Sunday, November 22, 2015

Thirty Thankful Thoughts

In preparation for Thanksgiving, many people take time during the month of November to reflect upon those things in their lives for which they are grateful. Some post daily statements of thankfulness on their Facebook walls, and others share their blessings around the Thanksgiving dinner table. Although I have developed a habit of thanking God through quick prayers throughout each day, even for seemingly trivial blessings like getting good parking spots, finding my contact lenses when I drop them on the floor, and enjoying the comfort of my bed, I also remember to thank Him for the great blessings in my life. This year I did not do daily postings on Facebook, but I sat down this morning to make a list of thirty things for which I am thankful and was amazed how quickly that list came to mind. Like my prayers throughout each day, some items on the list may seem obvious because of their importance, but other smaller ones carry impact because they, too, remind me of God’s goodness, especially those that reveal how far He has brought Alex in spite of autism. Without further ado, here are this year’s thankful thirty:

Family––We are always grateful to our families who have loved and supported us in all situations and who have celebrated Alex’s accomplishments with us.

Friends––I am thankful to my friends who have become family, taking special interest in Alex, praying for us, and understanding that he is always my first priority.

Financial Security––We are blessed that our job schedules coordinate so that either Ed or I (or both of us) can always be home with Alex. Even though I work part-time, our teachers’ salaries have always been enough to provide what we need to live a reasonably comfortable life, despite the added expenses autism has brought. We have confidence that God will provide what we need financially.

Nurse Practitioner––When Alex’s behavior became extremely difficult to handle nearly four years ago, we searched for a professional to help us. God led us to Michelle, who had experience working with young men who had autism, and she knew what to do to help Alex. Her expertise in finding the right mix of medications to treat his anxiety and subsequent aggression has completely changed our lives and made our home peaceful, a tremendous gift we never take for granted.

Pharmacists––Our pharmacists Anita and Kris not only do a terrific job helping us keep Alex’s medications straight and answering my various questions, but they also show kindness to him, greeting him warmly and asking how he’s doing.

Behavioral Therapist––After two years of working with Alex, Jennifer has become his teacher, confidant, cheerleader, and friend. Moreover, she has become all of those roles for me. Her guidance and support have been crucial in the tremendous progress Alex has made.

Music Therapist––Noel is one of those rare people who just understands Alex and brings out the best in him. Alex even expanded his limited wardrobe of striped shirts to flannel button-down shirts and graphic t-shirts because his role model, Noel, wears them. Although Noel’s personality is usually low-key, when Alex does something amusing or shows initiative by suggesting songs or spontaneously singing, he animatedly shares the experience so that I can enjoy it, too.

Director––The director of developmental disabilities at the agency where Alex receives music therapy and respite care is especially fond of Alex and makes a special effort to engage him when we arrive for music therapy. Laurie makes no secret of how much she likes him, telling me last week that he is “delightful.” In addition, she often compliments the job Ed and I have done as Alex’s parents, which is an added bonus.

Companion––We had to wait two years before finding a respite care worker for Alex, but she was worth the wait. Funny and sweet, Jessica understands Alex’s quirks and finds him very amusing. Although I know that he likes her as much as she likes him, he made his affection known for the first time recently when he spontaneously hugged her goodbye, which made her eyes fill with tears of joy.

Case Manager––Alex’s case manager, who oversees all his paperwork and finances with the state, is an energetic, smart, and friendly young woman who has the reputation of being the best case manager in the area. Knowing that Zika is even more organized than I am, I completely trust her to make sure all his services and supports are arranged properly. When she was recently promoted, she gave several of her clients to other case managers, but kept us, and we are thankful she did.

The Kindness of Strangers––As we have been taking Alex out in the community more, we have the opportunity to see kindness in people who recognize his disability but see past it to his pure heart. We appreciate those who make an effort to engage him in conversation, albeit limited, making him feel special. A couple of weeks ago, a kind man bought our dinner at a restaurant, telling us that he saw us taking care of Alex and wanted to take care of us. Our experiences with Alex have shown us unexpected goodness in people.

The Internet––When autism has isolated us, the Internet has allowed us to interact with others who shared our experience and kept us from feeling alone. Moreover, the ability to do autism research so easily has been a tremendous blessing over the years.

Mother’s Intuition––Raising a child with autism brings responsibilities over and above those of typical parenting. In making decisions, Ed and I discuss the options and pray for guidance. However, my mother’s intuition often guides me to the right places, and I know that God is really the force behind those instincts.

Because Alex has made good progress in various areas, I am thankful for the things he has learned and the things he is doing that show that progress, such as:

Independently Toileting––Every time Alex flushes the toilet, I say a prayer of thanks that he can use the toilet on his own. After years of accidents, cleaning carpets, doing multiple laundry loads of his clothing and sheets, and trying every potty training technique known to man, I am so grateful that he finally learned to use the toilet. This accomplishment, more than most, reminds me that some things take a long time to learn and that I should never give up hoping that he will eventually be independent.

Hanging Up His Jacket––One of the things Alex learned in his previous day program was how to hang up his jacket. Even though it may take several tries, he keeps trying, a testimony to his persistence, which has helped him make progress along the way.

Putting Away His Dishes––Alex has begun cleaning up after himself without being told. When he brings his dirty dishes to the kitchen sink without a reminder, we are reminded that he is showing responsibility, which is encouraging and gratifying that he is learning.

Finding Lost Items––Instead of having a meltdown because he can’t find his stuff, Alex now calmly looks for his missing belongings on his own without demanding we find them for him. Moreover, he even looks in reasonable places, and he finds his efforts rewarded by being able to find what he has misplaced.

Patience––Alex has learned to wait patiently, which is a testimony to his progress, because waiting used to bring anxiety. Armed with a watch and a schedule, he knows that good things come to those who wait, and he is willing to wait patiently instead of driving us crazy with repeated questions regarding when things will happen.

Responsibility––After years of carelessly leaving his belongings around the house, often on the floor, Alex finally learned to take care of his things. We are amazed by how carefully he handles his iPad and his eyeglasses, treating them responsibly because he knows they are fragile. In addition, he has learned not to touch breakable items in our house, which means that we have been able to return our glass and porcelain knick knacks throughout our home after they spent years of hiding packed away in the safety of the basement. Their presence reveals our trust in Alex and his respect of property.

Attention Span––Alex can now watch an entire movie or a sports event on television and follow what is happening because his attention span has gotten much better. Not only does he watch these with interest, but he also asks good questions about what is happening so that he can learn more.

Companionship––Along with watching television, sports, and movies with us, we enjoy a companionship with him in other daily activities. He has become my sous chef who keeps me company and helps me when I’m making dinner. Instead of demanding when dinner will be and whining that it’s taking too long, he enjoys taking part in the process and knows that the effort will be worthwhile.

Appetite––Even though Alex can’t eat grains with glutens or milk products, he has a healthy appetite and a willingness to eat a variety of foods, especially healthy ones. In fact, Alex is probably happiest when he is eating a meal, and he takes his time to savor every bite.

Going Places––Because Alex’s behavior has improved significantly, we have been able to take him many different places, which he enjoys thoroughly, whether it’s going to sporting events, concerts, stores, or restaurants, which combine his love of food and going places. Not only does he have a good time, but we also have fun watching him enjoy himself during our family outings.

OCD Under Control––Thanks to medication, Alex’s OCD has been under much better control. His recent obsessions seem to have faded, thank God. We no longer have to wander the aisles of Pet Supplies Plus every Sunday evening, we no longer have to keep a surplus of Welch’s sparkling grape juice in the refrigerator so that we never run out of it, and we don’t have to answer questions every hour about when bath time is. This is good, and we are thankful.

Breakfast––For some unknown reason, Alex stopped eating breakfast a few months ago. However, his morning attitude became grouchy and demanding. After putting two and two together, my mother’s instinct kicked in and thought there may be a connection between the two. Thinking that low blood sugar from not eating may contribute to Alex’s crabby morning disposition, we decided to encourage him to eat breakfast, and the results have been rewarding. Feeding Alex breakfast has made him much more pleasant, not just in the morning, but also for the entire day.

Good Health––For the most part, Alex is quite healthy and rarely gets sick. His good appetite, willingness to take vitamins, and following my directions to keep him healthy all contribute to his good health, but God’s protection provides what Alex needs. This weekend, Alex has a cold, and he has shown what he has learned by asking for vitamin D and pain reliever and by resting and eating healthy foods. Apparently reading all those medical books has paid off for him!

Yeast Be Gone––After dealing with yeast overgrowth in Alex’s digestive tract for more than four years, we currently have it under control using a nutritional supplement, SF 722, that acts as a natural antifungal. Because the yeast is irritating, causing sores in Alex’s mouth and throat, dandruff, and acne, he responds to these flares with bad behavior. After trying a variety of antifungal medications and supplements that temporarily relieved the symptoms, we have prayed for a cure and think we may have one. We are tremendously thankful for this healing.

Taking an Interest in Others––Perhaps because he is less anxious and feeling better physically, Alex has begun to take a greater interest in other people. He wants to know more about their lives and interests, and he asks good questions (instead of his former nosy ones wanting to know statistics such as age, weight, and how much money they have) that reveal his desire to learn about them. This truly shows progress on his part.

Prayers––My favorite time of the day is saying bedtime prayers with Alex. His insistence on praying for everyone he has ever known and even throwing in some people he doesn’t (such as former baseball player Sammy Sosa) makes me smile, and holding his hand as we talk to God together is a precious time I treasure. He exudes a peace and joy as we pray, and I am blessed to share that with him on a nightly basis.

Faith––Although my parents raised me to have faith that I have also shared with Alex, dealing with the struggles that autism has brought our family has strengthened my faith beyond what I could ever imagine. Moreover, Alex has reminded me to have a deeper faith––that complete child-like faith that he shows––knowing that no matter what, God is always with us, guiding us, loving us, and blessing us. Happy Thanksgiving!

“Give thanks to the Lord, for He is good! His faithful love endures forever.” Psalms 118:1

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