January 23, 2019

Be Prepared

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments, My Take on Autism tagged , , , at 11:29 am by autismmommytherapist

I am the mother to two wonderful autistic boys, whom I love to write about frequently. I will let all of you know that it has come to my youngest son’s attention that I have been writing much more about his severely autistic brother lately than him, and he is not amused.

So in an effort to rectify this situation, here goes.

My youngest, Zachary, is almost twelve (!) years old, and is considered to be on the mild end of the spectrum. It wasn’t always an easy road for Zach, but over the years with therapies and maturity and lots of patience, he has grown into the stellar young man he is today.

I admit, for me there was some wine and chocolate along the way, but we got to a good place eventually.

Zach would be considered a success story by any standards. He does beautifully in school, has friends, participates in activities he loves, and most importantly, adores his life. His father and I are grateful every day that his hard work paid off and that he’ll have so many choices for his future. His is a kind-hearted soul, one I feel fortunate to raise.

This doesn’t mean that everything is always perfect- it never is with any child, but I think perfect is overrated anyhow. I will tell you that while many different things went into making my child love his life, including good therapists and excellent teachers, I will share with you that there are several activities that have had a profound impact on him, and one of them is boy scouts.

Zach started cub scouts in first grade, and by third grade I was one of his den leaders. Zach was very impulsive in his younger years, and it wasn’t always easy to manage him at den and pack meetings. Our den had an eclectic group of boys, and I can recall often being bathed in sweat by the end of a den meeting.

Den days were often wine and chocolate days.

We persevered, carefully chose his new boy scout troop, and I held my breath. We started attending meetings in March, he crossed over from cub scouts to boy scouts in June, and really started participating in the troop in September.

I will say both for Zach, and for myself, it’s been a wonderful and eye-opening four months.

Boy scouts is intrinsically different than cub scouts, as it is “boy-led”, with the scouts making most of the decisions as to what activities they do and all of the accompanying details. The boys are supposed to initiate almost every conversation- be it toward advancement in ranks, questions regarding a camping trip, or the acquisition of those valuable blue cards for merit badges.

Initiating conversations, unless they’re about Star Wars or Roblox or Minecraft are not Zach’s forte. Getting the hang of advocating for what he needs has been difficult for him, and it’s a process that requires coaching, sticky notes, and multiple tries. Cold calling adults to be his merit badge counselors is not easy either, but with a script to work on he’s getting it down.

It sounds like a simple skill this self-advocating, but I truly believe it will be one of the most important that he acquires in childhood, and scouts will be the forum wherein he learns to do this.

His father and I fully anticipate that he will attend college, hold a job, have a wife and the four (!) kids he says he wants, but despite being on the more mild end of the spectrum Zach will have some challenges along the way. I can’t stress enough the importance of independence with any child (my teaching background is kicking in here), but with kids on the spectrum, it’s imperative. It’s not just kids on the mild end either. We constantly strive with his brother Justin to further his independence in basic skills and toileting, and I constantly remind myself not to do for him what he can do for himself. And for Zach, having the skill to ask for what he needs will be imperative in gaining him that coveted independence.

I’ve already seen growth in Zach in this arena since he started boy scouts, and it has transferred over to home as well. I am hearing a lot more “I need this” and “I’ll do it myself” which is heaven to my ears (especially where chores are concerned, it’s never too early to prepare for a good marriage). I’m sure part of this newfound independence just goes with entering the last third of childhood, but I am certain scouts has influenced this new desire, and I am grateful he will have many more opportunities to self-advocate through this organization.

It’s never too early to “be prepared.”

 

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April 30, 2014

Camping Conquered/Autism Awareness Month

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , , at 10:13 am by autismmommytherapist

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Since I’m continually asking Zach to step out of his comfort zone I recently decided to step out of mine, and so I took my mildly autistic seven-year-old into the wilds this weekend for our first (hopefully) annual McCafferty family camping trip.

 

Before I go any further, I should mention the camping ground is a ten minute walk to Great Adventure.  This is my idea of roughing it.

 

To be fair however our campsite came replete with, well, nothing, and my son was baptized in the use of port-o-potties, a distinct lack of running water, and a dearth of electricity (save for Sandy he’s been a bit sheltered.)  Except for the port-o-potties he thought it all a grand adventure, as did his mom (except for her entirely stiff, aching body the following day, apparently cold hard ground is not acceptable when you’re almost fifty.)

 

We made it through however with only minor blips in our twenty-four hour excursion, which culminated in his waking and his rather loud declaration to the world that he LOVES CAMPING.

 

In the future my back is going to hate me.

 

Frankly there’s not much I won’t do for this kid despite my being such a girlie-girl (yes, my nails were done before the trip,) in part simply because I love him, and in larger part because he tries so hard in every endeavor and deserves to have his mom suck it up for him.

 

I could write this post today about how he waited patiently in line for over an hour to get into the park because Great Adventure dropped the ball when it came to security checks.  I could tell you how he wanted so much to help, and loved being engaged with the other boys.  Trust me, I could wildly brag about this kid, but I won’t, because in many ways the weekend wasn’t about him, or about his personal success.

 

It was about community.  Because in our world it doesn’t take a village.

 

It takes a planet.

 

It’s the last day of April, which technically brings Autism Awareness Month to a close.  With April 30th brings an end to the discussion of how in some ways we should be so beyond simple awareness- that our community needs to be accepted, to be embraced, to be truly and authentically included.  I’ve read posts this month by writers wanting to move past mere acceptance, and I get what they’re saying, I truly do.  I always want more for my boys, I push for it, demand it.  We still have such a long way to go until everyone witnesses the beauty in boys and girls like mine.

 

But I’ll stand by awareness too, by educating one person at a time to the gifts and challenges of autism, because awareness is what made this weekend a triumph for Zachary and for me.

 

We would never have pulled this off even a few years ago without the support and understanding of his den and pack leaders, many of whom have taken it upon themselves to learn about autism and its many manifestations.

 

We would never have survived our stay without the compassion and patience of all his educators and school staff, individuals who have gone out of their way to celebrate his differences, and encourage his unique world view.

 

We would never have reigned victorious in the “wilds” of Jackson save for the kindness and respect of his karate instructors, his baseball coaches, his church school teachers, or the understanding of his autism sibling support group instructors.

 

Honestly, without their interventions, after our first look at the port-o-potty we would have been hoofing it home.

 

My son had a wonderful time entirely out of his comfort zone this weekend because for the past six years the people in his community, his world, have gone out of their way to do far more than accept or tolerate him.  Instead, they have consistently, purposefully, enthusiastically gone out of their way to embrace him.

 

We didn’t just survive this weekend.  We “thrived” it.

 

As as “our month” draws to a close, my hope is that this awareness, acceptance, or celebration, whatever you choose to call it, continues to spread like the warm blanket I cocooned Zach in Saturday night, enmeshing us all in the realization that it is our differences that make us all the glorious individuals we are.

Despite how divided our community can be I will tell you I now have hope, drawn from the well of individual acts of kindness my son has been the blessed beneficiary of all these long years.  So I will end this piece with a thank you to all who have contributed to enabling us to reach this place, to every person who fueled my hope when many times the fires were dim.

 

Thank you.