Friday, December 2, 2011

Mixed thoughts - Death of a Grandma, Empathy and Visual Memory

Today was a day of mixed thoughts and emotions in the Krejcha household.

This morning John received an email from his uncle letting him know that his paternal Grandma had passed away in her sleep the night before. Shortly thereafter John had the chance to speak with his Dad on the phone and interact with other family via Facebook.  John hasn't decided yet whether he will be flying back for the funeral but I will be there for him with love even if I struggle to find the words I want to express prior to that time.

John's Grandma Peg was the matriarch of a rather large Krejcha family and from the stories and anecdotes I've heard, she will certainly be missed by many. I only had the opportunity to meet her once but she appeared to be a spunky and well-loved woman. Here is a picture of our trip to Wisconsin back in 2009.


4 Generations of Krejchas - Front: Our son Justin and Grandma Margaret Krejcha Lyscio
Back: John, our son Ryan and John's Dad, Larry

When we drove back from Washington to Wisconsin a couple years ago, the trip initially started out being a desire to attend our first Autism Society of America conference in Lake Charles, IL.  Ryan and Justin had been diagnosed with autism and Asperger's Syndrome the year before. At that point I had yet to be diagnosed with Asperger's but it was during that trip that I came to the realization and acceptance that I too was a traveler on the autism spectrum. 

Since the conference was not too far away from Wisconsin and John hadn't seen many of his family members in years, we decided to drive from Washington to Wisconsin first and spend a few days there including our 17th wedding anniversary.  During that time we had the opportunity to see a large group of relatives on John's maternal and paternal side, many of whom the kids and I were meeting for the first time. It was an intense but positive experience.

Hearing about John's Grandma passing and then viewing the picture above brings back vivid visual memories of that trip. Tons of details.  You see, when I look at pictures that I have taken or were taken at an event I attended, I can recall sights, smells, emotions and probably more details of specific conversations than anyone around me would find it socially acceptable to recite. Since I have learned over the years that this is not common, it can be quite overwhelming and difficult for others to wrap their heads around so usually I don't even try to explain and just chalk it up to one of my charming quirks.

If you've seen the TV show now on air, "Unforgettable", you might wonder if it is a little like hyperthymesia.  My memory is strong but it's not like that although there are some similarities.  The short movies that go on in my head are more like full-blown sensory events. They look, feel, smell and taste as real as if I were participating in the original event. 

The inability to box and lock many of these intense visual recall experiences are part of the reason I still have occasional issues with PTSD and depression about past events from my youth and early adulthood. If I choose to do so and often even if I try to choose NOT to do so, I can go back in time to a memory and replay it on the movie screen going on in my head and physically feel like I am there... tastes, smells, textures... etc.  If it's a fond memory, awesome.  If it is horrific... well, not so good...

So when something significant and unexpected happens, unless I can refocus my mind on something else, my mind gets stuck in memory recall, association and replay mode.  Even though I only met John's grandma on one trip to Wisconsin, many memories associated with that trip have been replaying in my mind over and over today. 

The reason I am writing this here is because I want to be able to go to John later this evening or when he is ready and be fully present for him and not caught up in my own thoughts and feelings. I taught myself a long time ago that if I am struggling to refocus because old bad memories are coming back, I just write out what I am thinking and pretend that it is part of a script of a movie, watch the movie and then move on until I'm ready to revisit that film again. By temporarily fictionalizing what I visualize I can let it go and relieve some of the emotional intensity. Does anyone reading this blog do that too or know someone who does? If so, please let me know!

I didn't mean to go off on a tangent about myself or my visual thought processes but since I did, thanks for sticking through it with me.

I want to be there for my husband while he processes his thoughts and feelings about the loss of his grandma but the truth is right now, I'm feeling more sympathetic than empathetic because I haven't quite yet got a read on what he is feeling.  If I can relate to his feelings, empathy will follow.  If I can't, then I will still be as compassionate and true to myself as I can and will listen to his needs and respond from there. Having lost his other grandmother just a little over a year ago, I know that today he is thinking about them both and also thinking about family relationships.

As I crave soulful conversation and can be quite emotionally intense (only a very special man like John would be able to put up with me 24/7), I have a desire to go to him and say something of substance. The truth is that I cannot say anything that will change the circumstances of what happened.  The logical "Temperance Brennan-esque" (Bones) side of me is afraid I'm going to blurt out something well-meaning but somehow inappropriate. Oh my, do I have Temperance Brennan tendencies!!! Perhaps that's partially why many women don't get me.

Earlier I just hugged John and told him I'd be there for him when he needed me.  John's thought processes are quite different than mine and I often joke that we live on different planes of existence. I've memorized enough social scripting throughout my life that I know the "expected" things to say to show empathy but they never feel real to me. "My condolences" and "I'm sorry for your loss", although well-intended and accurate still don't seem genuine to what I feel inside or want to express. They don't seem like ENOUGH. Can't we just do a mind meld so you know what I'm thinking?

There are many out there that say people on the autism spectrum lack empathy and feeling.  I have always taken issue with that. Naturally I can't speak for others but for as for me, I have very INTENSE feelings and am constantly trying to rein them in so as to not overpower others in conversation coming across like a bull in a china shop. Writing this, there is no back and forth and unspoken social curriculum to follow so I can just let thoughts flow and hopefully not feel compelled to edit them 29 times later.

Empathy is the ability to recognize and share the feelings that are experienced by another human being.  I get the cognitive component most of the time but it's my reaction to that which sometimes is called to question.  For example, growing up I had a tendency to laugh inappropriately at non-humorous situations and my sons are like this too.  Embarrassingly enough, I STILL sometimes do this and my husband will sometimes feign injury just to see if I'll laugh.  Nice, huh?  

If it's sadness, anger, joy, excitement, passion, I can get that. I think I do pretty well sensing the correct emotions in men but I'm still terrible at accurately assessing other women's feelings, opinions and reactions in conversation. As a result, I struggle developing meaningful relationships with women and I still ask myself, what did I do or say wrong?  I thought that person liked me or the very least was neutral but.... ?????  

For example, I can usually pick up on if someone doesn't relate to me nor me to them and the conversation we're having doesn't go beyond chit chat, however sensing emotional jealousy or participating in "gossip" with many women is something that I struggle to pick up on or process correctly. I'd just prefer not to be a part of it. I have read about it and understand it conceptually but when facing a situation where I have later heard that someone was jealous about something I had accomplished, I just couldn't get why nor did I want to be the "cause" of someone's feelings of sadness, anger or insecurity for just being myself. 

Yikes... I just looked at the clock and it's time to put the kids to bed.  What was going to be a short blog as a tribute to my husband's grandma and Ryan & Justin's great-grandma turned more into revelations about me.  Ugh... that sure feels selfish.  It certainly wasn't my intent but I'll leave my writing up in case someone out there might be able to relate to it.  I was hoping to be able to work through some thoughts and feelings in writing and end with something meaningful that would express what I feel for my husband and his family but have not yet found the appropriate words to express.

God bless you, Grandma Margaret (Peg) Krejcha Lyscio.  You meant so much to so many in my husband's extended family. May you be at peace in heaven free of pain and filled with joy. May your family here on earth take comfort in the special memories they shared with you.  May your death remind them of joyous days filled with passionate living and loving. May they remember your spunk and still feel your spirit.

** Added 12/3 - For family members who may have linked in through a search engine, I found a link to Peg's obituary below. The funeral service will be Monday, December 5th.


Blessings and love,
Karen

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Twas The Night Before Thanksgiving (in an Autism / Asperger Friendly House)



Twas the night before Thanksgiving,
And all through the house,
There was cooking and cleaning
ME???  It was my spouse!

We were preparing for guests
on Thanksgiving Day,
We don't usually entertain,
Anxiety was on display...

Our Thanksgivings are normally peaceful
But there was sure to be noise...
With football, two gals,
And six charming boys...

Preventing meltdowns was on my mind,
Since we were changing our tradition,
How would our boys react
To an unpredictable position?

Would our guests find it odd,
If our youngest took off his clothes?
Would they have a sense of humor
Listening to endless Sprout shows?

Would the meltdowns tonight
be a sign of tomorrow
or would happiness and peace
replace frustration and sorrow?

As I looked around the room,
My youngest son flew in
Wearing an Angry Birds costume
He was happy again within...

My oldest was playing chess
Making moves like a winner
He was excited for next day's friends
and promised to eat something at dinner.

I said a little prayer
Asking for strength and grace
Acceptance, a sense of humor
A safe Thanksgiving place...

I had so much to appreciate,
A spectrum family to love,
Acceptance from true friends,
Blessings from above...

Even though I was nervous
Wasn't good at chit-chat,
I knew Thanksgiving would be memorable
Something special to look back at!

Happy Thanksgiving from the Krejcha family to yours!  

This will be our first time EVER when our family has had guests in our home and entertained on Thanksgiving. Should be an adventure!  

My Thanksgiving wish for you...

May you feel accepted and enriched.
May you receive through the act of giving.
May you inspire others with your actions.
May you let your light shine!

Love,
Karen

Let me know your Thanksgiving plans below!


Thursday, November 17, 2011

Aspierations Blog now has a Facebook page

Hi Aspierations blog friends!

The writing bug is hitting me again, folks.  If you check the dates of my blog postings, you'll see I come and go in streaks. I might post 20 blogs in one month and then go another two or three months with just a few.

Of course at this time of year, it's hard to find the amount of time to write that I'd like to. To pay the bills, my husband and I own an online retail business named Count Your Beans Dolls, Bears & Collectibles. From now until about the 20th of December is when we work crazy hours to try and make enough income to help carry us through during slower times.  We sell a lot at eBay and Amazon and through our website as well.  We work long hours most days but during the holiday period, it gets incredibly nuts. I'm not complaining, it's just the nature of the industry.

So here is where I have a daily dilemma in how to manage my time. John and I started up a 501(c)(3) public charity earlier this year called Autism Empowerment. This is where John and I eventually envision ourselves working full-time and if I had the financial resources, I'd be doing it full-time now.

I think about it every day and try to spend at least an hour working toward that goal. Right now we're happily unpaid volunteers but there will come a point sometime in 2012 when I believe we'll be able to start and transition. I'll be writing lots of grant proposals along the way and figuring out creative ways to fundraise, develop connections and try and partner with other organizations that have similar missions and ideals.  Of course some angel donors would help as well but I have faith that will come in time as we build our reputation and prove our credibility and integrity.

Please feel free to check out our website with the understanding that at this point, it is very bare basics, a vision in the making.  As I've mentioned previously, the four foundational pillars of Autism Empowerment are Accept, Enrich, Inspire and Empower. We will be developing and building our programs and resources upon that strong foundation.

I will be writing a separate blog for Autism Empowerment and am trying to figure out the best venue for that. For now, it's at the website but I may have it hosted at Blogger or WordPress in the future.  Regarding Aspierations - Come As You Are, Let Your Light Shine, I will be continuing to blog here.  Although I expect some overlap in content, I will keep Aspierations separate because I still want a personal place to come and share whatever I feel like sharing at the moment.

Today in addition to playing around a bit with the backgrounds and design of the Aspierations blog, I set up a Facebook page for Aspierations - Come As You Are, Let Your Light Shine. The purpose of the Facebook page is to post little blurbs, thoughts or links during those times when I have something I want to share but don't have time to write an entire blog.

I invite you to come check it out.  It's new as of 11/17 so there aren't many "likes" yet but I hope you'll come by occasionally and if you like what you read, give me a "like".

Since I'm already requesting plugs, I just recently added a new badge to Aspierations as well. By clicking on the badge and then clicking on the BN button at the page you're taken to, you'll help the Aspierations blog move up in ranking and we'll be able to spread autism awareness, acceptance, enrichment, inspiration and empowerment to more people!  Please help us in our mission!

autismblogs.org

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Happy World Kindness Day - Pay It Forward through the Autism Community and the World

Hello Aspierations Blog Visitors,

I hope you're having a pleasant day today wherever you are in the world.  Today is November 13th, 2011 also known as World Kindness Day.  Were you aware?  Would you like to be?  Well if you read this blog, you're going to be, so enjoy the ride!

The Mission…
The mission of the World Kindness Movement (WKM) is to inspire individuals towards greater kindness and connect nations to create a kinder world. The WKM encourages individuals of all nations to set up their own kindness movements. It is also actively seeking kindness movements to join the WKM. Currently, membership stands at 18 kindness organizations with representation from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Dubai, England, India, Italy, Japan, Nepal, Netherlands, New Zealand, Nigeria, Scotland, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand and the USA.

http://www.worldkindness.org.sg/

In my opinion, the world can certainly use more kindness... and acceptance... and tolerance.  It starts at home. It starts with me. It starts with you.  Today and tomorrow may we look beyond ourselves and beyond the boundaries of our city, state and country.  May we look beyond our culture, our race and our religion and realize that we are citizens of the world, beautiful people from the inside out. We are able and meant to do good works.

Spreading love through random acts of kindness really can make a difference in people's lives. You may find that as you set out to do a kind act (perhaps anonymously) for another without looking for recognition or glory that a couple things will happen.  One... you'll be making a positive difference in someone else's life and give that person confidence and faith that there are kind people in this world.  Two... you'll feel a special joy inside, one that is much richer than any tangible reward.

Something funny happened today. Shortly after I was reading about World Kindness Day and trying to think of a way that our new non-profit Autism Empowerment could participate in the coming years ahead, my youngest son yelled from downstairs asking everyone to "come quickly and take a look out the window!!"

There in our front yard and also in yards throughout our neighborhood, we saw teenagers raking and cleaning the leaves and yards of the neighborhood residents.  At this time in Washington, that is a lot of wet leaves!  In fact our boys were just playing in them yesterday!



What a kind and thoughtful turn!  Seeing what those kids were doing made me smile. It also made me stop and think what I could do to make a positive difference in someone else's life today, tomorrow and the day after that.

To start, I want to share a couple links with you in case you or your family would like to get involved with the World Kindness movement.  I think it's a terrific opportunity for kids and adults on and off the autism spectrum to show that each one of us has the power to create positive exchanges and events in the lives of those we love as well as in the lives of complete strangers.

No matter what your ability, each one of us has the power to do something positive

Personally, I enjoy performing acts of kindness anonymously and a few years ago I picked up some free Smile cards from HelpOthers.org.  The boys and I have had lots of fun finding ways to give them out.

Maybe you'd like to give it a try?


http://www.helpothers.org/

There is also an organization in Australia doing something similar with Ripple Kindness cards.

DID YOU KNOW: It is said that if you perform two acts of kindness a day, and the recipients of that kindness go on to perform two acts of their own, more than a thousand acts of kindness can been shared in just 10 days. But if each of those same people shared five acts instead of two, more than 19 million acts of kindness could be shared in just 10 days! 

http://www.rippleeffects.com.au/RippleCards.html

Do you need some ideas to inspire you?  Do you want to read stories of other's acts of kindness?  Believe me, if you go and read those stories on a day when all it seems we hear on the news is negativity, it will truly lift your spirits.  Try making a daily choice to put yourself in a positive atmosphere and live your life with kindness, integrity and accountability.  It will rub off on others and it will be a great example to those around you.

Over 41,000 people "Like" the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation at Facebook. Their foundation inspires people to practice kindness and pass it along to others.

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/

If you've never seen the movie "Pay It Forward" with Kevin Spacey, Helen Hunt and Haley Joel Osment, I also recommend checking it out as it was the inspiration for a number of kindness movements.

We are all capable of doing kind deeds and good works. It often starts just with a smile. Never underestimate the power of a genuine smile or a kind hello to a stranger to help lift his or her mood.  There have been many times in my life when I was feeling down or lonely and someone else's kindness helped me get out of my funk and lift my spirits.

We all have hard and challenging days and events happen in our lives.  It's part of the human experience. I have found that one way to help me get out of my place of challenge is to keep the faith and turn the adversity around by trying to make a positive difference somewhere else.  Oftentimes when we can take the focus off ourselves and work on positive projects, uplifting tasks and empowering others, we find in the end that we are inspired and empowered too.  The four foundational pillars of Autism Empowerment are Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower but the value system and philosophy we embody can be applied to anyone's life.

So if you're feeling in the mood or even if you're not, make sure to bookmark some of these links and check them out:

http://www.randomactsofkindness.org/Resources/Kindness-Links/

Also, we designed this logo earlier in the week but as I was looking at it today, I realized the Autism Empowerment logo actually fits in quite nicely with World Kindness Day so I'm sharing it here below:

We're spreading "Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower" to the four corners of the world. Come join us!

Thanks for stopping by. By visiting this blog today, you actually paid a special kindness to me... so thank you!  I will do my best to pay it forward!

Karen 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Autism Empowerment's Autism and Scouting Training

Hello Aspierations Friends,


Yesterday was a big day for Autism Empowerment.  My husband John Krejcha who blogs at Life and Times of John Krejcha and Autism and Scouting successfully offered his first two training classes: A Grab Bag of Tricks: Support Scouts with Autism, Attention and Sensory Issues" at the Cascade Pacific Council Boy Scouts of America Program and Training Conference in Beaverton, OR on Saturday, November 5th, 2011.  He was expecting about 40 people in both classes and ended up with about 60.  Additionally, approximately 400 - 500 people received a copy of his presentation on CD.  As this information makes its way back to various packs and troops throughout Oregon and SW Washington, we hope it will raise acceptance and awareness. We hope leaders will feel enriched and inspired. We hope they will use the tools and tips to help empower themselves and the scouts in their organizations.





In speaking with John afterwards, he believed and emotionally felt that both training sessions were a total success.  He's already been invited back for next year and now that he has these first two sessions under his belt (a visual which doesn't make logical sense to me as an Aspie but I still know what the idiom means), he is ready for more.  I am SO VERY PROUD of him as his wife, his friend, the mother of his children and as a representative of Autism Empowerment.  





John had been practicing his presentation for about a month and had been writing it well before that.  In addition to helping leaders understand some of the social and sensory challenges that many on the autism spectrum or with ADHD have and to get across the point that ASD presents differently from individual to individual, one of the main goals was to give attendees a variety of take home tips that scout leaders could use to help successfully lead and empower scouts in their troop or pack who were on the autism spectrum. John had 45 slides to present. Quite frankly, it could have been an all day seminar!


One good thing was that attendees knew that the slides shown would be on a take-home CD so they could focus on listening and take notes if they wanted. There was a lot of content that needed to be condensed into a 50 minute presentation (40 technically plus 10 minutes for questions) and unless you're used to this kind of thing and teach or train on a regular basis, it takes practice to work out the timing, the cadence and be prepared for questions along the way.  


I still remember John's first time presenting to me in our living room. As I sat back in the recliner relaxed with my journal and pen ready for note-taking, I knew that my presence that first time made him extremely nervous. It's not that I'm a particularly intimidating individual (ha!) but he had not had a lot of lengthy public speaking experience in front of adults and I know he wanted to do a amazing job.  He also knew how important it was for him to positively represent the Autism and Scouting program of Autism Empowerment.  By doing so, he was also promoting the four foundational pillars of the non-profit organization: Accept, Enrich, Inspire and Empower.  


This past week he totally upped his game.  I supported him in any way I could. Playing the part of a pretend audience as I listened to him give his training, I would interrupt him with questions during his presentation, sometimes on topic, sometimes completely random, sometimes supportive, sometimes a tad obnoxious.  I am sure at first he wasn't as amused at this impromptu "skills training" as I was but by the Friday afternoon before the presentation, he was nailing my questions left and right and was probably glad for the practice. Be Prepared, I told him... and he certainly was.


In his last trial run before the big day, John emulated a sense of confidence and sense of peace that I had not previously seen.  We had been praying for him to have strength, tenacity, humor and wisdom as he gave his presentation. As I watched him share each Powerpoint slide with passion, humility, charm, humor and wisdom, I knew his prayers were answered and that his training sessions the following day would be a success. 


Unfortunately I was not able to attending the training because I needed to be on hand to watch the boys. John was gone from about 7 a.m. - 7 p.m. and the longest we've ever had a sitter here is about 2 1/2 hours.  He did call in after each presentation and I was beaming with pride over his excitement and accomplishment in reaching so many that day.  We hope they will take back the information shared to their local packs / troops and share it among their leadership. 


I know John is looking forward to more training in the near future.  We realize this is something he could quite regularly throughout the country. As we get the word out about Autism Empowerment, earn some grants and gain public support, we look forward to the day when we can work for Autism Empowerment full-time. We are currently brainstorming on additional ways to reach more people and although I have submitted our first grant proposal, I will be writing more over the next few months.  There is a lot to learn when founding and starting up a non-profit but the rewards of reaching out and helping others is totally worth it and as I've mentioned on my blog here before, it is not just my passion but my calling and John feels it is his as well.  We don't say that lightly but we do say it with passion, faith and hope for the future. 


If you have a connection to scouting (former or past scout or leader) or are interested in the possibilities of scouting for a son or daughter who is on the autism spectrum (Autism, Asperger's, PDD/NOS included), I invite you to check out the following resources. I haven't gone into the meat of John's presentation here at Aspierations but will be doing so more in-depth on the Autism Empowerment website. (Aspierations is still my personal blog, although I know there will be overlap in content and I do plan on an Aspierations Inspirational program within Autism Empowerment in the future.)

For those who didn't attend John's presentation, we have uploaded 22 Scout Leader tips for helping scouts with autism, Asperger's or other autism spectrum disorders. You can read, print or download the guide here:  Autism and Scouting Tips (PDF) File.  Feel free to share them!
In the future, John wants to get his presentation on podcast and perhaps have an upload of the slides for others to view and use in their own presentations.  We need to work out the particulars but it is in the plans for the future. 
In the interim, John currently continues to head up Autism Empowerment's Autism and Scouting program which includes support and resources in a variety of forms with more coming!
The most active online group currently is Autism Empowerment's Autism and Scouting Facebook page.
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The goal is a dynamic and supportive group where parents, scouts (male and female, former and current), leaders and those investigating scouting for their children can learn the features and benefits of the Scouting experience.  You are encouraged to "like" us at Facebook and share with your friends. Our numbers are growing and we're happy to have scouters from all around the world represented.
While there, don't forget to join our Autism Empowerment Facebook Page:
We're also at Twitter through Autism Empowerment: @autismscouting and @autismempowermt.  If interested, I'm on Twitter personally at @aspierations.
John will be blogging about his training experience soon and I will either repost it here or you can find it at his Autism and Scouting blog.
Thanks for stopping by!  It sure feels good to be blogging again!  Two days in a row!  I'm on a roll and I'm not even a sandwich! (Badda bing, badda boom... or badda boo if that wasn't particularly amusing to you.)

I've missed you guys and I look forward to writing again soon.  If there are any topics you'd like me to cover, just let me know!
Best wishes for a great week ahead!
Karen

Saturday, November 5, 2011

Aspierations welcomes Autism Empowerment

Hello Aspierations Blog Friends,

Wow, it has been awhile since I've posted at this blog. In the interim it seems like Blogger made some changes so I need to spend a little time figuring those out.

I have some fantastic news to share that has been a long time in the making!

In June of 2011, my husband John and I filed paperwork Washington to found a nonprofit corporation named Autism Empowerment.  In July we mailed in our 501(c)(3) paperwork to the IRS and in September we received our 501(c)(3) public charity / tax-exempt status determination letter from the IRS.

Our non-profit is now on the map!  Now of course when I saw "our", it does not belong to me and John, although coming in as an entrepreneur from a for-profit industry, I'll have to admit that there are a lot of things that are different in the nonprofit world.

Below I have include a little about Autism Empowerment taken from the Welcome page on the Autism Empowerment website.  We invite you to check us out!

I will still be writing personal blogs here at Aspierations as time permits. I will also blog at Autism Empowerment.  Your support is greatly appreciated!

Please come like us at Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Please come follow us at Twitter: @autismempowermt
Please visit our website and Get Involved!  http://www.autismempowerment.org

We are in start-up stages so if you believe in what we aspire to offer, we greatly appreciate your support!

Thanks!
Karen Krejcha


Autism Empowerment is an educational and charitable non-profit 501(c)(3) public charity serving those in the autism community. We are dedicated to enriching and empowering the lives of individuals and families affected by Autism, Asperger Syndrome, PDD / NOS and related autism spectrum disorders and co-conditions. 
Founded in 2011 in Vancouver, Washington by a family with 3 out of 4 traveling daily along on the autism spectrum, we are excited and honored to have the opportunity to service the local, national and international autism community.  Come join us on our journey! We welcome and appreciate your support and generosity!
By developing and providing programs, projects, support and resources to individuals, families, caregivers and educators that promote acceptance, improve life skills and encourage self-advocacy and empowerment, we seek to support and inspire those on the autism spectrum to reach their highest potential.
The four foundational pillars of Autism Empowerment are AcceptEnrichInspire and Empower.  
aeiepuzzle.jpg
Accept - We strongly promote the unconditional acceptance of those on the autism spectrum and with related disorders. By accepting each spectrum traveler for who they are, where they are, we are promoting both autism acceptance and autism awareness.
Enrich - Our goal is to provide educational resources, programs and tools to improve and enhance life skills for those on the autism spectrum as well as their families, caregivers, therapists and teachers. We aspire to make life more meaningful and rewarding.
Inspire - We dedicate ourselves to be a positive, uplifting organization that encourages and celebrates success in all individuals. We believe each person on the autism spectrum has the opportunity to make a positive difference in this world.
Empower - We strive to empower those on the autism spectrum to achieve a higher quality of life academically, emotionally, financially, socially and spiritually.
We are a publicly funded non-profit corporation depending on the generosity of the public to fund our programs. We offer a number ways to give and get involved! Thank you for your generosity and support. We have big goals and big dreams!
Thank you for visiting!  We look forward to having you back again in the future!

Monday, September 5, 2011

Labor Day Ponderings - High temperature, not temper

Today is Labor Day and I promised myself when I woke up that I would not work all day. For many people, this would be easy.  I tend to take the road less traveled!

I promised myself that I would take some time with the family and then at some point, I would blog.  I feel bummed that I haven't written much over the past few months but now that the boys are back in school (YIPPEE!), I know I'll be blogging more often.

I love my boys SO MUCH but this has been quite a busy and exhausting summer!  Justin started 7th grade last Wednesday and Ryan started Kindergarten on Friday. Adventure!! Tomorrow they'll both be back in school again.  Ryan started on Friday with just 8 kids but tomorrow there will be 26 in his class. YIKES!

I do already have stories to share about our sons' first days.  That will likely be coming in my next blog.  In the interim, to catch up on Krejcha family news, check out my husband John's September 4th blog:

This was a week of New Starts


1st day of 7th grade!


Ryan heads off to his 1st day of Kindergarten!

John has been much better at keeping up to date on his blog with the happenings in our household.  I'm really proud of him and grateful that he is doing that.  If you want to find out what we did over the summer, just check out:

http://www.johnkrejcha.blogspot.com

Today when I woke up, I thought I might blog right away but I have a tendency to want to answer my email first.  Unfortunately that tends to mean I get caught up in work for a number of hours.

I noticed throughout the day that I was doing very well at laboring on Labor Day but not so well at relaxing.  This is a regular struggle for me but I am aware of it.

As I was working in our home office, I realized that the 90+ degree temperature outside was soon going to feel like 100+ in our office.  Some people enjoy the heat. They lay out in the sun. They go hang out at the beach. They actually enjoy temperatures above 90 degrees.

Our family does not fall into the above category.  We get grouchy when it is hot. Humidity causes us to lose our humility. We melt down.  We would do well to hang out in a cold shower on days like today. In fact, one of the reasons we moved to Washington state four years ago was because our family functions better mentally, physically and emotionally in cooler temperatures.

We've had a pretty mild summer here in Washington.  Compared to the rest of the country, we have been very fortunate.  When hot days like today come up, I try and take them in stride and make sure that our family doesn't try to have many heavy, deep and real conversations.  It's already heated in temperature, it doesn't need to be heated in temperament!


Part of the reason that I have not blogged much lately is aside from the fact that it's a bit challenging to write with gusto with the kids in the same room for much of the time in the evenings, John and I are really trying to focus hard on moving inventory at our dolls & bears business, Count Your Beans.  It has been a very slow year and although we always try and stay optimistic, when we go through financial challenges, I feel like I have to spend even more time on work.  I try and turn over my burdens to God but I feel so much personal responsibility and accountability for the financial stability and happiness of our family that even though I trust God, those workaholic tendencies still come into play.  At least I am aware of it!  I embrace my challenges.  

That being said, John and I really look forward to when we will hear back from the IRS regarding the determination of the 501 (c)(3) tax-exempt status for our newly founded non profit corporation, Autism Empowerment.  I am confident we will be approved, however it's the waiting period that makes me feel like I'm in limbo.  We have a lot of amazing programs in development we want to share with our Aspierations friends.  We also need to start raising funds for Autism Empowerment, to develop our website and I need to make time to write grants. I feel Autism Empowerment is my calling and although I know it will all come together, I can't help but feel really anxious to get the ball rolling a bit faster!  We see the need for so many services and really want to help make a difference in our community, nationwide and worldwide.  

If I could figure a way to get all the ideas in my head automatically transferred to paper... well, there'd probably be a paper shortage!

I look forward to blogging again soon!  If any of my former Aspierations readers are still hanging around, I wish you the very best and hope your families are doing well!  Thanks for being patient with me!  It will be worth it, I promise...

Best wishes,
Karen

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Happy Birthday to My Husband - The Catch of My Life

Today I am thrilled to celebrate my husband's birthday with him and the boys once again!  Seems like we just did this last year!  

HAPPY BIRTHDAY to JOHN!!!



Dedicated to his sons,
Dedicated to his wife,
Dedicated to God,
Dedicated to life...

My amazing husband is now 43!
The only one in the family who is considered NT
With three others on the spectrum,
sharing the same domain,
Our life is filled with spice,
Except the food that is plain...

My rock, my confidante, my amazing best friend,
You empower me...
You inspire me...

You appreciate I'm off-trend...

May your 43rd birthday be memorable and fun...
May the year ahead,
be an incredible one!

Let's fill it with laughs, accomplishments and inspiration...
Remembering each day together is cause for celebration!

Happy Birthday, John!





I Love You!
Karen

Friday, August 12, 2011

Sensory Friendly / Autism Awareness Hour at Clark County Fair covered by The Columbian

Hello Aspierations Friends,

I have some positive autism awareness and acceptance news to share tonight!

John and I took Justin and Ryan to the Clark County Fair on August 9th.  Going to the Clark County Fair became our family's first Pacific Northwest tradition after we moved from California to Washington state in July of 2007.  



This was our fifth year in attendance, however this time there was a positive twist.  The Autism Society of SW Washington and the ARC of Clark County collaborated with Butler Amusements and The Clark County Fair to offer a sensory friendly hour in the rides section.  From noon to 1 p.m. on Tuesday, right after the children's rides opened, a variety of rides operated with reduced speeds, dimmed lights and lower music volume.

Although the changes were probably not too noticeable to most unless it was pointed out to them, for a child or adult with sensory processing difficulties, making small sensory-related changes in rides certainly has the chance to make a positive impact in helping to keep a child regulated and not get overly excited or frightened.  More regulated children = happier children = relieved parents! Now granted, each child is different.  Slight changes in rides may not make a difference with every child in every situation on every day, however the fact that this event was put together with the intent to help children with special sensory challenges have a better experience gives families an opportunity to try and give their children an entertainment experience that they might have been fearful to try otherwise.

For the first time this was offered, I don't think it could have happened on a better day for our family. Lines were short, the weather was a bit overcast and the combination of these things together with positive attitudes made for an incredible experience for our sons who have sensory processing challenges and are on the autism spectrum with Asperger's Syndrome and autism respectively.  

Admittedly, our youngest son is a big thrill seeker soooo.... lots of spinning and stimulation would be right up his alley.  Although he might have preferred that his ride speeds been accelerated, he had no complaints. He made sure to get in enough sensory stimulation by going down the big slide over a dozen times in a row.  The only thing that slowed him down was the big climb up the stairs!



It was during one of Ryan's rounds going up the stairs and down the slide with Justin that we caught the eye of Marissa Harshman, a staff reporter from Clark County's local newspaper, The Columbian.

She was doing a story about the sensory-friendly event at the fair and had a few questions for us.  (How did we hear about the event? What did we notice that was different? How did altering speed, volume and sound on carnival rides make a difference in the boys' experience?) It was a pleasure to talk with Marissa and share a few thoughts even if I felt like I fumbled, stumbled and tumbled a bit.  The Aspie in me would have preferred preparation time and a written interview.  I wonder what she would have thought if I asked for that?  (I did not mention during the interview that I was also on the autism spectrum.  It isn't that I was ashamed, I just didn't find it relevant for her article.)

Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a photographer snapping photos of Ryan on the slide.  Ryan was having a great time. At the time I thought how cool it would be if a picture of Ryan ended up in The Columbian.  When we were subsequently asked Ryan's name and age, I thought there was a very good chance since he's such a cutie pie and yes, as his Mommy I'm biased but it's still true!

After the interview ended, the boys tried out some different rides and Justin shared with us his thoughts of the differences between last year's experience and this year's.  We both appreciated the volume on the carousel being down. Everyone in the family appeared more regulated and in a positive mood.  In years past we still had a good time but there were a few meltdowns and areas where we could sense agitation from loud noise, long lines and higher temperatures. When there is lots of noise around and lots of people, kids and adults with sensory issues can become easily overwhelmed.  Many may not verbalize this or perhaps even realize it but it will often show up in their behavior.  



The fact that Butler Amusements thought enough of children with special sensory challenges to do something like this for them is very impressive and gives me a warm feeling inside.  We hope they will do it again next year and we hope that the idea catches on and spreads to other county fairs throughout the country.

We will advocate in the future through our newly founded non-profit organization, Autism Empowerment as well as through our personal relationships with various autism support groups for this to be the case.  It means a great deal to families with children on the autism spectrum and/or with sensory processing challenges.  

I suppose if I were to make one suggestion for the future, it would be that during an event like this that children be given a priority pass or wristband for waiting in line after the initial hour of the sensory event is over so that if they wanted to experience rides later in the day, they'd have the option to do so with a reduced wait time in line if say the line was over a certain number of people.  

In our experience on Tuesday at the fair, the lines weren't bad for most of the rides until it started to get a bit more crowded in the mid afternoon but should this event be advertised more widely in the future and should the weather be much hotter, it would be helpful to have this option available especially since I would expect attendance for this event to increase in the future given the positive publicity it received with The Columbian.

What a treat it was on Wednesday afternoon to be looking at The Columbian newspaper and seeing our son's picture on the FRONT PAGE!  Of course being proud parents we had to go down to the three nearest gas stations and drug stores to purchase multiple copies.  Granted the picture and story is online too but there's something about having the paper in hand and seeing your kiddo on the front page that makes the whole experience more exciting.  John, Justin and I were mentioned in the article and despite me not articulating my thoughts quite the way I wanted to, we were quoted as well and that was a positive experience as well.

If you'd like to check it out, you can see Ryan's picture here:

http://www.columbian.com/photos/2011/aug/09/27720/

Photo detail
Ryan Krejcha, 5, enjoys the giant slide at the Butler Amusements carnival. His parents brought him specifically for the sensory-friendly day at the fair when some rides operated at reduced sound, speed and lighting for one hour. 

You can read the article in its entirety here:

http://www.columbian.com/news/2011/aug/09/enjoying-a-quiet-day-at-the-fair-sensory-friendly/

You can even share it in different newsgroups and through Facebook. We thought it was pretty cool that the national Autism Society posted it in their Facebook group.  Ryan is famous! (Proud mama and her cub!)

Should you have a copy of the newspaper, Ryan has agreed to sign autographs in orange.  Although he doesn't claim favoritism, should you be a girl between the ages of 1 month and 16 32 100 years, you very well may get VIP treatment.  

Here are a few pictures from our family's day at the fair that didn't make the paper.  Gee, it's not all about us!!!  Hope you enjoy!



We received positive random comments about these Angry Birds t-shirts ALL DAY LONG!  People of all ages and backgrounds love them. We calculated if Kohls.com paid us a commission for as many times as we were asked where we got the shirts, we'd be doing pretty well right now!




Our whole family had a WONDERFUL day at the fair! Thanks to the Columbian for covering this, to Butler Amusements / Clark County Fair for offering the event, to the Autism Society of Washington and the ARC of Clark County for collaborating and to all the amazing families who attended and showed their love and support!.



In other Krejcha family news, I have something else exciting to share since it's been awhile since my last blog.  We also had some other neat news this week.  John was interviewed for a story that Scouting Magazine is doing on the Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge for Boy Scouts.  Because of John's work with Autism and Scouting through his blog and Autism and Scouting Facebook group and also because of John's personal experience as a Disabilities Awareness Merit Badge Counselor with Justin's local Boy Scout Troop, the writer thought John would be able to provide an interesting perspective and valuable insight for the article he was writing.  We're not sure when that will be out but I'll be sure to post about it.  I'm so proud of John!

Speaking of scouting, while Justin was at Boy Scout camp last week with John, he was able to earn 5 new merit badges and advance in rank from First Class to Star.  All this and he's going into 7th grade and not yet 12! Incidentally, we're not pushing him!  At this point, he did express that he would like to slow down a bit and enjoy the rank of Star for a couple years and get some more leadership experience under his belt.  We are behind him all the way!

I'll be blogging again soon!  We received a letter the other day from the IRS confirming receipt of our 1023 application. We are now eagerly awaiting our determination letter from the IRS so that we can be granted 501 (c)(3) tax exempt status for our newly founded non profit organization, Autism Empowerment.  We will be in start-up stages for awhile, especially since we're both still running Count Your Beans Dolls & Bears and have a doll show with Marie Osmond coming up later this month.

While we await our letter from the IRS and eagerly prepare to fundraise and apply for grants, we're developing the framework for a variety of innovative and empowering programs that will serve individuals and families affected by autism spectrum disorders throughout our region and nationwide.  I will describe our plans to you in a future blog!  Remember our name, Autism Empowerment!

Life has been extremely busy at the Krejcha family house this summer and although it may seem a bit inactive if you're reading my blog, lots of stuff is going on behind the scenes and I look forward to sharing more with you again soon!

Best wishes for an awesome weekend!
Karen