Autism & Empathy (A LOT of it)

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There is a common misconception that people who have Autism lack empathy. I beg to differ. Autistic people may have difficulty at times understanding the emotions of others around them (honestly, don’t we all?), but that does not mean that they lack empathy. They may just respond to the feelings of others in an unconventional way, and we need to work harder to understand and appreciate those reactions.

My youngest son is Autistic and cares very much about his family and friends. Hugs might be a little too tight or knock you down, but they are meant with every inch of his body. The intensity of his Big Feelings can also cause him to act out at times, and the Little Ninja has needed coaching over the years to learn how to more properly express his empathy. For example, when he was four years old we needed to do some allergy testing on his big brother. It took all the strength of both the nurse and me to hold the Big Ninja down for the blood draw, and he cried and was very upset. That was too much for my tiny vigilante to handle. When we were done my youngest rushed at the legs of the nurse and started swinging, yelling, “You leave my brother alone!” Luckily she was a good sport about it, and was impressed at the passionate way he defended his big brother. I had a talk with him later about finding less physical ways to stand up for people. This is an especially important lesson for the times that he misinterprets a situation.

There are other times that my son feels so intensely for other people that he is overwhelmed by his emotions and doesn’t know what to do with it. Continue reading

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Way To Go, Kelly Jo!

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During a recent family outing to a theme park I decided to ride a terrifying roller coaster for the very first time. The park had just opened so there weren’t many people around yet, and I walked to the seats in the very back. My husband and children declined the opportunity to join me for this particular ride because they’re not fond of extreme heights ;-). A lady walked up and asked if she could ride with me. I responded that I was happy for the company.

We started chatting and she told me that her name was Kelly Jo and that this was her first summer since losing 100 pounds! She was incredibly excited to be riding this roller coaster because she was never able to fit into the seats before. As she told her wonderful story I found myself tearing up. I then asked if I could share her story with you, and she graciously agreed. She said she lost the weight simply by changing her diet and exercising. I found her story especially inspiring due to some recent personal struggles. I was also thrilled and honored that I could share such a fun and incredibly meaningful experience with her.

We totally crushed that coaster, and the picture at the top of the post is our celebratory pose afterwards. Awesome job, Kelly Jo, and I am so glad to have met you! Thank you for sharing your exciting, happy story!  I am sure you have many more adventures ahead.

My own children had a recent victory of their own at the theme park. They used to be terrified of all roller coasters and this is the first summer they have even been willing to entertain the thought. We rode a couple small ones at first, and even then it took a lot of explanation and prep work. Then one day they simply walked onto a new roller coaster and trusted me that they would be okay, without knowing any details about the coaster (other than the fact that it didn’t go upside down). And guess what? They LOVED it. They didn’t even get upset when it got really dark.

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Victory is ours! This is a BIG DEAL, and it’s about more than just roller coasters. Most of you know that with spectrum disorders comes a lot of anxiety. BatDad and I try to walk a fine line between respecting the Ninjas’ sensibilities and also encouraging them to try new things. I am incredibly proud of them, and took the above picture when they were done. They conquered the coaster AND their fears. Anxiety: 0, Fun: 1

Who knew that a theme park could also provide opportunities to celebrate overcoming personal obstacles?

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Is It Summer Yet?

There is still over a month left in the school year for my children, but I am pretty sure I hit a wall this week. Somewhere between recent school projects, Standardized Testing review, and my complete and utter failure at appreciating my boys’ teachers during Teacher Appreciation week I hit critical mass. It was all I could do to drag myself out of bed this morning and pack lunches… AGAIN. And it happened earlier this year than in years past.

I was reminded of a picture from two years ago, so I dug it out.  This was the state of the Littlest Ninja’s backpack when there was two weeks left in the school year. That little safety pin had been bravely hanging on, holding the ripped pieces together, but finally just said, “Screw it. I give up.”

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I looked at the pitiful sight and I was all, “I know, Backpack. I KNOWWWW.”

Is it summer yet? I am ready for relaxed schedules and days spent at the pool.

I am also fully aware that it won’t be long until I am asking, “Is it time for them to go back to school yet?” But today, I am that backpack. Or maybe the safety pin, I dunno. But you get the analogy.

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Bill’s Message to Reba McEntire (He is her NUMBER ONE FAN!)

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Remember our awesome friend Bill? He does so much to brighten the lives of so many that I thought it would be nice if we did something for HIM. As I mentioned before, Bill is a HUGE fan of Reba McEntire. His birthday is May 13 and what he wants more than anything is simply for Reba to wish him a Happy Birthday.

Bill recorded this video for Reba to tell her how much he loves her and that he is her “NUMBER ONE FAN!” (He also has strong words of warning for anyone who would mess with “my girl Reba.”)  We posted his message here in the hopes that Reba might see it. Please share it if you want to help spread the word, & thank you for watching his video!

Also, please share any birthday greetings you have for Bill in the comments. It would mean the world to him. More than anything I wish my wonderful friend a birthday FULL of joy.

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What Bill Has to Teach Us

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This is Bill, and Bill is SERIOUSLY Not Boring. He is 50 years old (almost 51!), lives with his sister who is his loving caretaker, and his favorite things are his sister’s homemade cookies, his nieces and nephews, and Reba McEntire. Bill has Down Syndrome, and he has a lot to teach the rest of us about love and enthusiasm. Bill has some BIG feelings, and it is contagious.

I had the privilege of meeting Bill this winter. We were at a chili cookoff at our church, I introduced myself and we started talking. He started telling me about his nieces and nephews (he has their pictures in his wallet and proudly shows them to everyone he meets) and how much he loves kids. He told me that he would like to help and volunteer with the children’s activities at our church. I found it interesting he would mention that to me since I am not involved in the leadership of that ministry. I think now that it was divine intervention. I told him his idea sounded great, and that I would have to talk with his sister and the children’s ministry leadership and I would get back with him.

Then you know what I did? I am shamed to say, not very much. His sister agreed that he could help out and that she could bring him. I mentioned it via text or FB to a couple people involved with the ministry and didn’t receive a response. I don’t think they realized I was asking permission to move forward, OR they didn’t see my message. It was an incredibly busy time of year so I let the issue drop for a couple months. I didn’t want to overstep my bounds, and I knew that helping Bill get involved would take a bit of logistical work. I was worried that people would see that as an inconvenience (as an aside, that is exactly why a lot of families of children with special needs avoid church, because they are afraid their children would be seen as an inconvenience). I should have given more credit to my church and the loving people that are a part of it, and I should have followed through. Thankfully, I was given a second chance to give BILL a chance.  Continue reading