an autism journey

Archive for November, 2012

Autism and the Holidays: a Request for Understanding

Dear Family, Friends, and Community,

Please understand that we may not participate in the festivities of the holidays as you see appropriate. While you are out shopping, attending parties and special events, caroling, ect., we will be at home. We will be keeping our outings to a minimum. We will not be discussing stories of Santa coming down a chimney, and we will not be out shopping with the masses. We will probably not attend the parties we are invited to, and our home will not be elaborately decorated. We may or may not show up at family gatherings, and we may choose to just quietly accept gifts that are given without opening them in front of you.

No, we are not mad at anyone. We are not having family problems or trying make a statement on the commercialism of Christmas. We are not ignoring the holidays. As a matter of fact, Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year. We are not against Santa or gift giving. We are not anti social or trying to hurt anyone’s feelings. We do however, have a child with autism.

To a child with autism, the holidays can easily become a nightmare. We want our child to know how special this time of year is and be able to enjoy it in a way that suits him best. The lights, the sounds, the changes, the crowds, it can be overly stimulating to a child like him, whose sensory system is already out of control. He doesn’t understand stories of a stranger coming into our home bringing gifts. He doesn’t function well with a lot of changes. What most of you may take for granted is not easy for him.

We will indeed be celebrating. It may be simple and quiet, but it will be just as important to us as it is to you. Stories of Santa will be replaced with stories of the birth of a very special baby. Gifts will be exchanged quietly and may not all be opened at once. That will be ok with us. We will focus on family and the significance of the holiday.

So please be understanding. We love your invites…. Don’t stop including us. Just understand if we need to say no.  Let us know that you want us there, but tell us you are ok if we aren’t. You may not always understand the choices we make, but assume there is a reason and know that we are doing what is best for our son. We want to see all of you, but we may need to see you in smaller, more casual groupings.

Please understand that families like ours may need to do things a little different. That does not make it better or worse, just different.  As you go about your festivities, don’t judge that child screaming at the store or crying at the special church service. Don’t assume they are misbehaving, instead respond with compassion. This holiday season,  if you take the time to truly reach out to a child with autism, you might find the biggest blessing of all. Happy Thanksgiving and Merry Christmas to you and yours.

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Our Trip to 4 Paws

              

I wish I was one of those people who blogged daily about their time at 4 Paws for Ability. What a great way to share the journey and have those memories forever written down, but reality did not allow me to do that. Quite honestly, I was (and still am) exhausted. It was one of the toughest mental and physical times of my life.

I cannot help but think back to all those well intentioned, but slightly ignorant people who said to me “oh how wonderful, it will be like a vacation for your family.” Hahaha. It is a good thing none of those people were around during the 11 days of training, because I might have slapped them.

Since I didn’t give a daily play by play, let me just pick out one day at random and tell you what the schedule was like:

6:30 am Get up, take Lugnut out for a walk and go put a load of laundry on in the hotel facility since there were only two washers and one (sort of, but not really ) working dryer. This is the only time I could find it available.

7:00am Get everyone else up and begin the task of getting everyone ready with one bathroom. Feed Lugnut. Find time somewhere to put laundry in half working dryer.

8:00am Take family (including Lugnut) to breakfast in the lobby. Now I cannot stress enough how much work such a simple task is when you are not used to including a dog in your morning routine.  Take still wet laundry back to room to hang in every available spot to finish drying. Take Lugnut for a walk.

9:00am Gather up needed items for the day and head out to 4 Paws for Ability which is 20 minutes away

9:30am Caravan with half of classmates and trainers to unknown location to practice tracking

9:45-11:00am  Practice tracking in the crazy weather impacted by hurricane Sandy. Yes, we were out in the rain, sleet, wind and snow. We all were freezing and none prepared for the weather (I don’t think any of us were well enough prepared for the running part either.) The dogs however did not mind one bit. They were all intent on finding the hiding children in their care, which meant they would pull over anyone who couldn’t keep up. A few minor, yet painful (and mostly embarrassing) injuries were experienced by more than one family. As for myself, I never fell, but was certain 911 was going to need to be called to retrieve my out of shape body from the position that I collapsed in once reaching my son with a very eager dog in pursuit.

11:00 am class time at 4 Paws. A rare moment to sit, but only briefly since we spent time practicing what we were taught. Walk Lugnut

 12:30pm:  Lunch out in public with Lugnut. All I can say is one hour is not enough when you are not used to handling a dog in public. Some days the actual eating part did not happen for me.

1:30- 4:30pm: head over to the mall for public practice with the other families and trainers. This included 3 indoor tracks and walking around with Lugnut and a trainer for tips on how to improve any problems we were having. Of course, some random potty breaks were thrown in for human and dog alike. It seems some of the families’ dogs may have misunderstood when was the appropriate time for a potty break and when wasn’t (like in the middle of the mall), but Lugnut had that part under control. (THANK YOU LUGNUT!)

4:30pm: head back to the hotel and walk Lugnut

5:30pm: dinner at hotel lobby (with Lugnut) then feed Lugnut (and walk again)

6:30pm: Back out in public with Lugnut to fulfill homework requirements of public practice (Meijers was our place of choice, since they were close by and had a little of everything to practice around)

7:30pm: back to hotel and walk Lugnut, who afer a long day of work is nice and wound up.

8:00pm There is still homework to be done, practicing obedience, downs, unders, behavior disruption commands, etc.

9:00pm: Lugnut gets one final walk and into the kennel he goes for bed. The rest of us are so exhausted we simply drop.

Any wonder why I didn’t find time to blog?

That being said. It was amazing! I have never felt so comfortable with a group of people ever. The other families become more like your own family. They know exactly what you are going through, because they are living it too. There are no dirty looks, no rude remarks, no questions, just understanding. The staff at 4 Paws were equally awesome.

It was a CRAZY 11 days. There were many times when I simply cried thinking this is WAY too hard and wondering how and when I could back out of the whole thing, but then something happened…. A beautiful moment of looking back after a long, tiring day and seeing my child in the back seat with a dog laying his head in his lap…. And my child was happy, and smiling, and saying “Lugnut,” and then I remembered exactly why I was there and found the strength and courage to go on, and then…. Before I knew it, there I was standing at graduation and not wanting to leave. Yup, its worth it.

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