Support for Military Families

I recently wrote an article for the Family Forum column in “Army Aviation Association of America” magazine. This is a resource for the military and their families. It was published in the November 2018 issue. I thought I’d share the article here to reach more people.


I have a child with autism. He is nine years old, completely nonverbal, and must be supervised at all times. Though I am not in a military family now, I grew up in one (my Dad was career Army), so I have a good idea of how families are affected by the military lifestyle. We lived in many different cities and countries, moved every few years, and constantly faced new schools, new homes, new friends, new languages, and new cultures.

The idea of raising a disabled child in such a fluctuating environment is daunting. For a child with autism, the element of change is a huge problem. How would a move every 2 years affect them? And what about the times when one spouse is on TDY and the other is essentially a single parent?

I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is nine years of experience with “the system” and a few thoughts that may help ease the burden and the fears:

  1. Arm yourself with information. Do as much research as you can to become informed. If your child is not yet diagnosed, check out the CDC’s “Autism Spectrum Disorders: Signs and Symptoms” site (https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/signs.html). Insist on a thorough screening. If your child has an autism diagnosis, learn all you can about the disorder from authoritative online sources such as Autism Speaks or Autism Society. Find out what therapies and treatments are recommended and push for those treatments for your child. Never stop researching; you may stumble across a therapy or treatment that works for your child!
  1. Don’t live on an island. I mean this figuratively. Don’t isolate yourself or you will drown in fear and frustration. You are not alone! Know that there are always families in the same situation. Seek them out and force yourself to socialize with other families who have children with disabilities. You will be amazed and the valuable tips, tricks, and resources you will discover from each other! You can find other families through schools, churches, and social media organizations (for example, there is a FaceBook group called “American Military Families Autism Support”). Get involved with groups and organizations that will support you and give you a sense of community.
  1. Know what resources are available to you. We are lucky to live in an age where information is readily available at our fingertips. There are many online resources for autism families. Start with Autism Speaks and take a look at their “Families” page. There are many avenues there for finding resources – even in your local area! Their “100 Day Kit: A Guide for Families After an Autism Diagnosis” is a great source of information. Contact their Autism Response Team if you have trouble finding anything.
  1. Don’t be afraid to fight. If you have a child with a disability, be prepared to fight. Fight for services, for funding, for inclusion, and for the right for your child to be respected and appreciated. It may sound daunting, but if you have followed the first three steps above, you will be ready. You will have your information, your community of supporters, and your knowledge of the resources that should be available to you. Put on your boxing gloves and be fearless for your child!
  1. Ask for help. There will be times when you feel overwhelmed and helpless. This is completely normal, but you must have tools in place to help you through those tough times. For a long time, I hesitated to ask for help. I thought I could do everything myself, then felt like an inadequate parent when things went badly. I learned quickly that you NEED to ASK FOR HELP sometimes. Form a network with other autism parents and let them know when you need help. Reach out to friends and family and ask for help with errands, housework, transportation, or babysitting. Find a way to get regular RESPITE, because you will need to take breaks from your child. There are local organizations who help with this (in South Carolina we have a Respite Coalition that actually give out grants to families to pay for respite!). There is no shame in asking for help, and you’d be surprised at how many people are eager to help.

Above all, please remember: you are not alone, and there will always be good days ahead!

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The Fair and the Elephant

At what point does a child learn that sometimes you can only LOOK but you can’t TOUCH? I don’t recall ever thinking about this with my older boys, but yesterday, at the South Carolina State Fair, this issue came up for Peter, and it was a difficult concept for him.

Last week, we received a notice from Autism Academy of South Carolina that they would be taking the children to the State Fair. I immediately thought, “Oh, boy! This should be interesting.” We have taken Peter to the State Fair in the past, and it has never been an entirely successful experience (think: Sensory Overload!). However, the Academy was requiring a parent to attend, so my husband and I decided we would both go and hope for the best.

Peter surprised us! He had a great time! His therapist, Rachel, suggested that we first visit the animals since they’d been talking about animals at the Academy. Peter seemed fascinated by the cattle. Then he had a super fun time on the slide (accompanied by his Dad, who ended up sweaty and exhausted after 4 rounds), and he even tried the Caterpillar roller coaster with Rachel. Though startled by the initial “drop,” he loved it so much he didn’t want to get off!

Throughout the afternoon, Rachel used a Token Board and Peter “earned” treats such as french fries, donuts, and trips down the slide. We watched her calm his frustrations with an amazing “Cool Mouth, Cool Hands” routine which we plan to apply at home. We were struck by the therapist’s sincerity, her energy, and her clear connection to Peter.

It was a great day… UNTIL…

Background information: Peter currently has an obsession with elephants. He watches elephant videos, plays with elephant stuffed animals, and at the Fair we learned that Rachel makes funny elephant noises which he loves. 

So… we decided to walk to the game area of the fair, where you play games to win prizes. Namely, stuffed animals. Namely… ELEPHANTS.  Huge, soft, fluffy stuffed elephants! They were hanging everywhere. Peter strolled along with an amazed, excited look on his face. Then he grabbed his Talker, said “Elephant,” an made a beeline for the nearest elephant hanging from a vendor’s booth.

Well, you can’t let a child play with the prizes at the Fair. This is frowned upon. Nor can you expect to WIN a huge stuffed elephant unless you plan to stay there for hours, playing by yourself and forking over about $75 in cash. So we had to tell Peter that he could only LOOK at the elephants, but he could not TOUCH them.

This was not acceptable to Peter. It just wasn’t. There was a lot of flopping on the ground (ugh – fair ground!) and refusing to get up and repeated requests for “Elephant” on the Talker. No amount of reasoning got through to him, so after about 10 sweaty and stressful  minutes, we all realized we just needed to leave Peter on the ground and let him cool off. He finally stood up and we were able to lead him out of the Elephant Temptation area.

Luckily, his behavior improved and he was able to earn one more trip on the slide (poor Daddy).

This was the first time, I believe, where Peter was confronted with this idea of “LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH.” He just couldn’t understand why he couldn’t play with the stuffed elephants.  I’m going to have to research some strategies for teaching him this concept.

In the meantime, I’m looking on Amazon for huge, fluffy, stuffed elephants.

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How to Use Story Stones: A summary of educational and therapeutic uses

Story Stones have recently become very popular despite the fact that the concept has been around for centuries. What, exactly, are Story Stones and how are they used? This article discusses how these sets of rocks can be used by parents, educators, and therapists as tools to help develop a variety of skills such as language development, communication, and pretend play.

LANGUAGE DEVELOPMENT/SPEECH THERAPY

To encourage the use of new vocabulary and expressive language, give a child a bag of Story Stones and have him pull out a stone one at a time. Encourage him to describe what he sees on the rocks, and to tell a story about them. Be a passive listener, but interject more advanced vocabulary when it makes sense to do so. This method is fun for children and can be used by parents, educators, and therapists.

Halloween Story Stones
Halloween Story Stones

PRETEND PLAY

When we were children, most of us never gave “pretend play” any special consideration. We were constantly making up stories and games, pretending to be superheroes or princess, inventing elaborate imaginary worlds to keep ourselves entertained. My sister and I played “Little House on the Prairie” often, and I even had an invisible friend.  He was a ghost named George.  However, there are many children with disabilities who have trouble with pretend play.

Story Stones can be a fun way to develop pretend play. Guide a child through a made-up story using the stones. Start the story, then prompt the child to finish an idea or a sentence.

Christmas Story Stones
Christmas Story Stones

MEMORY/RECALL

Use the Story Stones as a memory game. Turn them face-down while the child is watching. Then prompt with a question such as “Can you remember where the frog is?” Story Stones can also be used with adults who experience memory impairments. They can look at a stone and talk about any memory the image brings forth.

Summer Story Stones
Summer Story Stones

SENSORY & OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY

Smooth, little stones are a joy to handle. They just feel great in your hand. Children (and adults) with sensory issues might enjoy handling the stones. They also help develop fine motor skills and dexterity.

Peter with Story Stones
Here is Peter playing with my Thanksgiving Story Stones. He has a lot of sensory issues, and he loves to handle the stones.

JUST FOR FUN!

Children will enjoy Story Stones in a variety of ways.  Mostly, though, they are simply fun. These sets make great stocking stuffers, birthday gifts, and Christmas gifts.

 

 

Visit my shop, ALLELUIA ROCKS, to see the 25+ sets of Story Stones available!

A National Phenomenon: The Kindness Rocks Movement

 

Many of my readers know that I have a little business called Alleluia Rocks in which I sell painted rocks and stones offering words of encouragement, faith, and affirmation. I also specialize in Story Stones for children, which helps promote language development, social interaction, and pretend play. All of which tie into my journey through autism in different ways. Continue reading “A National Phenomenon: The Kindness Rocks Movement”

The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 4: He’s Naked Again!

Have you ever had a nightmare about showing up to school in your pajamas, or being on stage in just your underwear?  Do you remember the feeling of horror and shock, and wanting to BOLT?  Yeah, lots of people have those nightmares.  It involves acute embarrassment due to something that’s totally inappropriate socially. Continue reading “The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 4: He’s Naked Again!”

The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 3: We Need More Duct Tape!

Probably our family should invest in the Duct Tape stock market, or however that works.  Also packing tape, superglue, and batteries.  When we say that Peter wears out his toys, we really mean it!  At our house, you’ll see toys all over the place in various states of destruction – wheels missing from trucks, gouges and scratches on plastic toys, and pages torn or missing from books.  Peter is destructive.  He doesn’t do it on purpose, that’s just the way he is.  He likes to pull things and smash things and rip things.  He also likes to chew on books.  He’d rather chew on a book than on real food, like an apple or a carrot.  This is another example of him being unaware of what is socially unacceptable.  Do I rip my textbooks up at school and pull apart my classmates’ backpacks?  Do I chew on the corners of my Algebra book? No way, because I know that’s not the way to act at school. Peter doesn’t have that awareness, so he does whatever he feels compelled to do. Continue reading “The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 3: We Need More Duct Tape!”

The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 2: Tell Me What You Want on Your Talker!

NOTE: See the Introduction for an overview of this “manuscript” told from a sibling’s viewpoint.

Though Peter is 9 years old, he has never said one word.  Like, ever.  He can’t talk.  Nobody knows why.  Doctors have done all kinds of tests on him, and we know that he can hear and see just fine.  He makes sounds so he’s not mute.  He just can’t seem to speak. Continue reading “The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 2: Tell Me What You Want on Your Talker!”

The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 1: Hurricane Peter Has Struck Again!

“Why do you even bother making Peter’s bed?” I asked my Mom the other day.  She was in Peter’s room, putting things in order for about the seventh time that day.  When I say things like this, just assume I am NOT exaggerating.  This is what happens day in and day out: Continue reading “The Funny Things You Hear in Our House-EPISODE 1: Hurricane Peter Has Struck Again!”

The Funny Things You Hear in Our House: Introduction (sibling viewpoint)

BY WAY OF EXPLANATION:  Having spent the better part of two years trying to find a publisher for this manuscript, I decided to give up and instead post this work, one section at a time, on this blog.  One chapter a week. What better platform that one that is already devoted to revealing what it’s like to be US?

This book is told from the sibling’s point of view (think of Thomas, our middle child, when you are reading).  It’s meant to be a lighthearted work for siblings and their peers that promotes an understanding of autism through anecdotes.  It’s intended to teach teens or ‘tweens about autism through the eyes of a brother.  Please share with any teens or ‘tweens you know!

I KNOW there is an audience out there for this work.  If any of you has a connection to the publishing world, by all means feel free to share these “chapters”!  The more people that read about Life with Autism, the better to promote awareness and acceptance.  Continue reading “The Funny Things You Hear in Our House: Introduction (sibling viewpoint)”

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