Friday, April 30, 2010

Autism Awareness Month Comes To A Close and I Reach My 30 Day Goal


Hello Aspierations Blog Friends!!

Well, today is April 30th and that means that Autism Awareness Month is about to come to a close.  In my April 1st blog, "April is Autism Awareness Month - Let Us Show Our Aspierations", I made a pledge to blog every day in April with stories from the heart about Autism, Asperger's Syndrome and the impact it has had on the lives of my boys, myself, my husband John and our extended family.  I hope those that have been following along periodically have found something useful, insightful or enjoyable in what I have shared.  I tried to include a variety of serious topics, funny anecdotes, interesting resources and snippets of daily life as the Mom of two boys on the autism spectrum and as an adult on the autism spectrum myself.




I feel very proud and excited for reaching my goal of posting 30 days in a row.  If you've read previous blog postings, you've probably picked up on the fact that I enjoy writing but it is often very difficult for me to get started.  I have struggled with various form of writer's block or what I call "writer's dam" for many years.

Although you're likely not able to tell it by viewing the blog you're reading now, I also have a tendency to want to edit, rewrite, insert and delete many times before actually hitting the "PUBLISH POST" button.  I even find myself editing after I have published my post.  Sometimes I want to just delete the whole thing! (It gets very annoying!)  I honestly think this compulsion for having things just right ties somewhere in with my Asperger's Syndrome. 

My husband John from Life and Times of John Krejcha has been incredibly supportive all month long.  As the only official neurotypical person in the family, he will occasionally feel like the oddball out.  I kindly remind him that he is indeed odd but still a welcome and integral part of our family unit.  John is my rock, my knight in shining armor and my respite care hero who comes to the rescue on days I feel like I'm losing it.  He is an amazing father to our children and not just my marriage partner but also my business partner as well.  It's not all flowers and puppy dogs.  We have our challenges and meltdowns.  We're human!  Because we work together as well, I know there are times when we both could use our space and yet those are almost always the same times that one of the kiddos is having their own issues.  It's a balancing act and some days we stay on the high wire, some days we tumble to the ground.  I always know though that John will be there spotting me. 

 

Justin and Ryan have both been amazing inspirations to me, not only this month but for their entire lives.  They help me relive what it's like to be a kid (through the good, goofy and the bad).  They help show me humor and beauty, complexity and innocence, unconditional love and what is important in life. 

Through their special interests of computers, video games, cars and numbers, I have learned better ways of parenting and coming into their world.  Justin has shown me more than I would have ever known about LANS, WANS, MANS and SANS and PowerPoint. I also know that since he has the TiVO manual memorized, I can call on him for tech support.  It's not like with 3 guys in the house, they'd ever let me have the remote anyway.
 




If I want to know a family member's birthday, a special date that is coming up or the make and model of any car or truck in our neighborhood, Ryan is my little man!  He also helps me get in better shape by playing "Chase the Preschooler" and a Krejcha family favorite, "Eyeball".


 



 

Now that the month is almost at a close, I want to encourage those of you reading this to continue supporting Autism Awareness and Acceptance and Let Your Light Shine with your own Aspirations or Aspierations as the case may be!  No matter what your life circumstance, no matter where you are on or off the spectrum, no matter what kind of emotional rollercoaster you may be riding, it's okay in this very moment to be who you are, reflect upon who you are, accept who you are, assess who you are. 

The time we have here on earth is not unlimited.  I truly believe that it is important each day to Let Your Light Shine. 

Aspierations - Come As You Are, Let Your Light Shine is going to be launching an Aspierations website this summer.  I will still be blogging here but I'm looking to create a website that is inspirational and motivational in nature which promotes acceptance and love for those on the autism spectrum and those family members, friends, teachers and caregivers who are a part of their lives.  I will let you know more about this as it comes to fruition!

For now, I want to thank each and every one of you who spent time visiting any of my Blog Posts from April 1st - April 30th of this year.  If you want to go back and read any others, there is an Archive List on the side of my blog.  One of these days, I'll figure out how to categorize them better.  I still consider myself a blogging newbie!

In closing out the month, I am going to share again one of my favorite posts of the month.  It was a poem that I wrote on April 8th 2010. 

When I wrote this, I was reflecting upon my own life being on the autism spectrum with Asperger's Syndrome and thinking of a thoughtful way to express to others how I would like to ideally be treated, how I'd like to see my two sons on the spectrum, Justin (10) and Ryan (3) be treated and how I'd like to see my fellow journey travelers on the autism spectrum to be treated.  To me, I don't just want to promote Autism Awareness, I want to promote Autism Acceptance and Empowerment. 





I received a number of lovely posts and emails from delightful people who enjoyed my poem and let me know it touched them personally.  Thanks to all that commented and dropped me a line.  Your encouragement inspired me to be more courageous in putting myself out there.   


 

Autism Does Not Define Me 

Accept me for who I am,

Understand that I may not always get what you're saying.

Trust that God has me here for a reason;

I am an amazing human being.

Socially, I might not fit in with society's expectations.

Mentoring can help me along the way.


Don't forget that I have feelings even if I don't express them.

Opportunities for my happiness are indeed possible.

Educate and encourage me without prejudice.

Show patience and kindness along the way.


Never give up trying to "get" me

Ostracizing me will just shut me down.

Take time to try and come into my world.


Defining me as my diagnosis ignores my essence and best qualities.

Emerging talents may arise when you least expect them.

Friendship and honesty is valued to me more than you can imagine.

I am in need of love and tenderness too.

Never let me give up, especially when you see my mood shift.

Expect the unexpected and watch me enrich your life.


Many people will read this and I pray millions will act.

Embrace and empower someone with Autism today.


Autism Does Not Define Me

Written 4/8/2010, copyright 2010, Karen Krejcha

Please remember that although this may be the end to this year's Autism Awareness Month, love and acceptance for those on and off the spectrum can be practiced all year long!

Letting My Light Shine.... Now it's your turn!

Best wishes and blessings,
Karen

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Diamond In The Rough - Lost but now Found

Good evening, Aspierations friends!

Tonight I am starting my daily blog at 10:40 p.m.  I am making a conscious effort to not procrastinate until the end of the day.  Yes, I realize that 10:40 p.m. is pretty darn close to the end of the day but if you check the timestamp on many of my entries this month, they're often between 11:45 - 11:58 p.m.  Starting before 11:00 p.m. is a marked improvement and I'll take every little victory I can!

Speaking of victories, I recently went through a really big scare.  On Sunday evening I was sitting at my desk working and Justin was sitting across from me asking for my advice in a task he was working on.  Suddenly, I looked down at my left hand and saw that the diamond was missing from its setting in center of my wedding ring.  Immediate panic ensued!

John and I have been married 17 years.  On July 18th, it will be 18 and there's something cool about 18 years on the 18th.  The thought that my special wedding ring was missing its diamond was just horrible.  I don't wear a lot of jewelry or rings but this ring is so symbolic to me.  Just looking at it reminds me of the first time that John and I met, a subject I blogged about on April 10th: "A Look Back In Time - 19 Years Ago Today, My First Date with John".  It reminds me of the day he proposed and the day we got married.  It reminds me of our first anniversary and it reminds me of the commitment and love that we share.  It reminds me of our wedding vows.

You can imagine then that I was horror-struck that this ring was now without its diamond.  I immediately told Justin and John what happened and being the supportive sweethearts they are, they immediately went to work looking around for where the diamond might be.

Of course John's first question was, "when do you remember seeing it last", followed up by "was it today, was it yesterday, was it last week"?  I'm not sure if he asked the last part but it felt like it.  What I heard in my head felt like, "WHAT!!!!??? You lost the diamond in your ring??  How COULD YOU be so careless and not notice??"

I'm really good at beating myself up for things... I don't think anything John could have actually said would have been worse than what I was telling myself at that moment.  The good news is that I knew it couldn't have been long since the diamond was lost and it had to be in the house because I look down at my ring and turn it at least a dozen times a day.  It's a part of me.  I'm not a materialistic girly girl kind of gal.  I don't have lots of jewelry, shoes and purses.  The jewelry I do have for the most part is very special and almost all of it was purchased for me by John.  I might not be able to tell you where I put my keys or sunglasses but I can tell you that I wouldn't go very long without noticing the diamond in my ring was missing.

I quickly looked around my desk wondering if I had banged my hand on something.  (I am fairly athletic and yet I have always had a tendency to be clumsy and bang into inanimate objects.  How I ever did so well in bowling is beyond me!)  My kiddos both have Sensory Processing Disorder along with their autism / Asperger's and I'm sure I do too. 

Anyway, I didn't see the diamond near the desk so I immediately went downstairs to the living room where I had recently played a little Mario Kart Coin Runners with Ryan.  Although it is a game where you can sit and play, we both tend to get a bit animated and silly.  It's fun to act like a 3 year old sometimes!  The GOOD news is that on the floor upside down near the sofa was the diamond to my ring.  What a relief!!!  In retrospect, I'm lucky Ryan didn't find it and put it in his mouth.  Seriously...

I look at myself, my sons and even John sometimes as diamonds in the rough, polished jewels in the making.  If you've ever seen naturally occurring diamonds, they often seem quite ordinary at first glance.  Their real and true beauty is realized through the cutting, polishing and finishing process.  Of course my boys and husband are truly real gems to me, much more priceless than diamonds.  We each have our own potential, our own calling, our own destiny to fulfill.

Through my family, my blogging and my self-reflections and revelations here at Aspierations, I am starting to move through the rough and come into my own.  Just as the diamond for my ring was lost and then found, I am learning to find myself as well.

Today we took my ring to the jeweler for the diamond to be reset in its setting.  My finger feels bare without it.  I joked with John that I now have a few days I can be single again but the truth is that I am so happy and lucky to be married to my best friend.  We have our moments for sure; with so much passion and emotion in our house on a regular basis, it's easy to get caught up in the drama whirlwind.  When it really counts though, I know that John is there for me and I am there for him and even though I don't have my ring on my finger tonight, we are partners.

Thanks for stopping by my blog!  Tomorrow will be April 30th and will complete my goal of writing a new blog entry for every day of Autism Awareness month HOORAY! I'll try my best to make it a special one and invite you to come "read" me again! 

Smiles and best wishes,
Karen

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Tales from The Thinking Chair

Good Evening, Aspierations Visitors!

Tonight I'm going to make this a short one. (Editors note: At the time I started this blog, that's what I intended. Really!) My husband John ended up having a root canal done today (OUCH) and I know his mouth is still really sore so I'm going to try and do a little quick writing and then encourage him to get off his computer and call it an early night. 

Today, I wanted to share for your amusement "Tales from The Thinking Chair".  Our youngest son, Ryan who has been diagnosed with autism started preschool last Fall at a local preschool that specializes in helping kiddos with special needs.  The school bus picks him up in the mornings four days a week and brings him home a little before noon.  He absolutely loves it!  He loves his teacher.  He loves the teacher's assistants.  He loves the girls.  Yes, we have a little ladies man in the making.

Unfortunately for his teacher, he often loves school with just a bit TOO much enthusiasm!  Our little energizer bunny runs, jumps, spins, bounces, tumbles and chases his way through many of his days.  Of course in a classroom setting where you have to be able to sit quietly and follow directions, too much energy can have its challenges.

Enter "THE THINKING CHAIR"

Before Ryan started preschool, I had never heard of the thinking chair.  John and I tried (and still try) disciplining Ryan by using short time-outs, modeling correct behavior, drawing visuals / PECS and rewarding him with positive reinforcement for good behavior.  Of course I'll admit there have been times when I've been exasperated to the end of my rope and have used bribes.  I try to make sure I use incentives for good behavior and not bribes to end bad but sometimes when you're in the middle of a store or playground or in front of your neighbor's house and your kiddo throws himself down in absolute defiance and you know that a major meltdown is forthcoming, there are times when "hey, do you want to play Mario Kart Coin Runners on the Wii when we get home" is the only thing that seems to work.

So it was just a very short time into the school year, maybe a couple weeks, when an email came home saying that Ryan had spent time in "The Thinking Chair" for chasing other kids and not lining up after recess and as such, had missed an opportunity to share in snacktime with the other children.  He cried and protested but apparently realized the error of his ways and was given a chance to  make it right the next day.

For those wondering, what a Thinking Chair is, don't worry.  I wasn't sure at first, although I had an idea. I emailed his teacher to be sure.  In essence, it is a special chair in a special quiet place of the room where the honored guest is led to when he or she needs a break or has broken a rule.  There are many incidents that can lead to a special spot in the Thinking Chair and I'm pretty sure that our son has added a few reasons of his own to the classroom hall of fame list.

When Ryan got home from school after the first Thinking Chair incident, we had a discussion.  At that time, back in September, he was verbal again (he lost his words at about 18 months) but he was only putting 2 - 3 words together at a time.  His comprehension vocabulary was ahead of his speaking vocabulary.  I tried asking him about the Thinking Chair and recall he said it was for No Nos and Not Listening.  Well, that was a good start! 

The next three days I was happy to hear that there was no thinking chair.  It was the end of his week.  Perhaps the Thinking Chair had really impacted his behavior?  John and I tried to create a Thinking Chair of our own but somehow, it didn't quite have the same effect.

Come Monday, Ryan goes off to school and has Thinking Chair again.  This pattern continues off and on for a few weeks until we get a note from school saying that Ryan tends to have the "Monday Sillies".  Apparently he was doing well staying on task and focusing Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday but with a 3 day weekend, he was just having another Manic Monday!  (I'm sure the teacher wished it was Sunday...)

We come to find that Ryan loves to play a game he dubs CHASE.  Chase, if you can believe it, is even MORE popular than Eyeball.  Well, sometimes.  The game goes like this.  The classroom kids go outside onto the playground for recess.  They play.  Ryan chases a few kids around.  They play some more.  The bell rings to line-up and go in. 

Now the REAL fun begins.  Ryan's game rules are that once the line-up bell rings, whichever teacher is closest to him should chase him around the playground until he lines up.  He of course is giggling along the way.  By the way, participation by the teacher and teacher assistants in theory should be optional but for the first few rounds (days) of his CHASE game, apparently everyone who is an adult is encouraged to play.  The encouragement comes in the form of Ryan running as far and fast away from everyone that he can and not listening at all when being directed to stop, come in or line-up. 

Let me say that Ryan and The Thinking Chair became very close friends. 

If you think that I think sharing this is funny, I kind of do in an oh so not appropriate Aspie kind of way.  I apologize if I offend anyone.  It is not my intent.  Unfortunately, for as long as I can remember, I have had an inexplicable urge to laugh inappropriately at the most awkward moments.  Fortunately, I've been able to suppress that urge in public for quite a few years.  It's the visuals that get me...

Of course I do not think it funny that Ryan is not following rules and I realize there are safety issues involved.  Really, I know this so well first hand having been certified as a bonafide expert in playing CHASE.  (This is a game which we have to be very careful of when going outside because Ryan has a tendency to bolt.)

Sometimes you just have to be light-hearted and laugh a little when your kids do funny things.  Sometimes you have to laugh with they do NOT so funny things because if you spend all your time crying and yelling, the stress will eat you alive.  Little anecdotes that I share may not be so funny at the time but in retrospect, Ryan getting the Thinking Chair because he deliberately turned off the lights when others were still in the room can present a funny visual.  (Especially if it is the bathroom...)

In all seriousness though, the Thinking Chair has taught Ryan a lot of great lessons.  Now we are in the latter part of the school year, his vocabulary has increased and Ryan now will put together sentences.  When asked why he visits the Thinking Chair now, he will say, "because I made bad choices" and "because I did not listen".

Ryan still needs redirects but the concept of the Thinking Chair is working and we are getting less and less of those emails about his Monday Sillies.  We are positively rewarding him for listening to his teacher and following directions. 

Ryan had actually gone a bit without spending time in the Thinking Chair but we still ask him every day.  He's quite honest about it.  He also shares with us what other kids were in the Thinking Chair and for what reason.  He's learning to differentiate good classroom behavior from bad and this is so vital for success in school.

Today Ryan had the Thinking Chair for turning a classmate's placemat upside down and also for squeezing a balloon until it popped, thus scaring himself and other students in the class.  These were new Thinking Chair tales for us to hear but as each one is duly noted, we see Ryan learning more and more about being able to correct and redirect his own behavior.

I know some adults who could use the Thinking Chair, don't you?

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pontificating about Procrastinating - Some Days You Just Need A Primal Scream

Well, good evening!

I'm starting my blog a little earlier than normal tonight.  At the beginning of April, I made a commitment that for Autism Awareness Month, I was going to create a fresh post at my Aspierations blog account each day in April. Here we are almost at the end of the month!

It has so far been rewarding and insightful, although if you check the timestamps on many of my posts, you'll notice that quite a few have come in between 11:30 - 11:59 p.m. and at least 3 - 4 were in the last five minutes of the day.

When I was in high school and college, I remember many assignments that I completed at the last moment.  I had a rough time back then with mental blocks and getting started unless it was a topic that I considered a special interest.  Of course, I was more afraid of NOT turning in an assignment than bailing out on one so inevitably, I'd find myself rushing to meet a deadline. 

Interestingly enough, my last minute work was generally rewarded with good grades so unfortunately, I fell into a pattern with this bad habit.  I guess some would call it working well under pressure.  That may be true but I wish I hadn't caused myself such unneeded stress.

I don't remember doing this in elementary school.  If anything, I would suspect I was more of a teacher's pet, eagerly looking to turn in work, do extra credit, etc. 

Now that I'm an adult and not having to turn in daily or weekly assignments to a teacher or professor, it's easier to see the error of my ways in procrastinating.  That doesn't mean I don't still do it but it is something I am working on improving.

This year, I see the mental block and procrastinating tendency starting to develop with our oldest son and John and I want to work with him to create good study habits, especially before he starts middle school and has to balance multiple classes.

Some days though, no matter HOW hard I try to get started with writing, I just can't seem to get the ideas to flow from brain to fingers.  In an earlier blog, I called this "writer's dam" rather than writer's block because it seemed like a more accurate visual.

On days when I feel like this, I am reminded of an exercise we did once every trimester at our college dorms at UC Santa Cruz / UCSC.  The week before finals was always called dead week.  This meant that since there was a lot of last minute cramming and studying going on, no-one was allowed to play loud music or make a lot of noise after I think it was 10:00 - 11:00 p.m each night. 

On one day though per trimester, at exactly 11:00 p.m. (or 10:00 or whenever it was, that isn't the important part) everyone in the dorms were allowed to go out on their balconies or stick their heads out their windows and do a primal scream.  I'm not sure how long the whole thing lasted, probably a minute but man, did that feel empowering!  Occasionally there was streaking too.  (This was Santa Cruz, after all!  And NO, Mom & Dad, I didn't participate in the streaking!)  When I transferred from UCSC to Cal Poly SLO, they didn't have that and I was bummed.  This was back in the mid-late 80s but I think the tradition at UCSC still carries on today.

Tonight is a night I could use a primal scream.  Unfortunately, being that it is 11:22 p.m. as I am typing this, I don't think that the neighbors would agree.  The kids would sure be into it though!   (We've had our own family primal scream moments!!)

Never underestimate the power of a good primal scream!

See you tomorrow!  Hey, 11:25 p.m., NOT BAD!  I'm improving!
Karen

Monday, April 26, 2010

Sleep is Great, Sleep is Fun, Sleep should be for Everyone!

Hello Aspierations Visitors!

Late to bed, early to rise.  I see a pattern forming here.  I'm not entirely sure that I approve!

Yes, I have to say that I do like my sleep.  In our house, we have a little jingle we sing. 

"Sleep is great, sleep is fun, sleep should be for everyone."
"Sleep is awesome, sleep is grand, people do it across the land."
"If you go and count your sheep, you can get lots of sleep!"
"Sleep is fun, sleep is fine, especially when you get up after nine!"

Do you sense a Grammy award in our future?  Perhaps a #1 single on I-Tunes?  A hit for the next American Idol?  Dare me to put it up on YouTube?  Well, maybe not...  The point is that the boys and I have lots of fun with our silly little jingles!

Speaking of which, I've been singing to Justin and Ryan since they were babies.  Great bonding time, especially during late night feedings, early morning taste tests, late morning milk runs, early afternoon eatings, late afternoon snacks, early dinners and midnight munchies!  Although there are some classics, I think the songs the boys always enjoyed most were ones I made up. 

If I were to have a record album, or should I say, "Best Hits CD", these would be some of our family's favorite tunes.  Titles below.  Remember, each comprises an entire original hit song voted platinum by our two boys!

By the way, even though I'm only sharing snippets with you, if our song titles or lyrics seem to rival the same type of repetitive lyrics as Boy George from the 80s, this is purely unintentional, although it does make memorizing the words a lot easier!

1) La La La La Loo, Ma Ma Ma Ma Ma Moo
You're such a good little boy, with or with out sucky toy, la la la la loo!

2) Your name is Justin, your name is Justin and you're the best brown eyed baby in the world!

That was a classic from 1999. In 2006, it was remixed and remastered.

3) Your name is Ryan and I'm not lying, you're the best blue eyed baby in the world!

4) Mommy's little baby is Justin, Justin, Mommy's little baby is Justin Paul.
He's a good baby, he's a great baby, fantastic baby, Justin Paul.
Mommy really loves her Justin, Justin, Mommy really loves her Justin Paul.

Well, of course, I had to follow that up with:

5) Mommy's little baby is Ryan Jonathan, Mommy's little baby is Ryan Jonathan.

6) Mommy's Cover of "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You" by Frankie Valli

7) Mommy's cover of "Somebody" by Depeche Mode (This was the first dance song at our wedding!)

8) Baby face, you've got the cutest little baby face. (When I was a little girl, we had a cute poodle and I used to sing "Doggy Face" to him as he would twirl around doing pirouettes!  I too would try to do pirouettes but I was TU TU uncoordinated!)

9) I want a Ryan-potamus for Christmas and only a Ryan-potamus will do.  (Yeah, I ripped off that Hippo song!)

10) (TIE) Theme Songs from Survivor & Amazing Race - with contestant names belted out in song during opening credits.  These are great little dance numbers too.  Ryan is currently leading a spin class on Thursday and Sunday night if anyone out there is available!

I may be leaving some other classics out.  I do remember At 3:00 a.m., the boys as babies and toddlers both seemed to really enjoy show tunes from "Annie Get Your Gun", "Sound of Music" and "Grease".  Of course, I was in those musicals when I was younger so the songs are engrained in my memory.  I figure if it's 3 a.m., they're up and I am up, any song that puts them to sleep works for me!

You know, this wasn't initially going to be a blog posting about bedtime songs with silly lyrics but after the long and hectic work day John and I had today, posting something light-hearted is actually lifting my spirits!

I think it's awesome to share the love of singing and dancing with the kiddos. It's one of those things we can share as a family and being on the autism spectrum doesn't come into play when we're singing and dancing our hearts out around the house in silly ways.  One or two of the males in the family might need some singing lessons but hey, we could all use a little auto-tune sometimes!

Any other families out there create their own original music or sing showtunes in the wee hours of the morning?  If so, please share!  We're always looking to diversify and add tunes for a future album!

Karen

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Reflections from Camping and Going Off of Routine

Hello Everyone!

On Sundays we usually have a routine of getting up, going to church, coming back home, having lunch and a little time with the boys, working, going on a family walk, working, having dinner, playing with the boys, working, watching Amazing Race (& Undercover Boss when it was on), working, putting the kids to bed, working and then going to bed around 1:00 a.m. and watching Celebrity Apprentice on TiVO.

This Sunday our routine was way off!  If you haven't visited my postings for the past couple of days, please feel free to check out Friday's blog, Mommy & Ryan Time - More Eyeball and Saturday's blog, Camping In The Present, Camping In The Past - Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts.

In a nutshell, Justin was gone from Friday afternoon until around Sunday at noon at his first Boy Scout camping trip!  John was with him Friday afternoon, Friday night, came home during the day Saturday and then went back Saturday early evening to finish up the weekend adventure.

Justin's has Asperger's Syndrome and this first weekend trip camping as a Boy Scout was one where we knew there would be some adversities and some triumphs.  I am so So SO very proud of my amazing son, Justin and I thank John for all the help and Dad support he provided our firstborn in one of his first big steps toward adolescence.

The weekend at camp was not without its challenges but I'll let you read John's blogs for that. John's blogs are highly entertaining and these two were quite meaningful.

Saturday's entry was Cold, Wet, Tired But Proud and I Would Do It Again.
Sunday's entry was Part Two of The Camping Trip

Part two was for the period of Saturday during the day when John as not there until the end of the trip.  As expected, food was a major challenge but Justin was a real trooper and Dad snuck in some goodies for Justin when he went back on Saturday night. 

I was REALLY impressed with how he handled the combination of rain (in Washington? Who would have thought it?), lack of food, exercise, lack of sleep, not knowing many people (his closest friends and previous Cub Scout den members weren't on this trip) and trying to do tasks that were physically challenging.  He told John that it was "the hardest day of his life".  I think though in the end, he was really proud of himself and I am so happy he did not give up.  If you're reading this, Justin, YOU ARE A WINNER!!!  I am PROUD and I LOVE YOU VERY MUCH!!!

Naturally due to the scouting trip, our Sunday schedule was thrown off and I think everyone around here was a little on-edge from the routine-free weekend.  It was an "okay" day around the house and I'll leave it at that.  Ryan still is sick.  I think I'm catching it.  Hopefully John and Justin won't!

If you've been a follower of my previous postings, you may remember reading that my husband and I own Count Your Beans, an online doll and bear store that sells through our on website, eBay and Amazon.  Well, tomorrow is a big day for us.  Sort of make or break in some ways.  Our biggest vendor, Charisma Brands (manufacturer of Marie Osmond dolls, Kewpie dolls, Artista dolls, Adora Dolls, Penny Brite, Candy Fashion, Whispering Willows and Paradise Galleries) is having its first Marie Osmond doll show on QVC since October of 2009.

This is the longest that I can remember in our 10 years of carrying Marie's dolls that she's ever gone without having a show on QVC.  Tomorrow's show is just an hour.  Even though QVC is a competitor, it is Marie's shows on QVC which dramatically impact how many new release collection dolls we're going to sell.  Given that the economy hasn't been too kind to many dolls, bears and collectibles manufacturers and retailers over the past year, we are REALLY hoping this show tomorrow is going to go well.

As such, I need to cut my blog short tonight and get back to work preparing for tomorrow.  In the morning we're participating in a preview online of the Marie Osmond August Collection and then the show is from 2 - 3 p.m. PST.  We also have shipping, getting the boys to school and our normal busy Monday routine. 

Please wish us luck that things will go well!  Being able to work at home and be able to give our kids the extra time and support they need is predicated on us being able to have a successful business.  Here's hoping for the best!

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Camping in the Present, Camping In The Past - Boy Scouts & Girl Scouts

Hello!

My husband John posted a wonderful blog today with great detail about Justin's first weekend camping trip as a Boy Scout.  Although at times it seemed like a comedy of errors at least as far as John's first night sleeping went (sorry for the laughter, John), it has obviously been a great experience for both John and Justin.  They spent Friday afternoon and evening together.  John came back for most of day on Saturday and then went back around 6:00 p.m. to finish the evening and weekend with Justin.

I still do miss them lots!

Here is a link to John's Camping Trip blog with pictures.

John was nice enough to come home today during the day to give me a bit of a break and have a chance to take a warm shower and a few hour snooze.  Ryan has been sick with a cold and flu bug since Tuesday evening and he had a bit of a rough night.  He did well with me this evening and we played another few rounds of Eyeball as well as creating a new game called Tunnel Ball.  Ryan decided to erase everyone's licenses and stats on Mario Kart Wii to which I can only say, I'm SORRY, John & Justin! I only stepped away for a minute!

Ryan had a rough time going to bed tonight.  I'm not going to complain because I KNOW I will get more sleep in a warmer, cozier environment than John.  I'm sure when the boys get home on Sunday, they will be eager for a shower and some sleep. 

We're big Survivor Fans in this house and have watched every season since the beginning but suffice it to say that I would NEVER last out there.  John would.  I'm just not a mosquito or outhouse kinda gal.  My parents aren't either.  Although I love the outdoors and taking walks through nature, when it come to my bedtime, I'm spoiled by my comfy Sleep Number bed!

Of course when I was a kid, I did go camping a few times but always with groups.  My parents idea of camping was a nice trip to Lake Tahoe and staying in a nice cabin and going inner tubing or skiiing!  Hawaii wasn't a bad runner-up!  (Come to think of it, I still like the idea of those kinds of family "camping" trips!)

I was in Brownies and Girl Scouts for a number of years and do have mixed memories of a couple overnight adventures.  The one I remember the most is one I had looked forward to.  I can't remember the exact age although I'm thinking somewhere around 5th or 6th grade.  I'll have to ask my parents. I remember selling the most boxes of Girl Scout cookies in my troop and earning a free one week trip to Girl Scout Camp.

Here are visuals I remember from the trip:

Sleeping outside in a sleeping bag on a hill in some sort of wooded area. This was kind of interesting. I liked my sleeping bag and I liked the outside air.  I don't remember bugs.  I do remember staying up late and listening to crickets chirping and frogs ribbeting.

The outhouseI HATED THIS!!!!!  I was totally unprepared for the smell, feel and concept of outhouses. Not to be gross, but I think I must have held off having to go potty almost all week after my first venture there.  I don't remember holding it in being a difficult thing to do because I was so put off by the outhouse.  Of course being a picky eater, I don't remember eating much that week anyway.  It was my "junior" version of Survivor except no-one got voted out and I got to lose some weight!

Singing songs around the campfire, hearing ghost stories and doing little skits.  This was by far my favorite part and I still remember some of the songs to this day.  I also remember trying SMORES for the first time and really liking them. 

My impression is that when I was on this trip, I really didn't know anybody or hang out with anyone. I'm thinking there had to be girls from my troop there that I knew but for the life of me I can't remember.  I'm not sure if I was particularly upset by being a loner that but I remember being aware of it.  I think I might have attributed it to being an only child or "being shy" as other people had said this about me before.  The shyness thing I remember was really only true around my peers.  I was always fine with adults at that age as was evidenced by my cookie selling skills, although to be fair, who DOESN'T like Thin Mint Girl Scout Cookies?

I'm pretty sure that I participated in most activities but I remember there was some sort of swimming thing and a place to change clothes and that kind of freaked me out.  I was very modest and never wanted to change clothes around other girls.  I definitely didn't want to be in a bathing suit because I was very insecure about my body.

Well, I didn't really mean to venture this far down memory lane but I'm going to leave this all here in my blog as I think reflecting on one of my first longer overnight outings and being able to look at it now from the viewpoint of having had undiagnosed Asperger's Syndrome is pretty interesting. In retrospect, I'm actually pretty proud of myself for what I did.  I wonder if AS had been diagnosed back during that time if my parents might have sheltered me from such a trip thinking I might not have had the right social skills to participate. 

Although I did remember floundering in a number of areas, I am really glad I had the experience.  The nightly campfires were a lot of fun and something that I hope Justin had a chance to enjoy this evening as well.

I think if it were 2010 and I was doing the same thing (as a kid), having a mentor at camp to help me along would be useful.  I encourage parents out there with children on the spectrum to give them these types of experiences.  It's helpful to try and anticipate and remove obstacles but I do think in order for them to become more empowered, groups with good values like the Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts provide useful peer modeling, inclusiveness, the ability to gain new skills, make new friends and have the opportunity for positive experiences. 

Justin's first best friend he made through Cub Scouting and it changed his life! I really have to give huge props and love to my husband, John for that.  He was involved as Justin's Assistant Cub Scout Den Leader in 2nd grade and took on the challenging role of Cub Scout Den Leader for 3rd, 4th and the first half of 5th grade until Justin just recently transitioned into Boy Scouts.  Both Justin and John have come so far together and I am so proud.  John was an amazing leader and gave Justin the chance to do so many things he wouldn't have had the chance to ever do otherwise such as overnight trips on the USS Hornet and a submarine at OMSI, field nights at the ball park, camping and hikes to the Ape Caves, earning badges, patches and belt loops, completing his religious emblem award, tree planting, riding a horse, shooting a bow and arrow, shooting a BB gun, riding on a police boat, touring a jail, police station and fire station...  so many amazing and interesting opportunities and accomplishments!  Plus he made a couple close friends along the way and that really touched our hearts!!  

I look forward to a few years down the road when Ryan can be a Tiger Cub Scout.  Even though Ryan & Justin are on the autism spectrum, we highly encourage these opportunities.  There have been many many challenges along the way and we're sure there will be many more but is it worth it? ABSOLUTELY!!

Thanks for stopping by my blog!
Karen

Friday, April 23, 2010

Mommy & Ryan Time - More Eyeball

Hello everyone!

We usually celebrate Friday Family Night at our house each week with a special dinner, some family games, maybe a family walk and some quality time together.

This Friday things were a little bit different.  John and Justin are off camping together this weekend with the Boy Scouts so it has been me and Ryan since about 4:00 p.m.  I sure miss J & J!

This is Justin's 1st camping trip as a Boy Scout and not a Cub Scout.  John and I both thought it would be best if John went along at least for the first night.  Fortunately the camp is only about 20 minutes or so away from here and so John will come home for some time during the day on Saturday and get a chance to shower and refresh himself.  I kind of get the feeling he and Justin won't be getting much sleep this weekend.  As a matter of fact, I'm posting here now that I will do my best to be patient, loving and kind because when our family goes without sleep and we deviate quite a bit from routine, crankiness has a tendency to enter the picture.

Ryan and I had a lot of quality time together.  He tried really hard to get into as much mischief as possible and I think if he were to reflect back upon the day's accomplishments, he'd be very pleased with himself.  He tends to try and get away with things more with me, I think. 

We enjoyed one of Ryan's favorite made-up games called "Eyeball".  I have blogged about Eyeball before.  It's a game where we have a small plastic pool filled with plastic balls of varying sizes  and colors and we sort of go crazy playing catch, throwing, rolling, kicking, bouncing and shouting out random exclamations like "WATCH OUT FOR MY EYEBALL" and "Eyeball, you hurt me!"  I know you might be thinking this is a bit odd, but don't knock it until you try it!

We also hung out a bit playing Mario Kart Wii Coin Runners and Balloon Battle.  Every time I went away to take a very QUICK bathroom break, Ryan would wreak havoc and try to escape out the front door.  Once he succeeded and then thought it would be funny to drop his pants and try to pee on the porch.  Ohhhhh, hilarity indeed!  I REALLY hope our neighbors didn't catch any of this. 

By 9:30 p.m. we were both worn out.  I gave Ryan a bit of cold medicine, did our nightly kiss, hug and toss and tucked him into bed. 

I really wanted to talk with John on the phone but for some reason our phone lines were down and I had to send John a text message through the computer instead.  Fortunately, he got it.  Luckily his return texting skills were better than Rod Blagojevich's recent showing on the Celebrity Apprentice! 

Speaking of that show, I just read that Bret Michaels was rushed into the hospital yesterday for a brain hemorrhage.  Apparently he is in critical condition but is now stabilized.  He is certainly in our thoughts and prayers.  I really didn't know much about Bret before Celebrity Apprentice but he seems like a guy with a really big heart who loves his daughter and is passionate about winning money for Juvenile Diabetes awareness and the American Diabetes Association.  I hope he recovers soon!

Well, that's all for tonight!   I sure do miss J & J!  Love you guys!
Karen

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Happy Take Your Child To Work Day at Count Your Beans

Hello Aspierations blog visitors!

Today was Take Your Child To Work Day at Count Your Beans and Justin was excited to have the opportunity to stay home from school and learn a little more about what it is like to be an entrepreneur for the day.

Ryan was also home but that was because our little guy is still ill and he spent most of the day resting and playing a little of his favorite game, Mario Kart Coin Runners on the Wii.  (I can't believe how good he is!)

Justin's excitement about learning about the business I founded and now co-own with my husband, John (see his own blog, Life and Times of John Krejcha) really made me feel proud and warm inside.  Since Justin was spending the day shadowing and assisting us, John thought it would also be a great opportunity for Justin to take that information and use it to start working on his Boy Scout Entrepreneurship and American Business badges. Hooray for multi-tasking!

The day initially got off to a little rough start.  I was a little late waking up and when I got from the bedroom to our office, John and Justin were in there and both seemed rather frustrated with each other.  John was worried that Justin was going to want this to be a "Get Out Of School Free" card instead of wanting to learn.  Justin was worried that John was going to have him read Boy Scout merit badge information all day and it would be incredibly tedious.

John left the room and I took a few minutes to talk with Justin.  It turned out that Justin was frustrated because he didn't know his schedule for the day and was feeling out of sorts.  He was off his normal routine.  Justin has Asperger's Syndrome and for many kids on the autism spectrum like Justin, routine and following schedules can be very important.  The unknown can be quite scary and at times will make a kid or adult who is otherwise functional have a meltdown or shut down. 

Fortunately, this was an easy situation to remedy.  I got together with John and in just a few minutes we had an interesting schedule planned.  John printed out an itinerary "Justin's Day at Count Your Beans" and it included learning the history of our business, what a typical day might entail, the sales and marketing process, the customer service process and the shipping process.  We wanted him to have a hands-on experience so when a new order came in, we let him do the receipt, the UPS shipping label, pull the inventory, pack the box, notify the customer via email and leave her positive feedback online.

John and I alternated time with Justin in short blocks with recess breaks.  He was interested to learn how our business is both reactive and proactive and how time management and creating our own shortcut routines help us maximize time. Justin shared with us that starting, running and building a business takes a lot more work than he had expected.  It was a great insight and one that will hopefully help him appreciate what we do just a little bit more.

To give him a variety of experiences, John also took him on a field trip to our local bank in the afternoon where he learned about depositing payments and got to interview a Bank Manager.  To top off the day, the company bought him dinner at Old Spaghetti Factory.  Working at Count Your Beans definitely has its perks!

I was so very proud of Justin today and you know what's cool?  I could tell he was proud of us too! While we talked, Justin was attentive and engaged, asked relevant questions (something he normally struggles to do in a school setting) and eagerly participated in every task we assigned him.  It was truly amazing and very special bonding time.

Justin has wanted to be an entrepreneur for awhile.  I know it's in his genes. There are a lot of things he wants to do.  Currently, he has a dream with his friend of starting his own video game making company and with the technical skills he already has, I believe he has the potential inside to make it happen. 

It is wonderful to see Justin with his own Aspierations!  Today, he let his light shine and that light is bright!

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Some Days Things Just Don't Go As Planned

Hello!

Today I had planned to post about how our oldest son's IEP meeting went at his elementary school.  However in life things often do not go as planned and our youngest son came down sick late last night.

When we had come home from the "What You Need To Know About IEPs" meeting, Ryan had a bit of a runny nose but within a few hours, he was coughing and after going to bed, he got up multiple times throughout the night.  Today, he was achy, tired and not his little chipper self.  

As John and I believe it's important for both parents to attend IEP meetings, we ended up doing a last minute apology and cancellation since we kept Ryan home from school.  I sent a friendly email asking for a reschedule and John made a phone call and hopefully we'll hear something back from the school soon.

So today didn't go as planned.  Our little one has been sleeping off and on since early evening and his illness as escalated to the flu.  I have the feeling it's going to be another upside down night.  It's part of being a parent.

On the positive side, we did get Justin and Ryan signed up through the Parks & Rec department for swim lessons in May and June.  They both really enjoy the water and as the classes are only a couple times a week, we thought it would fit easily within their schedule and ours while teaching an important life skill.

On an unrelated note, our family has been watching American Idol since the 2nd season.  For the past few years or so, they've done an annual American Idol Gives Back show where various artists perform for a two hour period and the show promotes the very special Idol Gives Back Foundation

The Idol Gives Back Foundation is a not-for-profit 501(c)(3) organization established by the producers of American Idol and FOX to raise money and awareness to serve children and their families in need throughout the U.S. and the rest of the world. The Idol Gives Back Foundation is harnessing American Idol's ability to capture America's hearts and the power of entertainment to benefit some of the poorest and most vulnerable people in the world.

No matter what people think of American Idol and reality shows in general, the incredible success of American Idol has brought a wonderful opportunity for giving and charity throughout America and reaching throughout the world.

Many of the stories shown brought tears to my eyes.  John and I were both very touched by the challenges and adversity that so many around the world experience.

Some would say that having two children on the autism spectrum is a big challenge.  Many days it is and so many do not really understand what we go through unless they go through a similar situation themselves.  That being said, our challenges and struggles are NOTHING at all like what so many people around the world with poverty, life-threatening illness and more severe disabilities have to go through. 

Our family lives in an amazing country, we have a loving family (both immediate and extended), we have a roof over our head in a safe neighborhood and a beautiful state.  We have clothes, we have food, we have educational opportunities.  We have the skills and talents God has blessed us with.  We are very lucky and blessed indeed!  We have challenges like everyone does and hopefully through adversity, we'll learn to grow stronger.  Oh sure, I'll have my pity party days because you know, even adults meltdown too.  Hopefully, I learn something from it but if not, hopefully the next time it happens, I can deal with it better!

Yes, our family is thankful, we are blessed and so are our boys.  When I look at them, I see opportunities, I see promise, I see potential, I see hope. 

Shows like Idol Gives Back that remind me just how blessed my family and I truly am help light a fire under my bottom to make sure that my priorities are aligned and that I remember to serve my family, God, my community and help others using the gifts and talents God blessed me with.

Earlier this year, I felt a calling from God to do this through my writing and through Aspierations.  I am working on taking that now to the next level and look forward to sharing with you how I'm going to do that along the way!

Until next blog....
Karen

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Tomorrow is another IEP Meeting -- Hope It Goes Well!

Tomorrow, John and I get to attend another Individualized Education Program aka IEP meeting at our oldest son's elementary school.  This is I believe is the 4th for the year in addition to planning / pre-planning meetings. 

In this particular case, we thought our IEP for the rest of the year was fairly complete and that our next meeting would be to discuss transition from elementary to middle school.  Unfortunately,  a negative social incident happened on the playground at the school among a group of children including our son and during the problem resolution / restitution stage, our son's IEP was not brought into play or followed and there was a lot of embarrassment, frustration and humiliation for our son and a couple of his peers that could have been mostly prevented. The reason given was that there had recently been some staff changes and absences and as such, on the day of the issue, none of his IEP team were there to assist. 

I understand stuff happens and as the parent of two children on the autism spectrum, I KNOW unexpected and unpredictable things occur but that doesn't mean that there shouldn't be some sort of back-up plan in place and that if a child (any child) is brought into a staff member's office for problem solving / incident resolving, that the staff member (even if transitional or a substitute) should check and see if the child has an IEP first which addresses the potential issue.

Okay, as our kiddo's Mom, I was upset, frustrated, disappointed and confused.  My husband was that and then some.  Amplify it!!!  We both were just shocked and wondered what good is an IEP if it isn't applied??  If there are staff changes on our son's "team", shouldn't we be notified?  Shouldn't HE be introduced to his new case manager and the team supporting him?  How can they advocate for him, especially in transitioning from elementary to middle school if they haven't even met him and it's a month and a half until the end of the year?

Of course when I wrote to the school, I toned everything down into a concerned but polite and professional letter requesting a meeting so that all new parties could be introduced and our son's IEP could be revised further so that it was more specific and less general in regards to social incidents.  To the school's credit, we received a nice phone call the next day and a meeting was arranged.  Let's just hope and pray it all goes to everyone's mutual benefit!

Let me clarify that I don't want to get down on the school or its staff.  You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar and if we want to help empower our children, we have to be professional, positive and passionate for our child but respective of the ones helping them.

My husband and I want to partner with them but it's not always the easiest thing to do when they have so many children to take care of.  This is a very well respected school with excellent teachers, one of the best public school rankings in the state and a progressive special education program throughout their district. 

Unfortunately, the district also serves 27,000 students in 35 schools.  Special needs programs are overflowing. Classroom sizes are going up and budgets are going down.  Can you imagine how many IEPs they go through?  I know just in our son's 5th grade of about 125 students, there are at least 5 with a diagnosed autism spectrum disorder and I know there are others with IEPs for ADHD and other special needs.  It's WAY more than the 1 in 110 ratio that's out there for ASDs. 

Even the best intentioned systems and staff have their challenges.  So do well intentioned parents and kiddos too.

I do think that John and I will be well prepared going into tomorrow's meeting and if we can keep our emotions in check and keep thinking about the best interest of our son, it should go well.  We are going to be proactive and positive and hopefully that energy will be all around the room.

Incidentally, John and I went to a meeting tonight that was all about IEPs.  It was put on by the district and was for parents of children from preschool to 21 who were in the district's special education program.  There were maybe 75 people there, mostly women.  I recognized a few faces of others who had attended autism support group meetings in our city.  We almost weren't able to go because we had no childcare but at the last minute two neighborhood babysitters were available who did a great job. I think they were very pleased with their payday, LOL.  (John and I joked that if we keep paying so well, next time, we'll have 8 babysitters show up!)

Anyway, at the IEP meeting there was an introduction of the new Special Education Director and then there were breakout sessions. John sat in the group for pre-school - 4th grade and I sat in on the group focusing on middle-schoolers and 5th grade transitions.   I learned that there are a lot of very well meaning people involved in special education but that there are a lot of inconsistencies in the district from school to school, program to program.  When questions would come up, parents would invariably get referred back to their personal team.

I got the business card of the Assistant Director of Special Services and we talked for a few minutes since I mentioned my son's next IEP meeting was tomorrow and that there were some concerns with his current program being applied as well as confusion with how the transition to middle school works.  She was aware of various staff changes in our son's school and seemed like an excellent resource and dedicated person to call upon in case we have additional challenges.

I do remain hopeful and I will continue this tomorrow with a blog about how the IEP went.

By the way, I invite you to check out my husband's blog, Life and Times of John Krejcha.  He did a better job than me talking about the IEP stuff today and he always has some other interesting tidbits of life as well!

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Monday, April 19, 2010

Just Another Manic Monday ~ Wish It Was Sunday!

Okay, quick!!  Who out there reading this blog is old enough to remember this??







Am I dating myself???

Yes, that was "Manic Monday" as sung in 1986 by The Bangles.  As an interesting bit of trivia, Prince also known as "The Artist Formerly Known As Prince" aka some symbol nobody knows how to pronounce was actually the writer of the song. 

I admit that I was an 80s Pop / New Wave / Modern Rock kinda gal and if you saw my hair at the time or my attempts to coordinate a cool wardrobe, you'd be pleased to know that although I still enjoy the music, I no longer embrace the fashion or hairstyles!

Anyway, the reason I posted the video above, other than to show how old I am was because around the Krejcha family household, every Monday seems to be a Manic Monday!  Kiddos back to school, trying to get back into the school day routine, Boy Scout meeting in the evening for Justin and of course work!

We work pretty much 7 days a week at all sorts of weird hours, however Mondays are generally one of our busiest email days and shipping days at Count Your Beans, although unfortunately lately, our niche selling of dolls and bears has been hit pretty hard by the economy.  We're thinking positively though and working creatively! 

One of our main vendors, Charisma Brands and Marie Osmond Dolls is going to be showing their Spring collection next week on QVC, we are hoping to get a boost from that show.  For those of you new to my blog or who don't know, my husband John and I own an online Dolls, Bears & Collectibles business and we work from home so we have the opportunity to also be able to attend to the special needs of our two boys.  We started our business 11 years ago and are so thankful for the opportunities it has presented us to be able to care for our children. 

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent about our business since we do have our own Count Your Beans business blog.  If you happen to know anyone who likes dolls or bears, we certainly do appreciate your referral though!  We have over 20,000 positive references on eBay and we've served thousands of customers online through our website as well.

I often wonder what some of our Count Your Beans customers would think if they visited Aspierations.  Admittedly, I have worried that because I disclose information about my personal life that certain kinds of people might feel awkward continuing to work with us.  Naturally I don't disclose anything unprofessional but I'm sure there are those of you out there that have been discriminated against or treated differently or awkwardly once others found that you or your children had an autism spectrum disorder. 

I suppose if we lost a customer because of that reason then it really wasn't a working relationship that was meant to be.  Although I can be a people pleaser to a fault, I've learned that sometimes you just can't make everyone happy no matter how hard you try. 

For me, knowing that you can't please everyone and truly being able to "get it in the moment" that it happens and be able to let it go are two different things.  When it comes to business and customer service, I suppose it's an excellent trait to have, at least as far as the customer is concerned.  

When it comes to personal things such as decision-making or trying to appease multiple family members at the same time who have differing opinions and I feel caught in the middle, it's another story altogether!  I don't know how many times I've tried to play people-pleaser middleman trying to make everyone happy and apologizing for miscommunications or misunderstandings and then later replaying the incident through my head wondering if I should have done things differently.  I'm going through a personal situation like that now and my tendency to be a Monday morning quarterback and then a Tuesday morning quarterback and then 2 years later, a Wednesday morning quarterback can really be stressful!  Arrgh!  Is that a personality trait, a female trait, an Aspie trait or something else?  (Not surprisingly, this paragraph has been edited multiple times...)

Well, Monday is coming to a close, so I'd better get today's blog published!  I'll be blogging every day this month at Aspierations in support of Autism Awareness month and I invite you to come back again or check out some of my previous postings!  Some are heavy, deep and real, some are creative, some are humorous (hopefully); all are from my heart!

Wishing you a great rest of the week wherever you are!
Karen

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Facebook & Friendship - One Aspie Gal's View from the Autism Spectrum

Hello Aspierations Blog visitors!

If you're visiting my blog for the first time, thanks for stopping by!  I welcome you to say hi in the comments section at the end.  Of course return visitors are welcome to share comments too!  I have it set up so if you want to be anonymous, that is fine.

It's over halfway through April and so far, I've kept my promise of blogging every day during Autism Awareness month.  My reasons for doing so were to show my support for the cause every day, to get used to a routine of  regular writing, to build up the Aspierations blog readership and to have the opportunity to meet and interact with others online.

Today my topic relates to friendship and Facebook, the online social networking utility that allows people to connect and keep in touch with friends, acquaintances, colleagues, neighbors and those who share special interests. 

Facebook was initially founded by Mark Zuckerberg in 2004 with his Harvard college roommates and fellow computer science students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.  According to a Wikipedia article I read earlier this evening, they currently have over 400 million active users worldwide. Wow!

I first joined Facebook in April 2008.  I didn't do much with it for the first few months but eventually I was intrigued to see if I could find people from my past online, so I went searching for old classmates and pretty soon, I had a dozen or so people that were on my Facebook friends list.  Over the past couple years, the number has fluctuated but as of April 18th, 2010, I currently have 144 people on my friends list.  (Some are family on John's side, some are Count Your Beans customers / doll friends, more on this number later...)

Let me say that although I may write candidly about my personal life here on my blog, in my private day-to-day life, I would be considered quiet, amiable and analytical.  My immediate family will see a humorous, playful and passionate side of me that most do not.  This is because I feel comfortable with them.

In truth, I've been a hermit the past 12 years.  If it weren't for my husband, I wouldn't have much in-person adult contact of any substance. When I used to bowl competitively back in the 80s and 90s, I had regular interaction with people I had built long-term relationships with so I was able to let my guard down and practice daily socialization.  I had people I could count on seeing on a regular basis and although we wouldn't get together at each other's homes or go out and socialize outside of the bowling centers, I felt a sense of belonging when I was bowling.  It was something I started when I was 3 and continued regularly until I was in my early 30s.  Since leaving the bowling world, I've admittedly been a recluse, focusing on family and business and not keeping in contact with many people from my past.  That is a blog for another day!

Since moving from California to Washington state, I've found it extremely difficult to try and make friends in person.  I don't have many people who I interact with on a regular basis other than my husband, John, my kids, my parents, occasionally extended family.  Of course, I smile and say hi when I see neighbors, I smile and say hello to others at church, I smile and greet other mothers and fathers when I see them at the playground or school with their kids.  It just doesn't seem to ever go any farther than that.  I'm not part of the Soccer Mom club or PTO and in the rare instances when a conversation ensues with a neighbor or another adult, I actively listen and try to follow all the appropriate social cues but the substance never seems to go beyond standard niceties. 

Admittedly, it gets pretty lonely.  That's why I have to say that I find some social solace in Facebook and I am so thankful that I have been able to use Facebook to reconnect with friends from my past.  Although I may not be getting a dose of social contact here in person, socializing a bit online through quick comments on people's Facebook pages is giving me practice and I think psychologically, it's giving me a bit of happiness too knowing that I am making connections. 

For example, when I logged onto Facebook last year on my birthday, there were a couple dozen birthday messages for me, more than I had ever received in one year in my life.  It felt good.  During other times in the past couple of years, I would post something quirky on my status and a couple people would respond with a comment of their own or with support.  When I shared pictures on my page, I knew I was helping to bridge the gap among family members that were often hard to communicate with.  Facebook has helped me keep in touch with people more frequently and in a way that is relatively non-threatening. 

Through Facebook I have been able to find best friends from elementary school.  This was a time in my life when I remember being happy.  Life seemed a whole lot simpler and although I was a tomboy out on the playground, I socialized with girls a whole lot better during that period of my life than any period since then. 

Is it correlated to my Asperger's Syndrome / Autism Spectrum Disorder that I have more friends at Facebook from elementary school than I do from junior high, high school and college combined?

If anyone out there on the spectrum or related to someone on the spectrum has personal insight or a story they'd like to share about this, I'd really appreciate hearing it!

Perhaps part of it is because kids tend to be more inclusive and accepting when they're young.  It is easier and more natural to just be yourself, throwing yourself out there as you are. 

Once adolescence and puberty hits, so many changes happen.  Fitting in becomes so much more important than it did in early grade school.  I remember in 7th and 8th grade starting to really become depressed because I felt so much like an outcast.  Most of my friends from earlier years had either moved away or had different special interests. The ones left seemed to start speaking a different language than I did, a language I would later call "societal norm".  (For more on this, please see my blog posting, "We Speak Different Languages - Come Visit My Planet Sometime")

By the time I hit high school, I was socially miserable.  Once I got into college, it was a whole different sort of adventure, one I was prepared for academically but not even close to being prepared for socially. (More on this in a future blog!)

I've noticed that since I turned 17, I have made very few new friends that were not male.  I made a lot of acquaintances, primarily through bowling but I can count on one hand the women that I have become friends with as an adult that I keep in touch with more than once every couple of years.  If it weren't for Facebook, I probably wouldn't even have that occasional contact, so again, I am thankful for this free social networking site that allows people to connect and reconnect.

I realize this blog is getting long and I have work yet to do with Count Your Beans so before I close, I do want to go back to observation I made earlier in the blog, because I think it's also important.

I stated that I currently have 144 Facebook friends.  As someone who has a tendency to look at things literally and logically, that number just seems amazingly inflated.  I place a VERY high value on friendship or perhaps I should say TRUE friendship and sometimes when I look at my Facebook "friends" number as well as that of others I know, it feels like I am devaluing the true meaning of friendship by having people on my "friends" list that I either know very casually, through business, through relationship to my husband or in some cases, I haven't really ever conversed with at all but we may belong to the same special interest group and when they sent a friend request, I said yes.  (That's not to say that I don't want to have these people on my friends list, it just means that I would call them acquaintances more than friends.  Sheesh!  I'm even focusing hard trying not to offend people that will never in a million years visit my blog anyway!  Silly? Welcome to my world!!)

On one hand, I look at and think, "cool, I have 144 people who have agreed to be connected with me on Facebook that I haven't yet scared away with my witticisms or lack thereof."  On the other hand, how many of those 144 Facebook friends have ever visited my Aspierations blog?  (I have a link to it on my profile page and it has been referenced a number of times, especially over the past month in my postings.)

How many of those 144 Facebook friends have been on a social outing with me and/or my family within the past 10 years?  Or ever?  How many of those people have I ever had a conversation with on the phone or ever received correspondence from in person, such as at Christmas time?  How many came to my wedding or would come to my funeral?  How many would notice if I even disappeared???

I know it goes both ways.  I need to reach out, be vulnerable and put myself out there.  Trust me, I do try and although my way through writing my seem unconventional, it's a step in what I hope is the right direction.  By doing my Aspierations blog over the past few months, those who have followed me consistently really know I have bared my soul on many occasions and talked about some very private, personal and embarrassing stuff.  If you're reading for the first time and you want to get to know the real me, read my past blog postings.  Some stuff is light and funny (hopefully) but there is a lot of heavy, deep and real in there too.  At the very least, you'll get a snapshot into the life of another human being. 

There are times when I've hoped that certain Facebook friends or family would have stopped by my blog, dropped me a line of support or placed a comment on one of postings.  A couple of John's family members have dropped me lines of support on early blogs and I appreciate it.  My parents have read my blog and have shared privately with me some of their thoughts and I appreciate that too.  Hopefully my family will keep coming back.

There are others that have said they've been to my blog or were going to "check it out" but I suspect for whatever reason never made it.  Maybe they were just trying to be nice.

Usually though, my posts go bare.... and it brings me back to thinking about whether any of those 144 out there will ever really want to get to know me beyond the social niceties of Facebook.  My Aspierations blog is my way of extending that invitation or at least reaching out to virtually shake your hand and say hi.... 

By the way, I am very pleased to say that through Google Friend Connect, there have been some people who have joined or subscribed to my blog postings.  That means a lot to me, thank you.  Whether you read once in a blue moon or regularly, I thank you for finding something interesting in my writing which made you want to connect with me here. 

I know that there are probably many others out there with Autism / Asperger's like myself that might have trouble initiating that contact and I totally get that and respect you and your right to privacy, however if you're ever interested in chatting more or connecting on Facebook, just let me know.  (I hope I worded that so it comes out friendly and not lame!)

I do think that Facebook provides great opportunities for those on the autism spectrum or those connected with others on the spectrum to interact with others and make social connections.  There are many support groups where you can become a fan and post or just lurk and read the discussion boards.  Truth be known, there seems to be a social interest group on Facebook for just about anything, so if you feel shy or socially awkward, it's a great place to check things out and dip your toe in the water before you dive right into the social pool.

For those of you who have commented on my blogs, you have made me smile! Your acknowledgement helps encourage me to keep on sharing even when I wonder if I still have the courage inside to keep doing so. Thanks! 

If we're not yet friends on Facebook, feel free to send a friend request to Karen Krejcha.  Please let me know in your request that you found me through my blog so I won't spend time racking my brain embarrassingly wondering if I am supposed to remember you from my past!  (I've been told it happens!!) 

Looking forward to your comments,
Karen

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Wondering about Wandering - Girl with Aspergers Syndrome, Nadia Bloom Found

If you've been following the national news in the past couple of weeks, you may have heard the story about a missing 11 year old girl with Asperger's Syndrome named Nadia Bloom from Winter Springs, Florida. 

She was rescued on April 12th after spending over 4 days lost in the woods near alligator-infested waters. Nadia was riding her bike near her Winter Springs home on April 9th when, she later told her parents, she decided to test out her new camera by taking a nature walk but became lost in the woods surrounding Lake Jesup.

I'm so happy to read that she was rescued safely!  God bless Nadia and her family and all those who spent time looking for her, not giving up hope!

I am including a link to an article about the story as shared by The Autism News titled "Girl's Rescue Sheds Light on Syndrome"

http://www.theautismnews.com/2010/04/16/girls-rescue-sheds-light-on-syndrome/

In addition to talking about Nadia's rescue, the story also shares about Nadia herself.  There is also some brief information about Asperger's Syndrome and its relation to the autism spectrum.  The article is a quick and interesting read.  Since I come across so few stories like this in the media of young girls on the autism spectrum, I wanted to make sure mention was given to it here at Aspierations.

As I read the story, I saw a bit of myself in Nadia.  When I was a girl, I would tend to wander and explore, sometimes going alone places where I'm sure in retrospect I shouldn't have.  I lived near a small part of Stevens Creek, a natural creek in the San Francisco Bay Area that covers over 20 miles.  Access to the Stevens Creek Trail wasn't far from our home and I remember lots of kids of all ages hanging out there, likely without their parents' permission!

I also remember a time in 8th grade when I was in Hawaii with my parents.  My Dad and I were out in the ocean in Maui snorkeling and at first, we were enjoying the sights together.  I was amazed and entranced by all the pretty fish and just like Nemo, I kept on swimming and swimming and swimming.  Unbeknownst to me, I must have really gotten out there because as my Dad tells the story, he looked up expecting me to be next to him and instead, I had swam halfway to Molokai!  Of course that's probably a bit of an exaggeration but the point is, I had no clue.  If my Dad hadn't gone after me to bring me back, who knows how far I would have gone.

I also saw a bit of Justin in Nadia.  Justin is now 10 1/2 and there are wooded walking trails near where we live now.  Justin knows he is not supposed to go through them alone.  About a month ago, when he was supposed to be coming straight home after school, we began to panic when after 30 minutes he wasn't yet home from what should have been a 10 minute leisurely walk.  Fortunately we found him about 20 minutes later.  He and a friend (a bus rider whose Mom had called the school wondering where her child was) had decided to take a "quick walk" through the woods.  Of course, "the woods" weren't part of his on the way home route.  Naturally he and his friend were talked to.  I was scared more than anything.  I also was nervous because I realized that I very well might have done exactly the same thing myself when I was his age.  I know that lots of children wander from time to time caught up in the moment but I do believe from what I have personally experienced with myself and my children, that being on the autism spectrum does heighten the tendency to want to sort of drift away.

I know many people would ask when does common sense come into play, especially with kids and adults that are supposedly considered higher-functioning?  (Autism and Asperger's Syndrome is an autism spectrum disorder condition and although some generalizations can be made, the severity of certain characteristics can vary substantially from person to person.

Okay, but for those who are mainstreamed, those who seem to be bright, those who could recite safety rules in advance if you asked them, where is the common sense?  It's a valid question. 

The answer (at least in my case) is I really don't know where it goes.  That's not an excuse!  I do remember that when I was young and this even continued into my teens and early 20s, that I would often get some sort of idea in my head about where I wanted to go or what I wanted to do and that "idea" would sort of take over without me always thinking through the negatives or possible consequences.  I guess you could call it a compulsion.

On the plus side, that meant that many times in my life, I could be considered a risk-taker.  (i.e. I drove thousands of miles across the country by myself when I was touring professionally with the Ladies Pro Bowlers Tour.  I did sometimes have a roommate or a carpool buddy but oftentimes I did it all alone.) 

On the negative side, it means that I may have contributed to putting myself in danger without realizing it on more than one occasion. (i.e.  when I became the victim of a stalker in college and also a rapist in my early 20s.) 

I am so glad to hear that Nadia is safe and recovering.  The story should also be food for thought to all of you out there who have children on the autism spectrum.  It is very easy for many of them to become so absorbed in their own little world that they wander off.  Please don't judge by appearances. 

Our youngest is getting close to 4 and will often try and wander, bolt and escape,especially now that he is mobile and fast.  Our oldest is 10 and can often get lost in his own fantasy world.  I am 42 and although I would like to say now that I *finally* hopefully have enough common sense not to wander off, I do find myself often caught in a daydream when I am out walking and when I'm in an unfamiliar area, I have a tendency to get lost.

Yes, I wonder about wandering...

Do you share any of the same experiences?  If so, please let me know!