Keeping the Peace, Life

Daily Gratitude Crushes Autism Struggles

Thanksgiving is tomorrow and it’s always been a special time for our family. We’re grateful to be able to spend it with our parents and our children. It’s definitely a time to concentrate on everything we have to be thankful for. But putting the spotlight on being grateful for a month or for one holiday has just never been enough, especially in our little autism world. Daily gratitude has changed the focus of our family. Even in the struggles, we are aware of how blessed we are. Actually, it is how we get through the hard times.

To that end, I’ve found that finding the positive in everything has helped. There are times when you wonder what possible good can be found in an experience. Some days, it’s much harder to find than others. But if we work to find what we’re thankful for in the moment, the angst fades.

I’ve been a glass half full girl for most of my life. So over the years, I’ve tried to stay optimistic in the tough times. But sometimes life just crushes you with sadness and despair. It’s hard to have a positive outlook when you’re sitting in the dark, with no light in sight. In those times, I feel like time is the only thing that has helped.

Given some time to process things, you are eventually able to see what good has come from the experience. They say time wounds all heals, but it really does heal all wounds. There’s always a scar there that hurts from time to time, but time does have a way of giving you perspective. A lot of times the good that comes from giving yourself time, is ironically that you are more grateful for everything.

When you go through hard things, you can decide how it will shape you. I know we’ve all had struggles.
I’ve experience a lot of loss in my life and I feel like it has allowed me to approach challenges with a grateful heart. Loss has a way of doing that. Autism is a kind of loss that is hard to explain if you haven’t lived with it. But it can feel like a loss of certain hopes or dreams. It’s a loss of what you thought would be or what you had planned. Gratitude for what is and faith in His plan and not ours has got me through the darkest of times.

Over a span of more than twenty years, I’ve been keeping a gratitude journal. I started it after a really difficult time in my life. Then I stopped again when things in my life were going smoothly. Then one day I picked it up again realizing that I needed to be more cognizant of everything I had to be grateful for.

Less than a year later, my father died and at the same time I had a miscarriage. In my mind, there was absolutely nothing to be grateful for. The years following I would make a few entries, but my gratitude wasn’t always a priority. After our daughter’s diagnosis, it became hard again for me to see the good in things. Those early years I wasn’t as grateful as I should of been and that made navigating autism that much harder. I acted like it was our entire life and like my cup wasn’t overflowing with blessings. Believe me, it was.

These days I write down ten things I’m grateful for every single day. It’s amazing how coming from a place of gratitude regularly changes your outlook on things. Daily gratitude has literally crushed autism struggles for us. When you’re focused on all your blessed with, there’s no room for ungratefulness. It’s hard to be bitter when you don’t have the space for it.

We try our best to have our children focus on daily gratitude. Our hope is that one day their faith and grateful hearts will get them through life’s toughest times. It’s guaranteed that they will have them.
What we have control of is how they will deal with them and if they will always see their glass as half full.

For our daughter, we know how much she struggles and how hard she works to overcome things. It may seem easy to outsiders, but what she has accomplished has happened because of a lot of hard work and a lot of heartbreak. We remind her and ourselves how grateful we are for it all, even what most may think is just small stuff and even the really tough stuff. She has learned how important her faith and daily gratitude has been in everything she goes through and grows through.

One day our daughter will be an adult. Struggles will be a part of her life, but I hope she will live in joy and never be bitter about them. More than that, I hope she will remember how much daily gratitude can help her get through the hard times and crush those struggles.

I hope she remembers what a blessing she is and how grateful we all are for her.


The Most Special Pageant You’ll Ever See

A few years ago we were introduced to the Miss ARC Broward pageant, a pageant for girls with disabilities. We had no idea the impact this unique event would have on our lives. I promise you it’s the best three hours you’ll ever spend. It’s the one special pageant this world truly needs!

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

About ARC Broward & The Miss ARC Broward Pageant

For over 60 years, ARC Broward has been changing the community’s perspective on people with developmental disabilities and other life challenges. They have made a huge difference in how these people are accepted and included.

When they started this pageant, they found a beautiful way to celebrate girls with disabilities. It brings attention to their abilities, empowers them, and highlights all the light they bring to the world.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Our Personal Experience With The Pageant

When our daughter first participated, she was just five years old. Right from the start we could tell the pageant was going to be a wonderful and unique experience. Everyone was so welcoming to her and all the other girls. The staff and volunteers were all so kind and engaging.

Our daughter made some wonderful friends over the years. She was just two years into her autism diagnosis when she first participated. It was a time when we felt very alone as a family. The ARC Broward pageant brought us together with so many families like ours. We were all so happy to be a part of something so special.

ARC Broward has so many amazing programs and events that embrace our special needs community. We’ve been so blessed to have the opportunity for our daughter to participate in three of the pageants. This is the sixth year of the pageant and every year it gets better!

The girls all have companies that sponsor them and they have their own cheer squads for the day of the event. The volunteers are amazing and create such a sweet bond with the girls. Throughout the whole process, the staff showers the participants with wonderful experiences and generosity.

This Year’s Miss ARC Broward and Little Miss ARC Broward

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

This year’s pageant was held this past Sunday, November 11th, at Parker Playhouse. There were were 21 young women with disabilities (ages 6-17) that participated. Their unique talents and personalities were showcased. The girls also performed an inspirational dance together to “This is Me” from The Greatest Showman. They also did interviews with Sheli Muniz and Kristin Sanchez from NBC6 as they showed off their evening wear.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

We are so happy for our friend Mahogani Gibson, who was crowned Miss ARC Broward!
Mahogani is an eighteen year old teen with an intellectual disability and she is from Coral Springs. She performed a very inspiring dance to “This is Me“. Mahogani will be advocating for girls with disabilities in her role as Miss ARC Broward. We are so excited for her and her accomplishment!

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

We’re also excited that our daughter Grace was crowned Miss Little ARC Broward! Grace is ten years old and has autism. She performed “A Million Dreams” from The Greatest Showman. She sang while accompanying herself on keyboard. Her Dad also had the special pleasure of accompanying her performance on guitar. It was such an amazing moment for her and our family and friends!

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Photo Credit: Cate Crehan

Get Involved

There are so many great ways you can get involved and help. ARC Broward is a non-profit organization that runs on grants and contributions from corporations and individuals. Your donation can do so much to help fund their programs and special events like the Miss ARC Broward pageant. You can click here to support the fund for ARC Proward.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Thank You Everyone

A special thank you to Jessica Rodriguez, Lenai Martinez, and all the staff and volunteers of ARC Broward who organize and run this event. We would also like to give a special thanks to Grace’s sponsor Lighthouse Point Yacht Club and especially to Jessica Orndoff. We are so grateful for their generosity, love, and support of our girl.

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Our family would also like to thank everyone that helped us raise $520 for ARC Broward. Thank you to all the staff, volunteers, and judges. Also, a big thank you to all of our family, teachers, and friends who came out Sunday night to support Grace. It was a magical night!

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Be There

Make sure you keep an eye out on the ARC Broward Facebook Page for next year’s event. You don’t want to miss it! It will move you beyond words, so bring your tissues. You won’t be able to keep from smiling during the whole show. It’s the one event I wish we could give everyone a ticket to because these girls show the world what it truly means to be brave, strong, and beautiful! So make sure to grab a ticket next year for this amazing event. The light, love, and girl power these young ladies bring will forever change you for the better!

Arc Broward “Miss Arc Broward Pageant” on Sunday, Nov. 11, 2018 at Parker Playhouse in Fort Lauderdale.

Photography By: Kara Starzy Photography

Keeping the Peace, Life

Confidence Building When Your Child Has Autism

I almost regularly remind my kids that they can do anything they set their minds to. I’m mindful of how important it is to help grow their confidence. Giving them challenges is good, but I also like to help them build on their strengths.

This becomes even more important when it involves my daughter. It’s a fine line I walk every day. Do I push her a bit more because it’s something I know she could be better at or do I sit back and let her only put a small bit of effort in and just chalk it up to a lack of interest? Every day it’s a struggle to know what’s best.

Lately, it’s been causing a bit of a struggle between her and I. She decided she wanted to perform in a pageant she’s participating in. I’m always surprised when she wants to put herself into a high pressure situation, given the anxiety she deals with. That’s the kind of thing that with my anxiety, I avoid like the plague. But she has no fear of trying things.

She decided she would sing a song. Then when she realized she could play some of it on the piano, she figured out she could accompany herself. Of course, I’m all about pumping her up and telling her she can do it no matter what the idea is because I’m a strong believer that there are no limits. But in this case, not only did I know she could do it, but I’d seen her do it on multiple occasions. So I figured this would be easy street and there would be no frustrating moments or resistance on her part.

Not the case. The resistance is in full force. I’m glad I encouraged her to pursue this performance because she’s ten times more talented than I ever was on the piano and I couldn’t sing if my life depended on it. Now her nerves and anxiety are taking control and the more I push her, the more kickback I’m experiencing and the less she feels like she can do it. I still worry about pushing too hard and then having it backfire and crush her confidence.

Sometimes it’s hard to remember that I’m dealing with autism. I have the same expectations of her as I do our son. But autism doesn’t allow her to have control of a lot of things. So understandably, on the regular, she’s trying to assess control on whatever and whomever she can. That includes whether or not she wants to follow my directions, having the last word every single time, saying the opposite of whatever I say, and of course, how much she wants to practice her performance.

I’ve heard all about the tweenager thing, so I get that some amount of push back is normal at this age. She’s not a spoiled brat or badly behaved. This is way more than that. For years now I’ve been dealing with this because it is part of the disorder. Even after so many years of struggle, stress, and tears, I sometimes forget that she is operating from a place of constant anxiety. Constantly trying to control things is how she navigates a world for her that can be sensory overload and unpredictable. It can’t be easy.

We should all be encouraging with our kids and support them in their efforts. If your child is on the spectrum, it’s particularly challenging to find that space where you’re praising them and helping to build their self-esteem without pushing them too hard. We know they are not limited in what they can achieve. It could be though that their anxiety is in the driver seat. It could be that they need to feel in control of something to feel safe.

More than anything, this is a reminder to me that while I’m helping to build our daughter’s confidence, I have to always keep in mind her struggle for control. What I might think are constructive or well meaning opinions meant to help, can backfire. To her it’s a sudden change in expectations that can cause her too much pressure. That leads to frustration on both our parts.

So, if you deal with something similar, you’re not alone whether you’re the caregiver or the person with autism. As a parent, I can say that every single day is a learning experience even after all these years. I will always tell my kid she can accomplish anything she sets her mind to and works hard for, but I know that I have to allow her the chance to feel like she’s driving. That’s what will help her to grow in confidence. I have to remember that very specified praise and patience will help her to work hard from a place of peace, instead of from anxiety. It’s a healthy balance we have to find between empathy and healthy encouragement.

This Sunday is her performance, so I want to tell my daughter a few things. You have a beautiful voice and you’re a great pianist. You’ve worked hard. You can do this. Do your best. You are perfect just the way you are. Your performance will be amazing. Everyone will be cheering you on because we all know the kind of courage it takes to do this. But also because you are so talented, uniquely you, and awesome. I love you so much and I’ll be cheering the loudest my sweet girl.

Keeping the Peace, Life

How Halloween Can Be Therapy For Autism

Halloween has always been a kind of therapy for our child with autism. That’s not to say it’s always easy. Just like therapy, it has it’s ups and downs. Some years have been harder than others. There have been years that she struggled and other years where she had progressed through some of her challenges. Now that she’s older, it’s wonderful to see how much more comfortable she is with this holiday.

Every child on the spectrum is unique and so each has different challenges. Halloween might be great for some and extremely difficult for others. We’ve experienced a few of the good and the bad. I’m sure I’ll be leaving a lot out, but here’s a few things to keep in mind when you’re welcoming children with autism to your doorstep this evening or even having them over for party.

Please don’t turn away the older kids. This may be there first Halloween even trick or treating. It’s a great opportunity to interact with people. Also, whether they are on the spectrum or not, they could be out doing far more crazier things.

Don’t expect that all kids will be able to look at you. Eye contact can be difficult for kids with autism. Our daughter still doesn’t always look directly at a person when saying hello or meeting someone for the first time. Please don’t tell the kid to look at you either. You have no idea how painful it can be for a kid if they have autism.

Let the kids take their time. It may take a lot for some of them to come up to you or your door, nevermind all the creepy and crazy decorations they may encounter along the way. They may also need direction, so if your rule is just one piece of candy, make sure to be specific. I know with our child if there are guidelines, she needs them spelled out and likes to follow them.

There might be a child that is not verbal and can’t say Trick or Treat. If it’s their first time, they may be learning what to do for Halloween which can be a daunting social event on many levels. Just tell them how great they look and give them candy for their bag. Help make their experience the best it can be.

On the flip side, you might get a kid like ours that will talk your head off and will ask you about all the types of candy you have, the quantity allowed, and she may even add some additional and possibly unrelated information. Just smile and say Happy Halloween. It’s an exciting night. Kids can be wound up and even over stimulated. So just show patience and good cheer.

Unless you are at Halloween Horror Nights or walking through an actual haunted house, chances are you probably don’t want to be scared out of your wits (maybe that’s just me). But I know my own children don’t always like the uber creepy stuff. So don’t go out of your way to traumatize a kid that comes to your home. Music and lights can be great, but it’s also nice to keep it all lower than a roar and not completely blinding, especially indoors.

Remember to be accepting of all the kids and whatever they’re wearing. You have no idea what it may have taken for that child to even put a costume on. The tags and material might be driving them batty and parts of the costume may end up being carried instead of worn. Maybe they don’t have a costume at all and that’s ok too. The important thing is to be welcoming to all the kids. Everyone will look different and everyone will be capable of different things.

It’s nice to offer a non-candy treat, especially for those who have allergies, but it’s also a nice option for kids who maybe don’t eat the gallon of candy they collect tonight. We end up taking all but ten pieces each to our dentist who buys it back. It doesn’t take much. The kids love fun pencils, stickers, or anything fun from the dollar store.

Don’t be surprised if some of us call it a night early. Many people like us have younger children with school the next day. If you have a kid on the spectrum, maybe they are a night owl and you’re in for a long night or maybe your kid is the one that asks to go to bed at 8pm like ours. If it’s the latter and you’re child is like ours and needs that sleep, understand if the parents have to dip out early. No one wants crabby children in the morning.

Finally, if you have to go in for the night a bit earlier and you still have candy, leave some out for the later trick or treaters. If you’re the one out and about late, make sure your kids are courteous and leave candy for others. If there are no lights on, no candy out, and it’s late, take into consideration that people might be down for the night and don’t knock or ring bells.

It’s not easy having a child with autism, but seeing them grow and progress is so rewarding. On Halloween, they really get a great opportunity to be exposed to a lot of new things and work on their social skills. I know it can be stressful for parents, but it is worth getting out there and at least giving it a try. It’s good practice for the kids and over the years, it’s possible for them to make great strides socially.

So Treat Halloween like therapy for your kid. Heck, it might even be therapeutic for you if you just chill and stay positive. You might be surprised how you and your kid could benefit by giving this holiday a whirl. Yes, it could get Tricky at times, but the real Treat will be seeing your child conquer their fears and maybe overcome challenges. Nothing could be sweeter.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Autism Mom, I Will Pray For Your Peace

I’ve prayed for peace a lot. When you have anxiety, you learn how to manage it and be more calm. Prayer is my favorite and most regularly used tool. If you’re a mom of a child with autism, I will pray for your peace too.

When I pray, I usually spend a lot of time in gratitude. It’s hard to worry about anything when you are being thankful for the present. If you’re in conflict with anything or anyone, you can’t be at peace. Anger is not a peaceful place to be. But sometimes, we’ve reached our limit and we’re angry. That was me yesterday and it got me thinking about all the things us autism moms go through and all the places we need to pray for peace.

You spend your days organizing IEPs, scheduling therapies, and attending day long seminars on inclusion. But you go to sleep at night wondering, will your kid ever be completely accepted and included? I get you and I will pray for your peace.

Did your child get out of school, where they are working hard to hold it all together, only to come home and have a Category 5 meltdown on you? Maybe you were perfectly happy, but then you became the target of their every frustration and it screwed up your whole day. Trust me, I’ve been there and I will pray for your peace.

Sometimes your kid is obsessing about one topic and they’re on repeat. It’s wearing on you and you can’t stay calm, no matter how hard you try. It’s impossible to ignore. The back and forth with your child gets you to a stress level they say is equal to that of someone in combat. You break and yell because you want it all to stop. I was there yesterday, and I stopped to pray for my peace. Today I will pray for yours.

There are days when your child is doing pretty well, and you don’t feel like you even have to mention autism. Then there are days when it helps you to explain it all so you feel required to divulge the information. It’s a love hate relationship with labels sometimes. I struggle too and I will pray for your peace.

Are friendships and isolation struggles for both you and your child? Maybe today you discovered a true friend who truly gets the struggles you face and maybe today you discovered a person masquerading as a friend. Do you dream of the day when your kid has that one true, real friend and not just the ones that feel obliged to be friendly because of your kid’s autism? I’ve been where you are many times and I will pray for your peace.

No matter what level of support your kid needs, assumptions are always made about their capabilities. When they’re struggling, most don’t understand. If they are progressing in some area or doing well, no one but you knows the hard work, heartache and tears it took to get them to that point. Chances are, at one point or another, someone has said something ignorant about your child’s abilities or struggles and you’ve probably wanted to tell them a thing or two. I will pray for your peace in that conversation.

Does the future keep you up at night because you don’t know how your kid will survive when you’re gone? Who will take care of them? Then there is the guilt you feel about their sibling and the burden it implies for them. I know how hard it is sometimes to have faith when you fear what will happen in their world, when as a parent, you aren’t here to fight for them. I don’t know how we find peace in this, but I will pray for yours and mine.

Autism mom, I don’t have any of the answers. I don’t know if it will get harder or better. I wish I could say that over the years it will get easier. It just changes. The challenges, the worries, the interactions, and the inevitable loneliness you will feel on this road is a constant. But there also real joys and amazing things to celebrate, that much of the rest of the world will take for granted. The one thing I know is that prayer works. In those moments when you feel like you don’t know how you can keep on the way things are, take a moment to be still and pray for your peace to get through it all. I will pray for your peace and I hope you will pray for mine too. If you need someone to pray with you, I’m here.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Celebrating Our Son, Our Brother, and Our Unsung Hero of Autism

Please indulge me while I dedicate this post to my son. Let me recount all the wonderful ways he has blessed our life. We celebrate him every chance we get, but his birthday seems the perfect time to sing his praises. Many kids like him are often the unsung heroes of the special needs world.

Nine years ago on this very morning, a very special boy was born. We named you Gabriel, which means messenger of God. No other name would be more fitting because just like the archangel, our boy has delivered many beautiful messages to our family.

He was two years old when he started going to daily therapies for his sister. He grew up around all of our autism support team, participated in therapies, and witnessed the challenges that come with the disorder over the last seven years. To him, our life was no different than anyone else’s and he embraced it. It was a message he conveyed of acceptance.

We knew early on that our son would be a ray of light in our lives. He was the happiest baby, always smiling and laughing. Today he is the comedian in the family, always keeping us in stitches. He has always been so sensitive to others’ feelings. When he was two, I was choking on an antibiotic pill and he instinctively said “Mama you’re ok”. Even back then, he was easing my mind. As he grew, he learned more and more about autism and could see when his sister was having a difficult time. Just like he did with me when he was two, he would always comfort her. Just the other day they got flu shots at the doctor. He bravely went first and when his sister still broke down after hers, he calmly talked her down from her frenzy. God knew we would need this message of compassion.

When he was a little older, he started asking me why his sister had a lot of trouble with certain things. I explained autism to him the best way I knew how to. He would learn when she needed a break or he’d even employ some of the therapy tools we had learned. Sometimes he’d use his gift of making her laugh to help her get through something she was struggling with. Over the years, I’ve done my best to hide the tears when things have gotten hard. But on some occasions, he would find me and immediately start comforting me like my little protector. Such a beautiful message we have received over the years of how best to show love, patience, comfort and understanding.

Photo By: Courtney Studios

It hasn’t always been easy for him as a sibling of a child with special needs. He’s had his share of frustrating moments. I know many times he has sat in the shadows, waiting for his turn in the spotlight. But through it all, his own light has always shined so brightly. We’ve always seen him as this old soul, with the kind of maturity you don’t see in some adults. He has always been so kind and thoughtful. He’s been a great brother. I believe he helped her social skills progress in the early years. He was his sister’s first friend and he has been her very best friend. By being who he is, he has sent a clear message to everyone they come in contact with that if someone is different, it’s doesn’t make them less deserving of friendship.

Photo By: Courtney Studios

Growing up with a sister on the spectrum has made him grow into a wonderful human and a more inclusive person. A kid like him is actually the best champion for inclusion in our schools and in all areas of our world. I’ll save that soap box for another post, but you get my drift. Just being a brother and friend to his sister has taught him so much about how to be a good and decent person. His positive and optimistic attitude toward life and its difficulties has been a great lesson for our whole family. We have felt the message we’ve been sent is to always be in a place of gratitude.

Photo By: Courtney Studios

We don’t talk about the siblings of kids with special needs enough. The journey can be tough for them, but they are also pretty darn resilient. These days most people are aware of autism, but this world is still lacking in the acceptance area. These kiddos are showing us all how to be better friends. They are setting the example and modeling acceptance by learning to be kind, patient, compassionate, and understanding above all else. They are all sending the message, loud and clear, that people of different abilities should be included, not disregarded. Kids like our boy make our lives better and help us to be better.

Photo By: Courtney Studios

Gabriel, I want to say how proud I am of you. You’re the sweetest, most kind-hearted, and thoughtful boy. When things get hard, instead of complaining, you look for the positive and you allow yourself to grow and be better from the challenges you face. You are a wonderful son with a heart of gold and a sweet, gentle soul like no other. You’re the best friend and best brother a girl could ask for. I love your freckles and those beautiful light brown eyes. Every day you make me smile and laugh. You’re the sunshine in the rain. Baseball rocks because of you, you’re my favorite foodie, and there is no one in the world I love singing Zach Brown Band songs with more. I’m so blessed to be your mama.

May all your dreams come true and may this birthday year bring you endless joy. Thank you for being a light, for sharing your love, for living your faith, and for being the kind of true hero this sometimes crazy cruel world needs. In our family, you don’t go unnoticed. Your light burns bright and we celebrate the blessing of you today and every day. We love you so much bud bud.

Mama, Daddy, and Gracie xoxo

Keeping the Peace, Life

How Autism Obsessions Like Baseball Have Made Me More Grateful

If you have a child with autism, chances are you’ve been a witness to some type of obsession. You’ve probably heard your child talk about something like trains incessantly. Maybe you’ve seen them play candy crush on their tablet for hours on end. It’s not always easy dealing with these obsessions as a family. But I’ve learned that finding something to be grateful for in those moments, makes things a little bit easier.

In the early days, I remember our daughter scripting a scene from a show over and over again. That experience taught me about her echoalia. It also taught me patience. We didn’t get any conversation back then. Just a few words repeated from something like the Backyardigans. It felt frustrating and hopeless at times.

But although they were scripted, they were words. She was saying something. She couldn’t convey feelings or sentiment. I didn’t know it then, but it was helping me to grow my patience more and appreciate anything she could verbalize. It took several years, but the words “I love you” never sounded sweeter. As a mom, I took for granted that hearing those words from my children was a given. When it finally happened, I felt so grateful.

As she got older, we exposed her to many things. She had daily therapies that helped her grow. Anything we could participate in (even when we were sometimes not welcome) we would try. We encouraged her to try new things and opened her mind to lots of possibilities. So when she became passionate about something, I realized we basically asked for it.

All the therapies and activities helped to develop her language. We went from no conversation to a child that would never stop talking. We went from a child that would play alone on the playground, to one that was engaging every person she came in contact with. She became a social butterfly. Her language developed more and more. The more she matured and learned, the more she wanted to be exposed to new things.

It also resulted in an intense focus on her interests that she would immerse herself in daily. I say intense because whatever the interest, you would need to be prepared to hear about them ad nauseum, for hours on end. This is not your every day repeating from a child. This is talking about a topic or interest obsessively. But she was talking, she was passionate about something, and she was sharing her thoughts and opinions. I never knew I’d get to be so grateful for those things.

The list of obsessions we’ve been through is too long to share. I remember when she was tiny and I was pregnant with our son, she would constantly stick her finger in my belly button or pinch the fat on my underarm while sucking her thumb. As a toddler, it could be anything from watching sight word programs on repeat to playing with legos all day long. When she was little, she didn’t want anything to be red and would only use the blue and yellow bowls in the house. We’ve gone from being just focused on everything to do with the universe and space to having multiple fascinations with wearing costumes, geography and states, business cards, playing chess and books.

Every single obsession has opened my eyes to new possibilities and made me a little more grateful. I never dreamed my kid would some day not only read and understand things like inference, but would become an avid and skilled reader. That sight word obsession paid off. Who would have thought her favorite color would be red some day and that in an emergency, she would be able to see the color red in blood and still calmly express a concern to us. I never imagined that her building with legos over these many years would develop her fine and gross motor skills so much. Not only that, but she’s building robots with them and has aspirations to be an engineer like her dad.

Some of her obsessions have even broken down barriers we thought we’d never get past. I mean who would think a kid who doesn’t like clothes tags and has sensory challenges would ever put on a costume or enjoy a Halloween? I would have never thought our daughter would get into any sport, let alone be good at it.
But watching a Summer Olympics years ago got her excited about being a swimmer and little by little, she taught me all about the sport. Then she pursued being on the team, despite her anxieties. I’m so grateful to watch her grow in her sport and for the many hours of swim talk.

I’ve learned so much about our universe, our fifty states, and so many other things that I would have never exposed myself to. In many cases, her obsessions have even broadened my own interests. There was a time you would have never caught me at a baseball game, I thought they were long and boring. But once her brother started playing, she was all things baseball, all the time. She knows more about the history of baseball and baseball stats than most adults do. Our fandom started with watching our son play, but her obsession with all things baseball truly thrust us into being Marlins followers and a family of baseball fans. We’ve made baseball memories now that I’m so thankful to have.

One of the most recent things I’ve noticed is how her intense focus on certain things is truly helping her to become more independent. As a parent of a child with autism, you always worry if they will be able to make it on their own. The persistence that comes with her obsessions seems to get her past her own fears. It’s helping me get past mine too.

Recently she became interested in cooking, when she never wanted to even be in the kitchen. After learning to make scrambled eggs, she would literally have to make them every single day. To this day, we have to explain to her that we love that she can cook, but no one wants or needs to be eating eggs every day. Her persistence is amazing! It’s because she’s talked about scrambling eggs so much that she has learned to cook other things.

She’s also become obsessed with looming, knitting, and crocheting of late. I never did any of those things when I was little, although my crafty mom and grandmother both attempted to teach me. But she has taken the time to memorize every stitch in a 500 page needlework book. Consequently, I’m learning about them too and after a few lessons from my mother-in-law, I’m knitting a scarf for my daughter. Once again my horizons have been broadened.

Her obsessions have helped us all grow and learn to appreciate every little thing that much more. At times my patience has worn thin. I can get tired of hearing who had the most RBIs in the latest game. There are days I eat the eggs just to stop hearing about it.

But I have to remind myself how all these things have helped her grow. They’re part of what makes her the amazing girl she is. I have to remind myself how much her obsessions have made my life that much more beautiful. If you can find the beauty in what challenges you, then you can find the gratitude for it.

Keeping the Peace, Life

Faith Means There Will Be Bad Days

I have this shirt that says “No Bad Days”. I wear it almost weekly. But if I’m being completely honest, I don’t believe it. Not for a second. There are plenty of bad days and I have them regularly.

I consider myself to be a pretty positive, uplifting and, moreover, a faithful person. Given any day, I can usually find the joy in it or just something, however small, to be grateful for. But even my faith doesn’t preclude me from having bad days. As a matter of fact, it sort of guarantees that I’ll have lots of bad days. They can consist of an extra healthy dose of autism, arguments with my kids, a crappy encounter with a really mean person, physical exhaustion, or just a difficult mental health day. No matter the size or level of “suffering”, it comes with living this temporary life we live on Earth.

Now, I’m all about the glass half full, having a positive mindset, using positive language, and keeping a positive perspective overall. But some days, even though I know I shouldn’t and even though I know I should be grateful for it all (yeah, I said that, grateful for suffering), I just want to sit and wallow in it for a bit. Not like a “woe is me” deal because there is always someone going through more, but more like a momentary lapse in my usual sunshine and rainbows attitude. Because trust me, not a single one of us can be that positive 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s just not humanly possible.

Crazy as it may sound to some, we are meant to endure pain and suffering here. Sure, we should do our best to be grateful, but we’re human and sometimes there are things that just suck, pure and simple. Sometimes we just have to say we’re having a bad day and just deal. It doesn’t mean we don’t know that we are meant for much more eternally.

So yes, positive people have bad days too. Let us have them. We’re not immune to them. People of faith don’t have more or less hardships in this life. The difference is they know that pain has its purpose. That the suffering we endure here will one day be no more because he suffered for us. Yes, there will be plenty of bad days. I can guarantee you of that. I may complain, be angry, or ball in a corner of the house where I can escape my children. But because I believe, I know the bad days won’t last forever.

If you can, embrace the bad days. Find the joy, the gratitude, or the purpose in each of them. If you need a moment to be completely angry and annoyed at the difficulty of it all, do it! There’s no joy in seeing anyone suffer, but if there was never pain in a day, we would not appreciate the painless ones nor the ones full of joy.

As the saying goes, “everybody wants happiness, nobody wants pain, but you can’t have rainbow without a little rain”. Remember that sometimes the people with the most sunshine and rainbow attitudes have gone through a lot of pain themselves. We’re resilient people when it comes to our positivity. We may bend and have our down moments, but we will never break. Faith keeps us from dwelling on the bad and keeps us looking toward all the many things we have to be grateful for.

Bad days are a given. No one can’t pretend they don’t exist. But even if we are miserable for moments, we don’t have to live there. We can choose every day to find the ever present joys, bad day or not.

Keeping the Peace, Life

If Different Means Less, We’ve Got So Much More

We all have unique qualities that make us all very different from one another. It may be physical traits, special talents, where we come from, or even our likes and dislikes. Sometimes our differences are in the form of challenges that we may have.

Everyone is fighting some kind of battle. That we know for sure. No one’s fight is harder than another’s, it’s just different. But when a lot of your challenges are social and you’re perceived different from others in the way you act, socialize, and make friends, it’s a special kind of hard.

That’s Autism for you. It makes it hard for you to make friends. Sometimes it makes it hard for your family to make friends or even keep friends. It can be a lonely road and sometimes very isolating.

Many times we say “Different Not Less” which applies to the individuals. But truth be told, being different does mean less in some ways. Believe it or not, the kind of less I’m talking about is also freeing in that it is a daily reminder of what we truly need.

Recently I’ve realized more and more that while we need to be kind to everyone, we don’t need to be everyone’s friend. Not like facebook friends because let’s face it, a lot of those people are just acquaintances really. I mean in the true sense of the word. Those people that truly get you and are there for you and your family, in good times and in bad. It’s a lesson my children have been learning all too often lately and not without some heartache. It’s been particularly hard for our daughter.

I try and see the good in everyone, but I also couple that with a healthy dose of reality. I know that the word friend is thrown about very easily, without much thought about what it truly means. Quite often I remind the kids to be kind to everyone they come across, even if that person isn’t kind. I also tell and show them what real friendship looks like in the people and families we surround ourselves with. They see who makes an effort with us and those we make effort and space for in our life.

I have explained to them that they don’t have to hang out or socialize with everyone they know. We’re all different and we all gravitate toward different kinds of people. But I’ve also told them to value true friendships they’ve built and that they should nurture them. It takes real effort to be a good friend. You can be nice and respectful to someone without feigning interest in them. You can be accepting of someone and their differences without pretending to be their very best friend. That’s honest and still kind. But being a fake friend is worse and just plain cruel.

We don’t get it right every time, but we do our best to live out our faith. As a family, we strive to love all people, even those that hurt us the most (that’s always the really hard and tricky part). In a world where these types of qualities aren’t always valued, autism is just a fraction of what makes our family different. And while all those differences together have not made everyone a friend to us that we come in contact with, they have truly surrounded us with the best people.

It’s a small circle of families and individuals, but the bonds are true. They are friends in the true sense of the word. They are friends no matter the time or place. More than anything, they are genuine friends that value our kind of different and that is something special.

Yes, being different in so many ways has meant less friends over the years. If we wanted quantity over quality, we could see that as a problem. But it’s actually been one of the biggest blessings. It has really drawn us toward the most amazing, faithful, thoughtful, kind, and generous people and away from those who don’t appreciate or value us.

So we will continue to embrace our different, even if we don’t have the most “likes” real or otherwise. The number of people that actually treasure that doesn’t even matter. We find our worth in our God alone. We will still try to be kind to every soul we come across, even if they don’t turn into a friend or even if they pretend to be one. But we won’t apologize for our differences or for having some of the most basic expectations of friendship, like honesty and inclusion. You have to genuinely value our friendship. You have to be real. We don’t do fake for quantity’s sake. Less will always be more when it comes to having authentic friends.

Keeping the Peace, Life

45 and Flawsome!!!

In just a few more hours, I will be turning forty-five and flawsome! Honestly, I still feel like I’m in my thirties. It truly is just a number, but it brings with it so much life and so many blessings!

There are a lot of mistakes I’ve made over the years and with that comes many lessons learned. Flawsome is a silly word I discovered on the internet, but it perfectly describes this point in my life.

I spent a good portion of my teenage and adult life picking myself apart. Some of it came from others, but a lot I directed at myself. My thighs and butt are too big, I have too many scars, my hair is too straight, I’m too sensitive, I’m such a doormat, I’m not smart enough, and the list goes on and on. We women can be too hard on ourselves.

I’ve wasted a lot of time worried about what people think about me, worried about what tomorrow may bring, and worried about how I was going to fix all the supposed flaws and problems of my life.

But it feels like everything started changing when I got into my forties. That’s when you really get to know your true self. I stopped tearing myself apart and started embracing everything about myself. I found peace in living more in the present and stopped worrying about what is out of my control. Most importantly, I stopped caring what other people think.

There’s always room for improvement. So part of my commitment to myself is to continue to grow every day. I have accepted all my curves and the beauty of each and everyone of my scars. In the last two years and partially thanks to hormones, I now have crazy curly hair that I can’t control (be careful what you wish for). I wear my heart on my sleeve and I say exactly what I mean. It may ruffle some feathers at times, but I don’t apologize for who I am and I don’t lay down and take people’s crap anymore either. I’ve realized how much knowledge I’ve gained over the years. I’ve explored my creativity and have discovered my strengths.

One more thing that I’ve learned in my fabulous forties is to say no. No to too many commitments, no to people trying to make you feel small, no to all the B.S., no to people telling me how big my dreams can be (thanks to my girl Rachel Hollis for that needed reminder) and no to pointing out all of my perceived flaws to myself and others.

There has been a peace lately that has been so comforting. Perfect peace doesn’t exist, but letting go of trying to be everyone’s idea of perfect and just being and accepting your own badass self truly brings you to a place of acceptance. When you’re not trying to be anyone else than your authentic self, that’s peace.

We were made just as we are, imperfectly perfect. Embrace your beautiful self, “flaws” and all. Because flaws are flawsome, just like turning forty-five is! All of it is part of your unique gift to the world. Don’t let anyone, even your own narrative, tell you differently.