Posts Tagged ‘ Autism inspiration ’

Kids With Autism And Holiday Parties: 6 Tips That Will Help

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

Chances are if you invited me or my kid to a party, I’ve declined your invitation. It’s not that we don’t like parties, cake or good company, it’s just that parties are hard – especially holiday parties. My son, Norrin, has autism and parties are sensory overload for him. He’s great one on one, but put him in a room with more than two kids and he’s off in a corner by himself. As for me? I am not the mom who can chat while glancing over at my kid. I am right beside him, the entire time. So when it’s me and Norrin at a party, it’s me and Norrin at a party.

Yesterday was my department holiday party. Some years I take Norrin. Some years I don’t. I wasn’t planning on taking him this year but since it snowed and since his school was cancelled, I felt like I had no choice but to take him. I’ve been at the same company for almost ten years. He’s quite familiar with my office and coworkers. But the holiday party is a different atmosphere. There are spouses and children, music and movies, cakes, candy and balloons. I love my coworkers and they are really good with Norrin. But we still had our challenges and I left with mixed emotions.

Earlier this week, I read an article about including kids with autism in holiday parties. The author, Kathleen O’Grady, made some really great suggestions including how to start a conversation. O’Grady suggested that conversation be prompted with a statement rather than a question. Questions “can be like an exam for some children with autism. If they fail the first question, the conversation is over before it starts.”

The two questions that confuse Norrin the most are: How are you and How old are you? When asked over and over again in an overwhelming situation (like a party), he shuts downs and stops talking. But if you talk to him about what he’s drawing or what he’s looking at – he’s more likely to engage in a conversation.

Yesterday was a learning experience for me and these are The Lessons I Learned After Taking My Autistic Son to a Holiday Party:

Arrive early. Most people like arrive fashionably late for parties. Not me, I like arriving right on time when I’m with Norrin. It allows us the time to familiarize ourself with the layout and the opportunity for Norrin to get comfortable in a new environment. Norrin was the first child at the department holiday party, he got to have his party experience at his own pace without a crowd of kids. By the time all the kids arrived and it became too much, I didn’t feel too bad about leaving before the party ended – Norrin had his fun.

Don’t be scared to ask for accommodations. My department had transformed a conference room into a “Gingerbread” craft room for the kids. Inside they played the Frosty the Snowman movie. Norrin is terrified of Frosty. When I tried to get him into the room, he threw himself on the floor. I didn’t want to ask them to turn off the movie for Norrin’s sake so I had to run into the room, grab a gingerbread man and run back out. Later, when my coworkers asked if Norrin enjoyed the craft room, I explained that he didn’t go in because he was scared. Everyone I told this to, said I should have asked for the movie to be turned off while Norrin was in the room. Next year, if Norrin is still scared, I’ll ask.

Be prepared. Take an extra change of clothes and underwear, just in case. Norrin will be eight next month and he’s fully potty trained during the day. But when he’s excited or over stimulated, he rushes through things. I’ll leave it that, you get the point.

Find a quiet area. Parties can be overwhelming for almost everyone. Find a quiet space to rest for a few moments. When things got to be too much, we returned to my desk where Norrin could sit and play on his iPad for a few minutes before returning to the party.

Put things in perspective. Parties are tough for several reasons. And being around “typical” kids, is one of them – at least for me. Norrin is an only child, autism is all I know. Most days it’s easy to forget. But when I’m around typical kids, I’m reminded of how different Norrin is. I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt. I watched as the other boys his age, formed friendships with ease, running reckless around the office. Norrin stayed by my side the whole time.

Norrin may not have ran around with the other boys, but he was gentle with the little ones and was able to share. Norrin didn’t go into the Gingerbread room but he sat still to have his face painted (something he refused to do a few years ago). And many of coworkers talked about how well behaved Norrin was, how big he’d gotten, how much he was talking. They recognized the progress he’s made. And I recognized it too.

Keep trying. Parties are hard for us. But it’ll never get easier if we constantly decline invitations. Like everything else in our lives – parties take practice.

Do you take your kids to parties? How do you manage? Would love to hear your suggestions!

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How Elf on the Shelf is Helping My Autistic Son

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

How Elf on the Shelf is Helping my Autistic SOn

I first learned about Elf on the Shelf last year.  I thought it was a cute idea, so I purchased one for my son, Norrin. I quickly realized that parents either loved it or loathed it. It’s a pretty hot topic and there are some strong opinions out there. I’ve read brutal posts and comments about this little Elf and the parents who post their daily Elf pics all over social media.

Before you get any ideas, here are a few things you should know about me as an Elf on the Shelf mom:

  • I’m not crafty. At all. So don’t expect DIY mini furniture for our Elf from me.
  • I have no imagination to think of creative ways to pose our Elf.
  • We live in a small 2 bedroom apartment – there are only so many ‘shelves’ for our Elf.
  • I’m busy. I work full-time (outside of the home) during the day and I write at night.
  • I’ve woken up and have forgotten to move the Elf. Twice. And it’s only the 4th of December. I just moved him over to another shelf, on the same bookcase.
  • I’m not big on holiday decorating. We put up our tree a few days before Christmas. I don’t even send Christmas cards because I don’t have the time.

So why do I bother with Elf on the Shelf or “Elfee” as Norrin calls him? Because Norrin likes it. And it helps him understand Christmas.

Here are the 5 ways Elf on the Shelf is helping Norrin:

Encourages Imagination. Imaginative play doesn’t come naturally to Norrin. It’s had to be taught. Christmas is such an abstract concept for him to understand.  We read the book and we talk about Elfee and Santa Claus. It all helps to connect the dots.

Teaches Basic Play Skills. Every morning when Norrin wakes up, I ask him about Elfee. He gets this huge smile and runs to the spot from the day before before looking around the room. It’s like playing hide and seek every morning. I don’t help him. He has to search and find Elfee on his own. And when Norrin finds him, he is so proud!

Builds Anticipation. Norrin knows when Christmas is and he looks forward to it. But the days leading up to Christmas feel like an eternity for kids – especially kids with autism who have difficulty understanding the concept of time. Elfee helps build up to the excitement. It makes the waiting for Christmas fun.

Prompts Communication.We read the book, we talk, Norrin asks questions. When I was talking about Santa, Norrin asked questions. What’s Santa’s last name? Where does he live? Where’s the North Pole? Elfee, Santa and Christmas are things that Norrin is interested in. Anything that gets him talking and engaging with us, I’m all for it.

It’s Fun! I’ve read so many negative things about Elf on the Shelf: it’s a waste of time, it’s creepy, it’s one extra thing on a never ending to-do list and how some moms are happy their kids have out grown the Santa phase.

To me it’s just fun. We don’t go to  the mall to visit Santa, holiday parties, the Rockefeller Christmas Tree Lighting, ice skating in Central Park or the Christmas Spectacular at Radio City Music Hall. The Elf on the Shelf is our holiday thing. It brings a little of the holiday magic to us, rather than having to seek it out. It’s Christmas fun in the comfort of our home. Seeing Norrin excited about Elfee makes the few seconds of finding a new spot makes it worth it.

Do you use Elf on the Shelf with your kids?

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8 Things My Son Is Thankful For This Thanksgiving

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

8 Things My Son is Thankful For on Thanksgiving - Autism Hopes Parents Magazine

Isn’t this the cutest craft? (Norrin made it in school with his speech therapist.)

The other day I opened Norrin’s school bag and pulled out this cute little craft. I had to laugh because the first thing I saw that Norrin was thankful for, was ‘Mac & Cheese.’ (That boy loves him some mac & cheese!) When I asked him about the craft, he said he made it with his speech therapist.

When Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, one of the first things the doctor told us was that Norrin lacked “imaginative play skills.” And since then, we’ve had to teach Norrin how to imagine. He’s a concrete thinker and abstract concepts often confuse him. Holidays – specifically, Halloween, Thanksgiving and Christmas – have been hard for him to understand. But in the last year or so, he’s starting to get it. And every year, Norrin gets it a little bit more.

This year, I’m hosting Thanksgiving dinner for my family and Norrin is excited. And we’ve been teaching him about gratitude and the things to be thankful for. That’s why I loved this craft so much – it gives us a visual to jump start a discussion.

So I decided to share Norrin’s slices of gratitude and why I think he’s thankful for them.

Mac & Cheese. When I was pregnant with Norrin, I ate mac & cheese almost every day. Norrin just started to like mac & cheese this last year and he is making up for lost time! Norrin loves going to restaurants and it’s the only thing he wants when we go out to eat. I love that it’s both of our favorite foods.

PT. Norrin hasn’t had physical therapy in two years but it’s something he should still be thankful for. His physical therapists worked with him to help him pedal a bike and kick a ball.

OT. Occupational therapy is probably Norrin’s favorite form of therapy. Over the years, his occupational therapists have helped Norrin with his body awareness and his fine motor skills. They’ve taught him to toss and catch a ball and to swing.

Speech. It’s hard to know who’s more grateful for speech – us or Norrin. While speech continues to be something we work on, Norrin is able to express his basic needs and feelings.

Sandwiches. Another one that made me laugh. Norrin isn’t necessarily a picky eater but he goes through phases of what he wants to eat. When all other food choices fail, sandwiches – PB&Js and ham & cheese – are always a safe choice.

Swimming. This is one of Norrin’s favorite activities. He is happiest when he’s in the water.

School. Norrin gets so much out of school, especially his current school. He socializes, he plays, he learns. The right school makes a difference. And now that Norrin is in the right place, we all see the difference. He still has his challenges, but Norrin’s school is capable of helping him work through them.

Dad. Norrin has such a great relationship with his dad (my husband, Joseph). They play video games, watch cartoons and build Lego sets together. Joseph really loves being silly with Norrin and always knows how to make him laugh.

Mom. Unlike Joseph, I am not always the “fun” parent (I don’t play video games) but Norrin loves me just the same. When he’s sick or scared or sad – my hand is the one he reaches for. I am his comfort.

BONUS! Family. This wasn’t part of the “pumpkin pie” but when I asked Norrin yesterday what he was thankful for, he said “family.” Norrin knows that he is loved and understood by his family. He is extremely close to my parents. He has a great relationship with a family that lives across the hall in our building. He loves time with his “Uncle Julio.” And Norrin loves playing with his friends, Chloe, Eden, Dylan and Olivia. There are people in his life that he knows he can depend on and he loves them.

 What are your kids thankful for this Thanksgiving?

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This Is My Son. This Is Autism.

Wednesday, November 20th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

With my husband, Joseph, and son, Norrin. Celebrating Joseph’s birthday at one of our favorite restaurants.

“I don’t understand autism,” a friend said while we were eating dinner. We’ve know each other since grade school and hadn’t seen each other in a while. We were catching up and asking about our families. Though we are close enough to ask each other almost anything, I could tell she was uncomfortable admitting she didn’t know much about autism. I couldn’t blame her. I didn’t understand autism either, until I had to.

Autism isn’t something that can be easily summed up in a sentence. Or a blog post for that matter. And I was at a loss at how to explain it to her so that she could understand. I told her about Norrin and the progress he’s made. We talked a little about the future. And then like long time friends who hadn’t seen each other for a while, we immediately moved on to another subject.

But I’ve been thinking about our conversation since. I thought about the This is Autism Flash Blog in response to Suzanne Wright’s Call For Action. Wright believes that parents raising kids with autism are “not living,” they merely exist. And that we live in despair.

I know last week, I wrote about how autism wasn’t a crisis and I stated my reasons why I still (sort of) support Autism Speaks. I still stand by that. But I can’t and don’t believe that we live a life in despair. And that’s not ever the impression I want to give anyone. Yes we have our challenges, but we live our lives.

This is Norrin. He’ll be eight in January.

Norrin’s a happy kid with a quick wit. And like most little boys, he thinks fart jokes are hilarious. He loves building with Lego bricks, drawing, watching cartoons and eating cheese burgers. He loves playing video games and running around the playground.

Norrin especially likes going out to eat at restaurants and likes to place his own orders when we’re out. He knows exactly what he wants and always says please and thank you.

Norrin attends a special education school for kids with autism. He likes his teachers and has friends in his class. And when we sit down and do homework, I have flashbacks of my childhood sitting at the kitchen table with my mother. Academically, me and Norrin are alike in many ways. We both love to read and it comes easily, but math is difficult.

Norrin has a few kids he considers friends, kids he’ll ask for because he enjoys their company. But if there are too many kids in a room, he’ll prefer to play alone.

Norrin isn’t lost or trapped within his own world. He lives in our world. And he knows he’s a part of it. Norrin loves us and he knows that he is loved. And it’s the love that keeps us going.

As I’m typing this, I’m reminded of a line in one of my favorite movies, Auntie Mame (if you haven’t seen it, SEE IT! It’s fabulous!) when Mame says: Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!

I don’t want to starve to death (especially since I’m a gal who likes to eat). And I don’t want Norrin to starve either. I want him to experience life as much as he can and to enjoy it. That’s what we’re teaching him.

This is autism for our family.

What does autism look like for yours?

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Autism Is Not A Crisis. But Families Do Need a Plan.

Thursday, November 14th, 2013

This is a post in the weekly Autism Hopes series by Lisa Quinones-Fontanez, a mom who blogs  over at AutismWonderland.

Five years ago, when my son Norrin was first diagnosed with autism, Autism Speaks was one of the first sites I visited. The month following Norrin’s diagnosis, we participated in the Autism Speaks walk and helped raise money for the organization. That walk was the first time I was able to see other kids like mine. I saw families and friends walking together, holding hands in support. It made us feel a little less alone.

I don’t always agree with Autism Speaks message. I don’t desire a cure for my son. I don’t see him as a victim. I don’t see our life as a tragedy. And it hasn’t destroyed our marriage.

Has raising a kid with autism been easy? No, it hasn’t.

Do we worry about his future? Absolutely.

That’s just the reality of our life. It does not mean I love my son any less or that I wish to change him.

On Wednesday, November 13, 2013, Autism Speaks gathered in Washington, D.C. with “an unprecedented number of bipartisan officials, congressional leaders and experts in every area of autism for a three-day summit.”

The summit has sparked many debates in social media. There are many who believe that Autism Speaks demonizes autism and promotes fear mongering. And I understand why some parents, advocates and autistic adults feel that Autism Speaks does not speak for everyone. Because it doesn’t.

But there’s another side to Autism Speaks. It’s the side that I support. Autism Speaks partners with organizations to help create sensory friendly programs. Like the Family Access Program at the The Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum Complex in New York City – the program grants autism families early access to the museum before it opens. (And it’s FREE.) They also have trained staff on hand to provide guided tours.

Autism Speaks also launched a campaign reaching out to the Latino community to raise awareness. Studies have shown that Latino children are often diagnosed much later (after five years old) than white children. Being Latina and living in a predominately Latino part of New York, I appreciate these efforts to educate the community.

I don’t believe autism is a national crisis or epidemic. But we need a plan. Families need guidance and our children need opportunities. Our kids need more appropriate schools to meet their needs.  And teachers and staff who understand them. Budget cuts to special education need to stop. We need more awareness campaigns. We need insurance coverage.

Autism needs to be understood. Not feared or cured. And individuals with autism need more options. We need to pay for services now – while they are young – so that the need may be less, later. We need to create safe places for them to live when they are older. And jobs that not only increases self-esteem but gives them a sense of purpose and makes them  feel like a part of society. I hope this is the real take away of the Summit.

We don’t all have to agree with Autism Speaks. But I hope this summit opens the door for more opportunities for advocates, autistic adults and autism organizations to have their voices heard. And I hope that Washington will be ready and willing to listen to all of them.

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