August 25, 2011

Horsing Around

Posted in AMT's Faves, Life's Little Moments tagged , , , at 9:20 am by autismmommytherapist

It’s 1:59 PM as I turn down the long drive to Justin’s horseback riding camp, and I’m sweating bullets because my son will be performing promptly at 2:00 whether I’m in attendance or not. I’m chastising myself profusely for succumbing to a “bargaining game” with my youngest before I left the house, a choice I made to engage in a ridiculous discussion as to why I had to leave him for the first time in hours, a decision which has subsequently almost made me late. I force myself to slow down as I enter horse country, remind myself that I am here after all, and that my inner compulsion to be ten minutes early to everything is my issue, and not necessary for Justin’s happiness at all. I find an empty spot next to my mother’s car, I watch her put away the phone she was about to use to find out where her usually prompt daughter could be, and exhale.

I decide to let go of “bad mommy” and enjoy the afternoon. This turns out to be a better choice than the one I made while trying to placate my other son.

Grandma and I turn and approach the barn, and I see Justin hanging over the gate, grinning ear-to-ear, ecstatic to see us both. My eldest carries a deep and abiding affection for his father, but he’s always loved his girls, and having us together in one place pretty much constitutes nirvana for him. Couple our presence with the fact he’s going to get to ride a horse again AND perform for us, and my son is pretty much on the moon at the moment, literally eager to get on with the show.

His “women” can’t wait either.

Last summer I wrote about his first foray into horseback riding camp, and I felt compelled to scroll back through my blog and get a sense of where we were then, and where we reside now. I recalled that we had just come off of several months of intermittent illnesses, which ramped up Justin’s OCD considerably. I myself was still battling what I like to call my “annual bronchitis dance”, which generally renders me just ill enough to be annoyed for eight to ten weeks, but remain (marginally) functional. If I’m being perfectly honest with myself, last June I wasn’t in the best of places emotionally from dealing both with Justin’s recurring ear infections, and from being at half-mast myself.

I recall that as I took my seat next to my mother on the unforgiving wooden bench to watch Justin and his horse enact their maneuvers, that I was anxious, and profoundly tired. I recall having to avoid his outstretched hand as he shuffled past me to his steed, because if we made contact he’d be straining to lead us both to the car to start our journey home. It’s a 90 minute round-trip twice a day to this farm, and the sheer logistics of getting my eldest here while figuring out what to do with my then three-year-old had just about combusted my already illness-addled brain.

In other words, come hell or high water, mommy was going to get to see a damn horse show.

In my now (relatively) clear brain I retrieved all of these details as we strode up to the entrance, but this time my son eagerly places his hand in within the circle of the outstretched fingers of the volunteer waiting to escort him to his ride. He straddles his equine friend with ease and begins to perform, the walking back and forth across the barn that now includes him navigating with the reins, as well as the subtle kick required to spur his horse into the trot he so adores. He appeared more in control this year, and his execution of the tasks at hand were slightly more demanding of him than last year’s tricks. I’m told his “seat” is improved, that he sits up straighter in the saddle, is more in harmony with the rhythm of his mount. All of these nuances, these signs of progress are wonderful, so worth the schlepping and the logistics to get him here.

But the real story is his smile.

A year ago he was compliant, happy to perform, and equally content to leave the premises at the conclusion. I had a few shots where I was rewarded with his pearly whites, but generally he was very serious, more sober in his demeanor as he paraded around this old wooden structure. It’s important to me to get a few photos where he demonstrates his joy at each event we take him to, not because they’re “prettier” depictions of him, but because at his core, his is a joyful soul. I’ll do just about anything to get those photos, have been known to evoke Elmo, sing “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in falsetto, and contort my body into ridiculous positions to evoke a slight smile, the latter decision being one I generally deeply regret later.

This summer, summoning Cirque de Soleil was not required.

Justin literally didn’t cease smiling the entire show, nor did he stop making eye contact with me or my mother, making certain we didn’t miss a single second. I have it all on video, as well as on our digital camera. I literally had to sift through the stills for this piece just to pick the best ones, and there were so many to choose from, it wasn’t easy. My boy loved every minute of his time to shine. At the end, when I asked him to stand next to the lovely teen-aged volunteer who’d been his virtual shadow all week, I didn’t have to prompt him, or ask twice. He simply sidled into her and draped one arm casually across her shoulders, and flashed that ecstatic grin which means the world to me.

Then he grabbed my hand, and gave me what I’ve come to call “the get me juice now woman” look.

Small steps. Progress. Joy in sharing a moment. It took us almost eight years to get to this place, and it’s been worth every minute of fear, effort, frustration, and sacrifice. My boy is really, truly, happy.

And that reality is really, truly, something.


June 11, 2011

Riding High Farm

Posted in Uncategorized tagged , , , , at 10:35 am by autismmommytherapist

My oldest son Justin is a confirmed horse lover, and has been happily participating in lessons now for well over a year-and-a-half. When I first started taking him however, I really didn’t think he would last the month. I based this assumption on his attitude during his first encounter with a horse, which occurred through the graces of a fund-raiser for POAC  hosted by Rein Dancer Therapeutic Riding Center , an encounter which ended after ten minutes. I can honestly say Justin’s desire to dismount during that period of time was matched only by my aversion to getting off the couch after 9 PM.

Not a pretty sight on either count.

Fortunately, over time my son has not only discarded his disdain for our equine friends, but has come to regard his lesson as the best half hour of his week. For him, this is now an activity that ranks second only to a visit from his “girlfriend” from down the block..

With Justin, women will trump horses every single time.

As his affection for his four-legged pals grew, I began to think that maybe one day we could turn this hobby into a skills-based pursuit, and I started to look around for summer camps for riders with disabilities. Even in New Jersey they are few and far between, but I managed to locate one within an hour or so of our house that has an excellent reputation. Riding High Farm fit the bill, and has been providing quality lessons for individuals who are physically and cognitively challenged for over thirty years.

Last summer Justin not only was able to ride a horse twice a day, he also learned safety tips, grooming skills, and some of the chores necessary to keep such beautiful animals alive. In short, he had a lot of fun, and acquired potential job skills simultaneously. It’s my dream that he’ll live on a farm when he reaches adulthood, and experiences such as this one might help him get such an opportunity one day. I signed him up early this year just to be on the safe side (for my frequent readers, that should surprise no one). I even remembered to check in last week to make sure they’d received my check, and to reassure myself that Justin’s blond mommy had remembered to send in all of the necessary paperwork.

I spoke to the owner who reassured me that all was in order. Then my heart fell as she also shared that this year, enrollment was low. With this economy, that doesn’t bode well for the future. Since this is one of the few leisure pursuits that Justin actually adores, I mean both his future, and mine.

I told them I’d get the word out about this organization, in the hopes they’d procure more patrons for the three weeks of camp they’ll be offering this summer. If you reside in New Jersey and have a child with any kind of disability who’s able to ride, Riding High is definitely a place worth checking out. I’ve posted a few photos from Justin’s experience last summer, as well as the link below. Even if this is not of interest to your child, I’d appreciate it if you could pass on the link to anyone for whom it would.

Last, I’d just like to say that the people who run Riding High are exceptionally kind, and had absolutely no issues handling my (at times) cantankerous child. We only attempted half day camp this year, but things went so well for Justin we’re going to give full-day camp a go this summer. You can bet I’ll let you know how it goes.

Thanks for your time, and Riding High, a special thank-you for giving Justin one of the best weeks of his life in the summer of 2010. His family appreciates your efforts, and we’ll see you in a few weeks!

July 6, 2010

Gratitude Attitude and Tuesday Tips

Posted in Fun Stuff tagged , at 8:28 am by autismmommytherapist

Through my Tuesday and Thursday posts I’d like to provide a more widespread forum for parents, family members, and practitioners of children with disabilities to provide practical tips for parents, as well as a place to share their views on raising a child with a disability. These contributions will be their ideas and stories, and not necessarily reflect the sentiments of those of autismmommytherapist.


Gratitude Attitude

This week I’d like to extend a special thanks to everyone at Riding High Farm in Allentown, NJ. Justin completed his first session of horseback riding camp this past week, and he had a fabulous time. He “performed” on Friday, and it was wonderful to see his pride when he demonstrated his newest skills for us. Thank you Robyn, and everyone else who supports the program!

Tuesday Tips:  “What can you do to help siblings of children with autism?”

By Kimberlee McCafferty

1. Any time there is a family outing, try as often as possible to have a back-up plan so that if the child with autism wants to leave or needs to leave, the sibling can remain.

2. Facilitate interaction between the siblings as often as possible. It may be as simple as helping the autistic sibling throw a ball to the NT one, or encouraging a hug. Zach has started “reading” stories to us, and sometimes we can get him to “read” one to Justin, which they both enjoy. It’s a simple way for them to connect, but it works.

3. It’s critical that the NT child grow up in an atmosphere where they can feel comfortable honestly expressing their feelings about their autistic sibling, and how autism affects their life. This will help minimize resentments, and facilitate acceptance.