OK, here’s your happy news of the week. Maybe your entire month.
Lisa Anderson lives in Austell, Georgia with her 20-year-old twin daughters, Amber and Alicia Whatley, who both have cerebral palsy. Back in 2008, Anderson was laid off from her job at a local plant that makes industrial cleaning products, as reported by The Marietta Daily Journal. The single mom started taking online classes with a university, but went through her entire 401k savings plan to pay for living expenses. She declared bankruptcy. After fifteen years of living in their home, the three were facing foreclosure.
First up: The mayor of the town, Joe Jerkins, and several friends pitched in to buy the home. Still, Anderson owed JPMorgan Chase $100,000. A month ago, the bank called to say her mortgage payments would be “forgiven,” much to Anderson’s disbelief. At a news conference, a JPMorgan Chase Vice President said, “Sometimes exceptional problems call for exceptional solutions.”
Said Anderson, “It really, truly, sincerely is a miracle for me.” Said Alicia, “I never thought that God was going to be that good.”
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia.
Today is World Autism Awareness Day and what better way to convey a powerful message of awareness and hope than through song. That is exactly what Cassandra Kubinski’s song, “Not So Different” does – a song written to “foster acceptance and understanding.” When Kubinski was approached by her friend, Vanessa Ticona – the mother of two autistic sons, and asked to write a song for an autism charity walk, Kubinski agreed “knowing it was a way to use the healing power of music to contribute to the cause.”
Unfamiliar with autism Kubinski drew inspiration for the lyrics from an aunt with whom she shared an emotional connection. Kubinski’s aunt had an intellectual disability. “My aunt had these interesting quirks,” said Kubinski. “As a writer, it was important that the words made sense to people within the community.” And so, in addition to writing from personal experience, Kubinski spoke at length with autism parents – including her friend, Vanessa. The more Kubinski learned, she was able to see the parallels between her aunt and autism. While each parents experience was different, “the common factor,” Kubinski learned was that each parent spoke of their child’s unique “way to express themselves.”
“Not So Different” will resonate with autism parents and educators. And it’s a song easy for enough for children with autism to sing and embrace as their own personal anthem.
However, “Not So Different” isn’t just a song exclusive to the autism community, Kubinski hopes the message will make a much bigger impact as “…it’s about understanding that everyone wants the same things: to love and be loved without being judged or changed.”
“Not So Different” is available for download here, sales will benefit autism organizations.
Cassandra Kubinski, singer/song writer “Not So Different”
This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs over at Atypical Familia (formerly AutismWonderland).
I didn’t know anything about autism when my son, Norrin, was first diagnosed. Many friends and family dismissed my concerns and tried to assure me that Norrin was “just fine.” Autism is an invisible disability and it’s hard trying to make sense of something you can’t see. For a long time time after Norrin’s autism diagnosis, I had a tough time trying to get my loved ones to understand – including my mother. Over the years my mom has learned to understand autism and become one of Norrin’s fiercest advocates.
The April issue of Parents magazine is dedicated to Life in a Special Needs World. And family plays a huge part in the life of a special needs child and their parents.
While there are some in my family who still don’t understand Norrin’s autism, there are many that do. And I realized that in order for my family to truly understand autism, they needed to be involved. Here are 3 ways to include family and friends to help them better understand your child:
Bring them to an IEP meeting. No one should have to attend an IEP alone. The IEP meeting is open to anyone who knows and loves your child. Invite a friend or family member – they don’t have to say anything or even be familiar with special education. They just have to be there next to you. Let them experience a moment in your special needs life.
Let them sit in on a therapy session. The next time your child has an therapy session, have your friend or family come over. They don’t have to participate or assist – they just have to observe. Let them see what your child is like, how hard they work and what they are capable of doing.
Be completely honest. As special needs parents, we celebrate every achievement. Every milestone matters and we want to brag about our kids. But if you want your family to really understand, you need to go beyond the highlight reel. You need to share the tough stuff too.
“Do you ever get tired of hearing people ask you how you do it?” another special needs mom recently asked me. I do, but I also know that people don’t necessarily mean anything negative by it. They’re genuinely wondering how, as a working mom of two kids including one with special needs, I manage to juggle it all. That’s exactly what I wondered about an extraordinary couple I recently read about.
There are 11,000 children in state custody in Oklahoma. The 100 of them who have special needs are least likely to find home, and typically end up living in long-term hospitals or residential facilities. Misty Marksberry and partner Laura Merideth adopted one of those children, a little girl with a seizure disorder name Anastayja. Last December, she died. “Before she passed we promised her that her legacy would continue and that we would forever take care of kids like her,” Marksberry said.
And so they have, as recently reported by Fox 25 News. The couple went through special medical training, named their home Annie’s House and now foster six children, all of whom have intensive special needs. Marksberry stays home to care for them; she has even sewn feeding tubes onto dolls, so the children can see dolls who are like them. The couple are planning to adopt four-year-old Zamaria, who was epilepsy, cerebral palsy, and medical issues. They plan to adopt all the kids they foster if their parents no longer have rights. And they would like to expand Annie’s House, moving into a larger home with more space and getting a van to fit lots of wheelchairs and equipment.
Kids with special needs thrive in a home in a family-like setting, experts agree. This couple is giving these children a chance at life. As Marksberry said, “We want to give them every opportunity to be a child like any other.”
If you’d like donate to Annie’s House, click here.
Officially, Wednesday was Spread the Word to End the Word awareness day, dedicated to raising awareness about why the words “retard” and “retarded” are so hurtful—both to people who have intellectual disability, and to people who love them. But today is a good day to be thinking about it, too.
A lot of parents have spoken out on the topic, including Stephanie Graham. She’s mom to beautiful 3-year-old twins, Max and Addie. They were born premature and as a result, Addie has a hearing impairment and Max has cerebral palsy.
Stephanie is a teacher in high school, and created an awareness video that has been seen by all 3000 students in her school, and others around the district. It’s a very clear and powerful explanation of why the word is so demeaning. Please, take a look.