realized that he wasn’t talking much anymore, and hadn’t any interest in Lego creations.  Instead, he was lining things up and engaging in repetitive behaviors.  He had checked out to a large degree, eyes glazed, enveloped by autism.

I quickly realized there were limited ways of connecting with him in this new reality.  At the time, Blue’s Clues, Teletubbies and travel were our lifelines to reach him. I stated to anyone who would listen: “If I were independently wealthy, I would take Evan and travel the world”.  Travel, including planes, trains, boats, taxis…all brought him back to me, at least for a few heartwarming moments at a time.  The magic created by our travel adventures had him tuning in and engaging.

We were (and are) quite far from wealthy, but my husband did travel occasionally for his work, and we joined him when we could.  Over those early years, we visited Florida, Hawaii, Puerto Rico, and California.  With each experience, Evan’s eyes would light up, and I would think “Yes! C’mon baby!  Come back to me”.

With time and more travel, Evan was able to better communicate his fears and anxieties.  Public restrooms, autoflush toilets, hand dryers…all were ruled out.  Another quirk…he absolutely refused to stay in “accessible” hotel rooms, which had the potential for strange flashing lights (fire alarm for the hearing impaired), doorbells midway up the door, odd-looking bathrooms (sometimes without bathtubs), and other strange features.  On several occasions, we changed hotel rooms to accommodate his concerns.  Later, as we got smarter, Evan began accompanying me as I checked in at each hotel.  This provided an opportunity for him to personally ask the clerk for a “non-accessible” room.  He’s learned to advocate for himself!

Over the years and through trial and error, this Floortime approach proved consistently the most effective platform for engaging Evan.  Ed and I learned to join him in his interests and we built relationships around Wii sports, chess, travel, SpongeBob, football, and fantasy football. Evan enjoyed showing off his passion for football, and sports, and we made several fun videos along the way.  Making videos is a great way to get the entire family involved . Potential roles include cameraperson, director, lighting, script-writing, and rehearsing. Researals, with all sorts of blooper potential is half the fun! 

Evan recites all 120 FBS College Football teams in alphabetical order!

Whether it’s travel, outdoor activities, a TV show, a sport…whatever it is for your child, I can’t overstate the importance of joining him or her and connecting through that interest. Discover their passions and celebrate by engaging them whenever possible…even when it’s outside your comfort zone!

It’s been a super-long haul, especially with two boys on the spectrum.  They are both still impacted and have anxieties and restricted abilities in many areas.  But it’s incredibly better today than I could have imagined 18 years ago.  It takes an inordinate amount of patience, advocacy, effective academic placements, OT, PT, SLT, doctors and other professionals, compromise, flexibility, blood, sweat and tears, but wow, it’s worth it!

Evan’s summer job has the potential to evolve into a longer-term opportunity after college.  The supervisor with whom he’ll be working this summer is one of the kindest, most genuine, caring human beings I’ve met.  Mark (the supervisor) is a huge football fan and also a Salisbury graduate (Evan just finished up his Freshman year at Salisbury), so I think they will really hit it off.  Mark and Evan and I have a meeting set up a few days before his official start date to discuss Evan’s concerns and anxieties.  I asked Evan if he preferred that I attend, and he said “yes”, so I shall.  We’ll likely discuss Evan’s need to be notified in advance of fire drills, so he can exit the building.  We’ll let Mark know that Evan will be going to another floor for his toileting needs (the other floor has a private bathroom with regular flush and no hand dryers).  I’ll let Mark know a bit about how Evan learns, so they can work well together.  We’ll need to buy Evan some pants – currently he lives in shorts in the summer, and sweats in the winter.  He won’t have to get dressed up, but shorts and Crocs are a no-go in the office.  I promised Mark that I wouldn’t be a helicopter parent, but that I wanted to introduce Evan and let him discuss some of his concerns up front.  Mark is totally open and actually invited me to check in with him at any time.  I won’t get in the way, but still it’s nice to have the option to touch base, should something come up.

My parting thoughts are these:  Please know that nothing you do for your child is in vain and forgive yourself for being perfectly imperfect.  You’ll make a lot of mistakes (Lord knows I made a zillion).  You may even be horrified at some of your choices.  We’re human and subject to our own stresses and anxieties, and shit happens.  On one occasion when Evan was learning to drive, he pulled out at an awkward angle, in front of another vehicle, and I actually turned to him as said “What the f**k are you doing?!?”  Not exactly my finest parenting hour!  We pulled over immediately so that I could apologize for my overreaction.  All is well now, but I still can’t believe that came out of my mouth.

Parents screw up…it happens.  The journey is about progress, not perfection, so keep going, putting one foot in front of the other.  Rely on your support networks.  Online support is wonderfully convenient, but if you can, reach out and maintain some “live” relationships with other parents of ASD kids.  Take care of yourself. Exercise.  Don’t be afraid to ask for help, and take it when offered.

We all have our own journeys, and everyone’s story is different.  Eighteen years ago, I wouldn’t have imagined Evan graduating high school (and receiving a peer-nominated school spirit award at graduation!), driving a car, touring Europe with little support, and going off to college.  In those early “lost” years, it was unimaginable.  And now, my baby headed to work as a student intern.  The sense of pride and accomplishment runs very deep.

Posted in Present Day

Interview with an Aspie (Part Five)

“Parents – you cannot be a passenger in your child’s life. You need to be driving…where it’s going and what needs to happen”.

In this last segment of his interview, Brian talks about having limited interests, tips for ASD parents and growing up with a brother who is also on the spectrum.  This candid interview reveals his thoughts on relationships (or lack thereof) and advice for others with HFA.

Part five of five: Interview with an Aspie
Posted in Present Day

Interview with an Aspie (Part Four)

In part four of the interview, Brian discusses sensory issues, food challenges, loneliness, depression, pets and therapists.

Part five coming soon!

Posted in Present Day

Interview with an Aspie (Part Three)

Part three of this candid interview focuses on Brian’s tips and suggestions for parents, special educators and teachers. Stay tuned as he takes a heart wrenching exploration into empathy and emotional connectivity.

Posted in Present Day

Interview with an Aspie (Part Two)

From an insiders point of view, the ups and downs of growing up with high-functioning autism, and what he wants you to know.

Brian and Mom Keeping it Real About those TOUGH Early Years
Posted in Present Day

Interview with an Aspie (Part One)

Are you curious about Asperger’s from an insider’s perpective? My son, Brian (now 22) sat down for an interview and answered questions submitted by other parents and friends. E.g., How did he perceive growing up Aspie? What was most difficult? His greatest triumph? His thoughts are candid, sometimes heart-breaking, and always honest.

Candid conversations with Brian and Mom, Cindy
Posted in Present Day

Running into Sanity

“Previous studies carried out in Euro-American populations have unequivocally indicated that psychological disorders of the CASD (caregivers of children with autism spectrum disorder) are marked with high levels of stress, anxiety, and depression”.[1]

Cerebrun with Brian and Evan

This certainly proved true for me.

At around age 28, I had taken up running as a means to quit smoking.  I’d tried quitting a zillion times before, but eventually with the combination of the nicotine patch and running, it finally stuck.  I’d rightly deduced that I couldn’t run and smoke simultaneously, and running kept my lungs occupied while providing endorphins to push me past the pain of quitting. 

The running bug more or less stuck with me over the years, and after Brian was born, I pushed him along the trails in my super cool new jog stroller.  When Evan came along, we purchased a double jog stroller, and the two of them were my running companions.  This happy time was “BASDD” – before the ASD diagnoses.

AASDD, after the ASD diagnoses, life of course, changed dramatically, and running took a back seat to other more urgent demands. A tsunami of frustrations and struggles marked our activities of daily living, and I found myself dropping into depression.  I worried constantly.  Would Brian survive his childhood without hospitalization or jail?  Would Evan ever get that light back in his eyes…the connectedness and loving gaze from his early childhood days?  Would my marriage survive?  Would we be able to afford all the therapies?  Would the school system provide the services the boys desperately needed?

People gave me unsolicited, well-intended, but ultimately useless advice that left me feeling like I was doing it all wrong.  Their neurotypical kids with their time outs and reward charts for good behavior didn’t fly in our world.  We were a traveling circus of meltdowns and raised voices, and were “stared at” in the finest establishments, grocery stores, restaurants and malls in Atlanta.  For the record, I hate being stared at! 

When an 8-year-old Brian experienced his sensory meltdown, slapped the headmaster, and was subsequently expelled, the painful one-two punch hit me hard.  I felt embarrassed at my out-of-control son, and it was especially difficult because I worked in the admin office at the school. 

I quit working for a time to homeschool him and sank further into depression.  But even in the months leading up to that fateful transition, the demands of raising two boys on the spectrum had me feeling very down.  I would find myself weeping uncontrollably.  I didn’t sleep well and was tired all the time.  I didn’t want to spend unstructured time around others, preferring to be with my boys or alone.  The sadness and isolation became worse as I missed my wonderful co-workers and mourned losing my beloved job.

Rebel Race with Brian

Even within the autism community, we had our outcast moments.  I recall one such stressful episode.  Members from our autism support group were on a field trip to a bouncy house play area.  As part of the precautionary measures, all participants had to view a safety video.  Afterwards, the employee administering the safety briefing randomly asked the kids questions to test their understanding.  The son of our autism support group leader was asked a question, and didn’t respond.  My Brian with Asperger’s, in an attempt to be helpful, piped up that the kid wasn’t answering because he had autism.

It was as if Brian had simultaneously cussed out and slapped the kid’s mom.  She was angry and shocked and quite upset.  Apparently in her household, the “a” word wasn’t discussed, but that genie wasn’t going back into the bottle.  Brian had let the cat out of the bag, and she was livid.  Unfortunately, our relationship was never quite the same afterward.

Over the years, I met with psychologists, psychiatrists and therapists, and played guinea pig in an attempt at finding the right balance of anti-depressants and anti-anxiety meds.  As much as I didn’t want to need them; time, and repeated mental smackdowns convinced me that wishing it weren’t so…didn’t make it not so. 

Undergoing these years of chronic stress, loneliness, anxiety, fear, and doubt was life changing, and as it turns out, “brain changing” as well.  In a study published in Molecular Psychiatry, researchers found that chronic stress results in long-term changes in the brain. These changes, they suggest, might help explain why those who experience chronic stress are also more prone to mood and anxiety disorders later on in life.  Stress might play a role in the development of mental disorders such as depression and various emotional disorders.[2] And raising ASD kids is one of the most stressful parenting circumstances. 

Wipe Out Run

On the other hand, in a study, published in the journal Neurobiology of Learning and Memory, researchers found running prevents stress from wreaking havoc on your brain—particularly on the part tasked with learning and memory.[3]

Exercise is also considered vital for maintaining mental fitness, and it can reduce stress. Studies show that it is very effective at reducing fatigue, improving alertness and concentration, and at enhancing overall cognitive function. This can be especially helpful when stress has depleted your energy or ability to concentrate.[4]

Foam Fest

It took a while to get it, but for me, running and exercise are not optional.  Most folks I know work out for their physical health, but that’s not my main focus.  It’s absolutely mandatory for my mental state that I work out daily.  This means prioritization of physical exercise with no excuses.  Other things will wait. Others may exercise “if they have time”.  I must make the time.

Consequently, my house is never all that tidy and picture perfect.  I’m behind on several projects.  Ironically, I’m a good fifteen pounds overweight (menopause has done a number on my metabolism!), but I just ran a half-marathon last weekend in 2 hours, 28 minutes.  I can climb 30 flights of stairs without passing out.  I survive a weekly spin class with thinner, younger people.  My mind is clearer.  I find that if I start each day with some form of physical activity, and sometimes it’s merely a climb to my eighth-floor office, I’m more focused and less anxious. 

Carroll Mud Run

Over the years, running has become a family activity. Brian doesn’t like the “running” part of running much, and generally will only run obstacle or mud runs, which he finds more entertaining than fun runs. Evan runs daily unless it’s raining or too cold. He actually burns through a pair of shoes every three months!

I’m still on antidepressants, but now at a much lower dose since they’re combined with my exercise regimen.  I thank God that my body has held up thus far, and that I’m strong.  My brain may never be as clear and flexible as it was BASDD, but exercise makes it better and I feel more alert.  Each day I make a conscious choice to run into sanity.  It’s the only sensible option for me.





Posted in Present Day

Pitching Camp and the Potty Predicament

I recently asked Evan, what he wants for his 20th birthday, and he says he’s willing to forego presents (not too surprising) and cake (shocking) for a trip to the Firefly Music Festival in Dover, Delaware this summer.  I was surprised that he would want to attend such a huge social gathering.  On the other hand, he’s always loved music.  Any of his extra dollars go directly to iTunes.  And one of his favorite pastimes these days is cruising around the neighborhood, driving with the sunroof open, windows rolled down, and the music cranked up.  Waayyy up.

Evan asked if just he and I can attend the music festival.  I think he feels like he can be himself around me without being judged (which is true), and so he can relax and enjoy.

I started looking into this music festival thing. Not only are the passes $300 per person, but it’s not practical to not stay on site.  In conjunction with the music festival, there’s also a GAC – Great American Campout.  Thousands of people bring their tents and RVs or rent “pre-set” camping or glamping sites set up by the festival organizers.   I dislike bugs and sleeping on the ground, so I checked out the glamping options which have beds and a/c.  There are no toilets in the glamping tents, but they do come with access to “private air-conditioned restroom facilities”. In a neurotypical world, I’m guessing that’s all one would need to know. In our world, the devil is in the details.

Which spurred the following e-mail from me to the event organizers:  

“Good day,   My 20-year-old would like to attend Firefly as a gift for his upcoming birthday.  He also has autism, and is very sensitive to public bathrooms, automatic flushing toilets, and bathrooms with hand dryers.  My question is this.  If we were to select, for example, “Infield Glamping”, could you tell me specifically all the details about the “Private air-conditioned restroom facilities”?  What does the word “Private” mean?  How many people/ tents share a bathroom?  Is it just toilets or is it toilets and showers in the bathroom?  Are there hand dryers?  Automatic flushes?  What exactly is a shower “fast pass” and how does that process work?
Is there any venue you could recommend at Firefly that would have no automatic flushes and no hand dryers?
  I realize these may sound like odd questions, but it’s all important to him.  I appreciate you taking the time to research, investigate and answer these queries.  Have a wonderful day!”

Still advocating to this day, I’m trying to shift focus toward teaching Evan to self-advocate.  It’s hard to break old habits, though, and I find myself jumping in to write e-mails or make phone calls on his behalf.  At least these days, I “cc” Evan on any e-mails and/ or include his contact information.  We’ll often make phone calls on speaker phone, so he can learn what to ask and how to answer queries.  So I wrote to the Firefly event organizers, asking about the potty sitch, and included Evan in the correspondence.

Before I received a reply, I got a stiff case of sticker shock.  As much as I’d love to rent one of the air-conditioned glamping sites, I’m not willing to pony up $1200 for the four-night stay (in addition to the passes).  So instead we decided to rent a basic camp site close to the music.  I just purchased an “instant” 4-person tent on Amazon, hoping that even with my visual-spatial challenges, I can figure out how to set it up properly.  Evan struggles with issues with coordination (or lack thereof) and motor skills.  Apple, meet tree.  I’m not sure he’ll be much help in the tent set-up department, but we’ll manage.  We’ll use blow up airbeds to make the ground a little less hard.

Bottom line is that come June, I’ll be hanging out with 80,000+ Gen Zers and Millennials, listening to music that I don’t recognize, sung by artists that I’ve never heard of, in huge crowds of rowdy “young people” (I really dislike crowds).  I’ll be stuck in a tent with no A/C in the sticky summertime.  Bugs and humidity and port-a-potties…oh my!  And the total cost is around $1200 (I could go on a 7-day cruise for $1200)!  Why on earth would I ever agree to something like this? 

Quite simply, it’s because he asked me to.  He asks for so little…this is rare that he actually requests something so meaningful to him.   So off we’ll go.  I’ll be praying for good weather, and taking a rather large cooler of adult beverages (they do sell ice on site and even have a Bloody Mary bar, so there’s an upside)!  When I look back at our tumultuous history, and all we’ve been through, I stop and appreciate.  And I’m thankful.  I’m looking forward to some “mom and son” time hanging out with Evan.  Not sure how many of these opportunities may come in the future, and I’m fully aware that I need to seize this one.  Time spent with this beautiful, wonderful young man?  Priceless!