You Are Allowed to Turn the Special-Needs Talk Off

SPECIAL NEEDS TALK OFF

I know it’s probably kind of weird that I posted this right in the middle of Autism Awareness Month when we want to get people talking about autism but…sometimes I have the need to turn the special -needs talk off. Does that happen to you too? Maybe it’s time we, as autism moms, also bring awareness to that part of our lives.

There have been times when – at a banquet, at church, some fashion function,  a gallery opening,  an informal get together  –  I have been approached by people wanting to talk to me about a movie they saw about autism, or about a friend of a friend whose child just got diagnosed. They give me books about autism, movie recommendations, information about doctors promising a new cure,…it can sometimes get a bit overwhelming when all I want to do is be Nellie and have a good time. Like an actor who gets type-cast because we are used to them playing a certain part, I imagine it’s the same for special-needs mom bloggers who talk about their children all the time in hopes to bring awareness. We want awareness but sometimes we need a break.

What people don’t realize is that, with two kids on the autism spectrum, my life is consumed with special needs talk. From the slew of professionals at my finger tips who are/were coming to my house every day, to my own online research, to discussions I have with my husband, and finally from my kids themselves. At times, it can be a 24-hour station.

But how do you turn off the special needs talk? First of all, you have to realize that people mean well. They love you and they want to help, or show that they can relate. So, when I really don’t feel like talking about autism,  I try to be cordial, and in a very nice way, tell anyone who wants to broach the subject,  that today I will not be talking about special needs anything, plain and simple. Give them your number/ e-mail and tell them to contact you later.

It does help if you have something planned to say ahead of time if the special needs talk gets out of hand. That way, you don’t come off as defensive or rude. I politely interrupt and tell them, “I don’t mean to be rude, but I had a crazy day with my kids and I would like to talk about other things besides them.” The people who love you will not get offended and will understand. Those are the people that matter.

How do you handle the special need chatter? Do you feel comfortable shutting it down? Are there other ways to go about it? Always eager to learn.

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People Need to See You without the Kids

WITHOUT THE KIDS CANVA

Believe me, I know how hard it is to go anywhere without the kids! You don’t have to tell me how difficult it is to find babysitting for two special needs children. But people need to see you without your kids once in a while. You will forever be the poster child for autism if you don’t.

One place that we regularly go to as a family is church. During the service, Dan crawls all over me as I try to prevent Micah’s tantrums. By the time I get home, the day is a blur; I don’t know what the pastor preached about and could not have one conversation after the service, if anyone dared come near me at all.

If anyone does approach me at church it’s usually to tell me about a movie they saw about autism, or that they have a friend whose son/daughter just got diagnosed and ask whether I have any advice for them. Then there are the times when well-meaning parishioners gain a wee bit of knowledge about autism and begin to dole out chunks of advice, book recommendations, and places I should go to help the kids. I used to blame them but then it hit me; why wouldn’t they talk to me about autism? It’s all they see when they see me dealing with my kids and their antics! I had inadvertently become a walking poster mom for the cause with my kids in tow.

If people see you all the time with your kids as they act up and crawl all over you, that is the image they have of you and that is all they will see, and most likely, all they will talk to you about. They can’t see the full view of who you are with the kids in the way!

I realized that this needed to change and told my hubby I had to go to church at least twice a month without the kids. It worked. At first glance, people asked me where the kids were but after that was taken care of, they commented on how great I looked in my outfit, how good my hair looked, inquired about my fashion business, aspects of my life that were not kid related. It was amazing. People saw ME for the first time in a long time. You need that and people need that. People WANT to see you.

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* This was written five years ago but I felt it was valid to leave as is and not update. Since then, we have moved to a new church where, after facing chalIenges, we have found a way to attend church, consistently, as a family.

Have the Conversation with the Right Person

CONVO WITH THE RIGHT PERSON

There have been times when, in my moments of darkness, I have shared my raw, honest feelings about mothering special needs children and they have come back to bite me in the ass. I had the conversation with the wrong person.

The person in question manifests that they are indeed the wrong person when he/she responds with a blank stare, waves away your feelings and tells you not to feel that way, or blatantly judges you. Unfortunately, sometimes the wrong person is rather close to you; your significant other, your mom, and yes, other special needs parents. That is probably why you chose them, because they were literally close by and you needed to talk to someone, anyone.

You have to find people that can handle your honesty. I remember being in church and people telling me; “wow, you are so patient, so good with your kids”, “you’re a saint.” If they only knew how I sometimes felt inside, that I sometimes questioned my decision to have children, that I sometimes felt I caved into pressure to have a second child when I was totally content with one, that I often wondered if I should have had children at all.

I have wondered what my life would have been like without kids, or without Dan. These are real, raw, honest feelings that need to be voiced. When you have these feelings, you are in the moment. Your feelings aren’t you, you are reacting to a situation and you say the weirdest things. You need people around you that can ride you through these moments and see you to the other side.

I thank God for my sisters. We are at a point in our lives where I can tell them anything and know that I will get nothing but love in return.

But if you don’t have biological sisters you can talk to, there are sisters out there that can handle your honesty. I promise you! Keep looking until you find them.

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Remember Who You Were On This Special-Needs Motherhood Journey

REMEMBER WHO YOU WERE

I am currently working on a book on self-care, a series of lessons I have learned (and continue to learn) on my special-needs motherhood journey. I’ll be offering some of them here, on this blog. Feel free to let me know your thoughts here, or on my Facebook/Instagram pages.   Here’s the first one…

Remember Who you Were

Any type of motherhood, special needs or typical, causes women to feel like they’re losing themselves. It’s the perennial question of balance that women face between identity (work) and family. The constant work of caring, and ultimately being responsible for another human being, leads us to question, and then adjust our identity to this new life. This takes on a whole different meaning when you have special needs children. The care can be daunting. I feel like I am still adjusting, my GPS constantly on recalculating … I once wondered if I even wanted children at all and what I got was children that required more care than I would ever imagine.

What helped me in daunting and overwhelming moments was to remember who I was. My circumstances had changed drastically but I was still me at the core and I needed to reaffirm that. In the midst of such drastic change, I needed consistency.

I went to things that reminded me of myself, pre-kids. I got out my old cassettes of Sting, my all time favorite musician, and started listening again. I also started reading his autobiography and it really helped me to reconnect with Nellie pre-kids. It also reminded me of the time I went to see him in concert with my friend Maxine back in the 90s.

After my oldest was diagnosed, I went back to museum work. I needed a semblance of normal life again. I was coming to terms with the diagnosis and needed to tap into the part of me that was untouched by it. My life before the diagnosis… museum work. Other opportunities that fed into the pre-kids Nellie also began to surge. I taught a class on Puerto Rican art and lectured on Latin American art in various libraries in the New York Public Library system. All of this helped me reconnect with what I still continue to love: art and art history. I felt like my old self again and this fed my soul and helped me be a better mother to my oldest.

After Dan was diagnosed, I went further back and started screen printing and sewing again, passions from high school and college. I even opened my own shop online and started selling my screen-printed and reconstructed clothing. This further solidified my identity and in turn helped me be a better, more at peace, happy mom. I was drawing from my past and taking inventory of the things that made me really happy.

In the midst of the loss I was feeling, this reconnection to my old self, offered me joy.

What can you tap into from your “old self”, your “pre-kids self”, that can positively ignite you as you live in your present circumstances?

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“Get Up”: How God Always has the Last Word Even if my Son Doesn’t Have Any

 

GOD HAS THE LAST WORD

A long time ago I read an article written by a speech therapist that stated that children on the autism spectrum rarely speak after seven years of age. Along the way, In my quest to be at peace and accept Daniel’s autism, I stopped praying for his healing. I didn’t stop praying that he would grow into his full potential but I have to admit that I resigned myself to perhaps him not ever speaking.

Daniel speaks in other ways; he hums snippets of melodies that he hears in church, at home, and even in school. He’s extremely affectionate and very fluent in body language, and he has even said a couple of words, years ago, words I have not heard in a very long time. Until a couple of months ago.

On weekends Dan wakes at 5 or 6 o’clock in the morning. We always try to delay getting out of bed before 7:00 AM so this Saturday, when he woke up at 6:00 AM, as usual, we told him to lay down next to mommy and daddy, or sit in the chair in my sewing area, anything to stop him from running so early in the morning. We stalled him until 6:30 am when he came up to my face and said GET UP! “Get up”, as clear as day. I was stunned, we were shocked. I turned over to Jon and he was like , “did he just tell you to get up?” It was wonderful to have someone bear witness. So I got up like a flash and gave my, then almost 11 year old son, whatever he wanted.

Get up! Perhaps God was trying to tell me something. Maybe he was trying to awaken my faith, “get up Nellie and continue to pray. There is nothing impossible for me.” Why shouldn’t I pray that God fire up the part of the brain that controls Daniel’s speech? What if God was just waiting for me to ask? What if it wasn’t too late?

Ultimately I’ll be fine whether Daniel ever speaks another word or not. But I do have to remember to forget the timetables that therapists go by. It’s all about God’s timing, because at the end of the day, God has the last word!

“We humans make plans, but the Lord has the final word.”  Proverbs 16:1

 

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How Dan Incarnates Me as I Tend to His Body

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How to Put on a Shirt

This constant tending to my son’s body can be overwhelming and draining.

The other day I came home from a curatorial walkthrough at one of the museums I work with. The art and the curator were absolutely fascinating. I work in cultural spaces where I consistently having conversations about art and ideas, my intellect quite engaged… and then I come home to this…to this repetition, the constant training of putting on a shirt, or the brushing of the teeth. Still, at 11 years old, I’m still teaching Dan how to wipe his butt! I would imagine that my life will be a continuous series of teaching Dan how to tend to his body.

I have been reading Liturgy of the Ordinary by Tish Harrison Warren. In chapter 2 she talks about the body and says:

“We Christians believe in a God who, by becoming human, embraced human embodiment in fullness, right down to the toenails. Because of Christ’s embodiment, the ways we care for our bodies are not meaningless necessities that keep us well enough to do the real work of worship and discipleship. Instead, these small tasks of caring for our bodies, as quotidian as they are, act as an embodied confession that our Creator, who mysteriously became flesh, has made our bodies well and deserves worship in and through our very cells, muscles, tissues, and teeth.”

Truth be told, I rather look for ways that God is made evident in the museum though art, to uncover amazing “God in the gallery” moments. But God is also seeing fit to challenge me to find these awe inspiring God-moments in these daily, seemingly base, ordinary tasks of tending to my son’s body.

This is why Christianity is so appealing to me, because it posits a God that is incarnational. I like the fact that I can worship a God that came as a human body and knows exactly what it is to feel what we feel. Don’t get me wrong, I love the divine and the lofty, I get lost in the concepts and I crave intellectual stimulation and conversation. I need that in my life! But I also need to empathize , I need to feel and understand other people’s pain. Dan does this for me. He incarnates me, he makes me less snobby, more human and relatable. And when I can connect with someone over a vulnerability, that precise moment is instantaneously transformed into a divine one.

So I’ll continue to care for Dan’s body in hopes that he will eventually care for it himself. I don’t know how independent he will be but I do know that God is forming me into a caring human being through this special needs motherhood experience.

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A Diminished Spiritual Life for my ASD Child is not an Option

DAN AT CHURCH

Dan receiving his birthday card from the Pastor’s wife and her granddaughter. The love him very much! 

I requested a weekend respite worker from the agency that works with my son to help me care for Dan during church service on Sunday. It took a while but they finally found one, a very lovely young lady. She came over for a preliminary interview and met Dan. Everything was going fine until I started to enumerate her responsibilities with Dan while we all attended church, then her face changed and she stopped me mid sentence. “I’m sorry but I wasn’t aware that I had to go to church with you guys, I can’t, I’m of another faith.”

At first, I thought, okay, next. This is not going to work out. A diminished spiritual life for my child is not an option. But she was so sweet and teachable, and Dan really took to her. So the thought crossed our minds that maybe it would be a lot easier for us to worship and serve in church if Daniel was watched at home. We had struggled with him in service for so long. Maybe this was a possible solution.

So we tried it for a couple of weeks, Daniel stayed home with our new worker and my husband, older son, and I went to church. It went well, but I did miss Dan’s presence in our pew. On the third week, our worker had an emergency and couldn’t make it so we took Dan with us, like we had always done before she came along. We struggled but it was fine. That week Dan started humming the songs he heard during service that Sunday; when I am weak you make me strong, when I’m poor I know that I’m rich for in the power of your name, all things are possible, all things are possible, all things are possible over and over again. Then he continued with say the name of Jesus…He’s gonna make a way when you say Jesus…, also hummed repeatedly.

That was a particularly rough week and I needed those worship songs to get me through. I felt so encouraged with these reminders from God and they came through Dan because we took him to church that week! That’s when I knew that God was trying to teach me a couple of things; Dan has a spiritual life and I needed to watch over it, Dan needs to be in church to encourage the people the same way he encouraged me during that week, and more importantly, God takes pleasure in Dan’s worship. I needed to continue to take Dan to church because the reward will always be greater than the struggle.

Lord, I pray that no one, including me, would underestimate Dan’s spiritual life and his role in the church.

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*This post first appeared in April 2017 on http://www.sandrapeoples.com.

Sandra Peoples (M. Div, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is one of the leading voices in the special-needs community. She is the editor for Key Ministry and The MOB Society. She is the author of two popular self-published books: Speechless: Finding God’s Grace in My Son’s Autism and Held: Learning to Live in God’s Grip. She co-edited 30 Prayers for Special-Needs Parents. She also founded Special-Needs Parents Appreciation Month (which is celebrated in August).

Sandra is currently working on a new book for special-needs parents to be published by Bethany House Publishers and releasing in 2018 entitled, Unexpected Blessings: The Joys and Possibilities of Life in a Special-Needs Family.

I Caught a Glimpse…

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The other day, I went bowling with my church friends, we were ten, including moi. We met a wonderful family there, they were invited by one of our church members. They were a family of four: mom, pop, an eleven year old girl and a boy. The girl was so beautiful and well spoken; a dancer. I couldn’t believe she was only eleven. We talked about dance technique; chasses and ronde de jambes. It was the most intellectual conversation I had that night.

Then I caught a glimpse of the boy, the cutest kid. Tall and skinny, like Dan, soft brown hair, also like Dan, I asked his mom how old he was, he was eight, just like Dan. So, I caught a glimpse. A glimpse of what Dan might sound and move like if he didn’t have autism. This boy was funny and witty, I could imagine Dan being like that. He spoke fast and had the cutest expressions; I could imagine Dan speaking like that…and for that second, I could feel tears begin to well up. But just for a second. As quickly as these feelings came, they left. They left with the thought of my sweet Dan.

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Dan and I had the most amazing time, earlier that very day. We had a wonderful water play session in our back yard and I remembered his smile, the sheer joy over his face and body playing with the water; his chuckles and laughs. Later on, I remembered his touch, leading me to the sofa, so I could tickle and massage him. I remembered Dan, my son, his face, his laugh, his gaze, his smile, and in that moment, I did not want him to be anyone else. That beautiful boy I had met in the bowling alley had his own name (which I actually forgot now) and his own life, and his own face.

He was him and Dan was Dan
and he is mine and
I love him for who he is.

At this time in my life, I would not recognize Daniel if he talked and stood still.This doesn’t mean that we don’t aim for this and work hard so he can be the best he can be, but at this time, it’s not him and I want him to be him. I want Dan.

So I caught a glimpse of what Dan might have been and I looked away, content.

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*Vintage post from 2015

My Mom Likes to Sew

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My oldest (M) wrote this little composition last year. I was happy for many reasons; his writing is getting better, he chose me to write about (you had to choose a family member) and he focused on my sewing. The last part, well…it warmed my heart.

One of the most difficult decisions I had to make when my kids got diagnosed with autism was to quit my job and stay home with them. Working from home can be quite isolating and it is still something I struggle with. This is part of the reason I started this blog, an attempt at community and a desire to want to be seen.

When my oldest came home with this essay it felt like he was saying “I see you, I see you sewing, and I know you like it, and I know it’s your job, and you are contributing to our family.” One of the issues some kids on the autism spectrum have is their inability to see outside their world. M would spend long stretches of time, by himself, lining up cars and playing with strings. He still will talk to you, hours on end, about sports, not caring whether you are interested or not. The fact that he now comes home, asks me about my day, what I sewed, who I printed on what t-shirt, well, it’s just so amazing for me to see. He has come such a long way.

Peek a boo, I see you. I played this with M all the time when he was younger. Well, guess what. He now sees me too.

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*Vintage post from March 2013. I have since returned to work, as a museum educator, on a part time basis.

 

 

Serenity Prayer T-Shirt Refashion/Reconstruction

SERENITY PRAYER T SHIRT REFASHION

I love it when the message and the medium come together! This was one of my very first t-shirt transformations. Someone gave me this t-shirt ages ago and, of course, I didn’t wear it because it was super big. I did love the saying, though, The Serenity Prayer:

God, grant me the serenity to
accept the things I cannot change
Courage to change the things I can
and the wisdom to know the difference.

My oldest was about two years old and newly diagnosed with autism, when I rediscovered sewing again. Sewing refreshed me as a mother of special needs kids. It gave me a much needed break from visual schedules, tantrums, ABA, etc. Looking back, I didn’t consciously choose this shirt for my first recon project but how appropriate and timely was it, no? I sure needed this saying at this particular time. The shirt chose me.

Have you ever had a project that chose you?

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*Vintage post from 2012