Posts Tagged ‘ raising kids with special needs ’

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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Finally! An Autism Study I Can Agree With

Wednesday, November 6th, 2013

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

Over the years, I’ve read about many autism studies. Just a few weeks ago, a study came out about weight gain during pregnancy causing autism. I try not to pay too much attention to studies, especially the ones that blame the mother and make me feel bad. I gained 60 pounds during my pregnancy with Norrin. (I ate mac and cheese and fried chicken for lunch almost every day.)

There is no known cause for autism  just a whole lot of theories.

But then I read the latest autism study: there may be a genetic connection between autism in children and language problems in other family members.

Researchers looked at 79 families that included one child with autism and at least one child with a language impairment. Parents, children, grandparents — and even aunts and uncles in some cases — in the families underwent genetic analysis and a series of tests to assess their grammar, vocabulary and language-processing skills. (HealthDay News)

And as soon as I read this study, I said YES! This is it.

When Norrin was first diagnosed, family members continued to dismiss autism. I was told of uncles, cousins who had difficulty – even my brother.

I heard about my uncle who didn’t speak until he turned five years old. My grandmother called him “El Mudo” (Spanish for “The Mute”). And my mom reminded me that my brother had difficulty with speech and didn’t start talking until after he turned three. (My uncle grew up to have a career in the military and my brother is a cartoonist.) And I heard similar stories about my husband’s family.  Once again, I was told that “boys are slower than girls” and that Norrin would be fine. But I thought it was something more.

I don’t believe vaccines cause autism, I don’t believe it’s weight gain or depression during pregnancy or living near a highway. But I do believe that genetics plays a factor.

After Norrin’s diagnosis, I took a closer look at my family, I’ve silently diagnosed quite a few members. And since Norrin’s diagnosis, children on my husband’s side of the family have been diagnosed with autism.

I have no desire to cure Norrin’s autism, but if this study can help me better understand him – I’m all for it.

What are your thoughts?

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The Trade-offs You Make When Your Kid Has Special Needs

Wednesday, October 30th, 2013

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

It was just a typical Friday at the office. I was emailing my co-worker making plans for lunch when my cell phone vibrated. It was my son’s school and I picked it up immediately.

The school nurse told me that Norrin had just thrown up and had a fever of 101. The nurse didn’t need to ask, I knew I had to pick up Norrin from school as soon as possible. I quickly hung up and my mind started to race. I dialed my husband’s cell phone – the call went to voice mail. I slammed the phone in frustration. I emailed my bosses to let them know that Norrin was sick and that I had to leave. Then I called my dad to tell him I didn’t need him to pick up Norrin from the bus.

As a working mom, a call from the school nurse stresses me out. It requires more juggling than usual. And my husband who is in law enforcement, isn’t always available to help. My job offers a little more flexibility. When Norrin was at preschool and kindergarten and he got sick, it wasn’t that big a deal. I left work, jumped on the train to his school and took him home.

But I pulled him out of the public school system and his current school is thirty miles away from my job in Manhattan. By public transportation – it’s more than a two hour ride and then I would have to take a cab from the station to the school. A cab is probably close to a $100 fare. And then I’d still have to get my sick kid back home. The best way to get to Norrin’s school is to drive. Except I don’t know how. And my husband – who does drive – could not be reached. Neither could my cousin who was on the authorized pick up list and closer to Norrin.

I remembered that my best friend’s husband, Frank, had the day off, so I called in a favor. If I could take the train a few stops to their apartment, he’d drive to Norrin’s school and then take us home. I shut down my computer, ignored the pile of work that needed to get done and ran out.

As we drove upstate, all Frank could talk about was the length of the drive. He inquired about the bus pick up and drop off times. I cursed myself for not knowing how to drive, for living so far from an appropriate school.

We were at Norrin’s school in less than an hour. I could tell Frank was impressed with the expansive grounds – the grass, the pool, the picnic tables and playground. I spotted Norrin on the swing set, surrounded by his teacher and two of his favorite assistants.

I walked with Norrin and his teacher to his class to retrieve his school bag. I met four of Norrin’s classmates – they greeted me hello and hugged me goodbye.

On the way home, I sat in the back seat with Norrin, a plastic bag in my hand just in case he got sick. I thanked Frank again.

“This looks like a really nice school,” he said. “Too bad it isn’t closer.”

It was more than a nice school. It was a great school. It was a school that was able to meet all of Norrin’s needs and more. It was a school that gave me peace of mind when I put Norrin on that bus every single day. It was a school that I knew truly cared about Norrin. I did wish his school were closer but it’s our only option. And it was well worth a few extra moments of scrambling on days when the school nurse calls because those days are few and far between.

“Yup…that’s the trade-off.” I pulled Norrin closer to me, brushing his hair with my hand.

What trade-offs do you make for your child?

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Kids With Autism And Sleep: The Autism Study That Made Me Laugh

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

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

Over the years, I’ve read about many autism studies. Some have made me sad, while others were just frustrating. But this latest one made me laugh. I literally laughed out loud (I may have even snorted) when I read the headline on the Huffington Post article: Kids with Autism May Have Poorer Sleep.

According to the latest autism study, “kids with autism may sleep less each night due to disturbed sleep than children without the condition.” The research also reveals that “total sleep duration is shorter and punctuated by more frequent walking at night.”  NO…you don’t say! 

When my son, Norrin, was first born I was adamant about keeping him out of our bed. Norrin slept in his crib from the moment he was first born. By the time my four-month maternity leave was over, Norrin was pretty much sleeping through the night.

Then we converted his crib to a toddler bed. Norrin hated it. He cried, kicked and screamed for hours before falling asleep. Looking back, I see it as one of the first signs of autism – the change in routine was upsetting. With time, Norrin got used to the bed but the freedom of getting in and out of bed was too tempting.  And that’s when the sleepless nights really started.

If you follow my blog or Facebook page regularly you’ll know when we’ve had a night of no sleep. There are many nights when Norrin will wake up at 3AM – aka the Witching Hour - and stay up until it’s time to go to school. My kid can party like a ASD rock star. I’ve gotten to the point where I don’t even try to put him back to sleep. I just lay in bed and listen. So long as Norrin doesn’t try to open the front door, he can stay up and play quietly in his room. Some nights, he crawls into our bed and plays on the iPad until he falls asleep. And there are many nights when he just stays up and I figure - if I can’t beat him, might as well join him.

It’s been years of sleepless nights for us. I’ve tried melatonin (it helps to put him asleep, it doesn’t keep him asleep) and lavender. I’ve following routines and tried keeping him up later. I’ve tried warm milk and weighted blankets. I’ve yet to find the thing that really works.

I didn’t need a study to tell me that kids with autism sleep less. I have enough autism mom friends on Facebook to prove that little theory. Whenever I share about having a sleepless night, there’s always a mom who says the same. If scientists can conduct a study to figure what helps kids with autism sleep through the night, that will be the study that will have me and every other autism mom jumping up and down with joy.

Does your kid sleep through the night? What does 3AM in your house look like? And if your kid with autism is older – let me know if it gets better. I’d like a good night’s sleep sometime in the near future.

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Make The First 5 Years Of Life Count For Your Child

Wednesday, September 18th, 2013

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

My son, Norrin, was about 16-months old when I first suspected that something may be…wrong. I remember asking my husband – he dismissed my concerns. Experienced mom friends told me I was just being a “new mom.” My mother told me I was reading too many books. And my pediatrician suggested we wait and see.

So that’s what I did. I waited. I listened to everyone else instead of going with my gut instinct.

But I knew. I knew as soon as I took Norrin in for that fist evaluation. I knew when I started flipping through Norrin’s milestone calendar. It was practically empty. I wasn’t too busy to fill it out, he hadn’t met most of the milestones of a typically developing child. I knew – before the doctor even diagnosed him – that Norrin had autism.

When Norrin was diagnosed he was 2-years and 3 months old. He had the cognitive level of a 14-month-old and the language level of a 7-month-old. And as I read through the 20-page evaluation, all I thought about was all the months I wasted by waiting.

Ever since Norrin was diagnosed, I’ve gotten emails or calls from concerned moms – asking about the signs of autism or whether they should have their child evaluated. And I always say the same thing: If you have any concerns, GO. Don’t wait. It’s better to go and be wrong about your concerns, than wait and be right.

With the support of CVS Caremark Charitable Trust , Easter Seals is providing access to the Ages & Stages Questionnaires® (ASQ) —a FREE screening tool. If  you have concerns about your child, you can answer the questions to monitor his/her developmental progress.

As the largest provider of early intervention services, Easter Seals knows what’s possible when kids get the support they need… and what happens when they don’t. We can give every child an equal opportunity to learn and grow— but it’s important to get kids the help they need in the critical years before they turn five.

The questionnaire takes less than 20 minutes to fill out. Don’t wait. If you have a concern, fill it out today. The questionnaire is available in English and Spanish.

I love Norrin, I am not sorry that my son has autism. The only thing I am sorry about is that I waited to get him the help he needed. Don’t make the same mistake I did.


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