Thursday, April 28, 2016

Give the Opportunity

In the Fall of 2015, I took Dominic along with me to a local horse farm to meet the owner.  It was a relatively quick visit, but I think it made a big impression on him. This past Sunday, we went back to the horse farm because I wanted to plan some events for the two non-profit organizations I volunteer for. The owner of the horse farm having met Dominic once before, remembered how anxious and wound up he got around the dogs, so she had put her dogs in the backyard of her house where there was a fence. Pretty incredibly thoughtful, don't you think? At one point during our visit, I started to scold Dominic because I thought he was taunting the dogs. I soon figured out that he was playing with them - Dominic would come to the fence and three of the dogs would start barking and then he would run to the other end of the fence and the dogs would run with him! It was a beautiful day and Dominic went in and out of the barn (where he fed a horse out of the palm of his hand), walked around the farm, basically had the run of the place.

Every so often a cat would walk by. In the past, let's just say cats and Dominic have not been a good "mix." He's never had an experience that I can recall which would make him so afraid, I'm guessing that it's because they are unpredictable and Dominic THRIVES on predictability. More and more, I have been hearing that animals are a good "fit," for adults and children with special needs and for those with anxiety and depression. There is definitely something comforting and soothing about petting an animal. Anyways, I figured Dominic would be ready to go within a half hour or so, based on our first visit last fall. That was definitely not the case this time! Since we ended up at the farm for almost two hours, it was very, "eye-opening," watching how Dominic went from trying to shoo the black cat off the steps to petting her,  not just for a little bit, but A LOT!

As it got closer to dinner time, I told Dominic we needed to go. We went inside the owner's house briefly and at first he was a little apprehensive because she had about three or four cats milling around inside her house. Dominic sat down on the couch and the owner said something like, "would you like to learn how to hold a cat?" I thought he would say, "no, thank you," but he didn't!  She showed him how and then he picked one up!  Wow, to go from being terrified and very skittish to holding a cat? Dominic then moved to a chair and would you believe those same three or four cats came over to him and were vying for his attention?!?!?!  I told the owner of the farm that Dominic was the "cat whisperer." It's been nine years since we got the diagnosis of Autism for Dominic. Even after all this time, I am still guilty of thinking he can't do something. Boy, did I learn my "lesson," this past Sunday. I need to give him at least the opportunity to be open to new experiences, because if I don't, then I am doing a real disservice to him.

Saturday, April 16, 2016

Awareness - First Step to Understanding

On our Spring Break 2015 trip to Jamaica, both Dominic and I almost drowned in the swimming pool at our hotel. I had went to the end of a water slide where the water was slightly above my head and Dominic followed me. I wasn't able to hold him up and we started sinking to the bottom of the pool. I put my arm up and the lifeguard dove in and brought us back to the surface. It was scary with a capital, "S."  Shortly after we got back from that trip, I decided I better sign him up for a beginner swimming class at the Goldfish Swim School where we live. I asked if they had a special needs swim class available and they said no. I almost didn't sign him up, but then decided I had to let go of my anxiety about it. I love the way the instructors at Goldfish teach. There is a lot of positive encouragement ,"high-fives," and participation ribbons which Dominic thrives on.

About a week ago, I got an e-mail from the General Manager. She said,

"I actually have a few questions that I thought you may be able to help me with in regards to Autism:

1  Do you know of any Autism Awareness Instructor in the area that would be willing to talk/teach my team about specific tactics/awareness in this area?
2.   Do you use a PEC system with Dominic? 

3.  What are your thoughts of having a specific half hour of lessons for children with special   needs? Would this be something you would like for Dominic or do you prefer how we have it now, where the children are all integrated together?

I thought you might have some good insight on these topics!"

As one ALWAYS willing to express my opinion, I wrote her back. In response to question #1, I told her that I would look around for an instructor to teach all different types of special needs that could train her "team." Question #2 -  Dominic does use a "PEC" system (Picture Exchange Communication System) - children with Autism, especially, are "visual" learners. Question #3 - I thought it would be a good idea to have a separate class available for children with special needs. I told her Dominic is okay in his current class (he is on his third instructor), but a lot of children with Autism (and other special needs), like consistency, routine and sameness. I loved that the Manager reached out to me, specifically about whether I knew anyone that could talk/teach her staff about specific tactics and awareness of those with special needs. Awareness is the first step towards understanding.

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Stretching Those "Wings"

About a week or so before Lauren came home for the Easter weekend, she asked me if I wanted to go with her to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding 2 at the movie theater.  After  I double checked with the hubby that he could watch Dominic for a few hours,  I told her yes, we were on! One thing I've learned now that Lauren is about a month away from finishing her first two years of college - if she wants to spend time ALONE with me, I clear my schedule and make it happen! Lauren's first semester of her freshman year was a HUGE adjustment for me because we are very close. When she was little and a kid cut her off at the slide on the playground, I instantly stepped in and was rectifying the situation for her. Riding her bike to a friends house for the first time, I made her promise she would call me when she got there! The time she told me that she wanted to call me "mom," and not "mommy," it was hard, but I understood. As she went through high school, I had a pretty good handle on how she was doing, but at the same time kept out of her business. When it came time to shop for things for her dorm room, we did it together. Since she took her car back to college in August of last year, we haven't seen her that often. Lauren will tell me she is sorry, but I tell her, "don't be sorry, I'm glad you are having such a great time at college!"  My Mother's Day gift last year from Lauren was a poem that she wrote herself:

Mom, You're so inspiring
Your wisdom's never tiring
There's never a day that goes by
That something you do doesn't catch my eye
Whether it's making something scrumptious to eat
Or patiently asking Dominic to take a seat
Or giving me advice
Even when I ask for your opinion more than once or twice
Your endless support
Is irreplaceable, and in short
I admire you so much
And in being a mother, you have a special touch
I cannot thank you enough for all that you do
Mom, I love you!

Okay, now that I've wiped the tear from the corner of my eye, I know that as she gets older, turns 21 and graduates from college, she will continue to stretch those "wings" even more. But, you know what? This "momma bird" is okay with that, because Lauren knows I will always be there for her, just as I always have been.  

Monday, March 14, 2016


When the hubby brought Dominic home from his Confirmation Preparation class a few weeks ago, he told me that his teacher (Mrs. W) mentioned he had cried during class.  My husband said he asked Dominic a few times on the car ride home, "why were you crying?" No response.  I tried asking him a few times too and got no answer either. When I reached out to Mrs. W later, she told me,

"Dominic seemed quite pensive the entire class, as if he were thinking of something else.  We asked him a few questions and it was obvious he had something else on his mind.  It was absolutely sweet that the other kids had such concern for him and wanted to know he was okay.  What a tender moment!  One of his classmates wanted to know if he needed a hug, so we asked him and 3 volunteered to give him a quick hug.  He didn't seem to mind, and I know it did them more good than him."

Wow, what empathy Dominic's classmates had! Still, I didn't know what was bothering him, so I waited a day or two and then asked him again. His response this time was, "overwhelmed." I thought well, he had a full day of school and then his bus brought him home an hour late. He had a little less than a half hour to get a snack, etc. before the hubby took him to class. I relayed the story to Lauren this past week and she said something like, "that's pretty good he could tell you that!" I have to also remember that Dominic is a "tween."  Puberty and Autism can sometimes be a challenging "duo."  I have to keep in mind that he might not always be able to tell us what's wrong because he might not know himself until he has had some time to think it over.

I wondered how he would do today at school (he missed all of last week since we were out of town). Yesterday, we drove for 10 hours straight. With it being daylight saving time plus Lauren leaving to go back to college this morning, I wondered if I would get a call from his teacher that he was having a tough time. He made it through the day fine and he even had a substitute bus driver this afternoon!!  Right now, I hear Dominic in the family room "scripting" scenes from both  Little People and  Barney. He does that when he is over stimulated. I'm letting him have that time in his "world," to relax before we head to his Confirmation Prep class in about an hour! We all need ways to "decompress," right?

Thursday, February 18, 2016

Need to Call Bella's Mom

Dominic at least a few times a week will tell me, "need to call Bella's mom!" Who is Bella you may ask? Here is the answer to that question:

I first met Bella shortly after Dominic's first grand mal seizure. She and her mom approached me at the Meijer grocery store back in June of last year as I was grabbing a milk jug out of the dairy case. Dominic and Bella go to the same middle school.  I have never forgotten what Bella's mom told me that day, "I would love to get our children together and be in Dominic's life however much you will let us." Bella's mom has the most generous heart and has passed on those values to her three children.  Bella and Dominic made sugar cookies last summer:

When Dominic had a choir concert at school and neither Lauren or my husband could attend, Bella and her mom surprised us after the concert!

The number one thing I admire about Bella is how incredibly compassionate she is. There is a respect and admiration between Dominic and Bella which is quite unique. This past Sunday, when Bella, her mom and Bella's little brother stopped by with a decorated heart-shaped cookie and a homemade valentine, Dominic was uncharacteristically SHY.


He would come over, say, "hi," and then run away. In a lot of ways, he was acting like a "typical" preteen boy, not like an 11 1/2 year old boy with Autism :) I foresee this relationship and friendship lasting a very long time. 

Thursday, January 28, 2016

A Friendship Forged By Elevator Rides

When our family moved to Michigan over 14 years ago, one of the very first things we did was join a church. We are blessed to be part of such a great faith community. About a year and a half ago, a gal that I knew, but not really, really well, (Mrs. F) approached us after Mass. She was telling our family how her older daughter had worked over the summer with special needs children. A few days later, she sent me this message:

"Cathy, I don't think I was very eloquent because I hadn't thought out exactly what I wanted to say. But I was thinking about you all summer. I guess what i wanted to tell you was how much I admire you and your husband. Dom is your son and I know you would do anything for him, just as you do for Lauren and your stepson. But still, you are so incredibly patient and loving...and just amazing. You are lucky to have Dom in your life...but Dom is also a very blessed little boy. That is really what I wanted to say."

Wow, I thought she was very eloquent! Such kind and supportive words. For about the past two years, we have used an elevator ride as a "reward" for Dominic behaving well in church. There have been a handful of times where he didn't get a ride because he acted up and he was NOT happy. Looking forward to an elevator ride after church has been a HUGE incentive for him. My husband, Lauren or I used to accompany Dominic, until one day I asked Mrs. F if she would like to ride with him. Now, she is his number one choice for those elevator rides.  She told me recently,

"I'm honored to be someone that Dominic is comfortable with and wants to share his special treat with. He is an awesome young man. I enjoy those elevator rides, too!!"

The definition of a friendship according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary is, "a friendly feeling or attitude - kindness or help given to someone." It has been really cool to watch Mrs. F and Dominic become "buddies." I appreciate the time she has taken to not just to get to know Dominic, but our entire family. We both have kids in college and what a great support she has been to me. Thank you Mrs. F from the bottom of my heart.

Saturday, January 23, 2016


Dominic getting diagnosed with Epilepsy last year by a pediatric neurologist was not anything I could have ever predicted. After hearing from more than person that Autism and seizures going together is not an unusual thing came as a HUGE shock to me. Dominic having the fourth seizure AFTER having the anti-seizure medication increased after the third seizure was very discouraging. When I saw my doctor for a physical in December and I told her that for the past few months prior to the appointment I had felt exhausted all the time even with several hours of sleep a night, she gave me a prescription for an anti-depressant. I was thinking to myself, good grief, I'm not depressed?!?!  I'm just tired!!!  But, I have to say, it's only been a month, and I definitely feel much more "balanced." The constant stress and worrying about whether Dominic was going to have another seizure had really begun to take a toll on me, both mentally and physically. Each of the four seizures have been very different in both the intensity and duration. The neurologist suggested upping the medication again after the fourth seizure and so far, so good! Being a caregiver for special needs children and adults is exhausting and constant. You have a whole different layer of worries. But, you also celebrate every accomplishment no matter how big or small. I feel like breaking out the New Year's Eve horns and marching around my house every day Dominic doesn't have a seizure.

I was having full blown conversations with Lauren when she was 18 months old. I was ecstatic this past Thursday because Dominic told me, "Can I ride the school bus?" Those full, spontaneous and complete sentences are not that easy to come by. Lately at home, Dominic has been "scripting" from old Barney videos. Darn that purple dinosaur!! Potty training Lauren was very easy for the most part. For Dominic, it took seven years. Getting his eye contact for more than 10 seconds is cause for a party! Back in December, we had a gal with Down Syndrome making her First Holy Communion at our Special Needs Mass for the disability ministry. When I was chatting with her mom, I was so excited for her daughter, I could barely contain myself. I told her, "it's almost like it's my daughter making her First Holy Communion!" Yes, that most certainly was a time for celebrating!!