Thursday, April 16, 2015

I Knew in That Instant

In the Fall of 2014, I applied to take a training session to work at the libraries in our school district. I didn't make the "list" and while I felt a bit disappointed, I knew deep down in my heart that opportunity was not the one for me. My life was already very full of helping transition and guide Lauren through her first year of college, helping to manage my mother's care in a nursing home, co-teach a first grade religious education class, guiding my father through all the challenges of living alone and getting Dominic adjusted to middle school. At the back of my mind though, I had this feeling that I wanted to be doing more, but I just didn't know what that "more" was. I don't think I would qualify the way I felt to be a mid-life "crisis," but I definitely knew I had reached a "crossroads" in my life. I thought about looking for a job or going back to college. Neither of those two ideas seemed like the right "fit."  I began to wonder if I even had the time to add anything more to my already full "plate." Sometimes, when you least expect it, a life-changing decision is made for you.  Since last May, when Dominic made his First Holy Communion, I have been praying and hoping that maybe one day in the future there would be a Mass available for special needs children and adults. I wanted to create an environment where no one felt "different" and EVERYONE was welcome. Since I joined a disability ministry earlier this year as the program director, I had been working on making sure that would happen. 


This past Sunday afternoon, we held our first Mass, the "inaugural" event for the ministry.  I knew it wouldn't be perfect, but I also wanted to set the right tone and standard. One of the moms coming with her two special needs sons had requested that they be part of the Mass. She and I had communicated by e-mail several times before last Sunday, we were just about as prepared as we could be. I was filled with a nervous apprehension about how everything would go. Around noon, people started showing up. We had two gentlemen in wheelchairs and a bus full of adult men with developmental disabilities. With each new person that came through the door, my excitement built. When I walked in behind the priest and looked around the chapel full of people, I really had to stifle my tears. To have wanted something for 11 months and finally see it happen, was an incredible feeling. There simply were no words to describe it. After the Mass, we all went down to the dining room and had lunch. Every person in the room had a smile on their face and were talking to their neighbors at their table. When the group of young men were getting ready to leave to go back to the residential facility where they live, one of them came over to me, told me bye and then hugged me. I knew in that instant, if there was ever any doubt whatsoever in whether I have made the right "decision" to be part of the disability ministry, there was absolutely NO doubt. I have never been so sure of anything in my life! To add "icing to the cake," Monday morning, I received an e-mail from the mom who had her sons participate in the Mass. This particular sentence has stuck with me this whole week, "I can't tell you how great it was as a parent watching my kids fulfill their desire to participate in the Mass, I saw them shine." Anybody got a tissue?!?!!?

Wednesday, April 8, 2015

Spreading "Awareness"

When you have a child with Autism, it can sometimes feel like you are always "searching" for just the right "piece" that will make everything come together and "fit" for your child. I read somewhere recently that there are over 500 treatments available for Autism. Wow, hard to know which one to try, huh? What makes things even more difficult is what works for one child may not work for another. There are all kinds of unscrupulous people out there that will claim they can "cure" your child of Autism. Hmm, okay.  I have always been of the mind of trying to "modify" the behaviors that Dominic exhibits as common traits of Autism, like the poor eye contact, "scripting" speech and improved interaction with peers and adults.  We still struggle with asking him "why" he feels a certain way. That has been and continues to be a constant struggle for him. I wish that was a "piece" that fit better in the "puzzle." Okay, I'm switching gears a bit here. The other day I saw a website that was actually selling shirts that said, "I'm Autistic, Not Stupid" and "I Have Autism, What's Your Excuse?" Yikes. I believe there are better ways of "educating" those around us about Autism, don't you think? Being that this is Autism Awareness Month, yesterday afternoon, I had an incredible opportunity to be interviewed  about what its like to be a parent to Dominic.  First and foremost, I wanted to let the wonderful gal that interviewed me know that he is just like any other 10-year old boy, except he just so happens to have Autism.  I wish when people met a child or adult with special needs that they could look past the disability and get to know the person first. Wouldn't that be cool? I think about the amazing and awesome people that I would have never met in a million years if Dominic didn't have special needs. I like to think that each "piece" of  his "puzzle" represents a person that has helped our family. Let's just say, we have a HUGE puzzle! As I have said before, when you are parenting a child or adult with special needs, it affects the ENTIRE family. I felt so blessed that I was able to be interviewed and share my opinions yesterday. If I can help just one person out there feel less alone, then I will be a happy lady. Okay, back to those two shirts I was talking about earlier. I don't know about you, but I think this is a much better way of spreading "awareness" about two things I am very passionate about - Autism and the disability ministry that I am ecstatic to be a part of!!