Learning

064Some days I question whether my kids are learning anything useful. You try to teach them where their house is located and it is torture even though they have memorized the exact location of every Chuck E. Cheese and Toy’s R’Us.  So it is a real joy when one of the kids actually shows us they know something other than what they’ve learned on Looney Tunes or Sponge Bob (Yikes!).  So we were pleasantly surprised when MC, out of the blue just started reciting a Bible verse.

Now a 10 year old learning a Bible verse isn’t all that spectacular until you realize that MC has central auditory processing disorder and the attention span of an ADHD gnat; quite frankly I’m shocked he learns anything.  There are times during the day where he just runs from one side of the house to the other over and over; I need a nap just watching him.  It isn’t like we’ve locked him away in the house.  He can play in the pool, on his bike or scooter, or on the trampoline (SD Tip: My wife got an indoor/outdoor trampoline for Christmas and it has been the best gift ever.  She figured the kids could work off some energy when they couldn’t go outside.  The kids use it every day).  So it is reason to celebrate when he walks up to my wife and perfectly recites Matthew 26:41:

“Keep alert and pray.  Otherwise temptation will overpower you.  For the spirit is willing enough, the body is weak!”

For me this verse represents more than just MC learning a Bible verse, but reminds me that we as parents need to keep alert and pray. With the challenges we face many have given in to despair.  Many others are willing and want to help their children, but have been worn down.  However, Super Dads have learned that it is in fighting for our families that we leave our mark on this world.  So keep alert, pray, and fight the good fight!

RV Shopping

RVSo my wife and I decided earlier this year that we wanted to take the kids to see some new places and we should look at RVs. Now when planning to travel for extended periods of time in a small space with children you have to do a lot of thinking about what is really important.  When you have special needs children you REALLY have to think!  All of the kids are really excited about getting an RV so getting them to go shopping is not a problem, but it is always an adventure.  First thing to know is if it has a door the kids will open and close it.  If you have ever been in an RV, then you know there is no shortage of doors.  The second thing to be aware of is that RVs have toilets, kind of an important feature, and so you will likely want to keep track of the kids.  Lucky for us they had wrapped the toilets with plastic; I’m guessing they learned from experience.  Third, the kids love the horn (aka: heart check device).  The last thing an elderly couple expects while walking or riding a golf cart down a row of RVs at the dealership, is to have some kid laying on the horn right beside them.  Sure it is fun when we do it to mom in the garage, but I don’t want to be apologizing to the person on the stretcher because my kid gave them a heart attack.  Next thing you should know is if the kids can sit or stand on it they will.  Every bed, chair, couch, table, and shower has to be experienced by every child. Lastly, RVs have a lot of buttons and switches!  I think most of us are familiar with how tempting buttons and switches can be for an autistic child.  I had told all the children not to touch them and at one point I heard AC arguing with herself saying “no touch”.  Luckily that is a cue that temptation is getting to be too much so I quickly made my way over and helped redirect her to another activity.  Mrs. Super Dad mentioned that it was about right then that MC decided to lay on the horn.  Yep, we tag-team even at the RV dealership.

All the above truths present a problem when your goal is to see as many RVs as possible before the dealership closes. So how do you speed up the kids’ process and not spend 30 minutes in each RV?  You open up bag of parent tricks.  In this case we used two tried and true parental weapons: anticipation and bribery.  Yes, we used anticipation by fixing them on the doors yet unopened in the next RV and bribery by promising an icy drink at the end  [SD Tip: You have to be careful not to let the anticipation of the bribe get too strong too quickly.  Otherwise the kids will nag you that it is taking too long].

Shopping with special needs children can be quite the challenge and sometimes we have to use special tricks to make it happen. So my suggestion of the day is be CREATIVE.  Each of our kids are very different, but all of our children have something that works for them; even if we haven’t found it yet.  To add to the “fun”, know that the same tactic won’t work in every situation.  In fact, it may not even work twice in the same day! So be creative and let’s have some fun!

Going on a retreat

Sticking with the family summer fun theme and places to go with our591 families, I wanted to post about a place that is very special to my family. Elijah’s Retreat was started back in 2008 by Jeff and Kathie Moore as a non-profit 50-acre ranch where the families of children with autism could go and relax.  My family was blessed to be able to serve on a team that helped to build that first cabin.  Throughout the years my family has not only enjoyed spending many of our own vacations there, but serving the retreat in various capacities including as board members to help carry Jeff and Kathie’s dream forward.  Despite challenges, including an accident that took the life of dear Kathie, Elijah’s Retreat has continued to grow and now has 3 cabins, extensive trails, bunnies, goats, donkeys, horses to ride, a dock for fishing, one-acre fenced in playground, and an awesome barrel train!  Jeff’s strong faith and unwavering commitment to carry on not only has helped many families in the autism community, but should help inspire all of us to dig deep and serve our community.  I recommend all of you checkout Elijah’s Retreat and keep moving forward!

On Safari

IMG_7914My family loves to go places; especially AC. Nearly every day she asks to go to the aquarium, zoo, or Florida (yikes!).  For scheduling and financial reasons it isn’t possible to satisfy her insatiable travel desires.  However, we are always looking for an opportunity to do something special and get the kids out of the house.  One really good excuse is when we have family and friends visit.  Last week my wife’s cousin was in town and so taking the kids to the Fossil Rim Wildlife center seemed like a fun activity; my wife’s idea.  We’ve taken the kids there several times, but it is a bit of drive and with a van full of people and too expensive to do often.  So it is a special treat for the kids who always enjoy feeding, from their hands, the wildlife (deer, rams, giraffe, zebra, etc…) that roam the center.  What I enjoy most about the trip is how much fun we have as the kids actually learn and communicate.  We even enjoyed the long hours of travel time.  I loved the kids’ interaction with animals and I think AC’s phrase of the day is “look a deer” or perhaps “ah…so cute”.

I had spoken in some earlier posts about how important it is to take our kids out in public despite the fear some of us may feel. For me this “Safari” is the best of both worlds.  We get to take AC out into public to experience something that most non-autistic children never experience and you get to do it from the relative safely of your own car [SD Tip: We’ve also done drive-in movies in the past as well].  Now that is truly fun for the whole family.

To help inspire us Super Dads to find things to do and places to go I’m starting to collect a list of fun things that we like to do and I will be posting them on this blog. I would encourage all of you who read this to please provide your own favorite places.  If possible please include a link to their website (if they have one).  Have a great day Super Dads and lift your family up!

Birthdays

My kids love birthdays, but sometimes they can be really difficult for AC. For this reason my wife and I usually take great care and stay close to AC to spot the signs of an impending meltdown.  Nothing distracts from the joy of a birthday party and can alienate our kid from her peers quicker than a screaming fit.  However, as AC grows up we find that the more we include her the less likely she is to have a meltdown.  This really paid off last week when we celebrated MC’s 10th birthday.  AC picked out her gift for MC and stood patiently while he opened his gifts.  For us it was a picture perfect family birthday party; kids were smiling, laughing, and enjoying each other with NO DRAMA.

MC's BirthdayA simple birthday party is something many parents of non-autistic children take for granted.  After all, birthday parties rank up there with Christmas morning and Easter egg hunts as those special memories that parents look back on with joy for their entire life.  However, in our world these events can become another casualty of autism.  For all of you Super Dads out there I’m here to say that our kids and families can have these memories as well; it may just take a bit more patience to get there, 11 years in our case.  Hang in there and be strong for your family and know you too will have some fond memories of birthdays.

Summer

poolSummer is here! All the kids’ school year activities are winding up and the noise of kids playing during the day is everywhere.  For us the key to a fun summer is the pool.  Yes, my children are definitely water babies; they get that from my wife.  However, for some of the parents out there the transition to summer can be a difficult time for their kids.  It is pretty common that our autistic children need the security of having a set schedule.  In our family this summer is a particularly big change with MJ graduating high school and going to spend the summer with his grandparents in Ohio.  We knew it would be difficult on the kids (and us) so we are putting a little more focus on the summer plan this year.  So far, along with the summer of swimming, we have bowling nights ($1 a game), family game nights, and a trip to Ohio on the schedule.  I’m sure plans will get adjusted, but we are planning to enjoy this summer rather than letting it happen.  In the end, all our kids really want, regardless of their special needs,  is some quality time with us.  So go out and have a great summer with your family!

The focus lesson from AC

school-classroom-chalkboard-deskIn my previous post I talked about the importance of focus. What I didn’t talk about was how AC educated me on focus.  As I watch her I am amazed at the laser-focus she has on the things she enjoys.  I have difficulty understanding how she can focus for hours on reading and looking through science books, but has difficulty standing still for 10 seconds to answer a question.   However, as I thought about it I realized that maybe I’m the one that has it all wrong.  I tend to focus on answering the 10 second questions, but I rarely focus on activities that take long term focus (replacing my fence, re-building the kids playhouse, etc…).  AC is able to have laser-focus to complete those activities that she enjoys no matter how long they may take while I tend to gravitate toward “quick” tasks with a focus on quantity rather than quality.  WOW that is convicting.  I’ve made some changes on where and how I focus on activities based on what I’ve learned from AC.  Thanks AC for helping your dad out!

Focus

focus-image

Learning to be good at something takes practice. Some have natural abilities that might allow them to learn more quickly or achieve some higher degree of success, but without practice it just remains as potential.  However, there are some activities where we can’t realistically practice, but instead receive “on the job training”; being a parent falls into this category.  Sure you can pick up some parenting books and babysit your niece, but we parents know that isn’t the same.  There isn’t much that can prepare us for being a parent and especially to be a parent of a special needs child.  So how do we become “good” at being a parent of a special needs child?

In contemplating this question I looked at what it is about practice that makes us better. Many of us simply chalk it up to the experience of doing.  However, we’ve all known people who despite years of experience never get significantly better at a particular task; see my golf game.  So I started studying people who are considered “experts” in their fields.  As I did, one thing seemed to differentiate them from their peers.  That one thing was focus.  Those at the highest levels had a goal in mind and they had focus to practice until they achieved that goal.  Didn’t matter if it was sports, science, business, or any other area; they were committed and had laser-like focus on the prize.  Practice wasn’t something that simply checked a box on their daily to-do list, but was something they took as serious as doing the “real-thing”.

So what does this mean to us as parents? Our focus is the key to being the best we can be for our kids and spouses.  I’m reminded daily life can be hard and that even the most well-planned activities will rarely go as planned.  However, we cannot let it distract us from our focus on giving our families the absolute best.  We aren’t perfect and we will make mistakes, but it is in our mistakes we learn the most and often make the most profound advancements.  Stay strong and focus!!

The Grocery Trip

grocerystoreLet me be honest…I don’t normally do the grocery shopping. As a matter of fact I try to avoid shopping of any kind.  If I do NEED to go shopping the game is to get in and out as quickly as possible with only the items I had planned.  Now let’s contrast that with taking AC to the grocery.  First, I have to receive an intelligence briefing from my wife on the “hot spots”, those stores or areas in a store I should avoid.  Then I need to receive instructions on exactly and I mean exactly what products I can buy.  It isn’t like I can pick-up any old loaf of bread; no it needs to be a specific brand, gluten free, casein free, artificial flavors free and I shouldn’t pay more than a certain price.  After the briefing we head to the store with a plan that would make the Navy Seals proud.  However, things started going wrong the minute we get inside the door, “strawberries daddy”, YIKES that isn’t on the list so I keep walking and pretend not to hear.  She keeps walking, whew dodged a bullet.  Next we hit frozen foods, I know this is a rookie mistake but I’m going to be in and out anyway.  Popsicles are on the list; AC reaches in and comes out with an ice cream treat not popsicles!  We have AC on a gluten and casein free diet so I’m thinking this a potential disaster.  Look at the package, and it is made with almond milk, not a disaster, but still off plan.  I get it anyway, not worth the fight and the DELAY.  So I start moving forward again and AC sprints back toward the freezer to grab 2 boxes of popsicles.  Negotiate her down to 1 box and avoided meltdown, success!!!  Alright forward again, wait she is heading back again and this time she grabs whip cream (dairy free).  This wasn’t on the list, but was included on the briefing as a possible and deemed acceptable deviation.  I keep walking in an attempt to avoid another run back.   We made it out of the aisle and start turning into aisle 2 when she spots her gluten and casein free donuts and runs to the display case.  Alright, I’m officially in dad trouble, but they’re on sale at a reasonable price.  My lucky day, I grab them because getting out of the store as quickly as possible as the plan is already in trouble [SD tip: There are times when a strategic retreat is reasonable].  Believe it or not there was no drama through the rest of the store.  AC did really well and we had a wonderful time.

BraveAlthough this trip was successful, most of us with autistic children have experienced one of those horrifying outbursts in public where everyone looks at you and you are sure someone is going to call the police. We’ve certainly had our fair share with AC over the years.  There were times where we were literally scared to take her places.  However, as parents we need to get over our fear and as the saying goes “try and try again”.  It is scary, but how can we ever expect our children to function at their full potential if we don’t expose them to new situations?  The truth is I’ve used autism many times as an excuse to limit activities and experiences for AC because I was scared; not because there was any real danger to AC.  So my comment for the day is let us be brave fathers for our kids and give them some experiences. They deserve as much opportunity as we can provide!

Fear

What is it about bugs? My kids seem to love them or hate them.  LadybugSurprisingly my girls AC and CJ are fine with bugs.  Of course as I’ve mentioned before AC is not afraid of any bug or ANIMAL.  However, the boys freak out if they even think there might be a bug.  Neither of them has ever been seriously injured by a bug.  To be fair I haven’t met too many of us that don’t have some “irrational” fear.  That is why I’m so amazed by AC and her fearlessness.  She does have the normal fears like getting burned and falling, but unless she has learned to be afraid of something she is usually good with it.  The downside is, like many other autistic children, AC can’t always spot the hidden danger, such as playing around the pool by herself.  Knowing how AC loves the pool we put a deadbolt that is keyed on both sides on the back door.  I admire her fearlessness, but it comes at a price.  I pray that all of your families will have a SAFE and FUN summer!

Sharing and supporting the families of autism