Sunday, January 29, 2017

Thinking Caps and Name Tags

Every year, I ponder and search for what I think is the perfect Christmas gift for Alex. This year was no exception. Shortly before Christmas, a friend of mine told me that the website for Jeopardy, one of Alex’s favorite game shows, was now selling merchandise with the Jeopardy logo. First, I found a t-shirt emblazoned with “I’ll take fast cars for $200,” which seemed appropriate because it combines Alex’s love of Jeopardy and NASCAR. After ordering that, I found a baseball cap embroidered with the Jeopardy logo that I knew he would love; baseball cap plus Jeopardy plus his favorite color, red, had to be the perfect gift. However, when he opened it on Christmas morning, he wasn’t as enthralled as I thought he would be. Nonetheless, he seemed pleased with his Christmas gifts and was gracious enough to thank us for them.

Knowing that Alex sometimes gets overwhelmed by too many new things, such as all the gifts at Christmas, I didn’t give too much thought to his reaction or lack thereof to the Jeopardy hat. If I thought he didn’t like it, I was wrong. The next week, he came strolling into the family room precisely––as he does every weekday afternoon––at 3:28, ready for Jeopardy to start at 3:30, proudly wearing his Jeopardy hat. In fact, he wore it for the entire show and took it off immediately when the show was over. The next day, he repeated the routine, wearing his Jeopardy hat only for the show. Apparently, he thinks that he can only wear it when the show is airing, and he has continued this ritual since then. I tell him that it’s his thinking cap, and he does seem to be quicker about answering questions when he wears the Jeopardy cap. Maybe like Frosty the Snowman’s top hat, there’s some magic in there.

Another Christmas gift we gave Alex was a Burger King gift card. He likes the idea of being able to pay for his own food, and he manages better with a gift card than trying to handle cash. Nearly every Friday afternoon, his behavioral therapist and I take him to our nearby Burger King for recreational therapy so that he learns how to interact appropriately with other people: waiting in line, ordering his food, using please and thank you, and clearing his tray when he leaves. Apparently, he has endeared himself to some of the staff there who are on a first-name basis with him; he returns their kindness by naming them in his nightly prayers. Two of his favorites even gave him a Chicago Cubs World Series ornament personalized with his name for Christmas, which delighted him, and I think his obvious joy delighted them, too.

Recently, Ed had a reception at work and would not be coming home for dinner, so Alex and I decided to go out for dinner. Knowing that Alex feels comfortable at Burger King, I thought that would be a good choice. As we waited to order our food, I noticed that the young man taking orders was heavily tattooed and had assorted piercings. Wondering whether Alex would notice the worker’s appearance and hoping that he would not feel the need to make any comments, I was ready to intervene. If necessary, I would subtly and quietly remind Alex not to stare or say rude things. When we walked up to give our order, I tried not to stare myself and hoped Alex would use the social skills his behavioral therapist and Ed and I have taught him.

While getting ready to give our order, I saw that Alex was looking at the young man and smiling a bemused smile. When the worker greeted us, Alex started to speak, and I was a little worried because I had no idea what he would say. Suddenly, “Hi, Joey!” came from his mouth. Startled but relieved, I realized that Alex had not been looking at the young man’s tattoos or piercings, but instead was checking out his name tag so that he could say hello. Unlike me, Alex was able to overlook this young man’s appearance and seek a way to interact with him positively, greeting him by name, just as the friendly Burger King employees have done with him. He knows that it makes him feel good for people to call him by name, and he returned the favor. Interestingly enough, Alex has also added Joey to his nightly bedtime prayer list. How proud I am to have raised a son with a heart so pure that he looks beyond appearances and sees the real person behind them! Now, that is a perfect gift that he gives to me.

“Give, and you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full––pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, running over, and poured into your lap. The amount you give will determine the amount you get back.” Luke 6:38

Sunday, January 22, 2017

No News Is Good News

After writing this blog for six and a half years, I took four weeks off from writing. With Christmas and New Year’s Day falling on Sundays, I figured a holiday vacation from blogging would be understandable. Then I gave myself two more weeks of break and considered that perhaps the blog was finished for good. My last entry about Alex’s birthday and how well he was doing would have been a nice “And they lived happily ever after” ending to a project I started long ago. However, with encouragement from my mom and my husband (both of whom I suspect secretly enjoy searching for typos to correct for me), I realized that I needed to refocus on the reasons I write about Alex.

My intention regarding writing about our family is to show others how autism impacts our family life on a daily basis––good and bad. For families like us who are raising children (and for us now, an adult child) with autism, I wanted to give them hope. Through all the ups and downs, we have come through this with our faith and love stronger and a young man who makes us proud every day. Moreover, I originally began writing the blog for Alex. In my first entry, I explained that I knew how important writing Alex’s history was if for no one else but him so that he could see how far he has come. With a renewed sense of purpose, I pick up my laptop again after a month to record Alex’s life experiences. As a confirmation that I should continue, on Friday I was surprised, pleased, and honored to have name One Autism Mom’s Notes as one of the “Top 50 Autism Blogs and Websites for Autistics and Autism Parents.” If I had any lingering doubts about whether to proceed, God put them to rest with that.

Without a doubt, 2016 was a wonderful year for us. Alex made great progress in his social skills that allowed us to enjoy family outings to concerts, sporting events, parks, and restaurants. We even savored simple everyday events, such as going grocery shopping or watching television together. His therapists have been delighted with how well he has learned language and coping skills to deal with anxiety, being able to verbalize when he’s worried. Even better, he can decide to conquer his fears and declare that he’s “not going to get upset” or that he’s “done being mad.” This is a huge step because he recognizes that he can take control of his emotions. In addition, we are thankful that his doctor gave him a clean bill of health along with the title of  “easiest patient of the day” in December. After struggling with yeast overgrowth in his digestive system that made him irritable and agitated for years, Alex seems to have that behind him. Although I knew that God would eventually heal him of the yeast overgrowth, realizing that we hadn’t dealt with thrush for several months was a pleasant surprise and blessing.

Most of all, we discovered that the professionals who truly knew about autism were correct in telling us that young men with autism struggle until they reach their mid-twenties, and then they improve significantly. We had been holding onto that promise with hope, and the closer that Alex got to age twenty-five, the more we realized it to be true. With his health greatly improved and his anxiety under good control, Alex can reach his full potential without being burdened by illness and fear. I have no doubt that God has great plans for my son, and I eagerly anticipate what the future holds.

“Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?” Isaiah 43:19