Sunday, October 14, 2012

Woman's Day Magazine

As my friends and family know, I have found great inspiration, spiritual strength, and deepened faith from Pastor Joel Osteen’s weekly-televised sermons as well as his best-selling books. At the end of every sermon, he offers a prayer in which he says, “Keep God first place in your life. He’s going to take you places you’ve never dreamed of.” While I’m not certain that I always keep God first place because Alex seems to demand that position in my life most days, I try to honor God in all that I do. I’ve always wondered what those places I’ve “never dreamed of” might be until this week when a feature article about my family entitled “Caring for Alex” appeared in the November 2012 issue of Woman’s Day magazine. Although I’ve known for a few months that this article was being published, seeing the story of my family and our pictures in print is still amazing to me—one of those places I “never dreamed of.”

In July, I was reading through comments people had made on my blog site and noticed one from Marjorie Ingall, who told me that she was writing an article for Woman’s Day about raising an adult child with autism and asked me if I’d be willing for her to interview me. Knowing that I tend to be a bit gullible [Ed is now laughing as he’s reading this because he thinks I’m very gullible. He’s actually right, but I prefer to think of myself as trusting instead of gullible.], I reined in my initial excitement and Googled Marjorie to make sure she was a legitimate writer. [Now Marjorie is laughing if she’s reading this because I never told her I’d investigated her background.] Once I discovered Marjorie’s impressive credentials as a published writer, I e-mailed her and told her I would be happy to talk with her about our experiences.

In our various conversations by phone and e-mail that felt more like old friends chatting than a writer interviewing a subject for research, Marjorie put me at ease in talking candidly about raising a child with autism. Since she had already read all of my blog posts on One Autism Mom’s Notes, she had a good sense of Alex and our family dynamics and how autism affects our lives. Her warm and sympathetic nature made me trust that she would describe us accurately as parents just trying to do what’s best for our special needs child. Keeping the mood relaxed, Marjorie and I spent a good deal of our phone conversations laughing because we share similar senses of humor, and Alex—my favorite topic of discussion—is a funny guy, as he’s proudly told us himself.

While Marjorie was putting together the written part of the article, Woman’s Day Photo Editor Roni Martin contacted me requesting photographs of Alex and our family to accompany the article. As I went through various digital pictures we had of Alex, I realized that we had very few recent photos in which he was not wearing sunglasses. Because his eyes are sensitive to light, he rarely goes outside without his sunglasses, and most of the pictures we had of him were taken outdoors. Nonetheless, I found some pictures and sent them to her. Then, she suggested that they send a photo crew to take new pictures of our family, explaining that the process would take about four to six hours. Knowing that Alex would not be patient for that long, I proposed instead that we take the pictures ourselves and see if they would be acceptable. Understanding of our situation, she agreed to our request and sent suggestions for what we should wear and how the photos could be staged. Since the article would be published in the fall, she recommended that we not wear summer clothes, even though we were taking the pictures in 90-degree weather. She also suggested that our clothes be solid-colored with no patterns, which made me realize that Alex did not own a single shirt without some sort of striped pattern, so we bought him a couple of solid-colored polo shirts at Target for our photo shoot.  In addition, she advised that a park setting works well for the background, and we headed off to our local park, Ogden Gardens, a beautiful place filled with trees and flowers. Fortunately, Alex was fairly cooperative as we took pictures, and we were pleased to have some good photos as a result.

After we sent the new pictures to the magazine, Roni contacted me again to let me know they wanted some pictures of Alex when he was little to help tell his story. Again, I went through our photographs and selected some of my favorites: a family portrait taken shortly before Alex was diagnosed with autism, a picture of Alex and me on the first day of school as he was headed off to special education preschool and I was off to teach my seventh grade students, and probably my favorite photo of Alex taken when he was two-and-a-half years old and happily reading [with his hyperlexic precocious reading skills] the business section of the Sunday New York Times.  Working with Roni was a pleasure because she was so helpful and accommodating.

A few days later, Woman’s Day articles editor Stephanie Dolgoff contacted me to ask some information about the old pictures and a few more questions about Alex. As she explained to me, this article was “especially close to [her] heart” because she has an older brother with autism who is now in his forties, and her parents had gone through experiences similar to those Ed and I had. Moreover, she expressed her desire that this article would “raise awareness about adults with special needs and their caregivers.” I appreciated her empathy, devotion to telling our story accurately, and her kindness.

Before the article could go to press, Maddi Scheier from Woman’s Day needed to fact check the article by reading aloud passages to me over the phone and making sure everything was true. Just as everyone else had been in this project, Maddi was friendly and pleasant, putting me at ease with her friendliness as well as New York accent that reminded me exactly of Ed’s sister. Now that all the pieces of the article had apparently been assembled, we waited until this week for the November issue to arrive at newsstands.

I suspect that my dad has been checking stores for the appearance of the November issue ever since October arrived, and apparently he talked with a CVS Pharmacy clerk who told him that grocery stores typically receive the new issues about a week before other stores. Somehow, he knew that grocery stores in our area were supposed to have the new issue on sale around noon this past Wednesday, and he immediately headed out in search of a copy for my mom and him and one for Ed and me. Successful in his quest, he immediately brought me my copy shortly after noon on Wednesday, and I was very pleased with the article. A surprise bonus was that the Woman’s Day Editor-in-Chief Susan Spencer previewed the article in her editor’s column with a very warm and thoughtful note about us. Needless to say, I have been very impressed with and appreciative of the Woman’s Day staff who worked on this article and showed great understanding and compassion, which has been a blessing.

As happy as we were with the article, we were overwhelmed by the response of our family and friends, who have shared their enthusiasm for our story being told in Woman’s Day. From my brother and Ed’s sister who couldn’t wait to read the article, so they read it in the parking lots of the stores where they purchased their copies, to the kind e-mails and hugs from friends and family, to my very sweet first hour seventh grade honors English class who applauded when my principal told the school on the morning announcements about the publication of the article, this has been a week where I have been reminded how blessed we are to have such supportive and loving people surrounding us. Although I wish our lives had never been touched by autism, I am thankful for the people whose love has blessed us and for those we have met on the journey. Just as I pray that my blog will help others dealing with autism, I also hope that the Woman’s Day article will help families like ours. And as I always promise in my prayers, “Lord, I will give You the glory!”

“Now all glory to God, who is able, through His mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20


Anonymous said...

I just ready your article and sobbed. It was the first time I have read an article that let me know it was ok if I have to seek help caring for my son. He is only 10 now but I am so fearful for the future that I try not to think about it. I wish I could put this article away and pull it out in 10 years. Yes I sobbed but in a way it was out of relief. Special needs parents are some times treated like super heroes and really we are just regular people facing the reality of taking care of our children for the rest of our lives. Thank you so much and my God bless you.

Karen said...

Hi Pam,
I was surprised to see your picture in my Woman's Day, and recognized you right away. I am Karen Anderson (now Schoonover). I really enjoyed the article. Although my youngest daugher, adopted from China, does not have autism, at one point we thought she did. She has had lots of early intervention support and occupational therapy. She is now in kindergarten, and doing pretty well, all things considered. I can relate to much of what you wrote. My older daughter has many health issues also, so I can relate to how your life changes to meet their needs. I am a teacher also, mostly elementary, but I have been home full time for the last 6 years.
I think you will probably remember me. I remember our friendship from early junior high, spending the night at your house for new years eve. And I remember with laughter when you played that John Denver song in Mr. Rhinehart's class. I have told that story several times over the years.
I live in California now, and don't have much reason to be in Valpo. I'd like to think that we could be friends again if I were still there. I think we have a lot in common.
God's blessings to you and your family! You have certainly been a blessing for your son. God knew that you would be able to provide for his needs.


K. C. Wells said...

The article is really amazing, Pam! I think it's going to be such a breath of fresh air for other parents out there who are feeling like they're all alone. You have a knack of putting people at ease and promoting the positive without ignoring the fact that there are always bumps in the road. I'm so proud to call you my mentor and my friend. xoxoxoxo

marjorie said...

Hey, I would have Googled me too!

I was so honored to get to talk to you -- I think you're a terrific writer yourself and a wonderful mom. I'll continue reading the blog (I just got caught up -- Pseudo Red Solo Cup made me laugh!) and wish you all and your beautiful fam all the best.

Gretchen said...

Thank you for sharing your life Pam. The article was both encouraging and discouraging for me. I am step mom to 2 children with autism, Matt (14) and Anna (13),as well as 5 other children. Hearing your story made me feel like we're not the only ones dealing with this. The aggression in Matt is particularly troublesome. But it also made me a little fearful for the future. What advice would you give me at this point in helping Matt? I, like you, am a woman of faith, and rely daily on God's strength and ingenuity, and He has enabled me to walk where I never thought I could. But if you have any specific actions that you would suggest, I would be most grateful!

Pam Byrne said...

Dear onemomstips,
Thank you for your note; I can totally relate to your feelings and fears. I pray that you will be able to find all the resources and help your son may need along the way, but I also pray that a cure for autism will be found soon so that our sons and all the children like them won't need care their entire lives. Feel free to contact me if you ever need a sympathetic ear to listen. Wishing you and your son all the best.
Take care,

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Karen,
What a nice surprise to hear from you! I'm so pleased that the WD article allowed us to reconnect after all these years. I had to explain to Ed about tricking Mr. Rhinehart into playing "Take Me Home, Country Roads" in German class; I'd never told him that story before. :) Did you know that my mom wouldn't let me get my ears pierced until you got your ears pierced? She thought that you and your mom had good sense about things like that and waited for you to make the first move. I'm really looking forward to catching up with you and hearing more about your family and life in California. We will definitely be in touch!

Pam Byrne said...

Dear K.C.,
Thanks so much for your sweet note! You and I were blessed to have parents who taught us well, and I've also been blessed to have friends like you who encourage and support me through all life's ups and downs. I'm pleased you think of me as a mentor; I'm proud you turned out so well, Grasshopper! :)
Much love,

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Marjorie,
I'm so glad you weren't a fraud! This article not only helped me reunite with my long-lost junior high friend Karen, but it also allowed me to meet such a special person--you! I really enjoyed our chats and e-mails the past few months that made me think, but even better, often made me laugh out loud. If you ever decide to give up writing (which would be a terrible loss to your readers!), you should think about being a counselor with your sympathetic ear and wise advice. Thanks, also, for all the kind words in your blog @ rock, too!

Pam Byrne said...

Dear Gretchen,
Thank you for your note. Bless your heart, you really have your hands full, but I think you have a wise perspective on life. All I can tell you from our experience is to keep searching for people who can help you. Other parents who have children with autism have been a tremendous help to us because they understand and they often share resources that can be useful. Also, keep seeking professionals with autism knowledge; they're often hard to find but are worth the search. While we weren't happy about putting Alex on medications, the difference in his behavior and the peace in our home has been amazing. Most importantly, hang onto your faith, which will get you through each day stronger. I pray that your children will get better and better and that you will find everything you need to help them. Feel free to contact me if you ever need a sympathetic ear, or if our experiences might be helpful to you.
Take care,