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Keeping them busy, Keeping you Sane.

I am a stay at home mother and because my husband is active duty military I find myself often being a “single mother”. I love my son, but boy are there days I’m ready to pull my hair out. For a while we lived in Arizona where it was often times too hot to go outside so we would be trapped in the house day in, day out. And quite the opposite, we lived in Michigan where times during the winter months it was too cold to go outside. Staying inside all day with a hyper toddler is enough to make any sane person crazy.

When you are trapped inside a lot with kids one good thing to try are Pinterest activities. I can get lost on Pinterest for hours looking up recipes, crafts, and activities. Some of my favorites are: DIY matchbox car racetracks and cardboard box tunnels, Kid friendly Christmas tree, homemade car wash, and pompom games.

I’m not the most creative mom but I do think of fun things that my son would be interested in. My son is a huge snow bunny; he loves playing in the snow until his fingers are frozen; but sometimes its too cold for him to play outside. The solution? I bring the snow inside! I fill a big roasting pan full of snow and fill small squirt bottles full of water/food coloring and let Eli paint snow. Most mothers know the struggle of trying to cook dinner in peace. When I am cooking with 3 different pans on the stove and something in the oven my son is all over the kitchen in my way. I started filling a bowl with whatever I have in the cupboards (flour, sugar, brown sugar, etc) and giving him measuring spoons/cups and an extra empty bowl and letting him measure and pour while I have an open workspace to cook. There are also the classic go-to’s: painting, coloring, play-doh, etc.

All of those are nice but when you can, GET OUT! I am so glad we moved to San Diego because there are a MILLION things to do for Eli here. If you’re like me, you’re on a budget. Being a one income family means we need to budget! Budget! Budget! I look for anything that’s free, has cheap memberships, or offer military discounts. Here in SD all the museums have a “resident free admission” day of the month. The children’s museum also allows for free admission to military families Memorial Day through Labor Day. Make sure to find every opportunity in your area. I am always looking for new activities to do or new parks to visit. Plus being out gets them up and active in fresh air, and gets them playing and socializing with other kids.

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Mom Shaming

A couple days ago the Cincinnati, OH zoo had to kill a near-extinct gorilla after a boy fell into the enclosure. Because it is 2016, there were tons of videos posted of the event on social media which sparked a million different theories and opinions about what happened. Most people think the mother was at fault. Now, I didn’t read a whole lot about the story because it makes me sick thinking about it. Sure, the mother could be at fault; she could have been not paying attention of her children and letting them run where ever they want. We’re any of us there? Only those who were at the zoo that day really know what happened and who is at fault (or no one at all.) However, when I saw how horrible everyone was being towards the mother, I instantly defended her.

I felt the need to defend this mother because that could easily have been my child in with that gorilla. Any parent, especially those raising special needs children, know that anything can happen; it only takes a second for something to happen to a child. Take for instance child kidnapping cases, a mother turns her back in the grocery store to check out the sale on green beans and {POOF} a stranger has taken her child and is halfway to his car before she notices. Or a mother takes a quick shower while her baby is still napping, comes out to find the child not in bed, but went downstairs, opened the front door, and is standing on the front porch. ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. Things happen to my child all the time. A few weeks ago we were in Target shopping for toys and the next thing I knew Eli was 10 isles away and by the time I got there he was gone completely. I ended up having to flag down a worker to call a missing child code. If that were to get on social media strangers who had never met me before I’m sure would be calling me a horrible mother for not watching my child. What about the other day when my child was upstairs in his meltdown corner and came out choking because in the 2 minutes he was in there (with his therapist on the other side of the curtain) he swallowed a nail and had to spend a night in the hospital. I’m sure I would be a bad mother here too because my son pulled a nail out of the wall of his meltdown space.

I was defending that mother because the only people who show compassion for parent’s in situations like this are those of us who have been through something like this. I don’t judge other mothers and what they go through because I know I either HAVE or WILL go through it. I know how hard it can be or how even though you are doing your best and doing everything right ANYTHING CAN HAPPEN. I think our world, as a whole, needs to show a little more compassion for each other because we don’t know what we are all going through.

And as a disclaimer- yes, the mother MAY have been in the wrong, again, I didn’t read every story out there. I’m just saying my initial reaction was to defend that mother as I would hope other’s would do for me if I was in the situation.

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How video games are helping my Son

In today’s day and age kids are obsessed with technology. It’s all about social media, tv, movies, and video games. Kids these days enjoy virtual reality better than actual reality. As much as my generation is big into technology as well, it is quite the reality check when I say “Back in my day…we rode our bikes to the playground just to see who was there to play with” Nowadays kids tweet, text, or FaceTime their friends to meet up or talk. The most we had back then was MSN messenger that we had to sneak on the computer late at night to talk to our friends. Studies show how playing too many video games or watching too much tv is bad for kids, and for the most part I do agree. Kids should be outside in the fresh air getting exercise and enjoying life, not watching Inside Out for the 76th time. However, in my son’s case, video games are actually helping his development.

Along with his autism and speech delay, he has a slight fine motor skills delay. He has trouble riding a bike because he can’t hold on to the handle bars and move his feet to push the pedals at the same time. He can color with crayons but can’t draw certain shapes or any form of a letter. The biggest thing we’ve noticed is his finger functions. They all work correctly, but when it comes to signing he has a lot of problems completing signs that have finger motions. The only finger he can correctly use independently is his index finger; he has trouble even giving a thumbs up.

For my husband’s birthday we got the family a Wii U. From the second we set it up Eli was obsessed. we didn’t think he would be able to do it because of the hand and finger use required to use the controller (the wii U doesn’t use the normal wii remote, it comes with a hand held remote that looks like most video game controllers, picture in my above image.) We put in Mario Kart and taught eli the buttons used. It has been about a month and Eli can make it through three full laps of a Mario Kart race. He can use his right hand to hold down the gas pedal button at the same time he uses his left hand to move the car in side to side motions. He also started to use the button on the back of the controller to push out his weapons (bananas, shells, etc) at the same time he is also using the other fingers to drive the car. It is amazing what this video game did for his finger function. We still limit his video game use, and game time is rewarded by certain tasks or words/signs he uses. But I must say, I am thankful for this video game and what it is doing to help my son.

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ASL- my life saver

Raising a non-verbal child is difficult to say the least. Sure, when you’re with a kid all day you learn to understand their wants and needs through their baby babble but a lot of times I’m just sitting there staring at my son thinking, “I have no idea what the F you just said…”

When Eli was a year and a half, his speech therapist suggested I try sign language and she gave me a beginning sign language notebook and some sign language DVDs. We watched the DVDs but the only thing that interested Eli was this weird sock monkey guy that popped up and did silly things; as soon as he was off screen he instantly lost interest. I tried a couple of signs but Eli didn’t really take it from me. Then he went into daycare and they taught him and all the other kids the signs for “Please” and “All done” and from there his sign language took off. As soon as he got those first two signs down I went back to my sign language folder and found more basics. Our therapist wanted to shoot for at least two new signs a month. Now at three years old my son can only verbally say about 4 words, but he can sign over 20. He picks up signs almost instantly now. He does have some fine motor delays so we have to steer away from signs that use a lot of finger motions, but so far he’s doing amazing.

Sign language not only helps me from trying to guess what he needs as if he were still an infant, but it also helps Eli with his tantrums and frustrations. When he’s crying he can tell me that he hit his head and just wants a kiss. When he yelling because he can’t get his toy open he brings it to me and signs “open”. If any of you haven’t already, teach your kids sign language, you don’t need to sign up for a class, just google certain signs and try it yourself!

I would love nothing more to hear my son speak the words “mommy” or “I love you” out loud to me, but having him sign them is just enough for now.

Signs Eli knows: Yes, No, More, Please, All Done, Help, Food, Hungry, Drink, Mama, Daddy, Go, Come, Thank you, Car, Video game, iPad, Sleep, Open, Close, Jump, I love you.

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The Best Offense is a Good Defense

When you realize your child has a delay/deficit, you will learn very quickly how many people are in your corner. Of course most of us will have our friends and family to help us out physically and emotionally; but there is also a million other people who will come in and make an impact on your child.

  1. Doctors- your child’s pediatrician can open many doors for you in terms of healthcare and therapies. Having a doctor you can trust and who can really listen to your concerns is one of the best relationships you can have for your child. My son’s developmental pediatrician is amazing; I never feel rushed and he listens to every question I have. He goes above and beyond for my son, getting us every therapy and every opportunity Eli deserves.
  1. Therapy/School recruiters- Once your child gets referrals for therapy or school based services you first talk to a recruiter/office staff to set up evaluations and meetings. Being nice to these people may mean more opportunities for your child. But always remember to be persistent! These people are extremely busy, especially in my location, and sometimes they need an extra nudge or phone call to get the ball rolling. We were on a time crunch to get an IEP done before we moved to California. Our team in Michigan got the whole thing done in about 30 days start to finish. It was amazing, everyone really understood how quickly we needed it done and stepped up for us. After we moved to California I reached out to the school district for a new IEP and I spoke with the Speech director for the special education program and she asked me to meet her the very next day! Reaching out to anyone and everyone you can is how your child will get all these services.
  1. Therapists- In my personal opinion, the therapists are the main relationship you need keep healthy, because they are in a child’s life more than some working parents are. My son currently gets 21 hours of therapy a week from 4 different therapists (we haven’t even started OT yet!) and I LOVE all of his therapists and they all LOVE Eli. You need to like and TRUST these people. If you don’t like a therapists or your child just doesn’t mesh well with them SPEAK UP!! There are no hard feelings; the therapists will just move on to another patient and you can get someone who works for your family. When my son was a year and a half we started speech back home in Michigan. This was before the diagnosis and our first time ever doing any type of therapy. Lisa came into our home and made us part of her family. She cared about Eli and she listened to every one of my questions, concerns, and stories. Even though we have moved across the country she still likes to hear updates on him, amazing!

Everyone in Eli’s life is teaching him something. We have a lot of people in our corner helping and guiding us through this process. Some are even just here to cheer him on. The bigger the support group, the brighter my son becomes.

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Patience of a Saint….yeah ok.

Children on the spectrum are a handful. From screaming all day, to tantrums, to sensory overloads, to not listening to a damn thing I’ve said all day. The person who stares at you in the store during one of your child’s meltdown is already annoyed of the screaming. Little do they know, its not a discipline issue, my child isn’t spoiled, my child is autistic and this is the 6th meltdown of the day. Especially during therapy, my child is a time bomb that gets detonated by the smallest of things. The simple phrase, “Let’s pick up the toys before we play with the iPad” will send him running and screaming.

To be a parent of a child like mine, you’d think I would be able to block these tantrums out; and for the most part I can. But there are definitely days were I’m ready to run down the street screaming. When my husband gets home from work I collapse on the couch under a blanket and hope Eli doesn’t find me. Sometimes you just have those days where you can’t skip over the tantrums, where you hear EVERY. SINGLE. ONE. Today is one of those days. I usually just end my night with two or three glasses of wine and the tension melts away, unfortunately for me I’m on a diet and have no wine in the house. So I will just keep it in until bed then sleep it away.

One thing to always remember is TOMORROW IS A NEW DAY. Wake up feeling refreshed, forget about the bad day you just had, and look at today with a positive attitude. Yes, my child is a lot of work, but I wouldn’t trade him for any other child. Because behind those screams and tantrum is a boy with so much joy and laughter its infectious. He is the sweetest boy I’ve ever met. I just need to remember that when he’s driving me crazy.

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Embrace your feels

Are there certain things we should be feeling after a child gets a diagnosis? sadness? Anger? Fear? Whatever you feel is normal. My initial feeling was fear. Fear that my son will always be behind in life, that he will lose out on so many opportunities, that I did something that caused my son’s delay. I then got acceptance and moved forward with how we were going to get ahead of this autism business.

It doesn’t just end after the initial diagnosis. An ASD diagnosis is going to be a lifetime of ups and downs. I’m going to feel unbelievably excited when my son will finally call me “mommy”. I imagine that moment in my head almost every day. I will be happy when my son walks into his first day of Kindergarten. I will be so happy for my son when he gives me a handwritten letter for mothers day.

There will also be times where I will be so sad, for both my son and myself. About a month ago my son and I were at the park. He usually sticks to himself but when he sees a group of older kids he sometimes like to join in or copy what they do. He went up to a group of older boys and tried to join in but the boys ignored him (I really don’t even think they noticed he was there, not that they were being mean). Nonetheless Eli tried to join in and ran away thinking they were chasing him; he made it all the way across the jungle gym and down the slide before he realized the boys ran the other way and he was by himself. The rest of our time there Eli played by himself until I couldn’t take it anymore. I took him to our car where I sat and cried my eyes out for a good 20 minutes. I cried because my son doesn’t recognize that he is different yet, but one day he will. My heart was breaking for him in case he doesn’t catch up to the older kids and they tease him or ignore him. I cried because  I don’t want him to be lonely or teased.

After a child is diagnosed with a disability, delay, or anything it will be followed up with a lifetime of ups and downs. No matter what you feel is normal. Embrace your emotions and love the high moments and let the low moments float away with the past. Always try and look on the bright side of things

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The First Diagnosis

Let me start off by saying, I am no autism expert; I don’t have education in autism, I don’t know everything. What I am is a mother raising a son recently diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. So far on my journey I have learned A TON and I am here to share and help other parents, siblings, grandparents, or ANYONE with or a relationship with ASD.

My son Eli was officially diagnosed December 2015, although we had been seeking help since September 2014. My first red flag was when my son was one-year-old and not saying any words. Any new mother finds herself secretly comparing their kid to other children. “What the hell, Stacey’s son is already walking? Honey! Get the camera, we’re going to make Ben walk today!” I said and did the same things when my friends were posting videos of their kids saying their first words on Facebook while my son was stuck baby babbling. My family and friends kept telling me “just wait, Eli will get there. Every child is different” or my personal favorite, “Boys develop later than girls”. Both of these are true, well at least the first one (do boys really take longer to do things than girls or is this an urban myth?). But I stayed positive, it will come. After months went by and Eli still wasn’t talking I sought out help.

When Eli was 18 months we were in Michigan during my husband’s first deployment. My mom helped me find Early On, a state program offering services for children 0-3. I believe all/most states have programs like this that is considered a school readiness program; the best part- it was completely free. They respond to your application and have to come out within so many days to do an evaluation, if they find your child with any type of delay you get approved for services. Eli was found with a speech delay so we began speech therapy within the month. Everything was home based, we never had to travel for services. Eli remained in speech until my husband got back from deployment and we moved to Arizona. We started up the Arizona equivalent to Michigan’s Early On with AZEIP (Arizona Early Intervention Program). This was about the same process, everything is home based and they even saw Eli once a week in daycare and at home so they can work with him in different environments. I suggest taking this route first. Autism is diagnosed once children are a little older, but if you notice any type of developmental delay around a year old, look into these programs. They’re AWESOME!!!

Because we are military, I realize we have more opportunities that others might, so this next part may not be an option for everyone, but here is my experience. We brought Eli in for a basic doctor check-up and I voiced my concerns about his speech delay despite a year with speech therapy. She gave me a referral to see a developmental pediatrician. At this appointment Eli was a little over 2 ½. Within a half hour or so, the doctor hit me with something I never saw coming, the Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis. I fought back tears as I tried to listen to him, but after he said that, from then on out I only heard Charlie Brown’s teacher. Hearing that your child has a disability is heartbreaking. You heart breaks for your child, then a million questions run through your head, “What does this mean?” “How do we fix this?” “Is he going to be different his whole life?” “Will he be able to make friends?” “Is it something I did?” My husband was away when we had this appointment so I sat in the office by myself with all my feels swirling around.

My son is very low on the spectrum. He is high functioning but he also has extreme communication delays and fine motor delays as well. However, that doesn’t help hearing that diagnosis. Everything is very overwhelming. Your emotions are perfectly normal and its ok to take the time to absorb everything and be sad for your child. But as soon as you can, kick them all away and get into power mode. Find support groups, Facebook is a great place to start. Support groups are a great place to ask questions, get advice, and best of all to make friends. Next, find as much reading material as you can. There are a million books out there that give great insight on ASD and also personal help. Lastly, Google is a great place to find a lot of resource websites, ideas, groups, and even blogs like mine!

An Autism is not the end; it is the beginning.

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Hello Everyone! My Name is Nikki and I am a wife of an active duty Marine and a stay at home mother to a beautiful boy. My Son was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder last year. I recently decided to use my time at home to start a blog about my experiences with his ASD diagnosis and maybe share some insight and advice to anyone else going through the same thing, or even people who just find us interesting! I will most likely go off topic and add in some military things, because honestly, it has a big affect on our whole situation! So any fellow military wives out there! Hello!