Sunday, April 5, 2015

Easter Hope

As an autism mom, I always anticipate the arrival of April and the attention the media gives autism for Autism Awareness Month. Avidly reading the various news features as well as blog entries by others who write about autism, I keep hoping to find some new information that might help Alex. However, I have been disappointed that much of what I have read this week has had a rather negative tone, often critical of autism parents, who are criticized for not accepting their children as they are and for wanting to change them.

After my autism readings this week did not inspire me, I ran across a terrific blog entry written by Mary Evelyn Smith, a mom whose son has spinal bifida and uses a wheelchair. [To read this article, please click here.] Her essay, “That Time I Defaced My Son’s Developmental Questionnaire” made me laugh, and I appreciated her approach to the tedious task of filling out forms we parents with children of special needs often face. Instead of becoming bitter, she humorously answered questions that were clearly ridiculous, considering her son’s disability. For example, she answered the question “Does your child jump with both feet leaving the floor at the same time?” by altering the provided illustration of a child, adding a wheelchair and a banner proclaiming, “That’s how I roll.” In addition, she points out that these questionnaires “are a grossly inadequate representation of his greatness” and suggests that parents of special needs children offer their own descriptors, as she does for her son. To illustrate, she creates her own question: “Does your child possess a dogged friendliness akin to that of a future politician or overzealous Walmart greeter?” Her ability to see the positive and the potential in her son will certainly benefit both of them as they wait for him to get better with time.

Recently, we had to fill out a similar questionnaire for Alex to assess his skills. Although in the past we have completed assessments of his daily adaptive living skills so that he can receive appropriate supports, we were given a new survey to complete, the Risk Mitigation Tool. While this information is necessary so that those working with Alex know what help he requires, the number of check marked items can be a bit overwhelming. For instance, one item on the RMT states, “This individual needs support with…” followed by 32 items. Of those 32, we had chosen 18. Fortunately, we did not need to check eating and drinking because Alex is quite adept at both of those skills, and we did not have to check “constipation episode tracking” or “dehydration episode tracking,” probably because he IS so good at eating and drinking. However, we had to indicate that he needs support with several areas including the following: buying groceries, cooking, laundry, and scheduling medical appointments. To be truthful, my dad, who is amazingly healthy and active at 78 years old, would also have to admit he needs help with cooking and laundry since my mom always takes care of those for him. Similarly, I take care of scheduling Ed’s medical appointments because he hates doing that, so he would have to check that on his list of supports needed.  Fortunately for me, the RMT does not include reaching items on top shelves, killing spiders, and mowing the lawn, so I may appear more self-sufficient than I really am. Essentially, we all have risks to mitigate, but right now Alex has a few more than most. We hope that with time and training, his list will dwindle.

Since I like Mary Evelyn Smith’s suggestion about coming up with new items for questionnaires that highlight our children’s skills, I have some ideas for Alex.

Does your child show a willingness and enthusiasm to eat any and every food placed in front of him––even broccoli, carrots, peas, and spinach––except for popcorn (because it’s too salty)?

Does your child remember small details that most people forget, such as the birthdates of every extended family member (handy for sending birthday cards on time), the Presidents of the United States in order (useful for being a Jeopardy contestant), and over 1000 digits of pi (amazing fun for annual Pi Day celebrations every March 14th)?

Does your child compliment and encourage you in creative and unique ways, such as seeing a picture of a supermodel in a magazine and asking if that’s you when you were thinner, reminding you that former pro basketball player Muggsy Bogues is the same height as you are, and telling you that your meatloaf rates a “99 percent”?

Does your child pray for nearly everyone he has ever met in life, and if you forget any of those who deserve “God Bless” in your nightly prayer roster, kindly remind you to include them in the list before saying “Amen”?

Does your child find joy in simple pleasures, such as going to Pet Supplies Plus to find the biggest bags of dog food they have or going to the Target Café to have apple chips and Sierra Mist or driving past the gas station to see if gas prices have gone down and excitedly announcing this week’s price?

While Alex may not fit the typical profile of people his age, he possesses special gifts that entertain and bless us as we wait for him to learn the more mundane skills of life, such as laundry and cooking.  Moreover, we believe that he will continue to get better and better because we have seen the great progress he has made over time. As we celebrate Easter Sunday today, we remember God’s great love for us and celebrate the hope we have for our future, knowing that He will take care of all of our needs.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In His great mercy He has given us new birth and a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.” I Peter 1:3

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