Monday, April 30, 2012

The End of Autism Awareness Month is not The End of Acceptance

Hello Aspierations Friends,

Here we are now at the end of Autism Awareness & Acceptance Month.  Although I didn't reach my initial blogging goal of 30 blogs for the month, I did make it past halfway so that is something to feel good about. Even though it is the end of Autism Awareness Month, it is certainly not the end of promoting Autism Acceptance. That is something to work on every day of the year.



In the course of volunteering for Autism Empowerment in the month of April, my husband John and I participated in and hosted a number of activities, including our first Autism Acceptance Panel, our 1st Annual Easter Egg Hunt for individuals with Special Needs, and a fishing trip with Sensory-Friendly Cub Scout Pack 2. 

Also, this past Saturday, April 28th we exhibited at the Southwest Washington Special Education and Resource Fair and it was a TOTAL success!  John and I are already looking forward to next year.

I'm also looking forward to more blogging both here and at the Autism Empowerment website. I was thinking of transferring the Autism Empowerment website blog over to its own blogger site but need to ponder that some more.

As I logged into Blogger today to begin typing this blog, I was welcomed with "Blogger has a new look." Sigh... It seems that lately, Blogger, Facebook, Gmail, Twitter... and a LOT of places I frequent are upgrading, changing, enhancing, modifying and attempting to improve their "look".  

I realize that not always embracing change is part of my Aspie nature and over the years I actually have become fairly decent adapting but on some days like today for example, I really don't appreciate yet ANOTHER change.  I liked things at Blogger the way they were, thanks. I'm just getting used to Facebook's new timeline (which I waited until the end of last month to upgrade to) and now Blogger is insisting that I welcome its change as well. 

I guess I'm a little bit grouchy about it tonight but I'll get over it soon enough. Admittedly, I'll probably grow to like the changes. I realize that life provides a series of changes and that I am constantly in a state of transformation.  Admittedly, I generally prefer to have a proactive role in the changes that are made rather than a confused reactive role but I'll deal with it. As my youngest would say, "Use your Superflex powers, Mom!"  No Grump Grumpaniny allowed here! Gotta love the Unthinkables.

We may technically be marking the end of Autism Awareness month for 2012 but every day is Autism Awareness day in our household and we will continue to promote Accept, Enrich, Inspire and Empower, Autism Empowerment's four foundational pillars.

I'm really excited about the launch of our Autism Empowerment Radio Program. You will have the opportunity to listen live or listen later on podcast. More on this VERY SOON!



May is going to be great!  If you do not yet "Like" Autism Empowerment at Facebook, please come join us!

Thanks for stopping by!
Karen

Sunday, April 22, 2012

A Weighty Matter - Correlation & Causation & Autism - Part 1

Hello Aspierations Friends,

I am sorry to say that I did not reach my target this year of blogging every day in the month of April for Autism Awareness and Acceptance. This disappoints me and also bothered me so much that I almost didn't write again tonight out of embarrassment over my shortcoming.

Then I realized how lame and ridiculous that would be.

It sort of fits in with other patterns in my life I've had some challenges with.  For example... losing weight. Being at a healthy weight that I feel comfortable with has been a struggle since before I entered Kindergarten.  Part of the problem back then had to do with very selective...also known as VERY PICKY eating behavior.

Back when I was three, I apparently only wanted to eat peanut butter sandwiches.  No jelly. Just peanut butter. I was rather adamant about my preference and should another plate of food be placed in front of me, I would not eat it or I would retch.  As such, by the time I got into Kindergarten, I weighed 75 pounds. Fortunately I was one of the tallest in the class but still, definitely overweight and ripe for teasing.

The doctors had told my mom that I would grow out of my picky eating but the only thing I ended up growing out of was my clothes.  As such, once I tipped that 75 pound mark, my parents tried a different direction. I still remember a major meltdown I had back when I was 4.  That's for another blog...

Fortunately, I did eventually end up branching out into other food selections, some of them even healthy choices. Fortunately I was also a tomboy that loved sports so once I started eating a larger variety of food choices (i.e. 4 or 5 things instead of 1 or 2) and combined that with lots of running around and being active, I lost weight.  By 1st grade I was still one of the tallest kids in the class but my height and weight was more proportionate. The "fat kid" label had already been stamped inside my head but the body on the outside no longer matched what I thought I looked like on the inside.

I'd like to add some pictures in here so you can see what I mean but right now I can only find this one.


1st Grade - I'm the gal with braids and a red shirt, third from the left on the top row. It's one of the only times in my life I have sported what is anything close to a tan in a photo!

I need to find my individual Kindergarten photo one of these days and add it as a comparison.  

Funny thing is that I didn't start this blog off to be about my weighty issues with weight and yet here I am. Interesting... During a private bible study I was doing at home this afternoon I thought about this issue in depth  so I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that it found its way into my writing. 

Did anyone see the recent article which links obesity in mothers with autism? Yes? Well it ticked me off because offshoots of the original UC Davis article (which really focused on women that were overweight that had diabetes) were often written in such a way to imply that yet again, mothers who are overweight during pregnancy are to "blame" for if their children "get autism".  A number of spin-off articles were similar and didn't even include the diabetes information even though that was a central part of the study. Basically, a number of the spin-offs, "summaries", etc just said something along the lines of "obesity in mothers while pregnant" linked to "autism".

Now before I am corrected, I know that the original article didn't literally say C-A-U-S-E or it is the pregnant mother's F-A-U-L-T but in some of those spin-offs, there was definitely some in-between the lines stuff going on and if you read the comments section under a number of those articles, they usually included some mean-spirited and self-righteous comments. I am not linking to the spin-off articles because I don't want to promote the continued negativity but if you googled, you could easily find them if you were so inclined.

I think that during a month that we should be promoting Autism ACCEPTANCE, is it really necessary to go and alienate people by writing this in such a way that the public is going to respond with almost anything but kindness? 

1) You get some women that say, "I wasn't FAT / OBESE / CHUBBY when I had my kid and he/she still has autism."  (emphasis on the word FAT or OBESE with a hint of a tone that isn't very accepting of people with weight challenges) I personally believe that if you want to be accepted or you want your child to be accepted, belittling others is not the way to go.  

2) You get some people nodding their heads in discernment at every overweight mother who has a child on the autism spectrum.  Maybe you're not a "refrigerator mom" but you spend too much time in the refrigerator! (The implication being that you may have CAUSED this through your weakness and lack of self-control.) Do we really want women who should be gaining weight during pregnancy to have extra stress-induced anxiety?

3) You get women who ARE overweight and have challenges with emotional overeating feeling guilty and hating on themselves. Instead of "shaming" people into losing weight which seems to be a sick fascination by the American culture, by hating on them, they are much more likely to internalize that hatred and be unkind to themselves.

4) You take away from the point that even if there is a link for SOME women that are overweight to have a child with autism, there is not a link with ALL women.

4a) Some women that are overweight will give birth to children with autism.
4b) Some women that are underweight will give birth to children with autism.
4c) Some women that are "a normal weight" will give birth to children with autism.

Is the "weight" issue something else that really needs to be sensationalized so that insecure people can pretend to feel better about themselves by trying to make other people feel less secure?

Incidentally, if you're wondering if I'm a bit outspoken about all of this because I am overweight, please know that my tone comes from a place of love and acceptance.  However for those curious, for the record, I weighed about 150 pounds less when I gave birth to Ryan than when I gave birth to our first son, Justin.  I did not have diabetes with either son nor do I have it now. Both are on the autism spectrum, our oldest with Asperger's and our youngest with Autism.  

I am diagnosed on the autism spectrum and although they have never been diagnosed, I am 99.9% sure that some of my birthfamily (I'm adopted) is there too.  Oddly enough, some of the family who adopted me is on the spectrum as well but that's another interesting story. (Mathematicians... what are the odds that I would be adopted in 1967 into a family where there were autism spectrum ties?)

The point of the weight thing... and the vaccine thing... and the environmental thing... and all the other "things" that people are looking for as a cause is that when you are writing or reading an article and you are critically trying to think or share an opinion with others that you remember this:

Correlation does not equal and should not imply causation!  (Scientifically and mathematically speaking... now if you're going to talk gossip rags and public opinion... you may have people positing quite a different direction.)

This is so important to keep in mind... so important.

I'll even say it again.

Correlation does not equal and should not imply causation! 

Another thing that is important is that hating on people that are overweight who have children with autism or putting fear into the lives of women who are pregnant that if they eat an extra bon bon or two and if their baby does end up having autism it was "their fault" is destructive, judgmental and selfish. It takes eyes away from acceptance and love for those on the autism spectrum and puts them straight on intolerance and ignorance and the blame game.  

But you might ask, what if there is a correlation?  I do happen to know some overweight women who have children with autism?  

Well, there are correlations with a lot of things. If there is a correlation, it is important to understand what the link might be but definitely not to jump to conclusions or imply the correlation is the ultimate cause.

For example:

I have reddish auburn hair and brown eyes. 

My husband has dark brown (salt and pepper now) hair and green eyes.

Our youngest son with autism has blonde hair and blue eyes.



What does that mean?  Does it mean that redheaded and brown eyed women who mate with dark haired, green eyed men are more likely to give birth to a child with blonde hair and blue eyes?  Of course not!

Does it mean that redheaded and brown eyed women who mate with dark haired, green eyed men are more likely to give birth to a child with autism?  

No... no it doesn't.
Regarding the blue eyes, think genetics... somewhere in our DNA... 
It was in our genetic code for Ryan to have blonde hair and blue eyes. 

What were the odds? Hmm....

Does it mean there was something in his genetic code to be on the autism spectrum? A genetic predisposition? Something that may have triggered it? 

I'll tell you one thing... it wasn't the bon bons.  I don't even like bon bons.

There is a lot more to talk about here so as we're getting close to midnight, I'm going to call this part 1 and continue part 2 a second day.

Please feel to chime in below!
Karen

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

One in One - The Real Autism Rate - guest blog by John Krejcha

Hello!


Tonight's guest blogger is my husband, John, an amazing man who founded and coordinates Autism Empowerment's Autism and Scouting program. John blogs regularly about scouting at www.autismandscouting.blogspot.com and hosts the Autism and Scouting Facebook page and group. He is a truly dedicated man and I love the fact that we can partner together not just in marriage and parenting but in business and volunteering.


John and I often talk about prevalence rates in autism. The topic that he writes about tonight is actually one that I have been wanting to write about in more depth for quite some time. I will be doing a follow-up blog later this week with my comments on serving the 1 in 1.  Enjoy!


One in One - The Real Autism Rate

Hello All Scouters, parents, leaders and scouts!

It is so good to be back blogging again. It really was my intention to blog at least 15 times during the month of April for it being Autism Awareness month but as Autism Empowerment had many different events, time really got away from me. I will be writing more because I have a lot I would love to share and get your feedback on. 



There have been so many things also that have been reported in the news lately that I have not had a chance to talk about. One of the largest things was the release by the CDC of the new “national” autism rates. The reason I put “ “ around national is that the rates that make up the national number only came from a handful of states and a handful of counties within those states. Nonetheless, based on a 2008 study, it is now reported that 1 in 88 are on the Autism Spectrum and 1 in 54 are boys. I will get back to this shortly. 


Our society is really kind of bent on reporting numbers. If you look at that pack that Autism Empowerment/Autism and Scouting is serving, 86% of our boys from Cub Scout Pack 2 fall someplace on the Autism Spectrum.

Recently, Autism Empowerment held some of its first physical events in the local Vancouver/Portland Metro area since receiving our 501(c)(3) status in September of 2011. We did hold a BSA training session on providing support to scout leaders working with scouts on the Autism Spectrum at the Excellence and Training Conference that reached about 300 scout leaders in the Cascade Pacific Council in early November.

We have been in the process of developing many new and exciting programs that we hope to roll out shortly. We held an Autism Acceptance and Awareness Forum in Vancouver that brought together local resources for families on April 3rd and then help the first annual Special Needs Easter Egg Hunt on April 7th.

At the Easter Egg hunt, 137 youth registered and we ended up serving over 450. Of the 450, about 70% were on the Autism Spectrum. 

In our family, 75% of our family is on the Autism Spectrum. I am the 25% that is not and thus I am outnumbered and I would not have it any other way. My family is as perfect in my eyes as they can be but sometimes I wish the challenges we face and meltdowns we have to overcome (we all have had these at one time or another) would be less.

I don’t bring up the numbers to be boastful and say hey look at what we did, I bring up the numbers because that is how many in society looks at things and how they measure things. What percentage is being served and how many? Thus it all relates back to those new numbers by the CDC. We understand that it is important to determine how many in our society are on the Autism Spectrum because then that will hopefully provide more funds for government programs, public school funding, more services an opportunities in the medical and recreational communities and the like but ….

Should it be about the numbers? No

I submit that it does not matter if it is 70% or 75% or 1 in 110 (old numbers) or 1 in 88 or 1 in 54 for boys (I think 1 in 36 in South Korea?), what matters is that those living with Autism it is 1 in 1 or 100%. If you have a child or young adult or a fully grown adult or it is somebody you love or care for that has Autism, that rate is 1 in 1. Every person and family is important and thus one of our goals is to serve the 1 in 1. Treat every person not as a 1 in 88 or 1 in 54 but as a 1 in 1, a unique, special individual that has potential and the capacity for love, acceptance and contributing to the world he or she is a part of.


At Autism Empowerment, we want to provide services in the HERE and NOW. All of the legitimate non-profits  do have a place and we welcome them and reach out to them to help serve the 1 in 1. We want to provide unique services such as the
Autism and Scouting program, Community Outreach Program and others that will be launched shortly.  

Karen and I feel a calling to serve by developing programs that will serve the 1 in 1. We have so many great plans for the Autism and Scouting Program and really want to be able to support to every scout, scout leader and family that has an association with a scout on the Autism Spectrum.

If you have not liked Autism Empowerment yet to keep on top of what is going on, please do so at http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment.  For all of those who have supported our mission by your donations, kind words and prayers thank you! We need your help! If you would like to help us in any of our programs we welcome that at as well. If you you have any questions on how you can help either with in-kind donations, direct donations or chance to volunteer if in the Vancouver/Portland area, please send me a note and I will be more than happy to get back to you.

Accept, Enrich, Inspire, Empower!

To learn more about Autism Empowerment, a 501(c)(3) public charity and to help support our Autism and Scouting Program, please visit:

Autism Empowerment Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismempowerment
Autism and Scouting Facebook Page - http://www.facebook.com/autismandscouting

email
john@autismempowerment.org or autismandscouting@gmail.com

Monday, April 16, 2012

How To Handle a Meltdown in the Classroom - A Sensory Perspective by Angie Voss, OTR/L

Hello Aspierations Friends!

Today we have a blog with information from Angie Voss, OTR/L from UnderstandingSPD.com regarding how to handle meltdowns in the classroom from a Sensory Perspective. Although useful for teachers, teacher aides and classroom assistants, this information is also helpful for parents, day care or day camp leaders, scout leaders or group activity coordinators.

SPD stands for Sensory Processing Disorder. It is very common for children and adults on the autism spectrum to have sensory processing issues.

How to Handle a Meltdown in the Classroom
A Sensory Perspective

One of the biggest mistakes made by teachers and assistants in the classroom is in how they handle and respond to a “meltdown”. As a sensory based occupational therapist, I believe the biggest missing puzzle piece is in understanding WHY a child has a meltdown. Most teachers and staff have simply not been taught why the child may be having a meltdown and how to help them. Unfortunately meltdowns often fall into the behavior category in our society. Yet in my clinical opinion, there is a very small percentage of meltdowns which warrant being considered behavioral, especially with children with sensory differences (including but not limited to: ADHD/ADD, autism spectrum disorders, anxiety disorder, developmental disabilities) and sensory processing disorder.

IMPORTANT SENSORY CONCEPT
Children inherently want to please, they do not want to misbehave or get in trouble.


This concept is very important to remember when talking about meltdowns. The meltdown is often misunderstood for attention seeking or spoiled behavior or simply the child trying to get what they want out of the situation. This may be true in a few cases, but with many children it is often much more deep rooted than that.

Here are some of the most common reasons a child with sensory differences may have a meltdown in the classroom....
 Sensory overload from various stimuli (such as a loud and chaotic classroom, visual disorganization, or being bumped or touched unexpectedly by too many children)
 Dysregulation and the inability to maintain self-regulation and a ready state due to minimal or limited sensory tools and strategies in the classroom
 Sensory overload from a loud cafeteria or gym activity
 The inability to cope with a new or challenging situation
 Inability or difficulty in communicating wants and needs
 Difficulty with transitions, and lack of or minimal warning time to transition
 Lack of sleep or over tired
 Lack of proper nutrition or too much of the wrong food
 Change in routine within the classroom, possibly a substitute teacher
 Lack of essential sensory nutrition found through movement and play during recess

Most meltdowns trigger a "fight or flight" reaction for the child's brain, especially children
with sensory differences and needs. Therefore the meltdown lasts longer and is difficult to
manage.

What Does “Fight or Flight” Look Like?
 Hitting, kicking, biting, spitting, pushing (especially while standing in line or in new
challenging/overwhelming situations or activities)
 Trying to run or escape from the situation
 Trying to hide under something like a desk, table, or chair
 Burying themselves in a teacher’s arms, avoiding all eye contact, or trying to curl up in a
ball on the floor or at their desk
 Covering ears or eyes
 Crying or screaming
 Shutting down completely and not speaking or responding
 Even falling asleep unexpectedly

How do you Help and Respond with Respect for the Child?
Top Three Points to Remember
1. Physical restraint is NOT an acceptable solution.
2. Do not treat the meltdown as behavior…respond based on “fight or flight”.
3. Be prepared and have a safe sensory retreat available for the child.

Children with sensory defensiveness perceive their environment as dangerous and painful
based on how they process sensory information. Therefore their nervous system switches to
the sympathetic nervous system and displays a “fight or flight” response. A child who has a
difficult time processing and modulating sensory input can also have the tendency to switch
to “fight or flight”. And almost all sensory kiddos have a difficult time with self-regulation, in
turn, a greater risk for “fight or flight” episodes.

UnderstandingSPD.com
Sensory Solutions, PLLC Angie Voss, OTR/L
For Further Information Visit: UnderstandingSPD.com

We had previously contacted Angie to make sure it was okay to reprint her work on our blogs and she was delighted to agree.  We also recommend her book, "Understanding Your Child's Sensory Signals - A Practical Daily Use Handbook for Parents and Teachers."  We purchased ours through Amazon.



For more information, please check out her website at http://www.understandingspd.com

Angie is a registered and licensed occupational therapist specializing in sensory integration treatment techniques and sensory processing disorder. She attended  University of Florida and San Jose State University, where she also completed an extended internship in a sensory integration clinic. Angie has always been dedicated and passionate about her work with children, with a deep down, true adoration and respect for sensory kiddos. From day one in her sensory integration clinic internship she KNEW this was her calling and perfect career path. She excelled and naturally understood the concept of sensory integration and had a dramatic and positive impact on the life and progress of her very first little patient, even as an intern!  From that internship forward she knew she was in the right place with the right career and has spent the last 20 years advocating and impacting the lives of countless children with sensory differences and SPD. 

For a printable link of the information presented here, please visit:
http://www.understandingspd.com/uploads/3/0/0/1/3001883/meltdowninclassroom.pdf

Thanks so much, Aspierations Friends!
Karen

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Autistic Child is Disruptive in Cafe - How Will Patrons React? Autism Acceptance or Intolerance

Hello Aspierations Friends,

I'd like you to watch a quick video today if you haven't seen it previously.

Autistic Child is Disruptive in Cafe - How Will Patrons React?

video platformvideo managementvideo solutionsvideo player

My husband came across the following video earlier today and shared it with me. Admittedly both of us were rather emotional regarding the content since:

a) We have 2 children on the autism spectrum and
b) Each one at one point or another or even simultaneously (!!) have been disruptive in restaurants before and
c) We have experienced both compassion and a lack thereof from fellow patrons.

Although it wasn't a restaurant situation, one of my saddest memories of lack of compassion came during a Christmas Eve service a couple years ago when my kiddo was going through a bit of sensory overload. I won't go into the details here now but suffice to say that if people don't show acceptance and compassion in a church on Christmas Eve of all places, then there is really a lot of work to be done!  It was really hard for us to go back after that but we realize now that the incident, although very humiliating and unpleasant did help strengthen our character and resolve and compassion for others.  Sometimes when people show the example of the absolute wrong thing to do, it is so much easier to find conviction and strength in oneself to advocate for what is right. Interestingly enough, it also taught me a lesson about forgiveness. It is so much easier to be open to God's word and his calling for my life when I release the excess baggage.

But before I digress any further, let me pull myself back to the video above. In case you haven't seen it yet, I won't give the ending away.

My first impression was that the story was mostly a positive one and in a month dedicated to Autism Awareness and Acceptance, stories like these that people can watch fairly easily give food for thought to the general public even if the scenes played were not representative of every family's life impacted by the autism spectrum. There could have easily been other scenarios or other endings and as one who thoroughly enjoyed studying Social Psychology in college, I would have liked to see more variations.  Inevitably, if you play enough scenarios, you're going to get different kinds of results to present, however I am satisfied with the ones they chose to show. I only watched the clip above so maybe in the actual TV show on ABC there were more. If you saw it, please let me know.

As every child on the autism spectrum presents differently, it would be remiss to generalize the type of behavior the boy was showing in the restaurant to all children on the autism spectrum, however I have known enough autism parents and have had enough experience with my own children in restaurants to note that scenarios like this in many variations and degrees of severity do happen to families impacted by autism regularly. Try grocery stores or shopping malls, airports or planes. Thank goodness for the movie theaters around the country that now offer Sensory Friendly viewings. I hope more kinds of businesses will follow suit.

Autism Empowerment, the non-profit 501(c)(3), that my husband and I founded last year is dedicated toward creating programs, services and support that people can plug into in the here and now to create a positive, collaborative autism community that Accepts, Enriches, Inspires and Empowers individuals on the spectrum as well as their families to reach their highest potential.  By building and supporting positive communities of individuals, families, schools, businesses and community partners that foster acceptance, encouragement and love, we can reduce isolation that individuals and families feel and create opportunities for people to let their lights shine with the confidence of knowing that they don't have to be lonely and in the dark.  (Like our message? Please share! We want to spread the word, so let your voices be heard!)



Out of curiosity, I checked the comments on the ABC website underneath the video to read what people would say. As seems to be standard fare, there is no way to please everyone, especially if they are in a position in their lives where it seems like they are looking for opportunities to be displeased.

For example, the title of the video was "Autistic Child is Disruptive in Cafe - How Will Patrons React?"  I knew that some would immediately be offended about the word "autistic". Personally, I prefer person first language for the most part but I'm not going to let a word itself offend me.  Usually if I feel offended by something, it is the tone and intent of the word(s) being used and not the word itself.

When I write my blogs, I realize that when I say Aspie or person with autism or whatever I choose to say that as well-intentioned and compassionate and accepting as I am trying to be when I convey my messages, there will be some who will disagree with my choice of verbiage or not understand my intent.  We each come to the table with a unique set of life experiences. Our paths may be strikingly similar or distinctively different. They will always be unique and so we can never expect for any man or woman to truly get everything we say all the time. Heck, even we are often regularly at battle with ourselves over some thing or another.

So that all being said, if you watched the video in its entirety or just the clip above like I did, please feel free to share what you think.  I allow for anonymous posting on my blog but please don't take that as an invitation to forget your manners.  :-)

Until next time, Aspierations friends!
Karen

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Cubs Miracle League Baseball & Cub Scout Pack 2 Fishing, a Fun Family Day

Take me out to the ball game, take me out with the crowd...

Well, I'm not so sure about the crowd part but we are getting more comfortable in this household being around lots of people!

Today was a prime example of that.  In the morning, Ryan had his season opener playing baseball with the Columbia River Miracle League. Last year Ryan was on the A's. This year he has been drafted by the Cubs. I suppose it is only fair. The first year he had a California based team where Ryan, Justin and I were born and this year he has the Cubs which was my husband John's favorite team growing up. Living in Wisconsin, the Chicago Cubs games were a few hours away but he preferred them to the Brewers.



It's also fitting that Ryan is on the Cubs since he will be a part of Cub Scout Pack 2 in June after he finishes Kindergarten.  Yay! (If you read my blog long enough, you'll find that I often enjoy looking for patterns. It's one of those questions in all those "Are you an Aspie" tests that is always a resounding yes!)

I'm not a fan of getting up early in the morning on Saturday.  If truth be told, I'm not a fan of getting up early any day! It's the night owl in me. WHOO? In me... WHOO????

That being said, I really do love watching Ry and the other kiddos play baseball. To Ryan this means running around the bases.  In fact he did so 7 times before today's game got underway.  Being the good mom that I am (and thinking  maybe he'd go to bed early tonight), I let him run to his heart's content.  As is often the case when my son does laps somewhere, he soon has an entourage following him.  I hope other parents appreciate the extra exercise opportunities that our son helps promote!





Last year was Ryan's first season playing baseball and I think we only knew (or should I say recognized) a few people.  This year it is much different. Having made a concerted effort to become more involved in our community through church, Cub Scout Pack 2, Autism Empowerment and other autism / special needs related organizations and get-togethers, it was fun to see a lot of familiar faces both on our team and on other teams as well.  There is so much love out there among parents and their children.  Having lived the first few years here in Vancouver relatively isolated, it feels empowering and comforting to feel like we're starting to plant some roots.



So the game went great and we headed home where we hung out for a couple hours and then headed out to Klineline Pond for their Fishing Derby event.  Part of Cub Scout Pack 2 went yesterday and the rest of us went today.  From what I can tell, all the boys and their families looked like they had a great time.  Each of the boys caught their two fish limit and one of the boys even won a bicycle in a raffle at the end.



Our family had been at the fishing event last year but this was our first time as part of a group and I have to say, we all looked pretty cool out there sporting our new purple shirts.  The kids got free fishing poles, free t-shirts and it was a really well-run event with incredibly friendly and accommodating volunteers. Although the special needs fishing was technically yesterday, since many of our kids were in school, they couldn't make it out to Klineline Pond until today, which was the regular event.  I think overall, they expected about 2000 kids at the event and there were probably a couple hundred at our session.  We fished at 3 p.m. when most of the people were already gone and except for the parking lot, it really wasn't that bad in terms of crowd.  There was a lot of space to spread out.




After fishing, we were all pretty tired and as a special treat, we took the boys to Old Spaghetti Factory. (We'll have trout some other time!)

All in all, it was a fantastic day and the kind of family and friends Saturday that our family needed.  We often spend so much time behind the computer with work that getting out for a day of fresh air with no rain was quite refreshing.  I'll take the sore feet because I have lots of memories of happy smiles!

All the kids out there today let their lights shine!
Enjoying life one day at a time,
Karen

Friday, April 13, 2012

Prayers for my parents

Today my blog is a simple one. I am asking for prayers for my Mom & Dad. A few weeks ago my dad fell and cracked his pelvis. He is 81. The healing process has been much slower than we had hoped or anticipated. Out of respect for the privacy of my parents I will not go into great detail here. God knows the details. What I appreciate is your kind prayers and thoughts being sent his way.

I pray for healing for my Dad.  I pray God heals his pelvis and all other ailments.
I pray for healing for my Mom and comfort.
I pray for strength for my parents emotionally and physically.
I pray for wisdom and guidance and the right words to say.
I pray for God's grace and healing power.
I pray for courage and love in their hearts while apart.
I pray for the opportunity to be able to have our family be able to see them soon.
I pray for strengthened bonds.

It hurts so much to know that my parents are going through pain.  So many other things seem so trivial... please help me keep my priorities clear and my perspective in alignment.

I know my parents want me to try and keep my routine with the boys as much as possible, take lots of pictures and share lots of stories of their adventures. It helps brighten their day and the humor of our daily travels helps bring a bit of levity.

Please help me make the healthiest choices and the wisest choices. Please may I follow your calling and not get misdirected.  It is so easy to feel confused, especially when emotions are heightened. Help me sort through the pain and overload so that I can be the best daughter possible, the best mother possible, the best wife possible and the best steward of my resources.

Thank you for loving my parents. Thank you for loving me. Thank you for connecting us. When they wanted a child so long ago, we were connected together through adoption.  We built a life together through love. I am so blessed for the years we have together. I pray for many more...

Amen...

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Cast No Doubt, Something Fishy is Going on at Klineline Pond

We weren't casting any doubts tonight, we were casting for fish!

Cub Scout Pack 2, Vancouver, Washington's first ever registered sensory friendly cub scouting pack is preparing for Klineline Kids Fishing this weekend, Friday, April 13th, 2012 and Saturday, April 14th, 2012 at Klineline Pond in Vancouver.  We had a den meeting tonight at River Rock Church in Vancouver and the kids got to practice casting a fishing line, learning how to bait a hook and doing some coloring of different fish pictures.  It was a fun group time and all of the boys earned their fishing belt loop.  Fun!

This is the 13th year that Klineline Kids Fishing is hosting this special event and will be the second time that our family has attended.  Last year was Justin and Ryan's first time ever fishing!  Here was the result:


Proud Mommy moment!  One of my favorite pictures of the year!

Each year the Klineline Kids Fishing hosts a Special Needs Kids Fishing day on Friday and then a community wide kids fishing day on Saturday.  Last year, we were able to attend the Friday event because the kids were on Spring Break but this year since they are in school, we didn't want to pull them out, so we will be attending on Saturday along with a small group of boys and parents from our pack.

The Klineline group in association with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the GoPlay Outside Alliance of Washington (GOPAW) were really accommodating to allow our Cub Scout Pack 2 the opportunity to attend as a group on Saturday afternoon as well as to be able to work with volunteers who will be sensitive to the needs of our kiddos.  Some of our pack will be able to make it on Friday but we are so grateful that they are willing to take our group on Saturday as well. Although not all of the kiddos will be keen on touching the fish, there will be people on hand to help with baiting, reeling in and scaling. 

All of the kids get a free fishing pole and t-shirt and the opportunity to catch and bring home two fish. What an awesome value and a neat way to get kids outdoors! (Hope the weather holds up!) This really is one of those neat experiences that our family never experienced when we lived in California but we're glad to be making a tradition here!  


If you happen to be out there on Saturday afternoon around 3 p.m. and are interested in Sensory Friendly Cub Scouting, our pack will be out there in our purple Cub Scout Pack 2 shirts.  Feel free to say hi!

Until next time!
Karen

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Southwest Washington Special Education Conference and Resource Fair April 28th - FREE

Hello!

Today I wanted to do a quick plug for the upcoming Southwest Washington Special Education Conference and Resource Fair on Saturday, April 28th from 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. at Prairie High School, 11500 NE 117th Avenue, Vancouver, WA 98662.

This is a FREE event providing resources to families of children with special needs.  Hosted by Prairie High School's Special Education Department, this is the first conference and resource fair of its kind and will hopefully become a yearly event. The Conference Chair and visionary behind the conference, Annie Lamberto is a teacher in the Special Education Department at Prairie High School. She is an amazing woman. This is an event you will not want to miss.

The Southwest Washington Special Education Conference and Resource Fair will offer concurrent workshops/sessions, and exhibit hall, and keynote speakers. This event is open to families of children with special needs, regardless of age (birth - 21) or nature of disability (mild - severe). Professionals working to serve families / children are also invited to attend.

Registration is now open.  Please visit their website and Facebook page for detailed information.

I'm excited to say that Autism Empowerment will be in attendance, along with many other great community partners and friends to the special needs community.  Some of the other attendees include SEPTSA, WATAP, Washington Talking Book and Braille Library, College Living Experience, Goodwill - Job Connections, Children's Home Society, Clark County Parks and Recreation, Autism Behavioral Consulting, Clark College, Kids Cooking Corner, Parent Coalition, Yoga For All, C-Tran, Washington State University, Learning Palace and more!

Scheduled Workshops / Sessions include: Sensory Processing, Assistive Technology, Guardianship, Estate Planning and Trusts, Exercise, Cooking, Music Therapy, Art Therapy, Social Skills, Mental Health, Systems Navigation, Student Directed IEPS, Transition, World Book Online, Early Language Literacy, Bully Safety, Love and Logic, Homework Help, Brain Research, and more!  What a great list!  

The Keynote Speaker is gifted local author and public speaker, Connie Ruth Christiansen. There is also going to be a Free Photo Session sponsored by Alyssa Ballou Photography as well as other special goodies!

I've attended Autism related conferences before.  None of them of this magnitude were FREE. This is really a great chance to help get connected with resources in your community. (Also for other free resources now, please check out Autism Empowerment's April 2012 Southwest Washington / Portland Metro Resource Guide)

We had the opportunity to meet Annie when she was a panelist at Autism Empowerment's recent panel for Autism Awareness and Acceptance on April 3rd and also when she volunteered at Autism Empowerment's 1st Annual Egg Hunt on Saturday, April 7th.  We were so impressed by her and know that this conference is going to provide tremendous educational and emotional value to so many special needs families in Southwest Washington.

Save the date!

Until next time, Aspierations Friends,
Karen Krejcha

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Re-Branding Aspie - Guest Blog by Jennifer Cook O'Toole

Hello Aspierations Friends,

I have a special treat for you!  Today's blog comes to you courtesy of Jennifer Cook O'Toole, author of the soon to be released book, Asperkids: An Insider's Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome.  I have my book already on pre-order through Amazon. It is due to be released on May 15, 2012.

Something else is exciting about that date. In addition to Jennifer's book release, Jennifer and I are going to have the opportunity to meet for the first time on May 15th at the William Bennett Gallery in New York City for the 2012 GRASP Awards (Global and Regional Asperger Syndrome Partnership).  

Jennifer, Liane Holliday Willey, Max Chabanik, Karla Fisher and I are all being honored with the 2012 Distinguished Spectrumite Medal (The "DSM"). We'll also have a chance to meet with other award winners in other categories, Dr. Fred Volkmar, Chris and Terry Ballou and Stephanie McCaskill.  It's very humbling to be in such amazing company and I hope it will give the opportunity to for all of us to form new friendships and connections.

Please do check out Jennifer's website after reading her article. I think you'll find her writing charming, humorous, relatable and refreshingly down to earth. Jennifer is also an Aspie. She is a Mom. She is an Advocate. She is an Author. She is so much more and so without further adieu, here is Jennifer's guest blog: "Re-Branding Aspie".

"Re-Branding Aspie" by Jennifer Cook O'Toole

Long before my first baby could read, she knew her logos. Mommy would always stop to answer the siren call of that little green coffee mermaid. As her brothers came along, they, too, learned the power of the logo -- the hypnotic beckoning of the big red bullseye or the promise of new entertainment when a little bitty apple was spotted. Recently, I even discovered that the toy store with the giraffe and backwards “R” sells a Logo Board Game. Let's face it. Marketing execs the world over pay big bucks to ensure that from our beginnings, we all understand the superpower of branding. And they're good at what they do.

It all begins with a label -- or “logo,” an ancient Greek word meaning, well, “word.” But soon, "logos" took on a lot more philosophical weight. It connoted “opinion” or “expectation.” "Logos" alluded to “reputation” in the same way that, today, we have one expectation for a gift arriving in a little blue box, and a very different one for dining experiences held underneath the golden arches. Logos. Labels. Associated expectations. Branding is powerful stuff.

Now, the truth is that few among us would ever admit to being “label ho’s” (yes, it’s an actual entry in Urban Dictionary). Really, does anyone actually believe an “LV” on a handbag will make her more fabulous? No. But we still buy a whole lot of 'em. Like it or not, we are all consumers and bearers of label mania.

OK, you’re asking right about now, I thought this was an article about Asperger Syndrome. What in the heck does a Tiffany's gift box or Mickey D's drive-thru have to do with Aspie? A lot. 

A "label" is much more than a naming word. It is really a language logo, stylized by font or tone of voice, and transmitting expectation, nuance, value. Whether communicated by an image or a word...the mark, the "brand" that is left behind, the point that is made is emotional. Maybe that's why major advertisers prefer simpler "logos"; the most successful use only an image (Starbucks, Nike) OR only copy (J.Crew, Prada, etc). We may "see" a label as a picture or text or "hear" it, as we do when we read or listen. Either way, the end product is an impression...a feeling: scared or uncomfortable, empowered or valued.

In reality, labels and logos are handy: divvying a crazy, chaotic world into bite-sized, known quantities. They are sort of a comfortable, emotional shorthand - expressed in a benevolent symbol (a word or a picture), and instantly understood by all. Familiarity. It's why parents love chain restaurants. We don't have to wonder if our kids will dig the fries at this burger joint. It's McD's, and everyone knows the fries are ALWAYS EXACTLY THE SAME, no matter where in the world you order. We know what we're getting. 

Or do we? How reliable is that shorthand - that "known quantity" - if the underlying information is bad? Labels and logos will cause major heartburn (and heartache) when the "known quantity" is, apparently, not as well-known as some might think. The problem isn't that labels or logos are bad. The problem is that they can be very inaccurate. 

Here’s the thing. The impression usually made by the label "Asperger's Syndrome" is NOT a good one. It’s an unwanted "label" to match equally uncomfortable visual "logos": the "weird kid" on the playground or a meltdown cliche. Doors shut. Conversations stall. Sympathy is offered. Never is there a "You've just been diagnosed - are you going to Disney World?" celebration. Too bad. There should be. Because a realistic picture of an Aspie might surprise you: instead of a "geek," envision a Nobel Prize winner. A beauty queen. A poet. Even a Ghostbuster. Aspies all.

We may not want to admit it, but labels do carry a lot of social influence. And we wield them savvily...because though we say others' opinions don't matter to us - they do. We do care what others think of us and, because we love them, we care what others think of our mini-me’s (aka, our kiddos), too. We plaster our minivans with public labels of love - displaying their school logos, sports mascots and stick figure caricatures for the world to see.

But sometimes, benevolence betrays us. Sometimes, shame and fear of a label does more harm to our families, our students, our kids than we realize.

You see, many parents, doctors and teachers don’t have a good understanding of what Asperger Syndrome is. Without solid information, they are intimidated by the “label,” and without really understanding it, reject it entirely. When adults are scared or embarrassed by a label they don't want (for whatever reasons), children are denied the social, academic, and emotional support they need.

I have heard other parents and educators complain that a child is “academically brilliant but socially very immature, and awfully particular about everything.” They may see kids struggling and hurting, and they want guidance. But when answers to their inquiries include the possible label "Aspie," conversations often end. Fast.

"You don't want a kid to have to walk around with THAT label," I have heard well-meaning folks say. They couldn't be more wrong. 

When it fits, the diagnosis -- or “label” -- “Aspie” is a gift, not a curse. I know -- I have three Asperkids and was diagnosed, myself, as an adult. More than my “Ivy League” diplomas, size-I-can-still-fit-into-my-prom-dress jeans, or any professional accolade I've won, “Aspie” is my “label” of authentic self-awareness, acceptance and true empowerment. I understand now that I may be different, but I am not deficient.

What does "Aspie" actually mean? In general, “Aspie” describes bright folks who are a lot better with facts than with people; we have a very hard time understanding or anticipating others’ points of view, and therefore find great comfort in anything logical or precise. When the world seems big and unpredictable, it’s only natural to seek anything that will organize the chaos.

Aspies are, by definition, of average to above-average intelligence. In fact, it’s not uncommon for extremely gifted children (especially girls) to be hugely under-diagnosed, simply by chalking particular behaviors up to being “really smart.” Being “really smart” does not make someone hold fast to rules or routines, become overwhelmingly absorbed with a particular topic, be rigid in thought or behavior patterns and generally a bit immature socially. It just makes them smart. Asperger’s accounts for the other stuff.

You’ll see our "Aspie-ness" in interactions with other kids (sounding like “little professors,” being bossy, the “playground policeman,” or just retreating if it’s all too hard); often they’ll do better with children who are younger (more controllable) or older (take the Asperkid under-wing), or with adults who find the “mini-grown-up” entertaining. Asperkids usually have a “special interest,” which can be all-encompassing and provides a mental respite from the confusing nuances of social situations. Also common are sensory sensitivities (to noises, crowds, textures) and attention troubles.

By nature, Asperkids tend to get a bit fixated on part of a thing, an idea or a situation rather than grasping the whole shebang (psychologists call this missing the “gestalt”). I tell my kiddos that it’s like seeing only the mashed potatoes, but not noticing the entire Thanksgiving meal. We also call it “getting right to the toenail of the matter” or missing the big picture. 

Fine, fine. Maybe "Aspie" isn't a bad thing, then. But is it a necessary label? Why pigeonhole a kid with one more (big) descriptor? Let me answer that question with a question. What do you do at a STOP sign? You stop, right? And what do you do if the sign on the door says, “Push”? You wouldn't get very far by pulling on it.

Labels tell us how to react to a particular situation. Don’t floor it when you see “STOP” and don’t tell an Asperkid to “just go make friends.” Neither one will have very good consequences. 

If/then. If it says “push,” don’t pull. And when a teacher or parent has the courage to worry less about impressions and more about the child involved, great things can happen for everyone involved.

With better understanding of what Aspie really is (and isn't), the label can finally be helpful rather than daunting. How? Just try to assemble some Ikea furniture if the directions are all in Swedish. When you can't figure out what's what, or what to do with it, your new bed is never going to evolve beyond a pile of djonk. When everyone knows what to expect, everyone can learn how to respond. That's a win-win all around.

Bottom line: if you think that you may be raising or teaching an Asperkid, then you have a choice to make. How will you react to the label? How will you teach the child...his friends...her school...your family...to react? 

As a mom, a teacher, and an Aspie, I ask you to please -- be the child's champion, and find out more. 

To us, "Aspie" is no label to fear or soldier through. It’s real life. It’s relief. It’s potential and promise and game-changing honesty. We are a society in love with labels and logos. Don't be afraid of this one. Don't get me wrong - my minivan still breaks for the green mermaid and my handbag is covered in some fancy C's. But for me and children like mine, "Aspie" may be the most important label we'll ever get to wear.

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Thanks so much for guest blogging, Jennifer!  Great article!  I'm right there with you! Please let us know what you think in the comments section below!  Also, please check out Jennifer's website, www.asperkids.com


Until next time, Aspierations friends!
Let your light shine!  Go Asperkids!
Karen